Tips for traveling in Southeast Asia
Asia and especially Southeast Asia are home to smiles and hospitality. I have to admit that I never liked the idea of Asia and I therefore didn’t consider it for years, until reading Terzani’s “A Fortune-Teller Told Me: Earth-bound Travels in the Far East “, a book that changed my way of seeing the world and of traveling. At the end of the book I booked my first flight to the east, to Bangkok, and it was love at first sight.
Year after year I discovered, rediscovered and deepened the cultures, territories, people and dishes of this fantastic part of the world, An ideal destination for security, hospitality, exoticism, adventure and budget!
What to visit in Thailand
Thailand as the first Asian stage proved to be very lucky choice and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to try a first solo independent trip. It’s a very well organized country, used to Western tourism since the ’70s. In Thailand you can find any product that can be bought in our supermarkets and / or pharmacy and even more and the local tourist offer is virtually unlimited and suitable for any budget.
Things to do and see in Thailand
- the chaotic, dirty and beautiful Bangkok, with its temples, the Royal Palace and a myriad of hidden corners to discover
- the authentic and colorful historical cities and their surroundings: Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Lampang, Sukhotai, Kanchanaburi (which I really did not like, but it is an important step to see and understand why and why Bridge over the river Kwai) and the legendary Ayuttaya
- The dream islands, although the only one I come back to is Koh Lanta because it is less Westernized
Traditional massages !!!
- The meditation courses offered by various temples throughout the continental countryAlso to visit neighboring countries is still better to fly to Bangkok, whose airport offers frequent and cheap connections with the rest of Southeast Asia.After Thailand, I suggest you to discover Asia in the following order of adaptation to this continent so different from ours.
What to visit in Laos
Laos is oh so genuine, a land of spirituality and peace, where the Vietnam War upset its essence without actually destroying it. Laos is a country that moves and overwhelms. I truly fell in love with it!
Things to do and see in Laos
- The border crossing over the Mekong, between Chiang Khong and Huay Xai
- The goblet ceremony at dawn is extremely moving, but I recommend that of Huay Xai to avoid the turmoil of tourists that would ruin everything …
- Luang Prabang, a small town where time seems to slow down and where it’s easy to stop over and let it fly. Its surroundings are really worth a visit too!
- Hiking in the jungle to discover the northern tribal villages
- The cool and hippy Vang Vieng and the zen Vientiane, with its beautiful pagodas
- The Plain of the Jars, with its supernatural charm
- The silk manufacturing shops, where getting a tailored dress is quick and cheap
What to visit in Vietnam
Vietnam is perhaps less exciting because it’s more westernized and “modern”, but offers a true natural show with its bright colors and some pearls that absolutely deserve to be seen at least once in a lifetime!
Things to do and see in Vietnam
- Ho Chi Minh City, better known with its former name Saigon, where it is useful and smart to spend a few days acclimatizing to the local chaos and to relive the war by visiting dedicated sites and museum
- Mui Ne and its tiled beach surrounded by sand dunes … surreal
- Hoi An, heart of the former French Indochina
- Hanoi and the mythical and breathtaking Halong Bay
- Sapa and its paddy fields. Stunning! (From I recommend the bus trip to Laos)
What to visit in the Philippines
The Philippines seem endless and, for those who really want to know it in detail – a quite trivial desire given the warmth and natural beauty of its islands – probably are!
Things to do and see in the Philippines
- Manila and the neighboring and splendid Taal volcano
- The terraced rice cultivations in Banaue
- Its coasts, between islands, beaches, palm trees, resorts for all tastes and budgets
What to visit in Myanmar
I always define Myanmar as a dive into the past. Or I’d better say in many different pasts. From a holiday standpoint, it may be disappointing, but as a road trip it will give you real emotions, especially if traveling through it by public transport and taking time to chat with monks and students who are looking forward to guiding visitors. Do not postpone your trip to Burma too much though, things are changing fast!
Things to see and do in Myanmar
- The Yangon pagodas. During the full moon nights then the Shwedagon Paya is simply magical
- The Golden Rock at Kyaiktiyo, worth it even just to travel in the bus-coach 😉
- Taungoo and its peaceful rural life
- Lake Inle, its tribal settlements, the unique crafts, the stilts villages, the now over-photographed fishermen, the smiles and the atmosphere out of time
- The Royal Palace of Mandalay, the beautiful pagodas, the monasteries downtown and the marble sculptors and then the exciting Sagaing, Inwa and Amarapura
- The boat trip between Mandalay and Bagan and then the latter and its exaggerated expanse of pagodas and spirituality
What to visit in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka actually disappointed me or better, the country is objectively very beautiful, with noteworthy landscapes and crazy historical-archaeological sites but overall I did not feel comfortable and this is perhaps the only trip to Asia that I wouldn’t plan a second time. Subjective questions undoubtedly, but the reasons are the poor cleanliness of everything and everyone, the gastronomy that is not comparable to that of the surrounding countries and the female dimension, which in Sri Lanka is completely marginal…
Things to do and see in Sri Lanka
- The small and chaotic capital of the country, Colombo
- The ancient city of Anuradhapura with its archaeological park and the nearby Minithale
- The rock of Sigiriya, which takes breath away from beauty and history, and the nearby Dambulla, deserving only for a dip in the spiritual-kitsch of its rock temple entrance
- The archaeological site of Polonnaruwa and the nearby ruins of Ritigale
- The Kandy temples and the tea museum just outside the city
- Nuwara Eliya, the perfect base to hike at Hortons Plans
- Haputale and Ella, quiet and green, but also emotionally difficult because of the female condition in tea plantations
- Ratnapura’s gemstones mines, where industrial revolution and human rights seem an utopia …
- A jungle safari in Yala National Park
- Beautiful Galle, which tells the colonial past of Sri Lanka and is an ideal basis to enjoy the beaches along the coast: Mirissa, lovely Tangalle or even Unawatuna
What to visit in Cambogia
Cambodia, which I left last because its recent history left its mark and anti-personnel mines continue to do so, because corruption is felt and seen everywhere, because smiles are not so open and contagious, but also because Siem Reap leaves breathless and after seeing it you might find that other temples and pagodas in Asia are not so interesting…
Things to do and see in Cambodia
- The Royal Palace of Phnom Penh, but especially its surroundings between Udong, Phnom Chisor and Tonlé Bati
- The tranquility of Battambang and the temples surrounding it
- A trip on the bamboo train
- The boat trip from Battambang to Siem Reap
- Siem Reap sites: the National Museum, the temples of the Roulos Group, the temples of the Grand Circuit, the temples of the Small Circuit and finally Angkor Wat
There are then the most modern and multicultural Singapore and the Brunei sultanate, but they are already quite expensive, and then Indonesia that I keep postponing not to be disappointed… because my dad lived there in the seventies and the country I have in mind is the one he always tells me about and obviously I won’t find it once there… it already happened with Vietnam 🙁
Tips for a trip to Southeast Asia
- Wear shoes and / or sandals that can be pulled out and slipped easily as you have to do it several times a day every day, to visit the temples, but also to enter local houses and shops
- Wear socks to avoid burning your feet when visiting sunny temples! Obviously happened to me √
- Always wear a sweatshirt or other “warm” tops to resist the super low temperature in any bus/taxi or other local transportation… they think having high air conditioning is a chic treat to all tourist!
- Taste typical products and dishes and do not be afraid of street food
- Plan your itineraries taking into account distances and transportation, but never forget the escalation of beauty of what you will visit!
- Always check in advance the expected route and the policies and conditions of entry visa in the various countries
- Check the list of recommended vaccines, which is more or less the same for all countries in this region, and if the countries you are in need an anti-malarial prophylaxis pick Lariam, which should be taken for a longer period, but less pills
- Put a silk sleeping bag and a travel towel in the backpack / suitcase, which are often not necessary but help make you feel more comfortable in case of dubious cleaning conditions …
- Greet and thank people in the local language and all the doors will open in front of you
Do not …
- Wear mini-shorts, tops that leave your shoulders uncovered or in anyway too provocative bathing suits or dresses… it wouldn’t turn off the smile of people you meet, but it will certainly make them uncomfortable and you will still be a guest at their place …
- Hug and kiss your partner in public. It can create great discomfort and disappointment in those around you, especially in Myanmar and Thailand
- Raise the tone of your voice, albeit cheerfully
- think that Italian and more generally Western hostels and facilities are a guarantee. Often the value for money is non-existent or non-positive
- Donate money, albeit a few strokes, to children
- Pack clothes for more than a week. They represent only weight and grip and getting them washed during the trip is simple and inexpensive
Other practical travel tips: