4 months in Southeast Asia & Japan

 

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2015 was the year my dream came true!

Towards the end of 2014 I left my job and my life as I knew it for the past 11 years in Belgium, took a sabbatical and moved back to Romania. I am still in my sabbatical period as I’m writing this 🙂 .

One of the main drivers of such a big decision was travel, well…travel and Sakura (cherry tree blossoms in Japan). I have travelled extensively for work as well as privately for years but many times was to same destinations (especially for the business trips) and it wasn’t enough anymore…I needed more. I needed a different experience. I needed to REALLY travel and discover new places!

Why Asia?

Not only am I completely and utterly in love with Asia but I associate travel mostly with this continent. Ergo, there was no debate in my head as to where I should go. To be honest I don’t know if it was the need for travel or the need to travel to and spend a longer time in Asia that started it all. I have been on the main continent many times, mostly to China and India (where I also lived for a few months) but never to the south (except for Singapore). Enter Southeast Asia! So many different countries, peoples, cultures, landscapes, history…a dream destination!

And although I was thinking about such a trip for more than 2 years, I was never convinced I would actually do it. The “problem” was that I had a dream and the dream was called Sakura.  Although I visited Japan before, the nature of my job could not allow me to go during the blossoms time so for many  years I have just been following them from the distance, hoping that one day I will get to see it with my own eyes. And I did! Finally, in 2014 the desire overcame the comfort (of a good life, a good job etc) and I managed to find the courage to “cut the cord” and just follow my heart!

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Planning a 4 months trip

The whole trip was obviously planned around Sakura season and it worked out perfectly with the dry and shoulder seasons in Southeast Asia.

From the outset I should make it clear that this was NOT a backpacking trip; my experiences, tips and suggestions related to it are therefore not necessarily “budget options”. They are also not top of the range but most importantly they are focused on comfort (which for me is important).

I started the trip on Jan 6, 2015 and returned home on May 11, 2015. During this time I travelled through: Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Japan and Indonesia.

I planned the whole trip myself and created countless itineraries using all kinds of tools and apps. One of the best I also used during the whole trip, was Tripit. It acted as a personal assistant in many situations sending me reminders for flights, providing hotel addresses and other necessary details. On top of this, the app also lets you share details of your travels (flights, hotels etc.) with friends and family so that they can keep track of where you are (and they will want to do it when you travel alone, especially as a girl!).

So…the first thing I did was to book a one way flight to my first destination: Bangkok.

Once I had decided on my itinerary, I also booked accommodation for the first five nights and decided to do everything else on the go.

During my planning period I took care of the visas for the 2 countries where I needed them in advance: Myanmar and Vietnam. For all the other countries I could get visa on arrival.

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On the road

Planning the itinerary was not an easy task and even after spending days, weeks and even months planning …..I managed to change it a few days into the trip. When you are out there you have a different perspective: you understand more about the country or the place, you realise whether you like this or that type of place, you meet fellow travellers that give you new ideas, you meet locals that change the way you feel about a place, or you simply resonate more with one place or another. Then you decide that instead of spending 2 days, you want to spend at least a week there… but say if you still want to make it to Vietnam in time before your visa expires (only one month validity!) you have to give up other places…Enter FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)! I discovered this “syndrome” during my planning phase. What to do? How to see everything? What to choose? What to give up? It’s all about making choices and taking decisions…constantly! Yes it can become a bit overwhelming at times but you do it and you keep doing it and then it becomes easier and easier and you realise that you get a few nice “by-products” too in the process: faster decision taking ability, better flexibility and an overall feeling of freedom.

During the 4 months I traveled mostly by air, with very few exceptions when I took the bus. Air travel in Asia is a lot cheaper than Europe especially when using low cost airlines, which are aplenty. Air Asia for instance has an excellent coverage of the region and excellent prices. It is of course always cheaper to take a bus and sometimes even more interesting but I preferred to pay extra for air travel, rather than lose time and comfort (an “excuse” I used throughout the whole trip).

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Practical planning and travel tips

I am very organised when it comes to travel and I research a lot before going to a place so planning my trip was all part of the fun. Here is just a summary of the main activities:

  • Checked for which countries I needed a visa in advance (for most countries you can get visa on arrival)
  • Checked the weather forecasts per regions (I know how bad the rainy season can be in Asia and I wasn’t going to take any risks)
  • Checked flights options and sometimes changed the next destination based on better flight connections
  • Made a list of clothes and other travel “necessities” (it’s incredible how many blogs are out there advising you on what to take and what not to take with you…very useful mostly but also confusing at times)
  • Bookmarked some blogs that helped me plan and where I knew I could find more information once I got to a destination
  • Prepared notes and summaries about certain places containing information I found in various sources and what I was intending to see/experience based on that (obviously the list included many restaurants, bars/rooftop bars – a “weakness” of mine 😉 ). I found Evernote very useful for this.
  • Bought the LP travel guides in e-books format (thus always having them available on my phone all the time)
  • Bought a dual sim phone (which worked perfectly with the local sim card and my home card)
  • Installed lots of travel apps on my phone (I didn’t use all of them of course)

…and off I went, rolling my carry-on suitcase for 4 months. And it was THE BEST trip…so far!

Have a look…

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PS: selecting out of 20k pictures is no easy task!

SE Asia

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