Backpacking Through Asia

faces carved in stone blocks

Asia, in my opinion, is one of the best places to travel. It's like Europe but better - longer history, better food, safer and cheaper. Southeast Asia has been a beacon for young travelers for decades. My Asian explorations started there and continued for many years. It's always good to go back, despite stark changes over the past 35 years.

Backpacking Trips Through Southeast Asia

Landing at the old airport in Bangkok on my first trip to Asia was an unforgettable experience. After exiting airport building, I boarded a city bus in the wrong direction and instead of the city center, I ended up in a remote suburb of the city. To make things worse, I managed to leave my Lonely planet guidebook on the bus when I was kicked out at the last stop. In those days, a Lonely Planet guidebook was every backpacker's bible, an essential tool for survival. Somehow, I made it to the center, through horrendous Bangkok traffic, and found backpackers enclave of Khao San Road.

Even though these days, I avoid Khao San Road like a plague, back then, I was in heaven. It had everything a backpacker needed, including Lonely Planet guidebooks. Food and accommodation were incredibly cheap and people were much nicer than today. But that's probably true of any other touristy place in the world.

During my extended stay in Thailand, I bought a motorcycle and rode all around Thailand and neighboring countries. During both riding and backpacking trips, I visited a number of tropical islands of SE Asia.

a person posing in front of a temple

Royal Palace in Bangkok on my first trip to Asia.

a person riding an elephant

Elephant riding was quite exotic back then.

a person in shallow water next to a boat

Thai islands used to be picture-perfect.

a person swimming in a crystal clear blue ocean

Similan Islands off the west coast of Thailand - a jewel of Indian ocean.

a person at the back of a boat with island behind

Even Samui island was an uspoiled paradise, once upon a time.

a person in front of a thai temple at dusk

One of many beautiful temples in Chiang Mai.

Over the years, I've visited Thailand many more times and used it as a base to explore other SE Asian countries - Vietnam, Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Malaysia.

two novice monks in front of a temple

One of numerous temples in Luang Phrabang, a UNESCO heritage city in northern Laos.

an illuminated Buddha statue

Another temple in Luang Phrabang.

person wearing good morning Vietnam shirt next to a beach

Vietnam was just opening and many of the coastal towns were stiil undeveloped.

 people in round boats paddling around

Old style fishing "boat" in Vietnam.

 person on a boat with carst islands behind

Halong Bay - an impressive UNESCO World heritage site.

Unlike Laos, which has not changed since my first visit, Vietnam has gone through a dramatic change over the years, though not quit like China. When I backpacked through it, from the south all the way up to the Chinese border, I only got a taste of the country but didn't get to explore it in more depth. On my more recent trip to Vietnam, I focused on the North only, rented a scooter and rode it around for 2500km.

a row of Vetnamese flags against green trees

Welcome to Vietnam.

a row of houses and their reflections in water

Houses along Ho Tay lake in Hanoi. Traditionally, houses in Vietnam are built tall and deep, but very narrow because in the old days, taxes were paid based on the house width.

a floating restaurant on a lake

One of many floating restaurants on Ho Tay lake in Hanoi.

a musician in bright red coat

A street performer in Hanoi. On weekends, avenues around Ho Hoan Kiem lake are closed to traffic so that people can walk around. There are hundreds of street performers and kids playing various games.

an illuminated old pagoda at dusk

An old pagoda on lake Ho Hoan Kiem Lake.

view of the inside of a Vietnamese temple with Chinese characters

Chinese influece can be felt and seen everywhere, but especially in temples.

stupas and a tall skinny pagoda

Another popular temple in Hanoi.

a lady with bicycle and flowers next to a banyan tree

Flower seller in Hanoi.

rice teraces descending down a mountain slope with clouds behind

Rice terraces of northern Vietnam.

a black and white portrait of a lady

A lady in the countryside.

a lady with colorful clothes and headwear

There are many minorieties in northern Vietnam.

steep limestone towers covered with vegetation

Northern Vietnam is mountainous with many limestone rock formations.

After the first big backpacking trip through SE Asia, from Thailand, through Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam to China, I visited Cambodia several more times, on motorcycle and as a backpacker. After riding every major road of the country, I feel that Angkor Wat and Phnom Penh are the best places to visit in Cambodia.

two people sitting on grassy field with Angkor wat temple behind

My first visit to Cambodia's Angkor Wat during a three month tour of SE Asia and China.

a person posing next to giant face carved in rock blocks

Bayon temple during my first visit to Cambodia.

a group of people in traditional dresses performing a ceremony

A Cambodian wedding.

a pond with ruins of a temple behind

One of many temples around Angkor Wat.

carved faces on a rock wall

Bayon temple.

two people next to a tree growing around a rock temple

Thomb raider temple.

Malaysia is a quieter, safer and more relaxed version of Thailand. It hosts an amazing mix of cultures, traditions and foods - Chinese, Indian and Malay. There are some picture-perfect islands and jungle-covered mountains to explore.

a person on a river boat

My first visit to Taman Negara - the most famous national park in Malaysia.

a person in front of a islamic style white building

Kuala Lumpur main train station near the downtown.

a selfie with a sprawling city behind

Atop one of Kuala Lumpur's rooftop bars.

a black and white photo of Petronas towers

Kuala Lumpur's landmark - Petronas towers.

person in front of a mosque over the water

A mosque outside Malacca. Water is of utmost importance for all living organisms and it plays an important role in Islam. For this reason, Mosques surrounded by water are very special.

person on a white sand bach

A picture-perfect beach of Perhentian islands.

coklorful bungalows on a beach

Bungalows on the back side of Tioman island.

interior of a chinese temple

Tranquil Chinese Temple in Malacca.

Unlike Thailand, Hong Kong was a prime example of a first world, modern and urban city. Besides Rio de Janeiro, Hong Kong has the most dramatic city scape in the world - ocean, busy harbor, dense forest of skyscrapers with verdant hills behind and Victoria's peak on Hong Kong island from which to enjoy it all.

a person with a glass triangular tower up and behind

Modern skyscraper in Hong Kong.

a person in a colorful harbor with city behind

Busy Hong Kong harbor.

Philippines are blessed with over 7,000 topical islands, many of them picture-perfect tropical paradises like nowhere else. I've made a few trips to Philippines visiting some of its numerous islands. First trip was a 3-day ordeal to reach El Nido on Palawan island. As I understand, it's much easier to reach and correspondingly, much less of a paradise.

a person standing in crystal clear waters of a tropical beach

One of many islands around Palawan.

a person sitting on a bow of a boat

Island hopping around Palawan.

a person swimming in crystal clear water off a boat

Island hopping around Palawan.

a traditional boat on a beach at sunset

Sunset on Negros island, Philippines.

a person in hammock on a palm-fringed beach

Relaxing on the \'other" side of Malapscua island.

sweeping white sand beach

Quiet Malapascua island beach.

a small boat in shallow waters with white sand at the bottom

Dazzling white sand beach of Malapascua island.

Indonesia features even more islands - 17,000 of them. Opportunities for island hopping are endless. Infrastructure can be challenging, but it adds to the adventure factor.

a group of people posing atop a stone structure

Borobudur sunset - one of the most important Buddhist monasteries anywhere.

a person sitting in a richshaw

Rikshaws are still used for public transport in Indonesia.

selfie on a motorcycle

Indonesian moto taxi.

rock statue in the middle of a lotus pond

A pond in Ubud, artsy mountain city on Bali.

selfie with three muslim girls

Friendly Indonesian girls.

selfie with a motot taxi on a scooter

Grab moto taxi service in Jakarta.

motorcycle rider with rice fields behind

Riding through endless rice fields of Sumatra.

bowls with various curries and sauces

Spices in an Indonesian market.

a sumatran house with jungle covered mountain behind

I spent a day in this tranquil valley.

sumatran house with pointy roof corners

A Sumatran style palace.

Borneo, world's 3rd largest island, is shared between Malaysia and Indonesia. While the Indonesian part is much bigger, I only got a chance to explore Malaysian part, including two days in Brunei.

a person in front of an intersting building

Kuching, the capital of Sarawak province, was a pleasant city to spend a few days.

a person swimming in a jungle pool surrounded by large boulders

Exploring Borneo's jungle.

a guy and an olderly topless lady posing together

Traditional Iban people of Borneo.

a person on a red scooter next to a black pepper plantation

Black pepper is still a big source of income for Iban people in remote areas of Borneo.

a person above river and several boats ancored at dusk

After a long boat trip up Rajang river from Sibu.

a person in a thick jujngle

In jungle-covered highlands of Sarawak.

a person in front of giant roots of a tree

Giant roots.

a mosque next to a pond

Brunei.

a person in a temple comples with numerous golden roofs

Yangoon's Shwedagon pagoda and temple complex.

a boy selling souvenirs

A boy selling souvenirs in Yangoon.

person in front of a temple

Mandalay - heavy Indian influence.

a girl with flowers next to carved doorway

Myanmar girl at a temple in Mandalay.

two guys on a scooter in front of a restaurant full of monks

My scooter tour guide around Mandalay took me to the famous "monk restaurant".

three girls posing for a photo

Myanmar girls with traditional makeup.

a person sitting at the back of a horse drawn carriage

There are no cars on this river island filled with temples.

a lady with a tray full of cut fruits atop her head

Fruit sellers on a boat along river Irawaddy.

a tourist posing with a monk for a photo

With a local monk near Bagan.

two ladies smoking cigars

Local ladies posing for tips near Bagan.

sitting in front of a stupa at dusk

At a temple in Bagan.

a low sun over temple filled valley

Sunset over Bagan temples.

a lady with a tray full of cut fruits atop her head

Fruit sellers on a boat along river Irawaddy.

Backpacking Trips Through East Asia

Despite glitzy urban centers, SE Asia is still undeveloped. East Asia is quite different. Japan, S. Korea and Taiwan are all first world countries. Travel by public transport is fast, comfortable and convenient. China's countryside is still quite poor, but cities are on par or ahead of their western counterparts. Intercity train travel was cheap and convenient and now is world's fastest too.

two people next to a bullet train

Shinkansen in Tokyo.

person sitting on steps under a series of red gates

Typical Japanese park.

person on a path leading to a big temple

A temple in Tokyo.

person next to a big temple

A temple in Kyoto.

person climbing steep red ladder up a rock

A national park in Korea.

person high above glittering lights of a big city

High above Seoul.

Of all the countries that I've been visiting for the past 40 years, China has undergone the most amazing transformation. Back in 1999, when I visited it for the first time, it was an undeveloped, gloomy and hard to get around place. One month of travel around China during Chinese New Year was as challenging as traveling around Africa. Fast forward 20 years and China is more modern and advanced than most European countries. Travel is easy, convenient and highly rewarding.

backpacker with a rural family

With a Yunan family in remote village.

three people posing on a platform above a big city

With friends in Hong Kong.

two people posing in traditional Tibetan clothes

Tibetans in the mountains of Sichuan.

person posing in front of a Chinese temple

In the mountains of Sichuan.

person posing in front of a huge Buddha face

A temple in Sichuan province.

person in front of modern glass buildings

The new face of China.

a bicycle rider with a temple behind

Exploring Beijing on a bicycle.

a person in traditional Chinese warior clothes

On the Great Wall outside Beijing.

two guys in front of a round temple

Beijing's Temple of Heaven.

Taiwan, my personal favorite, is a hidden gem of the Far East, and I hope it stays that way. It's a lush subtropical island with an eclectic mix of modern and traditional, urban and natural. From glitzy malls to busy night markets, from high tech center of Hsinchu to deserted beaches in the Southeast, it's got something to offer to anyone.

rider on a scooter under a gate leading into a canyon

Entrance to the Tarogo Gorge, one of premier scenic spots of Taiwan.

three people in a forest

There are lots of beautiful hiking trails in Taiwan.

person swimming in turquoise water

Crystal clear water flowing through Tarogo Gorge.

rider on a scooter riding along a twisty mountain road

There are 4 highways crossing the island from west to east.

person posing high above the ocean with steep mountains descending into it

East coast highway is more spectacular than California's Pacific Coast Highway.

rider on a small electric scooter

Even electric scooter came in handy in Southern Taiwan.

two guys posing in front of a tall pagoda

At Sun Moon lake.

 posing next to a guard

Cheng Kai Shek's thomb.

 three people in a traditional chinese village

Jiufen - a restored mountain village outside Taipei.

 two people next to a bridge

An attraction along the east coast of Taiwan.

 three people with a long beach behind

A quiet beach in SE Taiwan.