SOUTH-EAST ASIA TRIP 2K17 (WHEN, WHY & HOW?)

This was my first ever real solo trip that I made for a longer period of time. I did go on my first solo trip at the age of 19 when I finished high school. It was only for about two weeks then and then I only went to Vienna, Prague, and Budapest. It was much different at the beginning of 2017 though. I did not honestly know what to expect but I was looking forward to it. I never regret going by myself on such a long trip for the first time because the trip provided me lifelong experiences and I learned a lot about everything during those 40 days.


WHEN?

My trip lasted for 52 days in total from the time I left from home till I got back home. I was traveling between 21st of February and 14th of April. February is a great time to visit Bangkok. There might be some occasional rain showers although in my case I mostly experienced dry conditions and it is also not that hot yet but closer it gets to April hotter it gets. Cambodia is blessed with one of Asia’s simpler weather systems. The country has two distinct weather systems, but you can travel there all year round. I visited it at the beginning of March when it is still dry season. It did not rain at all and it was not that hot either.

Vietnam, on the other hand, is much more complicated when it comes to weather. There is not really a right or wrong time to visit Vietnam as during the most months of the year you will experience both sunshine and rain. In general, the best month to visit is March. It is not that hot yet in the south around Ho Chi Minh City, while in the north it is not that cold anymore as well. I had quite good weather throughout Vietnam because it was only raining for one day in Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park. I also had some rain in Hanoi but that did not affect my itinerary that much. There are some places that are not that good to visit in spring. Sapa, for example, is definitely one of those places. The farmers just start to plant the rice around this time so the fields are mostly empty and just muddy. So instead I decided to visit Mai Chau. It is similar to Sapa but much better to visit in spring. Furthermore, it is much less crowded and touristy as well. I also visited Halong Bay which is quite good at that time of the year. The weather was a little bit foggy and cloudy at the time but it was not that cold. If you want to be sunny you have to go there around May to August. It is much more unstable though because of unpredictable thunderstorms

My last destination was Singapore. This small country lies practically on the equator so it does not have any particular weather seasons. While temperature does not vary greatly throughout the year, there is a wetter monsoon season from November to January. I was there in April and it did still rain quite a bit at sometimes.


WHY?

First of all, this was my first real solo trip as I have mentioned already. That is why one of my goals was to see how would I like it and feel about it. Secondly, I went on this trip to experience new cultural things and try new food. One of the main goals was also to see the famous Angkor complex in Cambodia. I was always interested in the history of Asia. That is why the Angkor complex was one of my highlights. For the same reason, I also visited the ancient capital of Thailand, Ayutthaya and the historical cities of Hoi An and Hue in Vietnam. When I was in Ho Chi Minh I also went to watch the new King Kong movie with a few of my local friends from there. I did not know till then that most of it was filmed in Vietnam. That is why I was really looking forward seeing Halong Bay and Trang An in person. Vietnam is also famous for its street food scene. At that time I did not go on any food tours yet. I only did my own food searches. My last destination was Singapore. I always wanted to see the Singapore Zoo since I was much younger but at that time I never had the opportunity to visit it.    Written below are some of the highlights from my trip although there are too many to include in this list

  • THAILAND
    • Visiting numerous temples and palaces in Bangkok, like Grand Palace, Wat Arun, Wat Pho, and Golden Mount.
    • Riding in a 3rd class train among the locals to the ancient capital of Thailand, Ayutthaya (UNESCO). Walked around there for the entire day and got sunburned because it was quite hot.
    • DIY Food tour around Chinatown and elsewhere. Including trying the most famous pad thai at Thipsamai Pad Thai
  • CAMBODIA
    • Exploring the massive Angkor complex (UNESCO) for an entire week.
    • Waiting for the sunrise at Angkor Wat (UNESCO) and then exploring it when it was practically still dark and with no people around.
    • Angkor Thom temple (UNESCO) which got famous because Lara Croft movie was filmed there.
    • Trying insects for the first time at Bug’s Cafe in Siem Reap.
    • Spending a night for the first time on a night bus between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. The bus even had bunk beds! (UNESCO)
    • Learning a lot of things about the sad part of Cambodia’s history at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields in and around Phnom Penh.
    • Crossing the Cambodian-Vietnamese border
  • VIETNAM
    • DIY food tour of Ho Chi Minh City + lots of other foods around Vietnam.
    • Exploring the massive Mekong Delta and eating BBQ rats from the rice fields.
    • The Ancient city of Hoi An (UNESCO) and learning about life in the past.
    • The Ancient Emperor Tombs around Hue (UNESCO). Went there with a friend on a motorbike. Got lost once but had the tombs by ourselves on many occasions
    • Sneaking around the abandoned water park near Hue. Had to bribe a guard to get it!
    • Learning how to ride a motorbike in Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park (UNESCO). I had the luck to have quite a bad motorbike which died a few times.
    • Riding on a night train on the Reunification line from Dong Hoi to Hanoi. I paid a few more dollars to be in first class. Still much cheaper than in Europe.
    • Spending a night in a homestay in the middle of rice fields in Mai Chau. Heard mice running next to me!
    • Riding on a boat through Trang An (UNESCO) which is known as Halong Bay on land.
    • Cruising around Halong Bay (UNESCO) and guessing on which island does King Kong live.
  • SINGAPORE
    • Seeing lots of new animals in the best zoo in the world + the best bird park in the world (Jurong Bird Park) and the River Safari
    • Trying frog’s leg porridge for the first time and eating in various hawker centers
    • The biggest orchid collection in the world at Singapore Botanical Gardens (UNESCO)
    • Watching the light show at Gardens by the Bay. You can also see the world’s biggest indoor waterfall in the cloud dome there

HOW?

Planning this trip was not as difficult as I thought. When I started with planning it, it kinda all went with the flow. I decided to book an open-jaw flight, meaning that I started my trip in one city and ended in another. In this case, I did not have to go back to the starting point. I saved some time by flying to and from some places (i.e. Bangkok to Siem Reap). I also flew with Singapore Airlines from Hanoi to Singapore. In 2017 it was the 2nd best airline in the world but last year it became number one.

  • PLANE TICKETS
    • I bought the return open-jaw flight Ljubljana – Istanbul – Bangkok & Singapore – Istanbul – Ljubljana in December 2016 because I got an excellent offer with Turkish Airlines for just 550 euros. Note: I purchased checked baggage for all the flights where I had to.
    • One way flight Bangkok – Siem Reap with Air Asia = 50 €
    • One way flight Ho Chi Minh City – Da Nang with Vietnam Airlines = 30 €
    • One way flight Hanoi – Singapore with Singapore Airlines = 110 €
  • ENTRY VISAS
    • This information is for travelers from Slovenia, for information regarding visas for other countries check at the embassies or ministry for foreign affairs in your country. It was the first time for me to deal with visas by myself but since you can get all the information online I did not have any problems.
    • Thailand – I do not require a visa for up to 30 days when entering by air
    • Cambodia – Citizens of Slovenia need a visa to enter Cambodia. There are more ways how to get it from applying for it beforehand at an embassy, getting an e-visa, or the easiest option of getting a visa on arrival. I flew from Bangkok to Siem Reap so that was an easy option and scam-free as well. It is $30 and valid for 30 days and you have to have a passport photograph as well for this case.
    • Vietnam – Citizens of Slovenia need a visa to enter Vietnam. Again, there are more ways how to get it. That also depends on the nationality. As of 2018, some nations can get a visa on arrival. Slovenia, unfortunately, is not on that list yet but that did not affect me anyway because I traveled one year before. The easiest way how to get it is to arrange it through the accommodation where you stay (if you’re in Cambodia). I arranged it in Phnom Penh. Then you can decide how fast do you want to get it. Faster means that it is more expensive. I arranged it to get it the next day so, in the end, I paid for the 1-month single-entry visa $45.
    • Singapore – I do not require a visa for up to 90 days when entering by air
  • TRAVELING AROUND THE COUNTRIES
    • I used all sorts of transportation during my trip from day and night buses, minivans, motorbikes, a boat, a ferry, plains, and trains.
  • CURRENCIES
    • Thailand uses Thai Baht (THB). The current rate is 1 EUR = 36,59 THB
    • Cambodia uses Cambodian Riel (KHR). The current rate is 1 EUR = 4.630 KHR; BUT for tourists, United States Dollar (USD) is far more common
    • Vietnam uses Vietnamese Dong (VND). The current rate is 1 EUR = 26.579 VND
    • Singapore uses Singapore Dollar (SGD). The current rate is 1 EUR = 1,55 SGD
    • The rates are valid for 9th of January

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