My favorite animal is a close tie between elephants and platypus (platypi?), but platypus don't fit in for the sake of this post. My favorite food is any sort of spicy Asian noodle bowl. So when I was able to eat spicy noodles with elephants walking nearby, I'd knew I'd found my place. It's crazy to say, but a few YEARS ago two friends and I traveled through Southeast Asia for roughly three months. It was the kind of trip they make movies about. Meaning yes - it was incredible to wake up next to elephants; yes - things went wrong. And yes - we got sick. But only after drinking the water! We ate from every sketchy street vendor you can imagine, and everything was dandy, until one day in Cambodia we were hungover/extremely lazy and got a splash of water in our mouths after brushing our teeth. I'd say all three of us were bed ridden from dusk to dawn that day. The below is a rough guide to traveling through Southeast Asia!
- Eat like the locals.
- Pack a filtering water bottle (saves plastic and is useful in rural areas) or straw
- Book hostels ahead of time if you can, the good ones go fast (Try Hostelworld or Hostelbookers) We were trying to meet people as we went along our trip, so we tended towards hostel stays or home-stays with locals, versus Airbnbs or hotels
- Always carry a sweater or scarf with you for going in to Temples (they require your shoulders to be covered and are pretty strict about it)
- Bed Station
- Lub D Bangkok
- Floating Markets
- Chatuchak Weekend market (north of central Bangkok but easy via public transport)
- Night markets
o Eat: EVERYTHING (including street food! None of us got sick from doing this. I 100% recommend) - Pad Thai, Tom Yum Soup, Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam), Pad Kra Pao, Pad See Ew
- Hug Hostel
- Spicythai Backpackers
o Eat: Kao Soi Noodle soup
Pai is a super crunchy, hippie area about 2 hours by car from Chiang Mai. I highly recommend! It's got nightly markets on the streets, a very chill vibe, and really interesting people. There are also really pretty waterfalls nearby.
WARNING: The road is super curvy and known to make people very car sick. If you’re up for it, you can self-drive in a scooter, but people also crash these pretty often. Otherwise, Pai is DEFINITELY worth seeing. It’s a super crunchy, hippie town in the mountains and has gorgeous waterfalls nearby
o Hostel we stayed in: Circus School Hostel
o Lara Croft meets Legends of the Hidden Temple: Go here to see Angkor Wat and the famous temples but do not stay more than 3 days (there is nothing else to see/do here and it’s very touristy)
o Beach town – very touristy/more for partiers. A more chill version is Otres Beach, about 20 mins by Tuk Tuk
Ho Chi Minh City (Just to pass through – don’t stay here long! Super smoggy and congested)
- Vietnam War museum - not a light viewing. The museum gives an interesting, and opposite, perspective on the war
o Eat: Pho! and Bahn Mi from local carts
- Transportation Note: In all of Vietnam, make sure to look at the cost of flights first, and then research overnight buses. Flights can be as low as $30 USD. I do NOT recommend taking trains. They are pretty unreliable, costly, and smelly (I once woke up with my head on the window, and a cockroach crawling nearby)
o Stay at a homestay instead of a hostel this time!
o Eat: Cao Lau!
- Friend's recommendation: White Rose dumpling house -
Hanoi is another large, bustling city, though much more amicable than Ho Chi Minh. There is a huge amount of expats living in the city, all around the 20-30 year old range, so it makes for a fun atmosphere.
o Eat: Bun Cha Noodles
Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay is reachable first by bus from Hanoi, and then by boat. We booked an overnight "party" boat, which I would probably never do again even if you paid me. BUT the destination itself is really beautiful. Most boats, overnight or not, will take you to Cat Ba National park where you can hike for a bit, see the local monkeys, and go kayaking. Make sure to look into the weather for the time you'll be there (we were technically there in their winter, so at night it was frigid).
o Stay in a homestay in the rice paddy villages. The ladies of the village will walk you through the area until you arrive at your designated homestay. We ate dinner cooked for us over a tiny fire overlooking the hills
You can book most of these "excursions" from hotels or hostels in Hanoi. Definitely haggle!
o Wake up at sunrise to see Monks
o Four hours by bus, quite touristy but young
o Take tubes down lazy river and stop at the bars along the way
Go to the Kuang Si Waterfalls! Just hop in a tuk-tuk from the center of town in Luang Prabang (average cost 30-40,000 kip). Make sure you plan your day to allow for at least four hours at the falls itself. The entrance fee is 20,000 kip ($2.50 USD)
If you have questions or comments, or just want to hear more on the above, let me know!