From a distance, getting around Southeast Asia can seem harder than solving a rubik’s cube blindfolded. But with enough planning and a little patience you can get anywhere within this continent with ease. In this guide to transport in Southeast Asia I’ll tell you about: The Good, The Bad and The Oh Well TIA (This Is Asia).
You’re likely to pay through the nose for this three-wheeled motorised vehicle but at the same time they’re the vehicle you’ll have the most fun in. If you stay in a place long enough you’ll get to know the cost of getting from A to B. Sometimes the prices are fixed. If they don’t have fixed prices you’re entering barter territory. I’m not the best when it comes to negotiating prices but my tactic is to start at 50 – 60% of the asking price and go from there. If necessary ask 2-3 drivers to get a better guide. Make sure you agree a price before you get in and confirm that the driver knows your destination.
A journey in a Tuk-Tuk is always eventful. If they’re not cutting across lanes of busy traffic , they’re going round corners at full speed. With you and your luggage hanging out the side.
Put it on the metre! If you do barter a price it will always be inflated. E.g. I finally managed to flag down a taxi late one night in Bangkok. The driver was going to charge 300 Baht for the journey which I knew was far too much but got him down to 200. I only had a 1000 Baht note or 140 in change. He begrudgingly took the 140. On the way back I managed to get a taxi for 75 Baht on the metre.
Research which taxis are the most reliable and trustworthy for the area that you are staying. Next, always keep an eye on the metre. In Vietnam there were 2 occasions when the fare tripled in price over a very short distance. If this happens, stop the taxi, pay the driver and get out.
You’ll only remember the bad ones. Yes, some buses do break down, some of them can be over crowded and they will be late.
We looked through the window of the sleeper bus that was taking us from Vientiane to Pakse. The beds didn’t look big enough to fit Frodo Baggins. The three of us looked at each other and thought there is no way 2 people could fit in there. The numbers on the beds and bus ticket suggested otherwise.
The majority of Hostels/Guesthouses in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam are also travel agents. So purchasing a bus ticket to your next destination is never a problem. They will charge a booking fee which will be included in the price. The price should include a pick-up to the departing bus. Make sure you ask where you’ll be picked up and dropped off.
You may be given the choice of what type of bus you want to take or a mini van. The VIP buses an extremely comfortable with some having reclining seats and others having full beds. Some people prefer local buses which will always be the cheapest.
On long bus journey’s they’ll stop a couple of times for a comfort break. For long bus journeys taking water, food and a book. If you are travelling overnight take warm clothes. It gets very cold. Laos had the worst roads in Southeast Asia and many of them are under construction. If suffer from motion sickness take some plastic bags.
This is my favourite way to travel through Southeast Asia but hire one at your own risk. Motorbikes are easy to hire and petrol is cheap. The quality of roads differs from country to country. If you do decide to brave the roads then a few things you need to know:
Some places will ask for your passport as a security deposit.
Check front and back brakes.
Check front light, back lights and the indicators.
Check the horn.
Take pictures of the bike before hiring, especially if there are any scratches or dents.
Wear a helmet!
If you prefer to be driven around rather than drive yourself. Easy Rider Tours are popular in Vietnam. In some of the major cities due to the traffic motorbike taxis have become very popular. Less and Jazza from NOMADasaurus have written a guide to buying a motorbike in Southeast Asia.
For me, if it’s got 2 wheels then there needs to be an engine attached. Renting a bicycle from your hostel of guesthouse shouldn’t cost more the £1/day. Make sure you use the lock if you’re leaving the bike unattended.
AirAsia is my first stop for booking an flights within Asia. I also check Matrix Airfare Search, ITA Software which was purchased by Google in 2010. You can also use Jetradar. You can’t book flights through ITA Software system but it’s used by price comparison website and airlines to provide up to date fares.
Compare the following:
14 hour overnight sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai @ 1000 Baht.
1 hour 15 minute Air Asia flight for the same journey @ 1220 Baht (including 20kg checked luggage). This is a promo offer, which they always have. Even if you include the 2 hours you have to wait from check-in to flying this saves an enormous amount of time. Now the advantages of taking the train are you don’t have to pay for a night’s accommodation and the train is much more fun the flying.
Air Asia recently launched the AirAsia Asean Pass. I would suggest investigating and reading the t&c’s thoroughly before purchasing.
Walking around an Asian city in +30 degree heat should be included in a weight loss regime.