During my last couple of months in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, I didn’t hitchhike as much as I usually would. I completely lost the enthusiasm for it – maybe I had hitchhiker’s burnout, so to speak. However, I did do some hitchhiking whilst I was here! These are my tips, or observations, of what worked for me, mostly as a solo traveller:
Use a sign:
When hitchhiking, it’s usually about 50/50 as to whether I use a sign. However, in South East Asia I’d highly recommend it. For example, in Kep in Cambodia, I was standing at the side of the road without a sign, waving my arm/hand up and down at passing cars (much like you would in Eastern Europe, with my palm facing the ground). A persistent motorcyclist wouldn’t go away, and he obviously wanted to take me to my destination for money. And because the concept of hitchhiking isn’t really well known in South East Asia, I couldn’t explain what I was doing. I walked further down the road to get rid of him, but he followed me. Soon, a family picked me up, just to help me to get away from the persistent motorcyclist!
My experience in Siem Reap, standing with a sign written in Khmer, was very different. I walked to the edge of the city and made a sign to the next big town of Sisophon, about 100km away. Suddenly, no motorbike taxis or tuk tuk drivers bothered me at all! It was a miracle! And I got a lift very easily.
Write a hitchhiking letter:
The hitchhiking letter is a note to drivers. It explains to them, in their language, what we are doing and why we are not travelling by bus. Although I don’t think you need to make a hitchhiking letter, it’s certainly helpful. When I arrived in each new country, I asked a local who was fluent in English to write my letter for me. I asked them to write something like this:
I am travelling round Asia. I do not travel by plane or by bus. I travel by walking or by sharing the car or bike of kind people. If you could take me to the next city, or just a few kilometres, it would be really helpful! Unfortunately, I can’t pay you money. Thank you! Lisa
However, in each country, the person writing the letter decided that it wasn’t polite enough. So various sentences were added, such as “I wish you and your family lots of luck and happiness for the rest of your lives”, or “Please help me out of the kindness of your heart”, or other similar phrases. Each person who helped me to write the letter was very happy with their updated version that they created for me!
If you can’t find anyone to write you a hitchhiking letter, just make a sign to your destination, and learn the words “no money” in the local language (and obviously learn other basic words such as “hello” and “thanks”!)
Make it clear that you can’t pay money:
In Laos, I made a mistake of telling one driver that I could pay a little money, but I didn’t specify how much. He then charged me more than a long distance bus would have cost. It resulted in both of us being angry and upset with each other, and me walking out of his village crying!
And when Sydney and I were hitchhiking on the back of a pickup truck, we didn’t ask whether we would be charged, and when we got off of the truck, we were asked for money. Luckily, it was a reasonable amount.
After that, I made sure that my hitchhiking letter specified that I couldn’t pay, and I also learnt the words “no money” in each language, and told each driver this before I got into a vehicle. Mostly, people gave me a lift anyway.
Most of my rides were in the back of pickup trucks, and I was travelling in monsoon season. I love the rain, but if you’re not a fan of getting soaked, make sure you take waterproofs, or cover yourself in the hot sun.
In northern Laos, it was sometimes faster for me to walk than to hitch!
In Thailand (when I didn’t have a hitchhiking letter), my first car took me to the bus station, despite my insistence that I didn’t want to go there. In the end, I got out at the bus station and walked back to the road out of town. When this happens, although it’s frustrating, remember that the drivers think they are doing what is best for you!
Some other obvious tips:
I always try to take a map of the country with me. (In Laos, for example, I bought one in the tourism office in Luang Prabang.)
I also try to carry either a dictionary or phrase book, and I try to write down lots of phrases in my notebook. Apart from showing that you’re making an effort, having a phrase book is often a source of amusement as people flick through it and laugh!
In South East Asia, I also made sure that I dressed according to the customs of each country, so I covered my shoulders and wore trousers.
South East Asia is a beautiful region to hitch through, and although I had a couple of misunderstandings (mostly involving money), it was an easy and relaxed area to hitchhike around. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the courage to camp on my routes (I was scared of unexploded bombs in the region that can be lurking in shallow soil) but I think that other hitchhikers/cyclists probably do.
Read my experience of hitchhiking in Laos here.