3 months, 23 cities, and 29 hotels. What a whirlwind. A crazy, beautiful whirlwind. As I sit here taking it all in and enjoying the Florida sunshine with my pup back on my lap, I can’t help but get lost in my memories. Sean and I have gotten many questions specifically around our travel route and where we stayed in Southeast Asia. The biggest question we’ve gotten is: “Is it really that cheap?” and the answer is a lot of YES and a bit of NO. It depends on what you want to do, how safe you want to feel while doing it, and where you want to stay. I will dive into each country individually in future posts, but I figured I would start my virtual diary (in essence) explaining our travel route in hopes that it will inspire you to get out there, and step outside of your comfort zone! Although I had a preconceived notion of our timeline and cities we wanted to visit, we generally flew by the seat of our pants. The only accommodations we pre-booked were the flights into Singapore and our hotel upon arrival. This was the BEST decision we could have made, as our “plan” uncontrollably and drastically changed 5 days into our trip.
Prior to leaving, I searched and searched for a travel route that showed me what hotels (not hostels) people stayed in, in which cities, and the route they chose, and I never found one that truly helped me out. My purpose for writing this post is to help other travelers like myself, find their way. Sean and I tried to stay in the budget range of $30-50 USD a night, and we generally succeeded. In certain islands, we had to spend a bit more to be comfortable, and a couple of times, we decided to treat ourselves and splurge. When we did splurge, we were always treated with 5 star service, and you’d think we were staying at the Four Seasons; however, it was (of course) wayyyy cheaper than the Four Seasons. We mainly did this when we craved a “western retreat.” Sometimes you crave home when you’re long term traveling, and that’s okay! Yes, I ate tons of rice and noodles, but I am not ashamed in my game of ordering chicken tenders, french fries, and ice cream at times as well. Below you will find the chronological order of our travel route, and the accommodations we stayed in.
- -$: Under 30 USD
- $: 30-50 USD
- $$: 50-75 USD
- $$$: 75+ USD
SINGAPORE: Hotel Boss, ($$) :We absolutely loved Singapore as mentioned in prior posts. It is a great city; however, it is not the most backpacker friendly city. It is very expensive, and unless you shell out more than $70+ a night, you are stuck in a hostel, which from our research, all nice, clean hostels start around the $50 mark. Hotel Boss was a great alternative for us because it was conveniently located next to the Lavender MRT stop, and it was very clean and budget friendly! This is the only hotel we pre-booked from the United States.
KUALA LUMPUR: Hotel Capitol , ($): Would I ever visit Kuala Lumpur or stay in this hotel again? No, thank you! We left KL after two nights because we weren’t huge fans of the city. It was a bit sketchy, overpopulated, and to be honest, completely out of our taste. In order to locate the hotel, we had to walk through a construction zone, back alleys, and pass by many homeless beggars. The staff at Hotel Capitol was unfriendly, and we did not feel comfortable walking around the city at night. We also found squatty potty’s in the lobby. We did however have western toilets in our hotel room, thank goodness!
PENANG, MALAYSIA (aka Malaysia’s foodie capital), ($) : The Wembley- St. Giles Hotel Penang is the first city we decided to extend our stay in. We absolutely loved taking the gypsy approach to our trip because it gave us the freedom to ditch a city we didn’t particularly care for (ie. KL), or stay longer in cities we absolutely loved, like beautiful Penang. The St. Giles was probably the nicest hotel at the cheapest rate we found throughout our entire 3-month tenure in SEAsia. This amazing hotel cost us a whooping $35 a night for a wonderfully updated, modern, suite style room and bathroom with bay views. The hotel also had amazing amenities including a roof top bar, infinity pool, and expansive lobby restaurant/bar. The staff was also top notch, and gave the best recommendations!
LANGKAWI, MALAYSIA: Langkawi is a HUGE island with very different scenery. We decided to stay in Langkawi for a week and a half, and we stayed in 3 different locations with Datai being our favorite. In Datai, we splurged and stayed at The Adaman, a Luxury Collection Resort ($$$) where the jungle meets the crystal clear blue sea. The only way to access this part of the island is to stay on the pricier, more luxurious side with many resorts to choose from, which to be honest, was fine by us! 😉 This portion of the island was drop dead gorgeous. We saw wild monkeys, colorful coral, and kayaked the beautiful Andaman sea. After Datai, we made the one-hour drive to the residential, and very Chinese populated, town of Kedah, where we stayed at the: Bayview Hotel (-$). We did not spend much time here, as we figured out very quickly it was more residential. We did however enjoy the BEST traditional Chinese food, and I am SO thankful for that. After leaving Kedah, we made it to our final stop in Cenang Beach, where we stayed at the Cenang Plaza Beach Hotel (-$), another cheapie but goodie. This hotel cost us a wonderful $18 flat!
BUKIT LAWANG, INDONESIA: Sam’s Bungalow, (-$): Sam’s Bungalow goes down in history for one of the COOLEST places we’ve ever stayed. It was exactly what it sounds like, a bungalow, owned by a cool guy named Sam, in the Indonesian jungle. We could hear the sound of the river flowing through our room, and it was so relaxing. Sam’s Bungalow was the first of only two places without air conditioning that we stayed at throughout our 3-month SEAsian adventure. I am not going to lie, it was rough! Thank God for mosquito nets and fans. We had a two story “town home” type set up, with the bathroom on the first floor and the bedroom and outdoor hammock on the second floor. Eating meals was served family style with the other guests. Our journey into the Indonesian Jungle was inspired by my love of nature. We spent our time hiking through the jungle and observing Orangutans in their natural habitat.
YOGYAKARTA, INDONESIA: Gallery Prawirotaman, ( $): We really loved Yogyakarta. To this day, I can confidently say the BEST MASSAGE I received in all of Southeast Asia was at the Gallery Prawirotaman hotel. This modernized, colonial hotel is located walking distance to Prawotiman I and II, where all of the bars and restaurants are located. We loved walking around, and taking in all Yogyakarta or “Jogja” had to offer. I unfortunately did not take any photos of the hotel myself, but the one below is taken from their website, alongside my favorite picture of Sean and our Gojek driver. I would absolutely return back to Yoga, as there is so much to see and do there. We barely scratched the surface during our 5-day stay.
BROMO, INDONESIA: Cafe Lava Hostel, ($): Cafe Lava Hostel is the only hostel we stayed at during our time in Southeast Asia. It was also one of our pricier stays with the worst accommodations. This is all attributed to location, which was at the base of the Mount Bromo volcano. We paid $45 US Dollars a night to stay here, and we could not believe how much of a rip off it was! Especially after paying no more than $35 a night for high-end accommodations in other parts of Indonesia. Unfortunately, Bromo does not offer mid-level accommodations unless you book extremely far in advance. Sean and I were stuck at Cafe Lava Hostel for 2 nights, unless we wanted to shell out over $150 on high-end accommodations. We both figured we’d enjoy spending the $$ in warmer locations, so Cafe Lava Hostel it was. At the end of the day, it was worth it. The views we witnessed were priceless, and our sunrise hike felt like we were hiking through a post card.
BANYUWANGI, INDONESIA: Ketapang Indah Hotel, ($): After Bromo, we made our way to Banyuwangi in search of the Ijen Crater. Unfortunately upon arrival, 2 of the 3 volcanoes in the Indonesian Ring of Fire (Bromo & Mount Batur) erupted, sending seismic waves and volcanic activity towards us. The volcanic activity made it unsafe to explore the blue flame of Mount Ijen, so we spent a few days in the beach town of Banyuwangi, which reminded us of Hawaii. Banyuwangi is a 30-minute ferry ride from Bali, and you can see Bali in the horizon. The Ketapang Indah Hotel was a wonderful resort style hotel in which we only paid $35 a night. The only downfall to the Ketapang Indah Hotel besides the average food, was this awful sour stench that filled the air every single day. After dealing with it intermittently for two days straight, we finally asked what the smell was, and were told the hotel neighbored a bird seed factory, and the odor seeped through the air from the factory. I wish I could describe the smell, but I’ll let your imagination handle it.
BALI, INDONESIA; We stayed at 3 hotels during our time in Seminyak and Ubud. While in Seminyak, we stayed at the wonderful Tijili ($) (which was one of our favorite hotels throughout our stay). It was in a perfect location, walking distance to the beach, with tons of bars/restaurants around. While in Ubud, we stayed amongst the rice fields at the peacefully zen Plataran ($$$), and then close to Monkey Forest at the Ubud Village Hotel ($$$), to get a taste of the culture in town.
NUSA & GILI ISLANDS: After Bali, we made our way to Nusa Lembongan and the Gili Islands by ferry. In Nusa Lembongan we stayed at the Sammada Hotel and Beach Club ($). In Gili Air, we stayed at the Gili Lumpung Hotel, ($) and we then ended our stay in Gili T at the Luce de Alma Resort ($$). When I began researching Bali, I knew we had to venture out to the surrounding islands and stay in a traditional “lumpung” bungalow, and although it was very simple, it did NOT disappoint.
KOH SAMUI, THAILAND: Impiana Resort Chaweng Noi, ($$$) Koh Samui was our first taste of Thailand after flying into Bangkok and learning about the King’s death. After finding out 98% of Thailand closed down, we splurged for a beach-front resort style option where we could eat, drink, and enjoy alcoholic beverages on the beach while waiting for the 72-hour ban on entertainment to end. Impiana did not disappoint! We were able to get tons of sunshine, and luckily for us, the hotel had the BEST traditional THAI food on property.
PHUKET, THAILAND: Hotel Ikon, ($): I absolutely loved Hotel Ikon. It is a European owned hotel, and was created by a traveler for travelers. The hotel is only a 15-minute walk to Karon Beach, and along the way you will find many restaurants and shops. It was clean, comfortable, and the perfect oasis we needed while island hopping.
KHAO LAK, THAILAND: The Waters Resort, ($$): We arrived to Khao Lak in hopes of traveling to the Similan Islands, and using the small beach town as our starting point. Unfortunately, we arrived right in the middle of a huge storm amidst monsoon season. We did not spend as much time as we would have liked to in Khao Lak due to mild flooding, the awful smell of sewage throughout the streets, and a 3-hour power outage that left us in pitch black darkness. The beaches of Khao Lak were a disappointment, and the water was bright brown. In all honesty, this was most likely caused by the aggressive storms churning up the sand. Nonetheless, we booked it out of there after two dreadful days and nights, and made our way to Railay Beach by minibus and long tail boat.
RAILAY BEACH, THAILAND (KRABI): Bhu Nga Thani Resort, ($$$): After arriving in Railay Beach, the storms continued to progress, and we decided to stay in another resort for safety and comfort. Railay is incredibly small, and filled with tons of beautiful bungalows. If you find yourself in Railay and the weather is great, I highly recommend finding different accommodations. We thought this hotel was overpriced and the only great thing it had going for it was the prime location, an infinity pool, and an amazing spa (which I took full advantage of, and is filed under one of the best massages I had in Thailand). Railay is hands down one of my favorite places in Thailand. I loved every second of our time there. You go to Railay for the “typical Thailand” experience, as you can only get there by long tail boat.
AO NANG, THAILAND (Krabi): Centara Anda Devi Resort and Spa , ($): Ao Nang is located in the Krabi province, and it is only a 45-minute long tail ride from Railay Beach. Many travelers either stay in Krabi or Ao Nang and take day trips to Railay Beach because it is the most cost effective option as Railay Beach can get a bit pricy. I highly recommend staying on Railay for a minimum of 2 nights, and then relocating to either Ao Nang or Krabi to save money while exploring the area. We loved staying at the Centara because it was reasonably priced at approximately $45 night for a standard room. It was very clean and even came with a pillow menu! MAJOR points in my book if you know me personally. I really missed my down pillows on this trip! 🙂
KOH PHI PHI, THAILAND: The Cliff Beach Resort, ($$$): We took a 2-hour ferry from Ao Nang to Koh Phi Phi and made reservations at the Cliff Beach Resort the morning we arrived. I highly recommend all travelers to make hotel reservations prior to their arrival as accommodations book up quickly whether it is in or out of season. Koh Phi Phi is a very small island, and can be walked around rather easily, hence the reason accommodations book up so quickly. We got insanely lucky that the The Cliff Beach Resort had availability for 2 nights. Many budget accommodations were completely booked, so we had to stretch our daily budget for this gem. The hotel is perfectly located with it’s own private beach, and they also pick you up at the dock upon your arrival via private boat! This is a great bonus because you don’t have to walk around the island with your heavy backpacks in search of a place to stay. The hotel was clean, QUIET, and had the best infinity pool we saw on the island. Koh Phi Phi is known as a “party island”, so it was really nice to only be a 15-minute walk from the craziness, as many travelers we met heard music bumping into the wee hours of the night.
PATTAYA, THAILAND: Adelphi, ($): I absolutely HATED Pattaya. If I had to guess, we spent less than 20 hours in this city, and I loathed every second of our time there. Pattaya is Thailand’s sex tourism capital of the country, and the amount of sex tourism I witnessed in such a small amount of time is enough to make my skin crawl for eternity. Why did we go to Pattaya you ask? As a gateway to Ko Chang, and ONLY as a gateway to Ko Chang. My heart sank with every step as I watched girls younger than I walk alongside men older than my grandfather. We stayed at the Adelphi Hotel, and it is not worthy of photos or a link as my last memory of the hotel was a self-righteous old man yelling at the front desk staff for not allowing his “guest” upstairs. Pure disgust, and I discourage everyone from visiting this horrible town.
KO CHANG, THAILAND: Awa Resort, ($): Ko Chang is the type of place you stay for weeks on end. We met many expats and backpackers who decided to stay for days that turned into weeks, weeks that turned into months, and months that turned into meetings at the immigration office. We visited Ko Chang during “Green Season” and it was breathtakingly beautiful. I can’t imagine it during high season, as we loved every second of our time in low season. We stayed at the Awa Resort and enjoyed their calm, relaxing ambiance and delicious house smoothies, happy hour, and extensive breakfast.
KO KHOOD, THAILAND: Tinkerbell Resort, ($$$): Beautiful Koh Khood. OUR FAVORITE ISLAND in Thailand. We absolutely cannot wait to be reunited, and when we return, we will 100% stay at the beautiful Tinkerbell resort. We had no idea Koh Khood existed until we made our way to Koh Chang and spoke to a few locals about upcoming birthday plans and asked for suggestions. Koh Khood is a secret Thai vacation spot, and the island is completely secluded. The website is mostly in Thai, so we had to seek the help of Thai locals to help make our reservation via phone prior to arriving since we do not speak or understand Thai. While on Koh Khood, we kayaked to multiple secluded beaches, and rarely ever saw any other human beings. The staff at the Tinkerbell Resort are out of this world. They are warm and kind, and completley willing to go out of their way to make you feel at home. The food is traditional Thai and absolutely delicious.
CHIANG MAI, THAILAND: Golden Bell Hotel, ($) and iWualai, (-$): Outside of the islands, Chiang Mai is our favorite city in Thailand. We spent 2.5 weeks in Chiang Mai, which is the longest we spent in any city throughout our 3-month trip in Southeast Asia. You’ll notice a slower paced lifestyle, and being there gives you a real feel for the Thai culture. In Chiang Mai, we learned the most about Buddhism and befriended locals born and raised in the city. They welcomed us with open arms and educated us on everything Thai. We spent most of our time at the Golden Bell Hotel and ended our trip with 2 days at the iWualai hotel due to overbooking at the Golden Bell. The Golden Bell is perfectly located outside of the city walls, and an easy walk to the Saturday & Sunday Walking Street Market. They have complimentary bikes that allow you to roam the city, and it is a short Song Tao ride to any location. The staff make you feel at home, and truly make the experience worthwhile. They are so friendly, and provide the best suggestions. They want you to truly submerge yourself into the culture, if you are willing. The iWualai Hotel is a basic alternative to the Golden Bell, but did not provide the level of attentive service we were use too. The biggest “pro” of the iWualai hotel is the unlimited complimentary bottles of water, the sunny pool, and chill environment with like-minded, young travelers.
BANGKOK, THAILAND: Novotel Bangkok Ploenchit Sukhumvit, ($$$): As I am sure you have heard, Bangkok gets a pretty bad reputation! I am extremely happy and proud to report that we absolutely loved Bangkok! It is a chaotic city, but it has so much to offer. I would gladly go back to Bangkok, and next time I do, I will plan more time for myself there. We decided to end our time in Southeast Asia with a bang, so we chose a hotel in a great location, upgraded our room, and swam in a wonderful pool to soak in our last few SEasian views. The Novotel was everything we needed it to be for our final goodbyes in Southeast Asia. It was modern, clean, and just the right amount of “western” to keep us comfortable before our extremely long commute home.
Prior to our trip, I remember searching and searching for a detailed travel route throughout Southeast Asia that included decent HOTELS, not hostels. We wanted to be comfortable and safe without having to worry about our belongings getting stolen or having to deal with the stress of locking them up in a locker. I am the type of person that needs a good night’s sleep, a clean place to lay my head, and a hot shower in order to be well rested, and enjoy the following day. Most people think you have to stay in hostels when backpacking throughout Southeast Asia, and I wanted to show you that you can stay in “Western-style”hotels and still save a ton of money. There is so much out there when it comes to affordable travel, besides hostels. I hope this post has helps you realize Southeast Asia can be comfortable AND affordable.
Where did you stay in Southeast Asia? Do you prefer hotels or hostels?
OR, are you interested in going and need further information? Let me know in the comments section below!