An Adventurous Route for Backpacking South East Asia


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An Adventurous Route for Backpacking South East Asia
By Parry Loeffler

The South East Asian region of the world – especially Thailand,
Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos – has become increasingly popular as
a destination for those travelers seeking a more adventurous
holiday than can be had merely sipping fruity, ice-cold drinks at
your typical beach resort. However, an adventurous trip to these
developing countries raises many questions and one of the first
is what route to take, which I will try to answer in this

Most people with enough time would like to get a taste for all
four that I’ve mentioned earlier, so I’ll concentrate on a route
that includes all of them. It would take about three months if
you spent a few days at each stop. Keep in mind that there
certainly are options available that would allow you to skip
countries or even shorten the trip to fit into a more constrained
timeline, but this should give you a good starting point for
further research.

As far as getting around, travel by public bus, train, and boat
is readily available and often full of adventure after all,
traveling with a busload of chickens or the occasional box of
frogs just adds to the fun, right? However, those looking for a
little more comfort will usually be able to find more upscale

Many people that intend on doing a circuit though South East Asia
will fly into Bangkok since it is a major hub. Bangkok is also
rich with markets, temples, and plenty of fabulous food. Around
Bangkok, there are several options for some side trips which
allow you to get your feet wet. Kanchanaburi is a few hours away
and is the location of the infamous bridge over the River Kwai
and the Death Railway, the Erewan National Park, and the Three
Pagodas Pass near the Myanmar border. If you are not going to the
southern islands, but wouldn’t mind checking out the beach scene,
you could also take a few days and visit Ko Samet or Ko Chang
(less expensive) to get a taste of island life. Both are only a
few hours from Bangkok by bus.

Once you’ve had your fill of the Bangkok area, work your way
north to Chiang Mai. I like the train and it can be taken
overnight, for those low on time, or during the day for those
that wish to see some of the beautiful countryside. Chiang Mai is
much less hectic than Bangkok, has some opportunities for great
sight seeing, and also has a great cooking school! If you want to
check out some smaller towns in Thailand, you can do that from
Chiang Mai with a little add-on side trip. It’s a loop that goes
by public bus to the wonderful village of Pai which is set up in
the misty valleys that are laden with lush rice paddies, and then
continues by bus or boat to Mae Hong Son, then by bus back to
Chiang Mai.

In any case, from Chiang Mai, continue your journey north to
Chiang Rai and onwards to Chiang Khong, which is the jumping
point into your second country, Laos. You cross the Mekong River
with a short boat ride and enter Laos on the opposite bank at
Huay Xai. From there you immediately continue on to Luang Prabang
by slow boat or fast boat (latter not recommended, unless you
enjoy wearing a crash helmet), making an optional overnight stay
in the rustic village of Pacbeng.

After spending a few days in Luang Prabang you could do a side
trip up north, exploring the small northern villages of Laos for
a few days, or just head down to the chilled-out town of Vang
Vieng by bus or air. The road route to Vang Vieng is sometimes
the target of bandits, so be sure to check what recent activity
has been like, and then make your decision – but the safety
record of air travel may not be much more inspiring!

Vang Vieng is full of fun kayaking, biking and caving
opportunities, so you’ll want to plan for a few days there before
moving on to the capital city of Vientiane. It doesn’t seem too
exciting for a capital city, so I wouldn’t plan to spend too much
time there, other than to visit the strange, but interesting
Buddha Park.

Take the bus from Vientiane to Hanoi via the mountains and the
Cau Treo border crossing into Vietnam. Hanoi is a very
interesting place with lots to do and also offers a few
interesting side trips: Sapa is a beautiful village set in the
mountains, and Halong Bay, a Unesco World Heritage site, offers
amazing views of thousands of mountainous karsts jutting up from
the ocean waters.

In Hanoi, you can buy an “Open Tour” bus ticket that gets you all
the way south to Ho Chi Minh (Saigon). It has a standard set of
stops, but allows you to purchase add-ons for a few dollars each,
two of which I highly recommend being Ninh Binh and Dalat. From
Hanoi, the first stop will indeed be Ninh Binh. Not a
particularly touristy town, but the launching point to visit the
spectacular Tam Coc park and/or the Cuc Phuong National Park.

From Ninh Binh, move to Hue for a day or two, then on to Hoi An
to check out the amazing tailors and beaches, then to Nha Trang
(a partying beach town that can be skipped if you wish), and then
on to your second add-on which is the mountain town of Dalat.
From Dalat, you can do another addon stop in Mui Ne which is very
quiet and good if you just want to relax and maybe poke around
the local market a little bit.

The last stop in Vietnam will be Ho Chi Minh which offers plenty
to see and do including a massage at the Vietnamese Traditional
Medicine Institute for a couple of dollars. From there, you can
cross into Cambodia in a couple ways. The first is a bus ride
through some beautiful country to Phnom Penh, and the second is a
boat tour through the Mekong Delta which also deposits you in
Phnom Penh. Be warned though: the roads in Cambodia are dirt and
very slow going, but the scenery is incredible if your backside
can take it.

Phnom Penh gets mixed reviews but does have a couple of must
visits before you continue: the Killing Fields and S-21. When you
do move on, you again have the choice of bus or boat up to Siem
Riep. I prefer the bus because of the fantastic views and the
insight into the lives of the country folk – trust me, you’ll
never forget it.

After spending some time gawking at the awesome ruins of Angkor
Wat at Siem Riep, you can fly or bus it back to Bangkok, once
again back where you started! Again, the bus is harsh, but worth
it to see Poipet (I’ll say it again: not to stay, but to see) and
the night-and-day change visible in a matter of a few meters when
you cross from the poverty of Cambodia into developing Thailand.

There you have it. That route can be done in 3 months if you
don’t choose every side trip mentioned (to do it all you’ll want
to add another couple of weeks). If you work it out, you’ll find
you can spend a few nights in each place, but don’t make the
mistake of creating some sort of concrete itinerary. Just be
aware of your time, because you will want to spend lots of time
in some places, while spending little in others and you really
won’t know which until you get there. Be flexible within reason,
and remember: it’s all about having fun!

Once back in Bangkok, you now have the option to work your way
south to the islands, and perhaps, onward to other countries like
Malaysia and Indonesia, or perhaps they will have to wait until
your next trip, and yes, you will want to come back.

One of the next logical questions is: What is it like to travel
around these countries on a route like this? That’s precisely
the experience I detail in my book Rice Crust from the Bottom of
the Pot: A Journey Across South East Asia
( It’s full of crazy
adventures, wonderful stories of my interactions with the locals,
and even a few recipes collected directly from their kitchens.

About the Author

Parry Loeffler is the author of Rice Crust from the Bottom of the
Pot: A Journey Across South East Asia
Read it today… and get excited about your trip!

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