Pete and Sam’s excellent S.E. Asia adventures!

Pete and I spent most of 2013 traveling around Asia.  I didn’t get a chance to tell many people about all of our adventures because we were only back in Canada for a short time.  So I have decided to make a break down on what we did, where we went and how much we spent to give some people an idea. So here it goes!

Our main goal behind coming to Korea was to travel. Having already seen a lot of Europe while living in France, we moved on to the next continent, Asia.  Pete and I took every Chance we had while working in Korea to travel, but seeing as though our time off was extremely limited we started planning a large backpacking trip for the end of our contacts. My obsessive nature to plan consumed all of my breaks between classes and drove me to do more overtime than I could handle.  For the first 6 months I worked from 10 am till 10 pm with a 2 hour break where I usually laid in bed trying not to think of how tired I was. But it was all going to be worth it…

Pete and I managed to pay off roughly $20 000 in debt, and save $21,000 for our trip/move back to Canada. We both worked extremely hard and even extended our contacts for an extra 4 months to save every penny possible.  We managed to do all this while still exploring almost every corner of Korea.

To start telling you about our trip I’ll answer the most common questions asked to us.

1. “How many countries did you make it too?”

From December 2012 to May 2013, we made it to 11 different countries/special administrative regions not including Korea.

trip map

We started our trip in the south of Thailand so we could enjoy the beaches and relax for Christmas. We slowly made our way up to the North and then booked a $17 flight to Malaysia to attend Swedish House Mafia’s One Last Tour. After our quick stop over in Malaysia we headed back up to Laos, over to Vietnam, down the coast of Vietnam and boated into Cambodia. We then decided we needed more beach time! So we hopped on a flight to the Philippines and visited one of the most popular holiday Islands, Boracay. After paying way too much for hotels and beer we decided to head below the equator (our first adventure there)! Bali here we come! Side note: at this point in time I was expecting to get an email from my prospective school saying “come and join us for an interview in April!” any day now, but seeing as though a slightly different email came “Sorry, but don’t rush home” we decided to blow our budget and keep traveling.  From Bali we intended on making our way over to Java, but we stumbled upon these three little islands called The Gillis and decided we have seen enough temples in the past 2 years to justify skipping Java. We laid on a beach and snorkeled with sea turtles for the remainder of our visa.   Where to next? We didn’t really decide this until we found a cheap flight to Hong Kong, with a few days in Singapore in between. We went from Hong Kong (to obtain our Chinese visa), to Macau then up to China on a $25 dollar flight. We spent a few weeks there, checking off some bucket list items, before we decided that it was time to head back to Canada.

2. “What was your favourite country?

This was probably one of the most common questions asked and the most difficult to answer. We had so many great experiences in every country.  They were all so different and amazing, how could we possibly pick!? So we have composed a list of “favourites”.

Phad Thai in Thailand

Favourite country to eat: Thailand! We both love Thai food and it was so cheap and delicious! They cater to vegetarians and people who love spice!  We ate more Phad thai, curry and mango smoothies in one month then most people eat in their life!

Favourite country to relax: Laos. We loved, loved, loved Laos. Some people say the acronym PDR (people’s democratic republic of Laos) actually stands for Please Don’t Rush.  The people here are so kind, always smiling and super chill. So chill that at the airport, after having our visas officially canceled to leave the country, we freely walked in and out of security, across the street and around the corner to get some snacks… which they didn’t even check while walking back into the boarding area.  A little more relaxed than what we are used to flying through North America.

Vang Vieng, Laos Tubing in Laos

Favourite country for Beaches: Although Thailand and Philippines are both well known for beaches, Pete and I would have to say our favourite beach location was Vietnam.  We spent a week in Nha Trang and never wanted to leave.  The beach was clean, and not over crowded like Thailand’s.  The waves were HUGE (borderline dangerous) and it made swimming more enjoyable, especially for Pete. And one last thing that puts Nha Trang on the top of our list, the hawkers were not nearly as intrusive and pushy.  They didn’t stand at your towel insisting you needed a second pair of sunglasses.

My Birthday in Vietnam Pete on the Beach in Nha Trang

Favourite country for Snorkeling: Indonesia! On Gili T we intended on staying 5 days and ended up staying 3 weeks. The first time you see a sea turtle is magical.  It looks as though it soars through the water effortlessly and what seems like snorkeling for a few minutes is really hours.  We swam with turtles every day while on Gili T and it has left us with dreams of retiring there.  We also loved snorkeling in Tulamben, Bali.  There is a sunken ship right off the coast that is home to thousands of fish and black tip reef sharks, but it’s definitely not for the faint of heart.

DSCN0665 Sunken ship on Bali

Favourite country for drinking: This one’s a tie! Cambodia because the beers are less than 50 cents and after a long day of cycling the temples it’s exactly what you need! And Laos because nothing is more relaxing then tubing down a river for 4 hours with a bag of beer chilling in the water.

I could go on forever with favorite lists but I think I’ll save some of those for another post.

3. “How much did you spend?”

Since we were on such a tight budget and didn’t want to blow all of our savings, we did things as cheap as possible.

Our total trip expenses were: $14,236.32. That is about $7,120 each for 5 months of travel including all flights.

Here is a little breakdown of where that money went.

trip ex

Some factors that affected our budget

  • Developed cities like Singapore, Kula Lumpar, Hong Kong and Macau. We would only stay a few days here because they were just too expensive yet we were not willing to cut them out of our trip.
  • Traveling during Christmas and Lunar New Year. This drove up the prices for everything!!
  • We tried to avoid guided tours as much as possible because they were extremely pricey but we did splurge a few times and it was worth every penny! Halong Bay cruise set us back about $500 but it was so effortless which allowed us to really enjoy its beauty.
  • Getting sick.  Although the doctors are reasonably priced (and internationally trained… I added this for you mom), it’s still an added expense that was not budgeted for.  My least favorite way to spend money.
  • Broken Camera.  We broke our underwater camera a day before we were snorkeling with whale sharks and it was absolutely mandatory we bought a new one! This set us back about another $150.

4. “Which countries were the cheapest?”

As you can see from question 3 we kept very good records of how much we spent.  Here is an overview of how much we spent each day per person.  This includes hotels, meals, admissions, transport (excluding air) and other misc. expenses like souvenirs. We did sometimes stay in nicer hotels because we were tired of  counting every penny for the sake of comfort.  We opted for a 5 star sweet over looking the Petronas towers when we went to Malaysia for the Sweetish House Mafia concert.  This cost us roughly $60 rather than the usual $20-30 we spend on accomodations.

daily spending

5.  “What country would you want to go back to?”

If you were reading question 2 carefully you’ll already know that Pete and I plan on moving to Indonesia and retiring there forever! But all jokes aside, we would go back to almost all of them! We feel like although we spent a good chunk of time in each but there are so many things to see and do in that we didn’t have time or money for.   I guess you’ll just have to stay tuned to see where we are off to next!

Professional Beach Bums

These were the 5 main questions we got asked most often about our trip! I hope you have a better idea as to where we went and what we enjoyed.  If you have any more questions feel free to ask, we love talking about our trip and hope to start planning another one soon!

Swimming with the really big fishies

When Pete and I initially signed our contracts we knew we were given ten days off on top of all the Korean Holidays. Little did we know that these days would not be bunched together in a group but rather spread out individually across the 12 months we would be in Korea.  This put a slight damper on our travel plans during winter break because instead of getting 7 days off like we thought we were, we only received 5 days.  But at this point we were determined to go somewhere warm and that wasn’t Korea.

So, we combined our very small budget with some of our goals to be completed before heading back to Canada. The cheapest place to fly to was hands down the Philippines.  So we did some research and looked for things there that would be worth the money and time.  We were ecstatic when we found out that January was the beginning of the season to swim with the world’s largest fish, the whale shark.  This was never on our dream list, but after seeing pictures and reading about the unbelievable experience how could we go through life knowing we missed such a thing?  So about $400 later, two plane rides, and a very sketchy first introduction to Manila, we landed in a small city called Legazpi.

We arranged for a car from the hotel to meet us at the airport to do a city tour before heading to Donsol.  Pete and I, being frugal travelers we planned on busing and taking public transport from Legazpi to Donsol, but after a sleepless night in the airport and being on a time crunch we really wanted to get the most out of our trip to the Philippines so we opted for the charter.  Which in the end, I was very glad for, because we got to see the Cagsawa Ruins, the Mayon volcano and Langon Hill.  The volcano, although covered by clouds, was enormous! Other than our trip to Santorini, Greece, we had never seen such a volcano.

The Cagsawa Ruins were also an unbelievable sight.  It was an old church where during the 1814 volcanic eruption, 1200 people hid out because they thought they would be spared the horrible death of being burned up by the lava.  Unfortunately, they all perished and the church was almost completely destroyed. The only remaining parts were some of the exterior walls and the bell tower.  With the Mayan volcano in the backdrop, the ruins stood as an eerie reminder of the true danger of volcanoes.  This is definitely a sight worth seeing if you venture to Legazpi.

The drive to Donsol was a good hour, and having not slept the night before Pete and I were rocket to sleep by the van weaving around all the corners.  It was a much needed cat nap for our first day in Donsol.  We stayed at the AGM resort which was right on the beach so we cracked some dollar beers and watched the sun go down before headed out to the firefly boat cruise.

We split the cost of the boat tour and the transportation with a Mother and her two kids from Denmark.  It ended up being ridiculously cheap but when we saw the tricycle pull up to our hotel the only thing going through our heads were “Pete can barely fit in this. Let alone 4 other people, plus the driver”.  To give you a better picture, imagine a motorcycle with a covered side car attached.  After playing human Tetris for a few minutes we were all holding on for dear life as we putted by at about 10 km/h, around pot holes, children, dogs and some other overly crowded tricycles. The boat tour itself was unbelievable.  Unlike in Canada, fireflies in the Philippines live in colonies. We were able to see thousands upon thousands of fireflies swarming around the canopies of the trees.  It was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen.  It looked like a sparkling Christmas tree that was breathing.  On top of the stunning images we also learned a lot about fireflies from our guide.  Did you know that fireflies are carnivores that eat larvae on trees by injecting a paralyzer into them?  Or that the male and female have different blinking patterns?  Me either! So not only an amazing sight that I will never forget but also very informative!

We had such an amazing first day in Donsol, we were starting to get a little frightened that it will all turn sour the next day with bad weather or no whale shark sightings.   So we had a few more beers and called it a night for our early wake tomorrow.  Pete and I had done a lot of research to maximize our chances of seeing some whale sharks; after all we didn’t fly all the way to the Philippines for fireflies, as beautiful as they were.  Apparently, the best time of day to see the sharks is in the early morning.  So we made our way down to the tourist office and signed up for the first available boat out.  We were paired with a couple from Slovenia, a woman from Taiwan and a local Philippines girl and off we went.  After sitting on the open water, with a beautiful clear view of the Mayon volcano, for two hours, we had successfully tanned our entire bodies while waiting for the arrival of the whale sharks.   Everyone looked at our BIO (Butanding Interaction Officer) anxiously, who had promised us we wouldn’t be leaving until we saw a whale shark.  But 11 o’clock rolled around and our boat jumped into high gear racing to catch up to the swarm of boats that had clearly spotted some sharks.  Adrenalin was now racing through our bodies. Is this it? Is this really happening?! Are we going to finally see these long awaited sharks!?

We quickly got our gear on and sat eagerly by the edge of the boat awaiting instructions to” jump” by our BIO.  Any fear I had of being swallowed whole by these beasts, or by any other sharks that may have been lingering in the waters,  flew out the window in the chaos of disembarking.  When our BIO yelled “JUMP!” all 7 of us jumped off the side of the boat, on top of one another.  We quickly followed the lead of our BIO through the water to where there were swarms of people.  We looked… and looked… and looked but nothing was there.  All that excitement for nothing!  So we all swam back and hung our flippers off the side of the boat anxiously waiting for the next opportunity to jump.  A few minutes later there was another spotting.  Our boat got into position and we all jumped, swam over to the swarm of people who had beat us there and looked down in the water.  I must have been staring at the same spot for a minute thinking “what is everyone staring at!?”And then I saw it.

It was one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen.  It’s head was wider than I am tall, and its colour was of soft grey with white spots.  It was so close that if I was to become vertical I would be at risk of kicking it with my flippers.  I swam alongside it for just over a minute, taking in every inch of its gigantic body, when I realized I had only glimpsed one quarter of it.  This Whale shark was easily 15 meters in length and moved slowly through the water ignoring all the pandemonium going on all around it. As our day went on, we got to jump in about 5 more times and I saw a total of four whale sharks.  Pete wasn’t as fortunate as I; he only managed to see one whale shark.  But, just seeing the one truly made the experience worthwhile.  Being able to swim next to such a gentle giant was a surreal experience but in a way, I felt like I was intruding.  That I really didn’t belong there, disturbing them as they were just trying to eat.

There are no words to describe how beautiful these creatures are, and you realize this as you are looking down at them. Nevertheless, as you are enjoying their company you are also being pushed, kicked, scratched and swam over by the other people just trying to get closer.  Pete and I are good swimmers so we had no problem staying afloat, but the sheer madness of the crazed people slightly dampened our experience.  I can only imagine how the whale sharks feel being harassed each and every day during their migration to the Philippines.

The next day in the Philippines we decided to try our luck again but unfortunately we didn’t get the opportunity to see anymore whale sharks.  We did however get to work on our tan and enjoyed being out on the water.  We had some lunch at the restaurant next to the tourist office because we were sick of eating the very average food at our resort and then headed back for our last night in Donsol.  Our flight flew to Manila early Wednesday morning and we had some time to kill between that and our flight back to Busan, South Korea.  We ended up venturing to Mall of Asia, the biggest mall in South East Asia.  Being on a budget, the only thing we bought was a delicious (and cheap for Starbucks standards!!!) frapiccinio.  As our trip came to and end, Pete and I sat in the airport thinking about all the adventures we’d just had.  We really wished we had more time to explore the Philippines, but unfortunately we had to go back to work in Korea.