Another Neat Town in Thailand! Chiang Rai…

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Just a couple hours north of Chiang Mai is a town called Chiang Rai. Majority of tourists are attracted to this town because of the beautiful White and Blue Temples as well as the Baan Dam (Black House) Museum. Others are also drawn here because it serves as a gateway to Laos (a common trip for visa runs) as most buses go through Chiang Rai to get to the border.

We hopped on an air-conditioned green bus from the Arcade Bus Station in Chiang Mai for just 129 baht per person (just under $4 usd). The ride took about three and a half hours, a little curvy but not as winding as the road to Pai was.

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Our hostel (Bus Station 1 Hostel) was situated a whopping 100ft or so from the bus station, and on the other side of the hostel the night market welcomed us each night with live music, dancing and wonderful fresh cooked food! Lucas FINALLY found some reasonably priced chicken wings he’d be looking for since we left Hawaii!

Our first night as we settled into our hostel, we made a plan for the next couple days which would consist of visiting a monkey cave, the Black House Museum, the Blue Temple, Pong Phra Bat hot spring, the White Temple and lastly Khun Korn Waterfall. We had our route now all we needed was a motorbike to get us there. We woke the next morning and ventured out to find our wheels for the next few days. The cheapest rental we could find ended up being 150 baht for 24 hours ($4.50). We signed our rental agreement, filled up our fuel tank and off we went on a scenic drive up to our first stop, Monkey Cave!

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Typing in Monkey Cave on maps.me (a offline maps app) sent us way north towards the border of Myanmar. As we pulled into what we thought was “Monkey Cave” it started pouring down rain and there were no monkeys at all to be found! We thought for sure we had driven to the wrong place (later we found out it was the wrong place!). Although there was a cave, called Wat Tham Phra, the entire complex seemed to be completely empty, no monkeys, no monks, no people at all. Kind of strange and eery but Lucas went in the cave  anyways and explored for quite a while as the cave was fairly extensive and was pitch black (I opted out of this little cave exploration part). This area had some amazing scenery and in our opinion is worth the drive up from Chiang Rai. On the way back to find the actual “Monkey Cave” maps.me took us on a back road that was supposed to be shorter and more scenic. It took us through some beautiful farmlands, past some amazing limestone cliffs and down a incredibly muddy dirt road. With two people on one motorbike it was quite the adventure for sure!

We finally made it to our original destination that was actually called Wat Tham Pla (Fish Tail Cave/Monkey Temple) not Monkey Cave…. oops! There were tons of Monkeys here, tons of fish, and Monks in there traditional orange attire! A wonderful short trip from Chiang Rai! Here you could feed the hundreds of fish in the pond or feed the Macaque monkeys! This was our first time being up close and personal to monkeys, at first we were very intimidated by them but after spending some time in one area they seemed to get used to us a little. There were baby Macaque’s that were only a couple weeks old and were SUPER CUTE! 🙂 After spending some time with the monkeys we headed up the winding steep stairs to a nice little cave and a viewing platform. Lucas and I were the only people up there which at one point got a little scary because as we looked up there were about a dozen monkeys climbing down the rock walls towards the cave entrance. Some of which were very sizable and soon we felt like we were being held hostage in the cave with the wild monkeys stopping us from leaving. We waited for several minutes and soon they lost interest and made there way down to the fish ponds where everyone else was situated. Bare in mind this type of monkey has large sharp teeth and at times can be aggressive. We read a few stories online where when feeding them they get aggressive and will actually sometimes bite you so I would suggest grabbing one of the sticks they offer you at the entrance and walk around with it like most other people had.

As we finished up at the Wat Tham Pla we made our way down to Pong Phra Bat Hot Springs. We had plans to stop at the Black House Museum but since we lost a few hours going to the wrong cave we decided to opt out of stopping there and head straight to the Hot Springs to save us a little time. For just 20 baht (.60 cents usd per person) we had a nice relaxing stop, soaking in the natural hot springs and enjoying a break from riding the motorbike.

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Next on our loop that day we drove to the amazing Blue Temple (free admission) and White temple (50 baht admission) Both were incredibly beautiful. Its amazing how much detail goes into the design of these temples. Both of these are must do’s if your in Chiang Rai!

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Last on our list for Chiang Rai was to see the Khun Korn Waterfall. We have seen so many beautiful waterfalls on our travels, but we are so glad that we made the long drive to this one as it was so much nicer than we had anticipated it being! We had a short hike from the parking lot (about 1400m hike) in which we got stuck in a complete unexpected downpour! As we made it to the waterfall the rain let up allowing for a few quick pictures. The waterfall was incredible, I’m sure all the recent rain helped with the size of it but it was still a wonderful adventure and for just the cost of a motorbike rental and fuel it was a cheap day trip outside of Chiang Rai!

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Chiang Rai has plenty to offer for anyone! Great food, beautifully designed temples, amazing waterfalls, hot springs and Monkeys! We thoroughly enjoyed our excursion up to this small town and highly suggest others to make a trip up as well if your time allows it.

Frugally Traveling in Vietnam for 39 days

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When my husband and I first started planning our trip to Vietnam we really had no clue how much we would be spending, all we could do is research and take an educated guess as to what it would be. A few people have posted their spendings but since my husband and I are cheap and budget everything we knew that our spending would be different. But for those who are trying to plan your trip we wanted to give a little insight on our budget and how it compared to what we had anticipated.  

Our first budget we came up with looked a little like this: (Note, this is written for a budget for two people in US Dollars)

Accommodation: $10 per day

Transportation: $10 per day

Food: $15 per day

Miscellaneous: $5 per day

We planned to do most tours/hikes and sightseeing by ourselves unless we felt it was worth the price or experience. So by this budget we had set aside $40 per day for both of us together. (This is not including our flight to Vietnam)

Our first few weeks in Vietnam we penny pinched where we could, talked people down at the markets, didn’t spend more than what we needed to on food, a place to stay and the transportation to get to our destinations. The reason we did this was to get a good idea of what all these things should be going for. This gave us a starting point on prices for the rest of our stay.

Accommodations: Hostels ran us about $3-4 average but never exceeded $5.25 per person per night, sometimes we lucked out and found a private room for the same price as two dorm beds or sometimes even slightly cheaper! This would be beneficial for couples or friends traveling together who can then split the cost. We always tried to find hostels that included breakfast in their price which in turn we would get free coffee at most places and it would be one less step in the morning. Convenient and cost effective.

Transportation: throughout Vietnam we stuck mainly to public transportation such as busses, trains and motorbikes. We broke down and used a taxi on two separate occasions when the hostel was over an hour and half walk with no city bus to get us closer. From Ho Chi Minh city all the way to Hanoi we utilized the open bus tickets who we booked through The Sinh Tourist (nice busses and inexpensive) for $37 each. These busses were mainly overnight busses that went to our destination cities (Dalat, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue & Hanoi). When we arrived in Hanoi we purchased a motorbike which would become our new form of transportation for Northern Vietnam. We found our motorbike on Vietnam Backpackers Travel and Sales Facebook site for $175, put about $60 of work into it, used it for two weeks, then resold it to another backpacker for $200. With this we only lost about $30 total (cheaper than any bus tickets up north, or renting a motorbike for two weeks) A great budget friendly option if you can front the cash to buy one outright. After selling the motorbike we took a train from Hanoi to Ninh Binh for $3.50 per person each way. Busses, trains and motorbikes seem to be the main transportation throughout Vietnam and can be pretty inexpensive.

Food: Wow, there are so many cheap options for food in Vietnam. Street food is plentiful and runs about $1-3 per meal each, and is very tasty and fresh. We learned to go out during prime lunch and dinner times to find the best local spots and for the freshest food being prepared. When we needed a break from vietnamese food (which was about every 2-3 weeks) we opted for pizza which we could split or hamburgers and fries (pizza ran between $6-7, while burgers were about $3-4 each). A splurge for us but it was a nice break every once in awhile from noodles and rice. Water was also a daily expense for us as we purchased bottle water instead of filtering it. Water averaged about .44 cents for a 1.5L bottle. The best bang for your buck is buying a 5L jug for about $1.11 and just refilling your water bottles. We did this if we were going to be spending more than 3 days in an area. We always ate street food and had water accessible. We rarely ate western food but had a few ice creams and an ice cold pepsi here and there. Since we do not drink often, we saved a TON on not drinking beer all the time. We talked to many people along the way who said there main cost was beer, ouch! 🙂 Food is the main area where i think it really depends on the person and their taste.

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Miscellaneous/Entertainment is where it really depends on YOU! Things in Vietnam are cheap-cheap and the souvenirs are plentiful. While here we decided to pick up a few jackets for our trip to New Zealand setting us back about $27 for two North Face down/synthetic jackets. A sim card for 6 weeks set us back $18. Other things in this category where things like laundry which ran about .66 cents to $1.33 per kilogram. Tours and entrance fees we spent a total of $75 between entrance fees to waterfalls, pagodas, caves, lastly a few tours in Dalat and Ho Chi Minh. So this last category really can be adjusted for anybody’s budget and what you want to spend.

So for 5 1/2 weeks we actually spent:

Accommodation: $267.41 ($6.85 Per Day)

Transportation: $175.60 ($4.50 Per Day)

Food: $312.80 ($8 Per Day)

Miscellaneous/Souvenirs: $112.33 ($2.88 Per Day)

Entertainment/Tours: $75.06 ($2 Per Day)

Spending all together for 39 days : $955 for two people

So for about $24.50 per day for two people ($12.25 pp) We comfortably traveled around a foreign county for 5 and a half weeks! We spent well below our initial daily budget of $40 a day without really trying to hard, which will give us a little more money for when we travel to Australia/New Zealand in a couple months!

Small ways to save even more money:

  • Try washing your own laundry daily in the sink shower in your hostel/hotel. We started doing this halfway through our trip and it saved us about $1 per day.
  • Price compare bus companies, tours, hostels, and motorbike rental companies.
  • Don’t be afraid to negotiate on prices especially with people selling souvenirs and fruit on the streets. We found that those who are open for negotiation would settle for about 40-50% off what they first quoted (which is typically WAY to high anyways).
  • Use public transportation like the locals! Getting on a public bus is sometimes a good cheap way to get from A to B while seeing the city. 🙂
  • Take overnight busses or trains so you can catch up on sleep meanwhile saving you the cost of a hotel or hostel each night you do this.
  • TRAIL WALLET APP (budgeting app that is simple to use and WE LOVE IT) IPhones only sadly!

For more information on our time spent in Vietnam check out our early blog posts about each city we went to!

Off on Another Adventure

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Arriving in Hanoi, it had been 17 days since we landed in Vietnam. When we first arrived in Ho Chi Minh we purchased open bus tickets to get us up to Hanoi, and now that we had used all of our tickets, it was time to plan the next phase of our trip here.

We had been doing some research for the last few weeks and kept tossing the idea of purchasing a motorbike in Northern Vietnam to get us around instead of hopping on the bus. Sleeper buses are nice and all but the routes in North Vietnam are very mountainous and pretty sketchy when traveling at night (most buses are night buses) so traveling via bus just did not appeal to either one of us as it was too much risk. So we searched for a hours and low and behold we are now owners of a Honda Win that we purchased for $175 USD. That same day we packed our bags, loaded our route on Google maps and made our first leg of the trip to Mai Chau.

3 hours into our ride as we were enjoying the wind in our hair and the wonderful scenery we were waved down by a man and his sister who were heading in our direction. Something was not right with our back tire, we felt something was off and stopped a few times to check it out but nothing caught our eye. This time when we pulled off, the man (named CJ) helped us communicate with the motorbike shop to check out what was wrong and help us fix it. So thankful he was able to translate for us.  Turns out the wheel needed to be re-spoked, so we sat and talked with CJ while the work was being done. Turns outs he and his sister were heading to Moc Chau, just a hour or so above our destination in Mai Chau. They kindly waited for our bike to get done so that we could make the forward drive together as it was getting dark (safer to drive in groups especially at night) They offered us oreos, milk and some great conversation making the time that we waited go by really quick. So 150,000 VND later ($7) and a newly spoked rim we were on our way to Mai Chau.

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Our first day in Mai Chau we ventured off and hiked 1200 steps to see the beautiful Chieu Cave, its amazing how much of a temperature change there was from outside the cave to the inside. After walking up and down that many steps we were completely worn out the rest of the day so we caught up on laundry, played some pool, and walked around the village we were staying in. We had planned to stay in Mai Chau longer but we hit the road the next day to meet up with our new friends CJ and Na Pham in Moc Chau for some camping and trekking.

On our way to Moc Chau, we had another issue from the same wheel/tire, this time it was flat! We limped the bike back downhill to the closest motorbike shop, and while we were waiting for that to get replaced Lucas played some soccer with the local kids who were waiting for school to start, and I helped the others with some english words which they were so eager to learn.

We yet again hit the road this time ready to put some miles in between us and Mai Chau but again were faced with another issue with the motorbike. Not even 15 minutes after we left the motorbike shop with a new tire, the bike lost power going up hill! We pulled over to find that oil was leaking out from the top of the motor (crankcase vent tube) We thought for sure our bike was toast and that we’d be hitch hiking our way back down to Hanoi but when we called our friend CJ to let him know we’d be late, he came to our rescue once more, he made the drive to us (about an hour round trip) and helped us translate once again to the shop what we needed and was there for us for any assistance.  A new head gasket was put in and we were on our way, we can not thank CJ enough for all his assistance the last few days with our bike, it made it so much easier to have him there and to help us translate as we would have been surely taken advantage of as most foreigners are but CJ made sure that we were taken care of, a true friend and a genuine good man.

Finally making it to Moc Chau after a full morning of mishaps, we were ready to take a break and spend time with our new friends. We had plans to camp in Pine Forest the first night which was such an amazing time. We drove out to the forest, set up our tents and hammocks, cooked dinner over the campfire and sat talking the night away. What a wonderful break from hotels and hostels!

We woke up from camping really early (5am) packed up everything and had big plans for the day to visit Pha Luong Mountain, which was from the pictures had an amazing lookout at the peak, and the scenery would be to die for! It is a natural boundary between Vietnam and Laos so you need to do paperwork at the station to be able to make the trek. But what we didn’t know is that since we are foreigners they do not allow you to go up there, unless you have the right paperwork, and that could take you up to 2 months! Sadly we were not prepared this time, we didn’t realize it was so hard to get the correct paperwork and the time it took to do so. The roads throughout the villages going towards the station were pretty rough especially on a motorbike I believe it took about an hour to go 2km. Sadly we had to turn around at the top but the drive out there was breathtaking and so much fun! When we came back down, we stopped by two waterfalls (Chieng Khoa & Ban Yem waterfall).

As we made our way to the hostel for the night, we all decided that our last night in Moc Chau we wanted to go camping again, we had such a wonderful time the first go around so why not at the beautiful waterfall we had just seen a few hours before! On our way back to the waterfall to set up camp the next day, we took a detour and visited a small village outside of Moc Chau. Even one of the buffalo were so surprised to see us, he kept starring at us and making these odd looking faces, it was hysterical!  It was a perfect end to a wonderful trip to Moc Chau. We had such a great time with our new friends, we will definitely miss them and all our CRAZY adventures 🙂

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Our time in Hue, Vietnam

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This time in-between our stops we just had a 4 hour bus ride instead of 10-11 hours like we’ve been used to. From Hoi an to Hue was just a short drive with great scenery so it passed by very quickly. We stayed in Hue for 3 nights and we could of stayed many more. The hostel was family run and were always there to help no matter the issue or if you just wanted to sit and chat with a cup of coffee they were willing and ready. Very easy going people who made our stay very enjoyable.

The first day we rented motorbikes and rode to the abandoned water park outside of Hue with a few friends we met from Canada, Carly and Kendra. We zipped all around the eerie park, climbed to the top of the dragons mouth and even slid down the empty waterslides. This attraction was definitely the highlight of our trip to Hue, and was completely free, short of the motorbike rental and fuel. The four of us jumped on our motorbikes and slowly started heading back towards town to the Thien Mu Pagoda which held some impressive statues and even a golden buddha! It was constructed over 400 years ago in the 1600’s and had some amazing craftsmanship work and even overlooks the famous Perfume river. It is the tallest pagoda in Vietnam standing an incredible 7 stories high (21 meters or 69 feet).

The second day we sat around the hostel and caught up on the blog and on the budget which we were writing down on paper until we found out about the amazing budget app Trail Wallet. You put in your expenses each day and it breaks it down into each category and averages out your total expenses. It also allows you to type in your expense in one currency and it automatically shows you what it is in your home currency (USD). So much easier than trying to keep track with pen and paper!

Later we met up with Craig and Olga for lunch and dinner who we met in Saigon originally. We found some amazing burgers just a short walk from the hostel and some not so good spaghetti that we had to wash the taste out of our mouths with some ice-cream! (can you tell we were trying to get some western food after all the noodles and rice we’ve been eating LOL)

On our last day the bus didn’t arrive until 5pm so we rented another motorbike through the hostel and drove out to “bunker hill”! We checked out a few old concrete bunkers with bullet holes from the Vietnam/American war that took place in the 1960’s and 70’s. As we walked around we spotted some monks that were studying and enjoying some tea while overlooking the Perfume river. On our way back to town we stopped by the Incense village when Cynthia learned the process of how they make the colorful incense sticks that are used for religious and traditional ceremonies.

On our way back to Hue from the American bunker hill we stopped to grab a bite to eat at a small local street food stand. There we walked up to a large group of students who had just graduated and were celebrating. They welcomed us over as they clapped and cheered as we sat down with them. They kept pouring us glasses of beer and shared there food with us as we exchanged conversation for a few hours with the few that knew some english as the others translated through each other and listened carefully. Hue turned out to be an amazing 4 days!

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Hoi An, Vietnam

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When we researched Hoi An, what caught my eye were the beautiful lit up lanterns that lined the streets at night and the bold history of the ancient town. It just looked like a really neat, cool vibe city.

When we arrived on our bus at 6:30am we walked around scoping out a place to stay for the next week. We found a nice family run homestay on a “quiet” street with a private room and A/C for just $8 US per night. (We negotiated price down $2 per night). What we didn’t know at the time was that the traffic would wake us up at 6:30am each morning, there was construction going on across the street, there was no blanket offered (just a flat sheet), we would be offered the same breakfast each and every morning (which after the second day the baguette, fried eggs and same fruit got kinda old) and the large family was pretty loud at night downstairs, especially their son who constantly cried (we were on the top floor and still were able to hear him with our door shut). One of the first days we were there we took a mid day nap and woke up to one of the ladies opening our door to clean the filters out of the A/C. No knock, just came right on in 🙂 And from what we were told by the room next door, they had suspicion someone was coming into their room and turning off the ac each time they left the home because it would always be off when they returned. After that we took our personal gear with us each day and kept just our clothing and basic stuff at the homestay. The hardest thing about our stay here was the language barrier with the owners, only one lady spoke english and seemed to be gone most of the time so when we had a question or needed something we had to wait for her to come back. We tried to use our translator app on the phone but they didn’t want to use it and insisted we wait for the lady to return. We planned on staying a week here but after a few days we were ready to move on, I don’t think Lucas would be able to deal with another morning of fried eggs, baguette and dragon fruit.

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Even though our homestay wasn’t everything we were hoping, the city ended up being really neat, especially at night when the town was lit up and the air was filled with the aroma of street food cooking. The center market was always in full motion throughout the day and night, and it hosted some of the cheapest food we could find in the area so we spent each day walking down there at least once as there was so much to see there.

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One of the top things in Hoi An that we wanted to visit was the My Son sanctuary, it was definitely one of the highlights of our trip here in Hoi An. We rented a motorbike for the day and drove an hour and a half one way to see the amazing abandoned hindu temples that were built. The scooter ride there was definitely a little more scary than our last rental in Da Lat as the drivers here in Hoi An are so much worse! 🙂  A lot of history there between the Vietnamese and the Americans, as thats were a few bombs landed during the war in 1960. You could still see one of the bomb craters on site and the ruins and exhibits are really fascinating to walk around. At one time, the site encompassed over 70 temples as well as inscriptions in Sanskrit and Cham languages which were showcased in the exhibition hall.

One of the best things about our homestay was it was right on the river, so a night walk on the boardwalk was a great way to end each night (minus the humidity which made you sweat 5 min into your walk!) But overall our stay in Hoi An was a good mix of things, from relaxing at the homestay (when it was quiet) to site seeing during the days to nice strolls along the river at night.

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