It is all too easy to get worked into a froth, worrying about all the scary snags possible in future travel dreams. These worries can make you put off your voyage for months, even years.
Here’s the secret: When you finally set off on your journey and are in the thick of it all, you’ll be one happy little clam, and you will laugh heartily at all your former worries.
If you browse through your guidebook, the whole getting-from-one-place-to-another gig seems like a nightmare. There are multiple bus stations, there are scam buses, there are different routes… how can a wide-eyed traveler ever surmount such obstacles?
When you are actually in Thailand or Cambodia or Vietnam or Laos, however, the delightful truth becomes plain: every hotel and hostel is also a travel agent, and every city or town block holds five additional travel companies. Booking a bus, train, boat, or even motorcycle or elephant to literally any destination is as easy as waking up in the morning and walking downstairs to the lobby.
Indeed, because the hotel clerks are middlemen, the ticket prices are often inflated by a dollar or two, but given that bus prices are usually less than a dollar per hour (ex: 26 clammy hours from Hanoi to Vientiane cost me $14, WITH the hotel surcharge added in), that is not such a hardship.
This morning, I sleepily stumbled to the hotel clerk in my Vientiane hotel (oh, those delightful smiles of Laos!) to whom I paid my $6 for my pleasant little room for the upcoming night. “Can I see your bus ticket list?” I then asked, and was given a menu longer than my brother’s childhood Christmas/Hanukkah Request List to peruse.
Did I want to go to Ko Tao, Thailand, via a 36-hour bus-boat-bus combination for $20? Tempting, but no. Did I want a China visa for $42 and two passport photos? Not now, thanks. China blocks Facebook and I would freak out. Did I want to fly to Singapore or do a trek on foot to see hill tribes? Nope and nope, but thanks.
Ah ha! Four hour bus to Vang Vieng: $4 (with the surcharge added in). I pointed and smiled, the clerk whipped out a little pink ticket form book, and asked as he filled out my ticket, “Are you from Australia?” I set him straight, thanked him kindly as he handed me the ticket. I then happily headed into town to stuff my face with the insanely good and inexpensive food of Vietntiane.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that Southeast Asia is a backpacker’s heaven!