Real travel is about more than sterile airport departure lounges and identikit hotel rooms. To really experience travel you have to go overland, in dilapidated trains, on furnace-like buses and with deathwish taxi drivers. Nowhere is this more true than in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and other South East Asian countries. True SE Asia overland holidays are all about getting down and dirty and travelling the way the locals do it.
When travelling in SE Asia, one city stands out as being ideal as a hub for other overland adventures. Bangkok is a city where anything goes but it’s also a great base for getting your head together, sorting visas, planning the next leg of your journey and for simply soaking up the incredible atmosphere of this one-off destination.
Also known as the ‘City of Angels’, Bangkok is a fast-paced metropolis that’s simply teeming with bustling markets, unbelievable street food, spectacular and exotic nightlife, and unique atmosphere. It’s also a great place to start your backpacking or overland adventure.
It’s the perfect introduction to life in SE Asia but you won’t be the only adventurer there. Because Bangkok is a hub for fellow travellers, it also means everything is geared up for planning your next step. There are plenty of places to stay in Bangkok you can just turn up and walk in one of the many guesthouses, although if you want something specific it is best to book.
From your base at a hostel or hotel you can apply for and secure visas, sort out currencies and take care of any correspondence or business from this well-connected city.
The transport network in Bangkok means that much of the surrounding territory is accessible. Explore the vast Thai hinterland or travel west to the thin bottom end of Myanmar (Burma) or all the way down through southern Thailand and into Malaysia and eventually Signapore.
Options are almost endless but many SE Asia overland holidays follow a well trodden circuit with backpackers doing a round trip from Bangkok. The typical route which is done in either direction is Bangkok into Cambodia to see Angkor Wat down to Phnom Penh and then across into Vietnam.
Starting from Ho Chi Minh you travel North through Nha Trang, Hoi Ann, Hue and on to Hanoi. From Hanoi there are trips to Halong Bay and the Son La mountains to the North. From Hanoi you can travel to Laos where Vientiane, Vang Vieng and Lang Prabang tend to be on most peoples itineraries. From here head back into Thailand and visit Chiang Mai before heading back to Bangkok.
Take the slow boat down the infamous Mekong River in Laos, or sweat it out on the colossal 27-hour bus ride from Vientiane, Laos to Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital. You’ll be amazed at how much more stuff you can fit in a bus than you ever thought possible.
If you’re looking for truly unique SE Asia overland holidays, hop on the back of a motorbike ridden by one of Vietnam’s legendary Easy Riders. These unofficial tour guides will take you off the beaten track and show you the ‘real Vietnam’.
If all of that has worn you out, then head to one of the beaches within striking distance of Bangkok and soak up some sun and sea while you recharge your batteries, before taking on the next leg of your journey.