In the past eighteen-and-a-half weeks, I’ve traveled through five Southeast Asian countries: Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Singapore. However, there are still six more countries in the region that I have yet to visit: Myanmar, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, the Philippines, and East Timor. I recently flew to India, to begin tackling the large subcontinent. However, I will certainly return to Southeast Asia someday to explore new territory, and perhaps revisit some old stomping grounds.
Although the places I visited had a few similarities to each other, I find them to be mostly diverse. It’s amazing just how much of a difference a thousand kilometers can make. Each country has a unique cuisine, vibe, and terrain.
The first four countries I went to are particularly convenient travel destinations, because they are connected by land. You can navigate these areas completely by bus; no need for expensive flights!
Thailand, with its spicy food and developed infrastructure, is the perfect gateway into Southeast Asia. It’s different enough (from the Western world) to warrant a culture shock, but not different enough to scare you. It’s a very easy country to travel in, and is practically made for tourists.
Cambodia can be a bit of a shock to the system, because it is a rather poor, undeveloped country. You get the sense that its citizens are still recovering from the horrific genocide, carried out by the Khmer Rouge regime back in the 1970’s. However, it is still a must-see country, if only for Angkor Wat: its beautiful, ancient temple complex.
Laos seems to get skipped by a lot of travelers, but they don’t know what they’re missing out on! Although its infrastructure is less developed than say, Thailand’s, it is a gorgeous country. It has several must-see cities, delicious food, and a chilled out vibe.
Vietnam has a feel unlike any other. It is crowded, bustling, and full of noise. Like Thailand, it is a very easy country to navigate, and has plenty to offer its tourists. The food, while not particularly spicy, is cheap and tasty.
Before heading to India, I decided to travel to the smallest country in Southeast Asia:
Singapore is one of the most culturally diverse places I have been to. It is a business capital of Asia, and is as affluent and modern as the United States (if not more so). While its highly organized structure may bore some, it does have a fantastic cuisine, with a little something from every country.
Even though I am far from done with Southeast Asia, I feel like I’ve explored a significant chunk it. However, these four months have seriously enlightened me to how big the world is. Even Southeast Asia (a fairly small region of the planet) takes a lot of time to explore. Hell, I haven’t even been to half of its countries!
I seriously think that I’m all the better from having traveled. I begin tackling India with some traveling experience under my belt, and that’s a great thing.
If you’d like to read more in-depth about my thoughts on these various places, check out the Country Guide page.
Instead of making these retrospective posts entirely about money, I figured I'd first share some thoughts on where I have been, and where I'm going.
It's the end of yet another month of traveling. Wow, four months. That's like...a third of a year, or a whole semester of university. Sure, in the long run four months is nothing. However, for me they have been some of the most exhilarating, mind-opening, and character-building months of my life. I've backpacked extensively through four countries, made quite a few friends, and have eaten foods I would never have imagined existed. I'm currently in Hoi An, Vietnam, a charming city full of tourists, tailors, and 14-cent beers. Today, I picked up a custom tailored shirt and pair of pants, then drank three delicious cups of tea in an outdoor restaurant.
My journey is far from over. In roughly a week, I'll be flying to Singapore for three days, and then to India. India and its surrounding countries will be the next "leg" of my trip; the subcontinent will certainly be a big change from Southeast Asia. Although I don't really know what to expect, I feel way more assured than I did four months ago!
Anyhow, no month retrospective would be complete without a spending breakdown. Budgeting is what allows me to travel longer, and I like to to give you (the reader) a general idea of how expensive certain countries are. This past month was spent in Laos and Vietnam, though mostly in the latter country. I've decided to consolidate the categories, so food and water are now lumped together as food and drink. Additionally, toiletries will be included in the miscellaneous category.
Accommodation - $135.45. Average of $4.52 per day. Like the other countries I've been to, Vietnam has very affordable hostels and hotels.
Food and Drink - $251.27. Average of $8.38 per day, or $2.79 per meal. Although I spent a lot on food this month, Vietnam has very affordable food. I simply ended up eating out at nice restaurants more frequently than I did in previous months. In most Vietnamese cities, you can get a tasty Banh mi (sandwich) or Pho (noodle soup) for $0.75-$2.
Alcohol - $27.62. If you're willing to drink the local brew, you can get a cup of beer in Vietnam for as cheap as $0.14-$0.25.
Transport - $107.97. Transport in Vietnam was pretty much the same as in the rest of Southeast Asia.
Miscellaneous - $56.19. Includes things such as clothing, toiletries, laundry, ATM fees, etc.
Total amount spent - $578.49. Average of $19.28 per day. I spent more than I did last month, but mostly because I ate more expensive food. Laos, and especially Vietnam, are very affordable countries to travel in. You can easily spend much less or much more.
Once more, thank you to Simon and Erin, the creators of Trail Wallet. Their app continues to be my #1 budgeting tool. If you feel so inclined, check out their journey at neverendingvoyage.com.
Singapore has been added to the "Nationalities I've Met" page, bringing the total to 49!
I loved Laos! The country was quite friendly and welcoming, with an abundance of charm. Unlike the fairly messy Cambodia, Laos surprised me with its orderliness and ease of travel. It really seems like Laos has its shit together, perhaps due to its manageable level of tourists (other Southeast Asian countries get swamped). It has this great laid-back feel to it, and wonderful cities with distinct personalities. While Don Det (probably my favorite place this entire trip!) is still undergoing development, the capital city of Vientiane is surprisingly clean and modern. Just as clean, but even more charming, Luang Prabang seems like a wonderful place to live in! Even Vang Vieng, which is notorious for its tubing and partying, is a beautiful city with its own merits. I did not dislike a single place in Laos, and would gladly return to explore more of the country. I also met many wonderful travelers, who helped make my three weeks fly by.
Tomorrow I take a 20-hour bus to Vinh, Vietnam. I have zero idea what Vinh is, or whether I will stay there for a bit before heading to Hanoi. Vietnam should be exciting, and will probably be a shock to my system after the carefree, laid back vibes of Laos.
It’s these long bus rides that make me truly think about life: why I’m going, where I’m headed, and what to do next. Sneak peek, I’ve bought plane tickets to both Singapore and India. India is a pretty big country, so I hope to allocate at least a couple of months to it, and maybe even pop into some of the neighboring countries.
Some days I wonder where I am headed in life, and whether I am traveling for naught. Then I change cities and my entire perception changes. There is no way to figure out what will happen over the course of a journey; you just have to let go and see what happens. Some days I feel lonely and alienated, but the next day I make new friends. As a guitar player, I sometimes face months without any inspiration, but you know what? Creativity always strikes, sooner or later. It’s best not to fret so much over things that are going wrong. Rather, I’ve been trying to get excited about all the good things lying in the future!
I don’t know how long I’ll be traveling for. I don’t know where I’m going to after India. I don’t know what I’ll do when my money runs out. I don’t know what I’ll do when I return home. But none of that matters, because right now I’m living a lifestyle that makes me happy. Every day, I learn more about myself, my capabilities and my dreams. I’m learning that it’s so much easier to focus on one task at a time: easier to let my thoughts out on this blog post, than to let them eat me alive.
Tomorrow, I go to Vietnam. It’s going to be one hell of a 20 hour ride.
Belarus has been added to the "Nationalities I've Met" page, bringing the total to 46!
My third month was spent in two countries: Cambodia and Laos. The Lao currency is called "Kip," and the rate is about 8,000 kip per dollar. This was by FAR my cheapest month yet. This is due to the relatively cheap costs of traveling in Cambodia, as well as the fact that I'm getting better at budgeting as time goes on. This breakdown spans the dates 07/21/14 thru 08/19/14.
Here we go! Month the third:
Accommodation - $70.36. Average of $2.35 per day. Ok, this number is skewed, as I haven't yet paid for my current stay in Vientiane. However, Cambodia and Laos have been ridiculously cheap "accommodation-wise." In most places, I was able to find dorms for $2 per night.
Food - $173.82. Average of $5.79 per day, or $1.93 per meal. Cambodia was cheapest; in Siem Reap I could easily eat a meal for $1. Laos is a bit more expensive, with meals ranging between $2-4 each.
Alcohol - $37.72. Average of $1.26 per day. Thanks to 50 cent beers in Cambodia, I spent about half of what I did last month!
Transport - $106.70. Transport in Cambodia and Laos isn't as cheap as I expected it to be. However, it's an essential cost that cannot be avoided.
Water - $27.80. Average of 93 cents per day. For some reason, bottled water has been slightly more expensive here than it was it Thailand. Probably has to do with the fact that there are no 7-Elevens.
Toiletries - $3.71. A nominal fee.
Miscellaneous - $111.47. Includes things such as the $40 entry to Angkor Wat, kayaking, bowling, laundry, ATM fees, etc.
Total amount spent - $531.57. Average of $17.72 per day. Even including expenses such as entry to Angkor Wat, I spent over $100 less than I did last month! Cambodia and Laos have been cheaper than Thailand, and I was therefore able to reduce my daily average by over $4 per day!
Thank you once more to the creators of Trail Wallet. A true convenience for a budgeting backpacker!
Next month I'll be using the Vietnamese Dong. Get excited!
Brazil and Latvia have been added to the "Nationalities I've Met" page, bringing the total to 45!
Before I begin, I'd also like to drop some big news. As you may or may not know, my Kickstarter has been a smashing success. In eleven days, the project will be over, and this website's name will be changed to...The Traveling Tramp. Currently, the site address remains luckybuddha.weebly.com - however, in about two weeks' time, the URL will be changed to travelingtramp.com
It's my great pleasure to announce this overhaul, which will include (but not limited to) a brand new site logo. Thank you guys! Oh, and check out the Kickstarter link if you so choose :)
I took a VIP sleeper bus to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. Although I left Don Det, my love affair with the island is far from over. I will return to that beautiful place someday; mark my words in digital ink.
I must admit, nothing about the prospect of visiting Vientiane excited me. I only came here to get a Vietnamese visa, as Vietnam requires a visa in advance (the only Southeast Asian country with that distinction). That said, I kind of dig the city. It's by far the quietest and least hectic capital city I've been to, a nice change from bustling Bangkok and Phnom Penh (God, I hate that place).
This morning I walked around for a good half hour or so, trying to find the local gym. Being Sunday, it ended up being closed. Oh well. At least my guesthouse is pretty cool. The owner allows people to graffiti the walls. The only catch: he must pre-approve the artist, by first seeing some sample artwork. This brings a major upside; every wall painting is gorgeous! I've been to many hippie hostels with graffitied walls. However, this one has the most consistent high quality work I've seen!
Anyhow, my 90-day travel mark is coming on fast. Get ready for another monthly spending breakdown! (Hint: I spent even less than the month before)
Laos (obviously!) has been added to the "Nationalities I've Met" page, bringing the total to 42!
First, a friendly little reminder that my Kickstarter is currently 146% funded. As it stands, this website will be getting a domain name of its own (without the .weebly), and I will upgrade the hosting service (making the site more professional). There are still 20 more days left to donate, so I urge you to check out the link. Every extra dollar will be spent on making the site better, be it the layout (i.e. a custom website theme) or content (i.e. allowing me to travel to more places, so more blog posts). Thank you!Instead of spending an entire month in Cambodia (as planned), I decided to cut my trip short. Cambodia is a very small country, and I felt like my time could be better spent elsewhere. Sure, the country has its charms; Siem Reap was absolutely fantastic, and I’d gladly go back some day. However, I was getting rather bored, making it ripe time for a change. Where, might you ask, did I head to? The answer is: Laos, a small country that borders Cambodia. I caught a bumpy minivan, bus, and boat to 4,000 Islands in Laos (Si Phan Don), bidding the Khmer goodbye.
The best way I can sum up the journey is “The bus ride from Hell.” I was picked up from my guesthouse in Kratie, Cambodia at 7:30 AM. After three hours in an extremely crowded minivan, we were dropped off at a restaurant, awaiting our connecting bus. First red flag: we were told to wait three and a half hours for the bus. We lazed around for that amount of time, and…nothing. The bus finally came at 4:00 PM, but we were not allowed to board until 5:00. When the bus finally arrived to the border, we were charged $50 for the Laos visa. The price was supposed to be $35. Enraged at this scam, I confronted the bus driver, who threatened to leave us behind if we did not pay. Begrudgingly, (and much to my dismay) everyone else decided to pay the extra $15. Well, I did not want to be left alone in a strange land, so I had no choice but to give in to the highway robbery.
With tensions running high, we arrived at the boat dock for Don Det island. Although my bus ticket included boat fare, the driver required me to buy a ticket at the dock. He threatened to leave me stuck at the border crossing if I did not pay, so I conceded. With bared teeth, I paid the $5. At this point, the entire group was fed up with this scam artist; we just wanted to find guesthouses (it was already 10:30). Finally, we crossed over the river, and found accommodation for the night. It was the worst experience I have ever had with a travel bus, but I made it through alive.
So, how is Laos?
It’s awesome. In fact, Don Det is probably my favorite place I have been this entire trip! It’s just about the most relaxing, chilled out island I’ve visited. There are no tuk-tuks, motorbikes, or cars. It is extremely undeveloped, so there are cows, chickens, pigs, and bison walking all around. Yesterday, we walked through some rice fields. I found cheap accommodation ($1.87 per night) at the “Happy Bungalow.” The caretaker then took a group of us on a boat to a nearby island, where we drank Beer Laos and sat in the shade.
Today, we took an amazing kayaking tour down the Mekong River. It was breathtaking, and was a tremendously satisfying workout. During our lunch break, we sat on a dock and watched dolphins. I doubt my memories of this day will fade any time soon!
I don't think Don Det is indicative of Laos as a whole. However, I feel like this place was built for me. There are no scams like in Thailand, or even Cambodia. Since it is rainy season, the island is fairly empty; this allows for quiet exploration, and peaceful relaxation. The guesthouse I picked is perfect, both in price and in hospitality. Instead of spending a few days here, I plan on staying for at least a week. I cannot recommend the island of Don Det enough!
Overall, a really lousy journey lead to my favorite country (so far)! I hope to explore much more of Laos during my month or so here. For now, however, I feel relaxed as can be.
On a side note, I’d like to share a picture I found of myself – proof that passions really do start at childhood! I think it was my 9th birthday?
My name is Yonah Paley. I quit my job in the United States to travel. I also write music and do photography. As I backpack across the world, I share stories, philosophy, and travel tips.