Backpacking in Southeast Asia is one of those things you have to do in your twenties (or early thirties if you’re a late bloomer). Why? It’s exotic, it’s mind-opening, the food is fantastic, and it’s cheap! There are also some destinations and experiences in Asia that you should do while you’re young or you’ll never do them at all.

When you’re in your twenties, squat toilets, sleeping in wooden huts, haggling for the best price, partying til dawn covered in glow paint and the inevitable hangover day spent in a hammock drinking from a coconut, are all part of the adventure.

Sadly as you get older, going on a guided nature hike, wine tours and degustation dinners become more your style.

Sure, having both time and money is the challenge, but you can do it! Work a few temp jobs, stack up some cash, and get out there! No one ever said, “Oh I wish I spent more of my 20s in the office.” Seize this time, whether it’s for the 6 weeks of uni break, or before you get a ‘real job’. These are the places you want to experience when you’re young:

 

Vang Vieng, Laos

This gem of a town in Laos has got something to suit everyone. The ‘Party Backpacker’ will love the jungle parties, tubing and crazy nightlife. The ‘Adventure Seeker’ will be scaling rocky ledges, kayaking rapids and mountain biking the rugged paths.

Why go when you’re young?
Because after a day spent bar hopping (with your means of transport being a rubber ring) and partying on the main strip til 2am, you’ll still get up to mountain bike to the blue lagoon the next morning, for a refreshing dip before tackling some caving, rock climbing and zip lining.  No sweat!

Plan of action:
Head straight for the stalls stacked up with tubes (rubber rings) on the main street. Once issued a tube you’ll be transported 10mins out of town to the start of the river. Float down the river surrounded by the beautiful karst mountains. Fancy a drink? Grab the ropes and pull yourself in to the riverside bars (there are about 4 on the way back to town) who each have their own day-time party going on with drinking games and DJs. You’ll get back to town as the sun is setting and the bars on the main street are firing up with great specials like “free drinks from 9-10pm” – yes really! Ask the local’s about the infamous jungle parties if you’re there on a Friday.

 

Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Think endless summer by day with beach parties by night and 50p beers. Angkor Brewery sits on top of the hill in Sihanoukville and the beer is so fresh, it can be less than 3 hours old! It’s the main hub for heading out to the islands like Koh Rong Samloem and it is also home to three popular backpacker beaches: Otres, Ochheuteal and Serendipity.

Why go when you’re young?
Because when you’re a fresh young thing you’ve got the hot bod for beach days and beach parties, and packing light takes on a whole new meaning when you’re only packing bikinis, tiny denim shorts, and vests.

Plan of action:
Head for the beach of course. Go snorkelling, jet skiing, island hopping or diving, then get back to Serendipity Beach for the sunset and a fresh seafood barbeque. As the sun goes down, the party people come out. Famous backpacking bars such as Sessions, Dolphin Shack and JJs are where the party is at. Buckets, body paint and slightly cheesy music get everyone in the mood.

Asia Homestay

Spending a night in the home of a local family is a really special experience. You’ll get an eye-opening insight into local culture and see life untouched by commercialism.

Why go when you’re young?

Because you’ll have no problem knocking back home-made whiskey with the locals, swimming with the kids in the murky Mekong River and sleeping on a mattress on the floor of a hut in the name of experiencing real local culture.

Plan of action:

One of the best homestay experiences is with Stray Asia as part of a larger 2 day Mekong River experience. The experience starts at the Thai-Laos border town of Houay Xai. Board a traditional slow boat and begin your two-day cruise down the Mekong River, floating past lush farmland, water buffalos and kids splashing in the shallows. You’ll pull up on the banks of a tiny riverside town, so far off the beaten track that Google maps doesn’t even know it exists. Spend the afternoon playing with the kids, enjoy a delicious Laos style dinner and then experience a traditional Baci (welcoming) ceremony which is performed to bring visitors good luck. The following morning you wave goodbye to your hosts and continue down the river to the UNESCO World Heritage City of Luang Prabang.

 

Full Moon Party, Thailand

The Full Moon Party on the Thai island of Koh Phangan is probably the biggest, wildest beach party you’ll ever see in Southeast Asia.  This high-adrenaline, legendary event draws thousands of travellers every month to experience the famous buckets, pumping beats, fire dancers and the sight of a giant full moon rising over the ocean.

Why go when you’re young?
Because you’ve got the stamina to party all night and still be there to watch the sun come up the next day.

Plan of action:
Head to Haad Rin beach where all the action takes place. As you head down the road towards the beach, pick up some glow paints and paint brushes and stop in for a decent meal somewhere to line your stomach. When you’re all painted up, head for the beach, grab a bucket on the way down to the beach (quick tip: buckets are cheaper on the streets than the beach). The party really gets cranking after 10pm and goes til around midday the next day!

 

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City is a vast, sprawling metropolis, sweaty and hectic with an important story to tell about the cruel effects of the Vietnam War and how it has shaped the country. It’s also Vietnam’s busiest and biggest city and it seems that every man, woman and child has a motorbike, making crossing the road a truly terrifying experience. Although, once you’ve crossed the street in Ho Chi Minh City and lived to tell the tale, you’re ready for nearly anything!

Why go when you’re young?
Because you’re fearless, you’ve got so much to learn about the world and because you’re small enough to fit through an underground tunnel.

Plan of action:
Visit the Cu Chi tunnels and learn about how the Vietnamese built this vast underground tunnel network to survive the war. You can go inside some of the tunnels underground, see the weapons and “booby traps” used in warfare and even shoot a genuine AK47 at the gun range. Combine this with a trip to the War Remnants Museum where you’ll see military tanks and jets and some harrowing photographs. If you’re a culture hound you’ll also want to check out the Reunification Palace and the Museum of Vietnamese History too. Good luck crossing those roads on the way back to your hostel! The trick is to walk slowly, predictably and calmly and practice thoughts of inner peace because the 500 scooters racing towards you are not going to stop so you can cross the road, but they will actively avoid hitting you. What a rush!

So there you go, a collection of amazing experiences in Asia that are less likely to appeal to you after you turn 30. So embrace being young, having good knees, not getting 3 day hangovers and soak up all these experiences, so that when you’re 30, you’re well equipped to start being a ‘real adult’!

You can get to all of these places with Stray Asia, Southeast Asia’s flexible backpacking tour specialists. If you’re planning an adventure in Southeast Asia checkout: www.straytravel.asia

 
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