Browsing Category: Asia

Travel budgeting for Malaysia

I’ve kept a detailed tally of all of my expenses from country to country, my first installation for Southeast Asia budgeting is Malaysia! Or more specifically, Kuala Lumpur. Here’s the run down of my relatively budget friendly expenditures for our first stop in Asia.

Note: All prices are in US dollars, and I rounded when necessary to keep things nice and easy. 

The currency in Malaysia is the Malaysian Ringgit (RM for short) and the conversion is about 3.27RM to US$1. I already converted all the prices to approximate US dollars.

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Time spent = 3 nights, 4 days

Accommodation = $9/night (or $27 total)

I would definitely recommend staying in the Golden Triangle neighborhood, as it was my favorite in Kuala Lumpur. We were told most accommodations in this area were around $10/night for a dorm bed. We just walked in and out of places until we found a decent enough dorm for a few days at Anjung Guesthouse. It wasn’t anything special, the WiFi didn’t work half the time, and it wasn’t the cleanest we’ve stayed in, but it had a heavy duty air conditioner and fan in the dorm which was much appreciated. We landed on this guesthouse more out of pure exhaustion than anything else after a long travel day, if you look around a bit you could probably find an even better dorm/room for the same price in the Golden Triangle.

Transport = $2/day ($6-$7 total)

The monorail is extremely easy to use, we took it everywhere and used it often, and still it only came out to about $2 a day.

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Food = $7.50/day ($30 total)

There is a wide variety of prices you can find for food in Kuala Lumpur depending on if you’re on a main touristy road or a local hangout. My favorite cheap place to eat is called Blue Boy Vegetarian in the Golden Triangle, a full meal came out to about $1.50.

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Smoothies/juices = $5.50 total

These will always have their own category in my Asia budgeting because I’m such a smoothie fiend.

Water (1500ml) = Around $0.50 each/$2.75 total for 5 bottles

Misc = $13.50

Breakdown of my miscellaneous purchases:

  • Fish feet cleaning = $3
  • Earrings from Central Market = $1.50
  • Floss = $1.80
  • Donation at the Batu Caves for a Hindu blessing and bracelet = $1.50
  • Bug spray = $5.75

Including everything, I spent about $21.50 a day, or $86 total.

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Malaysia wasn’t the most expensive we’ve come across in Asia (hello, Bali), or the cheapest (Cambodia), but it came out to a nice low midrange if you know how to budget your money. Of course, there are things that I had to miss out on in order to stay on budget, such as a trip up to the viewing platform at the Petronas Towers or the neighboring Menara tower, and a Malaysian cooking class, but there are so many other things to do in Kuala Lumpur that don’t cost any money at all. In most cases, the free things I found to do in KL offered more cultural insight than any of the overpriced tourist attractions combined, so I consider my budget choices a win.

And the Petronas towers offer a breathtaking view from anywhere you stand in the city. A sparkling treat to the eyes, free of charge.

10 hours on a sleeper bus = my living hell

I hate to be one of those travel writers that resorts to rants and complaining, because even though long-term travel can be frustrating at times, when you look at the big picture, my life experiences at the moment are pretty damn good. However, I think it’s always beneficial to document the good, the bad, and the ugly, and my last 15 hours have been pretty hilarious, at least now in retrospect, so I thought I would share a story of my first sleeper bus experience in Asia.

It should come as no surprise that for sleeper buses in Asia, being a petite person is highly desirable. I love my lanky height, yet this was the first time I genuinely wished I was a foot shorter – I’m almost 5’10. I can’t even imagine what a 6’4 guy would go through on one of these buses.

I apologize ahead of time for the lack of pictures, at the time of this story I was miserable, sleep-deprived and in no mood to rummage through my pack for a camera, but the story still deserves to be told.

We bought the luxurious “hotel” bus in Sihanoukville for the 10 hour ride to Siem Reap, a whole 2 extra dollars than the standard night bus. When we were picked up from the store, we were crammed into a little van with more people than there were seats, and all of our luggage was surrounding us, taking up what little oxygen was left inside the vehicle.

When we arrived at the actual “hotel” bus, we knew that we had been slightly duped with what the transportation store had advertised to us. We were supposed to get extra amenities for the slightly higher price, including wi-fi, free water, a bathroom on board. There were none of these. The key selling point for the luxurious bus was that you had an actual bed to sleep on for the ride and not just a reclining seat.

When I stepped into the cramped bus aisle I could tell that I already regretted not just getting the reclining seats, if anything just for the leg room. The “beds” were less than the width of a single bed for two people, and a little over 5 feet long. I also had to carry my duffle with me into this sleeping space because it holds all of my valuables.

I’ve never really had an issue with claustrophobia, but I was so closed in and cramped I actually felt myself becoming more and more claustrophobic by the second. I couldn’t curl up my legs because then they would float over to Laura’s side of the single bed. I kind of just had to have them straight legged and extremely elevated the whole time for them to fit into the space, at times letting them curl when Laura was asleep and she wouldn’t notice me creeping into her space.

I’m not a person who gets homesick easily, I tend to try and make the best of any situation in which I find myself, and I’m a chameleon when it comes to new transitions. Spending 10 hours in this tiny space was the first time I genuinely wished with my whole heart to be home, and no longer on the road. I felt myself let out a shudder and a few tears in the pitch black, the first time I’ve cried in a long time, until I realized how pointless my tears were, I just had to bite the bullet to get to the other side of the bus ride. I took a deep breath and turned up my iPod to tune out the uneasiness I felt through my whole body.

I’m usually fine with dreaded travel times, I actually love tuning out with my music, my writing, my thoughts. But I felt helpless on the bus, unable to even move an inch, my legs spasming often from being in such a position. It was the bumpiest bus ride I’ve had in my life, it felt like the bus was going to tip over during some stretches it was so unstable.

Things took a turn for the worse when I realized, even by staying dehydrated as much as I could from the get-go, that I had to use the bathroom a few hours in, and yet there was the small problem of no toilet on the bus. At about 1am the bus stopped so the drivers could pee on the side of the road, I leapt at the chance. They didn’t speak any English, but I think they could tell from my desperation what it was I needed. It was pouring down rain, lightning in the sky, I had to run over some rough rocks in the pitch black completely bare foot to find a bush (we had to take off our shoes to get on the bus), all the while the three drivers were watching me in the darkness.

I was terrified the whole time that the bus would pull away and I would be stranded on the side of the road in the middle of the night in rural Cambodia. I ran back to the bus, the driver laughing at my situation, I laughed too, understanding how ridiculous I must seem to these Cambodian men, and laughing at the bad luck I seem to get myself into sometimes. I realized when I got back onto the bus that I had cut open my foot during my scramble in the dark Cambodian wilderness, my disinfectant of course was in my backpack at the bottom of the bus.

At about 3am we stopped for our one and only proper bathroom break, and the bus was suddenly stuck in a muddy ditch. It was still pouring down rain, everyone had to evacuate and they called a tow truck to help pull out the bus. Everyone cheered when the bus pulled through, we all groggily stumbled back on around 3:30am and kept traveling to Siem Reap for three more hours.

Needless to say, the only way I got through that bus ride from hell is music. I didn’t sleep a wink, but I had some solid moments by myself and Ben Howard consoling me through the experience.

But let’s be honest, this is all a daily part of backpacker life and sometimes you just have to suck it up, and find the humor in less than desirable situations. At the moment, I’m ecstatic to be in Siem Reap and to be exploring the ancient temple of Angkor Wat at sunrise tomorrow morning. At least now I know what to expect with my next sleeper bus in Asia.

Bring it.

I heart Cambodia

I have premonitions sometimes when it comes to relationships, people, places and things. It’s a different feeling than any I can describe, just that I know it’s bound to be something special, a feeling like we’ve met before, that I’m at home in a way. Perhaps it’s simply the ability to recognize a deep connection when I come across one.

I’ve only had a few of these in my life in terms of people, two of those turned out be the only two serious relationships I’ve had, my high school sweetheart I met at the age of 13, and my college boyfriend I met when I was 20.

It happens with places as well. The first time I stepped into the Tuscan atmosphere in Florence, I knew immediately how much I would fall in love with the city I would end up calling my second home.

Well, I’ve been in Cambodia less than 24 hrs and I’ve only seen Phnom Penh, but I can tell you already that I feel something special for this country.IMG_3459

In the past two weeks, I’ve come to terms with surviving hours upon hours on sweaty suffocating buses, I’ve learned how to cross a road full of thousands of mopeds, and thus have had at least three near-death experiences. I’ve grown to appreciate a nice ice cold shower, and how to deal with street hawkers of all sorts. I’ve been groped, I’ve been eaten by mosquitos, I’ve spent more than enough hours in airport waiting halls.

We’ve had one tiny travel breakdown in Singapore, and Laura was almost robbed by a wannabe moped thief in Ho Chi Minh. I’ve drank my weight in fresh fruit smoothies in every place I’ve been, I’m averaging reading about one book per week. I’ve had sleepless nights due to noisy dorm mates and stray dogs barking, I’ve had the best nights sleeping in run down $5 dorm beds, and I’ve had more than a few vivid Malaria pill induced dreams. I’ve been lost more times than I can count, but I always seem to find my way again.

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Although I liked Kuala Lumpur, I was constantly worried about attracting too much attention to myself due to its slightly conservative nature, especially in certain areas. I was still aggressively groped by a man on a moped, and still sexually harassed by local men the majority of the time I was there.

Much to my surprise (since I thought this would actually be my favorite country) , no matter how much I tried to force it, Bali and I just didn’t get along, with one exception – yay Ubud! More to be written about my time in Bali soon.

I loved how modern and forward-thinking of a city Singapore turned out to be, but it was more expensive than any other country I’ll be visiting on my trip.

I think I will grow to absolutely love Vietnam when I come back in October for a couple weeks. I’ve only spent a few days there so far, but I even liked the crazy energy of Ho Chi Minh City, to an extent.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with Cambodia. When we first arrived, we stumbled off in the searing heat, tired from a 6 hour bus ride. A ride that consisted of a combination of a John Hughes movie, a Chinese gangster movie, and a kung fu movie dubbed in Vietnamese…oh, and of course, the important part, our first legit land border crossing. It turned out to be a piece of cake (with American dollars), thank god. I had heard more than a few horror stories of the border crossings in Southeast Asia.

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We had to take a tuk tuk to get to the main part of town from where the bus dropped us, but there was the small issue of having no local money. The first ATM we went to wouldn’t accept our cards, and we thought for a good 15 minutes while we were roaming the streets with our heavy backpacks, that we were going to be penniless in Cambodia, until we found another one that worked. The ATMs here give you US dollars, and most restaurants and stores put their prices in the same, US currency. It’s so strange seeing my own money again, it has been so long.

Even with our initial hiccup, after we got into our first tuk tuk, I had this overwhelming good feeling about the city of Phnom Penh, before I had even begun to explore it.

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The rest of the afternoon and evening just proved my initial feelings right. I love the buildings, adorned in gold and intricate patterns. There are Buddhist monks in their classic orange attire everywhere. The people here (and in Vietnam) are the friendliest strangers I think I have ever met in my life. Even the street hawkers seem nicer (although the children are a bit cheeky), constantly asking me if I want a tuk tuk ride, or telling me that I have a beautiful smile, but not in a gross way.

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I don’t feel like I have to be paranoid about my belongings as I did, constantly on edge, in Ho Chi Minh City. The pace is a bit slower here, the Mekong river is beautiful, and I feel at home. There was even a huge group of people doing Cambodian style Zumba across the street from us in a main square while we were grabbing coffee and smoothies.

I love our guesthouse, it’s my favorite of the places we’ve stayed so far, and it’s only $5 a night! Our dorm is incredibly clean, roommates friendly, it has a rooftop bar, and an adorable puppy the runs around everywhere.

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Tomorrow we’re going to see a harsher, but important side to Cambodian history, the destruction left behind by the Khmer Rouge at the Killing Fields, and I’ll explore a bit more of Phnom Penh. From there, I’ll be heading south to Sihanoukville to face one of my fears (the ocean), and get my scuba certification on the tiny island paradise that is Koh Rong. A few days after that, we’ll be heading up to Siem Reap to dive into the local delicacies (grilled tarantula, cricket, duck embryo, etc), and explore the ancient sites of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom.

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The truth is that I already know I heart Cambodia, and I can’t wait to explore more of it <3

Photo essay: A glance at Kuala Lumpur

The cheapest and best local breakfast in town

Discovering Hindu temples at the Batu Caves

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Fish feet cleaning in the Central Market

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A quick bite to eat at one of the many fruit stands

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Merdeka Square, Muslim roots, and the Old Quarter

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Wearing a burka and exploring the National Mosque

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The crazy atmosphere that is Chinatown

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Petronas Towers – Day and Night

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Favorite place in Kuala Lumpur, The Golden Triangle

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First taste of Southeast Asia, Malaysia

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My first 24 hours in Bali

When people think of Bali, they think of Eat, Pray, Love and finding yourself amongst the rice paddies. Granted, I’ve only been here for 24 hours, but I can already tell how different my original perception was from what I’ve found here since arriving. Not that I don’t love Bali, but it is different than what I had built up in my mind – I have been wanting to go here for the majority of my life.

I’ve already accepted that this trip is going to be a learning experience. The only other developing country I’ve visited is Costa Rica and that was years ago and only for 2 weeks, so I knew from the beginning that I was going to have to get used to a different travel style than I’m used to, and I’m learning slowly but surely what exactly that style is along the way.

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Our first speed bump with Bali was our accommodation selection. We were in a hot and sweaty McDonalds in Malaysia when we booked it (Mackers being the only place we could find that had free wi-fi at the time), and we just wanted to figure out a place to stay as soon as possible and get on with our last night in Kuala Lumpur. Dana’s Guesthouse is a lovely place to stay, we have a bungalow, free breakfast, free wifi, and our own room and bathroom for the equivalent of about US$12 a night. However, we didn’t put too much research into looking at where it was located. It’s at least an hour and a half walk to the main beachy part of Bali near Seminyak and Legian, even more to get to Kuta. And we’ve already paid upfront, so there’s no going back now, we’re booked here for 5 nights.

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Even still, it could be worse. Our room is luxurious for any backpacker, especially after our digs in Malaysia with weird foreign men in our dorm that would stare at us while we slept. And even more than the nice room, we’re truly in the most authentic location in Bali that you could probably get. Hardly anyone speaks English, I’ve only seen a couple tourists in this area so far, and we already have a local eatery that knows us, probably as the only white girls.

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When we arrived last night, it was already dark and a bit late. We walked around forever trying to find a place, tired and hungry from a day of travel, only to realize that nothing in our area was open (we’re really in the rural bits). We begrudgingly walked back to our guesthouse to find our hosts out front on their Mopeds. When we told them our dilemma, they offered to take us for a ride to find an eatery. We immediately hopped on and enjoyed our first taste of Bali on the back of a Moped, it was awesome.

Today, included a lot of walking, waking up to Hindu chanting outside our bungalow, green french toast and eggs, laying on the beach all day (including getting a massage on the beach for the equivalent of US$4.50), and a lot of fresh fruit smoothies. Oh, and I have a horrible sunburn…damn Scottish skin.

Here is what I’ve noticed in my first 24 hours of Bali:

  • The Ngurah Rai Airport is a welcoming, friendly and clean airport. There are loads of free maps and tour suggestions at little kiosks throughout the airport for you to look at while you’re waiting in line for customs and baggage. Also, my customs officer was listening to Top 40 hip hop when I walked up, and started talking to me in Spanish (I guess because I’m from California?). I played it cool. Also, although the airport says Denpasar, it’s actually closer to Kuta. So, if you’re looking to book acccommodations close to the airport, I would recommend finding a place in Kuta.
  • There are stray dogs everywhere. Some are friendly and follow us around, some I’m pretty sure have rabies and scare the shit out of us. Regardless, there are tons just running along the street or the beach, looking for a friendly hand to feed them.

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  • There are little Hindu offerings everywhere on the streets. On the sidewalks, in driveways, in podiums. It’s refreshing to see how spiritual people are in their own little ways. And the offerings are quite pretty, usually including coins, colorful flowers, and incense with a smell that fills up the streets.

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  • There are hawkers everywhere. You can’t walk 5 feet on the beach without being bombarded by people asking if you want a massage, a sorong, jewelry, a beach chair, etc. And things aren’t as cheap as you would think, especially on the touristy beach areas. We had to barter for everything we bought today, and when I say “we”, I mean Laura and her British swag.
  • Petrol (or gas for all you fellow Americans!) is sold in empty Absolut Vodka bottles from the little shops along the street.
  • Don’t trust the directions given to you by locals. I’m sure they mean well, but we were pointed in three different directions today to find the beach (we ended up just having to splurge on a taxi in the end), and every other time we’ve asked for directions they’ve only made us hopelessly lost. Also, the maps are not good.
  • Bali is bigger than you think. For some reason I was thinking I’d be able to walk most places and to all the different beaches. This is false.
  • The Balinese are some of the friendliest people.
  • There are a lot of random gaping holes in the sidewalk. Very dangerous for an accident-prone person like myself, I swear I’m going to fall into one before I leave.

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  • I knew Bali was a bit more touristy than other parts of Southeast Asia, but I didn’t realize how Americanized it would be. Malaysia had a lot more British remnants, but when I bought my visa on arrival at the airport in Bali, they preferred American dollars – luckily I still had some in my emergency stash.
  • Seminyak is the ritziest place in Bali, there are a lot of upscale boutiques, hotels, and eateries.
  • At least where we’re staying, the streets aren’t very well lit. I’m talking about pitch black. We learned our lesson from last night and brought my mini flashlight with us for exploring tonight.
  • Smoothies all day, everyday. The ones in Bali are some of the most delicious and wonderful I’ve tasted, and I’m a smoothie fiend.
  • Bali is much more touristy than Malaysia. I was surprised with the lack of backpackers we found in Malaysia, in Bali there’s definitely no shortage of tourists and backpackers in their Bintang tank tops and flip flops.

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We have a few more days here before heading up to more inland Bali in Ubud, where I’ll be trying out my Indonesian cooking, indulging in some beach yoga, cycling through rice paddies, and getting cozy with some monkeys.

Overall, one thing I’ve come away with is that Bali is absolutely gorgeous and it makes me happy.

Have you ever been to Bali? What were your first impressions?

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First impressions of Malaysia, it’s rad

Hot. hot. hot…and my backpack feels about 15 pounds heavier than when I checked it in this morning. Okay, but let’s be real, Malaysia is rad. I know I’m skipping around a bit because I haven’t even written about my time in Sydney yet, or the few more posts that I had planned about Melbourne, but I just wanted to give a quick, dry, and dirty run down of my first impressions of Malaysia while they’re still fresh in my mind.

It’s a bit surreal that we’ve actually made it – It’s exactly as I imagined Asia to be, but better because I’m actually here experiencing the crazy vespa drivers, the street food, the random vendors blasting Top 40 from about 5 years ago (yes, that includes some classic Pitbull and Chris Brown). It’s literally a party in the streets.

But let’s start from the beginning. It was a crazy day from the get-go. I made it to the airport an hour later than I was supposed to because I got off on the wrong stop in the CBD in Sydney for my train connection. When we finally arrived at the check-in counter for AirAsia, my carry-on was too heavy. Apparently you’re only allowed to carry the weight equivalent of a small book for discount airlines. I stepped aside to repack, and stuff more of my things into my backpack, a seemingly impossible feat, but I somehow made it work. I think sitting on it and using every ounce of my strength to squish it down helped a bit, and I’m sure I was great entertainment for everyone else waiting in line watching me.

I let out a big sigh of relief when we finally made it to our gate about 15 minutes before they started boarding. Laura, my British friend whom I’m currently traveling with, and I were two rows apart. We soon realized that in the row between us sat the most annoying children I have encountered on a plane – or as Laura so eloquently put it, “the demon children”. When they weren’t poking Laura in the back of the head, they were stealing my bag underneath my seat or staring me down without blinking, it was creepy.

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After 10 hours on the plane, we stepped out into some of the most humid weather I have ever experienced, I don’t even think Italy in the summer rivals it. And then it was on to tackling the public transit. Our plan is to stay as cheap and authentically local as possible, so I’m sure I’ll have some hilarious stories to ensue shortly. Us and one other girl were the only non-locals on the bus, I especially liked the Bollywood ringtone that kept going off from the man in front of me for the hour long journey into the city.

After we stepped off the bus and into the humid rain, we found the monorail, and ended up in the Golden Triangle neighborhood where we walked around aimlessly going into random places and trying to figure out where we were. We had one hostel in mind, but we were so exhausted, hungry, and dehydrated at this point that we just started going into guesthouses until we found one that clicked enough for one night. I don’t even know the name of the place we’re staying in, but it’s cozy and pretty decent for the equivalent of AUS $10 a night in the heart of the city.

Also, Kuala Lumpur is a gorgeous city at night. There are so many colorful lights everywhere, this was especially apparent on the monorail.

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I had my first wonderfully delicious Asian dish at a street stall called “Frog Porridge”. They do in fact sell frog porridge, Laura and I are going to try it our last night in Kuala Lumpur. Tonight, however, I stayed with the safe choice (fingers crossed), of the spicy green vegetable curry. It was A.M.A.Z.I.N.G., and I’m not even in Thailand yet. I already know that the food is going to be one of my favorite things about this whole trip, I absolutely love Asian food.

Trying my first real Asian dish in Malaysia

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Fun facts I learned while reading about Malaysia on the plane – it is home to the largest species of cockroach in the world. However, it’s also the greenest (aka most jungle-esque) country in Southeast Asia, so I guess the pretty scenery makes up for the first fun fact? I hope. If I see one of those cockroaches I may reconsider.

And so, the Asian adventures begin…