THREE WEEKS IN SOUTHEAST ASIA
I have been procrastinating on writing this, because I'm not exactly sure where to begin-- much like how I felt when first starting to plan this trip (ahem, two weeks before we left).
Therefore, I'm going to keep it simple; give our basic itinerary, things to know, and of course LOTS OF PICTURES! :) That's all anyone wants anyways-- right?!
Going about planning a trip like this is never easy, so hopefully this guide will give you a starting point if you want to go to this part of the world-- which I highly recommend.
We narrowed down to 3 countries in 3 weeks (Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam). We spent the majority of our time in Thailand, but in retrospect we wish we would have toured Vietnam a little bit more. Three weeks was a good amount of time, but if you can do more-- always do more!
It took a FULL 2 days to get there-- so prepare for that! We drove to Chicago (my family lives there) and stayed there before flying out at 1:00pm on a Wednesday. Flying out of ORD saved us about $1000!!! HOLLA! Round trip (for 19 hours in the air both ways) costed us $650 each. Not too shabby.
We flew American Airlines to Tokyo, Japan (12 hours over Alaska) and then to Bangkok, Thailand (another 6 hours). It wasn't the worst thing ever-- I actually kind of enjoy long flights-- lots of time to journal (see my most recent post and HOW TO here) watch movies, drink some wine, and sleep. John hates them because he's so tall and he can't sleep, but I just curl up and I am OUT. We arrived in Bangkok on FRIDAY at 11:00pm because of the 12 hour time difference.
We spent 2 days here and 3 nights (the perfect amount of time). I'm not going to lie-- it wasn't my favorite place, but there are still a lot of cool things to see! After getting in late from our flight, we went right to bed and woke up like normal. We weren't jet lagged at all, so we hit the ground running-- especially knowing we only had 48 hours there! We stayed at the Chillax Resort in the Khao San area-- awesome infinity pool and very nice rooms! ($50 per night)
Top Things to Do & See:
The Grand Palace (we were unsure about whether to pay and go in-- definitely worth it)
Ride in a tuk tuk (be sure to negotiate-- we were very bad at this and paid way too much at first!!)
Drinks on a rooftop (Amorosa Bar) overlooking Wat Arun
Chatuchak Weekend Market (only open on the weekend, but super cool!)
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market (we didn't make it here-- its about an hour outside of the city and supposed to be awesome!)
Chiang Mai, Thailand
We took a 2 hour flight on Thai Lion Air ($61 total for both of us) from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and stayed at the Wing Bed Hotel. Also very nice and around $35 per night. We were here for 2.5 days and 3 nights... this was an okay amount of time, but I could have stayed in this quant little town forever! 3 full days would have been ideal!
Top Things to Do & See:
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary (play, swim, and feed the elephants-- HIGHLIGHT of the trip and a MUST DO!!)
Wat Pra Sing (beautiful!)
The Night Market (goes on and on forever!)
Wat Chedi Luang
Wachirathan Waterfall and hiking in the National Park
Get a Thai Massage (or maybe don't... we are still not sure how we felt about it! LOL)
We took a 2 hour flight from Chiang Mai to Phuket on Thai Smile (LITERALLY THE BEST BUDGET AIRLINE EVER-- John said he wanted to just stay on the plane forever LOL) for $104 total for both of us. We took a bus with lots of people to Karon beach (the worst 2 hour ride of our life-- skip the crowded bus and take a personal taxi-- definitely would have been worth it).
We stayed at the Karon Sea Sands Resort and Spa and really liked it! Great pool and huge rooms! The Karon area had great beaches and was great for relaxing. The Patong area would have probably been better-- more things to do, but Karon was great!
We stayed here for 4 days and 4 nights-- perfect amount of time, unless you want to beach bum-it a little longer.
Top Things to Do & See:
Koh Phi Phi Island (if we go back I would stay on this island!! So beautiful!!)
Lay on the beach with a fresh coconut or a Singha beer!
Take a tour of James Bond Island (cool, but EXTREMELY touristy-- basically just an island full of tourists.)
Eat some banana pancakes and rolled ice cream!
Take a long-tail boat ride on Koh Phi Phi
Snorkel/, kayak, etc!
Wear a lot of sunscreen... I failed at this one. YIKES.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
We flew (go figure) from Phuket to Siem Reap on Air Asia (took about 2 hours and costed $67 total). We stayed at the Rithy Rine Angkor Residence (really nice, perfect location and a great pool!) for 4 days and 4 nights. This was a good amount of time, could have been shorter, but we enjoyed laying by the pool one whole day.
Top Things to Do & See:
Angkor Wat (seeing the sunrise over the temple was incredible! Take a tour!)
The Night Market (amazing cheap things to buy-- shoes, polos, anything you can think of!!)
Floating villages and bike riding
Eat a Sticky Rice in a bamboo stick (they literally sell these off the side of the road!)
People watching on Pub Street
Shop at the Old Market
We took a 2 hour flight from Siem Reap to Hanoi for $118 total and flew on Vietjet Airlines. Our hotel, the Charm Boutique Hotel & Spa, was right in the middle of everything and was very nice!! It was $40 per night-- can't beat that!!
We stayed in Hanoi for 3 days and 3 nights, and that was the perfect amount of time! We loved this place SO much! The streets and traffic are INSANE-- it is exactly like the game Frogger trying to cross the street. Many locals told us the secret to getting across is to walk at a steady speed, don't stop or speed up because the motorbikes will go around you! It's so crazy, but you just kind of wade out into the traffic and it works!
Top Things to Do & See:
The Night Market
Beer Corner or Ta Hien Street
Hoa Lo Prison
Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
Temple of Literature and National University
Lots of great rooftop bars!
Halong Bay, Vietnam
Getting to Halong Bay is the easiest from Hanoi because all of the Cruise companies arrange transportation for you from your hotel. It is a 3-4 hour bus ride (with a 30-45 minute stop in the middle of it) so it is not a bad ride. Our company came right to our hotel in Hanoi and scooped us up.
I had read that waiting to book a cruise once we got to Hanoi would make it cheaper, but that was not the case for us. We waited until the day before and talked with our hotel staff to help us find a cruise. It just so happened to be a very busy weekend and EVERYTHING was booked. I frantically found a cruise on Booking.com and booked it without checking around at all. After arriving on the boat we found out that we were overcharged by $200. Don't even get me started on how much I hate Booking.com. :(((((
Anyways, we cruised with Cristina Diamond Cruises. Since we paid $600 for 3 days and 2 nights (everyone else only paid $400) I expected a SUPER plush, fancy, over the top boat.... and that again was not the case. It was nice for Vietnam standards, but again we got ripped off by a website, not the cruise company. I thoroughly enjoyed this Cruise and the staff and highly recommend them! Victor was our tour guide and was HILARIOUS! So long story short, book Cristina Diamond, but go through Agoda.com or through the Cristina Diamond website! Don't give your money to Booking.com.
Anyways, I'll get off my soapbox now. You MUST MUST do a 3 day 2 night cruise... they offer a 2 day 1 night, but you just don't get the full effect and it is super rushed. I think my opinion would be drastically different if we had only been there one night. With the 2 night package we were able to relax and meet some awesome people on our cruise-- shout out to our friends from Hong Kong! :)
The food on the cruise was AMAZING!! The dishes literally just kept coming out-- and it was all traditional Vietnamese food. The only downfall was that drinks were not included, so we had to pay for any alcohol and water. It was very reasonably priced though, so we did not mind.
TOP things to do & See:
Lounging on the deck
Sunset Party and drinks
Taking a bamboo boat around the floating fishing village
Jumping off the boat and swimming
THINGS TO KNOW:
Thailand: No Visa needed, unless over 90 days.
Cambodia: Apply online or get a Visa on arrival.
Vietnam: Apply online (must be done ahead of time) and get a Visa on arrival.
We went to Passport Health before leaving and got a Hep A vaccination. They recommended Typhoid, but we didn't get one of those and took our chances. There are a lot of health concerns in this part of the world, so I am glad we learned about all the bad things that could happen to prepare for them (there's a pretty long list-- yikes!!).
Mosquitos are definitely an issue (Zika, Dengue Fever, Malaria, and Japanese Encephalitis- just to name a few), so we used this travel sized bug repellant from amazon here. We also sprayed our clothes before going with this stuff here.
We also took plenty of these Travelan pills, here. They prevent you from getting sick if you eat something questionable. We didn't have any trouble our entire trip!
Overall, the people in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam are so so nice, accommodating, and very helpful! There were a handful of times that people ripped us off or tried, but it wasn't a huge deal because we are talking about a couple of dollars. Just be sure to know the exchange rate and haggle! They expect you to and will often quote you extremely high at first!! Our experience was still very positive and some of the scams ended up turning into great stories, but thats a WHOLLLEEE other blog post! (see picture of John in his "fitted" suit above!! LOL!)
WHAT TO PACK:
In the summer when we went (June and July) it was SO incredibly hot. Its almost always hot in SouthEast Asia, but it is definitely worse in June and July because it is the rainy season. The humidity is out of this world, and we were instantly drenched after being outside for 5 minutes-- cute, right???
I mainly packed long maxi skirts and dresses, and light weight clothing (tanks, cotton t-shirts, breezy dresses, etc). I brought light weight jogger pants from Old Navy, or you could wait and buy them there. There are tons of cheap places to buy "elephant pants," but I was happy I had a dressier pair. I didn't bring any jeans and only one light weight cardigan.
To get in to the temples you have to have your clothing covering your knees, no low cut tops, and your shoulders must be covered--- and they are not joking about this! John had regular khaki shorts on and they wouldn't let us in. He had to go buy elephant pants at a small shop (see below, LOL!!!). My outfit of choice was almost always a maxi skirt and t-shirt for these occasions!
For shoes I went with trusty rainbows, old navy sandals, and chacos!
With the humidity the way it is-- I didn't worry about my hair at all and didn't bring a blow dryer, curling iron or any kind of heat hair tool. I just let it air dry and mostly had to wear it up because it is so long and sticks to me (gross.).
For plugs and adapters-- they aren't needed! We brought a converter which helped, because our GoPro battery got fried in their outlets... but other than that you can plug things directly into the wall!
Our favorite country was Vietnam because we loved feeling like a local sitting and eating on the street. We also had the best time on our cruise through Halong Bay. The sights were incredible, the food was amazing and the people we met were so fun-- which made this a huge highlight. Chiang Mai was another top city and playing with the elephants was another highlight. There was really so much we loved and we had such a great experience.
I hope this guide helps! Please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any other questions! Happy traveling!!