Southeast Asia Will Challenge Your Senses
So you’re dreaming about traveling to Southeast Asia…? Where toilet paper and soap are a luxury, where every beverage is diluted with an obscene amount of sugar or condensed milk, and where nothing really is what it seems. Well I can definitely say that SE Asia is not for everyone, but it’s something that should be experienced at least once in a lifetime. Believe me it will challenge your senses and preconceptions and change you forever!
My first ever visit to the region was to Thailand in 2011 (with my all-time favorite person!), and that trip was life changing and such an eye-opener for me. It sparked my wanderlust and helped me realize the fact that I could travel almost anywhere safely, comfortably and inexpensively for long periods of time, and it showed me that there was a big world out there just waiting to be explored…a parallel universe beyond the comfort of the western world.
Backpacking in Southeast Asia can either be an enlightening experience or a complete culture shock, but everyone agrees that it’s relatively cheap and easy in most parts, and there are more places, highlights, and affordable things to do than probably anywhere else in the world. You will be surrounded by beautiful and exotic nature, immersed in bustling dirty cities while dodging their insane traffic, tasting exotic food, visiting humbling temples, and connecting with super friendly people. It’s a trail that’s been worn out by millions of backpackers and travelers for decades now.
The biggest challenge you will probably face will be in planning and taking that initial decision on where to start and end your trip, and how much time to spend in each place, or the entire region. Well, what I generally do is, I let the airline ticket prices make that initial decision for me, and so I go with the most logical, affordable and comfortable option available. It would of course need to make sense in the logistical big picture.
With so many destinations and ticket budgets to choose from, my ultimate choice was to fly with Qatar Airways which had the most reasonable prices as well as routing and layover times to Asia. They obviously have a huge competitive advantage over other airlines when it comes to quality versus price and convenience. I even ended up getting an upgrade to First/Business class. The experience, service and seats (actually they were more like beds than seats) were top notch, and for the long trip to South East Asia this was a godsend. They’re pretty tech-savvy too with a handy remote control that allows you to manipulate every aspect of your on-board private capsule, a large touch screen TV with a comprehensive entertainment program and even in-flight WIFI! I am now officially a fan of Qatar Airways as a result and would recommend them to anyone flying any class, since I’ve also flown economy with them previously and it’s been pretty good as well.
Reaching your destination feeling rejuvenated and actually well-rested makes any trip across to the other side of the world even more worth it. I started my journey in Indonesia and traveled all around in a full circle ending where I started 4 months later. Some travelers can blast through all SE Asian countries in a month, seeing only the main highlights of capital cities while quickly zapping from place to place. Others can take months or even a year or two to explore the region in depth. It all depends on how much time and money you have. So where do you begin?
Here’s a quick and general overview of some of the main destinations from my trip. This should give you some ideas and help you get started on an experience of a lifetime!
- Singapore: Located in the middle of Southeast Asia’s traveler trail, Singapore is a well developed cosmopolitan island city-state and an economic power house that connects the region with the rest of the world. Its advanced infrastructure, and long term financial and political stability, turned it into a major business and tourism hub, and the center of a thriving expat community. Think of it as a tiny crisp and glossy oasis of development in the middle of an otherwise mostly poor, chaotic and rugged region.
- Malaysia: One of the main central hubs of Southeast Asia and yet quite the underrated touristic destination (which is definitely a plus in my opinion), Malaysia is one of the largest and most developed nations in the region. From cosmopolitan Kuala Lumpur to the dense lush jungles of Borneo, the pristine beaches of the Perhentian Islands, and the tea plantations of the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia’s an incredibly diverse place.
- Vietnam: Vietnam is a country of contrasts and you can easily spot the difference in culture, customs and even in weather from North to South, but that also means that it has something to offer for everyone. War memorials and museums, old temples and pagodas coexist alongside insanely overcrowded cities buzzing with the sound of a million motorbikes, while picturesque little towns like Hoi An have an irresistible charm about them. Street food is abundant and cheap, from steaming bowls of pho to rice paper spring rolls on every corner.
- Cambodia: Nestled between two touristic power-houses in Asia is the small country with the deeply troubled past of Cambodia. One of the poorest countries in the region, this nation suffers from many problematic issues ranging from political to economical and developmental. That being said, a certain level of freedom can be experienced here, and this could be the perfect place for you should you be looking to push yourself out of your comfort zone.
- Thailand: Thailand rose to fame decades ago as a backpacking destination, but nowadays the masses of tourists flock like never before. In fact, it is considered to be among the top visited countries in the world. So if you’re looking for a unique experience, I’m afraid you’re gonna be a little disappointed. But if you’re looking for something fun, cheap and reliable then Thailand is the place for you. From the breezy mountains in the north to bustling Bangkok and the turquoise waters of the southern islands, Thailand caters to every taste.
- The Philippines: Those who are backpacking around Southeast Asia usually skip it due to it being quite geographically separated from the mainland, but the Philippines is blessed with outstanding natural beauty and it’s so different than every other country in the area. In fact, it’s the only country in the region to be colonized by Spain, so at first glance you might feel like you’re somewhere in South America not Asia. The only major downside here is the transportation between the islands which ranges from the hopeless to the very expensive!
- Indonesia: “The Star” of Southeast Asia and by far the largest country. A massive archipelago of 18000+ islands spanning from the Andaman Sea in the northwest to Papua New Guinea in the Far East. Indonesia has got it all really, from the Seismic anomalies and untouched lands of Sumatra, to the active volcanoes and bustling cities of Java, the spiritual party central Bali, the beautiful Flores and Komodo Islands…the list goes on and on… It’s quite unlikely that anyone will be able to cover Indonesia in just one or two trips, and besides, it’s one of these magical places that keeps you coming back for more…