Many travellers come to south east Asia with the intent of visiting more than just one country. After all, when you have travelled halfway across the world why visit just one place, especially when the region is well organised to accommodate travellers. Thailand to Laos, Cambodia to Vietnam or Singapore to Malaysia, Hoping from one land to the other is almost as easy in south east Asia as it is in the European Union; just with more stamps!
Most travellers coming to the region start in Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur and then take a low cost flight to their starting destination. From Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport it is easy to head straight to Cambodia by bus. The border closes around 6pm but if you arrive on a morning flight you can take a minivan to the border (about 4 hours) and then a bus to Siem Reap in time to watch sunset over Angkor Wat. From Bangkok you could also take the train south to Hat Yai and then change for the express sleeper to Kuala Lumpur (or the other way round). Many people make this journey with a few beach stops along the way, but the train is a nice way to see Thailand’s countryside. From Kuala Lumpur it is also easy to get to Thailand or Singapore by bus or train. You could also organise to take a bus and ferry to get to Indonesia or the Malaysian part of Borneo. It is more common to fly but it is a better experience to travel overland and sea.
Around the main landmass of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, buses are the way to travel. There are some trains available but these are often slow and prone to breaking down (even in Thailand, although the trains to the South are better and faster than the North). While there are few trains that will cross borders, there are countless buses that will take you where you want to go. In Cambodia there are lots of buses available but the roads are bumpy so when you can, choose the option of private car to have a more comfortable journey. In Vietnam there are lots of bus companies available, some even offer open ended tickets from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh, allowing you to stop at smaller towns along the way.
Getting into Laos from Thailand is relatively easy. From Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai there are regular day and night buses to Vientiane. From the capital you can then transfer and take a bus to any other city in Laos you might want to visit. You can only get to Vang Vieng by bus (or boat) and the road to Luang Prabang is an exhilarating bus ride in itself! However coming from Vietnam to Laos is more tricky. From Hue it is possible to cross the border and transfer to Savannakhet, but there is also the notorious bus journey from Hanoi to Vientiane: 18-28 hours in a bus on a bumpy road with only one toilet stop! If you want to take this route be very careful about the bus company you choose as some companies sell the journey as a twelve hour ride and charge you more. The trip always takes the same time but who will you complain to once you are 14 hours into the journey!
Travelling around Indonesia is a journey in itself, with so many islands, mountains and volcanoes on the various islands. Taking buses combined with ferries are one option but most travellers fly from one city to another (or island from island) as the internal flight connections are fast, frequent and cheap. It is possible to get to Singapore or Malaysia by boat but it isn’t commonly done.
Finally Myanmar sits by itself in south east Asia and can only be visited through flying. It is sometimes possible to cross by private taxi through Mae Sot or Dawei but it is a hassle and the roads are not very good. It is also possible to cross from Thailand’s Mae Sai border but for all border crossings into Myanmar a visa prior to your trip is needed for all travellers. The easiest way to get into Myanmar is simply to fly from Bangkok.
As for visas each country offers different requirements for different nationalities. In general western Europe, USA, Australia and New Zealand can turn up at most borders and buy a visa on arrival, but for many other nationalities a bit of forward planning is needed. It is best to check requirements in advance otherwise you might be stranded at a foreign border while all your travel friends continue their adventure without you.
Finally a few tips for bus journeys in south east Asia. Firstly bring food and water with you. Sometimes there is a lunch stop but sometimes the only stop is upon arrival. Also bring a book or something else to keep you entertained. Lastly pack some ear plugs in case the driver decides to play music or a movie to keep himself awake, he will probably play it at full volume.