Southeast Asia Travel Advice

A lot of people have been asking me where I went when I was in Southeast Asia. Instead of continuing to email that info around, I figured I would post it all here.

Before I embarked on my three month trip, I was incredibly nervous and wanted to piece together a perfect plan. I emailed every acquaintance I could think of who had been to Southeast Asia and pleaded for their advice. I then took time compiling their lists into one “super list” of places to go. Over the course of my trip, I didn’t look at that list once.

Here is my biggest piece of travel advice: go solo and figure it out on the fly. Traveling alone forces you out of your shell and for those who are introverts, I promise you, it’s much easier to talk to people who are traveling. Travelers tend to be actively looking to make connections with new people. If you find yourself struggling to meet people, book a few nights at the most social hostel you can find and get drunk with your dorm mates. I guarantee funny stories and friendships arise.

Many people are afraid of traveling solo, and rightly so. I’m a 6′ 3” dude which, while this does make me a prime target for street vendors, also makes me much less likely to be assaulted or mugged than your average traveler (I actually did get mugged but I’ll get to that in a second).

I met plenty of solo travelers (male and female) during my trip and none of them had any issues. The only time anyone got into trouble is when they got black-out drunk by themselves and wandered off. A friend of mine was robbed – as was I – doing just this. Fortunately, neither of us were hurt and if you want the full story of what happened to me you can read it here.

You’ll notice that in an earlier paragraph I said “get drunk” to meet new people not “get knee-walking obliterated and wake up in a tub full of ice with your kidneys missing drunk”. If you have the self-control, maintain the drunkenness at a safe level and there won’t be any problems.

If, however, you have a tendency to drink to excess, then perhaps traveling with a friend could be a good idea. Although if you’re a raging alcoholic, I suppose your friend probably is one as well. Still, there’s safety in numbers. Two blacked-out people are harder to rob than one. One of you could projectile vomit to distract your assailants while the other cries on the phone, telling an ex-girlfriend that he “messed up baby”. It’s a flawless defense.

Once you’ve decided whether to go solo or not and have landed at your first destination, where to go next is all about word of mouth. Talk to everyone you can and get their opinion on the best place to go. There’s usually a general consensus of where this is and you’ll find yourself hopping from one great location to the next.

With that being said, I understand the trepidation that comes with diving into a new country. It can give a sense of security to have a guideline of places to go, even if you don’t end up using it. So below I’ve provided an outline of where I went with a few random tidbits of advice tossed in.

Thailand

Chiang_Mai_Temple_2

A quick warning about weed here: don’t buy it! Especially not from the tuk-tuk drivers.

A guy I met tried to buy weed from a tuk-tuk driver; the driver sold him the weed, and then drove him directly to the police station. He had to pay something like $1,000 to get out of jail.

Bangkok

Khaosan_road_mebopjon

The main attraction here is Khao San Road. It’s super packed with bars and tourists. Fun for a night or two but all there is to do is party. I’d recommend not staying directly on Khao San Road. Go a block or two away so you can escape the noise at night.

Buying beers at 7/11 is the cheap way to go when it comes to drinks, but be careful with Chang beer!

Chang_beer

Thailand’s regulation standards are fairly lax and the alcohol percentage in these things can vary from something like 5-11%. My first night I had three big sized bottles and was fine. Next night I did the same and don’t remember a thing. Drink with caution.

During the day, there’s a ferry down the river that stops at all the main tourist spots (temples, the palace). It’s worth checking out.

A full recap of my first night in Bangkok, ping-pong show and all, is right here. That last sentence wasn’t totally clear. I’d like to clarify that I watched a ping-pong show, not participated in one. Don’t have the kegel strength for that.

Chiang Mai

Ladyboy Caberet

I stayed at So-Ho here. It was nice and clean although I’m sure there are other decent places to stay. Basically, just talk to people on the way and you’ll figure out where the nice places are. If there’s somewhere you particularly want to stay, book it beforehand on hostelworld.com.

There’s not too much to do in Chiang-Mai itself. There’s a big night market if you’re into that sorta stuff. Shopping bores me to tears, but other people seemed to like it. Definitely go to the lady-boy cabaret here! It was really funny. If you go with any guy friends, try to make them sit in the front. They’ll get brought onstage and messed with.

Other than that, day trips to the forest and elephant rides are the hot items. My advice is not to ride an elephant because they’re treated horrendously. In order for an elephant to be docile enough for a person to ride it, they’re put through some pretty awful stuff(separated from their mom at birth, beaten, etc). You can read more about this here.

There’s a place called Elephant Nature Park that I really, really recommend going to. They rescue mistreated elephants from other places. I didn’t get to ride one at the park but I was allowed to get up close and feed/bathe them. The whole place is run by this little Thai lady that they call “the elephant whisper”. I think there may even be a documentary on her. Pretty awesome person. It’s a fairly expensive place but worth the visit.

What’s that? You’d like to hear a funny story about when I was in Chiang Mai? Well, slap my ass and call me Susan! Today is your luck day. How about my massage mishap?.

Pai

Pai Rockslide

Pai is a very cool, relaxed hippie town. Not everyone makes it up here and this was one of my favorite spots. It’s common for people to plan on staying here for a few days and then extend that to a week. I stayed at Spicy Pai hostel which was a really social place.

The thing to do here is to rent a moped and explore the surrounding areas. There are some great waterfalls and hikes.

Hike in Pai

Plus it’s just fun to cruise around on a moped. Be careful on them though! Throughout the trip I saw plenty of people with cut up legs/on crutches and the cause was almost always a moped accident.

Also, be clear about your sexual orientation while you’re here or the girl that you’re trying to hit on may think that you enjoy receiving anal.

Laos

Vang_Vieng

The weed situation is much more relaxed over here than in Thailand. There’s a Bob Marley bar in Luang Probang that sells edibles.

Luang Prabang

Laos_diving

I  took a bus from Pai to Luang Prabang and it was a horrific experience. It took forever, the seats sucked, and the road was terrifying. I don’t know if there’s another way to get there, but if there is, look into it.

That being said, Luang Prabang was beautiful. The main attractions here are the incredible Kuang Si Waterfalls. Definitely worth a see.

Veng Viang

tubing_in_rain

Pretty much the only reason people come here is to go tubing down a river and bar hop. There used to be roughly thirty bars along the river but so many tourists were dying that they shut everything down. It reopened right when I got there with only two bars. It was still really fun and I recommend doing it. The reason people were dying is that they were getting absolutely shitfaced and passing out and falling into the river. Just don’t drink yourself into a coma and you’ll be fine.

I did, however, drink some absinthe while rafting which – although it wasn’t a wise decision – did lead to a funny story.

Vientiane

I don’t remember much about this place. I went here to get to the airport and flew to Hanoi. If you can afford to fly, definitely do. The bus ride is supposed to be god awful.

Vietnam

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like trying to buy the morning after pill in Vietnam without being able to speak Vietnamese, don’t worry – I’ve been there, and can tell you all about it.

Hanoi

Halong Bay

The main event here is a boat tour of Ha Long Bay. The tour that gets advertised the most is called Castaway. It’s a three-day, two-night booze cruise and if you want to party into oblivion, this is the one for you.

The tour guide keeps everyone drinking non-stop which generates some…

11371259_856640117754469_670956313_n

…interesting moments.

I had a blast but there are other tours if you’re looking for a more relaxed trip. Either way Ha Long Bay is a must see place.

If you see a street vendor outside of Hanoi Backpackers selling kebabs, go to him. I must’ve had like twenty of those things. Also, you can buy beer on the street here for like 25 cents.

There’s a place to the north of Hanoi called Sappa. I wasn’t able to make it up there but it’s supposed to be beautiful. Kinda like the Pai of Vietnam.

Hue

Hai Van Pass

The main source of fun here is to rent a moped and ride the Hai Van Pass. It’s a scenic route from Hue to Hoi An that I can’t recommend enough. It was one of my favorite parts of the trip. Remember to wear sunscreen though because you will get burned!

Hoi An

Stay at the Sunflower Hostel here! Really nice place. I had a great time here mainly because of the people I was with. There’s solid night life and you can recover at the beach during the day.

Dalat

Canyoning in Delat

Go here for canyoning! It’s a little scary but 100% worth it. Be forewarned, most people end up with a few bumps and bruises after this. There’s one part at the end that they call “the washing machine” where you’re dropped into a waterfall and it tosses you around. I gave my elbow a decent smack but otherwise emerged unscathed.

Ho Chi Minh

bikes_in_saigon

There’s a Vietnam War museum here that’s worth seeing. Its not exactly a happy way to spend the day but it is really interesting. Prepare for some serious guilt if you’re from the United States.

Cambodia

Throughout Cambodia I stayed at Monkey Republic hostels. They’re all well-run and owned by a couple of nice guys who met backpacking.

Phnom Penh

Go to the Killing Fields here to learn about the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge. It’s a very heavy way to spend the day but it’s interesting to learn about.

Siem Riep

angkor wat

Angkor Wat is the hot item here. You can do a multiple or a one day tour. I recommend the one day. There are only so many temples one can look at.

Nice night life here. There’s a bar called Angor What? (see what they did there?) that’s fun.

Kampot

Kampot_sunset_2

When I came here we tried to stay at a place called Arcadia which is right on the river. Unfortunately, it had been raining so much that the place was flooded. It’s supposed to be a really awesome hostel if you can go. I ended up staying at a Monkey Republic which was fine.

Rent a moped one day and explore the nearby hills.

Kampot_biking

Sinookville

There’s not much else to do here besides party. If you want to relax, there’s a cool movie place across from the Monkey Republic.

Ko Rong

Koh Rong

Highly recommend this place. It’s a beautiful, secluded island south of Sinookville. I ended up staying here for about a week.

I stayed at Island Boys which I wouldn’t recommend. They’re right in the middle of the partying. The power shuts off on the island around midnight, but the place next to Island Boys has a generator and keeps music blasting all night.

Also, there are cats and dogs everywhere in that hostel. A cat had just given birth to a bunch of kittens, which sounds cute, except that it was super territorial and kept pissing on shit. I’d say stay somewhere else and you can come party at night if you want to.

Southern Thailand

I finished off my loop off in the southern islands. I don’t know what your plan is but Thailand has some weird visa situation when it comes to re-entry. If I remember correctly, if you fly in, you get a 30 day visa, but if you boat/bus in, you only get 2 weeks. Just keep that in mind depending on how long you want to stay.

Ko Phi Phi

Koh_Phi_phi

Had a really fun time here.

I stayed at a place called Blancos which, again, was right in the middle of the partying. Because I was traveling solo, I kept booking the most social places. I dunno if I’d recommend this. It was fun, but if you ever want a night to relax, the walls literally shake from how loud they play their music.

They put on an event once a week called “The 60 Shot Challenge” and, as you can imagine, partying with reckless abandon follows.

Ooh I almost forgot. There’s a place here where tourists can box each other at night. It is hilarious. Everyone starts off timid and laughing and then one person lands a solid hit and it becomes an awesome drunken mess.

Ko Pha Ngan

full_moon_Laura_2

I was on this island for the full moon party so all I really did here was drink. There are a bunch of nights that build up to the full moon party (jungle party, pool party) that are all equally fun. I stepped on glass at the pool party, so I’d recommend some sandals if you go to that.

There’s a place here called Mushroom Kingdom that sells shroom shakes that are good. I drank one after full moon and spent the day giggling and rolling around in the sand. Big fan.

Ko Tao

National_park

Honestly, the islands kinda blur together. I had a fun time here as well, with the most memorable moment being the bathroom sex incident.

This is the place to go to if you want to get diving certified. It’s apparently one of the cheapest places in the world to do it. I didn’t want to spend the money, but other people did and loved it.

That’s all I got. Enjoy your trip and if you’ve got more specific questions, comment below and I’ll answer as best I can.

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About the author

Hi my name is Nick Holke

I'm 24 years old and I'm from California. Currently, I'm teaching English in Madrid.

If you wanna know a bit more about me and the website, click here.

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