The Things I Did WRONG in Southeast Asia

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Well, yesterday, you heard about the things I did RIGHT in Southeast Asia.  And whether or not you enjoyed that list, be serious…you couldn’t wait to hear about the stuff I did WRONG.

Grab the popcorn.

Here we go — the things I did WRONG in Southeast Asia!

I didn’t take my passport when the boat sank.

Among all the dumb things I did on the trip, this was quite possibly — no, definitely — the dumbest. During the shipwreck, I was planning to get into the lifeboat with my small backpack, holding my computer, purse and all my valuables.  But after hearing that the lifeboats weren’t working and we had to jump, I just threw the bag back into the sinking ship, figuring they’d recover it later.


What was I thinking?! If they hadn’t recovered it (a miracle), I would have had to fly to Jakarta and get a new passport.  I’m so glad it didn’t come to that — but it easily could have.  This is the reason why you get worldwide travel insurance, people.

I spent FAR too much money on the Andaman Coast.

Yes, Thailand can be a cheap country — there were days in Chiang Mai when I got massages, had a few beers and still spent under $20 — but the Andaman Coast is MUCH more expensive. In fact, it was the most expensive region I visited besides Singapore.

My friends with whom I was traveled the Andaman Coast — Ao Nang, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta and Railay — were either expats or backpackers traveling for a shorter amount of time, so they weren’t on as strict a budget as mine.  We lived it up with pricier hotels, nice meals, and, oh my God, so many buckets.

I don’t regret it, though. I had SO MUCH FUN on this leg of the trip.

I didn’t budget.  Period.

Yeah, I had that $30 a day pipe dream, but most of the time, it didn’t happen. While there were times when I watched my spending closely, most days, I just tried to ballpark it.  And many days, I just spent and spent.  How could I turn down the epic Halong Bay party cruise or seeing traditional Balinese dance?

Thankfully, I made enough money with my various online ventures to stay afloat. If I hadn’t, I would have had to come back months early.  Not weeks, months.

I went skinny-dipping in Sihanoukville.

Here’s some advice: if you’re going to go skinny-dipping in Southeast Asia, or anywhere, do your scouting during the day. Rent a motorbike and find a beach that is both far from everything and difficult to get to.  Wait until 3:00 AM to go there.  Lock up your valuables on your bike.  Even better, get one of your friends to be the lookout and hold onto the valuables.

Don’t do it in a busy beach town in one of the poorest countries in the world. You WILL get robbed.

READ MORE: How to Protect Your Belongings on the Beach

I didn’t see enough of Bali.

I had four weeks in Indonesia, but I spent most of it in Bali’s two tourism hubs: Kuta and Ubud.

That wasn’t my plan.  I wanted to go all over the island, maybe even motorbike the island like my friend Matt did.

And then the shipwreck happened.  I wanted to curl up and stay inside.  The Alam Sari offered me a place to stay, and I happily spent a week ensconced in their glorious resort.

Looking back, I realize that it wasn’t just the shipwreck.  After Vietnam, I had hit a wall, as long-term travelers are wont to do, and needed to just stay in one place for awhile.  But I couldn’t leave Southeast Asia without visiting Singapore and Bali.

I’ll do it right next time.

I didn’t take a break at Angkor Wat.

I spent one day in Angkor Wat, plus the sunset the night before. A month later, after I published that post, people wrote in the comments about how great it is to leave Angkor Wat for a few hours, take a nap, and go back in the afternoon.  Since you hire a driver for the day, the cost is exactly the same.

I should have done that. I had been there since sunrise, and by 11 or so, I was exhausted and sick of temple-hopping, but I kept going.  Going home and taking a nap would given me the energy boost I needed to give the temples the attention they deserved.

I fought Muay Thai on Koh Phi Phi.

There’s a bar on Koh Phi Phi where you can fight Muay Thai and win a bucket. My original plan was to just watch the stupid drunk tourists beat each other up.  But after a bit of liquid courage, I jumped into the ring myself!

It was awful. Ten seconds in, I was getting my ass kicked by an Australian girl who was probably descended from convicts.  I knew I had made a mistake, but my pride wouldn’t let me quit.  So I got pummeled.

I emerged from the ring with a swollen face, purple bruises all over my body, and a bloody eye that took three weeks to go away.

I worried and infuriated my family.  I spent money on a hospital visit to make sure my retina wasn’t detached (and even the best travel insurance won’t cover injuries caused by your own idiocy).  The bloody eye ruined so many pictures.

As amusing a story as it is to tell these days, THIS WAS SUCH A BAD IDEA. I am so lucky that I didn’t hurt myself as badly as I could have.  Please don’t do this.  I mean it.

I didn’t take enough good photos of Luang Prabang.

Luang Prabang is one of the most beautiful towns in Southeast Asia — but you wouldn’t know it, because I didn’t get any pictures!

I didn’t expect to be in Luang Prabang for such a short time — my friends and I weren’t big fans of the town, so we booked a ticket back to Vang Vieng after a day and a half.  Instead of spending my day riding around the countryside, I should have been taking pictures of the temples!

I didn’t start asking for complimentary activities until SINGAPORE.

Even before the Asia Jaunt, I had written to organizations and asked for a complimentary activity in exchange for a review.  (And yes, you can do that, too!  Stay tuned — I’ll be writing about that later.)

But for some reason, I didn’t ask for anything until Singapore, five months into my trip. And although I got to have some great experiences for free, like the Singapore Night Safari, surfing lessons in Bali, and, um, a boat tour that ended up SINKING in the middle of the night, I wish I had started earlier.

I especially wish I had inquired about kitesurfing lessons in Mui Ne.  Such a badass sport.

I let myself get spray painted in Vang Vieng.

What you see on the river: Everyone getting spray painted.

What they don’t tell you: it’s car paint.

Getting my entire right leg sprayed red wasn’t a smart idea.  It took three days of vigorous scrubbing with my fingernails before the paint began to disappear, and even after that, it looked like I had a nasty rash for a week.

At least I was better off than poor Chris!

I bought bracelets from the kids in Sihanoukville.

I’ve written about how adorable and funny these kids are — it’s so hard to say no to them!  And I figured it was okay to buy bracelets from them, rationalizing that it wasn’t as bad as giving to beggars.

I now know that it’s just as bad.

When you buy from kids, you are putting money in the pocket of the adult who runs the business behind the scenes — the adult that takes most of their money, keeps the kids out of school, and very possibly subjects them to abuse.

Next time I go to Asia, I’m adopting a new policy — no buying from kids, ever.

I didn’t get my Vietnam visa fixed.

When I got my Vietnam visa back and it was dated 1900, I laughed.  It was an obvious error, and clearly the guards at the border would realize that and let me through.

Oh no, they would not.

Eventually, I was allowed into Vietnam, but not before an extremely distressing hour or so.  Bottom line: if there’s even a small error on your visa, get it fixed before you arrive at the border!

I hurt a friend.

And even though things are better between us now, I still feel awful about what happened.  Cherish your friends — always.

So, if you ever end up in Southeast Asia, be smart.  Learn from my mistakes.  And for God’s sake, stay out of that boxing ring!

And while travel insurance won’t cover any injuries if you jump into a boxing ring, it WILL cover other accidents and illnesses. I never travel without it and recommend that you don’t either. I always use World Nomads.

Believe it or not, by coincidence, Stephanie at Twenty-Something Travel wrote about this same topic today!  Check out what she had to say.The things I did WRONG in Southeast Asia. | Adventurous Kate

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44 thoughts on “The Things I Did WRONG in Southeast Asia”

  1. One big regret I have is I never did see the sunset (or sunrise for that matter) over Angkor Wat. I was just too tired after the long days of temple hopping to get my butt out there again. And I was kind of burned out in general by then I think. Looking at your GORGEOUS photo, I really wish I had!

  2. This is a great post. I tend to under-report the mundane and times things go awry, so people naturally assume my travels are swimmingly easy. The best part of making a list like this is the reflection required to assemble it, thus are real learning moments.

  3. These are great and specific tips! Despite your warnings, I do plan on doing Muay Thai! However I’m going to do a month long training camp first so that should help my chances a bit in the ring 🙂

  4. “I was getting my ass kicked by an Australian girl who was probably descended from convicts.”

    Favorite. Line. Ever.

    But, in all seriousness, I love reading wrap-up posts like this — about the good AND bad parts of travel. It’s also interesting to get your take on your regrets or things you did “wrong,” and to see how they compare to my own travel regrets or others’ (like Stephanie’s!).

    We travelers can always learn from one another.

  5. I’m terrible at keeping a budget. I just can’t. If I see something I want, I’ll go for it! (which probably makes me a terrible long term traveler….)

  6. I soooo want to try Muay Thai! 😛

    I love these back-to-back articles. Both of them tell the ups and downs of your adventure but each tip shows how you learned from it. Awesome!

  7. So great to read about your mishaps and adventures. I am from Boston and solo in BKK right now, but only for 8 days. I want to come back already, or never leave!

  8. What a great post! See, this is what makes you adventurous Kate and why we read – you do the crazy things we’d never do! Thanks for letting us come on the ride!

  9. Great post! Especially glad you included the bit about buying from kids in Sihanoukville — it is hard to resist, but it really does just perpetuate the cycle of keeping them on the beach and subject to potential abuse. As for Angkor Wat, taking a break is a great tip. I’d also say budgeting 3 days is essential. You get to see all the don’t miss temples the first day, but some of the outer temples we saw the 2nd and 3rd days ended up being even more impressive and interesting. We wouldn’t have wanted to miss them! Plus, you don’t get quite as exhausted pushing yourself when you know you have a couple more days to explore.

    As for the skinny dipping tip, not sure I would recommend getting naked on a very deserted beach at 3 am. Sounds like it might make your next list of things not to do!

    1. Sebastian Auerbach

      But i think things are not that easy in Cambodia. Buy bracelats or not.
      As you know there is hardly a infrastructure in Cambodia. I think it takes years to understand Cambodia…

      School is for free. They say. But many children have to pay around 1000 riel (25 Us Cent) every day to the techers. They need school uniforms and books too. Will they go to school if you stop buying bracelets? No. The price for a month at school is around 10 dollar a month for each kid. Too much, if the parents only earn around 75 dollar a month (teacher, policeman). So make sure they go to school and buy then.

  10. Sebastian Auerbach


    great post!

    But i think things are not that easy in Cambodia. Give money to beggars or not. Buy bracelats or not.
    As you know there is hardly a infrastructure in Cambodia. I think it takes years to understand Cambodia…

    School is for free. They say. But many children have to pay around 1000 riel (25 Us Cent) every day to the techers. They need school uniforms and books too. Will they go to school if you stop buying bracelets? No. The price for a month at school is around 10 dollar a month for each kid. Too much, if the parents only earn around 75 dollar a month (teacher, policeman). So make sure they go to school and buy then.

    And what is wrong to give 1000 riel to a beggars without hands or feet (landmines) in a country without welfare system. I do not give money to beggars in Germany, but there….

    Have a nice day!

    All the best

  11. Oh you had some serious issues going on Kate! I cant believe you did the fighting (the beating up is the part i cant believe) and the spray painting with car paint sounds horrible.

  12. Have just discovered your blog, and loved this post! I am heading off to Europe and the ME next year but as I’m from Aus I have decided to do a spot of SE Asia on the way. I am particularly interested in what you say about asking for free stuff? Do tell! I am a struggling student and this trip is the culmination of five years at uni! Would love your tips.

  13. I have enjoyed reading your blog and I am looking at doing a similar trip. There is a lot of great info in here I will most definitely use!

    I am intrigued by your comment on budgeting and the wishful $30 a day … so when all was said and done, what did this adventure actually cost on a per day average?


    1. I couldn’t add it up for sure, DW — $30 a day is a realistic budget if you don’t drink, ever. You can do well on that budget, however, in Cambodia or Laos or northern Thailand, even with drinking. Thailand’s islands and beaches are most expensive — $40-50 per day is more realistic.

  14. I LOVE that you said not to do muay thai boxing- one of the things I had regretted was that I said no to a challenge to fight in the ring but now I’m so glad hahah!

  15. Hi Kate,

    I absolutely love your blog! Reading about the things you did wrong made me laugh so much. Travelling is about the good and bad things.

    What a great idea as well to email companies for reviews in exchange for free activities.

    How did you earn income whilst you was travelling?


  16. You sound like you’ve had some amazing adventures! I’m in the midst of planning mine, going to China, Southeast Asia and Oz with my boyfriend!! We decided on a small backpack at the very beginning but im struggling to decide what kind of daybag to take?!?! Would a satchel bag be okay or do I need to take another backpack???

  17. ah that bloody reggae bar on phi phi island, almost got me into the ring but after seeing tourist after tourist badly hurting one another we left.

  18. I’ll be traveling to Thailand and Bali this upcoming July and was thinking of doing some muay thai…till I saw your post. Hahahaha.

    Was wondering how do you actually ask for complimentary activities? Is it like applying for a job where you have to submit your resume and credibility? Any tips would definitely help! Coz I’m ultra broke right now just to save up for my trip hahaha

  19. Hi Kate, your blog has been amazing for the planning of my upcoming south east trip!
    Keep up the awesome work!

    I am actually planning on travelling to Cambodia, Viet and Thailand for 3 weeks during December. Do you have a list of must-dos for these places in a short amount of time?


  20. Hey Kate! love your blog but i was wondering how you would approach people to try out tours/activities/events in return for a review! Does it happen because you are established? I was told that some countries in SEA are so nice that they would trade even a cute little keychain from your home country for a service!

    Thanks again 🙂

    1. Hi, Jenn — keep in mind that I wrote this post three years ago, and times have changed since. This is for people who are established travel bloggers with an audience. If you’re going to pitch a company for a comped activity, you need to show them that they will earn a return on their investment. It’s up to you to show them how it will be worth it to them.

  21. That sinking boat must have been really distressing! But hey, not only in asia, never ever buy things from children, it doesn’t help them, unfortunately. Here in Brazil, for instance, the child’s family receives a few quantity of money per month if it is proven that the kid goes regulary to school and has vacination card complete 🙂

  22. Descended from convicts??
    Thats not something you want to be reading on a travel blog.
    With that attitude she was right to give you a flogging.

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