Southeast Asia Budget

We were in the midst of outlining our budget for our trip in three parts (see Part 1 – South America) when a week-long vacation to South Carolina so rudely interrupted us. So now that life is back on its busy schedule, its time for us to finish the last two legs. Our second continental stop takes us to Southeast Asia, where we are planning on staying approximately three months. We’re breaking our trip down into two categories, every day expenses for our daily food, lodging and necessary transport and activities for all the crazy, unique things we will want to fill our time doing.

Every Day Expenses

The region is a backpacker haven for a region: it is cheap. Most of what we’ve read pegs decent budget hotel rooms at under $10-15, cheaper in some of the less developed nations. So as we’ve been trying to do, we’ll play it safe and budget $15 a day for hotel. Eating will also not tax our wallets. Street food can be found for less than $1, with restaurants slightly more. I’m not sure I’ll ever be motivated to cook on my own when I can get some fantastic noodles for less than a buck, so we won’t budget too much home cooking in. $10 a day should cover the occasional splurge. Since the region is fairly small, we will traveling primarily by bus, which is quite inexpensive. We will likely take a flight out to either Indonesia or the Philippines (help us decide), though even those seem relatively inexpensive at the moment due to heavy competition. $5 a day should do us handsomely. That brings us to $30 a day between the two of us.


Here’s the thing. There are actually very few special activities we want to do in Southeast Asia, at least ones we will have to arrange in advance and hire guides and shell out expensive fees for. Obviously we will go to Angkor Wat, but guides can be hired just for the day if desired and access to the park costs $20. To me, that seems to fit into the range of the general activities costs. Most of the other sights we want to see fall into this category*. So we will simply budget $10 a day for our activities and consider this done. If Angkor Wat is only $20, this should be plenty to cover our adventures.

So again, adding all of these expenses together, we plan on spending $40 a day for 90 days, or $3600. Now that I get here, I’m shocked at how little that is. I’m not as confident we’ll hit this budget as I am about our South American budget. But, I guess you can’t argue with math. As I said earlier, it’s a backpacker haven for a reason.

*There is one big activity that would blow our budget, though we have not yet officially decided on it yet. Theresa will have more on it soon.

On Burma and How We Can Help

I’m sure you all have heard, especially if you’re making it to this blog, of the tragedy in Burma from Cyclone Nargis. As bad as Hurricane Katrina was, Nargis has already killed ten times as many people, and there are many many more unaccounted for. There are stories of entire towns, houses, people and all, being literally washed off the map. Those left in its wake face even more hardship, now having to fend off disease, find food and clean water, and start putting their lives back together.

I think what strikes me most about this tragedy is how “unavoidable” it was. There are some reports that the people were not notified well enough, but first of all, there is no clear way to contact everyone as its not like there is a TV or radio in every house. Even so, I’m sure people are quite skeptical of the state run media by now, not to mention people often don’t abide by storm warnings, as we so often see in this country. The truth is that the only thing that would have really saved lives is better infrastructure, and that does not come without a stronger and more developed economy. That path was carved 30-40 years ago. So say what you will about the regime there (and we have), but there was not much they could have done to prevent this tragedy.

What they can do, however, is address the aftermath with conviction and honesty. Their people need all the aid they can get and there are people around the world willing to give it to them. This is where their actions most offend me. So far, they are making things rather difficult because of bureaucracy. The only place to get a visa into the country is through the office in Yangon, which, as you may imagine, is not very functional at the moment. I imagine this will find an expedient resolution very soon, and there are already a number of amazing organizations already in the country doing their best to provide necessities to the people of Burma. The Network for Good has a great post about the best ways to start helping the people put their lives back together. Please do what you can to help the Burmese people get back on their feet so they can go get their democratic leaders (in 2011 … if it’s not ignored this time).

Country Face-Off #1

When you’ve got the travel bug, you always want to go everywhere, see everything and do everything. This, unfortunately, does not gel too well with the real world and it’s limitations of money and time. With that in mind, we need to start trimming some of the fat off of our trip. And what better way to do that then by enfranchising you, our readers? In an series of intermittent and in-no-particular-order face-offs, we will be asking you to help us decide which of two similar countries should stay on our itinerary, and which should get the boot. So please vote in the poll at the bottom, and leave us a comment in the comments section to enlighten us about why you voted the way you did.

In our first face-off, we’re looking at two island nations in Southeast Asia.


Indonesia or Philippines

So really, both of these countries are so enormous (and islands so numerous) that we will never see all of either one. The Philippines has over 7,000 islands, but that’s dwarfed by the over 18,000 islands that make up Indonesia. Both consist of a “main” island that is the home to a majority of the population, Java for Indonesia (124 of 234 million people) and Luzon for the Philippines (40 of ~80 million people). This means these two islands are not a particularly attractive travel destination for us, due largely to the overcrowded cities, development and pollution. Disagree? We want to hear about how wrong we are.

What we are more interested in is the “less developed” part of each country. We are largely looking at the Cebu region of the Philippines, and Borneo and Sumatra in Indonesia. A little more detail on each, you say? As you wish.

Cebu City is located on Cebu island in the center of the Philippines. It is a hub for the myriad of ferries that fan out to all of the smaller islands in the region, and a quaint city in its own right. Within easy reach by boat are (obviously) beautiful white sand beaches complete with crystal clear waters, reportedly some of the best preserved WWII shipwrecks for diving (we’ll worry about that certification thing later), and the cherry on top, swimming with whale sharks at Donsol (which is actually on the southern tip of Luzon island).

Borneo and Sumatra are raw and natural islands, some areas of which have still been undisturbed by man. Borneo is known as the home of Orang Utans, pygmy elephants and pygmy rhinos, while Sumatra has its own version of each of these species and more. On Borneo, river boats go up into the jungles and the native outpost villages that exist, which sounds entirely exotic and amazing. Sumatra is a touch more developed, but not dramatically so. Plus they each have their requisite beautiful beaches and opportunities for relaxation after all that action.

So there’s a bit of an introduction for you guys. It’s a tough decision. Both are relatively inexpensive, offer beautiful scenery with a touch of adventure, but in subtly different ways. Of course, we’ve only mentioned here what we found most interesting about each country, you may be interested in entirely different aspects. Here’s some places to find a little more information if you want to dig a little deeper before casting your vote.

World Travel Guide Philippines

World Travel Guide Indonesia

Without further ado, open the polls!




Want to Help Educate Kids in Cambodia?

Today Jeff and I received an email from a friend of ours from college. Maryann was my roommate during the summer I interned in DC, and throughout college we spent many afternoons together watching Rice baseball. Since graduation, she’s been doing amazing things–teaching English in Japan as part of the JET program, working as staff abroad the Peace Boat, and most recently dedicating herself to PEPY, an organization in Cambodia that merges voluntourism with a mission to improve the lives of young people through education. Maryann is a dynamic person—the kind of person who doesn’t just talk about things but gets them done—and PEPY is a fabulous organization. (I’ll personally vouch for it’s credibility, but go ahead and check out their website and look it up for yourself if you want).

Anyhow, Maryann’s email, which I’m going to share below, is a request for help. PEPY is trying to raise money to expand their programs, and if you donate through this link— —by the end of January, you can help PEPY not only through your donation but also by upping PEPY’s chances of winning an additional $50,000 dollars. Imagine how much $50,000 can do in Cambodia. Imagine how much your donation can do.

I’m not usually one to pass on things like this or solicit people for donations, but I think this is a worthwhile project, and I believe some of you may be interested in helping out. (If you can’t give by the end of January, I’m sure they’d be happy for donations any time. Also, be sure to check out their voluntourism programs and consider joining them for what promises to be an amazing trip.) As Jeff and I are especially interested in organizations doing good work in areas which we plan to travel to, we will certainly be making a donation to PEPY.

The email:
Dear friends and family,

Your 10 dollar donation might be able to earn PEPY Programs $50,000…. can you help? No, this is not a Cambodian magic trick, but a contest for whoever can get the highest NUMBER (not amount) of online donations ($10 or more) before the end of the month. The donations have to come through this link to count

I hope you know its not my style nor PEPY’s to bug people for funding. BUT, we really think we can do this and we need your help!

If you have $10 to spare, please help us out right now by going to the above link and shooting your credit card numbers into cyberspace! This contest only lasts 8 more days so it has to be soon!

If you can’t donate right now, you can still be a huge help for us by sending this message to 5-10 of your friends and asking them to donate as well. We need to get a few hundred more donations to be in the running for this, and if half the people on this list can donate $10 and get a few friends to as well, it’s very possible.

Plus, the $10 or more that you donate through this Network For Good link will go to support PEPY’s educational programs in Cambodia, so no matter what, your efforts will be doing good! Just a little catch-up for those who aren’t in the PEPY know. Besides being my new life/job in Cambodia (yes, along with grad school still, don’t worry), its also experiencing some fabulous growing pains at the moment. So many new exciting ideas and programs in our heads! We are in the midst of planning meetings this week for our one, three and five year plans, and to give you some heads up on bigger projects in the pipeline, we have been discussing:

– purchasing land in Chanleas Dai near original PEPY Ride School in order to set up a community based development organization. The office housed there would have PEPY Program Managers working on community and parent education, school educational programs, environmental and health initiatives (designed by, and income generating training programs. They would also work with an extensive team of community leaders hired to disseminate this work into each village. (you are the first to hear this! we have been discussing this week – more to follow!)

– working with RDIC to bring their Sesame Street-esque educational series to 100+ schools across Cambodia. By working with RDIC as they hire and train local educators to visit schools monthly, equipping them with projectors and solar powered batteries with which to show each classroom of students we will help bring social, health, environmental, and literacy issues to light for communities around Cambodia. Each of the 27 minute episodes in the 13 part series (there will be a new series produced each year), also includes an educational workbook and the students are able to do lessons and activities both before and after seeing the shows.

– we are also trying to help RDIC get the $7000 per episode raised to get this first series on TV. We are confident that once these high quality animated/puppet shows are on the air, sponsors will be knocking each other over to get their name and commercial into the allotted 3 minutes of commercial time as, as already proven in testing these videos at schools and communities including The PEPY Ride School, these videos are very popular among kids and parents alike as there is NOTHING like this in Khmer.

….. and more. These are all still on the drawing board, but keep up with us over the next few months as, with our new Cambodian Country Manager, Aline Meas, who brings seven years of experience as the Executive Director of a local NGO, we are on a great path and lots of developments are in the works!

Thank you for supporting our work and please remember to donate $10 through this link, or pass it on to friends if you can!

Many thanks for your belief in me, in PEPY, and in our team and big hugs to all,


Maryann Bylander
Interim Executive Director

maryann (at) pepyride (dot) org

Phone (US): 914-458-4262
Office (Cambodia):023-222-804
Cell (Cambodia): 012 189 2120

Planning Southeast Asia

Remember when Theresa wrote up a details about all the countries in Africa we wanted to go to? Well around that time I was supposed to do my analysis of Southeast Asia in much the same way. And in typical Jeff fashion, here it is, three weeks late. In my defense, one of those weeks was in Sweden while the other was in San Diego. Throw in a weekend in Richmond, and here we are.

But tales of my procrastination and lack of organization are not why you are here. So having finally finished my leisurely 700 page read “Southeast Asia on a shoestring,” here’s the long list of places we’re most interested in going.

Cambodia: It’s definitive draw (justifiably so) are the Temples of Angkor, the most famous of which is Angkor Wat. The whole country seems dotted with these Khmer temples about a millenia old. It’s probably not the coolest thing about me, but one thing I do love about traveling is the history lessons, and Cambodia seems to have them in spades. I’m sure Theresa will humor me. It’s more recent past with the Khmer Rouge is intensely sobering, though they are arguably more important history lessons. Memorials to those lost are also required visits.

Indonesia: We may be better off going by islands rather than nations because of all the islands in Indonesia, only Borneo, comprised of three nations, and Papua, comprised of two, particularly interest us. The more well known islands of Java, Bali and Sumatra seem overcrowded, touristy, and indistinct, respectively. Anyway, we love the natural beauty, rural setting and tribal dominance that exist on Borneo and Papua, not to mention Orang Utans, pygmy elephants and rhinos to see.

Laos: It seems to be the laid back country in the region, which sounds like a welcome change after Cambodian temples and Bangkok, Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh City. Though I’m sure we’ll both relax comfortably in the charming French colonial city of Luang Prabang, I’m excited about spelunking at Vang Vieng and looking for the Irrawaddy dolphins at Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands).

Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur and it’s incredibly diverse experiences is an obvious spot to hit, but we’re really intrigued by a lot of the other options on the peninsula: trekking between villages and tea plantations in the Cameron highlands, riding a train along the jungle railway, jungle camping in Taman Negara National Park. This doesn’t even include half of Malaysia that is on Borneo (already discussed under Indonesia), with more spelunking, 4000 meter tall Mt Kinabalu to hike, and did I mention pygmy elephants?

Philippines: There are three things drawing us to the Philippines, all of them in the water. The first is the islands around Cebu, connected with a dizzying array of ferries. The second are the Calamian islands, beautiful, laid back, with some amazing diving among WWII shipwrecks (see more about diving with Thailand). The third is swimming with whale sharks in Donsol, which has got to be ridiculously cool, I mean, they’re 50 feet long!

Singapore: I don’t have much to say here besides we know we will be going there. Since we know we’ll go there, I haven’t looked so hard into what exactly we’ll do there. That will come when we start to think about how much time we’ll want to spend there. Just another victim of procrastination …

Thailand: We’ll get the obvious out of the way again, because Bangkok will probably be our first stop on the whole trip (by default … we’ll probably fly in there). It does have an absolute ton of culture and history to offer in one chaotic, slightly dirty package (which sounds a lot like Cairo to us … and we loved Cairo). There’s a lot more to do though, the beautiful and crazy resort town of Phuket, the dive mecca of Ko Tao (where we intend to get PADI certified), elephant rides and treks to hill tribe villages near Chiang Mai, and the ancient cities of Ayuthaya and Sukhothai. Thailand has a great travel reputation for a reason.

Vietnam: Finally, there’s the country that conjures up all kinds of imagery to Americans. To be frank, we’re fascinated by the country, it’s beauty and it’s hardship. Hanoi houses Vietnamese and communist history in a French colonial wrapper, while Ho Chi Minh City reveals the hardship in the War Museum, the Cu Chi tunnels and Reunification Palace. In between lie beauty at the archipelago at Halong Bay, the ruins of Hoi An and the highlands of Dalat.

So that pretty much sums up where we want to go in Southeast Asia. The one that hurts to leave off is Burma, as it seemed like a fascinating place. But as we have earlier describe, we don’t feel right about going there and supporting the current regime, especially when the democratically elected leader under house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi, has requested foreigners not to visit the country. Additional countries we won’t be traveling to include East Timor, since it is not particularly stable, and Brunei, since it’s on Borneo with Malaysia and Indonesia, countries we have more interest in visiting.

So anyway, all things considered, we’ve now finished the easy part (at least with Africa and Southeast Asia). The hard part is figuring out where we can actually go on our budget and time frame. There’s were the real parsing begins. And just like in Theresa’s Africa post, there’s a lot of overlap … beaches and islands and jungles and trekking, with a few large cities thrown in. Though to be fair, I don’t really get tired of those things.

The Situation in Burma/Myanmar

Since Jeff and I first decided to take this round the world trip–it’s been years in the making now…hurry up with the PhD already–we’ve been makings lists of places we want to go. We get a zillion travel magazines and we’ve read through books like “1001 Places to See Before You Die” and “Lonely Planet’s A Year of Adventure,” searching for locations that seem interesting to us. So far, we haven’t settled on anything certain, but we have a pretty good idea.

One of the places on our list was Burma, although it had a faint little question mark next to it. It’s a place we’d both like to discover but that we had uncertainties about. As a country led by an oppressive and illegal regime, we wondered what was the right thing to do. For political reasons, should we boycott this country, refusing to contribute money to a corrupt and cruel government? Or should we go in spite of the government, to meet the people, to better understand the situation, to try to put money into the hands of people who need it? We hadn’t really formulated an answer.

Recent events have made it such that the decision is not so difficult. Clearly Burma is a troubled and dangerous place–at the moment for travelers, probably always for citizens. And even if it calms down, I am not sure we’d go. I think before, when violence wasn’t so blatant, it was somewhat easier to justify a trip there. Now, with my political sensibilities more strongly awakened, it seems that it would be wrong to go against the wishes of democratically-elected leader Aung San Suu Ky, under house arrest since 1990, who asked that people boycott the country until the military regime is deposed and civil liberties are restored. I hope that happens soon, that these protests are not futile, that democracy is indeed on the brink of a comeback. And I hope that not just for my own petty interests, but for the welfare of a people.

What do you think? How much should issues such as these play in to decisions about travel? I’m not exactly sure if I can draw a line in the sand, establish a base criteria. I’m not going to go to somewhere that is clearly dangerous—Iraq for example. But I don’t want to not go somewhere because of sensationalized danger that is in fact, not truly there. A fair amount of people thought we were crazy to go to Egypt in 2004, but if I hadn’t had gone, I would have missed one of the most amazing and friendly places I have ever been. And what about when a place might not exactly be dangerous but is very strongly anti-American? Although I hear wonderful things about Iran, I’m not planning to go there. However, I think we will go to Venezuela, which is led by a man nearly (or just) as crazy and anti-American as Ahmadinejad. I can’t articulate my reasoning, and I can’t say that it won’t change. Often making decisions about travel has to do a lot more with your gut than your head. It’s a rapidly changing world, and sometimes even a line in the sand is a little too permanent.