Squeezed between the twin giants of China and India rests a college student’s oasis: a collection of diversely charming states replete with swarms of horny backpackers, flawless beaches, delectable cuisine, and dirt-cheap alcohol. This magical haven, Southeast Asia, is the perfect travel destination for any jaded, over-educated university student seeking one last trip before entering the real world. Once you’ve secured a plane ticket and conquered the slightly terrifying obscurities native to Southeast Asia – namely the ongoing fear of malaria (get immunized); rabid dogs; bed bugs (bring a silk hostel sheet); and contaminated water (take Dukoral ahead of time to help your stomach acclimatize) – you’ll find that Southeast Asia has something special for everyone.
For the beach bum
While I have never been an avid supporter of spending a lazy day at the beach, I think that if time allows for it, a few days at the beach is a nice retreat from Southeast Asia’s notorious grime, smog, and rowdy tuk-tuk (the Thai taxi) drivers. Some of the better known Thai islands are great beach destinations – Ko Phi Phi, Koh Phangnan and Koh Tao, which is the best place for scuba diving.
Another alternative is to take a short long-tail boat (the tuk-tuk‘s water counterpart) from Phuket to Ray Leigh, a tiny, car-free sanctuary for serious beach-lovers. The small town of Hoi An in central Vietnam has a beautiful, long white-sand beach, and Ha Long Bay is a great place to go to by boat for the night, which is just north of Vietnam’s capital Hanoi.
For the party animal
If you really like alcohol, and especially dirt-cheap hard liquor in large quantities, this sub-continent will be your new best friend – buckets of any mixed drink are readily available everywhere. You simply cannot visit Thailand without venturing to Koh Phangnan, which is famous for its full-moon parties every month, and probably hordes the majority of Thailand’s alcohol supply. But no Southeast Asia trip is fully complete without an extended visit to Vang Vieng, Laos, for some unadulterated, debauched – but oh so necessary – tubing, and obviously, more buckets.
For the culture kook
Put simply, Bali is the most enchanting place in the world. You have to be a true anti-tourist with a real aversion to excitement to not fall in love with the entire island – its people, landscape (expect to be awed by the rice paddy terraces), art, culture and monkeys (beware – Balinese monkeys are not kind!). There are hundreds of mesmerizing Hindu temples – my favorite is Uluwatu, which is located on a cliff overlooking the ocean – that welcome guests, but don’t forget to cover up as a form of respect. Northern Thailand is where you will find the most authentic Thai cultural experience. Chiang Mai is a great place for market shopping and taking cooking lessons. If you are amenable to something of a more serious nature, visit the killing fields and memorials in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. From there, Ankor Wat, located close to Siem Reap, is a must-see.