How best to "country-hop" in Asia?
March 27, 2007 11:13 AM   Subscribe

I would like to visit Thailand, Cambodia, Bali, and Singapore during a month I have off this summer. Can anyone recommend an efficient, possibly inexpensive way to get to all the places inbetween here?

I did a previous search and I saw that someone recommended the All Asia pass. Has anyone tried that?

Are there any, reliable "Southwests/Jet Blues" of Southeast Asia that I should look into as well?

I appreciate any help.
posted by skepticallypleased to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer:, and tiger air (not sure of the website) are very cheap discount airlines for SE Asia. There are a couple of others, including an Indonesian based airline that has lots of very short intra-Indonesian flights, but I can't remember what it's called.

A great, great resource for this type of travel is Lonely Planet's Thorntree forum.

Depending on where you are coming from, you'll probably fly into either Singapore or Bangkok, the region's two biggest hubs. Getting to Bali will be the only expensive flight you'll need to take, everything else should be quite cheap.

Long-distance 'VIP' buses inside Thailand are cheap, modern, effecient, reliable, comfortable (even for me, 193cm, 200kgs).

Try to avoid the bus between Bangkok and Angkor. It was the most hellish experience of my 18-country traveling career.
posted by bluejayk at 11:33 AM on March 27, 2007

One thing to look into perhaps is the all asia pass from cathay. It's an excellent airline and worked out to a reasonably fair price when I went city hopping to Asia last fall.
posted by aeighty at 11:40 AM on March 27, 2007

Try to avoid the bus between Bangkok and Angkor. It was the most hellish experience of my 18-country traveling career.

Cannot second that enough, with comparable experience across four continents.

I don't see any legs of this that you can really avoid flying, except for that - but the Cambodian side of that road is not worth the savings. I'm talking 6-9 hours of back-jarring dirt road filled with unimaginable holes. You might be able to take a train from Bangkok to Singapore over a couple of days, but I'm not certain of that. The LP forums are a great place to ask.
posted by andifsohow at 11:47 AM on March 27, 2007

Best answer: I was there last week and hopped around a few places in Thailand on Bangkok Air. They have a Discovery Pass that can get you everywhere you want to go but Bali.

Even if you don't get the pass, the flights are relatively inexpensive and the service is quite good. Much better than you get on US carriers. And the lounge at Suvarnabhumi is nicer than you get than the premium lounges with other airlines.
posted by birdherder at 11:58 AM on March 27, 2007

Best answer: I second bluejayk's and ifsohow's recommendation against the bus, and add that the Thai rail system makes the bus system look absolutely luxurious. Do not travel around Thailand by any means other than air; believe us when we tell you that the savings are not worth it.

I used both Nok Air and Bangkok Air and was happy with each. Bangkok Air is closer to Jet Blue, while Nok is more like AirTran or Southwest. Thai Airways (which is the nicest airline I've ever flown-- we used that to get from China to Thailand) and Air Asia also operate cheap domestic flights and flights around southeast Asia.
posted by chickletworks at 12:15 PM on March 27, 2007

Best answer: I lived in Southeast Asia last year.

One thing with the All Asia Pass (I believe Malaysia Airlines has something similar) is that you usually have to backtrack to the airline hub for connecting flights (for Cathay Pacific, that's Hong Kong; for Malaysia, that's Kuala Lumpur) - so if you were going from Singapore to Bali, you'd have to fly from Singapore to HK/KL to Bali - a little out of the way, but perhaps worth it if the price is right.

One way to connect the dots is to check out the Wikipedia pages for the airports you're thinking about using, as they ordinarily list all the destinations one can reach.

Also check out Jetstar's schedules - they're linked to Qantas and I found them a little more reliable than Air Asia (though Air Asia was fine).

Lastly, you might want to avoid any flights within Indonesia on an Indonesian airline - there have been some really sketchy things going on lately with regards to crashes related to maintenance issues.

(PS: Flying Nok Air means your airplane has a beak, which is awesome.)
posted by mdonley at 12:23 PM on March 27, 2007

Oh, PS: some airlines are moving back to Bangkok's old airport, Don Muang, instead of using the new one at Suvarnabhumi. Your airline's website will let you know.
posted by mdonley at 12:26 PM on March 27, 2007

Actualy the journey between bangkok and Angkor was the best journey I have ever made in my life. I guess it all depends what you are into.

I took the route through Battambang and missed out the worst stretch of road. Best desicion I ever made.

Thats a lot to see in a month. I feel you will be stretched. Personaly I would only use singapore as a hub destination. Theres really not that much there to see. Unless you cant live without slings at Raffles.

Busses within thailand and malaysia are really good, and if you dont mind sleeping on them they are pretty fast. I did all my travaling in the area overland so I cant recommend any airlines unfortunately.
posted by gergtreble at 1:12 PM on March 27, 2007

I flew courier to Bangkok for $300 once. You should look into it. That link also leads you to a consolidator flight search engine that I've found some great deals off of.

I flew Garuda Indonesia once. I felt happy to make it home alive. They didn't even remember to feed us on a schedule. So I can't say I'd recommend them. Singapore Airlines is great, though.
posted by miss lynnster at 1:13 PM on March 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

In the summer of 2000 I visited Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Manilla, Davao, Jakarta and Hong Kong, and I flew everywhere. Total cost, including take-off in and return to LA was $1700. The travel agent had some kind of special where I could fly as much as I wanted in a two month period for a set price, using national airlines. (Singapore Air, Thai Air, etc). I didn't make the arrangements myself so I can't give you the details, but this is the sort of thing I would definitely talk to a competent agent about.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 2:13 PM on March 27, 2007

I have taken the train trip from KL to Bangkok, and I can report a bit on it here. It was, in a word, great. We went first class, since it was at the end of our trip and we needed some luxury. 2nd class looked very fine. Third class and below does not have AC, which makes for a hot ride. I think that KL < --> BKK is about 24 hours, but the trainline continues to Singapore. This is perhaps 30 hours between them. You could hop on and off this train.

My proposed route would be (depending on if you can get into and out of the right airports from the US or Europe or whatever):

US --> Singapore. Spend a few days in Singapore.

Sing --> KL. Spend a few days in KL (I think that 5 total between KL and Sing is enough. Though I've never been to Singapore).

KL --> Georgetown. From here you can get to the Cameron Highlands and trek around in the tea plantations. This is on the trainline. The other way to go up is on the eastern side (toward Kotu Baru)... This gets you close to the Perhentian Islands. Best. Place. Ever. Eitherway, spend a week or so getting from KL up to BKK. This pretty much means either spending time on the beaches of Malaysia *or* Thailand, but not both (besides, you'll get plenty of beachtime in Bali).

Georgetown / Kotu Baru / Perhentians --> BKK. You can also fly from Kotu Baru to BKK, but it's via KL, so we didn't do that. So train or Mini-van bus is fine and the roads are good.

Then do Bangkok Proper and fly out to Cambodia. Then fly back through BKK, and end the trip in Bali / Indo.

This is a pretty tight trip to see all of that. It's not a trip where all you'd see is the inside of a bus/train/train station/airport but it's not leisurely by any stretch. You won't get much of a feel for the places by hopping so much. I'm not going to be so bold as to suggest you cut parts of the trip, but think seriously what you like about travel. It's perfectly valid to say that what you like best is bragging to you friends back home that you've been in X countries (where X is one more than they've been to). But slow down and smell the roses. The world is big and it'll still be there (unless, I guess, rising sea levels take it away!) on your next trip.
posted by zpousman at 2:20 PM on March 27, 2007

Seconding AirAsia, though be warned that delays are very possible, and they also don't fly to Singapore last I checked.

Include Malaysia in your trip and you can travel to Singapore and Thailand fairly easily via bus, train, or car. There's also plenty of places within Malaysia to see. You can get an AirAsia ticket from KL to Bali (and maybe the other places you mentioned) easily.
posted by divabat at 2:52 PM on March 27, 2007

Fly into Bangkok and buy the rest of the flights there. It's extremely easy, convenient and cheap. I would consider doing Singapore and Bangkok and then driving around Thailand. A car with a driver costs maybe 20 bucks or less a day, and you can certainly do the driving yourself - USA built many of the roads and put up road signs in plain English as well as Thai. While Bali and Cambodia are singular, you will find similar places in Thailand. Driving around, specially in (good) roads off the tourist track, brings many amazing adventures and sensations; while still being in a generally speaking very safe place. And if things go South, you'll also find good resources to overcome whataver situation you get yourself in.

Good luck!
posted by magullo at 3:22 PM on March 27, 2007

Response by poster: Wow -- thanks so much mefites! Tons of good information here. The wikipedia trick actually gives you a feeling you can make sense of all this stuff. I'll check into AirAsia, JetStart. The courier site is funny because I feel entire small businesses are based around using a site like that. I guess pre-Web, you'd just let a travel agent handle it, but a lot of the fun travelling now is you can feel you're doing a lot of it......

On a side note, I was thinking of posting to flyertalk as many airplane threads in AskMeFi suggest, but I doubt I could have gotten as many good responses.....
posted by skepticallypleased at 5:51 PM on March 27, 2007

I would also add that I think you're best served by going to Singapore (and maybe KL, never been there) first, as they will take up a lot of your budget. Singapore is pretty pricey, and I would hate to get there at the end of your trip if you're on a budget and not be able to afford anything.
posted by andifsohow at 6:46 PM on March 27, 2007

Singapore is crazy expensive. KL is about half price of Singapore, but a bit expensive relative to other places in Malaysia, which is dirt cheap. Bali is cheap, but tourist-priced - so is Thailand.
posted by divabat at 8:41 PM on March 27, 2007

If you'll be using AirAsia, arrange to NOT have it as a connecting flight. I'm not sure about now, but they used to get delayed - causing a big problem for connecting flights. (The longest AirAsia delay I've gone through is 5 hours! Flight was due for noon, I ended up taking off at 5 pm-ish.) Can't beat the price, though.

Touristy areas will be touristy areas with touristy prices, but there'll always be local hangouts somewhere in there, or on the outskirts. It's Southeast Asia, where an entire meal can be had for less than 3 US dollars.
posted by Xere at 12:20 AM on March 28, 2007

Rather than worrying about passage straight from BKK->Angkor, just get up to Phnom Penh, and take the boat upriver to Siem Reap (Angkor). Much better option, and much easier on the back.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 3:49 AM on March 28, 2007

Response by poster: Late update -- I doubt anyone will read it but the Bangkok Air pass is amazing. All my flights for about $400 US! Thanks birdherder!
posted by skepticallypleased at 4:49 PM on April 2, 2007

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