Loy Krathong Festival in Thailand. Image courtesy of Tourism Authority of Thailand
For Bel Around the World's Isabel Leong (Facebook|Twitter|Instagram), traveling boils down to “interesting learning from the destination, for instance by its unique culture or experiencing a new activity.” To that end, she chases new experiences wherever she goes: “learning cooking and visiting an eco-lodge in Thailand, or living in a boat and visiting Komodo dragons in Indonesia, or trying out staying in a bamboo treehouse in Cambodia.”
You certainly don't leave Southeast Asia without learning a few things – about making your way around, about the local culture, and about yourself. We asked a few bloggers about the things they learned while traveling around the region, and here's what they had to say.
Start with Thailand - “Easier Starting Point”
Finding the Universe's Laurence Norah (Twitter|Facebook) tells us why starting point of his trip through Southeast Asia mattered – and why choosing Thailand ended up to be the best decision of the voyage:
My trip to Thailand was my first trip to a Southeast Asian country, and that fact in itself influenced my first decision - which country to pick?
I ended up choosing Thailand because it was well travelled and well documented, and I knew that it would be an easier starting point for my adventures in this region. Planning my trip was a lengthy process, not least because I was visiting for three months, and I wanted to see as much of the country as possible, whilst also visiting parts of the country that weren't on the typical tourist trail.
As I went, I built an itinerary in an excel spreadsheet so I had a fairly detailed day by day breakdown. This might seem a little excessive, but there were various festivals around the country that I wanted to see, so it was important to get the timing right. Of course, I built in plenty of flexibility and time for plan changes too!
Overall, the experience was well worth the adventure, and Thailand quickly became one of my favourite countries to travel in. For anyone looking for their own Thailand trip, I can recommend starting with my two week Thailand itinerary for inspiration.
Family bonding with a Balinese local in Indonesia. Image courtesy of Pujarini Mitra
Traveling in Bali, Indonesia: Bond with the Locals
Do you know what makes a destination even more travel worthy? It’s the people and how welcome they make you feel. We travelled through Bali for two weeks with our toddler and felt absolutely at home. Wherever we went, the locals were interested to know about our baby and wanted to help to ensure that he is comfortable.
Most of our stays in Bali were in homestays and we were living with the locals in their villages and communities. This really helped us understand their culture much better. We were also lucky to attend a traditional ceremony at our guide’s village. It was interesting to see that Balinese Hindu festivals and rituals vary from Indian Hinduism even though both religions are same.
One conversation that really stayed with me was the one I had with a very old gentleman in Candidasa. We were eating at his Warung and when he came to know that we live in India, he wrote down his address and contact no and gave it to me.
He then touched my head and said “Next time you come to Bali, come visit my home. Please get me some Ganga water and holy soil from Kurukshetra. If I am alive, I will cook food for you myself and feed you and God will bless you for your kindness.”
My advice to fellow traveler heading to Bali is be open, respectful and let Bali happen to you.
Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. Image courtesy of Mike Aquino
Vietnam: The Trip Starts Before You Arrive
A few years ago my then boyfriend and I traveled to Vietnam as part of a larger trip to Asia and had about 2 weeks to spend in Vietnam. It was our first time in southeast Asia. We wanted to both see some of the many highlights (e.g., Halong Bay, Ho Chi Minh City attractions, beaches) as well as focus on some of our specific interests.
For example I have a strong interest and love for tea so we looked for things that would be a good fit for that such as visiting Vietnam's tea region with a local tour company, visiting a tea museum and plantation, and having an afternoon tea experience.
In planning our trip, we gathered information from paper guidebook sources, online, as well as a co-worker who had grown up in Vietnam. I feel that the blend of using multiple sources really helped enrich our trip as it helped us find information on all the major highlights and many lesser known attractions. We also had lots of tips and local cultural insights from my co-worker.
I'd definitely recommend that those planning a trip gather information from multiple sources if they can rather just relying on a single type of information.
Manta ray in the waters off Komodo Island, Indonesia. Image courtesy of Stingy Nomads
Seasons in Indonesia: Time Your Trip Right
Southeast Asia is a real paradise for those who love water activities particularly diving and surfing we usually go to Indonesia for both. To get the most out of our trips we try to choose the best time to go to diving and surfing places.
It can be tricky sometimes as seasons in different areas may vary. Our longest trip through Indonesia was about 2 months, from Western Sumatra to Komodo island with only one flight, many buses and ferries. Season wise it worked out great; we started in Pulau Weh in July (good for diving), went to Bali in August (nice for surfing, dry season) and reached Komodo by September (manta season).
The idea of our trip was to hit on the way all the best diving and surfing spots. We started at Pulau Weh in Sumatra, a nice and off the beaten path island with good diving. Then we crossed the island overland stopping at Toba and Maninjau lakes. Flew to Java where we visited a couple of temples and spent most of the time in a small surfing village Batu Karas. Then with a couple of busses and a ferry we went diving and surfing around Bali and Nusa Penida. Our last challenge was to get from Bali to Flores by public transport, we were there in high season the flights were sold out.
This part took us almost two days and included three ferries and four or five buses/taxis. In the beginning it can be difficult and even challenging to get used to night buses and ferries, long rides on bumpy roads but after a couple of weeks all these become normal for you.