One of our days in Chiang Mai was spent helping our friend Julie check out organic farms for her new organization, Live It Global. Organic farming in Chiang Mai is becoming more popular, thanks to several people who are pushing the community in that direction. There are a lot of small villages around Chiang Mai that are mainly focused on agriculture, growing fruits and vegetables which they sell in the local markets. It was a great experience to get out of the city and see how some country people live. Read more →
The Bua Thong Sticky Waterfalls rest in the hills a little over an hour’s drive outside of Chiang Mai. This was our first motorbike adventure, and we were a little nervous about it. There were three of us so Carrie rode with our friend Julie (who is experienced), and I drove myself. I rented the motorbike for 180 baht from a place called Bamboo Rentals. The gas was empty when I picked it up so they directed me towards a gas station down the road. Luckily I had driven Julie’s bike around the lake the day before, so I survived my first leg on a read road without incident. Read more →
Chiang Mai has long been on our list of must dos. A hub for expats and digital nomads in Southeast Asia, we imagined it as a place we could settle down for awhile. After a few weeks of Bangkok, we needed to get out of the big city so we purchased a cheap flight to Thailand’s north. You can also take the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, but for a minimal amount more you can trade the 12 hour ride for a 1 hour flight. On arrival around midnight we took a cheap taxi pickup truck, called a songthaew to our hostel.
The hostel, to our dismay, had forgotten our booking, which we found out right as it started to downpour. Fortunately we found a private room right around the corner at Nomadic Guesthouse for only 200 baht per night and got ourselves some rest, ready to explore the town in the morning.
We instantly loved Chiang Mai. The vibe was so much more relaxed than our previous weeks in Bangkok, and the friendly people made us feel very welcome. Read more →
Backpacking Malaysia is great for easy Asia travel. Easier than South America, easier than Thailand. We traveled the length of the Malaysian peninsula from Malacca to Penang, Kuala Lumpur (KL) to the Perhentian Islands through the Cameron Highlands. The people are friendly, welcoming, and excited to have you in their country. The buses are clean with organized stations and the roads are smooth with minimal traffic, especially in the countryside. The highlight of backpacking Malaysia was the food. From Malay to Chinese to Indian, the cuisine is an amazing fusion of different cultures, living together in relative harmony. Low food costs are easy for every budget traveler and in Malaysia you can get a full meal starting at $1.50 for a vegetarian banana leaf lunch. Even though the government just added a tourist tax to all hotel rooms, Malaysia still has good deals for travelers on a budget. We stayed in some of the nicest and most fun hostels of our lives, and our 15 days in the peninsula didn’t scratch the surface of what the country has to offer.
Pick a Route:
Picking a backpacking route though Malaysia is easy. For a two week trip we would recommend starting in Singapore and working your way north from Malacca to KL, Cameron Highlands, Perhentian Islands, then back across to Georgetown, Penang. If you have three weeks we would suggest adding Taman Negara National Park and Langkawi Island. These are both trips along the standard backpacker trail, great for your first time in Malaysia. Since Malaysia has much fewer tourists than Thailand, you will run into the same friendly faces as you go. There was one lady on our trip that we ran into in at three different places on our adventure. Of course there are many other parts of Malaysia worth exploring, mainly the jungles of Borneo where things are more wild. On a four week trip we would suggest spending a week there getting off the tourist path.
Enjoy the Food:
The food in Malaysia is easy and good for any backpacker’s budget. The most we “cooked” for ourselves in Malaysia was to peel a banana, maybe once. The local markets are great places to pig out economically. Check out the laksa, poh piah, mee koring, and nasi kandar. Western style restaurants are there, but they are the most expensive and generally not as exciting as the local flavors. Every city has a Chinese neighborhood and an Indian neighborhood. Little India was always our favorite spot to eat, great for vegetarians and meat eaters alike! For one meal I had seven different curries and spent a total of less than $3. For these reasons, Malaysia was my all time favorite country to eat in!
Stay in a Hostel:
Backpackers will love Malaysia for the hostels which are cheap and easy to book online. Sometimes they do fill up, especially in the busy season, so we suggest booking in advance. They range in price and quality and there is a new 10 Ringgit tourist tax for every room. Our favorites were the Lemongrass on Long Beach in the Perhentians, and Frame Guesthouse in Georgetown, Penang. Prices range from $10 per night for a dorm bed, $15 for a beach bungalow, or $18 for private room with A/C.
Speak With the Locals:
Backpacking Malaysia is easier than other parts of Asia because most people can speak or at least understand English. A majority of the signs are also in English and Malay, so you will never have a hard time finding your way around. Malay also using the English characters so it’s easy to pick up a little bit along the way which always makes the locals appreciate you more. Knowing few words like terima kasih (thank you) can get you a lot of respect points and make you look a little better than the average traveler.
When looking for easier Asia travel, backpacking Malaysia should be at the top of your list. With top notch people, food, nature and adventure, and hostels, never ending aventuras await you in this tropical paradise!
Like this post about backpacking Malaysia for easy Asia travel? Check out our archives for never ending travel advice, reviews, and many stories of adventure in Malaysia!
Tuk Tuk Hop – A great way to explore Bangkok’s temples! Bangkok is an enormous city and its public transportation systems aren’t the easiest to figure out for travelers. It seems every destination requires a different and sometimes confusing combination of Skytrain, bus, ferry boat, taxi, tuk tuk, Metro, etc. Some of the most historic and famous destinations in Bangkok aren’t anywhere close to the BTS Skytrain or Metro lines. What’s a budget-conscious traveler to do?
Enter Tuk Tuk Hop! Tuk Tuk Hop is a new mobile app which is kind of like Uber for tuk tuks in the historic old city area of Bangkok. Users pay a flat fee for unlimited tuk tuk rides from 8:30am-6pm. The service area includes 23 available drop-off/pick-up locations at points of interest. Basically, you get to create your own tour by picking and choosing where you want to go in what order and not having to walk the long, sweaty kilometers in between destinations! Just download the free app, pay, and enjoy personalized service by certified TukTukHop drivers! If you don’t have a Thai data plan on your phone, TukTuk Hop will even rent you a WiFi device for the day.
Here’s a short video explaining #TukTukHop!
For our Tuk Tuk Hop tour, we started by getting ourselves to Wat Arun then Wat Pho using the BTS to Saphan Taksin then the Chao Phraya river-crossing ferry boat. Wat Pho is home to the world’s largest reclining Buddha! It was truly impressive.
From Wat Pho, we ordered our first tuk tuk ride to the Grand Palace! It was great not having to negotiate for an overpriced taxi. We just waited at the point marked on our app for our certified TukTuk Hop driver. He knew exactly how to go to avoid some of the traffic around the Grand Palace (“Sanam Luang”) and get us where we wanted to be. Around the palace, we got to witness the massive crowds of mourners there to honor the late King Rama IX. What a special time to be in Bangkok!
After walking through two temples and around the Grand Palace we were starving so it was time to chow! We had heard that there were a lot of good restaurants around The Giant Swing, which was another Tuk Tuk Hop stop, so we ordered another ride and jumped in! Riding in tuk tuks and feeling the breeze as you dodge traffic is definitely the most fun way to get around the busy Bangkok streets!
For those confused by the Giant Swing, we learned that it was formerly used in an old Hindu religious ceremony where men would have a swinging competition symbolizing “swinging their way into heaven.” The ceremony was stopped in 1935 after several people died! Now the huge swing structure serves as a landmark in Bangkok and there are many great Thai restaurants nearby. We found some vegetarian noodle soup from a small shophouse to satisfy our hunger and enjoyed seeing lots of shops selling golden Buddhas and Hindu relics for temples— so cool!
After our late lunch we didn’t have too much time left, so we decided to grab our tuk tuk and hit up one more temple — Wat Benchamabophit, “The Marble Temple.” This amazing place is made completely of Italian marble and it is stunning!
You can go to way more places than this using Tuk Tuk Hop if you start early enough! We recommend starting right at 8:30am so that you can use the service all day and really get your money’s worth. It’s such a fantastic way to experience all the most famous historic sites in Bangkok without spending all your time and energy walking! Tuk Tuk Hop is also offering 10% off their normal price AND free umbrella rental for the rest of 2017!
We weren’t compensated in any way to write this post. We just really enjoyed the experience!
After a wonderful time in Penang, Malaysia we bought a van ride to Krabi, Thailand for Thai climb time! For 60 Ringgit each we were speeding across the bridge from Penang back into mainland Malaysia before dawn. The van trips are cheaper and faster than the bus, and they take you across the border which is convenient. You can charter the vans at most hotels and hostels. The border crossing was quick and easy. We got a visa stamp for 30 days on arrival and no one asked for our onward ticket. About onward tickets: every country officially requires them but they are rarely asked for. The only time they generally ask is when you check in for an international flight, but when you cross into a country by land they rarely ask. Our new trick is to screen shot an old flight itinerary and simply change the date on Photoshop to sometime within the visa requirements.
Our van stopped at Hat Yai, the first city in southern Thailand. We had to change vans there so had a break to get some Thai Baht (33 Baht = $1USD) out of an ATM and grab a few snacks. Hat Yai is generally not the best city for tourists, so we didn’t plan to linger. We’ve heard its very popular for Malaysians who like to party and enjoy the lax prostitution laws. Not really our scene though.
A little after 1pm we rolled into the Krabi main bus terminal excited for the next day’s Thai climb time. From there we got a “sŏng tăew“, a cheap pickup truck shared taxi where you sit in the covered truck bed on benches along the side. It’s a fun and cheap way to get around, charging about 1/3 of the regular taxi price. We got our first views of the amazing cliffs that we came here to see, green tops dropping sharply into the ocean and rivers. We got off at Khong Kha Pier where longtail boats depart for Railay Beach whenever six people are ready to go. It costs 150 Baht per person and took about 45 minutes to get out to the beach.
Once on the boat we of course had to stop for gas, then after the gas run the boat wouldn’t start and we almost got stuck drifting under a pier for a moment. But eventually the old longtail boat started and we were on our way, spilling black smoke into the air and speeding very inefficiently in the direction of more cliffs and some very ominous looking storm clouds.
The views were out of this world, it reminded me of something but I didn’t find out til later that this was the site of filming for “Dr. No”, one of my favorite James Bond films! Within moments of arriving it started to downpour. We hurried down the floating pier, passing many Russians on holiday with their rolling suitcases and high heels, trying hilariously not to slip and fall straight into the ocean. After waiting for a bit at the first shelter we found, we walked down the beach walk to a stairway which led to our guesthouse. Rapala Rock Wood Resort had cheap bungalows, no frills but everything we needed. Little shacks with palm roofs and mosquito nets and fans are what makes us happy. As soon as we had set our stuff down the sky cleared and it was a beautiful afternoon.
Being super hungry, we set off on what was suppose to be a short walk to Mama’s Chicken. It turned out to be quite an adventure since it was on the other side of a little jungle. We first went to the west side beach (Railay is a peninsula with two sides, sunrise and sunset) then we hiked up though a little muddy trail, over some rocks, and onto Tonsai Beach. The overhanging rocks here we impressive but we were on a mission for food. At the other end of this beach we found the small road to nowhere that led past some sleepy guesthouses and a few dark climbing shops. All the way around on the other side we found Mama’s, a super rustic open-air restaurant. We got some pad thai and fruit shakes and filled our empty bellies.
After eating we continued up the path which lead through the jungle and back to Railay, a much faster way. We went around town to a few climbing shops and rented a rope and gear from one of them for 1200 Baht for a day. That was about half the price of the guided tours and we were confident that we could do it on our own. Before bed I had a beer at the bar near our bungalow. The bartenders were super friendly and made me feel very welcome. I learned how to say “thank you” in Thai (“korp kun krup!”) and was pumped about my first glimpses into the famous Thai hospitality.
Thai climb time! In the morning it rained and I was having some stomach issues, so we didn’t get out to climb as soon as we wanted to. When we did get to a climbing spot everything there was a little above our level then we got frustrated and had a fight. Not gonna pretend everything is always perfect between us on this blog! We are human after all! I was so excited about climbing that I got crazy and ended up slipping in the mud and pacing around in a rage. The rains were coming in again now so we had to go back to our bungalow. Oh, the frustrations. I eventually calmed my crazy self and we went back out and found a few routes on the 1,2,3 Wall and Muay Thai Wall.
It was important to find walls with the new Thaitainium Project bolts, as the original steel bolts have become unsafe by the constant exposure to salty air. All these challenges added up and it wasn’t until the end of the day that we each got to climb a few routes, and then we got tired so quickly from being out of shape! I think it was a success in the end, but it was definitely character building. We had a few sends and it felt good to get back on the rocks. The adrenaline made me feel alive again and we couldn’t wait to come back for more. In December WE WILL BE BACK!!!
Here’s a kind-of-lame video of us being kind-of-lame at climbing. Next time we go to Railay we hope to be stronger and have a DRONE to make an awesome video for you all!
If you are climbing in Thailand or anywhere else, Mountain Project is the best online resource for climbers. Enjoy hearing about Thai climb time in Railay Beach? Find more climb stories from California and Arizona in our archives!
On our last day on the island we took the bus to Penang National Park, about an hour ride from central Georgetown. There were several possible hikes but the Canopy Walkway was under renovation so we settled on the hike to Monkey Beach.
Here is a short video of our adventure. Make sure to check out 1:25 for some angry monkeys.
We spent over an hour walking the jungle path until we came to the beach. We sipped coconuts and had the usual arguments with the monkeys.
They never like me very much and it never fails that we end up screeching at each other. There were a lot of the little buggers and they had big teeth so we let them win this time. We didn’t eat enough breakfast for such a long hike and were super hungry by the end (having only eaten like twice before leaving). So we got some roti (fried folded delicious bread) while waiting for the bus back.
We were upset with the amount of trash in Penang National Park and saw quite a few Malaysian hikers throw their empty bottles right onto the beach. Several people on Monkey Beach were selling a variety of drinks, all in small plastic bottles but there were no trash bins and it was obviously too much work for people to just carry it out. A group of 20-30 middle school students passed us, each with their own small plastic bottle of water. We talked while hiking out about how they could clean up all the trash in a few days with just a few people. Near the entrance we came upon five park employees sweeping leaves off the path. Yes that’s right, FIVE PEOPLE. SWEEPING. LEAVES. OFF. A. PATH. IN. THE. JUNGLE. I was really frustrated by the whole system and I tried to calmly explain this to the Park Ranger at the front gate on our way out.
Me: “Why do so many people throw trash on the beach?”
His response, waving his hands as if it’s hopeless: “They are local people.”
Me: “Do you tell them not to do it?”
He smiled and said, “Have a nice day!”
Well, that was that. Non-confrontational Malaysian culture for the win! Reflecting upon it, I don’t blame the people anymore. Yes, we all need to be more conscious of the products we buy and the waste we produce but I blame the governments for not educating their people better and most of all the companies that produce the bottles. If I were Supreme Dictator of The World, the Coca-Cola company would no longer exist.
Want to read more about Penang? Check it out here!