by Britteny Jones
Are you looking for your next winter getaway that’s not Mexico & the Caribbean? Look no further than Southeast Asia! Take in the warm weather, sandy beaches, amazing cuisine and cultural experiences in Thailand and Cambodia. Whether you are in a group, backpacking or looking for luxury travel, Thailand and Cambodia offer experiences for everyone. Five years ago, I went backpacking with a group through Northern & Southern Thailand and fell in love with the country and its’ people so much, that I decided to go back this past year with a friend. Although quite a few aspects have changed over the past five years to accommodate the Western traveler, the overall essence and culture that I fell in love with is still very much intact.
Our first stop was Siem Reap, Cambodia because I’ve always wanted to see Angkor Wat and it did not disappoint. The best part, Cambodia’s preferred currency is US dollars! We stayed in a beautiful 3-star property for $40 per night. Our first day we hired a tuk-tuk and driver for $30 to take us around Angkor for the day. Did I mention Southeast Asia is cheap for budget and luxury travel? Our first stop in Angkor was Angkor Wat (the most popular temple) and it was beautiful. The details in the carvings along every structure were amazing and how every carving is a story to be told. After a few days in Siem Reap exploring the city, markets and surrounding areas we made our way South to the beach! The beaches in Southeast Asia are some of my favorite beaches that I’ve ever been to. The sand is soft, the water is warm and there’s a great view.
After Cambodia, my friend and I flew back to Thailand to celebrate Songkran, the Thai New Year, in Bangkok. We had a basic idea of what we were getting ourselves into, but experiencing it was a whole other story. The main celebration of Songkran lasts for three days in April and is celebrated with a HUGE water fight. You can imagine the streets filled with thousands of people armed with water guns or buckets and a clay mixture that was used as a sun protectant thousands of years ago. Unless you are in an enclosed area, you are fair game to get soaking wet and covered in clay. Whether you are driving in a tuk-tuk down the street or walking through the crowds, be prepared to get soaking wet.
Outside of Songkran, Thailand has everything to offer from cities to beaches and jungles. It is a great country to affordably indulge with $10 massages, $5 local meals, $1 beers & cheap excursions! Thailand is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise from kayaking, island hopping, snorkeling, fishing, trekking, caving & more. Sometimes you will even have the occasional monkey hanging out on your boat for some fruit. My favorite part about the country, besides its’ beauty is the culture and people. The Thai history, temples and traditions is something I would highly suggest anyone to experience. The people have a rich history and their respect and kindness for others is unparalleled to any other country I have traveled.
Best Time of Year (dry season): November thru February
Think about getting outside the main tourist attraction locations such as Phuket or Koh Samui. Southern Thailand has so many beautiful and easily accessible beaches that can be less crowded
Be sure to have a basic knowledge of the “do’s and don’ts” of Thai culture because you don’t want to offend anyone (i.e. never point your finger & women cannot touch a monk)
Visit a few temples & palaces (knees and shoulders need to be covered while in a temple or palace – bring a t shirt & something to cover your knees!)
Buy a sarong – this will be your best friend if you need a cover up for temples, a beach towel or swimsuit coverup and it dries fast
Try the local food, it’s delicious and fresh!
Street Food: Go to the carts/trucks that locals are also going too
Be kind and respectful in all situations, even when things go wrong and are stressful – it gets you much farther and the people will most times go out of their way to help you
Cash is better than credit cards. Most everything is done with cash, especially when you’re walking around on the streets, at the markets and in remote areas. There are ATMs in most places, however be sure to plan ahead. For example, there was a remote island in Cambodia that only accepted cash and there were no ATMs on the island.
When in Southeast Asia, you’re on their time. In America being on time is arriving 15 minutes early. In Southeast Asia being on time is arriving 15 – 30 minutes late. Although I did notice things were much more on time than they were five years ago, I would just be sure to plan accordingly and leave some “buffer” time.