Travelling around South East Asia

In More Depth

We could quite literally write a book for each of our destinations and although this section is in more detail, we try to give you a quick and easy reading idea of what it would be like to tick off a bucket list travel experience of the areas visited.

 

An insight into travelling around South East Asia without going into the nuts and bolts of it all, where we hope to enthuse you to getoutgotravel and add this amazing destination to your bucket list.

This interactive section takes you South East Asia. Click on the pictures below to take you to the specific country of your choice, or read under all about our travelling experiences, tips and advice on our travels.

We highlight our "7 main areas" which cover the following:- Areas/countries visited, planning and research, timings, budget, luggage, dos and don'ts and places to see.

Vietnam

Vietnam

Cambodia

Cambodia

Laos

Laos

Thailand

Thailand

Malaysia

Malaysia

1. Areas/countries covered.

Location of travels taken for one specific trip

So without getting into too much detail, this was a single person adventure being myself Dougie.

 

I really wanted to experience as much of South East Asia as I possibly could in a relatively short time frame being three months.

My goal was to take in as much of each country as I could in the time allocated but without rushing it.

I picked from my bucket list of countries to visit. Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Malaysia because of their close proximity to each other.

2. Planning and research

The bucket list of destinations, the routes to pick and how to get around or navigate.

As with all our planning and research I drew a map (tip 0330) of the countries I wanted to travel through and worked out the best way to navigate them and the easiest way possible for the time in hand.

My bucket list for this trip was Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia. Although all countries were neighbouring, there did seem to be a logical way of getting around from one to the other.

My thought processes were, as Laos is landlocked and most of Cambodia too, I would plan to explore these countries in the middle of my trip, giving me some sea experiences at the beginning and end.

This breaks up continuity and gives flexibility as well as variety for the whole travelling adventure.

Economics was also a factor in the route chosen, as I wanted to find varying ways of travel also. Of course you can just fly in and out as you go but I really think you miss out on so much in your travelling experience this way.

My final route plan was decided after acquiring very affordable single flights from Brisbane Australia into Kuala Lumpur, stay a couple of days only, then fly onto Hanoi. All at a cost of under AUD$100.

Geographically Vietnam has a mountainous range running its entire length from the North West down to Ho Chi Minh City so the obvious route for me was to head south along the east coast of Vietnam, then up to Cambodia via the Mekong.

Track east within Cambodia, then on up through Laos as far north as possible, snake East again into northern Thailand and then back down south through the whole of Thailand down to Malaysia again.

Now on paper this all seems very doable in the time allotted but with all planning it is very difficult to get an idea of how far everything is and only experience can prepare you fully, so our first tip here is, distance is a variable.

We talk more about this within the tip but travelling from A to B can differ so much, especially in developing areas of the world.

Quite unintended, I found that most travellers I came across during my whole travelling time, had either chose to follow my same route or had come from the opposite direction. This usually means that your research is good.

Travelling groups and social media travel forums are a great addition for your research where recent experience is always helpful.

Timings

In this we mean amount of time to travel and time of the year to travel.

I gave myself a period of 3 months, to take in as much as possible and chose to go mid August to mid November, this is also out of peak season making for a more affordable time and best weather conditions for the route I took.

Looking at the best times to travel, obviously research was done into the likely forecast for the regions whilst travelling and although the areas were all within the Tropic of Cancer and the Equator, there was some consideration as to when and where I wanted to be, toward the end of my travels down nearer the Equator.

There are definite seasons to these regions and being west or east of Southern Thailand nearing the end of my travels could make a big difference to how I go about my navigation.

I decided on mid August to November. This would take me further from the equator whilst away from the oceans and would hopefully be a little less humid inland.

Having travelled extensively prior to this adventure, I had a fair idea on how long it would take me to navigate this trip but still allowed time for any unforeseen. There is nothing worse than having to leave too early or stay too long in one place.

Budget

How much you intend to spend, or would like to spend on your trip

Economics was also a factor in the route chosen, as I wanted to find varying ways of travel also. Of course you can just fly in and out as you go but I really think you miss out on so much in your travelling experience this way.

The final route plan was decided, after acquiring very affordable single flights from Brisbane Australia into Kuala Lumpur, stay a couple of days only and then fly onto Hanoi. All at a cost of under AUD$100

My goal was to see if I could achieve a modicum of comfort on a tight budget. This time of year made it easy to find comfortable affordable accommodation for the price of backpacking.

This time of travel within the regions would be considered as low/off season and so no accommodation was pre booked. It is so easy to find accommodation as a single traveller and there are many bargains to be found. Another reason for flash packing instead of backpacking. The costs were virtually the same.

Geographically Vietnam has a mountainous range running its entire length from the North West down to Ho Chi Minh City so the obvious route for me was to head south along the east coast of Vietnam, then up to Cambodia via the Mekong. Track east within Cambodia, then on up through Laos as far north as possible, snake east again into northern Thailand and then back down south through the whole of Thailand down to Malaysia again.

Now on paper this all seems very doable in the time allotted but with all planning it is very difficult to get an idea of how far everything is and only experience can prepare you fully, so our first tip here is, distance is a variable.

Not wanting to fly everywhere and keeping to a pre planned budget, my medium for travel was chosen as trains, buses and boats.

Night sleeper buses and night trains, saved on transport and accommodation as you save on accommodation with overnight travel.

Taking this into account, it does make for a more detailed plan and research but I allowed adequate time for the unforseen.

Luggage

What, why and how much to take.

Knowing I would be with my whole luggage most of the time, I opted to take my large backpack with a detachable day pack. This was a Black Wolf Ceader Breaks 90 litre. Now I must add this was far too big for my needs but was easy to carry and suited me at the time.

Our recommendation is to go for a 65ltr backpack with a 10-15ltr daypack, anything else won't be as effective.

You really won't need any heavy clothing, jumpers and the like but take plenty of mix and match clothes and a good quality light weight rain mac.

A good pair of hiking shoes/boots, think about taking some old "T" shirts pants and socks that you can throw away as you go. Clothing is so cheap over there and you can buy new for next to nothing.

Make sure you have a good camera and a back up one too. Good vanity pack and first aid equipment. Micro towel and that's about it.

A full list of what to take will be within the "Lists, inventories and itineraries" section of this website.

With this type of travelling and means of travel, we wouldn't recommend a suitcase with wheels.

Less is best as we always say and what was taken for the whole trip will be updated within the "Lists, inventories and itineraries" section of this website.

The journey

The actual trip and where we went.

Malaysia

 
Petronas Towers KL
Temple KL
Batu Temple tour
Shopping centre rollercoaster
Batu Caves KL
Towers in KL

Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur

So as mentioned previously, I flew out of Brisbane to KL as a stopover for two nights.

 

I found a reasonably priced 3 star hotel in the centre of the city and plodded the streets for a couple of days, doing the usual touristy type of things.

A visit to the Kuala Lumpur tower, the famous Twin Petronas Towers and the KLCC park is a must at night time.

I found the city a little pricey but you expect this in any central city you travel to these days.

Then I was off to Hanoi and in the thick of it all.

 

Vietnam

Hanoi badminton in the streets
Hanoi city
Hanoi courtyard
Hanoi street life
Hanoi traffic and how to cross
Hanio Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Hanoi Puppet show
Hanoi

Vietnam

Hanoi

Our top tip here is whenever you arrive in a new country via flight, is to collect your checked luggage, get through customs and take 5!

Stop for a coffee, pick up a new sim card for your phone, relax and chill for a few moments. Unless you have arranged for a transfer, you are already on your journey and there is no rush.

You will be hounded as you attempt to leave the airport by taxi drivers, touts and scammers, so our tip to you is to relax take your time and wait a moment or two.

Many countries have transfer buses that are more affordable than taxis and will get you to the city centres just as quick as the taxis and for a fraction of the cost.

I happened to meet up with a like minded traveller whilst sipping my coffee and we decided to share a taxi into the city centre. A quick stroll around and I found the most delightful hotel right in the centre of the Old Quarter. A great place to stay and so local to everything.

Adopting my philosophy of dump your bags and go, I was off like a shot and finding my bearings in no time.

 

Picking up a map from your reception desk of where you are staying is a must and they always mark where you are and some key places to visit.

Ask away to your heart's content. Where is the best place to eat? How long does it take to get here or there? How much does a taxi cost from here to there?

Grab your accommodations business card for your wallet in case you get lost.

The city of Hanoi is amazing and with the French architecture so prevalent you'd be forgiven at times to thinking you might be in Europe from time to time but the unmistakable smells, sounds and abundance of traffic will soon snap you out of it and take you to a city of wonder and magic, as you watch how people navigate from one side of the road to the other whilst a myriad of differing vehicles crazily go about their daily commute around the busy streets and many junctions with seemingly not a care in the world for safety of others on the road.

Tip 0339 As the crow flies

It takes you a while to realise the trick of it all and that it's all about the speed that the crow flies that gets you safely across the manic and relentless traffic. You will notice that no one takes any notice of traffic signals and signs.

Having watched a police officer sitting at one of the busiest junctions in Hanoi with his back to the traffic, I asked him politely "shouldn't you be facing the traffic" to which he replied, "I'm only here for when something happens, not to prevent it!" This pretty much sums up Hanoi and the traffic situation.

Personally, I love it there and can't wait to return one day. The parks, walks, shopping streets, eateries and puppet theatres are amazing and a must do when in Hanoi.

Three nights in Hanoi and it was time to move on and many would miss the opportunity to head north to the township of "Sa Pa" at their misfortune. Nowadays there is a new highway that gets you there in approx 5 hours but I am glad to have taken the night sleeper train up which was a full on 9 hours but worth the go.

One thing I have to say in Vietnam is the roads especially out of town, can be quite treacherous and any opportunity to take public transport is a good one.

 
Sa Pa. Water Buffalo
Trekking in Sa Pa
Sa Pa Rice fields
Bridge to school
Chatting with the locals
Homestay cooking up a storm
Beautiful country side of Sa Pa
Waterfall. refreshing near the end o
Outside bathroo
Typical home
WHo's leading who?

Sa Pa

I decided to book an organised "Home stay trekking tour" and on arriving in the early hours of the morning, I was greeted and fed breakfast before joining the tour down the glorious mountainous valley. I was with just three other travellers and spent the next two days with them as we gently trekked amidst the beautiful and so often missed area of northern Vietnam.

Now, when I went, you really did feel like you were the only ones trekking down the countryside but even then you could just see in the far distance another group some 2-3 hours ahead.

With the new highway there, I would imagine it may feel like a bit of a conveyor belt trekking through it all but what you see and experience far out ways any thought of repetition.

At the end of a slightly tiring downhill trek, which will take you most of the day you will arrive at your allotted home stay. The families that you stay with are so giving and welcoming it's hard to say you feel like a stranger.

Tip 0340 Join in

There are basically two ways of going about your stay.

 

You can either separate yourselves from the family your home staying with and enjoy the food and bedding provided for you, or (as I much prefer) get involved, try and communicate, help out and join in the cooking. You will be more appreciated, have a better time and get ploughed with too much rice wine, or even better.

At the end of your trekking be it 2 or 3 days you will be taken back up to town for your journey back to Hanoi.

I was very fortunate to have met a guide on the train both ways, who was so giving with not only advise and history but was full of stories and generous at the bar.

 
View from the shore
Setting off past floating village
Halong Bay waiting for explore
Asia trip up to Hanoi 180
Kayaking with friends in Halong Bay
Our Junk boat for a few days
A procession of Junk boats
Cabin room on board

Ha Long Bay

A relatively short transfer in comparison from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay in the north east of Vietnam and you are at the most beautiful, picturesque area of the country.

An overnight boat trip is a must and from the harbour jam packed full of beautiful wooden Junks, queuing up to take you off to the midst of it all, you will find yourselves looking up in awe at the towering islands of limestone, clad with tropical rain forest canopies.

The pictures although beautiful, just do not do it justice and this is a must do or miss out big time.

It's all done at a leisurely pace and this is the time to relax and just take it all in.

I would definitely set your alarm for an early morning swim and watch the sunrise over these limestone towers, as you float on your back mesmerised with the creeping shadows and shards of light peering through the greenery around the majestic walls of limestone.

There are island stays and stopovers, kayaking and you can even find a small beach for some volleyball. This is the place to go!

Heading off now down the east coast heading south the whole length of the country, there is an enormous amount to do and see and really you could spend a month easily popping into every nook and cranny you come across but I was on a schedule and decided to visit just a few of the more well known places of interest, well for me anyway.

Da Nang

Taking the night sleeper bus, and heading for Hoi An we stopped at Da Nang first for a morning boat trip out of the French colonial port out to sea for a few hours and then back to see the Marble Mountains.

 

You could spend forever here as it is a great base and is central.

 
 
Streets of Hoi An
Fishing vessel
Canals of Hoi An
Old bridge over the canal
Fishing village
Streets of Hoi An

Hoi An

A new day and then onto Hoi An to stay a couple of days. Now this place is beautiful. Full of French colonial architecture and canals. Accommodation was plentiful and I had no trouble securing a lovely room close by to an indoor swimming pool.

I had reached this city in the nick of time and spent two or three days longer, as some people I had made friends with in Ha Long Bay were in town and sadly one had broken her collar bone and was in hospital.

A week later and the whole place had flooded to beyond recognition and took months if not years to repair.

I have to bring in our next tip here, as this is where I was given a Lonely Planet handbook.

Go to this tip to find out why I went against my ideals of finding out for myself.

 
Na Trang
17th Parallel
Na Trangs waters edge
Traffic is calm midday
A trip out to sea for the day
Water bar
DMZ
Central Na Trang

Nha Trang

Another night sleeper bus to Nha Trang and I was almost within reach of Ho Chi Minh City relatively speaking.

This really was a whistle stop tour of Vietnam but I really started to feel I had just begun to immerse myself in the culture and ways of the Vietnamese people. Yet another boat trip out to the islands and a little snorkelling was well needed by this time.

I really needed to get to the Cu Chi tunnels I had been really looking forward to visit. There are a vast network of tunnels throughout the country and you can get to see others less impressive but it is worth the journey to Cu Chi District.

 
Ho Chi Minh bridge crossing
Lillie pond in Ho Chi Minh
Asia trip up to Hanoi 817
Secret entrance to Chu Chi tunnels
Man traps, set by the Vietnamese
Calm waters Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh

And then I reached Ho Chi Minh, formerly known as Saigon.

Sadly I only spent a couple of short days here as I wanted to start my journey north up the amazing Mekong River and into Cambodia to Phnom Penh.

A whistle stop tour taking in the usual sites like one of the many markets,  Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral, bustling Pham Ngu Lao Street and the War Remnants Museum which can be quite confronting.

Finding passage up the Mekong is surprisingly easy and many tour operators offer bargains of the moment including border crossing and are very affordable. This is the way I chose to enter Cambodia and an overnight stay on the great Mekong River is a must.

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