A few years ago, I got bit hard by a nasty little creature called ‘the Travel Bug.’ After exploring beautiful places such as New Zealand, Iceland, Italy, South Africa, Costa Rica, and more, there was one part of the world that was really catching my eye; Southeast Asia. I had never been before, and especially after visiting cold and expensive Scandinavia, Asia seemed like an inviting contrast.
I was planning on going with my sister and one other friend. With all of our different schedules, we could only plan on traveling together for 15 days. With a definitive time budget, we had to really plan out our itinerary. We all agreed on a few things:
The cities we wanted to visit: Chiang Mai, Koh Phi Phi, Siem Reap, and Bangkok.
Our accommodation standards: because we were all in our late twenties/early thirties, we weren't really up for slumming it in the hostel bunk beds anymore.
And our travel pace: we had a fairly fast pace at each city, hopping on to the next one after a few nights.
The thing we were most proud of from our trip, was our total budget; for the entire trip, including all flights, accommodation, taxis/ferries, food, drinks, and activities, we spent a total of $2,000 each! We found round trip flights from Los Angeles to Bangkok for $600, and from there we flight hopped around. Our average accommodation would be a shared private room for 3 people, and always included a free breakfast and a pool. We average $30-50 per night for accommodations. We did splurge one night on a nice resort about halfway through the trip in Railay Beach, which was intentionally planned. Food and drinks is Southeast Asia were also very inexpensive, spending around $30-50 a day as well! We also would dish out some extra cash for activities such as a cooking class in Chiang Mai ($35), a private long-tail boat in Phi Phi ($15 a person), a day at the Elephant Nature Park ($80), and a three day pass to the temples of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap ($62).
My highlights of the trip were those four activities we spent extra money on. The cooking class was very detailed, and started off with a tour of the herb garden in their backyard, as well as a trip into the local market to scope out the traditional Thai spices and rice they commonly use in their cuisine. The food we made was delicious and we got to bring back our own cookbook, (which I have used a few times since being home!)
The Elephant Nature Park was eye-opening. The park is famous for it's humane treatment of the elephants, almost all of whom have been rescued from mistreatment, starvation, or disease. We got to feed them and bathe them, but no one is allowed to ride the elephants. (They are basically on a permanent vacation there!)
The private long-tail boat ride we took was for 4 hours, ending right at sunset. The boat provided snorkels, water, and fresh fruit. We would ride around to all of the lagoons and jump off wherever we liked! The water was perfect and the scenery was straight out of a movie.
The temples of Angkor Wat are a must-see in Southeast Asia. Located in central Cambodia, the temples are about 1000 years old! We caught sunrise at the main temple, and then were brought around to the other major temples such as my favorite; Ta Prohm. The jungle has basically taken over most of the ruins, with large trees roots growing over the old stone.
I wouldn't do much differently on this trip if I were to do it again. We didn't spend a lot of time in Bangkok, and mostly used it as an airport hub. It was packed with tourists, and just an expansively large city, and I don't regret not spending more time there. I do wish we spent a little more time on other Thai islands. Koh Phi Phi is known as the "party" island, and I may just be too old for that next time I visit! My budget might vary next time as well. There are ways to do the same trip we did MUCH cheaper, and there are ways to do it MUCH more luxuriously. I feel like we fell right in the middle.
Tips for future travelers to Southeast Asia would be to always try new things! One night we went out to a street market for dinner, just tasting a bunch of little odd things that we mostly didn't know the name for. Do not drink the water though! Always buy bottled water, and bring some medicine just in case. I also would advise to get up early and hit the town! When I travel, I rarely spend time in my hotel, which is why we didn't go too crazy on our hotel budget. Also, talk to the locals and fellow travelers! We met a lot of interesting people and really got to know each city that way. Lastly, go buy that ticket!!
Shelly lives in Southern California and photographs love portraits up and down the coast, as well as all around the world. She focuses on the "in-between" moments, and is obsessed with travel. She also loves good scenery, hiking, new experiences, interesting compositions, golden hour light, and all puppies of the world.
Check her out on Instagram and her website. Read her previous 'What I Wish I Knew' feature here.
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