Well we’ve made it to the half way point, 60 days out of 120. Sadly this means we’re slowly heading back home I guess.
As this is our first ever backpacking trip we thought we’d summarise how things are so far.
We love Southern Thailand and are really looking forward to seeing the northern parts. We weren’t too fussed about Malaysia. And we like Vietnam but not as much as Thailand.
What we have learned is that regardless how much time you have you can’t do everything. We have missed bits off we shouldn’t, and no doubt spent time in places that didn’t justify it, but that is the joys of being able to get around and see what you want.
So far, 9/10 places we’ve stayed have been good. None have been horrific and all safe and clean. We have always arranged a room before we arrive which may not be the traditional way, but for us its been stress free and due to being able to research on line (e.g. tripadvisor), probably accounts for the rooms being pretty good. We may well be paying slightly more than we need as we don’t barter for a room rate, but if we’re happy with what we’ve agreed in advance then we’re happy. For £10-14 a night for double en-suite then is it really worth barganinng any more?
It would be easy to spend 1/2 of what we have on accommodation – but the cost we are paying is okay. We like clean private rooms, aircon and ensuite. I know I know…. If you want shared bathroom or dodgy places, or fan-room sweat boxes you can save money.
Before we left we didn’t know how many people were doing similar, but on our travels we’ve bumped into the same people numerous times in different places. So pretty much there are loads of people of all ages and types all going to the same destinations – its a well trodden route. “Real” backpackers would frown at this and say we should be getting off the backpack trail, but really we’re going where we want and its not our fault that everyone follows us! There is also a reason why some places are on the trail, and why others are not.
For our travel, we’ve sometimes taken the easy options - like flights, tourist busses, or arranged trips from A to B. Again, the “real” backpackers would argue we should make our own way on local transport otherwise you don’t get the real local experience. We agree with this to a point, but sometimes we can’t be bothered to get a tuk-tuk from hotel to bus station; get bus from A to B. Then wait an hour or 3 and get bus from B to C on a bus that may or may not turn up, then get to a hotel if you can find one. Sometimes its easier to get a tourist bus that collects you from hotel, chilled journey, and dumps you where you want to go. Authentic? No – but why make things difficult just so you can claim bragging rights?
Amazingly we’ve always got from A to B. Now yesterday, booking a train ticket back from LONDON to SUFFOLK for when we get back in March, and we find the railway is closed and we need 3 busses and 3 trains and 5 hours for a normal journey of 1.5hrs! And no easy bus or any other way. Only in England eh? (PS – Thanks M&D for the to-be-arranged London Pickup!)
We are generally healthy people, but we’ve both been ill with gut problems, and this is despite eating cautiously and using hand gels. I was very ill for just over a week, and Mel has been ill 2-3 times but not as bad. More an annoyance but I guess if we get ill being very careful, then its probably a dead cert.
We have been fortunate to meet some nice people so far, and some more than once. But due to us being a “close” couple and happy in each others company, and the fact we stay in hotels/guesthouses rather than Hostels, means we’ve not really been in the full “scene”. Thats fine for us, but if you are younger or single/travelling with friends, then you would need to consider more Hostel places just for socialising.
We have met the people the guidebook told us about: The Doom and Gloom people who say how bad a place is that we’re heading to (never has been). The Know it all who typically doesn’t. And the Old Timer who tells you how much better it was 10 years ago when he had to buy his own donkey. They all try and ruin your adventure, but don’t let them. Fortuanltey they are the minority!
So far, we’re well under expectations. At our current rate of spend we are forecast to spend under £7,000 for everything for us both for 120 days which considering we’re doing all we want and aren’t skimping, we think is quite impressive.
It would probably be possible for under £5k (£2.5k each) if you eat out less, don’t do too much, and have more budget rooms; and it could easily be 2-3x what we are paying if you like it a bit posher!
Before we left, and when we’ve been here, we’ve heard stories about problems, theft, scams etc. Enough to scare you about coming.
So far, we have never felt threatened or “unsafe” with respect to ourselves. (With the exception of crossing the road in Hanoi or HCMC!!). We’ve not head any stories of actual violence or problems.
However, we have felt that it is possible to have stuff stolen or pick pocketed and indeed have heard stories about stuff being stolen. To be fair, most “stolen” items had some blame to the owner, either leaving on a table; or next to them when they slept; or had things dangling in bags. Being ultra cautious is necessary over here, and reduing temptation will reduce the chance of problems.
Scams and over charging are common, and even we got over charged/under changed though we did get our money back! Bit of naivety on our behalf – and easily controllable if you aren’t as silly: Know what something should cost; and if you need change (especially from a street vendor) – don’t let them take your money till you see/get the change. Also – with taxi/tuk tuk/cyclo ensure you are 100% clear on the cost – we are aware of quite a few who have been scammed…
We have always got the hotel to arrange airport pickup for us – hassle free and avoids the very common airport scams.
We have seen 4 moped accidents, though none major.
We’re having fun! Really enjoying it, and we know the second half will be different than to the first half and in many ways more challenging. But so far so good, and an excellent trip to take.
Things we’ve really enjoyed
- The adventure! Yeah – its not unique; we’re not alone; and its not that difficult. But for us, it is an adventure
- Seeing new things
- Meeting new people
- The challenge of getting around, eating, and finding somewhere to sleep
- Each others company
- Staying in great locations that wouldn’t look out of place in a top-end holiday brochure.
- New and different food
Things we’ve not liked
- The constant “hellos” from shop keepers, where any response puts you under pressue to get in. And the lookng over your shoulder, so you can’t browse. And no prices. Grrr
- Many white men (mainly overweight/gray/old) with young asian women. S’pose at least it is women.
- The fact 9/10 people who speak to you want something; or are trying to direct you to another place; or are trying to scam you. This is a shame as you then don’t trust the 1/10 who is genuinely friendly. This is really really sad and probably our biggest hate. It is not in our nature to ignore people saying hello, but you really have to. Anyone that says otherwise is still in their first town…
Thanks that have surprised us
- Prices of “cheap” clothes aren’t mega cheap. Good brands are UK prices, and whilst cheap clothes can be bought, they aren’t much cheaper than UK market/Matalan/Peacock prices and probably same quality.
- Wifi is available anywhere – much more open wifi than Europe
- Not had to use a squat loo yet, though that is sure to change in the second half!
- Not had any of our own horror stories to tell
- How pretty some ladyboys are
- Availability of GOOD clothes we like (e.g. branded quality walking clothes, e.g. Berghaus, Northface etc) are nowhere to be seen – except fake jackets.
- The age range and type of people travelling. From typical gap years; to retired people, to families with teenagers and young families with babies! In other words, everyone.
- And pretty much, how easy it has been overall so far. OK its a lot tougher than a package holiday, but it is well within most peoples grasp. Why don’t more do it?