A $2.5K Adventure Through Southeast Asia

My Best Trip is an anonymous, vacation-in-the-life diary that provides a real-world look (including cost!) at exceptional trips.

Beach Photo Courtesy of Tubkaak Resort .jpg

*Zip-lining through jungles, baby elephants, and real talk on the Phi Phi islands.


MEET OUR TRAVELER

Your job:
Maritime operations manager
Your age:
29
Where you’re based:
Norfolk, Virginia
The month you traveled:
July

QUICK BACKGROUND

Trip goal: We had been to many of the other continents, but I had not been to Asia and had always wanted to go.  When planning, we considered Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia, but were advised that with 18 days, we should narrow the trip down to two or three countries to really enjoy them.  Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia, has been on our bucket list for a while, and a friend had raved to us about the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand, so this helped us narrow in on Cambodia and Thailand.
Your go-to trip planning tools:  I start with TripAdvisor to search hotels and get an idea of the price point.

QUICK FACTS
Destinations visited:
Cambodia and Thailand 
Travel time: 25 hours
Length of Trip:
18 days
Cost of trip: $2,500 per person
Trip type: Adventure, culture, cheap, exotic 
Vibe: ziplining through jungles, chilling with elephants, and exploring packed night markets

THE QUICK & DIRTY

THE GREAT

Our tour guide in Siem Reap: Morin Ouch
He was recommended by a friend, and we loved him. Morin Ouch Contact Info: Email address- ouchmorin@yahoo.com  and Facebook -https://www.facebook.com/morin.ouch

Dinner at Haven
An amazing restaurant started by a Swiss couple with delicious food and the mission of providing young Cambodian orphans with employment and cooking skills once they outgrow the orphanage system. One of my favorite restaurants we visited. 

Flight of the Gibbons Ziplining
Awesome guides and about three hours worth of ziplining in the rainforest.  

THE NOT SO GREAT

Hotel Clover Asoke in Sukhumvit Area. This was a great area near a lot of the nice restaurants but somewhat far from the Grand Palace.  I would look at staying closer to the Grand Palace if I went back. I would also only stay in Bangkok for a day or two.  It worked well as a stopover since we were flying through, but after two nights and two-and-a-half days we were ready to get out of Bangkok.

If you go from May to October, the water is VERY rough getting to the Phi Phi islands and VERY rough around the beaches.  I would highly consider this before going. These islands were also very touristy, so I would consider this before going as well.  We enjoyed taking the longboats to the more secluded islands around our resort much more. 

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT?
Elephant Nature Park was one of the most magical experiences we have ever had in all of our travels.  The combination of spending the day with these beautiful creatures and learning all about the conservation efforts of the park was an unforgettable trip highlight.

THE ITINERARY 
Flights: Air China from D.C. to Beijing - Beijing to Phuket - Air Asia to Phuket-Siem Reap
Cost: $950 per person 

Siem Reap, Cambodia

DAY 1
Arrive at Golden Temple Retreat
Hung out by the pool
Got massages at hotel
Dinner at hotel

DAY 2
Explored Siem Reap with private guide***
Visited Rolouse Group Temples: Preah Ko, Bakong Temple, and Lolei
Afternoon at hotel pool
Lunch: Neary Khmer
Visit Floating Village on Tonle Sap Great Lake
Dinner: Haven***

DAY 3
Drive from Siem Reap to Beng Mealea
Lunch in rice fields
Visit Banteay Srei

DAY 4
Sunrise over Angkor Wat
Visit to temples: Angkor, Bayon, Ta Nei, and Ta Prohm
Head to the airport to fly to Bangkok

DAY 5
Bangkok, Thailand
Arrive at Hotel Clover Asoke
Take ferry to the Flower Market
Lunch: Ama***
Walked around the city
Dinner: JP’s

DAY 6 
Ferry to Grand Palace
Walk over to see the Reclining Buddha***
Tuk tuk to Khao San Road
Lunch: Cozy House

Returned to hotel to sit by the pool
Dinner: Pala Pizzeria at Terminal 21
BTS metro to the Night Market Rod Fai Ratchada

DAY 7 
Visit Chatachuk Weekend Market (http://chatuchak.org/)
Lunch: Avra (https://www.avrabkk.com/)
Ubered to Airport and flew Air Asia to Chiang Mai 


DAY 8 
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Arrive at U Chiang Mai
Visit Doi Suthep
Lunch: Cooking Love (a short walk from hotel)
Ubered to Nimman House for massage
Visited Sunday Night Market***

DAY 9
Spent day at Elephant Nature Park***
Dinner: Secret Learning Restaurant

DAY 10 
Flight of the Gibbons Ziplining***
Dinner: La Fourchette

DAY 11 
Rode bikes to Wat Phra SIngh and Wat Chedi Luang around the old city
Flew Air Asia Chiang Mai to Krabi
Arrived Tubkaak Boutique Resort

DAY 12 
Longboat to Hong Islands
Dinner at one of the hotel restaurants

DAY 13
Private speed boat to Koh Phi Phi
Snorkeling at Bamboo Island, Koh Phi Lei Lagoon, Maya Bay, Monkey Island, and Phi Phi Don
Dinner at one of the hotel restaurants

DAY 14 
Visit Tubkaak Beach
Hung at the resort
Dinner: Bellini

Day 15
Tubkaak Beach
Hung at the resort
Took Krabi Shuttle at 8:30 p.m. two hours to Phuket and flew home Phuket-Beijing-Washington D.C.

THE BOTTOM LINE  - If you are looking for an exotic adventure I would definitely consider Southeast Asia.  These countries offer a variety of experiences depending on your interests. We enjoyed this trip because of the mix of culture, adventure, and relaxation.  It is also a super budget-friendly destination, which allowed us to travel longer and stay in high-end hotels for very little cost. e feel we have checked Southeast Asia off of our bucket list, and although we really enjoyed our trip, it is not a place that we are dying to return to (compared to Africa where we would return each year if we could).  We were not crazy about the food (which is definitely a personal preference), and we did not feel as connected to the people as we have on so many of our other travels. 


KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

Siem Reap, Cambodia
Bring sunscreen, bug spray, etc. for the hot climate.
Bring clothes that cover your shoulders and knees to be able to enter the temples
Do not drink any tap water, and bring an antibiotic or medicine due to the sanitation level of food being lower than your body is used to. 
Head out early whenever possible to beat the heat and crowds. 

Bangkok 

Getting around:  I suggest Uber (which is dirt cheap) over cabs because you can follow the route to avoid drivers scamming you.  Also metro and ferry are good ways to get across the city. 

Try to head out early in the morning to avoid crowds as much as possible.

THE DEEP DIVE

DAY 1
We stayed  at Golden Temple Retreat right in the heart of Siem Reap (the hotel will pick you up from the airport and has an amazing breakfast included every morning) As a recovery from jet lag day - we spent the day at the pool, getting complimentary massages at the hotel and having complimentary dinner at the hotel.

DAY 2
We hired Morin Ouch, a fantastic tour guide recommended by a friend, , for three days to explore Siem Reap.  He was $65 a day for our private air-conditioned care and private tour. We booked Morin ahead on his website. Morin picked us up early in the morning,  and we first went to buy Angkor Wat three-day tickets, $62 per person, for access to the temples.

We visited the Rolouse Group Temples: Preah Ko, Bakong Temple, and Lolei. Following the morning temples we went back to our hotel pool to cool off for a few hours before Morin picked us back up for lunch.

Lunch: Neary Khmer

Morin then took us out to the Floating Village on Tonle Sap Great Lake.  This was $20 per person for a private boat, and it was fascinating to see the culture and way of life of the village.

Dinner: Haven - An amazing restaurant started by a Swiss couple with delicious food and the mission of providing young Cambodian orphans with employment and cooking skills once they outgrow the orphanage system. One of my favorite restaurants we visited ***

Don’t miss the Night Market and Pub Street for fun shopping in the heart of Siem Reap.

DAY 3 
Morin picked us up and we drove about an hour out of Siem Reap to Beng Mealea, which is a crumbling temple in the middle of the jungle.

We stopped for lunch at a local restaurant in the rice fields and then drove onto Banteay Srei, which is a clay-colored temple known for its intricate carvings. 

 

DAY 4
Morin picked us up at 4:30 a.m. to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat. Tip: There are two ponds facing Angkor Wat, if you stand in front of the pond on the right, it is extremely less crowded so you gain a better view.

Temples

Angkor Wat

Bayon - Carved Faces

Ta Nei - hidden temple in Jungle

Ta Prohm - Lara Croft Tomb Raider was filmed here

Head to airport to fly Air Asia to Bangkok

Day 5
BANGKOK
Stayed at Hotel Clover Asoke in Sukhumvit Area.  This was a great area near a lot of the nice restaurants but somewhat far from the Grand Palace.  I would look at staying closer to the Grand Palace if I went back. 

Take ferry early in the morning to the Flower Market.

Lunch: Ama (one of our favorite Thai meals and extremely cheap)

Walked around city a bit and then lay by our hotel pool.

Dinner: Ubered to JP’s a french restaurant.

DAY 6 

Got up early and took ferry to Grand Palace.

The Grand Palace: Opens at 8:30 a.m. Get there right when it opens to avoid crazy crowds.  You MUST wear sleeves and pants in order to get into the temples, or you will have to buy something to put on outside the palace in order to be admitted. 

From the Grand Palace walk over to see the Reclining Buddha (one of our favorite attractions).

We then took a 100-150 baht tuk tuk to Khao San Road (the famous backpacker road).  You may also want to visit this street at night for more nightlife. 
Lunch:  Cozy House

Returned to Hotel to sit by pool.

Dinner:  Pala Pizzeria at Terminal 21

Take BTS metro to the Night Market Rod Fai Ratchada

DAY 7 

***If it is Saturday or Sunday***

Get up early and take the BTS Metro to the Chatachuk Weekend Market (the largest Market in all of Asia).  It opens at 9 a.m. and you can spend the whole day here with shops filled with everything you can imagine.  We were given the advice that if you see something you want, buy it right then because you will not be able to find it again. The Market is that big. 

Lunch:  Either eat at the Market if you are staying all day or we went back to Avra, a Greek restaurant, that was delicious.

Stayed at U Chiang Mai.  This was an awesome hotel right in the heart of the old city and right off of the Sunday night market, so the location could not be beat. I highly recommend it. 

Doi Suthep (:  Woke up around 7 a.m. and had hotel call us a taxi for 1000 baht round trip. He will wait for you at Doi Suthep.  It is about 45 minutes up the mountain and the earlier you go the fewer people will be there. **About halfway up the mountain, take a left and go down a windy road to explore a meditation temple retreat in the jungle.**  When reaching Doi Suthep, we took the steps to the top and spent about an hour exploring. **Make sure to go into one of the side temples to be blessed by a monk and receive a blessing bracelet. **

Lunch: Cooking Love (a short walk from hotel)

Ubered to Nimman House for massage 

Do not miss the Sunday Night Market if you are in town on Sunday. It is awesome!

DAY 9 

Elephant Nature Park **one of the most unforgettable experiences I have ever had in all of my traveling **

Choose “Care for an Elephant” package for the best experience and much smaller group.

Pick up around 8 a.m. from hotel and return around 5 p.m. It is about an hour drive to the park.  The max group size is eight adults only, and you spend the day preparing food and feeding, walking through the jungle (you will eat lunch in the jungle) and bathing the elephants.  They are super friendly. Wear clothes you do not mind getting dirty and sturdy shoes for the jungle that can get dirty and you can wash out after or throw away. Also bring bug spray.

Dinner: Secret Learning Restaurant- Italian and one of our favorite meals in SEA.  An awesome tiny restaurant where Simone, from Italy, runs the whole show cooking everything to order.

DAY 10

Flight of the Gibbons Ziplining - Longest zipline in Asia.

Pick up at 6:30 a.m,- return at 1:30 p.m. ( lunch provided). Drive about an hour into the rainforest.  The best zipline experience I have had. Awesome guides and about three hours worth of ziplining in the rainforest. Wear bug spray.

Dinner: La Fourchette - delicious French restaurant (might need to have hotel call ahead to make a reservation for you)

DAY 11

Took hotel bikes to Wat Phra SIngh and Wat Chedi Luang around the old city.

Flew Air Asia Chiang Mai to Krabi

Arranged ahead of time for Krabi Shuttle to Tubkaak Boutique Resort on Tubkaak Beach about 30-minute drive from airport.

Stayed at Tubkaak Boutique Resort.  Beautiful resort with great breakfast included.  Two restaurants on the property to choose from (Italian and Thai), which were both delicious or you could walk to a different resort along the beach to have dinner.  This is a very secluded quiet beach with only a handful of resorts along this beach. So if you are looking for a quiet relaxing beach destination, this is it. 

DAY 12 
Highly recommend taking a longboat to Hong Islands about 30 minutes across from the resort.  Cost 1,700 baht for personal boat from about 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. and picked us up right on our resort beach. Our driver took us to awesome beaches, lagoons, and had snorkeling gear for us.  It was absolutely beautiful, and a fun way to explore the islands. Try to go as early in the morning as possible to beat the crowds on the beaches. 

DAY 13 
Took a personal speed boat to Koh Phi Phi that picked us up on the beach at our resort for 16,000 baht.  It was about a 45-minute ride and then we hopped from beach to beach. We saw Bamboo island, Koh Phi Lei Lagoon, Maya Bay, Monkey Island, Phi Phi Don, and then stopped to snorkel a bit more.  If you go from May to October, the water is VERY rough getting to the Phi Phi islands and VERY rough around the beaches. I would highly consider this before going. These islands were also very touristy, so I would consider this before going as well.  We enjoyed taking the longboats to the more secluded islands around our resort much more. 

DAY 14 
Hung at the resort on the beach and at the pool
Dinner:  walked down the beach to the Amari resort to their Italian restaurant, Bellini, which I highly recommend.


Dylan Essertier