By Anna Starostinetskaya
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- Trade Paperback $17.00 $22.00 CAD
- ebook $11.99 $15.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around August 27, 2019. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
With detailed maps, guides, charts, and hundreds of brilliant 4-color photographs throughout, the book takes readers through the most adventurous destinations throughout Southeast Asia. It’s any intrepid traveler’s comprehensive guidebook to the region, with tips to:
- Get Inspired: Destinations organized by interest, such as Adventure & Sports; Art, Culture, and Design; Food; Sex & Partying; and Music & Festivals
- Get Your Shit Together: Everything you must know to plan your trip, including advice on when to go where, where to stay when you arrive, passport & visa considerations, budgeting, packing (and backpacking), and health & safety specific to the city and country you’re visiting
- Make Yourself Useful: Avenues to extend your trip by volunteering, studying, or working abroad
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THE BEST WAY TO DESCRIBE SOUTHEAST ASIA IS THAT IT IS A FEAST, AND ONLY PARTIALLY in the traditional sense. Of course, you will hit every street-food stall you can, sitting on rickety plastic stools and eating things you may have not thought were edible. But your eyes will also feast on towering ancient architecture, sculptures, and art, while your ears will take in a cacophony of street sounds generated by the bustle of city life. In the countryside and on remote islands, the feast will take the form of nature in abundance, with expansive caves, gushing waterfalls, thick jungles, and pounding ocean waves. We hope this guide will serve as an appetizer in the multicourse feast that is Southeast Asia and make you hungry for more. You will inevitably stumble across the metaphorical Banana Pancake Trail, where many visitors end up because locals have tailored their offerings to suit Western tastes. But be wary of staying on the tried-and-tested path for too long. We find that the best adventures await—in this region and beyond—when you allow yourself to get a little off track.
HOW THIS BOOK IS ORGANIZED
From putting salt on watermelon to drinking beer in the shower, we’ve always been a little unconventional. While many travel guides are organized by country, ours is divided by interests—because we believe that following your passions will always lead you to someplace interesting. Whether you’re into ripping waves from dusk ’til dawn, eating yourself into a food coma in every place you visit, gawking at obscure artifacts, or fist-pumping late into the night, you’ll find something in our main section that’ll stir your wanderlust.
In the second part, we lay out all the basics you need to know to get you on the road. You couldn’t pay us enough to make you a bullet-point packing list, nor are we interested in holding your hand while you fill out your passport renewal forms. What you’ll find here are tips on how to avoid the dreaded food-induced shits, where you can get the most beers for your buck, and how to avoid scams—plus other practical stuff mixed in.
Our last section is all about using your time abroad for good. There you’ll find volunteer, study, and intern opportunities broken down by areas of interest. Many countries in Southeast Asia are struggling economically and politically, some still recovering from years of brutal warfare and environmental disasters, with new conflicts arising simultaneously. In this section, we urge you to get involved in causes such as helping children, animals, or the environment, addressing human-rights violations, and dampening the impact of disease and disaster. As a bonus, immersing yourself in a culture in this way allows you to live like a local, opening up myriad off-track opportunities.
You will notice that some destinations are more thoroughly covered than others. That’s because we’re not interested in spoon-feeding you everything about Southeast Asia—the internet is there for that. Instead, we want to present you with a sampling of the things we genuinely think you should do, even if that means you’ll read a lot about Thailand and not so much about Myanmar (an undoubtedly beautiful place where a brewing genocide makes it hard for us to suggest jovial travel). We’re hoping our recommendations push you in the direction of exploring other locales, events, and destinations inspired by—even if not covered in—this book. In other words, take OTP on the road with you as a friend who gently pushes you outside your comfort zone, not as a printed GPS device.
Instagram, be damned! Southeast Asia might look pretty in pictures, but getting into the jungle-covered thick of it is the only way to truly understand this magical place. Your itch for adventure gets a satisfying scratch from the expansive limestone karsts jutting upward through the outskirts of Vietnam; Bali’s famed beaches and jungle welcome you to become your best Bohemian self; and the monsoon-pounded Indonesian coastline creates monster waves that attract the world’s top surfers. Cambodia’s ancient past is laid out for you at Angkor Wat, where nature has beautifully eaten what man once made. Exploring the island nations of Southeast Asia is equal parts physical and spiritual, resulting in a truly transformative trip. With complex cuisines to spice up your palate, plenty of places to rage the night away (plus restorative coconut water waiting for you on the hungover side of things), and a region-wide cultural identity that cruxes on hospitality and collaborative living, Southeast Asia is on every backpacker’s bucket list for many reasons, all of which you will soon discover.
Adventure, Sights, and Sports
THE EMERALD GREENERY FOUND JUST OUTSIDE THE BUSTLING CITY CENTERS OF Southeast Asia will lure you into its vast expanse, showering you with waterfalls, challenging your quads to push higher uphill, and testing the strength of your lungs as you blissfully soar into its cavernous depths. Miles of sea beckon deeper exploration, where the rarest aquatic life—from coral formations to almost-extinct dolphins—dwells. Climb through the beautifully ruined remains of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, trek through the hidden streams of the world’s largest cave in Vietnam, and battle the ocean’s herculean strength as you surf Indonesia’s most unforgiving waves. Fear is your friend, even when it feels like he hates you.
THE GRANDDADDY OF TEMPLES: ANGKOR WAT (CAMBODIA)
When they stumbled upon Angkor Wat in the 1500s, many Euro explorers claimed that this temple complex was filled with impossibly beautiful, ornate structures that put Rome to shame. The now-extinct Hindu-Buddhist Khmer Empire built Angkor Wat to fulfill its lofty goals of showing the rest of the world that it was the boss of art and architecture. In the eighth century, King Jayavarman II established a foothold in the Siem Reap region, and his successors built it into a city of intricate temples that eventually included the masterful Angkor Wat. The fall of the Khmer in the fifteenth century meant these structures were left abandoned for decades, during which the surrounding jungle began to crawl over the complex, engulfing it and transforming it into a work of art no human could ever re-create. Now a holy tourist attraction, the beautifully decomposing temple is filled with towering statues, expansive terraces, and views that will transform your idea of architecture into a twisted fantasy.
What Is Wat?
The twelfth-century complex, built to represent the universe, is punctuated by five towers (the largest of which is nearly seven hundred feet high) that represent the peaks of the mythic mountain Meru. From the beginning of the long causeway entrance, Angkor Wat resembles a lotus bud. Dedicated to the supreme Hindu deity Vishnu, the temple took more than thirty-seven years to build and is the biggest attraction (in both number of tourists and sheer size) in the area. The tiered, 402-acre complex is covered in more than twenty-six hundred bas-reliefs—or sculptures carved into walls—which are all meant to be viewed from left to right. They depict Hindu funeral rituals, hand-to-hand battle scenes, five-headed serpents, mourning monkeys, and fantastical deities. The best example of Khmer art in the world, the structure has mostly survived the forces of nature for hundreds of years thanks to groups of Buddhist monks that moved in and worked to preserve it after the Khmer peaced out.
What About Thom?
While Angkor Wat is absolutely worth a visit, it is often hard to slip into a state of serene bliss when surrounded by five thousand tourists taking selfies. When the crowd proves to be too much, there’s Thom: another network of temples nearby and surrounded by a moat that is said to have kept the crocodiles at bay when more than one million people occupied “The Great City” back in the day. Each of the temple’s gates is flanked by fifty-four statues of deities on one side and fifty-four statues of demons on the other—an ancient devil-and-angel shoulder scenario. Onsite you will find majestic ruins of the dead and very little annoyance from the living. A few notable sites include:
A representation of the intersection of heaven and earth, the Bayon stands smack-dab in the middle of Angkor Thom, and its stone towers are covered with eerily large faces of god-king Jayavarman VII.
A decrepit yet fascinating structure (which is currently being rebuilt to give tourists an idea about what the original looked like), the Baphuon is a three-tiered temple mountain that was built in honor of Hindu god Shiva in 1066.
THE TERRACE OF THE ELEPHANTS
A viewing tower built for royals, the terrace is covered in carvings of life-sized elephants and of the garuda—a mythological creature often described as the king of birds.
TERRACE OF THE LEPER KING
Originally thought to be dedicated to a royal who perished of leprosy, this platform—covered in sculptures of demons and other funerary symbols—is now believed to have gotten its name because, when it was discovered, its central structure was covered in moss. Alternate theories suggest that the figure was that of Yama (the god of death), and that the terrace served as a crematorium.
This three-tiered pyramid was dedicated to legendary mount Meru, and it can (and should be) climbed for breathtaking views of surrounding structures.
BONUS: TA PROHM
While technically not located inside the walled Angkor Thom complex, this temple is a must-visit, as it features huge silk and strangler fig trees swallowing its structures whole with their crawling roots. If it looks familiar, that’s because parts of the 2001 film Tomb Raider were shot here.
CROSS-COUNTRY MOTORBIKING (VIETNAM)
Dotted with sprawling vistas, emerald-green landscapes of countryside villages, and miles of bright-blue coastline, and where winding roads turn into unforgettable experiences, Vietnam is a beautiful country to explore via motorcycle. Here’s how to check off your Vietnam motorbike bucket list with confidence.
Though most crashes occur in metropolitan areas, on average, road-traffic accidents kill approximately fourteen thousand people in Vietnam every year and are the leading cause of death among those aged fifteen to twenty-nine. Motorcyclists account for more than half of the vehicular fatalities in the country. This is why Vietnam is not the place to learn how to ride a motorbike. If you’re not already a motorbike rider, take a beginner’s riding course in your hometown so you can get in there with some confidence. While insurance isn’t legally required, considering the accident rate, it can sure come in handy even for seasoned riders. Now that we’ve got all the scary death warnings out of the way, let’s get you on a motorbike, make some plans, and have some fun!
There’s really only one bike you should consider for trippin’ in Vietnam, and that’s the Honda Win—which will cost you no more than a mere 400 bucks. It’s the most widely used, affordable, practical, and reliable bike there is in these here parts. Broke down in the middle of a rice paddy? Someone with Honda Win spare parts will be nearby to help, and it won’t cost you an arm and a leg (unless you’ve had yourself a spill). Regardless, it’s likely you’ll end up needing some repairs along the way—which will usually be very inexpensive, somewhere from $5 to $10. Purchasing your bike from a local mechanic and selling it back at the end of the journey is very common practice and has many advantages. For one, you’ll have no time constraints and all the freedom to ride as long as you like without the pressure of adhering to a return date. Second, renting means putting down a large deposit, whereas buying lets you recoup close to what you paid for the bike. Make sure your ride comes with its “blue card,” which is like a pink slip (certificate of title) in the States. It will have a Vietnamese name on it, but as long as you possess it you are the owner of the vehicle.
Pick a Route
Now that you’ve got your wheels, all that’s left to do is ride. Commit to a timeline and take to the road, where endless possibilities abound.
THE QUICKIE: HUE TO HOI AN, ONE DAY
This beginner-friendly route is considered the best day trip not only in Vietnam, but in all of Southeast Asia. If you want an adventurous taste of motorbiking Vietnam without making a big commitment, then this is the itinerary for you. You will cruise through modern Vietnam while seeing hints of the traditional, getting a glimpse of hyperlocal life complete with lush green rice fields dotted with those iconic cone hats, mountain views, secluded beaches, and fishing villages. Make sure you stop for some locally made pho to soothe your soul.
THE CLASSIC: SAIGON TO HANOI, TWO TO FOUR WEEKS
Equal parts historical landmarks and off-the-beaten-path treks, this popular route lets you kill two birds with one stone. You will pass through beach resort Mui Ne, quirky province Dalat, coastal city Nha Trang, riverside town Ninh Binh, and bustling Hoi An. Along the way, you will experience the glory of zooming along the mountainous Hai Van Pass, the coastal little roads north of Hue, and the main thoroughfare, Ho Chi Minh Road. Take a breather at the Phong Nha Caves, where spectacular limestone karsts (the oldest rock formations of their kind in all of Asia) have been dwelling for more than four hundred million years.
THE BEACH BUM: SAIGON TO HANOI BY COASTLINE, TEN DAYS TO THREE WEEKS
If you’re forever in search of that secluded beach from The Beach, this coastal route will tickle your sand-loving toes. The course hugs Vietnam’s expansive coastline, where you will ride from beach towns to fishing villages on an eight-hundred-mile repeating cycle. You can hop off and socialize at more populous beaches such as Mui Ne and Nha Trang, and find delicious desolation at lesser-known local hangs like Phan Rang, Cam Ranh, and Quy Nhon. At night, seek out beach parties, or just relax and let the waves of the majestic sea lull you to sleep.
THE WORLD’S LARGEST CAVE: SON DOONG (VIETNAM)
Son Doong quietly loomed in a lush corner of north central Vietnam for two to five million years before a local man discovered it in 1991—which we’re thinking feels like finding a $20 bill in your pocket on laundry day… times infinity. The cave was too steep for the dude to just jump right in, and in fact it wasn’t until 2009 that the cave was properly explored by a British research team he led there. Now, a select few can experience this impressive site that’s basically Disneyland for Jurassic Park lovers.
Glory of the Cave
This cave is so massive that a Boeing 747 could fly through its largest passage, and a forty-story skyscraper could fit into its cavernous, five-and-a-half-mile-long belly. Not only is it home to a full-on jungle, but there’s a legit river running through it with more stalagmites (the pointy rocks on the floor) and stalactites (the same pointy rocks, but on the ceiling) than you can possibly imagine. Entering the cave is no walk in the (Phong Nha National) park; it’s a climbing adventure that lasts for 80 meters (262 feet). To get out of Son Doong, visitors must scale another 90 meters (that’s pushing 300 feet) up the calcitite Great Wall of Vietnam. Suffice it to say, you’ll need to be in good physical shape to notch this cave on your belt.
Spelunk the F*ck in There
It costs a pretty 300,000 pennies (that’s $3,000 for you math whizzes) to tour the cave, and space is super limited because nature hates being stomped on by humans. Since 2016, Oxalis Adventures—the only tour company that the government has authorized to operate here—has taken brave cavers on a four-day, three-night expedition through Son Doong with one night of accommodations at a nearby village before and after the thrilling trip (presumably so travelers can freak out and recover, respectively). If you’re a photo geek, Oxalis also hosts extended photography tours complete with powerful LED lights to illuminate whatever remote cave corner you want to shoot.
Conquering the Cave
Once inside, your perception of the natural world shifts—ferns grow bigger as they reach for sunlight, and massive sinkholes (one adorably called Watch Out for Dinosaurs) take your breath away. During the expedition, visitors wash in the river, eat provided meals with the crew, explore ancient fossils and rolling fields of algae, wander through the underground jungle, investigate hidden caverns and waterfalls, and camp near the cave’s unique structures—such as Hand of the Dog, which is shaped like an enormous paw. Newly discovered cave critters, including white spiders, novel shrimp species, flying foxes, and monkeys, make the journey even more thrilling.
Caves for Days
Son Doong is undoubtedly exciting, and very few have the bragging rights of having been inside it for four days. However, the rest of the region also has much to offer those seeking adventure. Several slightly more accessible caves abound in the Phong Nha region—not to mention charming villages and destinations for water sports. The Tu Lan Cave system comprises ten different crevices—complete with lakes—that require a hot jungle trek to access. If you want to test how prone you are to claustrophobia, check out the small, narrow Hang Va cave, filled with calcite cones jetting out from its shallow waters. Its sister cave (Hang En) is the third largest in the world. Although the discovery of Son Doong was pretty incredible, the mysterious Ruc tribe, which calls Vietnam’s cave kingdom home, likely knows about a few others we will never see.
GET YOUR ASS KICKED IN BANGKOK (THAILAND)
We all idolized Van Damme growing up, and now’s your chance to kick some ass—or likely get yours badly beaten—in the name of sportsmanship. Muay Thai (or Thai boxing) is a national sport in Thailand and quite the spectacle to behold—or, if you’re brave, participate in. Be warned: these men are not fucking around when it comes to dishing out the ass whoopings—and the women are just as ruthless. However, if you can stand the heat, Frank Dux won’t have nothin’ on you.
While its exact origins are debated, forms of Muay Thai have been recorded as far back as the 1500s, when kings would recruit the best fighters as their bodyguards and have them brawl for entertainment. The sport is known as the “art of the eight limbs,” as it relies on eight points of contact—the fists, elbows, feet, and knees—as opposed to just the two points used in traditional boxing. Muay Thai—of which there are at least eight styles—was used in warfare before the modern era made hand-to-hand combat obsolete. As the martial art became more of a spectator sport in the early twentieth century, gloves replaced rope-wrapped hands, fighters began wearing protective gear on their sensitive bits, and official rings opened to host matches.
Let’s get one thing straight: this is going to hurt. It doesn’t matter if you won your state’s CrossFit competition or if you’re a Tough Mudder muthafucka… it will hurt. Remember how Dhalsim (that one long-limbed guy in Street Fighter
- On Sale
- Aug 27, 2019
- Page Count
- 256 pages
- Running Press