An Unbelievable 10 Days in Singapore and Bali: The Ultimate List of What to Do & See

Bali is known as ‘island of the gods’ for a reason. It’s, in many ways, the ultimate tropical paradise. When you think of Bali, chances are you envision gorgeous temples, sweeping rice terraces, thundering waterfalls, fresh smoothie bowls, swinging monkeys, dramatic cliff vistas, yogis twisting into different shapes, or streams of incense floating in the air.

With a dramatic surge in tourism the past few years, it seems like everyone is going to Bali, or has been there recently. I loved the four months I lived in Bali in 2019, and encourage others to visit if they’re interested in venturing to Southeast Asia.

To get to Bali, you’ll need to route through one of Southeast Asia’s regional hubs, and if you have the choice, I’d recommend Singapore.

Singapore seamlessly blends East with West, old with new. Little India and Chinatown mix with skyscrapers in a vibrant display of technology and tradition. It’s a futuristic city with everything from buzzing ‘street’ food vendors, to colorful cultural landmarks, to attractions with conservation at the heart of them.

The juxtaposition of Singapore’s sights and sounds against Bali’s relaxing vibes present the best of both worlds. Visiting both in the same trip offers a bit of something for everyone, and pretty much guarantees a holiday you won’t soon forget.

Why Layover in Singapore

Chances are, if you’re coming from the US or parts of Europe, you’ll need to route through Singapore, Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur before flying onward to Denpasar- you may even have the choice of which route you take. Whichever place you route through, choose to do an extended stopover so you can explore a bit of a new place.

If you’re able to choose which city you connect through, I’d recommend Singapore because it’s a smaller, more compact city than Bangkok or KL. Instead of spending hours in traffic getting across the city, you’ll be able to explore some things on foot, and take public transit or Grab (the ‘Uber’ of Southeast Asia) when the heat becomes too much or the walking distance is too far.

There’s plenty to see in Singapore, but not so much that it feels unachievable to see highlights in only a few days.

When to Visit Singapore & Bali

With Singapore’s proximity to the equator, you can expect it to be hot and humid year-round. Think 80-90 degrees during the day with humidity at +80-90%. My first time in Singapore, I drank a lot of water and took Grab often to help ensure I didn’t overheat.

Worth noting, Singapore experiences two monsoon seasons- from November – January, and June through September. I visited in March, as well as end of September, and had great weather on both of my visits.

In Bali, the dry season is from April through October. From May through July, it’s less hot and humid than other times of the year- you may even need a light jacket at night. I lived in Bali June, July and also September, October. By far, I preferred my time in June and July.

If trying to visit both Bali and Singapore, I’d time my trip for early-late spring- March, April or May. You may find better deals in Bali in March than further into the dry season, and don’t let the thought of rain put you off. From my experience, it rarely rained all day- normally, it’d downpour for a short period of time before clearing up for a few hours or the rest of the day.

What to Do with More Time On Your Holiday

If you’re able to extend your trip by a few days, I wouldn’t spend them in Singapore. Instead, I’d either try to visit another city (Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok) on your way out through booking one way flights each way, or see another part of Indonesia.

If you decide to see another part of Indonesia, a few days in the Gili Islands or Flores would be a fantastic way to see more of a beautiful country, and sneak in some pristine beach time.

Three tiny islands, off the coast of Lombok, the Gilis are postcard paradise- turquoise water, white sand, swaying hammocks, leafy palms. Each island, with their own individual beauty and charm, the Gilis have become an incredibly popular destination. With the ferry from Bali only taking a few hours each way, and the Gilis being small in size, you could easily travel over to see them with three extra days.

If you’ve got three-four days, consider flying to Flores. Located on the island of Flores, Labuan Bajo was once a remote fishing town. It’s rapidly becoming a popular tourist destination, and with good reason. Home to breathtaking Komodo National Park, ace diving and some of the most awe-inspiring scenery I’ve ever seen, Flores is captivating.

How to Get Around Singapore & Bali

SINGAPORE

From the airport, you can take public transit, a taxi, shuttle or Grab. Usually, I opt for Grab for speed and ease. Getting around the city itself, I tend to mix ride shares (Grab), taking the bus or MRT, or walking.

Singapore’s subway system (MRT) is extensive, efficient and inexpensive. You can buy single ride tickets, a tourist pass or pay per ride by contactless card transaction. Similarly, the buses are a great option with an extensive network. Fares are calculated by distance, and, you can pay the same ways as you would on the MRT.

BALI

In Canggu and Ubud, you can walk some places (pending where you’re staying and going). It’s easier to do this in Ubud, there are sidewalks in town. In Canggu, the roads are narrow, but stay to the side and you’ll be fine- I did this for a week when I first moved to Bali.

Ride share apps are banned or very limited in most places on the island. No one uses Uber. Grab, similar to Uber, has car and bike options, but isn’t favourable among locals so I’d stay away from it. Go-Jek, motorbike sharing, is likely your best bet. In Canggu, I used it a few times- they often take +10-20 minutes to arrive, and there usually aren’t a ton available in the app. Always have a back-up plan for getting back if you’re taking Go-Jek.

Bluebird is the main taxi company recommended for tourists. Download the app to avoid haggling over price.

For day trips and flying into the island, hire a local driver and arrange your transport ahead of time. For arrival, wherever you’re staying will usually offer to help arrange a driver that’ll meet you at baggage.

If you need help finding a driver for day trips, ask your hotel/hostel/Airbnb host if they have a recommendation- people always ‘know someone’. You could also try Google, travel blogs and Facebook Groups.

If you’ve ridden a scooter before- then, renting one may be a good option for you. I learned how to ride in Bali on backroads and with someone who has been riding for 15+ years. I wouldn’t recommend doing so for a short stay holiday if you’ve never tried it before. Rules of the road are drastically different to what you’ll be used to in Western countries, with the main rule being there are no rules. I wouldn’t risk it on a short stay holiday- most insurance companies will cover medical, but not crash damage.

Sample 10 Day Itinerary for Singapore & Bali

Day 1: Arrive in Singapore; Explore
Day 2: Explore Singapore
Day 3: Fly to Bali early morning; Arrive in Canggu
Day 4: Canggu
Day 5: Drive to Ubud in the morning/early afternoon; Explore Ubud
Day 6: Ubud
Day 7: Day trip from Ubud
Day 8: Ubud
Day 9: Day trip from Ubud
Day 10: Return to Singapore, continue onwards home

Will you be doing a lot while on vacation? Yes.
Flying across the world to see as much as possible in Singapore and Bali doesn’t exactly cue ultimate relaxation. But, there will be pockets of serenity- hello, massages, yoga, beachside sunsets.

You could certainly hang out and relax in Canggu or Ubud the entire time, but then, you don’t really see or experience what makes Bali Bali.

Key Things to Know About Visiting Singapore & Bali

If you’re able, bring an unlocked phone. You’ll find wifi most upmarket places in both places (cafes, hotels, hostels, restaurants), but the benefits to having wifi to call a Grab, check currency conversions or language translations, or even look up directions or opening hours for something are endless. You can easily pick up SIMs at airports in each country, but be sure to ‘shop around’ in Singapore- often, tourism deals are combined with wifi offerings, which makes some a better deal than others.

Wifi wise, infrastructure varies widely in Bali at Airbnbs, hotel and cafes. And, drops in service are common. If you only need WiFi for social networks, whatever you find at a hotel or cafe should be fine. Most places will give you their WiFi password if you’re staying to order something. In Singapore, hotel/hostel wifi speeds are fairly fast, malls usually have networks you can use while exploring, and upmarket eateries will have wifi as well.

Download a few apps to help make your travel plans and time in each country easier.

Research how to say basic greetings in the primary language of each country you’ll visit, as well as key cultural customs to know. While many people you’ll encounter in Singapore and Bali will speak at least transactional English, don’t expect everyone to. Google Translate is my go-to when I need help communicating.

Consult with your GP on vaccines you may need before your trip– vaccines are a matter of personal preference, but if you’re pro-vaccine and only staying in Ubud and Canggu, then you’ll likely be fine with a typhoid shot (assuming your other jabs are up to date).

Bring hand sanitizer and tissues. Sometimes, there won’t be toilet paper in public bathrooms (cue the tissues). And, in public bathrooms and cities, I find having hand sanitizer critical. Especially if eating street food while wandering.

Make sure you understand the rules of renting a motorbike, as well as the potential risks before doing so.

Always carry local currency. Many places, unless they’re upmarket, are cash only. And, even if they do accept card- there’s likely a minimum spend. No need to exchange at an airport- just withdraw from an ATM, I use global digital banking cards like Revoult to minimize foreign transaction fees.

You run a higher risk of gastro issues anywhere in Asia, Africa or South and Central America than say, western Europe or the US. I rarely had issues while in Singapore and Bali, but used filtered water to brush my teeth and for drinking. I also usually only ate at restaurants or warungs that came recommended vs. a food stall on the side of the road to lessen my risk of food-borne illness. No need to worry though- Singapore has great hospitals, and Bali’s medical infrastructure has significantly improved in the past few years. There are private and public clinics all over Bali, plus plenty of pharmacies, where it’s easy to get OTC and RX drugs to help with ailments.

Final notes:
Get travel insurance before your trip.
Take the same precautions you would anywhere else.
Don’t get incoherently and offensively drunk- alcohol is heavily taxed in Bali, specifically.
Absolutely do not do drugs- drug laws are very strict. The death penalty is still used to prosecute drug traffickers.
Only smoke in smoking zones.
And, specific to Singapore, don’t chew gum or smoke in public spaces.

What to Pack for Visiting Singapore and Bali

This is the full list of everything I packed to backpack the world through different climates for a year- all of which, fit into a 55L Osprey backpack.

Packing wise, what you bring depends on what you’re going to be doing, but a few recommendations to start-

  • Clothes/shoes for warm, humid weather, but also a light jacket for cool nights
  • Waterproof jacket if visiting during the rainy season
  • Medicine (anti-histamines, anti-itch cream, imodium)
  • Reef-safe sunscreen & aloe vera
  • Mosquito spray (Dengue fever is common in Bali)
  • Dry bag
  • Waterproof phone case
  • International charger (you’ll need a Europe plug)
  • First aid kit (there are pharmacies in Bali, but I always carry a few band-aids, anti-bacterial wipes, etc. on me)
  • Day pack for day trips (I’d bring a cross body or backpack that can be locked- personal preference as shoulder bags are easy to snatch. Theft isn’t as common here as other parts of Asia, like Vietnam, but still)
  • VPN – Indonesia has substantial Internet censorship. I use VPN Express’ monthly subscription, and would recommend it for Reddit, Netflix, etc.

Temples in Bali will require you wear a sarong, but most have ones you can use free or borrow for a small donation. They’re quite particular about what your sarong looks like/how it fits, so I’d just use the ones they offer vs. buying and bringing your own.

Top Things to Do in Each Destination

SINGAPORE

Singapore may be a tiny country, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in things to see, drink and eat. A clean, futuristic, cultural city, Singapore is always somewhere I’m happy to layover for a few days.

Can’t miss sights and places with one-two days in Singapore:

  • Check out the airport on arrival or departure. Singapore’s airport is one of the best in the world, and if you’ve got a short layover, it’s well worth exploring. My favourite bit? The Jewel in T1, it’s a gorgeous free-fall waterfall, surrounded by lush vegetation. Overnight layover? There are a few hotel options in Singapore’s airport, including the small, but cozy rooms at Yotel.
  • Wander the beautiful and futuristic Gardens by the Bay. Ever since I first saw a photo of the futuristic Supertree Grove, I knew I needed to make it there someday. Gardens by the Bay is worth visiting not just because it’s ‘v insta’, but because of its mission to educate on the effects of climate change, and take steps towards conservation. The Supertree Grove is free to visit- I arrived by 7:30 am because I wanted to wander the grove without dozens of other visitors, and before the day got too hot. The trees are covered with more than 200 species of orchids, ferns and tropical flowers.
    • While you’re here, don’t miss visiting the Cloud Tree Forest. Admission to visit the conservatories in the botanical gardens is steep- but I’m happy to contribute to a cause like the one Gardens supports. Being the first person they let in meant I had the forest to myself for a few minutes. Standing by myself below the thundering waterfalls was incredible. For the next hour, I wandered the layers of the forest, taking my time so I was still in the forest at 10 am when the morning misting was scheduled.
  • Eat at a hawker centre. Great for cheap, street eats. In Singapore, these centres are the best way to try a variety of Asian foods. My move? Go during lunch or dinner, and scope out the stalls with the longest queues. Locals always know best.
  • Enjoy Kaya Toast, a Singaporean breakfast delicacy. My favourite places for brekkie in Sing are Ya Kun Kaya Toast, which has been around for over 75 years, and Toast Box. At Ya Kun, order toast the traditional way- with butter and cinnamon. And, at Toast Box, don’t miss having it with Kaya, a very sweet coconut jam. If you’re looking for something more off-beat, check out Coffee Box-t hey’ve got a few different flavours on the menu, including a creamy, delicious taro toast option.
  • Try cheese tea. Really, it’s fruit or regular tea with a cheese foam topping. Big fan of strawberry and melon cheese teas at Hey Tea and Partea.
  • Roam Little India. I loved exploring the streets of Little India- so much to see, smell and experience. The offerings, in particular, caught me off guard with their beauty. The colours and the patterns- just incredible. I’d heard Tekka was one of the best hawker centres in Singapore- I only came for a snack, but was practically drooling over how great everything looked.
  • Explore Chinatown, where Chinese, Buddhist and Hindu cultures mix. Wandering Chinatown for a bit, soaking up some seriously cool street art, is a fun way to pass an hour or two while in Singapore. If you’re in Chinatown at night, check out the walking street night market- tons of restaurants and stalls along the sides, a good way to try new things, cheaply. Chinatown’s also home to two of Singapore’s best hawker centres- Maxwell Centre (+100 stalls, mostly Chinese dishes) and Chinatown Complex Food Centre (+260 stalls, Singapore’s largest hawker centre).
  • Watch the sun set from atop Marina Bay Sands. Head to the Ce La Vi rooftop bar, adjacent to the famed pool for stunning views with a cocktail in hand.
  • Catch the evening light show at Marina Bay Sands and/or Gardens by the Bay. The Spectra show at Marina Bay Sands (MBS) is a great welcome to Singapore. The show is beautiful- lasers whipping through the night sky, shimmering lights, and a beautiful symphony as the backdrop. Best yet? Flexible timings- there are 8 and 9 pm shows daily. Next to MBS, Gardens by the Bay also runs two nightly shows. It’s possible to see both, but you’ll have to do Gardens first, then walk over to MBS to wait for their next one.
  • Have dinner in Kampong Glam, a colorful, lively neighborhood. Here, you’ll experience Malay and Arab cultures intersecting. Be sure to stroll Haji Lane, a narrow street filled with trendy bars, cool cafes and boutiques.
  • [If you have time] Admire the historic, colorful homes along Koon Seng Road. When I envisioned Singapore, I thought of skyscrapers. Koon Seng Road with its pretty pastel homes couldn’t have been farther from that image. Decades ago, the area was inhabited by the first Chinese immigrants to come to Singapore from Malaysia. Koon Seng Road gets its name from Cheong Koon Seng, one of the first thirteen students at Singapore’s Anglo-Chinese school. Built in the 1920s, some of the houses are still inhabited by the original families. The homes on Koon Seng are stunning- the colors and details are incredible.
  • [If you have time] Let yourself be awed at the ArtScience Museum. I’ll admit I visited this museum because of the glittering room I’d seen on Instagram. Per ArtScience’s website, the museum is a world of art, science, magic and metaphor through a collection of cutting-edge digital installations.Translation: Very cool exhibits that are fun to interact with (especially great for children), and in strong air-con.

CANGGU

It’s not hard to understand Canggu’s appeal with its laid back, surfer vibes and plethora of hipster, healthy cafes. And, with proximity to sister ‘hood, Seminyak, it’s easy to chill out in Canggu, and head to Seminyak for pool parties and trendy eateries whenever you fancy.

Be forewarned: There isn’t much to ‘do’ in Canggu, per se.

Unlike Munduk, Ubud or Sideman, where you’ll have an array of temples, waterfalls, rice fields, and the like to visit, Canggu was where I went when I needed to meet with clients (lots of digital nomads live in Canggu), and wanted to work from trendy cafes for a few days.

Should you visit Canggu while in Bali?

Sure, but I’d only go for a few days. It’s a great place to tack onto the beginning of a trip because it’s an easy place to just hang out and relax. If you’ve got a long journey to Bali, a day or two relaxing with hip, delicious eateries, great spas, cool shopping, buzzing beach clubs, and tons of workout options seems like an excellent welcome.

Can’t miss sights and places with two days in Canggu

  • Have breakfast overlooking a rice field. Canggu may not have the lush jungle vibes Ubud has going for it, but there’s something to be said for the serenity that comes with morning coffee or breakfast overlooking a rice field and the rising sun.
    • Two of my favourite spots (go early for ultimate peace & quiet): Crate and Shady Shack.
  • Sip on strong, but delicious Indonesian beans and some of the best brew blends from around the world. Just about every cafe has artisanal coffee drinks on their menu, which is no surprise, as most of them are Aussie owned or influenced.
  • Get your vacation glow on at one of Canggu’s beautiful spas. I loved going to spas in Bali so much I budgeted to get a massage weekly. One of my favourite parts about Canggu? Seemingly endless spa choice. My two favourite spots, which I returned to time after time: Chillax (good for affordable, well done massages) and Golddust (fancier than Chillax, ace for beauty treatments).
  • Hang at an impossible cool beach club. Admittedly, this isn’t my scene but if you’re visiting Canggu (or Seminyak), it’s likely you’re there, in part, for the party scene. No need to wait until the evening to get the fun times going- the coast of both areas is packed with fun beach clubs, perfect for daytime lounging.
    • Some of the best day clubs to hit-up: Mrs. Sippy, Potato Head Beach Club, Finns, and La Plancha Beach Bar.
  • Treat yourself to healthy, hip eats. Generally speaking, the food you’ll find in Canggu (and Seminyak) is more Western and trendy than anywhere else in Bali. Ubud has its share of this, but it’s less over-the-top. Love it or hate it, you can’t deny it’s delicious.
    • Top recommendations: Peloton Supershop, Crate, Shady Shack, Cinta, Green Ginger Noodle House, Warung Bu Mi, Give, Nalu Bowls, Sprout
  • Watch the sun set, beachside. My favourite place to do this? Berawa Beach. At sunset, you’ll see tons of families, people, and kids- locals and visitors- roaming the sand, surfers coming in from the waves, and the street dogs of Bali splashing in the ocean. Enjoy the sunset with a cold coconut from one of the small vendors you’ll encounter up and down the beach.

UBUD

When you think of Bali, chances are you envision gorgeous temples, sweeping rice terraces, thundering waterfalls, fresh smoothie bowls, swinging monkeys, dramatic cliff vistas, yogis twisting into different shapes, or streams of incense floating in the air.

Ubud is a spiritual haven.
Think: lush jungle, rice paddies, temples, monkeys, and still, a strong sense of Balinese culture.

After living there for months, I could wax poetic about Ubud for ages, but the most important thing I can say is likely this- visit, but go off the beaten path. Don’t try to cram Ubud into one or two days, you’ll miss its magic if you do.

Can’t miss sights and places with five days in Ubud

  • Spend a morning waterfall hopping
  • Watch the sunrise at the rice terraces, then head to two sacred temples, Tirta Empul Temple and Pura Gunung Kawi
  • Relax with a crystal sound bath or yin yoga class at Yoga Barn
  • Indulge in a flower bath. Much like massages in Ubud, there are plenty of options for these delightful baths- huge fan of Kaveri Spa at Udaya and Karsa Spa
  • Unwind with a Balinese massage. Zen Spa is my favourite place in Ubud, but there are plenty of options for all budgets
  • Wander downtown Ubud, strolling the art market, popping into the Water Palace, and wandering all of the side streets
  • Chill out at an infinity pool, if your hotel doesn’t have one, some resorts like Jungle Fish offer day passes for $25 USD
  • Jet to the islands off Bali’s coast, and explore the breathtaking Nusa Penida on a day trip. It doesn’t take long from stepping off a speedboat in the island’s harbour to feel like you’re in another world. The crystal clear water, ocean views that seem to stretch for infinity, and sweeping cliffs topped with swaying palm trees are guaranteed to leave you nothing short of breathless
  • Spend a magic day in the Mountains of Munduk. On a day trip to Munduk, you can expect hiking waterfalls, trekking rice fields, tasting coffee and local fruits, admiring temples and gazing at stunning vistas
  • Savor all the healthy eats at Kafe, Bali Buda, Warung Biah Biah, Zest, White Ginger Warung, Sayuri, Lazy Cats Cafe, or Milk & Madu
  • Cool off with an iced coffee at Gangga Coffee, Monkey Cave Espresso, Senimen Coffee Studio, or Expat Roasters

You’ll find tons of tips from what to wear, to things to know about places I’ve recommended in my ultimate guide to Ubud. In my guide, I’ve also included a few more suggestions for what to do, but if you’re limited on time, the above^^ are my top recos.

Many of the things I’ve listed can be done in the same day- for instance, waterfall hopping or visiting temples in the morning, crystal sound bath in the afternoon, and flower bath early evening. If I only had five days to spend in Ubud, I’d likely do two day trips, and spend the remaining ~2-3 days seeing Ubud.

Posts I’ve written about Ubud: Chasing Waterfalls Near Ubud, Bali // Every Cafe You Must Visit in Ubud // The Best Places to Workout & Zen Out in Bali // 5 Spas in Bali I Loved Enough to Return Time after Time // The Ultimate Guide to Jungle Paradise in Ubud // The Ultimate Bali Planning Guide

Other Posts You May Enjoy

The Ultimate 3 Month Guide to Experiencing Southeast Asia

Say the words, ‘Southeast Asia‘ and you’ll draw mental imagery of long-tail boats, white sand beaches, lazy rivers and rolling mountains, gorgeous temples, flaming street food, scooters on every corner, thundering waterfalls, lush rainforests, and ruins of civilisations past.

It’s a part of the world that can overwhelm first time visitors with how much there is to see and experience. The warm weather, wealth of attractions, natural beauty, and the captivating culture of each country makes it (as a region) the perfect holiday destination.

During my nine months bouncing around Southeast (SE) Asia in 2019, I visited Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, The Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore. On my trip, I had the luxury of time, largely because I worked remotely, which allowed me to travel for months on end, while balancing adventuring with digital consulting and teaching English.

This post is a build upon a two week, ‘see and do as much as possible’ itinerary I created for first time visits to Southeast Asia. Much of the advice here will be the same, with location and travel advice expanded.

Where to Start With Planning

There are guidebooks galore, but to keep my travel load light, I favor Instagram (bookmark posts; save them to folders), Pinterest, and online travel resources when it comes to trip planning.

Typically, before any trip, I start a Google sheet, where I track details about a place, things I want to do, reservations, logistics (hotel/hostel info, flight details, arranged transportation, booked tours, etc.). Having everything in one place makes it simple to access or add to on the go via my phone, as well as easy to share with family and friends so they know what I’m up to.

Before I left for my trip to SE Asia, I looked up key bits about every country I wanted to visit to help me roughly outline where I wanted to go, and how long I may want to spend in each place. I’ve provided a sample itinerary below, but there’s so much to do in every country, your own research will help you figure out which places are the most interesting to you.

If you’re feeling stressed about planning so much in advance, don’t. Plan the first few weeks, and then look things up as you go. Chances are, you’ll befriend other travellers, and they always have the best advice.

While there are things that make every part of SE Asia special, don’t feel pressured to see and do everything. Take your time when you need it, rest along the way, appreciate the journey above anything else.

Essential bits to make sure you look up and have taken care of before leaving: 

  • International driver’s license (if you plan on renting a motorbike)
  • Understanding of which countries you need a visa to enter (based on your passport)
  • Extra copies of your passport photo for visas^^ (I brought six to have extras, just in case)
  • Copies of your credit cards/bank cards/passport (digital and one printed version)
  • Travel insurance (while I travelled SE Asia, I was insured through World Nomads, and then Safety Wing)
  • 1-2x digital bank cards (in addition to a debit card and credit card – easier to replace; less risk in having your funds hacked)
  • Travel vaccinations (consult with your GP before leaving)

How Much to Save for Backpacking SE Asia

When I ventured around SE Asia, I worked as a digital consultant and English teacher, but was between ‘9-5 jobs’. However, because I had steady cash flow on the road, I often paid a bit more to stay at places with stable, high speed wifi and was able to treat myself to splurges at nice hotels, as well as experiences that I may not have been able to afford if backpacking on a slim budget in my early 20s.

If your budget is limited, you’ll likely want to travel much slower to get the most out of each destination.

In terms of actual budget, range can vary significantly. I know people who’ve travelled on less than $2,000 for three months, and others who spent +$2,000 a month. I tracked my expenses with Trail Wallet to help me understand how much I was spending in different places. Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia and Thailand were notably cheaper to travel than Singapore and Indonesia (specifically, Bali).

Key Expenses to Account For In Your Budget ($, USD): 

  • Flights/buses/trains to get to/from Southeast Asia, as well as around: Buses are usually under $10 for 5-6 hour rides, and flights are often $20-50 for domestic travel, and +$30 for international (cost varies widely internationally, depending on the distance travelled, but is still far less than you’d pay for a flight in the US)
  • Baggage fees: You pay by weight, not necessarily number of bags. I usually ended up paying $6-12 per flight for 15-20 kg of baggage. Book before you’re at the airport for the best rates
  • Visa entrance fees: Usually between $30-50 when required. As an American, I paid visa fees to enter Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Everywhere else I visited was free to enter on a short stay (sans Indonesia, which I paid for because of the length of time I stayed)
  • Accommodation: Shared hostel rooms may be found for as low as $3-5 or under $20, it varies widely depending on where you are. As a general rule of thumb, islands will always cost more than cities and there’ll be less availability, so it’s usually better to book in advance than elsewhere if your dates aren’t flexible and you care about quality of stay. I stayed in private hostel rooms or my own Airbnb (with decent internet), to have privacy to work, and averaged $15-50 per night. A few times, I treated myself to nice hotel stays in Bangkok and Bali for $100-130 per night
  • Tours: Depends on the length and country. A 3-4 hour food tour in Hanoi was under $15, whereas twice, I spent $60-80 on day trips in Indonesia with custom itineraries and private transportation
  • Food: Again, this’ll vary widely. I’m partial to upmarket cafes for great coffee and ‘get work done’ vibes, but also love street food, both for its flavour and cost efficiency. A mix of both is usually how I like to see and experience a place. Either way, as long as you’re not eating every meal out at upscale places, this is the budget area where you can likely flex the most – easy to scale up or down, depending on your needs
    • To give you a sense of how far your money can go, while in Indonesia and staying in trendy Canggu, I put myself on a $15-20 per day food budget, which often covered 1-2 nice coffees, a smoothie bowl, plus vegetarian lunch and dinners at nice cafes. I could have definitely done Canggu on less, but loved the abundance of fresh, healthy eats and treated myself daily

More than any specific budget guidance I can provide here, where you go, how you travel and how long you travel will depend how much money you need. And, if your travel timings are more flexible, consider working from the road. Teaching English is a great way to earn a bit of cash on your own schedule with little experience (aside from a college degree) needed.

If you really need to cut costs, look up walking tours and other free activities, eat street food, stay in hostels, do your own laundry. There are tons of ways to save on the road.

When to Visit SE Asia

Do your research before booking. SE Asia is composed of islands, mountains, countryside and buzzing cities- each country experiences different weather throughout the year.

I started travelling Southeast Asia in mid-March, which meant I had ideal weather conditions in many of my destinations. There were a few missteps, such as visiting Cambodia at the end of their dry season when it was unbearably warm, and visiting Ho Chi Minh City at the start of their rainy season, but overall, I planned things well.

If you’re curious about how I timed things, see below. But, note, my trip evolved a lot as I went, and if I planned it again from the beginning, I’d follow more of a ‘route’, rather than doubling back through some places.

March: Singapore; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Thailand
April: Cambodia; Laos; Vietnam
May: Vietnam; Penang, Malaysia; (& South Korea and Taiwan)
June: Indonesia
July: Indonesia
[August: Australia & New Zealand] 
September: Singapore; Indonesia
October: Indonesia
November: Malaysia; Myanmar

When your’e planning your trip, also consider holidays. Visiting Thailand and Laos during Songkran and the New Year was intentional, but also a water filled couple of days. I loved it, but being doused in water all day may not be for everyone.

How to Get Around Southeast Asia

If you want to see as much as possible in the time you have and have the budget for it, fly. An abundance of air carriers, like Air Asia, make doing so easy peasy. You’ll find flights usually aren’t that expensive, but if you’re on a budget, overland travel (trains, buses) may be more your style. Plan on ferrying between islands in Thailand, and flying between the Andaman and Gulf sides.

Not sure about the best route to take, per the time you have and available budget? Google your question. Loads of travellers have come before you, take their advice.

Once you reach a place, grab a taxi to your hotel/hostel if you’re trying to save time, or look into public transit options. In some places, like Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, there’ll be plenty of public transit options available.

Things You Must Pack

First and foremast, pack light. When you’re on the move,  you don’t want to cart around a ton of baggage. Plan on doing laundry once a week, and leave room for things you want to bring home. Even if you’re not a souvenir person, as I’m not, you may find yourself excited to bring things like coffee from Thailand or custom tailored clothes from Vietnam back with you.

If you’re struggling to pare down clothes, keep in mind you’ll find international chains, like H&M, in big cities (Bangkok, Singapore, Hanoi), in addition to boutiques and local market stalls just about everywhere, so it’s simple to pick up items while travelling.

This is the full list of everything I packed to backpack the world through different climates for a year- all of which, fit into a 55L Osprey backpack.

5 ‘Can’t Forget’ to Pack Items:

  • Sunscreen / aloe vera
  • Mosquito spray
  • Luggage locks
  • Global charger
  • Light, breezy casual clothing, and a scarf or sarong to cover legs or shoulders at temples

Ladies, consider wearing sports bras only. Seriously, it’s so hot and humid, I can’t even imagine wearing a normal bra. Low impact sports bras are where it’s at- the last thing you want are things chafing and sticking.

While we’re talking about sports bras, women, you’ll need to cover your legs past your knees, and shoulders/upper arms when entering temples. I usually wore a midi / maxi dress or trousers and brought a scarf to ensure I was covered on top. If you forget, many temples let you rent items for a small fee. Always check a temple’s rules before visiting- if they don’t have a website, try TripAdvisor for tips from others who have visited.

And, always carry local currency. Most places, unless they’re upmarket, are cash only. And, even if they do accept card- there’s likely a minimum spend. No need to exchange at an airport- just withdraw from an ATM, I use global digital banking cards like Revoult so there are no foreign transaction fees.

One last thing to keep in mind when it comes to packing- if you’re on the move a lot, you’ll spend a decent amount of time in airports- don’t spend even more time in them by checking luggage or waiting for it to arrive. Carrying on translates to ease of travel throughout your trip.

Key Advice to Know Before You Leave for Your Trip

Before you travel, research whether you’ll need visas to enter each country you intend to enter. Of the ones I’ve listed here, visas are required for American travellers visiting both Cambodia and Vietnam- others are visa exempt for short stays.

If you’re able, bring an unlocked phone. You’ll find wifi at most upmarket places (cafes, hotels, hostels, restaurants), but the benefits to having service to call a tuk tuk or taxi, check currency conversions or language translations, or even look up directions or opening hours for something are endless. If you’re only in each country for a few days, pick up a SIM at the airport when you land- you’ll be surprised by how affordable they are.

Download a few apps to help make your travel plans and time in each country easier.

Research how to say basic greetings in the primary language of each country you’ll visit, as well as key cultural customs to know. While many people you’ll encounter will speak at least transactional English, don’t expect everyone to. Google Translate is my go-to when I need help communicating.

// 21 Things I Wish I Knew Before Travelling to Thailand //

Don’t do anything in a temple you wouldn’t do in a church (or other place of worship). Temples are a place of worship. Be respectful with photography or video and in observing anyone who is worshipping.

If taking a taxi, insist the metre be turned on ahead of getting in.

Bring hand sanitizer and tissues. Sometimes, there won’t be toilet paper in public bathrooms (cue the tissues). And, in public bathrooms and cities, I find having hand sanitizer critical. Especially if eating street food while wandering.

Whether you’re coming from the United States or not, withdraw $50-100 USD. You never know when having USD will come in handy- especially in places like Cambodia which use USD flexibly alongside their own currency, and where you’ll want it to cover visa fees. I also like to keep a few small bills ($5, $10) handy in a second wallet in case I ever run into ‘trouble’ and need a ‘bribe’.

Make sure you understand the rules of renting a motorbike, as well as the potential risks before doing so. And, if you need it, be sure to arrange an international license before you travel.

Places You Can’t Miss: A Sample, Jam Packed Itinerary

If you’re backpacking SE Asia on a set timeframe, it’s likely because you’re travelling only for the amount of money you’ve saved, or you’ve taken a sabbatical from work and/or are taking a break to travel in between jobs.

Whatever the reason to travel, I’d recommend planning to spend time in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Indonesia.

I’ve left off the Philippines, as the islands are notably more expensive than other places in SE Asia, and the transit infrastructure isn’t as developed as other places (e.g. Thai islands), so it can take a bit longer to get from island to island.

It was also a conscious decision to leave Myanmar off this itinerary, given ongoing political distress (read: a military coup and genocide) occurring in the country. You’ll also notice Timor-Lester and Brunei aren’t on this SE Asia itinerary, both because they can be more expensive to travel to, and because I haven’t been to either.

I’m providing an outline of roughly how much time to spend in each country, and key stops to make, but also would only plan the first couple of weeks if you’re starting off on a longer trip to SE Asia.

I traveled the region for over nine months, and I planned the first six weeks too much and regretted not having more flexibility to spend another day or two in places that really appealed to me. For the rest of my trip, I didn’t book exit flights/plans until I was in a destination and understood just how much time I wanted to spend there. That decision led to some beautiful, unplanned adventures to places I never imagined I’d visit on my trip as a result of flight deals (Taiwan, South Korea, Sri Lanka, India).

While it’s good to have a general plan, and do a bit of research for each place before you your trip starts, don’t over-pace yourself or over plan. You’ll meet people along the way and will appreciate having the flexibility to switch things up at leisure.

The below day allotments are only recommendations, flex up or down based on what appeals to you in each place, and how your trip goes as you’re on it. Generally, the below route follows an upward and over progression, but you could switch it up based on flight deals, or any other factor.

In some places, like Luang Prabang, I’ve suggested a few more days than you ‘need’ to see the key sights because, some spots are magical places to slow down and chill out.

Singapore: Start your trip here– 4 days (+1-2 days more than you ‘need’ to account for jet lag)
Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Langkawi – 10 days
Thailand: Andaman Islands, Gulf Islands, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Bangkok- 23 days
Cambodia: Siem Reap, Phnom Penh- 6 days (more if you’re heading to the islands, e.g. Koh Rong or Koh Rong Sanloem)
Laos: Luang Prabang- 5 days
Vietnam: Hanoi, Sa Pa, Ha Long Bay, Hoi An, Ho Chi Minh City- 26 days
Indonesia: Bali, Flores, Gili Islands- 19 days

The Best Things to Do in Each Destination

SINGAPORE:
10 Things You Must See, Do & Eat in Singapore
The Caffeine Lovers Guide to Singapore
A Whirlwind Day in Singapore

MALAYSIA:
Everything You Must See & Do in Penang, Malaysia
8 Cafes You Can’t Miss in Penang, Malaysia
The Best Street Art in SE Asia, Found in Penang
Three Places to Find Excellent Coffee in Kuala Lumpar
Off the Tourist Track: Visiting the Federal Territory Mosque in Kuala Lumpar
5 Things You Must Do in Kuala Lumpar

THAILAND:
Two Weeks to Travel the Best of Thailand
Finding Serenity in Bangkok, A Review of the Banyan Tree Hotel
Living Luxuriously in Bangkok: Five Star Hotels On a Budget
21 Things to Know Before Traveling to Thailand
Finding Floating Markets in Thailand
Three Temples You Can’t Miss in Bangkok
Four Cafes in Bangkok Worth Your Baht
Chiang Rai, Thailand: A Sleepy Mountain Town with Stunning Scenery
Three Temples You Can’t Miss in Chiang Rai, Thailand
The Best Cafes in Chiang Rai
Visiting an Ethical Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand
Why You Should Try a Gong Bath in Thailand
Getting on Island Time: 48 Hours in Koh Tao
The Best Places to Watch the Sun Set in Koh Tao, Thailand
Affordable Island Luxury at the Charming Fox in Koh Samui
Discovering Pristine Island Paradise on Koh Nang Yuan
Cafes You Can’t Miss in Chiang Mai
Three Temples You Must Visit in Chiang Mai, Thailand
The Best Places to Eat in Chiang Mai for Vegetarians
The Ultimate Guide to 3 Days in Chiang Mai
Dramatic Limestone Cliffs + Lush Jungle in Railay, Thailand
A Thai Island Day Trip That’ll Leave You Speechless: Hong Island
Relaxing in the Maldives of Thailand, Koh Lipe
The Most Beautiful Day Tour in the Thai Islands: Snorkelling, Caving & Idyllic Beaches
3 Reasons Koh Lanta is My Favourite Thai Island
The Case for Visiting Thailand’s Phi Phi Islands
A Ranking of the Thai Islands: ‘Must Visit’ to ‘Okay to Skip’
The Complete Guide to Ferrying Between the Thai Islands
Celebrating the Water Festival, Songkran, in Bangkok
4 Places I Still Want to Visit in Thailand

CAMBODIA:
A Two Day Guide to Seeing the Best of Angkor Wat
Four Cute Cafes in Siem Reap You Can’t Miss
Four Things to Do Your First Time in Siem Reap
A  Magical Sunrise in SE Asia: Angkor Wat at Dawn

LAOS:
How Luang Prabang in Laos Stole My Heart in 3 Days
Cruising the Mekong River at Sunset
Three Beautiful, Chill Cafes You Can’t Miss in Luang Prabang
Observing an Ancient Ritual in Luang Prabang, Almsgiving
The Most Beautiful Waterfall I’ve Ever Seen, Kuang Si Falls in Laos

VIETNAM:
Two Weeks to Travel the Best of Vietnam
A Love Letter to Vietnam
Discovering Coffee Mania in Sai Gon
The Ultimate Guide to Sai Gon, Vietnam
The Only Tour You Need to Take in Sai Gon: A Motorbike Street Food Tour
Every Kind of Coffee You Must Try in Vietnam
The Best Vegetarian Banh Mi I Ate in Vietnam
How Da Nang Stole my Heart and Became One of my Favourite Places in SE Asia
Slowing Down in Hoi An: Why I Loved Fell For This Historic Slice of Vietnam
A Guide to Getting Clothes Custom Made in Hoi An, Vietnam
Charming Cafes to Visit in Hoi An, Vietnam
A Night Cruising Vietnam’s Stunning Ha Long Bay
Why You Should Consider Visiting Sa Pa in Vietnam
The Ultimate Guide to Hanoi: Must Do’s & Can’t Misses
Pho Cocktails? Where to Find this Unique Drink in Vietnam
Eating Hanoi, Vegetarian Street Food Style
A Coffee Lover’s Guide to Hanoi

INDONESIA:
Why You Need to Visit the Gili Islands on your Bali Holiday
The Ultimate Guide to 3 Days in the Gili Islands
The Ultimate Guide to 72 Hours in Labuan Bajo, Flores
The Best Day Trip to Take in Indonesia
The Ultimate Bali Planning Guide
The Ultimate Guide to Jungle Paradise in Ubud
Every Cafe You Must Visit in Ubud
Chasing Waterfalls Near Ubud
10 Things You Can’t Miss in Canggu, Bali
15 Cafes in Canggu for Your Smoothie Bowl & Latte Fix
5 Spas in Bali I Loved Enough to Return to Time After Time
5 Sights in East Bali That’ll Take Your Breath Away
The Best Places to Workout & Zen Out in Bali
A Magic Day in the Mountains of Munduk
The Best of Uluwatu in One Day
A Night at Munduk Moding: An Eco-Luxe Hotel With One of Bali’s Best Infinity Pools
Going Off the Beaten Path in Bali, Finding Serenity in Seririt
Seeing the Best of Breathtaking Nusa Penida on a Day Trip from Bali
Three Luxury Hotels in Bali That’ll Take Your Breath Away

Have you ever travelled Southeast Asia? Where would you go on a long trip to explore the region? 

Other Posts You May Enjoy

An Unforgettable Two Weeks Exploring Southeast Asia

Say the words, ‘Southeast Asia‘ and you’ll draw mental imagery of long-tail boats, white sand beaches, lazy rivers, rolling mountains, gorgeous temples, flaming street food, scooters on every corner, thundering waterfalls, lush rainforests, and ruins of civilisations past.

It’s a part of the world that can overwhelm first time visitors with how much there is to see and experience. The warm weather, wealth of attractions, natural beauty, and the captivating culture of each country makes it (as a region) the perfect holiday destination.

During my nine months bouncing around Southeast (SE) Asia in 2019, I visited Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, The Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore. On my trip, I had the luxury of time, largely because I worked remotely, which allowed me to travel for months on end, while balancing adventuring with digital consulting and teaching English.

Although I had time, I also moved around a lot- keen to see and experience as much as possible. It was my first visit to this part of the world, but it won’t be the last. Since returning, I’ve had many ask about ‘two week itineraries’ for SE Asia. Even with the pandemic, many are looking forward to a time when they’ll be able to travel again.

Why two weeks?
Often, that’s the amount of time most can take off from corporate jobs without preparing for a longer period of leave, or using too many/all of their allocated vacation days. That said, the longer you have, the better. There’s so much to see and do in each country far beyond what’s represented here. For a first taste of Southeast Asia though, this guide is designed to maximize your experience.

Every place in Southeast Asia has something special to offer, no place is the same- even within a country, things vary significantly from north to south. I’ve included Thai islands, but not an entire week lounging at the beach. You’ll move around a lot, so if that’s not your preferred travel style, consider spending more time in a place. But, if you’re keen to see as much as possible, this guide may be right up your ally.

Where to Visit in Southeast Asia?

Narrowing down places to highlight was difficult. In some ways, this guide is controversial. Often, recommendations for first time visitors to SE Asia center in picking one country and exploring one or two places. While that’s a fine way to travel, I also tend to oscillate between trips where I see and do a lot, and others where I travel slow, spending more time in a single place.

If visiting SE Asia for the first time, I’d definitely want to experience as much as I could. There are 11 countries in SE Asia- Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Lester, and Vietnam.

If you’re short on time and out to see as much as possible, I’d recommend venturing to 4-5 of my favorite countries, and picking one place to see in each- Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

In Singapore, spend time seeing the city.
In Malaysia, soak up the sights of Kuala Lumpar.
In Thailand, go island hopping.
In Cambodia, visit the ancient ruins of civilizations past.
And in Vietnam, eat all the street food. Seriously, all of it.

Will you see and do a lot in a short span of time?
Absolutely.

Will it be a relaxing, rejuvenating vacation?
Perhaps not. But you’ll learn a lot, see a lot and experience a lot. Which, for me, always sparks joy in the moment and long after I’ve returned home.

I’ll also say this- if you’ve haven’t travelled much, this is not the itinerary for you. You may do better visiting one or two places vs. bouncing from spot to spot. But if you’ve travelled quite a bit, enjoy fast paced trips and aren’t bothered by repacking or being on the go, this adventure packed itinerary may be of interest to you.

When to Visit in Southeast Asia

Do your research before booking. SE Asia is composed of islands, mountains, countryside and buzzing cities- each country experiences different weather throughout the year.

I visited Singapore, the Andaman Islands in Thailand, Bangkok, Siem Reap and Hanoi in late March / early-mid April, and would recommend that as an optimal time to visit. Siem Reap will be at the end of the dry season, and it may be unbelievably hot, but it’s tolerable for a short period of time, and much better than visiting in the rainy season.

How to Get Around Southeast Asia

If you’re short on time, fly. An abundance of air carriers, like Air Asia, make doing so easy, peasy and affordable.

Once you reach a place, plan on taxing a Grab or taxi to your hotel/hostel, again, to save time (and stress of navigating a new place). And, depending on where you are, plan on either walking places or using ride sharing (Grab & Go Jek are the ‘Uber’ of SE Asia) to save time and allow you to see more with the time you have.

Must Bring Packing Essentials for Southeast Asia

First and foremast, pack light. When you’re on the move throughout your holiday, you don’t want to cart around a ton of baggage. Trust you’ll be able to either do your own laundry or send out at least once during your trip, and leave room for things you want to bring home. Even if you’re not a souvenir person, as I’m not, you may find yourself excited to bring things, like coffee from Vietnam back with you.

This is the full list of everything I packed to backpack the world through different climates for a year- all of which, fit into a 55L Osprey backpack. If you’re only spending two weeks in SE Asia, pack clothes you can mix and match.

5 Must Pack Items:

  • Sunscreen / aloe vera
  • Mosquito spray
  • Luggage locks
  • Global charger
  • Light, breezy casual clothing, and a scarf or sarong to cover legs or shoulders at temples

Ladies, consider wearing sports bras only. Seriously, it’s so hot and humid, I can’t even imagine wearing a normal bra. Low impact sports bras are where it’s at- the last thing you want are things chafing and sticking.

While we’re talking about sports bras, women, you’ll need to cover your legs past your knees, and shoulders/upper arms when entering temples. I usually wore a midi / maxi dress or trousers and brought a scarf to ensure I was covered on top. If you forget, many temples let you rent items for a small fee. Always check a temple’s rules before visiting- if they don’t have a website, try TripAdvisor for tips from others who have visited.

And, always carry local currency. Most places, unless they’re upmarket, are cash only. And, even if they do accept card- there’s likely a minimum spend. No need to exchange at an airport- just withdraw from an ATM, I use global digital banking cards like Revoult to minimize foreign transaction fees.

One last thing to keep in mind when it comes to packing- if you’re on the move a lot, you’ll spend a decent amount of time in airports- don’t spend even more time in them by needing to check luggage or wait for it to arrive. Carrying on equates to ease of travel throughout your trip.

Key Things to Know About Visiting Southeast Asia

Before you travel, research whether you’ll need visas to enter each country you intend to enter. Of the ones I’ve listed here, visas are required for American travellers visiting both Cambodia and Vietnam- others are visa exempt for short stays.

If you’re able, bring an unlocked phone. You’ll find wifi most upmarket places (cafes, hotels, hostels, restaurants), but the benefits to having wifi to call a tuk tuk or taxi, check currency conversions or language translations, or even look up directions or opening hours for something are endless. If you’re only in each country for a few days, pick up a SIM at the airport when you land- you’ll be surprised by how affordable all are.

Download a few apps to help make your travel plans and time in each country easier.

Research how to say basic greetings in the primary language of each country you’ll visit, as well as key cultural customs to know. While many people you’ll encounter will speak at least transactional English, don’t expect everyone to. Google Translate is my go-to when I need help communicating.

// 21 Things I Wish I Knew Before Travelling to Thailand //

Don’t do anything in a temple you wouldn’t do in a church (or other place of worship). Temples are a place of worship. Be respectful with photography or video and in observing anyone who is worshipping.

If taking a taxi, insist the metre be turned on ahead of getting in.

Bring hand sanitizer and tissues. Sometimes, there won’t be toilet paper in public bathrooms (cue the tissues). And, in public bathrooms and cities, I find having hand sanitizer critical. Especially if eating street food while wandering.

Whether you’re coming from the United States or not, withdraw $50-100 USD to carry throughout your trip. You never know when having USD will come in handy- especially in places like Cambodia, which use USD flexibly alongside their own currency, and where you’ll want it to cover visa fees. I also like to keep a few small bills ($5, $10) handy in a second wallet in case I ever run into ‘trouble’ and need a ‘bribe’.

Finally, make sure you understand the rules of renting a motorbike, as well as the potential risks before doing so.

A Sample, Jam Packed Itinerary

For the purpose of outlining an itinerary, I’ve started the trip in Bangkok. Based on where you’re originating, you may find it’s better to fly in Singapore or Kuala Lumpar and start there. If you do that, then you could easily switch up this itinerary- all three are cities with major international airports. There’s plenty to see and do in each, but if you only have a day in one or two of them, you can still hit up some of the highlights.

Growing up it the US, it was usually advised to book return flights when traveling, but if you’re trying to see and do as much as possible in SE Asia, I’d book one way there and back (price pending, of course). Doing so gives you more flexibility in where you visit, and how much you’re able to see.

One more note about the below- it’ll look like a lot of travel days, but in reality, you’ll likely only need to block a quarter or half day to do things like flying from Phuket to Siem Reap, or Siem Reap to Hanoi. The reason I’ve blocked the day as a travel one is to give you flexibility, but depending on your flight times, you’ll be able to use part of those days to sightsee as well.

Day 1: Fly into Bangkok
Day 2: See Bangkok
Day 3: Fly to Krabi
Days 4-6: Spend 2-3 days in Railay or Ao Nang; Ferry to Phuket to depart Thailand
Day 7: Fly to Siem Reap
Day 8: Explore Siem Reap
Day 9: Fly to Hanoi
Days 10-11: Explore Hanoi
Days 12-14: Fly to Singapore or KL
Day 13: Explore Singapore or KL
Day 14: Transit home

Where to Stay in Each Place

Where you stay should reflect both what you plan on doing (proximity for ease of adventuring), as well as your budget. I’ve made recommendations in every post I’ve linked for each destination below, but Booking.com and Airbnb are great places to check, based on your schedule. Before booking, be sure to read the reviews on their sites, as well as Google- they’re always telling.

Must-See Highlights in Each Place

BANGKOK

Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, is a bustling metropolis- to say the least. The intense, constant grid lock is enough to cause sensation overload in even the most seasoned traveller. Mix in the dozens of beautiful temples, vibrant street markets, hundreds of restaurants and cafes, and infamous nightlife, and you’ve got a city with more to see and do than anyone could possibly find the time for.

  • Favorite things to do: Visit Khao San Road; Have sunset drinks at one of the city’s swank hotel rooftops
  • Favorite place to eat: Chinatown for great street food
  • Favorite places for coffee: Bangkok’s cafe scene is worth your baht. Toby’s, Not Just Another Cup, and Rocket Coffeebar are a few of my favorites
  • Favorite cultural site (museum; temple): Temple hopping: The Grand Palace; Wat Arun; Wat Pho

// Two Weeks to Travel the Best of Thailand //

RAILAY / AO NANG

The soaring cliffs and pristine beaches of Railay, Thailand have hovered near the top of my travel ‘wish list’ for years.

Every time I saw photos, I couldn’t believe it was a real place.
It appeared to be actual paradise.

Many people actually think Railay is an island, but it’s actually part of mainland Thailand. It is, however, difficult to reach. Because of the cliffs and dense jungle, you can only access Railay East or West by taking a long tail boat. The isolated location lends an island feel, which manifests as secluded relaxation.

If Railay is too tough to get to in the time you have, you could stay in adjacent Ao Nang to be more central with the benefit of proximity to exploring Railay.

  • Favorite things to do: Go for a morning walk on Railay Beach; Do two day trips to Hong Island, Four Islands, or Koh Phi Phi. Day trips often start early (8/9 am) and return mid-afternoon (3 pm), so you’ll still have time to hang around when you return
  • Favorite place to eat: The food scene didn’t impress me too much in Railay, but I also need to be overtly careful, because of my food allergies
  • Favorite places for coffee: Coffee Station

// Dramatic Limestone Cliffs + Lush Jungle in Railay, Thailand //

SIEM REAP

Siem Reap is a gateway to the ancient world.

With history dating back to the year 802, it’s somewhat hard to believe Siem Reap was a sleepy town in the Cambodian countryside until the world found out about Angkor Wat. If you’re visiting Siem Reap, chances are you’re there to see Angkor, and by extension, Angkor Wat. And, while the ancient temples should be at the very top of your sightseeing list, there’s plenty more to do in Siem Reap.

  • Favorite things to do: Sunrise at Angkor Wat (you’ll need to get temple tickets the day prior); Get a Khmer massage; Wander Siem Reap’s markets
  • Favorite place to eat: New Leaf for Khmer curry and Khmer noodle soup; The night market
  • Favorite places for coffee: Little Red Fox
  • Favorite cultural site (museum; temple): Angkor

// Four Things to Do Your First Time in Siem Reap //

HANOI

Just the name of Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, conjures images of motorbikes, street food flames rising up from the sidewalk, its infamous train street, French colonial architecture, charming cafes, and chaos- always chaos. Vietnam is the kind of place that awakens your sense and pulls you in from all angles. The country’s capital, Hanoi, best illustrates this- it’s a crazy, beautiful, historic place.

You could say it was love at first sight my first night in Hanoi. The city’s charm snaked its way into heart, and as I explored back streets over the course of a few weeks, I couldn’t deny how hard I was falling for Hanoi. I call Vietnam my favourite country in Southeast Asia, a title it earned but not without fierce competition from Indonesia, Laos and Malaysia.

  • Favorite things to do: Vegetarian street food tour; Sipping beers at Bia Hoi junction; Wandering the old quarter
  • Favorite place to eat: Banh Mi 25 (best vegetarian banh mi)
  • Favorite places for coffee: Cafe Dinh (egg coffee, old school style); Cong Caphe (frozen coconut coffee)
  • Favorite cultural site (museum; temple): Temple of Literature

// The Ultimate Guide to Hanoi //
// Two Weeks to Travel the Best of Vietnam //

SINGAPORE

Ah, Singapore- the clean, futuristic, cultural city has a lot to interest travellers. With Sing’s airport being a major international hub for connecting flights around Asia, there are often flight deals to be found, with long layovers to see a bit of the city.

  • Favorite things to do: Gardens by the Bay (Supertree Grove and Cloud Tree Forest, in particular); Nightly light show at Marina Bay Sands; Wander colorful Kampong Glam and Koon Seng Road
  • Favorite place to eat: Hawker Centres, in particular Tekka in Little India
  • Favorite places for coffee: Free the Robot; % Arabica; Common Man. Coffee not your thing? Try cheese foam fruit tea at Hey Tea
  • Favorite cultural site (museum; temple): ArtScience Museum

// 10 Things You Must See, Eat & Do in Singapore //

KUALA LUMPAR

Famed for its skyscrapers and shopping malls, Kuala Lumpar (KL) is the capital of Malaysia. It’s a melting pot of culture with a vibrant mix of Malay, Indian, Thai and Chinese. The food is fantastic and there’s no shortage of things to do.

  • Favorite things to do: Climb to the top of Batu Caves (free); Gawk at some seriously good street art; Watch the sunset or sunrise at a rooftop pool
  • Favorite place to eat: Merchant’s Lane for brunch; Connaught Night Market or Bangsar Baru Night Market (more touristy) for nasi lemak, satay and roti canai
  • Favorite places for coffee: VCR; Pulp by Papa Palheta; Feeka Coffee Roasters; Lim Kim Cafe
  • Favorite cultural site (museum; temple): Admire Thean Hou Temple

// 5 Things You Must Do in Kuala Lumpar //

A Final Note

Know your plans may not work out. As with travel anywhere, things can go wrong.

If you need a long tail boat to get to a resort but it’s storming, you may have to spend a night on the mainland. It’s just how it goes, and why travel insurance is so important- I always use Safety Wing or  World Nomads. Remember, you’re experiencing a new country, full of unfamiliar sights, sounds and things. It’s okay if everything doesn’t work out exactly ‘to plan’- you never know what you’ll discover, sometimes it may be even better than what had imagined.

Have you ever been to Southeast Asia? Where would you recommend people visit on their first time in this part of the world? 

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The Ultimate Guide to a Week in Japan

Japan is one of the world’s most beautiful countries. From modern, bustling metropolises to smaller, zen-esque towns, Japan is where the future meets the past.

Exploring Japan for a week, I couldn’t get over how timeless everything felt. Until I travelled extensively in 2019, Japan was at the very top of my ‘favorite places in the world’ list.

Although I’ve only been to Tokyo and Kyoto, I can’t wait to head back to the ‘land of the rising sun’ one day and explore even more. It’s a place where history, tradition and modernity blend perfectly. From robot restaurants to ancient temples to bamboo forests to cat cafes, there’s something to interest everyone.

Where to Visit

On my weeklong jaunt in Japan, I visited Tokyo and Kyoto. Schedule wise, I flew into Tokyo Saturday evening, and then spent four days in Tokyo and two days in Kyoto before flying back to Hong Kong the following weekend.

Tokyo: Hustle and bustle, quirky shops, an abundance of cute toys and things, and delicious seafood and ramen at every turn. The city is massive, a sprawling metropolis. For as large as it is though, there’s an orderliness to it that I’ve never experienced elsewhere. Streets are clean, sidewalks kept immaculate and everyone is polite.

Kyoto: A place where everything seems picture perfect. Japan’s former capital may be much smaller and quieter than Kyoto, but many of the historical attractions have thankfully been preserved, making it an enchanting place to visit.

One week wasn’t nearly enough time in Japan, and I’m looking forward to returning one day and see more of the country. I’d love to visit Osaka, Nara, Takayama, Hakone, Kanazawa, Nikko, and Lake Kawaguchiko (for great views of Mount Fuji).

How to Get Around Japan

We flew into Tokyo from Hong Kong, landing at the Narita airport. The airport is far from the city, and a taxi could could easily cost over $125-150. There are a few public transit options, but we decided to take the airport express train, and then transferred to a subway to get to our hotel.

While in Tokyo, we took the subway to save money. Taxis may be quicker in some cases, but are expensive and will add up. Tokyo’s transport system is impressive- there’s overground and underground trains, as well as a bus network.

We bought rechargeable travel cards, which worked on every train. There are local guides and maps in English, but because there are so many train lines, it can be a bit confusing without the help of Google Maps to plan out stop to stop. We took the subway our entire trip and only got on the wrong train twice. If we didn’t have pocket wifi, figuring out the subway system would’ve been a lot harder.

From Tokyo to Kyoto return, we took the Shinkansen (bullet train) Nozomi. The fastest Shinkansen, costs ¥13,710 one-way (~$122), and can get you from Tokyo Station to Kyoto Station in about 2 hours and 20 minutes. It’s not cheap, but it’s quick.

You don’t need to worry about buying tickets in advance- trains run several times an hour and it’s easy to purchase tickets when you arrive at the station. If, like us, you’re short on time, I’d recommend taking the bullet train from Tokyo late afternoon the day prior, and leaving on the first train out the day after your visit, giving you two nights and one full day in Kyoto.

Once in Kyoto, you’ll find the subway only has two lines, one runs north-south and the other runs east-west. Unfortunately, it’s limited and you’ll find it’s easier to take buses even though they take a bit longer. We avoided taking taxis whenever possible in Japan because we found it expensive in both Tokyo and Kyoto- think $40-50 USD for a 20 minute ride.

Bonus: Below recos of places to visit in Kyoto were created with taking public transit in mind.

And, if you’re taking the train a bit more during your time in Japan, consider purchasing a 7-day JR Pass- if you’re visiting more than one region, the pass pretty much pays for itself.

Tokyo

// The Ultimate Guide to 4 Days in Tokyo //

What to See & Do

  • Morning walk in Shinjuku Gyoen: Beautiful patch of greenery in the city. Coming back to Tokyo from Kyoto, we stayed in Shinjuku, and this park was right across from our hotel- lovely way to start the day with a little wander
  • Morning walk to see the Imperial Palace: This wasn’t initially on my list of things to do, but we decided to check it out since we were staying in Ginza and were close to the park. If you’re nearby, it’s worth seeing- beautiful and serene
  • Shibuya Crossing: We felt like it wasn’t right to leave Tokyo without visiting the world’s busiest crosswalk
    • Pro-tip: Head to the second floor of the Starbucks that overlooks the crossing for a bird’s-eye view of the chaos
  • Tokyo Hands for souvenir shopping: Nearby Shibuya Crossing, this seven floor Japanese department store has everything you could need- I picked up a sake serving set for my sister, some cute stationary/kitchen tools, and a few beauty products to try
  • Half day at DisneySea: DisneySea is an ocean-themed park, unique to Japan. There may not be a castle in DisneySea, but it’s no less magical than Disneyland. We came here for a half day and loved every moment of our time in the park
  • Robot Restaurant: Epitome of wild. Come here for the show, not dinner. The drinks are pretty standard, so we skipped them in favor of hitting up other bars later in the evening. I don’t even know how to describe this experience- it’s dancing, fighting robots and totally unlike anything you’ve seen before
  • Golden Gai: Post robot show, we headed to one of the only parts of Tokyo that wasn’t blown up in the war. Golden Gai is filled with dozens of small bars- we chose one at random and joined the locals at the counter for sake
  • Memory Lane/Omoide Yokocho: Memory Lane has roots dating back to the 1940s, when it used to be the location for street vendors and traders. Now, a few dozen tiny bars and restaurants occupy the narrow alleyways, just wide enough for two people to pass. We didn’t eat here because we had a reservation for a sushi restaurant later in the evening, but enjoyed wandering up and down the alley, peering into places
  • Shinjuku: Comparable to Times Square in neon lights, this part of Tokyo is the downtown business area. Come at night to see everything lit up
  • Exploring Harajuku: No question, the best place I’ve ever been for people watching. Everyone has such unique, fun style. Interestingly, Harajuku culture is more than seventy years old. It became popular in Japan after WWII when American soldiers and their families opened up Western-style shops. The Japanese youth were inspired by American trends, and used them to help transform Japanese style
    • Takeshita Street is where all the main action happens. In addition to all of the fashion stores, you’ll notice creperies and sweet cream (soft serve) are popular eats
    • Shopping at Kiddyland: If you need toys to bring back for kids, this is your place. I picked up a few cute trinkets for my Disney fanatic family, and enjoyed browsing the rest of the toys- so many cute things!
    • Ice Monster: It was pretty hot while we were in Tokyo, which meant soft cream and iced treats were in constant rotation. We popped in here on the recommendation from a local we’d been chatting with at tea. The fixed menu of ~5 shaved ice options ranges from fruity to sweet/savory. I opted for the coffee one, mainly because it included salted caramel (fav), and a chocolate liqueur. Fairly sure these are portioned for two people, but you better believe we each ordered one
    • Reissue: Great afternoon caffeine pick-me-up, double win for the cute 3D latte art
    • Daiso: A ‘do not miss’ store in Japan. They sell everything. Really enjoyed browsing the beauty, fashion and snack areas
    • Totti Candy Factory: Rainbow cotton candy! I haven’t had cotton candy since my teen years, so picking out the colors and flavors for mine was a fun experience
    • Yoyogi Park: Only a few blocks from Harajuku, you’ll be surprised at how serene this park is. If you visit, walk through the giant Torii and down to the Meiji Shrine
  • Sunset at Aman Tokyo:  The lobby bar in this luxe hotel is stunning. We weren’t guests of the hotel, but came here to watch the sun set one evening. It was a perfect experience- loved seeing more of Tokyo from above (helps put into perspective just how large the city really is), and it’s a beautiful place to enjoy a few glasses of sake after a busy day
  • Tsukiji Outer Market: Come early to experience the charms of the fish market. The outer markets, where you’ll find restaurants and shops, is open from 5-11 am. And, the inner market, where wholesale fish are for sale, opens to the public at 9 am. I’d recommend exploring the outer market for a bit, and eventually picking a place to have sushi at the inner market for an early lunch. While perusing the outer stalls, we grabbed Tamagoyaki (fried egg), and wandered for a bit before deciding on lunch at Daiwa Sushi. It was a good choice- without a doubt, the freshest sushi I’ve ever had
  • Shiba Park: Post lunch, we headed to Shiba park for an afternoon stroll and to check out the Tokyo Tower. Thirteen meters taller than the Eiffel Tower, it’s the world’s tallest self-supporting steel tower. The tower was finished in 1958 as a symbol of Japan’s rebirth. We didn’t go up in the tower, but there are two observatory levels if you’re interested in a bird’s eye city view

Where to Eat & Drink

Yokohama Chinatown: All of my favorite foodies told me to come to Chinatown without a set agenda, but to plan on trying panda buns, shaved ice, sesame balls and soup dumplings. Nothing we had disappointed. Yokohama may be a bit of a trek from central Tokyo on the subway, but it’s so worth it.

Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum: Because we didn’t eat enough in Chinatown^, we decided to stop in the ramen museum on our way back to the city. Shin-Yokohama is less of a museum, and more of a theme restaurant. It’s a two story recreation of 1950’s Japan with eight ramen restaurants and a courtyard bar. Before coming here, I’d never ordered ramen out- mainly because nothing ever seems to be vegetarian, so I was excited to try the veg-friendly options. The ramen was delicious. Pro-tip: If you enjoy your ramen, slurp the noodles. In Japan, slurping is a sign you’re enjoying your meal.

Tokyo Station: Exhausted by the time we got back to the city (lots of train delays on the way back from Chinatown and ramen adventures), we decided to peruse the food stalls in the basement of Tokyo Station and grabbed some snacks to take back to our hotel. Def recommend checking out the sub-level shops and market at the station- there’s a great candy shop where you can find giant Pocky, as well as a specialized Kit-Kat store.

Eat at 7-11 & Try Vending Machine Beverages: Yes, seriously. 7-11 in Japan rules. A few times we picked up small sandwiches and sushi snacks to take back to our hotel room for chilled dining. Vending machine beverages are also a quintessential Japanese experience- some of them coming out piping out. If you decide to try Japan’s ‘fast food’, take note- it’s considered rude to eat in public. Whenever we picked up stuff ‘on the go’, we were either very discreet with eating it, or waited until we were back in our hotels.

Soft cream at Daily Chico:  Soft cream is practically a delicacy in Tokyo. We ate it every chance we got, and knew we couldn’t leave without trying the eight flavor cone from Daily Chico. So, so good. The flavors were amazing- soda, green tea, melon, grape, coffee milk, strawberry, chocolate, vanilla. If you’re a fan of soft serve, this place needs to be on your list.

About Life Coffee Brewers: Third wave coffee culture is just beginning to catch on in Tokyo. After a week without nearly enough cold brew/flat whites, we came here (near Shibuya Corssing) on our last morning in Japan for excellent cold brew.

Tokyo Food Show: I’d heard the basements of some department stores had epic food halls, but still couldn’t believe how great the vendors were here. Great place to pick up a meal or snacks.

Din Tai Fung: A must for super good dim sum.

Sushi Bar Yasuda: The only dinner reservation we’d made in Tokyo. My friend had seen Anthony Bourdain’s profile on this eight-seat sushi restaurant and made a reservation for us weeks prior to our trip. The sushi was fantastic- the chef made us feel like we were at a personal dinner party. Every part of our experience was memorable, from choosing our own sake cups to each piece of sushi put in front of us.

Breakfast at West Aoyama Garden: I’d been told the pancakes at this tea house were the best ever, as in better than anything in the States. I’d agree- they’re fluffy, thick, and the size of a plate. Also, the level of care servers put into the meal experience is so inspiring. You’ll notice that level of precision just about everywhere in Japan.

Aoyama Flower Market Tea House: We visited Tokyo at the end of May, when it was above 85 Fahrenheit every day. After spending the previous day running around in the heat all day, I needed a slower pace on day two, so I spent a bit of time at this beautiful tea house inside of a greenhouse, relaxing in the air conditioning and reading. Highly recommend if you need a break from the hustle and bustle.

Nightcap at Bar Trench: Cocktails are just as good as some of the top ones you’ll find at world class cocktail bars in New York and London.

Nightcap at Bar High Five: Post-sunset at Aman, we headed here for one drink, but ended up staying for a few- really loved them. There’s no menu, you tell the bartenders what kind of spirits and flavors you like, and they create a custom cocktail based on your tastes. One thing to note, it’s a small place and usually fills up quickly most nights. We got lucky with two seats at the bar and spent the night chatting up the bartender, which turned out great since he was an American who previously lived in Kyoto and had a bunch of recos for us.

Kyoto

// 5 Must-Do’s in Kyoto //

What to See & Do

Admire the Golden Temple: Even if you’ve never heard of Kyoto, chances are you’ve heard of Kinkaku-ji, the golden temple. It’s so beautiful, it feels surreal. The outer walls of the temple are completely covered in gold, and the temple itself is surrounded by traditional Japanese gardens and ponds.

You can’t go inside the temple, but you can walk around the outer gardens. The temple becomes quite busy during the day, I’d recommend going early or right before it closes. We went ~45 minutes before closing time and although there were a few dozen people mingling about, it didn’t feel too crowded.

While you’re here, treat yourself to soft-serve (or soft cream, as it’s called in Japan). When we visited, I enjoyed the green tea & vanilla swirl with gold flakes from the shop outside the temple.

Stroll through the Bamboo Grove: Before I’d even started planning my trip to Japan, the bamboo grove had been on my list of places to venture to at some point in life. A perfectly tailored bamboo forest, standing amid the stalks of bamboo is like being in another world. On a day with light wind, you can hear the stalks push against each other, crackling.

The bamboo grove is outside of the main attractions in Kyoto, but easy to get to and worth the trip. And, there’s more to Arashiyama than just the grove- there are a few small temples, and monkey park nearby.

If you’re going to visit and want time alone in the grove, you need to go early- like super early. We arrived at 7:20 and had a half hour in the grove before other people started showing up. Come mid-day, the grove becomes extremely crowded with visitors.

To get to the grove, take the JR Sagano line to the Saga Arashiyama station. Then, walk ~10 minutes to get to the entrance of the grove. Location wise, it’s past the Tenryu-ji Temple, and to the left. You’ll reach a path with a few bamboo trees before you get to the grove- keep going. The first part of the path is pretty sparse, and you may think, this is a waste of time. Promise the trees get much denser as you keep going into the grove.

If you visit early like we did, you should be back in city center around 9-10 am, which is the perfect time to grab coffee and breakfast. If you’re ravenous, Mister Donut, a Boston-bred chain with locations all over Japan, sells excellent cake donuts in Kyoto Station.

Walk Through the Torii at Fushimi Inari Taisha: Situated on the side of the Inari Mountain, there are thousands of crimson torii gates leading to the temple. At the top, the shrine is dedicated to the Shinto god of rice.

Each torii was donated by a business. Walking through the gates felt kind of magical.

If you visit and there are a bunch of people in the lower region, just keep walking for a bit- it gets less crowded as you go further up the mountain. One other thing to know: Fushimi Inari Taisha is open 24 hours a day, so it’s a good place to visit early morning or early evening before/after other main attractions are open/closed for the day.

Explore the Gion District: The Gion district is a must visit if you want to see the atmosphere of ancient Japan. With preserved backstreets full of boutiques, it’s an area you don’t want to miss. In particular, Sannen-zaka and Ninnen-zaka are two of Kyoto’s most beautiful streets.

Famed for its geishas, Gion is an area packed with bars, restaurants and teahouses. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a geisha in a back alley on her way to work right before the teahouses open for the evening.

If you’re staying near the Gion district, go for a morning walk in Maruyama Park, and grab a latte at % Arabica- great iced lattes.

Stay at a Ryokan: While in Kyoto, you should definitely sleep at least one night in a traditional Ryokan. Ryokan aren’t hotels, but instead, elaborate guesthouses.

In Japan, people often travel long distances solely for the purpose of relaxing in a hot spring bath and enjoying a traditional multi-course dinner. Ryokan rooms typically have woven-straw flooring and futon beds. Food is usually served inside the room, and many ryokans are famous for the food they offer. Gion Hatanaka is a bit pricey, but gorgeous. Worth it if you’re able to split the cost with fellow travelers.

On My Next Visit

I’ve heard the entire Kansai region of Japan offers beautiful day trips. On a future trip, I’d like to spend a full week in/near Kyoto, exploring nearby towns in addition to seeing more of Kyoto.

At the top of my list-

  • Attend a tea ceremony
  • Spend more time in Arashiyama, making time to see the monkey mountain park
  • Head to Osaka for a day trip
  • Visit Nijo-jo Castle
  • See Byodo-in Temple
  • Check out Kinkaku-ji’s brother, Ginkaku-ji (the silver temple). Originally, this temple was meant to be covered in silver, but the silver was never added

Where to Eat & Drink

There are many places to eat and drink in Kyoto, some more touristy than others. These were my favorite of the ones we visited, places I’d go back to on a return trip to Kyoto.

  • Hello Dolly: Beautiful, old timey whiskey jazz bar
  • L’Esca Moteur: Superb cocktails, the smoked Old Fashioned is delicious
  • Bar Rocking Chair: Good cocktails off the beaten path. There isn’t a drink menu- instead, you tell the bartenders what kind of flavors you like
  • % Arabica: The best coffee in Kyoto, and one of the top five lattes I’ve ever had. We ended up coming here three times during our stay- that’s how much we loved the drinks
  • Nishiki Market: A dream for foodies housed in an alleyway with a beautiful glass roof. You’ll find plenty of traditional food here to try- pickled vegetables, Asian spices, tempura, seafood, sushi and plenty of soft serve
    • Also, don’t miss the cute animal donuts at Floresta (just outside the market)
  • Eat Soft Serve: There’s no specific location you should come for this, just make sure you have a cone of soft serve while in Kyoto, it’s particularly required. I really liked the soft serve stand in Maruyama Park, and the one outside of Kinkaku-ji, where you can get a green tea & vanilla swirl with gold flakes
  • Mister Donut: A Boston-bred chain with locations all over Japan. The cake donuts at the Kyoto Station location were so good, we came back twice
  • Okinawa: Great for vegetarians
  • Awomb: Good sushi, beautiful presentation

Extra Japan Travel Tips

Language: Japanese. Some spoke conversational English, but we relied heavily on Google Translate to read menus/signs.

Safety: We never felt unsafe walking around any of the areas you’d expect to find tourists- even late at night.

Currency: Japanese Yen. The only cash-dispensing ATMs for foreign cards were in 7-Elevens. We had no problem taking cash out throughout our trip, and the ATMs let you check your balance at the same time (win!).

Budget: In comparison to neighboring Asian countries, there’s no denying Japan can be expensive.

Where to Stay: Our time in Tokyo was split into two halves- two days in Ginza (Tokyo), then two days in Kyoto, and finally another two days in Shinjuku (Tokyo). Both Ginza and Shinjuku are central areas, near plenty of shops, restaurants, convenience stores, and public transit. I enjoyed Ginza a bit more, but would stay in either area or Shibuya on a return trip to Tokyo.

When to Visit: I visited late spring, and had great weather, but would love to return in cherry blossom season, or early autumn to see the leaves as they change. 

Tipping: Tipping is not common practice in Japan. Japanese culture is one that is firmly rooted in dignity, respect and hard work. As such, good service is considered the standard and tips are viewed as unnecessary.

WiFi Access: We rented a TEP device for our trip in 2017- both of us had locked phones at the time of visit, and the international service plan would’ve cost more (with less data access) than using a TEP device. Some restaurants/shops had wifi connections, but not all of them, and the language barrier can pose a problem when asking for login details. 

SIM Card Options: We didn’t look into our options (because of our locked phones), but I’ve heard good things about the IIJMIO travel sim. Other options may require you to go through a registration process. Friends have also recommended getting pocket wifi upon arrival (essentially, what we had with TEP, but we were sent it before our trip), as that’s usually more cost effective than the tourism sims available.

Public restrooms: Every place we went had a public restroom- most were Western style. Once we had to use squat toilets in a train station, so it’s best to carry hand sanitizer and a few tissues if you’re not used to using squat toilets.

Packing Necessities: What you bring in total will depend on what you do over the course of your trip, and when you visit seasonally. However, do note, Japanese culture is conservative- there’s no dress code, but you’ll likely feel out of place in shorts or outfits with modest skin coverage. During my trip, I stuck to skirts or pants that hit my knee.

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Why You Need to Visit the Gili Islands on your Bali Holiday

Three tiny islands, off the coast of Lombok, the Gilis are postcard paradise- turquoise water, white sand, swaying hammocks, leafy palms.

Each island, with their own individual beauty and charm, the Gilis have become an incredibly popular destination.

  • Gili Trawangan: Often dubbed ‘Gili T’, has some of the best partyingi n this part of the world. There are plenty of hotels, resourts, beach bars, making it the most developed of all three islands
  • Gili Air: If chill beach vibes and remote relaxation are what you’re after, Gili Air is the place for you
  • Gili Meno: The smallest of the islands, Gili Meno may only be 2km long and 1 km wide, but it’s arguably the most peaceful of all three islands

Devastated by the 2018 earthquakes, the Gilis were still in recovery mode when we visited. We weren’t sure just how much would be rebuilt and were surprised by how far along reconstruction on all three islands seemed to be (summer 2019).

The three days we spent exploring the Gilis was sheer perfection- days spent swimming in warm, clear waters and nights whiled away watching the sun sink below the horizon, waiting for the nightly beach bonfires to begin.

With the Gilis being easy to access from Bali, there’s no better time to plan a trip to these three tiny islands off the coast of Lombok.

5 Reasons You Must Visit the Gili Islands on your Bali Holiday

Pristine water, perfect for swimming and snorkelling

The beaches may vary on the Gili Islands (some are made of coral, some are softer sand), but one thing they all have in common is beautiful, warm waters.

Bring swim shoes to ease the burden on your feet, and you’ll be good to enjoy. These beaches are the stuff holiday dreams are made of, which makes them perfect to visit on any holiday to heaven on earth (Bali).

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World class diving

The Gilis are an excellent place to do an open water course, or your advanced or master dive certificates. Gili Divers on Gili T is highly regarded as the best shop to do so at.

We thought about earning our PADI certs while in the Gilis, but ultimately opted to spend our days relaxing. However, I’ve heard tale from friends who have of stunning environments to learn in- bright coral, endless tropical fish, and even underwater statues or shipwrecks to explore.

Photo credit: link

Relaxed vibes, total off the gridness

Saying the Gilis are chill would be the ultimate understatement. Getting on island time feels natural, within only a day, we noticed we’d stopped checking the time on our phones, or even discussing what ‘was next’ in the day.

Instead, we put our phones to the side, and just focused on enjoying each other’s company. Sure didn’t hurt we were in such a laid back, beautiful environment.

Towns small enough to explore on foot

No cars are allowed on the Gilis, instead, everyone walks or bikes. This return to simpler transit makes you feel like you’ve also returned to simpler times.

There’s something magical in staying somewhere where walking is the predominant form of transportation.

There’s plenty to do and see on the Gilis, but no so much that you’ll feel stressed about not having enough time. Leisurely exploration means it’s feasible to walk the islands one end to the other (if you so desire), or just walk to the beach- it’s nice to know that’s always an option because you’re never too far from the ocean in the Gilis.

Rockin’ parties, bustling night markets, chill cafes and beach bonfires- something for everyone

Those who say there’s a Gili island for everyone are right- whether you’re interested in a more lively scene on Gili T, or a ‘just you and nature’ vibe on Gili Meno, there’s an island and activities for whatever you’re after.

And the best bit?

You’ll be surrounded by the most beautiful beach scenes imaginable while you do whatever you fancy.

Inspired to plan a trip to the Gili Islands?
Don’t miss my ultimate guide to spending three days exploring the best of what the Gilis have to offer.

Have you ever been to the Gili Islands? Would you head over to the islands for beach time on a trip to Bali? 

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5 Reasons You’ll Fall for Flores

When people envision Bali, they dream of paradise, in every sense.

Every sense, of course, unless your idea of paradise is a white, sand beach with sparkling, turquoise waters.

The Bali beach reality is often rocky or grey sand with cloudy, cool waters. Not exactly the stuff paradise daydreams are made of.

And, while I love the beaches of Canggu and Uluwatu for beautiful sunsets- the waves are rough, more ideal for surfing than a tranquil swim.

Fortunately, Indonesia has plenty of alternatives, some of which are quick and easy to reach from Bali.

Enter: Flores.

Home to breathtaking Komodo National Park, ace diving and some of the most awe-inspiring scenery I’ve ever seen, Flores is captivating.

I’ve penned full guides for what to do in Labuan Bajo, and the best day trip to take to see the region’s most beautiful sights-

If you’re looking for quick inspiration to plan a trip to Flores, or add it to your Bali holiday, search no further.

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Five Reasons to Fall for Flores

An Island with Tri-Color Beaches 

A tri-colour beach viewpoint made famous by Instagram, hiking Padar Island is on everyone’s list of things to do in Komodo.

It’s a tough climb to the top- best to start early am- but once there, you’ll be rewarded with an incredible view of rugged landscape, sparkling sea and colourful beaches.

The way up is mostly steps (hundreds of them), and some rocks at the top. Bring water, and wear sunscreen. Even in the morning sun, it was a blazing hot climb.

Once you get to the top though, and find yourself looking out over the rocky terrain, with pink, black and white sand beaches in eyesight, you’ll understand why everyone raves about Padar.

A Pink Beach With the Softest Sand and Gorgeous Snorkeling 

Some travellers complain this beach isn’t ‘pink enough’, so our expectations were low, which may be why we were so impressed.

The beach is unquestionably pink, especially where the water touches the sand. And, if you tired of lounging on the soft sand, you can go for a swim or snorkel in the clear waters.

The lower part of the beach is full of coral, so watch your step getting on/off boats and walking up onto the shore.

The Chance to Spot the World’s Longest Lizard

Ah, the reason most people head to Komodo- for the chance to see the world’s longest lizard, which can reach 3 meters in length and only lives on two islands (Rinca and Komodo) in Indonesia.

As part of the day tour I recommend, you’ll trek Komodo island for ~40 minutes, during which time your guide will be on the lookout for dragons. Although we only spotted one baby dragon during this portion of our visit, the trek was still a cool experience- we enjoyed learning about the island’s ecosystem.

When we visited, because it was mid-day, most of the dragons were sleeping near the guard office, which made them easy to find at the end of the trek.

And lest we be disappointed, on our walk back along the beach to our boat, we spotted another, which was awake and walking around. In total, we saw four big dragons, and a baby one, plus a bunch of deer.

You’ll be assigned a guide to take you around the island, be sure to heed their caution and directions- Komodo Dragons are usually quiet during the day, but remain a predator- their toxic bite can be fatal.

A Pristine Sandbar in the Middle of the Sea, Perfect for Lounging

I never thought a sandbar would take my breath away, but this crescent shaped beach in the middle of the sea is stunning- the perfect spot for relaxing and snorkeling.

If your boat captain allows it, climb up to the top of the boat for stunning panoramic views.

It’s some of the purest, white sand I’ve ever seen. And, surrounded by shining aquamarine sea, it’s an unbelievable spot.

An Opportunity to Swim with Sea Turtles and Mantas 

Manta Rays are common in Komodo National Park. They can be spotted year-round by snorkeling or diving. For the best chance of seeing them, I’ve heard visiting between September and December is optimal. We visited in late-October, and saw three on our snorkel.

Snorkeling with these gentle creatures was nothing short of incredible, a definite trip highlight.

One note here- mantas move quickly, be ready to jump (literally) off the boat when your guide instructs you to so you don’t miss them.

One you’ve had your fill of mantas, it gets even better. A beautiful coral garden with several sea turtles weaving in and out?

Yes, please!

Although we didn’t dive in Bajo (long story), we did spot plenty of sea turtles and fish while snorkelling at ‘turtle bay’.

Komodo National Park is renowned as one of the world’s most beautiful dive sites. Because of a strong current in the park, dynamite fishing is impossible, so many of the coral reefs have remained intact.

Penga Kecil and Karang Makassar are the most visited reefs. Expect to see small reef sharks, turtles, loads of fish and sea stars in all kind of colors and sizes, dolphins, and even whales sharks.

Bonus: Great Tasting Indonesian Brew

Anytime I visit a country known for its coffee production, I take advantage of every chance to try locally sourced beans. These places in Bajo didn’t let me down-

  • Carpenter Cafe & Roastery: Brewing Flores, Sumatra and Java beans, this cafe was my favorite because, 1) air-conditioning, 2) friendly staff, and 3) blazing fast wifi. Also, delicious coffee drinks with beans sourced from around Indo
  • Labajo Flores Coffee: Good coffee option, next to Red Whale’s office
  • Bajo Bakery: Great pick for breakfast, including your first cup of brew

Have you ever been to Indonesia? Would you visit Flores as part of a trip to Bali, Lombok or Java? 

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