In June 2015, I spent 7 weeks in China and South East Asia with my brother, Sam. He’d be studying over there for a few months, and I flew out to meet him when he’d finished his studies.
The original plan was to explore China – where Sam had been at uni – but that soon expanded to exploring Hong Kong, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand. If we were in Asia, why not see as much of it as we could.
Take a look at my Travel Blogs for each stop on our journey here, or check out my ‘Top 5’ Highlights blog, where I look at the best places we visited, stayed, ate and drank over seven incredible weeks exploring this beautiful region.
Before I start describing the process of organising, it’s worth mentioning that travel to this part of the world is fairly expensive. It can be done on a budget, but don’t always mistake ‘budget’ with ‘cheap’. Saying that, the main expense in this region is getting there – after that, daily costs for food and accomodation are relatively cheap.
It’s possible to use travel agents like STA, who will book your flights and recommend routes and arrange various excursions. That option is slightly more expensive, though, and part of the fun is not sticking to any set plans.
Arranging flights from the UK was relatively easy. We used the Flight Centre, who were very helpful. They can compare lots of airlines, airports and prices, and accommodated our slightly awkward requests. Parting with the money for the flights wasn’t as easy – a flight to Shanghai, and a return from Bangkok cost around £750. Depending on the time of year (we went in summer), that figure might be lower, but it’s worth shopping around to get the cheapest deal.
I’d advise arranging a transfer from the airport when you first arrive. Until you know the country you’re in and how to get around, don’t risk a disastrous first day by getting stuck miles away from your hotel.
Another factor to consider is the cost of visas needed to enter each country. For countries in South East Asia, visas can be bought on the border. China, however, require tourists to buy visas in advance. This requires a visit to the Chinese visa centre in either Manchester or London, or a postal application. Part of the application wants to know where you’re staying for your duration in China. To avoid complications, that meant we had to book transport and accommodation for the two weeks we were in China before we went, and provide that information to the visa centre. Again, that might not be completely necessary, but it’s less effort than potentially having your visa rejected, or being held up at a Chinese border.
Visit the Visa For China website for more information and to start your application. The cost of Chinese visas and their service fee is below.
Regular Visa fee per person:
|Visa Types||UK Citizens||US Citizens|
|Single-Entry with 3-month Validity||GBP 30||GBP 90|
|Double-Entry with 6-month Validity||GBP 45||GBP 90|
|Multi-Entry with 6-month Validity||GBP 90||GBP 90|
|Multi-Entry with 12-month Validity||GBP 180|
Service Fee per person:
|Regular Service Fee||4 working day collection||GBP 66 (VAT inclusive)|
|Express Service Fee||3 working day collection||GBP 78 (VAT inclusive)|
|Postal Service Fee||Apply by post||GBP 90 (VAT inclusive)|
For visa information for other South East Asia countries, visit Project Visa which should have up to date information. It tells you how much a visa is, how you can get one, and what else you need.
One thing I hadn’t even thought of when I was planning my trip was to get injections. It’s a pain, but it’s better to be safe. Unfortunately, because you’re putting yourself ‘at risk’ in another country, you have to pay for the pleasure, and it’s not that cheap. For more information, visit the Fit For Travel website, for information about the different countries you plan to visit. It’s worth getting your injections done a month or two before you travel, to guarantee you get it done. Most injections last for years, so you won’t need to get the same injections for any future travel.
Again, it’s another cost that’s annoying to pay, but worth it if you get in trouble. Make sure you shop around and your policy has everything you want. Medical cover, repatriation, and 24-hour contacts are useful services, while contents cover can vary between policies. Many companies offer specific policies for backpacking, which tend to have most of these features. For 7 weeks in 6 countries, our policy cost around £60, which seemed fair.
Planning a budget really depends on how much you’ve got, where you’re going, and what you want to do when you’re there. For China and South East Asia, it’s entirely possible to spend about $10 a day on average (including food and accomodation). Hostels are common and cheap, and you’ll continue to be surprised at just how little you spend on food. Research where you’re going, and read up on what previous travellers have done. As I write about each leg of our trip, I’ll try and include what type of budget you can expect. I found the Lonely Planet guide very helpful for budget, mid-range, and upmarket options.
Hopefully I’ve covered all the boring stuff here. Don’t be put off by the cost of preparing for a trip – when you get there, you’ll forget why you were moaning about getting a jab for a disease you’ve never heard of. I certainly did, and as long as you don’t spend beyond your means, you’ll be far too busy enjoying yourself in amazing countries to worry about the stress of organising your trip.
If there’s any other aspect of preparing for a backpacking trip that I’ve missed, leave a comment and I’ll add more sections.