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Southeast Asia Backpacking Advice

 
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brucebruce



Joined: 10 Dec 2012

PostPosted: Fri Jan 04, 2013 1:46 pm    Post subject: Southeast Asia Backpacking Advice Reply with quote

So I am planning a journey through Southeast Asia. I am not quite sure about some places and want to get some input from others who have done this. I have about 3.5 months and am not on too much of a budget. I want to keep it within 2000/month. The only places I've been in SE Asia are Manila and Hanoi. I love Hanoi but disliked Manila.

Let me start off by saying I love Thai food and I plan on staying in Thailand for a good portion of the trip. Actually I love all food that's a big reason I want travel. I also like seeing cities, learning about different cultures and meeting interesting people. I enjoy nature and beaches. I also like to see the occasional relic but I admit I can get bored of too many museums. I like action, I enjoy the occasional drink and I like crossing the road in Hanoi.

I apologize I know answering all of these is probably a lot so answer even a small part, I'd appreciate it. Also remember to include your favorite foods, places to eat or just places.

A.Vietnam- Which of these places below are a must. Which would you say could be skipped or are just meh? Are there places I missed that should be on that list?
1. Da Lat
2. Danang
3. Nha Trang
4. Hoi An
5. Hue
6. Mekong Delta

B. Thailand
1. North or Central or South? How long in each?
2. Must see places/cities?

C. Cambodia
1. Phnom Pehn- How long?
2. Angkor Wat- How long
3. Other places?

Now the hard part. With my time I will only be able to see 1 or 2 more places.

A. Laos vs Malaysia vs Indonesia vs Myanmar
1. How would you order them?
2. Why?
3. How long?

Thanks a lot. Your help is greatly appreciated.
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thrylos



Joined: 10 Jun 2008

PostPosted: Fri Jan 04, 2013 4:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Time of year may dicatate how long you stay in each-- Rainy season (June-October) makes some (beach) places less welcoming than dry season. It doesn't always constantly rain, but the water's rougher, many places are closed/low key, and it kinda sucks if you're on the beach during a 3-day washout. But it also get H-O-T during the dry season and many more people are around. But with 3.5 months, you have lots of options.

Cambodia-- Angkor wat is preferable during wet season-- noticeably fewer crowds and the canals around there really come to shine when there's water in them. Dry season sees more people and it is HOT during the main part of the day. Depends on how much tuk-tuking around you want- Distances between many of the sights are BIG (20+Kms for many). You can get 1, 3, 5, or 7 day passes into the park. For most people 3 days is enough, unless you really know your Khmer history/architecture and are keen on many of the outer temples.

PP is a great city, (more like a town) but many will not agree. Lots of great food (western and Asian), great nightlife with really good (western style) clubs, beer guzzling and very interesting expats, but the 'pay-for-play' scene, traffic, noise and pollution (think of a mini-Manila in that regard) can turn many off. Not that many 'tourist' spots-- Palace/Museum, the Khmer Rouge prison/killing fields, the riverside and that's about it. Most 'packers will stay 2-3 days and move on. I like staying and hanging out with the expats there in their eating and watering holes, great crowd.

Kep/Kampot/Sihanoukville (and islands off the coast)-- Cambodia's southern area, a beach scene. Great seafood in Kep, a sleepy rivertown in Kampot, a grungy beach bar scene in S'ville, some nice (underdeveloped) islands off the coast (Koh Rong, Koh Russei, Ko Ta Kiev). If you like beaches/sea, worth the 4 hour trip from PP.

Other provincial towns (Battambang) in the mid-west, on the opposite side of the 'lake' from Siem Reap and the jungle highlands in the northwest (Mondulkiri/Rattanakiri) are also cool to visit, not easy to get to, but great for 'independent' travelling.

Obviously if you're going to spend most of your time in Thailand, then you should visit Chian Rai/Chiang Mai in the north, Pai if you're so inclined for mountains and chilling out. Rent a moto (be careful) and drive around all those towns into the countryside. I find them boring, but I'm more of a beach person, myself. From there, visit Auytthaya(sp?) on your way down, the historic center/capital of the old Thai kingdom.
I feel that the Thai beach scene is over for backpackers. It is now mostly geared towards families/package groups/Asians. Yes, sure, Ko Phang Ngan still has the Full-moon parties ( Rolling Eyes ), but it's not what it's meant to be. Ko Tao still attracts the 'divers', but most of the coral is shot and it's way overpriced for what you get. Ko Phiphi on the Andaman side is another tourist trap, overdeveloped and not that clean anymore. Still, there are 'backpackers', but it's become so commercial, it isn't even funny. (You can find the backpacker/party scene in Cambodia much easier and cheaper) during the dry season.

Laos is certainly on the trail. Very sleepy/quiet place (outside of Van vieng), great cultural sights (Temples, etc), and another great place for food. Check the 4,000 islands area in the deep south, bordering Cambodia. Hard to get to, but definitely worth the effort.

Don't know much about V'nam or Myanmar, though the latter is on my list next.

Envy you for having such a long time. Good luck.
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bucheon bum



Joined: 16 Jan 2003
Location: DC area

PostPosted: Fri Jan 04, 2013 6:22 pm    Post subject: Re: Southeast Asia Backpacking Advice Reply with quote

brucebruce wrote:


A.Vietnam- Which of these places below are a must. Which would you say could be skipped or are just meh? Are there places I missed that should be on that list?
1. Da Lat
2. Danang
3. Nha Trang
4. Hoi An
5. Hue
6. Mekong Delta


I thought Nha Trang was meh. Others feel differently. If you're planning to go to beaches elsewhere, it really isn't worth it if you ask me.

The hills around Danang have some breathtaking views when the weather is clear.

Hoi An, Hue, and the Mekong are worth visiting. No idea about Da Lat.

Quote:
B. Thailand
1. North or Central or South? How long in each?
2. Must see places/cities?


Since you like crossing the road in Hanoi, you'll like Bangkok for at least a few days and its craziness. Not quite the same as Hanoi, but still enough "life" and people watching to keep you happy.

When are you planning to go? That will be a good way to figure out what beaches to go.

I'd also recommend Sukhothai (ancient capital), the Jungle Railway that starts in Kanchanaburi (but you can catch the train itself in Bangkok), and Ayuthaya (which can be a day trip from Bangkok).

Haven't been to the other countries you're interested in beyond Malaysia. Out of the dozen or so people I know that have gone to Laos, not one has ever said a bad thing about Laos beyond Vientiane being boring. That's one place I regret not visiting. As for Malaysia, it's easy to travel in, the food is pretty good, and it's got a fair amount to see. In short, it's nice but not the most intriguing or exciting place to visit.
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fezmond



Joined: 27 Oct 2008

PostPosted: Sat Jan 05, 2013 12:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I did this over 6 years ago so I'm sure things have changed a lot, anyway:

Vietnam:
Didn't go to Danang but the others were all great except Da Lat (for me)
Hue has the citadel and a laid back feel, great for heading out onto DMZ tours, Khe Sahn, war stuff. The tunnels here are better than the Cu-chi ones near HCMC.
Nha Trang has a decent enough beach, honestly I wouldn't have stayed there more than a few days if I wasn't diving and meeting good people.
Hoi An is great, really chilled and calm. Nice to just walk around and see the sights, get a feel for the place.
Mekong - only toured it briefly on a day trip but it was kinda cool.

others: HCMC - hated it, big cesspit. Halong bay is great if you haven't been.
I paid an 'easy rider' to take me around from Da Lat to HCMC for 3 days. No motorways, no English (except the driver) and no choice in the food I was given. Well worth it, especially driving up along the border with Laos and through the highlands.

Vietnam is awesome. Some friends of mine went recently and they hated it, said it was as if they were walking ATMs but I can't say I really had the same problem.

All the food is awesome, the beer is ok but the accommodation was the best - $10 for hot water, air con, satellite TV in a private room.

Thailand
As mentioned below, Kanchanaburi is ok for a night or two. See the bridge, the tigers etc.
Bangkok is a huge mess and most people hate it but I think it's cool. Bit too hot and sticky though.
Sukothai and Ayuthaya are both great. Really good if you like your temples/ruins etc.

South Thailand
Railay beach area was great though I believe it has been really built up recently. Probably still can find the huts up the hill where you can be among the chickens and the singing gibbons (I think) in the jungle. Really chilled reggae bar up the hill too.

Phi-phi. Didn't do the big island but the smaller (Leh) is worth seeing. Try and find people to rent a speedboat for the day. You make the decisions on what time you want to go, rather than hitting the beach the same time as everyone else and bamboo island etc.

The other side - Ko Phangan is famous for the full moon party. Not really my scene but it was a good experience. Make sure you get rooms booked beforehand.

The north - Chiang Mai was nice. Really liked wandering around the place and can recommend one hostel there.
Pai - got stuck with some hippies in a hostel and that was a damper. They just kept watching movies all day and moaning how people didn't 'get' the movie. Small town, rent a bike and toodle around for $2 a day.

Thailand is the big one for many people so I'd say 6 weeks if you had the time. Personally I prefer Laos, Vietnam and most of all Cambodia.

Cambodia
Most people don't like PP much, say it's too boring but I disagree. It's just a great place to spend 4/5 days and relax as the previous poster said. The museum, palace, killing fields, S-21, gun ranges are all worth seeing. Landmine museum too is something you should try to do.

Angkor/Siem Reap - Get a 3 day pass. 1 isn't enough and 3 could be too long but you've got the option. Rent a driver for the day and he'll suggest or take you wherever you desire and just sit around all day waiting/sleeping. Angkor is a must see, worth getting up at 4am for. Be wary of the sun though, it bakes and there isn't a lot of cover in places like Bayon.

Didn't have enough time for other places but I really liked Angkor. Didn't meet a soul in Siem Reap at xmas time but still had fun.

Laos
Vientiane is probably the most boring city I've ever been too. After a day I was ready to leave. Vang Vieng is/was the party town and has a reputation for being a backpacker haven or hell. Nice to float down the river and get a few Beer Lao in. Easy to meet others too. Just don't get stuck in the routine of waking, walking downstairs, lying on your back and watching Friend for 12 hours with food. Amazing scenery around that area, especially the road from Vientiane to VV.

Luang Prubang is great. Really laid back and nice town. Loads of temples, loads of monks. Night market, good views, the late night bowling alley once everywhere else stops serving beer.

Only went to Myanmar for 1 day (walked across the border at Myawaddy from Thailand). Was cool. Thankfully met a guy who showed me around and I bought him dinner. Don't know much else more though.

Malaysia/Indonesia - never been. Would recommend Laos though.

Food wise - I found Khmer and Lao food to be similar. Nothing too different from Thai but not as good. Sticky rice every day can get a bit boring. Try hitting up happy pizza in PP if it's still there. Vietnamese food is probably the best and then Thai. Both are great though.

I've just realised I've spent all this time writing and have hardly contributed anything. Apologies, feel free to ask more specific questions though and I'll try to help.
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fezmond



Joined: 27 Oct 2008

PostPosted: Sat Jan 05, 2013 12:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

double post
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brucebruce



Joined: 10 Dec 2012

PostPosted: Sat Jan 05, 2013 1:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the great replies. I should have mentioned I plan on leaving in about 2 weeks. I am really torn as to where I should start the trip. From what I am reading I think I should head to the beach. Would Cambodia be better in coming months than now? Any thoughts on where my trip should begin based on the time of the year?
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JustinC



Joined: 10 Mar 2012
Location: We Are The World!

PostPosted: Sat Jan 05, 2013 2:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Two weeks from now is way better than in the summer!

You could use Bangkok as a hub, fly in, and stay a few days (the city isn't on my favorite list), take a few day or two day trips from there, leave some cold weather clothes

then north until you end up at Chiang Mai/Rai, stopping at a few places before you get there - Thai luxury buses are good

east to Lao, try a few cities in Lao - I took the bus in and flew out, I hated the roads in Laos

east to Sapa, Hanoi, Halong bay, train down to Hue, Hoi An, further down to Saigon (it IS a cesspit) - the train is easily the best way to travel in Vietnam

west to Phnom Penh, Siem Reap - dry season so no boat, but the roads are much better now

west back to Bangkok - lots of buses although I took 2 taxis,

then to KL in Malaysia

down to Singapore

Bali

the Philippines etc etc

It's easier to just plan as you go from the advice of people you meet on the way, who've just come from where you're going to.
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Drew345



Joined: 24 May 2005

PostPosted: Sat Jan 05, 2013 6:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I found this website to be great for SE Asia backpacking.

http://www.passplanet.com/

The core info is about 10 years old, but it does a great job comparing one country / location to the others based on several criteria. It's really great for choosing best places and best route to connect them together.
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young_clinton



Joined: 09 Sep 2009

PostPosted: Sat Jan 05, 2013 7:39 am    Post subject: Re: Southeast Asia Backpacking Advice Reply with quote

brucebruce wrote:


B. Thailand
1. North or Central or South? How long in each?
2. Must see places/cities?



You obviously will want to visit Bangkok (you will probably be flying in there). First things first for Bangkok a good guest house to stay at is Peachy Guest House in Banglampoo. To get to Peachy (If you come during the right hours, otherwise take a taxi) take the Airport train to the Phayathai Skytrain terminal and take the Skytrain to Siam Station. Get off at Siam and take Bus 15 going in the opposite direction. The bus has a stop almost across the street from Peachy. Peachy is inexpensive and Banglampoo is the backpacker headquarters in Bangkok.

Chiang Mai is the second most important city in Thailand with temples that have building dating to the 12th century. Also Chaing Mai has two night markets in two different areas that really appeals to backpackers. From Chiang Mai you can visit Wat Kan Kun by rented motorbike which is a series of ruins from the 7th century being excavated. Also you can ride your motorbike all over the city (don't try that in Bankok). There's plenty of cheap restaurants in Chiang Mai.

The third city that according to The Lonely Planet is a must is Sukhothai in central north Thailand. I don't know anything about this city other than it used to be a capital in the 13th century and has lots of interesting things.

You will probably want to visit Kho Samui a small island in the bay of Thailand. I have heard lots of good things about the small island. It's a nice place to just hang around.


brucebruce wrote:


C. Cambodia
1. Phnom Pehn- How long?
2. Angkor Wat- How long
3. Other places?


To visit Angkor Wat (which is a must) you have to go to Siem Riep which is a real small city. You can go there by plane or by bus. If you go by bus (you are a backpacker) the roads are hideous and unpaved and slow. It's shortest to go there via Thailand. Maybe the roads from Phnom Pehn are better, somebody else might be able add to this. If going via Thailand avoid the Sukhamvit, Khao San Road tourist agent rip offs. I would just go to Aranyaprathet by Thai bus from the Northern bus terminal and cross the border into Poipet on your own and look for the buses to Siem Riep (they should be cheap and you should be able to take one without any extra frills added). Siem Riep is a **** **** so other than Angkor there is nothing else except maybe handicrafts.

Make sure that when you go to Cambodia you realize you can pay for everything with Thai Baht or US dollars. Do not exchange any money into Reils. You will get ripped off. You can get the visa for Cambodia either in Bangkok or at the border (getting it in BKK is safer but you will have to pay for motorbike taxis). If you get the visa at the border make sure the price is not a total ripoff. Also bring plenty of change in Baht or US dollars, because you have to pay in exact fare (they don't give change obviously, and there is nothing you can do about it).

I have never been to Phnom Phen but I have heard it is nice with some old colonial buildings and stuff.

As far as Vietnam, have a nice time. I don't know anything about it but it is not easy.


Last edited by young_clinton on Tue Jan 08, 2013 5:33 am; edited 1 time in total
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young_clinton



Joined: 09 Sep 2009

PostPosted: Mon Jan 07, 2013 5:55 am    Post subject: Re: Southeast Asia Backpacking Advice Reply with quote

repeat

Last edited by young_clinton on Tue Jan 08, 2013 5:32 am; edited 1 time in total
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wishfullthinkng



Joined: 05 Mar 2010

PostPosted: Mon Jan 07, 2013 5:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

a. haven't been to vietnam

b. south. it has all the beaches. fly into bangkok, land travel south. stop in phuket which is a GREAT place to get a moto and go around, see the other islands, and then go into malaysia and hit panang. Finish by going into kuala lumpur. great route to travel.

c. i went to cambodia last october and the weather was phenomenal. not a single day where it was too hott. and phnom pehn, in my opinion is an amazing city. others seem to agree with me but as they've also noted, it's definitely not for everyone and the whoring, although not as bad as most major se asian cities, can get pretty thick in some areas. it's laid back, the people are super friendly, it's still got a third world charm to it, and it can get crazy but not in a "i'm scared for my life way" like in manila (which i also like btw). last time i was there i stayed for a week and it was a blast.
and angkor wat, as someone noted is near siem reap. TOTALLY different feel from phnom pehn. very touristy and not my cup of tea. i stayed for a day and a half to see ankor wat and left. on a side note, i met some really cool koreans there as there are many of them traveling to siem reap. the trip from pp to sr is not nearly as bad as people make it out to be. we stopped at a random "duty free" shop where they sold questionable ralph lauren polos which was annoying, but many of the koreans on the bus seemed to be in heaven and bought a ton.


d. laos vs. malaysia and indonesia vs. myanmar.

comparing laos to malaysia and indonesia to myanmar are very different. myanmar is still just getting their freedom legs and adapting to it so it's much more underdeveloped than the other three countries. i find malaysia and indonesia to share similar qualities and laos shares similar qualities to cambodia.
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John Stamos jr.



Joined: 07 Oct 2012
Location: Namsan

PostPosted: Tue Jan 08, 2013 4:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

There is a ton of good information here, so I'll just throw in my experience since I did a similar trip a number of years ago (4 months SE Asia). I charted it out pretty thoroughly, started in Singapore, moved up through Malaysia, then Thailand. Spent about a month and a half in Thailand, and it's truly an amazing country; they're culinary wizards, loved almost everything. Skipped Myanmar, just because we were having such a good time in Thailand. Went to Laos overland from Chiang Mai (must see), amazing boat ride down the Mekong. Vang Vieng and Luang Prahbang are exceptional destinations. I actually really enjoyed Vientienne, though most people hate it. But, I spent a week there and avoided the overland trip to Cambodia, which, as someone else mentioned is supposed to be a grind, and just flew into Siem Riep to meet the friend I was traveling with there (along with some friendly French broads he'd picked up along the way).

I really enjoyed Phenom Pehn. It's grimy and dirty, but that is one crazy city. I ended up in some shady spots getting lost riding my bike around that city and could have very easily been robbed. I got surrounded by a gang of fifteen year old kids around midnight when I was lost one night and stopped to ask for directions, but thankfully Armstronged it out of that situation.

Anyway, then we crossed into Vietnam and I spent about a month moving up the coast. It's alright, VN is still kind of a blur to me; a lot of people don't like Vietnam, but it's a cool country. I wasn't a huge fan of HCMC but actually enjoyed Hanoi a lot. I stayed around that lake with the statue/whatever it is in the middle. I liked that area, though I forget what it's called.

That was a four month trip, similar to what you're looking to do, minus Indonesia. I fell in love with Thailand and can't wait to go back. My can't miss list would be: Railay Beach (as Fezmond helped point out to me in previous thread-- magnificent place), Ankor Wat without a doubt (get some herb, a bike, load up the ipod, and have one of the best experiences of your life), Chiang Mai, Vang Vieng and Luang Phrahbang are a can't miss, and Hoi An is definitely a place I would recommend. Unless I'm mistaking it for a different city, I had some excellent tailor made clothes made for me there. I had the most perfect pair of jeans I've ever put on made there. Wore them until this stupid Korean girl "accidentally" threw them away a number of months ago. Evil or Very Mad But, some tend to skimp on the pocket size, so make sure you ask them to make them deep.

You had some quality information thrown your way in this thread, enjoy.
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