South East Asia travel advice

South East Asia travel advice


Tips from our friends in Indochina

Angkor Wat travel advice


Dave Tucker, from our supplier The Beyond Tourism Co., shares his Cambodia travel advice on how best to visit Angkor Wat: “Ask your operator how they will do sunrise at Angkor Wat differently. Everyone goes for dawn, so sometimes it’s not quite the special, serene experience you’re expecting. For example, we approach through the back gate, or you can go a bit later when the tour groups have left. Everyone wants to see the famous sunrise over the towers of Angkor Wat so there can be a lot of other people trying to do it at the same time.”

Vietnam tips


Lesley Schofield, from our supplier All Points East, shares her advice on combining Indochina countries:
"Vietnam combines fantastically with other countries. Cambodia is just a short hop up the Mekong. And you can then contrast the two countries, which are really quite different. Vietnam is still a communist country so it’s got quite a different feel to it. The other place it combines very nicely with is Yunnan – that’s a fantastic trip from Hanoi up through the rice terraces into China. The other country is northern Laos. You can go into a very remote border crossing right up in the north of Vietnam. So if you do either the north or the south, and then combine it with a neighbouring country, you actually have far more overland travel and fewer flights than if you try to see all of Vietnam. It’s a bit like Europe as you only travel a very short distance to be in another country with a totally different feel."

Tip on visiting ancient cities


Liddy Pleasants, from our supplier Stubborn Mule Travel, shares her Thailand travel advice:
“One of my top recommendations is an ancient city called Kamphaeng Phet, which is in the middle of Thailand. It’s not very well known, unlike Sukhothai. Kamphaeng Phet is older and in a really lovely, peaceful forest setting. It’s perfect to tour by bike as it’s a very small town, easy to get around with not very busy roads. The ruins are just gorgeous to tour by bike. That’s one of the true off the beaten track places – if you end up there, you’re going to have a complete ball.”

Laos food tips


Sarah Allard from our supplier, Lost Earth Adventure shares her advice on food in Laos:
“The food is Laos is really good; it’s really fresh and so refreshing. The flavours are similar to Thai, but what they really excel at is using fresh herbs like mint and coriander, lemongrass, galangal and bright chopped chillies, which form the basis of their ingredients and ends up in various forms. You can get lots of fragrant noodle soups and the national dish is called ‘larb’, which is minced meat or fish cooked with garlic and ginger that comes with beansprouts and green beans, which you then eat using your hands and balls of sticky rice as your utensil. It’s absolutely delightful and it’s really healthy too; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fat Laotian. When you have a local guide on a jungle walk, he’ll just pick lots of different foods for you to taste that are growing right there.”

Health & safety


TRAVEL SAFELY IN INDOCHINA

Health


Several vaccinations are advised before travelling to Indochina; consult your GP or travel clinic six to eight weeks before departure to ensure you have time to complete all the series of injections.

Malaria is also present, so you will need to bring anti-malarial medication. Be aware that some malaria strains here resistant to some forms of medication, so be sure to bring the appropriate type. Wearing long sleeves and trousers is also advised, as well as insect repellent – which also serve to protect against other insect-borne illnesses such as dengue fever. Remember, malaria can develop up to a year after exposure, so keep an eye on any symptoms.

The quality of hospitals varies greatly from region to region – ensure you have comprehensive travel insurance which covers emergency medical evacuation as you may not be able be treated locally. In general, Thailand’s private hospitals are excellent, while Vietnam’s cities provide decent basic healthcare. If travelling in Cambodia or Laos, or in any rural area, health services are extremely limited.

Bring any prescription medicines with you, along with a basic medical kit, particularly if you are visiting rural areas. As well as first aid items, consider bringing medicines for stomach upsets, rehydration sachets and painkillers.

Tap water is unsafe to drink - also be wary of ice in drinks and unpeeled fruit and vegetables.

Schistosomiasis – also known as bilharzia – is a disease which can be caught in freshwater. It is present in Cambodia, so avoid swimming or bathing in lakes and rivers. Symptoms may not occur until after you return home; be sure to visit your GP if you are unwell.

The most common health hazard in Indochina is water borne stomach infections and diarrhea, usually in a mild form, but uncomfortable given the lack of developed bathroom facilities. In both instances, get plenty of rest, drink lots of water, and replace lost salts with rehydration sachets.

Rice wine is part of the culture in Vietnam – but avoid the homebrew, and opt for recognised brand names. Super-strength rice wine can contain lethal levels of methanol.

Don’t underestimate the strength of the sun across Indochina, especially when travelling on the water. Temperature and humidity can take time to adjust to, so apply sunscreen regularly, wear loose clothing and drink lots of water.

Safety


Thailand: Travel to the Malaysia border region is not advised due to a high threat of terrorism. The Ta Krabey and Preah Vihear temples and their surroundings are also to be avoided as there is periodic fighting. Check the FCO website for up-to-date information on the safety situation.

Thailand: Political demonstrations occur frequently in Bangkok, and can escalate rapidly, with the use of weapons and explosives. Be especially cautious during the run-up to elections, and avoid Lumpini Park, where protesters congregate. Thai authorities operate several “Tourist’s Friend Centres” around the airports and Skytrain stations to provide information and assistance – they’re worth using.

Thailand: Criticising any member of the royal family is known as Lèse Majesté and carries a prison sentence of 3-15 years. This applies to tourists as well as Thais – foreign nationals have been convicted of this crime.

Be careful with bags and carry them away from the roadside – there have been reports of thieves on motorbikes or tuk tuks snatching items.

Cambodia/Vietnam/Laos: All generally safe destinations, but petty crime can happen. Be sensible – don’t flash cash or valuables, and don’t wander off from the safety of your tour group.

Unexploded landmines are still found across the countryside in Cambodia and Laos and in Central Vietnam along the Laos border. Keep to marked pathways in rural areas and national parks, and always keep an eye on children. Be extremely careful in more remote regions – always consult a local guide before trekking in less-visited areas of Cambodia and mined areas are not always marked away from the tourist trail.

Life jackets are not routinely provided during boat travel, so do check if they are available on your boat, particularly if travelling off the coast to the islands. This is especially important when travelling with children.
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Tips from our travellers in Indochina


TRAVEL LIKE A LOCAL!

At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travellers are often... other travellers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do - and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful Indochina travel tips that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your holiday - and the space inside your suitcase.
There is no hard walking or trekking, but you still need to be reasonably fit if you want to climb mountainside steps and squat walk through small tunnels. - Vinod Mehta

Travel light. Wear a travel money belt which can carry money passport and mobile and keep it on at all times. - Carol McKearney

Dont worry too much about dirt, squat toilets and the like, just be prepared! Also be prepared for plenty of other tourists good and bad. - Sarah Beddow

Relax and go with the flow; don’t be afraid to try something new. Chill out for a while and watch the world go by you can be amazed at some of the sights right in front of you. - David Conway

Go with an open mind, embrace the bargaining, the food and the culture. - Matthew Blank

I found the quality of the accommodation to be high; I expected more basic sleeping arrangements. We even had air con in most places. - Peter Heath

Enjoy the variety - the peaceful pace of life in Laos, and the chaotic traffic in Vietnam; a lovely riverboat on the Mekong and the more basic train from Hanoi to Hue; the chilly weather in Hanoi and the heat of Cambodia, but friendly people throughout. - Elizabeth Treherne

Take a couple of sweaters and a fleece. We visited in January and although days in Laos were warm, nights were cold in the north. This was a complete contrast to Thailand and Cambodia, which were both warm enough in the evening for no sweater. - Joyce Godfrey
Photo credits: [Dave Tucker quote: Mike Behnken] [Liddy Pleasants quote: John Shedrick] [Review 1 - Sara Page: fabulousfabs] [Review 2 - Yvette Etcell: Lajon Tanganco]
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