Backpacking Southeast Asia: Your Questions Answered

11/03/2014 61002-Taxi/Cab United Independent Cab $22.00Someone once told me that time feels like it passes faster the older you get because the less of a percentage of your life each year is. When you’re five years old, one year is 20% of your life. When you’re 26, like me,  it’s only 3.8% of your life. I remember the conversations I had back and forth for months, trying to figure out if I should make the decision to quit my job and travel. I contemplated doing a summer stint abroad instead of a more extended trip. I thought about working full-time while I was traveling. But after spending a great deal of time thinking about why I was taking this trip, I came to this: I’m just ready for my next big adventure. I needed to feel excited about the length of time I was going for and while I’ll definitely be doing some freelance work while I’m abroad, I didn’t want to have to work.

Time has truly thrown me at this point – I leave in less than three weeks.

On December 1st, I will be using that one-way ticket to Bangkok I purchased five months ago.

Cliche as it may be, I am backpacking Southeast Asia and where better to start my journey than in what many call the most chaotic, adventurous city in the world? There’s a reason thousands upon thousands of backpackers have started their stories in the Thai capitol. I am so excited for my first walk down Khao San Road, pack on my back (and front), surrounded by the swarm of other fresh-faced backpackers beginning their trips around Asia.

In the past nine months, I quit my job, found a temporary position to hold me over until my trip began, and moved out of my apartment. I’ve saved up over $11,000 (for the trip and a buffer when I return), racked up almost 200,000 airline miles points and earned almost two thousand dollars worth of hotel nights. I’ve single-handedly kept Amazon in business over the past few weeks as I made final purchases and completed my first round of packing.

While I’ll be writing posts expanding on my new travel hacking hobby and outlining my packing list, here are a few answers to some common questions I’ve been getting about my trip:

Where are you going?

This trip is all about backpacking Southeast Asia. I picked it because I wanted a region that is known to be:

  • cheap
  • a well-worn backpacker’s trail
  • relatively safe for solo female travelers
  • somewhere I’d never been
  • not a Spanish-speaking region/country

Where in Southeast Asia?

When I first decided to go to Southeast Asia, I had about 16 countries on the list. Thankfully, someone in the reddit community told me that I was crazy and to cut my list way down if I wanted to spend more then a few days in each place.

Then, I wrote a reflective post about my travel philosophy for The Art of Slow Travel and realized that in no way would visiting 16 countries in 6 months be remotely representative of the trip I wanted to have. I realized that I am at my travel-best when I spend more time in less places. I like to learn about the social, historical and political contexts of the countries I’m visiting. I enjoy really connecting with locals and walking away with a deep understanding of new cultures.

You just can’t do that by hitting 16 countries in six months.

I’m not one of those people who counts their passport stamps or the number of countries they’ve been to so there’s no reason I need a laundry list of countries to tick off. Travel is a big part of my life and I’ll make time to visit the ones that I don’t hit this round.

So after all this obsessing over my itinerary, I cut down the list to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. All four countries are inexpensive and I can get between each overland. They’re also full of diverse biomes and incredible food – requirements for the trip.

Here’s my general itinerary for backpacking Southeast Asia:

*These places are not necessarily in the order in which I will hit them. Rather, a general collection of places I’d like to go*

December | Central/Northern Thailand Loop

  • Bangkok
  • Ayutthaya
  • Kanchanaburi
  • Lopburi
  • Sukhothai
  • Chiang Mai
  • Chiang Rai
  • Pai
  • Nan

Bangkok Street Food - hotelscheckout

Chiang Mai - theinternettraveller-comPai -onlyddrops-blogspot-comJanuary | Southern Thailand Loop

  • Bangkok
  • Koh Samui
  • Koh Phagnan (for New Years)
  • Koh Tao
  • Ao Nong
  • Koh Sok National Park
  • Krabi
  • Koh Lanta
  • Bangkok

Koh Lanta - lantapocketguide

Koh Sok - Panoramio

February/March/April  | Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia

*I have a general idea of places I’d like to go, but have no idea what the best route is between these three countries. I’ve heard some people do Northern Laos-Northern Vietnam – Southern Vietnam – Southern Laos – Cambodia, which is something I’m considering, but am not totally sure. I also partly want to leave this open to be flexible based on the travelers I meet on the road!

Vietnam

  • Hoi An
  • Hanoi
  • Halong Bay
  • Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon
  • Mui Ne
  • Da Nang
  • Da Lat

Hoi An - silverline tripsHoi An - humanity unscripted

Laos

  • Vientiane
  • Vang Vieng
  • Luang Prabang
  • Tha Kaek
  • Don Dhet
  • Luang Nam Tha

Gibbon Experience - Laos

Bioluminescent plankton - LaosCambodia

  • Phnomh Penh
  • Siem Reap
  • Angkor Wat
  • Sihanoukville
  • Kampot
  • Kep
  • Kratie
  • Battambang
  • Banlung

Angkor Wat - arounddeglobe

Right now, I’m even rethinking my flights home. I have a flight from Manila – Tokyo – Chicago – Puerto Vallarta. I have almost a week in Tokyo and a couple of days in Chicago before my best friend gets hitched, and I’m thinking of flying out of Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh City to give me some more time in the region. I’m constantly needing to remind myself that SLOW is the way to go.

Are you planning it all out?

To keep this simple, no. I want lots of really authentic experiences so I can begin to understand Thai, Cambodian, Lao and Vietnamese culture from locals. I’m using resources like Withlocals, Couchsurfing, and Vayable to help me connect with locals along the way. I’ll be reviewing these resources here on the blog with the intent of helping other backpackers find ways to go local on their epic backpacking Southeast Asia travel journeys.

Additionally, I want to meet other people to travel with! I’m choosing flexibility over stability for this trip.

However, I did book some stuff based on friends that are coming and high season activities that I imagine will fill up quickly. I have the following already booked:

  • The first four nights in Bangkok by myself
  • Four nights with friends in Bangkok over Christmas
  • Five nights with friends in Koh Samui over New Years
  • Two nights in Koh Tao after New Years by myself
  • Open Water Dive Certification – Roctopus Dive in Koh Tao (with three nights accommodation) by myself
  • Four nights with a friend in Koh Lanta in the middle of January
  • Three nights with a friend in Bangkok at the end of January

Crown Lanta Hotel - krabi-hotels-com

Koh Samui - Airbnb House 2

Aloft - Bangkok

Are you going by yourself?

Yes and I’m thrilled! Like I mentioned earlier, I will have a few friends visiting throughout the trip, but I will be “on my own” for 90% of it. I do imagine that I’ll likely not be on my own all that much as I  hope to meet people to travel with along the way! I don’t know if its being in the second quarter of my life, but I’m also newly loving my alone time. For so long, I was very anti-alone time, and now, I look forward to it.

Are you scared?

I’m mostly just scared of oversized, monstrous bugs (please do not send me any more scary buzzfeeds).But for the moms who are reading, I’m bringing a doorstop (for the few times I choose to be in a private room), mase (not that I know how to use it), and there’s a rape whistle on my daypack. DON’T WORRY GUYS, I have you all in my head and will make smart choices.

I’ve said a lot of goodbyes over the past few weeks. While I know I’ll be returning to Chicago at some point, it’s still bitter sweet to leave a life that you’re pretty happy with. My favorite farewell line?

“Be smart. Be sweet. Be safe. Come home.”

I’ll do my best :).

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Help, veteran backpackers! What do you think about my itinerary? What recommendations do you have?

 

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I'm Emily - a twenty-something female travel-enthusiast - here to serve and inspire you. Need help planning your next trip? Email me at emily [at] letsroamwild [dot] com and tag your own travel pics to share with the world @letsroamwild.

6 Responses to Backpacking Southeast Asia: Your Questions Answered

  1. Christie of The Butterfly Editions November 12, 2014 at 9:07 am #

    So exciting! I too was petrified of the monstrous bugs, but don’t worry its not nearly as bad as you’d imagine! I’ve barely seen a spider, mostly just ants everywhere, which you get used to 🙂 I was just reading through your itinerary and ours is so similar! We have also planned to visit Laos/Vietnam/Cambodia in Feb/March/April and we will also be spending Christmas in Bangkok. SEA is such a small world!
    Christie of The Butterfly Editions recently posted…I Could Live in Kuala LumpurMy Profile

    • Emily Moyer November 12, 2014 at 4:38 pm #

      Such a small world! Hopefully we will cross paths 😉

  2. Erick November 16, 2014 at 8:59 pm #

    Hey. Welcome to the club. lol. You’re going to love SEA. I would HIGHLY recommend you find a way to fit in Malaysia. Personally, I would cut out Laos and add Malaysia. lol. I’m heading back to SEA myself on Dec 2nd. If you have any questions let me know. Thailand Dec, Indonesia Jan, Malaysia Feb. Would be cool to meet up. I’ll definitely be following your adventure.
    Erick recently posted…Norwegian Airlines Review: The New Kid on The BlockMy Profile

    • Emily Moyer November 16, 2014 at 9:49 pm #

      Thanks, Erick! I’m so excited :). There are so many countries on my list…and Malaysia is definitely one of them…BUT I know I want to go slow and don’t want to feel rushed. Definitely hope our paths cross! I’ll be following yours as well!

  3. Aidan December 10, 2014 at 6:03 pm #

    Do you want a real adventure in Thailand ? Pick a village(point) furthest away from any main road (red lines) on a map, without knowing anything about this village and figure out how to get there.
    If you need ad some geographical preferences such as a river, altitude, valleys, mountains but NOT by name or recommendation and then look at the faces of the real Thais, not in the well organized tourist trade representatives who provide you with decades of regurgitated watered down, suitable for the lowest conman denominator, most efficient, guaranteed to satisfy some of your expectations with well rehearsed and political correct activities and sights to see.
    The best part is in Thailand you can do it safely. As an individual traveler, you are never alone and you can talk a couple other Bp. to join you.
    …. its like walking through an unknown city at 5:30 am as life unfolds.
    Have fun and report about an adventure like this,

    • Emily Moyer December 14, 2014 at 8:38 am #

      Thanks, Aidan. I’m in recruitment to find someone to do it with me. Love the suggestion 🙂

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