Featured post: Prepare culture shock in South East Asia for first timers by Heather Davey

MEET HEATHER

From Small Suitcases
DSC03300

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:

Transport

DSC03016

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.

Accommodation

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 😉

Remote locations

DSC03144

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.

Culture Shock

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.

Cambodia: The road to Angkor Wat

DSC_0862

After 6 hours of pumping bus under 35 degrees without air-conditioner and the only toilet I could use was the bush later, I arrived in Siem Reap. Tuk-tuk drivers were surrounding waiting for me to say yes for their ride. It could look like a stock battle of who has the best offer. $4 for my ride and $3/night for my hostel, got my deal! I was not yet happy to have found a hostel with a good price, because it was just like what it costed. My bus ride was terrifying but my accommodation busted me into tears. Oh well, the life of a traveller, we can never ask for more. We accept what we get.

DSC_0768

Maybe my experience in Cambodia was not the best. Everything felt dirty, dusty, hectic and humid, and it drove me crazy. I spent the afternoon out in the old town, got some food, got back to the hostel, tried to connect to the internet but sadly it did not work, mosquitos were biting me all over… I felt the urge of escaping that place so badly. But I came here to see the magnificent Angkor Wat, so that I booked a day tour to this tourist attraction. I had never been on a tour before but I made an exception. If I were not single, I would probably rent a bike or a tuk-tuk to get there. Might be cheaper? Guess so!.

I was up early for the trip but it did not even matter because they were one hour late. It would be bad to stereotype them being late because of being Asian but what else should I say. They were late! I paid $13 for that trip and did not know what I would get from it. Maybe all I got were the bus ride and a tour guide – who told everyone where the good spots were to take photos – and still had to pay $20 entrance fee . I felt like a tourist more than ever but it was kinda cool to experience that kind of tour – I might call it a photo tour. Anyhow, it was somehow helpful because he gave us all details of history of Angkor Wat. Because it was a day tour, I only got the chance to see the small ring but it was already incredibly amazing. Seeing all the details on the wall and I couldn’t believe that they were sculptured by human. It was admiring seeing that historic site in real after looking at it several time on pictures. It looked enormously huge and out of expectations. Gotta embrace human made effort because it is pretty magnificent.

Besides having Angkor Wat checked off my list, the tour was nothing to be told. But it was a good decision otherwise I wouldn’t have met Lasse, a German guy travelling alone through South East, I wouldn’t have known through him about the beautiful island Koh Lanta, and we wouldn’t have been friends from then on. In the end, we can always find the good from the bad.

Later that night, I packed my bag and took the night bus to Bangkok. Cambodia, I will give another shot next time!

DSC_0888-1

DSC_0873

DSC_0879

DSC_0886

DSC_0898

DSC_0931

DSC_0956

Thailand: Two sides of Bangkok

It was a right decision to have my weekend in Bangkok. Being here at its craziest time was kinda cool. I stayed in a French guesthouse located in a small alley between 2 busy roads – Rabuttrim and Khao San but I still got my quiet nights.

DSC_0984

Khao San Rd is known as the street of crazy night parties. I hadn’t had anything in my mind what to expect. Then, I was there. I was lost in a crowd of people at 11pm on a Friday night. The whole street was packed of people. Music was on. Some bars seemed like having a competition of who has better and louder music. Along the street does not only have bars and beers but also many food carts. Pad Thai, Coconut, and ‘insane’ insects. Just being here that I know why people say Bangkok is crazy. I was surprised by some businesses that Bangkok offers. Maybe a bit overwhelmed of what was actually moving around me. At one moment, people were all on the street dancing. Beers in hands, smile was on each face. My eyes were caught up at some lady guys dancing and trying to get a ‘customer’. Then the clock ticked midnight, police came from all directions and tried to shut all the bars down. Oh well, it was some kind of an act, I supposed. The moment the police were away from the spot, the music was on, people danced, again. The night life on Khao San just went on just until 2am. Bars were closing. However, the party seemed not over yet. A Sunday night, I hit a club for a pre-fullmoon party with N. The night of a Sunday night seemed not much a difference from other nights of Khao San. The party was over at 2.  For us, it was not nearly an end. In fact, the business of Bangkok’s night life is just started. N and I asked around for an after party and in fact, we got into a tuktuk for just 40BHT to get there. Quite a price huh? It was a 20 minute ride around Bangkok to get to that place. We were waited somehow. The amount of people any Tuktuk of Taxi bring to the club will be written down on a paper and I suppose they will have a share from that. At that moment, we realised why the trip was so cheap. Anyway…

Besides all the crazy party nights, the noise from the traffic, Bangkok has its quiet side. I spent a day walking along the riverside. Hopped on a boat and went to most attractions. Strolling around for awhile in the extreme heat of Bangkok… After a while, I found myself lost in an area that there was no tourist. ‘Bangkok could actually have a place like this?’ – I questioned myself. I was looking for shadow to hide there for a bit and led to a small temple. It was just a plan to dry my sweat but I stayed a bit longer sitting in the quietness. It seems pretty hard to find a quiet place in Bangkok because of all the traffics. And there I was, still! Most temples that I visited in Bangkok, they are quite touristic. Having a moment being surrounded by no one but the still were rare.  Time passed and time to move on.

I didn’t have a chance to explore more areas of Bangkok. However, I was there few years back so I didn’t really miss anything. But great thing, I got an opportunity to meet up with a friend that I met in Hanoi three and a half years ago.

From here, I was off to Koh Lanta!

DSC_0967

DSC_0980

DSC_0988

DSC_0982

DSC_1005

DSC_1023

DSC_1024

DSC_1050

DSC_1052


PIN IT

PIN BANGKOK

 

Vietnam: From Buon Ma Thuat To Buon Don

It was a hell of a ride. With a bus from the centre of Buon Ma Thuat, it takes about 1 hour to get to Buon Don Village. I settled myself in a hotel in the centre of Buon Ma Thuat and directly took the bus to the village. The bus ride must be the scariest one that I have ever had. I arrived safely in Buon Don which was a miracle.

Buon Don is known by its Cầu Treo (the Hanging Bridge/Suspension Bridge) which is made by bamboo and rattan and connected by iron cable and its elephant races which is held every March.  I gave a try crossing the bridge and ehm… I truly need to practice on my balance. The bridge looks quite fragile but it is actually very stable. The bridges are tighten on huge ancient trees that are hundreds years old and grown along Srepok river. It is so calming with the sound of the stream around and being surrounded by nature.

DSC_0181

DSC_0182

DSC_0184

DSC_0189

DSC_0193

DSC_0212

It is also possible to try riding an elephant here in Buon Don, either around the village or through the stream. However, I refused to take that ride. The elephants look not so happy so I would prefer not to exploit them.

DSC_0169

One thing that you will find everywhere here is Nhà Sàn (Pfahlbau/Stilt House). They are built with wood on stilts. People here believe that they build their houses above the ground to prevent wild animals to get in. The wildness from the outside looks interesting. I could imagine the life in that wooden house must be fascinating – living so close to the nature, feel every single draught…

DSC_0164

DSC_0165

 

If you have more time, try to take a visit in the village to see the lifestyle of this place. People here are extremely kind and friendly. I felt so warm and welcomed. Buon Don is not very popular among tourists but once you are here, you will see another culture of Vietnam. It’s nothing like the city.


PIN IT

PIN BUON DON

 

Taking Off to South East Asia

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Just landed in Singapore and found myself waiting 6 hours at the airport. What could it better than spending some quality time to edit a post or hopping in the city to find some food.

I tried to wake up as early as possible but I was still in hurry. Part of it caused of the Dutch public transportation. I couldn’t feel more disappointed with the Dutch system in this. Luckily, I still got to the airport on time. I’m always stressed out when it comes to flying. Especially when it is a long flight. I left Schiphol Airport, said goodbye to my most favourite person and got ready for my new trip.

First thing I did when I arrived in Changi Airport was buying shorts and flipflops. I just wanted to tuck myself in summery clothes and enjoy for few hours before I face the cold of the Northern Vietnam. I had a small reunion with Trisha Toh (blogger of The Weekend Brunch). It was funny to see her on the other side of the globe since last time we met was 3 weeks ago in Germany. We made the best out of our 3 hours in the city.

It always feels so good to be in another city after staying at one place for a while. I can’t tell how excited I am seeing myself with a backpack this time. I have some changes in my plan again but it is all about being spontaneous. Next stop, HANOI!

Flying myself to South East Asia for 6 weeks

Untitled

I have been planning this trip for awhile. As I am visiting my family in Vietnam, I’m gonna lengthen my stay in Asia for few more weeks to head South West of Vietnam then go on to other neighbour countries. And the exciting thing is, I am going to attend the Chinese New year – Lunar New Year, which is happening on the 19th February.

So here is my upcoming trips in South East Asia:

12 Jan – I am flying to Hanoi, Vietnam. There, I will be staying with my family for one week.

19 Jan – Heading to Buon Ma Thuot by plane (1 day stay). 20 – 22 Jan – to Dalat either by bus or by Easy rider. 23 – 25 Jan – Ho Chi Minh City

I try to manage to travel within Vietnam within one week.

26 Jan – Taking the bus from Ho Chi Minh city to Phnom Penh, Cambodia (2 days stay)

28 Jan – Siem Reab (2 days stay)

30 Jan – Bangkok

3 Feb – Flying to Yangon, Myanmar
I will be travelling around Yangon for 1 week. I think I will probably visit Thanlyin and Dala.

12 Feb – Luang Prabang or Vientian, Laos (I haven’t decided yet where I will go in Laos and if I am going. It will depend on how much I have left if I can afford the flight to Laos)

16 – 25 Feb – I will be staying in Vietnam and celebrate Lunar New Year with my family 🙂

I will make my trip spontaneous, therefore, I haven’t booked any tickets yet. At the moment, I just know I’m flying to Vietnam on the 12 Jan and I cannot wait to see my family again. I also cannot wait to see what are awaiting ahead. This trip I travel on my own so this will be my second solo trip I’m gonna take. I really hope I will see many people on the way. To be honest, I know it is quite dangerous for an Asian girl travelling in Asian countries but I’m sure I will manage everything and everything goes well.