Maarten Cox is a veteran backpacker who decided that he wanted to give back by sharing his advice with those who want to enjoy a journey like his. With his first-hand experience of the locations he write about, Maarten’s blog, Gecko Routes, stands out for its highly detailed insider tips that will help anyone have a safe and fun experience in Southeast Asia.
Maarten was able to answer some questions about Gecko Routes.
Maarten, where did you find the inspiration to start Gecko Routes?
The first time I visited Asia was in 2012 to Thailand. I was amazed by the vibrant city life of Bangkok, the stunning beaches in the South and the overall experience of backpacking through a country that had so much to offer.
When I arrived in Bangkok, I didn’t know anyone. This was a bit scary in the beginning, but luckily making friends at Koh San Road is as easy as ordering a beer at this famous backpacking street. On the first evening, I met another Dutch guy, named Greg, for whom it was also the first time travelling to Asia. Coincidence or not, Greg now owns the largest travel blog in the Netherlands.
Although I had a different career path in mind, following the growth of Greg’s blog was a huge inspiration for me. His success proved to me that the dream of traveling around the world, while earning your income from this, could be more than just a dream.
Besides that, I created a huge passion for travelling over the years and always loved to recommend other people the best places to visit and sharing tips on how to get there.
What is the main feature that makes Gecko Routes stand out between the thousands of travel blogs out there?
Planning a trip to Southeast Asia can consume a lot of time and isn’t always a very straightforward process.
There are tons of blogs to inspire, but if you want to make a concrete plan on which places to visit there is often still a lack of information. In particular, the details of how to get to your destination are often hard to find and outdated.
And that’s exactly what I choose to focus on. On Gecko Routes, you’ll find over 300 travel guides on how to get from A to B in 7 countries in Southeast Asia.
In these guides we not only tell you the best way to reach your destination, we also compare all relevant booking websites on price, number of companies and extra amenities to find the best options for you.
What are some of your favourite backpacking destinations?
Without any doubt, Indonesia! This country has so much to offer and every Island feels like you are visiting a different country. The only thing that reassures you are still in the same country are the friendly and welcoming smiles of the locals!
Besides Indonesia I also loved the adventure of backpacking through Cambodia. In the southern part, you find undeveloped islands with the most beautiful white sand beaches, and in the north, you can wander around the World Heritage Site Angkor Wat, which was once home of the largest empire in the world.
However, Cambodia is not only about sunshine and glory. Less than 40 years ago, Cambodia was ruled by the Rouge Khmer. Under the leadership of Pol Pot, this regime killed more than 2 million people, or almost ¼th of the population. Learning about this part of their history made a huge impact and gave me an insight into what the population of Cambodia has gone through. What was once the largest empire of the world, is now one of the poorest countries on this planet. Nevertheless, locals try to leave the cruel history behind and approach life from the positive side. Their English skills are spectacularly good for a poor Asian country and the locals will welcome you with open arms.
What advice would you give someone who never travelled Southeast Asia before?
Whether you are traveling with family, friends or solo, Southeast Asia can offer you an incredible experience. You will meet people from completely different cultures, you can indulge in the rich Asian kitchen, and you will probably be amazed of how beautiful nature can be!
When visiting popular destinations you’ll easily find your way around. Most destinations are easy to reach, offer plenty of accommodations to stay and there will be many agencies to book tours and activities. If you want to be more adventurous, there are plenty of travel blogs that provide you with great information on how to explore the destinations on your own.
One thing I would like to warn first-time travelers to Asia for are the classical scams. You’ll find these scams especially in the major cities like Bangkok. By researching your destination + the keyword “scam” on google, you will be well informed and recognise immediately when locals try to pull of a scam on you.
What are the best ways people can save money for a trip?
Book your transportation in advance by using trusted booking platforms and always have a look at the pick-up and drop-off location on google maps!
If the bus stop is located far from the center and doesn’t drop you at your accommodation, you will need to take another form of transport. Organizing another transportation to get to your place costs a lot of energy after a long journey and locals see this as the perfect opportunity to raise their prices! Be informed of how much it would cost so you don’t end up paying triple the amount it would normally cost!
Same goes for accommodations. Always check the location on google maps and research how you can get to the center and how long it takes. Besides that, extras like free breakfast or free bike rental can already save you several dollars. I normally subtract the estimated costs of these extra’s to the price per night in order to make a fairer comparison with other accommodation which don’t offer these amenities.
To make it easier to choose which booking websites to use, I shared my favourite booking platforms below:
- Skyscanner to find the cheapest flights
- Booking.com for the widest choice in accommodation
- Airbnb for unique and gorgeous looking accommodations (use this link to receive 55 AUD discount)
- Klook to book activities tours (always check the reviews before you book!)
- Google Maps for restaurants (check star rating & nr of reviews)
- And of course, Gecko Routes, to compare all transportation methods
What future plans do you have for Gecko Routes?
Covering all countries in Southeast Asia was my initial goal and I’m very proud that we are almost there. Just two more countries to go: Indonesia and Malaysia.
The second big step is to focus more on activities. After the traveler found how to reach their destination, we want to show them the best activities including the best tips. For example where to book, the best time to go and what to bring.
Once we added the recommendations for activities, we want to make sure our readers can find all the information they need as easy as possible. Reading the info in a blog is not always possible when you are in the airplane or on a bus trip and that’s why we eventually want to launch a trip planner than you can also use offline
And most important of all, besides making it easier to plan your trip, we also want to make travelers more aware of the impact of their travel plans on the environment.
By making small changes to your itinerary or packing list, you can already make significant reductions in the footprint you leave behind. Providing travelers with tips on how to reduce their footprint, is something we are working on continuously and is an integral part of our company mission.
How do you use Facebook and Instagram with Gecko Routes?
In the first years, we haven’t been really active on Facebook, but with our upcoming blog, we will start sharing the best travel tips on our Facebook page.
Even better, follow us on Instagram and be amazed by what Southeast Asia has to offer. We share the best pictures from all the destinations we cover and provide you with the best practical tips!
Check out our instagram here:https://www.instagram.com/geckoroutes/