It was the best of times; it was the most difficult of times. I broadened my mind and belly, saw achingly beautiful landscapes and partied in paradise; I also suffered my share of lows and incredible frustrations.
For almost six months I travelled through Southeast Asia, living out of a backpack and taking each day as it came. I explored Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, experienced Thailand and Singapore, relaxed in Malaysia and even got engaged in Indonesia.
The highs were high but the lows were, well, low. When the time came for me to go back to the West a part of me couldn’t wait to be back in London – but another part wanted to stay in Asia, to continue to explore this crushingly beautiful part of the world.
Although I still have countless tales to tell on Man vs World in the future, I thought I’d briefly sum up for you now the good things and the bad about travel in South East Asia, the great memories and the not-so-great from six months backpacking in a land of extremes.
New Zealand’s beaches are nothing to be sniffed at – but the beaches in Asia are on a whole other level of spectacular. Think golden white sands and crystal-clear oceans as warm as bath water.
Now, Thailand’s beaches are particularly lovely – Koh Tao being my favourite – but every country I visited had world-class beaches, with land-locked Laos being the obvious exception. I stayed in Langkawi in Malaysia for a week because it was so nice, eleven days in Sihanoukville in Cambodia and two weeks in Kuta, Bali, at the end of my travels.
I went snorkelling in Sihanoukville and Koh Tao, Krabi in Thailand, Indonesia’s Gili Islands and Nha Trang in Vietnam. Of these, Koh Tao was easily the best – despite my seeing a turtle in Gili Trawangan.
The price of beer
Cheap but infinitely drinkable, the beer in South East Asia was among the best this traveller has sampled anywhere in the world.
Vietnam served up the cheapest brew – you can get a handle of local beer for as low as 10p in Hoi An – and Malaysia’s was the most expensive, followed by Thailand. Cambodian lager was excellent and very affordable but my favourite beers were Laos’ ubiquitous Beerlao and Indonesia’s Bintang.
It’ll come as no surprise, then, that I bought both Beerlao and Bintang singlets on my travels.
A town that’s almost impossible to dislike, Luang Prabang is like a ray of sunshine after a week of bad weather – or, in my case, after a week in Hanoi.
Beer seems to taste better in Luang Prabang, the air is sweeter and the people are friendlier. It’s home to the best bar in all of South East Asia and one of the best night markets around. It’s charming, picturesque and peaceful – but there’s still plenty to see and do.
The winner of my recent travel showdown against Vietnam and Laos, Cambodia was everything I hoped it would be and much more.
Cambodia’s beautiful beaches and affordable accommodation are dwarfed only by the country’s fascinating history and the wonder that is Angkor Wat, making it the place I would most recommend to backpackers looking for a mix of culture and history, rest and relaxation, fun and adventure.
And I’d really be in the dog box if I didn’t say getting engaged in Bali to my long-time travelling companion Nicola was one of the highlights of the trip.
It was a wonderful bookend to our backpacking and flashpacking adventures in Southeast Asia and Europe – and I still can’t believe she said “yes”!
I never suffered from any food poisoning – but traveller’s diarrhoea (or diarrhea) was an infliction I was forced to live with A LOT.
Stomach cramps and nausea, feverish in one instance and always a seemingly insatiable need to run to the toilet – the less said about my bouts with diarrhoea the better.
I hated Laos’ 1000 Islands – but it was in no way anything to do with Don Det or any of the (considerably less than 1,000) other islands. You see, I accidentally broke my computer by kneeling on it – a travel regret if ever there was one.
It’s never a clever thing to do – but it’s even less so when you’re a backpacker on a budget with a fledgling travel blog. Suffice it to say, I was reminded of my stupidity every time I went to write a blog post.
I replaced my broken netbook with a brand new one in Bangkok three weeks later. It’s a miracle we still managed to stay under budget – no thanks to me and my stupid knee.
Travel in South East Asia is easy, sure, but so is changing a flat tyre on your car: it’s a pain in the ass but you will get you where you want to go – eventually.
Sleeper buses are the worst. I’m a tad too tall for most buses in Asia anyway – especially as the person in front will always recline their seat even if they’re half your height – so sleeper buses are a bit of a nightmare. Unfortunately, they’re often unavoidable unless you want to fork out the cash for a train.
Now, sleeper trains are a heck of a lot better – but they’re not perfect either. Often they won’t turn the lights out, which is worse in the top bunk. The bottom bunk is usually slightly more expensive but it’s worth it.
When they’re not blatantly trying to rip you off, South East Asian taxi drivers are honking at you in the hopes that you’ll flag them down.
Even in Malaysia, where it’s against the law for a taxi driver to not use the meter (it even says it on the driver’s door) they’ll try to negotiate a price – a grossly inflated one at that. Vietnamese taxi drivers are definitely the worst, followed by the ones in the Thai islands, but catching taxis anywhere in SE Asia is a pain in the ass.
And surely it’s not that great for business? I’d rather walk for an hour or two than let them rip me off, even when the center of town is an awful long way from the bus stop where you’ve just been dropped – which is nearly always the case.
I had a fantastic six months backpacking in this part of the world so I hope the highs outweigh the lows here – they certainly do in my mind. I honestly could have listed every place I visited in the highs column for one reason or 20.