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? 

Other Posts You May Enjoy

10 Things You Must See, Do & Eat in Singapore

My first time in Singapore was short, but sweet.

With only a day to see the best of the city, I found myself jumping from sight to sight.

En route from Australia to Bali, I decided to extend a layover and spend a few days in Singapore.

Why?

I wanted to see even more of the clean, futuristic, cultural city that had piqued my interest a few months prior. And, at the time, a good friend was living in Singapore, so I was excited to catch up with her as well.

My return trip was everything I’d hoped it would be- I was able to see a few more sights I’d missed on my first visit, and relax at cafes around the city, experiencing Singapore’s coffee culture.

It’s common for travelers from Europe and the US to find themselves in Singapore at some point if they’re venturing to Asia.

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.

Whether you’ve got one day, as I did my first visit, or a few days to make your way around the city, these 10 things should be on your itinerary for consideration.

10 Things You You See, Do and Eat in Singapore

GARDENS BY THE BAY

Beautiful and futuristic.

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.

The Cloud Forest was incredible- I’m always at ease in botanic gardens and this was no different. 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. Try to time your visit with a mist- it’s so cool to watch the forest transform.

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.

I’d reserved a ticket ahead of time for the Future World exhibit, but needn’t have worried- it wasn’t busy when I visited.

NIGHT SHOWS AT MARINA BAY SANDS & GARDENS BY THE BAY 

The Spectra show at Marina Bay Sands 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.

HAWKER CENTRES

The best 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.

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 (markets with food stalls) in Singapore- more authentic and frequented by locals. I only came for a snack, but was practically drooling over how great everything looked. And, so cheap!

CHINATOWN 

Wandering Chinatown for a bit, soaking up some seriously cool street art, I wasn’t feeling too great- exhausted from the heat and a tad jet lagged.

It was hot, humid, full on sunshine and I’d been used to grey, damp days in London. Opposite ends of the spectrum, to say the least.

So, I found a cafe with ace cold brew and chilled out (literally) for a bit. Bonus: Free the Robot had the cutest dog bopping around.

If you’re looking for a cool spot to have a few drinks in, check out My Awesome Cafe in Chinatown- colorful and vibrant, always packed with people in a good way.

And, 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.

KAMPONG GLAM 

Love, love, love the neighborhood. It’s colorful and cultural, a great place to wander and have dinner if you’re not staying in the area.

When in this hood, don’t miss the golden mosque or Haji Lane, one of the most colourful streets in Singapore.

And, a few other recommendations for eats/drinks-

  • Zam Zam: Legendary for meat eaters
  • Tabbouleh: Great for a Middle Eastern food fix
  • Symmetry: Ace flat white
  • % Arabica: Some of the world’s best coffee. I had it for the first time in Japan years ago, and couldn’t get over how great it was. Delighted to see a branch in Singapore

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. It’s a bit from Singapore’s centre, but worth the trek.

DRINK CHEESE TEA 

Okay, the last two items on this list aren’t sights per se, but of equal importance in my opinion in getting the true Singapore experience.

Cheese tea may not have originated in Singapore, but it sure is popular in the city.

Cheese tea?!, you ask. Yes, cheese tea.
More accurately, cheese foam.

In actuality, it’s foam made of cream cheese and milk, topped with salt.

The first time It tired it, I had it on green tea and wasn’t a huge fan. The next two times, I had it with a fruit tea and a milky tea. Wow, what a difference the saltiness of the cheese foam makes in balancing sweet or creamy flavours. Now, it’s one of my favourite Asian treats to order.

3 Places to Try Cheese Tea In Singapore:

  • ParTea: My least favourite on this list, the benefit to coming here is that you can find ParTea’s in major malls (they’re an Asian chain), and they have a variety of teas on offer, so you can mix and match flavours to your preference
  • Hey Tea: A chain that specialises in fruit teas, their cheese foam topping is excellent. Big fan of the strawberry and melon cheese teas, and love the location in Clarke Quay for its colorful surroundings
  • Coffee Break Cafe: The promise of taro kaya toast is what originally brought me to Coffee Break, but when I saw hojicha milk tea with cheese foam on the menu, I knew I had to have it. Find this place on the upper flower of a hawker centre, and be sure to bring cash

EAT KAYA TOAST

A Singaporean breakfast delicacy, toast may look simple at first.

And it is, which is kind of the beauty of it.

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 (mentioned above). They’ve got a few different flavours on the menu, including a creamy, delicious taro toast option.

Wherever you order, top it all off with a sickly sweetened coffee or iced cheese tea.

EXTRA SINGAPORE TRAVEL TIPS

Getting There: Singapore’s airport is one of the best in the world, and if you’ve got a short layover, is 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.

Getting to the City: Ther’s public transit, but with my luggage, I usually take a Grab if the prices aren’t surging. Often, it’s only £7-9 to get to the Kampong Glam neighbourhood I like to stay in.

Getting Around: Usually, for me, it’s a combination of Grab, bus/MRT and walking. Singapore is hot and humid, so I often skip out on walking places that are more than 15-20 minutes apart. Grab is pretty affordable, and the bus/MRT system takes contactless card, making it seamless ot hop on a bus or train on the fly.

WiFi: Lots of cafes have WiFi, or you can pick up a tourist SIM in the airport. Shop around before buying if you decide to grab one before heading into the city. Some places combine tourism offers with data, which marks up the price because of the overall benefits you’re paying for. On my last visit, I saw 2GB for £18 or 100 GB for £17 right next to each other. If you’re like me, and it’s more important to have plentiful data for work, you’ll want more bang for your buck on that front.

Where to Stay: I love the Kampong Glam neighborhood because it’s colorful, fun and packed with places to eat and drink. It’s also a mix of cultures, which means you can find everything from Middle Eastern to Asian to Italian food, and some seriously great coffee. I’ve also heard great things about staying in Chinatown or Little Italy, if you want to be in the thick of things.

In Kampong Glam, I’ve stayed at Airbnbs and the Pod Boutique Capsule Hotel. I enjoyed my stay at the Pod Boutique Hotel, but would forewarn the rooms around soundproof, so you’ll want to bring earplugs.

Have you ever been to Singapore? What would you add to this list?

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The Caffeine Lovers Guide to Singapore

Singapore is often considered to be the perfect blend between the east and the west. The city’s kopitiam culture may be one of the best representation of this. 

Even the word kopitiam itself demonstrates the cultural amalgamation Singapore has witnessed over the years: kopi means coffee in Malay, and tiam means shop in Hokkien and Fujianese.

Though the art of ordering kopi (coffee) in Singapore dates back centuries, the city’s thriving coffee scene today serves as a reminder of what makes Singapore’s history so rich and diverse. 

My first time in Singapore, I had just 24 hours to see the city, was jet lagged from flying via Helsinki, and in desperate need of caffeine. 

I’d done my usual ‘cafes in city’ search, but had a hard time finding many near the key bits I planned to cram into a day. 

And so, I resorted to Starbucks. 

My second time in Sing, I came prepared.
Best places for brew in Singapore? 

Five Places for Ace Coffee in Singapore

  • % Arabica: Nearly screamed when I realised a location of my one of my favourite coffee shops in the world had opened in Singapore. I had % Arabica for the first time in Japan years ago, and couldn’t get over how great it was. A flat white or latte here is a must
  • Symmetry: Another ace cafe/restaurant in Kampong Glam, I’ve only had the flat white here, but the food menu looked great as well
  • Free the Robot: Once, in Chinatown in the middle of an especially hot, humid afternoon, I found myself at Free the Robot in need of a cool drink and caffeine pick-me-up. This air-conditioned cafe is a great spot for both- their cold brew is strong, and there’s usually a cute dog hanging around (bonus!)
  • Common Man: Brunch here rules, as does the nitro cold brew. And, imagine my delight when it was served to me in a pint glass (!!!). This cafe is so cool (both in trendy decor, and strong air conditioning), you’ll find it hard to leave. But, if you do, you can walk to the next stop on this list- along the way, you’ll cross the colorful art bridge
  • Friends Cafe: Okay, maybe not the best coffee per se in Singapore, but the most fun. Confession, I didn’t watch Friends until four years ago. And now, I’ve seen the series several times. Newly minted fan that I am, when I found out there was a Friends cafe in Singapore with all-day episodes, set furniture and huge mugs of coffee, I was all over it. Best part? Hardly anyone else there on a mid-week afternoon

Because my time in Sing always seems to be limited, I haven’t made it to these spots personally, but they’ve come highly recommended from friends who live in the city or have also visited- Nylon Coffee Roasters, Afterglow, PPP, and Dutch Coffee Company.

And, for something cool and refreshing at any traditional cafe or restaurant in the city, ask for a kopi peng (a coffee with condensed milk and ice). 

Not a fan of coffee, but looking for a cool treat?

Enter: Cheese tea. 

Cheese tea may not have originated in Singapore, but it sure is popular in the city. 

Cheese tea?!, you ask. Yes, cheese tea.

More accurately, cheese foam.

C4AA694B-3A11-4241-9731-1F12E608C75B

In actuality, it’s foam made of cream cheese and milk, topped with salt. 

The first time I tried it, I had it with green tea and wasn’t a huge fan. The next two times, I had it with a fruit tea and a milky tea, and wow– what a difference the cheese saltiness makes in balancing sweet or creamy flavours. Now, it’s one of my favourite Asian treats to order. 

Three Places to Try Cheese Tea in Singapore:

  • ParTea: My least favourite on this list, the benefit to coming here is that you can find ParTea’s in major malls (they’re an Asian chain), and they have a variety of teas on offer, so you can mix and match flavours to your preference
  • Hey Tea: A chain that specialises in fruit teas, their cheese foam topping is excellent. Big fan of the strawberry and melon cheese teas, and love the location in Clarke Quay for its colorful surroundings
  • Coffee Break Cafe: The promise of taro kaya toast is what originally brought me to Coffee Break, but when I saw hojicha milk tea with cheese foam on the menu, I knew I had to have it. You’ll find this place on the upper floor of a hawker centre, (be sure to bring cash)

Have you ever been to Singapore? Would you add any cafes to this list? 

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A Whirlwind Day in Singapore

Singapore (or ‘Sing’ as expats affectionately refer to the city) wasn’t on my agenda for visiting in SE Asia until the tail end of my trip. But, plans change, and so it goes I found myself heading to Singapore to kick off my time in SE Asia with less than 72 hours to plan one day in Singapore, a city I’d never been to.

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One Day in Singapore

First things first, I found myself an Airbnb that seemed to be fairly central, near Haji Lane in the Kampong Glam neighbourhood. Turned out to be an awesome location.

Night one, my flight landed around 7:30 pm (delayed almost two hours), and by the time I got to the city and checked into my Airbnb, it was nearing 8:30 pm. Keen to see the Spectra show at Marina Bay Sands, I called a Grab to take me over to the towers.

I arrived just in time for the 9 pm show (there’s also an 8 pm show if you’re there earlier). It was beautiful- lasers whipping through the night sky, shimmering lights, and a beautiful symphony as the backdrop.

A great welcome to one day in Singapore.

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Then, I walked over to Gardens by the Bay to see the giant trees lit up at night. They were beautiful, but I was hungry.

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Unfortunately, I didn’t realise most places in Sing close before 10 pm (at least the restaurants I looked up in my neighborhood did). With flight fatigue coming on fast, I decided to hit up the food court at MBS (Marina Bay Sands), which thankfully turned out to have tasty boba, egg custard buns, and veggie noodles.

Ready for bed and a full day of exploring, I headed back to my Airbnb.

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The next morning, I woke early at 7 am and headed straight to 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.

Processed with VSCO with au5 presetProcessed with VSCO with au5 preset

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.

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The second stop of my day was also at Gardens by the Bay- 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.

The Cloud Forest was incredible- I’m always at ease in botanic gardens and this was no different. Being the first person they let in (ha), meant I had the forest to myself for a few minutes.

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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. Try to time your visit with a mist- it’s so cool to watch the forest transform.

Post gardens, keen to get on with my one day in Singapore, I walked over to MBS (only ~10 minutes) to grab cold brew from Starbucks in the food court. Also popped into Sephora for a post-flight hydration flight mask. Gotta take advantage of the upside to malls, right? 😉

Next up, one more activity by MBS- the ArtScience Museum. I’d reserved a ticket ahead of time for the Future World exhibit, but needn’t have worried- it wasn’t busy when I visited.

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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.

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After the museum, I took a Grab to 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.

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Processed with VSCO with au5 preset

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 in