Sunday, October 23, 2011

Traveling in South East Asia

Sorry for the lack in updates. We were busy with our final year projects. =(

Traveling in South East Asia is never easy. You will get the picture when you start doing your research. When I was reading the forums, I felt depress because what people shared was the scam they encountered. And people try hard to get as much as money they can from the tourist. It doesn't matter where you are from, as long as you are not a local, you are rich to them.
Here are some guides to travel SEA countries.

1. Read more about transportations.
In Thailand, you have railways, motor taxi, bus, taxi and tuk-tuk. It's very difficult to know what's the reasonable price for a tuk-tuk ride. It seems cheap to us as our currency is higher. But, the best thing is to take a bus/taxi especially when you are travel in a huge group. Bus fare is very cheap in Bangkok. You can use the river transportation too. After a few trip to Bangkok, I think bus is the cheapest option around. The buses are very frequent and it is way better than skytrain. However, the red non-air-con bus cost 6 Bath while the air-conditioned bus cost 13-20 Bath. If you are on budget, take the red 54 bus rather than the white 54 bus!

In Vietnam, you have motortaxi, bus and taxi.
One trip by motortaxi might cost USD 1. It sound cheap isn't it? But, if you have a partner with you, it might be cheaper to take a taxi (Proven in Saigon). But, I can't deny that motor taxi is faster than other mode of transport when there's a massive jam. As for their public bus transport system, you need to recognize the place/a local to guide you. Everything is in Vietnamese language and they don't announce the stops. So it is near impossible for a foreigners to use the bus service unless you can speak their language or you met someone who can speak English. Some buses will stop as early as 8pm. So, better check your timetable! When you are at the bus station, people will approach you and tell you that the bus service has ended. Double check it yourself as most of them are motortaxi driver and they just want money from you.

In Cambodia, you have only long distance bus and tuktuk. There's not much choice isn't it? There's nothing much to do with long distance buses as the price are quite standardized. I used the local bus company from Phnom Penh to Siam Reap and it was quite an experience. The ticket cost me USD 5 instead of USD 11 (for Mekong buses) but you can only see local on the bus. The pictures shown look very nice but trust me, I was like 'what the hell? This is not the bus I saw from the picture!'. Yeahh. you get the picture. When you are getting into a tuk-tuk, make sure that you haggle the price first and be firm. For example, a trip from Old market to your hostel/guesthouse should cost only USD 1 per trip. Ignore them when they said 'USD 1 per person'. You can find better one. Just keep looking.

***Tuk-tuk driver or motor taxi tend to charge foreigners at a higher price compared to the locals.

In Indonesia, I can't give you much advise on this as I only took angkot and the local train. When someone offered to help you with your luggage at the train station, tell them nicely that you can do it yourself. They are willingly to carry your luggage for you and charge you later.

If you are travelling around Medan or from Medan to Berastagi/Lake Toba, the mini van fare will cost 10,000-20,000 Rp. We wrote a separate post on Medan-Berastagi-Toba-Medan. Go read naoo! But, it is a non-air-conditioned and people are allowed to smoke in the mini van. Air-conditioned car will cost more but it's smoke free. Always ask for price before paying and remember to ask around! Never ever pass your luggage to anyone unless you agreed that you want to use their transport.

p/s: The driving in Indonesia is not meant for faint-hearted. You will get what I mean. =)

2. Always bargain. At least 70% of the price offered.
I will pay for what it's worth for because they are trying to make a living too.
Don't believe when people say 'We are chinese, so I will give you a good price'. The price they offered is always higher than others. Do some research on where the locals do their shopping. Then, you will know where to get the cheapest souvenirs. For example, Pasar Beringharjo in Jogjakarta is a very good place but you need to walk to the other side to search for very cheap and nice souvenirs. When they tell you that it is very cheap, don't believe that. For example, if they offer you USD 1 for a magnet, bargain for 3 for USD 1 and etc. Do ask a few shops before you buy. And always pretend that you are not interested in their goods and walk away. If you show your interest in their goods, they will mark up the price as high as 300% but you will still feel that the price is reasonable. =)

3. Accommodation
It depends on your travelling style. If you like posh hotels or at least 3-star accommodation, you can always book with the hotel website or try Agoda. But if you are backpacking, always check for guesthouse reviews and compare a few Guesthouse before making decision. Some Guesthouse do have promotion for off-peak season where they only charge price for 2 nights for 3 nights and etc. When I was doing my research for Phnom Penh, it was very difficult as most of the bad GH have very bad reviews. Go for your safety instead of the price. We paid around USD 17 for a room but it was worth it because of the security. A lot of travelers complaint that they were robbed in the middle of the night when they were sleeping. Avoid paying the room rental in advance as the room might not turned out as you want it to be or you can't really predict your schedule if you travelling by land.

If you like to make new friends, do try couch surfing. I tried it and I loved it very much. It is the best way to experience the culture of the local and know their lifestyle. In my opinion, that's the most important part when comes to travelling. I made new friends and learnt a lot about them.

I will stop here today and will continue another day.
If you have any enquiries about travelling in SEA, do leave us a comment and we will get back to you asap. Perhaps cover it in our next travel guide! have a good week ahead!