Saturday, 13 August 2011

Introduction: The SE Asia ‘Can’t Leave Your Self Behind’ Guide

Contents: Overview, overall route, budgeting and money, visas and border crossings

Besides, my usefulness here is destroyed because all of my friends think me a man of unsound mind.  Alex Campbell (Canadian politician)

This is that most rare of things for this blog; a useful post, or rather a set of useful posts.  To be treasured like the first pubic hair you sprouted, sealed in a see-through baggie, bought out for special occasions, and eventually sealed in a locket and presented as a gift after a successful date.  No? Just me? Surely not.

A couple of friends have asked me for hints and tips on South East Asia recently.  You know, useful stuff like where to stay, how to get there, what can’t, and what must, be missed.  It would seem that the random brain-farts on naughty train behaviour, the maddening word awesome, the ethics of phone hacking, and discourses on the characters we’ve met don’t fulfil this brief of usefulness.  My tracking stats also tell me that a large number of readers are coming from the Lonely Planet website and I suspect these readers are keen and eager for useful and tangible advice.  Useful and tangible advice from the ‘Because You Can’t Leave Your Self Behind’ blog? Whatever next?

It is, however, important to note that the suggestions and advice below are based on our limited experiences, and is far from comprehensive and even further from objective.  We didn’t go to South East (SE) Asia with a view to researching then publishing a guide book, nor have we left with that intention, although approaches from publishers bearing generous advances are most welcome.  In short, don’t blame me if you follow this advice and end up with an incense stick embedded in your forehead, or worse still, come home sporting hair braids or a tattoo that wouldn’t pass muster in a prison.  I speak from experience on one of these outcomes.  On the other hand, if you do find any of the advice useful then please send gifts, blank cheques and/or perfume scented love letters to me.  Or just leave a comment below addressed c/o Ian’s Self Esteem.

Each country has its own post and includes information on getting around, accommodation, eating, and ‘other stuff’ which will most likely descend into cheap gags and (no promises) funny stories.  I’ve tried to separate these stories out so that those looking for facts can find them quickly.   

This introductory post largely steers clear of country-specific information and instead seeks to contextualise the trip with the overall route and a section on budgeting, and offers advice on visas and border crossings which, by their very nature, cut across countries. 

Well, what are you waiting for? A locket or something?

The overall route

Duration: 10 weeks.  Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia; clockwise.

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  • Flew into Bangkok, Thailand
  • Sleeper train to Krabi
  • West coast island of Ko Lanta
  • Ko Phi Phi
  • Ferry, Bus, Train combo back to Bangkok
  • Sleeper train north to Chiang Mai
  • Minibus and short boat ride across border to Huay Xai, Laos
  • Gibbon Experience
  • Bus to Luang Nam Tha
  • Minibus to Luang Prabang
  • Flight to Hanoi, Vietnam
  • Bus, Ferry combo to Cat Ba Island near Halong Bay
  • Bus, Ferry, Sleeper Bus to Hue
  • Motorcycle across Hoi An Pass to Hoi An
  • Flight from Danang to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon)
  • Organised tour into Mekong Delta
  • Bus then ferry south-west to Phu Quoc Island
  • Ferry, Bus to Cambodian Border, on to Kep
  • Bus to Siem Reap
  • Taxi to Thai Border
  • Taxi (again!) to Bangkok
  • Fly out

Money matters: Budgeting, accessing it, and keeping it safe  


Budgets are personal things, and I suspect you could travel for far less than we did.  Equally, you could spend FAR more. You will, I think, only be paying attention to this information if you yourself are budgeting for a similar trip, and with this in mind it’s useful to have some context about us. 

We probably fit into the category of ‘flashpacker’, much as I loathe that term.  This means we were careful with money, but not obsessively so.  We stayed in either budget or good value midrange guesthouses, tending to opt for air conditioning.  Where possible we chose comfort over price with transport, although one does not necessarily guarantee the other.  We very rarely ate in high-end restaurants, but did eat often.  We boozed it up occasionally, but still remember most of the trip. We bought nice but relatively inexpensive gifts (my wife) and a fair amount of cheap but fun tat (me).  When we negotiated we did so with a view to both us and them winning, but were happy if they won more often than us.

With this context in mind our budget was £80 GBP per day for us both (a grand total of approx. £5,600).  Not including flights in and out of Bangkok or travel insurance.  It does however include other flights mentioned above, plus everything else.  We came in approximately £400 under this budget at the end of the trip.  

This information is not designed to form a budget recommendation, merely guidance.  I’m being cagey on this because I read a car crash of a discussion thread on the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forum about budgeting for SE Asia which made me acutely aware that (a) budgets are sensitive topics and (b) the internet is full of some real arseholes.

Special offer to prove how fond I am of you lot: If you want an excel spreadsheet with formulas included for budgeting and then tracking daily spends against budget then leave a comment below with your email address and I’ll shoot it over.  If you already know me then you can email me directly or facebook me rather than leave a comment.  It’s free.  Obviously.

Accessing it and keeping it safe

From a logistical point of view Visa debit cards are widely accepted in ATMs – tell your bank where you’re going to avoid getting it declined when you arrive.  Visa and Mastercard credit cards are accepted in a few places, almost always with a 2.5 – 3% surcharge.  AMEX is next to useless. Cash is still king, and the US dollar is still the de rigeur international currency.  Having a $100 bill stashed away is a good emergency plan. 

From a security point of view here’s some pointers from our experience:

  • A money belt, one which loops around your waist and buckles (i.e. a normal belt), with a small hidden zip on the inside is great for carrying small wads of notes and a photocopy of your passport.
  • This is opposed to the pouches that are designed to be worn on your belly, under clothing, also known as money belts.  These, in my opinion, are daft as they often bulge out from under clothing and are like a flashing beacon to nefarious types.  Ones that have a steel band embedded in the strap to deter a slash and grab job are even dafter – if your assailant has a knife do you really want him thwarted? Better to lose your stuff than your life.
  • For extreme security (and we only did this a couple of times in Africa) tubigrip bandages worn on your thigh, under shorts or trousers, are a good method for storing wads of cash, provided it is wrapped in plastic first.
  • Something brilliant that Helen thought of was to get security pockets sewn into the inside of our shorts/skirts.  These passport shaped cloth pouches have a zip and sit next to the groin. Not easy to access during the day, but that’s the point.  We had a tailor sew these in when we were in Johanessburg.
  • I have a fondness for zips.  A zipped pocket will thwart all but the most skilful of pickpockets.  Similarly, shirts that have buttoned breast pockets are great for storing easy-to-access (for you) cash.
Visas and border crossings

For a more comprehensive set of recommendations I suggest you use the Travelfish website which is an exceptional travel resource for SE Asia.  They have also started publishing nicely designed and useful IPhone apps.

Information below is correct at time of writing, and the visa information specifically applies to UK passport holders.


Thailand: arrivals by air are granted a free 30 day visa.  Land arrivals get a free 15 day visa.  No passport photo required in either instance.  Visa extensions can be organised in most towns, and a new visa is granted if you leave and then re-enter Thailand.

Laos: Laos visa cost $20 USD, passport photo required. You’ll inevitably pay some random (read corrupt) processing or overtime fee of a dollar or two each at land crossings.  Much as it pains me to say this given my fairly trenchant stand on the issue of corruption it’s probably easier to just pay and fume later.

Vietnam: As a general rule it is necessary to get a Vietnam visa before arrival.  If arriving by air then visa on arrival may be possible if you have applied for an e-visa in advance.  All land crossings require a visa in advance.  Visas are for 30 days, and applications require a passport photo. Cost varies between $40-60 USD depending on speed of processing required.
If doing a SE Asia tour it’s probably easier to get a Vietnamese visa from a neighbouring country such as Laos or Cambodia, or at the Vietnamese embassy in Bangkok.  Most large towns will provide visa services either at a local consulate or via a travel agent (who will charge you a small fee, send off your passport, and return it a few days later).  Vietnam requires you to provide a date for when you wish your visa to start.  That’s why it’s easier to get one closer to the time – you’re more likely to be sure of when exactly you’ll cross the border.
We got one in Luang Prabang, Laos.  It was simple.  I wrote about it on a forum on the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree, here (see post # 10).

Cambodia:  available on arrival, $20 USD, 30 days validity, passport photo required (see below).  Again, you’ll pay some random bribes if crossing by land.  Scammers are particularly bad at these crossings.  We got a little scammed, and were a little stupid…

We arranged for a combined bus, ferry, bus and border crossing ticket to get from Phu Quoc Island in Vietnam to the Cambodian border then through to Kep on the south coast.  They also offered a $25 visa service.  We had run out of passport photos and asked the office if they could advise us on where to get some.  They told us not to bother, that the additional $5 we’d paid (on top of the $20 visa fee) would cover that.  So we rocked up to the Cambodian border, the fat border guard pulling on his official shirt over his vest as we drew up.  The bus driver handed over our passports, we filled in the forms, and then he asked us for our passport photos.  Ah, we said, they said it wouldn’t be necessary, turning around to point out the driver.  Who had promptly disappeared.  You’ll have to pay $2 each for a photo he said.  OK, I said, my mistake, realising I was about to be scammed.  Where should I stand for the photo, I politely asked. No camera, he replied. And this is where I should have shut my mouth, handed over the inconsequential amount, and moved on.  But I was hot and grumpy, and just thoroughly pissed off with being viewed as a walking cash machine.  So if there’s no camera how can I pay for a photo, I asked.  You pay fine, he replied, turning my passport over in his hands to clearly show just where the balance of power lay.  Oh, it’s a fine, I said, then that’s OK, but can I have a receipt please?  This was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  Exploding with rage he told me that I, just like my government (?!), was disrespecting him and his country, that I had insulted him by suggesting that the money he was about to take would somehow change his life, you think I can buy a car, a house, with this money, he shouted.  Glancing at my passport in his sweaty hands I concluded that perhaps now was the time to back up.  I didn’t mean any disrespect to you or your country, and the relationship between my government and yours is one of friendship, I calmly bullshitted. There has clearly been a misunderstanding, for which I apologise, so please take this money so we can be on our way, I continued, thrusting some notes at him, impatience and supplication mixing in my tone.  I think at this point both of us were secretly wishing that these disputes could be settled in a more medieval way, man vs man. I don’t want your money, he said, now taking the moral high ground.  OK, apologies again for the misunderstanding, thank you, I said claiming back our passports.  His unspoken thoughts: get out of here you jumped up smartass.  My unspoken thoughts: don’t take the moral high ground with me fatty, you corrupt sack of shit. A grunt from him, and a mumbled but cheerful fuck-you very much from me, and we were on our way.

Border crossings

The lesser-spotted blagger

Borders are the natural habitat for blaggers; get your head down, plough on, ignore them.  Visas for Thailand, Laos and Cambodia can be obtained at point of entry, ignore anyone who tells you differently. 

Changing money at borders will result, in one way or another, in being ripped off.  Perhaps not by much, so you pay your money you take your risk.  Get the latest exchange rate before you enter a country, never expect to match this with a money changer, but expect to get close-ish through negotiation.  Only hand over your money once you have agreed a rate and a total exchange value, have counted and checked the proffered notes, then counted again.  When dealing with large denominations be wary of the ‘500’ note slipped in among the ‘5000’ notes, for example.  Only exchange if you are completely happy with the quantity and quality of the notes.  If you’re not, walk away, and keep walking.  If you are, make the exchange and walk away, and don’t entertain any renegotiations from the money changer – this will certainly be a scam; your business was concluded when you exchanged the notes.  Equally, if you suddenly realise you’ve been ripped off then don’t expect the money changer to remember you.  Chalk it up to experience.  Or avoid all this and use an ATM at the next large town, and have some US dollars stashed away for emergencies.   

Update, 1 December 2011, Peru: I re-read the above recently and concluded that it sounds insufferably smug.  Like I actually have any idea what I'm doing when it comes to changing money.  The advice, I think, is still sound, but it seems only right, in the interests of full disclosure, that I'm honest about how I've completely failed to follow my own advice.  I've changed money at borders twice, and been ripped off twice - once in Africa and once in South America.  Both my fault.  I didn't lose a huge amount in either transaction, so it's no great shakes, and it can be put down to a simple inability to calculate figures in my head and negotiate at the same time.  So, that's it.  I'm not that cool, urbane, unruffled international traveler figure that delights in doling out smug advice.  I'm mostly just a naive fool, as fallible as the next man.  Anyway, update over, as you were...  

Thailand - Laos

Chiang Mai (Thailand) to Huay Xai (Laos): We caught a minibus from Chiang Mai with other travellers, dropping us at river crossing at the Thai border town of Chiang Khong.  You hand in your passports on the Thai side for departure stamps.  A very short boat ride takes you across the river (40 baht per person if memory serves).  Complete the Laos immigration forms on the other bank, get your visa, and away you go, up the bank into the main drag with all the guesthouses. 

Laos – Vietnam

Luang Prabang airport (Laos) to Hanoi airport (Vietnam): air border crossings are simple.  We had our visas for Vietnam in advance so breezed through immigration.  Not much more to write on this…

Vietnam – Cambodia

Phu Quoc Island (Vietnam) to Kep (Cambodia): We bought a combined bus, ferry, bus ticket to take us from our guesthouse on Phu Quoc to Kep.  Other than the Cambodian standoff story above this was a simple border crossing, the bus depositing us in Kep from where we jumped in a tuk tuk to a guesthouse.

Cambodia - Thailand

Siem Reap (Cambodia) to Aranyaprathet (Thailand) and on to Bangkok: we caught a 3 hour taxi from Siem Reap ($25 USD) to the border town of Aranyaprathet.  You hand in your passport for a Cambodia departure stamp then take a five minute walk through no-man’s-land to the Thai border.  There are lots of street kids and touts.  I used up my remaining small amounts of Cambodian coinage on buying some food for these kids – I don’t personally hand out money as a rule.  Fill in entry form at Thai border to get a 15 day free visa, no passport photo required. Someone will find you on the Thai side offering transport options to Bangkok before you need to find them.  We were tired and sick of buses so we opted for the offer of a taxi.  The 3 hour ride cost approximately £35 GBP, so not cheap by SE Asia standards, but great value by any other standard, and it deposited us, in torrential rain, right outside our guesthouse door in Bangkok. 

You can also do the Bangkok leg by train or bus.  We didn't, so can't comment. 

<Comments, additions, and corrections are most welcome.  Leave them in the field below, even if you need to leave them as ‘anonymous’.  Feel free to share this blog with your friends and indeed enemies.>


  1. Hi there Ian,

    This really is a great blog - entertaining and useful, thanks for taking the time to write it.

    I recently quit my job (and supposed career) on somewhat of a whim in order to undertake a similar trip to that which you outline in this very article.

    I would like to be the first to take you up on your kind offer of a budgeting spreadsheet to help me plan my spend (I you offer this service because you're very fond of me - I have to say, that is the best first impression I have ever made).

    My email is

    Thanks very much in advance.

  2. Thanks for the kind words Steve, spreadsheet in your inbox. Offer still open to other readers.

  3. Very helpful information Ian.
    There a few things here I was previously unclear on. I now have a general grasp on what to expect.

    I am also interested in the budgeting spreadsheet. If you are able to send it through that would be great.

  4. Thanks, Ian.

    Good useful stuff.

    Your excel spreadsheet sounds great. Would welcome a copy


  5. Thanks Dan and Paul. Spreadsheet in your inbox.

  6. Great Information Mate,

    Found that I was doing loads of research and loads of different opinion especially the budget parts. Thanks for putting it into perspective. I'm off to SEA for 4 months shortly and got some great ideas from you. With places like Laos and Cambodia, did you do much for malaria as it seems a high risk area.

    The spreadsheet would be great as well.

    Thank you,


  7. Thanks Warren, spreadsheet in your inbox.

    Malaria in SEA (for other readers too): you need to speak to a doctor first off. Malaria requirements change over time. We took malarone in the more remote parts of SEA. It's the most expensive but requires you to take the least number of tablets, and for us was side-effect free. I'm being a bit cagey because I'm not a doctor and malaria is not something to mess about with. Several friends have had it and one described it thus: 'imagine the most unpleasant feeling you can. Malaria is worse'.

    So, take it seriously and include the cost in your budget.

  8. Interesting read Ian,
    We're going to spend 4+ months in SEA. Would like to get your spreadsheet. Thanks! Bob

  9. This is a truly enjoyable blog to read, I too would be interested in the budget spreadsheet

    Many thanks!

  10. Thanks Bob and Sarah. Spreadsheet winging its way to your inboxes...NOW!

  11. I to would like a copy of your spreadsheet. Thanks so much for sharing your trip.

  12. Hi there anonymous, thanks for reading. Spreadsheet should be in your inbox now.

  13. Dear Ian,

    A really useful blog ticking all the right boxes. Engaging, full of insight and great nuggets of information and just the right amount of humour. Lapped up all your entries and now want more, including the spreadsheet. :)


  14. Thanks for your kind comment Nitesh - spreadsheet should be with you now.

  15. Hi Ian,

    I agree with the other comments. After a bad experience in KL I have a suggestion for anyone that does not have a tailor available but still want Helen's security pocket. You can just buy a cloth wallet of some sort (best if it has a zipper) and use a bit of thread to attach it yourself. This will at least allow you put a creditcard and some cash save.

    For those that have not yet departed. You can also buy outdoor trousers that have this feature. I am not sure which brands will provide this but I have one from Fjallraven. Not all model from Fjallraven have this though.

    Kind regards,


  16. Sage advice on the security front Christof. Hope you're both OK from what happened in KL.

  17. Thanks for the awesome info Ian! Could you also send me the spreadsheet?

    I am hoping to do nearly the same trip as you, so the spreadsheet should be very useful!


  18. Thanks for reading Denise, and you're welcome. Spreadsheet on its way to you now.

  19. Great blog Ian, some handy information there, i leave for SEA next monday so stumbled across this just in time.

    Could i get a copy of the spreadsheet please? email is

    Many thanks

  20. Great blog, i've been taking lots of notes as my girlfriend and I are making pretty much an identical trip of yours for 3 months commencing November 12th (That's when we land in Bangkok)

    We're going clock-wise like you, and when we return to Bangkok, after Laos, Vietnam & Cambodia we'll then head south to the beaches for another 50 days.

    Quick question re. Visas...
    We've the Thai ones sorted (Got a double entry, eventhough our first stay will be less than 20 days... just for an easy life)

    Laos: Do you get this before leaving Thailand and crossing in the boat, or when you arrive on the other side in Laos? Is it just a matter of having your passport, US Dollars (20 each for single entry?) and passport photos?

    Vietnam: We're going to do as you did, go to the embassy in Laos and apply there, as we're not certain on our dates so don't want to pre-book online

    Cambodia: Again, just like Laos? Present your passport, US Dollars and passport photo (I'll make sure to have plenty of photos!!!) at the Cambodia border?

    Many thanks for posting your experiences, makes things easier.


  21. Hi Niall, thanks for reading. Laos - get it when you arrive in Laos, the border post is right there when you get off the boat. Same for Cambodia. Note the caveats in the blog about having an extra few dollars for 'processing' fees.

    Hope you both have a tremendous time. Ian

  22. Hi Ian,
    Thanks for getting back to us with info. re Visa's - I have a bit of an OCD with paperwork and having everything 100%, you've put my mind at ease.

    We will of course have a few 1 US Dollar bills for these extra 'fees'. While, like you, i'm morally against these things... for the sake of 2 US Dollars, i'd happily pay it for a hassle-free border crossing.


  23. Damned good stuff. Cheers!

  24. Delighted you enjoyed it Jim, and thanks for leaving a comment - I do appreciate it. Hope you get a chance to read some of the other posts too.

  25. Hi Ian,

    Thanks so much for your entertaining / informative blog. Such a great insight into your travel experiences.

    My boyfriend and I are planning a similar trip early next year and would love to view your spreadsheet to base our budget off.

    Thanks Ian!!
    Bree =)

  26. Hi Bree, spreadsheet should be with you now. Have a terrific trip. Thanks for reading and for commenting. Ian

  27. Hello,
    Your blog has provided me enough insight to plan a trip to Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore all by myself in Feb 2013. Thanks for this.
    I would also like you to email me budget spreadsheet at
    One more thing, I still have more than a year to go so what and how should I plan? It appears that with every information available on internet I must not take more than a month to plan than why to plan so early?
    Hope you will answer my queries.
    Take care

  28. Hi Shabbir, thanks for reading. The spreadsheet should be in your inbox now.
    In regards to your other question, and copying it here for the benefit of other readers...
    It's a little difficult for me to advise you on when and what you should plan; that is entirely at your discretion. Perhaps with a year to go you should look into booking flights and slowly planning a rough itinerary. As you get closer to departure you should look to book your first night's stay, and firm up your itinerary. Remember to leave some flexibility in your plans; often it is the last minute changes to plan that come from a local recommendation that are the most fun. If there is an activity you want to do that is very popular and gets booked up in advance then look into booking that. However, from my experience in SE Asia there are very few activities that can't be booked easily and cheaply when you're there.
    Have a great trip. Ian

  29. Hi Ian, thanks for your reply. I will keep on bothering you when stuck up.

  30. Hi Ian,

    I'm in the middle of planning a three/four month trip and would really love a copy of your spreadsheet as a starting point. Its been a long time since i've been to SE Asia so my budgeting/planning skills are very rusty.

    my email is

    Thanks for any help in advance

  31. Hi Ian,

    Your blog is great, so helpful! I am going to SE Asia for 3 months in a few weeks, so would really love a copy of your budgeting spreadsheet.

    Email address -


  32. Hi Lucinda and Eve, thanks for reading. I've emailed you both the spreadsheet (remember to check your junk folder if you can't see it in your inbox). Perhaps you'll run into each other in SE Asia and can discuss budgets. Or not.

  33. Hi Ian

    Thanks for all the information. My wife and I will be spending 3 months in SEA from mid November to mid Feb. We start in Myanmar and will end somewhere in Vietnam. Would appreciate a copy of your spreadsheet.


  34. Hi Greg, good to chat with you over email, hope the spreadsheet comes in useful.

  35. I would love a copy of your spreadsheet, Im travelling sea early next yr


  36. Hi Ian, love your blog! Particularly loved the part about Africa (which is why I am now commenting on the SE Asia article). I'd love to hear any tips you had about travelling Africa and responsible volunteering. I've already volunteered for a year - in Switzerland, which is exactly the same I'm sure :) If you could please send me through your budgeting spreadsheet? My email is - Thanks!

  37. Hi Sarah, thanks for reading the blog and leaving such a kind comment. I've sent you the spreadsheet and some advice on your other questions by email. I've also turned the 'responsible volunteering' advice into its own blog post (see June 2012) - I figured it might be useful for others too. Whatever you decide to do have a terrific time, and thanks again for reading.

  38. Hi Ian,

    I would love to take a peek at your spreadsheet if you wouldn't mind sending it my way? Great blog! I'm about to peruse a few of your other posts - thanks again! - Rachel

  39. Hi Rachel, thanks for reading and commenting. Spreadsheet sent to you. Check your junk folder if it doesn't appear in your inbox. Happy travels!

  40. Hi Ian

    My boyfriend is about to embark on a trip to Thailand at the end of September and I am considering joining him in Asia in about January and we would like to do some travelling. YOur trip sounds intreeging and I was wondering if you could also send me the Spreadsheet of the budgets?
    thank you in advance and hope to hear from you soon

  41. Hi ian

    We had our own year off in 2008 but have itchy feet now and have just booke d a three month visit to cambodia, laos, vietnam starting on 28th November.

    Great blog, with lots of terrific information and advice. Really enjoyed reading it.

    Last time round we had a similar budget arrangement, but used pen and paper

    This time plan to bring the ipad, would appreciate a copy of your speadsheet to upgrade

  42. Hi Cullen - please leave your email address and I'll fire the spreadsheet over to you.

  43. Hi Ian,

    Thanks for the great info mate. Would love to have a look at your spreadsheet if possible.


  44. Hi Ian,
    Thank you for all the information, my bf and I are just starting to plan a trip to India then SE Asia (probably Laos & Cambodia) so I would very much appreciate a copy of your spreadsheet please!

  45. This comment has been removed by the author.

  46. Hi Ian,

    I am happy i came across this blog, as mentioned above entertaining, honest and of course educating.
    I am having a rush of blood to the head and considering travelling SEA on a motorcycle. Even though this was not your mode of transport you have significantly more experience than my 0 experience and you might be able to advise me whether this is a safe option, best time to travel (weather issues), possible pit falls, advantages etc. And is travelling these areas on my own a safe idea?


  47. Hi Alan, that sounds like a pretty exciting rush of blood. Good for you.
    You're right, I'm no expert here. But there must be tons of people who have done this - try googling to find other blogs, and maybe check out forums like Lonely Planet's thorn tree, or Fodor's.
    My two cents worth:
    Safe? There's two aspects to this: (1) how you drive and (2) how other people drive, and road quality in general. (1) I can't comment on, obviously. (2) Well,the standard of driving and road quality is, um, variable in SEA. It's very busy and chaotic in built up areas, and very unpredictable (animals, people in road) in more rural areas. Bus and lorry drivers tend to be a bit crazy, and size wins, so you need to drive very defensively, and have your wits about you. I drove mopeds in all the countries we visited, and felt safe enough. But I drove carefully, and obviously wore a helmet. I'd say the chances of being in a crash are higher than where you are used to riding, if for no other reason than you're in a new place, with new traffic rules and norms, and not always knowing where you're going.
    If I were you would I let this stop me? Probably not. But I'm not you, and it's not my life and limb on the line.
    If you do go for it get proper insurance, take your own helmet, and if you're an inexperienced rider get plenty of miles behind you before you go, and take it very easy when you get there. Maybe even think about doing a guided motorcycle tour initially to get you comfortable.
    Best time to travel - I guess not in monsoon.
    Travelling on your own - well, I'd try to be off the road in very isolated areas before dark, but that's common sense in many places.
    One thing to consider - traffic cops' attitude to tourist tourers. I don't know about their attitude. African cops, for example, were quite keen to stop you and find a reason to levy a 'fine'. Genuinely don't know if that's the case in SEA, but it's worth researching. Having your paperwork and bike itself in full order will limit the chances of genuine fines and violations of the highway code. This will be especially true when crossing borders I suspect.

    Like I say, I'm no expert, so take the above advice with that in mind.

    I suppose, finance permitting, you could always go on holiday to SEA, without bike, first and do a few rentals, to see how it goes. Like a trial run.
    Whatever you do, have fun.

  48. Hey Ian,

    Firstly, thanks for all the info! Great resource for me as I prepare for my travels. If you don't mind, I'd love to take a look at/use your budget document if you're still distributing that (email:

    Also had a quick question: what is your recommendation on not making thailand a huge party trip. I'd obviously love to party and enjoy myself but I would seriously regret it if my trip was defined by this...

    Thanks again!