Asia is the perfect option whether you’re traveling on your first ever backpacking trip, or your fifth! Beautiful beaches, a rich history, amazing nature, charming villages, pulsating big cities and it’s also a “foodie heaven”. What’s not to like? Travel Specialist Cecilie has travelled a lot around these parts and she shares her tips and experiences with backpacking in this part of the world.
The ultimate roundtrip in Southeast Asia
Why is Southeast Asia one of your favorites?
“Where do I even start? It has it all, from chaotic cities to cute little villages and everything in between. Southeast Asia is an island-paradise with amazing beaches where you can snorkel or dive with turtles and all other kinds of fantastic marine life! The weather stays gorgeous, if you plan for the monsoon seasons in the various countries. But if you’re a little unlucky and end up in a place during the monsoon season, you’ll most likely just have a few big showers during the day and then the rest of the day is just as wonderful as you had hoped. For me, being from Bergen (the rainy city), it’s a little piece of paradise.
In addition to being beautiful, it’s fairly cheap to travel around here. You’ll get more experiences and general value for the money you brought with you. If you dream of getting your divers certificate, this is the place to do it! It’s also really easy to travel around locally and you meet new people everywhere! At the hostel, the bar, the beach or at one of the activities you’re doing”.
Where to start the journey and what places are a “must visit”?
“Bangkok is the perfect starting point. And it’s easy for us to find great prices on plane tickets from here. A night or two in Bangkok is also a great way of getting over your jetlag, while experiencing this pulsating city.
My personal favorites along this route are Angkor Wat in Cambodia (you can’t travel to Cambodia without spending at least a day there) and you should definitely stop by Koh Rong, it’s an island pardise!
In Vietnam I would say Hoi An. This cute little town is full of charming lanterns, small rivers and is just a sight for sore eyes. If you’re the daring type, I would suggest renting a scooter and taking the Hai Van Pass from Hoi An to Hue. Stopping by Elephant Waterfall and so many other great stops along the way.
If you’re a fan of nature, I have to recommend the mountains in Da Lat! Try canyoning along the river there. Such an amazing experience!
Sa Pa is a must! I still regret not spending more time in the mountains of northern Vietnam.
The big city of Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City can be quite chaotic when you first arrive! There are scooters everywhere… When crossing the street, make sure to walk in the same tempo as the locals – you’ll eventually get safely across. My parents didn’t realize this when they visited and stayed on the left side of the street all day.
The weather is usually a determining factor when going on a trip like this. Are you travelling during Europes summer months, I would recommend that you look towards Bali. Both Bali and the surrounding islands are pieces of paradise! You should try to visit to the surrounding island as much as you can. My favorite is still Nusa Lembongang, where we rented scooters for a day and explored the island (almost by ourselves). Want to life in a “postcard from paradise”? Visit Gili Trawangang! And for those of you that have seen Eat, Pray, Love; you should try Yoga when visiting Bali. It’s just as idyllic as the movie. “
What sort of activities should people try?
“I’ve gotten more and more into experiencing as much as I can when traveling, contrary to before, when I would just hunt for the best beaches. One of the greatest things about Southeast Asia is that you can do a little of everything here! I would recommend spending the night onboard a boat in Halong Bay, trekking in Sa Pa and staying with a local family in homestays (truly a unique experience). You should also consider getting your divers certificate! Cambodia or Bali are great options for this. A surf camp in Bali could also be the perfect start to your Southeast Asia adventure!”
- Diving (obviously)
- Island hopping
- AMAZING hikes
What NOT to do in Southeast Asia?
“Don’t forget a set of earplugs on the night bus! If you do, you’re in for an extremely long night where the drivers are honking their way through the streets, just as much as they do during the daytime”.
“Also, remember to respect the local customs. Are you planning on sightseeing and visiting a temple for instance, bring something to cover up your shoulders and knees.”
What’s the strangest experience you’ve had here?
“On one of my first days in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh, I was invited back home to a local family to celebrate Chinese New Year. The house was filled with everyone in the family and little ol' me… There was too much food, even more beer, the grandparents were first in line to sing karaoke and the vibe was just amazing! It was SO different from what I’m used to at our classic family get-togethers back home.”
Your tips for someone planning their first backpacking trip
“It’s important to know (right off the bat) that things don’t always go as planned. Times change, moods change, plans change and suddenly you’re a little lost. Don’t stress out over things not going the way you had planned to, or not seeing all the things you had charted down on a list. It’s all a part of the adventure. The moments that didn’t go as planned, usually end up being moments that you remember!
“Also, don’t be the guy/girl that arrives in Asia and eats their first meal at a burger joint or pizza place. When you’re traveling so far from home, go all in on the experience. Talk to the locals and get your food tips from them. They live there, they know what’s good (and what to absolutely avoid).
Other than that, I would stay that it’s an advantage to stay in a hostel, especially if you’re traveling alone! Most hostels have way better standards then the “horror stories” you’re told before leaving and staying in a hostel is way more social and fun than staying a room at a hotel by yourself. I always look for hostels that have a bar. If you end up in a dorm room with people you’re not really clicking with, you’ll just grab a beer at the bar and look for new roommates”.
Overall, just get excited and prepare to have the best time!