The Things I Did RIGHT in Southeast Asia

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Now that it’s been a few months since I’ve left Asia, I’ve been able to take a step back and view my travels with a more objective eye.

Though I had some setbacks, I did well on this trip.

Here are the things I did RIGHT during my six months in Southeast Asia:

I was flexible enough to change my plans constantly.

By far, this was the smartest thing I did on the trip. My carefully crafted itinerary more or less went to hell within a week.  For that reason, I was glad that I had nothing scheduled!

And every single time I changed plans, it was for the same reason — to spend more time with my friends.

As much as I enjoy traveling solo, the happiest moments of my trip were the ones that I spent with the close friends I made. And I’m so glad that I was able to spend more time with them.

I kept US dollars on me at all times.

It’s the official currency of bribery! Having US dollars on me saved me when I was stuck at the Laos-Vietnam border with a bad visa and they told me that $25 would make everything go away.

I can’t even imagine what would have happened if I had to go back to Vientiane, my bags going to Hanoi without me.

I brought a smaller backpack.

On suggestion from As We Travel, I decided to bring a 40 liter backpack.  (Technically, it was 38 liters, since I got the extra small size.)

If it had been any bigger, I would have brought tons of stuff I didn’t need and/or killed my back.  I also wouldn’t have been able to take it as hand luggage (!!) on all my flights (until I bought my dad ninja stars in Bangkok and had to check it on the flight to England, that is).

My 40l backpack, my small backpack, and my purse — that was just perfect.

I took penicillin when I needed it.

When I got sick in Hanoi, as soon as the malaria and dengue tests came back negative, I realized that my throat felt the way it did whenever I got strep.

But the doctor never did a throat culture, and at $373 per visit, there was no way I was going back.  I decided to go get some penicillin at a pharmacy.  My throat pain cleared up immediately.

Antibiotics should not be a first option for everyone. But if you’re 99% sure that you have an illness that can be cured with antibiotics, go for it.

I learned how to ride a motorbike in Pai.

I considered renting my first motorbike in Chiang Mai, but I was so glad I waited until I got to Pai.  Pai is a great place for beginners: the rental rates are dirt-cheap, the roads are mostly empty, and there are so many sights, from waterfalls to canyons to hot springs, in the surrounding area.

And when I crashed, it wasn’t a big deal.  If it had been Chiang Mai, I probably would have taken someone down.

I stayed cool when things went wrong.

When I lost my map on the Bolaven Plateau in Southern Laos and had no idea where I was going, I formulated a plan.  There were few signs on the road, but most of them said Sala Den.  I figured Sala Den would be a big enough town to at least have a guesthouse, and I could spend the night there.

Of course, it turned out that I had been going in the right direction the whole time. But I would have been okay.

During stressful times, like the shipwreck and when I was almost rejected at the Vietnam border, this is what saved me.

I was extra cautious in Vang Vieng.

Everyone made fun of me, but I refused to go on the rope swings in Vang Vieng. I was too afraid of getting hurt.

After watching someone nearly drown, seeing someone else get swept downriver while extremely drunk, and seeing my friend Ste return to Bangkok with a dislocated collarbone, I knew I made the right decision.

I traveled slowly.

It wasn’t so much about soaking in a community (with the exception of Bangkok) — it was just so I had enough time to get my work done!

And I still can’t believe I spent 15 days in Vang Vieng.

I edited my photos.

I’ve been editing my photos for years, and I’m still shocked at the number of people who don’t do anything.

You don’t need much.  While the pros use Lightroom, if you just want something free and easy, I recommend Picasa.

I backed up my photos.

I kept my photos backed up on a USB drive and my computer.  I had lower-quality shots backed up online.  After the shipwreck, I was shocked — but ecstatic — when my USB drive survived despite hours in the ocean.

I traded the Philippines for a second round in Cambodia.

This is one of the times that I actually made a smart financial decision. I almost flew to Manila from Saigon.  But while I wanted to (and still want to) visit the Philippines, I couldn’t justify the cost.  The Philippines are expensive to get to, expensive to get around, and expensive on the ground.

Compare that to taking an $8 bus ride to Cambodia, the cheapest country on my trip.  That was a smart decision.

I will make it to the Philippines someday — I promise you that.

I took a break when I needed one.

After deciding to come back to Cambodia, I began freaking out about my dwindling cash supply and a recent drought in advertising on my sites, not to mention my rapidly approaching departure date and places I still wanted to visit.

And so I went back to Sihanoukville — the beach town that I love so much, and one of the cheapest destinations on my trip.  I holed up at Monkey Republic and lived on $15 a day, just working on my site.

By the time Monkey Republic kicked me out (seriously), I was refreshed, rejuvenated, and with a much fatter PayPal account.

I rarely said no to anything.

Come on, would I really be Adventurous Kate if I refused to drink snake blood, fight Muay Thai, motorbike Vietnamese highways or be an extra in a movie shot in Thailand? Of course not!

I followed my heart.

Sometimes, I crashed and burned in a spectacularly embarrassing fashion.

Sometimes, I did all right.

I don’t have a single regret about how things turned out, and that’s the truth. Especially considering how happy I am now.

I had travel insurance in Southeast Asia and I’m glad I did. I never travel without it and always use World Nomads.

Stay tuned for the things I did WRONG in Southeast Asia!

Note: By sheer coincidence, yesterday, my friend Stephanie at Twenty-Something Travel posted her own list of things she did right on her trip!  Check out her post here.The Things I Did RIGHT in Southeast Asia | Adventurous Kate

42 thoughts on “The Things I Did RIGHT in Southeast Asia”

  1. It’s kind of awesomely amazing how many of the things we did right were the same. Like I said in my post, I think most of the best decisions I made were about staying true to myself and not listening to other people’s opinions, it sounds like it was the same for you.

    Although one regret i might have to ADD to my list is that my backpack was way too big! Getting a much smaller one for Latin America!

  2. Oh my god… I envy your backpack. My dive gear alone would fill a 40L backpack! In fact, to protect my reputation I have decided never to divulge the size of my own backpack monstrosity 🙂

    And I couldn’t agree with you more on the photo editing. My biggest pet peeve? Red eye. It’s SO. EASY. to remove!

  3. I just read Steph’s list yesterday, and it seems like you guys did a lot of the same things right — namely, listening to your heart and body and doing what was right for YOU in certain situations. I think that’s really the key to successful travel — knowing when to go and when to stop and how to handle everything in between on a personal level.

  4. Loved the list! I think its so important to always keep your mind open to new things that may come along or changes – That’s why I think that, traveling with a day by day itinerary will only bring frustration and end up being a mess!

  5. for the longest time i thought i was the only one using picasa =)
    i use lightroom to edit pictures ang picasa for making collages…

    im from the philippines and im a fan of cheap travels… definitely theres a way to travel the philippines cheap =)

  6. A great list and some terrific points. I’m learning to be more flexible once my plans are made, or to not always make plans at all!

  7. Love this post! I leave for my RTW trip in just under 3 weeks, so it’s great inspiration to read posts like these. I’ve definitely tried to refrain from planning too much.. Now to try and fit everything in my 40l bag! 🙂

  8. I love these refection posts. I truly believe that these posts will be extremely helpful to those people who follow you. They are also great for inspiration. I love seeing people take advantage of travel when they are young- it’s the best time to do it!

    I’m looking forward to both your and Stephanie’s posts on what you did wrong. Not that I’m glad things went wrong, but it helps me feel better about the mistakes I’ve made on my own trips 🙂

    Looking forward to your next adventure- whatever it is.

  9. Thanks for this! Makes me more confident that I won’t be ridiculously underprepared for my six week trip with a 40L backpack 🙂 And cheers for Picasa, I never edit my photos because I don’t know what I’m doing, but it’s amazing the change the “I’m feeling lucky” button alone makes 🙂

  10. Awesome post as usual. Hope you do eventually make it to the Philippines. Although not as cheap as Laos or Cambodia, there are ways to travel within the Philippines cheaply. I’m planning on moving back to the Philippines next year and explore my country

  11. Nooooo! You skipped the Philippines!

    I spent 3 weeks in Manila and another 3 weeks island hopping in the Visayas and have to say how different it was to the rest of SE Asia.

    Majority of people speak fluent English which makes it completely different. I hung out with locals, partied with locals, ate with locals, toured with locals. It was such an insight into the culture that I have no experienced from other Asian countries.

    You have to make it there!

  12. Staying flexible and taking breaks when you need them are really important points. I havent really made any plans for my trip to Asia in a few weeks other then that I will fly to Bangkok. Will see what happens when I get there. Didnt think about getting some US dollars incase I would need to bribe someone 🙂

  13. They do look better but it’s a really boring thing to do and … Did it really look like that? I often see shots and I’m like “is this a cartoon”. Not saying you, just joshing in comment form.

  14. Great post. I love the point you made about rarely saying no to anything. I find that I always step out of my comfort zone and try something new and exciting when traveling. Where else would you find yourself stepping into a Muay Tai Ring? On the other hand, good for you for being careful and responsible. Too many people go crazy and end up getting hurt like you mentioned above in Vang Vieng. It’s a delicate balance saying yes to all and being smart and you did it all! Cheers and congratulations on a great trip through South East Asia.

  15. I wonder if one of the things you did right was work. I know you spent a good deal of time with your online ventures and I’m curious to know if you think that structure helped make your trip better. It’s pretty tough to have a 7 month “vacation” and no matter how many new places you travel to the repetition sets in eventually. I’m guessing that your work added an element to your traveling that made it an even better experience.

    I’ve only been out 3 months but I find that once the novelty of absolute freedom wore off I miss the feeling of accomplishment that comes with work. I’ve always been self employed and being disciplined with your time is the only way to make it. I’m not working now and find myself missing it. Words I never thought I would be saying after a mere 3 months.

    I also think Southeast Asia is such an easy place to travel in that it compounds the effects. Everything is so easily at your disposal that you really don’t have to spend much time and effort in planning your actual travels. The ability to expend such a minimal amount of effort, while incredibly liberating, seems to leave a void after a while.

    I guess I just need to have a sense that I’m doing more than simply floating around through life. It sounds to me that you were able to accomplish this through your work. Not only did it give you work to do but it set you upon a new career and life path.

    I think people traveling for a long time should take that into consideration. It may not have to be work per se. I think a hobby would work as well but you would really have to be into it.

    I don’t know maybe I’m weird but for me there has to be more or I ultimately become restless and unsatisfied. After all isn’t that the reason we are all traveling in the first place is because back home we were restless and unsatisfied.

    I enjoy your blog. I’d tell you to keep it up but I already know you will.


    1. Thank you, Scott. I never could have abandoned this blog. It means too much to me and I enjoy it too much. And it did give me a lot of structure.

      That wouldn’t necessarily work for everyone — but for you and me? Yes.

  16. Inspiring! Like I said on Stephanie’s blog, the most important part of travelling is to feel at peace with your decisions. Following your heart is always the best option!

  17. my photos didn’t survive those hours in the ocean 🙁 it is one of my big regrets that I didn’t even try to save anything when we had to abandon ship.
    last time I tried to back up my photos during a trip, an asshole accidentally wiped my memory stick clean in an internet cafe in Laos. that’s why I never did that again.

  18. Encouraging people to use antibiotics is poor advice. You aren’t a doctor and using antibiotics without knowing if you have a bacteria infection can cause you to build up a tolerance to them, create antibiotic resistant bacteria, and not solve your problem.

    You shouldn’t self medicate with antibiotics like that.

  19. Wow! I didn’t know traveling to the Philippines was expensive! That’s a bit new but I know there are a lot of cheap finds in the Philippines. Especially when you don’t go to the tourist-y areas. 🙂

  20. Hi Kate! I’m a Filipina. Hopefully you can make it to the Philippines, because crossing oceans to see our country is very much worth it. I guarantee you that. I don’t think it’s expensive to go backpacking in the Philippines though. Just ask Filipinos how they do backpacking trips so that you can come up with a good and realistic budget.

  21. I’m struggling to understand how u wouldn’t go on any swings in vang vieng and YET u went into a ring to fight another person for a stupid fucking bucket?????? WTF!!!!!

  22. Try to make it to the Philippines. It’s one of the best places anywhere in Asia …and I’ve been to ever Asian country. I’m heading back there in November. The beaches are gorgeous and the country is not as expensive as you think. Travel within the country is a little pricey and a pain in the ass.

      1. if ever you try the Philippines, you’re right on with your itinerary but I would definitely go to Palawan (coron and puerto princesa) and island hoping in the visayas region.

  23. Hello,
    After hours of reading–please help with my itinerary.
    I will be traveling after my honeymoon (so will get some beach time in tropical area in Indian ocean). I have about 3 weeks left after that time to see this area. **My only flight confirmed back is my last day September 2nd from Ho Chi Minh City to US and my start has to be from India (Hyderabad)**
    **With current schedule: I have about 7 days i’m not accounting for** (but have skipped the beach area in thailand for now but can add if other areas covered and not really interested in doing LAOS on this trip).
    Leave Hydrabad August 9th 1am flight
    August 9 (Saturday)- 12: chiang mai
    August 12-(Tuesday)-15th : fly to BKK
    August 15th (Friday)-18th: fly to siem reap; do angor wat
    August 18th (Sunday)- 20th : fly to phnom phem—leave 20th night
    August 20t- 23nd; Fly in to Hanoi at night; go to halong bay
    August 23nd-26th Fly to DANANG; do day trip to Hoi an

    Sept 2nd: HCM 5:30am

  24. Great post Kate. In countries like these things are not so predictable and making a definite itinerary can be more bad than good. I’ve always been a bit like you regarding the motorbikes. Maybe i’ll try it on an island or a quite place like Pai. We’re currently trying to plan a Southeast Asia trip and I want to include Philippines but its going to make things too expensive. Plus when Southeast Asia has good weather, it seems like it rains alot in the Philippines.

  25. haha!! now i am regretting a little not learning how to ride a motorbike in Pai! I had almost the best mate with me to guide me and an empty runway near the airport!! ugh! I was on for 25m though hahaha love this post!

  26. Awesome article! Really well researched and informative!

    I’ll definitely be reading more!

    I just came back from Sri Lanka and now I’m gearing up to do the rest of South-East Asia!

  27. I think the penicillin suggestion isn’t too great. As a pharmacist, we’re dealing a lot with antibiotic resistance and superinfections because they don’t know the correct dose or correct duration of therapy. Not to mention, if people with allergic/ anaphylactic reactions to penicilin or to any type of penicillin might follow it (even with your disclaimer of antibiotics not being for everyone) and will suffer grave consequences.

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