South East Asia is a magnet for backpackers and for good reason. It’s very cost effective; your budget doesn’t need to be royal to be treated like royalty. It’s full of fascinating places that can keep you occupied for months. It’s easy to get around with a strong network of buses. And lastly, it’s surprisingly approachable as there is a strongly developed tourism industry that caters to English speakers.
Thailand is the classic starting point for any South East Asia trip. Bangkok is a major hub along with Singapore. It’s not as cheap as it once was but in some places, it provided some of the cheapest accommodations we had in Asia. We spent two different stints in the country for a total time in the country of 31 days.
I used to own a poster with Robert Fulghum’s essay: [amazon_link id="034546639X" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten[/amazon_link]. If you’ve never read it before, it is a cute piece which explains that all one needs to know about how to be and live are the basic rules we learned on the playground.
I was reminded of Fulghum’s whimsical piece when we encountered signs with Buddhist teachings all over the trees on the grounds of temples in Chiang Mai. We spent a fun afternoon running around snapping pictures of all of them.
After almost three months on the road, I finally got a haircut in Ayutthaya. I had been meaning to do it in Laos – really just to be able to say that I had a haircut in Laos – but the opportunity never really came up. Then finally on our third day in Ayutthaya (and certainly the most laid back of the three days we spent there), we came across a hair dresser in the market that didn’t look busy which was perfect since I hate waiting to get my hair cut.
For some strange but appropriate reason, the hair dresser is a non-English speaking – and I mean none – transgender woman. First thought: “This is a better story than Laos already”. I sit down and roll the dice. She starts off pretty timidly which is funny cause I really couldn’t care much about my hair and it was obvious she was worried about the lack of direction I was giving. I try and make some hand wavy gestures about a part and smile reassuringly. She seems to gain more confidence as it goes on.
Riding an elephant is an experience that few travellers can resist. Throughout our travels in South East Asia, we were sorely tempted by the many elephant safaris and mahout experiences on offer.
The pictures are extremely enticing. Smiling tourists atop majestic elephants trekking through lush jungles, back-dropped by tumbling waterfalls. The scenery combined with the opportunity to get up close and personal with one of nature’s most beautiful and noble creatures is almost irresistible.
There are four ways to get from Luang Prabang, Laos to Chiang Rai, Thailand. First, you can fly to Chiang Mai and double back. But it’s expensive and generally we avoid flights if not over water. Second, you can take the slow boat up the Mekong. It takes two days to the border and you need to pack your own food but it gets you there. Eventually. Third you can strap yourself in with crash helmet firmly on to a speed boat and hope you don’t hit anything. It’s loud and tiresome but it will get you to the border faster than the slow boat can. Lastly, you can take a VIP bus overnight to the border and bus it into town from there. We opted for the last option and took the 7pm VIP bus.
One of the pleasures of traveling through Thailand is to experience the art and various temples of Buddhist faith. Less common in the West, Buddhism is very popular in Thailand and one great place to take it all in is Bangkok. Having two days before we moved on to Cambodia, we took in as much as we could. We will be back for a longer stay in February but for now, two days would have to do.
The trip from Bangkok to Siem Reap is a classic backpacker trip full of tribal history and stories that defy belief. The border crossing has long been know as a landmine field of scams and the road from Poipet to Siem Reap is infamous for bus sized pot holes and violently aggressive taxi drivers looking to make a buck at every opportunity, including extorting passengers for gas money, extra fare to go to their original destination and so forth. Today, much of that has improved.
While we were in Khao Lak, there was a local festival on. It took over half of the main street and included probably close to 100 food, tour and art stalls. It had two main stages showing on one some local dance and on the other the Khao Lak 2011 beauty pageant. Local festivals are fantastic, especially for travelers. Here are 5 reasons you should always make an effort to get to local festivals.
|From Street Festival in Khao Lak|
A little twirl in our bus from Patong to Phuket Town.