Ask the Experts: Best Spots for an Asia Virgin?

Welcome back to the lair of the Experts; a beehive of diverse opinions, spiced with facts, hints and tips for you and your journeys. Each week, we get together with three of our branch staff to deliberate a question from an STA Travel Blog reader.

This week, we were faced with a real eyebrow-raiser, as Sue from Romford revealed her travel ambitions and laid down the gauntlet for our Experts.

As always, if you’d like some help planning your next big trips, email our Experts a question and you could find it featured in an upcoming feature, right here on the STA Travel Blog!

Remember, this feature isn’t all about what we think; we want you to share your own ideas in the comment thread below the post!

So without further ado, please welcome Sue to the spotlight, with this week’s question…

I want to visit Asia for the first time, and I have about 3 weeks. I’m not sure whether to go to Thailand/Cambodia/Vietnam, or India/Nepal?” Sue, Romford

Ouch! This is a tough one; what will our Experts decide?

STA Travel Belfast’s Mark says…

What a tough question, Sue! Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam are easier for a first timer to Asia, while both options would require most people to purchase visas prior to arrival (Vietnam and India). In my experience, India and Nepal offer more in terms of culture shock, and would generally be visited by experienced travellers looking to get off the beaten track.

There are some good tour options for both; my picks are Indochina Discovery trip, and the Delhi to Kathmandu Adventure. I’d recommend doing an organised tour in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, and then finish with a few days on the islands of Southern Thailand.

Bangkok's not-so average Sunday market are a feast for the eyes, and the lens, and the belly.

If you decide to head down the indie travel route, don’t underestimate how much it costs to travel in the region. Sure, there are huts on the beach for £8 a night and yes, it is a low cost region, but it’s getting more and more expensive by the year, and if you mistime it, internal travel can cost more than expected. Book as much in advance as you can, or better still, let someone else shoulder the hassle.

Heather at STA Travel Nottingham says…

I’ve thought about it long and hard, and I reckon I agree with Mark on this one, Sue. As it’s your first time I would recommend Indochina: Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Bangkok is a great start point, and the cheapest place to fly in to. It’s a bustling city, with markets and food stalls to explore, great deals on accommodation.

You head over to Cambodia, to see the world’s largest religious complex, Angkor Wat, while relaxing in the evenings in the nearby town of Siem Reap. Look out for the Cambodian Barbecue — not for vegetarians, but very tasty! Then travel to Phnom Penh, to learn about the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge. It’s very touching, but a worthwhile experience.

Visit Vietnam and its many delights: from Dalat in the mountains to the beachside cities of Hue, Hoi An and Nha Trang; each one has its own individual charm. I’d also recommend Phu Quoc Island in the far south, and Sapa up north is a beautiful spot surrounded by rice paddies and oxen harvesting the fields, and a great place to see the locals in their traditional dress and set off on some day hikes into the amazing landscape.

Chilled out Phu Quoc is a gem of an island, especially good for escaping the world for a week. Wherever you choose, Sue, Indochina will deliver a variety of charming experiences that you would find hard to experience elsewhere.

Snorkeling near Phu Quoc

It's a hard knock life, in Phu Quoc, it's a hard knock life for some… | Photo by ZoeShuttleworth

STA Travel Dundee’s Kim concludes…

You’ve really put me on the spot with this question, Sue! Both are incredible destinations in their own right, and fit well with your timeframe.

A deciding factor could be the time of year you are looking at travelling. For example, I would avoid India during Monsoon in July/August when most National Parks are closed and the heat can be quite unbearable.

Think about the sort of experience you are wanting also; beach, jungles, mountain trekking, sightseeing, culture, or a combination of the whole lot.

You’re our 4th expert! We want to hear what you think, via the comment thread below. If you have an informed opinion about today’s question, lay it down and let it out!