South-east Asia: the gapper's paradise

Cheap, safe and vibrant, South-east Asia is the premier choice for the budget traveller, says Kate Thomas

Who goes there?

Whether you’re an eco-adventurer looking for a low impact challenge, a water baby in search of an island paradise or a city dweller looking for a bit of excitement, South-east Asia offers it all in a neat, low-cost package. The last five years have seen destinations such as Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam really open up to gappers – low costs, relative political stability and short distances make it easy to combine a worthwhile project with a travel experience.

What gap years can you do there?

From volunteering on coral reef conservation projects on Thailand’s Edenic islands to helping shape the futures of street children in the Philippines, gap year organisations offer a dazzling array of projects in Southeast Asia. Old favourite Thailand has plenty to tempt travellers. While you’ll probably want to check out the beaches and put in an appearance at the famous full moon parties, there are also lots of opportunities to volunteer. Projects Abroad offers gap year experiences that combine both work and play ( www.projects-abroad.org).

For those who want to visit a part of Thailand most tourists never get to see, Africa and Asia Venture offer a two-month programme close to the Thai border with Burma. After five days’ orientation – including a Thai cookery course – you’ll spend eight weeks helping to shape the futures of children in the classroom (www.aventure.co.uk).

Adrenalin junkies looking for a thrill that lasts might want to bypass New Zealand and look at Trekforce Worldwide’s adventures to remote parts of Borneo and Papua New Guinea. Opt for the Borneo trek (from £1,500; two to 20 weeks) and you’ll stay in a traditional long house, climb mountains, swim lakes and help ensure the protection of the orangutan. Trekforce’s expeditions are more extreme than the average gap year project – Tribe presenter Bruce Parry was once a group leader, which gives you an idea of how intense the trip is likely to be ( www.trekforce.org.uk).

What opportunities for further travel are there?

With so many countries packed into one region, it’s easy to get around. The backpacker path through Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Malaysia is so well trodden, you’ll be sure to meet like-minded people along the way. The only problem is deciding where to go first. Some travellers opt to spend their time exploring the temples, decadent nightlife and heartbreaking history of Vietnam and Cambodia.

Others are enchanted by the ultra soporific islands of Thailand or Indonesia’s perfect waves. The express train from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi is a spectacular ride that skirts breathtaking valleys, patches of jungle and idyllic bays; fashionistas might want to make a stop in Hoi An, a veritable treasure trove of sprawling fabric markets, local tailors and cobblers. Rainforest clad Laos attracts eco-adventurers and amateur anthropologists – you can try white-water rafting or tubing as well as learning about the country’s threatened hill tribes. Malaysia offers a heady mix of jungle, island paradise and urban sprawl while next-door neighbour Singapore is an oasis of calm. Burma has a lot to offer tourists but you should think long and hard before going: many campaigners believe visitors should stay away for now.

How much will it cost me?

South-east Asia is a backpacker’s dream. The cost of gap year programmes varies dramatically, but most reputable companies won’t charge more than £1,500 for a four-week project. Transport is your greatest expense; even so, a second-class train ticket from Singapore to Bangkok costs just £50. You can eat well in most countries for as little as £3 or £4 a day.Unless you’re intent on luxury, a night in a decent guesthouse in Cambodia will set you back around £4. Prepare to tighten the purse strings if you venture off the beaten track, where there may be fewer options for travellers on a budget.

Book ahead and you’ll find great deals on flights to the region. Specialist travel agencies such as STA Travel sell return flights from London to Bangkok from £450, while Qantas and Singapore Airlines both offer fully-flexible fares to Kuala Lumpur from £750.

You’ll need to factor in the costs of visas and insurance – a 30-day tourist visa to Cambodia currently costs US$20(£10.50) – as well as enough spending money to cover such backpacker necessities as a T-shirt or string of beads from Bangkok’s famous Khao San strip.

Are there any risks?

Nowhere in the world is completely risk-free but South-east Asia is a sound choice for first-time travellers. The path through Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia is so well trodden that you’ll always have the company of other backpackers and there are reliable medical facilities in most backpacker hotspots.

Malaria and Dengue Fever are endemic to parts of South-east Asia; visit a travel nurse for prophylaxis and other important shots before departure. Female travellers are unlikely to receive much unwanted attention in this largely-Buddhist region.

Make sure you’re properly kitted out before you head off into the sunset – Gap Year Travel Store ( www.gapyeartravelstore.com) sells destination-specific kits containing everything from first aid and travel pillows to heat-conserving blankets and waterproof matches. They’ll even throw in a pack of glow-sticks – useful for providing emergency light as well as for waving around at all those full moon parties.

What they say

Paul Edwards spent five months in South-east Asia as part of his gap year, visiting Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and Vietnam.

“I structured my gap year to incorporate volunteering as well as travel; I didn’t want to waste all my time sitting on a beach. I did a four-week tour of Cambodia and Vietnam with Intrepid Travel, who provided a fixed placement and local tour guides. There were people in the group from all over the world. I also volunteered to work with rescued elephants in Kanchanaburi in Thailand –a brilliant experience. I wanted to visit South-east Asia because it really is a backpacker mecca. You can live on around £5 a day. Your money goes a long way.”

What we say

“This region has always been hugely popular, but the downside is that every year another town or resort loses its largely-untouched lustre. In Thailand, westernisation is pulling and pushing at traditions. That means there’s all the more reason to steer clear of the hordes and find your own low-impact adventures, be it in the tranquil Indonesian islands, the quiet backwaters of Laos or the less-visited parts of Cambodia,” Andrew Buncombe, Asia correspondent, The Independent.

Should we be on the next flight out?

Yes

  • This is the backpacker trail, so it’s dead easy to meet other travellers
  • South-east Asia offers a wealth of attractions and historic sites in close proximity
  • Travel is much cheaper than in Africa or the Americas

No

  • All those fellow travellers mean it can be difficult to escape the crowds
  • Local traditions are under threat from the constant influx of tourists
  • English is widely spoken so you probably won’t pick up a language to put on your CV
Suggested Topics
News
In 2006, Pluto was reclassified as a 'dwarf planet'
scienceBut will it be reinstated?
News
Destructive discourse: Jewish boys look at anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on to the walls of the synagogue in March 2006, near Tel Aviv
news

As anti-Semitic attacks rise, Grant Feller re-evaluates his identity

Arts and Entertainment
Adam Levine plays a butcher who obsessively stalks a woman in Maroon 5's 'Animals' music video
music'Animals' video 'promotes sexual violence against women'
News
people Biographer says cinema’s enduring sex symbol led a secret troubled life
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
News
people

Kirstie Allsopp has waded into the female fertility debate again

News
The moon observed in visible light, topography and the GRAIL gravity gradients
science

...and it wasn't caused by an asteroid crash, as first thought

News
people
Life and Style
food and drink

Savoury patisserie is a thing now

News
Researchers say a diet of fatty foods could impede smell abilities
scienceMeasuring the sense may predict a person's lifespan
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
News
news

Meet the primary school where every day is National Poetry Day

News
Gillian Anderson was paid less than her male co-star David Duchovny for three years while she was in the The X-Files until she protested and was given the same salary
people

Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood

News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

DT Teacher - Resistant Materials

£33000 - £34000 per annum: Randstad Education Group: Technology Teacher (Resis...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission, 1st yr OTE £30-£40k : SThree:...

IT Technician

£26000 - £27000 per annum: Randstad Education Group: Experienced Science Techn...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?