A Guide to travelling around South East Asia

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Southeast Asia is an amazing part of the World to explore. It’s famously known as the ‘Backpacker Trail’ so who was I to not join in on that? It generally it refers to 6 countries – Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and Malaysia. I honestly think everyone I met was travelling to many if not all of these during their time there, and very nearly everyone was travelling to them overland. If you’re travelling, it’s normal to fly into one country and out of another to continue with your travels, so the questions on how to get there arrises!

Travelling round the infamous Southeast Asia Backpacking trail is certainly different! Here is my guide on how to get around and what to expect

When I was planning my round the World trip, this was something that I (unnecessarily) freaked out about. What if we just couldn’t get to somewhere we needed to be? What if we just got full on stuck somewhere? What if we missed our flight? Yeah, you get the picture. But the reality is, it is pretty damn easy to get around the countries and also across boarders. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it was just bloody weird and an interesting journey, but I made it so you can too!

Travelling round the infamous Southeast Asia Backpacking trail is certainly different! Here is my guide on how to get around and what to expect

 

TRANSPORT

Putting it simply, the roads are pretty iffy. They are well worn, poorly maintained and journeys can take a long time. For longer journeys I always travelled overnight so I didn’t waste a day getting somewhere – so important if you’re on a deadline for a flight or visa! However, I nearly always struggled to sleep when travelling overnight and just had to power through the next day. It’s worth it though!

BUS

The main, best set up and cheapest way to get around is by bus. They are well prepared to travel to the main destinations and run regularly during the day as well as overnight. The buses can vary from basic to double decker modern style buses. Try and travel with the more modern ones where you can as they will obviously be more comfortable and safer.

One thing that really sucks about buses is that some of them, for some reason unknown to me, have karaoke music blasting out the TV and speaker. Bring ear plugs. Do not think you will be fine like I did. It was a lot of torturous hours of droning.

TRAIN

Travel by train is also cheap and the routes give you the option of day or night time travel. However, the trains don’t go to as many places and do not generally run as often as the buses. It’s well worth doing it at some point though for the experience and a day trip is a great way to see some more of the country

PLANE

There are more and more budget flights becoming available nowadays, which is great if you’re in a real rush or you just want to hop off to a few places. I jumped on a plane to get me from Kuala Lumpur to Chiang Mai when I was backpacking and it saved a tonne of time trying to get there by land!

 

Travelling round the infamous Southeast Asia Backpacking trail is certainly different! Here is my guide on how to get around and what to expect

 

BUYING TICKETS

Get haggling! I know it might seem awkward when it comes to buying tickets, but honestly, for bus tickets, they are expecting it. You won’t be able to do this for trains and planes but for buses, it’s 100% worth a go. Always buy a bus ticket from an office rather than just trying to jump on as you’ll probably get overcharged. The ticket offices are usually clustered together on a main street so are easy to find. Don’t just go to the first one you come across though, go to a few and compare prices and what you get for your money. When you do buy the ticket make sure you check where the bus will be leaving from – it’s probably not going to be too far away from the ticket office but it’s better to make sure!

For train tickets just head to the main train station and speak to someone in the office there. English is quite well spoken in Southeast Asia as it’s so touristy but consider taking a map with you or having the name of where you want to go to hand to show to make sure you get to where you want to go.

Travelling round the infamous Southeast Asia Backpacking trail is certainly different! Here is my guide on how to get around and what to expect

 

WHAT TO TAKE ON AN OVERNIGHT BUS

Keeping your stuff and yourself safe is the most important thing. Your main case/backpack will be in the storage under the bus so whatever you have on you is the only stuff you will have in your sight. You probably won’t see the rest of it until you get to your destination hours later. Without meaning to sound like backpacking here is mega dodgy, there are stories of people’s stuff going missing or robberies happening on the bus. My advice would be to keep money, passport and personal documents/ID on you and not have them stored underneath. If you have one of those pig ugly under-clothes bum bags then stuff it in there and wear it. I always keep my handbag shoved by my feet to keep it secure. I say all this, but nothing happened at all while I was travelling overnight, but it would be a massive ball ache to have it all pinched hours before I even realised.

On a lighter note, stock your music up, get a good book ready, have snacks and water to hand and just sit back and enjoy the experience! It’s normal to stop for a break and a meal at some point as well so you don’t need to go crazy with the food, but personally, travel isn’t travel without crisps. Also, wear something super comfortable I.e something as close you pyjamas as possible (is that just me?). You’re gonna be sat down for a long time and the last think you need is to have jeans digging in or whatever!

Travelling round the infamous Southeast Asia Backpacking trail is certainly different! Here is my guide on how to get around and what to expect

 

BORDER CROSSINGS

I’m gonna give it to you straight, these are super weird. On one hand they seem ridiculously informal, but on the other hand it feels pretty regimented. I crossed from Vietnam to Cambodia, Cambodia to Thailand and Thailand to Malaysia and it was like nothing I had experienced before. It’s normal to change from a large coach to a bunch of smaller minibuses. Or to get off the bus and walk through and just find the bus at the other side, or walk through and find a different bus waiting for you. My advice here is to have your documents to hand, make sure your visa stuff is sorted before you get to this stage, and generally just go with the flow.

Word of warning, the drivers or staff might ask to ‘help you’ with some bits of paperwork. What this means basically is that they will do a very simple form for you and you will have to pay them. They can get pretty pushy but don’t let them and just insist you are going to do it yourself. Also try to find out how much a visa will cost if it’s one you get on entry as tourists are targets to try and sneakily charge a higher amount.

 

HANDY STUFF

  • The Man on Seat 61 is amazing. The site has a crazy amount of information about how to get around on pubic transport in Southeast Asia and all over the World. It has saved my ass on more than one occasion and I cannot rate it highly enough.
  • The 2 main budget airlines are Tiger Airways and Jetstar. Keep an eye out for deals or sales if you’re after a bargain or need to get somewhere sharpish.
  • To do your best to avoid borer crossing scams make sure you look at the countries government websites where it should tell you how much you should be paying or what visa is required for entry. What could be worse than being turned away at that point!
Travelling around South East Asia is a fantastic experience and a lot easier than you might think. Find out everything you need to know here.

26 Comments

  1. Pingback: MY TRAVEL ROUTE ROUND THE WORLD | No Shoes Today

  2. Good tips especially about haggling for bus tickets (as a Brit this goes against everything I am used to so I find it really hard!) and letting the driver “help.”
    I haven’t done any border crossings but plan to go backpacking in SE Asia in the future so I’ll keep this post for future use!

  3. These look like great tips! I haven’t been to SE asia yet but it sounds like all the things I’ve heard. You’ve got to keep your wits about you 😉 Looking forward to seeing some of these countries eventually!

  4. Reading your post I remembered my SE Asia traveling experience. I did shorter trips than you and haven’t visited all these countries yet. Your tips especially for border crossing might be helpful in future.

  5. Nice tips for SouthEast Asia. Although, SEA doesn’t only refers to 6 countries like the countries you mentioned which are really known countries for backpackers, I would also suggest for backpackers to explore 5 other SEA countries that merely differs from the 6. Brunie, East Timor, Indonesia, The Philippines, and Singapore among one of them – which are also interesting places to explore. I do really love how you showcased the best sides of these countries surely a haven for travelers.

    • Thanks Ferna! I agree! I’ve been to the Philippines and would love to see the other places- there’s definitely more to Asia than the ones I’ve pin pointed here. I hope this guide will help people with travelling overland and crossing borders between the little cluster on the backpacker trail ????

  6. Thanks for sharing your tips! I only remember too well my many bus journeys through Thailand and a very uncomfortable train ride in Vietnam ????

  7. I’m traveling overland from Thailand to Singapore this summer, this VIP bus looks perfect for an overnight journey, That’s good information about bargaining the price, you may have saved me a few bucks there! I hope they don’t have loud music on all night, at least the bus driver won’t fall asleep!

    • So jealous I would love to go to Singapore! Always worth a go at haggling in Asia, I always think the worst that will happen is they say and you go and speak to the next one!

  8. before my first thailand trip I was totally scared as well NOT to be able to move around because I just don’t get it, don’t understand, don’t know how and anyway… just can’t..but it was indeed super easy… well, we got scammed several times by taxi drivers and bus drivers, the bus stopped on one point in a city and if we wanted to get easy to our destination, we had to pay more.. we got a nicer bus and we were aware that it was dodgy and everything but right; but well… we got scammed but it’s about 5 euro or maybe 10 on a bus ticket that is already ridiculous cheap.. so the loss wasn’t big

    • Exactly! It can still be a bit daunting even if you know that it’s been done by loads of people before! I’m sure I got scammed a few times as well but like you said it’s only a few quid in reality!

  9. Really great how youve included all the different travel options! I wouldnt know where to start planning that side of the world. Great to see there are budget options!

    • Asia is very budget friendly! And it’s worth having a go at each while you’re there. It’s so different but all part of the journey!

  10. That sleeper bus looks quite comfortable. i had a sleeper bus from pakse to vientiane and the beds were supposed to be shared ! I had a young guy who politely sat up the whole night, but still a bit awkward.

  11. nicolelabargecm on

    Great tips for Asia! I think long journeys are the worst but some of those seats look so comfy. Great tips!

  12. Fantastic write up and totally agree with the budget airline thing. Havent been able to spend a year or two backpacking in Asia (yet) so used AirAsia a lot from KL and China and saved me a tonne of time (and probably money in the long run).

    • Definitely! Overland travel is great when you have time but a complete waste if you don’t.

  13. Very good tips for a first time traveller to the region I think. Border crossings are always my least favourite parts of any journey too, always the most likely place to get conned in some way I think.

    • Thank you Katie! Yeah they are so weird! Definitely have to have your wits about you for that bit

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