Guides by Brooke

Backpacker Guide to the Perhentian Islands: Malaysia’s Hidden Paradise

Ummm…what is the Perhentian Islands?!

That’s a great question, considering most people who visit Malaysia haven’t even heard of it! The Perhentian Islands consist of two islands, Perhentian Besar (big) and Perhentian Kecil (small) and are off the east coast of mainland Malaysia. Not only do the Perhentians have the cheapest diving (seriously, cheaper than Koh Tao aka $18USD for a fun dive including all gear), but it’s also amazing! The visibility is typically excellent (I saw 20+ meters vis at some sites), and I have seen everything from sharks to turtles to octopi to Humphead Parrotfish to Trigger fish. The Perhentians are a hidden diver’s oasis, but are also great for relaxing on the beach with crystal clear water and white sand. I have a feeling this place will become a lot more popular once more people start finding out about it :).




When to go:

The Perhentian Islands are open from March through mid-October and completely close from November to March during monsoon season. Peak season is June-August but you can find great weather and diving conditions throughout the season.


What to do:

Diving is definitely the number one thing to do on the Perhentians, but snorkeling is also popular and even cheaper. Relax in a hammock or on the beach, explore the viewpoints and different bays, go to the beach parties at night on Long Beach, or watch a movie at the multiple places who offer free movie nights. I recommend heading to Ombok Hotel/Restaurant at Coral Bay for their nightly big-screen movie 7:30, which is an awesome way to relax with some popcorn or dinner.



How to get there:

Part of what makes the Perhentians a hidden gem in Malaysia is that not everyone is willing to go through the effort to get there. However, those who do are greatly rewarded and I am one of the many people who came back for a second time.

Fly: You can fly into Kota Bharu airport and take an hour long expensive taxi ride to Kuala Besut, which must be timed right unless you want to stay overnight to catch the ferry.

Bus: The majority of budget backpackers take the night bus from various locations around Malaysia. I have gotten to the Perhentians from both Langkawi and Kuala Lumpur, which are on the opposite side of the country, but it was relatively painless. You can book a bus at or and simply check in with your emailed boarding pass at the bus terminal of your choosing. The bus ticket cost will vary, but mine was 46 ringgit from KL, which is about $11 USD. Not bad for saving a night of accommodation as well!

After you arrive to Kuala Besut, you can catch one of the ferries to the islands which run from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The return ticket is 70 ringgit no matter where you buy it (doesn’t save you any money to buy a return since one way is 35, it’s just more convenient), and just show up to the ferry terminal 15 minutes beforehand. The boat ride is about 30-45 minutes, depending on conditions and how many stops the boat makes. To get back to Kuala Besut, you can take any of the ferries which run at 8:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., usually the first or last depending on whether you want to take the day bus or night bus back to a main city.




Where to stay:

Perhentian Besar- nicer resorts, more expensive, “honeymoon” area

Perhentian Kecil- cheaper, more backpacker vibe, especially Long Beach

Note that many people are put off by the Perhentians because virtually no accommodation options are listed online, so they think they have limited/expensive options. Not true! Just show up and find somewhere that fits your needs :).

Recommended accommodation:

Matahari Divers (Long Beach on Perhentian Kecil)- 25 ringgit for a fan dorm room and the best dive packages. I highly recommend diving with them whether you stay there or not! To give you an idea of cost, I paid 400 ringgit (a little under $100USD) for 4 nights of accommodation and 4 fun dives with all gear included. How crazy is that?!

Panorama Divers (Long Beach)- Inexpensive dorm rooms are available here (Somewhere around 25-30 ringgit if I remember correctly) with dive packages, but Matahari has better package pricing. This is a much bigger dive resort and has an AMAZING buffet breakfast that you should definitely try once!

Monkey Divers (Long Beach)- 50 ringgit for an air-con dorm room (game changer!) and they also offer affordable diving packages.

Oh La La- Dorm rooms run around 30 ringgit per night and the location is great (right next to Panorama, Monkey and Matahari dive centres. I haven’t personally stayed here but I’ve heard good things!

Maya Bungalows (Coral Bay on Perhentian Kecil)- 50 ringgit for a 2-person fan bungalow on the beach with ensuite bathroom. I stayed here for a few nights last year and thought it was a great deal!

Sunrise Hostel (Long Beach)- 20 ringgit for a dorm room, but I really wouldn’t recommend staying here unless you are desperate for super cheap accommodation. There is zero security and the staff was rude last time I stayed there, even after someone got robbed in my room!

There are also plenty of random bungalows you can walk around Long Beach or Coral Bay to find, but pricing will depend on the place. Bubu Villas are on the far side of Long Beach from the pier if you’re looking for a fancier hotel and Ombak is on Coral Bay which is also on the pricier side.



Extra tips:

Bring CASH with you! There are NO ATMs on the islands- nope, not one. If you plan to do a big diving course, most places will accept credit cards for an extra fee. However, Matahari does cash advances from a card with a 5% fee for customers and 10% for non-customers (handy to know!). Also, bring your own locks because most of the budget accommodation options don’t have much security (no doors, keys or lockers), so it’s better to be safe than sorry :). Bring plenty of books for relaxing at the beach between dives, because all of the book exchanges on the island require you to trade two books to take one, aka BYO!


Have any more recommendations for the Perhentians that I missed?! Let me know in the comments section! If you do decide to visit, feel free to reach out to me and I am more than willing to answer any questions! Thanks for reading and happy travels :).




The Ultimate Guide to Backpacking the East Coast of Australia

Welcome to the ultimate guide to backpacking the east coast of Australia! Just about everyone who visits Australia wants to travel up the east coast to see the world-famous cities, islands and beach towns. I spent an incredible 6 weeks visiting just about every spot up the coast and wanted to share tips, photos and basically everything I wish I knew beforehand :). I have included recommendations for hostels, things to do, and how to get around. Hopefully you find it helpful if you’re planning a visit or just want to see what I’ve been up to lately!




Before you begin your east coast adventure, there are a few important things to consider:

How to travel: Bus vs. car/van

I’d say the majority of the people I met on the east coast booked a hop-on-hop-off bus package from Sydney to Cairns for somewhere between $400 and $600 from a travel agency. After talking to plenty of people who have done the east coast, I decided not to take the bus (which are pretty awful from what I hear) and just bum rides off people to make my way north. I chose this option because I had no time limit or plan and I was by myself, so I had ultimate flexibility. (No mom, I didn’t actually hitch hike) I would highly recommend this option no matter what season you travel in because so many people have cars or vans and want to share fuel costs. It’s also a great way to meet people along the way!

Winging it vs. booking in advance vs. travel agency package

Depends. Depending on the season you are traveling in, what you want to do and how particular you are on tours and hostels, you may want to book a package to save some money or totally wing it. To no surprise to those who know me, I decided to wing it, which was the perfect option to me. The vast majority of people I met on the east coast had tours or packages booked in advance, and people seemed to be shocked that I didn’t plan anything or buy a hop-on-hop-off bus pass. Here are some pros and cons for both:

Booking a package:

Pros- could save money by booking with an agency and getting a discount by staying at the same hostel chain, easy to book and don’t need to worry about anything along the way, some packages offer some flexibility with how long you can stay in each place

Cons- easy to get ripped off, can’t choose individual hostels or change plans, no flexibility to switch tour companies for Fraser Island or the Whitsundays, pressure to do everything at a certain pace, could waste money if you choose to opt out of some activities that are included

Winging it:

Pros- gives you ultimate freedom, can travel with other people you meet and adjust plans along the way, can stay longer or shorter in certain places, can choose which hostels you want to stay in, can book whatever tours/activities you want and not be forced into booking with certain companies

Cons- you would not be able to do wing it during peak season (December-February) because everything gets booked up so quickly, you may not get your #1 choice in hostel or tour dates if they are already booked, harder to predict your budget


How much time: I personally spent 6 weeks on the east coast and thought that was perfect, but just know it is very expensive. If you are limited on time or money, I would recommend a minimum of 4-5 weeks if you really want to see the east coast. People who only have two weeks often feel rushed and only get to see a few of the highlights, but the main issue is how much time you’d be spending traveling (unless you fly from place to place).


Now to the fun stuff… here are all of the AMAZING stops along the east coast! I traveled from Sydney to Cairns but it could easily be done in the opposite direction :).




Sydney- 2-3 days

Sydney is an absolute must for Australia! Though I think there are much better places to live and visit (cough, Melbourne, cough), it is definitely worth spending at least a few days here.

Where to stay: I stayed with a friend but everyone recommends Wake Up! Hostel

What to do: See the main sites like the Opera House, Bondi Beach, etc., enjoy the nightlife, then leave! (However, I am coming from a very biased former Melbourne resident perspective…. Melbourne over Sydney forever!) There are plenty of blog posts out there about Sydney from people who spent more time there than I did (only a week and a half total), so give it a quick Google for more info!




Jervis Bay- 3-4 days

Jervis Bay is a few hours south of Sydney and unfortunately, is not often visited by backpackers. Trust me when I say this place is absolute PARADISE! Hyams Beach is famous for having the whitest sand in the world and is totally gorgeous. Jervis Bay is a unique area that offers the amazing beauty of Australia without the crowds of other popular spots.

Where to stay: Accommodation in Jervis Bay can be difficult and I’m not sure if there are any hostels in the area (I could be wrong!). Luckily for me, I was visiting a friend I met in the Philippines (the infamous Australian “grandma” for anyone who I’ve told about her!) and she let me stay with her, which was perfect. I know a few other people who have stayed in an AirBnb type of place, but the best option would probably be to camp or have a campervan.

What to do: Visit the incredible national parks and forests right along the ocean, relax at the beach and enjoy the beauty of the area. There is plenty to explore if you are a beach and nature lover, but you definitely need a car!




Port Macquarie- 2-3 days

Port Macquarie is often skipped by people who head straight to Byron Bay from Sydney, but I was so glad I stopped here to break up the drive!

Where to stay: Port Macquarie Backpackers! This small hostel with awesome staff is a great place to feel welcomed and meet other travelers heading up the coast.

What to do: Visit the Koala hospital, see the wild kangaroos, go on the coastal walk, relax at the beach, and get involved with some water sports!



Coffs Harbour- 2-3 days

Coffs Harbour is another spot often skipped by backpackers heading to Byron, but again, I am SO glad I stopped here!

Where to stay: Aussitel Hostel! This is one of my favorite hostels on the east coast! They have activities planned every day, an awesome atmosphere especially at night, and super helpful and social staff.

What to do: Go on the daily activities with the hostel, go kayaking/SUP on the creek, check out some local beaches, bushwalking/hiking, lookout spots in the forest, kangaroo tour, and of course, check out the famous Coffs Harbour Big Banana!




Byron Bay- 5-7 days

Do. Not. Miss. This. Byron is at the top of everyone’s list for favorite spots in Australia, and for good reason! It’s a cute surf town with awesome food, nightlife, and activities. Stay as long as you can here!

Where to stay: There are a ton of awesome hostels in Byron, and I ended up going with Cape Byron YHA which is AWESOME. I had the best time and met some of my favorite travel mates here! Plus, there’s no hostel bar so you can bring your own alcohol on the premises :). Other options: Aquarius (biggest party hostel next door to Cape Byron), Arts Factory (nature lovers and hippies unite!), or really any of the popular beach hostels. I haven’t heard a bad thing about any hostel in Byron!

What to do: Visit the beaches, go on the lighthouse walk and stand on the most easterly point of Australia, enjoy the nightlife (Two words: Cheeky Monkeys), great food (Chihuahua tacos are the ONLY authentic Mexican food I have found in Australia) and awesome vibes. If you want to get adventurous you can also go hang gliding or paragliding!



Surfers Paradise/Gold Coast- 5-7 days

Surfers Paradise: Vegas meets Miami meets Australia. To be honest, people typically either love or hate Surfers, depending on their interests. The area is known for being superficial and very touristy, which it is, but it’s definitely worth a visit. I highly recommend timing your visit from Thursday to Monday if you are interested in the nightlife!

Where to stay: Down Under Hostel- awesome location, helpful staff, best bar and lounge area. The most popular hostel is probably BUNK, which was booked when I was there.

What to do: The Gold Coast theme parks are super popular and a main attraction in the area. As a huge fan of waterparks and roller coasters, I couldn’t miss Wet n’ Wild and Movie World. Top tip: buy a season pass for all the parks for $90, or if you want to waste some money, spend $80 to go to one park for one day :). We even sold our passes to travelers we met later on headed south for $20- score! Other than theme parks, the Gold Coast is known for surfing, beaches, and nightlife. The clubs in Surfers Paradise can be pretty crazy and the pub crawl is definitely worth doing on a Wednesday or Saturday. Look out for deals on drinks at different venues each day of the week, especially for girls! If you want to see some amazing views, head to Skypoint, which is 77 floors high, and looks amazing at sunset. If you have time, I’ve been told Burleigh Heads is worth checking out as well!



Brisbane- 2 days

Brisbane, aka Bris-Vegas, is a city almost every backpacker visits. Coming from a biased Melbournian perspective, I didn’t really enjoy Brisbane if I’m being totally honest. It seemed like just another city, but a smaller version of Melbourne or Sydney with less culture and no beaches. Brisbane is mostly known for nightlife, but if you’re not interested in that, it may even be worth skipping if you’re pressed for time. (Brisbane lovers, please prove me wrong and comment to tell me what I missed out on!)

Where to stay: Nomads Hostel- awesome location, helpful travel desk and job desk, tons of people everywhere, right above the most popular backpacker bar (Down Under Bar, also has yummy, reasonably priced food with a 20% discount with your hostel room card). There is also a Red Cross next door and I highly recommend giving blood if you’re eligible. It’s super easy and goes a long way to help save lives :).

What to do: Walk around Southbank, see the famous Brisbane sign at night, do some shopping, visit the Mount Coot-tha viewpoint, visit Kangaroo point, relax at the manmade beach, take a ferry ride around the river, or visit the famous Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. For a fun night out, Down Under Bar is the best backpacker bar with a different theme every night- don’t miss it!




Noosa- 3 days

Noosa is a ritzy holiday surf town with lots of shopping and food, and absolutely worth a visit!

Where to stay: Nomads has a good location with a fun bar, but I would actually recommend Halse Lodge YHA, which is closer to the beach and has a better atmosphere (it was booked when I was there!).

What to do: Go on a few of the nature walks around the national park, check out the beach and surf if you can, and sign up for an everglades kayaking tour (I didn’t do this myself but heard good things).



Rainbow Beach/Fraser Island- 5 days

Rainbow Beach is the gateway to Fraser Island (an absolute MUST), and most stay here for one night before and after going to Fraser Island. To be honest, Rainbow Beach itself doesn’t have too much to offer, but Dingos Hostel is awesome!

Where to stay: Dingo Backpackers Resort is the best in my opinion, but basically your options are either here or Pippie’s next door.

What to do: Other than seeing Carlo Sand Blow (giant sand dune) for sunset, there really isn’t much to do in Rainbow Beach other than anxiously await your Fraser trip J. Fraser Island is absolutely incredible and I had one of the best experiences on the east coast here. This is the largest sand island in the world and is popular for backpackers, families on holiday, and locals alike. Driving a 4×4 on the sand is a unique experience that should not be missed, not to mention the amazing beaches, lakes, creeks, rainforests, lookouts, and the famous Maheno shipwreck. I have never seen as many stars in my LIFE as I did on Fraser and will never forget the bioluminescent plankton and dingoes all over the island.



I highly recommend Dropbear Adventures’ 3-day tag-along 4×4 tour, which is absolutely the best!! Dingos is the main tour and they churn out up to 100 people per day on their tours. Most people staying at Dingos hostel went with them, but I talked to someone who used to work there and she actually said she would go with Dropbear over Dingos any day! I did quite a bit of research and asking around, and Dropbear is consistently rated the top Fraser tour out of MANY!




1770- 1-2 days

This fun town is named after the year Captain Cook discovered it, so yes, the name is actually a number! Most people stop here for the night to break up the long drive between Rainbow Beach and Airlie Beach, but I would consider staying an extra day or two if you have time!

Where to stay: Cool Bananas or Southern Cross Hostels- both are unique and I highly recommended!

What to do: See kangaroos in the wild or at the sanctuary, go on the infamous Scooteroo tour (ride a real chopper on a 3 hour tour around the area for about $85AUD), or get in some surfing.




Airlie Beach/Whitsundays- 5 days

Airlie Beach is the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands, and most backpackers stay there a night before and a night after their tour. After the devastation of Cyclone Debbie in March, Airlie Beach has surprisingly made a great comeback.

Where to stay: The main hostels people stay at in Airlie Beach are Nomads/Base, Magnums and YHA. I highly recommend Nomads/Base because Shed Bar is awesome and it’s a huge hostel with a great atmosphere :).

What to do: I was surprised that the nightlife in Airlie Beach is actually super fun and there were a couple cool restaurants on the main strip. The obvious activity in the area is go see the world famous Whitsunday Islands! There are hundreds of boat tours leaving from Airlie Beach and the sheer number of options can be overwhelming, so I’d consider visiting a travel agency to help you out with recommendations. As for what I did, I can say that the Atlantic Clipper is the biggest, craziest, and best party boat on the Whitsundays. You can book it or their partner boat, New Horizon (smaller, less of a party) through True Blue Sailing or any travel agency. There are a TON of Whitsunday party boat tours, but I’ve heard good things about Spank Me and Tongarra. I can’t really speak for the more relaxed or smaller boats, but there are plenty of travel agencies out there (Cheap Az Travel, Peterpan’s, Mad Travel, etc.) that can help you out if you aren’t looking for a party (but you should :)).



Townsville- 1-2 days

Townsville is often overlooked because it’s mainly known for being the mainland town to get you to Magnetic Island. However, if you have time, I would stay for at least a night to check it out!

Where to stay: Rambutan Hostel in Townsville is probably one of the nicest budget hostels in Australia- no joke! Most only stay a night or two in Townsville before heading to Magnetic Island, but believe me when I say this place is worth a stay. What budget hostel has a pool with cabanas?!

What to do: There are a few things to do in the surrounding areas, but you don’t necessarily need to stay in Townsville to do them. The most popular being the Billabong Sanctuary and sunset at Castle Hill. A lot of people who were on a tight schedule skipped Townsville and caught the first ferry to Magnetic Island when they arrived from Airlie.




Magnetic Island- 2-3 days

Magnetic Island is a unique gem in northern Queensland, and is luckily only a 25 minute ferry ride from Townsville. It’s actually named after the apparent magnetic effect the island had on Captain Cook’s compass when he was exploring in 1770. I would say two or three nights on Maggie is plenty, though many just stay for one. I loved that this island was full of pine trees and huge boulders, reminding me of Yosemite in California, but is situated in tropical northern Queensland!

Where to stay: The main two hostels on Maggie Island are Base and YHA, Base being the more popular and more social hostel. If you’re looking for a good party, this is definitely where you want to be. Not to mention the INCREDIBLE ocean view I had from my bed in my 8-bed dorm!

What to do: The Forts walk to see an old military fort at the top of the island with wild koalas, rent a topless “Barbie” car to explore the island, visit the many beaches, feeding the wild wallabies, go snorkeling/diving, and watch a beautiful sunset.



Mission Beach- 1-2 days (if skydiving)

I personally skipped Mission Beach because I was told that there isn’t much to do there except the world famous skydiving, which I wasn’t planning on doing. This is definitely the most popular spot to skydive in Australia, mostly because you get to land on the beach!



Cairns- 5-6 days

Most backpackers either start or end their east coast journey in Cairns, which is known for the many activities in the surrounding areas and oh yeah….the GREAT BARRIER REEF!

Where to stay: Gilligan’s is the best hostel and bar in Cairns and is absolutely MASSIVE! Awesome pool, perfect location, $4 dinner specials, tons of people and a great atmosphere- what else do you need?

What to do: Visit the man-made lagoon for a swim and live music, check out the Cairns night market, visit the many waterfalls around the area (either with Uncle Brian’s Tour or your own car), go diving or snorkeling at the GBR, visit the botanical gardens, and go white water rafting, sky diving or bungy jumping! Top tip: there are TONS of drink specials at Gilligan’s every day, but particularly on the weekends, so I highly recommend coming for Friday and Saturday night when girls drink for free!




Extra tips:

Food: Eating out in Australia is extremely expensive, so shop at Coles or Aldi (Woolworths if you can’t find the other two) and take advantage of hostel kitchens! Food, alcohol and accommodation are easily the most expensive parts about traveling in Australia, so if you can cut down on the cost of meals, it will really help out. As far as alcohol goes, cheap wine (goon or bottles) is probably going to be your best bet. I don’t think I ever saw any backpackers drinking hard alcohol outside of a bar or club! Wine, beer or cider is definitely the way to go. Bonus tip: McDonald’s has $1 frozen Cokes and $0.60 ice cream cones!

How much to budget: You can expect $30 per night on average for a basic hostel bed during shoulder season, so I would assume these prices would go up during peak season (December-February) and during holidays/festivals. The other options besides hostels are to get a campervan, go camping or utilize Couchsurfing. Food, activities and alcohol will also greatly affect your budget as well. To give you a basic idea, I spent a little over $3,000AUD, but I know people who spent a LOT more in 6 weeks.

Bonus tip: Make sure to look out for hostels with their own bar. If this is the case, you will not be allowed to bring alcohol into the hostel due to liquor license laws, therefore you will be forced to spend your money at the bar there or risk getting caught with hefty fines if you sneak it in. If you’re looking to party for cheap, definitely stay at hostels that will allow you to BYO.

Wifi: I highly recommend getting an Australian SIM card if you weren’t planning on it already. Relying on hostel Wifi is pretty much impossible so I would make sure to get plenty of data so you don’t have to worry about it! Some hostels have free Wifi in reception during certain hours and allow you to purchase a better Wifi service if you want, while some don’t offer it at all. Most of the time, it was unreliable, so just be prepared with your own data! Or just enjoy the moment and avoid being on your phone :).


That’s all, folks! I hope this massive guide has been helpful for those who are planning a trip to Australia or know someone who is! Feel free to pass it along to anyone you think mind find it useful and don’t forget to leave a comment with feedback or anything I missed!

After an incredible whirlwind of 6 months in Australia, it’s back to Southeast Asia for me!

Backpacker’s Guide to Indonesia

To be completely honest, I don’t even know where to begin with this post, because there is just THAT much to say about Indonesia. Did you know that Indonesia is made up of over 18,000 volcanic islands (that’s almost triple the number of islands in the Philippines!) and is home to the largest Muslim population in the WORLD? I spent a month in this beautiful country and didn’t even scratch the surface of what Indonesia has to offer, but I wanted to share some tips for anyone planning to visit or hoping to learn more about it!





One of my favorite parts of solo travel is the ability to be flexible with your plans, and I certainly was in Indonesia. I met some of the most incredible people in this country and switched around plans to travel with different groups, so I definitely didn’t make the most efficient use of my time, but that’s fine with me!

When most people think of Indonesia, they immediately think of Bali, which is probably the most popular island for tourists to visit. You could easily spend a month alone just on Bali, but I personally think two weeks is enough if you are limited on time or want to hit some other unique areas in Indo. In most countries I have made guides for, there is a typical route or a logical way to plan your time, but that really isn’t the case here and it totally depends on what kind of experience you are looking for. Because of that, I will touch on each place I visited and also include a few suggestions for places I haven’t gotten a chance to see yet.

Where to Visit:


Alright, so let’s get this one out of the way. Kuta gets an extremely bad reputation amongst the majority of travelers and almost every person who gave me advice about Bali before I arrived said “Whatever you do, get out of Kuta immediately,” so I went in with low expectations and planned on staying only one night since it is close to the airport. But guess what! I LOVED Kuta! I will shout it to the sky over and over- yup! I loved Kuta!!! Okay, now that’s out of the way.

What Kuta is good for: partying (Skygarden- don’t ask questions, just go and enjoy all you can eat and drink for $8 US), meeting people, learning to surf, variety of food options (both local and western), walkability, shopping, activities (two words: WATERBOM waterpark), accessibility to airport, sunsets on the beach

What Kuta is NOT good for: interacting with locals, authentic Indonesian culture, learning to ride a motorbike (LOL), people who think they are too good for “touristy” areas, people looking for peace and quiet, people who can’t handle people constantly trying to sell you things, peaceful/serene/beaches

There you have it. To some people, Kuta sounds like hell on earth, but I had the best time ever there and met some of my closest friends I met traveling, including my current roommate in Melbourne! With all of this information, decide for yourself if you want to visit or not. For my purposes, Kuta did its job and I actually came back to the same hostel three separate times and stayed a total of 12 nights! No *ragrets*.

Where to stay: Captain Goose Hostel. I actually counted and in my 6 months in Southeast Asia, I stayed in 57 different hostels. This hostel is in the top 3 best hostels I’ve ever stayed in, mostly because of the people, the pool, the awesome vibes, and the free pancakes all day. I can’t recommend it enough!

Other options: Coco Beach Hostel (no pool, but free breakfast and nicer rooms than Captain Goose, good to just chill out, not as social), Ayu Lili Garden Hotel (very cheap for a hotel, good location, great pool, not as social but good for a splurge night if you’re on a budget), or any of the other nice resorts/villas in the area



Ubud is becoming more and more well-known and is definitely not one to be missed. This is where you can experience more authentic Balinese culture, relax, get a massage, see the rice terraces and monkey forest, and do plenty of shopping. I will say that a lot of people come to Ubud expecting it to be more of a “village” experience than it actually is, so be warned that the main part of town is crowded and touristy, but it has a totally different vibe than everywhere else in Bali.

Where to stay: Puji Hostel or In Da Lodge Hostel. I stayed at Wanderlust (owned by same people as Puji and just down the road) for a night, and it wasn’t bad, but Puji is definitely more social and also has on-site laundry!

Don’t miss: hike up Mount Batur volcano for sunrise (though you can book this from other parts of Bali, it is closest to get to from Ubud), white water rafting, monkey forest, Umah Ubud (amazing food, best pizza for cheap)



Spas: Sedona Spa was unreal and I highly recommend it. For $16 US, I got a 90 minute spa package, which included a private room overlooking rice terraces with a full body massage, green tea scrub, soak, and flower bath with tea and watermelon afterwards. It is DEFINITELY worth going to a nicer spa in Ubud rather than a cheap massage parlor off the side of the road.

Splurge meal: Chill Out Restaurant has an amazing filet mignon steak for only $7 US- highly recommend :).



This chill surfer town is such a unique place with AMAZING food. When I think of Bali, I think of hippie/vegan/healthy food, and this is definitely where you can get it. So much good food here and fun places to explore on a scooter. DISCLAIMER: You must be able to ride a scooter/motorbike to get around Uluwatu. Public transport is non-existant, Uber/GrabCar/Blue Bird Taxi are not allowed, and everything is too spread out to walk. It’s an amazing place to visit, but not worth it if you can’t get around on a scooter in my opinion. However, it is a very easy place to learn if you aren’t experienced! There is little to no traffic and most of the roads are easy to navigate. As always, be careful and don’t do anything you’re not comfortable with. Another note: have a plan for getting out of Ulutwatu so you don’t end up taking an expensive private driver out like I did. I even tried getting an Uber/GrabCar but there were no drivers in the area or they wouldn’t come because they are banned there. We had no other choice but to get a private driver to get us to Jimbaran, the nearest big town, then get an Uber from there. This definitely shouldn’t deter you from visiting; it’s just one thing I wish I knew beforehand :).

Where to stay: I stayed at Bingin Inn, which was super nice with a pool and reasonably priced. I hear Karma Backpackers is great as well but it was a bit out of the way so we decided not to stay there.

Don’t miss: Bukit Café is an absolute MUST, so is Cashew Tree..such amazing food here!

Things to do: Hire a scooter and check out some of the beaches like Padang Padang, Bingin, and Dreamland, and Single Fin Bar has an amazing party on Sundays if you can make it for that. It’s not to be missed! Check out the M Resort for an incredible sunset and see this super lux hotel- just walk in with confidence and no one will question you :).




Canggu (pronounced Chang-goo) is another beach town a bit farther out past Seminyak from Kuta, and I absolutely loved it! This is another place where you definitely need to be able to ride a scooter to get around (Uber/GrabCar is also banned here, but you can still be dropped off if you’re coming from somewhere else) but it is definitely more accessible to other places than Uluwatu. If I had to choose one of the two to visit, I would probably pick Canggu simply for convenience in location, but I loved both places!

Where to stay: We splurged a bit and stayed at Butterfly Beach Apartments to chill out, but LayDay Hostel was recommended to me by many people if you’re looking for a budget hostel.

Things to do: Rent a scooter and check out the beaches around the area, watch all of the surfers or surf yourself, try all the amazing food, go shopping at the cute boutiques (they are expensive), visit Tanah Lot temple

Don’t miss: Crate Café for breakfast, Betel Nut Café, Nalu Bowls, Cloud 9



I was planning on going to Lombok and never ended up making it, but wanted to share a few tips from other travelers I talked to about it. Lombok is an island near Bali (close to the Gili islands) and has a lot to offer, including beautiful beaches, waterfalls, and the famous volcano, Mount Rinjani. Mount Rinjani is quite a strenuous multi-day hike, but everyone I know who has done it said it was totally worth the effort and the cost! I personally opted for the easier and cheaper sunrise hike up Mount Batur on Bali, but I hear Rinjani is much more special. Overall, I’ve heard mixed but overall positive things about Lombok, and if you are looking to get away from crowds on Bali or Gili T and have the time, Lombok is great to visit for a few days!

Where to stay: From what I hear, Kuta (not to be confused with Kuta on Bali) is better to stay at rather than Senggigi, which is closer to the port.



Gili Islands: Just to clear up confusion, many people refer to “the Gilis” but most are actually just referring to Gili Trawangan, the largest of the three islands. If it wasn’t obvious, “gili” means “island” in Indonesian :). The three islands off the coast of Lombok are Gili Trawangan (aka Gili T), Gili Air, and Gili Meno. Gili Meno is known for being the “honeymoon” island and is mostly comprised of expensive resorts, so I just visited the other two. One of the coolest parts about the Gilis is that there are no cars or motorbikes on the islands. The only way to get around is to walk, ride a bicycle, or be driven in a carriage pulled by a horse!



Gili Air:

Gili Air is the more chilled out version of Gili T, and I like to think of it as the happy medium between Gili Meno and Gili T. There are definitely more families and couples here, but there are still plenty of backpackers to meet and places to go out. I surprisingly had amazing food on Gili Air (I wasn’t expecting much for a small island) like fresh seafood and I found the prices to be lower than Gili T.

Where to stay: Gili Air Hostel was good but does not have WiFi. The bar in the back is great for meeting people (a lot of dive instructors living on the island actually come here for cheap drinks before going out), and they offer free movies!

What to do: Diving and snorkeling are both fantastic, and it’s a great place to chill out on the beach and avoid the crowds of Gili T. If you dive, I highly recommend Manta Dive Centre (shoutout to Dani for being the best instructor ever!). Note that the dive and snorkel spots are pretty much the same as the other islands, so if you don’t visit Gili Air, don’t worry about missing out on any secret spots since boats from all three islands go to the same spots.



Gili Trawangan:

Gili T was one of my favorite places I have visited in all my travels in SE Asia. I’ll be honest, after liking Gili Air so much, I had low expectations for Gili T because I have heard that it’s just a party island. After visiting, I found out that it is SO much more! I will definitely be back at some point. I could honestly picture myself living there!

Where to stay: Gili Mansion is cheaper than Gili Castle, which is their partner hostel, and you can still use the facilities at Gili Castle like the rock wall and the pool! When I visited, Gili Mansion was still under construction (they seem to be building an awesome pool!) and only had a small common area, but most people just hung out at Gili Castle anyways.

What to do: Play mini golf, enjoy the outdoor movie theater, check out all of the cool bars (huge party at one place every night), visit the beaches and famous swings for sunset, go on a boat trip (either snorkel or there are several party boat trips), walk or bike around the island, check out the night market



Labuan Bajo/Komodo National Park:

This place had been on my bucket list for a very long time, and I knew it would be my grand finale of diving for my trip in SE Asia. If you Scuba dive, I HIGHLY recommend going to Komodo National Park. Though it is by far the most expensive diving I have done in SE Asia, it was an experience of a lifetime and I do not regret it for a second. Komodo….as in, Komodo dragons, you ask? Yup! This is also where you can see the largest lizards in the world. Trust me, they look like a cross between a crocodile and a dinosaur and they are massive!



Disclaimer: Though Komodo Island/Rinca Island are cool and Labuan Bajo has a few other things to offer besides the world famous diving, I would not make the effort to come to Komodo if you aren’t a somewhat experienced diver. To be eligible to do a live aboard trip (which is what I did), you need to have your advanced open water license and be very comfortable in the water. Komodo is known for strong currents and potentially dangerous spots, so it is not for the faint of heart. Some companies will let you go on day dives with just your open water certification, but I think it really depends on how experienced and comfortable you are in the water. Plus, I highly recommend doing a live aboard trip over day dives because there are SO many spots you can’t reach from Labuan Bajo in one day and it is an entirely different type of experience. I did mine with Blue Marlin Komodo and had one of the best experiences of my life. You can read more about my experience here if you’d like! If you are considering visiting Labuan Bajo/Komodo, feel free to reach out to me and I can give you more detailed tips! If you’re considering, DO IT. Once in a lifetime diving with mantas, sharks and turtles with ideal conditions, that is all I will say.

How to get there: Fly into Labuan Bajo (you can usually get cheap flights from Denpasar) or take a four day boat trip from Gili Islands or Lombok


Other places to visit in Indonesia:

Sumatra, Sulawesi, Java/Yogyakarta, Nusa Lembongan, and so many more! I know I hit only the highlights, so definitely do some additional research on other cool islands to visit :).


Luckily, Indonesia offers an easy, free 30-day visa on arrival for most countries, so no need to arrange anything in advance. If you know you want to extend your visa for more than 30 days, you can pay $35 US on arrival for a 60-day visa, which is easier and cheaper than trying to extend at a later date through an agency (however, still possible to extend later on).

Warning: Don’t be like me! Learn to count! Clearly I was distracted and made a stupid mistake when I booked my flight out of Bali. I accidentally overstayed my visa because I somehow forgot that October had 31 days and just assumed my one month visa was good from October 17 to November 17. Lesson learned- Indonesian visas are 30 days and 30 days only, no matter how long the month is. I’m still salty about this and don’t even want to get into the story, but I ended up having to pay an extra $50 US on my way out because of my stupidity. Oh well…everyone makes mistakes while traveling and I’ve just learned to laugh at it!





I will be totally honest here and say that after spending 6 months backpacking in SE Asia on a tight budget, eating mostly local food, I was ready for a break in Indonesia. I did try several Indonesian dishes like Bakso soup and nasi goreng (local version of fried rice), but I ate a LOT of western food and a lot more McDonald’s than I ever thought possible. Not sorry! However, I definitely encourage you to try the local cuisine wherever you go and try as many new things as possible :).




Phew! That was a ton of information. I hope you found this guide to Indonesia helpful and choose to visit this beautiful country as soon as possible! As always, let me know if I missed anything in the comments or shoot me a message or email if you’d like any additional advice. I’m happy to help!

10 Reasons to Travel Solo in Southeast Asia

“I wish I could do what you’re doing. I’m living vicariously through you!”
“I could never do that with my job.”
“Aren’t you scared of traveling alone?”
“Isn’t it dangerous in those countries?”

“Have you run out of money yet?”

I have heard all of these countless times since I’ve been traveling through Southeast Asia for the past six months. For some reason, solo travel is not the norm (in the U.S. at least) and people think I am crazy for doing it!  Yes, I am adventurous (maybe a little crazy), and yes, I love what I’m doing. And you can do it too!

Traveling is not impossible. Traveling solo is not terrifying. And I’m here to tell you why you should make the leap and just do it. I introduce you 10 reasons to travel solo in Southeast Asia:

1. Once you get there, you will realize that everyone is in the same boat. All it takes is one small conversation and before you know it, you’ll make plenty of new friends.




2. It’s cheap! I’ve paid only $3 USD for hostels an $1 for meals in parts of Southeast Asia. Sounds a lot cheaper than life at home to me.


3. So many people do it. It may not be the norm in the U.S., but a couple days in SE Asia will show you how common it is for people as young as 18 to travel alone.


4. You (probably) won’t get murdered or kidnapped. The media portrays many places to be much scarier than they actually are, and let’s be honest, if you’re on the main backpacker track, you will be constantly surrounded by other travelers. Just don’t be dumb (okay, you are allowed to make a few dumb decisions because everyone does, myself included) and be aware of your surroundings, and you will feel perfectly safe. In all of my travels, I have rarely felt unsafe and if you’re from the U.S., be honest with yourself and know that it’s actually more dangerous at home than in many places around the world. Don’t let fear hold you back!


5. Hostels make everything easier. If you stay in budget hostels, you are guaranteed to meet other solo travelers who want some company. Most hostels have shared space and even arrange activities for travelers to do together. It may sound intimidating especially for introverts out there, but imagine how easy is it to just say hello to the person in the bunk next to you in your dorm room and ask where they’re from. Done and done!


6. It’s easy to get around. Traveling in SE Asia is a breeze (for the most part), making it even easier to travel on the fly without a set itinerary! From night buses to slow boats to shared vans, there are plenty of ways to travel over land without booking flights. Even the flights are cheap though! You can read more about booking cheap flights in SE Asia on my blog post here.


7. You will meet people from all over the world and learn more about yourself and those around you than you could ever imagine. I have stayed in touch with so many people I’ve met traveling and have even met up with plenty of people later on during my travels. In fact, I’m in Indonesia as we speak with a friend I met in Thailand six months ago and I’m planning on living in Melbourne with a girl I met in Bali. I’ve met up with travelers I met on this trip months later in different places and already have plenty of friends in Australia where I’ll be settling for a while. You’ll even have plenty of friends to visit all over the world on future trips!



8. Think of all the crazy stories you’ll have. Riding motorbikes up a mountain in Cambodia in the pouring rain with no poncho and close to zero visibility was not fun at the time, but it was an adventure with another solo traveler that I’ll never forget. Or even going white water rafting in Indonesia and climbing a volcano at sunrise with people who were strangers just days before. Did I mention that my boat in the Philippines got struck by lightning? The list goes on!




9. Prove to your friends/family/boyfriend/girlfriend that it can be done. Prove to them that you won’t get “murdered” or “kidnapped” and just go. I’ve heard so many people who say they have disapproving people in their lives, but ultimately, it’s your life and you have the freedom to go on an adventure of a lifetime. (Unless they are paying for it :))


10. If you wait around for other people to join you, you’ll never end up doing the things that make you truly happy! So now is the time. No one is stopping you except yourself, so whether it’s tomorrow, next month, or next year, find a way to make it work and book the flight!




Need more inspiration for how to feel the fear and do it anyway? Check out my post on what happens when you let go of your fears here. If you do decide to make the leap and travel solo, I am happy to talk to you about it or give you tips for Southeast Asia, so feel free to send me a message or email!


As always, thanks for reading :).

A Backpacker’s Guide to Myanmar

Myanmar: the land of friendly locals, awe-inspiring pagodas, and untouched culture. Before I dive into what to see, where to go, and how to get there, I wanted to give a bit of a background on Myanmar to give you some important context. Although Myanmar is becoming a more and more popular place to visit since it has opened for mass tourism in 2012 after being ruled by an oppressive military socialist system until 2011, I urge you to do some research on its history to be aware of what is happening today, as it is still one of the most corrupt and censored countries in the world. Before visiting Myanmar, I highly recommend reading the book “Finding George Orwell in Burma” by Emma Larkin. I wish I could have read this informative and fascinating book before I went, but I am glad I have this additional context now and hope to pass it along to others who hope to visit!



Historically, Myanmar has struggled politically, socially, and economically for hundreds of years and has experienced countless strikes and uprisings throughout the years. This is due to multiple changes in political power (particularly during the 20th century), corruption, and oppression, particularly of ethnic minority groups. Many authors and leaders in politics have been sentenced to prison or house arrest, interrogated, and accused of false crimes, which has led to a hush-hush atmosphere and a sense of paranoia throughout the country. In 1990, the opposition, National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won the elections by a landslide, but the military ignored these results. Aung San Suu Kyi, one of the many political prisoners and a pro-democracy leader, is a significant political figure who was put under house arrest for 15 years over the course of 21 years ultimately being released in 2010, and you can even visit her house in Yangon today. Before 2011, you would never see anyone, even tour guides, openly talking or writing about politics or the government in Myanmar, but luckily, thanks to Freedom of the Press, you can read about it here and other sources online J. A gradual shift to liberalization has been underway since 2010, but significant progress is anticipated now that the government changed hands in April 2016. According to BBC, in 2012, the government lifted pre-publication censorship of the press and allowed privately-owned daily newspapers to publish. In recent years, Myanmar has also unblocked international news websites, as well as sites like YouTube.

A Few Important Facts:

  • In 1886, Britain made Burma a province of India, but ruled the country from 1885 to 1948, which is why you will see a heavy British colonial influence in many parts of Myanmar today.
  • In 1997 President Clinton issued an Executive Order for U.S. Sanctions on Burma because “the Government of Burma (then ruled by a military junta) had committed large-scale repression of the democratic opposition in Burma…” These sanctions prohibited new investment in Burma by any U.S. persons.
  • In 2005, the capital city was suddenly moved from Yangon to the central city of Naypyidaw, which I’ve heard is eerily empty even though highways were built in anticipation of more people.
  • In 2016 President Obama issued an Executive Order lifting the 1997 sanctions due to the tremendous progress towards democracy.

Myanmar vs. Burma?

The official name changed from Burma to Myanmar in 1989, a year after thousands were killed in the suppression of the student-led uprisings in August of 1988. The name remains an issue in the country as some do not recognize the legitimacy of the ruling military government, nor their right to rename the country. This is also when the city of Rangoon was officially renamed Yangon. I hope that clears up any confusion :).



Myanmar has plenty more to offer besides its political issues and depressing history, so not to worry! There is a huge tea shop culture in Myanmar, which I found particularly interesting. You can find tea shops on every corner, and this is where locals often come to congregate, having conversations on topics ranging from politics to books to family life to current events. You can always find groups of men hunched around small stools in a tea shop, looking extra secretive. Myanmar is a surprisingly literate country, and you will find streets full of used book stalls in Yangon particularly. In fact, this is where I bought “Finding George Orwell in Burma”, which after reading it, holds much more significance to me.

Now, onto the fun stuff!


Recommended route for two weeks:

Yangon -> Bagan -> Kalaw -> Inle Lake -> Mandalay (-> Yangon if necessary)

This is what I did and the timing was perfect for seeing the highlights of Myanmar. However, if you are wanting to see a bit more, I would recommend three weeks and adding on Pyin-oo-lwin, Hsipaw, and Hpa An to your itinerary. If you read the book I recommended, you will understand the historical significance of Pyin-oo-lwin (previously known as Maymyo).

How to get there:

Although you can now enter Myanmar via land from Thailand, I would recommend flying into Yangon or Mandalay and going from there. If you do want to enter over land, there are only certain places this is allowed, so make sure to do your research beforehand.


There are two options for 28-day tourist visas for Myanmar, but know that no matter what, you MUST have a visa arranged in advance.

  • Option 1: E-Visa. Now that tourists are permitted to apply for visas online, it has become quite easy to get one in advance. However, the cost is $50 USD, so keep that in mind.
  • Option 2: Embassy. I personally chose this option because I was already near an embassy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia at the time, and it saved me $30. For $20, you can easily apply and obtain your visa within a few days. Just look online to see where your nearest Myanmar embassy is.



There is a lot of outdated information online about money in Myanmar, so I thought I would set the record straight. Yes, there are ATMs. Yes, you need to bring crisp U.S. dollars in large denominations if you would like to exchange money. Yes, you should check with your bank to make sure Myanmar is not a blocked country for your debit card, because some people’s cards do not work there. The exchange rate is approximately 1000 kyat to $1 USD. That’s all :).

Getting Around:

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your preference, the main way to get around Myanmar is by night bus. The pros: save on accommodation, relatively inexpensive, more time to explore and less travel time. The cons: uncomfortable, little to no sleep, lots of waiting around, arrive at odd hours in the night. Buses are very easy to book the day before you travel, which allows you to be flexible when traveling through Myanmar. If you are traveling to a place only a few hours away, there are also day buses available, but generally, journeys six hours or more are via night bus. Most hostels and hotels can book them for you, or you can visit any tourist office to book. Helpful hint: some bus stations like Yangon and Inle Lake are far outside of the city, so be prepared for an extra taxi or van ride to your final destination or to the bus station from your hostel or hotel.



Must try food: tea leaf salad, mohinga (fish noodle soup served at breakfast, don’t ask just try), Shan noodles, curry, samosas, and whatever other local dishes you feel inclined to try!




In 10 words or less: tea leaf salad, cinemas, tea shops, Shwedagon, Chinatown, circular train

Where to stay: Backpacker Bed & Breakfast (best location) or Four Rivers, Agga Youth Hostel is also popular

Don’t miss: 999 Shan Noodle House, Rangoon Tea House (splurge meal), Independence Monument Park, Chinatown (19th St.) for Chinese BBQ street food, Shwedagon Pagoda, take the circular train all the way around (3 hours), drug eliminating museum (hilarious government propaganda)

Top tip: ask a monk at Shwedagon Pagoda to show you where the tiles are to stand on at sunrise or sunset when the light hits the diamond at the peak of the pagoda perfectly. If you time it right, you can see blue, red, green, yellow, and orange colors individually depending on which tile you stand on. It was amazing!

Side note: Thanaka, a watery, yellow paste made from tree bark, is used as both decorative makeup and sunscreen and you will see mainly women and children wearing it throughout Myanmar, typically in swirls on their cheeks. I’ve tried it and it also has a refreshing, cooling feeling on your face to help you beat the heat!



In 10 words or less: pagodas on pagodas, history, untouched, e-bikes, sunrise

Where to stay: Ostello Bello is probably the most popular hostel in Bagan, but it is also expensive (for a reason! It’s really great). Another alternative is Bagan Central Hostel ($9 USD/night), which is right around the corner and perfect for me. Besides the plumbing issues, it has a great breakfast, beautiful property, and is very conveniently located.

Don’t miss: this should be obvious, but don’t miss the sunrise in Bagan. You can explore the temples (almost 3,000 of them, some as old as 9th century) on your own, so don’t be afraid to get off the beaten path. Also, you can visit several local villages and get to know the locals, so grab a group from your hostel and go!

Top tip: when you rent an e-bike to explore the temples, shop around because you can get it down to 3000 kyat (less than $3 USD) per day. Also note that you will need to pay 25,000 kyat for entrance into Bagan. Most hostels or hotels will ask you for your ticket and some temples require you to show your ticket to enter, so this is pretty unavoidable. Your taxi from the bus station will most likely stop at the ticket area to have you pay.




In 10 words or less: gateway to Inle, mountain town (Tbh, I wasn’t here long enough to tell you more about it!)

Where to stay: The Golden Kalaw Inn was a fantastic place to stay for the night before beginning the trek to Inle Lake. The owner is SO nice and helpful and I can’t say one bad thing about this place.

Don’t miss: Ever Smiles trekking company is the best! You can sign up for a two or three day trek to Inle Lake with them, and the two day trek is ~$32 USD. Highly recommend!

Top tip: make sure to wear long pants (brush and mosquitoes) and pack light for the trek. Although it is not a rigorous hike by any means, you will definitely be glad you brought only the necessities. Don’t worry, the trekking companies have a porter to bring your bags to meet you at Inle Lake.





Inle Lake:

In 10 words or less: canoes, fishing, handicrafts, touristy, sunsets

Where to stay: I stayed at Shwe Pauk Pin, which I had no issues with, other than that there was no WiFi as advertised. Free breakfast, communal area, air con, cheap bike rentals, we didn’t need much else. A popular new hostel at Inle is called Song of Travel, so I would recommend staying there if you are looking for a more social vibe, as I have heard great things about it!

Top tip: be prepared for little to no WiFi at Inle Lake!

Don’t miss: hire a boat to take you on a tour around Inle (15,000 kyat), bike to Red Mountain Winery (great views for sunset but don’t expect much for the wine), walk around the town



In 10 words or less: dusty, hot, markets, palace, Mandalay Hill, big city

Where to stay: I stayed at A1 hostel because it was cheap, which was fine because I was with friends, but there is no social atmosphere there whatsoever. I didn’t do much research on accommodation for Mandalay, so there may be some better hostels out there!

Don’t miss: Mandalay Hill (long hike up, but incredible views and pagoda at the top), check out all of the markets, visit the famous palace

Top tip: Although I only spent two days in Mandalay, this would’ve been the place to skip if I was more limited on time.


I hope this guide has been helpful, whether you are planning an upcoming trip or just want to learn more about this special country. Please let me know if I missed anything or if you have any feedback :). Thanks for reading!

Diving in Flores: Why You Should Choose Blue Marlin Komodo

If you haven’t heard, Komodo National Park in southeast Indonesia is one of the top dive spots in the WORLD. With unparalleled sea life, including white and black tip reef sharks, gray reef sharks, manta rays, plenty of sea turtles, and hundreds of unique species of fish, as well as ideal diving conditions, there are few places that beat Komodo. Thousands of people visit Labuan Bajo every year specifically for the world-class diving Komodo offers, and it is no surprise.

Planning a visit? You have a few options to go diving at Komodo, but I highly recommend going with a live-aboard trip rather than day dives. Is it expensive? Sure, but day dives also add up. Is it worth every penny? Absolutely. If you’re considering a live-aboard trip out of Labuan Bajo, do not miss Blue Marlin Komodo, a PADI 5 Star Dive Resort, which offers unbeatable, once-in-a-lifetime trips.


Blue Marlin offers a variety of options for live-aboards at competitive prices, but I went with the 4 day/3 night trip on the Ikan Biru, and had one of the best experiences in all of my time in Southeast Asia. Imagine spending four days doing nothing but three things: eat, sleep, and dive in paradise with a small group of awesome people!



Why choose Blue Marlin Komodo?

The shop: Blue Marlin is one of the only dive shops in Labuan Bajo with an on-site restaurant, making it even more convenient to hang out when you’re not diving. They offer both local and western food, and it also happens to be a perfect spot to watch the beautiful sunset over the harbor. As I walked through the town, I saw that many dive shops were overcrowded and understaffed, so I was glad to be welcomed by the friendly staff and people hanging out at the restaurant each time I walked into Blue Marlin.



The instructors: The three instructors on the Ikan Biru, Sean, Cat and Fai, were all experienced, professional and extremely personable. One of the most unique parts about the live-aboard experience with Blue Marlin is the comprehensive and informative briefings before each dive. I learned more than I could’ve imagined from Sean’s briefings, and even the dive masters who were guests on the boat said they were very impressed. He gave us detailed explanations about sea mounts, currents, splits, the geography and topography of Komodo, and even drew diagrams of each dive site on a white board. I have never seen any other instructor provide that kind of education before! Something else I appreciated was how accommodating they were to all seven of us on board. The instructors catered not only toward varying skill levels, but they also made sure we saw what we wanted to see (mantas, Komodo dragons, sunsets, etc.) and gave us plenty of options for our dives.



The crew: I was surprised that there were actually more instructors/crew than guests on the Ikan Biru, which was awesome. The crew provided great service, always had our gear perfectly arranged, cooked and served all of our food, did all the dishes, and even served us drinks on the deck whenever we wanted! You don’t always notice when everything runs smoothly on a boat and typically only pay attention to what goes wrong, but I definitely noticed that nothing went wrong. They all did a fantastic job and went above and beyond to make our live-aboard experience unforgettable.



The equipment: This is something that could easily be overlooked because you always assume your gear will be fine, but I just wanted to give Blue Marlin a shout out for having top notch rental equipment that no one ever complained about. If you’re diving four times a day, you are bound to have some type of issue with your wetsuit, booties, fins, etc. but none of us did. The staff at the shop fits you with all your gear beforehand, so I was glad to leave with not even a single blister!

The food: I couldn’t possibly leave out one of the best parts of the Ikan Biru live-aboard- the food! Our chef made us huge meals with both local and western options: pasta with meat sauce, beef curry, bruschetta, spring rolls, fish curry, coconut soup, chicken with peanut sauce, fresh fruit, fruit juice, tofu, tempeh, huge breakfast with eggs, French toast, pancakes, oatmeal with fruit, just to name a few. We also had unlimited sodas, water, and the infamous Pocari Sweat while on the boat. Even in between dives, our chef served us snacks like fried bananas with Nutella. Yum!



What I like to call the “ninja” approach: The staff, instructors, and boat crew took care of all the behind-the-scenes stuff without a hitch to make sure we could focus on what we were there to do, which was dive and relax. I can only imagine how much effort and logistical planning must go into preparing for live-aboard trips, and I appreciate how smoothly everything ran from the time we left the dive shop to when we arrived at varying times back at the harbor (some people stayed a few extra nights). On the Ikan Biru, I swear there were ninjas somewhere on board who cleaned and restocked everything, made up our beds, arranged our gear, and cleared away all of the trash when we weren’t looking. But I know it was just the amazing crew!



Overall, Blue Marlin Komodo is not to be missed, and I couldn’t imagine a single person regretting doing a live-aboard. Even if you choose to do day dives through Blue Marlin, they have an awesome speed boat, Toby, which allows you to do three dives in one day to be back at the shop by 4:00 p.m.



Before you go into cardiac arrest, keep in mind that you definitely get what you pay for with the price of a live-aboard, and there is a LOT included. The price of 3,450,000 rupiah per night ($265 USD) includes four days of non-stop diving (I was able to do 12 dives!), incredible food and drinks all day long, a full professional crew, multiple instructors, hotel standard accommodation under the stars, top notch equipment and gear, trekking on Komodo island to see the Komodo dragons, and a truly unforgettable experience.


Accommodation in Labuan Bajo:

If you have a few extra nights before or after your live-aboard, Blue Marlin Komodo also offers affordable accommodation right downstairs from their shop and restaurant. Dorm rooms run at 150K rupiah per night, but private rooms are also available.


If you have any questions about Labuan Bajo, how to get there, Blue Marlin Komodo, or Komodo in general, I would be happy to help. Or feel free to contact Blue Marlin Komodo directly:




Facebook and Pinterest: Blue Marlin Komodo

Instagram and Twitter: @bmkomodo


As always, thanks for reading! 🙂

Backpacker Guide to 2 Weeks in Malaysia

Somehow, Malaysia was not originally on my list to visit on my trip in Southeast Asia, but after hearing so many positive things about it, I decided to see for myself. I am SO glad I did! You can check out my GoPro video of my adventure in Malaysia here :).

For some background, Malaysia is known for its agriculture, beaches, nature, snorkeling/diving spots, and mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Thai, Javanese, and Sumatran cultures. I had some of the best food in Southeast Asia here and had a fantastic time. This guide is based on my experience with two and a half weeks and I hope you find it informative and learn a bit more about this incredible country!


Recommended Itineraries:

Two weeks: Georgetown (3 nights) –> Langkawi (2-3 nights) –> Cameron Highlands (2-3 nights) –> Perhentian Islands (4 nights, depending on whether you dive) –> Kuala Lumpur (2-3 nights)

If you have more time, you could add a visit to Taman Negara National Park and Melaka, which I have heard good things about.

Keep in mind that the Perhentian Islands are closed from November to March because of monsoon season, so plan accordingly if you’d like to visit. If you don’t go to the Perhentians, I would spend any extra time you have in Georgetown!



Georgetown is one of my favorite cities I have visited in Southeast Asia and it has a unique blend of Malay, Indian, and Chinese cultures with a major British influence. I will clear up any confusion now and say that Georgetown is a city on the island of Penang, which is off the west coast of mainland Malaysia. Many people say they are visiting Penang, but will spend the majority or all of their time in Georgetown. There are other places to visit on Penang, but Georgetown is the most popular for tourists and I would recommend staying there!

Things to do:

  • Peranakan Museum and Blue Mansion tours (I enjoyed both of them, but they are both similar, so if you are tight on time, I would go to the Peranakan Museum because there are more exhibits in the other buildings on the property)
  • Check out all of the street art! Many are even listed on and Google Maps, but it is very easy to stumble upon the famous paintings, sculptures, and metalwork of Georgetown while walking around.
  • Walk around and get lost in the little streets. I took this photo when I was just wandering around:


  • Armenian Street at night for unique desserts, cute shops, and temples lit up at night
  • Go to at least one of the 3D museums. I went to the 3D Time Tunnel museum, which was informative and also had some hilarious photo ops:


  • Visit the Kek Lok Si temple, cable car for views of Penang, and botanical gardens, which can all be done within a couple of hours


  • Try all of the incredible food! Recommended restaurants: Mugshot Café, Sushi Kitchen (vegan sushi), The Black Kettle (splurge meal), The Saferoom (liquid nitrogen desserts and Dragon’s Breath kettle corn!), street food in Little India, or just head to one of the many trendy bistros/cafes in Georgetown that you are bound to stumble upon.


  • United Buddy Bears at the Esplanade was one of my favorite places in the city, with 143 bears representing most countries in the UN, each uniquely decorated to represent their country.


  • Batu Ferringhi Beach is good to visit but nothing too special. There are lots of resorts and it’s a bit out of the way, but if the weather is good and you have time, it’s a fun way to spend an afternoon. Tip: take an Uber there for only a few dollars!


Where to stay:

I stayed with a Couchsurfing host in Georgetown, but I was able to check out a few of the popular hostels while I was there. The Frame, 80s Guesthouse, and Tipsy Tiger Party Hostel are all good options for budget travelers, but there are plenty of others in the main hostel area, so you shouldn’t have to worry much about location.

Pro tip: Make sure to get a cheap SIM card so you can use Uber. It is way cheaper than using taxis if you need to go somewhere and it’s super convenient! Most places you can walk or take the bus, but I saved tons of money using Uber instead of the double decker tour bus or taxis for activities that weren’t within walking distance.

Best parts: Walkable, lots to do, amazing food, unique blend of cultures, architecture




Langkawi, which means brown eagle in Malay, is home to the steepest cable car in the world, beautiful waterfalls and beaches, and is a popular vacation spot for both Malay and foreign tourists. Langkawi is known for being a duty-free island, so alcohol and cigarettes in particular are cheaper than the rest of Malaysia. I don’t smoke, but I was shocked to see that cigarettes were only 2rm ($0.50 US)!



How to get there: The two hour ferry ride from Penang (~$18 USD) is very easy to book. If you are coming from the mainland, you can also take a ferry from Kuala Perlis.

Things to do:

  • Cable Car: I actually would not recommend going here because it is expensive (45rm or $11 USD) and the views are frequently covered by the clouds at the top. It seemed like a touristy thing to do to check off your list, and I wouldn’t do it again. The Seven Wells waterfall nearby, however, was amazing, and I would definitely check it out if you’re in the area. Plus, it’s free! Cable car “views”:
  • There is an awesome night market on Thursday nights in Pantai Cenang, which had incredible food!


  • Enjoy the beautiful beaches with plenty of restaurants/bars, watersports, and places to chill out, either near where you stay or on one of the popular island hopping trips. I went island hopping, which was fun and very cheap (only 30rm or $7 USD), but I’ve heard the Mangrove tour is supposed to be even better!


Where to stay:

I stayed at Gecko Guesthouse, which I would highly recommend. It is inexpensive, has a fun and social vibe, and the perfect location right next to the strip of restaurants, shops and bars. Zackry Guest House is another popular hostel, but the location is not as good.

Best parts: Beaches, resort/beach town feel, great place to relax, easy to access via Penang



Cameron Highlands

The Cameron Highlands, located in the center of the mainland of Malaysia, is known best for its trekking/nature walks and for being the home to the biggest flower in the world. The cooler climate and lush soil makes for an excellent place to grow strawberries, tea, and many other crops. The highest point in the Cameron Highlands is Gunung Brinchang at 6,666 feet, and if you go to the top, you can see breathtaking views of the area while standing in two states at once!



Pretty much everyone does at least one tour in the Cameron Highlands, which range from a couple hours to all day, depending on what you want to see. If you don’t rent a car or motorbike, this is the best way to see a lot in one day and meet other visitors. With that being said, they are the definition of a tourist trap (gift shops, short stops with lots of driving, etc.), so just be warned in advance. I did the half day tour to Gunung Brinchang, mossy forest, a butterfly garden, BOH tea plantation, and a strawberry farm, which was plenty for me and was a fair price of 50rm or $12 USD. There are tons of walks/treks you can do on your own, so don’t be afraid to venture from a tour.


Where to stay:

I stayed at TJ Lodge for 16rm ($4 USD), and it was fantastic! The owner, Won, is extremely friendly and helpful, and the hostel is clean with good WiFi and a perfect location. I would highly recommend it for budget travelers, but there are tons of great hotels and hostels in the area, and even some luxury hotels.

Best parts: Nature, cooler climate, easy to book tours or explore on your own



Perhentian Islands

Perhentian Kecil (small) and Perhentian Besar (big) are the two islands off the east coast of mainland Malaysia known best for snorkeling/diving, incredible beaches, and being a (somewhat) untouched paradise. I would absolutely go on my honeymoon here! But until I find a husband, I’m fine with going solo to dive with sharks :).

The marine life is unreal at the Perhentians. I swam with turtles, reef sharks, blue-spotted rays, a humphead parrot fish (HUGE!), and even an octopus, on top of millions of other fish. Check out some of the photos:



How to get there:

Depending on where you are coming from, it can be a bit of a pain to get to the Perhentians, but once you arrive, you will be SO glad you did it! The night bus from Penang to Kuala Besut (closest port to Perhentians) is about 11 hours, and you will need to take another hour boat ride from there. Luckily, you can arrange a package with all transportation included from pretty much anywhere in Malaysia, so though it can be time-consuming, it is not difficult to figure out. I booked my transportation directly from my hostel in Langkawi for 170rm ($40 USD), which included a van from the hostel to the port, the ferry to Kuala Perlis (on mainland), the night bus from Kuala Perlis to Kuala Besut, the boat ride to Perhentian Kecil, and a return open boat ticket back to Kuala Besut. It was a bit pricey, but again, SO worth it.

The nearest airport is Kota Bharu, which is about an hour away from Kuala Besut, so if you have the chance to take a bus to either place, definitely go directly to Kuala Besut.

Recommended dive shops:

Matahari Divers was absolutely amazing (staff, price, location, boats, gear, etc.), so I would definitely recommend them. There are plenty of dive shops on Long Beach, which is the best access point for diving and snorkeling, so I would check out the different shops to see who you like the best and what prices they offer (all similar). But you should just go to Matahari to make it easy :).

Things to do:

  • This should be self-explanatory, but enjoy being in absolute paradise! Chill out on a hammock with a book, relax on the beach, go swimming, and enjoy the restaurants on the sand.


  • Go on at least one snorkeling or diving trip. I have NEVER seen Scuba diving this cheap. $20 USD seemed too good to be true! This would also be an excellent place to get your Open Water Certification (PADI), because it was only 990rm (~$230 USD), which is the cheapest I have ever seen it.
  • Ombok Hotel/Restaurant at Coral Bay has a movie night every night at 7:30 on their outdoor projector, which is an awesome way to relax with some popcorn or dinner.
  • Watch the sunset at Coral Bay. Exhibit A:


  • Walk around the island! There are several beaches and viewpoints you can walk to, so if you want to take a break from snorkeling or diving, spend a morning doing some exploring before the heat gets to you.

Where to stay:

  • Perhentian Kecil is the smaller island, which is recommended for budget travelers, whereas the big island is mostly high-end resorts and not as suited for backpackers.
  • I would recommend staying on Long Beach, which is where most of the action is. Coral Bay is a nice, quieter alternative on other side of the island (10 minute walk), but there are plenty of places to explore and you can walk to other beaches as well, so you aren’t limited to where you sleep.
  • Maya Bungalows at Coral Bay: 50rm ($12 USD) for a bungalow with a queen bed and private bathroom right on the beach! There are hammocks, a common area, and lots of palm trees if you want some shade. I wouldn’t stay here the entire time you are in the Perhentians (smaller and less action than Long Beach), but I loved it for two nights!
  • Sunrise Hostel on Long Beach: Do not recommend. This was the worst hostel I have ever stayed in, and that’s saying a LOT. I won’t go into detail, but it is not worth saving the couple dollars to stay here. All I will say is that the staff is useless and don’t care if people steal from other guests, there is no security whatsoever (no lockers, one key left at reception for dorm room with 10 people), it’s dirty, there is no WiFi, and there is only power at night (though this is common on the island), and there is no warm water, etc. Point blank: sleep on the beach before you stay here. J
  • Oh La La is 30rm ($7 USD) for a dorm room, and I have heard good things about it. It’s right next to Sunrise and I wish I stayed here instead!



One thing I did not know about the Perhentians before visiting is that robberies are extremely common, especially toward the end of the season. I know from first-hand experience (I’m fine, just lost quite a bit of money) how easy it is to be robbed on the island and even in hostels/hotels, so be very careful with your belongings and make sure to keep your valuables locked up or with you at all times. Generally, I felt safe on the island, but my hostel was not secure and I should’ve been more careful. This should not deter you from visiting the Perhentians whatsoever, but just a heads up!

Best parts: diving/snorkeling, island lifestyle, place to relax



Kuala Lumpur

KL is what Bangkok should be, in me and my friend Sessalli’s opinion. It’s a bustling city, but less intimidating and cleaner than Bangkok. One interesting thing to note about KL is that there is a heavy Muslim influence, and I actually felt like a minority here because I wasn’t wearing a headscarf or burka. It was so refreshing to see a place where Muslim people are accepted and would never be judged for their religion or culture, unlike many parts of the world. I thought it was really cool! Overall, Malaysia is very tolerant of different religions because of the cultural diversity, so you will often see mosques, temples, and churches all close to each other.



Where to stay:

I highly recommend Sunshine Bedz. It has everything you could want in a hostel: helpful and friendly staff, perfect location, air con, strong WiFi, free breakfast, and easy to meet people. It’s a little pricy for my standards at $8 USD/night for a dorm, but I have no regrets whatsoever about staying here. Patrick, the owner, is an absolute LEGEND. This guy literally saved my life in an almost crisis by driving me an hour to pick up an important package that was held up at customs. He is a super fun and genuine, and I’d stay there just on that premise alone!

 Things to do:

  • Don’t miss visiting the Petronas Towers/KLCC fountain show at night, Chinatown, Central Market, and at least one rooftop bar.
  • Helibar, a converted helicopter pad turned into a rooftop bar, which happened to be walking distance from my hostel, was a great place to watch the sunset and see the KL skyline from above. Entrance is free, but you do need to purchase a very pricy (30-40rm or $8-10 USD) drink to get to the roof. This is a nice alternative to Skybar, but both have a great view of the KL skyline.


  • Batu Caves: I didn’t have time to go here, but I’ve heard good things and you can get there by public transit. I’d look online or ask your hostel/hotel for more information.
  • Malls on malls on malls. Everywhere. I am from one of the shopping capitals of the world and I have never seen anything like it! Singapore is the only place I’ve seen that compares to the level of shopping there is in KL. If I wasn’t a poor backpacker, I would definitely buy all kinds of stuff in KL because designer items are much less in Malaysia than in the U.S. and many other places in the world. Is it necessary to have three H&Ms within a few blocks of each other? No, but it’s pretty dang cool.

Best parts: Easy to navigate public transport, shopping, food, nightlife


Helpful hints:

  • One U.S. dollar is worth approximately 4 Malaysian ringgit
  • Kuala Lumpur airport is a huge hub for several major airlines, including Air Asia, so flights will most likely be cheapest in and out of here. Many people choose to do a loop in Malaysia, starting and ending in KL.
  • Singapore is only a four hour bus ride from KL and is very cheap and easy to take, so I highly recommend taking a trip there if you have time! I chose to book my flight out of Singapore to make a short 24 hour visit and I am so glad I did :).
  • Indian food is extremely popular throughout Malaysia, so make sure to try all of the traditional dishes!


I hope you found this guide helpful and that you choose to visit Malaysia in the future! Though it may not be on everyone’s bucket list for Southeast Asia, it definitely should be. Did I miss something? Have any questions or feedback? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section!

As always, thanks for reading :).


Ultimate Guide to 1 Month in the Philippines

 They say Thailand is the land of smiles, but the Philippines is home to the happiest and friendliest people EVER. I say that as a fact, because it surely is. I mean, their famous fast food chain is called Jollibee…and let me tell you, they are more than jolly! But seriously, I have never experienced a place with more trustworthy, helpful, friendly, and welcoming people. Spending the past month in the Philippines has been absolutely incredible, and I’ve met more local people than I could’ve ever dreamed of. From the beautiful beaches to unbelievable waterfalls and marine life, the Philippines has so much to offer, and I am so excited to share more about it with you!


Before I dive in, I will just say that no matter how long your visit to the Philippines is, I would HIGHLY recommend starting in Cebu. There is a ton to see in a relative close proximity and the area is very accessible to other places in the Philippines. I was planning on staying in Cebu City for a night, but I got there and realized it was a busy city with not many tourist attractions, so I ended up taking a 3 hour bus to Moalboal for my first destination (SO lucky because this worked out perfectly).


My itinerary:

Manila (redeye flight) -> Cebu City -> Moalboal (4 nights) -> Oslob (1 night) -> Dumaguete (3 nights) -> Siquijor (3 nights) -> Bohol (4 nights) -> Puerto Princesa (1 night) -> El Nido (3 nights) -> Coron (3 nights) -> Puerto Princesa (1 night) -> Guimaras (2 nights) -> Gigantes Islands (2 nights) -> Iloilo City (1 night) -> Manila (redeye flight)

*** Disclaimer: This is not necessarily the perfect itinerary, and I definitely could’ve been more efficient if I had planned in advance, but I had the BEST time ever! I would make variations to this itinerary based on what your interests are, especially if you plan to go Scuba diving. Though I am no expert on the Philippines (yet!), I would be happy to talk to you about planning out a potential itinerary if you plan to visit. I also have a friend, Andrew, from the Philippines who has traveled a ton (has been to all 81 provinces!) who you can talk to as well :).


Moalboal– a diver’s paradise

  • Accommodation: Moalboal Backpackers or Marina Lodge (next to each other)
  • Dive at Cebu Dive Center on the north side of Panagsama
  • Dive or snorkel to see the famous sardine run! Literally, millions of sardines swimming around you- absolutely incredible.
  • Go to White Beach
  • Eat the BBQ in the small plaza of Panagsama- the pork belly is to die for!
  • Kawasan Waterfalls are ~20 minutes away (see my post about Kawasan Falls here!)



Oslob– swimming with whale sharks

You can swim with giant whale sharks for ~$20 USD any morning from 6-11 a.m., when they are fed by locals. Whale sharks are truly incredible creatures and are the gentle giants of the sea, so no need to worry about being in close proximity to them :). I will warn you that swimming with the whale sharks in Oslob is pretty controversial because feeding them every day interrupts their migration and breeding patterns. I would highly recommend going to Donsol to swim with them in the wild if you are there during whale shark season (December-May) instead of Oslob, but if you do choose to go in Oslob, prepare for lots of people but a truly incredible experience. I was very torn about going and wasn’t initially planning on doing it, but I decided to just say “screw it” and go because I was already there and probably wouldn’t get another opportunity. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it and had an unforgettable experience, but I didn’t leave feeling great about the impact this business is making on the whale sharks. If you have any questions about the whale sharks, you can do more research online, or I’d be happy to talk to you more about it!



  • Accommodation: Sharky’s is a basic hostel right next to the whale shark beach entrance and the owners are SO nice!
  • Tumalog Waterfalls are nearby, so I’d check it out if you have time!

Don’t miss Sumilon Island, which is only a 30 minute boat ride from Oslob and home to the most pristine sand bar I have ever seen! You can hire a boat to split with a group for 1500 pesos (~$32 USD) and head there right after you swim with the whale sharks. Check out these amazing photos!



Dumaguete– bigger city for a more local experience, one hour boat ride from Oslob (Liloan port)

  • Accommodation: Harold’s Mansion is an awesome hostel with an even better rooftop and attached dive shop, walking distance from Dumaguete port
  • Apo Island: great for snorkeling or diving with sea turtles!
  • Casaroro Falls and Forest Camp: take a motorbike to visit this 100 foot waterfall and hidden oasis in the hills!
  • Check out Rizal Boulevard and eat at Jo’s Chicken




Siquijor– MUST visit! One of my favorite places 🙂

Siquijor is locally known for witchcraft and lots of superstition, but it is also a hidden gem off the coast of Negros Oriental. It is not quite popular yet, but more and more people are finding out about it, so I think it will blow up with backpackers in the next few years! You can easily take a ferry from Dumaguete to get there, which makes it even better. It is definitely necessary to rent a motorbike on Siquijor to get around, but don’t worry, it’s cheap and the island is actually a great place to learn how to ride one (you still need to be VERY careful). If you don’t rent one, be prepared to pay a pretty penny for tricycles everywhere!

  • Accommodation: Tori’s Paradise (two locations, I stayed at the one with the sandy beach closer to the port); other budget hostel options: JJ’s, Kiwi Dive Resort, Tori’s Backpacker Paradise (better location, but beach isn’t as nice)
  • Highlights: Cambugahay Waterfall, Salagdoong Beach for cliff jumping, Balete tree with fish spa, riding a motorbike around the entire island (my favorite Barangays were Lazi and San Juan!), Friday night parties at Czar’s Place
  • Another highlight for me was San Juan’s fiesta party, a once a year celebration which included tons of food (the locals I met had two full pigs on the table that we feasted on!) and a giant paint party/rave. I happened to be there the same weekend as fiesta and happened to meet amazing local people, but it was more of a lucky coincidence than something to plan a trip around. See photos below!
  • Eat at Joel’s Chicken in Siquijor town- they will serve you a whole or half chicken on a plate and it is SO good!



Bohol– a WHOLE lot to do!

Bohol is most famous for the Chocolate Hills, Tarsiers (smallest primates in the world), and beautiful beaches. The main island of Bohol is quite large, but most visitors stay in Panglao, a small island connected to Bohol by two bridges. Alona Beach is the most famous spot and has lots of beach resorts, but I actually found it to be quite charming!

  • Accommodation: Nuts Huts (I didn’t stay here but everyone says it’s awesome) is in Loboc on the main island of Bohol. It is pretty difficult to get there (motorbike is recommended, or an expensive tricycle ride) but I’ve heard it’s definitely worth it, even though there’s no Wi-Fi up there! I stayed at Coco Farm for one night, which is an awesome bungalow style hostel in Panglao, but it’s quite far from the beach, which I didn’t like as much. They offer a lot of tours and the hostel has a social atmosphere, but I was on a mission to stay as close to the beach as possible. I ended up staying at (private room for 400 pesos a.k.a. $8.50) for 3 nights, which was nothing special but it was only a 5 minute walk to Alona Beach and had a perfect location. Other travelers I met stayed at Moon Fools nearby (580 pesos for a dorm room), which has more of a backpackers vibe, and loved it as well!
  • Highlights: Riding a motorbike all around Panglao and Bohol to visit the Chocolate Hills, Tarsier Sanctuary, Bee Farm, waterfalls, and smaller towns scattered throughout the island was awesome. I didn’t do it, but you can also go zip lining over the river in Bohol!
  • Balicasag Island: Attention all Scuba divers! Do NOT miss this island! There are plenty of dive shops on Alona Beach that will take you to Balicasag and they all have the same prices (1500/dive). I went with Alona Piratas because I liked the dive master and they provided free lunch, but there are lots of other shops to choose from.



Puerto Princesa- a quick stopover

When flying to Palawan, most travelers stop through Puerto Princesa on their way to El Nido, which is on the north tip of the island. I stayed for one night at the beginning of my time in Palawan, then another night again before flying out. It really just depends on what time your flights are!

  • Accommodation: I stayed at Sheebang Hostel for a night, which was cheap, close to the airport, and had a great backpacker vibe. It’s a little out of the way if you actually want to explore the city, so I’d stay somewhere else if you want to check out PP before heading north.
  • Underground River: I decided to skip out on this because I’ve heard it’s expensive for what it is (1000 pesos/~$22 USD) and is quite touristy. I’ve also seen incredible caves similar to this in Vietnam, so I opted out, but it’s definitely the top thing to do in PP!
  • If you do stay in Puerto Princesa and feel like Vietnamese food, don’t miss Bona’s Chao Long House!


El Nido– famous island hopping

Tour A or Tour C- enough said! I won’t spoil it for you, but you can check out a few photos below. El Nido is a must-see in the Philippines!

  • Accommodation: Our Melting Pot (OMP) Hostel has a great location and social atmosphere, but it’s a little pricey for what it was (600 pesos/~$12.50 USD). After staying for one night, we found another hostel called Pawikan down the road for cheaper and it was so much better! They welcomed us like family and it felt more like a homestay than a hostel. Highly recommend!
  • Food: Art Café is AMAZING and you should definitely splurge to eat there at least once (highly recommend the pizza, tuna melt, and pasta). There are plenty of restaurants on the beach with fresh seafood to try, and if you’re brave enough… you can try the Filipino delicacy, balut. You can look up more details about it, but I did in fact eat a fertilized/half-developed baby duck egg, wings, bones, beak and all. I gagged the whole time, but got it down and felt like I was on Fear Factor! The photo below is not for queasy stomachs…
  • The Reggae Bar on the beach is definitely the place to go at night- also has great live music!



Coron– shipwreck diving, island hopping and sunsets!

Coron is a 7-8 hour boat ride north of El Nido, and to be honest, a bit out of the way, but it’s totally worth it, especially for divers. The wreck diving there is SO cool and the snorkeling is some of the best in the Philippines. The island hopping tour (Tour A) is just as good as El Nido, if not better. Don’t miss Kayangan Lake either!

  • Accommodation: Coron Backpackers was recommended to me, but it was pretty far out of the way and we saw a mouse run across the counter as soon as we walked in, so I was almost relieved to find out they were fully booked. We stayed at Seahorse Guest House (a bit of a splurge for 600 pesos/$12.50 USD per night), which had a perfect location, HOT SHOWERS (so rare), and an amazing rooftop breakfast included in the price. The sunset on the rooftop is unbelievable- see photo below.
  • Other things to do: Rent a motorbike or take a tricycle to the natural hot springs, hike up to the Coron sign/viewpoint for sunrise or sunset, and don’t forget about diving!



Iloilo– gateway to Guimaras

I spontaneously booked a flight to Iloilo about halfway through my time in the Philippines, and I’m so glad I did! When I did some more research and talked to a few locals, I found out about Guimaras, the island next to Iloilo City (15 minutes by boat) known for having the sweetest mangoes in the world! Yes, I tried mango pizza and an amazing mango shake :).

  • Accommodation: If you stay a night in Iloilo City and are looking for a cheap place to stay, I highly recommend Ong Bun Pension House. It’s right near the mall, about half the price of all the other hotels in the city (350 pesos for a small fan room with shared bathroom), and I felt plenty safe there. In Guimaras, I stayed in my very own bungalow on the beach in Nueva Valencia for 700 pesos at Raymen Beach Resort, which I highly recommend. You can also stay in Jordan at JM Backpackers, but it’s not near the beach.
  • Don’t miss: The Pitstop restaurant in Jordan, Guimaras for their famous mango pizza!




Gigantes Islands– untouched paradise!

I found out about the Gigantes Islands on a random blog post, which inspired me to book a flight to Iloilo. The Gigantes Islands are a remote set of islands to the northeast of Iloilo, and I’ll be honest, it’s a pain to get to, but totally worth it! To get there, you can fly into Iloilo or Roxas City, take a bus (4.5 hours from Iloilo) or van (3 hours from Iloilo) to Carles or Estancia ports, and take a boat to Gigantes Norte or Gigantes Sur. Make sure to check boat times before going, because they don’t run often!

  • Highlights: UNLIMITED fresh scallops, island hopping, super friendly locals and Filipino tourists! I was the only foreigner there and was treated like an actual celebrity :).
  • Island Hopping: I highly recommend booking an island hopping tour with Gigantes Island Tours (Facebook page is here!). Paul and his huge family will take care of you and make sure you have the best time EVER! I got to stay with their family and it was one of the best things I did in the Philippines. No Wi-Fi/cell service, no running water, electricity for a few hours each night (brownouts are common though), but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. They live off of fresh scallops, crab, squid, and different kinds of fish, but mostly scallops. My favorite were the fried scallops, which I like to call scallop “nuggets”! Feel free to ask me if you want more info about the Gigantes Islands!



Book in advance or plan as you go?

You have two options when traveling in the Philippines, and both have pros and cons. You can either do lots of research to plan your flights/transportation in advance, or you can plan as you go to give yourself more flexibility. Though I chose the latter option, which worked great for me, it definitely had its drawbacks. Because I essentially came to the Philippines without a plan (had a general idea of where I wanted to go, but I heavily depended on word of mouth when I got there to plan my time), I ended up paying more for internal flights than I needed to. I paid $40-$50 USD per flight because I waited until the last minute to book, and if I had planned in advance, I could’ve paid about half, or even less! However, it was well worth it to me to have flexibility and be able to go to places like the Gigantes Islands, which I never would’ve known about if I had planned in advance. Your ability to plan as you go is also specific to season- I visited during low season (June-September), so I didn’t need to book in advance if I didn’t want to. If you go during high season (November-April, summer being March and April), I would highly recommend booking flights and accommodation in advance, because tourist destinations will get very crowded. I hope that helps!


Helpful tips for the Philippines:

  • ~45 Philippines pesos to $1 USD
  • There are 7,107 islands in the Philippines!
  • Each region in the Philippines has their own unique dialect, though Tagalog and English are the country’s official languages. You could have a group of 20 Filipinos together and they wouldn’t be able to understand each other if they were from different places, which I think makes the Philippines even more unique!
  • Islands are divided into provinces, then municipalities, then barangays (community/village)
  • Each barangay has a basketball court/community center, which is where most events are held. Basketball is HUGE here!
  • Stay at LEAST a month if you can! Traveling between islands can be time-consuming and you will wish you stayed longer if you only have a week or two. If you are limited on time, I would recommend picking one area to explore, rather than trying to fly and island hop all over the place. If you have a month, I’d pick three areas, otherwise you will be flying around too much.
  • Transportation: buses, tricycles (tuk-tuks in other Southeast Asian countries), ferries/boats, jeepneys (you ride in a covered truck bed with about 15-20 of your closest Filipino friends squished next to you, but worth it for only 7 pesos), planes, but most commonly, motorbike!
  • Visas: You can get a free VOA (Visa on Arrival) for 30 days, but be prepared to pay a terminal fee of 700 pesos ($15 USD) at the airport when leaving the country and 200 pesos ($4.50 USD) when flying domestically.



Filipino people eat a LOT of bread, meat, and rice. It would be very difficult to be a vegetarian here (but not impossible). There are bakeries on every corner and BBQ is pretty much an everyday thing.

  • Pork/chicken/squid adobo- a classic Filipino dish: delicious marinade of vinegar, salt, garlic, pepper, soy sauce, and other spices that originated as a practical way to preserve meat without refrigeration
  • Pancit- popular noodle dish
  • Lechon- spit-roasted pig served with liver sauce
  • Bulalo- beef soup rich with flavor
  • Pork barbeque- my favorite, cheap meal!
  • Milkfish/bangus- a classic Filipino fish that you must try!
  • Rice, rice, rice- did I mention, rice?
  • Bread- bakeries on every corner, cheap and looks like there is a great selection, but it is quite misleading because every product they sell is essentially the same thing- sweet bread in all sorts of shapes and even colors, but tastes basically the same! If you go to the Philippines, you WILL eat pan de sal, small, sweet buns, for breakfast (yum, carbs!).
  • Halo-Halo- shaved ice with ice cream and all kinds of fruit toppings!
  • Ube ice cream- this purple yam flavored ice cream is hugely popular!
  • Balut- a trip to the Philippines would not be complete without trying balut, which is a 17-day old duck embryo, served with vinegar. Did I try it? Yes. Did I like it? Absolutely not. But some Filipinos swear by it!
  • There are tons of other Filipino dishes to try- these are just a few!


Other places to visit:

  • Banaue rice terraces
  • Mayon Volcano in Luzon- the world’s most perfect volcano with a symmetrical cone shape
  • Malapascua- a small island to the north of Cebu, perfect for diving and known for Thresher sharks sightings!
  • Boracay- I chose to skip it because it has gotten overrun with tons of people, it’s quite expensive, and there are places just as beautiful that aren’t as much in the party scene as Boracay. Most backpackers I’ve talked to said they loved Boracay, but every local person I’ve met says there are better places to visit elsewhere. Up to you!
  • La Union- recommended by lots of locals and several travelers I met, but I’ll be honest, I don’t know much about it (yet!).
  • Siargao- surfing capital of the Philippines
  • Camiguin- another untouched island in the Bohol Sea, the second smallest island in the Philippines!
  • Tinuy-An Falls- the Niagara Falls of the Philippines
  • I haven’t heard many positive things about Manila from travelers and it can be dangerous at night so I chose not to go this trip (solo female traveler problems). Now that I have lots of friends from Manila, I will definitely come back to the Philippines and visit!

Where else have you been or would you go? I’d love to hear about your favorite places in the Philippines in the comments!


Again, I’d love to help if you are planning a trip to the Philippines! It has become my favorite country I’ve visited and I will DEFINITELY be back. Salamat (thank you in Tagalog) for reading and happy travels!

Lessons Learned From Travel Nightmares

Traveling full time for the past two years has given me a ridiculous number of crazy travel stories, but I’ll start this post off with a little tale from my recent flight to the Philippines from Cambodia….

What I thought would be a semi-sleepless night, but not the worst travel day, became quite a nightmare. But to be expected in Southeast Asia, right?

The saga begins… I had a flight from Siem Reap at 10:50 p.m. to arrive in Manila at 2:45 a.m., then another flight to Cebu at 6:00 a.m. What could go wrong? Well, my flight was delayed for two hours out of Siem Reap, and I ended up landing in Manila just after 4:30. That meant I had 45 minutes to deplane, get through customs, get my bag from baggage claim, find out which terminal my next flight is at, get there, and check my bag before the cut-off time.

As soon as we landed, I rushed through the airport as quickly as I could, cut a few lines, and made it out of baggage claim by 5:00, where I was greeted by a seemingly nice “airport official” **scam alert**, who helped me figure out that my flight was actually in Terminal 4. Manila happens to have quite a massive airport with four terminals very spread out from each other, and where I needed to go required a taxi to get me 4 km there. Apparently, airport shuttles don’t run before 7:00 a.m., so I was forced to follow this man to a sketchy looking taxi. At that point, I didn’t care what it cost, I just needed to get to that terminal in the next 15 minutes (traffic is also crazy there). The driver showed me a sign that said I needed to pay 1700 pesos, which is equivalent to $40 U.S.!!! I was in absolute shock and the two men acted like I was the crazy one and said that is the normal price. To give you some perspective, that’s more than I paid for my flight to Cebu! Panic started to set in because I was running out of time, but I haggled them down to paying $10 U.S., since I didn’t even have any pesos yet. It was unfortunate, but could’ve been worse.

After practically jumping in the backseat the whole ride, I arrived at the terminal and cut in line to get through the initial security checkpoint, putting me at the check-in desk at 5:17 a.m., two minutes after the cut-off. I looked up to read “CHECK-IN CLOSED” in big, red letters on the board, and my heart sank. After begging a few employees to let me check my bag, I got through security just as they were calling for the last passengers on the Cebu flight. Miracles do happen!

After an easy hour flight, I excitedly took a taxi to the hostel I was going to stay at for a night in Cebu City, only to realize there is quite literally nothing to do there (it’s mostly just a stopover point to get to the cool places) and my hostel was empty. As I was checking in at 9:00 a.m., all I wanted to do was sleep, but I knew I would be sitting around by myself all day and wasting a day I could be at the beach. Here’s how I know traveling these past two years has changed me: I was spontaneous and decisive right at that moment. I decided not to stay there and took a taxi to the bus station to find my way to Moalboal, a random location I picked on the map (but knew I wanted to go to at some point), which was three hours south.




Although the bus ride was lacking air conditioning and I was the only westerner on board, the wind was plentiful from the open windows and I enjoyed incredible views the entire ride (See photo above). I picked a great hostel when I got there and ended up spending the afternoon at the famous “White Beach” after signing up for my open water Scuba course for the following three days. Finally, I was doing exactly what I came to the Philippines for! I was rewarded with this incredible sunset for my first night:




After experiencing a whirlwind of 18 hours on a nightmare travel day/night (surprisingly not the worst I’ve had though…), I have gotten a chance to reflect on what I’ve learned from travel experiences like this one:

  • Stay calm and use humor to get you through it: This always helps me. I’m usually cracking sarcastic jokes to people around me whenever we encounter a delay or when something ridiculous happens. It puts me at ease and seems to help others as well. Staying calm and keeping your mind at ease is so important in any difficult situation, however you choose to do it.


  • Don’t stress about things you can’t change: At the airport, I was sitting next to a British couple who had a flight to catch from Manila as well, and they were getting into panic mode as soon as the flight got delayed. They were both frantically researching how much it would cost to change their next flight if they missed it, what the status of the incoming plane was, and discussing all of the scenarios the delayed flight could lead to. They even talked to the airport employees to tell them how important it is that they get to Manila as soon as possible. Even though my flight was 30 minutes before theirs and their conversations could’ve gotten me more stressed out, I kept reminding myself that I shouldn’t stress about something I cannot change. Could I make the plane get there faster? No. Could I complain enough to get them to realize how important my flight was? No. So I sat and read my book in peace :).


  • Feel the fear and do it anyway: I read this quote in Cambodia on a decorated sign above a trash can, and it really stuck with me. This is a mantra that I realized I try to live by- do things that challenge and push you, even when it scares the hell out of you. Book a one way flight to Thailand with no plans? Sure. Show up to a new city with no accommodation? Why not. Go cliff jumping? Duh. I think back to the moments in my life that I’ve grown the most, and they usually are situations that were difficult, scary, or uncomfortable at the time. Travel is the same way. We wouldn’t have crazy stories or develop a sense of confidence and problem solving skills without these tribulations that come with the territory. Travel is not always easy- EMBRACE IT!




  • Be willing to stand up for yourself: In the story above, I mentioned that I ran through security and customs, cut a few lines, and talked to several employees, all who helped me just a little bit along the way. Before asking for help or special treatment, it is important to think through what you’d like the outcome to be. When talking to the security guard at customs in Manila, I made sure that I was clear about my ideal outcome (that I got to cut the line), not just to tell someone how stressed out I was or that I was going to miss my flight. In situations like that one, every minute counts, so it is up to you to speak up when you need help, especially as a solo traveler. If I made one decision differently that day, I would’ve most likely missed my flight. It’s okay to speak up when you need it, just be sure to give those people running through the airport cutting lines grace when it happens to someone else :).


  • Have faith that things will always work out: Have you ever gone through a difficult situation and not gotten through it? Since you are here reading this, the answer is no. If you keep that in mind, no matter what the situation is, life becomes SO much easier. Even when it seems like there is no way out of it, I always remind myself that it WILL be okay and I will look back with a funny story to tell. (E.g. When my motorbike broke down on the side of the mountain in the rain, I remember thinking “Hmm, I wonder how this will all work out” instead of “I’m totally screwed right now!”) It’s difficult to change your mindset with this, but when you do, you virtually eliminate the majority of unnecessary stress in your life. Try it!


Whether it’s a terrible travel day or just a plain old awful experience, sometimes it takes a difficult situation or what seems like the worst scenario possible to realize how lucky you really are when it works out in the end. It puts things into perspective and also better prepares you to handle anything that comes your way in the future. Instead of looking at a challenge as a negative thing, I have been consciously trying to look at is as a way to build character, as well as my confidence for future experiences. If you didn’t know this already, traveling is not always easy! Life is not always easy. But it can always be fun and a constant learning experience.

Thanks for reading :). I’d love to hear your feedback or any crazy travel stories you have too!

And to the couple running from baggage claim who I yelled “Youuuuu can do ittttt” at: I hope you made your flight to England!

Adventure Adam: Koh Rong’s Best Boat Tour

Koh Rong, a backpacker’s island paradise off the coast of southern Cambodia, is known for its beaches, nightlife, and basic bungalow accommodation. It’s only a short ferry ride from Sihanoukville and even closer to the neighboring and less populated island of Koh Rong Samloem, which is also worth a visit if you’re looking to relax with close to no people around. I loved my three day visit on Koh Rong and I hope to go back one day! The highlight of my stay was without a doubt, the boat trip I went on with Adventure Adam, so I wanted to write about it for anyone who plans to visit so they make sure not to miss it :).

Adventure Adam began just as a nickname, which he then turned into a reputable tour company on the island. Adam is infamous on Koh Rong and has built relationships with expats, travelers, and locals alike. I happened to find out about the tour through the tour guide, Ben, who I met the night before, but you can also stop by Rising Sun restaurant/bar to learn more about it. There are several other boat tours from Koh Rong, but none are as long as Adventure Adam’s, and don’t include nearly as much. This all-day boat tour is $25 with a shirt or $20 without a shirt and leaves from Rising Sun at 9:00 a.m., returning around 8:00 p.m.




What’s Included:

  • Snorkeling with gear
  • Fishing pole and bait
  • Fruit and cookies to snack on in the morning
  • BBQ lunch
  • Free water on the boat
  • Two free beers and whisky with mixers to share (most people BYOB as well)
  • T-shirt or singlet/tank top
  • Several swim stops and information about each place
  • Knowledgeable and friendly tour guide


The Tour:

After departing from Rising Sun, you’ll head to a modest boat, which can fit up to about 20 people. It’s actually better that way because you really get to know the group on the tour and can get around quickly on a smaller boat.

Ben, our awesome Australian tour guide, was well-versed on the island and went above and beyond to tell us all about Koh Rong’s history and future (lots of development is to come), as well as information about famous resorts and local villages.




The first big stop is the Preksway village, which means Mango River in Khmer, and was one of the highlights of the day. Not knowing much about the tour beforehand, I was pleasantly surprised with our visit here. Adventure Adam is the only tour group permitted to visit this village because of the relationships Adam has built and maintained with the local people. In the village, we played with friendliest kids ever, and purchased snacks, drinks, and coconut oil from the locals. The village is home to about 800 Cambodian people, and there is a temple in the midst of being built, which should be completed in about three years.

In addition to seeing the homes of the local people and walking around the village, we also learned about the conservation efforts, education, and support being provided to Preksway village. Adventure Adam, along with other donors, are raising money to hire/train a midwife, build a library and school, and support the village in a sustainable way. Adventure Adam also plans to train local teenagers to become tour guides and eventually run their own tours out of the village, which I think is an excellent way to provide opportunities for their future. I also liked knowing that they will only agree to support the Preksway village if they agree to educate the residents on the dangers of littering and keep the trash under control.




The rest of the day consists of plenty of swimming, snorkeling, fishing, lots of flips and even a few bellyflops off the boat. Drinking a beer while playing Frisbee in the shallow water with new friends at sunset can hardly be beat. The Khmer boys, who help run the tour, are amazing fishermen and caught more fish than the rest of us combined. They even cooked up the few fish we caught for us to try with some local snacks from the village.

After watching the incredible sunset from the water, we stopped the boat in complete darkness to swim with bioluminescent plankton, a once in a lifetime experience. We got extremely lucky with the weather- sunny during the day, but the clouds rolled in after sunset, which blocked the moonlight, giving us perfect conditions to see the plankton light up fluorescent green. I couldn’t believe how bright the plankton were, with and without a snorkel mask. It felt like time had stopped and we were all just truly enjoying the moment. After swimming with the plankton, it’s back to the shore to end the unforgettable day.




I can’t thank Adventure Adam and Ben enough for making my trip on Koh Rong! If you’d like to get in touch or check out their Facebook page, here is their contact information:


Adventure Adam Activities & Tours

Adventure Adam Tours on Facebook


Thanks for reading and safe travels!