Asia is Earth’s largest and most populated continent, with an area mass of 44.58 million km². Within Asia, there is a diverse collection of countries – India, China, Thailand, North and South Korea, and Japan – and it has become a place for backpackers to congregate and explore due to its cultural wealth, size and diversity. Due to its gigantic size, backpacking Asia is an enormous feat. Usually, people will spend a whole year exploring the region, and even then, there are areas left untouched by the tourists flocking to the continent.
Exploring Asia can seem daunting, especially if it’s your first solo trip or backpacking experience. Asia has become the place for first-timers to choose due to its low costs, culture and weather. The usual trial consists of Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, however, there are many other trails for backpackers to consider – especially with Myanmar fully opening its boarders. Trying to fit the whole of Asia into your schedule can be somewhat manic, and by rushing through all the countries, you’ll miss out on the details and the beauty of each destination. To counter both problems, you should build an itinerary with a difference. Steer clear of the generic route, and create your own; read below for a unique twist on the usual backpacking route many explorers succumb to and follow.
Until recently, Myanmar has been off limits. However, now they have fully opened their boarders, allowing wanderlust travelers to see the untouched Myanmarian nature. In Myanmar, you will experience simple pleasures; you can drift along the Ayeyarwady River, relax at the Bay of Bengal, or trek and hike through forests and villages. Traveling around the country is difficult due to the lack of 21st century roads, so before booking your ticket you need to understand how to plan a Myanmar trip. You need time to connect the dots, especially if you plan on exploring other parts of Asia. Myanmar is a country yet to be overrun by tourists, therefore, it should be number one on your ‘to visit’ list. Make sure you view this spectacular, untouched land before it skyrockets in popularity. This is also an ideal starting point for any Southeast Asia adventure as it has borders to both Thailand and Laos.
The best places to visit are Yangon, the Inle Lake Region, Bagan and Sagaing. If you’re a trekker, Hsipaw is ideal. Make sure you catch the famous hot air balloons during the Taunggyi Balloon Festival.
Thailand is every backpacker’s dream – it’s beautiful, idyllic, cheap, and offers intense nightlife for those party animals. Usually, two types of people come to Thailand – those who wish to experience full-moon parties on the island of Ko Pha Ngan and relax on tranquil beaches, and those who want to experience Bangkok and explore fields and forests such as the numerous rice paddies, tropical fields and blue mountains located in the north.
Thailand is diverse, and able to cater to a range of acquired tastes. Due to its Buddhism, there are many sacred temples and golden Buddhas; meditation retreats in Chiang Mai; and local, fresh Thai dishes based around the four fundamental flavors – sweet, salty, spicy and sour. Culinary master chefs can enroll in cookery classes and learn how to balance flavors; bringing home everything they’ve learnt. With long coastlines and a collection of islands, Thailand can also become a tropical getaway for those who love the sand, sea and sun.
Unlike Myanmar and Thailand, Laos is more manageable to explore; it is also the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia, with its landscape is mostly made up of thick forests and mountains. If you’re searching for a more “traditional “ Asia, Laos has managed to retain many traditions its neighboring countries has lost throughout development and tourism. Laos’s capital Vientiane is incredibly laid-back when compared to other capital cities; it’s home to tuk-tuk drivers, cafes and spectacular temples without the rush of other Southeast Asian cities.
However, there are many adventures for those who are looking for adrenaline and excitement. There are mountains to climb, underground river caves to explore, jungle ziplines and elephants to spot. Numerous cooking classes are also available, however, if you wish to simply relax, experience Laos’s spirituality and unwind in a yoga class.
Vietnam is ideal for those who enjoy delicious street food, rural countryside’s and beautiful, idyllic bays such as Halong Bay – home to azure seas, compelling vistas and ethereal beauty. The food is incredibly subtle but unreal, with numerous street food tours and cooking classes to enroll in; from busy city streets to tasting local dishes on rural, sleepy streets, you’re bound to find not one taste sensation, but a whole palette of it.
Although there are signs of past-wars, Vietnam is now a region of peace. With fast-developments appearing throughout the country, Vietnam will soon be a more alluring metropolis.
Japan has a host of experiences to offer – from temples and sacred gardens to cherry-blossom and Tokyo’s modern architecture and madness. Japan is, overall, dynamic and diverse. It is old and new; traditional and modern. In the cities, people seem to never sleep; yet, in the rural landscapes, the land is lethargic in comparison, with temples and forestry keeping traditional culture alive.
For the first time traveler, Tokyo is a must-go with its electric streets, buildings and kawaii lifestyles. Harajuku, Poke Centers and the Meiji Shrine will keep you occupied, with countless ramen restaurants or sushi places continuously tickling your taste buds; once you’ve had your fill of bright lights, it’s time to explore the rural outskirts. Nikko, located north of Tokyo, is home to countless shrines and traditional sushi restaurants; Hakone, west of Tokyo, offers sights of Mt Fuji and idyllic landscapes.
Traveling Asia can seem like a massive feat, however, it’s a popular journey many backpackers take – and with good reason. With Myanmar opening their boarders, it should be top of anyone’s list; it’s also the perfect starting point for such an adventure. Book your ticket and start your tour of Southeast Asia – explore as much of it as you can, and come home a changed person.