SE Asia: 28 Days, 11 Cities, and 6 Countries
I recently returned from my nearly month-long trek throughout Southeast Asia where I visited Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Japan, and the experience I had was nothing short of life-changing. From viewing many temples and shrines to being engulfed in this very sacred culture right at the beginning of Ramadan, and even experiencing all of the scenic views, sweet fruit, and tasty cuisine. I've received a number of questions surrounding how did I plan my itinerary, how much did it cost, where did I stay, and so much more. Because I know how daunting planning such a large trip can be, and because I am also a huge advocate for young people seeing the world -- I have no problem sharing all the details. However, bear with me as this will be one of my lengthier articles yet well worth the read!
If you want to check out a complete and more visual recap of my trip, separated by city, feel free to follow me on Instagram and peruse my profile highlights (@preciouscprice).
This trip was initially planned as a promise I made to myself: Upon earning my Master's degree in Information Systems from the Kelley School of Business, I would take an extended trip across the world prior to starting my career at Accenture -- SOLO. Now once it was all said and done, only half of my trip ended up being solo but nonetheless it was amazing.
Believe it or not, I actually planned this entire trip on my own -- meaning no travel agency, no booking company, and really no assistance whatsoever (other than Google, of course). So check out the details and photos below on everything SE Asia.
Need to know: When looking to travel to SE Asia, try booking your trip around one of their major holidays or festivals. Here is an article which outlines major, annual dates.
Here's an overview of what I cover in this article. Feel free to jump to one of the sections if you're looking for specific details.
Planning (Pre-Departure, Booking Flights, & Lodging) | The Journey, The Flight, & What to Bring | Reflection & Things to Keep in Mind | Itinerary & Cost Breakdown
Planning (Pre-Departure, Booking Flights, & Lodging)
When initially choosing the locations I would visit during this trip, I simply pulled out a world map and chose countries which surrounded Thailand in a circular fashion and would lead me right back to Bangkok, the airport where I would be flying back into the states. Once I chose a handful of locations I then went on to start booking (or watching) flights. My flight from Chicago to Bangkok was booked via Kayak.com, a common discount flight finder, for only $620.00. I've been told this an amazing price, and I've also been told it's possible to find it cheaper -- it all depends on how well-versed you are with making travel plans. Kayak has a really cool feature that allows you to see the prices of flights with flexible dates. So if you have any flexibility whatsoever, I highly recommend using this feature because of course certain flights are cheaper on certain days of the week. Now to be completely transparent, my flight out of the US and a rough outline of dates in each location was the only planning I did not wait until the last minute to do. As far as the inter-country flights, lodging, and even any excursions, I waited either until a few days before my departure or it was completed mid-trip.
Need to know: Always check at least 3 sources for flight prices or lodging reviews. Regarding flights, I always like to cross reference my prices with Kayak, Google Flights, and Hopper (a mobile app). Also, lodging reviews could be very different as you reference various sources such as Booking.com, Hotels.com, or even Yelp.
You can view an outline of the cities I flew into in the section below. Nearly all of these flights were under $75 USD, with the most expensive being Bali (DPS) to Cambodia (Phnom Penh) at $126 USD. A majority of my flights were operated by VietJet Air, with a few from Air Asia. This being such an extended trip, I fortunately didn't run into any issues when booking a flight from Malaysia to Bali a week before or locating lodging in any of the cities. When searching for places to stay abroad, I am pretty low-maintenance meaning as long as I have a private room/bathroom and the facility is clean I am all good. It is my personal preference to rarely if ever, stay in a resort during my time in other countries. Whenever I have done so, I found that I am not able to truly immerse myself in the country's culture being that resorts are created to suit the comfort of tourists. So nonetheless, I stayed in everything from hotels, to small villas, to Airbnb's, and even spacious hostels.
If you've never used AirBnb before, you can use this link to receive a $40 credit toward your next lodging on AirBnb! My entire stay in Bali was ~$50 total at the beautiful villa pictured to the left and below.
When booking I utilized either Hotels.com, which I love because you can filter down through so many features, and Booking.com. Both of these sites list everything from apartments, to hostels, to hotels so it's fairly simple to find what you're looking for. An average hotel in SE Asia definitely does not cost the same price as it would here in the US, but if you're looking to stay within budget I'd suggest hotels only if you have someone else to split the cost of the room. Now I'll be completely transparent, the very first hotel I booked in Bangkok was pretty sketchy upon arrival. It completely seemed like the pictures from the booking site were false, but once I got into the swing of checking multiple sources, everything after was as expected.
Need to know: If you're someone like myself who enjoys breakfast without the cost of enjoying breakfast -- when booking hotels, hostels, or even Airbnb, it is good practice to search for places that include breakfast in their price. This small detail allowed me to save so much money on food being that I wouldn't feel the urge to eat again until around lunchtime. Also, with the portions served abroad, sometimes lunch leftovers could easily become dinner or a late snack. Check out some of the breakfast below.
Breakfast on the terrace at Alam Dania Cottage in Ubud, Bali - fresh fruit, fresh-squeezed OJ, and fried rice topped with a fried egg.
Made-to-order breakfast at Sugaris Hotel in Denpasar, Bali - banana pancakes, toast, fried egg, sausage, and sweet potatoe fries with a side of fresh watermelon.
Cambodian buffet breakfast including croissants, fried rice, veggies, potatoes, and fresh fruit.
Light breakfast in Chiang Mai, Thailand - toast, OJ, and tea.
Need to know: I personally did not encounter a huge language barrier while in SE Asia. You'll find that most locals at least know broken english or the basics of our language. When locating transportation, the mobile application Grab (their version of Uber) made it extremely easy to request a ride and even chat with the driver being that the messages are translated as you chat.
The Journey & The Flight
What to Bring
• Water bottle
• Your favorite book
• Headscarf, if applicable
• At least 2-3 changes of clothes
• Socks + open-toe shoes (slides, Crocs, etc.)
• Healthy snacks (fruit, granola, crackers, etc.)
• Blanket - One will be provided to you, but it's usually pretty thin and small.
• Toiletries (wet wipes, toothbrush and toothpaste, facial cleanser, lotion, etc.)
• Shades - Extended flights are known to help your body get accustomed to the time frame your trip will be on. So this includes having the cabin lights on for hours, even sometimes MID-FLIGHT. I enjoy just snoozing my time in the air away, and shades came in handy.
Need to know: PACK LIGHT. Which may not be a problem for you all, but was a major issue for me since I tend to overpack for even the shortest trips. However, when catching so many flights both domestic and international, checked baggage rules can and will change. This just makes for extra fees, so to avoid any hassle pack as light as possible.
Essentials for the trip:
• Everything mentioned above
• Fanny pack
• Running shoes
• A small backpack
• A number of face towels
• Bug spray (DEET or OFF)
• Shower shoes - Dollar Store flip-flops work just fine for this.
• Bath towels - Although most lodging provides you with at least two.
• CASH - This is very, very important as ATM fees along with banking fees can add up quickly.
Need to know: Along with a generous amount of cash, bring either your Visa or MasterCard. More established restaurants and stores in SE Asia take one or the other, which saves money for you being that swiping your card will always get you the best exchange rate. This only applies if your cardholder network does NOT charge foreign transaction fees. I found that my Capital One VISA credit card and my Chase debit card had no foreign transaction fees whatsoever.
It's usually a given that with any trip across the world, you'll have a layover either half or a third of the way through. When traveling into Bangkok, I flew out of Chicago early morning with a flight delay of about 45 minutes due to weather. Upon arrival into San Francisco, the trip started to get a little hectic with the delay causing me to have to RUN through SFO airport with all of my carry-on baggage (another reason to pack very light) and barely making the flight into Tokyo. Thankfully, I did, and the rest of the flights were for the most part smooth-sailing. The direct flight from SFO to Tokyo is around 11 hours, which is pretty average for one leg of an international trip. I personally enjoy international flights because it's usually your first opportunity to taste some of the cuisines of the place you are visiting. I know its flight food, but honestly, it is not bad. They even served Haagen Dazs ice cream and wine on my flight out of and into the US!
Once I finally arrived into Bangkok around 10:30 PM local time, I had the pleasure of finding out my luggage had not arrived with me -- and would not arrive for another 2 days! Here's exactly where packing at least 2-3 changes of clothes in your carry-on comes in handy. Of course, upon contacting the airline I was compensated for any money spent on clothes and toiletries, but not having things like shower shoes and sunscreen was a hassle.
The following sections regarding each stop will be very abbreviated in detail. If you'd like to see tons of pictures and descriptions of everything I visited while in each city, follow my Instagram and view my highlighted stories at the top of my profile.
Chicago to San Francisco
San Francisco to Tokyo
Tokyo to Bangkok
Total Flight Price: $620.00
Total Price Paid for Lodging: $24.00
City Overview: Bangkok is a HUGE city with many different areas that offer various attractions. During this trip to Bangkok, I stayed about 40 minutes from the airport via public transportation, and right in the city center to ensure I would see all of the well-known sites. Thailand, in general, is a very cheap place to holiday (read: vacation) I did not spend a ton of money while here.
Activities: Sightseeing, visiting shrines and temples, pedicures, and street food!
Bangkok to Phuket (Phi Phi Islands)
Total Flight Price: $42.22
Total Price Paid for Lodging: $20.44
City Overview: If you've ever been to Cancun or Las Vegas, Phuket's nightlife and tourists will greatly remind you of both. There are a number of nightclubs, restaurants, and even local escorts (if that's your thing) along the main Phuket City road during the evening.
Activities: Nightlife and speedboat to Phi Phi Islands
Need to know: I purchased my tickets to the Phi Phi Islands similarly to how we purchase nightclub tickets in cities like South Beach, Miami and Las Vegas -- through a promoter along the street. Be VERY wary when purchasing these types of deals and ALWAYS ask questions about specifics. Although I wasn't tricked in any way while in Phuket, I have been tricked before in South Beach, Miami.
Phuket to Malaysia
Total Flight Price: $60.00
Total Price Paid for Lodging: $52.50
City Overview: Malaysia is an entire melting pot of cultures and religions. You can walk around one corner and see a gorgeous Chinese temple, then walk around another and there is an intricate Hindu temple awaiting your arrival. Also a large city, you'll notice that many global companies do business in Malaysia so the downtown area can be a little intense.
Activities: Temple run, sight-see (Petronas Towers, pictured above), visit the Batu Caves!
Need to know: Visiting the Batu Caves is a very unique experience and an easy way around having to locate the famous Monkey Forest in Ubud. There are a number of little fellas who look just like the one to the right all throughout the Batu Caves site. Being that they are also roaming free, it is very easy to interact with them or even feed them bananas and fruit!
Malaysia to Indonesia
Total Flight Price: $72.00
Total Price Paid for Lodging: $19.50
City Overview: One of my most FAVORITE locations of all of the cities that I visited on this trip, Bali, Indonesia is a hub of scenic views and total relaxation. If you're looking for a beach, this is definitely where you'll find it, but if you also want views of the mountains and rice fields you won't have to venture too far!
Views along Campuhan Walk Ridge in Ubud, Bali.
Flower Bath in Denpasar, Bali located at Bali Green Spa. Book online and receive their special discounted price - I paid $25USD for a deluxe package including a hot stone massage, an aromatherapy massage, a flower bath, and an aromatherapy footwash.
Activities: Massages, spas, rice fields, scenic walks, and infinity pools of course!
Indonesia to Cambodia
Total Flight Price: $126.00
Total Price Paid for Lodging: $36.00
Need to know: Phnom Penh is a fantastic place to visit. However, if you are looking for the 'typical' Cambodia experience we tend to see on Instagram and travel blogs then be sure to fly into an airport/city near Siem Reap where you can see the historic Angkor Wat temple.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
City Overview: Phnom Penh is a fairly low-key city in Cambodia, yet it is jam-packed with history! I can't say much about the nightlife, but the food is amazing.
Activities: Chilling poolside and visiting the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum -- must see (pictured above)! You'll be so surprised by the city of Phnom Penh to be completely honest, at least I was. Less than 50 years ago there was a huge genocide in Cambodia, and to see their growth since then is astonishing.
Cambodia to Vietnam
Total Flight Price: $75.00
Total Price Paid for Lodging: $45.00
City Overview: Nothing as you would expect, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam is a bustling city with an upbeat nightlife -- especially for backpackers and tourists. Similar to Cambodia, there's a ton of history here especially as it relates to the US. Spoiler alert, what we learn in the US regarding the Vietnam War is nowhere near the entire story. View a photo from the War Remnants Museum below!
Activities: City tour via motorbike (view below for an outline of sites), eating tons of Pho (pictured below), and a day tour of Mekong Delta!
Vietnam to Bangkok
Total Flight Price: $78.00
Total Price Paid for Lodging: $20.00
City Overview: Similar to the last overview earlier in this post, however during this trip I was intentional about staying in a completely different part of Bangkok outside of the city center area.
Activities: More temples and shrines, shopping for souvenirs, sightseeing!
Bangkok to Chiang Mai
Total Flight Price: $57.32
Total Price Paid for Lodging: $18.37
City Overview: Chiang Mai is located in Northern Thailand, which offers a fairly different experience than Bangkok and other cities in the central and southern region. It's a lot less fast-paced than Bangkok, with a fairly high population of tourists who now live in Chiang Mai and are no longer considered tourists. Being that this was one of my last stops throughout SE Asia, I truly cherish the experience because I was able to meet a group of people who look just like me, and we had a chance to exchange our international experiences. One Nimman is an area within the city that you definitely want to visit. If I could compare it to anywhere, it would be East Village in NYC -- pretty slow-paced, unique, and for lack of better terms 'hippie'. I LOVED it!
Activities: Even MORE temples! One Nimman, meeting new friends, relaxation.
*This stop was a 9-hour layover, a part of my return flight back into the states, where I aimlessly explored Narita and the surrounding areas -- so my overview of the city is limited.
Reflection & Things to Keep in Mind
Below are a few things to keep in mind and what I've learned, especially from completing nearly half of my trip solo!
• If you can, have a friend who can tag along. Although my personal preference most times is to travel solo, it is nice (at least for a portion of your trip) to have someone else there in order to split costs such as transportation and lodging in half.
• Keep an open mind, especially as it relates to the food. There are a number of unique dishes that are offered in SE Asia, if you're skeptical at least give it a try. But do not go abroad seeking American food such as McDonald's, pizza, or burger and fries.
• But still allow yourself private time every couple of days for personal reflection and to take in everything that you've seen. Be sure to bring a journal, or at the very least pen and paper to reflect on everything you've seen and experienced.
• If someone seeks YOU out to offer you an an amazing deal, it is probably too good to be true. Along the street, and especially in more touristy areas, there will be locals constantly in your face trying to sell you something. Those that you really want to purchase from will give you space and allow you to come to them, simply use your discretion.
• Plan the high-level details of the trip, but allow yourself enough wiggle room to make changes (I completely skipped my flight into Singapore so that I would have more time in Bali -- which to me was a great decision). This wiggle rooms allows you to speak with locals before booking day tours and other activities to know what price is good to pay, and whether or not its a great deal.
• Know the visa policy for each country early on. For instance, it is very much a hassle for Americans to enter into Vietnam through customs/the airport. Not only must you purchase a visa upon arrival, but you must purchase your pre-application to receive your visa online, at least 72 hours in advance of your flight into the country.
• You'll never get tired of temple running. Throughout my entire trip I probably visited at least 50 temples and various shrines. Understand that these are sacred establishments and allow yourself, no matter what your religious affiliation, to take it all in.
• Lastly, the US has told us nothing but LIES, and its honestly sad how in the dark we, as citizens, are regarding US history as it relates to SE Asia (and probably many other places). Stay alert.
If you want to check out a complete visual recap of my trip, separated by city, feel free to follow me on Instagram and peruse my profile highlights (@preciouscprice). If you have any questions regarding the details in this article, feel free to reach out!
Itinerary: Cost Breakdown & Dates
*Below are additional details on my flights and even names of the hotels, hostels, villas, and Airbnb's I used throughout this trip. You'll also see a list of activities I completed while in each city. Feel free to use my activity as a guide, but in no way is it comprehensive! Do your own research and visit places and sites that will resonate with you. You'll also see that the activity lists get longer and longer as I move through each city, that's simply because I didn't think to write down everywhere I visited until I arrived in Malaysia (:
TOTAL TRIP COST: $2,120 - inclusive of flights, lodging, food, visa, and everything you could think of.
May 10th — May 12th
1. Bangkok 🛬
Diamond City Hotel, $24
May 12th — May 14th
2. Phuket + Phi Phi Islands
Bel Aire Patong Phuket Hotel, $20.44
Flight: $42.22 (Bangkok [BKK] 🛫 Phuket [HKT] @ 4:25PM
May 14th — May 18th
Flight: $60 (Phuket 🛫 Malaysia [KUL])
Hostel: Hilton Garden Inn : Total = $52.50
* International Pancake House — breakfast
* Jamek Mosque
* Central Market (henna, souvenirs, etc)
* Chinatown — lunch
* National Mosque of Malaysia
* Thean Hou Temple
* Train to KL Sentral [RM 3.70]
* Catch KTM to Batu Caves from KL Sentral [RM 5.00 pp]
* Visit Cave Temples
* *possibly take taxi to Gombak Station from Batu, then head to Genting
* Gombak Station ➡️ Awana Station
* Awana Station ➡️ Awana Skyway Ride
* Skyway Ride ➡️ Genting
* Head back to KL Sentral for Genting Bus Ride
* Cable Car Ride
* Catch bus to Genting from KL Sentral station [RM20]
* Genting Hills (Strawberry Farm, Chin Swee Temple)
* Bukit tabur
May 18th — May 23rd
Flight: $72 (Malaysia [KUL] 🛫 DPS)
* MalindoAir - @ 4:40PM - 7:40PM
Hotel: $19.5pp Sugaris Hotel — 2 people
Ubud — Alam Dania Cottage, Modeling No.168
* 5/22 Tuesday, Campuhan Wall Ridge with MotorBike at Sunrise + tegallang Rice Walk + Tirta Empul Temple [just legs] + puri Sagan Royal palace
* 5/19 Green Spa @ 9:30AM @ Sugaris $25
* 5/21 Monday Safari Breakfast with Tigers — catch ride 88 AM- 44 PM($50)
* Nungnung Waterfall
* Ulun Danu Temple
* Lempuyang Temple
* Kayu Suar
* 5/20 Tegenungan Waterfall — ubud + Saraswati
* Taste of Ramen
May 23rd — May 26th
Flight: $126 (DPS 🛫 Cambodia - Phnom Phet)
* AirAsia - @ 6:25PM with layover in KUL, arriving 7:35AM
Hotel: $36pp Essence Hotel - Phnom Penh (No.222, St. 200, Sangkat Boeung Raing)
* Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
May 26th — May 30th
Flight: $75 (Cambodia - Phnom Penh 🛫 Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh)
* VietJet Air - 64021709 @ 7:20PM - 8:05PM
Hotel: $45 Giang Son 3 Hotel (35/4 Bui Vien, District 1, Ho Chi Minh) — opposite police station on the left-handside of the street — alley #35
* Reunification Palace
* 5/27 - Saigon Square
* 5/27 - 23/9 Park
* 5/27 - War Remnants Museum
* 5/27 - Tao Dan Park
* 5/27 - Notre Dame Cathedral
* 5/27 - Saigon Riverwalk
* 5/27 - Jade Emperor Pagoda
* 5/28 - Mekong Delta [My Tho-Ben Tre City (Day Tour: Dragon Island, Unicorn Island, Phoenix Island, and Turtle Island & Vinh Trang Pagoda)]
* 5/29 @ noon - Ben Thanh Market
* 5/29 @ 10AM - Hindi Mariamman ✨
* 5/29 - Dinner @ Outside of Pho 2000 (night market!) — leave then go east on lei lo and will run into Nguyen walkway
* 5/29 - Nguyen Hue Walking/Flower Street
* Independence Palace
May 30th — June 1st
* VietJet Air - @ 11:15AM - 12:45PM
Hotel: Baan Navi, Khlong San Bangkok (2 Chareon Nakhon Rd., Khweang Klong Tonchai, Khet Klongsan, Bangkok)
* Market for souvenirs
* Floating Market
* Lumphini Park — rent boat
* Erawan Shrine
* Jim Thompson House (150B)
* Central World — shopping center
June 1st — June 3rd
Flight: RT $57.32 + Bangkok 🛫 Chiangmai 🛫 Bangkok)
* Viet Jet Air - @ 5:20PM - 6:40PM
* Meditation Retreat @ Wat Umong
* Chiang Dao Cave + Long Neck Tribe
* Doi Inthanon National Park
10. Bangkok 🛬
* Arrive in Bangkok @ 9:20 AM on June 3rd
* Depart to the USA @ 12:30 AM, no hotel needed
* Massage in the city
11. Tokyo 🛬