Having established my credibility with Nate, he was all aboard, and we were full steam ahead (and other punny train expressions). Luckily, after googling “trains in SE Asia”, I eventually found my way to a wonderful site called The Man in Seat Sixty-One, and said man actually knew what he was talking about. The site contains remarkably detailed information about trains in the region, including: recommended routes, time tables, costs, websites for purchasing tickets, visa requirements and procedures when crossing borders, pictures and videos of trains, and testimonials from other people who had taken various routes/trains. The site doesn’t just cover SE Asia, so I highly recommend checking it out if you’re planning a train adventure anywhere. You’ll rail-y love it! (Disclaimer: I stole this line from some website I came across and now can’t remember the URL…but c’mon, that’s too good not to repeat). The site had this convenient, interactive map of the train routes around SE Asia. I like my map better, but I’m partial.
Next step in the planning process was to figure out which routes we wanted to take. We decided to go north from Singapore through Malaysia and Thailand, and then work our way clockwise through Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. From Cambodia, we will fly to Jakarta and travel around Java and Bali for a few weeks. Then we will fly to New Zealand for some aimless-ish camping and Australia for kangaroo shenanigans before hitching a ride to Amsterdam and back to Germany sometime in late March. That’s 12 countries in 114 days, or roughly 4 months.
Next came the important step of figuring out where we were going to sleep and for how long. Here I utilized Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet to find out the hot spots to check out. Googling 10 best sites in Kuala Lumpur, for example, would usually return a list from both sites with suggestions about must-see attractions and must-experience activities. These were helpful for making a decision about whether or not to stay in a town for a night or two. What I found more helpful, though, was finding personal blog entries with first-hand experiences from people who had traveled in the region. Usually, these contain gems like what can be done for cheap or free in the area and what costs money but is worth every dime. This blogger-on-a-budget, who had done a similar trip, had spectacular tips on cheap hostels and free things to do like free walking tours of Hanoi ran by students in a local hospitality program. I hope I can repay the favor with this blog to some other curious traveler!
The trip is really starting to shape up now. Among the 8 countries between Singapore and Indonesia, we’re going to stay in 21 different cities and pass through a dozen or so more. This includes Phuket, Thailand for Christmas, Bangkok for New Year’s Eve, and Bali for Nate’s birthday.
I did eventually move all of my awesome chicken-scratch notes to a very sophisticated, color-coded spreadsheet.