Having stepped on every provinces of the Philippines in 2012, I thought of visiting all the countries of my region- Southeast Asia last 2015 for a total of 103 days. It was a fulfillment of a dream. It was 2009 that I told myself and close friends that I will visit the whole of Southeast Asia by 2020. Looked like the Universe gave that to me 5 years earlier. Yeah!!
Southeast Asia is comprised of 11 countries namely: Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, East Timor, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand and Vietnam.
It is different from ASEAN which is also composed of the same countries excluding East Timor. Anyway, here are my top things to experience should you wish to visit these countries.
Bike around Angkor Wat Complex. It is the biggest religious complex in the world and 3 days on a bike is not enough. You will discover the old Khmer Kingdom and how nature is still king as you see humungous roots swallow the her former glory.
Travel Tip: Get the 3-day pass and don’t do the tour on consecutive days to avoid temple burn out. You can rent bicycles at $1-2/day. Yes you can use the US$ in transactions. Actually, you can even choose what to withdraw at the ATM- US$ or Cambodian Riel. Read more: 10 Travel Tips while exploring Angkr Wat
Experience Hippie-Culture in the 21st Century. Move further up from the busy metro of Bangkok and Khao San Road and head over to Pai which is further up from Chiang Mai (4-5 hours). Here, a lot of traveling musicians, artists and hippies take time and even live. It is like one big family. You sit in a cafe and the people inside would invite you for tonight’s private party or private jam. Be cool and don’t drink too much shroomshake.
Travel Tip: Just leave Bangkok right away. Well, a walk at Khao San Road is an experience in itself. And please save yourself from drinking too much Chang while walking there. Read more: My top 10 things to do in Chiang Mai
Dive! With over 7,000 islands, a lifetime is not enough to dive all the spots here. Among the faves are Coron’s Japanese shipwrecks, Cebu’s Thresher sharks, Donsol’s Whalesharks and Apo Island in Negros to swim with turtles. Tubattaha is a different story too. Not a diver? Get your Open Water Course here for only Php15,000-17,000 (US$330-370), one of the cheapest in the world.
Travel Tip: For foreigners 30 days is not enough because the Philippines is an archipelago, you will be asked for a return ticket before flying to the country. Make sure you have a
fake return ticket. Renewal of visa is unlimited here. After 30 days, you pay around US$70 for another 30days. Read more: 10 Philippines Backpacking Routes for Newbies
Hands down- Sunrise-watching at Old Bagan. Forget about sleeping in for an extra hour. Get your ass up before 5:00am and bike your way to one of the big temples to watch the sunrise. I promise this will be one of the highlights of your trip and maybe your life. It is also better shared with someone special! Kiss slowly.
Travel Tip: Either fly to Mandalay or Yangon and work your way southwards or upwards, just don’t miss Bagan. Read more: Bagan Sunrise to Sunset
Enjoy some street-art and street food in Georgetown Penang island. It is about 6 hours away from Kuala Lumpur by bus. This artsy fartsy art town is declared a UNESCO Heritage Site. Order “chai” (milk tea) from Little India (you can see a lot on the streets), char keow choi from the Chinese vendor and Nasi Kandar (pronounced Nasi Chandar) from some local Malaysian store. Look for Bansky and larger than life paintings.
Travel Tip: You can also take the sleeper train from KL Central Station to Penang but you have to book in advance.
Take a selfie with the Merlion (or at the Marina Bay Sands.) Sorry, not really a fan lah.
Travel Tip: It is expensive in SG, you know what I mean. I went to Malaysia on a bus right away. Getting into Singapore from Malaysia by bus is cheaper than going to Malaysia from Singapore.
Prounounced “Lao” (silent ‘s’) like how French pronounced most of their words with silent ‘s’. Trek Nong Khiew Viewpoint. Get a little off-the-beaten than Luang Prabang, 4,000 islands and Vang Vieng and go up north where sometimes electricity is still cut off. Nong Khiew is a small town where maybe you will find yourself the only foreigner for a day. The trek to the Viewpoint is ecstatic I had to do it twice. Kayak expeditions and treks to waterfalls are also available from tour organizers in town. Stay at Sunrise Guesthouse for the best sunset view.
Travel tip: Don’t eat meat dishes while on places that doesn’t have 24-hour electricity. Met a lot of backpackers with diarrhea because of eating bad food.
Learn surfing in Bali (or at Lombok). I promised myself to visit Bali every year to improve my surfing. For beginners I suggest Canggu which has the best waves for longboarding. In Lombok, you can also learn at Selong Belanak which is about 45minutes drive from Kuta Lombok. I spent almost a week surfing a secret spot there where I would ride a left hander for 10-15 seconds and cry afterwards just because I can’t believe I was walking on water and I am alone without anyone watching, without a line-up. Just me and the big blue ocean showing her full glory. At times I would just watch the wave pass by because she was too beautiful to ride.
Travel tip: Take the Pelni, it is their local ferry boat which is way cheaper than the boat tours from Kuta, like crazy cheap. Nasi Goreng is best, Indonesia has great coffee too. Especially Kopi Lombok and Kopi Flores. I did a quick edit of my surfing in Bali back in 2013: Longboard Surfing in Bali
Ride a motorbike in Ho Chi Minh City. You are crazy and they are crazy. Everyone is crazy. Not crazy enough? Then just walk around Saigon since it is a walkable city. Don’t miss Ben Than Market for souvenirs, trinkets, coffee and everything else you want to bring back home. The Old Post office is kinda cool too!
Travel Tip: Don’t learn how to drive here and don’t miss their coffee. Additional info, did you know that most of Vietnam coffee that they sell is not pure coffee? They sometimes mix corn and cook it in fish sauce for that aromatic smell. Of course they won’t tell you this secret.
Marvel at the Masjid Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin. I’m really awed at the mosque we visited when I was in Brunei for like less than a day. It is funny because the immigration only gave me 1 day tourist visa when I came by ferry from Kota Kinabalu. They base the visa according to your return ticket since a lot of Filipinos stay and look for work.
Travel Tip: Plan ahead and if possible, look for a local to tour you around. Bring your alcohol or cigarette since these are too expensive here, sometimes hard to find too. It is true that drinking water here costs more than gasoline. 1L Water= Brunei$1.5 / 1L Gasoline= Brunei$0.98
11. East Timor
East Timor I believe is the most weirdest of all. They look like Africans, speak Portuguese, pay in US dollars and are Asians. Visit Cristo Rei in Dili or just go to anywhere in Timor Leste because only 1% of backpackers has been to this new country. Very small and locals are just smiles.
Travel Tip: Fly via Dili from Bali because it is so much easier and you get automatic 30-day visa. Land trip travel from Kupang, West Timor is so much taxing, speaking from own experience. And you have to have a travel permit which would take atleast 3 days of processing from Bali.
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If you want to read more about the journey, you can check this link: https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/100dayssea/. I also wrote this 10 Lessons I Learned from my Southeast Asian trip you might be keen to read. 🙂
If you are on Instagram, just search for #100DaysSEA and follow me @journeyingjames for more of my adventures.
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