|Our Really Big Adventure|
South East Asia
to our 2002 South East Asia travelogue. These articles, movies and pictures
detail our 2002 travel adventures through Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia
From the killing fields of Cambodia through oppressive dictatorships to unspoilt beaches and ancient cultures, South East Asia has everything. Unlike other truly exotic places, South East Asia is easy, its charms seemingly presented on a silver platter for tourists to enjoy. It has the mystery of the East without the exorbitant prices of Japan or Korea and it has all the diversity of India with little of the hassle. Given this it is little wonder that most budget world travellers spend the bulk of their time here, many falling completely under its spell and going no further. All backpackers leaving South East Asia have one thing in common; it is a sense of dread that they are leaving paradise and no matter where their destination, they fear that it wont be able to match the charms of this part of the world.
Thailand is the logical starting point for South East Asia. Not only is it the one of the least intimidating countries to visit, but it is also a major hub for air travel providing good, cheap and frequent connections with the rest of the world. It is easy to get sucked in by the beach resorts and weeks can slip by with little more cultural activity than eating Westernised Thai cuisine. However, there is a lot more to Thailand than meets the package tourist eye and the further north you travel the more exposed you get to real Thai culture, with all the diversity that represents. Travel between Cambodia, Laos and Burma can and sometimes has to be punctuated by return visits to Thailand, allowing tourists to recharge their batteries with familiar food and Western facilities.
Laos only opened its borders to tourists in the 1990s and while it may seem that every tourist in Bangkok is either going there or has just come back, it is a country whose culture remains almost undiluted by tourism. Laoss isolation has not come cheaply and an incredibly low annual income of $500 contributes to a shocking average mortality age of 52. The country, large for its 5.5 million population, is almost entirely covered by an unmanaged and pristine ecology. While the very fact that Laos is largely uncharted and untravelled is attraction enough for most tourists, it is Laoss laid back and friendly authenticity that has travellers begging for visa extensions.
Cambodia is not for the faint hearted and many travellers restrict their visit to the fabulously beautiful and ancient city of Angkor Wat for the same reason people do not commonly go to Auschwitz on vacation. The history of Pol Pot and The Killing Fields is still fresh, the endless amputees a constant reminder. Landmines were used so extensively here that it is still not safe to step off the road into the countryside. On long bus journeys shy tourists have to sacrifice their modesty and defecate on the road, or sit cross legged for the rest of the journey. Still, an ever increasing number of tourists, who dont want to shut their eyes, now make their way to one of the most depressing yet hope filled countries in the world.
Malaysia is a country of contrast, with some of the worlds most diverse hardwood jungles and forest, despite heavy logging, set against the worlds tallest skyscrapers boasting Malaysias economic success. Malaysia is the most affluent country in South East Asia yet remains eminently affordable for the budget traveller. This is perhaps one of the easiest Asian countries to visit with its exotic coral reefs, tropical rainforests and docile orangutans easily accessible in relatively comfortable, safe and hygienic settings.
despite lagging the rest of South East Asia in economic output, is the
world's fourth most populous country and comprises more than 13,000 islands,
giving it the longest coastline of any country in the world. Indonesia
is home to an incredibly diverse set of cultures, reflecting this the
countrys motto translates to Unity in Diversity. For
the traveller it is one of the least expensive countries in the region
with a wealth to see and do despite the transport problems associated
with a country that spans 3,000 miles from East to West and 1,000 miles
North to South.