Ha Long Bay tour started out pretty normal… lunch on the boat while cruising the bay, then you stop for a 15 minute paddle in some decaying kayaks.After, we motored on to Hang Súng Sôt to tour the caves.
I am a solo-budget-traveler who likes to book my long-haul flights to/from home and then leave room in my itinerary for unexpected adventures along the way. While this gives me the flexibility and freedom I enjoy, it also means that I find myself spending precious time considering all my transporation options. Here are the top 5 things I learned along the way.
Let’s say I want to get from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore. First, I’d look up bus/train time tables and prices. Next, I’d hit up Skyscanner and find flights for my chosen time frame. If I could find a flight for under $70, it was almost always worth it since it saved me from sitting in a minivan all day. In Vietnam, I bought a flight from HCMC to DaNang that was the same price as an overnight train ride. Later, I rode the train from Hue to Hanoi and really enjoyed the trip.
Crossing land borders adds 1-2 hours to your trip. First, you get out and stand in line to get your visa/stamp. Get back in the bus, drive to customs and unload your gear. Wait in line again. The best bus companies give you VIP passes that fast-track you through the visa process. The worst make you switch buses at the border.
I noticed that the bus stations were located miles out of town and were only accessible by taxi. Sometimes, this means you arrive to your ‘destination’ only to find the cab drivers are charging $15 for the 7 mile drive to your hotel. The nine hour bus ride was only $14. Haggling usually works, but these cabbies know you aren’t going to walk to town, so make some new friends and split the fare.
When the option for land travel is minivan, bus or luxury bus; spend the extra $5. I rode five hours in a minivan, with my hands braced against the back of the bench in front of me It wasn’t bolted down and tipped back, precariously, every time we accelerated. Luxury buses often give water or a meal as well. We also paid a bit more for our overnight train berths which slept four people instead of six people.
During my pre-trip research I read it over and over again; moto travel is dangerous! I promised myself that I wouldn’t travel by motorcycle while in Asia. Reinforcing my fears, I met numerous travelers with broken bones/terrible road rash and scary stories. I was NOT going to be one of them! The last week of my trip, I rented a ‘scooter’ from our hostel to explore the low-key island of Koh Lanta. Luckily, nothing happened to me but my scooter wasn’t so lucky. Uneven pavement and a well-placed guardrail resulted in a hefty repair fine that my travel insurance wouldn’t cover. Lesson learned. Next time rent a pedal bike.
Eventually, I learned that ANY time I changed locations I should just plan on using a full day of travel time. So, I tried to relax when in transit. I talked to other travelers, binge-listened to my favorite podcasts and watched the world go by outside my window. The journey is part of the adventure and makes the destination sweeter.
A cab can get stuck in traffic for HOURS and cost $27us! Bypass that hassle and figure out if your destination is near a SkyTrain station.