South East Asia
For many people South East Asia is synonymous with backpacking. This can be considered a good, or an ‘everyone’s done it’ bad thing. We think it’s a good thing. For one, the region is huge: if you want to hang out in hostels, make the most of Thailand’s infamous nightlife, and only dip into the local culture – then that’s fine. But if you want to truly lose yourself, and find yourself on an Akha trail deep inside Laos, days away from a hot shower and utterly immersed in Asian culture – then that’s an equally viable option. It is this potential and variety that makes South East Asia an unbeatable destination for backpacking.
Where is it and what’s there?
South East Asia is the most geographically disparate area of Asia. It is situated between China to the North; India to the West and Australia to the South and encompasses the following countries:Brunei, Burma (Myanmar) Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia,Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The primary stomping grounds for backpackers are Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos…. but they should be enough to keep you going for a while! The population of the region is around 0.5 billion, and the cultures and religions mirror the varied and diverse geography of the area.
The climate in South East Asia can be summed up in one word: tropical. The temperature is a consistent 30°C year round, the humidity is high and a tropical storm is rarely out of the question. As a rule, the seasonal characteristics of the area can be divided into two: the equatorial areas have a ‘wet’ and a ‘dry’ season – wet in the UK winter and dry in the UK summer, while the non equatorial areas (including Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam) tend to have a three part season: Hot (March-June), Wet (July-October) and dry (November to February). All seasons have their attractions, but the ‘dry’ season is the most predictable and generally the most popular with backpackers.
You will most likely arrive by plane. The cheapest (and consequently most popular) cities from which to embark on your backpacking adventure are Bangkok and Singapore. From either of these you are well placed to begin your travels, and both are served by numerous airlines from the UK (and elsewhere, if South East Asia is a latter stop on your travels).
If you need to get somewhere fast, then there are an increasing number of relatively economical domestic airlines flying between the main cities. These are also a great way of ensuring that your travels take you to all corners of the region.This said; if you’re in Asia, you really don’t want to be rushing around… And there are some great ‘mellower’ options: Thailand has an extensive and – generally speaking – reliable rail network that provides a fantastic means for seeing more of the country, and (although considerably slower!) trekking in Laos is an essential part of the South East Asian backpacking experience. Suffice to say that you need to spend some time with a map and a calendar working out your route and timetable to ensure that you make the most of your stay…
Things to do
Take a look at our destination pages for more detail about specific countries. There are countless ‘must-do’ activities in the area – and anyone who’s travelled around South East Asia would have a different ‘top 10’ – here are a few ideas for places to see and activities to whet your appetite:
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• Taman Negara. This Malaysia National park is home to some of the oldest tropical forests in the world. Rent a lodge and take on the ‘largest canopy walkway’ in the world.
• Angkor Wat. The ancient temple is one of the most staggering sights in South East Asia, and enough to merit the trip to Cambodia in itself.
• Ko Pha Ngan. Ok, so it may be best known for its full moon parties, but Ko Pha Ngan is also home to some of Thailand’s most spectacular and – if you put some effort in – deserted beached. Paradise.
• Vietnam. Saigon is everything that you would expect from an Asian capital and most definitely worth committing some time to, but it is perhaps the Mekong Delta with its peaceful ambience and fresh fish that – after Saigon – feels like a peaceful haven.
In truth, wherever you end up – South East Asia will blow your mind (but not your budget). It is an utterly unique and special part of the world and guaranteed to leave you with enduring – and ‘perspective altering’ memories. Take a look at our specific pages for a more detailed rundown on destinations, and start planning your next backpacking experience.