I love travelling so much.

Case in point: when I was still living in Singapore as an expatriate, I registered for marathons and ultramarathons in Japan, Thailand, and Hong Kong just so I could also travel.

So much so that I constantly look for ways on how to combine my love for running (and all other hobbies) with it.

But more than city travelling, I fell in love so much more with solo travelling or backpacking.

I love backpacking because every time I did it, I was able to visit so many exciting places and countries within a short period of time in Southeast Asia. Backpacking also let me immerse in many different cultures, learn the different ways of life, and marvel at the breathtaking views the region has to offer. Lastly, this type of travelling also matched the speed of my life in Singapore, my tight budget, and was a great breaker to my then mundane, repetitive work life.

The Backpacker

As a result, I have done a series of backpacking trips which I called “The Backpacker” — referring to myself. Each backpacking trip started and ended in Singapore and lasted for at least a week. To immortalize these adventures, I created a travel documentary for them and used to publish them on social media on a page called Bored Expat — again, referring to myself.

In this blog post, you will find my life’s first backpacking trip and discover why I was so drawn into it as described by my Finnish friend, Miko.

But first, the trailers…

The Backpacker Part 1 – Video Trailers

The Backpacker Part 1 – First Trailer
The Backpacker Part 1 – Second Trailer

The Backpacker Part 1: 7 Destinations, 4 Countries, 10 Days

Let the journey begin!

Day 1: Singapore and Johor Bahru, Malaysia

I started the first day of my backpacking trip at my workplace in Singapore.

I planned to travel with just my Decathlon backpack so I took it to work to save time — or rather, so I could quickly begin my journey. So, as soon as the clock hit 6pm, I quickly rushed to Singapore’s north to cross its northern land border with Malaysia, and entered the city of Johor Bahru.

Getting to Singapore-Malaysia land border was not easy as there was a huge build-up of traffic on the way there. That was not all: the border crossing was also full of people trying to enter Malaysia, so I was stuck for 3-4 hours before I got into the Malay country.

As I arrived late at night, I booked a cheap hostel in the city to take a nap for a few hours and then hired an Uber taxi in the wee hours of the morning to go to the airport and catch my first flight the following day.

For this trip, I strategically chose to fly out from Johor Bahru’s airport as the flights there were substantially cheaper than Singapore’s Changi airport (pre-pandemic), although I did trade-off with some comforts. Compared to Singapore’s airport, it is less connected internationally though but that didn’t matter to me as it has a direct flight to Bangkok, Thailand — a major travel hub in Southeast Asia.

Day 2: Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

From Malaysia’s Johor Bahru city, I flew that morning into Ho Chi Minh City (also called Saigon), the capital city of Vietnam.

As I have been here before, I went straight outside and onto its wild streets to look for a cup of tasty Vietnamese coffee which I could not afford to miss!

Relishing a cup of yummy Vietnamese coffee! #wheninvietnam

Afterwards, I hired a local guy to see more of Ho Chi Minh with his motorcycle. This way, I can see more of the city within a short period of time. As you will see in the video below, Saigon’s streets are full of motorcycles — and this is true for most if not all Vietnamese cities.

Motorcycle tour on the wild streets of Ho Chi Minh City.

During the motorcycle tour, I had some opportunities to take some snaps of the city’s skyline. Of course, my lunch had to definitely be a bowl of (real) Vietnamese pho — which I loved so much for its taste and affordable price.

After a day of urban adventure, I then went my way back to the airport to catch my flight to my next destination in this backpacking trip: the City of Angels, Bangkok, Thailand!

From Saigon, I flew for about two hours into Bangkok’s Don Mueang budget airport. As I arrived late in the evening, I stayed in a hostel located just right outside of the airport to catch some rest and prepare for another big adventure coming in the next day.

Day 3: Bangkok, Thailand

Cognizant from the start of the (very) limited time I have for each of my backpacking destinations, I made sure to maximize this trip through thorough planning.

After waking up to a lovely morning on the outskirts of Bangkok, I took a cheap local bus trip to the city centre to experience what it is like to commute “like a local in Bangkok.”

Afterwards, I caught up with my fit Finnish friends who were based there — Miko and Timmy.

To me, both of them are Viking gods in their own right as shown in the picture below.

But I have also been told (by them) that I’ve got the legs… so there goes my Asian flush! 😏

I had so much fun squeezed in one crazy day with them. We did motorcycle back-riding through the streets of Bangkok without wearing a helmet as we squeezed between large trucks and vehicles. Obviously, I do not advise anybody to do this, but it shows just how wild the things you can do in Asia… at your own risk!

During the day, I found myself in the middle of their media production shoot. These two fit Finnish folks are doing some modelling work in Bangkok, so it was nice to see first hand how they work… but that is not what I am here for #lol.

As soon as that is done, I bid goodbye to them and left for the airport to — of course — take another flight to my next destination: Thailand’s Chiang Mai. As this was my first visit to this city (and heard so many good things about it prior), I decided to stay there for a few days to dip my feet a little bit more into what this northern Thai city has to offer.

Days 4, 5 and 6: Chiang Mai, Thailand

Shortly upon arriving, I gleaned through the plane window and felt a rush in excitement as I marvelled myself at the large mountains surrounding Chiang Mai. I love nature and everything mountain-related, so I was truly ecstatic to learn that Chiang Mai has this to offer me on this trip.

Afterwards, I checked into a hostel and quickly met two new friends with whom I stayed in the same room: a German guy and an American guy. We went out for dinner and drinks together and had fun exchanging experiences from each of our own ongoing backpacking trips. They told me about their crazy trips in Thailand’s mountains further north which I duly noted for future trip considerations.

Met two new friends Noah (from Germany) and Anthony (USA) during my first visit to Chiang Mai

On my second day in northern Thailand, I met a high school classmate named Marcherie who was then living in Chiang Mai.

My high school classmate Marcherie in Chiang Mai, Thailand

In the morning, she drove me around the city with a motorbike and took me to Chiang Mai’s popular overlooking mountain temple.

We had tons of laughter recollecting some silly and hilarious high school memories along the way.

Late in that afternoon as we descended from the breath-taking mountain temple, we encountered an unexpected adventure: her motorbike suddenly ran out of gas and we had to walk it (literally).

This video shows how we dragged it on the streets to the gas station so we could reach home before the rainstorm arrived and said goodbye to each other.

No more gas lol

On my third and last day in Chiang Mai, I decided to do some (solo) city sightseeing.

While discovering more on this day, I figured that Chiang Mai has plenty of nice things to offer: it is a very walkable city, it has many nice cultural places, cheap and yummy Thai street foods, beautiful temples, a large night market, an array of both local and international restaurants… plus a lovely cool daytime temperature perfect for people who are looking for a break from the searing tropical heat of southern Asian cities. Traffic and atmosphere-wise, it is more chill and absolutely less crazy than the party-filled Bangkok.

To me, all the above qualities explained why Chiang Mai earned a reputation as one of the world’s capital cities for digital nomads. You can work remotely here, pay cheaper, and have a lifestyle.

After my solo city tour, I returned to my hostel to do the checkout and grab my backpack. Shortly, I found myself on my way to the airport wondering about how I loved my experience in Chiang Mai and promised to return one day.

In the meantime, I took another flight which connected via Bangkok to my next, more rural destination. I flew into a new country to visit Luang Prabang in Northern Laos!

Here are the first few stunning sights I’ve seen of Laos from when I was still up in the plane to the time I had my first moments walking on the dusty road from Luang Prabang’s airport to the town centre.

Green mountains of Laos. Sooo beautiful.

Why is Luang Prabang a UNESCO World Heritage Town? That, I will have to find out.

Days 7 and 8: Luang Prabang, Laos

Walking into Luang Prabang’s town centre made me recall lots of memories of my childhood in the Philippines. The town is quaint and has a very “rural village” feel, which is fascinating given that it holds so much history, culture, and heritage. If there was one idea I had about backpacking, these first few moments I had in Luang Prabang already squarely spelled it! It was so green, peaceful and tranquil there. The stress about life’s realities faded away.

Right after doing the check in at my booked hostel, I met many other young backpackers from all over the world, though they are mostly from Europe. We were all thrilled to meet each other and quickly bond over dinner and drinks at a nearby local bar. They told me how they had a crazy, booze-filled multi-day trip on a boat from a northern Thai city to Luang Prabang.

The following morning, we also had breakfast together and learned more about each other. Everyone here was different: some are students on their gap year, there was a Dutch doctor, researchers and office professionals like myself.

Eventually, we decided to do a trip together to see Luang Prabang’s highlights especially to Kuang Si Falls, which is located about 29 kilometres from Luang Prabang and was such a stunning place to see.

Stunning waterfalls near Luang Prabang in northern Laos

When we returned to Luang Prabang late in the afternoon, I decided to have a stroll in town and continued to be captivated with it. I bought fresh fruit juices, local dessert, strolled through its amazing night and street food markets. Everything was so much more affordable here.

When we returned to Luang Prabang late in the afternoon, I decided to have a stroll in town and was truly fascinated it. I bought fresh fruit juices, strolled through its colourful night market, and had dinner at its wonderful street food market with a huge array of local dishes. Everything was so much more affordable here.

The next day, I decided to explore Luang Prabang’s older parts to get myself acquainted with its history. It is crazy that this city has a strong French colonial influence. The meeting of different cultures made Luang Prabang unique. Down the road, I was mind blown of the breath-taking temples I have seen and its quaint streets. This town is really so serene: it felt almost spiritual to be here. I really loved it.

Just one of many breath-taking old temples in Luang Prabang, Laos

To be honest, I really wanted to stay longer in Luang Prabang, but I thought I will just leave it for the future trips.

Before heading back to the airport, I spent a quiet time by the scenic Mekong River and relished at the stunning views of Northern Laos. I promised to the heavens to come back here and experience its magic again.

Video timelapse of sky by the Mekong River in Luang Prabang, Laos

Day 9: Hat Yai, Thailand

On my ninth day in this backpacking trip, I left Luang Prabang and flown to the city of Hat Yai in southern Thailand. It was also my first time here so I had no idea of what to expect.

It appeared that I spent the entire afternoon dealing with language barrier problems as I tried to navigate my way to the city’s bus terminal. It appears that there are fewer people here who could speak English so that made me feel like I was the only lost guy in the city. 😂 But there’s a hero on this day: Google Translate… and the patient Thai lady whom I communicated with app-to-app.

There’s nothing that stood out in Hat Yai for me other than the incredible number of massage parlours around where I was. As the dusk came, the sky put up a fascinating orange sunset, which looked like a meteor just blasted somewhere.

After having a local Thai dinner, I then hopped on an overnight bus that eventually crossed the Thailand-Malaysia land border and reached Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia, after at least 7 hours of travel.

Day 10: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Upon arriving at the central bus station of Malaysia’s capital, I hopped on another bus headed further south to Johor Bahru city. This was where my trip came into full circle as I traversed another land border back to Singapore.

As my first backpacking trip ended in Singapore, I concluded that I really liked backpacking and I am pumped to do another one again. For what reason? To see the kind of sights you’ve seen above and the unique cultural experience that comes with it. This adventure-filled, whirlwind backpacking trip rendered me speechless.

If you have not experienced doing a solo backpacking trip, perhaps it is time to consider doing one. You live only once and this experience is too good and unique for you to miss!

Thanks and I hope you had fun with this post. Please share your comments below if you want to share your thoughts. I would be happy to read them!

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