Touring - Camping in SEA and China?
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I will beginning my trip through Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and China in mid-November. So far I have heard that accommodations in the above countries are cheap and plentiful. I would like to leave my camping equipment at home but how plentiful is plentiful? Must I aim for towns everyday, or will villages do; how much will it dictate my daily route? Is the flexibility provided by the tent worth the extra pounds? Is it safe to camp in these countries? I was thinking of just bringing a mosquito net and tramp camp. Suggestions?
10-17-08, 07:16 AM
Accommodations are plentiful enough. Among the dozens of cyclists I've met touring in SE Asia, I've only encountered 2 who actually camped there. Not only are accommodations very cheap, but the mostly hot and humid climate can make for pretty unpleasant camping conditions. When I was biking in the northern half of Laos early this year, outside of Vientiane & Luang Prabang, rooms consistently cost from US$3 to US$5. My suggestion is to leave your camping gear at home.
But where can I find accommodations? Must I make towns an endpoint of every day's trip, or will villages do? How will sourcing for accommodations affect my daily route?
10-17-08, 10:23 AM
It depends on the village, and how you're defining "village" versus "town". I stayed in a few fairly remote places in Laos that I would certainly call "villages". I would suggest you read some guidebooks and look at some maps to get a better idea. I've toured in Thailand and Malaysia, too, and finding accommodations simply wasn't much of an issue. Please understand that only a small minority of touring cyclists attempt to camp in SE Asia, so we're obviously finding accommodations sufficiently available.
10-17-08, 02:25 PM
1) Yes, accommodations (guest houses mostly) are cheap and plentiful.
2) Since there aren't many organized campgrounds, camping does deprive the locals of a little bit of income.
3) Camping is not a common activity in most of that region, in general (i.e. the locals don't really do it).
4) Selected areas of SE Asia have issues with unexploded ordinance. In places like Laos and Cambodia, it can be quite dangerous to go off the beaten path in the first place, let alone pound tent stakes into the ground.
Not sure about China. I'd spend a little time on CGOAB and peruse the China entries.
10-17-08, 04:37 PM
I have made numerous trips to this region. Camped only once that I can recall in Southern China. (But it can be done every day in Tibet, Northern China, deserts etc.
Heat, humidity, mosquitoes, lack of clear space, population densities all make camping rather sub-optimal. I did meet somebody once who made a point of camping every day, though he had been arrested twice in china so far as a result.
Cambodia, Laos and China have somewhere to stay in every village. Just ask at a restaurant or brothel if nothing looks obvious. In Vietnam four years ago they still insisted on foreigners staying in "foreigner" hotels, which limited our options and made it a frustrating place, we gave up and left.
The same problem can happen in China, but less recently, especially in more relaxed areas like Yunnan. The authorities take a dim view of camping in China. Better not to do it openly. I wouldn't bother to take a tent unless you are heading for the Tibetian Plateau or Tienshan. The government line is that you can camp or stay anywhere a Chinese can, but local authorities sometimes have other opinions.
The local price for staying in a cheap hotel in Yunnan is 10-20Y, though expect to pay much more in big cities, "backpacker hostels" etc.
All the best
Thanks guys! But would most of these accommodations be safe? Anything specific I should avoid?
10-18-08, 10:02 PM
Don't recall having any great problems (doesn't guarentee there aren't any!). The main issue is finding a place to securely store the bike. Bigger towns in China may have multi-story buildings without a convenient courtyard. Try to avoid arriving in big cities after dark, so you don't have to get stressed about finding somewhere right away.
Small towns with few tourists are usually pretty easy to find something, because there is seldom much choice.
Take some kind of sleeping bag liner/mosquitoe net. If you want to worry about something, worry about malaria, or dengue fever, or food poisoning, or Mekong rice whisky.
10-18-08, 10:37 PM
We asked this very question before we started the SE Asia leg of our trip. Most of the time you'll be good without a tent - and I would say "most" means 98% of the time. In northern Laos there are one or two potentially long stretches of 100km where the terrain can make it difficult to cover that distance and there are no hotels. We also, just the other day, had to ask at a police station for a place to put our tent in Thailand because we'd travelled 130km and there was no hotel for another 50km, although we later found out that if we'd stopped around 75km there was a homestay but we saw no signs or indication of it when we passed.
So far, we've been in SE Asia since late June and we've only gotten the tent out twice. On both occasions, we could have had a hotel if we'd asked around earlier in the day to find out where there were hotels/guesthouses.
If you're worried about it, my recommendation would be not to take a tent but just bring your sleeping mat and then pick up a cheap mosquito net when you get here. Then you can string that up just about anywhere (in a little hut in a rice field, for example) in case of emergency. If you have to seek a home for the night in a temple, it may also come in handy as we were offered floor space in a room with plenty of mosquitos coming in the windows. With a sleeping mat and a mosquito net, you're covered.
I would bring cooking gear though... food is very basic in Laos especially. In Thailand it's great but in Laos and Cambodia we were very happy to have our stove. In Thailand, it just saved us a bit of cash when we felt like western meals or were really hungry (going to the market and buying vegetables/noodle/eggs is cheaper than eating out).
For what it's worth, and it may help in route planning, we have put up info and route notes for Thailand/Laos/Cambodia.
This is for China:
The air quality is terrible. Take it easy the first week till your lungs adjust. Cheap accomodations are plentiful, so I wouldn't bother camping. Drivers have right of way over bicycles, so watch out and go with the flow.
Danger from violent crime is about the same as any major US city. Pickpocketing and theft is VERY rampant. If you look non-Chinese, you face a much higher risk. Prepare for it accordingly and use common sense. Don't leave your stuff unattended at any time. Don't fall asleep on a bench with your bike beside you. It'll be gone when you wake up. Don't leave your stuff behind you when you're talking to the airport check-in staff. Don't ask others to watch your stuff. Don't leave stuff in taxis. Hotel cleaning staff will steal your valuables.
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