Backpacker places in Asia
You don't have to look hard to find a beach for yourself in Sri Lanka. Most of the shore is one long solitary stretch of sand with the occasional fisherman. On the other hand, it can be quite difficult to find a laidback beach with funky bars, juicy tuna steaks and bottomless cold shakes. Unawatuna is Sri Lanka's answer to this. A little protected bay that has become a name on the beach scene and where the hotel owners compete at building closest to the water.
The ever popular techno rave held at, yes full moon, on Ko Pha Ngan has become a must-do on the backpacker trail. Suddenly, backpackers are planning according to the moon phase and hardcore partygoers are happy to travel across the globe for the biggest events around new year. But don't get too stressed about the timing, for the Half Moon Parties are equally big and crazy and the Black Moon Parties are not too bad either. So no matter what moon fraction it is, there will always be a party, and we don't necessarily think the biggest parties are the best ones. Nowadays, there are even pool parties... you know, just to make it a bit more fun.
Adorable little Pai up in the mountains are the hill country's answer to Railay Beach in Krabi. The formula is equal shares of amazing jungle scenery, adventures like river rafting, elephant riding and jungle trekking, and a laid back vibe with the usual blend of big Thai smiles and Bob M. The winding roads are best appreciated on a motorbike. Rent one in Chiang Mai and do the northwest loop, going through Mae Hong Son. The view shifts from rice paddies to lush jungle leaning over the road, and there are so many good sidetrips along the way (waterfalls, hot springs and hill tribe villagers) that you shouldn't count on doing too many kilometres every day. Local tourists have finally found Pai, so it's best visited off season from April to October.
Khao San Road is not a place, it is an experience. Previously just a street with dirt cheap hotels to crash while passing through, it has now morphed itself into something more. A 24/7 backpacker-haven covering not just the original street but the whole neighbourhood, offering anything from visas, beers and Indian tailors over fire-dancing equipment, tattoos, and fake designer clothes to Starbucks, teeth bleaching, and cocktail sipping. It is now such a popular party zone that it even attracts the trendy Thai youth. But the toothless old fellow with the hammocks is still walking around. This place is unique.
Railay is a beautiful peninsula fenced off by steep limestone cliffs and turquoise sea. The steep cliff walls is a climber's mecca and attracts world-class climbers along with a mellow crowd in the wake. Expect a lot of Bob Marley, John Johnson and fire dancing in the evening. Railay beach is actually four beaches: Tongsai where the hardcore climbers hang out, East Railay which is more mangrove than beach, the broad West Railay which is the main stretch of sand for backpackers and flashpackers, and the gorgeous Phra Nang Beach which is famous for its overhanging cliff formations right on the beach. Railay is only reachable by boat which creates a happy island vibe.
Though Pham Ngu Lao is technically only one street, the name normally refers to the whole backpacker ghetto area southeast of Pham Ngu Lao street. When independent travelling was slowly picking up in Vietnam, residences in the Pham Ngu Lao neighbourhood were renting out cheap rooms illegally. Today, the block constrained by the streets Pham Ngu Lao, Bui Vien, Hem 28 Bui Vien and Do Quang Dau is chockablock with cheap hotels, cafes, tour agents, counterfeit DVD vendors, fake outdoor equipment shops, bars and persistent photocopied-books sellers. Every night, confused backpackers get dropped off here by the many open tours and buses from Cambodia, but it only takes a moment to feel at home here among gangsters, hustlers, and friends. It is a vibrant madness with a strong flavour of Vietnam, which is only outdone by Khao San in Bangkok and maybe Kuta Beach in Bali in terms of backpacker density.
© Alex Johnstone
Phu Quoc is the largest Vietnamese Island, located close to the Cambodian border in the Gulf of Thailand. Accessed by boat from Rach Gia in the Mekong Delta or Ha Tien near the Cambodian border. The island has not yet experienced a huge amount of development so it's the perfect island getaway. It has kilometers of deserted white sandy beaches waiting to be discovered on scooter. The national park in the north is beautiful to drive through and there are a few fishing villages along the way allowing you a glimpse of rural island life. Nearly all the accommodation is in Duong Dong or on Long Beach. Super cheap bungalows can be had back from the beach. There is some decent diving to be had around the southern islands. Dining on the beach on cheap sea food is another highlight. Get here before the boom!