Coming off our our three week trip through Southeast Asia where we visited Japan (briefly), Singapore, Cambodia and Thailand, I’ve got a mega summary post for you with all of the highlights and the lowlights.
We’ll start with what the title promises – the best and worst of Southeast Asia. The superlatives. The memory makers. The moments that make us smile and the nightmares we’re still replaying.
Next up is Southeast Asia by the numbers. I’m breaking down our trip by kilometres travelled, hotels stayed at and, most importantly, bowls of Khao Soi eaten.
And lastly, I wanted to end this Southeast Asia mega post with a fun little interview I did with Colin. Prior to this trip, Colin had never been to anywhere in Asia. So before we left, I asked him a few questions about his predictions for the trip. And then we came back and I interviewed him again to see which of his predictions came true. So stay tuned for a first timer’s pre-trip thoughts and post-trip conclusions!
Okay, let’s dive in. Here is the best and worst of Southeast Asia (as determined by Colin and me, based solely on this trip – apologies if your favourite didn’t make the cut!).
Southeast Asia Superlatives
And the award goes to…
Our favourite meal was Khao Soi, a delicious noodle curry dish found in Northern Thailand. So yum! I could go for a bowl right now. Colin also liked the food we made during our cooking class in Cambodia.
I ordered mango chicken at the elephant lodge we stayed at as I love both mango and chicken, and the menu said it was a staff favourite. Unfortunately, it was not my favourite. The chicken had a breading on it so thick you could barely find the meat, there was no sauce, and they added cilantro. Yuck!
Best form of transportation?
Tuktuks in Cambodia! We were a little hesitant at first but travelling around Siem Reap by tuktuk was actually really fun. You got a nice breeze (which I referred to as “tuktuk AC”), great views and saved some money.
Worst form of transportation?
Tuktuks in Bangkok. We had an awful experience with a tuktuk in Bangkok. Never again.
Best wat (temple)?
We visited so many wats that we had to break this one down a little bit. In Cambodia, Colin’s favourite wat was Bayon while mine was Ta Prohm. The faces of the Bayon temple were so unique and I loved how the Ta Prohm temple had lots of rubble all over and trees growing through. In Thailand, Colin preferred mountaintop Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai while I loved the temples of the ornate Grand Palace in Bangkok.
This one we both agreed on. Neak Pean temple in Cambodia was awful. It’s way out in the middle of the water, meaning you have to walk along a completely shade-less bridge single-file to get there. And once you’re there, it’s so underwhelming. It’s tiny and out in the water so you can’t get up close. It was the biggest let down.
Best non-wat activity?
Hanging out with the elephants at Chai Lai Orchid was our favourite non-temple activity, no questions asked. It was absolutely amazing to spend some time feeding the elephants, walking alongside them, bathing them and just hanging out in their home. I’ll definitely be sharing more about this experience later!
Worst non-wat activity?
The Chatuchak Market in Bangkok. It was a nightmare to get there and when we finally did, the place was so packed and humid. I don’t usually mind tight spaces but this one was giving me a tough time. From the heat, I thought I was going to pass out. Basically we bought a few food items and then got the hell out of there.
Food in Cambodia was so cheap! We regularly would enjoy a filling delicious meal, three entrees and two drinks, for less than $10!
After walking a ton in Singapore, we realized Colin’s shoes (which we had purchased for about $10 from Primark in Ireland) were not going to hold up. He was in a ton of pain and we still had all of the wats in Cambodia to walk through. So we had to buy new shoes. Unfortunately, we didn’t make that decision until our last day in Singapore, meaning we spent way too much on a pair of Adidas at the airport. But his feet felt way better!
We have a tie. We loved our hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia with the big bed, big room and nice pool. It was also a perfect location in Old Town (but not on Pub Street) and a great deal ($35/night). And we also loved our second Phuket hotel with the super strong air conditioning, separate living room and really nice pool with sunset views over the ocean.
That would have to be our first Phuket hotel, considering we checked out of there about an hour after arriving. We spent a good 20-30 minutes walking around in the blaring heat with our heavy backpacks trying to find this hotel after our mini-bus dropped us off at the wrong spot. Once we finally found it, we checked into a pretty shabby room with a gross outdated bathroom and AC that didn’t work. We probably could have managed the “rustic” room but non-working AC was a deal breaker. When we realized we were still sweating an hour after arriving, we knew we needed a change.
Best overall day?
Our favourite day was the day we did the small circuit in Siem Reap, starting with sunrise at Angkor Wat. I was kind of dreading doing the sunrise viewing as I knew it would be ungodly early and very crowded. And yes, it was both of those things. But it was also so exciting and so beautiful. It was our first day in Cambodia and early in our trip, so we were still energized. And the crowds weren’t as bad as I thought they would be.
After sunrise, we explored Angkor Wat, which was pretty quiet at that time of day, and then moved onto Bayon and Ta Prohm, our two favourite wats. We picked up fresh fruit along the way, had lunch at a great Cambodian restaurant, and ended the night at the Phare Cambodian Circus. We even fit in a nap in the afternoon. The perfect day!
Worst overall day?
Our worst day was probably the day in Bangkok when we tried to go to the Chatuchak Market. Our tuktuk journey there was awful – we got driven around for 45 minutes in the wrong direction so we could visit a clothing store we had no intention of buying from. And then we sat in traffic for another 30 minutes. And the market itself was a nightmare. After all that, we called it a day and headed right back to our air conditioned hotel room. We may have also ordered pizza…
Place we can’t wait to go back to?
Cambodia! We loved exploring the temples and I know there are some more off the beaten path ones still left for us to discover. I’d also like to see more of Cambodia, since we only visited Siem Reap. And Colin would like to bring his mom back to Angkor Wat.
Place we never want to go again?
Bangkok. It just really wasn’t the city for us – we hated the place. Too hot, too crowded, too many scams and we were just too tired at the end of our trip to deal with it all.
What would we do differently?
While we loved our trip, I think we’d make a few itinerary changes if we were able to go back in time and do it all again. We’d choose another island to visit for beach time instead of Phuket (everyone on the internet said it wasn’t great and yet I didn’t believe them…). We’d visit Bangkok at the beginning of our trip or, maybe better yet, not at all. And we’d spend one fewer day at the elephant lodge (it was great, but we only paid for a half day activity so spending two nights there seemed like a bit of a waste).
Colin says he would have wanted to splurge a bit on fancy hotels, since they’re so cheap over there. And I would’ve liked to have packed more long dresses to wear to the temples.
Of course, we would have wanted to stay longer in Asia too. I would have loved to discover more places in Cambodia and see more of Japan like Osaka, Nara and Kyoto.
Southeast Asia by the Numbers
Please don’t check my math!
Dates travelled: January 22 to February 13
Nights away: 22
Nights in hotels: 21 + one overnight flight
Number of hotels: 10 (but one we stayed at twice and one we didn’t stay at all!)
Flights taken: 8
Tuktuks taken: 8 (including some for the whole day!)
Taxis taken: 16 (2 in Singapore, 2 in Cambodia and 12 in Thailand)
Wats visited: 13 + countless in Chiang Mai Old City
Photos taken: 1553 (this is the number I downloaded from Google Photos, which means we probably took closer to 2500)
Clothes bought/ruined/left behind: 2/1/2 (Colin bought new shoes and elephant pants, I had one sweater ruined at the elephant lodge, and I left behind two sweaters)
Bowls of Khao Soi eaten: 6 (not nearly enough!)
Mango shakes drank: 8 (again, not enough!)
Massages gotten: 4 (two each, which really, again, is not enough)
Weight of our bags: apx 8kg each (they’re supposed to be 7kg to fly free with the cheap Asian airlines but we got away with a little extra, even though we were both prepared to throw things out or put on a few more layers of clothing)
Distance travelled: 28,983 km
Interview with Colin
Predictions for his first trip to Asia
I asked Colin the following questions before we left on our trip as I wanted to get a first-timer’s thoughts on Asia.
Why did you want to go to Asia?
Cool cultures and good food. It’s different than anything I’m used to, so just out of curiousity I’d like to visit.
What do you think of the itinerary we have planned?
I like that we have quite a few days in most places (unlike our trip to Ireland). I like that we’re hitting four different countries and have a good mix of city and nature. It still seems fairly flexible, which is good.
What part of our SE Asia trip are you most looking forward to?
Just seeing a part of the world I have no real concept of. I have heard stereotypes and seen stuff on TV but I know that’s not completely accurate.
What part are you most nervous about?
I think the same as above – I’m both excited and nervous.
What predictions do you have for the trip?
I predict that I will really enjoy it, that I will eat really well, and that I will have a better understanding of how people in these countries live. I also predict that I will be very jet-lagged!
Post-trip reflections on Southeast Asia
And when we came back from our trip, I interviewed Colin again to see how his predictions held up and what he thought after his first trip to Asia.
Overall, how was your trip?
It was a lot of fun! It was long and hot but I really enjoyed it.
How did your predictions hold up?
I think they all sound about right.
What was the most surprising thing about…
How cool the zoo was!
How interesting the landmine activities were – both the landmine museum and the landmine-detecting dog exhibition.
How huge Bangkok is.
What was the biggest culture shock?
I think it was in Cambodia, when we saw how regular people lived versus the expat community. Especially the fancy expat condos they were building out by the airport. It was such a contrast.
What was the best thing you did/saw?
What was the worst?
That one temple in Siem Reap where we had to walk across the long bridge to get there.
What was the biggest challenge?
Making it out of the hotel in Bangkok.
What advice do you have for first time visitors to Southeast Asia?
- Skip Phuket and find a nicer/quieter area that’s more authentic for your beach vacation.
- Be aware of the high ATM fees for withdrawals. I think we were paying $11 just to take out money.
- Don’t drink the water – not even to brush your teeth!
- Visit Bangkok early in the trip so you’re not so exhausted.
Do you have any packing tips?
Pack light and be prepared to do laundry.
Is there anything you wish you had known before going?
Not particularly. I feel like I learned everything I needed to on the trip.
Phew! And there you have it – the Southeast Asia summary mega post complete with our best and worst superlatives, Southeast Asia by the numbers and Colin’s before and after interview. I know this post was lengthy, but it’s really just a little taste of our trip. I’m super excited to write some more posts, share more photos and put together some itineraries and tips/tricks for future Southeast Asia visitors.
If you made it this far, thank you!
Let me know what you think of our picks and what part of Southeast Asia you love or can’t wait to visit. I’m sure we’ll be going back one day (hopefully soon) so I’d love to hear from you.