4 Months in SE Asia

2019 was our first full year of early retirement and our first year as full-time travelers. We were excited to spend our first few months of 2019 in an area that would feel very new and different, and we picked SE Asia for that experience. That turned out to be a great region for us to adjust to the idea of spending all of our time learning about new places in our new nomadic lifestyle. We are curious people and we love the idea of being in a perpetual state of cultural humility as we try to adapt to new surroundings. As nomads we try to live as much like locals as possible, even though we are basically outsiders and guests everywhere we go. The main thing we keep in mind is that if our experience in a particular location isn’t great, that usually has more to do with mistakes we make as travelers rather than a flaw in the place itself. As we like to say — we are not perfect, we are just us!

It’s all about geoarbitrage. We decided to spend the first 4 months of 2019 in SE Asia, to balance with two months in France and one month in Scotland where we planned to spend the summer. As soon as those first few trips were behind us we were excited to look back and think about what we had learned so far.

That’s us in Singapore just a few days into our 4 months in SE Asia.

Looking Back at 4 Months in SE Asia

The first goal we had while living in SE Asia was to try to keep our spending at 75% or less of our average monthly budget. Our average daily spending goal for 2019 was $115 per day, or $57.50 per person per day (PPPD). That’s total dollars spent for the two of us in each city. Doing the math, that meant our goal while living in SE Asia was to keep our spending at or below $65 per day as a couple, or $33 PPPD. Full disclosure: Our daily spending goal number represents our variable expenses for things like housing, food, in-city transportation, and fun. That does not include our fixed expenses such as our global medical insurance or the small storage unit we keep in Seattle.

Our second goal while living in SE Asia was to identify a few places that we would be interested in returning to for 1-3 months at a time in the future, regardless of Visa limitations. We were adapting to a really different mode of travel compared to when we were tourists on vacation, because we were evaluating places in terms of how happy we were living there rather than just based on seeing a few sites.

Spending Overview

The following table lists each of the locations we stayed in during our 4 months in SE Asia. The locations are listed in order of total cost PPPD from lowest to highest, not in the order that we actually stayed in each location. The numbers and comparisons give some hints about where we overspent in various categories. And since we had very different experiences in each location with wildly different housing costs for example, the numbers can be misleading. The actual cost of living in each place is often masked by our spending choices in each place. For more detail on our spending during this trip check out our blog post, Q2 Update – Geoarbitrage 2019.

Location Details

Each of the 11 locations we slept in over our 4 months in SE Asia are described below. Details about our experiences as well as our spending mistakes and successes are included for each location.

Country 1: Singapore (8 nights total)

Before we left on our trip, everyone we talked to about Singapore described it as an awesome layover place that only appeals to people who love luxury travel and shopping. So we assumed we might feel like outsiders there and we planned to use it as a place to recover from jet lag and to start acclimatizing to the hot and humid SE Asian climate. But instead of it feeling like a long layover, we spent our time getting to know different neighborhoods in hopes of staying longer on our next trip. This island city-state is very green and diverse, and it’s a great place for people who love exploring outdoors. That’s us!

Singapore: 8 nights, $20.62 PPPD

The fabulous view from the Marina Bay Sands SkyPark.
Housing: $3.86 ($0.24 PPPD)

Housing in Singapore is not cheap, so we travel hacked by staying in a hotel on points. We got a room at the Hilton Garden Inn for 8 nights for a total of 140,000 points plus a few bucks in taxes. It was nice to start the trip off with a budget success story!

Food: $192.12 ($12 PPPD)

We had massive free hotel breakfasts every day, and then paid for lunch and dinner out. We left Singapore craving more street food and wished we had visited more of the amazing night markets during our stay.

Fun: Free

We certainly had lots of fun in Singapore, but we didn’t pay any admission costs. We visited the Botanic Gardens, the Wetland Reserve, and saw 2 Super Tree Grove concerts, all for free. We even got into the Marina Bay Sands SkyPark since we had friends staying there who gave us their spare hotel card keys and got us in free.

Transportation: $64.68 ($4.04 PPPD)

Our hotel was not in the same neighborhood as the night markets and parks we were drawn to, so we used the light rail system every day and took Grab cars to go longer distances.

Best Parts of This Trip

We loved spending tons of time outside enjoying gardens and public parks. We also had the added bonus of hanging out with friends who happened to be traveling to Singapore at the same time. And we loved the street food once we found what we really liked. Most importantly, we visited Singapore for around 36% of our daily budget because we travel hacked the housing part of our stay. BOOM!

Ideas For Next Time

We definitely plan to return to Singapore again in the future, hopefully as house sitters so we can avoid housing costs again and maybe even stay longer next time.

Read our Singapore post.

Country 2: Malaysia (17 nights total)

This was our first visit to a country with Sharia laws, which can be intimidating or even dangerous for women and LGBT+ people. To be clear, we will not limit ourselves to traveling only to liberal countries where no civil rights issues exist (there are few of those in the world or maybe none, depending on how you look at things). But we do want to be safe and comfortable when we travel. In Malaysia we were extra careful to respect the provision that prohibits all acts of “public indecency.” And we were hyper aware that public displays of affection are taboo. That was a bit uncomfortable for us, but it was doable. Malaysia is a beautiful country both in terms of green space and architecture, and the people we met were very friendly and welcoming.

Kuala Lumpur (KL): 8 nights, $44.01 PPPD

That’s us in KL in front of the gorgeous Sultan Abdul Samad Building.
Housing: $354.16 ($22.14 PPPD)

We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn Kuala Lumpur Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman South, which is the longest hotel name I’ve ever seen. This hotel is in Chow Kit, which is not the best part of town but the rooftop deck was a fabulous place for us to hang out every night with fantastic views over the city. Which is probably one of the reasons this hotel was more expensive. Unfortunately, we overspent on our housing costs in this location.

Food: $291.72 ($18.23 PPPD)

This hotel had a disappointingly limited breakfast spread. I have to admit, the Malay food we tried at the hotel and also from the local night market was not our favorite. Eventually as we explored further and further out we did find a night market with a variety of Asian street food options that we loved, but it was a really long Grab ride from our hotel and we didn’t find it until the end of our trip. We definitely had some significant food failures in this location.

Fun: Free

We walked all over KL to check out street art and local architecture. We also visited the gardens and national monument areas. And we visited the world famous Hindu temples in the Batu Caves. All for free!

Transportation: $36.35 ($2.27 PPPD)

Since we were not in love with our neighborhood we took Grab cars longer distances every day. We did take the very disconnected local transit system back to the downtown core and then out to the Batu Caves once as well.

Best Parts of This Trip

We enjoyed the gardens, the architecture, the street art, and especially the Batu Caves.

Ideas For Next Time

There were two main reasons we wanted to stay in KL. The first was so we could take a day trip to the Batu Caves, and the second was to leave from KL to visit Taman Negara for some national park time. Sadly, the Taman Negara canopy walk was closed for maintenance while we were in the area so we never made it out there. We probably would have been more comfortable in KL if we had picked a different neighborhood to stay in. And we definitely would have been more comfortable if we were in a home instead of a hotel so we could have cooked for ourselves. We left KL knowing that we made a ton of mistakes in this city. But we would be open to returning to KL in the future to have a do-over, especially since we later made friends with some KL locals who gave us a ton of tips and recommendations. We know we can do better next time!

Read our Kuala Lumpur post.

George Town: 9 nights, $28.42 PPPD

That’s us at the Chew Jetty piers in George Town.
Housing: $356.01 ($19.77 PPPD)

We found an Airbnb at the Straits Garden Suite apartment building in the Jelutong neighborhood, and we loved it there. It had a full kitchen and great views, so we really settled in there and felt at home.

Food: $122.46 ($6.80 PPPD)

We mostly ate food we cooked at home since we had a nice grocery store we could walk to. We did go out for a couple of dinners during our stay, and we also found some great street food at our neighborhood night market and in other places around George Town as well.

Fun: Free

Our favorite adventures were visiting the Botanic Gardens and walking up Penang Hill. Though we also loved checking out street art, temples, and the Chew Jetties. All for free!

Transportation: $33.06 ($1.83 PPPD)

We traveled around the island in Grab cars when we wanted to visit other neighborhoods, gardens, and cool urban areas. We also paid to ride the Funicular Rail back down Penang Hill after hiking up.

Best Parts of This Trip

Everyone we met was friendly and welcoming. We loved our Airbnb and we appreciated our ability to grocery shop a few blocks from home and cook for ourselves most of the time. We spent a lot of time walking outside and really enjoyed all of the garden spaces and urban areas we visited. And thankfully, we also found some really yummy street food.

Ideas For Next Time

Compared to our mistakes in KL, we didn’t make any real mistakes in George Town and we left saying we would enjoy returning to this hip island community again for a longer stay in the future. We enjoyed our neighborhood on this trip, but we also picked out a different area during our walks that we’d love to try staying in on our next visit.

Read our George Town post.

Country 3: Thailand (50 nights total)

We intentionally planned to spend the longest time in any one country on this trip, in Thailand. All of the people we knew who had vacationed in Thailand said they loved it, and all of the blogs I read described it as a popular place for expats and frequent travelers. Plus, Thailand is heavily marketed as being super friendly for LGBT+ travelers. With all of that combined, we were determined to love Thailand. But we learned from the people we met that the burden of tourism on the local culture is really quite rough. We also learned that traditional Thai culture is actually rather unaccepting for LGBT+ people. Admittedly, Thailand was not our favorite country but we definitely had some amazing experiences there. We have enough friends in Thailand now that we look forward to returning and we feel like we know how to adapt and live in communities away from tourist centers.

Phuket: 11 nights, $39.80 PPPD

That’s us with one of the dragon guardians at the Big Buddha temple.
Housing: $165.88 ($7.54 PPPD)

Our only real home in Phuket was the one we borrowed for 7 nights as house and cat sitters, and we loved it there. At the end of our house sit we decided to stay in Phuket a little longer and spent 4 nights at an Airbnb, and we definitely did not love it there.

Food: $402.03 ($18.27 PPPD)

Our new buddy from our house sit gave us a list of her favorite restaurants. She doesn’t cook at home much, so we picked out some of her favorite restaurants and followed her example in her neighborhood. We quickly found our own favorite spots and returned to them daily, sometimes with our local friends. The food was excellent!

Fun: Free

We enjoyed our share of tourist activities in Phuket, including the Big Buddha and Wat Chalong, and walking along Rawai Beach. All for free.

Transportation: $279.50 ($12.70 PPPD)

Since we were living in an expat condo community just north of the Rawai Beach area for most of our trip and nothing was walkable from there, we had a rental car. When we moved to an Airbnb in the middle of the Rawai Beach area we had to get rid of our rental car because they wouldn’t let us park it at the apartment complex. We ended up taking 2 Grab rides during our stay, first to get back to our Airbnb the night we had to ditch our rental car, and second to get to the bus station when it was time to leave Phuket. The rental car added more to our expenses than we would have liked.

Best Parts of This Trip

This was our first house sitting experience outside of the US, and we loved it. Because of our house sit we met a well-traveled and gracious fellow traveler that we have kept as a good friend. We lived very comfortably in her condo and we even had neighbors to chat with every day. One lady brought us Thai breakfast treats every morning on her way home from dropping off her kid at school. Her expat husband was excited to talk to us every day about whiskey, football, or American taxes. The fact that our house sit buddy introduced us to a bunch of her neighbors and friends made us feel very connected while we were there, and the resident gang of cats we were taking care of as house sitters kept us thoroughly entertained. We loved having favorite restaurants to hang out in, and friends to eat out with.

Ideas For Next Time

Our rental car was a big negative hit to our budget. And our Airbnb experience was a bit of a failure. Additionally, being in the Airbnb put us much more in view of Phuket’s “anything goes” culture for tourists and we were uncomfortable knowing the ways that negatively impacts the local Thai community. To be clear, we saw a lot of Westerners acting way, WAY too privileged, and that was GROSS. So we’d love to return to Phuket to housesit for our buddy. And we’d do a better job of avoiding the tourist scene in the future. We’d also need to hack the rental car option next time with points or a borrowed car since that was so expensive and we are too scared to zip around on a scooter.

Read our Phuket post.

Surat Thani: 1 night, $32.41 PPPD

It’s kind of goofy to include this one night stopover on the list, but since we did stay over night and this stay factors into our numbers for this country and for this whole trip, it’s worth including. Plus, we liked this experience and don’t want to ignore it.

That’s us enjoying our hot pot dinner. Our best dinner in Thailand!
Housing: $36.35 ($18.17 PPPD)

We stayed at the Little PP Hometel, which is a name that is easy to make fun of and brings out the 12 year old in me.

Food: $28.47 ($14.23 PPPD)

This hotel didn’t have a free breakfast unfortunately. Since our stay was short we ate in restaurants while we were there. The only meal worth mentioning was the dinner we found by accident, which is perfect since we had no plan to be in Surat Thani in the first place. We were walking to the night market but we ran out of patience and stopped at the first restaurant we found. That was definitely the best meal we had in Thailand. The funny part is that our huge delicious restaurant dinner with beer, cost only $1.28 more than our small uninteresting overpriced hotel breakfast.

Fun: Free

We were in town for only one night so we didn’t do more than walk past one good looking temple on our way to dinner.

Transportation: Free

We did some walking but our stay was too short for any in-city transportation needs.

Best Parts of This Trip

We only stayed one night and we were only there because we wanted to take a break after the long bus ride from Phuket, before taking a ferry over to Koh Samui. The most memorable detail was that fabulous dinner.

Ideas For Next Time

We saw very little of Surat Thani but we both left wishing we had stayed longer. We’d be interested in visiting this location again in the future and really giving it a try. And since we only stayed one night there’s no City Report for Surat Thani. But if we return for a longer stay and get to know it better we will write one.

Koh Samui: 17 nights, $17.70 PPPD

That’s us enjoying our morning coffee and the stunning views on the patio.
Housing: $237.45 ($6.98 PPPD)

I had read that Koh Samui has the highest hotel prices in Thailand and in SE Asia, and I believe it. We spent 3 nights in the COSI Samui Chaweng Beach Hotel, which was my attempt at finding an affordable hotel in this location even though it was still way over our budget. Thankfully, we also spent 14 nights house sitting at zero cost.

Food: $322.55 ($9.49 PPPD)

For our first couple of days staying at a hotel we ate out every day, and after that we were able to go grocery shopping and cook at home.

Fun: $5.76 ($0.17 PPPD)

We paid admission to visit the Secret Buddha Garden, and we were glad we did because it’s a really cool place.

Transportation: Free

We walked everywhere while we were staying at the hotel, and then we were able to borrow a truck from our house sitting hosts for the rest of our trip. Having that truck with a full tank of gas was an amazing gift. Our new buddies also picked us up when it was time for our house sit to start, and they drove us to the airport when it was time to leave. So we spent zero dollars on transportation during this trip.

Best Parts of This Trip

We look back at this as our all time favorite house sitting experience so far. We got to know some really good people that have become good friends. We had a pack of dogs to keep us company and entertain us while we were there. We got to keep ourselves busy by helping out with the 2 Airbnb rentals that our buddies own next door to their home (which got us talking about the idea of having a rental property again someday). We were in a nice home near a grocery store and we had a truck to drive for free. So our stay in this location was extremely affordable, very relaxing, and really enjoyable!

Ideas For Next Time

To be honest, we would not travel to this location on our own for the general “luxury tropical beach for cheap” experience. But we would be thrilled to return to house sit for these guys again. Any time!

Read our Koh Samui post.

Chiang Mai: 21 nights, $39.92 PPPD

That’s the view from our Airbnb looking directly at the sun at 10am, on a really bad air quality day during burning season.
Housing: $618.80 ($14.73 PPPD)

This was our favorite Airbnb home in SE Asia and we really feel at home there. We do not look for luxury as full-time travelers but we do look for comfort, and we didn’t have to live as nomads for long before we realized that finding a place with even one comfortable chair is rare. This apartment belongs to an expat who lives there most of the time and then travels back to Europe when his place is rented, which means it has real character and is setup to be very comfortable to live in. And it was cheap!

Food: $612.18 ($14.57 PPPD)

We ate out a few times, but mostly we shopped for groceries and cooked for ourselves at home.

Fun: $206.54 ($4.92 PPPD)

We spent one day in a cooking class, and for $35 total we got a cultural experience, some amazing new friends, and a fun dinner. We also went out to the movies one night for $13.91 total and saw the latest American blockbuster just like we would have if we still lived back in Seattle. We also had the prescribed Thailand tourist experience and visited what is probably their most ethical elephant nature park for $157.63, which I suppose we needed as an educational experience but we did not enjoy.

Transportation: $70.54 ($1.68 PPPD)

Because the city was having seasonal air quality issues we weren’t out walking the way we had hoped to. We took Grab cars everywhere.

Best Parts of This Trip

Chiang Mai is packed with expat communities and services, which we initially thought would appeal to us. And it did work out as planned. Mostly. We were happy in our apartment, shopping at the market and cooking for ourselves. We were there so long that we did normal stuff like go to the movies, go to the dentist to get our teeth cleaned, and go to a travel clinic for vaccinations. We also took a Thai cooking class where we met some amazing fellow travelers that we kept hanging out with during our stay and in other locations after that, and they have become good friends. Additionally, we had been chatting online with a new internet friend during our travels through SE Asia and while we were in Chiang Mai our schedules finally lined up and we met in person. We felt like we met long lost family in them since they were fellow nomads from the FIRE community. It was amazing to meet internet friends in person, and all of those sunset beers resulted in real friends as well as some valuable nomad lessons.

Ideas For Next Time

The only real mistake we made in Chiang Mai was in our timing, since we arrived at the start of burning season and spent 3 weeks mostly in bad air quality conditions. Even though I had read about burning season online it seemed pretty minor so we were caught off guard when the smoke really settled in. That was a spectacular rookie mistake! But we adapted. We bought air masks as directed just like the locals. And we look forward to returning to this location during winter next time, though we promise to leave before burning season starts. If we’re lucky we’ll stay in the same Airbnb because it really was a great fit for us.

Read our Chiang Mai post.

Country 4: Cambodia (6 nights total)

Originally we wanted to spend 2 or 3 weeks in Cambodia. We had 5 cities we were excited about after getting awesome recommendations from a family friend who lived in Cambodia for years. The plan was to visit Siem Reap first and then pick 1 or 2 more locations for a week each depending on whether we were going to spend 2 or 3 weeks total in this country. But after we booked our 2 house sitting trips in Thailand we essentially took days we had planned for Cambodia and spent them in Thailand instead. During our extremely limited visit we saw a beautiful country with incredibly warm and welcoming people who are excited about the growth and change they see coming over the next generation or so. We are looking forward to spending more time in Cambodia in the future.

Siem Reap: 6 nights, $59.28 PPPD

That’s us at Angkor Thom!
Housing: $254.82 ($21.23 PPPD)

We stayed at the Mekong Angkor Deluxe Hotel, and we were really happy there. But it was relatively expensive and counts as overspending for this region.

Food: $207.50 ($17.29 PPPD)

The hotel had a great free breakfast with tons of options. We also had dinner at the hotel all but one night, since they had a great happy hour with really cheap food and beer. We did have dinner out one night at a nicer restaurant that our tuk tuk driver buddy recommended and drove us to, which was an excellent meal with wonderful local cuisine.

Fun: $156 ($13 PPPD)

We got 3-day Angkor Passes for $78 per person, and we saw some of the most amazing sites we have seen anywhere in our lives so far in the Angkor Archaeological Park. The cost was absolutely worth it. We actually wished we had more days in the area so we could have paid for more access to see more of their sites.

Transportation: $33 ($2.75 PPPD)

We met a pair of brothers the day we arrived and decided to stick with them for the week. One of them drove a sedan taxi, which was perfect for our trips to and from the airport and our one really early morning drive out to the temples. The other brother drove a tuk tuk, which was perfect for rides around Siem Reap and more rides out to the temples. We thought it was fun to stick with these guys for all of our rides and appreciated hearing about their family and their experiences during the war, as well as current conditions in Cambodia and where they see the country heading over the next generation.

Best Parts of This Trip

We had a great time being tourists in Siem Reap. We really enjoyed visiting the main temples and taking long walks all over the historic sites we saw. We also loved the food. Our hotel had excellent free breakfasts, and really great and very cheap happy hour food and drink specials for dinner. The brothers we met who drove us around also did a great job of taking us to different local restaurants to enjoy while we were out and about, and they gave us a deeper glimpse at their homeland.

Ideas For Next Time

We would definitely enjoy returning to Siem Reap for more temple experiences in the future. But our stay in Siem Reap was over our budget. Our hotel was too pricey and eating restaurant food every day, even cheap restaurant food, really adds up. And of course the park passes were expensive at $78 per person. So really our trip to Siem Reap was more like a vacation and not at all like our new normal way of living in the places we visit as nomads. But it definitely felt worth it. We would be happy to return to Siem Reap to see more temples. But it’s more likely that we will visit other places in Cambodia in the future.

Read our Siem Reap and Angkor post.

Country 5: Vietnam (28 nights total)

Our Vietnam experience was a reminder that we often love the places other people tell us we won’t like. Pretty much every person we talked to about visiting Vietnam essentially said, “Don’t go there you will hate it.” Even the people we know who are from Vietnam told us we shouldn’t bother visiting Vietnam. Well everyone was wrong because our favorite country overall after 4 months in SE Asia was definitely Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh City: 6 nights, $32.30 PPPD

That’s our alley neighborhood, which is full of apartments and small restaurants.
Housing: $120.80 ($10.06 PPPD)

We stayed in a tiny Airbnb at the far end of a really cool alley in District 1. It was a great little place and it was definitely in an excellent location. And it was crazy cheap!

Food: $140.40 ($11.70 PPPD)

Even though our Airbnb was tiny it had a little kitchenette that we could cook in. We did some grocery shopping and ate breakfast at home every day and also cooked a couple of dinners at home. We also had lots of street food lunches and a bunch of great restaurant dinners.

Fun: $6.88 ($0.57 PPPD)

We paid for admission to Independence Palace and got a half day of exploring plus a deeper understanding of Vietnamese history. Totally worth it.

Transportation: $53.29 ($4.44 PPPD)

We had trouble getting our Grab app to cooperate when we arrived at the airport, so we did have one taxi ride where we were outrageously overcharged. We were later told we probably spent at least triple what we should have for that 20 minute ride. Oh well! But we also had a lot of cheap Grab rides there for the rest of our stay.

Best Parts of This Trip

This is the country we are most excited to return to in SE Asia. We got to know some people on our first visit that are like family to us now, which is probably what we love most about HCMC and Vietnam overall. Alison has an ex-coworker from Vietnam that she worked closely with for over 20 years and he always called Alison his sister. He put us in touch with a young relative of his, and told us to think of her as our cousin. When we arrived in HCMC our new cousin and her fiancé gave us the warmest welcome imaginable along with a ton of information about Vietnam. She shared her enthusiasm for her country with us, and when it was time for us to leave she gave us a list of recommendations for the other Vietnamese cities and villages we should visit in the future. She also invited us to her wedding. We loved our little Airbnb and the neighborhood we stayed in. We had a great time taking walks along the river every day. And we absolutely loved all of the food we tried. The most memorable meal we had in HCMC was a huge seafood dinner at a cool restaurant on the river where we spent the evening with our new Vietnamese cousin and her fiancé.

Ideas For Next Time

Except for making sure we avoid the “Vietnamese taxi mafia” from now on as we were warned about repeatedly after that one bad experience, there’s not a single thing we would do differently next time. Other than stay longer in the future of course.

Read our HCMC post.

Hoi An: 14 nights, $25.18 PPPD

That’s us on a little bridge over the Thu Bon river.
Housing: $363.25 ($12.97 PPPD)

This is the first location where we got away from our old habit of pre-booking everything far in advance. This time we only booked 5 days and then let the rest of the stay come together as we got to know the place better. We spent 5 nights in the Vinh Hung Library Hotel and when we decided to stay in Hoi An longer I looked for Airbnb options in the old town area. I didn’t find an Airbnb in the area we wanted to be in so I booked 5 nights in a homestay, which is essentially a bed and breakfast. We loved that homestay experience so much that we decided to stay longer in Hoi An again and I booked another 4 nights in a different homestay so we could meet more people and get a different view of the island.

Food: $262.73 ($9.38 PPPD)

We had wonderful free breakfasts at our hotel and at both homestays. We also had awesome street food and some great restaurant experiences. The food in Hoi An is so good and so cheap!

Fun: $48 ($1.71 PPPD)

We paid for a bicycle tour around the islands, and got far more than we paid for. The day was full of cultural experiences, time spent with locals and fellow travelers, exercise and fresh air, plus amazing food. It was a bargain!

Transportation: $19.95 ($0.71 PPPD)

We walked all over old town Hoi An. And we did have three Grab cars during our stay including the rides to and from the airport, and one ride when we were leaving our hotel and moving across the river to our homestay when we didn’t feel like carrying all of our bags on our backs in the heat.

Best Parts of This Trip

We had a great time settling into Hoi An because it has a ton of historic charm. Every person we met treated us like welcome guests and friends. Because we stayed as long as we did we had some really good conversations with locals. We learned a lot about the area from the women running their homestay businesses and we also got to visit with their families including their kids, parents, and husbands and that was a huge bonus. We also had some mind-blowing conversations with the 2 local women we met on our bike tour who shared tons of info about their families, social circumstances, customs and traditions both in their town and in Vietnam. We also got recommendations for the street food and restaurants these locals like best and the food was all truly spectacular. And we loved being more spontaneous with the length of our stay and our housing choices, which finally helped us learn how to be more flexible and spontaneous travelers.

Ideas For Next Time

Even though this little village is very touristy, we love Hoi An. We met so many interesting people and learned so much about the area that we feel prepared to return and have an even better experience on our next visit. I honestly can’t believe most people only visit Hoi An for 2 or 3 days because this place is a gem!

Read our Hoi An Post.

Hanoi: 8 nights, $44.03 PPPD

That’s us during one of our walks around Hoan Kiem Lake.
Housing: $180.82 ($18.80 PPPD)

We stayed 6 nights in an Airbnb in the Old Quarter, followed by 1 night on a cruise, and then 1 last night in the Hilton Garden Inn Hanoi on points. I picked the Airbnb because it pretended to have a sofa bed in the living room and one of our friends was flying in to join us on our travels. Turns out it was not a sofa bed but our buddy is a really good sport and it was only for one night. Plus it was free for her! But the apartment was comfortable other than the non-sofa bed issue so we enjoyed being there. Our stay at the Hilton Garden Inn cost only 10,000 points and they didn’t charge a single dollar to my card for breakfast, taxes, or any other fees.

Food: $231.46 ($14.47 PPPD)

We found a grocery store in Hanoi and mostly ate food we cooked for ourselves at home during our first 5 nights in Hanoi. We had 1 great lunch out and then went back to take our buddy there for a wonderful meal the day she arrived. On our last night in Hanoi, we had dinner out at a nice restaurant and free hotel breakfast at the end of our stay.

Fun: $260 ($130 PPPD)

That Ha Long Bay overnight cruise was quite an impressive tourist excursion, and probably the best one we have ever had. The cost included a bus ride to and from Hanoi, housing for one night, three meals, plus a bunch of mini excursions along the way. We went on that cruise with a friend which made it even more amazing, and we also met a bunch of new friends from all over the world while we were there. Our little cabin on the boat was just fine, and of course we barely spent any time in it. The food on the cruise was pretty darn good, and the cocktails were great. Best of all, the sites were unlike anything else we have ever seen before. Honestly this was a bucket list experience for us and it was completely worth it!

Transportation: $32.20 ($2.01 PPPD)

We took 3 Grab car rides while we were in Hanoi. One from the airport to our Airbnb when we arrived, another one to our hotel after the cruise, and another one back to the airport when it was time to leave.

Best Parts of this Trip

The highlight of our stay in Hanoi was having our good friend join us for the Ha Long Bay cruise, which was a bucket list experience for all of us. It was amazing, and traveling with our buddy was priceless. While we were staying in Hanoi’s Old Quarter we did love our Airbnb and the ability to cook for ourselves at home. We also loved taking walks around Hoan Kiem Lake Park. And we were thrilled to find one local street food/restaurant where we felt really welcomed and enjoyed some excellent food along with a fun community vibe.

Ideas For Next Time

I thought it would be great to stay in the Old Quarter in Hanoi with its historic vibe, but I have to admit it didn’t quite live up to our expectations. I would definitely pick a different area for a shorter time on a future visit. And I would probably plan for us to quickly leave the city to venture out and spend our time in smaller, more charming northern Vietnam villages on our next trip.

Read our Hanoi and Ha Long Bay post.

After 4 Months in SE Asia — What Did We Learn?

We visited 5 countries in SE Asia over 4 months: Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. We expected to love Thailand the most, probably because other people we know or read blogs from loved Thailand so much. But our favorite country overall was Vietnam.

We often like smaller towns more than big cities. And we definitely enjoy cities with lots of green spaces to take walks and picnic in. Kuala Lumpur and Hanoi were the “big cities” we didn’t get very comfortable in. But we were happy in Singapore, Chiang Mai, and Ho Chi Minh City. The 2 most charming places we stayed in were Hoi An and George Town. And our 2 Thailand house sitting experiences get extra points for being more intense stays.

We were not surprised to learn that housing is the most important element in our slow travel budget and our general comfort level. We definitely do better in homes rather hotels. Interestingly, the places we stay in can be really tiny, as long as we have comfy spots to sit and work in and a kitchen to cook in. We have also learned how to cook and eat meals in the most sparse “kitchens” as long as we have a refrigerator, a kettle, and either a hot plate or a microwave. Though a full kitchen is preferable of course! The day Alison mastered the art of making hard boiled eggs in a tea kettle was life changing.

The biggest surprise on this trip was how often we made new friends or spent time with old friends during those 4 months. And now when we look back at each location what we remember most was time spent talking with locals and hanging out with friends along the way. We learned a lot during our 4 months in SE Asia, about the world and also about ourselves. We are better travelers now, and much more settled into our nomad life. And we carry with us some fantastic experiences from that trip.

People are always asking us how long we are going to travel full time. We have only been home-free for 9 months now, which isn’t very long in the grand scheme of things. But we are completely satisfied with our lives and we truly love being home-free nomads. Turns out we don’t miss having our own house or a closet full of clothes and shoes. So the answer is, we plan to keep traveling full-time for as long as it’s fun. And honestly we want to continue being nomads for enough years to really let our investments cook in the oven before we even think about the idea of settling down again.

That’s us kayaking in Ha Long Bay! Or at least Alison is kayaking while I enjoy the ride!

The following graphic outlines our route through SE Asia. This graphic reminds us of how happy we were as travelers (Travel score) and of how we did in terms of our budget (Money Crush score) in each location.

The following graphic also includes an LGBT+ score which generalizes how friendly locations are for LGBT+ people. But this topic is really too complicated for a simple yes or no score so take those with a grain of salt. The most important message is that every location in this post would benefit from greater acceptance and protections for citizens, residents, and guests.

This graphic is just a snapshot of our time in SE Asia. We include more detail about our experiences in each location in our City Reports. Not every City Report is there at the moment since we are busy having fun and we are not blogging full time. But stay tuned because more City Reports will be posted soon (*wink).


    • Thanks Mai 🙂

      We are having fun with these travel blog posts which are basically our digital journal. Looks like you are in Honk Kong now, which is another place we want to check out!


    • It is funny how recommendations and assumptions about travel locations are tricky. Every family is different! That just makes the nomad research mission we are on even more interesting though! 😁

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I love all the details in this – you are creating amazing travel resources here. Having such fun reading about your adventures, thinking I’ll be doing the same in a few years.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey there Ms ZiYou! Thanks for the comment. We did have a great time in SE Asia and we do want to go back soon but we have a pretty good list of other places we want to visit as well. The next place we are going in Scotland to finish off the summer (we LOVE Scotland). It’s exciting to hear that you re considering travel after FIRE. We should swap some ideas sometime!


  2. Hi Ali,

    Awww…brings back memories of our trip too, the only thing we disagree on being the return plan but
    we can fully understand and respect your plan.

    From a cost perspective our UK place is currently running us at $500 per month all in with good quality food, utilities etc with no scrimping or hardship. Looking like this low cost is going to come in handy to offset and average out our regular 6 month USA snowbird periods where we expect life to be a little more pricey.

    I still believe your most interesting post is (hopefully) going to be Bali and we’re still not ruling out the idea of spending a little time there since most Australians we met rave about it, but it’s just not a priority at this time.

    Keep living the dream!!

    (The artist formerly known as) DN

    Liked by 1 person

    • BAHAHA. Love your sign off there!

      You do have some really great advantages there in having that UK home with no mortgage or rent to pay, and no healthcare costs either. We would probably stay there for good if we had a place for free in the UK (hint hint, LOL). So for now we are electing to be renters and we would rather explore the world as renters than stay in the US full time. And with the stupidly high healthcare costs in the US it also helps us to look for healthcare options outside of the US while we travel. So the nomad thing is still the best option for us for now.

      Most importantly – ok so we will meet you guys in Bali sometime and we can swap more ideas about FIRE and geoarbitrage. Now that sounds like a good plan!


  3. Such amazing content! I too would have guessed Thailand would have been your fav based off what I’ve heard about it too. We too boiled eggs from a kettle from one of our trips, too funny! Thanks for all the details and hopefully we can connect during one of your travels! Looking forward to hearing more about your adventures, as always!

    Liked by 1 person

    • We are probably going to travel around North America next summer and hopefully we will get up into Canada. Perhaps we will come pay you guys a visit!


  4. Wow the breakdowns are awesome, so informative and certainly give me an idea what to expect since we do plan to stay for an extended period in SE Asia in the future.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So glad you found it interesting! Everyone has a different experience when they travel so you might love places we had a hard time in of course! We are really excited to bet back to SE Asia to visit some other places as well. I’ll be curious to hear where you decide to go and how you like your travels!


  5. Really enjoyed reading your post, your honest stories. I’m a traveler, but not a nomad, but not an actual tourist. Enjoy doing what you guys are doing, especially meeting locals. And staying put for a while. I am now in my mid-seventies …. so not sure where we will be traveling next, grateful we climbed our castles when we could walk easily. LOL. I look forward to following you. The world is amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Judy! This nomad life does come with some great perks, mainly staying put longer and meeting more locals. Right now we are traveling for the summer with Alison’s mom in France and Scotland who is 80 years old, and plan to travel with mom again next summer as well. We can already see how our behavior as travelers and tourists is changing from having her with us. We are really taking the time to enjoy our surroundings, and “climb the castles” while we can! 🙂


  6. Really awesome list, thank you! I especially like that you break things down to dollars per day. One question though: what about flights? I’m guessing that you travel hacked a bunch of points and used those, but I think it would help to include that in your figures- either as $ or points.
    Thanks again, and happy travels!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you enjoyed the post! It will be great to head back to SE Asia for more experiences in a year or so. We include details for regional travel spending and miles use for our travels in our city report posts but we keep the numbers separate from our daily spending numbers so we can see location costs without skews from regional transportation choices. For sure our best miles experience so far was the United Airlines Excursionist perk which we would love to use again next year!

      Happy travels to you as well! ✈️


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