Five countries, twelve cities and towns, six plane rides, one overland crossing, countless bus and train rides, an overnight cruise, one island trip, several hotel check-ins, and a great deal of adventures setbacks on the road all in one month. Sounds crazy, right? We thought so, too.
Perhaps every traveler has it on their bucket list - a legit Southeast Asia trip - and would eventually make it happen someday. It’s the same case for us. Though we’ve already been to some countries in Asia, the experience of hopping around the South East region in one journey still sounds really exciting, challenging and fulfilling. Add to that the region’s myriad of distinct places, rich culture and interesting activities unparalleled to the rest of the world. Who wouldn’t be enthralled with that?
Planning this trip took a lot - and with that, we mean A LOT - of research. And that’s us talking, being the type who normally go for a come-what-may itinerary. Booking flights is the easy part; doing all the necessary preparations is a different story. First, we were torn with the countries and cities to include in the trip. You see, if you want to see all of Southeast Asia, you probably need six to nine months or more. But for someone like us who don’t have the luxury of time, seeing the region’s most fascinating features would be top priority. We’ve read a lot of travel advice not to overdo it else you’d end up spending more and feeling exhausted. Of course, we’re stubborn so we disregarded those and went for our hearts’ desire. After all, that very desire is what inspires us to go places and experience the world.
Choosing Where to Go
After undergoing deliberate analyzation and consideration, we made a decision to include Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar and Vietnam. It seemed a lot to handle, yes. In fact, fellow travelers we met in our last stop couldn’t believe us when we told them we’ve been to five countries already in just a month. It’s just that, there’s so much to see and do in Thailand, and Laos is so charming and laid-back. Malaysia makes a great place for a stopover while Myanmar, having opened its doors to other countries only a few years ago, holds secret spots waiting to be discovered. Vietnam, of course, is as interesting as it can get. Everything was settled. Or so we thought.
We now have a list of countries complete with cities and towns we’ll visit. Here comes the most complex part: sorting which place comes first, planning how to get from one country to the other, and booking our airplane tickets. This may sound easy peasy if our budget’s big, but unfortunately, we need to keep this trip as frugal as we can. Good thing we discovered AirAsia’s ASEAN Pass, a credit-based travel pass which allows you to book flights across 140 destinations in Southeast Asia. More about this on another post. We saved a big amount of money using our ASEAN Pass compared to booking our flights in different airlines. The tricky part was looking for flight availability from one route to another at a given date. It took us about two days to figure out our itinerary and finalize our bookings. After we’re done, everything else that followed seemed like a breeze.
Choosing Your Accommodation
Hotel, bed and breakfast or hostel? Airbnb, Agoda or Couchsurfing? These are the common questions you’ll often ask yourself when looking for an ideal temporary dwelling place. We’ve made a great deal of bookings and check-ins during this trip and, to be honest, there’s no perfect accommodation nor booking platform. It really depends on your budget and comfort preference. In our case, we’ve stayed in various types of accommodation which we booked via Airbnb, Agoda, Booking.com and business websites. We based our choice on reviews and feedback, as well as the establishment’s location, facilities (with private bathroom, definitely) and accessibility to public transport.
Aside from the reviews, what we liked about online booking platforms are the occasional travel deals and discounts we get. For instance, Agoda offers 20-60% discounts on select hotels and rooms available for a limited time. Booking.com, on the other hand, gives Genius deals where guests get welcome drinks or early check-in opportunities. Trying out several options - and not just sticking to one - is a great way to take advantage of perks and experience variety in your trip.
Choosing What to Bring
The thought of going away for a month (or longer) can give one the tendency to overpack. What if I suddenly need this or that? What if my clothes aren’t enough? The key is to be strategic in packing away stuff and choosing which clothes to bring. To be honest, we’ve also gone through the phase of overpacking for a 3-day trip. We ended up with sore backs and arms carrying away too much stuff that weren’t even used. Good thing we’ve learned how to pack light and right through time. For this trip, we only brought one mid-size backpack (around 31-32L) and one carry-on bag (for laptops and everyday use) each. We were able to fit in more than a week’s worth of clothes, scarves, hygiene kits, food and drinks, footwear, cameras, electronics, laptops and other important paraphernalia.
Choosing which clothes to bring needs a bit of strategical planning. Light and comfy fabrics versatile for various weather always go into our bags. Our travel wardrobe typically includes white shirts, cotton blouses, shorts, dresses and those ultra comfy Thai/Aladdin pants. It’s just a matter of mixing and matching to maximize the clothes we brought. For the shoes, we always wear our hike shoes every time we hit the road so it won’t take a lot of space in our bags. Again, it’s all about planning ahead and being tactical when it comes to packing light.
Hopping around Southeast Asia in a month was probably one of our craziest journeys. Yes, there were plenty of unexpected outcomes, roadblocks and detours along the way. This trip tested our character and patience in dealing with difficulties. We fought, laughed, got lost, found our way, fell into tourist traps, got smarter and, above all, rediscovered our passion for discovering places beyond the sights and sceneries.
Five countries and twelve cities/towns in a month? Nope, it doesn’t sound crazy after all.