Before moving to Japan I had visited a few times. The first time I feel like there were so many rules and I didn’t quite fit in. However, each time I visit I learn a new lesson and I wanted to share a few things that will help make your travel to Japan a little easier and to share information you just may not know.
It will always be colder than you think.
Yes, Japan does have all four seasons. But even when it’s “spring” it’s still a lot colder than you think. Really, the only hot month is August. So, be sure to pack that extra jacket! You will most likely need it!
A little effort goes a long way.
Let’s face it. Japan is a powerhouse. The capital of future technology and economically wealthy. Being an island, and very respectful to their extensive history and culture, they don’t really need much from other countries. They don’t depend on tourism, they are pretty efficient… so, the need for the everyday person to learn English is on the bottom of the totem pole. So, as a responsible tourist, just TRY to speak a little bit of the language. It really pleases them when guests in their country show a little effort and in turn, they will be more willing to go out of their way to help you.
You can drink the water.
Back in Atlanta, you can drink tap water (it’s totally safe and actually has added fluoride) but most people still drink filtered. In Thailand, we NEVER drank tap water. In Bangkok the chlorine is too high, and in smaller cities it’s not filtered much.
In Japan, unless stated otherwise (like on trains) you CAN drink the tap water. In fact, in some parts of the country that are mineral-rich, you’re encouraged to drink the tap water!
Have a handkerchief handy.
Japan is BIG on recycle and reducing, and borderline germaphobic. That being said, a lot of public restrooms do not have paper towels or hand dryers. It will do you well to adopt the local tradition of bringing your own hankie or hand towel.
Get your luggage delivered to your door.
Again, Japan is efficient! And with 200+ mph trains that can take you from one end of the country to the other in a few hours, travel is popular.
It would be very difficult to travel via train with a lot of luggage (logistically and space-wise). So at most airports, there are services that can deliver your luggage to your hotel, home, homestay, etc. And the prices are not extreme. It’s usually around $25-35 USD per piece. So I highly suggest this, especially if you are using the JR Pass, and save yourself time and hassle.
This is mostly on public transportation, but even in everyday life. When one raises their voice it may come across as “angry” or “ill mannered.” And, when traveling it is considerate as a lot of people are catching up on sleep during travel. This should be used EVERYWHERE in the world. Planes. Trains. Any place where there are other people because it’s not just your world.
Slurping is ok.
This is mostly for hot noodles. Although, when in a matcha tea ceremony, you slurp a little at the end to get it all in.
But, when eating things like Ramen or Udon, it’s best to eat the noodle when it’s hot. In order to prevent burning your tastebuds off, you suck in a little air (and a little broth) so you can eat the noodle at perfect temp.
Hold small plates to your mouth.
While we’re on the subject of dining etiquette, some dishes are brought up to your mouth. For example, when eating Tonkatsu (panic-fried pork) you dip the pork in sauce and hold it over your rice (which is held under your mouth). This is to prevent sauce from dripping all over your outfit.
Not all slippers are created equal.
Sometimes, when visiting a home or onsen, there will be slippers at the entrance and slippers outside the bathroom. Don’t wear the house slippers in the bathroom, and don’t wear the bathroom slippers around the house. You’d be surprised how many people forget this.
Here’s a tip: don’t tip.
Like most countries outside of the US, tipping is not part of the culture. In fact, some may perceive it to be flat out insulting. Like they need your charity or something. So, when you get the bill you can skip the tip.
If you have any other questions or curiosities, feel free to drop a line and I can help you out 😉
If you follow me on Instagram then you know it’s no secret that Hua Hin holds a special place in my heart. It has been my home-away-from-home twice now. And I have to say, I love it even more than Atlanta!
To sum up the town of Hua Hin: it is a low-key, family beach town about 3 hours south of Bangkok. It houses one of the Royal family’s vaction homes, hundreds (if not thousands) of delicious seafood restaurants, beautiful beaches, mountains, and themed parks (for the kids).
No, there are no beach-side cliffs and emerald waters like you’ll see in Phuket or Krabi, but what you get in Hua Hin (that you won’t in Phuket) is a sense of community. Everyone, both Thai locals and foreign expats, in Hua Hin is friendly and treats you more like one-of-their-own, instead of a money-spending tourist.
The prices here are VERY reasonable and are not inflated just because you are a frarang (foreigner).
Whether you like to hike, lay out on the beach, or party at the bars, Hua Hin offers something for EVERYONE!
Ok, I know what you’re thinking: “Did Hua Hin Tourism pay her to say this?” And no, I wish! Haha. I just feel like it is a town that truly gives you a well-rounded experience of Thailand: culture, great food, and beaches.
So, if you do decide to visit, here are a few of my FAVORITES by category:
Places to eat
If you are visiting Thailand, I seriously suggest stopping by Hua Hin. I promise, you will fall in love!
Did you ever have to make a brochure or travel guide for Elementary Geography class? I did. I remember loving projects like those and telling myself, at age 8 or so, that I would travel to all the places I researched for class assignments.
Fast forward to 20 years later: I moved to Thailand for a year, then moved back to Atlanta for 2 years, then back to Thailand with the love of my life, Joey, and my mother with Early-Onset Alzheimer’s. We have lived here for about 3 years. I know. It seems crazy that I up and left my home in Atlanta to the exact opposite side of the world. But hear me out:
I had been working at a school in Atlanta for 5 years and although I loved my job, I knew I wanted to travel. And Joey was unfulfilled in his career and wanted to pursue his dream in golf. Also, my mother was in a retirement but wasn’t loving it. So when a co-worker got a job at an international school in Bangkok and said they were looking for another teacher, I jumped on it! Afterall, I had lived there before and loved it, Joey (who is naturally talented at golf) wanted to pursue his dream, and my mom… well, when I asked if she would want to come she obviously said “yes!”
All Things Considered
This was my exact thought process: win, win, win. Haha. I loved Thailand. Win. Joey could logistically succeed in golf through the Asian Tour Q-school (in Hua Hin, Thailand). Win. And my mom and I would be able to travel AND save money while doing so because the cost of living is so cheap in Thailand. WIN!
The downfall, of course, being that I’d miss out on family functions, hanging with friends and the life I had always known. I’m not going to lie. Missing your family and friends sucks! But I can’t always live my life for others. I had missed out on studying abroad during college because of weddings, childbirths and illnesses. I am so glad I was there to witness and help through those milestones, but they weren’t mine. I had put my life and my dreams on hold for other people’s important events. So, impulsively, I said “the time is now!” and packed me, Joey and my mom up for Thailand! (Really Joey’s sister packed him up because he procrastinates and if I had done it… well, I probably would have thrown half of his crap away and we wouldn’t be in Thailand together. Haha)
A Whole New World
I had lived in Thailand (solo) in 2014-2015 and it was sooooo much easier than bringing two other people with me. The first time I came through a TESOL organization and they pretty much supplied me with everything I needed (papers for visa, arranged accommodations, job placement). This time, however, I was hired BY the school and not through a 3rdparty. And they had NO idea how to hire, employ or even run a school. I hated it there! The children were the only good part of my day, but they only stayed for 2 hours a day. The other 6 hours spent in that hellhole were the worst! See, Thailand is very much a cast system. This crazy, probably inbred, family is a product of the upper-echelon of the system. They weren’t wealthy because they were intelligent, or earned their place, so you can imagine what a joke-of-a-school they ran. But enough about them, let’s talk about Thailand itself:
What’s to Love about Thailand
- extensive history
- way of life (work to live, not live to work)
- affordable living
When you think of Thailand I’m sure visions of “Hangover part III” or “Brokedown Palace” come into mind, but Thailand is such a culturally rich and safe country! Even during late, drunken nights in Bangkok, I have never felt unsafe. Thailand is predominantly Buddhist, and Buddists strongly believe in Karma (along with the fear of Thai prison), so it is very rare to be the victim of a crime here.
Also, the fact that Thailand has never been colonized is one reason for their rich culture. Without the influence of western control, their culture has never been watered down… therefore their traditions and customs have remain untainted for centuries!
Now, let’s talk way of life! The people of Thailand are super friendly! Yes, there are language barriers, but that doesn’t keep Thai’s away from trying to have friendly chit-chatter. And, the are extremely laid back (which can be a good but sometimes bad thing). Once you allow yourself to adapt to the sabai-sabai life and go-with-the-flow, you can truly appreciate the way of everyday life: enjoy it!
-I once met a cab driver that told me he only works until he makes 1000 baht each day. No more, no less. Of course my response was, “What if you make that first thing in the morning?” He simply smiled and said, “Then I can go enjoy my day with my family.” That is working to live my friends. Life is too short to not be able to enjoy it.
Another plus, cost of living. Thailand is a third-world country, and most of Thailand is very undeveloped. Thus, the living is cheap which gives westerners a chance to splurge! How much does it cost to live in Thailand? I’ll tell you.
Cost of Living
We lived a little more luxurious than I did the first time I lived in Thaialnd. We had a full apartment in a very nice neighborhood with all the amenities.
I also spent pretty frivolously, but I still managed to save. I am going to take you into my personal finances per month:
- Rent: 20,000 thb
- Electric bill: 1800+ thb (we run the AC a lot)
- Water: 120 thb
- Phone & Internet: 1000 thb
- Groceries: 5000 thb
- Entertainment (mostly drinking at the bar): 8000 thb
Total (approx) 36,000 thb/ $1,185 USD
This is for 2 people! Crazy, right!? My total monthly spending was less than the cost of rent in Atlanta.
Now, I could go on and on about everything I LOVE about about Thailand, but chances are you’ll probably get sick of me yammering on. So, if you want further reasoning just check out some of my favorite experiences in Thailand:
Oh, what a place to go! Kanchanaburi is a town about 2.5 hours from Bangkok. It’s a small town, and not as developed as other tourists cities in Thailand, but manages to offer a little something for everyone: history buffs, foodies, and naturists. And the best part, it’s cheap to visit!
How to get to Kanchanaburi:
If you have been reading my Under $100 Series, then you know minivans are the cheapest way to travel in Thailand. You could also take a train, but it will cost more. Booking through 12go.asia is easy, cheap and even gives you maps and detailed itineraries.
Once you get there, there are a few side-car taxi’s that range from 50-100 Baht depending on where you’re going.
Getting to Erawan National Park:
The cheapest, easiest way to travel to Erawan National Park, is to catch the local bus at Kanchanaburi Bus Terminal, or on Thanon Sangchuto (on the side of the War Cemetary, not on the Train Station side). This will take you straight to the park. To get back to town, simply take the same bus down to town. It’s only 40 Baht to ride!
Kanchanaburi has quite the tragic history. During the Japanese Expansion, Japan used POW’s and their captives to build the Thailand-Burma Railway from Yangon, Burma (today’s Myanmar) to Bangkok, Thailand. The conditions were dangerous due to the malnutrition, malaria, infections, along with the danger of building on rocky cliffsides, causing an estimated 150,000 men to die. For this, the Thailand-Burma Railway got it’s nickname, Death Railway.
I will admit, seeing and walking on the bridge did leave a haunting feeling in the pit of my stomach, but it’s important to learn and share these pieces of history, for so many innocent men lost their lives for.
Where to stay:
Kanchanaburi has numerous resorts, but if you’re looking for something budget friendly, here are my suggestions based on price and location:
How much will it cost you?
Here is my approximate list of costs:
I hope you consider Kanchanaburi into your Thailand itinerary! And if you need help packing, be sure to check out my Sensible Packing Guide for Thailand. Sawasdee, ka!
Ok, let me set the scene for you:
Girl is born and raised in Hotlanta (Atlanta, Georgia). Girl grows up and moves to Thailand. Girl think’s she will be fine because she grew up with Georgia summers. Girl gets heat rash first week in Bangkok and realizes she never knew heat until she lived in Thailand.
I get it! Packing can be frustrating! Especially when you are traveling to the other side of the world. So, what have learned about my wardrobe since living in Thailand? Less is cooler, polyester doesn’t display sweat, and an umbrella is my best accessory (rain or shine). But seriously, this post is to better prepare you for your trip to Thailand. There are items you will need to bring, items to leave behind, and items you can get here! And make sure you read til the end so you can get your Free Packing Checklist 🙂
Suncreen- The sun is intense, and I don’t care how much you want a tan, you will get burned! Even if it’s only 30 SPF, put it on.
Thinscarf/sarong- For temples, you will need to cover your shoulders and knees. Having something you can throw on for the temple and off when you leave is convenient.Also, for flights, buses and taxis you can use it as a blanket.
Comfortable slip on/off shoes- Like most Asian countries, it is customary to remove shoes when entering homes, places of business, temples, etc. It will make your life a lot easier if your shoes are easy to take off and put on.
Maxi skirt/dress- Again, for temples you need to cover your knees, and since you have your shoulders taken care of, a maxi dress can easily be knotted to the side when outside the temple and let down while inside the temple.
Conditioner- I don’t know the reasoning, but many hotels do not supply conditioner. Soap, yes. Shampoo, yes. But not conditioner. I don’t know about you, but my hair feels like straw if I skip this part of my shower routine.
Tote or backpack- It’s not very convenient to travel back-and-forth between sightseeing and your hotel, so you will need to take items with you for the day.
Antiperspirant- Because it’s hot and you will sweat.
*Light rain jacket- This is really for travels between May-November (rainy season).
Sani – wipes (many public bathrooms do not have soap)
Tissues (many public bathrooms don’t have toilet paper)
Mozzy spray (leave your deet at home! The mozzy spray here works like a charm 😉
Activated charcoal(for Thai tummy)
Jewelry- Minimal is better because (I know it’s redundant) it’s too hot.
Heels- In the city the sidewalks are a death trap. In the country there are no sidewalks.
Reusable water bottles- I know it sounds like a terrible thing for me to advise against saving the earth, but the water here isn’t safe enough to drink. Even “refill stations” are not held to any health code and are not to be trusted.
Jeans- Yes, this American wardrobe staple is not necessary here. You know why.
Tennis shoes- They will get dirty and be hot. If you plan on doing any hiking, you will want to bring shoes that can double as water and hiking shoes (as most hiking trips involve a waterfall).
I hope this gives you a better idea of what you truly need when visiting Thailand. For your free itemized checklist, click the link below!
Here’s your list! (Check it twice):
In the heart of Bangkok, lies an island formed by the Chao Phraya River and a small canal -better known as, The Green Lung or Bang Krachao.
For people of Bangkok, it is the perfect escape from the crowded, noisy and down-right overbearring streets of Bangkok. Just a 5 minute boatride to natural bliss.
If you’re like me, and don’t like the city, you will appreciate being surrounded by luscious forests as you bike your way through small paths. Where do the paths lead? That’s half the fun! Wandering through the jungle and seeing what you can discover is what makes this weekend trip so thrilling. Don’t worry about getting lost. The island is small and is actually rather easy to navigate with handwritten signs along the streets and trails.
So, let’s dissect this trip so you know how to get there, where to stay, what to do, and how much it’ll cost you:
The easiest and cheapest way would be to take the BTS to Khlong Toei and from there take a motorbike to Khlong Toei Pier. Once you are there, you will walk toward the river (many people by the temple will voluntarily steer you to the right directions) and board a small boat that will take you across the river to Pae Jeab. Here, you can rent a bicycle for 80฿ per day!
The oh-so popular Bangkok Treehouse is the choice of many, unknowing, tourists. Truth be told, it is extremely overpriced for the accomomodation and for the service. My suggestion is 88 Homestay. The staff is extremely friendly and accomodating, the price is right, and the hotel grounds are beautifully landscaped.
At night, sit in the garden and enjoy a beer (or a few) and listen to the fountain and sounds of nature!
So, here is the financial breakdown for one night in the jungle:
I know, we only stayed for one night, but two days and one night is really all you need for such a small area. But, if you really love it, one more night will come to an even $100! So, go for it and send me pictures when you go!
Those of you that read, International Affair: Kuala Lumpur, know that it was the first trip of my “Trips Under $100 series.” If you haven’t read it, shame on you! Haha , totally kidding. But you can check it out here.
This time, I took my keister to a town I am both familiar with and in the same country…. Hua Hin. Since I used to live in Hua Hin, I already had an idea of how and where to spend less than $100. So here’s the scoop: (you’ll have to stick to the end to see if I succeeded 😉
Cheapest Way to Get To Hua Hin:
Unfortunately, the cheapest way is also my least favorite way because I get carsick easily. But it’s not only the cheapest way, it’s the most convenient…. minivans.
Catching a van to Hua Hin can be done by various locations around Thailand: Victory Monument, Ekkamai Bus Terminal (Eastern Bus Terminal), Southern Bus Terminal, and a few others. I live in Sukhumvit so I hop on the BTS to Ekkamai and go from there. They have vans that run just about every hour, so it’s easy to go at odd hours, like after work. AND, would you believe it’s only 180 ฿ to take a van?! That’s only $5! Prices can go up to 280 ฿ if you want a hotel transfer, which I did because I was getting in late. (I had to leave right after work.)
Cheapest Places to Stay:
If you’re traveling solo:
There are a handful of adorable, and clean, hostels in Hua Hin. But the best is Jetty Hua Hin Hostel. It’s clean, the owner is such a doll, AND you can see the ocean. It’s not on the beach, but its right by the water and just a 5 min walk from the night market, which has THE best seafood ever!
Traveling as a Pair:
G House Hotel is the best bang for your buck if you’re with another traveller. It is clean, quiet and they have a free shuttle to take you to the beach, golf course, and market. It is not the best location, but the free shuttle is a great way to make up for that.
It is super easy to get around Hua Hin. Mostly because it’s not that big of a town. But, if you don’t like walking, and you don’t want to pay for a Grab, Tuk Tuk or motorbike, you can take the town songthaew (song tao). They are either green, orange or white trucks with 2 rows of seats and writing on the side of the vehicle. See photo below becuase it’s real hard to describe these things if you’ve never seen one before.
Things To Do:
Eat the “catch of the day”:
Seriously, Hua Hin is a big fishing town. And all the seafood is fresh and most likely caught that morning. Here are my favorite places for fresh seafood:
If you are looking for more to do in Hua Hin, check out the best of Hua Hin.
Wrapping it up:
Ok, not including the free activities, here’s my itemized list for approximate cost:
Woo hoo!!! I succeeded on my quest to take a trip under $100! I gotta be honest, I was shocked at how cheap Hua Hin could really be and that I actually came up $40 ahead! Hua Hin isn’t the most exotic of locations in Thailand, but it is the most charming and has the best standard of food (which is really what drives me to go anywhere, haha).
Stay tuned for my next Trips Under $100 journey. Where do you think I should try? Leave your suggestion in the comments section below 🙂
As the first trip for my Under $100 series, I took the daring chance to go international. Our journey to Malaysia started out great! We made it on the bus to the airport (and actually got seats), found a prime location (bar) for preflight drinks, got bumped up to “Hot Seats” on AirAsia (which is the equivalent to first class on Southwest), and got a discounted ride to our hotel via our flight attendant. Things seemed to be goin our way. That is, until we got to our hostel. Let’s just say that Internet photos can be deceiving (For the protection of the establishment, I will not disclose the name but later on give you insight as in which area to stay in, which is nowhere near our hostel.) But, once we got some sleep and coffee, we headed off to explore Kuala Lumpur! All while trying to spend less than $100/ each.
So what does a trip from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur cost?
I was really trying to keep within the budget. I know to those living in more developed countries it sounds impossible but traveling around SE Asia can be quite economical. Here is my quantum spent on a weekend in KL:
Best bet is to take a LCC from Bangkok. I suggest Air Asia. Tickets range from $60-80 RT!
Once you arrive in KL, you can get a Grab (costing about $16/ 65 MYR) to your hotel, OR take the train which is about the same price to get to KL center.
As you already know, we weren’t exactly pleased with our hostel- the owners were extremely kind and hospitable, it just wasn’t for us. And, truth be told if you’re traveling with someone else, it is about the same price per person to stay in a hotel. Hostels are best when traveling solo.
I can tell you, with confidence, that it makes sense to stay in KL Center. The train is so convenient and makes getting around much more efficient because all the lines go through there.
Anyway, back to hotels. They range from $25+ (101 MYR+) per night. Hostels about $15-17 (61-70 MYR) per night. I always use Booking.com for my accommodation arrangements.
I suggest taking the train but that’s because I have no faith in traffic. And unless you have an international data plan to order a Grab, then you money-raped by the taxis. NOT actually raped because everyone is nice and I felt very safe!
Train tickets- vary $0.50- $1.50 (2-4MYR)
Peruse the Chinatown market for severe knockoffs- free
Eat street food- $1-2/ 2-5MYR
Get your steps in at Batu Caves- by train $1 / 4 MYR
Play with, or get pick-pocketed by, the monkeys- free-broke
Eat Indian cuisine after the caves- $.50-1/ 2-4 MYR
Get a Henna Tattoo- $2.45/ 10 MYR
Eat Szechuan and Dim Sum at Jalan Alor (Food Alley)- $2-3/ 10-12 MYR
As you can see, we kept ourselves pretty entertained, and full. Mostly because my travels are based around food 🙂 But here’s the Approximate Breakdown:
Needless to say, I failed at taking this trip for $100 or less BUT check out my weekend trip to Hua Hin to see if I succeeded in staying within my budget!
How many of you define Japanese food as sushi rolls and hibachi?
Before I met Joey (my Japanese boyfriend) I was one of you. It wasn’t until my 1st visit to Japan that I learned two things:
1. Nobody eats sushi rolls (rather sashimi or nigiri) and
2. Hibachi isn’t even Japanese! (*mind blown*). It’s from California!
It’s a shame that where I come from (Atlanta) these two options define Japanese Cuisine. But, I’m here to inform you of some of the delicious foods Japan has to offer, other than sushi.
In Japan, food plays an important role in the culture. Nutrition and respect for food are emphasized in schools, home life… everywhere!
So, if you’re planning a trip to Japan, here are some of my favorites that you need to try:
Osembe: Airy, rice cracker. Comes in various flavors/seasoning.
Yakitori: Grilled meat skewers (usually a drinking food).
Hokkaido Cream: Frozen yogurt from the Hokkaido region.
Shabu shabu: Thinly sliced Wagyu beef, dipped in hot water to cook. Served with noodles and veggies.
Ekiben: Train Station Meal. An assortment of pre-made meals in a small box.
Washoku: Multiple course meal of small portions, and a variety of foods.
Ghenghis Kahn: Hokkaido mutton & veggies, grilled on a personal barbeque.
Ramen: Fresh, flour noodles served with pork slices. Miso or soy-based soup.
Tonkatsu: Panko-fried pork cutlets, served with pickles, miso soup, and rice.
Example of full Tonkatsu & Kaki Fry set.
Kaki fry: Panko-fried oysters (best during December-January), served with pickles, miso soup, and rice.
As you can see, Japan’s food scene is waaaay more extensive than just raw fish (although I do love the fresh sushi). But for those of you that aren’t sushi fans, these delicious options to add to your repertoire! (And, if I caught you by surprise about hibachi… you’re not alone!) I hope you venture out and try the amazing dishes Japan has to offer on your next visit! Itadakimasu!