I’m baaaaaack! (À la Poltergeist II)
Hey! Long time no see or talk. Read? I’m not sure. My last blog post came to you in December. Even though China doesn’t celebrate Christmas, it still turned out to be a crazy month! I know it doesn’t excuse me disappearing for the last three months, but life still gets in the way even on the other side of the world. Let me give you a rundown of things that happened since my last post:
I had a birthday, my first Christmas away from family, celebrated New Years before any of my friends (yay, International Dateline), had to give final exams and grades to university students (if you know me personally, you know how funny that sounds), and embarked on a crazy 5-week-long backpacking adventure through SE Asia. And that’s what I’m here to talk to you about!
I know that many people are curious about backpacking, the logistics, how does it even work, is it scary, etc. This was actually my first time backpacking anywhere and I’m a notorious over-packer (Why, yes. I do need the kitchen sink.) It was a great experience, I had a lot of fun and realized that I don’t need nearly as many things or clothes that I think I do.
In this post, I’m going to outline my itinerary, visa process (for US citizens only), trip logistics and one photo from each location. I will write more in-depth on each location, but without further ado, here’s what I did:
January 18th – January 23rd : Bangkok, Thailand
January 23rd – January 27th : Chiang Mai, Thailand
January 27th – February 5th : Phuket, Thailand
February 5th – February 10th : Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
February 10th – February 13th : Singapore
February 13th – February 15th : Chongqing, China (Yeah, I went home for just one day!)
February 15th – February 17th : Shenzhen, China
February 17th – February 20th : Hong Kong
February 20th – February 22nd : Macao
As a US citizen, you can receive a visa upon arrival in the country. You will follow the line for immigration and turn in your Arrival Card. I received a 30-day visa stamp in my passport. Do not lose your Departure Card for Thailand as it has a matching ID number with your Arrival Card!
For Malaysia, you will also receive your visa on arrival in the airport. I received a 90-day visa stamp here.
US Citizens can receive their visa upon arrival in the airport. I received a 90-day visa.
China is much stricter about visas and who is entering/exiting their country. I have a work permit and Z-Visa to enter and exit China freely until its expiration. I have read online that US Citizens can receive a visa upon arrival in Shenzhen. This visa is only valid for 5 days for the city of Shenzhen and costs 168 RMB. This visa would be perfect if you are staying in Hong Kong and wanted to see some of Mainland China for a day trip (you can use the metro from Hong Kong center to get to Shenzhen’s metro across the border!).
As a US citizen, you can receive a 90-day visa upon arrival at immigration. You will not get a stamp from Hong Kong, though. They give out tiny pieces of paper instead with your visa expiration (probably because of their relationship with Mainland China).
Macao’s visa process is very similar to Hong Kong’s. You do not have to do any work beforehand and will receive a visa upon arrival at the airport, border or ferry port. The visa is a small piece of paper that you need to keep with you during your stay. I only received a 30-day visa for Macao.
We used Kayak.com to map out our trip and find our cheapest flight options. For those that are unfamiliar, Kayak just looks at different companies and airlines that offer flight packages, so you do not actually book through them. On Kayak, you can adjust what days and times you want to land in each place. Be aware, the more adjusting you do, the more expensive your tickets may be, or some flights will disappear as an option. Kayak and the booking website are trying to fill flights and that’s why it’s less expensive to book all your flights at the same time instead of individually. The site will usually give you a mixture of unfavorable and favorable flights because it’s trying to fill up seats and it knows you must get to the next city. For example, we knew that there was a flight out of Bangkok at an earlier time to get to Chiang Mai, but Kayak would not let us select it since we were booking it as a bundle.
Our cheapest option, with the least amount of really early or super late flights, was Kiwi.com. Kiwi was easy enough to use, but we did have difficulty getting our payment to go through. Their server was always busy for some reason, and we had to attempt multiple times to purchase.
For hotels and hostels, we primarily used Booking.com but also used AirBnb. Booking.com is a life saver because you can find properties that will take cash at check-in instead of paying online (i.e. saving you money on foreign transaction fees if you don’t have a travel credit card). We found that AirBnB was our cheapest and best options for Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, and Macao.
Want to try backpacking but don’t own a good pack? Look no further. The Osprey Farpoint 40 is carry-on compliant (21 x 14 x 9 inches) and the large pocket opens up all the way down the sides just like a suitcase. It also has clothing straps at the bottom of the main compartment like many suitcases do. The Farpoint 40 was a breeze to use my packing cubes with and had many handy pockets to put little things and important papers in. Just remember to check weight allowances for your airline because it’s easy to go over even with just a backpack (My weight limit this trip was only 7kg!). My pack was never weighed on my trip, but many budget airlines will weigh you before boarding. Make good use of your personal item as a place to pack more items and fragile things; it makes backpacking that much easier!
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
I promise I am going to write more often now that I have a home-base and (semi) reliable internet access. I want to write individual posts about all the countries and cities that I visited so that I can help you plan a trip! Let me know if you have any burning questions but otherwise, talk to you soon!