Solo in SouthEast Asia

If I’m being totally honest, Asia was never high on my travel wish list – I pictured steamy hot crowded cities, and a very long flight to get there.  I’m past the age where I want to budget backpack and stay in hostels.  There were just a lot of other places much higher on my list, and easier to reach.  And then, friends of mine moved to Shanghai.  Having a local to visit totally changes the ballgame and is a great excuse to go someplace you normally wouldn’t.  So, in the summer of 2015, planning began.

By Winter 2015, my friends had been called back to the States much earlier than expected.  Oops!  I was too far into planning and booking to cancel my trip, but I had also done enough research that I was getting excited about the things I had planned.  I had only planned a few days in Shanghai at the end of my trip so that was easy enough to cut out. No need to deal with the red tape of China this time around!  So, this is the story of how I found myself roaming around Thailand and Cambodia for two weeks on my own.

I was pretty relieved that my ATM card worked with no issues!

Again, not keen on big, crowded cities, I intended to avoid Bangkok or spend very little time there.  I had a friend who told me about an elephant sanctuary outside Chiang Mai, so I knew I had to get there and it seemed as good a place as any to start my trip!  I found a good deal on a flight to Chiang Mai, with an overnight layover in HongKong.  Even with a hotel cost, it was still cheaper than the next cheapest option.  (With no direct flights from Chicago to Bangkok, I was also trying to avoid a 3-legged start to my trip)

After a quick overnight in Hong Kong, just enough to visit the Big Buddha on Lantau Island, I would have 3 nights in Chiang Mai.  A food tour, photography tour and full day spent at Elephant Nature Park didn’t leave too much down time.

Then, I would take an overnight train to Bangkok, where I stayed at the Aloft Bangkok for two nights.  Originally, I only planned 1 night in Bangkok (mostly so I could sing the song!) but when I found out about Sak Yant Tattoos at Wat Bang Phra outside the city, I changed my itinerary to work this in.  A tuk tuk tour was the only other thing I managed to do in Bangkok!

First class car (First Class is a relative term here)

Expique - Bangkok Night Lights TukTuk Tour

Next up, was Siem Riep in Cambodia to visit the Angkor Wat temples.  I planned to take a bus from Bangkok just for adventure, but at the last minute found a flight for $70 and decided I had better ways to spend 8 hours than on a chicken bus.  In Siem Reap, I spent 3 nights at Le Meridien Angkor, a full day touring the temples, and a whole lot of time at the pool!  (Who can blame me, it was gorgeous!)

Angkor Wat

Le Meridien Angkor

At this point, I originally planned to fly to Shanghai, but instead doubled back to Thailand for some beach time in Phuket.  Here, I stayed 3 nights at the Westin Siray Bay, with a full-day kayak tour and again, lots of pool time!

Sunset

From Phuket, I flew back to HongKong for 1 more night before my morning flight back to Chicago the next day.

Overall, my itinerary got a little wonky with changes, and I was somewhat limited due to the fact that I originally purchased a flight home from Shanghai using miles (luckily I was able to change it from HongKong for $5 but not Bangkok which would have been much easier), but overall, it worked out pretty well!

  • Total trip Cost ~ $4200
    • Flights (5) – $1723 + 40,000 United miles
    • Hotels (13) – $717 + 30,000 Starwood Points
    • Tours & Tips – $662
    • Food – $365
    • Taxis – $237
    • Souvenirs – $200
    • Spa Visits – $67
    • Laundry – $40
    • Overnight Train Bangkok- 1st class sleeper – $50
    • Cambodian Visa – $30
    • Dog Boarding $100 (only 2 nights…thanks, Mom!)

For those wondering about all the Starwood points, I use a Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card for most of my daily expenses.  I don’t travel constantly, or stay in hotels all that often, but when I do, I try to stay with one chain to maximize my points. Most of my points are earned through everyday purchases like gas, groceries and take-out…so much take-out!  The $95 Annual Fee is well worth it, given how many free nights I used on this trip alone!

Westin Siray Bay Resort & SpaPrego Pool

For all of my photos from the trip, click here!

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Bangkok Tuk Tuk Tour

With a city as huge as Bangkok, I knew a tour would be the best way to explore. I also knew I would not be up for schlepping around in the heat of the day.  So, I was pretty excited to find the Expique Tour:  Bangkok Night Lights / Tuk Tuk Tour.  For a very reasonable 1850 Thai Baht (about $55) we had a 4 hour nighttime tour of Bangkok via tuk tuk.  While not specifically advertised as a food tour, it definitely centers around food!  I was quite full by the end of the night.

Expique - Bangkok Night Lights TukTuk Tour

The tuk tuk tour begins at the Krong Thonburi train station, where we were met by our tour guide, Natt, as well as Expique owner, Simon.  Our international group totaled 9 – 3 couples (Italy, Austria, Germany) and 3 solo ladies (US, Puerto Rico, Australia) and we were divided into 5 tuk tuks for the evening.  We were each given a small pamphlet with a map showing the places we’d visit, as well as a few key phrases and random facts.

Expique - Bangkok Night Lights TukTuk TourChinatown

Our first stop was the Klong San Market, where our local food sampling began.  I really liked the fish balls, which were little fried dough balls sprinkled with a spicy red sauce.

Expique - Bangkok Night Lights TukTuk TourFood Market - one of my favorite items of the night - fish balls with (hot!) chili sauce.

We then stopped by Wat Prayoon on the banks of the Chao Praya river.  It was quite beautiful lit up at night.

Expique - Bangkok Night Lights TukTuk TourWat Prayoon

Mid-tour, we had a sit down dinner at Thipsamai, supposedly the best pad thai in Bangkok.  I have no real reference point, as my only previous pad thai experience was at Uwajimaya in Seattle, and I was not a fan.  We were whisked past a long line out the door, and given menus to select our entree, and tall glasses of cold tangerine juice.  I went with the guides recommendation, shrimp pad thai, which was quite tasty and, interestingly, wrapped in a cooked egg.  (Eggs show up in strange places in Thailand, like on every club sandwich)

Expique - Bangkok Night Lights TukTuk TourShrimp Pad Thai in an egg wrap

Expique - Bangkok Night Lights TukTuk TourWe had quite the international group - Puerto Rican, American, Australian, 2 Italians, 2 Germans and 2 Austrians!  Thankfully everyone spoke English and of course the hot Italian boys were gay.

With full bellies, it was back to the tuk tuk for more adventure.  Next up was Wat Pho, famously known as the home of the Reclining Buddha (which, sadly, I did not see as it was closed earlier in the day when I tried to visit) With no crowds of tourists, we were free to roam around the exterior of the temples.  Our guide explained how all the tiles were porcelain from China, originally used as ballast to weigh down the ships coming back.

Expique - Bangkok Night Lights TukTuk TourWat Pho

We then moved on to the flower market.  It is amazing how many street markets I saw in Thailand and Cambodia – all of them rolled out and rolled up every day. The flower market was huge, stall after stall filled with fragrant flowers, and women making Buddha offerings with flower buds.  Such a treat for the senses!

Expique - Bangkok Night Lights TukTuk TourFlower Market

Our last stop was in Chinatown, where we again entered a restaurant and enjoyed some sweet treats.  We had white bread cubes which we dipped in a delicious bright green custard sauce. And I finally got to try mango sticky rice with coconut milk..so good that I was recently searching Yelp to see where I can find it in Chicago!

Expique - Bangkok Night Lights TukTuk TourFinally got to try Mango Sticky Rice - delicious!

At this time, it was nearing 11pm, and we had the option of retaining our tuk tuk drivers for a ride back to our hotels.  I gladly chose this option and enjoyed a breezy ride back to the Aloft hotel, arriving way past my usual bed time!

Expique offers several tours in Bangkok, and they are reasonably priced and well organized.  Throughout the tour, we were given cold bottled water, and even cold washcloths to cool down – an extra nice touch in the crazy heat! I would highly recommend this tour, or any other option from Expique if you are visiting Bangkok.

For all of my Bangkok pictures, click here!

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Bangkok Tuk Tuk Tour

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