Southeast Asia has always been at the top of the list for most backpackers and world travelers in general. Full of ancient ruins, rich cultures, mouth-watering street food and endless tropical landscapes, it is no wonder that many countries in the region end up on bucket lists that dreams are made of, including my own.
I recently embarked on a three-week, five country excursion of the region and learned a few tips along the way.
Travel During Low Season
Low season in southeast Asia is rainy season. This obviously is not ideal for exploring temples and spending time on the beaches, but you might get lucky. I went towards the end of the season and could not have been happier. While there were a few rainy days, my trip certainly was not spoiled by rain. The real benefits of traveling during low season are: hotel prices are cheaper, temples and other attractions are not crowded (allowing you to actually capture pictures without tons of people in them, or in some cases, no one in them), and it is easier to negotiate in the markets.
Prioritize – Which is More Important: Money or Time?
Many people who I know spent weeks or months backpacking through southeast Asia. Backpacking usually means extended stays in hostels and long bus rides across borders all in an effort to minimize spending to stay in the region as long as financially possible.
If you have time, taking buses around the region will save you a ton of money. If you are like me and want to maximize your time, which often means spending more money, then you should fly between cities. Since I only had three weeks in the region and had a pretty hefty list of what I wanted to see, flying was the only option. Flights in the region are relatively cheap, but very expensive compared to buses. You have to decide for yourself whether cost will be the driving factor for your trip or time management.
Take your time
Maximizing your time is always a good idea, but do be sure to take your time and enjoy not only the cultural landmarks and the amazing street food, but try to meet and talk with locals, take walks and just slow down and enjoy their pace of life. Don’t just make checklists to snap pictures and move on to the next place. Slow down and enjoy!
During my time living in Japan I was introduced to agoda.com for booking hotels in Asia. I still find this to be the best and cheapest website for booking hotels in Asia.
In many places that I visited in the region, I found that people did not speak very good English and sometimes had a difficult time understanding me. This requires a lot of patience, even in frustrating situations. Two of my banks put a hold on my card and it was very difficult to correct situations with the help of local people, but after taking a few deep breaths, I was able to get the help I needed, it just took a little bit longer than I would’ve liked, but I got it done.
Eat Street Food and Local Dishes
I don’t eat street food in many places. The sight of NYC street hot dogs makes my stomach turn, but if there is ever a time to eat street food it is in Asia. The food that you find in the stalls or even restaurants on the street is absolutely DELICIOUS. Some people may be concerned with the scoring from the health department, but I assure you that the food is fine to eat everywhere that I went. I did not meet a single person that got sick from the food so dive in.
Also be sure to eat as much local food as possible when you’re in the region. Traveling is about immersing yourself in another culture and food is a huge part of culture and can help you understand more about a country and its people. In Cambodia Beef Lok Lak and Fish Amok are must tries. I would suggest being adventurous in Thailand and going beyond the gut instinct to have pad thai. Be sure to read my post on food in Chiang Mai. Vietnam has some tried and true options, pho and banh mi. You can find banh mi in stalls on most streets and for pho go to the Binh Tay market. In Laos, I didn’t eat any specific dishes, but EVERYTHING was delicious, especially the fish. They cook many dishes with ginger, which I also love.
Have you been to Southeast Asia? What tips do you have?