Tuesday, 31 December 2013

South-East Asia

In June 2013 I spontaneously decided to go for a longer trip to any region of the world. My final choice was a three weeks tour through four countries in South-East Asia: Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia.

For more pictures please click here.

Why a tour? Well, first of all, I was lonely traveller and wanted some company. Secondly, I am a woman and you never know what might happen. Retrospectively, I could have done it own my own since you meet lots of loners (and female ones) in this region. Big advantage then is, that you save a lot of money. On the other side you have to organize everything on your own. In my case hostels and transport were already booked - this was a plus regarding my non-existent preparation for the trip.

I started the journey in Geneva and went to Hanoi via Paris and Ho Chi Minh City with Vietnam Airlines. Dropped off in Hanoi, I was immediately confronted with the heat and 1 million motorbikes. The new world of sounds, narrow streets, heavy rain showers, new culture and religion was exactly what I had hoped for.

With my group we headed to Laos a few days later. More precisely to Vientane, the quiet capital and the exact opposite of Hanoi. After visiting temples and Buddhas, we continued our way to Vangvieng, a place full of backpackers who enjoy drinking and tubing on the river (us included). It is a very relaxed place that took the stress from all of us. After a long trip to Luang Prabang, I want to speak of this place as my favourite one: monks' rituals, elephant trekking, Kung Si Waterfalls and French influences since Laos belonged (like Vietnam and Cambodia) to the former French colony of Indochina. The following two days we spent on a slowboat on the Mekong river in order to reach the border to Thailand.

Passing the Golden Triangle and Chiang Rai (must-see: white temple) we finally reached Chiang Mai in the Northern part of the kingdom. Unfortunately we only had little time here that I spent by having a Thai cooking class. By overnight bus we continued to Thailand's capital: Bangkok. It is by far the most modern city that I visited on this tour and thanks to 3 days I had enough time to explore the city by foot, boat and taxi. Highlight was the rooftop bar whereas lowlight was that all persons (except for my roomy) left the tour and we both "leftovers" joined a new group (that turned out to be great, too).

With the new group we entered a new country (the 4th in 3 weeks) which was Cambodia. Two days in Siem Reap were followed by two day in Pnohm Penh. Of course Angkor Wat was a priority but I even was more impressed - no better is the term shocked - by the events that happened only 35 years ago when the Khmer Rouge killed 3 million people in 4 years. Never heard of this tragic genocide before, I bought three books to better understand why such horrible things happen.

My last stop was then again in Vietnam, to Ho Chi Minh City. As I absolutely wanted to visit the Cu Chi tunnels I didn't have a lot of time to explore the city because my flight was on the 2nd day there.

Although I sometimes had the feeling that I rushed through some places, I am so glad that I decided to do this trip. As usually I collected some of my favourite addresses, so you can visit them when you plan a trip to south-east Asia. Since the entire region is less touristic than Paris or NYC, I took the liberty to name some main attractions - always mixed with places that you don't find in the "Lonely Planet".
Besides my great tour company with whom I spent much time and share lots of experiences, I also met many friendly Asian people who helped me, for example, when I couldn't cross the road because of too much traffic. Thank you!

I also was happy - at least from time to time - to have some French influence in the region: crêpes (pancakes), sandwiches and French pastries compensated the amount of noodles, rice and curries during the time. Due to the cooking class and my cookbook I will try to recall some memories and especially smells when I muss south-east Asian times and its food.

General tips
  • Budget: I might be frugal but I always note what I spent on my trip. It helps me to keep an eye on my expenses and allows me to allocate money the right way. Generally spoken, it is a very cheap region and without tour you should be able to get along with 1000 US-$ in three weeks (always depending on how much you drink, eat, where you stay, what you do etc.)
  • Visa: Don't forget that you most likely need a visa for Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia (Thailand is easier for short touristic stays). They are extra costs and especially Vietnamese visa must be ordered in advance. 
  • Shopping: Bargaining! Prices at the markets are too high and you should always ask for discount. Personally I am not very good in it and always felt that I paid too much after having purchased my stuff. Same applies to taxis, tuk-tuks and motorbikes. 
  • Clothes: If you do backpacking, don't take too many clothes. Laundry shops are all over the place and I am sure that you find nice shirts for little prices at local markets. Take some clothes for sports, light ones, easy-to-make-dirty, party etc. 
  • Vaccinations: Since South-East Asia is a place with tropical infects, consult your local doctor for vaccinations. They are also expenses to consider in your budget. 
  • Date: 5th July - 28th July 2013
  • Tour provider: Tucan Travel
  • Highlight: Luang Prabang
For more information and questions, please don't hesitate to contact me.

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