This is my first *personal blog post and I’m already so excited to be writing this.
I wanted to share the most enlightening and self-fulfilling travel trip I’ve ever been on.
Why did I go to SE Asia you ask?
Since 2015 when I was just a freshman in college, I backpacked Italy for the first time and I got bit by the travel bug since then. I did a ton of Pinterest research on the best countries to visit for broke college kids and everyone highly rated SE Asia as the most culturally diverse, budget-friendly and fun place to go. Especially if you love tropical heat and staying in hostels to meet young adults like yourself!
For 2 years, I started saving my tips at Dutch Bros – the coffee shop I worked at all 4 years of college. I saw that on average, I would bring home anywhere from $300-$500 a month. I literally shoved that in a shoebox in my closet every day and would count it back every couple of months to see how much money I had. Once I transferred to OSU my junior year, my savings took a huge hit as my FAFSA loans didn’t cover all of my bills right away. It was a hard hit to reality and having an immense social life of going out and drinking all the time didn’t help my budget for the trip.
That’s when I got introduced to wedding videography! My senior year of college, I was juggling school, Dutch Bros, and the start of my dream business. I started seeing it as a potential to get paid to travel as I go and I felt so relieved. I didn’t feel the need to save up as much money as I had originally planned. So for my last year of college, I saved up around $3000 and flew to Chiang, Mai Thailand just 2 months after graduating.
Why did I move to Chiang Mai, Thailand?
I knew I didn’t want this to be just a quick trip. I wanted to actually live in the culture and prove to myself how independent I can be. I chose to move to Chiang Mai, Thailand because a lot of people shared online that it had great digital nomad communities AND it just so happens to host the biggest lantern festival in the world. Aka, the thing that has been on my travel bucket list since Tangled came out haha!
For 30 days, I lived in the heart of Chiang Mai in a studio apartment overlooking the mountains. I taught English online through VIPKID and met up with other solo female travelers through facebook groups. Big ones like “Girls Love Travel” helped connect me with some other Chiang Mai locals where we met at a cute bar and I found out that one girl lived in the same building as me! From that point on, her and I would explore the nightly markets together and take trips to the city for fun meet ups with other travel groups. I will never forget that incredible 30 days.
Technically, I was supposed to be there for more than 30 days… but I got into a motorbike accident and broke my right elbow and lost all the skin on my left arm. I had to fly home to get the proper medical treatment I needed before flying back out. When I decided to fly back to Asia, my sister decided to tag along and we planned a 6 country backpacking trip over 60 days. Was it intense? HELL YEAH. And after a lot of instagram polls, I’ll be sharing all of the places I went through the photos I took. Get ready!
Full SE Asia Itinerary for 60 days of travel
1 week in El Nido & Coron, Philippines
1 week in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
3 days in Chiang Mai, Thailand
3 days in Bangkok, Thailand
1 week in Phuket & Krabi, Thailand
1 week in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
4 days in Singapore, Singapore
2 weeks in Bali, Indonesia
30 days in Chiang Mai, Thailand
This was where I lived by myself in a studio apartment in the Nimman district, I played with elephants for the first time, got to attend the Mae Jo Festival and release lanterns (yes, I did cry) and where I got into my motorbike accident!
Great Wall of China – Beijing
But first, I had a 12 hour layover in Beijing, China so you know I had to book a tour to the Great Wall!
My thoughts on the Great Wall of China: Mulan definitelly made it seem like it was taller than what it was! It’s actually not that high, maybe 15 feet perhaps? Crazy to see that in real life!
Wat Phra Singh – my first temple
After settling into my apartment, I walked around my neighborhood for 3 days just exploring the shops and eating pad thai for 80 cents at local restaurants. The first temple I visited was What Phra Singh and I’ll never forget it. It’s peaceful atmosphere made me feel so happy and the ride home on the back of a Grab Bike was very exhilarating!
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
But by day 3, I called my mom crying saying how homesick I was and that it was hard for me to find friends (this was before I knew about the facebook group communities) so she bought me a ticket to an elephant sanctuary to cheer me up and…
Petting and bathing the elephants was a dream come true! They aren’t as big as African elephants and are super gentle and friendly. They educated us to avoid the elephant tours where you can pay to ride them. They taught us that the elephant caretakers treat them with cruelty to get saddles on them and elephants are NOT MEANT TO BE RIDDEN. The sanctuaries that this company was apart of was actually rehabilitating and rescuing elephants from these tour companies so PLEASE BE AWARE of this. Feeding and bathing with them was just as much fun and the caretakers will go around and help you get your perfect photo with your elephant friend <3. Please support Elephant Jungle Sanctuary when you visit.
Mass Sky Lantern Release – Mae Jo Festival
The next best highlight of my living in Chiang Mai was the Mae Jo Festival. I learned a lot about this festival while I was there. The city gets FLOODED with tourists for the week of the festival. The first 2 days of the festival was primarily for Krathongs and ceremonial candle dancing performances in the city. I even attended a krathong making class to release into the river with other locals and it was a lot of fun, but very difficult to make haha!
The festival is 4 days long and the lantern release you see all over Instagram is actually at on off-site location that you need to buy a ticket to. I didn’t realize this and I learned that the festival immediately gets sold out. I was super bummed to realize that I wasn’t going to be able to go, but then someone posted in our local Chiang Mai facebook group that they had purchased an extra VIP ticket to the mass lantern release for a photographer to come along and take photos of them and their boyfriend. A friend of mine tagged me and I immediately reached out to them. They said that they loved my work and that they would give me the extra ticket!!!
The next day, before meeting at Maya Mall to take our private VIP shuttle to the location, I walked into a tattoo shop and got a moon tattoo on the back of my elbow to commemorate the luck. Once I got to the mall, I saw huge lines to giant buses for people shuttling to the location. I found my people and saw that since we had VIP tickets, we got to ride in a smaller 6 person van with just one other group. Did that group end up being full of Switzerland male models? Yes. It was a single girl’s dream come true hahahaha. Sorry James, this was before you 😂
Before checking out the gallery below, check out the video I made of the whole festival! Once we got to the location (which was a college campus by the way), it was a couple of hours of going around and watching dancers, eating food, playing games and checking out some art booths. Once the sun set, they announced that we could start heading to the field where we could find our assigned seats with lanterns underneath. Each person got 2 lanterns to release. But before the mass release, they performed more candle dances and chanted and meditated as a group (there were thousands of people in this field, by the way!) for 1-2 hours. Once they finished, they put on some party music and got people hyped by instructing how to light your lantern over the loud speakers.
I let my couple go first so I could take photos of them and they graciously took photos of me releasing mine when it was my turn!
They gave everyone 5-7 minutes to get their lantern lit (they were really big) and then we all did a massive countdown together. When they all got released at the same time… it was mind blowing! Seriously, nothing could ever compare to this moment. Check it out!
And here are the photos of the other 3 days of the festival! Luckily, I found more couples who were down to have their photos taken by me in the city as part of their festival experience. It was so much fun to meet a new couple every day and show them around!
This was our first stop on our 2 month backpacking trip. We spent our layover in Manila and trekked more flights and ferries to get to El Nido and Coron. I ended up breaking my camera on the FIRST BOUT TOUR. I was extremely sad and I didn’t have anything but my iPhone for photos and videos for the Philippines and Vietnam. It was lunar new year (this happens in a span of 2 weeks in January) so most shops were closed and I wasn’t able to get another camera until I got to Bangkok. My fellow photographer friends will understand this heartbreak. 💔
One thing I will say about the Philippines though, I wouldn’t do El Nido or Coron again. I would go to a less remote place with more modern city infrastructure and resorts. These islands were very poor and we ended up in another motorbike accident that failed to get us up a steep hill and my sister and I suffered more injuries. Thankfully, it wasn’t as bad as my Thailand crash, but this one was definitely more traumatizing! We almost got crushed by the metal trailer, but because of the steepness of the hill, it barely missed us and tumbled back down the road. It was a great first day to start us out on this trip, that’s for sure 😂
El Nido Itinerary:
Day One – Tour A
Aplaya Restaurant for dinner
Day Two – Nacpan Beach- 45-minute van ride
Squidos for dinner
Las Cabanas Beach for sunset
Tricycle or Grab back to El Nido
Ask the hostel if there are any tours/boats we can join
- Kayangan Lake
- Twin Lagoon
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Another regret I have is not exploring more of Vietnam. We chose Ho Chi Minh City because it was the cheapest airport to get in. We decided it would be “good enough” but I wish I would’ve gone to the North to explore more of this beautiful country. Ho Chi Minh City was more known for night life and the Mekong Delta. The best part of this trip was discovering my love of the Banh Mi sandwich.
Ho Chi Minh City Itinerary:
First night on arrival: NYE on the river for fireworks
Day 2: Mekong Delta Day Tour
Day 3: Buddhist temples “Ba Thien Hau Pagoda, Ong Bon Pagoda”
Day 4: Visit the Minh Phuong Lacquare-ware Gallery (handmade dishware)
-Visit Binh Quoi Village (closed for Lunar new year) this place is known for having giant lily pads! It was supposed to be very picturesque!
-Visit Tan Dinh Church (closed for Lunary new year) this was the pink gothic church we wanted to take pictures at! We ended up going across the street to get a photo of it with our teas and pastries instead!
We spent a good 2 weeks exploring Thailand! It felt good to be back in Chiang Mai and show my sister my old apartment and hug my fried rice lady again. Miss that woman and her 60 cent plate of friend rice!
This country was also where I took advantage of the facebook groups again and asked if any couples residing in the places we were going were interested in free photos! I actually got a good amount of shoots here during my free evenings on the itinerary. It was such a win-win!
Day One: Marble Temple WHEN IT OPENS
Day Two: Erawan Museum & Ancient City
Day Three: Indoor Pool
Khao Son Road for a friday night
Visit Phuket Town in the evening after we arrive at hostel
Day One: Big Buddha in the morning
– Phuket Elephant Sanctuary
Day Two: James Bond Island Tour
Day Three: Phi Phi Island Tour
-Visit Railay Beach
– Lunch at the Grotto Restaurant
– Ao Nang Beach
-Find black light body paint
-FULL MOON PARTY
Day One: Brunch at fried rice lady shop
– Maya Mall for cheap movie
-Wat Chedi Luang at 4:00pm
Day Two: Lunch at Freebird Cafe
-Wat Phra Sing at 4:00pm
-Favorite dinner spot across the street
-Travelers meetup at November Bar
Day Three: cooking class
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Another beautiful and amazing country that I wish we would’ve explored more of. Just doing Kuala Lumpur wasn’t enough. This country has a lot of Indian influence, and we got to take a break from all the pad thai and pho we were having. It had a good mix of city and historical culture!
Kuala Lumpur Itinerary:
Day One: Thean Hou Temple morning
-Little India for lunch
-Jalan Alor Night Market for dinner
Day Two: Pool day with our hostel’s infinity pool
Day Three: Wilayah Mosque
-Ali, Muthu & Ah Hock Kopitiam for lunch
-Perdana Botanical Garden
Day Four: Batu Caves as early as possible
-walking bridges in the eco forest
-find lunch and go to Sultan Abdul Samad
I was so looking forward to Singapore after watching Crazy Rich Asians! And this is where my friend, Candy, who lived in the same building as me in Chiang Mai lives! She moved back to her home in Singapore shortly after I left Chiang Mai so I purposely added it to the list to go see her. She ended up showing us around the city in a “locals” kind of way and it was amazinnngggg. Especially the food cart place that you see at the beginning of the movie. I’ve never had such good food in my life. I remember it being weird like swordfish omelette and random meat sticks but it was. so. delicious.
Day One: *Evening only after checking in
Chill around little india at night and dinner there
Day Two: UNIVERSAL STUDIOS
Day Three: Gardens by the Bay & Cloud Forest early morning
-Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
-Old Hill Street Police Station
Day Four: freemorning
Koon Seng Road (colorful houses)
-Chinese Garden sunset
Day Five: free morning
-future world at artscience museum
-watch the supergrove trees light up at night
This was the final 2 weeks of our trip and my sister and I were exhausted at this point. Thankfully, we had some friends meet up with us to do our last stretch in Bali, together. We had a packed itinerary to get the most out of this fast developing island and it was such a highlight of the trip! Bali is getting a lot of popularity from western culture so a lot of people spoke English here and accomodated tourists well with a variety of tours. My favorite part of this trip was learning how to surf, finally!
Day One: Kynd Community for Breakfast
-Berawa Beach Sunset
Day Two: Yoga class at Dream Sea
-Give Cafe for lunch
-surf lessons on the beach
-canggu beach for sunset
Day Three: Tirta Gangga tour with Heaven’s Gate & Snorkeling
Day Four: @cabinabali floating breakfast reservation
Head to Kuta Beach at 2pm
Uluwatu at sunset
Kekak Fire Dance
Day Five: birthday!
Udaya Resort for flower bath/massage appointments
Folk Pool and Gardens for Lunch
Head back to Canggu get drinks at Finns Beach club
Day Six: free morning
Gypsy Market at La Laguna Bar at 4pm
Nusa Penida Itinerary
Day One: Check out of Dreamsea at 7am
Get the earliest ferry to the island from Sanur
Drop off stuff at hostel
Hike down to Kelingking beach
Swing by Broken Beach
Sunset at Angel’s Billabong
Day Two: Check Out
-snorkel at manta bay
-ferry back to sanur and head to ubud for beji resort check in
Day One & Two: Two Day waterfall Tour by Salt in Our Hair
Day Three: sunrise at rice terraces
-brunch at the hotel with pool and restaurant at rice terrace
-dinner in ubud with art market stroll
-facials at hotel
Day Four: Monkey Forest Sanctuary!!
Late lunch somewhere
-Campuhan Ridge Walk for sunset
Day Five: Bali Strawberry Panoramic Terrace for brunch
Chill at resort
Day Six: Check out!
-Go to tattoo appointment
-Buy last minute souvenirs
Head to airport!
And that is it my friends!
Whoop whoop! I didn’t realize how long this blog would end up being 😂
I hope you all enjoyed the journey, and hopefully one day, someone books me for their destination wedding or elopement in any of these beautiful countries! I can be your absolute guide to any of the places mentioned, but more importantly, I can tell you what to do and what not to do! Stay in touch with my travels and destination wedding work on Instagram @alesiafilms. Or head to the contact page to inquire for your day!
[…] For 2.5 years, James and Alesia didn’t see each other. Alesia was finishing up her education in Corvallis, and immediately after graduating, traveled to SE Asia with her sister. Read all about that trip here! […]