Backpacker places in Asia
When Lake Boeng Kak still was a lake, and not just a piece of waste water as it is today, it was the most groovy place to stay for backpackers in Phnom Penh. The lake front was a row of guesthouses on stilts with some very chilled out verandas, while the inland had surprising good eateries from all around the world. Today, all houses along the river front are knocked down and it is probably a matter of time before the rest of the shacks and narrow alleys are replaced by flashy new development. So hurry up if you want to experience some backpacker history... and now we will try to stop whining about the "old days", sniff sniff.
Why anyone would go to a shooting range, especially considering Cambodia's troubled gun-saturated past, is baffling to us... but since this is Cambodia, of course it is possible. When arriving to the shooting range you will be handed a gun menu (which is not allowed to be photographed). Here you find anything from the popular rifles like AK-47, M16 and handguns to the more can-this-be-real hand grenades and rocket launchers... we kid you not. The last two have to be shot in the mountains and not inside the shooting range, duh. In the good old days you could even use live targets like a chicken or a cow (a cow cost 300 USD extra), but apparently that practice has stopped. So knock yourself out, but please visit the killing fields first.
This grim looking tower block has been the epitome of budget travelling in Hong Kong for decades. The 17 floors are packed with residential cells, tiny tailor shops and budget accommodations of the smallest kind, for space in downtown Hong Kong is a luxury. Besides saving money, it is worth staying there just so you can say that you've done it. If - or when - this backpacker silo is going into flames, things will turn ugly, but until then it is a classic within the travelling community.
Bukit Lawang is a small tourist village setup inside the Gunung Leuser National Park. It is famous due to the proximity to the orangutan rehabilitation centre just across the river. There are lots of alternative "backpacker" accommodations on the river bank and banana pancake can be found on the menus. Though seeing orangutans at the feeding platform is the main thing for most visitors, jungle treks and wildlife watching can be done inside Gunung Leuser NP and you can go tubing on the river on those lazy afternoons (but check the water level first - in 2003, the whole place was washed away by a huge flash flood).
The Gilis, as they are called, are three small palm fringed islands with long sandy beaches. They are surrounded by warm turquoise water with descent corals and excellent marine life, making it a world class dive spot, with equally good snorkeling with chances to see turtles right from the shore. The three islands all have a different vibe; Gili Air is the local island with more traditional life than the others, Gili Meno is the smallest and for those who want to chill, while Gili Trawangan is the party island with something for everybody. There are no cops nor traffic on any of the islands, beside horse carts and bicycles, and very little Bob Marley. Sounds like paradise on earth? Well, it is pretty darn close.
Why would anyone go to Kuta? It's touristy, the town is ugly and the beach is not even that nice! Well, because Indonesia's most famous beach area is pleasure zone. There is something for everybody, whether they seek style or sleaze. Potbellied, beer drinking Australians are rubbing shoulders with tattooed surfer dudes and blonde, Scandinavian girls on holiday fun. Even families on vacation are crowding up the narrow lanes that are packed with endless supplies of t-shirts, pirate DVDs and tacky souvenirs (like wooden penis bottle opener, why?). But it is Kuta, and that is how Kuta is!
Right before the Cambodian border, where the Mekong river drops into a series of waterfalls, lie a series of tiny sandy islands. Home to tranquil farming and fishing villages, shady trees and mud covered water buffaloes, the Four Thousand Islands (in Lao Si Phan Don) is the near-perfect setting for some quiet days in the hammock. Besides some lazy tubing (this is not the new Vang Vieng), Irrawaddy dolphin spotting and exploration on crappy bicycles, there isn't much to do other than chill and watch the gorgeous sunsets from your bamboo balcony.
Vang Vieng use to be the party capital of Laos. A "must do" thing for backpackers, who came here for the infamous tubing, the "happy" vibe and insane all-night-long parties - but that's all history. Today, you can still go tubing down the Nam Song River, but there are no more crazy party platforms along the riverbanks. Instead, the beautiful karst scenery around Vang Vieng is the attraction. The landscape looks like it is taken right out of a Chinese scroll painting with limestone mountains shooting up through a green carpet of jungle and rice paddy fields. There are caves below which can be explored and long stretches of the Nam Song River are perfect for some kayaking.
The party has ended and left a Vang Vieng that is all about the scenery, the very same reason why it became popular in the first place.
Two gorgeous tropical islands with white sand, jungle cover centre and crystal clear water (and we mean crystal clear) with outstanding snorkelling. The small one, Perhentian Kecil, is Malaysia's answer to a backpacker beach scene with Long Beach being the popular hang out. Here you will find a long beautiful stretch of sand and palms dotted with restaurants, diving shops and cheap huts in less-than-adorable style. Keep in mind that things are changing very fast on the islands and there is a bit of gold-rush feeling to the place, which will probably leave the islands in a constant state of random constructions for many years to come. But compared to the islands of Thailand, the Perhantian islands are still very innocent and unexploited.
Once upon a time, if you mentioned the word "budget" and "Maldives" in the same sentence, you would be laughed out of the travel agency. But those days are no more. With holidays on private Maldivian resort islands easily costing into the thousands of dollars, local islands like Maafushi are finally offering an alternative. No, Maafushi will never win the "prettiest island in the Maldives" competition, but it serves a purpose. With over 30 hotels and guesthouses (and growing) there is competition on the island and this drives prices down. The same could be said for dive shops, restaurants and water-sports. Plus the fact you can take the cheap public ferry instead of expensive private speedboats or floatplanes and Maafushi is quite a bargain!! Maafushi makes for a practical base to explore paradise.