SOUTH EAST ASIA
The big four. Whether you've been backpacking a thousands times or this is your first trip, any adventurer will ensure you that this classic Indochina loop will satisfy your wanderlust.
The most popular time to visit is between the months November to April, as this is what is known as the dry season. In Bangkok we typically recommend staying two or three days as although it is one of the most amazing cities in the world, it is concurrently overpopulated and can be a tad overwhelming for new visitors. A couple of days should be more than enough to visit one of the popular floating markets, ancient temples and check out a few of Bangkok's famous rooftop bars. Up to the north of Thailand, you will find the unruly city of Chiang Mai. Situated in the heart of Thailand's jungle, this social metropolis is a famous backpacker destination. Jungle hikes and days to elephant sanctuaries are the most favoured choice of excursion up in Mai. During the night travellers tend to flock towards Mai's famous night market in the hope of getting a bargain or two.
Onto the other side of the Mekong, you'll arrive in Laos. Laos is known for its intriguing French-colonial architecture and rich history. Taking in the emerald pools of Kuangsi Falls will be your one of you Laos highlights undoubtedly. Not only the sights but the cuisine you will find in Laos is unlike any other, with French and Thai origins it gives you an opportunity to experience eastern culture yet with a homely feeling.
Throughout your journey down Vietnam you tour the coast travelling north to south. Hoi An and Nha Tang being our personal favourites - with a mixture of cultural night markets and western-styled nights clubs and shisha bars.
Following 'Nam you venture into the madness of Cambodia. Phnom Phen is the countries capital and offers you a chance to learn about some of the more melancholic history that the people of Cambodia have suffered in frequent years - or check out some cool bars and get drunk with the locals, up to you. Sihanoukville is a little beach town on the coast featuring white sands and blue seas; it provides a nice mix of the 'off the beaten track' feel to somewhere quite homely in the middle of a peculiar paradise.
Chiang Mai is our favourite place to catch a glimpse of some of Asia's famous exotic animals and creepy crawlies. It's also the most popular place to go see one of those ridiculous looking, gargantuan grey things we call elephants. Across Mai there's many a sanctuary to which you can go bathe, feed and chill with these majestic giants. Further into the jungle is where you're more likely to spot some of the insects and also in recent years there's also been the occasional tiger sighting.
On your entrance to the stunning Kuang Si Falls, Laos, they showcase their bear rehabilitation centre. Here, they care for bears that had previously been injured due to hunting in the wild, which had previously been a large issue in some East Asian countries.
Onto marine life. A small fishing island off of the coast of Nha Trang, Hon Mieu, is a must do little day excursion to which you're shown the unique way in which the fishermen catch and keep the islands main source of income. Fish. When I visited our guide for the day was called Pork Chop - not sure why. Pork Chop showed us some of the locals' daily catches. Between lobster nets to crayfish containers we manoeuvred pontoon to pontoon using a handmade rope-pull service mechanised using some of the children of the island. The paper round of South East Asia equivalent, apparently.
If you're wondering when you're going to see a couple of them thieving, little buggers known as monkeys, then Angor Wat in Siem Reap is the place. Four-hundred plus ancient Hindhu temples shrouded in mystery around their creation, and covered in bloody monkeys. Angkor Wat is so salient in Cambodia it takes a prominent place in the centre of their national flag. There are stories that the rocks used to create the temples were floated down stream and hen dragged up using elephants, but the truth is, no one really knows. Because of this myth, the national park offers elephant rides so you'll also get a chance to see some of those guys again.
Buddhism. I'll be honest I didn't know a lot about the religion before I went. But when you start to see monks knocking about bare-foot around the streets, you start to take an interest. It's a religion of respect and peace; shoes off when you enter the temples, knees and shoulders covered. The kids you see hanging about these monasteries are called novices, and they take Buddhism seriously. Some of these folk only eat once a day for their faith. I don't know about you, but I feel faint if I don't get in three substantial meals a day. So if you feel bad for these guys (and you're willing to sacrifice your lay in) you can offer Alms. Typically from 5am in Luang Prabang, Laos, the monks will walk the streets holding a bowl. The locals will line up with pots of rice spooning it into the bowls of the Buddhist monks. Its a minor self sacrifice that lets you start your day knowing you've done something good, and its probably a little bit different to your normal routine.
Why Pad Thai? Pad Thai is to Thai nationals what Paella is to the Spaniards, or bubble and squeak to the Englishman. It began life as an amalgamation of leftovers and made its way to become a national treasure. Whether you're strolling down Khao San Road (Bangkok) or the night markets of Chaweng (Koh Samui) you'll find this beautiful combination of noodles and peanuts anywhere you venture to in Thailand. The main red, green, yellow and Massaman curries are abundant across all of Asia and are a travellers favourite, hence why a lot of the time the spice is toned down to accommodate the Westerners palette.
Laos has historical, French-infused origins which is evident in their dishes. If you're the adventurous type and fancy getting involved with the locals in Vietnam you should try Pho. Pho (pronounced 'fuh') is a type of Vietnamese noodle soup, normally served with beef, chicken or prawns and has a bit of a kick to it. Not your average Pot Noodle.
In Thailand the currency is Thai Baht. In Laos, Kip. Vietnamese Dong is the currency of Vietnam and Cambodia use Cambodian Reap.
In the large cities you will find most locals will speak good English. However in rural areas it will likely just be the common tongue of Thai, Lao, Vietnamese or Cambodian.
Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia come under the Indochina time zone. This is 7+ hours of London (GB), 11+ America (NY) and 10+ Australia (SYD).