The Backpacker Circuit In Summary
What we did: Two months covering Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. We originally planned to include Vietnam in this trip, but we ran out of time and decided to save it for a future trip.
Where we went: This entire leg of our adventures was overland, using trains and buses. We spent one week in Koh Tao, a total of eight nights in Bangkok (spread over three separate visits), a week each in the Laos cities of Vientiane, Vang Vieng, and Luang Prabang, One week in Chiang Mai, and our final 2 and 1/2 weeks in Cambodia; covering Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, and Sihanoukville.
About Costs: SE Asia is inexpensive, which explains the masses of backpackers that flock here every year for long term traveling. With that said, we did not search for the cheapest places to stay, but tended to chose guesthouses that were a step higher in quality and comfort. The cheapest accommodations here are widely known for theft and robbery– and we met handfuls of backpackers who had fallen victim. We recognized quickly that it was safer to spend a bit more for guesthouses with a good reputation. Prices ranged widely- our cheapest room was in Vang Vieng ($6.26/night), and our most expensive was in Phnom Penh ($25/night), where we splurged on a riverfront room while awaiting our India visas. Food in cheap, and we generally spent around $10/day between the two of us– and that sometimes included a drink or two (a draft in Cambodia is 50 cents- cheaper than water). The only thing expensive about this part of the world is tourist activities… Do a tourist activities of any kind, and you will pay a hefty, inflated price for something you could probably find cheaper elsewhere.
Things We Love:
Thailand- Thai orange juice (it’s brighter and sweeter), Manao Soda, our fantastic cooking class that we never wrote about, Dave’s favorite spicy grilled chicken from a street stand in Bangkok. We love that diet sodas cost 50% more than the natural stuff. The obsession with straws- you get one or two straws with everything here- a bottle of water, a 2 liter of soda… Straws with everything, it drove Dave nuts. The obsession with sugar. And Larb- the perfect spicy salad.
Cambodia- We are convinced that Cambodia has the fountain of youth hidden somewhere. Everyone is so youthful, and we we’re surprised many times when finding out the real ages of some of our friends. People are happy, curious, welcoming.. And so many seem to have the lightness of youth… That fountain is somewhere…
BBQ’d bananas and grilled eggs at gas station rest stops, stir fried fresh peppercorns, the black pepper sauce served with everything (which we learned is just fine ground pepper, salt, and lime juice- try it, it’s delicious). The abundance of smiling faces, and contagious laughter. The fact that plates will never get cleared from your table. The strange practice of leaving tooth brushes in hotel rooms for guest’s to use.
Laos: Beerlao Dark (harder to find, but worth the effort), hand pulled rice noodles, the absolutely amazing coffee (thick, rich and nutty). The diverse array of geckos. The perfect baguette sandwiches. The BBQ’d pork cart in Vang Vieng (how they got it so crispy and juicy, we never figured out). Riding bikes through breathtaking scenery, the majestic path of the Meykong, and the river view balcony. The iced jasmine tea with lime juice (heavily sweetened and served in a bag). The night market in Luang Prabang. Children excitedly waving as we pass by. The peacefulness.
Next up: A whirlwind introduction to a place that deserves much more than the 18 days we can give it. India.