I am not extremely well travelled, but I have been fortunate enough to visit some of the major European countries and even once Boston, USA. Like any place or country, they all have their own charms, Spain’s laid back approach to the day, France’s passion for wine and food and Croatia’s beautiful coastline are but a few of the charms I have noticed. However, I have also been lucky enough to travel through Southeast Asia for three months in total and it is definitely the most magical area of the world I have ever been to. Each and every country in that region of the world is undoubtedly beautiful. Great green mountains pierce the sky making thousands of canvas ideas for any artist, intricate statues celebrating different religions are always a stone’s throw away and even the heavily populated cities have a certain electric magnetism to them.
Disliked types of backpacker in these areas still remain and could put people off visiting. One example are young louts who come over to drink their way through the entire trip, lacking any kind of respect for their surroundings and having little willingness to understand the culture they are lucky enough to enter. In honesty, I spent my first trip to Asia drinking quite a lot, something I’ve since regretted. However, I did spend a lot of time going and out and trying many different aspects of the wonderful culture out there, something I enjoyed and benefited from greatly. Moreover, there are ways to avoid these people if you want to and a lot of people I met who enjoyed the drinking culture equally enjoyed the culture as they would wake up early every day for various activities.
Another is the rich, mollycoddled girl or boy whose trip has been funded by their parents; they don’t appreciate the trip half as much because they haven’t earnt the money they are spending, coming across spoilt or unappreciative . These people are usually harmless and should not put you off your trip. However, I think there is a lot to be said for earning the money yourself and going on any holiday. As I reached my late teens and started funding trips myself, I wanted to get much more out of a place and this infinitely improved my experience.
If it is not clear already, I would certainly encourage anyone to go to Southeast Asia. If you are young and have the resources, go for a long time. If you are slightly older and have more responsibilities, go there for an extended holiday. I do realise that there are calls for less tourism in this area of the world as in some places western money has taken preference over long-seated traditions. This has resulted in places such as Koh Samui where the island has, in some people’s opinion, begun to lose its beauty as five star resorts and water sports dominate the coastline. In honesty, I would have to agree with this myself, on holiday I prefer to see a simpler, more natural side to a place. However, there are ways to counter-act this trend both in Southeast Asia and in other parts of the world. Instead of going for that state of the art five star resort, spend your money in a locally owned guesthouse. Instead of seeking out McDonalds, find some local cuisine. If tourists invest money into the traditional culture of a place, it helps to preserve that aspect of a community’s identity.
Everyone is always after some advice for which areas they should go, so in no particular order I will recite a few of the best places I visited whilst there, the ones I would describe as a must visit. Bangkok is the home away from home for backpackers in this area of the world, offering western amenities and medicines that other places might lack. However, it offers so much more than this! The hustle and bustle of Chinatown, the fried bugs and makeshift bars of Khao San Road and the endless tuk tuks offering you rides every five seconds. It is an international, multi-cultural, beautiful mess of a city that offers a tourist so much. Just do not go to the ping-pong shows, they are dangerous and seedy.
Mai Chau in Vietnam is another beautiful area of Southeast Asia that I found with my girlfriend by accident. However, I suggest this region whilst biting my tongue. It is so beautiful and so untouched I want it to remain this way and too much tourism might change that and its way of life. Great mountains of green surround the local villages and small roads. There is an eco-trek that works its way through rivers and picturesque villages with acres of rice paddies. The best thing about Mai Chau was the silence, it was quiet and peaceful. I experienced some of the best moments of my trip whilst we spent hours doing nothing but driving around on a moped, breathing in the air and taking in the scenery.
The many islands of Thailand are also great places to visit. In particular, Koh Chang and Koh Phangan were favourites of mine. In both cases, I avoided the party areas of these places. It might have been fun to go to, but ultimately I did not want to drink or venture up ‘mushroom mountain’ at the time. Instead, my girlfriend and I spent much of our time lounging on beaches and finding hammocks with the most scenic views. I know I placed an emphasis on experiencing culture, which we did in the evenings as we sought the local cuisine, but I felt thoroughly refreshed from these places as I did little but read books and sip mango lassies. Furthermore, Vietnam’s coastline and many of Thailand and Indonesia’s islands offer a great array of tropical fish that you can witness snorkelling or scuba diving, Hoi Ann, Koh Tao and The Gili Islands are all great places to find this tropical wildlife.
A final mention must go to Chiang Mai, Thailand’s main northern city. Despite the heat, it is a very nice area to walk around. Get lost in the old city’s streets and recuperate with various stops for smoothies and ice creams. There are a great selection of cooking schools here, teaching honest and homely Thai cuisine and the night food market also offers great food and a brilliant ambience. The main reason this city gets a mention is for the elephant sanctuaries. Seek out a sanctuary that has saved elephants from cruel conditions and does not condone the riding of them. Once you have found the right sanctuary, go over your daily budget and enjoy all the brilliant time you get to spend with these wise, old creatures.
Here lies the first travel piece of this site; I hope it has given you an insight into Southeast Asia and the great opportunities that it offers. For all the young readers, save money, travel there extensively and run away from Western ways for a while. For all the older readers, try and do the same! If not, spend as much time as your lifestyle can afford out there. Recharge your batteries and enjoy the beaches. Thanks for reading, feel free to comment or share this post and check out the brief board I put together on Pinterest.