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Travel, Teach, Live in Asia

Where to Backpack Within South East Asia
By:Matthew Coe


Thailand is usually the best place to start for the first time independent traveler. It's very easy to get around and there are always lots of other backpackers about to chat and hang out with.

Thailand is a mixture of forests to the North for Trekking and some of the best beaches in the world in the south.

Bangkok is a buzzing city criss crossed with canals & rivers. The sky line is one of high rises, shopping malls & international hotel chains but at the canal banks and side streets of the city the traditional side of Thai life is clearly visible. The business hub of the city is easily navigated using the skyrail & underground but the more touristy areas around the Koh San road are less well supplied & Tuk Tuks are the main mode of transport. Negotiate hard with your tuk tuk driver - a taxi will always be cheaper & has the advantage of air conditioning however be sure to agree that you're charged according to the metre as opposed to agreeing a fixed price. Taxis will only take you at an agreed price after 3pm as from this point on your in to rush hour and they are highly likely to spend hours with you stuck in traffic!

Your main point of call will be the Koh San road as this is where all the hostels and guesthouses are located. This is one long street where there is a market every night and lots of bars and restaurants to choose from even a McDonalds and Burger King for those who are want something more to home. For the best food though go to the street hawkers. You will get some of the best Pad Thai you will have ever eaten for around 20 Baht.

South Islands

Most people come to Thailand for the beaches and Diving. The main Islands in the south are:

Koh Tao

A backpacker Island where everyone comes to dive and mainly to learn how to dive. There are some great beaches here and also a good nightlife.

Koh Pan gan

This is the party island of Thailand and where the famous Full Moon party is held each month. This if you have not heard is one big crazy party on a beach which attracts at least 10,000 people each month to get as fucked up as possible. Get here a few days early during the peak months if you want to get accommodation though.

Koh Samui & Phuket

These islands are crammed full of package holiday tourists on their yearly holiday for 2 weeks in the sun. I would strongly suggest avoiding these two islands.

Koh Phi Phi

This island did get severely damaged by the Tsunami and having seen the before and after myself it truly is remarkable how quickly is has got back onto its feet. There is one main area/town where everybody stays but it's still big enough not for everyone to be on top of each other. The Beach is like a postcard or you can get a boat to the lagoon where the Leo Dicapro film 'The Beach' was filmed and chill there for the day.


Vietnam was ravaged by war but is now a great place to visit. I suggest starting your trip off in Hanoi and working your way down the country.


Hanoi is the capitol of Vietnam and is a great introduction into the Vietnamese way of life. The city is always bustling and carful when crossing those roads as those motorbikes don't stop.

The city centre is located around Hoan Kiem lake, just of the lake is the old quarter which is the main area for budget hostels and guesthouses. Hanoi is a great place to just go out and wander. Each street has its own trade and each shop will only sell products to do with that trade so you end up having streets only selling shoes or kitchenware. It's weird to see but that's the way they do it.

If you get tired and hot whilst walking around you can always stop off for some Bia Hoi. You will see all around the city lots of people sitting on little plastic chairs on the street, this is where they sell the Bia Hoi. This is officially the cheapest draft beer in the world. A glass should set you back about 10p/20 Cents.

Ha Long bay

This is north of Hanoi and is available from all travel agencies in the city as either overnight trip. This is a must for anyone in the area as it is UNESCO heritage site and is for a good reason.

The bay has close to 2000 limestone islands with of caves to explore and a few lagoons to go kayaking in. When you go out to the bay you go out on a traditional junk ship where you will get your own room and dinner and breakfast served.

Hoi An

Hoi An is located on the coast and actually has a pretty decent beach. It is the also the place to come for tailor-made clothes. There are too many tailors to mention here with the main road pretty much consisting of them. You can get literally anything made here all you need to do is take a photo of the item you want and they will make it for you. A good quality suit will cost around $50-$100.

Nha Trang

Is a beach resort just over halfway down the country. This city is very developed with a good long beach stretching the entire length of it. There is not much to do culturally here but it's a good place to unwind after more than a few very long bus journeys to get this far. If you choose to just relax on the beach all day the only time you need to move from it is to go to the toilet as there are so many hawkers selling you pretty much anything you require from books, drinks to a BBQ of fresh fish. There is a big nightlife here with a couple of main place to go to. These are the Why Not Bar and the Sailing Club which is right on the beach but more expensive for it.

Ho Chi Min City (Saigon)

This is the Vietnam you see in the films. Streets packed out with so many bikes, fumes that make it hard to breathe and just general chaos. There a quite a few museums here to visit which are mainly to do with the war but are all worth a visit and even the strongest man will hold back tears at the photos of the suffering they endured.

From here you do a day trip to the Cu Chi tunnels where the North had a series of small tunnels which they used to fight the south. You can go down some of these tunnels but be warned that they are very small and it's best not to do it on a hangover like I did. Also here you can fire an array of automatic weapons and rifles which is not that cheap as you pay per bullet.


Cambodia has had quite a nasty past with its dictator Pol Pot but is recovering maybe not as fast as its neighbors' but it is getting there. Cambodia is surrounded by Vietnam, Thailand and Laos and has the Mekong go through the country into Laos.

Phnom Penh

Is a typical Asian Capitol city, will not loads to do but getting there is a great experience if you come from Vietnam. From Saigon you can get a boat which will take you 2 days to get here but you do see some real Vietnam and Cambodia on the way.

The two main places to see in and around Phnom Penh are the Killing Fields where around 200,000 people were executed during 1975-1979 when the Khmer Rouge reigned. You can see millions of bones and thousands of skulls that have been recovered from the pits.

Also go to S-21 which used to be a high school which was converted to a prison also during the Khmer Rouge where they imprisoned up to 20,000 people and repeatedly tortured and killed from this.

Two to three times a day they show a film which goes into detail of what went on in the prison with interviews from survivors and prison guards.


Is a beach resort about 3 to 4 hours bus ride away from Phnom Penh and has a decent enough beach which all long has hostels/guesthouses, restaurants and bars where you can chat with new found friends and enjoy a nice cold beer. You can dive here but I would not waste your money as the visibility is very poor and the reefs not having much sea life.

Siem Reap/Angkor Wat

Siem Reap is the city closest to the temples of Angkor Wat. The town itself does not have much to offer apart from a market in the centre of town where you can get some new clothes and souvenirs. Every night most people head down to the aptly named Bar Street to meet and hang out with friends.

The temples of Angkor are quite spectacular and are very worth the visit. You get the choice of either a 1 day or 3 day pass. It is recommended to go for sunrise over Angkor Wat as this is quite amazing but can get very busy.

There is so many temples to see here most still in great condition. Although my favorite is the one which has been taken over by the jungle and most of it are ruins.

You can either hire a tuk tuk driver to take you around which is advised if you do the one day trip or just hire a bike and go around at you own pace.


Laos is landlocked and borders Burma, China, Vietnam, Thailand and Vietnam. Laos was involved in the Vietnam War mainly due to its proximity to the country and is one of the most under developed country in the region.

Vang Vieng

The town where you leave remembering nothing. This place is just one big drunken haze. You get a tractor inner tube and float down a river and stop off at bars on route and get free shots of lao lao whiskey and then drink buckets of more lao lao whiskey and coke until 6pm then when you think you have enough you go over to an island which is just bars (smile is the best) until middnight when the curfew kicks in. Love this place :D

Try the rope swings at each of the bars. The first bar has the biggest whatever other bars may claim.

Luang Prabang

Very beautiful town and is very quiet compared with Vang Vieng. The night market seems to run on forever with lots of goodies. Also if you go here you have to go bowling one evening after 11pm - you will see what I mean.

Backpacker who loves to travel.

Wikidtravel - http://wikidtravel.net/ Independent travel site for backpackers.

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