Thailand in 16 Days, with My Dad

My dad, Roy, came to meet me in Thailand for a very fun-filled and adventurous 16 days! You might be thinking…how the heck do you travel with your dad for that long?! Lots of people have asked me this haha. But actually, my dad and I took a 2 week long road trip together 2 years ago, so I already knew it was possible. Of course, some bickering took place…it’s family after all, but overall, we had a great time, and the bickering only added to the fun. Definitely a trip for the books!

The dynamic duo

The dynamic duo

I splurged a bit on some excursions that I wouldn’t normally do, but my dad covered a lot of meals and taxis (and he covered the majority of the bill for the very nice places we stayed), so I ended up spending about $675 for 16 Days in Thailand, which included my $100 flight from Bali.

Our way of travel was from South to North. Phuket → Khao Lak → Pranburi → Bangkok.

Phuket (9 Days)

Let me start by staying that I do not recommend staying in Phuket for 9 days. Phuket itself isn’t that great beyond a day or 2. It’s more of a launching pad for the other islands. I landed in Phuket a day before my dad, and we were staying at the very southern tip of the peninsula at this super nice Airbnb. This was a massive upgrade from everywhere I’d been staying, #thankyouRoy. Anyways, the airport is towards the north of the peninsula. You can move up and down the peninsula via taxi or public bus. A taxi will cost about 1000 Baht ($33) and take ~1 hour. The public bus, called Phuket Smart Bus, takes ~3 hours, but it only cost $5. And it was a very scenic view of Phuket. I quite enjoyed it. The only bad thing, is you see a lot of elephants tied up on the side of the road, waiting to be ridden by tourists who are not thinking about their impact! Anyways…

Monkey Hill

Monkey Hill

It was really fun to see my dad, and pick him up from the airport. Of course, my mom had packed all sorts of great snacks for me that I can’t get in Asia like hot Cheetos, and 2 new books. #thankyouMom. The majority of the time in Phuket was spent lounging by the pool, eating, and riding motorbikes! Yes, we rented some scooters and had a great time practicing and driving mostly down back roads!

We also spent some time in Phuket Old Town. The town is very cute, with may colorful buildings, great shopping, and good food. You can visit Monkey Hill which is pretty cool. The monkeys here are more brown, unlike the gray ones I saw in Bali.

Bangla Road is a really fun, albeit raunchy, area for bars and food. It’s a bit too much to have people on the street show you laminated flyers for “Ping Pong Shows” and other more crude things. No thank you!

But we still had fun walking around, and stopping at a bar to have a beer. Near this area is a massive mall and excellent spot for fresh street food. We stopped at the mall first to see “Aladdin”, as it had just been released, and then got some great food and beer on the street.

Promthep Cape

Promthep Cape

Roy doing a bit of modeling

Roy doing a bit of modeling

Promthep Cape is a really cool spot to check out for sunset one night. You can walk all the way to the end of the cape which was really awesome. It’s a little bit of a tricky walk at points, and strenuous on the way back so my dad didn’t go with me.

Another day, we hired a private longboat for $50 to take us out to two different islands for snorkeling and swimming. I absolutely loved being on the long boat. (There were many butterflies out on the water and it really made me wonder how they fly such long distances from island to island.) We went to Bon Island and Coral Island (I think that’s what it was called). The snorkeling was actually really lovely! I saw some spectacular fish: parrot fish, a puffer, rainbow fish, angel fish, and these crazy pink fish that kept biting us (and it actually hurt!).

One of the most fun things about Phuket/Thailand is all the 7-Eleven’s! My dad and I made a nightly 7-Eleven run which was so fun. He always wanted ginger ale, alcohol, and Dewberry cookies. It was really fun to get a new haul each night! And it was the cheapest activity we did in Thailand haha.

One of our 7-Eleven hauls!

One of our 7-Eleven hauls!

Roy braving the motorbike! Just about to take off!

Roy braving the motorbike! Just about to take off!

The tough thing about Phuket is you really need a taxi anywhere you go. And they all have seemed to agree on this base price of 200 Baht ($7). So it’s not cheap. And often, the taxis are more than that!

From Phuket, you can reach all the other popular islands such as Phi Phi Island, James Bond Island, Krabi and more. We did not go to these. I’ve heard from other travelers that these and Koh Lanta are the places to be. So I’d recommend checking those out if you are planning a trip to Thailand!

Here’s us eating at a fancier restaurant, but there are a ton of adorable little local places outside and along the water in Phuket!

Here’s us eating at a fancier restaurant, but there are a ton of adorable little local places outside and along the water in Phuket!

Khao Lok & Khao Sok National Park (2 days)

From Phuket, we took a short 2 hour bus to Khao Lok. We stopped here specifically so that we could go to Khao Sak National Park. We stayed in this accommodation, which was extremely nice, but unfortunately a lot farther from the national park than we realized. So we ended up having to hire a private taxi to take us to the park.

But it was all worth it because the park was truly spectacular! We felt like we were in Jurassic park. You pay an entry fee of 300 baht, and then get on a group boat or a private boat. We chose a private boat which worked great for us. It was only $50 for 2+ hours on the water. It’s really such a stunning place. I loved being on the water, feeling the breeze, and taking in the magnificent surroundings.

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I had watched this video regarding the park before hand, and was really excited to try the jumping off points it shows. But they didn’t seem to be on our route, and I got sad when the driver turned around to take us home. So I showed him a picture and asked him about it. He seemed a tiny bit reluctant but then ended up taking us there and I had an absolute blast jumping off the precarious wooden structure and swimming around. It was a highlight for sure, and a real treat for him to take us there as it took extra time.

At night, we watched a lot of movies, and ate peanuts, and drank ginger ale. We always had dinner at the hotel. Their Greek food is very delicious.

Pranburi & Kui Buri National Park (2 days)

From Khao Lok, we took a very nice 9 hour overnight VIP bus to Pranburi for $30. This was a very comfortable bus, and we slept well, but unfortunately this was a bus that arrived at 3am in the morning. We actually had arranged for a taxi driver to pick us up, however, the bus driver did not drop us off where we expected…this happens all the time! So we got dropped off somewhere completely random in an almost entirely shut down city at 3am. It was definitely a bit creepy, and my dad was not thrilled. And after a lot of texting and calling and trial and error, we were able to link up with our taxi driver who got us safely to our hotel.

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We went to Pranburi in order to be near Kui Buri National Park. Kui Buri is a national park known for its wild elephants and gaurs. We took a really fun pickup truck tour. That was the best part actually, riding around in the back of the truck and looking for animals. We did see some elephants which was cool, but they were a bit far away or covered by trees. The most magnificent thing we saw was a gaur! Gaurs are the largets bovine in the world, and wow it was huge. Completely amazing to see. I’ve never seen anything like this animal. His shoulders were massive.

I loved this tour, especially seeing the guar and riding in the back of the truck. However, I don’t think it’s worth going out of your way for. Unless you are in this area for something else, there’s really no need to come to Pranburi.

And some random shots of us getting a McDonald’s fix.

And some random shots of us getting a McDonald’s fix.

Roy makes friends everywhere he goes.

Roy makes friends everywhere he goes.

Bangkok (3 days)

Our hotel in Pranburi helped us get a 4 hour local minibus ride to Bangkok that cost $5. The driver was completely insane and I was terrified the whole time. I really don’t love minibuses! He literally was driving in the wrong direction of a multi-lane highway at one point. (See my guide on riding buses in Asia for more)

But we had a ton of fun in Bangkok. We stayed in this Airbnb which I really loved. There’s an adorable coffee shop right outside of it called 123 Baandee Happy Owls that’s fun to stop at. However, after spending a bit more time in Bangkok, I would recommend staying in the Khao San area. It’s very lively and fun.

This is the adorable cafe 123 Baandee

This is the adorable cafe 123 Baandee

Me looking awkward

Me looking awkward

We spent most of our time walking around and trying to stay cool. Lots of 7-Eleven stops for coke! One of my favorite places we went was the Old Siam Shopping Center. This is a really cool place to shop like locals do and check out a ton of different types of food. For a very modern and upscale shopping experience, check out Central World and Siam Paragon.

We also really enjoyed Wat Phra Chetuphon which is right next to the Grand Palace.

Then, sadly, it was time for my dad to leave. After he left, I stayed in Bangkok one extra night, and then took an 11 hour bus to Chiang Mai that cost $20.

Roy’s last meal in Thailand. He said it was the best one yet!

Roy’s last meal in Thailand. He said it was the best one yet!

Roy ascending the escalator, headed home from BKK airport!

Roy ascending the escalator, headed home from BKK airport!

Although our trip through Thailand was a bit unconventional, we had an amazing time exploring the country together, and I can highly recommend giving father/daughter or mother/daughter vacations a shot!

And to end the post, here are some great pics of Roy reaching peak dad levels! From left: Roy straightens frames in our hotel room, Roy brings his own map to Thailand, Roy chooses alcohol

10 Things to do in Pai, Thailand

I had the best time in Pai! And actually I hadn’t even planned on going there. But I went back to Chiang Mai to kill some time before flying to India and I just felt so overwhelmed by the busy city, as I had just come from the relaxed and beautiful Luang Prabang. So I stayed a couple of nights in Chiang Mai and then headed to Pai for 5 nights. I took a 3 hour minibus there for 200 Baht (~$7). They run every hour from Chiang Mai.

If you read my post on buses in Asia, you know that I don’t love minibuses and the drive to Pai was one of the reasons I initially planned not to go. It’s 762 turns on mountain roads and my experience with minibus drivers did not leave me excited about this prospect. However, I used the company Prempracha and was extremely satisfied. The driver was excellent and handled all the turns slowly. And my motion sickness medicine had me dozing off the entire time.

I stayed at Pai Cat Hut, and was very happy with my choice to stay in town. There are many beautiful places to stay across the river (Baan Kati Sod looked adorable), but I enjoyed the convenience of being able to go to dinner at night by walking. Five nights in Pai cost me $140 Including transport there and back.

So here goes, 10 things to do in Pai…in no particular order, but #1 and #10 are my favorites. 😊

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1. Learn to ride a motorbike

Pai is a tiny hippie town surrounded by mountains. The town center is small, but you’ll definitely want a motorbike to explore outside the center. And luckily, this is a great place to learn! The roads are not very busy, and people drive pretty slowly in town. And once you get out of town, there is very little traffic, the roads are mostly in great condition, and you have just slight curves to begin practicing your turns on.

It was low season when I was there, so a motorbike only cost 100 Baht per day ($3). This is an excellent price! I took my motorbike out exploring every day by myself and had the best time. My favorite day of riding was heading to Bom Bowls for a “Snickers” smoothie bowl, and then just going on down the road straight from there. Stunning scenery!

Keep in mind that technically you need a license to drive one (although the odds of getting stopped in Pai seem extremely low), and your health insurance probably does not cover injury on a motorbike. And please please wear a helmet!

2. Pai Canyon

Pai Canyon is a very cool spot for hiking and for sunset. There are some really interesting and somewhat treacherous narrow ridges to walk along throughout the canyon. I recommend going an hour or so before sunset to do some hiking, and then getting back up to the sunset spot to watch the views. There will be other people, but it’s still very nice.

Stunning Pai Canyon

Stunning Pai Canyon

3. Walking Street Night Market

This is a pretty fun night market. Cars and motorbikes still drive through but it’s mostly foot traffic, and it has a nice mountainy night time vibe. I ate dinner here every night, and felt extremely safe walking around the town by myself. I really enjoyed the curry hand pies, Pad Thai, and the falafel. There’s also tons of cute bars and restaurants in this area.

4. Go on an eating extravaganza

Pai has great healthy options, and lots of vegan and vegetarian choices. It is a hippie town, after all. Honestly, they even recycle here! Which I NEVER see in Asia. Anyways, there is an overabundance of the cutest places you’ll ever even seen. My absolute favorite was Fat Cat, for the excellent atmosphere and yummy smoothies. Earth Tone also had a cool vibe, and I got this epic mango smoothie from there. Fine Rice Pai is a funky little noodle shop in town. The owner is awesome, and the wifi password is iloveyou so you can tell its a welcoming place. I had a very delicious Pad Thai there. And as mentioned above, you’ve got to try the “snickers” smoothie bowl from Bom Bowls!

Above: Mango Colada at Earth Tone, Peanut Butter smoothie jar at Fat Cat, Snickers bowl at Bom Bowls

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5. Pambok Waterfall & the Bamboo Bridge

This is a great motorbike journey. The roads are a bit rough actually, but the scenery along the drive is so beautiful. Rolling hills of farm land as far as the eye can see. Pambok waterfall itself is quite unique. It’s a little cove waterfall with a small area for swimming. Definitely worth a stop. There was no entrance fee when I was there, but that may have been because of low season.

On your way to the waterfall, you’ll also see signs for the Bamboo Bridge. If you keep going past the waterfall, eventually you will find it. It’s a very long, winding, and rickety bamboo bridge in the rice fields of Pembok village. It’s definitely a bit of a tourist trap, but honestly it’s pretty cool. It’s gorgeous up there, and it’s fun to walk on the bridge and hope that you don’t fall through!

Pretty murals all over Santichon Village

Pretty murals all over Santichon Village

6. Santichon Village

Santichon is an adorable little Chinese Village. The village center definitely feels like a bit of a tourist trap as well, but it’s really cute. It looks like hobbit town and theres an interesting human-powered Ferris wheel I really wished I could have tried. And driving through the village is really fun because there’s adorable murals on all the walls. If you keep driving, you can go all the way up to Yun Lai View point.

7. Mo Paeng Waterfall

If you go past Santichon Village, you will find the Mo Paeng Waterfall. Again, I did not have to pay an entrance fee here. This was quite a good waterfall as well. There is an area below that is nice for swimming, and you can hike up a little nearer to the top for a smaller spot or to sit on some rocks. Definitely would be nice to spend a couple hours swimming, relaxing, and eating.

White Buddha

White Buddha

8. The White Buddhas

There are two nice white Buddhas in town. One at the top of Wat Phra That Mae Yen. I did not climb to the top of this one, because after all my time in Asia, I still forget to cover my legs when going to visit a temple. They have wraps you can rent but I didn’t feel like paying the fee. Anyways, I was very happy with the other white Buddha, called White Buddha. It was a different sort of temple with funky blue tiles on the floor and I really enjoyed it.

9. Yoga

There are a couple of yoga places in town. I went to Sawasdee Yoga and was quite happy with it. It was 200 Baht per class. You can find all sorts of other hippie type activities as well like open mic nights, fire dancing, ecstatic dance, and meditations…often for free!

10. Go to Sundown Playground for sunset

You’ll definitely want to catch some beautiful sunsets while in Pai. While Pai Canyon is a popular spot for this, my favorite place to watch is Sundown Playground. It’s so peaceful and gorgeous. Honestly, I almost cried when I was there from the sheer beauty. Definitely check it out!

Bus Travel in South East Asia

After spending over 200 hours on various buses in SE Asia, I can say that I absolutely love bus travel, and I highly recommend doing this at least once during your trip. I’ve seen truly the most STUNNING landscapes from the comfort of my bus seat. And no matter what happens, it’s always an experience. Sometimes one of enlightenment on the open road, sometimes one of spiraling frustration, loneliness, and why-am-I-doing-this, and nearly always one of making new friends! In fact, taking the bus is my #2 recommendation on my list of tips for traveling SE Asia! Find the ins and outs of bus travel below:

Awaiting a bus to Thailand in Vientiane, Laos.

Awaiting a bus to Thailand in Vientiane, Laos.

VIP Buses

Ahhh VIP buses…a true gift from the bus gods. Big comfy reclining seats, blankets, throw away toothbrushes and toothpaste, snacks, bottled water, power outlets, fresh wet washcloths in the morning, and sometimes if you are really lucky, your own personal entertainment center just like in an airplane! VIP buses are almost always worth the extra cost in my experience. These and regular buses are sometimes double deckers, so it’s always fun to check out the top floor, and if you are really brave, sit in the front seats that are right up against the window! If you have a long or an overnight journey ahead of you, I highly recommend going VIP.

The nicest VIP bus I’ve ever taken was in Myanmar. It looked like a night club!

The nicest VIP bus I’ve ever taken was in Myanmar. It looked like a night club!

We had our own personal movie and game screens, wow!

We had our own personal movie and game screens, wow!

The staff was so nice, and even brought around hot coffee.

The staff was so nice, and even brought around hot coffee.

Regular Buses

Regular buses are fascinating. They usually are carrying non-tourists, lots of unwieldy cargo, and have a much different vibe. I took a very, shall we say, “rustic” looking bus in Myanmar on which I was the only tourist. It was really old, with old blankets, and old curtains. And inexpensive. They played some sort of prayer music for hours on end, and then switched to a very odd television show that everyone is forced to listen to because it’s played over the speakers. At one point, this bus pulled over to the side of the road and 5 people got out and squatted in broad day light to use the bathroom. #1 or #2, I have no idea. I was happily taking a picture of a cow outside the window, when I realized I had multiple squatters in my frame, and I abruptly and awkwardly put my phone away. Regular buses make plenty of stops, and are a great way to travel. They are missing the nice amenities of the VIP buses, but it’s worth it.

Minibuses/Minivans

Minibuses, also called minivans, are another popular, and usually less expensive option. I think they hold 13 people, and they can be pretty cramped. Unless you get 1 of 2 of the single seats on the side.

Let me go ahead and say that I really prefer not to travel by minibus. I feel a bit unsafe and claustrophobic in them. Especially if I don’t get one of those 2 single seats on the side. These drivers tend to be pretty crazy (although sometimes that happens in big buses as well) and you get truly packed into these buses with too much luggage and things people are transferring from one place to another. These buses (and big buses actually) often double as the mail man, transferring large packages and cargo along with an already packed bus of people and items.

And in Cambodia, I took a minibus who advertised one of their perks as “trained drivers.” Ohemgee does that mean all the other companies are not training their drivers?! This would not shock me. Several of my experiences on minibuses have been frightening for one reason or another, and I only take them if I have to.

VERY cramped 4 hour minibus ride to Bangkok with my dad. At one point, the driver was going down the wrong side of the highway into oncoming traffic.

VERY cramped 4 hour minibus ride to Bangkok with my dad. At one point, the driver was going down the wrong side of the highway into oncoming traffic.

No AC which added to the cramped feeling. Just this interesting fan mercifully keeping some level of air flow.

No AC which added to the cramped feeling. Just this interesting fan mercifully keeping some level of air flow.

Sleeper Buses

If you are taking a night bus, you should ask if it is seating or beds. I find the seating ones quite comfortable as they are usually big reclining seats with blankets. The sleeper beds are a fun one-time experience, but only if you are traveling with a friend! Especially if you are a woman, I don’t think you should take these alone, unless you find one with single compartment beds. I took one in Cambodia with a friend, and that was really fun and crazy and uncomfortable, but we were together so we could laugh about it. I took another in Laos, that I did not realize was a bed sleeper. The bed was WAY smaller than the one in Cambodia. It was literally the width of a twin bed and two people were supposed to share it. Amazingly, or so I thought, no one had the “seat” next to me. Even though I was worried about my stuff, I eventually curled up and fell asleep. That is, until one of the bus employees woke me up rudely by pushing my body over to make room for himself! I tried to tell him no and to get another bed (there were other’s available) but he did not listen. I had to lay there, completely uncomfortable and afraid for two hours, until I got the brilliant idea to annoy him enough until he left.

Also keep in mind, that many overnight buses arrive at their destination at 3 or 4am which is a safety and convenience consideration. As I’m traveling alone, I usually only take night buses that arrive the next day at 6am or later.

My friend Helen and I with ample room on our very first sleeper bus! This was a fun and hilarious experience to share.

My friend Helen and I with ample room on our very first sleeper bus! This was a fun and hilarious experience to share.

This is the size of the bed when I accidentally took a sleeper bus alone. This is literally the width of a twin! For two people…

This is the size of the bed when I accidentally took a sleeper bus alone. This is literally the width of a twin! For two people…

What about going to the bathroom?

I’ve taken many many buses in SE Asia at this point, and only two of them had a bathroom on board. And as I’m sure you can guess, it wasn’t very easy to use anyways considering the conditions of the roads. Buses usually make ample stops during the journey. When you stop to eat, there are rest areas there. These bathrooms usually leave a lot to be desired if you are accustomed to Western standards. They are outdoor, so there are usually a lot of little spiders and spider webs. There is usually a mix of Western and squat toilets, and often squat are the only option. The floors are dirty and wet. It’s definitely a get-in-and-get-out situation. These places almost never have toilet paper so BRING YOUR OWN. And if you really really have to go, you can ask the bus driver to pull off on the side of the road.

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What about eating?

VIP buses provide some sweet and non-filling snacks, and sometimes a meal ticket is included in the price. But I always pack a bunch of fun snacks and water for the road. Especially because buses usually take longer than they are scheduled to take. The bus will stop at sometimes seemingly random times for dinner and breakfast. They pull over to little ramshackle establishments on the side of the road where you can get miscellaneous things with rice, or packaged snacks. Or if you are in Cambodia, fried bugs. You are usually pretty delusional by the time they stop, as you are often woken up for this.

Here’s an example of an inexpensive, but over-the-top spread I got on a stop in Myanmar. We got some bamboo, miscellaneous green things, and lots and lots of rice!

Are they safe?

Overall, I felt extremely safe on every bus I took. As I am finishing up this blog post, I am traveling through India, where I have to be much more careful and discerning when choosing transit, so I am now really appreciating how much freedom I had in SE Asia to hop on any bus, any time, to any place, all by myself. Of course, every now and then, you’ll get a driver who is clearly trying to meet some time expectation and drives like a bat out of hell, but this only happened to me a couple times. Sometimes the roads can be quite bumpy or windy, but it’s all part of the fun.

What about my sanity?

Indeed... For the first 6-8 hours, I’m riding high, having one epiphany after another, writing poetry, sorting out my mental demons….then I peak, and ever hour that passes is a steady descent into my demise. My sanity slipping through my fingers, and my energy to continue traveling depleting at an exponential rate. Bus travel will test you, especially if you are crazy like me, and do multi-day journeys. My longest was from Myanmar to Cambodia. It was a total of 46 hours, 36 of that on buses, and 10 of that waiting at bus stations at odd ours in the morning. And then there was a truly trying 26 hour journey from Cambodia to Thailand. Anyways, I’d recommend starting out with a nice 6-10 hour day bus. Watch the world pass you out the window, sink into some deep thoughts, then get to your destination and go to sleep sans the demise!

What’s the best way to book a ticket?

You can book your bus at the bus station (usually cheapest), through whatever hotel or hostel you are staying at (very convenient because they usually pick you up at your location), or through these three websites which I found very helpful: www.easybook.com, www.12go.asia, www.rome2rio.com. The tickets on here will be a bit more expensive because it’s online booking, but often it’s worth it.

But plane travel is so much easier…

Most travelers I speak to do prefer taking a plane (even though it’s worse for the environment). And if you are traveling for a shorter period of time, sometimes it doesn’t make sense to spend 8-12 hours on a bus because it eats up a whole travel day. But it’s really such a wonderful way to see the country you are in. I’ve seen so much of beautiful, rural SE Asia from the bus window. The landscapes are stunning, wild and lushly green. And you can get another perspective on how people live outside of the bigger cities.

Any last minute words of wisdom?

Don’t forget the toilet paper! And take a sweater! Most of the buses I’ve been on are freezing cold. I always wear pants, take a sweater, and end up using the blanket provided. Also, your luggage will be stored underneath the bus. Although I’ve never had any problems, I always keep my most valuable items in my smaller backpack with me in my seat.

And godspeed! It’s a wonderful way to experience the world!

Luang Prabang, Laos

I was lucky enough to get to spend 3 weeks in the lovely city of Luang Prabang, Laos. It’s a sleepy town (most things close by 11:30pm), UNESCO world heritage center, clean and beautiful, with lots of French influence (and French people). Everything you need to get to is easily within biking distance, and 20-30 minutes walking maximum. I did two different workaways there, and really loved spending my free time biking around town, especially along the river. Originally, I was staying there so long, because I was waiting for my new debit and credit card to arrive (re: my things were stolen), but I ended up being happy to stay for such a long time, and recommend this as a nice place to relax for a while during your travels.

Sunset on the Nam Khan River

Sunset on the Nam Khan River

The city wraps itself lushly around the Mekong River, which crosses into 6 countries. And off the Mekong River, is the smaller Nam Khan winding it’s way around. Beautiful views of the rivers abound, with pretty green mountains jutting upwards from the horizon. It really is picturesque. A flourishing town set right in the middle of nature’s beauty.

I entered Laos from Thailand. I took a really lovely overnight train from Bangkok to Nong Khai that cost $35. Then a quick train over the border that cost $1. I got my visa on arrival which required one visa photo and $35 USD. I took a taxi into the center of Vientiane and waited all day at a hostel that helped me book a night bus to Luang Prabang which cost $24. Three weeks in Luang Prabang only cost me $200 because I was doing workaways while I was there. So housing and most food was covered.

What to Do

Kuang Si Waterfall. This is an absolute must! Definitely top 3 waterfalls for swimming I’ve ever been to, probably only outdone by Semuc Champey in Guatemala. During rainy season, the waters can be brown, but luckily for me, on the day I went, it was a stunning blue-green!

It was fun to take the hour long motorbike ride, but you can get a tuk tuk or minibus to take you as well! Entrance fee is 20,000 kip (~$2), and getting there and back will cost between 35,000-50,000 kip depending on how you choose to go!

Make sure you go all the way up to the top. You’ll get to walk up some very fun stairs with water rushing over them, and at the top, you’ll find a more private swimming experience under the groves.

Yoga. Utopia (also mentioned below for night life) is a really cool restaurant, bar, lounge, river spot. It’s basically the place to be if you are traveling through. There’s tons of space, lots of cool tables, cushions, and bean bags so you can just relax, eat, drink, and enjoy the river vibes. They host a couple different community events, one being yoga in the mornings and the evenings. They split the yoga schedule with another place in town called Sena. You can find the schedule here.

Community Movie night. L’Etranger Books & Tea is a great used book shop and place to hang out. Every single night, they host a FREE movie; you just have to purchase one thing from their menu. The movie selection is always really good, and I went several times. The people who work there are super friendly.

Night market. The night market happens every night. It starts at 4pm, but doesn’t really get going until around 6pm. There’s some really nice things in this market, and a fun food street. The food street is very narrow, and I felt like I giant lumbering through it next to all the small Lao people.

Old French Bridge. If you are up for a scare, take a terrifying walk across the old French Bridge! I actually feel a bit nervous recommending this, because I think it’s quite dangerous! When I went, there were boards missing in various places, and one wrong step could send you on a 60 fit drop into the river below. The bridge is easy for bikes and motorbikers to cross, but on either side is a path for pedestrians that will give you a thrill!

Bamboo Bridge. Although this had been destroyed by heavy rain when I was there, there’s a bamboo bridge crossing the Nam Khan River. Which actually leads right to my next recommendation, Garden of Eden. But this, bridge will take you into another, more local part of town that you can explore. Plus, it’s just fun to cross the bridge! If the bridge is still gone, there will be a boat that can take you across.

Garden of Eden. Garden of Eden is a really lovely jewelry store owned and run by a Lao couple. I stayed here for one of my workaways and painted wooden signs for them. I absolutely LOVED my stay here, and may do a post on it later. But for now, just know that there is really lovely jewelry there, all handmade by local women who are paid properly and sent to English school so they can have a better life. It’s a great place to support, and the owners, Nic and Lan are so kind and inspiring. Definitely have a chat with them while you are there! Or help the employees practice their English! I was lucky enough to stay in the amazingly romantic open-air river bungalow shown below!

Sunset River Cruise. There are a couple of different companies who do this on the Mekong River. I would definitely recommend checking them out one night. Just make sure the weather is clear so that you’ll have a nice sunset.

Bars/Night Life

Utopia. As mentioned above, Utopia is a fun bar/restaurant to hang out at night. It’s not a party/dancing place, but it’s fun. Everyone there always seems up for meeting new people.

RedBul Bar. This is a great bar if you love playing pool, like I do. They play really fun music, and almost everyone in there is a local or expat living in Luang Prabang, so it’s fun to talk to everyone.

Waivan Restaurant. This is one of the few places you go if you want to have a wild late night, Lao style. There’s a few clubs like these on the outskirts of the town so they don’t have to adhere to the UNESCO rules of closing early. It’s quite an interesting experience! Live music, hundreds of people, everyone has there own table that they dance near and use to house there beer and ice (everyone in Laos puts ice in there beer). There will be very few tourists in a place like this, so it’s really fun!

Muang Swa. This is another night club, but very different! This is more of a traditional type of night club, and you will find older people here doing line dances and hand movements that everyone already seems to know. You can learn the steps and join in yourself!

U-Bar. This was a nice local bar with great live music. Not many tourists here either!

Boun Khao Salak Festival – late August every year
So odds are, you might not be traveling through in August, but just in case…this is a really cool festival happening in the beginning of Buddhist Lent. The normally sleepy main street bordering the Nam Khan turns into a bustling market, and all day a long boat race takes place in the river. Fifty people on each team, and it’s amazing to watch them race in the sweltering heat. This was such a cool experience, and my first festival I’ve been lucky enough to attend while traveling Asia.


Overall, I really highly recommend a stop here. It’s been one of my favorite places in SE Asia. It’s a small town; even just staying for a few weeks, I got to know a lot of people and I loved biking around, running into my new friends everywhere I went. I was actually really sad to leave this place. It’s nice to find a place that feels like home for a few weeks.

Cambodia in 16 Days

I’ve found during my travels that instagram has been a really awesome way to connect with people and stay connected with friends back home. I had a good friend in college (named Helen), but after we graduated, she moved to a different state, and we didn’t keep up at all, besides following each other on instagram of course. And 9 years later, it turned out that both of us are on this same type of journey across the world. She was in Australia with plans to stop in SE Asia before going home, and I was already in SE Asia, so after nearly a decade of not talking, we decided to meet up in Cambodia! And it was wonderful!

Below is a summary of our trip with my real feelings about each place, and lots of practical tips. I entered Cambodia by bus, from Bangkok which cost $30. I got my visa ahead of time through this website, and it cost $36. It was very convenient.

Sixteen days in Cambodia cost me about $600. (This definitely does not include all the money I lost when my purse was stolen)

Siem Reap (3 Days)

Helen and I met up in Siem Reap. After getting over the shock of seeing each other after 9 years, we went out on the town! We both found Siem Reap to be a really fun city. Pub street is a really fun area with tons of cute bars and restaurant. Somehow they all look like they came staring out of a West Elm magazine! There’s a large market nearby with the usual tourist items, but if you go a bit farther out, and cross the river, you can find some very nice more unique markets. We also checked out Artisans D’Angkor which does a nice free tour, and you can watch the artists making the products, which was really enlightening.

For food, Pub Street is very popular. All the restaurants sell the same type of food. One place we really liked (not on Pub Street) was Spoons Cafe, which also has a great mission. Excellent food, and very good, maybe even a bit over-the-top hospitality. We also ate at Temple Coffee n’ Bakery one night. They have a really cool rooftop bar at night, and we were the only tourists when we went. We also couldn’t stay away from Project Y. Another mission-driven spot near Pub Street. Honestly the best froyo I’ve ever had. And the people are SO nice, and love to talk about what they are doing and how it’s changing lives.

Iconic image of Angkor Wat that is not exactly what it seems…

Iconic image of Angkor Wat that is not exactly what it seems…

And of course, the reason people stop in Siem Reap, is for Angkor Wat! Although I enjoyed this, it wasn’t as amazing as I thought it would be, and I would do it differently if I had the chance. For one, it’s more expensive than I expected. One day passes are $37/person, and you need a tuk tuk driver to accompany you all day because the grounds are absolutely massive. Our tuk tuk driver cost $21 (plus tip) for 8 hours. We booked him through our hotel.

However, what we should have also done…and I highly recommend to you…is to hire a guide, or find some sort of audio guide before you go. You really need this or you have no idea what you are looking at. There’s almost 0 signage and no educational information. We walked around for 8 hours, and really had no idea what we were looking at.

The reason it’s not quite as spectacular as I though it would be is because the area is so huge, and you take a tuk tuk on normal roads from temple to temple. You don’t feel immersed in the experience. Maybe if you do the 2 day pass, and explore a bit more, you can feel more immersed…but I don’t know.

Also, the main area, and iconic photo you see of Angkor Wat is not nearly as beautiful as it seems. That beautiful body of water is actually a swampy and shallow bog with like 100 people standing at its edge all trying to get this picture. (Re: my tip about don’t plan your trip through instagram in this blog post)

But overall, I really enjoyed Siem Reap and it’s definitely worth 2-3 days on your trip to Cambodia!

Phnom Penh (2-3 Days, if any)

After Siem Reap, we took a 6 hour bus ride to Phnom Penh that cost $15. Honestly, I vote to skip this city entirely. I didn’t like the city from the moment we got there, and then my purse was stolen (detailed in this blog post), reconfirming my feelings. But besides that, there really wasn’t anything special to see in my opinion. The real reason to go there is to see the Killing Fields. So if you want to see those, then go to Phnom Penh. If you don’t, skip this city. And if you do go, I heard the area near the Russian Market is a nice place for accommodation.

San Monorom (3 Days)

We couldn’t wait to leave Phnom Penh, so we took a 6 hour minibus ride to San Monorom that cost $10. We went there to visit the Mondulkiri Project, which is an ethical elephant sanctuary. I’ve been searching high and low for one my whole time in Asia and finally felt like this one looked good enough to try.

The Tree Lodge

The Tree Lodge

We stayed at Tree Lodge, where the tours leave from. One cute and open-air double bungalow is $10/night. This place is really adorable and has great food as well.

We booked the 2 day tour with the Mondulkiri project and were quite happy with it. First day was trekking, and second day was the elephants. The first day, we got to ride in the back of a pick-up truck to the small village where our 18km trek began. We met our guides, and got some water and headed off.

On the way out, we saw a dead dog’s head on a stick which was quite alarming. We later learned, that most people in the village are animists, and this was an animal sacrifice that they made.

The 18km trek was quite nice. The landscapes were really beautiful and we hiked through the jungle as well. We stopped for lunch at a waterfall, and swam afterwards but it was very cold. I struggled a bit on the trek, as usual. It’s doable, but there are some uphill stretches that are a little tough. However, no one else seemed to have any problem with it. In the evening, we got a quick cold shower out of a hose in the wall, ate some pretty good dinner, family style on the floor, and drank some very interesting rice wine. We slept in hammocks, and let me say, they are not really comfortable for a full nights sleep! Plus they are a bit musty and you are using some old, and probably never washed blankets that everyone shares. But, I’ve basically gotten used to being a certain level of dirty or unsanitary at all times.

Fascinating creatures!

Fascinating creatures!

It’s alarming when they approach you in the water!

It’s alarming when they approach you in the water!

The next morning, we had some banana pancakes with Nutella, and then set off to meet the elephants! This was a pretty cool experience, and from what I could tell, I would give this an 8/10 on the ethics scale. The elephants had tons of land to roam, they each had their own mahout, they are given proper veterinary care, and they only buy elephants in an ethical way. All these elephants were already domesticated, and came from forced labor situations, so they are already accustomed to humans and being cared for. And they only had 5 elephants. The 5 elephants came to us because we had bananas, which they love, and then they left when they wanted to. We could walk around with them in the jungle.

I was shocked by what they look like up close. Firstly, Asian elephants are quite different looking than the gray African elephants I’m used to seeing depicted. They are smaller (though still huge animals) and have a brown color. I couldn’t believe how rough and wrinkly their skin was. They almost seemed prehistoric. Their eyes were more like a horses or a goats where you are kind of unsure what’s going on in their heads, not like a cat or dog where you feel connected instantly.

After this encounter, we had a rest…which we needed after the trek the day before. I fell asleep immediately. In the afternoon, we had the river encounter. Honestly, this felt wildly unsafe to me. I’m glad I did it, but I’m also glad it’s over, and I never need to do it again. We stood at a part in the river right next to a waterfall, and the current was strong. In areas, it was a little difficult even just to stand. Meanwhile, a giant multi-ton elephant is standing next to you vying for your bananas! This felt like a disaster waiting to happen. People brought their young children in the water, and it just felt like such a bad idea. We were supposed to “bathe” the elephants but they weren’t so interested in that, and like I said, it was difficult to stand, let alone scrub an elephant…

After that, we had to take another 30 minute hike just to get out of the park, and I was completely exhausted by then. We got back to the Tree lodge in the evening, and stayed one more night there which was really nice after all that hard work.

Exhausted post hike glam pic!

Exhausted post hike glam pic!

Overall, I think this was a good experience. I had a lot of fun, and I do feel like the elephants are treated well. In terms of safety, I would give this a lower rating. Safety standards are generally very different in Asia, but I felt like being in the river with the elephant was pushing my limit.

Sihanoukville (1 Day, if any)

The next morning, we took at 14 hour minibus ride that cost $18 to Sihanoukville. It was supposed to be less hours, but we hit a ton of traffic just before reaching the city. Sihanoukville was the worst city I’ve been to in all of SE Asia. I mean, the whole place is basically a dumpster. I feel bad saying that, but it’s true. The roads are completely torn up, walking around is a hazard, there are large groups of men loitering, insane traffic, and trash everywhere. Do NOT stay here unless you have to. You do have to come here in order to get a boat to Koh Rong. But if you can avoid staying the night, do so. We had to stay the night unfortunately, and stayed in this super overpriced and gross hotel near the water.

Koh Rong (6 Days)

Koh Rong is a really lovely and fun island off the coast of Cambodia. It’s very popular for the party crowd, and it’s main attraction is seeing the bioluminescent sea plankton at night. Sadly, we only had one good weather day, and the rest of the days it rained or was cloudy.

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Helen and I spent an indulgent 5 nights drinking too much, eating too much, dancing, and playing pool and other bar games at a really fun place called Reef on the Beach, in one of their private bungalows. We had a great time, but after 5 days of this were completely exhausted, and ready for some more wholesome fun.

The plankton is quite easy to see. If you go to a dark spot on the beach at night, you can swim, not even too deep..and when you move the water around, it will light up like it has lots of little blue lightning bugs in it. I think you can take a boat out as well into deeper water, which I’m sure is really cool, but we didn’t do this.

Note, that there is NO ATM on this island so make sure you have enough cash when you arrive. There is a small and overpriced snack shop near Reef on the Beach. But the main town is about a 40 minute walk. So we spent the majority of our time at Reef on the Beach, napping, reading, and preparing for the night ahead…

If you want a quieter stay, you can try Koh Rong Sanloem which is a smaller island not too far away.

We left Cambodia by taking a sleeper bus to Bangkok that cost $30. Remember, these are beds!! So I really don’t recommend taking these buses unless you have a friend to take the spot in the bed next to you. Some are VERY cozy, and it would not be fun to share with a stranger, especially a strange man. It’s near impossible to sleep anyways as the roads are so curvy, and I was always almost hitting my forehead on this metal bar on the side of the bed. And Helen and I both had to get out multiple times on this bus to pee on the side of the road. Always an adventure!

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai is a really fun city to explore! It’s full of expats who have found a home there, and I recommend staying at least 5 days. It’s a good place to rest if you are traveling a lot, because there is delicious, healthy food, and great yoga classes. In this post, I’ll cover food, what to do, where to stay, and how to get around. My 10 days in Chiang Mai cost about $350.

Doi Suthep Temple

Doi Suthep Temple

Another gorgeous temple I stumbled upon.

Another gorgeous temple I stumbled upon.

Food

Let’s talk about food! Sooo many yummy options here, oh my! I’d been traveling the southern and central Thailand up until this, and was disappointed in the healthy food offerings (lots of delicious street food of course). So it was a huge relief to be here. Salad Concept is a really fun restaurant where you can make custom salads and salad wraps. They have SO many different topping and dressing choices. Creamy sesame was my favorite. Goodsouls Kitchen had really delicious food (including smoothie bowls) and baked goods. The night markets here are abundant, and have tons of good things to try. If you haven’t already, now is a good time to try mango sticky rice. Khao Soi is the traditional dish of Chiang Mai. It’s a soup dish with noodles and meat, and is quite spicy. A Kitchen is a darling local place I highly recommend. Definitely try the pineapple curry!! And any time you are in Thailand, go for a 7-Eleven meal! 7-Eleven’s are literally on every corner in all of Thailand. I liked to go for the refrigerated grilled cheese (which they toast for you on the spot!), a ice cold coke, and a chocolate chip banana muffin! This costs about $2.

Lots of cute things to find in Chiang Mai!

Lots of cute things to find in Chiang Mai!

And beautiful colors everywhere.

And beautiful colors everywhere.

What to do

Yoga. My two favorite places to do yoga were Chiang Mai Holistic and Heart Space. Chiang Mai Holistic is a very nice place, with great classes and some free community offerings. They also have delicious protein shakes for after your workout. I loved the peanut butter one. There is also a free yoga class every morning in the park. I believe it’s at 9am, but you can find out on the Chiang Mai Community facebook page.

Heart Space was my favorite thing about Chiang Mai. They describe themselves as a community space for people to come together, open, and heal through meditation, song, ceremony, and whatever else the heart desires! And I have to say, it lived up to this description! I had been traveling for about 4 months at this point, and was still really struggling with depression and loneliness, and Heart Space was a place I felt so much peace and calm. I want to as many ceremonies as I possibly could. I had many dancing, eye gazing, chakra opening, cacao drinking, crying, laughing evenings spent here. The woman who runs the show is a true gem! I hope this place will be around for a long time.

Sticky waterfall. Now this is really cool! It’s a pretty big waterfall cascading over limestone rocks which have a stickiness to them that allows you to easily climb up and move around. There are some slippery areas, so do be careful. I spent a couple hours here with a friend I met in the area, and it was a blast exploring at our own pace. But you can also do this tour through any local company or airbnb.

Bars. North Gate Jazz Co-Op is a really fun and popular jazz spot with great energy in the main square. Warm Up Cafe is outside the square a bit, and pretty much only locals go there so it’s a cool experience. And Zoe in Yellow is a main dance club in an area of clubs and bars that was quite fun.

Hike. I hiked Monk’s trail to Wat Pha La and that was nice. But I more enjoyed the hike along the Huay Keaw Waterfalls. It was great to take a dip every time you got hot along the way, and you can walk for a long time up the mountain. I did these hikes in one day by taking a Grab taxi from one starting point to another. But be careful hiking here! I was almost bitten by a poisonous viper along the trail. (for real people)

Doi Suthep. This is a really lovely temple at the top of a mountain right outside Chiang Mai. I highly recommend going in the evening because the temple takes on a whole new aura at night. It’s peaceful and calm, and maybe even a bit mysterious or eerie. The breeze blows and the tiny bells all over the temple ring beautifully. You can see the whole city from up there. You can do a meditative walk around the inner path at the temple. You meditate while walking around it 3 times. I really enjoyed that.

Chiang Mai is a really fun place for shopping!

Chiang Mai is a really fun place for shopping!

Thank you to my friend Helen Dear for these photos!

Thank you to my friend Helen Dear for these photos!

Sunday Night Market. This is the best market I’ve been to in all of SE Asia. It’s the best because it has so many different hand crafted items from local artisans. As opposed to all the same cheap stuff at every market stall that you usually see. I wanted to buy everything I saw! So many cute and unique things. I ended up purchasing a really cute and inexpensive cross-body bag, which unfortunately was stolen from me later (See blog post: How my Purse Was Stolen in Cambodia). And the fried sweet potato balls are a must try! Soooo good.

Thai Grand Canyon. I did not go to the Grand Canyon because I found out about it too late. But it looks like TONS of fun, and I wish I had! Definitely check it out.

Getting Around

Chiang Mai is kind of walkable. It’s better once you are inside the old city square. But it still takes about 30-40 minutes to walk from one end to another. There’s a lot of traffic on the outskirts, and crossing the street to get into the old city is a pain.

Grab is very useful there for taxis or motorbike taxis. There are also these red pickup trucks that drive all around town and take tourists to main attractions. I found them to be a bit tricky to use. But you just kind of walk up to them…while they are driving…and ask if they are going where you need to go and how much it costs. They are called songthaews.

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Where to Stay

I stayed in the Nimman area which is just outside the old city to the Northwest. This was a nice area for food, and not too far of a walk to the old city. I would recommend staying here, or within the square of the old city. Anywhere you stay, you’re bound to find adorable murals as you explore, like the one on the left!

Chiang Mai is a great place to explore, and absolutely worth a spot on your Thailand itinerary. You can also get to Pai from here which I’ve heard wonderful things about. Just beware, you take a 3 hour minivan ride there on very curvy roads. Even the strongest stomachs get motion sickness on this one!

Malaysia in 15 Days

When I say Malaysia, I mean the mainland portion below Thailand. There’s a whole other section to explore that includes Borneo (amazing!), but I did not see that part. To be honest, Malaysia was not my favorite country. I felt overwhelmed by the big cities, the heat, and the modernization, and the food wasn’t that great. I felt like I could feel and see the presence of the patriarchy here more than the other countries I’ve visited. Besides the site-seeing detailed below, I also spent two weeks working at a horse farm which was very nice, but really hard work! I’ll do another blog post on that sometime.

These 15 days in Malaysia cost me about $700 in total.

Malacca (2-3 days)

Malacca (also spelled Melaka) was my first stop in Malaysia, and also my favorite place I saw there. I took a 6 hour bus from Singapore to get there for $18. Definitely stay near the river in Malacca. I stayed here which was just a short walk to the river, and I really enjoyed it (but note: there is no AC).

The best part about Malacca is all the beautiful murals everywhere. Walking around was a real joy. Then you have the river, which at night is all it up and very lovely. There’s a great ice cream place on the river called Fruit Cones that I went to every night. The tuk tuk’s in Malacca are really fun and over the top. They each have a theme and are decorated crazily, and drive around playing loud, obnoxious music. Baby Shark was a very popular theme haha. There’s a great night market as well called Jonker Street Night Market. It has a hilarious giant karaoke stage. Pretty much only old men got up and sang and they were all surprisingly really good.

Make sure to give durian and cendol a try while you are there! Cendol is a traditional, and very strange dessert containing ice, green rice flour jelly, coconut milk, palm sugar syrup, and whatever other toppings you want like beans and corn. It’s like lunch and dessert in one bowl….

Kuala Lumpur (2-3 days)

I had a friend from America join me at this point which was really great! Since Malaysia was turning out to not by my favorite country, it was nice to have a friend to explore it with and liven things up. In Kuala Lumpur, we just did a lot of walking around, and a LOT of eating at McDonald’s haha. They had the best McDonald’s I’ve found so far. Banana pies that were to die for. Tons of different ice cream flavors and dippings. My favorite was sarsaparilla ice cream dipped in chocolate. Caitlin said the chicken curry pie was “phenomenal,” but I don’t eat meat so I did not try it.

Batu Caves. There were some monkeys on the stairs that we fed crackers to which was fun!

Batu Caves. There were some monkeys on the stairs that we fed crackers to which was fun!

Petronas twin towers. This is a nice area of the city to walk around in.

Petronas twin towers. This is a nice area of the city to walk around in.

Me trying fried banana for the first time at the night market. Very delicious!

Me trying fried banana for the first time at the night market. Very delicious!

We saw the Batu Caves, the Petronas twin towers, walked around the city parks, and went to a fun night market. We also went to the shopping mall a lot! This is a very popular activity because it’s so hot there. Might I recommend eating at Llao Llao yogurt bar when you are at the mall. Best frozen yogurt I’ve ever had!

The next day, we did a really great hike through this airbnb experience. Definitely recommended, we had a great time and the views were stunning. We also got to try “scrambling” which we had never done before. The guide was wonderful, and an adorable local dog joins you on the hike every time because the guide gives her cat food at the top. It was so cute.

Gorgeous view from the top!

Gorgeous view from the top!

The infamous pup that joins you.

The infamous pup that joins you.

Cameron Highlands (2-3 days)

Next, we took a 4 our bus to Cameron Highlands for $8. This area is known for their tea production and the rolling hills of tea plantations really are beautiful. But that’s one of the only things that is nice about this area. The town isn’t very cute, the taxis are overpriced, and all “strawberry fields” are a big disappointment. The nicest thing about Cameron Highlands was the weather! It was actually cool! Probably low 70s the entire time which was a nice break from the heat and humidity of the rest of SE Asia.

A tea plantation in Cameron Highlands. There are tea houses all over the road that you can stop for some delicious ice tea and scones.

A tea plantation in Cameron Highlands. There are tea houses all over the road that you can stop for some delicious ice tea and scones.

The other really cool thing to do here is visit the Mossy Forest. This is a must-do if you are in the area! A group tour is easier because the roads to this are really rough and it’s hard to get a taxi driver to take you there. We were lucky enough to find one, and he charged us $10 each, and waited for us while we explored. The Mossy Forest was really a spectacular experience. At first, it seemed a little boring. We walked along wooden pathways for a while, and got a taste for the eeriness of the forest. We thought that was it, but then the path disappears and opens up to the true forest which you can walk into for hours. It’s so mystical in there, you feel like you are in a different world, maybe a scary movie. The air is misty and there’s moss everywhere and unusual and powerful trees. We had a blast climbing up and over all the hills and roots and discovering what was around each corner. I felt a little uneasy being in the forest with just the two of us, so you may prefer to go with a tour group. But everything was fine, and every now and then we would run into another group of hikers. Highly recommend! And, of course, the pictures just don’t do it justice!

The Mossy Forest

The Mossy Forest

Caitlin, after a pretty steep climb up!

Caitlin, after a pretty steep climb up!

Penang (2-3 Days)

Next, Caitlin and I traveled to Penang (or Georgetown). We took a 5 hour bus to Butterworth That cost $9. And then a 30 minute ferry from Butterworth to Penang, which I think was <$1. The ferry was cool. We stayed at this airbnb, which I really liked. And there was a lot of delicious food and a great grocery store called Cold Storage in the area.

In Penang, we hiked through the Penang National Park, along the Turtle Beach Trail which I really enjoyed. It started pouring rain at the end, I mean pouring. We got completely drenched and waited for a boat to take us back, but it was fun. We also visited the Penang Hill, which was pretty cool. The funicular taking you up to the top was quite the adventure!

We did this farm-to-table cooking class through this airbnb experience and enjoyed that as well. Airbnb experiences have been a great resource during my travels.

Results of our farm-to-table cooking class.

Results of our farm-to-table cooking class.

Caitlin looking cool, trying to beat the heat!

Caitlin looking cool, trying to beat the heat!

Langkawi (3-4 Days)

Caitlin had to return to America, so I went to Langkawi alone. I took the ferry back to the mainland, took a 3 hour bus from Buttorworth to Kuala Perlis for $4, and then took a speedboat to Langkawi for $4. It was a bit scary, honestly. I felt crowded and stuck in the boat, and was very happy to be off when it was over. In Langkawi, I stayed in this adorable, but not very convenient airbnb. It was not a convenient location, and living on the third floor with detached bathroom was also inconvenient. I started getting really depressed in my solo endeavor, and after 2 days there, decided to splurge on a nice airbnb with Netflix that was closer to the attractions. I stayed there for a few days and honestly saw nothing, because I was in such a low point of my travels. So I really have no recommendations on Langkawi, sorry! However, I can highly recommend this airbnb. It was extremely nice, as was the family who host it. They even had a dinner one night for all their guests.

The coolest thing, and only thing, I did on Langkawi was finally learn to drive a motorbike! I had been riding on the back of them, mostly completely terrified, and I decided I wanted to learn. The airbnb let me rent one, and it was the perfect spot because there were long stretches of country road with no one on them except some cows. So here, I proudly learned to drive! And since then, have been able to drive in the other countries I visited.

This is where I practiced driving a motorbike for the first time! Safe and beautiful.

This is where I practiced driving a motorbike for the first time! Safe and beautiful.

It’s worth noting here, that I don’t really know the rules behind riding motorbikes in Asia. It may not be legal, I know sometimes cops will stop you just to get a bribe, and I’m pretty positive your health insurance will not cover an accident on one of these. And accidents seem to be very common with foreigners. You’ll see a lot of white people walking around with huge areas of road rash or large bandages covering massive areas of their legs and arms. So do your research, and proceed with caution!

But, man, I just felt like…how can I come to SE Asia and not learn to drive one! So I did. =)

Singapore in 3 Days

As I’m definitely not a city girl, I was surprised to find out that I really enjoyed Singapore! Of course, I did only stay there for 3 days, and that was quite enough for me. But I definitely recommend this as a stop along your way. It’s a great place to explore for a few days before heading to Malaysia.

An adorable restaurant near Arab St, where I stayed

An adorable restaurant near Arab St, where I stayed

Another reason to only stay 3 days is that it’s quite expensive. I stayed at this hostel, which was a very average hostel, but it cost $17/night. I did like the location though. It was on Arab Street and there were a ton of cute restaurants and bars with lots of beautifully painted wall murals. And it was about a 10 minute walk to the nearest metro station which was pretty convenient. Did I mention there was a Popeye’s within walking distance! Hello buttery biscuits and french fries!

Glow-in-the-dark walls on Arab St. at night

Glow-in-the-dark walls on Arab St. at night

The main parts of the city are as pristine, beautiful, and interesting as everyone says. The high fines for littering keep the streets looking beautiful, and there are many unique buildings with beautiful plants surrounding them or growing up them. A focus on the environment seems to be important, which you’ll see more of at Gardens by the Bay.

The supertrees as the storm was rolling in.

The supertrees as the storm was rolling in.

Supertrees as the sun was setting.

Supertrees as the sun was setting.

Gardens by the Bay was definitely one of my favorite things about visiting Singapore. The super trees are stunning (albeit not as tall as I thought 🤔), and the light show in the evening is fantastic. I paid for the full access ticket which was $28. This gives you access to the everything, like the Cloud Forest and the Flower Dome, but does not include the Skyway which is a bridge connecting some of the super trees (it’s $8 extra). Unfortunately, it stormed a bit the day I went, so the Skyway was closed. The park itself is quite large, and you can spend a lot of time exploring it. The Cloud Forest was really cool too, definitely worth it. And the Flower Dome had some unbelievable flowers along with some great educational material about how we can and must save the planet before it’s too late.

The marina at night!

The marina at night!

My other favorite thing about Singapore was the marina, especially at night! Omg, I had such a great time there! There’s this wonderful light-up double helix bridge, an area with live music, a very expensive and beautiful mall, stunning views, and of course the famous boat hotel. I did not go up into the boat hotel because I am afraid of heights. But the most fun I had at the marina was actually renting an electric scooter and scooting around the whole thing! Idk why, but this was just so grand; I was laughing the whole time. I also had the best soft serve melon flavored ice cream of my LIFE there! It cost $4 which was obscene but so worth it. See if you can find the stand selling it!

You can get to both the marina and Gardens by the Bay using the metro. In fact, the metro stop for Gardens by the Bay is very fun and reflective of what you’ll see there!

The only other main place I explored was Little India, which I wasn’t impressed by. And I missed some opportunities for some Michelin star-rated street food. So check that out before you go! Happy travels!

How My Purse Was Stolen in Cambodia

There are a lot of warning signs to this story, that I wish I had taken more seriously. Maybe this could have been avoided. But I’d been traveling for about 5 months, and had gotten really comfortable..too comfortable apparently. Moral of the story is, always trust your instincts!

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I was traveling on the main tourist track through Cambodia with my friend Helen. We started in Siem Reap, and had a great time there. It’s very cute and walkable. There’s tons of adorable bars and $1 smoothie stands everywhere. We went to this amazing frozen yogurt shop every night called Project Y. Overall, we were having a great time, and expected the same thing of Phnom Penh, our next stop.

But when we arrived, I disliked the city right away. It just had a feeling to it that I knew wasn’t me, and I felt uneasy and wanted to leave. On our first day, we just walked around. It was super hot and there wasn’t anything great to see.

Strangely, nearly every time one of us had our phone out getting directions or taking a picture, a Cambodian man would come up to us and tell us to be careful with our phones. It happened at least 5 times. It was eerie and, honestly, made me wonder if those men were trying to trick us or something. I didn’t like it.

The next night, we decided to go to a night club called Pontoon Club. We had been going to bed early every night, so thought it might be fun to go dancing and stay out a bit later. We heard from others that this night club was a bit sketchy, so we were already very on guard. We just had a couple drinks, and danced, carefully holding our purses next to us.

On our way home, we turned onto a main street to get back to our hostel, Base Villa. This street was very busy and thriving during the day, but at night, it felt scary. It was the only leg of the walk that felt this way. I turned to Helen and said we need to be careful on this street. I was expecting a person to come up to us, maybe, so I was watching for that. But I wasn’t expecting what happened next….

Helen and I were walked side by side, briskly trying to get down this street. All of a sudden, a motorbike was next to me, and a tuk tuk was next to Helen, blocking us in together. Within a split second, they had cut my purse away from my body and were gone.

Then it was all quite dramatic. Once I realized what had happened I started screaming “they stole my purse!” I starting running after them (futile) but tripped and fell on the ground (I’ve never been very athletic.) A nice tuk tuk driver stopped and picked us up and drove after them (this was a bad idea because they could have been in on the scheme as well, but in my panic, I wasn’t really thinking). Anyways, there was really no hope of catching them…

I had heard of this happening before the trip, but motorbikes are everywhere. You get so accustomed to their presence. I never expected this, and it happened so so fast.

I lost my wallet with my license, credit card, debit card, $30, and my iPhone (luckily I had my iPhone data entirely backed up on iCloud). So then ensued the awful walk back home, the people at our hostel telling us there’s no point in contacting the police unless I had phone insurance (which I didn’t), staying up late calling my bank, canceling my cards, changing all my passwords….

I had another credit card hidden in my backpack in case something like this happened, but it was of very little use. It has high international transaction fees, and after hours on the phone with my bank, was still unable to withdraw money from an ATM with this card. Luckily, Helen generously lent me some cash so I could survive a few weeks while I waited for my new debit and credit cards to reach me in Laos (thank you mom for sending them!).

Later, I learned from other friends that Cambodia is very known for petty theft. So please be careful when traveling there. Although this can and does, of course, happen many places in SE Asia! And speaking of….

I mentioned in my blog post “How to Pack for a Year-long Warm-weather Trip Abroad,” that I purchased and have been using this purse specifically designed for travel. One of the ways it’s designed for travel is that the straps cannot be cut through. Seems great, except that….had I been wearing this purse when the incident happened, likely I would have been jerked forward, and dragged on the ground until the purse finally slipped off me (this actually happened to a friend of a friend in Bali). Luckily (I think), I was wearing a very cheap purse I had purchased at a market in Chiang Mai, so it cut away from my body easily. Now, I’m back to wearing my travel purse, but I’m really not sure how I feel about it now! I keep it tightly held to my body when I walk around so that no one can grab the straps.

The safest bet is probably to carry a cheap bag with a bit of cash in it, and keep your phone, cards, and more cash in a money belt around your waist. But I know that that is really quite inconvenient.

My friend Helen and I a few days before the incident

My friend Helen and I a few days before the incident

Whatever you decide to do, I hope this story can inform your decision. Stay safe and vigilant!

P.S. This is nothing against Cambodia! Helen and I had a wonderful time there (which I will detail in a future blog post), and actually most of the Cambodians I met were the most hospitable people I’ve met my entire time in SE Asia.

Bali, Indonesia: Ubud & Canggu

Bali was the first stop on my trip! I chose this because I thought it would be an easier transition from my old life. I spent most of the time in Ubud, and totally fell in love with the spiritual offerings and the food! Wow, the food. SO many vegan and vegetarian options. I stayed there for the first month of my travels, but after moving on, becoming depressed in my solo endeavor through Singapore and Malaysia, so abruptly decided to fly back to Bali for 3 more weeks to gain some clarity. So I spent nearly 2 months total in Ubud.

Sunrise hike on Mount Batur

Sunrise hike on Mount Batur

Ubud

Ubud is in the center of Bali. Ubud is known for its spirituality, self discovery, yoga and all that. LOTS of stuff there – healers, cacao ceremonies, rebirths, women’s circles, ecstatic dances, sound healing, meditations, whatever you can think of. I loved being there. It’s full of tourists and ex-pats, but it’s just an easy and safe place to be. If you stay in the center of town, you can get everywhere in walking distance. I spent a lot of time at the Yoga Barn doing yoga and attending their free community classes which are really good. Kundalini yoga is life changing…not to oversell it or anything! I also highly suggest trying the Ecstatic Dance at the yoga barn on Friday nights. It’s worth the experience.

Where to Stay

Most people stay in a homestay there. Balinese people open up their homes which are basically tiny communes with a temple that the whole family lives at. I stayed here for over a month and loved the family, location, and all their amenities. You can learn a lot about the Hindu customs and traditional Balinese lifestyles by staying at the homestays. Airbnb is a wonderful resource for finding great homestay. If you are looking for a cheaper place, I also stayed here, and the family was really wonderful!

Getting Around

Getting around in Ubud mostly is done by foot. There is a public bus called Kura-Kura that can take you to a few places (including taking you almost all the way back to the airport for a fraction of the cost of a taxi). Or there’s taxis which are the main mode of transportation. They look down upon taxi apps but people still use them. GrabCar and GoJek are the best. GrabCar you can use in pretty much all of SE Asia. Otherwise, there’s taxi drivers everywhere constantly asking if you need a taxi. Definitely don’t accept their first price. You can hire a car or a scooter driver. Scooter drivers are cheaper and more fun. Just please wear a helmet!

The view from the plane on our descent to Bali

The view from the plane on our descent to Bali

Arriving on the Island

When you fly into Denpasar (southern part of the island), you can expect to pay about 300,000 Indonesia Rupiah ($21) to get to Ubud. Where a GrabCar or GoJek will be closer to 270,000. So generally, the apps are cheaper. If you land at the airport, you can always look for other obvious tourists and see if they’ll split a cab with you to Ubud or wherever you are starting.

The Monkey Forest, Ubud

The Monkey Forest, Ubud

Amazing free breakfast everyday at my homestay

Amazing free breakfast everyday at my homestay

Food!

One of my favorite places to eat was Bali Buda the restaurant (not the grocery, although it also has delicious offerings). I love all their food, but especially the tacos and the pumpkin pasta, and the free peanut butter cookies you get when you pay. Green Key makes the best smoothie bowls that I could find. I loved their chocolate protein one. Warung Sopa is a nice local place with really good sugar cane juice and food. Happy Falafel makes the best falafels I’ve ever had! Overall the food in Bali is super delicious and healthy and reasonably priced. A satisfying meal will cost $3-$6. CP Lounge is a fun place for dancing if you want to get cray one night.

What to Do

Popular things to do in Ubud are the monkey forest (so fun), visiting waterfalls, seeing the rice terraces, walking the Campuhan Ridge, and anything spiritual. As mentioned, the Yoga Barn is really lovely, and another spiritual place to check out is the Pyramids of Chi. I also did the Mount Batur sunrise hike (pictured above) and really enjoyed that. It was beautiful and there were a ton of monkeys vying for our leftover breakfast boxes.

Gorgeous sunsets in Canggu!

Gorgeous sunsets in Canggu!

Canggu

The only other place I went to in Bali was Canggu, which is on the west coast. This is a party beach town, but not as insanely party as Kuta or Seminyak. I personally wasn’t impressed with Canggu except for the food, and they have super beautiful cafes that really cater to the digital nomad crowd. It’s bigger than Ubud and sidewalks aren’t really a thing so you really need a scooter to succeed there. Or be constantly hiring a taxi driver. And I wouldn’t recommend scootering there if it’s your first time. Traffic is crazy in all of Bali.

But if you do go there, definitely eat at the Shady Shack (this is probably my favorite food from my entire trip), Cafe Vida (amazing poke bowls), and check out Pretty Poison skatepark bar. Also, there’s a speakeasy near there that you enter through a refrigerator in a convenience store. Very fun!

Surfing lessons are popular in Changgu but the ocean was too rough for my liking when I was there. And of course, lots of beautiful sunsets. That was really the best part.

Other popular places that I wish I had seen in Bali, but just was too in love with Ubud to leave are Nusa Penida (an island) and the Gili Islands. I saw photos from friends and it looked absolutely stunning!