Travel tip: Where to go, what to see

Thursday, February 06, 2014

I got a message this morning from a friend:

I'm planning a trip to Southeast Asia, where should I go?

When planning for a trip, there are several factors you must consider:
  • How long are you going for? When?
  • What would you like to do? 
  • Do you have any must-sees on your list?
  • Where will you sleep? 
  • How will you travel?

M is planning for a trip to Southeast Asia in March, but only has 2-3 weeks. This is good to know because, well, that is not much time! So his itinerary should be minimal, while covering the main (aka touristy) highlights. He would also potentially love to briefly visit Australia (or me!) if he could. 

To get a better idea of the kind of trip he is after, M is looking for a relaxing holiday, and beaches would definitely feature in the plan. Though he is a young guy in his late 20s, M is not looking for parties - he's had plenty of those back in the days! 

Now, Southeast Asia is a big area and a favourite among young backpackers. If he had had more time, would have been perfect to explore at leisure, with the new friends he would make at the hostels, taking his chances. But with only two weeks given to him, time is precious. He could go through a tour agency - they would take him on a whirl of all the important sites, probably on an air conditioned bus. Otherwise, he could arrive with a few places in mind to get him started. If M particularly likes one place, he could decide to stay a few extra days. If not, move on. It's a juggling balance of money-time-sights/experience, but you have to make a choice somewhere.

So, in this case, the tour agency plan kind of fell through. M definitely wants to go to Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. Of course. Actually that is very good because: 1/ we can filter out the rest of the region, and 2/ the three countries are next to each other. Unfortunately for M, the only places in Southeast Asia I've been to are Singapore and Malaysia, so I can't give him any first hand tips for his three chosen countries. However, I can still help out. This is what I do when I plan for a trip:

  • Do I know anyone who lives there? 
Can I meet up with them, or even better, can I stay with them? This is especially good if you can't decide which cities or towns to visit. Plus you would get to catch up with a friend, who will become your own personal free local guide. If they are nice enough to let you stay over, you're a very lucky person.

  • For a general itinerary and a starting point, consult your FB friends/travel sites/forums/blogs
As well as your friend who lives there, of course. Get an idea from someone who's already been and done it. Once you have a better idea, you can fine tune your itinerary, as needed. Remember, it's never a good idea to try to do too much. It's meant to be a holiday. M would be best to just pick one/two cities from each of his three countries. Or just pick one country and travel through it. 

  • Saving on accommodation and transport
Again, if you have local friend, that would be awesome. Otherwise, do your research on hostels/Couchsurfing/Airbnb. Find out what the regional budget airlines are - because for M, time is limited. AirAsia, for example. Or he could look into overnight buses and trains.

from here

For M, here is a sample itinerary I came up with:
  • Bangkok, Thailand - floating markets
  • Chiang Mai, Thailand - M's friend lives here
  • (beach stop here?)
  • Siem Reap, Cambodia - a must!! Temples
  • Sianhoukville, Cambodia - beach
  • (bus to) Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam - food
  • Hanoi, Vietnam - again food, markets
  • (beach stop here?)
Spend two days in each city, in general. Between places, planes would save time. Best beaches are in Thailand (Krabi), says K. Either fly out of Hanoi, or a Thai beach spot if he chooses to get in some extra beach time at the end of the trip. Fly into Melbourne to visit me for a few days. Hmm. Maybe I should meet up with him in SE Asia, instead. It's only next door... right?

Happy planning, M!

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