South East Asia – Thailand, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam

Hi All,

This is my (Katie, ID6) post on my recent trip through SE Asia. It’s pretty logistical in case you’re wondering about costs, lodging etc. I hope you enjoy!


I traveled to Thailand in two doses. First, I spent a week there with my parents visiting from the U.S., and then, after a jaunt in Singapore, another week with fellow ID6 PCVs Melanie and Rachel.



To fly from Surabaya to Bangkok, Tiger Air has a layover in Singapore but Air Asia has a direct flight once a day.

Cost of Flight:

One-way: $123 (my parents flew one-way)

Round-Trip: $231 (I had a round-trip ticket booked)


Surabaya to Singapore: 2hr 25min

Singapore to Bangkok: 2hr 30min

Direct, Surabaya to Bangkok: almost 4 hr



We arrived in Bangkok in the late afternoon, the perfect time to get stuck in a traffic jam. There are two airports in Bangkok: the older Don Mueang (DMK) and the newer Suvarnabhumi (BKK). I did not ever fly into BKK but it has an easy connection to Bangkok’s ‘sky train’ that can get you into the city much quicker than driving during high traffic times. Because all the Thai our trio could squeak out collectively was a pathetic ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’, we unknowingly opted for a taxi during rush hour in this 8-million-plus populated city. The trip from DMK to center city Bangkok (near the Grand Palace) took us a whopping 3 hours and cost 300 baht in a metered taxi. Note: all taxis from the airport require a 50 baht surcharge in addition to what’s run on the meter.

Later, I did this same taxi trip with Melanie and Rachel. We arrived around midnight at DMK, took a taxi and experienced no traffic at all. The trip took well under an hour from DMK to center city and cost around 200 baht including the 50 baht surcharge.


If flying into DMK before 9pm, I recommend that you forego naiking any taxi and take the local train from DMK to Hualamphung train station. Hualamphung is in center city Bangkok, near China Town. Even if you aren’t staying in China Town, the local train is much quicker and cheaper than taxis or buses that have to drive through Bangkok traffic. While it’s no TGV, the train clunks along at a steady pace, whizzing passed the bumper-to-bumper traffic. There’s no AC but tickets cost a mere 5 baht. The transit from DMK to Hualomphung takes less than an hour.


Because I did Bangkok both as the daughter of parents with real salaries and as a PCV with a rupiah salary, I saw the best of both worlds in Bangkok’s housing options.

Higher-end Housing

I stayed at a guesthouse on the river called Arun Residence. This place is an absolute gem. It’s tucked away in a small (yet safe and clean) ally across from Wat Pho (one of Bangkok’s most popular temples). It’s a 10 minute walk to the Grand Palace and maybe a 30 minute stroll to Kao San Road (aka the epicenter of all backpackers and their seedy activities). At Arun Residence, we had a fantastic view of Wat Arun from our balcony. The restaurant was fabulous and the rooftop bar also had a fantastic view. Arun Residence was also a five minute walk from a water taxi stop, stop 8.


The View of Wat Arun from our balcony at Arun Residence

We also stayed one night at a hotel near the airport at theMiracle Grand. It’s literally up the road from the airport terminals at DMK and a good place to rest up if you have an early or late flight to catch. The Miracle Grand is a conference hotel with enough restaurants and shops within the actual hotel to keep you occupied if you’re only staying there for a night’s sleep.

Hostel Housing

Later with Melanie and Rachel we of course stayed in hostels. Upon fellow PCVs’ recommendations, we showed up our first night together in Bangkok at 3 Howell Hostel. Upon entering the guy at the desk asked if we had already booked spots to sleep. We answered, “no,” to which he replied, “why not?”

We were able to stay one night at 3 Howell. It was a great hostel with air conditioned, ladies only, and mixed dorms. They have plenty of showers and restrooms, a lot of bean bags and cushions to relax on, FREE, FAST WIFI, a TV room with plenty of relatively good films to watch, computers for use on the first floor, and breakfast for 80 baht per person.

After being graciously kicked out after our first night since we didn’t book ahead, the three of us checked out a hostel on a street perpendicular to that of 3 Howell. Full Hostel was one of our best finds in Bangkok because it was ridiculously inexpensive. The staff are a Korean couple who had just opened this hostel (I seriously believe we were some of their first patrons) which is clean, air conditioned and also has fast, free wifi. The rooms and beds seemed brand new and are comfortable. There was only one shower/toilet on our floor which meant it got a little tricky to coordinate when you could pee but because the price can’t be beat (200 baht a night), I have nothing but great things to say about Full Hostel.

Both of these hostels are located about a 5-10 minute walk to Kao San Road and 30 minutes to main attractions like the Grand Palace and Wat Pho. You can get laundry done in the street and there’s a fantastic restaurant/bar at the end of Full Hostels’ street that serves Belgian beers and delicious breakfasts. There are also plenty of Thai-owned spots to eat or grab an iced coffee for 20 baht near the hostels.

Cost and Location

Arun Residence: $200 per night (I think), including buffet and to-order breakfast with FREE MIMOSAS; 36-38 Soi Pratoo Nok Yoong, Maharat Road, Rattanakosin Island, Bangkok

Miracle Grand: $50 per night; 99 Vibhavadi-Rangsit Road

3 Howell Hostel: 400 baht per night per person; 316/5 Samsen Soi 4

Full Hostel: 200 baht per night per person; not yet online, located off Samsen Soi 4, catercorner to 3 Howell (not yet online, so go find it!)

Things to do in Bangkok


Temples are plentiful and neat to visit. If you are going to do only one (which in my opinion is enough) choose either the Grand Palace or Wat Pho. You can spend a few good hours exploring the grounds of both of these spots. The Grand Palace features a temple housing the surprisingly small ‘Emerald Buddha’ (which must not have been discovered by a geologist as it’s actually made of jade) . Wat Pho is home to the ‘Reclining Buddha’ who, unlike the Emerald Buddha, is enormous. There’s also Wat Arun which is fun because you can climb up the Chedi and get a nice view of the river. Check when temples are open to visitors as some do close for a couple hours for monks’ prayers.

Entrance Fees:

Grand Palace: 500 baht

Wat Pho: 100 baht

Wat Arun: 50 baht

Kao San Road

This and its parallel twin sister road, Ram Bhuttri houses nothing local but is saturated in tourist bars, shops, and hotels. These streets never sleep. There’s a ton of street food, restaurants, and things to buy in Kao San area. You’ll run into more bule here than Thais but it’s definitely worth walking around to get any souvenirs you may want and to try some tasty street pad thai, schwarma, fresh fruit, or beers to go. Bargaining is obligatory. There are also plenty of Thai massages available here. You’ll pay at least 20 baht more than at other small massage parlors outside of Kao San Road but getting a massage at 2am is a nice option to have.


Large Beer: 70 – 100 baht

Pad Thai: 30 – 60 baht

Shwarma: 60 baht

Smoothies: 20 – 40 baht

Average plate at a restaurant: 100 baht

Street Meat: 20 (chicken) – 150 (octopus) baht

Fresh fruit: 20 (mango/papaya/pineapple) – 70 (durian) baht

Fried bugs: 20 (grasshoppers) – 150 (scorpions) baht

Clothes: 100 – 300 baht for shirts; 100 – 400 baht for pants

China Town

I walked from Arun Residence to Hualamphung train station twice which put me through China Town and its stores of…junk. It’s interesting to walk around but a lot of the stores sell things like used electronics, kitchenware, and clothing that just wasn’t my style. There are also cool markets within China Town where you can get nuts, spices, and fresh meat but because I didn’t plan on cooking up pork shanks in my hotel, all I bought in China Town was durian. There are also plenty of restaurants serving up Chinese food with a Thai twist. The one lunch I had there cost around 80 baht.


This is an area of Bangkok that houses a lot of shopping and the higher end hotels (like Sheraton, Four Seasons, and Sofitel). It’s characterized by a lot of expat bars and nightclubs, large shopping malls, restaurants of all the world’s cuisines (Rachel and I had delicious Indian food in this area), and, unfortunately, lots of street prostitutes. This area runs along the BTSsky train line so if you’re interested in taking the sky train, Sukhumvit is a good place to get off at and walk around for a while.

Boat Trips

One evening, my parents and I booked a boat trip that took us up the main Chao Phraya River and through many small canals through Bangkok’s less visited neighborhoods. The trip lasted around an hour and, if you time it right, the city looks beautiful as the sun sets and begins to light up. You can bargain for these trips at any of the main taxi stops along the river (Papa Starr paid so I’m not sure how much this cost).

 Day Trips

Melanie, Rachel, and I took a day trip to visit a floating market, ‘The Bridge over the River Kwai’, and a forest monastery housing a tiger temple. We booked the trip through a tourist office, were picked up at our hostel at 7am, and arrived back in the city around 6pm. Despite being a long day, it was awesome to see the morning floating markets at Damnoen Saduak and visit the forest monastery, or ‘tiger temple, at Kanchanaburi. The floating markets were fun to walk along and sample the food being served out of the boats. We tried coconut ice cream, grilled bananas, and a weird sweet that looks like tacos but tastes more like an Indonesian kue. Between the floating market and the tiger temple, our large van made a stop at the Bridge Over the River Kwai which is simple a bridge that crosses over the Kwai River – do not make it a point to visit just this.

I was a little apprehensive when we arrived at Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno, or the Forest Monastery Tiger Temple. First, we weren’t informed by the tour company that this was a temple since it was advertised as a ‘tiger sanctuary’. But it is indeed a templehousing monks and, like all temples, you must dress appropriately. I had on jean shorts and Rachel was sporting atank top so we had to spend almost an hour begging people to let us borrow things to cover up with. Once Rachel got ahold of our driver’s jacket and I borrowed some man’s scrub-like pants, we queued up to get spend some quality time with the dozen or so tigers in the ‘tiger canyon’ section of the forest. Visiting with the tigers was simple: you hand your camera to a staff, they take you by the hand (literally), and lead you around to meet all the tigers lounging around in the sun while they snap your picture. While standing in line, I was convinced that all the tigers were drugged. ‘How can they just be laying around like this and not care about the crowd of people buzzing around them?’ It turns out that the tigers aren’t drugged according to the bule director of Tiger Canyon and the brochurethat has a Q&A section about how the animals are treated.

Apart from hanging out with the tigers, the rest of this forest monastery is teeming with animals big and small. Most livestock creatures are roaming around (there was definitely a moment while exiting that I was nervous about being charged by a large swine of some breed of bovine) and there are some other cool animals, like THIS ENORMOUS BEAR


Said Bear

The cost of this trip was 750 ($25) baht per person and included lunch.

Chiang Rai

After Bangkok, I visited Chiang Rai with my parents for three nights. We flew from Bangkok to Chiang Rai via Air Asia, $82 round-trip per person. Chiang Rai was recommended to me by a friend over the other popular northern Thailand spot, Chiang Mai, because it was supposed to be less touristy and still rather low-key. And it is for the most part. In Chiang Rai’s center town area, there’s a popular night market with entertainment on stages in a town-square-like quad. Vendors are comprised of villagers from different hill tribes in the surrounding foothills selling their various hand-made crafts. Aside from exploring the town, the main thing to do out of Chiang Rai is go on day trips. We booked two day trips for our resort, The Legend: one to the nearby ‘Golden Triangle’ and one excursion to ride elephants into the hills.


Dad feeding an elephant before our ride

The Golden Triangle used to be the main transit hub for opium trade between Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos and is now a cool place to visit to see the three countries converge along the Mekong River. From the Golden Triangle point in Thailand, we took a fisherman’s boat up the riverto set foot on Myanmar and Laos. There’s also a couple of beautiful temples along the way to be seen. Our trek into the hill-tribe villages via elephant was beautiful but two hours atop an elephant was a bit much for me. At the end of our elephant trek, we lunched in a house in the hill tribe village before hiking back down towards Chiang Rai, stopping to see the Huai Mai Saii waterfall. Because there is no electricity in many of the northern hill-tribe villages of Thailand, the village we visited was solar powered.


A map of the Golden Triangle area


The Legend Resort – along the Kok River, this resort is comprised of beautiful bungalows and has a swimming pool, spa, restaurant, and wine bar that serves delicious imported beer, included Oregon’s own Rogue brews. Rogue Dead Guy Ale, anyone??

Koh Tao and the Full Moon Party

Koh Tao is one of three major islands on Thai Gulf coast. It’s mainly patronized as a diving hub and most tourists visit in order to explore the reefs in the Thai Gulf. Meeting up with ID5s Nicole and Allison LV, Melanie, Rachel, and I stayed on this island not because we wanted to use it as a portal to go diving but as a portal to the Full Moon Party hosted on nearby Koh Phangan. Knowing that the Full Moon Parties rage on all night and that Koh Phangan only has about three thousand rooms on the island, most of which require a minimum booking of five days, we opted to stay on Koh Tao and take the ferry over to Koh Phangan for the party.

Full Moon Parties happen monthly and are an all night rage fest with 5 – 10 thousand partygoers dancing, drinking, and drugging on Hat Rin Beach, Koh Phangan. It also requires that you paint yourself neon because, why not?

We arrived at Koh Tao around 10 am after taking the night train from Bangkok to Chumphon, naiked a bus to Surat Thani pier, and got on a two-hour express boat ride to arrive in Koh Tao around 10 am. Once we checked in to our hotel, Asia Resort, we started inquiring about ferries to Koh Phangan for the party that night. Most ferries were booked full but we lucked out with a friendly boat agency worker who got us on a 2pm boat to Koh Phangan.

The trip from Koh Tao to Koh Phangan takes 1 – 2 hours, the cost of a round-trip ticket was 1250 baht. Once we arrived at Koh Phangan there were plenty of taxis available to take partygoers to the other side of the island where it all goes down on Hat Rin Beach, about a 45-60 minute trip at 100 baht per person.

The Buckets

The Buckets

Arriving at Hat Rin was strange since we didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into. Shops and restaurant-bars emerged. We saw droves of partiers sporting neon clothes or beach attire. Because our party of five had no accommodation booked on this island and our hotel was hours away on another island, we had every intention of staying up all night or sleeping on the beach.

After a delicious dinner at an Aussie-owned pub we purchased our neon paint and brushes, took them to the beach, and painted ourselves until we were five GLOWing, off-the-clock PCVs/RPCVs. After the neon craft hour, we bought our ‘buckets’. Full Moon Party buckets are plastic beach buckets (handle included) that come with a small bottle of liquor and two chasers of your choice. Everything is unopened so you can mix as you please and get ice from the bucket vendors. They cost under 100 baht.

By dark the beach had transformed into a fire-breathing, neon light-flashing, sandy dance floor. By midnight/1am-ish, the beach was even more unrecognizable as thousands of people partied on, making the beach’s surf their highway. The music, drinks, and characters were endless. Before we knew it, the sun had risen and we were left squinting in the daylight through our, now flaky, neon-adorned eyes. After a taxi ride back to the pieron Koh Phangan, we took the 8am ferry back to Koh Tao where we slept for a day. Literally.

Interested in trying this?

I would stay on Koh Phangan, especially if you’re only going for the Full Moon Party. The trek from Koh Tao to Hat Rin Beach included too many taxi and ferry transits, plus my bed was miles away and by 6am I would have appreciated having a pillow on which to rest my head.

If you do stay on Koh Tao, pick a hotel close to thpier. Asia Resort was a thirty minute walk uphill or a rather expensive taxi ride to the pier. Also, arrive a day early if staying on Koh Tao so that you can arrange ferries – they fill up fast!

Be vigilant. I hate to pull a Shindu but keep leave your possessions behind for the actual party. I had only whatever I could fit in my pockets and that was enough.

Don’t get ‘bucketed-out’ too early. We saw someone getting carried off the beach around 8 or 9pm and later saw friends carrying their ragingly drunk buddies to bathrooms – don’t be that guy.

Drugs are everywhere and police are too. Use with caution.

Visit the Reggae House on the main street leading to Hat Rin Beach. Just do it.


Asia Resort is located on Koh Tao, about a 30-minute walk from the pier. Sairee Beach is right around the corner, which has cool bars with feet-in-the-sand seating. The staff were lukewarm with us and weren’t very helpful in helping us figure out how to get to Koh Phangan because all the ferries were seemingly full. The rooms were nice enough, there’s a beautiful pool, and the breakfast we had there was good.

Cost and Location: $12 per night for a double; 18/1 Sairee Beach Koh Tao


To get back up to Bangkok, there are trains from Chumphon or direct buses from Surat Thani pier. They both take 7 – 8 hours. The cost of one ferry and bus ticket from Koh Taoto Bangkok was 950 baht.


I love this city. It’s diversity and history are quite the anomaly but it also felt like a dose of home. Walking through the streets of Singapore felt like walking through the streets of any large city in the U.S. The public transportation is flawless and the food options are endless.


I stayed here three nights with my parents and one night on my own in an area near China Town. I liked the area because the Maxwell St. food stalls in China Town are delicious andcheap (you can eat and drink for $5) and all districts were walkable.

Best Western Jayleen 1918 is located between two main streets, New Bridge and South Bridge roads, and is within walking distance of The Central metro stop. It’s about a thirty minute walk to downtown Singapore, Little India, and the Financial District. The rooms are nice and lodging includes a breakfast buffet with FRENCH TOAST AND SYRUP.

Cost and Location: 42 Carpenter Street

Five Stones Hostel is a discreet building on the main South Bridge Road. It has a couplefloors of dorm rooms and the best water pressure I’ve experienced in Asia, ever. The rooms are air conditioned, the staff are friendly, and lodging includes breakfast. This is also located near China Town and is about a 10-minute walk from two different MRT (mass rail transit) stops: Clark Quay and Raffles Place.

Cost and Location: $25 per night; 61 South Bridge Road, Level 2

 Things To Do in Singapore

The Night Safari at the Singapore Zoo

The night safari is one of the coolest zoo experiences I’ve had. The habitats are arranged so that there’s no fencing obstructing views of the animals. Some habitats that you walk or drive through are completely open with animals roaming about. Going at night is cool because a lot of animals are more active at night than during the day (including theRichard Parker of Singapore). The only fencing I noticed was the ticking of an electric fence around the hyenas’ habitat and thank goodness for that. You can either walk through the zoo on different, marked paths or naik a tram that takes you through the entire zoo with a guide dropping facts and corny jokes about the animals housed in the zoo. I recommend doing the tram ride first (at 30 – 40 minute ride) and then walking back to places you want to see again.

Clark Quay

Clark Quay is a boardwalk along the Singapore River that has a lot of cool shops and riverside restaurants. This is a great place to take advantage of happy hour.

The National Library

Located in downtown Singapore, the National Library is a gargantuan building with a great library and also a neat theater on the second floor. They have comedies, dramas, and other theater productions that play there.

China Town

China Town is worth walking through at least once. It’s filled with souvenir stalls and tailors ushering you into their shops for a fitting. At the Maxwell Street food stalls are a great selection of cheap Asian cuisine.


I bought an MRT card, called an ez-link, and first loaded it with 10 SD. You can use the card on all forms of public transport including the bus lines and the MRT. You swipe thecard once upon entering a subway or a bus and once upon exiting. The amount deducted depends on how far you traveled and your balance is shown on the scanning machine. Refilling the card can be done at any MRT stop.The transportation here is enviable!


The Kingdom of Cambodia requires a visa to enter. You can get them upon arrival but they are also available online as e-visas for $30 per visa. Rachel, Melanie, and I each had our e-visas purchased before crossing the border, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t get the run-around at the border from pushy scammers. The US dollar is used and accepted everywhere. I would suggest getting some Cambodian Riel as well as it’s cheaper to use Riel in some instances (like when buying water).


We took a train from Bangkok’s Hualomphung to Aranyathamphu, the Thai/Cambodian border station. The train leaves early (5:55 am) every day and costs 48 baht. It takes about seven hours. After arriving at Aranyathamphu, there are plenty of tuk-tuk drivers available to take you to the Poipet border crossing. It should cost no more than 100 baht total. Ourtuk-tuk driver was a royal douche who took us to an office where we booked a cab from the border to Siem Reap (our final destination). You don’t have to do this. From the Poipet border crossing, after you get your Thai exit stamp and your Cambodian entry stamp, there is a FREE shuttle bus to a taxi terminal where you can take a share taxi to Siem Reap for $12 per person. We paid 600 baht per person for door-to-door service but not without their pushing Angkor Wat tuk-tuk guides on us. Our fatigue from Full Moon Partying and the Cambodian heat and dust resulted in Melanie and Rachel (in the most Peace Corps way possible) telling the driver to leave us alone and let us out immediately. After walking through the town of Siem Reap until we found our home stay, it was already around 6pm.

Siem Reap


We stayed at a beautiful, cheap guesthouse called The Prohm Roth Inn, located on a main strip and about a 15 minute walk to the popular ‘Pub Street’ and old market. The staff were extremely nice Cambodians who helped us book a tuk-tuk around Angkor Wat for a day at $15 total, including water. The rooms have AC and the Wifi is free and fast. There’s also breakfast included which is cooked to order.

Cost and Location:

The Prohm Roth Inn: $21 per night for a 3-person room, AC, wifi and a comfy balcony;includes breakfast; Wat Bo Road

Things To Do in Siem Reap

Angkor Wat

The first and practically only reason tourists come to Siem Reap is to visit the temples at Angkor Wat. They are many and fascinating. Tuk-tuk tours for the day should cost $15 total, including water. Entrance into Angkor Wat for one day is $20 per person. My favorite stops in this city of temples was Angkor Wat, Baphuon, and Ta Phrom.


The overpowering jungle in Angkor Thom

The Old Market

Similar to Indonesian Pasars, the Old Market in Siem Reap sells mostly food and has a few spots to sit and eat cheaply. It also has some tourist shops selling clothes and perfumes.

Pub Street

A place that reminded us of New Orleans’ Bourbon Street, Pub Street is exactly what it sounds like. Luckily, beer is cheap and plentiful in Cambodia so this street boasts a lot of happy hours where you can drink for 50 cents a beer (I recommend Beer Lao). At night, some of the places get a bit clubby which is fun for as long as you’re willing to hang with the backpacking crowd.

Psar Chas

This is a market area with small Parisian-style streets with boutiques, restaurants, andbars. We enjoyed shopping here.


To depart from Siem Reap, we bought bus tickets through a tourist office. Tickets from Siem Reap to Kampot should cost $11-14 each.



We took a bus from Siem Reap to Kampot, passing through Phnom Penh to change buses. Similar to Indonesia (and maybe more extreme), the buses are slow as they stop often. The roads in southern Cambodia also proved to be much less paved than anything I’ve ever experienced in Indonesia. The total trip took us almost 15 hours. Once we arrived, however, it was completely worth it.


Bodhi Villa was recommended to me by a friend who had stayed there and vowed to pass along this gem of a guesthouse to others. After staying there, I vowed to do the same. Bodhi Villa is an Aussie-owned, Cambodian-run bungalow paradise on the Teuk Chhou River. The Hotel California of Southeast Asia, there’s a reason why ‘You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave’ is etched over a doorframe in the main bar area. They helped us get visas to Vietnam ($70 per visa processed the same day). We planned to stay for two nights and ended up extending for a third night. We could have extended for the rest of our trip. The bar serves delicious drinks and food all day and for great prices. The best burger I may have ever consumed in my life costs $4 and most drinks cost under $2. I cannot stress how wonderful of a place this was to stay. If you’re looking to get off thebeaten path in Cambodia and relax while meeting great people, come here!

Cost and Location:

$8 per night per Bungalow (a bungalow easily housed three people); located on the river off Teuk Chhou road. They also have live music parties every Friday night.

Besides relaxing in the most chill and backpacker-friendly abode ever (Bodhi Villa), the town of Kampot has a few cool spots including Ecran, a mini-theater screening good film classics (we caught a screening of The Killing Fields) where you perch upon bamboo flats adorned with pillows and cushions. For us, this theater experience topped any trip to Caputra’s Grand XI theater in Surabaya. No joke.

People also like to take day trips to Kep, a neighboring beach town. We did not do this because Bodhi Villa was so amazing that we didn’t want to leave. Ever.

In addition to trekking around town, there are also kayaks for rent at Bodhi Villa ($4 a day). I took one up the river one afternoon and found a hut owned by a Belg-Cambodian couple that served Belgian beers and yummy Cambodian food. It was unreal how quiet and peaceful the river was. There’s also a great view of Bokor mountain/hill along the river.


Leaving was really hard to do, but we eventually took a bus from Kampot to the Vietnam border crossing at Ha Tien. Bus tickets from Kampot to Ho Chi Minh City cost $17 per person.



U.S. citizens must secure a visa before entering Vietnam. We got ours through Bodhi Villa in Kampot ($70 per visa for same-day processing) but you can get them at any Vietnamese Embassy on your own. We hired a van to drive us from Kampot to the Ha Tien border crossing. From there, we took a sleeper bus to Ho Chi Minh city. The entire trip took around 12 hours but riding in the Vietnamese sleeper buses, it was almost enjoyable. The cost from Kampot to Ho Chi Minh City was $17 per traveler.

Ho Chi Minh City


Our bus dropped us off at the main bus terminal around 7pm. We then took a metered taxi to District One (around 80,000 dong).


We stayed in a room for rent called Than. The room was air-conditioned and Wifi was free. Located on Bui Vien Street, a backpacker-friendly section of District One, we had access to street food and restaurants with Vietnamese and Western cuisine. The owner was friendly and very helpful.

Cost and Location: $20 per night; 84/9 Bui Vien St. Pham Ngu Lao Ward, District 1 HCMC

Things To Do in Ho Chi Minh City

We didn’t venture outside of District 1 during our four-day jaunt in HCMC but found plenty to see and do while there.

The War Remnants Museum

Heartbreaking and difficult (emotionally) to get through, the pieces of Vietnam’s tumultuous history on display at this four-story museum make visiting it unforgettable. Each floor and room has a sort of theme, beginning with galleries depicting various countries’ protest campaigns against America’s ‘occupation’ or ‘invasion’ of Vietnam. One of the most unforgettable floors for me was one housing a gallery of stories depicting the crippling effects of Agent Orange, a defoliant spray used heavily by the U.S. during warfare that is still wreaking havoc on Vietnam’s population. I could go on about how interesting I found this museum to be, but it’s definitely a must see while in Ho Chi Minh City.

Entrance tickets are 15,000 dong per person


A recreation of a prison cell at the U.S. prison camp in Vietnam

The Fine Arts Museum

Housed in a gorgeous colonial-style former residence donated to the city by its French proprietor, the art museum houses contemporary art and ancient sculptures. The building alone is worth checking out.

Tickets cost 10,000 dong per person.

De Tham Area

This area is in the southwest corner of District 1 and is home to most backpackers traveling through HCMC. There are a lot of tourist shops, restaurants, and street food in this area. While it may sound a lot like Bangkok’s Kao San Road, it’s still much more ‘local’ than the backpacking areas of other cities we visited. There’s also a delicious juice stand here on Bui Vien Road – 5 Boy had smoothie enthusiasts from all around the city stopping in to get their juice. At 20,000 dong per smoothie, it’s completely worth the wait! Also on Bui Vien road is a restaurant/film house. If you order at least one drink or food item, you can sit in Bobby Brewer’s movie theater all afternoon. We caught a showing of Old School before flying out of the city. Will Ferrell was even more fun to watch over a bowl of Pho.

Cho Benh Thanh Market

This local market is housed in a high-ceilinged barn-like structure. We visited here towards the evening and most stalls were already beginning to close up shop. It has everything from Vietnamese food to clothes and shoes.


After eating our way through HCMC, we took a metered cab from Bui Vien road to the Saigon Airport. The trip took around 30 minutes and cost 160,000 dong. An Air Asia flight from HCMC to Bangkok cost $88 per person and took about two hours.


Thus ends the logistical summary of my trek through SE Asia. As the say in Thailand, it was ‘Same Same but different’ from Indonesia. Please let me know if you have any questions or corrections about anything posted above.


Sulawesi Selatan

We (ID6’s Okhee, Blake, Martine & Martine’s friend Maleia) flew in to Sulawesi Selatan’s main port of Makassar and did a circle up to Tana Toraja and down to Bira Beach before heading back for our flight out via Makassar. Here’s how we did it and some hotel names and numbers. The main thing to know about traveling in Sulawesi Selatan is that transportation is a lot tougher than on Java and thus, most tourists charter cars for millions(literally) of Rupiahs. Also, for us it was surprisingly a bit tougher asking for around for directions. And, food prices are just higher (where’s my tempe penyet?). Don’t be surprised if a plate costs between Rp. 20-30,000.

Our first goal was to make it up to the Togean Islands, but we were worried about having enough time to be in places, rather than just spending our time traveling to them. Aside from transportation, the places we went to had a bunch of Penginapans around so finding a place to stay isn’t difficult.

Makassar: main port city. Big relaxed city with lots of universities and with all your favorite fast food places. Great ikan bakar. We stayed at Harapan Hotel for about Rp. 180,000/night for a double booked through Agoda. Clean, comfortable, comes with solid wi-fi and breakfast. It was conveniently located within walking distance to the pier and that made for a lovely walk and an easy location to find some warungs. There’s Fort Rotterdam to see in the city as well, but we didn’t make it because we were taking off early the next morning.

There are 2 bus terminals: Malengkeri and Daya at either end of the city. There is an angkot that goes between the two that at the time was Rp. 15,000.

Tana Toraja: Makassar is, as many coastal areas are, Muslim-majority. As you get up into Tana Toraja, the religious majority switches up to Christianity, cigarette ads are replaced with beer ads, bakso babi becomes a thing and there are dogs lazily roaming around. The Toraja are known for their elaborate funeral ceremonies and Arabica coffee (this is, of course, from a tourist’s perspective). The Tana is mountainous and mostly made of rice fields. To get there, we took a bus (Rp. 130,000 right outside Daya terminal) from Makassar. It leaves at 9 (well, 9:30)am and 9pm. The ride up was nice and they buses stop along the way for food and drink since it does last about 10 hours.The buses are nice and spacious and the economy one we got had AC.

The way up was nice and we asked to get let off at the beginning of Rantepao at Pia’s Poppies where we were staying. Pia’s Poppies has been catering to tourists (almost all foreigners) for over 30 years. Easy to find, quiet, solid wi-fi at Rp. 77,000/night for each person sharing a double. The tamarella welcome juice is bomb and they’ve got food (just let the staff know 1-2 hours before you’re looking to eat). Right in front of it is Pison Hotel that is also quite good and there are guides who hang out to help tourists get to the funeral ceremonies if there are any going on, do some trekking or cultural touring. We (thanks, Okhee!) found Pak Yohannis and we decided to do a cultural tour and join a funeral ceremony, getting from place to place in a private car. The driver/car was Rp. 300,000 for the day and Pak Yohannis’ guide fee was Rp. 300,000 as well. His email is and his phone number is 081343663738. He gets places on time.  (For more guide info and pricing, see Okhee’s Note on Guides, below.)


The next day we headed to the Bulu market first, which has a ton to see including Torajan crafts, foodstuffs (betel nut, coffee, mushrooms are some highlights), and animals (buffaloes, pigs). Buffaloes are a serious part of Torajan culture and are sacrificed at the funeral ceremonies. They used to be used for farming, but not as much today. White and black ones are more expensive than black ones and can run up to Rp. 600 million. The market opens once every six days, but some stalls should be open all of the time. There’s an angkot from Rantepao’s main strip.

Then, we got to see a funeral ceremony, which is a huge event and people from all around Toraja, including officials, come in. Pak Yohannis is pretty good about explaining everything that’s happening, but sometimes it’s just better to hang out, grab a cup of coffee/tea, make yourself part of the scenery and just watch since there is a funeral ceremony going on. A lot of people speak a bit of English –mostly the guides- and it seemed like everyone spoke Bahasa Indonesia. “Kure sumangah” = thank you in Bahasa Toraja.

Tana Toraja

From the funeral ceremony, we had two more stops to gravesites. We didn’t pay at the funeral ceremony because we were a bit rushed, but guides will recommend to bring in a carton of cigarettes (around Rp 100,000 per carton, sufficient for the whole group) or some small gift. At the gravesites, we paid “entrance fees” of sorts of Rp. 10,000/person to the caretaker with proof that we worked on Java.  Otherwise, fees would be more like Rp. 20,000/person.

Rantepao is very walk-able and there are a bunch of warungs if you go in towards the center of town. There’s also a tourism office located on Jl Ahmad Yani and the folks there are really helpful + own maps. If you stick on Jl Ahmad Yani, the main strip, there are a lot of tokos with oleh-oleh and crafts. We found a great coffee roaster between the mosque and SMP 1 (the other big one is PT Toarco, a Japanese company that started Arabica farming in 1976 with an office after pasar Bulu).

If you take Jalan Pembangunan from there, you’ll pass a great textile shop that’s expensive because it’s got quality cloth.

Bira: To get to Bira, we had to go through Makassar first. A lot of tourists go through Sengkang if they’ve chartered a car and stay overnight there. We took the public non-AC bus for Rp 70,000 leaving at 7pm and they picked us up in front of Pia’s Poppies. Most buses leave at 9pm and AC/air suspension buses are around Rp. 110,000. We got in to Makassar at around 5am and got a Kijang car from Malengkeri for Rp. 70,000 to get to Tanjung Bira at 11am or so. Tanjung Bira is just a road with Penginapans popping up everywhere and a couple of warungs interspersed. If you’re looking to slow things down, this is a good place to do that. White sand and some of the bluest water I’ve ever seen. Okhee & Blake snorkeled and did some diving with Bira Divers…  Warung Bambu and Salassa Guesthouse are probably the top picks for foreigners but there’s a bit more around, though not always open. We stayed at Salassa Guesthouse (Rp. 100,000/night, included breakfast) and Sunshine Guesthouse (Rp. 125,000/night, included breakfast). Accommodations were basic, meaning fans and shared bathroom/shower.



Back to Makassar: This time we stayed close to the airport at KG (Kanaka Giana) on Jalan Bandara LAMA (note, there’s a jalan Bandara Baru as well). You can take an angkot from the main road to Jalan Bandara Baru and then there’s a free shuttle to the airport if you don’t want to taxi or walk it. Rp. 195,000 a night, can book through Agoda, or call them at (0411)  4813722 or email at

Extra places to stay:

In Tana Toraja: (call, check price, look on Internet. I just assembled this list from walking around)

Rapa Homestay: 04231517 Jl. Pempangunan

Wisma Tanabua: 042321072-2137, Jl. Diponegoro no 43

Duta Cottages 88: Jl. Sawerigading no 12

Wisma Sarla, 042321167 Jl. Mappanyuki

Wisma Rosa: 042321075 Jl Sa’dan no 28

Hiltra Toraja Hotel (apparently where a lot of Indonesian tourists

stay) 62 423 2732325257, jl Pramuka no 70

In Bira:

Penginapan (next door to Salassa): 085298043208


Okhee’s Note on Guides: 

I found Yohannis from favorable reviews online, mainly travelers’ blogs.  Here’s information for a couple more Tana Toraja guides I came across:

Daud Rapa —

Adchuck —

Each of them was very responsive to both email and texts, and all three have great English (to keep in mind if traveling with parents and/or U.S. friends).  I encourage you to get estimates, compare prices, and, tentu saja, negotiate.

Singapore Galore


Marina Bay from Sands Sky Park at sunset


M.B.N. and cousin J.B. eating Chinese pork rib soup in Riverside

by Matt Borden Nuñez and Sarah Prather

Dearest PCV friends, if you are going to Singapore you are in for a real shock (and not a bad one)! The city-state of Singapore has a fascinating, unique history reflected in its super international attitude. Just over 5 million people call S’pore home and 2 million of those are foreign born. Take a minute to ponder that… The state’s four official languages include English, Malay, Tamil, and Mandarin Chinese. You may be surprised to learn Bahasa Indonesia is a variant form of the Malay language, look it up!

Singapore is tied for 18th (with Austria) above France and the U.K. on the Human Development Index, which means this place is verrry niiice (aaand expensive). The country is likened to “Disneyland with the death penalty” or the “world’s only shopping mall with a seat in the United Nations” but there’s so so much more if you choose to scratch the surface.

Ethnic Malays, Chinese, South Indians, and expats from the world over share this tiny island. Many are highly educated, polyglots, and invested in wrestling with the question of “Singaporean national identity,” just one of many riddles to meditate on during your visit. I’ve found this mix of peoples makes for a rich and truly multicultural stage, one upon which you might happen across say… a steel drum concert performed by a Chinese-language high school band. Who’d have thunk it? Singaporeans are also proud of their roots and you can get to know the stories behind how different ethnic groups came to call this island home by visiting neighborhoods, Hawker Centres (food courts), museums, and plain talking to folks.

Happy travels-lah!

Continue reading

Flores & Komodo


Flores is four islands east of Java and is in the province Nusa Tenggara Timur. Like the rest of Nusa Tenggara Timur, Flores is predominately Christian and less developed than the island of Java. Flores does not have a capital but the three largest cities, from East to West, are Maumere, Ende, and Labuan Bajo (the later also being referred to simply as Bajo). Major attractions include the Kelimutu lakes, 17 Islands National Marine Reserve, and access to Pulau Komodo and Pulau Rinca (also spelled Rinja). Continue reading

Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan Tengah (Dec 2012)


Tanjung Puting National Park is famous for being a conservatory for rehabilitated orangutans and it’s one of the few places you can go where you are guaranteed to see orangutans. Tanjung Puting is in Central Kalimantan and you can get there either by plane or by boat (from Surabaya or Semarang, I think). Our group of three (Sarah B, Alex A, and Halah from ID6) chose the plane option because it’s much faster and more comfortable. We flew from Semarang to Pangkalan Bun (Iskandar) roundtrip using Kalstar ( for about $100 – and we were able to purchase the tickets online using credit cards. Flights from Semarang to Pangkalan Bun are in the morning (assuming there’s no delays) so it’s easy to go directly from the airport to your first day on the boat. If you come in the afternoon or evening, it’s probably better to spend a night in a hotel before you start your orangutan adventure.

There’s lots of houseboats (called klotoks) & orangutan tours available. We booked ours through a guy named Ali Mashuri (email:  Tour prices depend on the number of days of your trip, the number of people, and the season. High season is June-Septemberish so expect higher prices then. Our group of three booked an exclusive tour (meaning there were no other tourists on our boat…you can choose the option where another group joins you) for 4 days and 3 nights for Rp 1.9 M each. I’ve seen cheaper prices around Rp 1.5 M per person, but this may require having a larger group and not traveling during Christmas/New Year’s. Our price included everything once we stepped off the plane: transportation to/from the airport, meals and snacks, and a tour guide who spoke English. We booked the trip by emailing Ali. He has a number of boats and he rents them out for orangutan tours. You have to pay a down payment which you can do through paypal, Western Union, or a bank transfer. Then you pay the rest at the end of your trip.

The trip was AWESOME. There was a lot of time to relax on the boat and play cards, swing in the hammocks, read, and just chill. In the mornings and afternoons we went to orangutan feedings at different locations where you are (almost*) guaranteed to see orangutans from a pretty close distance. We also got to trek through the jungle for a couple hours one day, see a local village another day, and plant our own trees. (If you choose a shorter trip you can probably do one of these options but not all.) In the evening our table/eating space was transformed into our sleeping area with mattresses and mosquito nets and we fell asleep watching fireflies and listening to the sounds of the jungle.

If you do the trip and book through the same company, ask for Anina for a tour guide – she’s awesome! Bring mosquito repellant, trekking shoes (tennis shoes or sturdy sandals), a long-sleeved shirt or sweater (it can get cold when you’re going down the river, especially if it’s raining…but at other times it’s really hot and humid so be prepared for both), a towel for the mandi, a camera, an umbrella if you want (though ponchos were provided for rainy days), books to read, cards, games, etc. You may want to bring some extra cash if you want to buy souvenirs or plant a tree, and if you enjoy your trip it’s a good idea to tip the guide and staff when you leave. (Also, if you fly, don’t forget there will be an airport tax coming/going and there are also souvenirs you can buy at the airport on your way back to Java. J)

* There was one feeding when no orangutans showed up. It’s more common for them to appear for feedings during the dry season (April-Octoberish) but during the rainy season food and water is more plentiful so they aren’t dependent on waiting for their human friends to feed them.

Lake Toba and Bukit Lawang (Northern Sumatra)


Book early! We booked in mid-October (with Air Asia) and in late October the prices went up! The flight round trip from Surabaya to Medan, Sumatra was $200 to fly in December 2012. Don’t forget surprise airport tax for each flight, in the 40,000 Rp range.

Transport on the ground:

  • Medan to Lake Toba: Travel car from Medan’s airport to Lake Toba (4-5 hours) was 75,000 Rp/person. One could take a public bus, but you’d have to take a taxi from the airport to the bus terminal first. Caution, very curvy roads and a little on the edge (literally) of the mountains, so a travel car may not be a bad idea. Next, take the ferry (leaves every hour until about 6 or 7 PM) _______ Rp/person. Arrive at island, walk to any of the guest houses.
  • Lake Toba to Bukit Lawang: This trip took a whole day. The only way to do it is to go back to Medan first and then on to Bukit Lawang. About an 8 hour journey. Travel from Lake Toba to Bukit Lawang (via Medan of course) is 150,000 Rp/person.
  • Bukit Lawang to Medan: Could do a travel again, we highly recommend taking the regular old public mini-bus. 20,000 Rp/person, 2.5 hours. Leaves every hour from Bukit Lawang terminal (about 1 km away from all the tourist stuff) and brings you to Medan terminal. From there, take a taxi to the airport for about 40,000 Rp total. Negotiable, of course!



  • From what we observed even 5 days before Christmas, this place is not hopping, so it’s fine to arrive and pick a hostel upon arrival. Yet it’s good to call at least one place and check first about how busy the season is when you want to go. We stayed in Christina’s Guesthouse. Juan the hostel owner was a hoot, in his late 20’s. He’s always ready to offer an appealing afternoon of boating or hiking or BBQing, but he’s running a business, so it’s for a fee! We had a nice stay (200,000 Rp/night for a room with 2 beds) but his hostel is farthest away from anything to eat and nightlife (the little that there is!!)
  • If you want fancy, do Tabo Cottages for sure, beautiful. Otherwise browse around somewhere closer to the action on Tuk-Tuk.


  • Rumba’s pizza was the best pizza place of the 2-3 places we tried!
  • Roy’s pub has live music on Tuesday and Thursday (???) nights from 9 PM to 1 AM, and the locals and tourists show up about 11 PM onwards. It’s a great band, and be brave, bust a move!
  • There is a restaurant by the King’s Grave Site that has burgers, but it’s not a life-changing burger.
  • Tabo Cottages have delicious but highly priced baked good. The place is owned by a German woman who opened this bakery. Legit, but mahal. (one small muffin = 10,000 Rp)



  • King’s Grave- A very touristy site about a 45-minute walk south of Tuk-Tuk, this was worth the visit if nothing just to get out and about.
  • Stone Chairs-about an hour or more walk north of Tuk-Tuk, this tourist site was not all it is cracked up to be. Looking at a few pictures online would do the trick for sure.
  • Air Turjun (waterfall): This trail up into the mountains is lots of fun…if you are adventurous! Just keep asking locals where the trailhead is because it looks like you are walking onto someone’s road or into their yard…The trail up the mountain is hard (almost impossible) to find during rainy season as it is overgrown and there is a lot of runoff water. We hiked up maybe 45 minutes, searching for the trail. Finally found a big, white water irrigation pipe that would lead us all the way up. The trail crosses the river, and after that the trail was impossible to follow because of mud, so we didn’t make it to the waterfall swimming pool, but it is promised to be amazing!!!
  • Kayaking at Tabo Cottages 40,000 Rp/person/hour




  • Much more touristy (though way less pricey than Lake Toba), Bukit Lawang has a million hostels/hotels. Overall, we’d say it’s safe to arrive there and look around for where you want to stay. Booking before is not necessary (and we were there a few days before Christmas).
  • We stayed in Green Hill (Treetop Bungalow for 150,000 Rp/night for a double bed) and it was beautiful, great and reasonably priced food. Downside, it was a 20-minute hike (up and down and around!) to get there from where the car dropped us off. And then a 20-minute hike back again to shopping areas and various food options.
  • The last night we stayed in a perfectly fine room at Sibayak Hostel (50,000 Rp/night for 2 beds, way cheap but clean, private bathroom). Less beautiful than Green Hill, but really close to the river, bridge to cross the river, shopping and food, and closest to the road out for an early morning departure!


  • Anytime you see “pancakes” on the menu, they are actually crepes, and still delicious!
  • Green Hill has really good food, and even if you’re not staying there they’d be happy to cook you up some grub.
  • Cheapo nasi goreng places along the main drag.
  • The 2 pizza places we sampled were mediocre.


  • Orangutan feeding center (rehabilitation center now closed). Feeding daily at 8 AM and 3 PM.  Cross the river on a little canoe thing (that’s an adventure in itself!) 20,000 Rp to hike UP (moderate terrain, not for flip flops!) about 10-15 minutes into the jungle to the feeding platform. Orangutans arriving for the feeding time is NOT guaranteed…but worth it when they do!
  • Bat Cave: can’t review it as we didn’t go, but I heard it’s a 5 km hike in itself, and a minimal fee to enter (5,000 Rp?).

People come for the trekking into the jungle!

  • We did a 2-day (one night) trek. Set price of 700,000 Rp. DO NOT book a guide before you arrive, no matter what. They are everywhere and you HAVE to meet them first. It’s like dating, you want chemistry! And you’ll be sleeping in the jungle next to this jungle man, so you wanna meet him first…we do recommend Jungle Edie and Antoin (sp??), great guys! Guides are in over-abundance, so you absolutely should not worry about finding one upon arrive. They will find you…They will find you.
  • Left at 9 AM, trek until 2 PM-ish, stopping for lunch. At camp, hang, bathe in river (some campsites are near waterfalls!), eat dinner, then rather forced entertainment (probably just our odd guide) including singing (no guitars). Next day, eat breakfast, leave when you want to, trek again for as long as your group comes to an agreement about, eat lunch. Then raft back about ½ hour. Totally awesome. They are well-prepared for waterproofing your bags, no problem to bring your jillion-dollar camera.
  • Bed on the thinnest mattress of your life on top of the hardest jungle floor of your life, though in a well-covered tent. Cold at night, take long pants/shirt and accept the blanket they offer you. Otherwise, the next day your guide will tell everyone how you “tidur seperti udang, mungkin sedikit dingin!!!??”
  • Often there are 2 guides per group, one to guide and one to wander around looking for the animals (orangutans and various other monkeys). Great senses of humor. Find a guide that speaks English to the level you desire. Some are better than others. Otherwise, they are also very impressed by our Bahasa Indonesia, as there are rarely other bule as awesome as PCVs running around the jungle in Sumatra speaking Bahasa Indonesia.
  • Level of difficulty (as written by to Sarah): for someone who frequently hikes, walks, and bikes, this was physically fine. Demanding going up the hills at times, but otherwise very enjoyable and the perfect level of difficulty for a fit 23-year old woman, pendapat saya. (I was only sore from the sleeping situation and a little in my calves the second day, that’s it!) It was rainy season too, so a bit slippery but never anywhere near death! Wear Keens shoes and it’s perfect! However, when the hills level out, the walk is leisurely. Going down is a bit scary. Take your time. The guides also emphasis that throughout. They have no problem going slow. Want you to enjoy yourself, not have a heart attack! A good comparison to this hike would probably be Panderman Hill in Batu, that big hill toward Malang you kept seeing during training! But Bukit Lawang uses more roots and vines to climb up.

By Sarah Prather and Britteney Laurenceau (ID6 2012-2014)


Museum Gunung Api Merapi: Mereapi Jendela Bumi

What’s There & Recommendation:

Though located distant from all other major attractions in Jogjakarta, the Merapi Museum is absolutely worth a visit. After a short introductory video on the eruptive history and modern monitoring techniques of Merapi, guests can walk through dioramas that illustrate the physical geography of Indonesia, the science behind volcanoes, and the history (and sometimes horror) of Merapi’s eruptions. Like any good science museum, the displays are simple, illustrative, and hands-on. I was reminded of my trips to the Smithsonian. The most astonishing piece in the museum is an old motorbike recovered from the debris of the 1994 pyroclastic flows. Both school groups and families were enjoying their time when I was there. There were no foreign tourists besides myself, but educational information was written in English as well as Indonesian. Continue reading