Why Backpacking In Southeast Asia Isn’t “Hard”

Jennifer and I were frustrated. We were in Hoi An. It was around 10am and we still hadn’t figured out how we were going to get to Ho Chi Minh. Should we take a bus? Should we take a flight? Is train an option?

We decided to book a flight. We found a cheap one on Air Asia for that evening. We were all set. Except, the website wasn’t working. We were running late for a cooking class (shout out to Gioan!) We stopped by the front desk on our way out. “Is there anything you can do to help us?” we begged.

The woman at the front desk said, “No problem.” She got on the phone and spoke for a minute. She hung up and told us, “Someone will come by in a few hours with your tickets. He’s on his way to buy them at the airport now. You’ll get on, no problem.”

After the cooking class, we came back and picked up our tickets from the front desk. They had even arranged a private car for us to take us to the airport. We doubled checked around the area afterwards, and it was significantly cheaper than other companies, and much cheaper than a taxi.

These types of situations happened quite frequently. Each time, someone we knew or a hostel employee figured everything out for us. We asked one question and everything would be arranged. It was like someone snapped their fingers and had an army of minions to arrange anything and everything.

Compared to a backpacking trip I did in South America and travel around Europe, Southeast Asia was easy. Incredibly easy. It also had to do with the type of travel I did. I stayed in hostels. I didn’t venture out into cities and towns that were untouched. I followed the typical backpacker route.

I expected there to be a language barrier. There was and there wasn’t. No matter where we went, it was clear where things were. Even though I speak Spanish and traveled in common tourist areas, Latin America was more challenging. Maybe it’s changed since I’ve been there, but the backpacker has to arrange everything on her own. There’s a lot of logistical figuring out. In Southeast Asia, the hostel would have booked your tours and your bus tickets for you. Then they would have transported you to the bus stop or the tour. Anything you needed, if they couldn’t help you, they would call someone who could. It seemed like everything was just a phone call away. The hostel owner in Bangkok even drove me to the hospital in his own car when I got sick.

Wi-Fi was everywhere. My sister asked for the password constantly – and it became a running joke. We once stopped at a rode-side shack on a bus ride in Northern Thailand. When she asked for the Wi-Fi password, I almost burst out laughing. Then, the woman pointed to an 8 ½ x 11 sheet of white paper with “PASSWORD” written on it and a series of number. I couldn’t believe it. If you ever need to research anything, confirm the location of anything, check online reviews of a restaurant or a hostel, you can easily login to Wi-Fi and do it all.

Experiences like this lead me to make the argument: based on where I’ve been, Southeast Asia is one of the easiest places for a first-time backpacker. It’s an excellent place for someone who gets nervous about times, details, and arrangements. If you’re okay with letting someone else handle your schedule, you can go without plans and easily book them as you go.

Featured photo: Fish on Silom Soi 20 in Bangkok, Thailand. Travel seems to be even easier when you constantly have a full stomach.

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