Home | Journal, present - 2008 | 2007.2 | 2007 | 2006 | Personal page | Refugees | East Dallas Restaurants | Israel & Middle East | A Cottage Garden | Haiphong Red Flamboyant | Burma Refugees | Backpack | New homeUpdated 7/2010
This site is based on the FAQs in the Southeast Asia Mainland branch of the Thorn Tree Forum (Lonely Planet), experience traveling in Southeast Asia (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008/9 and trips in the 1970s & 80s), and other sources. Thorn Tree is your best bet for obscure questions and the most up-to-date information. This site is organized differently, has some different information, and is printable. Enhanced search on Thorntree is here. Here are photos of Asia and a budget guide to Hong Kong. Please send additional information, corrections, etc. to chas kemp at sbc. global. com (you know what to do).
Comfortable budget travel in Southeast Asia (aircon private double room range $8-$20 and up, decent food, bus and moto travel in cities, and land and water travel between cities and countries) with two or three people traveling together is easily done on $20USD/person/day (excluding airfare). You can make it on less or spend more. Thailand is generally the most expensive of SEA countries. Currency converters: Yahoo! & XE converter (for Burma see Burma section). Photo: Hue
From Bangkok to Battambang to Hanoi there is close to a consensus among Asia travelers that there's at least something good about everywhere (except a few border towns). A week or two here, a week or two there, there is no need to be bound by plans. Choose a few places you want most to see, figure out how to get from one to another, start at the first one, and see how long you want to stay. Bangkok is by far the main hub, but you may just want to use it as a transit point and events in 2008 and 2010 show some degree of instability. There is information below on the countries of SE Asia. A word on the number of places to go: it seems to me that however short or long the journey, a day with travel is almost always a full day. Traveling means packing, checking out of lodging, getting to the transportation, travel time (if by air, there is checking in, security, flight, and arrival), getting to/finding a new place to stay, settling in, and finding your way around the new place. And there is little chance it will all go smoothly either, so often there is a stress factor. If you have 6 months to travel, all things are possible, but we don't all have six months to travel. Choose several places to start and see what happens.
Guidebooks & Internet
A guide book is a tool, not a way of life. You see people who seem to be traveling kind of herd-like with LP guide in hand literally and figuratively. Get a guide book and get lost, as Tim would say. Photo to the left: lane outside of Phnom Penh (my son lived for several weeks off to to the left of this lane)
We've used the Rough Guide to Thailand, Lonely Planet's SE Asia on a Shoestring, SE Asia - the Graphic Guide by Mark Elliott, printouts of info pasted from Thorn Tree (Lonely Planet website), and printouts from Tales of Asia website. Fodor's and Let's Go! guides less helpful than preceding. Let's Go doesn't even have Battambang listed. Lonely Planet book and Thorntree/Tales of Asia printouts were most helpful to us. Every imaginable guidebook (older originals and newer copies) is available for a couple of dollars or less in the Khao San Road of Bangkok, the Pham Ngu Lao area of Saigon and in other traveler areas, such as the Russian and Central Markets in Phnom Penh. Travelfish guide to SEA is the best (to me) SEA traveler resource (Tales of Asia best on Siem Reap, and good on other Cambodia travel - see above). Global Wanderings is a great site about travel and has excellent photos.
Also worthwhile to search RealTravel, TravelPod, MyTripJournal, or TravelBlog for other people’s experiences in Southeast Asia. Worldisround has photos (these are mine). Here are some very good photos from Zeke Bauer, Ansgar Simon, and Thanh Nguyen. The Lonely Planet website, Travelfish guide to SEA, and Asiaphoto.de are helpful. Strawberita's blog is interesting and has great photos. My World - Far East has articles and photos. Also see specific places and topics below. Photo below: coffee shop and pretty good restaurant with great aircon at edge of backpacker area near Tha Phae Gate in Chiang Mai.
Canby's has an extensive listing for Cambodia - thanks to Cocodrilo for link
Airlines in Southeast Asia (also see individual countries)
It is sometimes difficult to make reservations online and the best prices on airfare are often not on the internet. Sometimes it is cheaper to buy directly from the airline and in talking with people you can always get more information than on a website. Re travel agents: some are, some aren't - think about it, do you really think it's a good idea to give your money to the average Khao San Road "travel agent" (nobody ever got a baht back from these guys)? We got better airfare prices on the phone with China Air DFW-HKG-BKK-BKK-HKG-DFW than on internet ($1060 in 2005 & again in 2006). In 2006, 2007 we switched to Cathay Pacific (again calling direct) for better safety record, better food, etc. Here is a list of low-cost Asian airlines, another low-cost listing, airlines flying in/out of Hong Kong + websites, Bangkok Airport (hard to tell which site is official - unprofessional - just like the airport itself - maybe best to google it) many airlines/links here, e.g., China Air, Eva, Bangkok Airways, PB Air, Thai Intl., etc.), Los Angeles, Phnom Penh & Siem Reap, and London area airports. There is not a functional website on Vietnam airports. New Delhi & Mumbai are not very helpful airport sites. World airport codes & other interesting things, airline & airport codes, and world airports. In mid-2007 flying from Saigon to Bangkok, Lufthansa and Air France are the cheapest, followed by Vietnam Air and Thai. Air Asia has very good prices if booking ahead (HKG to BKK RT <$100USD in October 2007). Vietnam Airlines cannot be booked via the airline website (thanks bisbee). Photo: Chiang Mai airport
Google others. All the large airport sites I've looked at have a page with links to all or most airlines flying in/out. Lots to learn from these lists, like the phone number and sometimes obscure connections that might run cheaper. In any case, preceding are some pretty good links. Skytrax rates airlines & airports - definitely worth a visit - and wordtravels has summary of all major airports along with other information. SeatGuru is a great site on plane seating - choose the best seats in your ticket class. Here is a guide to Sleeping in Airports. If you're not in Asia, you might enjoy seeing Hong Kong's Chep Lap Kok departure board. Isn't it grand, seeing all the destinations ...
Trains across the world
You miss a lot if you don't take a train in SE Asia. Schedules, other information on riding the rails is found in The Man in Seat Sixty-One - a truly great site.
What’s the weather like (exactly how hot will it be) in Battambang and Bagan? Mean rainfall amount, number of rain days, and daily maximum/minimum temperature are charted by month in the World Meteorological Organization site (link to Phnom Penh - everywhere else available) - really a good site. Today's temperature, rain, and forecast in the WMO (most places) or following:
Dealing with touts (many times every single day)
Guesthouses are more common than hostels. Cost varies among cities and countries. Aircon twins (two beds) are easily found for $10 or less in most places. See individual country sections below. Travelfish is a good source of information. Some travelers report that as soon as a place is listed in a Lonely Planet book, the prices go up. Generally speaking there are other places near those listed. Walk around, check it out. Be sure you understand the cost and any “taxes” or other added charges. Photo at right: $15 triple in Hoi An with okay aircon. Photo below: $12 double in Chiang Mai. Good aircon, refrigerator.
Bed bugs are uncommon, but ... Adult bed bugs are about 1/4 inch long and reddish brown, with oval, flattened bodies. Nymphs are ~size of a pinhead. Eggs are tiny, whitish, and hard to see. Bed bugs usually hide close to where people sleep, e.g., pleats & tufts of mattresses, springs, bed frames, and headboards. Hiding areas are marked by dark spotting and staining from dried excrement; there also may be eggs and eggshells, molted skins of maturing nymphs, and the bugs themselves. Another likely sign of bed bugs is rusty or reddish spots of blood on bed sheets, mattresses, or walls (have a look, using your flashlight before paying for room). Most active pre-dawn hours. Sources: Univ. of Kentucky & Harvard
Photo right: very nice Saigon triple with wifi for $28. Hotel is in next lane over from the one pictured below. To me, the backpacker areas have some very good points and in most cases, are a few blocks from the the "real" Bangkok or Saigon or wherever.
Eating: what better place for food than SE Asia? See countries and Noodle pie, Chanchao's site, and Sticky Rice. At the end of this page is a section on what to expect food-wise in SE Asia. In general, things change – walk around, check it out. Who is eating there? Does the food look good? Fresh? Do the people who work there look healthy?
General SE Asian travel sites
My favorite SE Asian travel site is Travelfish guide to SEA. Trip Advisor, of course. Travels along the mekong and other stories is a blog as helpful as a guidebook. Asiaphoto.de is a true backpacker travelogue and guide to Laos, Cambodia, and Burma - nice work! Montyman's photos - another true backpacker. Zeke Bauer's site is excellent. Stories by travelers (some interesting ones) in Things Asian. My budget guide to Hong Kong & Lonely Planet, of course. Big web encyclopedia: wikipedia & the encyclopedia's associate: wikitravel
Travel Independent is about traveling & more - kind of opinionated (like I can talk about someone else being opinionated), informed.
BootsnAll - "source for independent travelers"
Virtual tourist - a little like TT
Craigslist made it SEA (Thailand and Vietnam)!
Overland Bangkok to Siem Reap and SR to BK. Bus easy in parts of Cambodia. Boats can be pleasant - or not. Train not much of an option except for people deep into traveling. Airlines include Bangkok Airways, Lao Airlines, Siem Reap Airways, Thai Airways, Silk Air, Air France, President Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Mekong Air, & Vietnam Airlines. My photos of Battambang area, Siem Reap/Angkor, Phnom Penh
Travelfish is best overall traveler's site for Cambodia. Tales of Asia has a guide to Cambodia (especially Siem Reap) and several SEA countries - Cambodia section is always completely up to date. Hey look - a new Siem Reap site: Siem Reap Rooms - it's a good one and has a lot more than accomodation info. These three sites have very helpful photos of/links to GHs and hotels.
Canby's on Cambodia, extensive, helpful - getting better and better. ood volunteering info, too
Andy Brouwer's site is homegrown, good info, good heart on Cambodia. Andy has a vast store of knowledge, including the Tao of back road travel in Cambodia. Virtually every book on Cambodia briefly reviewed.
CambodiaLog's excellent log on motos across and deep into Cambodia. Photo below: Live trance music outside a temple in Angkor
Phnomenon: A blog - a good blog - on food & drink in Cambodia
Bayon pearnik is an expat and traveler newsletter, etc. Check out the pdf newsletter as well as other information. Content variable, but definitely worthwhile.
Fred Sun's Photos of Cambodia
Phnom Penh and Siem Reap only, site not fully developed.
Small collection Khmer language phrases from the Cambodian Embassy
Cambodia: Beauty and Darkness
Cambodia Genocide Program at Yale
Also see books by David Chandler, e.g., Brother Number One, etc.
Visas: Pre-arranged visa letter available online. This allows you pick up a visa when you arrive. No VOA without previous arrangements. Companies with good track records include http://www.vietnamstay.com/service/ and http://www.hotels-in-vietnam.com/ Visas also available from VN consulates.
Airlines include Air Asia, Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa, Air France, Thai Air, Pacific Airlines (sorry, no English), and Vietnam Airlines. Vietnam Air cannot be booked via the airline website (thanks bisbee). Also see airlines flying in/out of wherever you are - above in Airlines. On-line flights, accomodation, etc. - recommended by mrmookie.
Maps of Saigon by district (beginning with District 1, of course), Printable PDF map Saigon. Map of VN and several larger cities Click maps. More maps. There are also maps of areas around a number of (more expensive) hotels - just click hotels.
ReidOnTravel now covers southern and northern. Travelfish guide to SEA has extensive VN information.
Noodle pie (see the still current VN archives as the Pie Man is no longer there), a blog about scoff & swill in Saigon - good photos, extensive, what you really see, food flashbacks (I’m getting hungry & so will you) - I love the internet. Sticky Rice - food and more in Hanoi - also see Vietworldkitchen and the most recent addition, Together, change the way we live
Sinh Café - for honest tours (there are many fake Sinh Cafés)
Hanoikids@yahoo.com - HanoiKids is a group of college students who guide people in Hanoi (free of charge, but you know how to do the right thing). By all accounts a great opportunity for everyone involved. Send email.
Vietnam Tour Guide (from an old vet)
AsiaLife: HCMC - about HCMC, of course
Selected blogs of people living in Vietnam - thanks to Jon Hoff: It's the Final Word, Charvey in Vietnam, Antidote to Burnout, Backwater Views, SaigonNezumi, Thirsty Thong, Our Man in Hanoi (archives), and of course, Noodle Pie and Sticky Rice (see above).
Jan Dodd’s site (with links) is related to the Rough Guide.
Hongha’s voluminous info on Vietnam (TT thread)
A school in Hanoi - maybe worth an internet surf & surely worth a live visit (but only if you believe in dreams)
KSVN has a very nice English-Vietnamese dictionary, other things
Moto tours in Vietnam Photo to left: the Perfume River runs through Hue.
Compadre's site includes wonderful photos, links, travel FAQs, more. The site and the author's experiences are an example of what one person can do. Asiaphoto.de is a true backpacker. Zeke Bauer's site has good photos and video shorts. Here are photos, trekking, more. tools4fools helpful, and here are more photos of Burma.
Here is a haunting and beautiful site/story on A Journey of the Heart. Paula Bock, the author is married to my colleague, Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, who volunteers at Dr. Cynthia’s clinic in Mae Sot on the Thai-Burma border.
http://www.irrawaddy.org/ has fairly up to date exchange rates and more
Travel Notes is okay, not much detail.
Thorn Tree Thailand branch - also relevant to other parts of SE Asia
Passplanet site - okay
Some Chiang Mai hotels & GHs - priced from $8 to $596. We have stayed at Midtown ($5 fan twin, very basic), Roong Ruang ($12 aircon double, homey & clean, recommended), Lanna (across the street from Roong Ruang $25 triple, a step up the scale). Photo of Roong Ruang above.
Chanchao's site (includes Thai-English menus & Chiang Mai restaurant reviews)
Khao San Road site - actually kind of captures the herd-like they think they're hip but are a long way from it, in large part, backpacker scene. Photo to left: Soi Rambuttri a block over from Khao San Road. We liked it just fine.
Full Moon Party - an okay site
Other Thorn Tree branches
Northeast Asia branch (China, Japan, HK)
SE Asia FAQs (Airlines, ATMs, digital camera info, electricity & plugs, budget travel costs, malaria, mosquito repellents, vaccinations, Visa-on-Arrival, volunteering) from Steve252
Thailand (and related) FAQs from Steve252. This is a huge section and many apply to mainland SEA. Steve252 has gone beyond.Volunteering from Steve252
Travelogues, photos, other
Travelogues: good for learning other traveler's experiences and a good way to keep a travelogue and post a few pics.
Travelpod.com/ - Easy to use & well-organized
Travelblog - Looks good - but I'm probably sticking with Travelpod
Photos - post them at Worldisround Photo below: Chharvy shopping in Battambang
The net is a wonderful thing - sleeping in airports around the world. Personally, I like to sleep in airports, though Rangoon doesn't sound good.
"The heart of the matter" - hard to say exactly what this is, but I'm glad I went - Cambodia, India, more ...
Gay and lesbian travel SE Asia
I can’t believe I need to say this, but I do. Herpes, hepatitis A-D, HIV, GC, etc. are common. Men should always wear a condom for sex and women should always demand that men wear a condom for sex.
The following are suggestions (not endorsements) from knowledgeable people in SE Asia. Excellent! Thanks to Hanno, Henning, mrmookie, Bisbee, and roadahead616.
Saigon: French-Vietnamese Clinic.
SOS (see below)*
FV Hospital during the day, but at night, don't expect an English speaking doctor (unless it's a real emergency and they call someone in).
Family Medical at Diamond Plaza is good, but same issue with English speaking doctor. During the day, both FV and Family Medical are good, but serious injuries will be air ambulanced to BKK or SIN.
Hanoi: French Hospital of Hanoi (Benh Vien Viet Phap) on Phuong Mai Street on the southside - Varied reports.
SOS* in the West Lake area from downtown. New address is #1 Dang Thai Mai. Follow Xuan Dieu past the Sheraton and turn left at the big Syrena Center building.
Hong Ngoc Hospital at 55 Yen Ninh, to the east of the south shore of Truc Bach Lake (small place, good reputation, and English spoken).
Other Hanoi sources of healthcare include Vietnam-Korea Friendship Clinic at12 Chu Van An, to the west of Uncle Ho's resting place; and Family Medical Practice at 298 I Kim Ma, way west of the center. Quality of care varies.
Siem Reap: Royal Angkor International Hospital
Naga and SOS will make you ready for transport then fly you out.
Phnom Penh: Calmette (local hospital, good at patching up after accidents), SOS,* Naga Clinic
Royal Ratannak in PP. Sister hospital Angkor International in SR, belongs to Bangkok Air.
All accomodate foreigners and are expensive.
*SOS facilities are part of an international group focusing on international travelers and expatriots: http://www.internationalsos.com/en/index.htm
Map below: dark red areas indicate recent dengue fever activity (not including Americas). Here is my infectious diseases site.
Safety, scams & related
If you think about it, travelers everywhere (including in your hometown) are a target. Travelers in Asia who would never click on an email advertising V1@ gra (jeez, you can't even connect those letters lest you get an email link) somehow are willing to buy phony gems at cut-rate prices from a person they don’t know. Go figure. Maybe they're the same people that do click on V!@ gra spam! The places in Southeast Asia that seem to be generate the most frequent reports of large and small rip-offs are (in descending order) Hanoi, Saigon, Bangkok (especially Khao San Road area), and Phnom Penh. Purse, pack etc. snatchings most common in VN and Cambodia. Everything is a scam in Poipet.
Any ignorant person is a likely target – that includes most of us as we travel across cultures and systems.
Carry your passport and money in a pouch under your pants (Eagle Creek makes a good one for ~$10). The pouches that hang around your neck get uncomfortable fast. Don't carry valuables in a handbag or backpack that (a) you might leave in a cafe and (b) might be snatched.
Don't leave valuables in your GH room – good grief. If it's very valuable and you can't carry it nearly all the time, leave it at home.
You are at increased risk in places where you are forced to spend one night (as on a river trip in Laos).
Border crossings or other entry/transition points are high risk places. Travelers are transient, often a little confused, and usually ignorant. Best to know fees, requirements ahead of time and keep smiling and marching forward.
It’s easy to scam or do bad things to a drunk or stoner.
Gems – don’t be an idiot.
There are no free or discount rides in a tuk-tuk or non-metered taxi. Always reach agreement with driver on where you are going, where you don’t want to go (like to factories, tailors, etc.) about how long it will take, and the price and currency. Don’t expect anything close to correct change being available when you pay.
What a fabulous deal! Think twice, it might not be that good a deal.
The bridge, temple, etc. is closed because blah blah – nearly always a lie and the introductory move.
Notorious Tours, such from Khao San Road to Siem Reap.
Other tours, it’s hard to say – most people who post in TT report good experiences and good value - be sure search posts or ask about companies on TT. Lots of complaints about Halong Bay tours. Cheap may not be cheap in the end.
Be cautious when and after changing money - this is a vulnerable time when in a public place. We met a woman who lost it all in the Bogyoke Aung San Market after changing money.
People who make contact with you in a public place. A few really do just want to practice their English, especially, it seems, in Burma and rural areas of other countries. On the other hand you have your off-duty police officer in Bangkok or your Filipina tourist in Saigon. Avoid.
Electronics – best to buy before you leave home. Repairs may include switching expensive parts.
What better place for food than SE Asia (below mostly from 2005 trip)
- Macao-style curry in the Macau restaurant in HK, so spicy the sweat is just pouring off my head - More! Give me More! WooHoo!
- Indian food in Chungking Mansion, chicken Madras, vindaloo, kofti, jlfrezi, samosas, mango lassi (sorry about spelling)
- Ka Ka Lok egg and ham sandwich for old times sake - Leslie, it is as good as ever
- Breakfast place dim sum (see photo in HK)
- BBQ duck with rice at people's restaurant in northern HK - The Best, and very cheap
- Street satay - better than Bangkok - near Women's Mkt
- Mango drinks on the corner Photo above is on Cathay Pacific, below is a popular breakfast in HK
- Tom kha, coconut milk-based sour spicy Thai soup with chicken or shrimp
- Satay, in Hong Kong, Thailand, and Cambodia - Thai and HK best
- Pad Thai, fried Thai noodles - Khao San Road street pad Thai takes the prize for 20 baht/serving
- Shakes, oh man, mango, banana, pineapple, coconut - everything in any combo and ice cold! Cost around $.50-.60. KSR street guy ties with big market lady and Zoom Cafe in Saigon. Mango drink in HK was good until compared with Thai and VN. White Rose shakes in Battambang excellent.
- Red curry, green curry at family place in Bangkok. Everything was good but it was life-threatening to get there (crossing a HUGE street - yikes!)
- Pad si ew, thick noodles with vegetable fried with oyster sauce. Photo below: Pad Thai in Bangkok on Soi Rambuttri in KSR area.
- Curry chicken (red) with noodles or same curry with bread at breakfast. Best curry award
- Shakes - they would be good anywhere, and in the context of Cambodia, great
- Fruit plate (we're still at the White Rose), durian, dragon fruit, longan, jackfruit, pineapple, rambutan, banana, apple
- fried rice with lots of ginger
- Banana pancake, ok in Phnom Penh, great in Hoi An
- Omelet with bread
- Amok curry at Two Dragons Guesthouse - fish, nuts, coconut - very good, though a little expensive at $3 USD
- Laarb - Thai salad at Two Dragons, again, good, if a little expensive Photo below: Dinner rubble in Phnom Penh (luc lac, curry, soup, etc.)
- Cafe sua da, french roast coffee slow-dripped onto sweet condensed milk served with ice. I'm having about 2/day. Jeff had one and broke into a sweat and hypo-tachycardia. WooHoo!
- Pho, good in Saigon, okay in Hoi An, best at Duy Tan in Dallas, Texas
- Rice plate with Pork, Oh pig, oh pig, what great pig-cooking (charcoal) they do in VN! Best on street in Saigon. Number 1! Photo below: $.50 rice with pork and cold fried egg.
- Bun Thit Nuong, charcoal pork on cool noodles with vegetables. Best in big market in Saigon
- Shakes, more shakes - lady in big market in Saigon makes them ice-cold, with mango and yaoert (yogurt) - another Best Award
- Banana pancakes at Thanh Xuan Hotel in Hoi An - The Best, like a giant banana fritter with honey on top
- Indian food in Hoi An at Omar's - prawn korma, salfejez, raita, samosas - David went again and said not as good second time around
- White rose, shrimp in steamed dumpling, specialty of Hoi An
- Cau lau, noodle dish specialty of Hoi An - maso menos
- Fried wonton with vegetables on tiop, another Hoi An specialty, pretty good
- Fried crab, shrimp with lots of garlic - on beach Hoi An - served with lemon juice mixed with lots of black pepper, salt. Good, cheap (about $2)
- Train porridge, breakfast is served on the train - rice porridge, with a little meat and some onion - great in the train context
- Toasted ham and cheese sandwich with fries in Hue. Add a Pepsi. Oh yeah
- Shrimp with chilis and lemon grass at the Zoom Cafe in Saigon ($2). Best meal award; good ambience, too.
- Orange soda in down home cafe in Thuy Bo 3 - formerly "Dodge City" Jeff and I sat with an old fighter, I guess VC, since nobody in Thuy Bo was not VC. Good times. Had me many an orange soda in SEA. In Philippines in 1966 we traded ammo for orange sodas and knives. Hmmmm. Photo below: Pork & rice in Saigon, coffee - the best!
Thanks to Leslie, David, Jeff, Lonely Planet, hanno, mrmookie, toolz, girllrig, hanno, somsai, kym_h, CambodiaLog, Man in Seat 61, joyasia, RomanB, compadre, cibasset, travelfish, kenjoy, ticotim, hanuman, weilong, Drtraveller, Straightnochaser, montyman, celestine, astroboy, drumbrake, foolsprogress, moethebartender, lobstermartini, Cocodrillo, Gorshar, scubamonkey, sakya, SoloHobo, Ben, Magera, tools4fools, (and if I forgot anyone, I'm sorry - let me know - thanks).