After several trips to SE Asia including Thailand, Lombok, the Gilis and Bali we’ve fallen in love with Asia and have made a few mistakes along the way so you don’t have to! We’re sharing a few tips below on what to do–and not to do to make your trip as enjoyable and stress-free as possible!
- DO eat all the local food you can get your hands on. Seriously. Eating like a local is the easiest way to save money and taste some absolutely delicious things along the way. In Bangkok, we ate breakfast and lunch on the street every day. The street vendors set up around 4AM and the food is to die for. We picked up a variety of different items, more than enough to feed us both for around 4$ USD and if we didn’t care for something (fat chance) we tossed it. At 10-40 cents an item, you can try as much as you’d like and you don’t feel bad setting something aside if you don’t care for it. We did the same thing in Indonesia (although they didn’t set up quite as early and were slightly more expensive), some of the best food we had was sitting on the curb! DO try Thai rolled icecream. If there’s one thing that I would eat every day for the rest of my life, that’s it. DO NOT turn it down if you get the chance! Hot dog bun–optional (yes, it’s a thing).
- DO your research when booking excursions. While in Krabi and Ao Nang, we had no issues with street vendors. In fact, the excursions we booked through little huts on the side of the road were to this day the best excursions we’ve ever experienced, but the Gili Islands and Lombok are a whole different story. Street vendors there tend to tell you one thing up front, and then when you go to the meeting point, the tour guide was told something totally different and you’re left to either argue that they didn’t write down what you had discussed, or try to work out something with the guide directly. You may even end up paying extra to see what you had thought you already paid to experience. After a little mishap in Gili T with a street vendor, we started using govoyagin.com religiously and made sure to look at reviews of each tour and tour guide before booking. Govoyagin makes it super easy to chat with guides before you book and get the agreement in writing so there’s no confusion the day of the tour. (See my snorkling blog post here for our top tour suggestion in Gili T.
- DO expect to use public ferrys, and DON’T expect them to be on time in Indonesia. Exploring the islands of Thailand is wildly different than exploring Indonesida. In Thailand you can hire a longtail for a whole day or get your own private speedboat for a little extra with ease. Hotels have their own speedboat transportation to and from the resorts for nominal cost and you feel like you’re on a little mini excursion whenever you’re travelling from one place to the other. We did take a public ferry from Krabi to the Phi Phi Islands, and the top 3 decks are miserable. Follow the locals– to the basement. Don’t believe me? We sweat in the hot Thailand sun crowded with other sweating tourists for an hour and a half before discovering a local go below deck, we followed him and discovered a wide open 65 degree seating section. Two words: Pure bliss. In Indonesia, public ferrys are the only way to get from Bali to Lombok/Gili’s without spending a fortune or dealing with swindlers looking to steal your money and leave you stranded. Your hotel will ask if you want them to arrange ‘transport by fastboat’– don’t be confused, this is not their speedboat taking you and other resort goer’s directly to the resort. This is one of 20 different ferry services that stops at all 3 islands and may take up to 6 hours if the seas are rough. It’s island time, you’ll get there when you get there. They sell beer and open the top deck for sunbathing, and show films below deck. I’m not sure whether featuring Captain Phillips and castaways was meant as a humerous gesture or not though.
- DON’T give your ferry ticket to anyone, for any reason. When visiting Lombok from Gili T, the last ferry back leaves at 4. We were waiting for our ferry at about 3pm when 2 locals said we’d be waiting for hours and offered to give us a private ride back for a nominal fee. He asked to see our ferry tickets, and we gave them to him thinking nothing of it as we walked to ‘their’ boat. They then switched up the price to more than double what our whole day had costed. They made up excuses, stalled and delayed us with the intention that we would miss the last ferry boat over and would have no choice but to pay the exhorbitant fee to get back to Gili. The man who took our ferry tickets sold them to someone else and pretended he didn’t know what we were talking about. Luckily we were able to buy new ferry tickets for the last boat back for $4 USD. Most of the people we met on the island were wonderful, but beware of scammers.
- DO bring a camera and if possible a gopro with you at all times. The island life is beautiful and there are so many opportunities to capture beautiful photos underwater, having a go pro was awesome for traveling to the waterfalls and snorkling. Not having to worry about ruining your camera with water makes everything stress free and we have some incredible photos to show for it.
- DON’T expect to be alone. Despite what you see on instagram, those sunset swing shots on Gili aren’t as secluded and romantic as you’d think. There’s a line a mile long for each swing at sunset and people are rushed out as soon as their turn is over. If you’re looking for alone time on the swings, try sunrise, we were by ourselves for over an hour with not another person in sight. Getting clean photographs without hundreds of other people is difficult, but it can be done if you visit attractions at ‘off’ times. In Krabi, we rented a private speed boat for a day and he purposefully went to the islands in reverse order of the norm. We ended up getting to each place just as everyone was departing, some of my favorite memories come from that day. Just us and the secluded islands. Check it out here!
- DO offer to take other people’s photos, and then ask them to return the favour. That way you both walk away with ‘clean’ photographs, and it’s always nice to have a straight shot instead of having to roll through video footage to grab a photo.
- DON’T expect a good internet connection, even in your hotel room. The internet is slow and spotty pretty much everywhere. Even and luxury hotels we had trouble gaining internet, BUT who cares! Who needs the internet when you’re in paradise? Make sure to take screen shots of all your bookings, maps, and directions before you head out. That way if you have questions, you’re not scrambling to find wifi in order to look up where to go.
- DO expect to see tons of wildlife. From sea turtles, to monkeys, to the goats of Gili T- there were tons of animals around. DON’T assume they’re all friendly. The monkeys we encountered on Lombok on the side of the road were much more wild than the monkeys at the popular monkey forest attractions in Bali. Even at monkey beach in Thailand, a spot that’s advertised in tours is notorious for monkey bites. Remember, these animals are wild, and they will take your belongings.
- DO keep in touch with good drivers. Many of the hotel drivers have their own private businesses. We contacted the driver that took us to our meeting point to get to Gili T prior to returning to Bali and he drove 3 hours to the port, waited there for our our late boat, helped us with our baggage, and drove us the 3 hours back all for $40 USD. We obviously gave him a large tip on top of that, but there are some locals that truly just enjoy helping you out and they make more money by not going through a hotel establishment. Support the locals!
Bonus– DO expect to fall in love with all the beauty Southeast Asia has to offer and DON’T expect to want to go home!
We’d love to hear your questions, leave them below!