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South East Asia is a popular destination for a lot of young people who just finished their high school or university and are looking for a break before moving on to the next step. It doesn’t come as a surprise why this part of the world is so loved by backpackers. Prices are cheap, traveling around is fairly easy and those countries are completely different from our own. They promise a lot of adventure, caves, beaches and great parties with fellow travelers. It is quite common to come here for multiple months and travel along the so-called “banana pancake trail” visiting Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and if time allows covering also other South East Asian countries like Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and Myanmar.
When researching your backpacking journey through South East Asia you might have read about Stray Asia- a hop-on hop-off bus service for South East Asia offering a flexible group tour that goes off-the beaten track. I recently joined them and traveled through Myanmar on their Pagoda Pass and also visited Northern Thailand and Laos on their Full Moon Pass. I am not getting sponsored for this blogpost, I simply want to tell you about my personal experience with Stray Asia and help you decide if it is for you.
What is Stray Asia
Stray is a company that offers flexible bus tours of New Zealand and South East Asia. Stray Asia covers most of South East Asia and offers tours in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Passes can be bought either for one of those countries or as an entire package covering them all. Find an overview of their tours here. Also keep a look out for great discounts and deals that they frequently offer on their website.
What really distinguishes Stray from other tour organizers is, that the tours are flexible meaning you have the option to hop-off in a place if you would like to explore it further and hop-on again on the tour when you feel ready to move on. A local guide will be joining the tour who can help you arrange accommodation, answer your questions and simply knows the best places for sightseeing and the restaurants with the most delicious food. Stray Asia obviously covers all the must see’s and do’s on their tours, but they do roam off the beaten track as well and include places that you probably wouldn’t have had on your usual itinerary.
Who travels with Stray Asia
Stray Asia is catering for travelers who are looking for an authentic, local experience of those countries and want to stray off the beaten path. Most travelers who travel with Stray Asia are between 18 to 30 years old, but if you still feel young at heart there actually is no age limit. On my Myanmar tour, Jan-Willhelm, a 55 year old Dutchie was in our group and he enjoyed it a lot. Before traveling with Stray Asia I had some prejudices against organized group tours with their set itineraries and was worried that I would not have enough time in each place and the freedom to explore them on my own. After coming back from the trip I can say that Stray Asia really combines best of both worlds. It is perfect for people who are looking for the comfort of a guided tour but want to leave room for spontaneity and adventure at their own terms. Especially for people who are going on a big trip away from home, in my opinion, Stray is a great fit.
My Personal Experience
I travelled with Stray Asia on the Pagoda Pass visiting Myanmar and also choose to travel through Northern Thailand and Laos on their Full Moon Pass.
Myanmar was on my bucket list for a long time, however I had doubts if it was doable for solo-travelers since it only recently opened their doors to tourism. Going with an organized tour was therefore a great alternative as I had the comforts of a local guide who arranged transportation, accommodation and tours for us, but still had an open ear for our personal wishes and requests. When I did the Myanmar tour on the pagoda pass the tour was on a fixed itinerary as I was traveling there in low season, however in high season it should be possible now to hop-off as tours operate more frequently.
The tour covered all the highlights that I wanted to see. We met in Yangon, from there travelled to the ancient temple city Bagan, trekked from Kalaw to Inle Lake and ended the tour in Mandalay. The group was small, which I really enjoyed and I had the feeling that we spend enough time in each place to explore them fully. Of course it was convenient that everything was already pre-booked and pre-arranged for us. No need to check bus times, search for accommodation or work out how to get from a to b. For transportation we used local transportation such a buses, taxis, boats and scooters. I am so glad that I visited Myanmar and got to experience this country before tourism really starts booming and I can highly suggest you to put this beautiful country on your bucket list. Find more articles about Myanmar here.
The second part of my trip was to travel from North Thailand to Laos and explore the country all the way from Luang Prabang to Don Det. This tour was slightly different as it was flexible and allowed people to hop-off for some extra days at the stops, so our group changed throughout the tours. Traveling is also about the people you meet and the conversations you have, so it was really nice to meet all sorts of different people from different countries on this tour. I was on a rather tight schedule and therefore didn’t have the time to hop-off, which was a bit of a shame. If you book the flexible tours I highly recommend you to have some extra time at your hands. On the other hand if you are on a tight schedule, traveling with Stray Asia really allows you to make most of your time in a country. We travelled through Laos with our own private bus, which was really convenient as we weren’t relying on bus schedules, were dropped straight at our accommodation and also stopped at sights on the way were you otherwise would need to plan an extra day to get their on your own. As you do spend a lot of time on the bus and move to a new place almost everyday on their intended itinerary, I would suggest to do this tour with a few extra days to spare that will allow you to hop off. I got a bit tired off sitting in the bus everyday and all I wanted was to spend some extra time in a place and take things slowly. In Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng especially I had the feeling that they should have planned one more extra day there as it had a lot to over and it was almost impossible to see it fully without hopping off.
Is It Worth it?
You might wonder now if you could travel through South East Asia on your own ad whether booking a tour is really worth your hard-earned money. To be honest, yes it is possible to do Southeast Asia on your own and you will probably spend less money going on your own than with a tour (as in most cases).
The flex tours start from 859 $ for a 10 day Cambodia tour including all accommodation, entrance fees and extra activities. You will only need to calculate around 10$ on top of that for food and drink, but apart from that you know you aren’t spending more than that. The same tour on the hop-on hop-off pass costs 549 $, but the difference is that you still need to pay accommodation and extra activities (on top of daily expenses).
However I have now travelled through South East Asia alone, as well as on a tour and thinking back to my first time in South East Asia I would have had a better experience going there with a company like Stray Asia. Having a local guide who can tell you about the country, helps you organize things and having accommodation and transport arranged mademy trip so much more comfortable. The first time I came to South East Asia I probably payed way too much for things, spend hours in horrible night busses, got food poising and wasn’t allowed into the main temple at Angkor Wat because I didn’t know about the dress code. Going with a tour means that you don’t need to worry about the details and organization of things and can simply enjoy the experience of being in a new country and learning about the culture. Plus you are traveling with a bunch of other like-minded young travelers and will have a lot of fun. If you want to stay longer in a place, no problem. With Stray Asia you have the freedom to hop-off, explore some more and join the next group a few days later.
To sum it up I had a great couple of weeks traveling through Myanmar, Northern Thailand and Laos with Stray Asia and can personally recommend them. I can’t believe how much I have seen in the little amount of time I had. Stray puts a lot of thought into their itineraries making the experience as unique as possible. In Laos and Myanmar we stayed in a local homestay and got the chance to get an insight in the everyday life of a local family and engage with them. Stray is also a very social company who makes sure to travel sustainable and to support the local economy by visiting local guest houses and restaurants and giving back.
More information can be found on: http://www.straytravel.asia
Disclaimer: Traveler’s Little Treasures was invited by Stray Asia to join their tours, however, my opinion is as always my own.