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Three Weeks in Southeast Asia: Thailand, Cambodia & Vietnam

TravelKayla Nord
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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! 

GETTING THERE:

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. 

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Bangkok, Thailand

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!)

  • Lumphini Park

  • Damnoen Saduak Floating Market (we didn't make it here-- its about an hour outside of the city and supposed to be awesome!)

  • EAT EVERYTHING!!!

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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)

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Phuket, Thailand

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.

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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

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Hanoi, Vietnam 

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!

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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:

  • Kayaking

  • Lounging on the deck

  • Sunset Party and drinks

  • Taking a bamboo boat around the floating fishing village

  • Jumping off the boat and swimming

  • Cooking class

  • Cave Exploring

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THINGS TO KNOW:

Visas:

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.  

Health:

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!

Scams:

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! 

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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!

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THE HIGHLIGHTS:

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!!

 

Kayla 

How to Make a Collage Travel Journal

Travel, HOW TOKayla Nord1 Comment

Happy Wednesday! Long time no post (I feel like I start every blog with that lol)... but, L I F E. 

Anyways, I recieved a lot of questions and comments on my travel journal from our past adventure, so I wanted to share my process with you all and how I go about making one of these CRAZY things!

If you are planning an upcoming trip abroad, or about to hit the beach for a week, or even if you just want to document life, I will tell you everything you need to know! I used to keep a collaged journal for each year of high school, college, and then my first couple years teaching... but I've since stopped because it just got too hectic. Now I keep them on mine and John's excursions that we take every summer. So here goes nothing!

What You Will Need:

  • A sturdy journal

  • Elmer's extreme glue sticks

  • Small kid scissors . . . . (I'm such an elementary art teacher)

Picking the Right Journal

When I go about searching for "the one" I keep a couple things in mind. I want it to fit in my purse/backpack easily, but I don't want it to be too small that I can't fit all of my post cards, maps, etc. I have had great luck with journals at TJ Maxx, Wal Mart, Marshall's, etc. I am honestly always on the lookout for a good one throughout the year, and I may or may not have a stash in a box, just waiting to be used. Finding the perfect one is the fun part for me!

In my opinion, the perfect size is 7 inches by 9.5 inches or 6 inches x 8.5 inches. If you are only going somewhere for a week, you can get a smaller one, but for each of our trips ranging from 2.5 weeks to a month those sizes have been perfect! I always try to find one that has at least 175-200 pages. The black journal is the one I took for our past 3 week Southeast Asia trip linked here and it was the perfect size and amount of pages. I actually used every page exactly without one to spare. And BONUS-- it's only $7! 

When I studied in Florence for a semester I got the same brand of journal from Wal Mart (Shown above-- the pink one) and wrote all 100 days I was there. I didn't have as much collage material because I couldn't afford to eat out/do activities every day, but it ended up being the perfect size for the 3.5 months! It's dimensions were 7inches by 9.5 inches. IT IS A MONSTER.

I prefer leather journals like the ones above, but for our month long trip to Europe I used the first tan and pink one with the spiral and it worked great. Just make sure it is substantial and won't fall apart if you are lugging it around everywhere! For the month long trip I actually ran out of room and had to start writing on top of receipts and other memorabilia like shown below-- definitely should have gotten a bigger one for that trip!

What to Collect

This is the fun part! As you are traveling or just living life, save everything! John and I both go into MAJOR HOARDER STATUS while traveling and literally take and save everything. Any brochures I find in restaurants, pamphlets, tickets, receipts, boarding passes, beer labels, wine labels, business cards, post cards, sugar packets (weird I know-- obviously empty them), but basically anything that is flat that we use/run across. The more you save the more interesting your journal will be! If you are in a different country it is so awesome to keep anything with the language on it or anything that will spark memories from being there. 

Seriously, save it all. People will look at you...they WILL stare... especially when you are aggressively trying to get that wine label off the bottle-- but don't let that deter you! LOL it happens to us A LOT.

How to Collage Your Pages

This part comes easily to me (duh-- I collage with kids for a living), but I will try to break it down as much as possible! The first few pages are always a little rough because we haven't gotten there yet and don't have much to collage. I always start with boarding passes and stupid stuff from the plane/any receipts from the airport (you know I gotta hit up the Burger King before we leave lol). 

I start by laying out everything I have (this gets tricky on the plane, but is still doable) and arrange it on the page to make it look aesthetically pleasing. I almost always go in order (or try) of what we did, so that for the most part the things on the page correspond with what I am writing about-- doesn't always happen, but I have gotten pretty good at getting close enough. 

I usually try to keep it interesting (not all white receipts on the same page) but still keep the colors all in the same family as much as possible-- it just looks better this way and as a perfectionist it bugs me if they don't somewhat match. When you like how it looks, start gluing! I use the Elmer's Xtreme because they last a long time and keep everything glued well. For SE Asia (3 weeks) I took 2 big ones and had just a little bit left. 

Brochures are great to snag if you do an activity or go to a museum. We always get 2 of them so that we don't have to choose between pictures on the front or back and can cut out everything that we want to put in the journal. This is where the scissors come in handy. I'm not proud of it, but I usually try to sneak the kid scissors on the plane and sometimes (actually a lot of the time) I get away with it! They are dull, so not dangerous or anything-- but then the other half of the time they get thrown away. When you are flying between every country and city like we were in Asia, this gets really annoying to keep having to find scissors and buy them. We finally just started asking our hotel staff if we could borrow a pair, which worked out much better.

Here are some pictures of brochures that I have cut and collaged, but still kept the pages interesting by adding receipts, beer labels and other items. 

Keeping Up With the Journal

This part is NOT EASY. There were many days I was so exhausted from going all day, the last thing I wanted to do was sit down and collage everything, try and remember the details, and then actually write in story-form. There were days I wouldn't work on it at all and therefore would get really behind.

Luckily, John has an elephant brain, so I always have him jot down in my phone each day and date and little bullets of what we did, funny things that happened, where we ate, what we ate, etc. Having this outline helps SO MUCH when having to go back and remember in sequence what you did. I highly recommend doing this at the end of each day, so that you don't forget important details.

It's definitely a struggle, but it's nice to have something to do in the evenings when we get back to the room. I always tried to at least get everything collaged in the journal before traveling to the next place, that way all of the stuff isn't falling out everywhere and I can at least start writing on the plane/train/bus/etc.

I hope this helps and inspires you all to keep your own! They are definitely not easy, but so rewarding to have down the road! I am constantly going back and looking at ours. I put a lot of detail into them, and its amazing the things you forget if you don't write them down! Drop me a comment if you have any questions or enjoyed this post!! I would LOVE to see your version of travel journaling or if you make one because of this! Thanks for reading! Happy journaling!

Kayla