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Myanmar and Southeast Asia Backpacking Questions
January 11, 2013 4:54 PM   Subscribe

I leave for an extended trip to Southeast Asia on Wednesday. I have a weekend in Kuala Lumpur, a month in Myanmar, and then two and a half months to work my way from Hanoi to Kuala Lumpur overland. What might I be missing in my planning?

I'm flying to and from the US via Kuala Lumpur. I've got my flights and visas covered for Myanmar and Vietnam. I've booked my lodging for my initial stay in Kuala Lumpur and for two days in Yangon.

My plan is to do the Lonely Planet toting backpacker thing in Myanmar, where there seems to be a whole lot less information available, and a whole lot less of a tourist infrastructure. I'm hoping I can call ahead a day or two in advance to book lodging after I arrive. I understand the tourism infrastructure is a bit taxed there at the moment, and I'm going at the tail end of peak season. Will I be alright with this plan?

From Hanoi, I plan on tossing guidebooks aside (for the most part) and winging it a bit more. It seems like traveling through Vietnam to Cambodia to Thailand to Malaysia is such a well-worn trail that I can totally wing it without much issue. True?

I'm thinking the best use of my time once I arrive in Hanoi is to linger a bit in Vietnam and Cambodia, and to more or less rush from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur with a beach stop or two in Southern Thailand. I'd like to spend a week or so in Borneo before I head back to the US. Am I on the right track?

I'm in my late 20s, male, and a US citizen. I've traveled a fair bit in South America, so this isn't totally new, but the little voice in the back of my head keeps nagging me that I'm missing something. What might I be missing?
posted by piedmont to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Forgot to add. My previous inquiry about this.
posted by piedmont at 5:10 PM on January 11, 2013


On the guidebook question, I personally found that the Rough Guide for Malaysia/Singapore/Brunei gave me way, way more interesting context and information about where I was than the LP did, and was organized in just as accessible a fashion. If that's a goal, then perhaps that's worth considering. The key issue is publication date: when was a guidebook published? There's also been a minor kerfuffle about editorial changes LP have made recently - essentially cutting from the books the exhaustive listings they once had (instead of ten hostels in a city, you might only find three or four now), and re-orienting the guide for a more affluent market. You may find more limited travel and onward transport info therein as well.

However, you definitely can do the overland thing quite easily without a guidebook; I would recommend bringing a smartphone, though, or at least an iPod touch, though, for booking flights, Skype-calling hotels, and e-mail, as well as for Seat 61, which I found often had better info than even train station employees did, when they spoke English at all. The TripAdvisor app was very useful as well and made it much easier to plan the next stage of my journey. Many, many places you'd think would be off the beaten track have at least a few reviews.

I also used my iPod touch with the Maps With Me Pro app; it's all based on OpenStreetMap, so it's better in big cities, but it's also better than nothing, and found it was really great for communicating with taxi/tuk-tuk drivers, as the maps were often written in English as well as the local language (though be aware that you may encounter illiterate drivers!). It was also nice for navigating around unfamiliar places where the book I was using didn't provide a map!

Also: a universal adaptor like this, and a phrase book like this. Knowledge of Malay wasn't really an issue in Penang, KL, or Melaka when I was there - there's almost always someone who speaks English around unless you are way, way in the sticks of East Malaysia (the Borneo part).
posted by mdonley at 5:40 PM on January 11, 2013


Nothing jumps out at me. Should be lots of fun. I met people 5 years ago that had fun in Myanmar, and said everyone was really nice - it'll probably be your hardest travelling, but not too bad.

Travelling elsewhere should be fine. Read up on some scammish behaviour, such as tuktuk drivers claiming temples are closed so they can take you to various shops, and other things of that sort.

Have fun.
posted by backwards guitar at 5:49 PM on January 11, 2013


I did a similar trip about 10 years ago. Sounds like you've got your bases covered, and you're right that the backpacker circuit in most of those countries is established enough that you should be fine going by word of mouth. If you change your mind, you can always pick up a used guidebook along the way.

If you do decide to use guidebooks, I agree with mdonley that the Rough Guides for SE Asia are faaaaaar better than LP. Not even a contest.

Only thing: you're not really thinking of skipping Laos, are you? It was by far the highlight of my trip.
posted by lunasol at 6:32 PM on January 11, 2013


If you've backpacked South America you'll be fine. Ill second Laos as not to be missed. Do Luang Prabang at least.

How long is your trip total? On long trips I linger as long as I feel like in a place and am not focused on how many places I want to see.
posted by MillMan at 6:45 PM on January 11, 2013


One friend just got back from Myanmar last week, and another owns a tour company that frequently takes visitors there. Lodging right now is INSANE. How do you feel about sleeping on the floor in a monastery?

Memail me and I can hook you up with a few people there but no, I would not take for granted that you'll find any accommodation reliably.
posted by cyndigo at 7:12 PM on January 11, 2013


My plan is to do the Lonely Planet toting backpacker thing in Myanmar, where there seems to be a whole lot less information available, and a whole lot less of a tourist infrastructure. I'm hoping I can call ahead a day or two in advance to book lodging after I arrive. I understand the tourism infrastructure is a bit taxed there at the moment, and I'm going at the tail end of peak season. Will I be alright with this plan?

I wouldn't advise it. At least call before you arrive. That said, there are a number of new establishments which (I suspect) were hurriedly completed to cash in on the peak season arrivals, so you might stand a chance, if you don't have any constraints in budget or comfort level. Accommodations are getting extremely expensive, even for dinky bed and breakfasts. cyndigo''s idea of a monastery is a good one, but it's usually for locals so you can't just go knocking on a monastery hoping for a place to spend the night. Again, settle your options before you arrive.

This post has been making the rounds recently - Lonely Planet is significantly and dangerously wrong about visiting Myanmar.

I'm in Yangon. You can memail me for more info but as I've never been a tourist in this country I can't guarantee I know the answers.
posted by hellopanda at 1:33 AM on January 12, 2013


To be clear, my advice about winging it, word-of-mouth style was for other countries in SE Asia, not Myanmar.
posted by lunasol at 11:19 AM on January 12, 2013


So, 28 days in Myanmar and no real troubles. Had a bed every night, called ahead sometimes and rocked up empty handed others. Amazing place, and I'd highly recommend it. There were people sleeping in the hallway some places (we got lucky), and the monastery was full in Nyaung Shwe since every guesthouse was full.
Thanks all for the advice! Currently in Hanoi, unwinding a bit and planning my route for Vietnam.
posted by piedmont at 4:58 AM on February 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


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