It’s been a bit over three weeks since the end of our Southeast Asia trip, and I still haven’t fully processed all the fun and memorable things we did during our visit. Since I posted a similar recap entry for my EuroTrip back in 2013, I thought I’d do the same for a comprehensive, TL;DR post on my 12 days spent in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Read on for the details!
We knew from the get-go that our trip was going to be an ambitious one. We had 12 days, and taking into account flight days, we had closer to 10 days to explore 5 cities in 3 countries. I approached this trip as my introduction to Southeast Asia, with the understanding that this was my first time in the area but definitely not my last. So despite following an abridged version of my ideal trip (which would have been closer to a month), we had an absolute blast on this one, enjoying many interesting sights & sounds, good food, and an overall laid-back atmosphere.
The following sections will highlight the cities we visited, my overall impression of each place, and some of the must-see attractions & activities we experienced.
Bangkok (2 days, 1 day on return)
Bangkok was the first city we visited on our trip. It was the perfect introduction to Southeast Asia, teeming with locals, expats, and tourists in a very metropolitan city. I loved the juxtaposition between the modern high rises and freeways with ancient golden temples. Bangkok was by far one of the largest cities we visited, and I felt that we barely explored the city during our three days there, even though we ended up doing tons of stuff.
Bangkok was lots of fun, and the people there seemed like typical city-dwellers. English was commonly spoken, especially in the touristy areas, and there were plenty of fun sights and attractions, not to mention delicious food! Highlights included food stand-hopping on Khao San Road, visiting the famous temples at Grand Palace and Wat Arun, and bar hopping on Soi 11.
Phuket (2 days)
Phuket was a lovely coastal city in the southern part of Thailand. It was probably the hottest place we visited on our trip, with temperatures around the low 80s in the middle of January (although a lot of the other cities weren’t too far off). Phuket was most definitely a giant beach town, with Thai beach bums (unbuttoned shirts, super tanned, and super chilling), single lane roads lined with shops and restaurants, and beautiful beaches.
We spent one day at a beautiful beach in Karon, and another day exploring the various islands of Phi Phi, where we snorkeled, fed wild island monkeys, and napped on more beaches in the sun. These two days were by far the most relaxing, and our day trip to Phi Phi Islands was my favorite of the entire trip. Phuket also had the most laid-back vibe – even the dogs looked absolutely content napping in the sun.
Chiang Mai (2 days)
Chiang Mai was located in the northern part of Thailand and was definitely the coffee/hipster capital of the country. With a large student and artist population, the city had more coffee shops than any other place we visited. We stayed in the older part of Chiang Mai, which had a nice mix of local restaurants, homes, and schools. It was pretty apparent that people loved living here – we could tell right away since the taxi driver wouldn’t stop talking about all the great things this city had to offer.
Some highlights include seeing the beautiful ancient temple ruins at Wat Chedi Luang, enjoying legit pour-over coffee at Akha Ama Coffee, and visiting the mountains at Doi Inthanon. Of all the cities we visited, Chiang Mai stood out to me as the city I’d most likely live in if I spent a longer period of time in Southeast Asia. The people here were friendly, and the coffee was good – I was sold!
Siem Reap (2 days)
Siem Reap was the only city we visited in Cambodia, and it was another highlight of our trip. The Cambodian people were so friendly and nice, and even though the area seemed the least-developed of all the cities we visited, we still found so many great restaurants, attractions, and activities.
Visiting Angkor Wat has been one of my life’s dreams, and I’m so glad I got the opportunity to watch the sunrise at Angkor Thom, explore the ancient temple ruins at Ta Prohm, and climb the Mayan temple-lookalike Phimeanakas. I’ll definitely look into traveling to other cities in Cambodia sometime in the future.
Ho Chi Minh City (1 day)
Ho Chi Minh City was another large city and the only one we visited during our one-day stay in Vietnam. The traffic was chaotic, the food was delicious, and the iced coffee was absolutely amazing. This city reminded me the most of Chinese cities (maybe because of the traffic and pollution), but I really loved the old-growth trees next to the buildings throughout the area.
During our visit we had a sobering look at the Vietnam War in the War Remnants Museum, passed by the famous Independence Palace and Tao Dan Park, and took pictures in front of the Notre Dame lookalike Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica. Ho Chi Minh City was fun, and I’m planning to check out Hanoi and Ha Long Bay on my next visit to Vietnam.
This time around I downloaded an app on my iPhone called Pacer to track our steps. Learning from past mistakes I brought along a very comfy broken-in pair of shoes with brand new Dr. Scholls inserts, which turned out to be the best $7 I’d spent in a long time. Add to that a pair of flip flops for beach days and I didn’t get a single blister on this trip – success!
A quick breakdown of our walking stats results: we walked a total of 132,266 steps and approximately 66 miles, which comes out to ~6 miles per day on average. Our high was ~11 miles during our first full day in Bangkok, and our low was just under 2 miles, during one of our in-transit days near the end of our trip.
The entire trip cost $2,043.27 and included my round trip ticket from SF to Bangkok and back, plus all the flights in between. Since we were in a time crunch, we also purchased plane tickets to quickly travel from one city to another. My total cost not including flight tickets was $709.46, which meant I spent $64.50 per day on my trip (not counting the in-transit first day). That’s for all the meals, attractions, transportation, and hostels/hotels, an absolutely amazing deal.
One of the best parts of traveling to Southeast Asia was how inexpensive things were. Meals were typically $3-4, beers were $.50, and hostels were $15/night. We lived like kings, ordering two entrees every meal, taking taxis to get around the cities, and choosing only the highest-rated hostels and hotels. Realistically if we had done the trip on a student budget (cough EuroTrip) we probably could have cut down daily expenses by nearly half.
All in all I’m very happy with the final cost. I can see why Southeast Asia is such a popular destination for backpackers and expats – everything’s so inexpensive but wonderful! My trip made me realize just how great of a (legit) arbitrage opportunity traveling could be, and opened my eyes to further possibilities of traveling and living elsewhere in the future.
I’m very pleased with how my recap video came out. I filmed it with my GoPro Hero3, the same one I used on my EuroTrip, and the quality is as good as ever and I think we had some solid clips. Click below to watch, and make sure to enjoy in all its HD goodness!