From Small Suitcases
Having been a geologist for the last 7 years, Heather has had many opportunities to live and work abroad. That has brought her to different parts of the world and urged the feeling for exploring more in her. After graduating University, she left home and backpacked with a friend through Europe. And there she decided to take the opportunity to able to work abroad and make Germany home for the last 3 years. At the moment, she has moved to Argentina and she is planning to stay here for the coming 4 years.
“As a full-timer, your travels only rely on 6 week holiday days. That’s not much so that I take weekend trips every now and then” – Heather shared. “Because others couldn’t come with me for every trip I wanted to do, I didn’t mind and just go on my own”. And that got here into travelling as a solo-er.
Recently, she just came back from a business trip which she gotta visit South East Asia for the first time. The article below is written by Heather sharing with us her experience and some tips as a traveller first time visiting SEA.
Solo Travelling in South East Asia – My Experience
There is only one point I really regret about my trip to South East Asia – not staying longer, and not having gone earlier! I went to this pocket of the world for the first time this past February/March – and I can truly say it was one of the best experiences of my life. While I joined a group tour for the middle part of my trip, I spent time both at the beginning and end solo – and I really enjoyed it. Below is a glimpse into the trip, based around several topics I think are relevant to other solo females:
Plan ahead! Do some online research about the effectiveness and safety of public options – buses, trains, and subways. For Taxis, your hotel/hostel will always be able to tell you which companies are best, and how to watch out for scams, like inflated meter fares or worse, fake taxis. If you plan to walk around, which is normally my preferred method, be sure to ask about neighborhoods to avoid.
I landed in Bangkok on a Monday in the late afternoon. The first recommendation I can make is to find a hotel within easy access to the metro from the airport – the metro is really a quick, cheap, and safe way into the city, and otherwise you may spend the first few hours of your holiday in Bangkok traffic with a steadily rising taxi fare. Never a good way to start! In contrast, for 45 bhat and +/- 20 minutes you are downtown with the Metro.
Once again, I think it´s worth a bit of research to find a hostel/hotel in a good area, with good reviews and good security. It´s not worth saving 10 dollars to compromise on these points. I stayed at True Siam hotel, located very close to the Phaya Thai rail station. Down a relatively quiet side street, it is small, well-equipped, and for the equivalent of 40 euros you are treated to a spacious room, private bathroom/hot shower, huge comfy bed, in-room safe, free tea, coffee, water, and toiletries. Even in a big city like Bangkok, anyone travelling from Europe or North America will enjoy very low prices as compared to home.
Solo Dining and/or Going Out
Any shyness or fear you may have about eating out alone – SE Asia is a good place to start. It’s customary here that other diners really don´t give two hoots about you. And it´s very common to see other solo diners. So please don´t spend every evening in your hotel! New cities are absolutely meant to be explored, and a place like Bangkok has SO many interesting bars and restaurants to try. Not to mention the utterly incredible food here – there are many many street food options as well, another great option for somebody on their own. Just pick a relatively busy and sanitary-looking joint 😉
At the end of my trip, I flew to Phu Quoc Island for a few days of pure relaxation on the beach. It´s a 20 minute flight from Saigon airport to Phu Quoc airport, and I chose a hotel at Vung Bau beach, a bit up the island, out of Duong Dong town (the busiest and most touristic area). I was happy to stay away from busy-ness after Bangkok. Wild Beach Phu Quoc Resort is a small and beautiful little hideaway – individual wooden villas are equipped with private stone bathrooms with a rain shower. Being out of the big city, and equipped with less “anonymity” so to speak, I definitely found here that my being solo was more noticeable. Both the hotel staff and another guest asked if I had come alone after the second day of seeing me around. They seemed a bit confused or perhaps surprised somebody would be travelling alone, perhaps also because the other guests were largely couples. However, the attitude you have to take is simply to not care. I had a turquoise ocean, a beach, a coconut full of juice, and a kayak at that point. In my opinion, life was pretty perfect. And I didn´t really care if others agreed or not.
Along with being out of the big city, other things are different as well. I took a taxi home late one night from Duong Dong Night Market to my hotel. The taxi driver spoke no English and me no Vietnamese, and we got hopelessly lost. I can only say I was extremely happy that I chose a female taxi driver – which I did very much on purpose knowing the distance to the hotel. Driving down dark roads late at night and having no idea where you are, with somebody you´ve never met, is not a comfortable situation.
In general, the culture shock in a big city like Bangkok is not too bad. There are enough “familiar” aspects, such as well-known institutions like Starbucks and McDonalds (if you really want that sort of thing), and a multitude of English translations on signs, menus, sites, museums, etc. However, when you head to more remote and less developed locations, like Vietnam and the islands, things change. I was actually quite surprised by the difficulties I had communicating in Vietnam. Even at the hotel, it´s rare to find staff members speaking English, and Vietnamese is SO different from any language I´ve ever been exposed to. Even with waving hand motions and smiles and laughs, it was a challenge. So, one has to be prepared for the unknown! Chances are, you will be eating a lot of foreign cuisine, spending time in taxis without air conditioning, walking down sidewalks with huge potholes, and experiencing a different standard of hygiene from your own home. You can definitely diminish the culture shock you might feel by simply looking ahead, planning ahead, and expecting the unexpected. Travelling is a journey, and half the fun is the newness of it all.