Adventures in South East Asia
South East Asia (SEA) is one of the best destinations for students who are lusting for a bit of adventure anywhere.
This might seem like a cliche phrase one can find in travel magazines but it is true!
Speaking from experience: it is cheap, you get to meet fun people and if there is anything you have always wanted to do (visit a trans strip club, go diving,…), this is the place to do it!
The number one rule when it comes to transportation (and just about everything else) is: Do your research in whatever city you’re in. Tell agencies about other agencies’ prices to get them to lower their own and don’t give in unless you are absolutely certain this is the best offer you can get.
The cheapest option is usually busses. If you don’t mind sleeping in bunk bed like night buses (bring your own blanket because you won’t want to touch the provided ones if your life depended on it!) you can even save on accommodation and time while going from city to city.
Trains are a bit easier when it comes to getting a good price without getting ripped off. However, in places like Vietnam, you’ll need to go to the actual train station to get your ticket and a lot of the staff won’t speak any or not very good English.
Then again, nobody will be able to beat you at charades once you’re back.
Then there are scooters. If you’re up for the road trip of a lifetime, go for it! Even though people always say how crazy the drivers in Asia are, it’s not that bad.
Most of the locals drive scooters and it is one of the best ways to see the landscape around you while being spontaneous.
Make sure to get a good scooter though. Going from hostel to hostel, you’ll see plenty of people with bruises and scratches who’s scooters burned them or just stopped working in the middle of the street.
Accommodation wise, there is either Couchsurfing, ridiculously cheap hostels (I’m talking two to four pounds per night) or slightly nicer hotels which usually have a pool and bar. Depending on your budget, all three can be fun.
Couchsurfing is definitely the way to go when your biggest goal is to experience the locals’ culture. There is the chance that you will be sleeping on a bamboo mat on the ground but this just adds to the experience.
If you’re the kind of person who cannot go a day without a burger, you might want to stay in the big cities where Westernization has built all kinds of McDonald’s copies.
It is surprisingly easy to get a full English breakfast in most of Asia, although the question is why you would do that when you can eat Pho or rice with pork on every street corner.
Additionally, you get to sit on cute stools that will be a reminder of the times when you used to play tea time with your dolls.
Depending on whether you have food allergies or are vegetarian/vegan, you might want to know that it is quite difficult to communicate your needs properly.
It has happened more than once that a supposedly vegetarian soup ended up having chicken strips in it.
When it comes to finding the right places to go to, it really depends on what you want to do when you get there. It is a good idea to go away from the bigger cities such as Hanoi and Bangkok to find the hidden (and also way cheaper) gems. The top three places around SEA to travel to without running into someone of your own nationality in every hostel are Hoi An in Vietnam, El Nido in the Philippines, the Thakhek Loop in Laos and Koh Rong in Cambodia.
Hoi An is a party city on the coast. You will find that there are a lot of bars that offer happy hours. Some will even give you three to four hours of unlimited drinks for four pounds. Another perk is that the city is host to a lot of tailors who can hand design and cut your dresses, pants and even suits within a day for a fairly reasonable price compared to Europe.
El Nido will remind you of paradise. Even the most cynical person will have to admit that this tiny city on the island of Palawan in the Philippines is magical. Large rocks surround the bay where you can enjoy a cold beer after a long day of diving, island hopping or sunbathing on the beach.
If you’re not into partying or enjoying your day with a smoke, this last location probably won’t be for you. The Cambodian island Koh Rong is one of the hidden party gems in Asia. You won’t find as many people as you will in Phuket, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a party on every single night. Besides that, there are booze cruises, full moon parties and a jungle that leads you to more peaceful beach towns.
One of my absolute favorites was Thakhek Loop in Laos. You rent a scooter in the city of Thakhek and then drive to the surrounding sights which include a lot of big caves, temples and gigantic and beautiful rock constellations. The round trip takes about 2 to 5 days depending on how much time you take. Finding people to join you on your ride is very easy. Even in the off-season, travellers gather in local hostels to rent their scooters the next day. As the loop has become more popular, you will have to pay more for the scooter rental than other places though. But the food that you can get at around one pound makes up for it.
To be honest, escaping tourists will be close to impossible no matter where you go in Asia. The beauty, affordability, unlimited amount of parties, culture and delicious food, has drawn Western countries to stop spending their money on expensive resorts and explore the Eastern hemisphere instead.
So, if you’re sick of the drowsy British weather and the same dull sandwich for lunch every day, why not book a ticket and go on an adventure?