Chiang Mai, Thailand
PRO: Beautiful city in Northern Thailand where it has a little bit of everything including Elephant Nature Park, waterfalls, temples and treks. It also includes a great Saturday and Sunday night market that really shows the vibrant culture of the city. It also has a cute Old Town that is surrounded by a wall with a ton of temples, authentic and trendy boutiques and restaurants with a nice quiet vibe.
CON: Not a party city like the south of Thailand, everything closes down around 11:30-12 (which for me is perfect). It can be kind of out of the way if you aren’t going North, but there are a lot of other cities to visit North and they are all worth it.
Luang Prabang, Laos
PRO: Breathtaking village in northern Laos. People say that it reminds them of Thailand 20 years ago, traditionally a very religious (Buddhist) country, Luang Prabang has temples and monks walking around everywhere. It is situated into between two rivers; the mighty Mekong and smaller yet still cool, Nan King. These rivers lead to loads of different types of excursions and fun. It also has a French influence, because they were colonized by the French for many years and because of this you can see it in the style, cuisine and expats located here. There is also a night market every night of the week.
CON: You can’t spend too much time here before headed out somewhere else unless you are totally into some major relax/down time.
PRO: It’s definitely a vibrant city. It really does have everything and if you love the chaotic vibe of Asian cities, you’ve come to the right place. It’s a great place for a unique variety of different types of restuarants, foods, products and you can also bounce between the street side of Hanoi and the really nice rooftop version. It is also a great hub to go to other places from or day trips, such as Halong Bay (a natural wonder of the world and a must see).
CON: It is a crazy city with scooters and motos everywhere! Just like Amsterdam with their bikes, Hanoi has WAY more motos then anything else. It is hard to find a “peaceful” place here, so you would have to go to one of the many other beautiful places in Vietnam to find some quiet time.
Hoi An, Vietnam
PRO: What a cute town. It is also a UNESCO heritage city and has a similar feel as Luang Prabang in Laos but with a lot more going on. Wedged between the ocean and a river there is plenty to do and see here. You can go to the many day trips around Hoi An, hit up the beautiful white sand beaches or explore the town. At night is when things really get popping, the city lights up with lanterns, boat rides on the river and shops, restaurant and bars galore. The old town has a pedestrian walking street for most hours of the day and it is a great place to walk around, shop or grab a drink and people watch. The city also stays up until 3 am which is unlike most places in Southeast Asia that close around 11-12.
CON: There are a ton of westerners here, tourists upon tourists. That doesn’t really bum me out because I think fellow travelers are great and interesting and I’m one of them so I can’t complain too much. But if you are looking for your own little local paradise…. this might not be the spot.
Siemp Reap, Cambodia
PRO: The capital of religious monuments in Southeast Asia. It is absolutely spectacular here. The temples alone should give you a reason to head to Siem Reap. We were only here for 36 hours but we wished we would have stayed for longer. The people in Cambodia were the friendliest and most accommodating we have met so far and the experience was wonderful. The city of Siem Reap is quaint and quite fun to walk around in and check out the different street markets, pub street as well as the Angkor’s at night.
CON: It is a religious and tourist center of SE Asia so there are a lot of tourist accompanying you along the way. It might not be the most remote or peaceful sunrise/sunset you’ve ever seen with 1,000 of other tourists watching it with you, but it definitely is the prettiest.
PRO: Party town! Only second to Bangkok and very unlike the smaller towns in Thailand which I tend to prefer. If you come here to party you are in the right place, but if you come here for the beaches… I would stay in a nicer beach hotel where you can have the luxury and take day trips and visit the islands off the coast. It is beautiful here but you have to get out of the mainland to see those beautiful islands, beaches, and relaxed lifestyle.
CON: Phuket itself seems like a mini vegas, mainly because there are a lot of foreigners, it can seem a little intense then other places you might visit in Thailand.
PRO: It is a beautiful, developed country that has a plethora of things to offer. The country itself is very new and therefore the architecture, shopping, buildings and things such as subway are very sustainable, innovative and convenient. There are also some very iconic attractions to see here as well as many neighborhoods to venture and explore.
CON: It is extremely expensive, especially if you are on a backpacker’s budget. We couldn’t find a private dorm that was in our budget, so we had to opt for dorms in a hostel and going out to grab a bite or drink rivaled costs in San Francisco. It also is a small country so spending more than 4 days here might get a bit repetitive and drain your bank account.
Seoul, South Korea
PRO: Seoul is a great stopover city, it’s beautiful, has really interesting people and attractions such as temples right smack in the middle of skyscrapers and delicious food. We really enjoyed our stay here but were only here for a mere 36 hours. To stay more than 2 whole days you would need to plan a day trip to the Demilitarized Zone or museums within the city because things start to repeat themselces within the actual city of Seoul.
CON: It’s a nice city if you want to see South Korea, but it is a city and therefore can lose its charm and ancient culture after a couple of electronic markets and giant shopping malls later.