Backpacking in Southeast Asia

October 27, 2011

Six months ago, I spent six weeks backpacking in Southeast Asia.  I, along with two friends, decided to make the most of being located in the eastern hemisphere (we had just finished up studying abroad in Beijing for a year) and explore a region none of us had ever been to before.  We decided to backpack our way through Yunnan, a province in southwestern China; Laos; Vietnam; Cambodia; and Thailand.

Being broke college students, we opted for the cheapest travel and accommodations we could find.  We chose hostels over hotels, buses and trains over flights, and bargained hard.  For the most part, it worked out well for us.  However, what we didn’t realize when we were planning our trip, or even as we were venturing from one Lao city to another, is that in Laos, it is really impractical to use any other method of transportation over flying.

Backpacking in Southeast Asia
Backpacking in Southeast Asia

It’s common knowledge that buses and trains take longer than flights. They might be cheaper options, but they’re cheaper because they’re timesucks.  In Laos, there is no option for a train; the country has no railroad infrastructure.  That limits the travel options to either buses/minivans or flights.  To my travel companions and me, that choice was a no-brainer.  Obviously it would be better if we chose cheap transportation methods so we could have more spending money when it came to the rest of our travels, right?

If only one had told us that when in Laos, always choose to fly.

If only one had told us that when in Laos, always choose to fly.

Picture this: the distance from Luang Namtha to Luang Prabang is a mere 300km.  Because of the hilly, winding roads, it took us 10 hours to travel that distance on a bus.  When going from Luang Prabang to Luang Namtha, we were crammed into a hot, un-air conditioned minivan for a nine hour journey filled with relentlessly bumpy roads and sharp hairpin turns in the mountains.

Neither trip was worth the money we saved by choosing not to fly. Traveling on a shoestring budget for the adventure of a lifetime is one thing, but saving money and opting to be miserable as a result is not something I would do again.  If only we had known to fly when in Laos!

About Amanda Osborn

A multicultural communications professional who grew up all over the world. Recent travel accomplishments: studied abroad for a year in Beijing, backpacked across SE Asia for six weeks, soon to be en route to Chile.

For more about me and my travels, read my blog, follow me on Twitter and Instagram, or watch me on YouTube.

One thought on “Backpacking in Southeast Asia

  1. October 4, 2013

    Whilst overland travel is exhausting in Laos we’ve also made some really close friends and had some great times on shady buses!

    We love aviation and flying is beautiful in Laos but we still do toss up between Overland and Flying. Nothing can compare to riding a Songthaew from Sam Neua to the Vietnamese border whilst helping the local folks deliver the mail and getting to know them even though we didn’t speak each others language 🙂

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