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.
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!
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!)
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!
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!
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