The groundwork

When I started thinking about what to do this winter, my eye fell on South East Asia. It’s a region I’ve passed through on my way to Australia and New Zealand and has been on my mind on and off. I haven’t actually seen a lot of it though. Looking at my limited budget, not wanting to work, and seeing where I could actually live for about 3,5 months, I made the decision to just go for it. It feels like a now or never. I know South East Asia is full of young backpackers and I’ll probably be on the older end of the backpacker age spectrum, so I’ve got to go and see it. Initially I had five countries in mind; Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. The more I read about all these places, the more I want to see and the more I feel like five countries is way too much. After a few weeks of travel prep I’ve added a month to my itinerary and removed one country, for now.

To me it feels like all the 4 month itineraries out there only see the major sights. I realized I would rather spend more time in each country than rush past the highlights, and I still feel like there will be plenty of choices to make. I thought I would start in Myanmar, but then I ran into visa issues. You get a visa on arrival for Thailand when you have a flight out of the country. This is valid for 30 days. You could also apply for a 60 day visa in advance. If you cross a land border you only get 15 days. My mind started running on overtime and suddenly Thailand was my first destination. The cheaper flights from Europe go to Bangkok, so that’s where the adventure will start. From here I’ll make my way south to do some diving, enjoy the islands and the beautiful Khao Sok national park.

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When my 30 days are up, I’ll fly from the south of Thailand into Myanmar. Myanmar gives out 28 day visas, for which you can apply online in advance. I know I want to use up all of those days. Myanmar is know for very slow transportation and it is a big country. I will need that time! Compared to Thailand, tourism is still new, and growing rapidly. Apparently budget accommodation is full in no time. Added to that I’ll be visiting this country during the popular Christmas holidays. Is Myanmar a Christmas destination? At least I’ll be escaping the Thai islands before the rush of people comes in, but I might have to do some more planning and booking in advance for Myanmar than for the rest of my trip. I hope to do some trekking here and to make it out to Mrauk-U, which is not that often added to an itinerary.

From Yangon I’ll fly back to Bangkok. This time I cannot get a visa on arrival since I cannot provide an exit plane ticket. I’ll have to get a visa at the Thai embassy in Yangon. Hopefully that will all work out and I’ll have another 30 days in Thailand. I am not planning to spend the full 30 days here, but we will see what happens. The plan is to head up north via Ayutthaya and Sukothai to check out some temples. In the north I can see places like Chiang Mai, Pai and Chiang Rai, before I make my way across the border into Laos. Reading about northern Thailand makes me excited. I would love to head out into the jungle or see some hill tribes here.

Another thing I’ve read amazing stories about, is the slowboat from the Thai border into Luang Prabang. It seems like most travellers only hit the hotspots like Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng in Laos on their way to Vietnam, but I’ve already fallen for Laos by looking at lots of photos, watching documentaries and reading stories. I am actually thinking of extending the 30 day visa you get on arrival. Looking at all the places you can visit and all the trekking, motorbike adventures and cool towns, I think I can easily spend more than a month here. The plan is to go north from Luang Prabang and then make my way down south to the 4000 islands. By the time I hit Vientiane I will know whether or not I need more time and I could extend my visa here.

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So far I have three countries on the list and with the time I think to spend in each, there is not much time left for number four; Cambodia. Planning this trip I think Cambodia will be a highlight country. I don’t want to leave South East Asia without seeing Angkor Wat. Seeing Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville or Kampot are all options. From Cambodia I will cross the border into Thailand again and on my way to Bangkok I’d like to see one more national park: Khao Yai. The first part of my trip is pretty much set in stone, because of the flights into Myanmar. After that, everything gets kind of blurry. From here on I’ll have more flexibility with the time I’ll spend in each place or to completely change my route. I realize that you can plan all you want, but on the road these plans change quicker than you made them. Plans are guidelines, an ever evolving thing. All I know is that I’d like to see more than just the highlighst and get a good mix of urban and nature, small town and city and active and relaxing.

There is so much to see and so much to choose from. What would you do? What’s your preferred way of travelling?

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2 thoughts on “The groundwork

  1. You’ve got a good plan. Covering Myanmar in depth is definitely a good thing to do since its ‘easy’ and more affordable to drop by Thailand anytime (in the future). And Laos too would be good to do in depth. If you had to choose, we’d say scrimp on Thailand.

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