Top 5 Craziest Travel Stories

Since I’ve been back in the U.S. from backpacking around Southeast Asia and Australia for over a year, I have been asked countless times about the crazy stories I must have. Although I traveled by myself, as you can imagine, I met hundreds of incredible people along the way and I don’t want to ever forget the memories I made. This brings me to this list: *brace yourself* my top 5 craziest travel stories! Hopefully you can get an idea of the craziness that has been my life traveling these past 3.5 years, or if you were there for any of these experiences, it will bring back memories from wild times :).



  • #1- Trekking in Laos: In Laos, one of the top activities I wanted to do in SE Asia was the “Vang Vieng Challenge,” which ended up being the most physically and mentally challenging two days of my life. With my new friends, Katherine, Anna and Alex, from my hostel who I convinced to come with me, we got our food for two days at the local market with our guide before heading to the mountains. We got to try ant larvae and all kinds of Laotian food wrapped in banana leaves! Fast forward through hours of trekking through the jungle with a machete, zip lining into waterfalls, abseiling off wooden platforms hundreds of feet over the jungle floor, rock climbing up cliff faces, and crossing suspended bridges….. we had a major mishap. Alex was the first to cross the suspended bridge, which was slippery from the waterfall, and suddenly slipped on the rope (don’t worry, we were cabled in!) and dislocated his shoulder! It all happened so quickly and he was in a lot of pain, so our first reaction was to try to pop it back into place (probably not the best idea for people without any medical training) which didn’t work. Long story short, our two guides had to get him down the mountain to the hospital and left me, Katherine and Anna on the mountain to wait. As you can imagine, we had no idea how long it would be and went a little stir crazy for the afternoon. No one would ever be able to hear us, so we were yelling, singing, and going a little crazy because we couldn’t sit down due to the fire ants and spiders. We thought about trying to find our camp at the top of the mountain (we still had an hour of rock climbing and hiking left) in case the guide didn’t come back for us, but we decided to stay put. It was a good decision because he came back for us about 4 hours later! (Lots of happy tears!) We made it to our little hut we slept in, which had rat poop all over, rats on the rafters and a chewed up mosquito net, but we survived and woke up to incredible views above the clouds with butterflies everywhere. Our shower was jumping into a waterfall pool after rappelling down the 300 foot face of the falls. After we got back to the town after a crazy few days, we were bruised and bloodied from leeches, had fire ant and mosquito bites all over, and were down a person (sorry, Alex), I couldn’t walk for a few days, but it was totally worth it.



  • #2- Struck by lightning in the Philippines: Yup, you heard that right. I was on a boat in the Philippines that was struck by lightning. On an 8-hour boat journey from Coron to El Nido with my friend Lyndsay, we hit a major storm on what I would later find out is one of the most dangerous boat routes in the Philippines. We got put on a tiny boat (the kind with bamboo on the sides for balance), which was obviously not meant for an 8 hour ride, with about 25 Filipino people and one French backpacker (never got his name after going through such a crazy experience together!), and tried to ignore the pounding rain outside of the tarps that were pinned down to the sides of the otherwise open-air vessel. Out of nowhere, when I was chatting to the French guy about two feet from the mast (highest point of the boat), there was a HUGE explosion louder than anything I had ever heard before. Everything was silent and I saw nothing but white from what I thought was the engine exploding and what the French guy thought was a bomb. Who knows how long I blacked out for, but all I know is the next thing I knew I was standing up across the boat where Lyndsay was sitting with my day pack on my back (not sure why I packed it up or put it on thinking I would be going somewhere..) and trying to yell at Lyndsay but not being able to hear anything. Every single person on the boat already had a life vest on, including the crew. I immediately knew I must have ruptured both eardrums and may be deaf, but my first thought was “crap, now I won’t be able to dive anymore!” which seems kind of ridiculous looking back. Lyndsay is not a fan of the open ocean in the first place, so you can only imagine our reactions to this craziness. She was the only one who knew immediately that it was a lightning strike which struck the metal trash can that was touching the mast. Everyone on board was absolutely stunned and after trying to evaluate if there were any injuries, it looked like only one guy near us got electrocuted and couldn’t move his arm. I was most worried about the two babies on board though. The crew began lowering the life boats and everyone began grabbing their valuables, when suddenly the crew member who was in the boiler room below got the engine to work again. Thank God for that! Long story short, we ended up stopping at the next port and we made it back to El Nido safely eventually. My ears were ringing for a few days after that but my hearing eventually came back. I was paranoid about it for months though, so I actually got it checked while in Australia at a free hearing test truck. I am still within normal range- phew! What an insane story though.



  • #3- Mountain motorbike trip in the rain: I would like to say that my first time riding a motorbike was an absolute dream, but unfortunately my motorbike ride with my Dutch friend, Michelle, ended up being more of a nightmare. Bokor Mountain is a famous landmark in Kampot, Cambodia (highly recommend visiting here and staying at Arcadia Hostel, it has a waterslide and blob off the hostel bar!) which many backpackers come to enjoy. What looked like a sunny day during rainy season in Cambodia ended up being quite the opposite once Michelle and I broke the cloud base on the way up. I have never experienced pelting rain as much as I did that day, with no poncho or protection of any kind (except a helmet) and not being able to see two feet in front of me at times because of the thick rain clouds. Not only did we go up the mountain in the freezing cold wearing shorts and tank tops, but my bike actually broke down on the side of the mountain in the pissing rain. There was a moment of sheer panic when I realized I had no idea how a motorbike even works, let alone how to fix one. Luckily, a local guy drove by and obviously felt bad for a girl looking like a sad puppy on the side of a mountain, and somehow jumped it for me! The best part about our day was that we spent at least 30 minutes looking for the famous creepy casino at the top of the mountain, and when we finally asked a woman we saw walking towards us through the clouds, she laughed and said we had been circling the parking lot the entire time. Now that is the worst visibility I have ever heard of! We couldn’t even see a giant casino right in front of us! We warmed up inside and had some laughs about our ridiculous day, then rode back down without seeing the waterfall or big Buddha we tried to find. Luckily, on the way down, the clouds opened up and we stopped for some incredible views of central Cambodia. Overall, it was one wild ride that I will never forget but definitely wouldn’t do again during rainy season!


  • #4- Canceled flight to Croatia: On a Europe trip two years ago with my friend Courtney, we took a seemingly simple flight from Venice to Split, Croatia. Wrong. Our flight was delayed, then canceled hours later, we were led around the airport on a wild goose chase to try to collect our luggage, were not told what was going on other than that the next flight would be the following day. This was an obvious problem considering we began our 10-day boat trip the following morning out of Split. There was a lot of confusion with the airline and airport employees, who were yelling out for passengers on the Split flight all over the airport with about 50 of us in tow. They ended up putting us on an unmarked charter bus with a driver who didn’t speak a word of English without letting us get food or go to the bathroom. *imagine absolute chaos* All we were told was that it would take us “only four hours” to get to Split. So we said okay, we will make the best of it as long as we get there at some point today. Well, fast forward to the Slovenia border, where we were quite literally dropped off on the side of the road and told there would be another bus to pick us up soon. Yup, in an industrial area at the Slovenia border with no bathroom. Almost everyone on the bus went to the bathroom on the side of the road or behind a parked car. Luckily, to our relief, another bus actually did come for us to take us the rest of the way through Slovenia and Croatia to get to Split. We made lots of new friends on the bus, people decided to turn the ride into a drinking event, and we all complained together in a close bond of camaraderie. After a crazy 10 hours on the bus, we finally made it to Split! The best part is, Courtney and I ended up getting reimbursed for our flight in full a few months later (yay for travel insurance!).



  • #5 Attempted kidnapping in Cambodia: Warning to family members- maybe don’t read this one because it’s a little scary. It’s a pretty long story, but I ended up taking a local bus to Battambang, Cambodia from Phnom Penh, the capital later in the afternoon after all the regular buses left. I had come back to PP to pick up my passport which I had left at the Myanmar embassy to get my visa processed and wanted to get out of there as soon as possible to avoid staying another night there. After taking a few random motorbike rides from locals to get to a “travel agency”, I finally ended up on a bus in the late afternoon. Thank God I brought snacks and water because after a police raid on the bus (not sure what happened because no one spoke English, but we got held up for about 45 minutes) and tons of stops to let everyone else off the bus before me, it was 11:30 p.m. before we (me, the ticket collector and the bus driver) arrived to Battambang. When he suddenly pulled over on the side of the highway, I knew I was in trouble. I immediately remembered that in the chaos of the day taking a 4 hour bus to Phnom Penh to get my passport and trying to find a bus out of there, I never told anyone where I was going. I realized I could be entering a bad situation alone at night in the middle of rural Cambodia where no one knew where I was. As soon as they threw my backpack off the bus, I knew I had no choice but to get off to the scam they set me up for. A group of local men on motorbikes, who I presume were the bus driver’s friends who wanted some extra cash for an unnecessary taxi ride, was gathered right outside where the bus left me. After a deep breath, I put my innocent tourist smile on and mentally prepared to get ripped off from this motorbike ride into the city. My lucky driver took my day pack between his legs and I hopped on the back as we took off on the highway (no helmet, no worries, right?). After a few minutes of driving with my non-English speaking friend, I decided to check how far we were from my hostel on my offline map (download Maps.Me app right now if you travel abroad at all), and to my surprise, he had just taken a wrong turn. I alerted my driver by pointing at the map and he ignored me, continuing on a different road heading away from the city center. I double checked on the map, and confirmed there was no way we could be heading toward Battambang, so I considered my options….jump off the bike (not possible because he had my day pack with valuables between his legs), whack him in the head and take over the steering (totally realistic), or try to remain calm and friendly. I chose the latter, and unfortunately was ignored for what seemed like an eternity, but after getting a bit aggressive and yelling at him while grabbing his arm, he seemed to get the idea that I knew we weren’t going to my destination. He ended up eventually taking me to my hostel, where I was pretty shaken up for the night, and I still have no idea where he was planning on taking me. And I’d rather not.




Congratulations, you’ve (almost) made it through a ridiculously long blog post!

Here are a few bonus crazy stories that almost made the cut:

  • Did I ever tell you about that one time I did a homestay on the Mekong Delta of Vietnam with my new friends from my hostel, Jackie, Silke and Matthijs, when we got dropped off on the side of a river at night in the pouring rain and were directed to a random man who took us on his boat to get to his house an hour down the river. No English spoken, just a handoff of a two-person motorbike poncho Jackie and I shared to keep the rain out. Epic!




  • Or the time I did a homestay with a family on a rural island in the Philippines- no running water, cell service, internet or electricity before 8pm! I went island hopping, ate unlimited fresh scallops and crab prepared by my host family, and met the whole village who acted like I was a celebrity because most had not ever met a foreigner. I will never forget Gigantes Sur!


  • Or the time I went on a road trip with four random guys from the internet in Australia. While working in Melbourne, I had a week off and was determined to see the Great Ocean Road, which is a few hours southeast of Melbourne. All of my friends either had to work or had already been, so I was left with three choices: wait until friends could go at a later time, pay $100 to go on a day tour on a bus, or try to find some random people to hitch a ride with. I’m sure you can imagine which one I chose. After the five of us strangers (Patrick, Patrick, Kyle, Erik and me) met at a train station outside of the city ready for our spontaneous camping trip, we had an amazing time, minus constantly swatting those annoying Aussie cattle flies!



  • Or that one time I met Ella and Jeremiah at the airport and went on a three day trekking/homestay trip in Sapa the next morning in Vietnam. That first night in Hanoi, my phone was stolen by a guy who swiped it from me on a motorbike, and after one hour of sleep, I got on our six hour bus ride to Sapa. We had to trek four hours through the mountains just to get to the Hmong village we stayed in! We saw wild water buffalo with kids atop, hundreds of acres of hemp, tons of rice paddies, local homes and schools and even a waterfall. Our tour guide was 17 and had two kids already- she was amazing! Most girls in the Hmong village we stayed in get married between 13 and 15 and have kids soon after. The family we stayed with cooked for us, made us drink way too much homemade rice wine, and were so hospitable even with the little that they had. Even though we went three days without a shower and were absolutely exhausted, it was an experience I will never forget.




Do you have any crazy travel stories?! Share them in the comments section!

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 :).




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!

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!

Secrets to Booking Cheap Flights in Southeast Asia

Before I came to Southeast Asia, I had heard that flights are “dirt cheap and you can get anywhere”, but I will admit, I was a bit skeptical. After some recent experiences booking last minute flights, I thought I would share some tips if you’re looking to save money traveling in SE Asia:

  1. Utilize Travel Apps: My two favorite apps to use when booking flights are Hopper and Skyscanner. They both have websites, but you can often get better prices on their apps, so I use them more often. When I want to book a flight, I look up flights on Skyscanner to get an estimate for the cost, then check Hopper to see if it predicts whether the price will go up or down in the coming days or weeks. You can also set an alert on Hopper to notify you when prices go down, so even if you forget about that flight you need to book, the app will still remind you. Skyscanner is basically a cheaper and more thorough version of websites like Expedia, and I have found much lower prices on it, so I highly recommend it! I have also heard good things about Momondo, so I may check that out soon :).
  2. Look at all of your airport options: I was in Koh Samui and wanted to book a flight to Luang Prabang, Laos. Booking directly from Koh Samui to LP would’ve costed me over $300 US, so I needed to look into other options. If you are on an island or somewhere not easily accessible, definitely check out other nearby airports. I found out that only specific airlines can fly into the Koh Samui airport and some budget airlines aren’t allowed to fly there at all. After a recommendation from a fellow traveler, I looked into the Surat Thani airport, which is the closest airport on the mainland of Thailand. A flight to Bangkok that would’ve costed me over $100 US from Koh Samui only costed $20 US from Surat Thani! I easily took a ferry to the mainland, then took a bus to Surat Thani to catch my flight the next morning. My experience in Surat Thani ended up being very interesting, considering I did not see a single other western person or meet anyone who spoke English. The plus side of staying overnight somewhere that is the opposite of touristy is that you can stay in a safe hotel with a great location for only $8 US. Long story short, I booked a flight from Surat Thani to Bangkok on Thai Lion Air for $20 US and a flight from Bangkok to Luang Prabang on Air Asia for $50 US, totaling to $70 US instead of over $300! It was definitely worth taking an extra ferry and exploring a new city for a day.
  3. Carry-on Luggage: This one is simple, but can really save you a ton of money in Southeast Asia. If I purchased luggage on my flight to Laos, it would’ve costed me almost as much as the flight itself! Luckily, my backpack is small enough I can sneak it on planes even though it is over the 7 kg limit :). If you are planning a trip to Southeast Asia, definitely consider downsizing your backpack- you will not regret it!
  4. Read the Fine Print: Before booking a flight, always read the fine print and see if checked luggage is included, if you need to print your boarding pass before arriving at the airport, if there are any additional taxes or surcharges, and if there is any flexibility with your ticket. It may be worth paying a bit extra to have the flexibility to change your dates if you need to!
  5. Compare Your Options: Though flying is usually fastest and cheapest in Southeast Asia (depending on where you are going), there are plenty of ways to get around. Before booking a flight, always look into your other options like an overnight train or bus, a ferry/boat, or a combination. There are tourist offices everywhere in most cities and they can easily book a combination ticket for you. Looking online is smart, but there are some modes of transportation that are not listed online. Whatever you choose to do, don’t stress! You can always figure things out on the fly, so I definitely recommend just going with the flow and booking as you go :).


Expert hint: Some budget airlines in Asia do not accept foreign credit cards when booking online. Do not fear! In Thailand, you can actually select 7/11 as a payment method when you check out and you can pay cash at any 7/11 location with a print out of your voucher. After a few days of frustration and calling the airline, I was amazed that this actually worked! I have also heard you can pay cash at travel agencies as well, but I’m not sure what they charge for commission.




For reference, some popular budget airlines in Southeast Asia are:

  • Air Asia
  • Nok Air
  • Thai Lion
  • Jetstar
  • Tiger Air

Hopefully this helps if you plan to travel in Southeast Asia in the future or are traveling right now! If you have any other tips to add, feel free to post in the comments section :).