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Learnings So Far

A friend of mine is planning a long trip, and it ocurred to methat it would be a good idea to share with you some things we’ve learned so far…

1)  Bring comfy clothes that you don’t mind throwing out
Tim and I went through this big thing where we were madly searching for quick-dry, good quality clothes that didn’t make us look like we had just walked out of REI.

Being here, I’ve come to realize that quick-try is not necessary.  Nearly all the

guesthouses have their own laundry service and charge around $0.50 – $1.50 a kilo to wash, dry and fold your clothes.  Drop it off in the morning and have it ready that same evening.

I would, however, get quick-drying underwear because having fresh underwear even when all your other clothes are filthy makes you feel, oh, a bit cleaner, no?

You can buy all sorts of cheap clothes in any of the street markets here and just throw them away when you’re done with them.

2)  Wait and get your guidebooks while traveling
Before we left the States, being the cheapo that I am, I went to the library and borrowed all sorts of guidbooks about SE Asia to see which one I liked.  Tim and I decided on the Lonely Planet series and another one called Footprints, which we weren’t able to find at the  store.

Because we didn’t want to carry tons of guidebooks, we left the country with Lonely Planet Thailand only and that was a good idea.

While traveling, there are lots of ways to get guidebooks along the way:

*There are bookstores pretty much everywhere that sell new and used copies of guidebooks.  They also offer xeroxed copies of guidebooks (esp. Lonely Planet) which they sell for about 30%-40% less than the original.  One thing to watch out for when buying either a used copy  or a xeroxed copy is to make sure that all pages and maps are there (many used copies have pages ripped out) and legible (in xeroxed copies)

*You can trade your books at several stores.  Esp. where backpackers are found in big concentrations, people provide trading services, where you can trade both your guidebooks and reading books for other books

*You can swap with other travelers – We bought a xeroxed copy of Laos and then gave it to a couple of Dutch girls in Laos right before we left.  We also got a copy of a 2007 Lonely Planet Cambodia at the last guesthouse and xeroxed the pertinent copies of the new edition  from another traveler

*Finally, other travelers provide a wealth of info that no guidebook can ever match

3)  Buy stuff along the way
Keep in mind that for the most part, everything you need will be available for purchase.

Whether it’s clothes, toiletries, even meds, you can get it all while traveling.  If it’s available in SE Asia, it’s safe to assume that it’s available anywhere else.

4)  Bring a flashlight or headlamp
We have used our flashlight on several occasions.  They come in handy when you go see caves (they charge for flashlights), go on treks or have to use it as a sorry replacement for headlights on an old bus (per our latest bus ride).

5)  Bring sneakers instead of hiking boots
Even if you go on hikes, sneakers are lighter, easier ot pack and comfier, so leave the hiking boots at home.

6)  Packpacks
They’re a lot more convenient than suitcases, esp. when you get into a town and need to walk a little looking for a guesthouse

7)  Look for the word “clean” when choosing your guesthouse
My rule of thumb is to choose guesthouses where the word “clean” is used in the description of the place.  Following this rule has given us the most pleasant and clean places, which in most cases are cheaper or the same price as other guesthouses.

Conversely, anything described as a “backpackers’ fave” or “backpackers’ haven” is going to be mediocre, noisy and not very clean.  It will probably be cheap, but even that might not be true.   “Backpackers” here usually means those who are traveling very cheap.  Might be your thing, but Diesel and I are too old for this kind of stuff.

8)  Choose guesthouses that have a good common area
The common area is key for meeting fellow travelers.  One of the best guesthouse experiences we’ve had was at the Khang Kong guesthouse, where the common area was a veranda where a single, long table was set up.  We literally met everybody staying at the place over  breakfast or evening beers.

9)  Build in rest days
It’s ok to do nothing sometimes.  With long bus rides and days jampacked with sights to see, it’s ok, and highly important that you get plenty of rest.  Also be ok with skipping things you were planning to do.  It will give you a reason to go back to a city/country.

10)  Joining tours is also a good way to meet people
Other than the common area, joining tours is also a great way to meet people.  Though it often makes sense to explore yourself, signing up for a tour gives you some time to just relax and not have to worry about transportation, directions, etc and gives you a good opportunity to meet other travelers.  We’ve met some great people on our treks, boat tours, etc.  In addition, you might have to join a tour to do certain things, such as trekking to remote villages.

11)  Karma,karma
Doing the SE Asia circuit is like riding in a big caravan with the same people.  It’s not uncommon to bump into people that you’ve talked to/met/seen last week, 2 weeks ago, last month.  I just can’t even count how many times we’ve bumped into the same people…

12)  It’s ok to splurge sometimes
As much as we like ASian food, you can only eat so much noodle soup and fried rice.  When we first started craving Western food, Diesel and I felt pangs of shame, but we’ve come to terms with the fact that craving McDonald’s is ok (though I still haven’t seen any!) and asking your mom to bring you chocolate chip cooking is also ok.  Yes, go to a Western restaurant and splurge on pizza or a salad, even if you pay 4x more.


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