When I started to plan my travel in Asia, I wanted eagerly to travel only by land from India to Vietnam. This was my initial plan but after some research, I realized that the safest border that Myanmar has, it’s the one with Thailand so I changed my plans. So, after my journey in mother India, I took a flight to Vietnam and I decided to keep up with traveling plan by land from Ho Chi Minh to Myanmar. The result was magnificent, I travel mostly alone through four countries for more than 5000 kilometers only by buses, trains, and cars.
Why traveling by land? Firstly, I love to travel with locals and to see places, villages, nature that you can’t see it only if you fly to a touristic place and travel around it. I like hitchhiking too but because I was a solo traveler most of the time, I decided to travel with local buses. I wouldn’t say it’s ordinary because very often I was the only foreigner from the bus or train. I’ve met many good people on buses or trains, we shared food or they helped me how to plan my next destinations. It’s something really intense when you travel with locals, you can interact with all kinds of people, you can observe their habits and the relations between them and you could be lucky and find one local that speaks English for telling you more about their country.
By train in Myanmar
Besides this, traveling by land is really cheap, maybe some of you disagree with me but I give one tip, try to find buses from local bus stations, maybe it will be harder to have connections or to get a place but the price is extremely low. If you book from your hotel or a travel agency, obviously the price is higher and maybe you won’t see the point of choosing this way to travel.
Another kind of tuk-tuk in Myanmar – the driver is in the back
For example, from Vietnam to Laos it was really hard to find something online that will be available at the beginning of February because it was just after the Lunar New Year. The prices online were around 35-40 dollars, but when I went to a local bus station and I found a bus from Da Nang to Savannakhet for 15 dollars and I traveled with locals too that gave me some orientation at the destination. It wasn’t my plan to go directly to Savannakhet because I wanted to start traveling in Laos from Pakse but I adapted myself to the circumstances.
Border crossing point Lao Bao – Dasavanh Vietnam to Laos by bus
Aaaah…the circumstances… You learn how to be more flexible by traveling by land and to improvise when it’s necessary. I found a really cheap bus night from Da Lat to Da Nang which was meant to arrive early morning at seven at the destination. I can’t explain exactly what happened but we arrived four hours earlier, I was a little bit suspicious about the timing before the ride because I checked the distances on Google Maps but I considered they make a lot of stops. So I arrived alone in Da Nang at 3 am without having a place to stay, I ended up sleeping on a bench at the reception of the hostel that I booked for the next day and learning to check better the maps and to have a backup plan.
My first host in Da Nang
Traveling by land will offer you the chance to observe more about the socio-economical situation of the country too. I realized that I crossed to Laos because 30 minutes after the border we had a flat tire. And…it was just the beginning…the roads in Laos are like rollercoasters, you jump all the time from your seat. The roads are reflecting the poverty of the country, associated with the state of villages, and lack of access to schools and hospitals.
Bad roads but magical landscape – Vang Vieng, Laos
What did I learn from my experience? How important is to have a plan with a purpose. It doesn’t matter that you’ll change it ten times afterward, researching is mandatory. If you don’t have information at all about the countries that you want to visit, maybe it’s not the right time for you to travel. It happened to shape and reshape the plans and to accept sudden changes but all the time I tried to keep up with the purpose of my plan.
Be kind and humble with the locals, try to observe their reactions to you, and don’t act as an intruder. If in India, people were quite invasive and touchy, in South-East Asia people are more reserved, friendly but not very open all the time. I had to understand that I face another kind of civilization and to adapt to their way to be. For example, on trains or buses, they observe you for a long period until they give you a sign to communicate. Be patient and act smart, you can have a great experience traveling with locals or you could feel a total outsider.
Bagan- Irrawaddy River
Be aware all the time about the cultural differences and be confident in yourself. People feel your insecurities and when you look confused. However, most of the people I’ve met were friendly and helpful, so sometimes don’t be afraid to let yourself vulnerable in front of them. Trust your intuition, sometimes the travel becomes better when you listen to your instincts.
All in all, traveling by land made me feel happier and more alive about being all the time on the road. I took time for volunteering and visiting schools but overall, I had an intense rhythm of traveling that made me fresh and feeling healthy. For a while, I was a nomad, a happy nomad!
Crossing the Friendship Bridge Mae Sot – Myawaddy, Thailand to Myanmar