SE Asia this December - squats, food, freights, tips, etc? (1 Viewer)

pachacuti

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Hey all,
Backpacking everywhere through Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore for the next few months. No destinations in particular. Either keep traveling if I can find the means all the way to West Europe by land, or pounce on some yupster job offering. Basically I need some persuasion to help me leap into the unknown.

Mainly just want to hear about any camping experience, freight hopping, cheap food to focus on, and tips in general for these countries.
What's the attitude for camping?
I understand it's densely populated, but are there nooks and crannies in these places?

Will NOT be begging. I have money, just living cheap.

Basically if you've bummed it in any way while you were in Southeast Asia, I'd love to hear about it.
Cheers!
D.J.
 
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MFB

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Im doing the same! Only minus Malaysia and Singapore and add Laos. Extremely excited!

Ill be bringing my hammock and camping when I can in the jungle. When in bigger cities Im finding cheap ($10 american) airbnbs. Too old for hostels.
Couchsurfing.com has always been a good resource for cities as well for me.

In regards to food, street food is always cheap and delicious everywhere.

Lastly the visa process is a pain for Vietnam, my understanding is you have to get before you show up. Koala hooked me up w a link in the Vietnam Visas thread.

Drop in on this thread w any tidbits, hacks, and stuff I gotta see that would be popular in books or online, please.
 
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Hmm camping in the jungle in SE Asia that sounds like a perfect idea. Cause you know its like camping in your backyard. Theres no centipedes, monkeys with teeth the size of daggers, huge flying bugs I had never seen the likes of, huge rats wuth weird growths on their backs, and just a myriad of snakes, insects to get at you.

I saw a bat there with atleast 3 ft wingspan. It was nuts.

I would be very careful camping in the jungle in the edges of these towns. I think a good idea would be to see if you could camp at a Wat. There are so many people that frequent these that your chances of animals messing with you is low.

Food is really cheap all over SE Asia. Should be fine there.
 

r3yn

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Stealth camping is usually fine. Having a fire changes things. Also travelling with hobos that blow up the spot also really changes things:

We were travelling together (3 of us) in Cambodia. Me, the self-titled "hobo-king", and a French-American guy. We were camping at the shallow goose-shit lake to the west of Angkor. First night went off fine. Second night, I figured we should move to a new spot. Other hobos didn't want to move. Trust your gut, man.

That night, we were sitting around the campfire, and the hobo-king had run out of beer and dope. He decided it would be a good idea to bike into the nearest village area, shirtless, wearing his headlamp, a camo shirt wrapped around his head, and his camo pants. Guy looked like a fucking foreign guerilla if ever there was one in West Cambo. So it's almost 11 at night and he decides, high as fuck, to bike into the village looking like this. Suffice it to say he got 'noticed' pretty fast by the village "police". They demanded to know where he was staying, to which he led them back to our camp.

First I hear his voice and see them moving through the undergrowth. Our fire's light is low, but I already can see -- or maybe sense -- who the hobo-king is talking to. They arrive at our fire and this big mean-looking Cambodian guy (wearing a white t-shirt and swim shorts and flip-flops) says, "Police" and points at himself, and stands there waiting for something. It occured to me that he was probably waiting for a bribe, but fuck that, once we show him that we have some money, why wouldn't he just come back with his friends and ask for more.

Too late. Suddenly some other local men arrive. There's a group of 5 of them or so. They stand just off from the fire, behind the first "police", and whisper to each other in the flickering shadows.

We sit around the fire tensely. The hoboking is tripping out. The french guy is silent, like me. Hoboking says, "Man, it's cool. Everything's cool. Here, why don't you take this headlamp" and offers him in front of the other guys. Oh shit, I think, now they know we have things to give.

The group of men behind are now silent and watching. The first "police" takes the headlamp and one of the men from the group behind comes up and says something in Cambodian to him, "brap dap thap krap" like. Their voices raise and there is a little tug-of-war happening over the headlamp. "It's all cool..." I can hear the hoboking nervously whining. I try to steel myself, and look around for a weapon. Beside me are some big logs we found in the local jungle. I take one, slowly, and put it on the fire so it rests in the fire but is still easy to grab quickly. Just as I think the local "police" are going to actually fight about the headlamp, lights blast through the trees down by the beach of the lake. I hear the sound of an engine. Suddenly a rusted-out trike with benches in the back arrives. A group of men in various amounts of camouflage clothing jump off. One man is different, though. He steps off slowly and walks directly to the fire. He is big, both tall and fat, and wearing an all-beige uniform and tinted glasses, and one of those military forge-caps. The whole group goes silent and waits for him to speak.

He scans the fire, looking at us, looking at our stuff, looking up at the stars. A long time passes. Finally, he takes in a breath and speaks:
"No. No good," and he shakes his finger at us. The hoboking starts-up again, voice filled with nervous desperation, to talk about how its all good and we're just staying the night, we'll leave in the morning, etc.etc. I know this isn't going to work, but if we just make a move to leave, we will look guilty and like prey.
I ask him, as clearly as I can, "Can we stay here, one night?"
"No. No OK."
"Please, we would really like to sleep here."
The boss looks over at the headlamp in the other man's hands.
He looks back at us.
"Maybe we should go" suggests the french guy.
"Alright" I agree.
I know this is the moment that will either see us leaving, or them seeing all our stuff onto their trike and our bodies buried in that undegroth. The group of them watch us quietly, muttering to each other and shining flashlights over our things. I walk slowly back to my tent -- act with determination and solidity, I say to myself. I'm scared for my life, but I don't show it.

We manage to get everything packed, and we look at the boss. Now is the moment. He waits, looking at us. Should we bribe him to let us go? There are now about 10 men standing around in the shadows of the fading fire. I look at the french guy, and the hobo-king. I get on my bike, slowly, waiting for the boss to say otherwise... and then I bike off, down the beach. My fellow vagabonds follow. We hear the engine roar to life behind us, and the headlight jumps around us, chasing us up and out to the road. We get to the dirt road to find a couple of trucks with roof-lights shining and more men standing around. They drive and follow us out. We bike all the way back into Siem Reap, with the locals following us all the way to the high-way.

I'm still not sure if they were planning to kill us, that night. I think the thought must have occurred to them. It certainly did to all of us. We had no phones. We had no way to get help. Those men were the "help". ... I think we were very lucky.

TL;DR: If you camp it, don't go into the local village for beer in the middle of the night, dressed like a fat white commando.

Tell me where you'll be, guys-travelling-through-these-parts. I'd love to meet up. I'm in south China, now.
 

Koala

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As a female-bodied person, I felt way more safe staying at cheap hostels / guesthouses than camping. The benefits of getting a cheap place outweighed the risks for me since I was traveling solo (usually could get a dorm bed for $3 a night, or my very own room for between $5-$7 in most small/medium size towns in Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam). Being able to shower, stash my stuff, store food and water, and sleep safely was so worth the $3 or $5 each day.

Camping is totally possible but I definitely wouldn't feel comfortable doing it unless I were with others. And although SE Asia is used to seeing solo female-bodied travelers, the cultures are generally patriarchial and I was definitely looked at a bit strange when hitchhiking and riding my bicycle solo. Also sometimes recieved unwanted attention. I think you could definitely camp Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand with no dramas, I could see people maybe reporting you because they worry about the safety of foreigners (my experience when hitchhiking in Thailand).

And there are heeeeaps of "older" travelers (i met lots of travelers in late 30s to mid 40s) who tend to stay at chiller 'guesthouses' which are like very cheap hotels, I wouldn't rule hostels/guesthouses out entirely @MFB

Also re: Viet Nam visa, you can get them at the border crossing but it's expensive. Just do the thing online. It's easy and cheap. And it doesn't matter which checkpoint you put down as your entry point, they'll accept it at any checkpoint.

Also be prepared to pay for entry and exit fees at all border crossings. Have some of all currencies with you at all times, including super crisp, clean, unripped USD.
 

MFB

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Hmm camping in the jungle in SE Asia that sounds like a perfect idea. Cause you know its like camping in your backyard. Theres no centipedes, monkeys with teeth the size of daggers, huge flying bugs I had never seen the likes of, huge rats wuth weird growths on their backs, and just a myriad of snakes, insects to get at you.

I heard the same shit when I planned to Sleep in the scary jungle through central america.
I did, for the better part of three months, and nothing bad happened. 😊
 
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I really dont think those men were trying to kill you...

They see some unsafe euro- amer weirdos having a fire and doing what exactly in their jungle? They prob just didnt no what to make of it. If they were going to mess with you for bribes they would have.

Anyway if they wanted to kill you why would you go and get an official?

The above person who resides in a female body is correct. Its massively cheap in SE Asia. I think people will be concerned if they see you so dont be obvious about it. And there are venomous snakes so make sure you read up on that.

And above all as the previous story kinda illustrated. Be respectful to the locals everywhere you go. Its not your country. Its theirs. I get it we are all human beings and we share this Earth but regardless be nice and good to the locals around you.

I can't tell you hou many Aussies I saw being rude asswipes to the kind, local people. I was shocked. Don't give my country a bad name!! (Atleast to the locals in Asia they like us😀) Actually most Americans I met in Asia were always respectful and not obnoxious Assholes yelling, demanding lower prices for things when they bargained or making fun of people like I saw alot of Aussie and UK people doing.

Have fun and remember Asia is an amazing place. Not just a cheap place to get drunk and fuck around. Talk to locals, have respect, if you go to Wats which I highly recommend read the history of the place.

I also have done things traveling most people would flip out about. But we were safe because I researched the place and what I was going to do there.

Good luck and I hope your mind expands along with your spirit.
 
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StarMage

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Didn't find much on my side when i was out there

Because of the low price people get by with paying for everything themselves

The backpacker culture as it were has diminished somewhat from the pre-technology days
 

r3yn

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I think phone/internet media culture and the general wealth of all us Westerners has lead to an inundation of previously 'real' or 'untouched' or 'hidden' areas... anyone who has found their version of "THE BEACH" isn't going to share that information, anyway, I guess.

That said, I have still found some wonderful experiences and harrowing experiences (see my post above for an example) in SE Asia, and travels more generally, even with a phone. I think the best way to get these experiences is to hobo-travel / ruck it. And in fact, the phone saved a lot of awkwardness / uncomfortableness this time..............

VIETNAM VAGABOND

This January and February, as CoronaVirus was sweeping across Asia while the rest of the world slept quietly in their beds, I was travelling through Vietnam and Cambodia on a motorcycle. Running away from Coronavirus, or just running away for the hell of it. Saigon had about 15 cases at this point. Some people were already getting scared. I wasn't. Even so, it was so much better when I got out of the cities and through the towns. In one small town in Vietnam, north-east of Moc Bai border crossing, I found some of that realness...

The sun was setting, and I had been riding through the traffic and trucks since Saigon on my 110cc Detech Espero (Honda Win clone). Some beautiful country up that way, into the highlands. I think most people avoid most of the highlands in favor of the beaches and resorts on the coast of Vietnam. Anyway, the sun was setting and I was still trying to find a place to camp out for the night. I had looked at, unfortunately or fortunately, Google Maps on the day prior and seen a mountainous area with reservoir / lake. I figured I'd make my way up there and sleep on the mountain.

I drove through a gate with Viet words and flags hanging around, and Vietnamese guys standing around.... I wasn't sure what to make of the place. I kept driving up the mountain road, assuming it went to the reservoir I wanted to go to. It didn't. It died out in a parking lot. I didn't feel comfortable leaving my motorcycle in the unsupervised lot while I trapsed around the bush looking for a campsite, so I decided to drive back along the mountain road. I went back and found the place I was thinking of: it was a little tin-roofed lookout, and you could see for miles across jungled valleys, all the way to the nearest town some couple dozen kilometers off. So I parked my motorcycle there, and looked for a spot to set up my small green stealth-camp tent. As I was setting it up, a motorcycle pulled up. The Vietnamese guy looked very concerned, and I walked over and said "Xin Chao!" (hello in Viet), the one word I knew, then, and I offer him a cigarette (I wasn't sure if the Vietnamese also do this, but in China it's customary to give cigarettes as a sign of respect and friendship when you meet someone, if you smoke). It was lucky I had my phone, but I guess I could have gotten a phrase-book or English-Viet dictionary.
Anyway, this guy just started saying "ok ok ok ok" and put his hands up, shaking, beside his head, which seems to be the symbol in Vietnam for "I don't know / whatever / I don't care".
I then realize that this is actually his place, or at least he squats here. He sets up his hammock, and tells me I don't need to pay when I ask him. I figure all is good.

About half an hour later, I'm reading in my tent and headlights from another motorcycle cut up off the road to this little camp. I get up out of my tent and go see what's up. This guy looks like a cop. Shit. Did the first guy call the po-lice on me? "Xin Chao" I say to him, offering him cigarette as well. He didn't take it. He just stood there, staring at me. Another bike pulls up. Shit, is this going to be a repeat of camping up near Angkor? Suddenly there's a gang. I pull out my phone to try to translate. No more service. Fuck. The 'Cop' starts talking at me in a serious tone, in only Viet, and I'm just going "Sorry, man, I don't understand". I figure these guys could easily fuck up my entire night. I wasn't sure what the cop's problem was. I started to get into my jaded thinking, figuring he was some kind of racist or xenophobe, and wanted to fuck with me. ACAB, after all, right?

Just when I think it's about to get violent, some high-school-aged kid comes up to me and goes "Hello. This is my uncle. He is a ... ranger. He wants to know if you want to come up to the top of the mountain. To the pagoda. He wants to have a drink with you. With my family."
I blink. My mouth hangs open. I'm flabbergasted ....
"Uh... yeah! Most definitely!" I say, and go grab my bag, and the Ranger and his friends laugh, and I get on my motorcycle and follow this Ranger and a few other bikes up to the top of the mountain. Then, we went off the road onto this crazy dirt road, 70 degrees sloping up and around trees and big rocks. Finally get to the top and there's a god damned pagoda and a 60ft tall statue of that goddess that brings good luck to travellers who bring her phallic shaped objects. Absolutely incredible. How the hell is this up here? I think to myself....

I meet the family. A huge family. About 20 of them. Aunts, uncles, cousins -- the whole gang has come up here on this night. We sit around on little plastic stools and they offer me cured meats and beer -- the only requirement is that I drink from the same glass as everyone else. I nod, "that's fine", and they hand me the glass filled with Saigon beer and the Ranger says to me, "100!"... Oh, I get it. Bottoms-up! They all laugh and suddenly I'm like part of the family, and talking through this young kid who knows damned-good English and we drink and carry-on for a couple of hours. Finally it's over, and I ask the kid, "Is it okay if I sleep down there? Where my tent is?" He asks his uncle, and uncle looks at me for a minute, then nods. "Gam-on!" I say, having now spoken my two words of Viet. I say goodbye to the family and ride my bike back down the treacherous dirt road and to my tent, honking as all the bikes and cars go past.

I woke up in the morning, and was everyone gone. All that remained were just the memories of those beautiful people and the beautiful vista of the valley stretching out towards Cambodia.....

......................................................

So, all that to say, I think there's still some great and redeeming experience to be had out in SE Asia and beyond.
 

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MFB

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Just when I think it's about to get violent, some high-school-aged kid comes up to me and goes "Hello. This is my uncle. He is a ... ranger. He wants to know if you want to come up to the top of the mountain. To the pagoda. He wants to have a drink with you. With my family."
I blink. My mouth hangs open. I'm flabbergasted ....
THIS! This is my favorite part about travelling and these situations always occur when I am seem to be very much in need of having my faith in humanity restored. No matter our differences, cultural or other, we can always find a level to connect on if we are willing to reach out and be kind.

Most excellent endearing story, loved reading it.
 

StarMage

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I think phone/internet media culture and the general wealth of all us Westerners has lead to an inundation of previously 'real' or 'untouched' or 'hidden' areas...
Yeah i completely agree. It started to jade me after a while and i stopped going to hostels because i couldn't stand the sight of 'perched birds' (packers sitting on stools staring at their phones).

Not even that long ago, hostels were a hub of information, stories and adventure. It could still be the case, you just have to push the envelope a bit further out as you have done.

Great story, as MFB noted, the highlight for me also was the encounter with the Ranger, not knowing if it could have flipped entirely the other way made for heart-thumping reading!

Edit: Spelling
 
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MFB

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Fellas, its become more important to look happy on social media pages then to actually be happy in real life.

@StarMage so true about the current status of hostels! Kids dont even talk to each other. Same w concerts. We used to go nuts at shows as kids, now dey on their phones!
 

Koala

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I definitely found certain hostels & guesthouses in SE Asia to have more of a chatty, friendly, info-sharing, storytelling vibe.

And getting off the most beaten paths helps, too. A lot of my small village riverfront guesthouses in Laos had spotty wifi at best and the power in the whole town would go out from time to time, so everybody was looking up and out and talking away!

I just never really went into any accommodation with any expectation, but in the majority of hostels, I found cool people to talk to, and to get recs from for the next places I'd be going, or people to grab a meal with or go on treks with.

As for the few times I've stayed in hostels in Australia - except for when I was in Hobart for a festival and it was full of punx - backpackers have been way less chatty and way more tapping away on their phones.

EDIT: Looking back, I honestly met and became close with way more people in SE Asia than I was expecting and overall, people were friendlier and more open-minded than backpackers in Australia and America.
 

MFB

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As much as Ill complain about them, Cell phones and the like do make international travel so much easier though.

I was in my early 20s when I did Europe, and had to use MAPS! Remember those?
Lonely Planet books to find hostels, you show up in a new city and have no clue where to go.

Now I have offline maps of the city downloaded before I get there. There's hostelworld for knowing where to stay.
Im rarely lost and usually know where to go. If you cant figure out how to get somewhere there's always some blog to explain what buses to take or if the route is hitchable.
 

StarMage

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@MFB Very true. Grab taxi saved my butt several times in Asia, making sure that i no longer got fleeced my the local mafia taxi services.

It also made travel crazy accessible to pretty much anywhere in the world. Want to go and chase glaciers in Patagonia? Book it in under 10min and be there in a day of travel.

It actually boggles the mind how far in this aspect we have come.

One part of me hopes that the current situation does not forever impact how we are connected, the other part is understanding of our need to slow travel, and in fact, create some more restrictions on high-demand areas, Everest for example.
 

MFB

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It is a shame about everest. O2 bottles errwhere.

Bc its the tallest?
Its a friggin highway now.
All for the sake of glory.
Which defeats the purpose for me.

In CO, Ill often climb 12,000 or 13,000 ft peaks bc if its a 14er, there are always a lot of people on it, just bc "its a 14er!"
A lot of the smaller peaks are prettier anyhow.
 

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