Backpacking Southeast Asia

Backpacking Southeast Asia, Part One: Everything Is Easy

Text and Photos by Rebecca Bowslaugh

Why Southeast Asia is a great place to experience your first long-term travel adventure.

When I first decided to backpack around Southeast Asia I was halfway through my first contract as an English teacher in South Korea. All my friends were travellers. Backpacking at the end of a contract was the norm. It was the reason why we were so far from home.

Stretching a dollar was the main reason why I chose backpacking; I was looking to visit as many countries as possible on a small budget. Teaching in Korea means that the nearest shoestring travel option is Southeast Asia. I was also told that it’s not very difficult to navigate most countries in the area.

Like so many millennials, I will do almost anything if somebody tells me it’s easy.

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"Rebecca Teacher" poses for a Chuseok photo with the Rose Class in a traditional hanbok

So I bought a plane ticket from Seoul to Bangkok. I had only ever travelled in Europe, and only to the most obvious locations: France, Italy, Spain and England. Southeast Asia was something completely new, and I wasn’t sure how to plan for it.

For many backpackers, planning is the hardest part of the whole trip.

Where to go? Where to stay? What to do?

I went and got my vaccinations and bought a guidebook. Good start. Then I spoke with some friends who were more seasoned travellers. Big mistake. They had endless suggestions for places I had to visit. I started writing it all down and in the end had several pages of if-you-do-only-one-thing-do-this locations and adventures. By the time I got to Thailand I was feeling so overwhelmed by options that I decided to throw them all away and do whatever I wanted. It was the easiest decision I’ve ever made.

I meant to travel around to other countries, but as soon as I left Bangkok and had my feet up in a hammock with an ocean view and a lime cocktail in my hand, somehow I couldn’t bring myself to leave. Every new island and beach that I visited was as welcoming and beautiful as the last. Thailand is an easygoing country for spontaneous backpackers and lone travellers.

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Hammocks are the only true form of beachside relaxation 

But how did I expect to get my country count up if I kept spending 45 days in one place?

By the end of my second teaching contract in Seoul, I was far more prepared. I had three travel companions (Meaghan, Shannon and Stephanie) locked down and they had left it up to me to plan out the three-month excursion. I knew I actually had to plan this time because one of my fellow backpackers was my best friend from home, and unlike the rest of us she rarely had time to travel. This trip had to be amazing. The pressure was on.

Having been to Thailand already, I knew that everything would be easier this time around. And as I mentioned earlier, I love easy. I was assuming (hoping) that the other countries we were going to visit would be just as easy. Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Malaysia were all neighbouring countries with amazing reviews from every backpacker I spoke with. And if I was worried, I just thought about how much I had learned the first time around.

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Everything is easy with a view like this! 

I knew that getting around inside Thailand had been as easy as finding the bus station or waving down a tuk-tuk driver. I knew meeting new friends was as easy as sharing a hookah on the beach or even smiling in the general direction of a fellow backpacker on a long train ride. I knew that each and every piece of food I put in my mouth had been the best thing I’d ever eaten (okay, so my stomach didn’t always agree).

I knew that finding a new adventure was easy because I was in an unfamiliar place and even buying a sarong feels like an adventure. There are guesthouses, hostels and budget hotels everywhere when you stay near a beach and with the exception of Bangkok I was never more than a short walk from the sand. And my very favourite thing about Thailand was how easy it was to find a hammock to relax in.

Find out if the rest of my Southeast Asia trip was as easy as I hoped next week in Part Two: Fun First, Safety Second.

Rebecca just moved home after six years of wandering (mostly) aimlessly around the world. After visiting 24 countries and living on three continents, she decided it was high time to get down to work. When she’s not on an airplane, Rebecca can be found eating homemade chocolate snacks directly from the freezer, building lampshades out of recycled cardboard, or trying to read and walk simultaneously. She is also a self-proclaimed chip connoisseur and is happy to be home (at least for a few minutes) in the land of many flavours. Twitter: @BeckBeforeDawn

Click Next to read Part 2 of Backpacking Southeast Asia

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