Backpacking around Asia: 10 practical lessons I learnt last month

By | May 6, 2017
ferrying around the Thai islands

Ferrying around the Thai islands

As our ferry cruises towards our final Thai destination – Krabi, I think about what I’ve learnt from my first month of backpacking around Asia. I’m loving the Yogi Digital Nomad life, but if only I had known…!

There are a number of things that you’d better know before you set off for such a journey, and having someone that spells them out for you in advance might save your time… and ass! So read on to be prepared!

After 10 days in Nepal, we spent a whole month in Thailand, savouring the local culture, food and taking in amazing landscapes. Yet we feel so small. We think we’ve seen so many places but, in all truth, we have seen little to nothing.

24 hours in Bangkok don’t really give it any justice. I liked it more compared to when I was here for the first time, 4 years ago. Maybe because I am used to the heat and the constant humidity now (thank you Dubai!). Maybe because I’m prepared for people trying to overcharge you all the times.

I liked Kao San Road and its bustling vibe. The delicious Thai food at dirty-cheap prices. The loud music coming from all the bars, with VERY young girls trying to lure you in.

eating at a local restaurant on Kao San Road, Bangkok

Eating at a local restaurant in Bangkok

I loved scootering around Koh Samui. Having a swim at Na Muang Waterfalls. Getting sunburnt at Chaweng Beach. Eating out and shopping at the Night Market in the Fisherman’s Village.

Then it was Koh Phangan’s turn. A beautiful surprise for us. What we thought would be a party island, turned in fact to be a very chilled out place. Perfect for yoga! We discovered so many yoga centres here, wellness and detox retreats that it was hard to choose!

So, if you’re into yoga (I guess you are likely to be, since you’re following me…), and you need to pick your next yoga retreat location, check out Koh Phangan’s West Coast! You may experience sunsets like this:

Sunset on Koh Phangan

Sunset on Koh Phangan

Smaller and rougher than nearby Koh Samui, we also loved the greenery on this island. Palm and banana trees everywhere, spectacular sunsets, sand so white it seems baby powder, water so blue it could have been painted…

Here I took an Aromatherapy Thai Massage course, and I’m now proud to say I’m a fully certified masseuse! So wait and see what I can do to your back as soon as I’m in your town! 🙂

All was going great until… we had a motorbike accident! And our trip had to take a small break: no more yoga, swimming or sunbathing for a good 20 days, let alone driving a scooter. So, despite visiting Koh Tao, Phi Phi Island and Koh Lanta next, we unfortunately didn’t get to explore that much. A good excuse to come back later I guess!

It’s during this recovery period that I thought I’d write this post for you.

If you ever decide to go travelling (you really should! It’s the best decision you could ever make in your life – read this post to learn why), you MUST remember these 10 practical lessons I had to learn the hard way:

 

1. Set a clear budget, but ensure you have a “reserve” available

A few months ago, when we decided to leave for this amazing journey, we looked at our savings and agreed on what our monthly travel budget would be.

Nothing too lascivious, but good enough to afford AC rooms with ensuite bathroom, a margin for last minute or unplanned expenses, or a nice dinner here and there (my boyfriend Fabio is a food expert).

Result: we’ve constantly been over budget!

So we started using a great app called Wally, where we record how much and what the expense is. This is amazing because it tells you exactly how you’re overspending, and it totally helped us better plan for our next months.

 

2. Do not fall for overcharged tourist activities

prayer wheels Nepal

Prayer wheels Nepal

When we set our budget for backpacking around Asia, we counted on the fact that some countries – like Nepal – would be super cheap, and therefore a good place to start from. How wrong we were!

Some things like public transport and average rooms were surely cheap, but if you want to do any of the tourist activities (and why would you not?), this is where they will rip you off, and you won’t even know it… until it’s too late. For example:

– 200$~ for a 30’ flight over the Everest, when it’s regularly cloudy and you cannot see much, it’s really like throwing money in the garbage.

– paying 60$ for a half day private tour with driver and guide… when you discover your guide barely speaks English and we had learnt more about the places we visited from TripAdvisor… that makes you think twice.

And no, it wasn’t just one bad agency, we had this issue with each one of the five companies we organised activities with.

The good thing though is that we’ve learnt the lesson, and we’ve become much wiser in choosing activities and travel companies.

My advice on Nepal: go there if you’re into hiking and you’ve never been (or it’s too expensive for you) to get to the Alps. Otherwise… we’ve got places just fine in Europe, and people speak English there!

 

3. Keeping a regular yoga practice is hard work

No matter where you are, commit to at least 10-15 minutes to the same routine every day, and take advantage of every opportunity to attend a yoga class. You may find good and bad teachers, but at least the constant practice will help you preserve your strength, and you won’t feel like a beginner again once you go back home to your studio. You can use one of my quick practice videos like the one here below:

When I filmed this video I was recovering from the knee injury I procured myself with the motorbike accident, so this is the perfect sequence to use also if you have knee problems.

 

4. Book Thai train tickets with large advance

The beauty of being a backpacker and having so much time to travel is that you can decide last minute where to go and how to get there.

We always book our accommodation and transfers max 3 days in advance. Well, that caused us a bit of a budget crisis, because while we had planned to travel south from Bangkok by train, we realised there were no more seats in AC carriages (and you don’t want to be in fan only coaches!), so we had to take a flight – more expensive, but faster and more comfortable for sure.

For advice on routes, train times and costs, I’d strongly suggest using this website – though costs are a bit higher today.

For actual online bookings, including your trains, ferries and plane transfers, we found https://12go.asia/en to be the best website (you just need min 48h advance booking).

 

5. Don’t assume that it will not rain if it’s the dry season

Not a big deal if you have a lot of time to travel, but if you’re on a one week holiday in the tropics, and it rains five out of seven days… well, you’re just unlucky. Plan for backup alternative indoor activities, or bring a deck of cards. Or do more yoga! 🙂

Always bring a rain jacket, and a waterproof cover for your backpack. For more tips about what to pack, you should absolutely read this post.

 

6. Check where the A/C is located in your room

From the Himalayas, we moved onto Thailand: much hotter and humid, but also much more pleasant for our taste.

The only downside: it’s almost impossible to sleep without A/C.

Even bigger downside: in 99% of the rooms we’ve been in (and that’s around 15 over a month!) the A/C was blowing directly on our face from one of the sides of the bed, so we constantly had ear problems, and Fabio ended up with a small ear infection.

So if you can, check the room before you commit! Or book for one night only, and then extend your stay once you’ve inspected the room.

 

7. Always check your tyres when renting a scooter

backpacking around Asia - check your tyres' pressure

Check your tyres’ pressure!

Renting a scooter is one of the cheapest and best ways to go around and discover Thai islands. That is, if you CAN drive an automatic motorbike. Do not get one if it’s your first time on two wheels with an engine. It can be dangerous!

And even if you’re a seasoned biker like us, always check the tyres’ pressure as soon as you get your vehicle. We didn’t think about doing that, and we slipped at the first bend with some sand on the floor. This caused a number of unpleasant adventures like multiple trips to the hospital, minor panic attacks, infections, pain, anger, delays in our journey. So, for once, I’m telling you: don’t be like us! Be wiser!

 

8. If you get hurt, don’t ignore the wound

As a consequence to the above, we got a small infection in both our wounds (extensive legs abrasions).

Water & salt speed up the healing process

Water & salt will speed up the healing process

We disinfected them on the first day, and then we kind of ignored them, hoping we would heal with the air and sea… Wrong again!

In case you get minor wounds, no matter how, and you decide you don’t need a trip to the hospital, keep calm, and disinfect them every day with water and lots of salt.

It’s not as painful as it sounds, but it really brings out any infection you may have, and it heals your skin in a matter of a few days.

We learnt it the hard way, ignoring the yellowish that was appearing… and we delayed the healing process by a good ten days. So be smart!

 

9. Pack, then remove half of the clothes and repack

backpacking around Asia - what to pack

Only pack this!

Do you really think you’ll need that many clothes? Or jewels?

Unless you’re going to a 5-star resort where you need to show off your wardrobe at dinner every night, think twice, and only pack a few light clothes, no jewels, and only the very basic items you really need for survival. It will make your trip “lighter” in so many ways!

If you’re interested, all you really need is in this list I put together.

 

10. You think you have lots of time on your hands… but you don’t

When you decide to take a sabbatical, you assume you won’t have anything to do and you might even get a little bit bored. Truth is: you never do!

There’s a lot of time spent in researching places, planning transfers, booking. And if you’re passionate about photography like I am, even more time goes into sorting and editing your pictures and videos, preparing social media posts, blogging, etc., that it almost becomes a whole new job! But at the same time it’s so cool that I wouldn’t mind doing it for much more than just six months…

 

So to recap:

  • Plan smartly
  • Find your routine
  • Think ahead

I hope you found this post useful. In case you’re dreaming to get away for a bit and doing maybe a smaller version of my trip, do get in touch, and I’ll be happy to help you with planning!

While if you’re still pondering the idea of a “little break” from your “normal life”, then read here why you should take it right now.

And if you just want to keep dreaming and want to just follow my adventures, click here to subscribe, or follow me on Instagram.

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