Backpacking in Southeast Asia is an unforgettable experience.
It’s already been a year since I first set out to travel through Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore – and still my memories are so vivid. Even now, as I enjoy possibly the greatest ever New Zealand summer, I’ve got Asia on my mind.
These are some of the things I miss most about backpacking in Southeast Asia.
The food in Southeast Asia is some of the tastiest that you’ll find anywhere in the world.
It may be a cliché but it’s also true. Thai food just tastes better in Thailand, as does Vietnamese, Malaysian and Indonesian in their respective countries. And often the best can be found on the street, from a shady-looking street vendor on a dusty road, with traffic whizzing past.
You think your local Thai restaurant does great food? Try visiting just about any restaurant in Chiang Mai. You think your local food court has a great range of delicious ethnic cuisine? Check out a hawker centre in Singapore.
The cheapness of it all
I’ve never felt both poorer and richer than when I was backpacking through Southeast Asia – poor because I had no job and no income; rich because I needed no job or income.
Backpacking through Southeast Asia is an experience that makes you so much richer and yet it doesn’t cost you much at all. So long as you’ve got some savings and you don’t go smashing your netbook computer too often (check out my highs and lows backpacking in SE Asia) you can live pretty well for a long time in Asia.
When I set out, I thought I was going to teach English over there to make a little bit of money. Instead, I had easily enough saved to live a very comfortable existence the entire time I was there. Sure, some nights I didn’t have air-conditioned rooms – but then my partner and I nearly always stayed in private rooms at hostels and guesthouses.
Southeast Asia has the capacity to surprise you at every turn.
Life is always interesting for an English-speaking traveller in a non-English speaking country; combine that with the fact that every country in Asia has its own unique and often drastically different culture, and you’re constantly on your toes.
And even the scenery is surprising. Southeast Asia isn’t merely a landscape of rice paddies and jungle, beaches and travel resorts – it’s as diverse a region as anywhere. Expect to see plenty of lovely lakes, forests, mountains and buzzing cities. Expect the unexpected.
Take if from a self-diagnosed New Zealand beach snob that SE Asia has some amazing beaches.
In my humble opinion, the best beach in Vietnam is Mui Ne; in Thailand my favourite beach is probably Koh Tao, it’s Sihanoukville in Cambodia, Kuta in Indonesia, Langkawi in Malaysia. Although these beaches are all different, what makes them awesome is how vibrant and exciting they are. There’s always something happening.
Now, on New Zealand’s beautiful but deserted beaches, I miss being able to buy beer, ice creams and all manner of delicious food from a salesman on the beach. (Admittedly, when I was in Southeast Asia I used to hate that these people would never leave me alone).
I’d rarely ever go five minutes without someone in Southeast Asia trying to sell me something – but it was rarer still that I’d ever take offence.
Sure, it could be incredibly annoying at the time, but I must admit that now, looking back, I have a lot of good memories of encounters I had with the locals that wouldn’t have happened if they weren’t trying to sell me something as I walked down the street.
Except for the dishonest taxi and tuk-tuk drivers in Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia in particular – these people can go straight to hell – the people in Southeast Asia are among the kindest and nicest people you’ll meet. And unlike most Europeans, North Americans and Antipodeans I know, they don’t need to be drunk or drinking to want to have a chat with a complete stranger.
Have you been to this part of the world and what do you miss the most from your time there? Also check out the best places to visit in Thailand.