Tag Archives: budget

Six Months of Travel: The Numbers

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WOW. Today marks exactly six months since Alan and I packed up our little home in Christchurch, New Zealand, prepared to spend all our savings (eek!), and set off to travel through Asia. In many ways it feels like we have been gone for so long, though in other ways it feels like just yesterday that we left.

As this six month milestone whizzes by, I'm feeling reflective on whats changed in my life over the past half year. It's been an absolute whirlwind - I have learnt a lot about the world, about myself, my values, my hopes and dreams, about the kind of life I want to lead. In many ways I have gained a lot of clarity, but in other ways I'm more confused than ever.

Especially travelling in Asia where many people live on so little, it makes you question a lot about humanity, your morals and what you truly need in order to be happy. I'm not going to get into that today, though - I'll stew that one up and get all deep and meaningful on you another time!

I love a good list (who doesn't?) so I thought it might be interesting to reflect on the past six months of travel with a list of the numbers. Ready? Here we go!

Days on the road: 182  (exactly 26 weeks!)

Countries visited: 7

Beds slept in: 41

Flights: 8

Inter-city busses: 30. Including 2 overnight busses, we've managed to avoid more than that!

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Waiting at the bus station in Pangandaran for our bus to Jakarta

Local busses: too many to count!

Cheating taxi drivers: 1 (though let's be honest, probably more that we didn't realise!)

Scooters hired: 10

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Exploring Kep, Cambodia

Inter-city trains: 4

Metro/subway/MRT rides: dozens!

Boat trips: 18

Arguments between Alan and I: 1,000+

Dentists visited: 1 (Alan)

Bouts of food poisoning: just 1 so far! (me)

Crickets consumed: 2 for me and 4 for Alan...yep, I'm talking about the insects!

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Yes, there's a cricket in my mouth. Mildly terrifying.

Theme parks visited: 2 - Universal Studios in Singapore and Vinpearl Island in Vietnam.

Jandals (flip-flops) replaced: 1 pair each.

Mango smoothies consumed: A fair estimate would be 100 each...

Dollars spent: Let's just say my savings are looking a little dry...take a look at my country budget breakdowns if you want to do the maths for yourself.

Tears cried: Enough. Most notably during week 1 of Muay Thai training in Thailand, and when I realised that I completely sucked at surfing that day in Pangandaran, Indonesia.

Panic/stress meltdowns: Christie - approximately 1,000. Alan - zero (how is he so damn chilled out?).

Where we stayed the longest time: Koh Samui, Thailand, where we trained Muay Thai for one month.

Where we stayed the shortest time: Probolinggo, Indonesia, where we arrived at 3am in the morning to experience the Mount Bromo sunrise and left later that afternoon.

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Incredible views from Mount Bromo

Three Highlights:

1. Canyoning in Dalat, Vietnam. And zooming down waterslides on Vinpearl Island in Vietnam. And slow mornings in Hoi An, Vietnam. Let's just say Vietnam in general, okay? I love Vietnam.

2. Attending my friends' wedding in Huangshi, China.

3. Learning the art of Muay Thai on Koh Samui, Thailand.

But also because three is far too few: Splurging at Universal Studios Singapore. Playing with puppies in Ubud, Bali. Relaxing in waterfalls on Langkawi, Malaysia. And SO many more!

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Vinpearl Waterpark in Nha Trang, Vietnam. Best. Day. Ever.

Three Lowlights

1. Packing. I swear it gets worse and worse every single time.

2. Being tricked into eating dried rat (yep, rat) in Da Lat, Vietnam, only to be told afterwards what it actually was! Though admittedly, until I was told it was rat I was nodding and thinking this wouldn't be too bad mixed in with a bit of rice...

3. The biggest lowlight of them all? Realising that this can't last forever.


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A Day Trip to Shaolin Monastery from Luoyang

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"It's not here," I panicked. "The hostel isn't here!"

It was pitch black at night and after arriving into Luoyang an hour ago we had already missed our bus stop, backtracked in a taxi for ten minutes to the address of our hostel, and anxiously walked up three flights of stairs in an abandoned building with broken tiles, dust and glass fragments strewn everywhere - at the exact address our hostel was supposed to be. This building seemed like no one had graced it's stairs for a number of years.

My heart was racing. "No, no, there's no way this can be a scam - it's got good reviews online!" Alan assured me.

We traipsed back down the stairs in the dark with our heads hung low, each mentally contemplating what our next move would be and how we would find somewhere else to stay this late at night. At the bottom of the stairs we noticed a dim crack of light peeping through a gap from behind a very thick, quilted curtain, something we both hadn't noticed as we'd entered the building earlier.

Thankfully, this curtain hid the doorway to our hostel and we both heaved a sigh of relief after those brief moments of panic, that we had found what would be our home for the next few nights.

Luoyang Longmen Youth Hostel was nothing fancy, but it did the trick. Coming from our luxurious five-star experience at the Tonino Lamborghini the previous night, I'll admit it took me a few minutes to reacquaint myself with hostel life and all that comes with it. Here, it was the sewerage pipe running through our bathroom from the level above that wafted unpleasant smells through the air - though as long as we kept the door closed and held our breath as long as possible while in there it was no problem, we got on with it. Our room was warm, and that was the main thing because now that we had traveled further north the temperatures were dropping and we were looking at days of between 0-5 degrees Celsius.

One thing about hostels is China that is different to what we had experienced in Southeast Asia is that in SEA breakfast is usually included with your room, whereas the opposite tends to be true in China. Not to worry, we Alan had been carrying around a half pack of rolled oats since we'd been living on Koh Samui that my frugal self couldn't bear to part with - I knew we would eat them some day! Well, what do you know. All we needed was to buy a few bananas and a pack of instant coffee to feed my addiction and we were set for breakfasts for the next few days.

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We had three days to spend in Luoyang, and with a couple of full days ahead we decided to spend day one doing a bit of planning, a bit of exploring and a bit of shopping - despite stocking up on a few winter woollies in Chiang Mai we were still short of gloves and a beanie - items we had quickly realised were a necessity!

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Defrosting with a hot drink

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Dumplings and beer in Luoyang - is there any better combination?

Feeling refreshed after a fairly straightforward day and organised with enough warm clothes to keep us toasty, we were up early on our second day for an independent day trip to the Shaolin Monastery. Located on the Shaoshi Mountain (hence the name) in the Songshan Mountain range, Shaolin Monastery and its associated temple were established during the Northern Wei Dynasty in the year 495 A.D. It is one of China's four holy Buddhist temples and the birthplace of Chan Buddhism.

Though, perhaps Shaolin Temple is best known as the home of Kung Fu! There is a Chinese saying that "all martial arts under heaven arose out of Shaolin," so with a boyfriend who is right into his martial arts it seemed only fitting that we visit while we were nearby.

We had decided against an organised tour to Shaolin Temple. According to our research, we could catch a series of public busses to get there and, as is usually the case with tours, doing it independently would be significantly cheaper. It was going to take a couple of hours each way, but why worry, we had all day! Famous last words...

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Firstly we took a twenty-minute bus into the central city of Luoyang, where we located the central bus station and, despite some language difficulties, were eventually loaded onto a bus that we were told was going to take us to Shaolin. Alan and I were the only passengers waiting on the us to begin with, so the driver kindly put an English movie on for us to pass the time while we waited. By the time we had watched The Fast and the Furious 1 in its entirety, the bus was finally full and we set off in the direction of the Shaolin Temple.

It was nearing the end of 2 Fast 2 Furious when we pulled into the bus station in Dengfeng and were herded off our bus onto a smaller bus, that would take us the rest of the way to the temple, which was another twenty minutes or so. Despite getting an early start, we had completely underestimated the time it would take to get to Shaolin Temple. I was quickly mentally planning our route for the afternoon so that we could be sure to see all the best bits of this enormous temple complex!

At last, we arrived at the entrance, eagerly paid the 100 yuan entry fee (NZ$20), and raced through the gates to begin exploring.

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I'd seen some photos of how busy Shaolin Temple can be in the summer months - so despite the freezing cold it was incredible to have a place like this just about all to ourselves. We could explore and soak in the rich history without being shoulder to shoulder with other tourists all day.

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Our first stop in the complex was visiting the Shaolin Temple itself. It is enormous and you could easily spend hours here, wandering around and exploring every corner. But due to our, uh, transport delays of the morning, we were now on a rather tight schedule so as to not miss the last bus back! We spent about 45 minutes looking around.

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After we had finished exploring the temple, we walked through the Pagoda Forest which is the resting place for revered monks. It is said to be one of China's largest pagoda forests, consisting of more than 200 pagodas. It was pretty, though not particularly lush during winter, so we quickly ticked that one off in order to make it in time to the Kung Fu show!

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Kungfu continues to be practiced and studied at Shaolin Temple, as it has been for more than 1500 years. As we walked in the direction of the performance centre we saw hundreds and hundreds of students training out in the chilly winter air.

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But of course the highlight of our visit was the Kung Fu demonstration! We watched a group of monks performing a series of Kung Fu techniques, followed by a breathtaking showcase of qigong - where all of one's inner energy is focussed into a certain exercise. We witnessed a monk bending a spear with his neck, and another who threw a small needle at a sheet of glass, piercing the glass and popping a balloon held behind it. Very impressive!

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After our journey from Luoyang to Shaolin Temple took over three hours, I was more than a little worried about getting back. I was feeling antsy the entire time we were exploring the temple that we would miss the last bus back. We were directed to board a bus and - after apparent road closures, a couple of hours of navigating rugged farm roads, a bus breakdown, a woman on our bus that insisted on numerous photoshoots with me, waiting in the middle of nowhere for a new bus and then elbowing our way through a mob where we managed to snap up the last two seats on the new bus - STRESS! - we finally saw the lights of Luoyang ahead. I'm pretty sure I melted with relief.

Our journey to and from the Shaolin Temple was the kind of day where we just had to put our faith in people and trust that we would end up in the right place! Although I wish we had more time to explore - there was SO much more to see! - with the beauty of hindsight, it was still a pretty amazing day. Amazing because of the  incredible history, but equally amazing because we made it there and back - there were plenty of moments I was sure we wouldn't! So with that said...

...if you are going to visit the Shaolin Temple yourself, here's some tips.

Yes, it is totally possible to do an independent day trip from Luoyang - though from my experience if you don't speak the language it is likely be a rather stressful day! It is a lot cheaper (transport there and back cost us all up about $11 each) but also a lot more difficult. You may also be tight on time like we were and have to miss out on exploring certain areas of the complex.

My recommendation would be if you want to enjoy the day fully and you're staying in Luoyang, fork out for an organised tour. You'll not only spend the day worry-free but also get a lot more information out of it with a local guide.

Otherwise, and this is what I would do next time, stay in Dengfeng where you are much closer to the temple to begin with (only 13km away). This option would allow you to spend all day at the temple as you don't need to worry about missing the last bus back to Luoyang. Also there is tonnes of cool stuff to do around the mountains too that we missed out on, if you have a full day or two you will get to see and do so much more!

In my next post I'll be writing about our final day in Luoyang, where we visited a place that we had never even heard of...and turned out to be an absolute highlight of our time in China!


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Travel Budget & Summary: Thailand

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Money, money, money! Wanna know how much baht I spent during my two months in Thailand? Read on for a little insight into my wallet...

Thailand: Our Itinerary

Before we left New Zealand we got 60-day Thailand tourist visas (we sent our passports to the Thailand Embassy in Wellington). We squeezed out nearly every day of those visas, staying a total of 58 nights.

Though we had our visas before we left, we didn't have a plan of what we would do in Thailand at the beginning. It was while we were in Singapore that we took the plunge and booked in a month at Superpro Samui. I was also keen to see some of the north as I had never visited that part of the country before and heard amazing things (yup, its true!).

I loved having an entire month in one place - we had a little studio apartment of our own on Koh Samui and did normal things like go grocery shopping and go to the movies and other fun stuff like that. I love travelling but its no secret that this little island has become dear to my heart and I'm already dreaming of going back!

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Thailand: Travel Budget Breakdown

Please note these costs are in New Zealand dollars (NZD), unless otherwise stated.

Total we spent over 59 days for two people: $5,025 ($2,512.50 per person)

Daily average per person: $42.60 (we try to average less than $50 each overall)

Category Breakdown (Note these costs are for two people and I have rounded to the nearest dollar):
  • Accommodation: $1,907
  • Food and drink: $1690
  • Transport: $688
  • Entertainment/attractions: $181
  • Visas: $50 each*
  • Shopping: $495 (most of it was Muay Thai essentials!)
  • Massage: $59
  • Laundry: $5 (surprisingly low! We mostly hand-washed our clothes on Koh Samui so they were clean for training the next day)

*Not included in the cost summary as we got these before we departed New Zealand. Most nationalities get a visa-free 30 day entry, so if you're travelling for less than a month in Thailand you don't need to worry!

Summary

Accommodation

Our accommodation in Koh Samui was by far our biggest cost as it included training - we paid 1000 baht a night (about $40, or $20 each). We were meant to have a standard double room at Superpro but due to some plumbing issues we scored a free upgrade to a studio apartment which was amazing! We were really happy with the value of this, especially as it included our training, plus had facilities like a gym, swimming pool, yoga classes and more.

With our 30 nights at Superpro taken out of the equation, over the remaining 28 nights we spent an average of $26 per night ($13 each). We continued to use Agoda for most of our bookings because not only do we love a good deal, we love to pay in New Zealand dollars (no conversion fees, hooray!). As always, we stay in private double rooms of varying quality - though overall in Thailand I felt the standard was pretty good.

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Our digs at Superpro Samui

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...through to our modest bungalow in Pai

Food

We spent about $29 a day on food and drink for both of us. I love Thai food to bits but because we were there for so long we definitely ate western food quite often, which is often a bit pricier. I usually try and find highly rated western restaurants on TripAdvisor first so that I know we'll be getting a good meal for your buck!

Of course, I can't go past a good Pad Thai, but I'm also very, very fond of a creamy Panang Curry. Lip-smackingly good! I also had a favourite place on Koh Samui where I felt very virtuous ordering their delicious tofu and cashew stir-fry on brown rice. Alan cursed me whenever I wanted to go there for lunch as it was a good half hour drive away on the far side of Lamai - but it was worth the effort! I still think my favourite meal in Thailand was the one we cooked in Ao Nang, followed a close second by Kalasea on Koh Samui - they get bonus points for ambience!

Naturally, mango smoothies continue to be a common occurrence. I'm addicted - even now, as I write this in Vietnam, I'm still sipping on one! Though admittedly, I did cheat on my love of mango smoothies with the BEST vanilla milkshake of my life at Cheeseburger Cheeseburger on Samui, so...my heart is torn!

Our apartment on Superpro had a big fridge but no cooking facilities, so when we wanted to eat in we chowed down on plenty of filled rolls and peanut butter sandwiches. We always made breakfast in our apartment and it was so nice to put together my own muesli, fruit and yoghurt just the way I like it! I enjoyed being able to grocery shop at Tescos, but in fact eating out is often cheaper so we did plenty of both.

I should have been focussing on my fitness, but hey, you only live once so a few fun nights were thrown in there! Probably the most memorable were my 25th birthday where I was surprised with a cake and sung happy birthday at the Lamai Kickboxing, and the other highlight being our final night where we had a bit of a leaving shindig - I may have enjoyed a few too many wine coolers and come *this* close to getting my upper-ear pierced...hey at least it wasn't a tattoo! Alan hasn't let me live that one down yet.

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One of many times at Kalasea Cafe

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Doing normal things like grocery shopping!

Transport

We came from Langkawi in Malaysia, and simply took a ferry from Langkawi to Satun on the Thai mainland where we checked through very basic immigration point, then took a shuttle onwards to Krabi. We travelled overland by bus for the rest of our journeys (except by ferry to and between the islands, of course!), bar one flight we splurged on between Surat Thani and Chiang Mai. An hour in a place versus two overnight busses/trains? Yeah...

We rented a Scoopy-i 110cc scooter on Koh Samui, which cost us 3000 baht for the month (about NZ$4 a day). Originally we got a pink one because it was all they had available, they told us to come back the next day to switch. I didn't mind the pink but since Alan was mostly driving it probably wasn't that great for his image haha. We went back most days for nearly two weeks until we were able to switch to a blue one!

We also rented scooters on Koh Tao and in Pai, both places I think its pretty essential to have some wheels in order to explore. Not that we were really in the mood to do so while we were in Chiang Mai, but I think having a scooter there would have made a big difference in the way we were feeling - unfortunately we didn't have our passports (they were at the Consulate getting our China visas) which are used as your 'deposit' for rental. So we used our feet mainly, I don't know about yours but my feet prefer scooters.

And how could I forget - we also cycled plenty around Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai!

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Cycling Si Satchanalai

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Alan modelling our scooter, complete with exceptionally flattering helmet, in Pai

We loved our time in Thailand and I'm comfortable with the amount we spent (you could easily travel way cheaper by staying in dorms, fan rooms and eating less western food and more street food). I'm already hatching a plan to go back - wait and see if we are able to make a second round at Koh Samui happen this year!

Have you travelled to Thailand? Did you visit on a backpackers budget, or go all out?


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Eight things you MUST do in Pai, Thailand

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We survived the 762 corners from Chiang Mai to Pai, though it didn’t come easily. Earbuds in, music on and managing to get yourself into a sort of trance-like state helped ease the corners and block the chucking-up happening in the row ahead from your senses as best you could.

I’m so glad I was finding my travel mojo again because Pai was truly something special. A quirky town in Northern Thailand, Pai is known for its hippie-centric and laid back vibe.

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We stayed in a modest hut at the chilled out and cheap KK Hut Guesthouse about 10 minutes walk from the town, right across a dirt road from the Circus School! Just the basics - a simple concrete bathroom (complete with resident frog), mattress on the floor, mosquito net and a fan we didn't even need to use. No need for air-conditioning in Pai - its fresh in the mornings, warm during the day and cool at night.

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Before we get started on your schedule of activities in Pai, first things first. In Pai, a scooter is essential. There is little to see in the town itself and, beyond generally chilling out, the whole reason for going to Pai is to get out into nature and explore the countryside! Your accommodation will be able to provide you with a map, so its hard to get lost.

Be careful if this is your first time on a scooter, as the roads are not always forgiving and in just our three days there saw a handful of people have minor accidents. That said, all the scooters up for rent in Pai are so beaten up that they will probably never know if you add a few more scrapes to the paint job…but still, take care!

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Okay, so you have your scooter, map in hand - now what? Here’s what I recommend you get up to in Pai!

1. The Land Split

Hands down my favourite attraction in Pai. To understand this place, you need to know the story behind it. Essentially, this used to be farming land when one day back in 2008, without warning a giant crack appeared in the land, essentially destroying its use for farming crops and the hope of future income. The entrepreneurial farmer then decided if he couldn’t continue to farm on his land, he would turn the giant crack into a tourist attraction.

We took a look at the split - and yeah, basically its just what you expect, a crack through some land, fairly impressive though not overly exciting. However, the crack is not what makes this place great!

What makes the Land Split the most wonderful place is that when you arrive there you are greeted with genuine smiles and ushered to a relaxed little seating area, where you are quickly served copious amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables grown right on this very land. They also grow roselle flowers (a type of Hibiscus) and you’ll be served a sweet roselle juice, followed by a small bottle of roselle wine!

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There is no entry fee, you simply donate what you like before you leave - they trust you will pay what you feel it is worth. After paying our gratitude to the friendly staff, we were sent on our way with a bag full of fresh passionfruit that we devoured over the next few days!

Nearby is the Pam Bok waterfall which is pretty, and worth a look while you’re in the vicinity. Some were brave enough to enter the freezing water, dipping my toes in was enough for me!

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2. Pai Canyon

Pai Canyon was ten times more awesome than I was expecting it to be, and had we not had just a couple of days to cram everything we wanted to do in, I would have loved to spend much longer wandering around.

There are some rather narrow ridges where you don’t really want to look down the 20+ metre drop either side of you as you cross - its not for the faint of heart! I’d recommend wearing some sturdy shoes for this one.

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3. Chinese Village (Ban Santichon) Viewpoint

Perhaps equally my favourite activity in Pai…I loved this one too. Drive through the Chinese Village and head right up to the top of the hill.

On arrival you pay a mere 20 baht and are served a gorgeous pot of chinese tea to sip as you enjoy the beautiful vista. Naturally, we bought a 10 baht mantou to nibble on with our tea, basically a donut served with condensed milk for dipping - yum! The perfect stop for morning tea with a sweeping view. So peaceful.

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4. Love Pai Strawberry Cafe

The strawberry cafe is extremely popular, so its not a place you visit for peace - BUT - it is super delicious, so go! They offer strawberry everything at this cafe, and its a place you can wander around for a while sampling goodies and exploring the gardens, then cool back down with a refreshing strawberry smoothie.

Fresh strawberries are few and far between in Southeast Asia, most areas are too hot to grow them other than highland regions - which is where you will find them in abundance (remember we ate tonnes of strawberries in Malaysia's Cameron Highlands?). So make the most of them while they are available!

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5. Wat Phra That Mae Yen (Temple on the Hill)

Get your cultural fix by visiting the Temple on the Hill and the Big Buddha (still in construction!) that resides at the summit. Peaceful, picturesque and colourful, this is the perfect temple complex to stroll around for an hour or two and recharge your spirit.

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6. WWII Memorial Bridge

Originally built by the Japanese as part of the route from Burma through Thailand during World War II. There has since been a new bridge for traffic built directly parallel, however you can still park up your motorbike and take five minutes to walk across this steel bridge - which isn't particularly pretty but offers lovely views over the river along with some historical value.

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7. Walking Street at night

Back in Pai town itself, every evening the main road fills up with food vendors and artists selling their wares. Unlike so many of the mass produced souvenirs you find in tourist markets across Southeast Asia, as a community full of artists Pai offers a unique approach to keepsakes - many are handmade and sold by the very maker themselves at the night market. Its a great place to pick up a few treasures and gifts that are true handicrafts and represent Pai's quirky nature.

8. Eat Cake at The Witching Well

Initially I was only going to write seven must-dos in Pai - but then I looked back at my photos and was reminded of the most lip-smacking carrot cake I ate at The Witching Well on our final night in Pai. The food was tasty - I ordered a brown rice, cauliflower and chickpea dish, balanced out with a splurge on a glass of red wine, but the star of the show was definitely the cake. So good! And by that I mean just like a carrot cake you would buy from a cafe back home. THAT good.

I thought about buying another piece to eat the next morning, but reconsidered after I realised we had to lurch the 762 corners back to Chiang Mai - perhaps that mightn't be the best combo.

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These eight activities, amongst a fair amount of driving around, getting a little lost, and stopping for many a photo, is how we spent our two days and three nights in Pai. Enough time for me to realise I love Pai, but not nearly enough to honour that love. Yet another place I simply have to go back to! That's the problem with travel - its all just a delicate balance between going back to places you love, and falling in love with new ones.

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However, time was ticking - we had a chain of bus trips ahead of us to reach Sukhothai where I'd be reunited with my brother for a dose of temple exploring!

Do it yourself

A shuttle between Chiang Mai and Pai costs 150 baht one-way. The journey takes about three hours with a 15 minute stop around the halfway point. If you get easily queasy, try and get the front seat in the shuttle bus if you can - it helps!

Have you visited Pai? Does it sound like the kind of place you would enjoy?


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Travel Budget & Summary: Malaysia

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Oh hey there! Its time to talk money again! Specifically, what we spent in Malaysia during our five weeks there.

Before we get into the dollars again (here's the first budget post I wrote on our month in Indonesia), the best way to describe our travel style is not uber-cheap - we are travellers on a budget, that like good value and comfort, and I'm sure our spending reflects that.

The reason I am sharing this information is because, like I mentioned in my last budget post, if this can inspire just one reader to realise that living your travel dream is financially possible - and not as scary as it looks - then this will all be worth it!

Right, let's get started.

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Malaysia: Our Itinerary

…interlude as we hopped over to Singapore for 5 nights, before returning to Malaysia…

As New Zealand citizens we received a 90-day visa on arrival into Malaysia (we flew from Jakarta, Indonesia to Kuala Lumpur). We stayed in Malaysia for 34 nights.

In the beauty of hindsight, had we factored Singapore into our itinerary earlier on, we could have saved a chunk of money by flying from Jakarta into Singapore and then working our way up the island, instead of flying from Singapore to Kota Bahru (the jumping off point for the Perhentian Islands). However we had booked the Jakarta to Kuala Lumpur flight back in New Zealand before we left and it was a budget-conscious decision at the time. You live and you learn, right!

Especially in the second half of our time in Malaysia, we relished in moving more slowly and staying in places for at least a week. I loved travelling a bit slower, as it gave us time to unpack a little, settle in, get our bearings, find and frequent some of our favourite restaurants etc.

We considered travelling to Borneo, however after splurging in Singapore and in favour of travelling more slowly throughout Peninsular Malaysia, we decided we will visit Borneo on another occasion when we have more time and money!

Malaysia: Travel Budget Breakdown

Please note these costs are in New Zealand dollars (NZD), unless otherwise stated.

Total we spent over 34 days for two people: $2,916 ($1,458 per person)

Daily average per person: $42.90 (our daily budget is $50 each)

We came in 19% under our maximum budget.

Category Breakdown (Note these costs are for two people and I have rounded to the nearest dollar):
  • Accommodation: $918
  • Food and drink: $968
  • Transport: $679 (this includes a rather expensive last minute Air Asia flight from Singapore to Kota Bahru)
  • Entertainment/attractions: $189
  • Visas: VOA is free!
  • Shopping: $145 (seemingly lots of little things like some multi-vitamins, sunblock, paracetamol, toiletries, sunglasses & too many snacks!)
  • Laundry: $17

Summary

Accommodation

On average we spent $27 per night on accommodation ($13.50 each). Though we probably could have stayed in places a bit cheaper sometimes, Malaysia budget accommodation on-the-whole is definitely priced slightly on the higher side, with less value for money. We continued to use Agoda for most of our bookings because not only do we love a good deal, we love to pay in New Zealand dollars (no conversion fees, hooray!). We still tried to book rooms with breakfast included, however do read my comment on food further below…these breakfasts were typically nothing special! We continued to stay in private double rooms, though often had shared bathrooms - these are pretty common throughout Malaysia - with varying levels of luxury and cleanliness.

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Food

We spent about $28 a day on food and drink for both of us - again slightly on the higher side, however we stayed in quite a few places where breakfast was not included which pushed that price up. Also, food on more remote places like the Perhentian Islands tended to be more expensive.

I loved the variety of food on offer in Malaysia! Indian, Malay, Chinese, Western, and sometimes a combination of them all. Coming from Indonesia where the food was ‘just okay’ to me, Malaysia literally blew my mind with diversity and food options! In Penang, known as a foodie’s heaven, there is a pamphlet you can pickup from most guesthouses with all of the local specialties (and there are a lot!), we had fun trying many of these and ticking them off the list. Some we liked, some we didn’t like so much - but thats the exciting part!

Unfortunately “included” guesthouse breakfasts typically lacked variety, usually consisting of just toast and jam…boring! Though I must make special mention to our accommodation in Kuala Lumpur, Matahari Lodge, where they had quite possibly the most delicious peanut butter in the world. A thick lather of that was enough to get you through to lunchtime!

I may have kicked my cornetto habit, unfortunately in favour of the odd oreo mcflurry…I had far too many of these in Malaysia! I justified it by saying I would simply burn it off come our month of Muay Thai training in Thailand…but I’m not sure that justified the cost. Oh well, we can’t all be perfect, can we!

Alcohol took a backseat in Malaysia, as it is very expensive (i.e. on par with what you would pay for a beer back home in New Zealand, $6-8 a pop). We had just a handful of beers throughout our time there, until we reached duty-free Langkawi and beer was once again a bargain. One or two enjoyed on our little porch most evenings became the norm, though Langkawi certainly isn’t a party island at all (which is fine by me!).

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Transport

Scooter rental was more expensive in Malaysia than in Indonesia, so we only rented a scooter in Langkawi, and even then we didn’t hire one for our entire stay. Our scooter rental there cost us almost $10 a day, which was on the higher side but also super convenient as we rented directly through our accommodation so returning it was a breeze.

We had hoped to use trains in Malaysia, however unfortunately our route was not very harmonious with the railway system! So busses it was, most of the way. Malaysia’s roads are amazing, and their busses very efficient and affordable, so travelling by bus wasn’t a problem at all. We bussed from Kuala Lumpur to Malacca, then onwards to Singapore - both which were very comfortable and spacious. We then flew from Singapore to Kota Bahru (a 1.5 hour flight versus a 2-day bus/train journey…um yeah), and shared a taxi with some fellow travellers to Kuala Besut pier before catching a boat to the Perhentian Islands. After the Perhentian Islands we took a tourist minivan to the Cameron Highlands (local busses on that route are either non-existent or few and far between), and again took a tourist minivan onwards to the island of Penang. Finally, it was just a couple of hours on a ferry from Penang through to our final stop, the paradise of Langkawi!

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Overall, despite coming under budget our spending in Malaysia was quite high. We could have probably done it a bit cheaper, but at the end of the day this is our lifestyle for the time being and we don’t mind spending extra on a few comforts! Malaysia has the reputation of being one of South East Asia’a more expensive destinations, so I’m perfectly happy that we came out under budget.

Have you travelled to Malaysia? Is it a country you would be interested in visiting?


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Break the Budget: Splurging at Universal Studios Singapore!

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We arrived into Singapore with just one thing on our minds. Universal Studios!

Though theme parks are not typically in the realms of budget travel (especially when you’re trying to spend less than NZD$50 each a day!), we couldn’t get the idea of Universal Studios out of our heads, so decided to roll with it and treat Singapore as a splurge. YOLO, right?

To backtrack a little, and provide some explanation, Singapore was not even part of our itinerary when we began roughly planning our route before leaving New Zealand. With the reputation of being expensive and sucking the money out of backpackers (spoiler alert: yup, it did!), we booked our flight from Jakarta to Kuala Lumpur thinking we would simply dip down into Malacca before heading up into the northern half of Malaysia for 6 weeks, skipping Singapore altogether.

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But seriously, who'd want to miss this?!

I don’t recall if it was Alan or I who first mentioned it, but I do remember us being rather delirious on one of our mega Indonesian bus journeys when the idea to visit Universal Studios in Singapore sprouted. As we are both actually children at heart, it was an idea that was very hard to get out of our heads, and it became one of our hot topics of conversation. Needless to say, we were quick to justify that if we came in $500 under budget for our month in Indonesia we would treat ourselves to a few days in Singapore, and a day or two at Universal Studios.

Of course, after making that decision there was no stopping us coming in well under budget in Indonesia (Indonesia is such a cheap country we barely had to try). We ultimately came in more than $600 (!) under budget and unable to think about much else than rollercoasters, we excitedly raced through Kuala Lumpur and Malacca in just seven nights before boarding our bus to Singapore.

Wow, it was one comfy and spacious bus. We were almost disappointed the journey was only five hours long!

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The bus stopped in Malaysia’s southern-most city, Johor Bahru, where we switched onto a different, though similar, bus for the last leg of the journey - crossing the bridge into Singapore, checking through immigration and being dropped off at the final stop.

Our hotel was about 3km walk from where the bus dropped us off, so we loaded our packs onto our backs and trudged along the footpath. Despite it being dark (around 7pm), it was still hot and sticky - I was glad it wasn’t any further!

Tip: Make sure you know exactly where you’re being dropped off within Singapore, as there are many, many busses running from Malaysia into Singapore every day, dropping off at all different points over the city. We made sure to book a bus that would drop us closest to out hotel so that we could walk, instead of wasting money on a taxi ($$$). Before you leave, google map the walking directions from there to your hotel, and take a few screenshots. We were so glad we did this!

In our attempts to treat ourselves while we were in Singapore, though without going overboard and completely breaking the bank, we decided to forgo hostel beds (which range about NZD$20-$30 a night per person) and book a mid-range hotel in a less-touristy area. We booked Hotel Orchid 81 in Geylang, which is known to be Singapore’s red-light district - this didn’t bother us as we never felt unsafe (despite the building next to our hotel being named “Happy House”), and actually the area felt quite lively. Especially important to us, it was less than 10 minutes walk to the nearest MRT line, Kallang, connecting us to the entire city. Hotel Orchid 81 cost us NZD$72 per night (for two), which in our opinion was definitely worth the small amount more than booking two hostel beds.

This hotel was just what we needed after a couple of rather average guesthouses in Kuala Lumpur and Malacca, and we basked in the freedom of having our very own bathroom, hot water, returning to a freshly housekept room every day, and a fridge plus tea and coffee-making facilities. But best of all: our room had a WINDOW! For the first time in what felt like forever we were able to enjoy breakfast in bed (porridge, fruit and yoghurt!) and see the world outside. A couple of times it rained and we spent entire mornings in bed with endless cups of coffee, skyping home. It was a nice way to slow down for a few hours.

But I digress! We weren’t in Singapore to drink coffee and stay in bed - we were there for Universal Studios, right?

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On our first day we were up early and took the MRT to HarbourFront, where we walked (if I’m truthful it was more like speed-walked, we were that excited!) across the boardwalk to Sentosa Island where Universal Studios is located.

Despite arriving just as Universal Studios opened for the day, the queue was ginormous and we sweltered as we slowly weaved our way to the front. As we reached the ticket counter to purchase a two-day pass, we were kindly informed that a season pass (valid for six whole months!) was actually cheaper than buying a two day pass (only SGD$98 vs $118). Within minutes we were proud holders of season passes and swiped our way into the park for the first of many days of fun!

I’ll let the pictures take it from here…

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We stayed in Singapore 5 nights/4 days and ended up visiting Universal Studios three times, during which we bounded around like crazy kids with endless excitement. After spending our first full day there, we had already done just about all of the rides at least once, but we went back a couple more times to do our favourite rides many more times and see the shows (Waterworld! Puss in Boots!).

It also just happened, coincidentally, to be the beginning of the fourth annual Halloween Horror Nights while we were there, so we may have dropped an extra $50 on that. Halloween Horror Nights is an after hours event that runs on select nights through the month of October, and is essentially a number of creepy haunted house setups, well-makeupped actors, and spooky/scary/frightening shows & scenarios that are made to make you scream. Alan may deny it, but we definitely both got plenty of frights that night!

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A few tips for Universal Studios Singapore:

  • Evenings are best for shorter queues. The park is open until 7pm, but most families leave around 5pm when their kids start to get tired and hungry. After our first day there we would have spent multiple hours queueing. On our second day we decided to go at about 4pm in the afternoon, after spending the rest of the day doing some sightseeing in Singapore. We probably did just about the same amount of rides in both sessions! In the evening we did our favourite ride, The Mummy Returns, about three times in a row without any queue, followed by the Jurassic Park ride twice in a row. There was no queue at all so we were able to stay on our raft and go around for a second time, just the two of us!
  • Don’t take much stuff (hence all my photos being taken on an iPhone rather than my DSLR!). On the Mummy Returns ride you aren’t allowed to carry anything loose (no handbags, sunglasses, etc) as its a roller coaster in the pitch black so if something drops or falls out of a pocket there’s no getting it back! There are lockers nearby which are free for a certain length of time (45 mins I think?) but after that they become extortionately expensive.
  • You can drink tap water in Singapore, and there are tons of water fountains located around the park and in the queueing areas, so you don’t need to worry about lugging around a water bottle with you.

Despite going back to Universal Studios three times in the course of four days (it was the reason for our trip there, after all) and managing a couple of luxurious morning lie-ins, we did get out and explore a few other areas of Singapore.

I loved wandering Singapore’s Botanic Gardens - in fact I liked them even more so than Kuala Lumpur’s. This may have been because there were friendly turtles - and lots of them!!

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You can’t visit Singapore without at least one picture of the luxurious Marina Bay Sands…perhaps one day this will be our idea of a luxury hotel, but for now I’m perfectly happy so long as I've got air-con and a window!

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In Singapore we certainly managed to eat a lot! Between greasy (but delicious!) burgers, fries and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream at Universal Studios, we enjoyed plenty of mouth-watering Chinese food.

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Though we didn’t go as far as trying the fresh frog porridge that was advertised everywhere we looked in Geylang (I couldn’t bring myself to photograph the poor wee froggies in tanks outside some of the restaurants, unknowingly waiting to be hand-picked for lunch…), we did find some other delicacies that we aren’t lucky enough to have in New Zealand...ohmygosh this chocolate blew my mind!

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Looking back, I’m so glad we decided to splurge a little on these few days in Singapore. Admittedly, Universal Studios Singapore isn’t the most exciting theme park - many of the rides seem more targeted towards children - but we still had such a fantastic time and spent the majority of our time there with beaming smiles on our faces.

On our final morning we were up early and on the very first MRT of the day to Changi Airport, where we decided to make one final splurge on a flight to Kota Bahru (which would get us there in little over two hours instead of two days of train travel!). From there we were headed directly to the Perhentian Islands, known by many to be paradise. But I’m not so sure…stay tuned to hear my thoughts on these tropical islands!

Are you a fellow theme park lover? What's your favourite theme park that you've visited?


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Travel Budget & Summary: Indonesia

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So here it comes, the first of many travel budget posts, in which I disclose exactly how much money we have spent in each country we travel through.

I've been umm-ing and aah-ing over whether or not to write these kinds of posts. Talking about money is a very private subject and I worry about being judged about our style of travel by others - while we consider ourselves budget travellers, we certainly do not rough it. Some will read this and scoff that we could have done it a lot cheaper (yes, its true!), whereas others will wonder how it is possible to spend so little on a month long trip for two people!

However, I have decided to go ahead divulge exactly what we are spending on the road, as Alan and I found these kinds of posts by a number of different bloggers insanely helpful while planning how much money we needed to make this trip possible. If this can inspire just one reader to realise that living your travel dream is financially possible - and not as scary as it looks - then this will all be worth it!

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The life of a backpacker ain't so bad - Ubud, Bali

Indonesia: Our Itinerary

As New Zealand citizens, we received a 30 day visa on arrival into Indonesia (we flew into Denpasar, Bali). We stayed in Indonesia for 28 nights, and visited a grand total of four islands. Indonesia consists of more than 17,000 islands, so we barely scratched the surface!

Indonesia: Travel Budget Breakdown

Please note these costs are in New Zealand dollars (NZD), unless otherwise stated.

Total we spent over 29 days for two people: $2,307.45 ($1,153.73 per person)

Daily average per person: $39.80 (our daily budget is $50 each)

We came in 20% under our maximum budget - hooray! How about a category breakdown? Note these costs are for two people and I have rounded to the nearest dollar.

  • Accommodation: $710
  • Food and drink: $700
  • Transport: $520
  • Entertainment/attractions: $201
  • Visas: USD$70 ($35 each for visa on arrival)
  • Shopping: $50 (this includes items like shampoo and soap, but is very high for Indonesia because we purchased our Southeast Asia on a Shoestring Lonely Planet on the way to Bali!)
  • Massages: $47
  • Laundry: $10

Summary

Accommodation

On average we spent about $25 per night on accommodation ($12.50 each), however some places came in well under $20 a night and others we splurged on $30 or more a night - its all about balance, right?

We use Agoda for the majority of our bookings as they have great value 'insider' deals, and most importantly it means we can pay in New Zealand dollars via credit card, which saves us in both currency conversion fees and ATM withdrawal fees!

We always try and book accommodation that includes breakfast, to help offset the cost of food. All but two of our accommodations in Indonesia included breakfast.

We stayed in private double rooms, mostly at guesthouse style accommodations. Private bathrooms (as in, adjoined to your room and not shared) are common in Indonesia, and all of our rooms had them.

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Food

On average we spent about $25 a day on food and drink, for both of us. Mostly, this included lunch and dinner, as breakfast was usually included with the accommodation. Some of our cheapest meals were $2 for both of us (crazy cheap!), whereas our more expensive ones were western food and hovered between $15 and $20 for two (mainly Yogyakarta and Ubud). An average meal of a plate of noodles or rice-based dish with a smoothie at a sit down restaurant, cost about $8 for both of us.

This category also includes beer, which we would have most days (often one with dinner, sometimes a couple more), plus our unhealthy obsession with pringles and cornetto ice creams which is a bad habit that we are working on! Beers typically cost about 20,000 - 30,000 rupiah each ($2-3). We also had quite an unnecessary splurge on Starbucks at Jakarta airport on our final morning, ridding our wallets of our remaining rupiah.

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Transport

We hired a scooter in Ubud, Nusa Lembongan and Lovina, costing us between $5-8 a day. We love the independence of having a scooter!

We used tourist buses to get from place to place in Bali, and a mixture of local and minibuses throughout Java. We wanted to catch trains but unfortunately our route didn't really make much sense to take the railway, we would have had to combine with bus travel making it more expensive and more complicated. Long, sticky bus journeys were the best way round for us.

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We were really pleased with ourselves for coming in well under budget in Indonesia - so much so that we splurged much of what we had saved on visiting Universal Studios in Singapore! Because, um, YOLO. But thats a story for another time.

Tell me what you think - is it interesting to read about our travel budget? Are you surprised with how little (or how much) Indonesia cost us?


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How to Budget When You Travel: Trail Wallet

Please note this post is my own personal opinion and is not compensated. Trail Wallet is simply an app I have discovered and love!

Travelling for a year is a scary prospect, especially when you have worked so hard to save up so much money and all of a sudden you are going to be blowing just about all of it, albeit on the travel experience of a lifetime!

To make our hard-earned money go as far as we can on our travels, we need to be tight on our budget and manage our money wisely.

We have set ourselves a maximum budget of NZD $50 per day each (essentially $100 a day for the both of us). Having done plenty of research we know this is a feasible number to base our spending on, especially considering our travel plans are primarily within Asia, which is known to be significantly cheaper than Europe for backpackers (in most cases, anyway!).

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We know that some days we are going to splurge on once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and other days we are going to get by on the bare minimum. Sometimes all we will need to pay for is a bed and something to eat, other days we will be paying for buses, trains, planes and expensive activities. Its all a balancing act!

The question in my mind was: how on earth are we going to track our spending to ensure that we are staying within our budget? I couldn’t think of anything worse than returning home early with my tail between my legs, having run out of money because we were too lazy to track our spending.

Well, thankfully we found an app that we have been using since the beginning of our backpacking adventure (three weeks now!) that is making this seriously easy for us.

Enter: Trail Wallet.

Trail Wallet is amazing, efficient, and very simple to use.

You start by creating ‘trips’, so we are creating a trip for each of the countries we go to. You simply enter in the dates you are going to be there, and your daily budget. We create our trips as we go.

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From there, you simply enter in any expenses you have during the day. We have the app on Alan’s iPhone 5 (because apparently I live in the dark ages with my iPhone 4!), which comes with us just about everywhere so we usually enter it on the spot, however others may prefer to jot down notes of what they have spent during the day and enter it in each evening - up to you. It only takes about 5 seconds!

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There are many great things about Trail Wallet:

  • You can select the currencies you wish to use, for example our Indonesia trip was set up for NZ Dollar and Indonesian Rupiah. That way we can see every day exactly how much we are spending both in the local currency and our home currency!
  • When you enter your expenses you allocate it into a category, e.g. food, accommodation, transport, entertainment, etc. You can add categories as you wish, for example we have set up extra categories for Laundry, Massage and Visas. It is interesting to see the breakdown of your spend! Trail Wallet shows you a pie graph of your expenses so you can see what proportion of your spending are going where. Ours is a constant battle between food and accommodation.
  • You can spread expenses across multiple days, or input them in for a future (or past) date. For example, with accommodation you can split a total across three nights and it will automatically split it for you, or for renting a scooter you can split it across the amount of days you are renting for. When we book transport, we usually put it in for the day we are travelling itself, rather than they day we booked.
  • You do not need an internet connection to enter any of your spending data. The only thing you need the internet for is to initially download the app itself, occasionally check and update the exchange rates or if you want to share any of your data (you can send yourself a CSV file of it, share on Twitter or Facebook).

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With Trail Wallet you can see right in front of you what you have spent for the day, the last few days, the last month, or your entire trip. It can help hold you back on unnecessary spending because you know you have overspent for the day, or perhaps if you know you haven't spent much that day you could indulge yourself in a massage!

I will be using our Trail Wallet data to divulge what we spent in each country with a bit of a breakdown of our costs, look out for Indonesia in the next couple of weeks! So far, I am pleased to say with Trail Wallet holding us accountable we are coming in well under our overall budget.

Trail Wallet is SO easy to use and SO helpful to track your spending on the road. I would recommend this to any traveller without a doubt!

How do you manage your budget on the road?


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