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The crème de la crème, the finest and most outstanding experiences a cheap backpacker can have while in Southeast Asia (in my humble opinion, of course). If you're making the trip over to Southeast Asia, you don't want to miss these spots:
TOP EXPERIENCES BACKPACKING IN SOUTHEAST ASIA:
1: RELAXING ON DON DET, 4000 ISLANDS, LAOS
At the very southern tip of Laos (see: still within cell phone range of Cambodia), is the riverside paradise of Si Phan Don, or 4000 Islands. I could say more, but I have already written at length (or ad nauseam) about 4000 Islands (post and post). My time on this island was by far the most blissful 8 days I had on my entire trip. Check out my posts for more info, but if you are in Laos (or even Cambodia or Vietnam), 4000 Islands is not to be missed.
2: RIDING A MOTORBIKE BETWEEN DA LAT AND MUI NE, VIETNAM
My biggest problem with Vietnam? The other tourists I was sharing the country with. When I finally got to the central part of the country, I hit my stride. This area had far less tourists, and was much more relaxing. Oh, and it was beautiful.
A spontaneous a motorbike ride between Da Lat and Mui Ne, Vietnam, ended up being a highlight of my entire trip. The rolling hills, emerald rice patties, and friendly locals created a scenic montage during the entire ride. Additionally, there are about a million things to see between the two places: tea plantations, dragonfruit plants, a silk factory, rubber trees, and of course, the wonderful Mui Ne sand dunes. We booked the tour through the Wolfpack Hostel, which I also suggest!
3: TREKKING IN SAPA, VIETNAM
Have you seen this place? Obviously the experience of trekking through rice paddy mountains by local hill-tribe guides is unlike any other. I've said it once and I'll say it again - a lot of places are over hyped, but few actually live up to it. While Sapa is basically a Vietnam cliche, it makes sense. The area is spectacular. However, the treks are not for the fainthearted. I was slipping and sliding all over the place during the entire hike.
4: FEELING AT HOME IN KAMPOT, CAMBODIA
Sometimes you find a city or town and are just like... another time, in another life, this could be my home. That was Kampot. It is the perfect mix of authentic Cambodia while still being accessible for visitors. Kampot boats a large expat population, which have built a plethora of cafes and restaurants around town. The real treat? The surrounding countryside. It is worth whatever a Tuk Tuk driver charges you to just spend an afternoon cruising the outskirts of Kampot.
5: HANGING WITH ELEPHANTS IN LUANG PRABANG, LAOS
I figured I would just see an elephant while in Asia at some point, but when the '1 week left on my trip' mark hit and hadn't seen a sigular elephant, I figured I might need to do something about it.
On my last day in Luang Prabang, I passed an elephant excursion office (not odd, they are everywhere), but I was intrigued by the "NO RIDING" sign outside the door. Long story short, the guys convinced me to extend my time in Luang Prabang to do an elephant walk. I am glad they did! The company was MandaLao Elephant Sanctuary. MandaLao emphasizes their cruelty free approach - they train their elephants using positive reinforcement, and don't let strangers ride them. They are a new company, and don't have a proper website, but if you are in Luang Prabang, seek them out for a lovely and humane elephant experience! It was a bit pricy, but the sanctuary was beautiful, and I really felt like I connected with the elephants. Remember - no riding!
6:CRUISING THROUGH HA LONG BAY, VIETNAM
Doesn't that picture say enough? No? Then what about these pictures? Once again - it is touristy, touristy, touristy. I don't think there is an authentic way to visit Ha Long bay (everyone uses tour companies). However, the beauty of Ha Long more than makes up for it. If you have more time, I have heard that Cat Ba Island is nice to spend extended time in Ha Long Bay, and Bai Tu Long Bay is the new Ha Long Bay with less tourists.
7. SEEING THE WHITE TEMPLE IN CHIANG MAI, THAILAND
Heading into Northern Thailand from Northern Laos is pretty much a nightmare. From Luang Prabang, one can either take a 16 hour bus ride to Chiang Rai, or an 18 hour bus ride to Chiang Mai. Most people just suck it up and go straight to Chiang Mai. I went with the Chiang Rai option. Why? I wanted to see the White Temple, which is in Chiang Rai.
Even though I literally cruised into town for 3 hours, exchanged my money, ate some Pad Thai, saw the White Temple, and then caught a bus to Chiang Mai, it was more than worth it. The White Temple was the most fantastic temple I saw in the region, bar none. If you are in Northern Thailand, make your way to Chiang Rai to see it (or hang out a bit - I think Chiang Rai is VERY underrated).
8: TOMB RAIDING IN SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA
What can I say about the Angkor that hasn't already been said? Actually, all I have to do is call it by its proper name, "Angkor," and not "Angkor Wat," and I am being original.
Angkor is a plot of 500 acres outside of Siem Reap, Cambodia, that is filled with ancient temples of varying age and grandeur. The most famous temple in the bunch is "Angkor Wat," which is why everyone calls the entire complex by that name, even though it is wrong. There are dozens of other temples, and to fully explore the area, it would probably take a week. To see all the big ones, you could probably get it done in one jam-packed (and sweaty) day. Check out my post on Angkor here. Once again, this actually lives up to the hype.
9: SPEEDING THROUGH KONGLOR CAVE, LAOS
Sorry, I had to use that picture of myself because it was impossible to see anything in the cave, much less take a picture. However, cruising through Konglor Cave, the 7 kilometer river in a mountain in Central Laos was an unforgettable adventure.
You truly have to pluck up your courage and fully trust your boat handler as you twist and turn past jagged rocks in a shallow river in the center of a 7 kilometer long cave. Experience 50 meter high caverns, stalagmite and stalactite forests, and circling bats in Konglor.
10: DOLPHIN WATCHING IN KRATIE, CAMBODIA
Once again, I wrote an entire post on Kratie, Cambodia, and that is the best place for specific information. As soon as I heard it was possible to see the rare Irrawaddy dolphins in Cambodia, I was going, no matter the location. In the end, the experience was incredible. The town? Adorable. The dolphins? Mesmerizing.
Click to read: My Top 10 WORST Experiences Backpacking Through Southeast Asia
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