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.
Malaysia, The Philippines, and Ukraine have all been added to the "Nationalities I've Met" page, bringing the total to 40!
One thing I bet you didn't know about Cambodia, is that they primarily use U.S. dollars. Their official currency, Riel, is usually only given as change. Shortly after my arrival yesterday, I bought $1.35 worth of items at a shop - the change for my two dollars? 2,600 Riel. The dollar is king here (well, they do actually have a king, but you get the gist). Therefore, month three will be very easy to track financially, as most transactions will be made with my home currency.
Anyhow, I could go on for hours about Cambodia, and I will (in future blog posts). For now, however, I want to do a financial breakdown of my second month. It was spent primarily in Thailand, and spans the dates 06/21/14 thru 07/20/14. Once again, there will be exceptions. I bought a Northern Thai instrument (Seung - which I had to leave behind at a guesthouse in Bangkok), which will not be factored in. Additionally, costs related to my film photography are very specific, and I don't foresee most people needing to factor such prices in.
Here we go! Month the second:
Accommodation - $127.64. Average of $4.25 per day. I more than halved my accommodation costs from last month ($282.93). There are several reasons for this, primarily the fact that I was traveling with a friend. We were able to split double rooms, paying half the price. Even when I was alone, I opted to stay in mixed dorm rooms, whereas last month I stayed in a (far more expensive) single room. Thought I thought dorms would suck, they actually turned out to be a great way to meet new people. They also saved me a lot of money!
Food - $180.39. Average of $6 per day, or $2 per meal. Roughly the same as I spent last month, just a few dollars more. I didn't make much of an effort to stay away from restaurants. Additionally, food in the South was slightly more expensive (as was everything else). I would never have dreamed this would be my biggest expense - even more than accommodation!
Alcohol - $65.33. Average of $2.18 per day. Same as food: roughly the same as last month, but with a few extra dollars due to inflated costs.
Transport - $164.29. Other than food, this was my biggest expense during the month (up from $35.37 last month). The reason is that Lisa's method of traveling involved seeing as many places as possible. Sometimes this resulted in very expensive bus rides, some of which did save us money on accommodation (overnight buses). I don't regret a single penny that I spent; however, future months will certainly not be this costly for me.
Water - $17.46. Average of 58 cents per day. Roughly the same as last month.
Toiletries - $6.42. Much lower than last month ($18.61). This is because I had already purchased most of my toiletries last month (toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, etc).
Miscellaneous - $77.37. Includes ATM fees ($21.24), unintentional motorbike damage ($15.40), a haircut ($9.24), laundry ($4.56), and other items/admission costs, etc ($26.93).
Total amount spent - $638.90. Average of $21.30 per day. Slightly less than last month, but much more than necessary (especially with such low accommodation fees). Transport and miscellaneous things (such as costs associated with the Full Moon Party) really added up, inflating my budget. Though I am once more by myself in Cambodia, I hope this month will cost less!
Thank you once more to the creators of Trail Wallet. This app has been essential for me.
Stay tuned, readers!
Colombia, Ireland, and Iran have all been added to the "Nationalities I've Met" page, bringing the total to 37!
After traveling Central Thailand (Bangkok, Ayutthaya, Kanchanburi) and Northern Thailand (Chiang Mai, Pai), we headed down south, exploring some of the country's islands. Along the way, we went to Nakhon Si Thammarat, Ko Pha Ngan, and Ko Samui.
Nakhon Si Thammarat - Quite literally, the friendliest place I have ever been in my life. This island may be the highlight of my trip so far. When they said Thailand is the "Land of Smiles," I was a bit disappointed. I mean, everywhere I've gone so far has been somewhat friendly, but the Land of Smiles? Let me paint a picture of Thammarat. Everyone that passed by us, waved. We were constantly honked at by passing cars. Young children giggled as we walked by. Unlike in Bangkok (where people usually just stare at you), people would actively smile and say hi to you. Lisa and I were invited into a random person's house and given cake. From what I hear, we stayed in the friendliest area of the island (Khanom). Additionally, there were very few to no tourists there, giving the island a small-town, personal feel. If you're looking for a chilled-out, relaxing time, I cannot recommend it enough.
Ko Pha Ngan - OK. The only reason we went to this island was to attend a Full Moon party. I really can't comment on the island itself, as I was there less than one day. Full Moon party was alright, nothing to write home about. In all honesty, this island sucked more money out of us in one day than I'm OK with.
Ko Samui - Without exaggerating, this island is the most touristy place I've been in Thailand - even more than Bangkok. The beach was very nice, but prices were generally expensive, and everywhere was very crowded. I haven't been to Phuket, but I'd imagine the level of tourism is similar. If you're into bars and clubs and expensive accommodation, this island is for you. If not, I'd recommend finding a more relaxing place.
The South of Thailand has many nice places to offer. However, it is by far the most expensive area I've been in the country. Unless you are traveling with a lot of money, I'd recommend skipping most of the hotspots. Perhaps go to one or two lesser known islands, or just skip it entirely. Look to spend approximately twice as much in the South as elsewhere. Transportation and accommodation are not cheap.
On another note, I said farewell to Lisa yesterday. She is traveling back to South Africa, and will be missed.
Up next: Cambodia, which I leave for in two days!
Austria, China, Guinea, Hungary and Senegal have all been added to the "Nationalities I've Met" page, bringing the total to 34!
Pai was beautiful. Out of any city I have been to so far, it felt the most like I had "pictured" Thailand to be. It was just a small town with rural outskirts (we stayed in the outskirts, and had to therefore motorbike everywhere). Scenic huts and elephant camps littered the long stretches of land. Though I had been extremely excited to finally see elephants, the camps were not pleasant. In fact, they added a dark, depressing layer to my trip.
It's no surprise to me that many of the elephants in Thailand are mistreated, but seeing them up close made it especially bad. Some of the elephants had chains on their legs, and were forced to stand in cramped quarters. If a customer happened to request a ride, the elephant would be led by a guide. The guides carried sharp scythes, which they would prod, and sometimes even hit the animals with.
At night, the elephants are brought to sleep in the jungle, where they are kept chained to trees. When we saw workers lead them to the jungle in chains, it looked exactly like a funeral procession. Keep in mind, the elephants get to walk only a few steps their entire lives, except for when they're forced (at knife-point) to give rides to ignorant tourists.
I would like to publicly denounce Thom's Elephant Camp, which, according to Tripadvisor and many guidebooks, treats its animals well. Although they do not keep their elephants chained up (well, by day at least), they still used the scythes during rides. Additionally, Lisa and I saw an elephant crying (yes, actual tears) as he angrily shuffled around his cramped pen. They told us it was an eye problem, but we could see it was clearly an elephant in distress. As he hugged us sadly with his trunk, I vowed to do something to help.
Short of starting your own charity (a complicated and costly venture), there is little an individual can do to rescue the elephants from their abusive masters. However, a number of successful charities already exist, and I urge you to take a look at them. Thankfully, Chiang Mai has a well known elephant nature park, where rescued animals are brought to a new, safe home. To donate and help the elephants, visit the Save Elephant Foundation. If you are a U.S. citizen, you are also eligible to make a tax-deductible donation to the charity's partner: The Serengeti Foundation.
The Asian elephant is Thailand's national animal. There are not that many of them left in Thailand (2000-4000 in the wild, and roughly the same amount in captivity), and they need to be saved. After seeing them up close, I cannot sit back and ignore the enslavement of these majestic beasts.
Vietnam has been added to the "Nationalities I've Met" page, bringing the total to 29!
I had mentioned in the previous post that Lisa and I recently left Bangkok in lieu of other places. We first took a train to Ayutthaya, a small city about two hours away. We were floored by the accommodations: a really nice hotel with A/C and television, for about half the price of our previous guesthouse in Bangkok! It was even conveniently located, as it was within walking distance of some beautiful ancient ruins. Numerous Buddhas with their heads lopped off (presumably from some kind of conflict) lined the broken walls.
That night we rented a motorbike and drove around the empty city for hours. It was glorious!
As a last minute decision, we decided to head all the way to Chiang Mai, located in the north of the country. We rode the third class train for budgetary reasons. A 13-hour ride, it was fairly uncomfortable. We spent three days in Chiang Mai, and really enjoyed it! It is pretty much the San Francisco of Thailand: smaller, cleaner, and nicer than Bangkok. I bought a Northern Thai instrument, the Seung, which I intend to learn to play.
Just yesterday, we arrived in Pai, a small town near the Myanmar border. It's extremely scenic and has lots of elephants! More on that soon.
After traveling solo for a month, I was joined by my friend Lisa. She flew in from South Africa to join me for one month. I'm pleased to say this has prompted me to really get out of Bangkok, as Lisa is far less content staying in one place than I am. A lot has happened over the last week, but I'll share one anecdote with you.
Her first impression of Bangkok was not one she is likely to forget. The night she arrived, five of us decided to go Khao San Road to get some food. We sat down, had a nice plate of Pad Thai, then walked to the end of the road. Between the numerous bars and insect vendors was a couple arguing loudly; ok whatever, nothing unexpected. However, things became ugly in the blink of an eye.
Suddenly, the guy shoved the woman into a street stall, very forcefully. We quickly ran to the girl to see if she was okay, and made sure to hold the aggressive man back. It soon became apparent that he was on drugs of some kind; we saw a crazed, violent look in his eyes. He kept shouting at everyone around him, egging them on. Most people pretended to not see anything. In fact, even the street vendor who had been pushed into seemed mildly amused at best. Realizing nobody was going to help us, I called over a police officer who happened to be down the street, and explained the situation to him. While Lisa comforted the struck woman (who was laying on the ground, crying), my other three friends spoke to the cop. Meanwhile, I ran to the local 7-Eleven to pick up some water for the victim.
By the time I returned to the group with a cold bottle of water, the police officer was gone, as was the crazed attacker. According to my friends, the police officer had just laughed and walked away, doing nothing about the guy, and leaving the woman lying on the hard ground. In shock, I realized the attacker had simply walked away in a drug-fueled haze, as did the corrupt officer. The girl, drunk out of her mind, was begging us to let her return to her boyfriend. Realizing we could not let her return to such a violent person, especially in an inebriated state, we decided to let her stay at our guesthouse. This way, she could recover a safe distance away from the guy. We were pretty sure she was a prostitute (a fact which we later confirmed), and realized the authorities looked at her as a joke.
Besides for being a terrible way for my friend to be introduced to Thailand, that night was a complete eye-opener for me. Although I was quite aware of some of Bangkok's illicit activity, I wasn't expecting the police officer to just laugh and walk away. A woman was hurt, and the attacker was shouting in full view of everyone. I cannot speak of the entire Bangkok police force (I have spoken to some friendly officers), but the gross corruption and misconduct I saw was inexcusable. I have a feeling that simply because Khao San Road is the 'backpacker ghetto' of Thailand, the police don't really interfere with activity there.
While Thailand has a very moderate crime rate (I have felt extremely safe throughout this entire trip), I no longer think of its police officers as reliable. Living in the United States has made me quite naive; this experience has mentally prepared me for future potential situations.
This is the post where I break down my traveling spending habits, for your benefit. I spent quite a bit of money during my first 30 days of traveling; however, I have excluded some of the purchases from this analysis. For example, my guitar broke during my first week in Bangkok, and I bought a new one for about $250. It is highly unlikely that you will incur this cost. Additionally, I'm assuming that you have read my post about getting scammed in Bangkok. Therefore, I'm certain none of you will be spending $50 on a fake ring. The final real exclusion I will make is the roughly $33 I spent on film and processing fees. Although I shoot photography primarily with film, I am in the vast minority. For these purposes I'll assume you are bringing a digital camera with you. Addionally, I'm not including my airplane or visa fees. They will be included in a final trip breakdown (whenever that may be), and can't really be factored into my daily costs.
In each category, I'll include the amount I spent during my first 30 days (05/22/14 - 06/20/14). I'll also describe how you can easily spend less.
Without further ado, here we go! First 30 days:
Accommodation - $282.93. Average of $9.43 per day. This category easily made up the bulk of my spending for the month. It's also the thing I could have saved the most money on. While I chose to rent a private room, I could have stayed in mixed dorm rooms, saving anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 of what I spent. Additionally, if you travel with another friend, you will be able to share the cost of a double room, for much less money.
Food - $171.97. Average of.$5.73 per day, or $1.91 per meal (assuming three meals a day). While I tried to stick to inexpensive street food, I also went to restaurants frequently. If I had only eaten the cheapest street food (about $1 to $1.50 per meal), I could have saved a fair amount of money.
Alcohol - $60.61. Average of $2.02 per day. I am not a heavy drinker, and mostly had the occasional Chang beer (about $2 each). However, a private movie club I discovered served cocktails, which were more expensive ($3-4 each). As an avid film buff, I visited the club a handful of times, usually buying a drink or two. Actually, if I did not drink at all, I could have saved the full amount. An extra 60 bucks in Thailand could have been very helpful.
Transport - $35.37. This is probably the category I had the least control over. I tried to take taxis and tuk-tuks and infrequently as possible, sticking mostly to buses and boats. While bus and boat rides usually range between 10 and 50 cents, I did spend about $6 each way too and from Ko Si Chan island, which I previously wrote about.
Water - $18.95. Average of 63 cents per day. Once again, there is little you can do about spending money on water while traveling. It is honestly a very minuscule cost, and is an absolute necessity. I generally stuck to the 1.5 liter bottles from 7-Eleven, which cost around 40 cents each.
Toiletries - $18.61. This includes things such as toothpaste, soap and bug repellent. It also includes stuff such as super-glue, which I needed to repair my broken sandals. Like the previous two categories, you won't be able to skimp much on the cost. I bought everything cheaply from 7-Eleven.
Miscellaneous - $65.34. These are random categories such as: ATM fees ($21.35) a phone and prepaid minutes ($18.55), Two hour long massages ($14.24), Laundry ($7.74), plus an additional $3.46 from various costs and fees. ATM fees are usually $4.50-$5.50 per transaction, and can be reduced by taking out big amounts at a time. However, keep in mind the obvious fact that losing large amounts of money is much worse than losing small amounts. I rarely used my cheap travel phone. It is very easy to just not get one. However, a lot of people would probably spend way more than I did, so keep that in mind if you want to frequently text or call while traveling.
Total amount spent - $653.78. Average of $21.79 per day. If you stay in shared dorms, eat only street food, don't drink beer, and are vigilant with your spending, you can easily knock off several dollars per day. However, keep in mind that you want to also enjoy your trip. Weigh out your costs and needs, and strike a healthy balance between them.
I used a fantastic app called Trail Wallet to track my expenses. You can download it if you have an Iphone/Ipad/Ipod, or you can just do it the old fashioned pen and paper way.
I hope you have enjoyed this budget breakdown, and it is useful to you.
Stay tuned for more thoughts and adventures!
Myanmar has been added to the "Nationalities I've Met" page, bringing the total to 28!
Ko Si Chan was incredible. A change of pace from the noisy, busy Bangkok, the island offered a peaceful, quiet getaway for the three of us. Unlike most of the local islands, Ko Si Chan catered more to Thai tourists than to Western tourists. Therefore, my two German friends and I were among perhaps ten (at most) non-Thais there on vacation.
On the first night, we decided to go out and explore the island. Unfortunately, there were many dogs, most of whom were incredibly aggressive. Side note: on a later day I was nipped hard by one of them, for absolutely no reason at all. I think they were not so used to foreigners, and had nothing to do. Anyhow, on the first night we found ourselves surrounded by a pack of these barking, howling beasts. Sure we were going to be eaten, we made a quick escape into some random people's backyard, where a barbecue was taking place. They welcomed us with open glasses of Thai whiskey and a cheap acoustic guitar which, to their amusement, I played. We were treated like celebrities; many of them insisted on having photos taken of themselves next to us. I think some Thai people got a lot of likes on Facebook.
Day two. After hiking up a mountain, we discovered a hidden beach. It wasn't hidden in the way that nobody was there; in fact, a decent number of people graced the sand. Rather, it only became visible after we trekked far down the mountainside. We could easily have missed it, but thankfully we didn't! The ocean waves were powerful and rapid. Swimming was incredibly fun, and we didn't leave until it began to rain.
On day three, we shared the cost of renting a motorbike. Both of my companions had driven cycles before, and rode us to the beach. The next morning, before leaving the island, they gave me some lessons (the bike was semi-automatic, and I didn't even have a driver's license), and I drove a motorbike for my first time! A little more practice, and perhaps I'll have a new mode of transport for other parts of my trip!
Almost everything about the trip was top notch: the delicious seafood, beautiful nature, cool beach, and friendly locals. The only bad thing about the island was the dogs, who were way too aggressive for their own good. Bangkok has some really cute, friendly dogs, but for some reason Ko Si Chan was full of bored, neglected savages.
If most islands in Thailand are similar to Ko Si Chan, I cannot recommend isle stays enough.
I'll be completely honest, I rarely cook back in the United States. Every time the idea pops into my head, I think about how it would be much easier to just buy some pizza instead. While I doubt my habits will change all that much when I return to the US, I do now have the confidence that I could make a killer Pad Thai if I'd like. It takes about 10-15 minutes, and is totally worth the time.
My guesthouse owner, Jane, showed us how to cook Pad Thai. I won't mention specific measurements of ingredients, because nobody measures here. You can experiment with different flavors and amounts; it's extremely difficult to mess this recipe up.
Chopped peanuts (optional)
1) Let the rice noodles soak in water for a few minutes. You can begin chopping the vegetables in the meantime.
2) In a large pan, fry some oil. Add chopped onions, garlic, cabbage, basil, and radish. Fry for a bit. You can substitute/add other vegetables if you’d like.
3) Add one egg per serving (i.e. if three people are eating, use three eggs). Let it (them) fry, but don’t mix it into the vegetables yet.
4) Add a little water into the pan (to prevent burning), then mix the egg and vegetables together.
5) Add the pre-soaked rice noodles and oyster sauce. Stir continuously, allowing the noodles to cook. You can substitute other sauces for the oyster sauce if you’d like.
6) Finally, add in some chili powder, and mix it into the Pad Thai. Use more if you want it spicier, and less if you want it milder.
7) Turn off the flame. Put Pad Thai onto plates. Garnish with chopped peanuts and more chilies if you’d like.
This recipe was for delicious vegetarian Pad Thai. If you'd like, you can cook it with almost anything: Chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, tofu, etc.
If you make this dish, feel free to post pictures of your creation!
After staying in Bangkok for over three weeks straight, I decided it was time for a change. So when a couple of my new guesthouse friends asked if I wanted to spend three days on an island, I jumped to the occasion. At first, we weren't sure we would make the last boat of the day. After all, we lazily left at 1:30 in the afternoon, and had 3-4 hours worth of bus rides just to get to the ferry! The last ferry was supposed to leave at 5:00.
The first bus dropped us off waaay too early: a half hour taxi ride from the second bus stop. We had also stopped to eat, figuring we might as well fail with full stomachs. By the time the taxi brought us to the second bus, it was 3:30. The bus departure time was 4:00, and the trip was supposed to take two hours. With a ferry leaving at 5:00, we stood no chance of getting to the island. At least the bus was air conditioned; it allowed us to resign to our fates in cool comfort.
Indeed, our bus arrived at 6:00, and we realized we'd have to stay the night, then catch a boat the next morning. We walked to the pier just to check out the departure times, and...VOILA! There was one more boat leaving that day, at 7:00! Totally unexpected, but a pleasant surprise.
After eating a delicious seafood dinner at a local restaurant, we sought out a guesthouse. Because the island was full of Thai vacationers, we expected accommodations to be expensive. However, the very first guesthouse we found, offered really cheap housing: roughly $5 a night per person! This is way cheaper than my guesthouse in Bangkok, plus we get to stay on a beautiful island! Just another reminder of Thailand's great eco-diversity and affordability!
The town is very relaxing, and a lot quieter than Bangkok. My next few days will be spent soaking in the sun, sand, and fun. I'll also take a few pictures to share!
My name is Yonah Paley. I quit my job in the United States to travel. I also write movies and do photography. As I backpack across the world, I share stories, philosophy, and travel tips.