Think our trip sounds like something you’d like to do? Here’s our itinerary so you have a starting point and inspiration when planning your own adventure. Feel free to shoot us an email with any questions!
Siem Reap is the cultural capital of Cambodia and a hipster’s paradise. It’s brimming with coffee shops, markets, and is home to Angkor Wat.
For bookings or inquiries, email firstname.lastname@example.org
This hostel feels more like a homey hotel, and is only a 5-minute bike ride from Siem Reap’s city center. The staff is incredibly friendly, there’s a swimming pool, and the food is safe and delicious. Jasmine Lodge offers discounts for volunteers and long-stays, so we were able to get a triple room for one month for $480, or $160 each. Our room came with a fan (A/C is more expensive) and free breakfast.
Dorm Bed: $4, but bungalow suites are also available
This is the place to stay if you want to meet homies. It has a pool- including swim-up bar and a floating beer pong table- a restaurant, and two bars. The stuff is super friendly and will help you organize any transportation or tours. These good vibes are located only a 5-10 minute walk from Pub Street.
Teach at Happy Sunshine School
Email their volunteer manager, Simon Lim, at email@example.com
The Happy Sunshine School is located about 5 KM East of Siem Reap’s city center, which made for a pleasant 40-minute bike ride through the rice paddies. The staff is accommodating and flexible; the children are precious and very eager to learn. Depending on your skill sets, you will probably be teaching English or Computer Classes. Teaching here was a highlight of our trip!
Feed a Village
Email Hout at firstname.lastname@example.org
I met Hout on my first trip to Siem Reap, where he was in charge of a Christian children’s home. He’s a local Cambodian man with a heart of gold and a beautiful family. Hout no longer works for that organization, but in his free time tries to help other Cambodians. If you’re willing to buy supplies (food, school supplies, or medicine), Hout will take you to the local market and then to a couple of villages which he has identified as especially needy- one is in the rice paddies, and one is deep in the jungle. This is an once-in-a-lifetime experience that opened our eyes to the real Cambodia. Our hearts grew five sizes on the two occasions we went with Hout to deliver rations- read more about it here and here.
Hout is also starting a new project to better the lives for those living in rural Siem Reap, called Smiles of Cambodia. If they meet their fundraising goal, Smiles of Cambodia will do several things: 1: Build a new rural school, free for local children. (many children cannot go to school simply because they live too far away or their families need them to work) 2: Help rural villages and families become self-sufficient with mushroom hanging gardens, produce seeds, and livestock. 3: Provide the neediest villages with food, school supplies, and medical rations. You can help Hout with Smiles of Cambodia by donating, helping Hout fundraise, and – once the school is built- teaching at his new school for rural children.
$20 for 1 day, $40 for 3 day (must use within a week), $60 for 7 day (must use within the month)
We suggest purchasing a multiple-day pass so you can enjoy Angkor Wat – there are dozens of temples scattered across 500 acres. If you only have one day, we suggest hiring a tuk tuk- to rent a tuk tuk for one whole day should cost $15. If you have more time, it’s a lovely 30-minute bicycle ride from Siem Reap. Just beware that the temples are far away from each other and Cambodia is notoriously hot and humid.
Highlights include Angkor Wat (the most famous), Angkor Thom (the one with trees overtaking ruins), and Bayon (the wacky temple with Buddha heads everywhere). Just make sure to wear appropriate clothing covering your knees and shoulders.
$20 to enter Kulen Mountain, plus transportation cost.
Tuk tuks cannot make it up Kulen Mountain, so rent a motorbike or book a tour through a travel agency. This is a holy mountain with a beautiful temple housing a reclining Buddha, sacred carvings in the river, and waterfall where you can swim or swing from trees.
Phnom Pehn is a bustling city, a little dirty and dangerous. It’s worth visiting its genocide sights and museums, but not somewhere we’d recommend staying too long.
Dorm Bed: $7/night
One Stop Hostel has locations in Siem Reap, Phnom Pehn, and Sihanoukville. It’s a great value- very clean with friendly staff. They’re social but not “party hostels.”
The Killing Fields – Choeung Ek Genocidal Center
The admission fee includes an audio tour, which we highly recommend listening to. Here there are remains of approximately 9,000 people, who were tortured and murdered by the Khmer Rouge from 1975-1980. There are about 170 mass graves, and you can still see fragments of clothing and human bone poking out of the dirt.
S-21 Prison - Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide
$2 admission, optional $6 for a guide
In 1976, the Khmer Rouge renamed the Tuol Svay Pray High School “S-21” and turned it into a torture, interrogation, and execution center. Of the 14,000 people known to have entered, only seven survived. This high school turned torture chamber is good to visit in conjunction with the Killing Fields. The Killing Fields are more famous, but lack visuals. S-21 completes the story, since the Khmer Rouge carefully transcribed the prisoners' interrogations and photographed the vast majority of the inmates.
Take a bus to Sihanoukville, the port city that’s your gateway to Cambodia’s islands. You’ll probably need to stay a night in Sihanoukville in between a bus to/from Phnom Pehn and a boat to the islands. Sihanoukville is great for partying but not much else. Head to Koh Rong for a chilled out atmosphere with a hint of nightlife. Experience rustic white beaches and nighttime swimming with bioluminescent phytoplankton- a can’t miss, magical experience.
Sihanoukville: The Big Easy
Dorm Bed: $4/night
If you want to party, this hostel is the place for you. It’s located in the thick of Sihanoukville’s nightlife scene, with a rowdy sports bar. If you care about sleep and cleanliness, this might not be the place for you.
Sihanoukville: One Stop Hostel
Dorm Bed: $7/night
If you enjoy low-key socializing and sleeping in clean sheets, this is the place for you. It’s a 5-minute walk from Sihanoukville’s main party strip.
Koh Rong: Happy Bungalows
4-person beach bungalow: $35/night
When you arrive on Koh Rong’s pier, take a right and walk down the beach for 10 minutes and you’ll see Happy Bungalows. The accommodation is “charmingly rustic” and feels more like camping than a proper hotel. They supply mosquito nets but you may want to bring extra toilet paper. Happy Bungalows is fine for the price, but you’ll most likely find better bungalows if you walk down the beach for another 10-20 minutes. Always ask to see your bungalow before paying, since the quality of their interiors varies drastically.
Koh Rong Island Tour
$8 - noon to 8 PM
You can book this tour at any travel stand along the beach, and it’s worth every penny. The boat will take you snorkeling, fishing, to Long Beach for a sunset BBQ, and then to swim with the bioluminescent phytoplankton at night.
Getting Around Cambodia
The cheapest way to get around Cambodia is by bus. It’s about $16 for a VIP sleeper bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Pehn. If you plan to visit Cambodia’s islands, you will take a bus from Phnom Pehn to Sihanoukville, and then take a boat from there. Here are some lessons we learned the hard way:
· Book bus/ferry tickets through your hotel. Street side travel agents often sell fake travel tickets, and won’t help you (or refund you) when your midnight bus refuses to let you board.
· For tuk tuks, drivers, tours, etc- always negotiate the price first.
· Splurge for the VIP bus. About $2 more but a world of difference.
· Do not believe buses that say they’ll pick you up at your hotel. They forget 95% of the time. Take a tuk tuk to the bus station.
· On ferries to Cambodia’s islands, be a little pushy when boarding. They often overbook these, and travelers are left stranded on the pier.
· If you have a long stay in Siem Reap, rent bicycles to save on tuk-tuk fare. They should be $1/day or $5/week.
Ho Chi Minh/Saigon
Bustling Ho Chi Minh has lots to offer, from cultural sites to the best street food in Vietnam. We didn’t stay there long enough to see much, but other travelers enjoyed the War Museum, Chi Chi Tunnels, or taking an overnight trip to the Mekong Delta.
Dorm bed: $7/night
This hostel is located in Ho Chi Minh’s backpacker-friendly District One. It’s brand-new and ran by Tom and his sister, who will go above and beyond to make you feel loved and comfortable. The rooms are very clean with air-conditioning, in-room bathrooms, and the rate includes a tasty breakfast.
Mui Ne is a darling seaside town with a floating market and Sahara-like sand dunes.
Dorm Bed: $8/night
This hostel is social, clean, and has a great pool and lounge area. It’s close to the beach and next door to an amazing Mexican restaurant, El Latino.
Book a Jeep day tour of Mui Ne’s sights from your hostel or a local travel agent. For only ~3 US Dollars, an open-air American Jeep will take you to Fairy Springs, the floating market, Red Dunes, and White Dunes. You’ll first walk up Fairy Creek, a beautiful stream with sandy cliffs on one side and jungle on the other. During this stroll you can stop at a streamside café for a beer or pay to ride an ostrich. Next you’ll stop for photos at Mui Ne’s bustling floating market. Then you’ll travel along the ocean until you reach Mui Ne’s White Dunes. Here you can explore afoot, but we highly recommend renting an ATV – 300 Dong for 20 minutes, or 400 Dong for 30 minutes. It’s definitely worth the money! Lastly, you’ll go to Mui Ne’s Red Dunes. You can rent sleds (~100 Dong) to go sand-sledding from children who will flock to you.
We left our hearts in Dalat. It’s a quaint, not too touristy mountain village that feels like a Vietnamese Breckenridge in the French Alps. Backpackers know Dalat for its canyoning, but we’ll remember it forever because of Dalat Family Hostel.
Dorm bed: $5/night
You must stay at this hostel. Mama will welcome you with shrieks, ass-slapping, table-pounding, and a never-ending supply of banana pancakes. It’s a bit like summer camp- you’ll leave Dalat Family Hostel with lifelong friends and the best memories. Just stay here. You won’t regret it. But, if you need more convincing, read about our experience here.
You can book this half-day adventure for roughly 500,000 Dong (22 US Dollars) through the reception at Dalat Family Hostel, or online. You rappel 15 M down a cliff, slide down a natural waterslide, float down a river, abseil 25 M down a waterfall, have an opportunity to jump of a 7M or 11 M cliff, and then finish by rappelling 16 M down “the Washing Machine.” The guides take great care of you so you can feel like a badass. Let Viet Action Tours know we referred you and you’ll get 10% off!
Dalat’s known for its natural beauty, and the best way to see it is via motorbike. We did a nice day trip to Pongour Waterfall, 50 KM outside of Dalat. We did this journey on our own, renting bikes for the day from Dalat Family Hostel for 100,000 Dong (4.50 US Dollars), but got pretty lost. If you want to take the scenic route and actually hit all the important sites, hire a guide from Dalat Easy Riders. You can find them at your hostel or all over town- they’ll probably approach you several times.
Dalat Crazy House
Admission: 40,000 Dong (1.70 US Dollars)
Spend an afternoon getting lost in this kooky architectural masterpiece. If Walt Disney, Salvador Dali, Dr. Suess, and Antoni Gaudi collaborated on a hotel, the result would be Dalat Crazy House. In reality, Vietnamese architect Dang Viet Nga gets credit for Crazy House, which is listed as one of the world’s “10 most bizarre buildings.”
Plan on spending some time in Hoi An, since you’ll fall in love with the place. Its old town is an overload of charming oriental cultural, and is an UNESCO World Hertiage Site. We took the Open Bus from Dalat to Na Trang, and Na Trang to Hoi An- we only spent an hour in Na Trang since it’s a very Russian, somewhat dirty beachside party town.
Beds in a private room from $12
This hotel is an amazing value for the money, making it the #1 Hoi An hostel on Hostel World. It’s clean and luxurious with a pool and very attentive staff. They upgraded us to a suite free of charge, and we hear this happens a lot. Salute Hotel is in between Old Town and the Beach, and will rent you bicycles so you can explore Hoi An!
Hoi An Beach
Rent a bicycle and peddle to Hoi An’s amazing beach- imagine California waves with Floridia temperatures. When you get to the sand, walk to the right for 10 minutes past all the resorts and chairs for your own private stretch of beach!
Hoi An Old Town
Explore Hoi An’s remarkable Old Town during the day, and consider buying a ticket book in Old Town for $6 so you can enter the temples, pagodas, and other points of interest. The sites were interesting, but you can experience Old Town without buying tickets just fine. Daytime is good for shopping and sightseeing, but at night is when Hoi An’s Old Town becomes absolutely magical.
Get Clothes Made
The thing to do in Hoi An is get custom clothing- from suits to maxi dresses, these tailors are excellent and affordable. You’ll see shops for this everywhere, just be sure to come prepared with photos of the clothing you want.
Hue, the Imperial City, has lots of war history, yummy food, good shopping, and a great social scene. We motor biked to Hue from Hoi An, over the stunning Hai Van Pass.
Dorm Bed: $7
If you’d like a mellow, quiet hotel with attentive staff, Stay Hotel is lovely. It’s off a main street so you’re close to everything.
Dorm Bed: $8
If you want to party and make friends, this is the hostel for you. Vietnam Backpackers Hostels are a reputable chain of hostels throughout Vietnam. They’re cheap, organized, clean, and a party hotspot.
Self-Guided Walking Tour of the Old Town and Citadel
Grab a map from your hostel and explore Hue’s Imperial City. You’ll enter the walled portion of town, which still has bullet holes in it from the Vietnam – American War. Head to the Citadel and pay 160,000 Dong (7 US Dollars) to enter this historical site.
You’ll probably need to visit this bustling city if you’re going to Ha Long Bay or Sapa, since transportation and tours start in Hanoi. Its French Quarter is buzzing with markets and street vendors, but it’s chaotic and dirty, and we weren’t too fond of it.
Dorm Bed: $9/night
This hostel is down a café-packed alleyway in Hanoi’s French Quarter. It’s social but much smaller and mellower than the Downtown location. There's a restaurant and rooftop bar. Breakfast is included.
Dorm Bed: $9/night
This hostel was voted #1 Vietnam hostel in 2015. It's the life of the party located in the thick of Hanoi's French Quarter. It has a bar, restaurant, and upstairs lounge area with a TV, couches, computers, and patio. Take their free walking tour of the French Quarter to get your bearings and learn some history. Breakfast is included.
Ha Long Bay
Vietnam Backpackers Hostel - Castaway: $190 for 2 nights, 3 days
Hanoi Central Backpackers Hostel: $120 for 2 nights, 3 days
Ha Long Bay’s beauty will make your jaw drop, it’s a must-do UNESCO World Heritage Site. Vietnam Backpackers Hostel offers the “Castaway Tour” of Ha Long Bay, which many love, but we didn’t want to party that hard. If you choose Castaway, make sure to book it through Vietnam Backpackers Hostel- there’s several scams out there pretending to be Castaway. Instead, we did the 2-night, 3-day “Party Cruise” through Hanoi Central Backpackers Hostel. This cruise pleased everyone, since it was chill but you could party if you wanted to. The first day we cruised along Ha Long Bay, took a tour of the Heavenly Palace Cave, and went kayaking and jumping off the boat at sunset. We slept on the boat in nice cabins, and all the meals were excellent. Day two consisted of boarding a bus to go over Cat Ba Island, and boarding another boat that took us to Freedom Island AKA Paradise. You stay in huts on a stretch of beach 400 meters thick in between two beaches. Splurging for the 2-night tour instead of a 1-night tour is absolutely worth it for Freedom Island, and the Castaway Tour does not take you here. Both tours include meals and round-trip transportation from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay.
Beautiful Sapa, tucked up north in Vietnam’s foggy mountains and rice paddies, was easily the best part of our entire trip. What makes it so magical are the Sapa women, who you should definitely do a homestay with. To get to Sapa you can take a sleeper train- roughly $40 and ours wasn’t the nicest, so we’d recommend paying for a better train. Or you can take a $15 bus- not as comfortable, but it will take you directly to Sapa, versus the train which takes you to Lao Cai (and then it’s a 50-minute mini bus to Sapa that costs 2.50 US Dollars).
Dorm Bed: $8/night
We loved this hostel. It’s a large lodge with beautiful views of the mountains, is in the middle of town, has a cozy lounge area, and has a social atmosphere. While it’s the Vietnam Backpacker Hostel brand, it’s more of a proper hotel, and some families and older guests were there. Breakfast is included.
Trek and Stay with May and Anna
Find them walking around town, selling their goods. If you have a Vietnamese phone, you can call May at 01688481150
This was a life changing experience with May and Anna, local women who are both mothers of three. Their laughs and generosity are incredibly contagious. They took us on an 8-mile trek down a mountain, through the rice paddies, to the Lao Chai village where we had a homecooked meal at Anna’s home. Then we trekked onwards through the rice paddies, to May’s home where we spent the night. She is incredibly welcoming, and we loved chit-chatting with her over dinner and “happy water” (local rice wine). We did one night, but if you do two nights you’ll have an even more rewarding experience and be exposed to more “off the beaten path” trekking and villages.
Trek and Stay with Chao
Find her walking around town. If you have a Vietnamese phone, call Chao at 01273825242. You can also email her husband at email@example.com
Chao is the kindest human on our planet. She’s graceful, humble, and never pressures you to buy her goods. She also has three children, and let us carry her newborn baby on our backs while trekking! The trek with May and Anna was through rice paddies, whereas Chao took us through the mountains- there were stunning views, waterfalls, and wild baby pigs. She cooked for us while we hung out with four generations of her family. Her food was delicious, as was the “happy water” and local herbs she provided. The next day Chao took us on another trek to a lunch spot and beautiful river before getting us motorbikes back to Sapa. Our one night experience was incredible, but once again a two night stay would have been even more rewarding.
Getting Around Vietnam
Decide if you’d like to conquer Vietnam from North to South or South to North. Then decide if you’d like to travel by bus or motorbike. We took an “open bus” from the South (Ho Chi Minh) to North (Hanoi). You can buy “open bus” tickets at hostels or travel agencies. The bus is a fairly comfortable sleeper bus- several of the legs are 10 hours and overnight, which is great so you can save time and not pay for a hotel. We chose the most expensive ticket, $40, which took us from Ho Chi Minh to Mui Ne, Mui Ne to Dalat, Dalat to Na Trang, Na Trang to Hoi An, Hoi An to Hue, and Hue to Hanoi. By eliminating some of those stops you can get a cheaper bus ticket.
Many of our friends motor biked through Vietnam, and it was one of the best experiences in their lives. You should buy a motorbike (look online or check out for-sale posters in hostels) for ~$250 and sell it for ~$220 at the end of your journey. If you motorbike, you will see more of Vietnam’s natural beauty, and be able to visit towns and points of interests that the bus misses. Single female travelers have biked Vietnam successfully, and Vietnamese locals will help anyone with a broken-down bike. If you bike, make sure to buy a Vietnam SIM card so you can make emergency calls and access maps on your phone.
We did a hybrid of busing and biking. We took the open bus everywhere except from Hoi An to Hue, since that stretch is one of the most stunning routes in Vietnam. It’s very popular to bike the stunning Hai Van Pass, and several companies will rent you one-way bikes from Hoi An to Hue or visa-versa and transport your baggage for you, making driving much easier. Your hotel will be able to arrange this, and it should cost ~$15.
Other lessons we learned:
· In Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) only use the green taxis
· Always ask the taxi to use the meter
· If you’re pressed on time, there’s cheap domestic flights
4 hours and 762 curves away from busy Chiang Mai, is Pai - a backpacker’s paradise that’s chilled out to the max. Minibuses run between Chiang Mai and Pai every hour, and you can book these through a hostel or bus station for only ~$5. Pai is an enchanting hippie commune up in the mountains, a place where travelers notoriously get “stuck” for months and years. Greeted with peace signs, dreadlocks, good vibes, and the grooviest bellbottoms you’ve ever seen, you’re sure to be welcomed into an artist’s collaborative space or spoken-word session at every corner. Enjoy street food, mandala drawing workshops, guided meditation, yoga classes, and “art of fermentation” courses. Pick up a “Pai Events Planner” brochure (available at Art in Chai and Good Life Cafe) so you know where to find the next acoustic night or free meditation class.
Dorm Beds from $5.50, private bungalows from $9
Pai Circus School makes the nauseating ride from Chiang Mai to Pai completely worthwhile. Stay at the Circus, a peace-and-love compound on a hill overlooking Pai, about a 10-minute walk from town.There’s an infinity pool, trampoline, hammocks galore, fire shows, and daily circus lessons from 4-6 PM. You’ll meet some amazing travellers at Circus, picking up insight and juggling tricks. Its sleeping conditions aren’t the most luxurious – cracking bamboo floors and paper-thin mattresses – but you shouldn’t be spending too much time in bed anyway. We stayed here for 12 nights, we couldn’t get enough of its good vibes. If you plan on doing a stay as long as ours, you can always work at Pai Circus to save on room and board.
Dorm beds from $4, private rooms from $9
This guesthouse is soooo chill, so lovely, and is located in the heart of Pai. After spending some time at Circus, you may want to relocate here. The manager, Mon, is a smiley Thai dude with dreadlocks reaching his thighs. Chill Lom has hammocks and campfire areas, so it’s a great place to relax and meet like-minded travelers. Plus this homey hideaway is located across the street from Art in Chai, a fabulous cafe and hangout space with live music.
Ride and Play with Elephants at Thom’s Elephant Camp
Tours start at $22
Thom’s is Pai’s original elephant camp, and the first place to let visitors ride ellies bareback. The staff is amazing, and they offer a variety of elephant encounter packages: riding elephants, bathing the elephants, overnight stays, or even volunteering at the camp for 2 weeks.
Full Day Tour of Mae Hong Son - from Lod Cave to Long Neck Villages
$40 (1,500 baht)
We booked this at the travel agency directly across from the Pai bus station. It was worth every penny- from 8 AM to 5 PM we got a private SUV tour of Lod Cave, View Point, Black Lahu Village, Twin Temple, Temple on the Hill, and the Long Neck Village. Lod Cave was incredible, and we’d recommend spending an extra 400 baht for a boat tour of the second and third cave. That additional boat tour straight from the pages of Nat Geo; definitely a highlight of our entire trip. Also splurge on fish food- the ticketing office sells bags for 20 baht, but directly behind the ticketing office there’s local women selling bags for 10 baht each. The temples are gorgeous and tourist-free. The Long Neck Village is a bit of a tourist attraction, but if you buy the women’s goods you’ll get some great photos while contributing to their economy.
Vespai - 98/8 Moo 1 Viengtai, Pai - adjacent to the walking street
Rent motorbikes so you can have freedom in Pai, and check out sites like the hot springs, WWII bridge, Pai Canyon, and giant marble Buddha statue. You can rent them anywhere in Pai, but the dude at Vespai was especially friendly and cut us a good deal. We paid 100 baht/day, and got what we paid for. Better bikes range from 150-350 baht/day. Always take photos of the bike when you rent it.
Unwind in the Hot Springs
$1.5 - $8.5
Pai has plenty of hot springs, but these two are the most popular among backpackers. Rent a motorbike and head to Tha Pai Hot Springs Resort or the “Secret” Hot Springs. Tha Pai Hot Springs is near Thom’s Elephant Camp- its 300 baht ($8.50) entry includes access to three pools that are different temperatures. The “secret” hot springs are beautiful and only 60 baht ($1.50), however we had to push our motorbike up the incredibly steep backroads. Here’s a handy map.
Chiang Mai is the cultural capital of Northern Thailand, with temples and festivals galore. It’s home to a young, artistic population and has all the conveniences of a big city. Chiang Mai is a hub for excursions and transportation around the rest of Northern Thailand- from elephant treks to homestays in remote villages.
Dorm Bed: $6/night
Word of mouth brought us to Spicy Thai, which is supposed to be Chiang Mai’s most social hostel. The dorms and bathroom were alright, and the hostel is still a tuk-tuk ride away from Chiang Mai’s city center and nightlife. Other travelers said the upstairs rooms were much nicer than ours, and that they made a bunch of friends at Spicy Thai, so we might’ve just had bad luck for our one night here. There’s a TV lounge area, bookshelf, and complimentary toast and instant coffee in the morning.
Dorm Bed: $6/night
Aoi Hostel offers a homey atmosphere and comfortable beds, located near the East gate of Chiang Mai’s old city. It’s within walking distance to Chiang Mai’s nightlife, shopping, and restaurants. The hostel has accommodating staff, speedy WIFI, a TV lounge area, and Pixar action figures for your enjoyment.
Ride & Bathe Elephants - Ran-Tong Elephant Center
Half-Day Program: $44 USD (1,600 baht)
We picked this elephant center because you get the best of both worlds- riding and bathing! Our guide was Mr. “Call me Adam Smith,” a hilarious and friendly Thai dude who helped make this one of our favorite travel experiences. They transport you to their beautiful elephant camp in the mountains- upon arrival we got to feed and have photo-shoots with the elephants. Then we rode the elephants on a pretty trail around the property, as our guides took loads of photos for us on our own cameras and iPhones. The grand finale was getting to swim and bathe with our elephants before we were treated to an authentic Thai lunch. Definitely worth the baht.
Walking Tour of the Temple
Ask your hotel for a map of Chiang Mai and its temples for an inexpensive cultural day. There’s dozens of beautiful temples around Chiang Mai’s walled city-center, all “same same but different.” Make sure to wear clothing that covers your shoulders and knees, and bring a large bottle of water to ward off dehydration.
Take your temple tour and understanding of Buddhism to the next level by participating in a “monk chat” at Wat Suan Dok daily from 5-7 PM (double-check the schedule online). This is an unique opportunity to chat casually with monks about their lives, opinions, Buddhism, traditions, and more. This temple also offers meditation retreats.
Chiang Mai Cabaret Sho
Cost: $8 USD (290 baht)
This “ladyboy” show was the best we’d ever seen. Find it in the Anusarn market, nightly at 10:30 PM. Admission includes a soft drink/Chang beer to sip while you watch these fine ladies lip-synch and dance. Their costumes, passion, and moves blew our mind. Bring some 20-baht bills for tipping and taking photos with the performers. After the show, browse and bargain goods galore at the Anusuran market.
Since we only had 10 days, we stuck to Southern Thailand’s west coast- home to famous destinations like Phuket, Krabi, Koh Phi Phi, Ao Nang, Koh Lanta, and Railay. We flew from Chiang Mai to Krabi ($100 and 2 hours versus $40 and 24 hours of bus travel), avoiding busy Bangkok and touristy, dirty Phuket. From Krabi (or Phuket, if you wish) you can catch $3-$10 ferries to all of the Andaman Coast’s islands and beaches. Stay a night in Krabi if you want cheaper ferries to the surrounding islands, or sleep Ao Nang – only 20 minutes from Krabi, much nicer vibe, but transportation to the surrounding islands can be about 100 baht more expensive.
Getting to the East Coast- home to Koh Tao (scuba diving heaven), Koh Phangan (Full Moon Party), and Koh Samui (beautiful), from Krabi will involve ~20 hours of travel- van to bus to overnight ferry. From Bangkok, you’re looking at ~16 hours of travel- bus to ferry, or fly to Koh Samui. While the Thai travel times may sound daunting, it’s absolutely worth the trek to reach paradise.