- If you know of friends who have recently visited the destinations that you want to go, talk to them! This is also true during the travels. Make sure to be open and talk to other travelers, but make sure that you are ALWAYS AWARE OF WHERE YOUR IMPORTANT BELONGINGS ARE . (On our second day in Southeast Asia, someone stole $500 from my bag, and it may have been someone that we became friends with during a boat ride).
- Keep a small journal, to keep track of how much money you have been spending. It's easy to lose track of spending money (even though it won't seem like you are spending much), but this is a good way of making sure that you aren't losing money either. It'll help you keep track of how much money you need to take out at the ATMs as well. If you are travelling with someone, this is a good way of making sure that you are both contributing equally.
- Do not plan too far in advance. Have a good idea of which locations you want to visit and approximate time periods, but don't try to plan a day by day itinerary for a 2 month period. There will be locations you will want to spend more time in and also sites that don't quite live up to your expectations (maybe it was too crowded, etc).
- If you are traveling long distances and are short on time, take night buses/vans, so you can optimize the time you can plan outings during the day. This also means you won't get the best sleep, but sleep probably isn't a priority if you are doing a backpacking trip anyways...
- If you bring a camera or phone, take pictures of important receipts (like an open bus receipt which you will carry throughout a country like Vietnam). Make sure that you also have a photocopy of your passport and other important IDs stored in a different location.
- Take medication along with you for possible headaches or digestive issues (you will definitely have issues going poo, whether it's constipation or diarrhea during the trip). However, this shouldn't prevent you from trying new food. Different countries have different bacteria, so until your stomach adjusts to the type of food in your new location, there will be some uncomfortable toilet breaks. Some bus/van rides will also result in nausea, so be prepared for those situations. A good tip is to avoid drinking ice, and as bad as this is for the environment, drink from closed lid bottles.
- Make sure that you are always hydrated. Even when you are not traveling!.
- If you take your smartphone with you (which I recommend), download the XE currency app (it will make sure that you are not getting ripped off with the exchange rate when you are exchanging money). I decided to unlock my phone and took the SIM card from Canada out. When we were in Thailand and other countries, it was very easy to purchase really cheap SIM cards. This is very helpful when you are trying to tour areas by yourself and need to take a tuktuk (especially if they decide to take you on a long "shortcut") or rent a scooter/motorbike. There is also free wifi available in most restaurants and hostels/hotels.
- AVOID booking hotels/hostels/tours with tourism companies. It will be much cheaper for you try it on your own, because all of the other companies charge you for their services. What we did was, before leaving one location for another, we looked up hotels/hostels in the area we want to spend the night in on the AGODA app. At first we booked through the site, but there was one incident where we realized that even though AGODA gave us the cheapest prices when booking online, we were still charged double than what we would have had to pay if we booked directly from that hotel. So from then on we looked up potential lodging places on the AGODA app and then went directly to the hotel/hostel to make the payments. If you are worried that maybe the place you want books up really fast, then I would suggest sticking with AGODA to do this.
- When you rent a scooter/motorbike, make sure that you take pictures of it before leaving the dealership. Especially if there are scratches on it from previous accidents. This is a good way to make sure that you won't be charged for something that you didn't do.
- GET YOUR DIVING CERTIFICATION! We went to Koh Tao and after reading up about countless dive centers in the area, we decided on Big Blue Diving. It was the perfect choice for us. Again, avoid booking in advance and try to bargain once you get there. Lots of dive companies will be competing for your sale, so you will have all the power ;) For example, we were able to get free lodging while we were diving there. After getting your Open Water certification, you will most likely get discounts on consecutive certifications, such as Advanced Open Water. Unfortunately we were not able to spend much time in Koh Tao, because we had to catch a flight from Phuket to Chiang Mai for the lantern festival, but I would have definitely spent more time there to do more dives.
- Take a cooking class and try all the different curries! Thai food was my favourite during the trip. We also drank a lot of banana shakes which were sooo delicious that I miss them on a daily basis. If you are going to a night market, avoid eating at a restaurant beforehand. We made this mistake once and never again. There is always so much good food at night markets for really cheap (sushi for 10 cents a piece!!!).
- Be aware of the type of conditions animals associated with shows and companies are kept in. Then make your decisions wisely. I only say this because we decided to boycott the famous Tiger Kingdom. As much as I wanted to play with tiger cubs and take cute photos, I didn't feel right about.
- Try planning your visit during a festival that is taking place. We decided to be in Thailand in time for the lantern festival and it was amazing! We were in Chiang Mai for this. The local lantern festival usually occurs at the end of October or early November and it is free. There is another lantern releasing event a few week later where you have to pay around $100, called the Yee Peng Lanna International, and the proceeds go to educating children in hill tribe villages. While we were in Chiang Mai for the lantern festival, there were so many fun things to check out. Amazing parades and streets filled with cool food, drinks and souvenirs. Lots of my other friends made sure that they were in Koh Phangan for the full moon festival to party the night away. The full moon parties happen once a month.
- If you can afford it, definitely try out the Gibbon Experience in Huay Xai! We did the Classic experience and though the hikes were challenging, it was one of the best things we did on our entire trip. Living in a tree house and waking up to gibbons is an experience unlike any other! One of my most surreal experiences for sure.
- Check out the waterfalls in Luang Prabhang. They are so much fun to take a dip in. Though crowded at times, they are still quite magical.
- If you are up for some fun times, try tubing in Vang Vieng. It might be a good idea to make sure that you have a trusted buddy with you to make sure neither of you will forget anything important anywhere. Also please understand that everyone is going to be very intoxicated at the end of the night, so make sure that you are still aware of your surroundings. A few Australian tourists have died while tubing in the past, but this was because they were too drunk and drowned.
- Try the Laos beer! It was one of Aaron's favourites.
- Out of all 4 countries we visited on this trip, we felt that we were the most ripped off and taken advantage of in Laos. Don't get me wrong, we still had a great time, but there were still lots of annoying things that went down. For example whenever we took a minibus from one location to another (ex. Luang Prabhang to Vang Vieng), the bus stopped like 1 or 2 km out of town, so that we had to take a taxi that was "conveniently" parked at the bus stop to take us back to where we were supposed to get dropped off.
- Most people who visit Hanoi want to do some kind of Halong Bay tour/cruise. I would definitely recommend checking this area out, but when booking a tour, MAKE SURE that the vendor goes over exactly what you will be doing each day. Sometimes the language barriers between countries come into play and tourists end up thinking that they are getting more than what they receive when they are on the tour. We went on a 3 day, 2 night cruise, which we thought was the perfect amount of time to really take it all in. We came across travelers who did 2 day, 1 night cruise, and they said it wasn't enough time, because they didn't really get to explore. Also be aware that the more you pay for the cruise (2 star, 3 star, 4 star, 5 star), the better the food will be. Some people had some really bad experiences with 2 star cruise food.
- If you can, stop in PHONG NHA. It was definitely one our favourite locations that we visited in Vietnam. They have AMAZING caves here, including the world's largest cave - Son Doong cave. Lots of people skip out on Paradise cave, Phong Nha cave and Dong Tien Son cave to just do the dark cave, but pleeeeeease don't skip out on the other caves. If you only had one day to explore caves, i would choose paradise cave or Phong Nha + Don Tien Son caves.
- The lifeproof case is NOT WATERPROOF (lol). I learned this the hard way while swimming to the Dark Cave and my phone ended up getting water damage. I put the phone in a bag of rice for 5 days and it came back to life. It's a good thing southeast asia doesn't have a short supply of rice!
- If you are getting bored of all the beautiful beaches (as if...), then check out the red and white sand dunes in Mui Ne. We wanted to see the sunrise at the white sand dunes, and got up super early for it, but it was worth it! They also have some 4 wheelers for tourists to ride around the sand, so if you are interested in doing that, it would best to go early in the morning, before all of the sand has tire on them.
- Visit Hoi An (and maybe buy a custom made suit or a dress ;) ). Hoi An is an old Japanese town with lots of good vibes. The buildings have lots of character and the food was the best that we had in Vietnam. Eat the world famous Bahn Mi sandwich from the Bahn Mi queen herself! If you ask a local where she is, they will be more than happy to point out her location.
- Bargain, bargain, bargain at markets in Ho Chi Minh. Never buy from the first vendor you see and if anything, come back to them with the prices you hear from other vendors.
- Avoid walking alone or even in pairs at night in Manila. This was the one city that we felt the most unsafe in. If you visit here, you will understand why. There is lots of poverty present in the streets, child gangs and the people seemed less friendly in general.
- if you visit Banaue, you will notice that the hills get foggy really fast. So if you want to visit the rice fields, you should definitely go in the morning, because we noticed that by 2pm, it would get so foggy that we wouldn't even be able to see 20ft in front of us.
- Bohol had a lot of fun spots to check out. Chocolate hills and the tarsier foundation were both worth a visit. We stayed in Alona Beach and the sunsets here were so beautiful.
- Swimming with whale sharks in Oslob, Cebu is a lot busier than you would think! We decided to take a boat from Bohol to Cebu, and that was one of the worst decisions we made on the trip. These boats were so loud and they try to cram as many people as possible on it, so make sure that you are aware of what you are getting yourself into before you sign up!