Where should I travel in Asia and the wider world between February and August 2011?
August 14, 2010 1:58 PM   Subscribe

Where should I travel in Asia and the wider world between February and August 2011? Should I travel there and then at all? I'm trying to plan a round-the-world trip and am finding it very difficult. Apologies for my rambling question - I could really do with your help.

The time I have allocated for the trip is around February 16th to July 27th 2011. I've never traveled before, and I'll be going alone. I'm interested in cities and urban spaces as much as anything - not (necessarily) long treks up mountains.

Starting from the UK, my plan was to go to New York for a week or so, the rest of the U.S. (maybe a bit of Canada) for another month, Japan for a month, then S.E. Asia (definitely China and Thailand, maybe Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore...) for a few months, then finish in India for a month before flying back home.

Various things keep cropping up. One of the big ones is the climate. Someone tells me that February is a terrible time to visit NY. Other websites seem to tell me that most of S.E. Asia, plus India in particular, are impossibly hot and humid during most of the Feb-Aug period, and the time to go is more like autumn/winter.

I'm not that keen on the heat - I coped OK with Japan in June 2009 (to give you some indication) but now I'm worried that the whole period of my trip is wrong and I should either be picking a different period of the year (inconvenient at minimum) or going to a completely different part of the world.

So help me out. Should I go to these places from Feb-Aug? In what order? Is there a better route or set of destinations? Tell me what you would do. Any and all advice is most welcome. Thanks everyone.
posted by Kirn to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Re February in New York - I don't think I'd call it "terrible". Will it be cold? Sure. However, it'll also be your first stop, which means you can bring a coat and then ditch it or ship it home at some future point when you no longer need it. Most things to do in New York are inside things - museums, cultural events, restaurants, and the like. And it's hardly so cold here that we don't go outdoors in the winter; you will see plenty of other people dressed for the weather, out and about enjoying the city.

I was in India in February and early March. The weather was glorious. However, I have heard that April/May and beyond can get pretty hot, yes. Autumn here is Monsoon in India, however, so I don't know that whoever told you that necessarily knew what they were talking about.

Why not do the trip backwards? Why not fly to India or SE Asia in February, work your way east to Japan, and then to the USA/Canada in the summer? That would put you in India in February with great weather, Southeast Asia in spring with possibly hot/humid/rainy weather but you can't have everything, China with probably OK weather depending on where you are and what you want to do (China is big), Japan in June with weather you've mentioned you're OK with, and the US and Canada in summer which is fabulous for the most part.

In August, the same basic rules apply for New York as February, but in reverse - it's hot, but it's not that hot and there are lots of indoor things to do.

You might have to suck it up sometimes and deal with sub-optimal weather conditions. That's one of the cons of taking a round-the-world trip; there's just no way to see that many places in one long stretch of travel and have it be the perfect weather in all of them. I'd also say that if you're so meh about traveling to a place that the idea of going there when the weather isn't ideal is a potential dealbreaker for you, maybe you just don't want to see that part of the world badly enough.
posted by Sara C. at 2:40 PM on August 14, 2010

First tip: hie thee over to FlyerTalk's incredible forums and read about which frequent flier miles program to join; you will probably find that flying on one alliance (the three in the world right now are Star, oneworld, and SkyTeam) and earning miles on a certain card gets you something great, like free lounge access for a year, much better baggage allowances, priority lines when boarding, etc.

Looking at your destinations, I'd think about using one of the Star Alliance's RTW tickets (which you can play with and price out here) mostly because of the membership of Asiana, Air China, Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways, all of which will have great connections throughout Asia. Also look at AirTreks, a San Francisco-based agency that *just* deals with RTW tickets.

However, consider the fact that for a route like Bangkok to Singapore, which has a number of full-fare and low-cost airlines competing for service, it may pay off to build "overland" segments into your trip, where your ticket drops you in Singapore and you pick it up in Bangkok, having arranged your own transport (a cheaper flight, perhaps?) in between.

Also, for those waaaay out of the way/expensive-to-get-to-on-their-own places you've always wanted to go (Easter Island, Svalbard, even places in Africa like Kenya or Ghana), RTW tickets can be excellent value!

Further, this is a great summary of different restrictions and levels available on each of the alliance's RTW tickets.

As far as when to go...I'd try to make sure you get Asia in during the various dry seasons there; check out the Wikipedia article on monsoons to see when's best/driest. Also think about elevation: Mexico City is in Mexico, but it's *cold* at night there in the winter!

I'd also give the Middle East a glance, at least: Turkey in the spring is lovely and warm enough to enjoy the outdoors!
posted by mdonley at 2:43 PM on August 14, 2010

I was in S.E Asia from March to June, and while it was hot, and humid - you get pretty used to it. I'd recommend being in Chiang Mai for Songkran in mid-April. It was a fun time. Other than that I can't think of anywhere you need to be at a particular time. The summer in North America is pretty hot and humid too.

Stay hydrated, schedule lots of beach time, and I think you'll be fine. All the countries you mentioned are worthwhile (although I'm not a huge fan of Laos, other than the Four Thousand Islands area), and don't think you need too much time in Singapore.
posted by backwards guitar at 3:10 PM on August 14, 2010

Best answer: India should be fantastic weather Feb and March. April will start to get uncomfortably hot. Any later in the year is a bad idea unless you deal REALLY well with extremes of heat.
posted by bardophile at 3:26 PM on August 14, 2010

Best answer: I was in NY in February this year for two weeks and had a great time. There were plenty of blue sky days where it was nice walking outside (appropriately dressed). There was one day where it was horribly cold and windy, and then there was the blizzard (which I loved because we don't get snow in Melbourne, and it was fun going to Central Park to sled).

April is very hot in Thailand, but you'd be fine if you are at the beach, or perhaps up in the north. Even in Bangkok, it would be bearable as long as you don't spend too much time walking (plenty of aircon taxis).

In the end, I am sure there are extreme exceptions to the rule, but generally I have found that as long as you make adaptions for the weather, it doesn't matter too much if it is not the best time of year. Dress well for the cold, and plan to be up and about early in the heat, and take it easy in the afternoon.
posted by AnnaRat at 6:16 PM on August 14, 2010

regarding China: Spring Festival (Chinese New year) is in February this year, starting in the beginning I think. So I'd probably advise against going to China in Feb. (unless you are invited to a Chinese person's home; that could be really fun). However, during spring festival, which lasts about a week, transportation is IMPOSSIBLE, (it's really, really hard to get train tickets) and prety much EVERYTHING is closed, unless you are in a touristy area. I mean, everyone is at home and the streets totally empty out. So yeah, find the exact dates of Spring Festival and don't go to China then (unless you have been invited by someone or have a specific plan.) People celebrate it at home, eating, so there's really nothing going on in the streets/in public. Also, February is cold throughout most of China.

It's not the end of the world or anything to be in the country during spring festival, I just think it's not as interesting. And it's really hard to travel.
posted by bearette at 10:30 PM on August 14, 2010

by "the country" I meant China, not "the countryside".
posted by bearette at 10:30 PM on August 14, 2010

Best answer: You've gotta do Asia once in your life. But I'm seconding doing it the other way around.

The weather in northern India in February/March is fine. Right up north (but not necessarily in the hills) it stays distinctly cool until after Holi (which can be great fun). If it starts to warm up late in your month there, consider a side trip up to Nepal. That'd be worth it for its own sake - the older bits of Kathmandu are just magic.

(Where else has a Toothache God?)

You could then fly down to Singapore and head up through Malaysia by land. The Northeast Monsoon in Malaysia peters out around March, and then everything is gloriously green, distinctly humid, but not too hot or wet. It's not the most exciting place on earth, but Malaysia is perfect for relaxing a little after India. The food is good, the roads are great, the sheets are clean.

March/April in Thailand/Cambodia can be kind of hot but nothing like India. It's been a while, but I don't remember maximum temps in either getting over the high 30s. But if you can't stand it there's always beaches or the hills. Of just an air conditioned hotel for a night or two. If urban areas are your thing, I would definitely go out of your way to spend at least a few days hurtling around Angkor and pondering what used to be.

I'd then think about a run up the length of Vietnam. There's a bustle to Vietnamese cities that's incomparable, the food is wonderful, and there's some great beaches between Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi. Maybe Dalat for a day or two to cool down and eat strawberries. Then the old quarter of Hanoi is another one of those great old brick cities, but busier and in some ways more complex than anything I've ever seen.

And I don't know enough about China or North America to comment.
posted by Ahab at 12:58 AM on August 15, 2010

Response by poster: This is incredibly useful guys, thank you all. I'm rapidly being convinced by Sara C. and Ahab's arguments to start in India and work eastwards from there - does anyone else have any thoughts on this? I must admit I'm a little intimidated to start traveling for the first time in India as I hear it can be difficult, but I'll manage (right?).

While all you lovely people are here - how long would you spend in each of the destinations, given that I have about 160 days to divide up between them?
posted by Kirn at 1:29 AM on August 15, 2010

Sure you'll manage. Read the warnings section in your guidebook carefully and follow its advice. Heed any additional warnings/travel advisories from your embassy and your doctor. India can be confronting, there can be a fair bit of hassle involved, but the worst that happens to most travelers is that they get a bout of gastro or two and pay substantially more for things than the locals.

As for how long you should spend in each place, it depends very much on what you want to see and do, and how much you want to spend. Planes and fast trains cost more but get you there faster and more comfortably than buses and mail trains. The best bet might be to read a couple of guidebooks for each country and see what grabs your fancy. Then try to work out how long you want to spend in each place plus travel time between them. Also factor in time to kick back and do nothing or it'll all start to feel like hard work.

Trying to pin that down a bit more, I'd give either north or south India (unless you can fly everywhere and book in advance) at least 4-5 weeks. Malaysia is relatively easy to get around and you can probably get the gist of it in a couple of weeks. Thailand is also fairly straight-forward, but it's bigger than Malaysia, a bit less organized, and things do take longer. So maybe three weeks. A week on a fly in fly out trip to Siem Riep and Angkor. Three in Vietnam. And again, I don't know about China and North America.

Then pad out your time in whichever of those you like the look of most.
posted by Ahab at 4:18 AM on August 15, 2010

Best answer: I must admit I'm a little intimidated to start traveling for the first time in India as I hear it can be difficult, but I'll manage (right?).

My first long solo trip outside the North America and Europe was to India for two months. It was life-changing. It was also overwhelming at times and I definitely had my share of "I want my mommy!" days. But that happened to me in Peru, as well, which is an incredibly easy, tourist friendly country to travel in. You have bad days on a long trip just like you do at home.

I can't vouch for this wisdom, but I've heard it's actually better to get the difficult places out of the way early on in a long RTW trip - after six months on the road, you're going to be pretty worn out. I've heard a lot of advice that your last place should be a relatively "easy" destination, and New York fits the bill. Especially in summertime when you can hang out in parks, go to free events, go to the beach, etc.
posted by Sara C. at 6:10 AM on August 15, 2010

I also largely agree with Ahab's timeframe. Though keep in mind your arrival and departure cities. If you get a good deal flying into Delhi, and then you want to focus on South India, followed by a flight to Singapore or KL from another northern-ish city like Mumbai or Kolkata, you should give yourself plenty of time to cover all of that.

My two month itinerary looked about like this:

Flew into Mumbai and spent a couple days (Mumbai is expensive.)

Took an overnight train to southern Goa, where I stayed for 10 days. If I were to do it again I would spend less time there. The little Goan beach town I chose was a great way to acclimate to India, Goa generally being a bit more laid back than the rest of the country (picking a quiet and less tourist-packed town helped with that, as well).

Took a train out to Hampi and spent 4-5 days. One of the best things I did on the whole trip - Hampi is spectacular, especially if you like history, holy sites, architecture, archaeology, culture, etc. There's also a hippie crowd if you're one of those folks who is in India to "chill out" rather than see and do things.

I then took a long circuitous bus/train/rickshaw/pogostick route from Hampi to Pune, where I only went to visit friends, and also as a waypoint to head back into the northern part of the country. I don't specifically recommend Pune as a travel destination, but it's an interesting city if you find yourself there for some reason. Seeing both "old India" and "new India" within a couple of days was a really fascinating approach to figuring out what the country is all about.

From Pune, I took another ridiculous journey (40 hours on a cross-country train!) to Kolkata, where I visited more friends. Unfortunately political unrest shut down the city for a lot of my time there, so I didn't see nearly as much of Kolkata as I'd have liked to. Be prepared for this to happen. India happens at its own pace, and you know what they say about the best laid plans.

I think I spent a week between Pune and Kolkata, including my epic rail journey.

From Kolkata I went up to Darjeeling, which was COLD in mid-February but a great place to wind down from crazy overwhelming unpredictable India. I think I spent around 5 days there?

After that, I followed a fairly typical Northern itinerary (Varanasi, Lucknow, Agra, Delhi, Amritsar), spending anywhere from 2 to 5 days in each city. I really wish I'd spent longer in Amritsar, Varanasi, and Delhi. Don't buy the hype about how horrid and scary the latter two cities are. I also liked Agra a lot and would spend another day or two there if I had it to do again.

After that I headed back to Mumbai and home, though that isn't too pertinent to your RTW focus.

In general, my biggest India advice is not to buy too much into the travel rumors about how terrible most of the northern cities are. They're on the beaten path for a reason, and the tout/hassle/scam factor was really not a big issue. I've also heard, and it was somewhat true in my experience, that southern India is generally more friendly and easier to travel in. Though, again, I would not plan your trip around a fear of the big northern cities. Go where you want to go, and spend time doing the things that interest you. Don't worry so much about all the things people say.
posted by Sara C. at 6:45 AM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks very much for your help everyone, you're all legends.
posted by Kirn at 2:48 AM on September 15, 2010

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