So you’ve been dreaming of backpacking through Southeast Asia. When the Banana Pancake Trail beckons, how do you make your vision a reality?
Flight is probably your best bet, especially if you’re a solo adventurer—although there are options for travel by ship, these can be either costly or unreliable. Looking up the best (largest) airports and the best (safest) airlines in Southeast Asia is a good place to begin your research.
Plug your chosen destinations into the Google Flights tool. This tool is the best! You can include nearby airports and look at prices for any date in the calendar dropdown. Look for rewards programs offered through reputable sites like Expedia to snag the best deal possible.
Now that you’ve booked your flight, the dream just got real, and you need to tackle the least glamorous aspects of your trip. It’s logistics, but it’s imperative that you figure these concerns out sooner rather than later.
Visa policies differ by country. Vietnam requires a visa in hand before you can enter the country, unless you are arriving by air, in which case you can prearrange for a visa. Indonesia offers 30-day visas on arrival for roughly $25.
Cambodia offers 30-day visas that you can pick up at a border or an airport, while Thailand also offers a 30-day visa for those arriving by air and a 15-day visa for those arriving by land…but guess what…they’re free! Malaysia also offers free 90-day visas on arrival.
For longer visas and visas for other Southeast Asian countries, this article covers the various other requirements. It also recommends paying for any fee-based visas in Western currency to get a deal.
You should consider a variety of vaccinations when visiting Southeast Asia. Some fall into the “you should just have these vaccinations in your regular life” category and some fall into the “you should have them for your trip” category.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, you should already have your measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot. If you haven’t had these, get them.
For your trip, you might consider Hepatitis A and Typhoid. If you’ll be visiting multiple countries, Hepatitis B, Japanese Encephalitis, Malaria, Rabies, and Yellow Fever also fall under the list of possible vaccinations. Discuss options with your doctor.
Learn the Language
The main artery of the Banana Pancake Trail is the Khao San Road, which winds through Bangkok. Know your basic Thai phrases. As you venture from Thailand, most visitors can probably get by with Vietnamese, Khmer (spoken in Cambodia) and Burmese. If you make it to China’s Yunnan Province, brush up on your Southwestern Mandarin.
Learn to say hello, good-bye, pardon me, sorry, where is and how much. Short phrases and questions (spoken in your faltering, clearly non-native accent) should make it obvious that you want to connect on a meaningful level.
Guides, restaurant owners, and shopkeepers who cater to tourists are a great resource for expanding your vocabulary further. They frequently speak some English.
Navigation and Transportation
Keep a map handy. If you mangle the name of the city you wish to visit, just point to it on the page.
Trains routes are easier to make sense of than buses. Check all timetables shortly before you depart. You’ll really get to know your fellow thrill-seekers on these journeys, making them an ideal time to compare travel notes and adjust your route.
If you just want to go from point A to point B, these internationally recognized taxi services can be accessed from your phone.
For those moments when transportation is more a matter of experiencing the sights and sounds of the region than about arriving at a specific location at a given time, your options will vary according to country: slide on the back of a xe om motorbike taxi in Vietnam or catch a tuk tuk in Cambodia.
Putting It All Together
If the necessary planning and potential for cultural miscommunication seems overwhelming, just remember: we’ll never understand each other as global citizens until we take the journey. So get out there and explore!