Backpacker Paradise in the mountains of Northern Thailand
Backpacker Paradise in the mountains of Northern Thailand

Southeast Asia is rich with cultural diversity, history, and adventure plus all available to see on a budget, making it the perfect place for students to study abroad and travel. Here are some travel suggestions on places to visit in the region on your breaks, or before/after your semester.

1. Pai, Thailand

From Chiang Mai you can take a 150 baht (approx. $4.70) minibus to the backpacker paradise of Pai. The road to Pai has 762 turns, so bring some plastic bags and Dramamine if you are prone to motion sickness.

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The common area at Spicy Pai

A ten minutes walk out of the main section of town will take you to Spicy Pai, the notoriously best hostel around. Known around town as “Spicy”, you can find a home here for 150 baht a night, which provides a cozy bed, a clean bathroom, and lots of social interactions with backpackers from all over the world.

Once you’ve dropped off your bag, head to Fluid, a swimming pool/hang out spot located on the road that takes you from Spicy to town. Fluid costs 60 baht to enter and you can stay all day and soak up the sun or lounge in the pool. There is a also a kitchen with the most delicious potato wedges you will ever have.

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Once you feel yourself getting into the Pai state of mind, visit a waterfall, or take a hike. You can grab a ride to Pai Canyon or the White Buddha at sunset. Later head into town for some street food for dinner and then enjoy the exciting nightlife Pai offers. Don’t forget to stop by Don’t Cry bar on your way home.

2. Hanoi and Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Start in the bustling capital of Hanoi, where you can eat bánh mí on the side of the road and be amazed at the insane motorbike traffic and french influence that fills the streets. Be sure to stop on any street corner to grab a Hanoi beer for 50 cents and a bowl of pho for $1. Stay at either of the Hanoi Backpacker’s Hostels for $7 a night to enjoy great food, comfortable and clean bedrooms, a rooftop bar, and a nightly pub crawl. You can get a three hour bus/boat trip from Hanoi to Cat Ba island for $12 at any travel agency in Hanoi.

Street Pho in Hanoi
Street Pho in Hanoi

We stayed on Cat Ba island for $3 a night at the Cat Ba Hostel, which helped us book a private boat tour along Lang Ha bay for 3 hours. With a short canoe trip and an English speaking guide included, this trip only cost $20. The beauty and silence of the bay were amazing in contrast to the crazy streets of Hanoi.

3. Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang must be the only city in the world with an airport but no buildings over 2 stories. This quaint and relaxed town shows off the best of Laos and feels like living in a dream. Beside the relaxed main area of town, there is a ton of trekking options for the nature lovers visiting Luang Prabang.

Even if you don’t love nature, you will want to visit the Kuang Si Waterfall. You can haggle a songthaew from the main road for this 30-minute journey. Once there, you can explore the many waterfalls and swimming holes available.

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One of the many falls at Kuang Si Waterfall

Stay off the main road, Sisavangvong Road to be close to the nightly market, restaurants, and travel services. LPQ hostel is right off this road and provides private rooms with a free breakfast for $5 a night.

At night, the only thing open past 10 pm is Utopia, a relaxed bar with great music and games. When Utopia closes at 12, all of the backpackers in town hop into songthaews and head over to the local bowling alley where they consume beer Lao, make new friends, and toss bowling balls down the lanes.

4. Angkor Wat, Cambodia

You’ve probably seen it in Tomb Raider or books about wonders of the world, but there is nothing like walking through a field toward the Angkor Wat temple at sunrise. The largest religious monument in the world, Angkor, which means “city”, is exactly that, an old and ancient city that houses many smaller temples. Read up about the history of Angkor before you go, and exploring this mystic place will have a lot more meaning.

Sunrise at Angkor Wat
Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Most people spend two or three days exploring this city, but even if you can handle the heat from dusk to dawn each day, you won’t be able to explore the entire city. A three day pass to Angkor cost $40, and then you can haggle with tuk tuk drivers who will drive you around the 400 square miles of ancient history. If you are in a rush, the most popular temples are Angkor Thom, Angkor Wat, and Ta Prohm.

Ta Prohm Temple
Ta Prohm Temple

If you want a fun and comfortable stay in Siem Reap, I recommend the Mad Monkey Hostel at $8 a night. There is a rooftop bar, a pool, and super comfy beds and clean facilities. The staff can help you find a fairly priced tuktuk driver to take you around Angkor. For night life in Siem Reap, Pub Street is the popular and lively backpacker bar street.

Carolyn Wallace is a TEAN Alum and Global Ambassador at George Washington University. She studied abroad with TEAN in Chiang Mai, Thailand.