Thứ Ba, 26 tháng 3, 2013

Shopping in the old quarter of Hanoi
Hanoi tour  is the best choice to discovering reality ancient Hanoi Old Quarter while tasting amazing authentic Hanoi street food.

Leave your breakfast at your hotel if you take the morning half day street food tour. The Old Quarter Hanoi street food tour take you wandering to some typical places, market to get overview Vietnamese food, talking with artisan foodstuffs, street food vendors, stall holders and tasty amazing local food and drink.

The tour is great way to see the parts of Hanoi that major tourists don’t get to see, taste awesome Hanoi street food. Ancient Hanoi will be alive for your enjoyment immensely.

Bia hoi shop Hanoi

Hanoi Beer

Yogurt with black sticky rice

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Thứ Tư, 20 tháng 3, 2013

Climb aboard the food trend train: what’s cool today will be passé tomorrow. New food trends arrive on the scene every year, whether you’re ready for them or not. Some will be local foods cast into the spotlight by changing tastes, novel techniques or a hefty dose of whimsy, but most will be foreign imports – unexpected flavours arriving from distant locales to excite and befuddle your taste buds. These aren’t new foods, in fact they’re typically traditional foods but exported far enough away that the commonplace transforms into the exotic.

Food trends are easy enough to spot once they’ve become established, but is it possible to predict the next food trends before they happen? Could we have foreseen the popularity of gourmet tacos, tuna tartare, cooking everything sous-vide or matcha green tea before they burst onto the scene?

To answer this, we turned to travel writers, those resourceful researchers of remote reaches of the world who leave no stone unturned nor dumpling untasted in their search for the best experiences for travellers. Who better to spot the next food trends before they land on your plates back home? On every trip, travel writers uncover foods and techniques that for one reason or another have been overlooked by top Western chefs – look for the following foods from around the globe to be coming to a trendy restaurant or food truck near you.

Island delights

Food lovers have surfed the popularity waves of sashimi, tartare, crudo, ceviche and Hawaiian poke. Maybe today’s top chefs aren’t vacationing in Tahiti and French Polynesia, because the overlooked Tahitian poisson cru blows the others out of the water with one simple addition: coconut milk. Poisson cru (simply ‘raw fish’ in French) is a Polynesian twist on ceviche: fresh tuna, veggies (cucumber, onion, and tomato are typical), and, just before serving, marinated in lime juice and fresh creamy coconut milk.  ‘I have never met anyone who doesn’t like poisson cru,’ says travel writer and former Tahiti resident Celeste Brash (you can find Celeste’s poisson cru recipe here). If you’ve been to French Polynesia, poisson cru is as ubiquitous as it is inexcusably delicious, but finding it outside the islands is next to impossible. For now.

Poisson cru.

The next taco?

The taco will forever occupy a fond greasy corner of many foodies’ hearts, but street food trends fly by faster than a taco truck fleeing a health inspector. What’s next? Taco-loving travel writer Jill Robinson suggests a snack-sized cousin of the tostada: the panucho, a popular food from Mexico’s Yucatan. ‘The dish requires more of the corn tortilla than just sitting there as a platform for your food – in panuchos, the tortilla is puffed and filled with refried beans. You may never go back after a taste.’

Or perhaps we should look to the empanada, says travel and food writer Alison Bing, a well-established food that has yet to receive proper attention – or a gourmet makeover. ‘Empanadas taste just like home from the first flaky, savoury bite. Spain named it (empanar is Spanish for wrap); Argentina’s large Italian population proudly points out its resemblance to calzone (pizza pockets); English ex-colonials credit the influence of buttery Cornish pasty dough; and fillings with cumin, eggs and raisins reveal historical links to the Moroccan briouat.’ Not a big deal where you live yet? ‘Count the days before LA food trucks are serving Korean and Thai empanadas,’ says Bing.

Super soups and liquid salads

If Myanmar (Burma) was the travel buzzword of the past year, it’s quickly becoming the food buzzword of 2013. Alison Bing thinks mohinga might be the first Burmese food to strike it big abroad. ‘Imagine Vietnamese pho noodle soup, only with more tangy sass. Slurping without staining is an acquired skill, but enjoying mohinga should be easy. The rich hot-and-sour broth is spiked with ginger, lime, chili and a savoury-salty hint of fish paste, and the rice vermicelli are surprisingly hearty when generously dusted with roast chickpeas, crispy onions and toasted rice.’

Moqueca de peixe e camarao 

Would you like a leafy salad or a liquid salad? If liquid salad sounds odd, Lonely Planet’s US Travel Editor Robert Reid recommends trying a bowl of Bulgarian tarator. Essentially a soup serving the cooling function of a salad, Reid says, ‘Tarator is the perfect thing to have when it’s hot. Cool yogurt with cucumber, dill and nuts – in Bulgaria it’s popular on menus in the summer.’ Other versions in the region are drier and more recognizable as a salad, but who said salad has to be a solid in the first place?

Pancakes & waffles

Food and travel writer Andrew Bender flips out for okonomiyaki, a specialty of Osaka. ”Okonomiyaki’ means ‘cook as you like,’ and these thick, savory pancakes, might come packed with your choice of shredded cabbage, sliced green onion, corn, thin strips of pork belly, noodles, mushrooms, a fried egg or pretty much anything else you fancy. It’s all cooked before you on a hot griddle in the table and topped with tangy brown sauce like Worcestershire, and mayonnaise artfully squeezed, Spin-Art-style, from a bottle.’

Preparing okonomiyaki

On the sweeter side, watch for Vietnamese pandan waffles (banh kep la dua) to be heading your way soon. A coconut-milk-based waffle batter flavoured with pandan extract, which has an earthy, toasty vanilla-like scent, and often dyed bright green (unnecessarily – pandan extract is clear unless food coloring is added), the flavour is as immediately familiar as it is intriguing. Normally eaten plain, but add some lemongrass chicken, and – calling all hipster food trucks – you’ve got Vietnamese chicken and waffles.

New World truffles

Out of Africa

Can you name a food from Djibouti? Travel writer Jean-Bernard Carillet thinks it’s about time you could. ‘Mukbasa (also mukbassa or mokbasa) is a belt-bustingly good sweet dish served in Yemeni restaurants in Djibouti. It consists of a purée of honey and either dates or banana. It’s quite thick but super sweet and melts in the mouth – very addictive. It’s usually served as an accompaniment to spicy Yemeni fish, which is high on proteins, which makes for a perfectly balanced meal. It could well feature on any Western menu in such a combination. Desserts served after fish dishes are usually low-key but mukbasa would really be a perfect coda.’

Hot cookies and hot coffee

What would you rather wait for: an individually brewed cup of drip coffee that is almost imperceptibly better than a standard cup, or a hot-from-the-oven cookie that tastes like concentrated happiness? Alison Bing doesn’t understand the waiting for coffee fad, ‘I’m an espresso devotee, and that never takes 10 minutes. If it does, the barista would be shamed by the international order of baristas.’

Fergus Henderson has made waves in the food world for years, notably for his ‘nose-to-tail’ philosophy featured at his London restaurants. One small but significant innovation at Henderson’s St John Bar & Restaurant and St John Bread & Wine has been largely unheralded: baked-to-order madeleines (these take 15 minutes, but it’s worth the wait). Coffee shops and restaurants of the world take heed: if you want to make diners happy, a baked-to-order cookie as close to a guarantee as you’ll find.

Caphe Trung Da (Iced Coffee with Egg White) 

Speaking of coffee, caffeine-loving travel writer Leif Pettersen is dismayed that the world has yet to clue into one of the best and most distinctive coffee cultures. ‘Vietnamese coffee can’t possibly linger in relative obscurity for much longer. Indeed, I’m mystified as to why there isn’t a Vietnambucks on every trendy corner in the US already. The enduring genius of condensed milk-sweetened coffee notwithstanding, brain revving items like coconut milk coffee and Hanoi’s signature egg coffee are the kind of sweet indulgences that American coffee drinkers have been inadequately trying to achieve with elaborate sugar and syrup concoctions for years.’ Now, going to Vietnam, having a cup of Vietnamese's coffee and travel where have a lot of beautiful palace as Hanoi, Hochiminh, Sapa, Halong, Hue, Danang, Hoian


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Thứ Hai, 18 tháng 3, 2013

The Ancient Capital of Rakhine State

Mrauk-U (Myo Haung) is another interesting historical site in Rakhine, fast becoming a tourist attraction. Mrauk-U was founded in 1430 AD and flourished till 1785 as recorded in its history. Known as the Golden City by foreign travelers of the era it was a focus of trade due to its strategic on the coastal region of Bay of Bengal. Many historical sites such as the old palace grounds and ancient pagodas principally Shitthoung Pagoda (Eighty thousand pagodas), the old city of Vesali, the Mahamuni Image of Kyauktaw offers a glimpse into the Rakhine history.
Pagoda in Mrauk U
A new tourist site which is becoming increasingly more popular in recent years is the old capital of Rakhine (Arakan) called Mrauk-U. Some of the local people refer to it as Myo ( or Mro) Haung, the old city. It was first constructed by the Rakhine King Min_Saw Mon in 1430 AD, and remained its capital for 355 years until 1784 when the Rakhine Kingdom ceased to exist as a separate entity and became an integral part of the Myanmar Kingdom - Myanmar Tour.

The Golden City of Mrauk-U became known in Europe as a city of oriental splendor after Friar Sebastian Manrique visited the area for about (8) years between 1629 to 1637 AD and though he was a Portuguese Augustinian missionary he wrote his fascinating "Travels" in Spanish and published it as a book in 1649 and 1653. Father Manrique's vivid account of the coronation of King Thiri_Thudhamma in 1635 and about the Rakhine Court and intrigues of the Portuguese adventurers fired the imagination of later authors, especially after an English translation was published by the Hakluyt Society in 1927 in 2 volumes. In Volume One of this English translation we can read the intriguing account of Rakhine in mid-17th century. Manrique wrote of his astonishment when he was shown a pair of pendant ear-rings, set with priceless rubies as large as a small hen's egg. He said when he beheld these kyauk-nagats he could scarcely fix his eyes on them due to the radiant splendor they cast; he just stood amazed. In the markets also he saw "being sold in abundance, diamonds rubies, sapphires, emeralds, topazes, gold and silver in plates and bars, tin and zinc, which were very difficult to get in his home country. 
Pagoda in Mrauk U
It was the English author Maurice Collis who made Mrauk-U and Rakhine famous after his book The Land of the Great Image based on Friar Manrique's travels in Arakan, was published in 1942. The Great Image is of course, the Maha Muni Buddha Image which is now in Mandalay, though originally it was made and venerated in this area about 15 miles from Mrauk-U where another Maha Muni Buddha Image flanked by two other Buddha images is now worshipped. You can visit this place also on the hillock called Sirigutta, about (6) miles east of Kyauktaw town.

How to get there
About ten years ago it was difficult to travel to this area but you can easily visit Mrauk-U now. From Yangon there are daily flights to Sittway the capital of Rakhine State. There are Travel and Tour Companies in Yangon and Sittway which operate tours to Mrauk-U and the surrounding area.

Pagoda in Mrauk U
In Sittway you should visit the newly built Rakhine State Cultural Museum and Library and the Buddhist Museum where many interesting antiquities of Rakhine's colorful past are on display.

From Sittway to Mrauk-U you can take a boat on the Kaladan River and then go into some of its tributary streams. Mrauk-U, on Thinghanadi creek is only 45 miles from Sittway and the sea coast. It is a very pleasant river journey. If you are visiting in the winter months you can see flocks of wild geese, ducks and other migrating waterfowl. To the east of the old city is the famous Kiccapanadi stream and far away the Lemro River. The city area used to have a network of canals.

In Mrauk-U itself you can visit the Archaeological Museum which is near the Palace Site. This site is right in the centre of Mrauk-U which was built in a strategic location by leveling three small hills. Recently the Archaeology Department has been excavating the Palace Site which was occupied by Rakhine Kings for over two hundred years.

Even the pagodas are strategically located on hilltops and look like fortresses as indeed they were once used as such in times of enemy intrusion. There are moats, artificial lakes and canals and the whole area could be flooded to deter or repulse attackers.

Pagoda in Mrauk U
There are innumerable pagodas and Buddha images all over the old city and the surrounding hills. Some are still being used as places of worship today; many in ruins are now being restored to their original splendor. You should at least visit some; the most famous and well worth seeing are the Shitthaung, the Andaw, the Dukkhan Thein (Sima or Ordination Hall), the Koethaung, the Laymyetnha and the Shwe Daung pagodas.

The Shitthaung or "temple of the 80,000 Buddhas" is a fascinating place full of small images, scenes in sculpture of Buddhist stories with the kings and queens, courtiers and common people portrayed in their mediaeval costumes and head-dresses, all frozen in stone throughout the ages. You should take a good torch-light to examine the myriad interesting scenes and figures lining the dark corridors of this temple. You can see some Rakhine men boxing and wrestling, some girls dancing and playing, and then there are also the mythical birds, beasts and half-human celestials and demons. Try and find the figures of both the male and female Vasundhra/ Vasundhari symbolizing the God /Goddess of the Earth.

Shwe Daung pagoda
The Shitthaung Pagoda, located about half a mile to the north of the palace site was built by one of the most powerful kings of the Mrauk-U Dynasty, called by the people, Minbargyi, but according to records on inscriptions as King Minbin who reined from 1513 to 1553. The king built this fortress-temple after repulsing a Portuguese attack. The Portuguese mercenaries later served under Rakhine kings. There was also surprisingly an elite corp of Japanese bodyguards protecting the kings of Rakhine.

The Andaw (meaning the tooth relic of Buddha) is a pagoda only 86 feet to the north-east of the Shitthaung Pagoda. Built by King Min Hla Raza in 1521 it is said to enshrine the tooth relic received from a Sri Lankan king by King Minbin.

This temple is a hollow octagonal building made of pure sandstone blocks; there are two internal concentric passages, with a prayer hall on the east. Like other temples it is on a small hillock.

Visitors should see the frescoes giving detailed portrayals of life in the Mrauk-U court; these frescoes are found in Laymyetnha and the Shwe Daung Pagoda. Laymyetnha Pagoda was built by King Min Saw Mon in 1430 AD as one of the original pagodas at the time of the founding of Mrauk-U. The name of the Pagoda means "Four faced" as there are four entrances to this square sandstone structure with a central solid stupa 80 feet high. There are 28 Buddha images as mentioned in the Sambuddha scripture.

The Shwe Daung pagoda or the "Golden Hill Pagoda" is also believed to have been built by King Minbin between the years 1531-1553. It is a landmark pagoda as it is the tallest in this area and can be seen as far away as 20 miles from the main Kaladan River. The hill itself is 250 feet high and is about half a mile to the south-east of the Palace Site. It is a solid stupa with a circular base. During the First Anglo-Burmese War, 1824-26, the Myanmar forces built earthen fortifications on this hill and mounted guns which inflicted heavy losses on the British forces. Some of these fortifications can still be seen today.

Standing on a plain of rice fields is the Koethaung Pagoda; the name means 90,000 and probably signified the number of Buddha images it was supposed to contain. It was built by King Min Taikkha, the son of King Min Bin who built the Shitthaung or temple of 80,000 images, so the son exceeded the father by 10,000! It is the biggest pagoda in the Mrauk-U, Myanmar. Like the Shitthaung, this pagoda is also a massive fortress-like structure built with stone walls and terraces. There are 108 smaller pagodas surrounding it, all made of sandstone. With a winding corridor it is like a cave tunnel which you have to traverse until you reach the central chamber. The inner gallery has collapsed and is no longer accessible. There is an octagonal pagoda in the middle surrounded by over one hundred smaller pagodas. Unlike some of the other temples, not only sandstone, but bricks were also used in this pagoda.

Apart from the pagodas, visitors should not miss seeing the Ordination Hall, Htukkan Thein, and the exquisite little library the Pitakataik. Htukkan (or Dukkhan) Thein is located about 300 feet to the north-west of Shitthaung Pagoda. Built in 1571 by King Min Phalaung it is on a hillock 30 feet high, with two stone stair ways (8) feet broad on the east and south.
Ordination Hall in Mrauk-U

Ordination Hall in Mrauk-U
No longer used as an Ordination Hall, it is now one of the well-known pagodas of Mrauk-U. There is a long vaulted passageway which leads to the central shrine room which is 15 feet in height. This room is said to be the place where the Buddhist Archbishop used to sit to discuss religious affairs with Senior Monks. See the seated stone ladies preserving in sculpture the ancient hair-styles, among the many other interesting figures. There are also 140 niches with Buddha images.

The little library or Pitaka-taik, the Repository for the Buddhist scriptures was built in 1591 also by King Min Phalaung. It measures only 14 feet from east to west, 10 feet from north to south and is only 9 feet in height. Built entirely of stone there are lovely designs on the outer walls making it look like a tiny jeweled casket shaped like a blooming lotus. There were 48 libraries in Mrauk-U but only this one is preserved, though it is sometimes obscured by thickets of bushes and partly covered by moss and weeds which flourish in the 200" of annual rainfall in the region.

This library is reputed to have housed 30 sets of the Buddhist Tipitaka which King Narapatigyi (1638-1645) received from Sri Lanka. Unfortunately it acquired an unpleasant appellation due to its dark windowless interior. It is now known as Chin-kite library, Chin-kite meaning mosquito-bite. The Rakhine people say that Chin-kite is a Myanmar mispronunciation of the Rakhine word Khraung kaik, the name of the city wall which is close to the north of the library. If you have difficulty in finding this library asks for the Htupayon Pagoda as it is just north of this pagoda.

The artificial, man-made lakes named Anomakan and Letsekan on the southern part of Mrauk-U were once part of the defense system. They are now peaceful havens for visitors as well as for the local people, and for animals, birds and fish. Letsekan is (3) miles in length and half a mile wide. Some of the old city walls can also be seen.

The Portuguese and other Europeans were given a separate quarter at Mrauk U, only about half a mile west of the palace site. The place is called Daingripet and this place for the European settlement is on the other bank of Aungdat creek. The old church built by Father Manrique, now in ruins, can still be seen in this place. It is near the Daingri tank built by King Ba Saw Phyu (1459-1482).

Rakhine has other historical sites which are earlier than Mrauk U, at Vesali, only 6 miles to the north, and at Launggret a little further away, but easily reached by car in about half an hour.

If you are interested in spectacular places of historical interest and natural beauty Mrauk-U is the place. There are now comfortable hotels and guest houses where you can stay while exploring this ancient land, which was once a seat of oriental splendor.

Click here to see Mrauk-U Tour (Myanmar Tours)

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Thứ Ba, 12 tháng 3, 2013

As an undergraduate student I was fortunate enough to study abroad in Australia for two semesters.  While there, I embarked on the traditional backpacker’s tour, jumping from hostel to hostel across the country.  Backpacking in Australia is what I imagine being in a traveling rodeo is like; you run into the same people over and over, stay at the same hostels and hotels, you even visit the same tourist destinations.  The number of backpackers and students planning trips to the Great Barrier Reef, Fraser Island, Byron Bay, and Sydney at any given time is surely mind-boggling.

While down under, I had the opportunity to travel to Hanoi, the capitol of Vietnam, an opportunity I certainly wasn’t going to pass up.  After a layover in Taiwan, my group and I landed in Hanoi late one spring afternoon.  By the time we went through customs, gathered our bags, exchanged currencies, and hailed cabs, it was soon approaching 10 p.m.  As it was a few weeks away from the humid rainy season, the air was crisp and the temperature was mild.

Having skipped the in-flight meal, and having experienced the sensory overload that is a Southeast Asian metropolis, I found myself very hungry.  I then proceeded to leave my group and venture out alone in search of a late night meal.  I was very proud of myself as I navigated the narrow sidewalks for a full minute and a half before I found myself utterly and completely lost.

Navigating Hanoi by foot is a charming experience perfect for pleasant post dinner strolls or late morning window-shopping. Central Hanoi has ample restaurants, shopping, and attractions sure to keep any interested visitor occupied for days on end.  There are also a number of wide tree-lined streets and idyllic lakes in the heart of the city, providing a welcome refuge from the hustle and bustle.

The streets and neighborhoods are even remarkably organized by consumer product.  After wandering with no particular destination, I often found myself passing tire store after tire store.  The next block might be the pirated music district followed closely by tailor-town and the wooden artifact borough.  This makes finding your way around surprisingly easy in a city as large and full of life as Hanoi.  While Hanoi may be ideal for walking, in order to fully enjoy it, you must first learn the science of crossing the street.

Before I left, I spent an inordinate amount of time devoted to the discussion of this particular subject.  Never would I have thought that such a seemingly simple task would prove to be so perilous.  In a city of over six million people, there are approximately, and this is putting it generously, three stoplights and four crosswalks.  Furthermore, in a remarkable feat of urban living, it often appears as if all six million own scooters and are avid Evil Kneivel fans, effortlessly playing chicken with on-coming pedestrians and motorists alike.

Everyone who has been to Hanoi gives the same advice as to how to cross the street, look straight ahead and keep a steady pace, as the endless rush of scooter drivers will go around you based on how fast you are walking.  Easier said than done.  Crossing the street in Hanoi requires a level of faith similar to that shown by Indiana Jones when he was forced to walk the invisible bridge to reach the Holy Grail.  Closing your eyes and putting one foot in front of the other has never been so difficult.  Tourists tend to gather like flies at street corners hoping there is strength enough in numbers to gather a courageous battalion to forge the asphalt river infested with motorized piranhas.
Everything changes at night.  The inescapable smell of Hanoi, an odor of fish and sewage, intensifies, but a more serene and revealing cityscape emerges. Gone are the screaming scooters and their wail, gone are the rickshaws, and gone are the tourists with their deer-in-the-headlights stare.  It is easier to read signs and enjoy the architecture without worrying about running into, or being run over by, something.

Children hard at work or in school during the day play in the streets more freely.  Merchants do not watch your every move in anticipation of the next sale.  Restaurants gain a more quiet appeal and storefront eateries appear less intimidating without the long line and unfamiliar language. With a number of centrally located lakes, parks, and tree-lined streets, Hanoi is indeed a walker’s paradise.

After walking in circles for what seemed like hours, it was at one of these very eateries that I eventually came upon and decided to grab my first sample of authentic Vietnamese food.  This particular eatery was about ten feet wide and 20 feet deep and was very dimly lit.  It was a sparsely decorated wide-open space with high ceilings and a makeshift open kitchen in the front left area that consisted of a wok and a few unidentifiable ingredients scattered nearby.

Three small tables in the back made up the dining room.  The chef/owner/waitress was preparing a meal for the customer in front of me while her children played in the back.  Not knowing what the proper ordering etiquette was, I tried to glean as much information from the customer ahead of me as possible, looking over his shoulder like he had the answers to a pop quiz.

After getting a minimal amount of useful information from the previous customer, I looked at the cook as jovially as humanly possible, raised one finger, nodded and smiled.  I highly doubt that this was the proper ordering method, but the ignorant American approach worked just fine this time as she got the message and began to prepare a meal.

I watched intently as she prepared the food: pouring the batter into the sizzling wok, spreading the brownish (to this day I do not have the slightest idea what it was) filling, and rolling it up into a sort of Vietnamese burrito.  I then eagerly sat down to enjoy my long awaited mystery dinner.

And enjoy it I did.  The home-cooked meal was delicious and satisfying, just what I was looking for.  Furthermore, I got the entire thing for about the same price as two items on the McDonald’s Dollar Menu.  I left with a full stomach, content with the knowledge that I had just gone out alone, in a foreign country, and ate as authentic a meal in as authentic a setting as possible.

For that brief period of time, I forgot I was far away from home, far away from the creature comforts that we have all come to rely upon.  For that brief period of time I was devouring my late night snack, I also forgot that I didn’t have the slightest idea how to get back to my hotel room.  At least now I could cross the street.


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Thứ Sáu, 8 tháng 3, 2013

Southeast Asia has long been a major stopping point for backpackers around the world.  Exotic destinations, beautiful beaches and mountains, bustling cities, fantastic food, friendly people, a well trodden tourist trail, and super cheap prices all contribute to one of the top regions in the world for traveling.

From the smiling faces and pristine beaches in Thailand, to the incredible, fresh food in Vietnam, to one of the most impressive sites in the world in Cambodia, to the sleepy, still undiscovered lands of Laos, Southeast Asia is ripe for the picking if you love to travel.

What to expect

Expect stunning scenery, historical site after historical site, fantastic food that is as cheap, fresh, and as good as you’ll find anywhere in the world, and ease of travel.

Sure, you may not always be comfortable (hello, minibuses in Laos), but what you give up in comfort you get back in the wallet.  One of the most surprising things about travel in SE Asia was just how easy it truly is.  Unless you really get off the beaten path, the language barrier is pretty much nonexistent as most everyone, especially those involved in tourism, speaks English.  Because the region has been a popular travel destination for the better part of 50 years, they have it down and know how it’s done, so enjoy the ride!

Planning your trip to Southeast Asia

A lot goes into planning your trip to Southeast Asia – how to get there, how to get around once you are there, best time of the year to go, which vaccinations you need, and what the visa situations are.

Getting around
Getting around SE Asia is pretty easy (though it may not be the epitome of comfort all the time), with many options depending on your budget.
  • Air- Air Asia is the main budget airline in the region, and if you are flexible and on top of things, you can get dirt cheap flights between major cities (Bangkok, Saigon, Hanoi, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, etc.).
  • Bus- Bus quality varies from country to country and even city to city.  Thailand and Vietnam have some decent buses, some of them the sleeper variety, but some flat out suck, too.  Be sure to check the information below to see specifics on overland travel in each country.
  • Minibuses- While not the most comfortable transport in the world, minibuses are in all Southeast Asian countries in some form or another (costing practically nothing).  The unifying factor amongst bus transport is that it’s dirt cheap.
  • Train- Trains are available in all countries as well, with some really nice ones in Thailand, in particular.  There are different types and different classes of seats, with sleeper compartments as well (that are really nice), so do your homework.
  • Boat- One of the coolest modes of transport around Southeast Asia is by riverboat.  Some slow boat trips (Thailand into Laos) are said to be pretty brutal, but others are amazing (Vietnam into Cambodia).  Boat travel is becoming less and less common, though.
In order to travel on a super, super cheap budget (think under $20-25US/day), you’re going to have to rough it a bit in Southeast Asia.  While you can find beds for under $5/night, you get what you pay for (think dorm beds, no a/c, and questionable cleanliness).
As long as you’re willing to eat street and market food (which you should as it’s the best), you can eat like a king for a few dollars a day.  A huge plate of pad thai costs about $1US on the streets of Bangkok, a steaming bowl of Pho in the alleyways of Hanoi about the same, and as long as you eat locally, even in restaurants, it’s still not going to run more than a few dollars for a meal.
But if you have the money to splurge just a little bit (think $35-40/day), you’re going to have nice, private rooms with air conditioning, you’ll be able to splurge on a western meal you may crave every once in a while, and you’ll be able to take a sleeper train and nice bus in certain situations (sometimes a crappy minibus is your only option).
Thailand and Vietnam are a little more expensive than Laos and Cambodia, but if you plan on $35US/day for these four countries, you’ll be traveling well most of the time.

When it comes to vaccinations, everyone has their own opinions, so how careful or reckless you want to be is completely up to you.  The best advice we can offer is to go see your primary care doctor and/or a travel physician and take his or her advice. According to the CDC, your routine vaccinations of MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), DPT (diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus), and polio should be up to date, but they aren’t required.  Hepatitis A and B are also highly recommended.  Typhoid and Japanese encephalitis are also recommended, as is rabies.

When it comes to malaria, everyone has an opinion.  Some take some form of malaria meds, some take none.  Again, speak with your doctor about vaccinations and do whatever you’re comfortable with.  And if you do decide to get any/all vaccinations, shop around as prices vary wildly, particularly in the United States.  Most malaria medication is extremely expensive, and you can purchase them for a much cheaper price once you’re in Southeast Asia.  The problem is that most malaria meds advise travelers to start taking them a few weeks before arrival.  But you can get some at home and then re-up once you’re there.  We bought malaria meds over the counter in a pharmacy in Vietnam when we were close to running out.

For Americans, Vietnam is the only country out of these four where you need to take care of your visa before arriving.  Travelers can get visas on arrival in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia.  Visa rules are different, though, depending on how you arrive.  For example, if arriving in Thailand by land, it is standard to only receive a 15-day tourist visa, but if you arrive by air, you receive a 30-day visa.  Laos and Cambodia both offer 30-day visas upon arrival.  It is recommended to have US dollars for visas, and make sure they are crisp bills with no tears and little wear (I argued for 15-minutes with a visa officer entering Laos because a few of my bills weren’t in good enough condition).

Where to go

Southeast Asia encompasses more than just these four countries, and we’ll get to Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, the Phillipines, and Burma in a future article.  As far as where to go, we highlight many of the top destinations within each country and offer some off-the-beaten-path locations as well.  Some travelers can blast through all four countries in a month, seeing the highlights and moving fast.  Others can take months or even years to explore the region.  It all depends on how much time and money you have.


Thailand is a land the evokes many images for travelers.  White sand beaches in the south, one of the biggest, bustling metropolises in the world in Bangkok, and peaceful hill stations in the north.  There is a reason Thailand is one of the most popular travel destinations not only in Southeast Asia but in the entire world.  The beauty all  over the country is unmatched, the food absolutely mouth-watering, and the people as friendly as can be.  It’s not called the Land of Smiles for nothing.  While some may complain that it’s over-touristy, and there are plenty of tourists, it still has an unmatched beauty that will have any travel lover falling in love and wanting to return again and again.


Mountains, jungles, beaches.  History, culture, cuisine.  It’s no secret why Vietnam is becoming a top travel destination around the world.  It really does have it all, and with a well trodden tourist trail, travel around this country is rather easy.  The people may not be as friendly as nearby Thailand or as laid back as neighboring Laos, and not everyone has an affinity for travel here, but once you get used to the chaos, Vietnam offers all travelers an unforgettable experience.


When people think of Cambodia, they automatically connect it with one of the world’s greatest wonders, Angkor Wat.  Rightfully so, as it is one of the most visited and spectacular sites in the world.  While Angkor steals the spotlight, there are plenty of other fantastic places to visit in this beautiful Southeast Asian country.


After being off the tourist radar for so long, Laos is quickly becoming that next great destination for budget travelers in Southeast Asia.  A country that has been pounded by war and still seeing the effects, this sleepy country is drop dead gorgeous.  Laos has lots to offer for those looking to get off the beaten path a bit.  Don’t wait too long, though, as the rest of the world is catching on, and it won’t be long before Laos is just as popular as neighboring Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.


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