For students who are planning on staying afterwards and traveling on your own, here is some advice on where to go, getting around, visas and passports, and other sundry comments.
Where to go and for how long?
Bangkok is a great base for travel to a number of places. Within a one hour flight, you can reach Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Chiang Mai, Southern Thailand, and Northern Malaysia. Within a two hour flight, you can reach Singapore and the rest of Malaysia, as well as parts of China. Within a four hour flight, you can reach a number of places, including Bali, the Philippines, Indonesia, more of China…..
So, where to go? How many countries do I want to see? Or do I just want to explore more of Thailand? First of all, ask yourself how much time do you have? Next, ask yourself if you a traveler who likes to stay in one place for a longer period of time, or someone who wants to maximize the places they see. I personally prefer to stay in one place as a “base camp” and maximize my explorations of area, rather than constantly move from place to place, but it’s up to you. You could conceivably stay 2-3 days before moving on, which means within a week you could visit three countries (Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, for instance). I’m not a fan of that, as you don’t really get a sense of a place in 2-3 days. Plus, travel days will eat up your short week, so make sure you accommodate for that. And you might want a day or two to be “rest” days, when you don’t have anything planned and you can take it easy.
If you have only a few days, then spend that time in one place. If you have a week, spend it in a maximum of two places (two countries, or two places in one country). I would prefer to stay in one place if I had a week. If you have two weeks, you could conceivably spend it in 2-3 places and still spend quality time in each place. Plus, you could travel overland instead of flying, which gives you a much better sense of a place, especially if you use more local modes of transportation (train, buses, etc.). If you stay 4-6 weeks…..you can REALLY see Southeast Asia!
I have separate pages for each country below. I only included information on countries that I have traveled to, so sorry, I don’t have any information on Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia (outside Bali), or China. These are brief descriptions, but I also have links to other sites with more specific information.
How do I get there?
There are two ways to travel to these places: overland or flying. Flying is cheap and fast, and is best if you have limited time and want to minimize travel days. Overland is much more immersive; you can experience the culture as you transit, especially if you are traveling with locals. Plus, you get to see more of the scenery (if you are traveling during the daytime hours). However, it does take quite a while longer, and it’s not as cheap as you think it is (that’s more of a function of how cheap air travel has become). Plus, overland border crossings can be ….. adventurous.
There are several Asian discount airlines that offer very inexpensive airfare between Southeast Asian cities. Air Asia, Nok Air, Tiger Airways, and Jetstar are a few of the discount airlines offering fares as low as $35 one-way from Bangkok to Hanoi. Consolidation websites such as kayak.com, orbitz.com, travelocity.com, and cheapoair.com will often publish their fares. But check all of these airline websites separately when searching for best fares; some of these fares are not published on consolidation websites. Also be aware that some of these airlines fly out of the old Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok, not Suvarnabhumi Airport (the main international airport which we will be flying in and out of). Don Mueang Airport can be up to a 90 minute drive depending on traffic, so keep this in mind if you have a tight connection coming home.
For overland travel, there are two main options: train and bus. Buses tend to be cheaper, and some buses are downright luxurious, far more comfortable than even first class on a flight. Of course, these buses are frequented by tourists and wealthy locals. These buses tend to be express buses (they don’t stop every 2 miles), and are ideal for overnight transit, which can save you money since you don’t need a hotel room. Of course, there are more local buses, which are typically much cheaper, but can also be more of an adventure.
Trains are also a great way to get around. Again, like buses, you can get different classes of train cars, some with private cabins and beds, others with no air conditioning and hard benches. Like buses, you can have more of an adventure and meet more locals if you decide on the cheaper fares.
Ultimately, it’s up to you how you want to transit. Again, if you are there for a week or less, I strongly recommend flying. If you are staying longer, traveling overland for at least one leg of your itinerary could greatly enrich the experience.
Where do I stay?
This depends entirely on budget. Hostels can be as cheap as $5 a night, but that would be sharing bunks in a room filled with up to 30 other travelers. Bathrooms are typically shared. These are a fun place to meet people and can really save you money, but you don’t get a ton of privacy. Hostels also have more private rooms as well, at higher rates, of course. Some hostels also have concierge and travel services that will arrange side trips for you, tailored for a hostel crowd. Some of these trips can be quite fun and quite affordable.
If you have more of a budget, or want some privacy, you can get relatively nice hotel rooms for $25-$50. These typically are equivalent to a mid-range hotel in the US. They would have private bathrooms and some services. If you split a room between two of you, it can be a very comfortable and very affordable way to travel.
Another option that I’ve had a lot of luck with is AirBnB. I’ve stayed at AirBnB homes in Bali, Chiang Mai, and Krabi, and loved it. Westminster students have also stayed an an AirBnB in Ho Chi Minh City as well, and had a very good experience. This can also be very economical, especially if you rent a place between 4-6 of you.
Finally, you could stay in very luxurious resort hotels. But what fun is that?