Angkor Wat on a Backpacker Budget

As most of you know, we are total low budget travelers. We stay in hostels, eat street food, and try to do everything on the cheap. So naturally I was super excited to visit Cambodia and see how far I could stretch my hard-earned dollar.

Just try to imagine our disappointment when we arrived and realized the whole country operates on the American dollar and therefore isn’t that cheap at all. YES I said it. Cambodia (at least the more touristy areas) is shockingly less budget-friendly than you’d expect. But as usual, we did everything we could to have the best experience possible while still being total cheapos. Here’s how 🙂

GET AROUND BY TUKTUK

This was our first screaming deal in Cambodia. We saw an advertisement on Couchsurfing.com for a local guy in Siem Reap who was offering a day of transportation around Angkor Wat AND airport pickup for $12 USD. This type of self-promotion isn’t actually allowed on the Couchsurfing platform and he has since been banned from the service (lol oops) but if you keep an eye out, there are others who do the same thing and haven’t been caught yet. To put the price in perspective, a tuktuk just from the airport to our hostel would have cost us $9 USD one way! We had been scammed by tuktuk drivers in Thailand so we were skeptical about this but it turned out to be safe and respectable! And it saved us a BUNCH of money. Another cheap alternative to get around Angkor Wat is to rent bikes, but our way actually ended up being cheaper (because it included airport pickup, transport to, around, AND from Angkor Wat).

1-DAY VS 3-DAY VS 7-DAY PASS

Visit Pass Price
1 DAY $37
3 DAY $62
7 DAY $72

Note: These prices are as of February 2018

There are three timeline options for touring Angkor Wat. There’s no “right” choice, but there are certainly expensive choices. For us, the 7-day pass was not even an option. At $72 USD per person, it’s definitely the best value, but we did not have $144 to spend or 7 days to use. Moving on. We had originally planned to purchase the 3-day pass. It was the moderate option and seemed like a good value. But $124 total is still a hefty price. At the last second we chickened out and purchased two 1-day passes. Let me tell you, this was the best decision.

My advice: Get there early and stay all day. Get your whole $37 dollars worth out of those temples. There’s plenty to see and honestly, after that one long day, I was temple-d out for the next few WEEKS! So I ended up glad we only bought the one day pass. That being said, you could totally spread out the complex over three (or even seven) days – there is more than enough site-seeing if you’re up to it!

 

If you can, get up really early and get that sunrise photo of the main Angkor Wat temple. The #followmeto people can do it so you can too, right? Well turns out, I can’t. I couldn’t get up and we missed that boat. So if you’re not quite crazy enough to get up at 4:30am for a photo, I recommend going to Angkor Wat (the main temple in the complex) last. Unless you go very early, it will be very crowded. Kind of a buzzkill if it’s your first temple of the day. The crowds drained our energy and made the rest of the day just a little bit harder for us. If I had to do it again, I’d do the smaller temples (Ta Prohm, Angkor Thom, etc.) first and then head over to the craziness that is Angkor Wat. 

 

There are very touristy (read: expen$ive) places to eat between temples that look nice but the food is average at best. I recommend holding out and looking for a smaller, more local restaurant. They are fewer, but they’re around! This goes for food in all of Siem Reap, not just the temple complex.

Bring water. Lots of water.

OKAY I’M DONE WITH TEMPLES, WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO DO IN SIEM REAP?

Honestly, not a ton if you’re looking to site-see 🙂 But the number one thing I can suggest is Angkor Putt — yes, an actual mini golf place in Cambodia. It’s the cutest little gem and will run you around $6 per person for an afternoon of fun. The place is a little outside the town so get a bike or a tuktuk to get you there. Once you’ve arrived, grab a club and a beer and play some mini-golf, literally in the middle of a farm. Not lying, there were chickens getting in the way and a cow was mooing at me from across the fence.

 

Also, Siem Reap is a typical backpacker hangout, which means PARTY. The hostels host activities and bar crawls and that’s always a good time. 

 

Anyone have any other ideas for saving money in SE Asia?? I’d love to hear them!

Xo, J

 

Traveling to SE Asia for the first time? Check out my musings about the less Instagrammy parts of the region 😉

 

Five Unphotogenic Realities of Travel in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is beautiful. And the influx in tourism in the last decade or two has produced some astoundingly beautiful photographs and travel stories. Movies have been shot there, travel bloggers flock there, and people in general want to go there. It’s inenexpensive, warm, and gorgeous. Why WOULDN’T everyone go there? 

So don’t get me wrong. The region IS wonderful. The nature is awe-inspiring. The people are gracious. The food is delicious. But there are several realities that are not publicized:
 
YOUR STANDARD FOR “CLEAN” WILL CHANGE
 
It is certainly not the dirtiest place I’ve ever been but let’s just say it’s not the cleanest either. In general, there is dust and sand and sweat just about everywhere. You start to get used to it after a while, and find yourself surprised when you stumble into an establishment with standards closer to what we enjoy in other parts of the world 😀
 
THERE ARE THOUSANDS OF TOURISTS JUST LIKE YOU
 
For all the reasons I said earlier, SE Asia, and especially Thailand, is now a tourism hotspot. There are people everywhere, from all over the world. This is incredibly fun for people like me, who are looking to meet like-minded travelers. For a couple days. But it can get exhausting to be another sardine in the can of backpackers. For every cute selfie that you see of some girl in a bikini on a Thai beach, there are 100 people next to her taking the same selfie. I promise, she’s not really on that beach alone. 
 
YOU WILL GET SICK
 
Throwing fear of TMI to the wind here, but let’s just say that in my first month of traveling, I fell sick four separate times. My symptoms were combinations of diarrhea, vomiting, fever, abdominal cramps, nausea, and general malaise. NOT FUN! But I survived and now I wonder when it’s going to happen again. Because I’m sure it will. The price of traveling, amiright? There are different foods, different bacteria, and different food service regulations here that make it generally inevitable. 
 
EVEN YOUR TOILET TRIPS WILL BE DIFFERENT
 
Most plumbing systems in Southeast Asia haven’t graduated to the heights of piping excellence that we have become accustomed to in other countries. So because of that, they don’t use toilet paper at will and flush it down the drain. They use “bum guns.” Basically a kitchen sink sprayer that shoots toilet water at your bum to polish it off after you do your business. I’m not going to lie, this thing freaked me out at first and I avoided it at all costs. I can now proudly say I’ve improved and I look forward to honing my skills (lol). Sometimes the bum gun is replaced by a simple bucket of water with a pail to splash yourself with. Sooo it’s never a bad idea to carry some tissues with you just in case! I highly recommend these dehydrated paper coins that expand into full sized wipes when you add water! I carry just a few with me at all times for toilet emergencies.
 
YOU WILL HAVE NEW LOVE FOR ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATIONS
 
Nothing makes you appreciate progressive environmental regs like roadside  bonfires of plastic bottles and open sewage treatment plants (and all the scents that come with them). And I say this with all the seriousness I can muster. Thailand’s island tourism industry has boomed much faster than it’s infrastructure has expanded. Basically, they have more trash than they know what to do with. While I’m sure they are working to navigate the polluted waters of this issue, for now its effect on tourists is real. The air, water, and soil are all affected by the pollution, and I’ll admit it can be a bit depressing to see such beautiful nature dressed in heaps of garbage. 
 
WITH ALL THAT SAID…
 
Despite all this negativity, I 100% appreciate this part of the world and am so grateful that I have the chance to travel here. I totally recommend it as a destination but I do wish that travelers, bloggers, and social media influencers were a little bit more realistic about the negative sides of travel. And that goes for travel to ALL places in the world. Nowhere is perfect, but that’s not what you’d think after a few scrolls through Instagram. I’m doing my best to fight this fakeness and keep it real for the duration of my travels 🙂
 
Okay enough of that! Here’s some more photos of me loving life in Asia because there are WAY more positives than negatives about backpacking here:
 
xo, J

48 HOURS IN KUALA LUMPUR FOR (ALMOST) FREE

48 HOURS IN KUALA LUMPUR FOR (ALMOST) FREE

For those of us whose pesky bank accounts won’t let us travel-splurge as much as we like, don’t worry, you can totally still go to KL!!
 
ACCOMMODATION
 
First things first, you need to pick a place to stay. There are plenty of hostels in the city. We stayed in The Explorers Guesthouse and Hostel in Chinatown. We paid about $22 USD per night for a private room, but dorm beds are often just $7 USD per night! The Chinatown area is at the center of the city and provides access to everything you need (train, pharmacy, food options). 
 
If you want to be REALLY frugal, you can also try Couchsurfing! It can take a bit of effort and coordination but it’s fun and FREE! We did not stay with a Couchsurfer but we did meet up with one and spent a day with him. Shoutout to Ayoub, who was so kind to show us the city through his eyes!
 
TRANSPORTATION
 
This city is very walkable! Most of the main sites are within walking distance of each other if you have good shoes! If you don’t want to wear down your favorite sneakers, Uber and Grab are very cheap here and the public transportation system is established and safe. But watch your valuables! The trains are known for being pick-pocketer territory.
 
BATU CAVES 
 
One of the main sites in KL is the famous Batu Caves. This is a ways away from center city – so take the Kommuter train. A round trip ticket from center city cost us about $5 USD per person. Besides the cost of transportation, the only price you’ll have to pay for this attraction is the sweat it will take to climb the nearly 300 steps to the top. The caves are situated inside a limestone hill that is guarded by a golden Lord Murugan. The caves are still used today as a Hindu temple and shrine. If you enter, you will see Hindus practicing their faith on the holy site. There will also be families of little monkeys all over the place! They are ADORBS and fun to watch, but beware, they bite!
 
BOTANICAL GARDENS
 
The gardens are beautiful and again, free! They are an excellent place to exercise (tai chi groups and joggers alike!), stroll, and take photographs. There are paved pathways, lovely landscapes, and several places for children to play (if you have those). There are also several fountains and flower gardens and make for some lovely photography. It’s so hard to believe this sanctuary is in the middle of a bustling, dirty city! :O 
 
BIRD PARK
 
Okay so this was our one splurge in KL, but let me tell you, it was worth it! If you don’t feel like paying around $15 USD to see a bunch of birds, no worries, just move along to the next paragraph 😉 Okay, so I’m by no means an avid bird expert, but this place was awesome! It’s the largest free-flight aviary in the world! There are peacocks peacocking just about everywhere. The males spread their feathers where ever they please, sometimes in the middle of a pathway, blocking human traffic! There are also ostriches, emus, flamingos, storks, and dozens of other species. This place was captivating and was one of the highlights of our stay in KL. Budget at least a couple hours to make it through the park. PS it’s very kid friendly!
 
MASJID NEGARA (NATIONAL MOSQUE)
 
Another free location! This was my first time visiting a mosque so I was very interested. Modest dress is required for both men and women, but if you come unprepared, the mosque provides full coverage clothing at no cost. The complex is huge and can old up to 15000 worshipers! Our local friend, Ayoub, said that on holy days, worshipers spill out into the streets!! (Map here)
 
TEMPLES IN CHINATOWN
 
We visited a Chinese temple and a Hindu temple that were just feet from one another near Chinatown. They are both free, but the Hindu temple charges somewhere around $0.05 USD per person to hold your shoes for you while you walk around the temple. If you are really on a budget, you can always save the 5 cents and put your shoes in your backpack. The Chinese Buddhist temple is called Guan Di Temple (map here) and the Hindu temple is called Sri Maha Mariamman (map here). Both are beautiful and extremely colorful and worth the visit!
 
VIEW OF THE PETRONAS TOWERS
 
Getting the perfect pic of these towers won’t cost you a dime! If you want to splurge and go up to the viewing deck, it will be about $25 USD per person. But standing below and viewing the iconic structures from the ground? Priceless! We arrived before nightfall and sat in the shadow of the towers as the sun sank. Watching the city light up at dusk was breath taking! PS: NZ Curryhouse is across the street from the towers and has fabulous (and cheap) Indian food! An entree will be about $4 USD there! (Map here)\
 
MERDEKA SQUARE
 
This is a park of sorts that is perfect for relaxing or playing with kids or pets. Nearby is the I<3KL statue that is perfect for touristy pictures. And of course, free! If the weather is nice, this is certainly worth a stroll about and the pictures are fun.
 
RIVER OF LIFE
 
Near Merdeka Square is the “River of Life,” which has a short promenade alongside it. There is a long koi pond bordering the walkway and there are fountains pouring into the river. It’s a perfect backdrop for a walk! You will walk by the Sultan Abdul Samad building (map) and the Masjid Jamek (map). Both are beautiful.
 
CENTRAL MARKET
 
Okay so obviously this place is as expensive as YOU make it. If you buy a bunch of things, it will cost you a bunch of money. But I didn’t buy anything and still enjoyed it for the experience. The market is very crowded, so pay attention to your own belongings! But there are lots of goods for sale: souvenirs, clothing, food, etc.
 
We did all of these things in just two days and we walked to almost all of them. You can do it too! Let me know if you have any other tips for saving money in KL–then I’ll have an excuse to go back!! 
 
xo, J