My first international trip - planning to backpack in Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia

by Poornima
(Mumbai, India)

Question: Hi! I am a 23 year old girl from India and have been backpacking in the country for a few years. I am planning my first trip outside the country in March-April 2012. As I have a very limited budget, I want to cover only 3 countries for now - Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia - in about 30-40 days' time.

I want to know what's the best way to get in and around these countries, which are the must-see places and must-do things, and any other useful tips you might be able to offer. Since its my first international trip, I am a bit lost on how to go about it, so any suggestions/tips are welcome.

For all my local trips, I plan minimally and mostly just set out and take things as they come (and that works just fine in India :)). But I know I will need a bit more planning to travel outside the country.

Answer: Hey Poornima,
"I want to know what's the best way to get in and around these countries, which are the must-see places and must-do things (...)"

The route depends entirely on what transport you want to take and can afford. And which country do you want to depart from when you're done?

In a chronological way, you should fly from Mumbai to Jakarta in Indonesia, travel around, then fly to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and travel around the country. Or if you're planning on visiting Indonesian part of Borneo, you can border cross from that part to Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo, then a domestic flight to KL.

From KL you can fly to Siem Reap or Phnom Penh in Cambodia. If you want to go border crossing from Malaysia, you HAVE to stop by Thailand to get to Cambodia.

You can do the other way around also, but I believe that flight tickets from India to Cambodia are more expensive than India to Bangkok. Many long-distance international flights that fly to Phnom Penh or Siem Reap, stop by Bangkok anyways.

What must-see things are is very hard to answer, because it's subjective and it depends entirely on your preferences and interests...

Angkor is of course a must if you're in Cambodia, as well as Killing Fields and the Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh. In Malaysia, there are way too many things to see there. Penang has fantastic food and it's a truly cultural destination, KL has many impressive mosques and museums and great shopping, Perhentians are the most beautiful islands in Malaysia in my opinion. Then you have Malaysian Borneo; where you have trekking and caving in Sarawak, and lots of museums in Kuching, diving near Sipadan island in Sabah, and visiting local markets in Kota Kinabalu.

I don't know about Indonesia since I haven't been there. Maybe others have some input on this?

Since you're new to international trips, I would recommend to follow these tips:
FAQ - I'm new to backpacking, and I want to backpack in Asia. Where should I start?


Posted: Dec 07, 2011

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Dec 08, 2011
Very helpful!
by: Poornima

Thanks a lot Amanda for your reply! The information you have given is very helpful.

I forgot to mention this in my initial question - I will be flying out from India, mostly from Mumbai to Cambodia (not sure where yet), and then going down to Malaysia and then Indonesia, flying back to India from Jakarta.

But, after reading your response and doing a bit of research myself, I realized I might have to include Thailand as well, even if for a short visit. I might fly into Bangkok and then proceed to Cambodia from there.

I wish to travel by road, rail and even waterways mostly, keeping flights limited to times when there are no other options.

Also, my interests in terms of what to see and do - I like cultural places, and I would definitely like to check out any places known for Buddhist carvings, sculptures etc. Other than this, I would also like to explore trekking options, and fun walking tours.

I am not very interested in shopping big stores/malls. Street shopping might be interesting to know more about the locals.

I hope this information is helpful. Please do add in anything more you think is worth doing/seeing in these places, along with what you have mentioned in your earlier response.


Dec 08, 2011
by: Amanda/Backpacking Tips Asia

Since you're starting in Bangkok and proceeding to Cambodia, the only way to get to Malaysia (as I mentioned earlier) is by air or go border crossing. When you've finished Cambodia, you can border cross back to Thailand, take the train or bus from Bangkok to Malaysia. But I personally prefer trains because they're more comfortable. The only way to travel from Malay peninsula to Borneo is by domestic flights (no ferries).

Trekking options in Cambodia is Kampot, Ban Lung and Sen Monorom. Kampot is easier to access than the other two. From Kampot you can access Bokor National Park. Just bicycling around Kep and the countryside is amazing and highly recommended. If you want to go off-the-beaten track, Battambang is also very nice. Wat Banan and Phnom Sampeau still have traces of Angkor.

In Malaysia, you can go trekking in Cameron Highlands. Check out Rick's site for more info on this, great site by the way

Good luck :-)

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