Backpacking in SE Asia

I’ve got around 15 days to spend. I’d like to see as much as possible of SE Asia. Where do I go? How accessible is it to use just a travel guide, a backpack and some good luck? I’d want to start in South Korea but I also want to see Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos. Is it a realistic expectation…do you know?


Well, Korea is in North Asia, and I don’t know whether it’s specifically SE Asia you want to see, but I know flying to Singapore and travelling up the west coast of Malaysia in eminently possible in that time frame. Then from Georgetown there is a rail link up to Bangkok. Alternatively, travel up the East coast of Malaysia as far as Kelantan and enter Thailand via Golok. I suspect the Vietnam Cambodia Loas trip may require a lot of flying, especially with a start in Korea, or else take longer than your 15 days. The Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand combination is possible at a leisurely pace, overland, and without being too expensive. Some of the islands off the east coast around Terranganu and Kelantan are worth staying on. I recommend a taxi from Golok to Hat Yai, very cheap, and as I drove to the border I don’t remember whether Golok has a train station. Hat Yai does of course. I would have no qualms about hiring a car in Johore Bharu and driving up if it were not prohibitively expensive, but public transport may have improved since I was there 10 years ago. If you go up the east coast to Kota Bharu, a little side trip to KL will cost peanuts - KB-KL flights are dirt cheap, then continue into Thailand. (expect to give the nice visa man at the border some Ringgit - I know they’re supposed to be free but well hey.) Oh yeah, forgot to mention, the beaches are fantastic in Kelantan, totally deserted. Go to the one called the Beach of Passionate Love (I kid you not - and this in the most muslim place in Malaysia!) - totally empty, white sand… splendid.

[edit: I am since horrified to learn the name of the beach has been changed from Pantai Chinta Berahi to Pantai Cahaya Bulan by the fun-loving PAS state govt. Still referred to as “PCB”. An article here.]

I would say your plans within 15 days are quite impossible! Public transport in many parts of Asia is little faster than riding a water buffalo. Travelling in Vietnam alone would consume 2 weeks as it’s a huge country measured from North to South.

Hexuan’s route is popular and I did similar some years ago, taking around 3 months. With just 15 days, you’d be better advised to limit yourself to one or two countries if you plan on relaxing. Happy travelling! :sunglasses:

I agree. 15 days is only enough for one or at most two countries. It’s not worth the hassles and expense of visas and border crossings with so little time, and there’s plenty to see in one country in such a short span. Consider this the first of many trips in the region and see if there’s any way you can get more time. Some people like to rack up visas in their passport – I hope you’ll concentrate on having a good time instead.

I love Vietnam: rice fields with workers in conical hats, buffalos, bicycles, beautiful ladies and school girls in ao dais, long hair, sun hats and gloves, delicious food, etc, but Vietnam really requires a month – 15 days for the north, the same for the south. I prefer the north: beautiful Hanoi, the surreal landscape of Halong Bay, a train up to the hilltribes in the northern mountains, and if you’ve got time the great old trading port/beach town of Hoi An.

Or, for a very relaxing break, fly to Bangkok, take a train to Laos and explore that lazy, peaceful, undeveloped country with its myriad beautiful temples, monks and ladies in beautiful dresses. Take a bus up to the world heritage site of Luang Prabang with so many great temples (like Thai temples but less ostentatious) and good food beside the lazy Mekong river, then take a boat back. And, if you’ve never been to Bangkok, some people criticize it and say to get the hell out of there, but I like it: temples, water taxis, kick boxing, nightlife, etc.

Another lazy, peaceful country with fantastic temples (round golden spires) and the friendliest people in the world is Myanmar (formerly Burma). Although their government is terrible, illegimate and oppressive, the people are extremely kind and diverse and at the end of 15 days you’ll be wishing you could stay longer.

In 15 days you could explore Cambodia: Phnom Phen, a boat to Siem Riep and the amazing ancient kingdom of Angkor Wat, and beautiful, unpopulated beaches in the South.

Or, for an easier trip but rubbing elbows with more tourists, Thailand is great. Everyone who goes to Chiang Mai in the north goes on a 3-day trip riding elephants, hiking through jungle and riding bamboo rafts. That’s fun. Also good night market there, massages, cooking classes, etc. Other areas in the north also are great to explore and have fewer tourists. Or, you can take a train south from Bangkok and hang out in the islands, snorkeling, relaxing on the beach, motorbiking around the islands, eating good seafood, etc. And of course, Thailand has many very friendly, pretty girls in the north or south, if that matters to you. One good thing about Thailand, in addition to the beautiful scenery, delicious food and friendly people, is that it’s so easy. That’s why it has the most foreigners, which is its greatest drawback.

Have fun.

I’ve seen some of MTs photos, so I can definitely recommend his advice :wink:

As to the schedule, I also think you should stick to one or two countries at the most. I used to travel in China a lot but at one point had a break down during those weeks when we would travel every day or at least change the hotel once a day. I preferred the trip where we would stay for at least three days in each place and not feel guilty for just relaxing half a day in some park. Btw, China is a great place to travel! And very safe for women travelling on their own (maybe except for some remote places in the golden triangle). However, 15 days are not much for travelling in China. But you could go to Hong Kong, cross the border there and then travel on to Guangxi or any other place not too far. There’s so incredibly much to see in China.

Hexuan and MT: how safe are the places you promote for travelling women?


Good point Iris, I hadn’t noticed that the question came from a female. I’m sure that traveling anywhere is more dangerous for a single woman, especially in remote areas. But in 15 days Michelle is unlikely to get off the beaten path. No matter where she goes she will see at least one foreigner every day, probably many more. The only country I mentioned that seems slightly dangerous to me is Cambodia. In all the other countries (except Myanmar) people will try to scam you in various ways or steal your goods if left unattended. So you definitely must keep your goods close (don’t bring anything too valuable) and be wary of scams. But violent crimes are probably more likely in Los Angeles. As for language, don’t worry about it, you won’t have problems. Just get your Lonely Planet and it’ll work out fine.

I rekon a trip along Singapore - Malaysia - Thailand would be nice, public transport should not be a problem in those countries. Spend 2 days at most in Singapore and head towards Bangkok, perhaps Chiang Mai even, via Malaysia (Melakka, Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh, Penang or the East Coast route as described by Hexuan). Stop at Phuket or Ko Samui in Southern Thailand for a day or two at the beach.

I would consider Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand as very safe, even for women and especially if you are a foreigner.

Agree with the above posters. One or two countries are enough for 15 days.

I suggest flying to Bangkok. It is centrally located in SEA and there are excellent transport connections to neighbouring countries, so you could go to Malaysia, Myanmar/Burma, Laos, or Cambodia.

Don’t take too much. The weather is warm and you don’t need a heavy bag full of things you don’t need. It’s just a hassle, especially if you are travelling by yourself.

yeah. thanks a million for all your great advice. i’ve looked at the forums and it just broadened my whole perspective on travelling. i think for the first time travelling it would be best just to look at one or two countries.
you’ve put my mind at ease about being able to communicate, transport and safety. my initial plan was to travel to these countries to see what the job oppertunities would be like. (if i decide that tw has had enough of me.) and where i’d like to live if worst comes to worst.
but it seems everybody thinks travelling is so much fun, fulfilling and rewarding that maybe, just maybe i should take the time to forget about work and live it up as a world class traveller!

Anyone backpacking in SEA with intent to visit hilltribes should read this article from Welcome to Chiangmai & Chiangrai magazine: … endly.html