Monday, 25 June 2012

SE Asia Backpacking Series : Tokyo, Bangkok, Chiang Mai

We left a couple days ago for a 10 weeks SE Asia backpacking trip. I thought I would update you all on how things are going so far!

First, we left at 6:30 am on the 21st from the airport. We had two layovers (one in Newark and one in Tokyo) and a total of 19 hours of flight. I was able to sleep just fine thanks to my trusty ear plugs, neck pillow and Benadryl. We had to buy a charger for our cell phone in Newark since I forgot it in the car (doh!) which ended up being really expensive, but we're glad we have it since we bought a Thai sim card and we can now access Thailand's 3G network for really cheap :) It's really quite handy, I definitely recommend it if you're traveling to SE Asia! We had ramen at Narita Airport in Tokyo (10$ per bowl) which was really tasty and exciting since I loooove ramen!

We arrived in Thailand late, but had no issues finding a Guest House to stay. The city is quite lively even at night! We stayed at My House Guest House, in a really hot, tiny room. At least it wasn't expensive :) We went out for some rice noodles with chicken and egg which was absolutely delicious (so far the food has been fantastic).

The next day, we took a long walk to the MBK Center mall (about 1 hours away from where we stayed near Khao San Road). I love how you can walk around quite safely in Bangkok as long as you beware of the traffic. At the mall, we bought an adaptor to charge our laptop safely (it protects from power surges). It was really  cheap (only about 3.50$) and works perfectly :) We also went for a movie in what they call a VIP cinema. We saw Men In Black 3 which I quite enjoyed. The tickets were 8$ per person and included large comfortable reclining seats, a free drink and blankets. It's a bit expensive by Thailand's standards, but compared to what we get for 12$ back home, I'd say it's a bargain :) We stayed another night at the same guest house and left in the morning for Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai is a 13-14 hour ride from Bangkok by train. It's a little faster by bus, which we wish we had chosen instead. Our initial plan was to book a sleeper train, but there isn't any during the day (which is quite obvious now that we think about it :P). The train was quite uncomfortable and the ride seemed to last forever. I would say it wasn't the best experience all things considered. To make things worse, when we got to Chiang Mai, most guesthouses were fully booked which means we had to walk around for about an hour with our packs, during the night to find a place that wasn't full. We had a tasty, but expensive burger at Mike's Burger before we finally found some place to sleep.

We stayed at Julie's guesthouse which we really did not enjoy. It's dank, dirty, hot and dark in the room. We moved guest houses right away the next morning. We then found a much better place to stay, for only 2$ more per night. The place is called TK Guest house and offers really clean, large rooms with free wifi internet, private bathroom with hot shower and even a balcony (it's 10$ per night). I couldn't be happier with this place.

And that's about it for now! We have booked a Thai cooking class for tomorrow and I'm really excited to go! We booked with Baan Thai Cookery School a well reputed cooking school here in Chiang Mai. It was 30$ per person, which sounds like a lot, but it includes a market visit, a cooking book, making 6 dishes (which we get to eat afterwards) and drinks/snacks. I cannot wait! We get to choose between 3 options for each dish category : curry paste, curry, stir-fried, soup, appetizer and desert. We chose : green curry paste, green curry with chicken, Pad Thai, chicken in coconut milk soup, spring roll, and  mango with sticky rice. Anyway, I'm super excited about it!

Hope you all enjoyed this! Will be back in a few days with more updates about my trip :)

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Backpacking tips : how to pack for South East Asia

So I'm leaving for a 10 weeks backpacking trip to South East Asia in less than twelve hours. This means that my bag is ready to go, so I thought I would share how I fit all the stuff I need in there! :D

First, here is my backpack. It's an Outbound 55L backpack I got from Canadian Tire. I think it was around 79$. It has a front load pocket which I can access the bottom of the pack through, ajustable straps, padded back, internal frame and side pockets, to only name a few. It's perfect for a female's size in my opinion and it is very comfortable and affordable. It fits all my stuff perfectly, even though I have a tendency to over pack in terms of clothing.

This is everything I am packing into my back. Only thing that will not go into the pack is what I'm wearing on the plane (number 8 + a pair of leggings and a cami) and number 9, which will go into my boyfriend's pack.

As you can see, I divide my clothing into large freezer bags for easy packing and to help me find what I'm looking for quickly. It's neat and efficient when packing. I also divide the clothes by type, in this case : underwear, tops and bottoms.

What I'm bringing
1) Toiletry bag, if you want to see what's in there, check out the detailed post I made about it here
2) This a clothing bag, it contains all my tops
3) Hiking shoes
4) This bag holds yarn to make friendship bracelets to keep me entertained
5) Rain jacket, there is also my hoodie to the right, but you can't really see it because it's black
6) Toilet paper in a ziplock bag. Trust me, you will need it in South East Asia :P
7) This is another clothing bag containing underwear, socks, pjs and bathing suits
8) Croc shoes; those will be worn on the plane
9) First aid kit
10) Travel towel
11) Last clothing bag containing bottoms
12) Flip Flops
13) Sunscreen

A Closer Look 

First Aid Kit
This is my first aid kit, including medication, other useful accessories and insect repellent. It's quite large, but considering the duration of the trip, I don't think it's too much. We pretty much have everything covered.

I put everything in two makeup bags for easy packing. The larger the items you put in your pack, the trickier it will be since it doesn't leave many options. This way we can pretty much jam these in any available corners of the pack. We can also put only bare necessities in one of them for treks and day trips, which means we don't carry a bulky first aid kit everywhere.

As I mentioned, I divided all my clothes by category into freezer bags. I rolled everything up in the bags to make them as compact as possible.

I have three bathing suit tops, 2 bottoms, 1 pair of pj bottoms, two tube tops. Not pictured : I also have 18 pairs of underwear in there (perhaps overkill, but I'm leaving for 72 days and hopefully I won't need to do the laundry too many times), 7 pairs of socks and 5 bras

I'm bringing 3 pairs of shorts (two of which are jeans material), a pair of hiking capris, a pair of black leggings, a jeans skirt and a pair of jeggings.

I might be bringing too many tops here, but again, 10 weeks is a long time and it all fits :P These are all tank tops. I also have a short sleeved shirt, but I was wearing it when I took the pictures. I figured since it will be really hot in SE Asia I don't really want to wear too many times the same shirt before washing it. These are all cotton and quite light weight.

How to pack it all in a backpack
It might seem like a lot to put inside my small backpack, so I thought I'd show you all how you can achieve the same :) 

First, I fit my toiletry bag at the bottom of the bag. It's the heaviest item in my pack and I like to have quick access to it. Since my pack has a front load pocket, I can still reach it easily even though it's at the bottom of the pack.

Then, I fit my hiking shoes on top before I zip up the pocket. They are heavy and kinda dirty so I don't want them in contact with my clothes. I don't mind having them touch my toiletry bag since it's plastified.

Then, I start filling the upper part of my pack through the opening at the top. I start by placing two of the freezer bags containing the clothing standing up side by side. 

Then, I place the third freezer bag flat over the two other bags. I also add my sunscreen (which is protected by a cosmetic bag in case it explodes) on top.

Then I just keep adding lighter things over until the pack is completely filled. Here, I added the yarn and my rain jacket which I rolled up.

Lastly, before I close the pack, I added my backpacking towel on top. (I can't wait to give it a try, I brought and extra large and was really surprised of how big it is even though it packs really tiny).

Now that the main compartment is filled, I place the toilet paper in the pocket inside the hood of my pack. That way I can reach it really easily at all time. Last thing you want is to dig inside your pack every bathroom break!

As of right now, I only have one of the side pockets filled. It contains my flip flops. Again, easily accessible, which is great.

This is how the pack looks when it's finished and full. I weighs 20,4 pounds which I think is very reasonable for a 10 weeks trip. Last time I went on a backpacking trip, I stayed 1 month and my pack weighed 17 pounds (at the time I also thought it was quite light). Anyhow, 20 pounds is quite easy for me to manage and doesn't block my movements, so it's perfect.

Plane Necessities
Here is my carry-on for the 29 hour flight ahead of me! It contains all my long haul flight necessities for comfort and entertainment.

I chose this cross body shoulder bag I got in Honduras a couple years back. I love it because it's lightweight, can contain a lot and it's festive for travelling, but most of all, because it's cross body, making it safer to keep your belongings when you're on the go!

In my carry-on :
-Plaid bag : Ipod, charger, ear phones
-Pink bag :  Camera and kindle chargers
-Zebra and red holders : Passeports (this way they are protected from humidity in SE Asia)
-Fuzzy socks (I hate getting cold and I'm wearing open shoes)
-Camera in Hello Kitty case
-Ear plugs in case things get noisy
-My glasses in their case and my sunglasses
-Pink notebook
-Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and Pseudoephedrine (oral decongestant in case I get a runny nose, it's also useful if your ears are sensitive to the quick altitude variation when landing since it's often related to your airways being congested, which I often am)
-Kindle with tons of books
-Inflatable neck pillow with fuzzy cover (it's really soft and packs up tiny)
-Baby wipes and makeup wipes to freshen up during and after the flight
-Eye cream
-Hand Salve
-Antibacterial gel
-Toothbrush and tooth paste
-Lip balm

That's all my must haves on a long haul flight! Hopefully I haven't forgotten anything and will be able to be comfy during the flight. I also have my immunisation booklet (not a clue how it's called in english), IDs, credit cards, plane tickets and all that good stuff in there as well.

And this is all I'm bringing on my 10 weeks trip to SE Asia! Hope you enjoyed and that it helped :) I will start updating with my trip soon, since I'm leaving in 6 hours!

Big thanks to my mom for helping me make this post happen! She helped me loads with pictures since I was a little short of time :)


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