Welcome to Travel Money Diaries - where we're uplifting the broader travel community by talking openly about money and travel! Each month travelers around the world will track and share how they spend (and save) their money during a 7-day period.
First up: Trisa – a global health communications manager who’s working remotely and traveling around Southeast Asia.
Industry: Global Health / Non-Profit
Occupation: Program Communications Manager (full-time job, remotely based)
Based in: New York City, USA
Currently in: Southeast Asia (on week 3 of 5 here)
Paycheck Amount (2x per month, after taxes): $1682
Housing Costs: $1025 rent for my half of a two-bedroom apartment I share with one roommate. My roommate has the bigger of the two rooms so we split rent evenly but she covers the utilities.
Grad School Student Loans: $309
Credit Cards: $250 – over the last year I’ve paid off all but one credit card. Every time my autopay reminder comes in I kick younger me for being so irresponsible. Lesson learned!
Phone: $53-$68 – depending on data use. Reimbursed by work.
Health Insurance: $0 (100% employer-paid)
Subscriptions: Netflix $0 (because I’m on a family plan); G Suite subscription $5 (for my blog)
Retirement: $100 into 403(b), employer matched (yay for free money!)
Currency: USD (unless otherwise stated)
Day One – Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
7:30 AM – Wake up having slept really well (love when that happens)! I’m generally an early riser but more so when traveling because I like to squeeze in as much daylight as I can. Start my morning ritual. Open my laptop and check emails.
9:00 AM – Construction down the block from our Airbnb has started and it’s pretty loud. Chas wakes up as a result and we discuss how we want to spend the day.
10:30AM – Check a few work emails before we head out to this local brewery for lunch.
11:00 AM – We walk through the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. The traffic is crazy – so many scooters everywhere! They even have Uber scooters here! We get to the brewery, order, and chow down on burgers with a beer flight to share. 550,000 VND ($24.14)
1:30 PM – It took us a while to finish the beer flight! We walk to a nearby Starbucks to grab a souvenir mug for my brother (he collects them). They have a special deal this month and the mug purchase comes with a free drink! Score! 280,000 VND ($12.29)
1:55PM – Head back to our Airbnb just in time for me to hop on my first work call of the day
2:00PM – Call ends up getting pushed back. Check emails instead.
4:00PM – Chas heads back out to explore the city while I continue working.
4:30PM – In between calls I take care of some personal banking. I recently got a promotion (effective April 1, 2017) and a 20% salary increase. Plus, as a way of acknowledging that I’ve actually been doing the work for a while now my organization made my salary increase effective as of January 1st. So this last pay day I got 2 paychecks – one regular and one for retroactive pay. Woohoo! Transfer $2000 to my savings.
6:00PM – I get a WhatsApp message from Chas saying his debit card isn’t working at the ATM so he’ll need to come home first to get mine before buying dinner. Sigh, I told him to take mine before he left just in case. #fail
6:17PM – Submit a photo to Passion Passport, one of my favorite online travel communities. One of my goals this year is to contribute more to the travel community and you can send in contributions (personal stories, travel essays, city guides) through their website.
6:40PM – Snack on a bag of chips I bought yesterday to hold me over until dinner.
7:50PM – Chas arrives home without dinner. I’m hungry but have another call soon so will have to wait. Now that he has my debit card he promises to go get dinner at this bun cha place we’ve been eyeing (it’s cash only so he still needs to stop by an ATM).
9:15PM – Finish my last call, but drama ensues. Chas is back with dinner but in a the most infuriating and characteristic turn of events, he lost my debit card in the process. At the first ATM he tried, he inserted my card only to be alerted that the machine doesn’t accept foreign cards. The machines attempts to return the card but then immediately retracts it. “Your card has been retained”. WHAT. He frantically tried to retrieve it but no luck. He gives up and tries to find another way to get cash for dinner. At a different ATM he tries his card again – and what do you know? – it works. He buys dinner and comes home to tell me what happened.
10:00PM – After chowing down on dinner (which was delicious), I attempt to get a replacement debit card from Chase. I’m a Chase Private Client and was told that one of the benefits includes rush replacement cards that can be sent anywhere in the world. But surprise, surprise - it’s too good to be true and the rep on the phone tells me they don’t ship replacement cards to Cambodia (where we’re leaving to tomorrow morning).
11:30PM – Annoyed and tired, I go to bed.
12:30AM – Chas is on the phone with a potential employer, doing a preliminary interview. He quit his job about 6 months ago and is still searching for ‘the’ job. I catch bits and pieces of his conversation in my half-awake state. He sounds so professional and well spoken, I’m proud. Fall back asleep.
Daily Expense: 830,000 VND ($36.43)
Day Two – Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam / Siem Reap, Cambodia
7:00AM – Wake up with my alarm (thought I had set it for 6:00AM). Check my phone and figure out how best to finish packing. Hop in the shower and mull things over.
7:30AM – Check emails while my hair dries and finish packing. I pride myself on being a light, efficient packer – I always travel with carry-on only and have got my technique down to a science.
8:00AM – Following last night’s debacle we realized that we also need to figure out how to get U.S. dollars for our visas for Cambodia. You can obtain visa on arrival but need to provide a passport photo (which we have) and $30 USD cash (which we don’t). Still feeling bad about what happened, Chas volunteers to hit the pavement to go to the ATM to withdrawal VND and then go to a currency exchange to get USDs. Luckily our Airbnb host is amazing and recommended a local place that gives the best rates.
9:00AM – Chas suggests we grab breakfast before heading to the airport. We head out to try and find a place.
9:38AM – No luck finding somewhere that takes credit card (we just exchanged the last of our VND to USDs). Grumpy that nothing seems to come easy today I walk back to our place.
10:00AM – Munch on leftover snacks and granola bars.
11:00AM – Pack up, say goodbye to our amazing Airbnb, and flag down a cab to the airport. As we sit in traffic, I think about what a great business our host runs and I make a mental note to seriously look into Airbnb hosting – it’s something I always wanted to try.
11:30AM – Arrive at airport and thank our smiley cab driver. 151,000 VND ($7)
12:30PM – After a series of really inconvenient hoops we finally check-in, get through immigration and security, and arrive at our boarding gate. For some reason, the Vietnamese TSA agent gave me a hard time about my tripod and forced me to check it – which required me to go back through immigration and security a second time. Luckily it all worked out so it’s fine. But my energy is a little worse for wear.
12:45PM – Chas finds a Burger King in the food court and buys some fries to try and cheer me up. Doesn’t work at first but then I realize I’m pretty hungry. Go back to Burger King to grab us a water and some chicken sandwiches before our flight. $11.75
1:10PM – Flight boards and soon after we’re on our way! Siem Reap, here we come!
3:00PM – Land and make our way through immigration. We fill out our forms and queue in line for our visas. The whole process is surprisingly easy and efficient. We pay $30 each and wait 5 minutes while our tourist visas get added to our passports. Turns out all our worry this morning about exchange money was for nothing because we could have just gotten USDs from the ATMs here. Oh well, lesson learned. $60
3:45PM – Find my tripod bag at baggage claim and head out of the arrivals hall. Our hotel provides complementary airport transfers so we look for our names and spot our driver. He welcomes us and walks us over to our tuk tuk!
4:15PM – That was fun! I’ve never been in a tuk tuk before. We hop off and into our hotel, which is beautiful.
4:40PM – I am technically still working today so I finish taking all my photos and videos and check email. Settle in for an evening with back-to-back calls.
7:30PM – We order room service from the hotel restaurant – fried rice, chicken stir fry, and veggie spring rolls – so good! I chow down in between calls. $16.50
9:45PM – Finally finished my last call and call it a night. We take a few minutes to explore the rest of the hotel grounds – it’s a small boutique hotel so not much to explore but the pool and rooftop look beautiful at night. It’s raining and the lightening in the distance gives everything a special feel.
11:02PM – Bed.
Daily Expense: $92.25
Day 3 – Siem Reap, Cambodia
7:00AM – Press snooze a few times before waking up. Start my morning routine before hopping back into bed to laze around.
7:30AM – Wake up Chas to watch the replay of an Arsenal match that was on last night. Normally we would have stayed up to watch it but because of the time difference it was at 2am. No matter where we are in the world we always try to catch the games lives, usually out at a local bar or the like. Because football is the sport of the world and English football has a significant following nearly everywhere you go, watching games has brought us to some fun local spots.
8:15AM – Half time on the replay and we head downstairs to breakfast. It’s included in with our hotel. I order the lort cha (stir fry short rice noodles) and Chas has the vermicelli noodles with minced pork. Both local specialties and both delicious!
9:15AM – I check and respond to a few work emails before we finish the second half of the game.
10:45AM – After organizing our plans for tomorrow, we get ready and head into town. Our hotel offers complementary tuk tuk rides to the main drag so we enjoy the short ride in for free.
11:00AM – Walk through the streets of Siem Reap and try to orient ourselves. The central town is filled with restaurants and local markets (mostly targeted at tourists). There are elephant pants for sale EVERYWHERE.
11:30AM – After shopping around a few stalls I settle on a pair of loose pants (I’m worried about passing the apparently strict dress code at Angkor tomorrow). Without me prompting, the guy bargains them down and I settle. $5
11:35AM – Chas spots a pair of sunglasses. $3
12:00PM – We walk around some more and then decide to cool off with a drink. Pop into a cute café. Two passion fruit margaritas and one quesadilla later, we’re off. $12.50
12:45PM – Decide we need to stop at an ATM and pull out cash for tomorrow. Then see a supermarket and grab some supplies. Water, beer, chips and ice cream (I keep telling myself I'll eat healthier starting tomorrow…) $11.50
1:00PM – The sun is now at its peak and we’re sweating our asses off. The heat makes me grumpy so I have a long face.
1:15PM – Half way home I spot a cute off-the-shoulder dress. Grab it as a materialistic way to make me less grumpy. $6.70
1:30PM – After what feels like forever in the heat, we’re back at the hotel and I plop myself under the A/C. As I cool off I start doing some work and checking emails again.
7:00PM – We order room service from the hotel restaurant again – fried chicken and veggie spring rolls. $10
8:00PM – Finish my last call for the day and get ready for bed. We’ve got an early day tomorrow so trying to force myself to sleep. Lights out.
Daily Expense: $48.70
Day 4 – Siem Reap, Cambodia
3:50AM – My alarm goes off and I force myself to get out of bed. Splash some water on my face and get ready.
4:30AM – Our tuk tuk driver for the day picks us up and we’re off to Angkor to try to catch the sunrise! We organized to have the same driver all day so it’s a flat fee. $25
5:00AM – We pull into a large complex which is the Angkor Archeological Park ticket office. There’s already a lot of people here (because going to Angkor Wat at sunrise is one of the most popular things to do when visiting the ancient city). We join the queue to get our tickets. It’s $37 for a 1 day pass and $62 per person for a 3 day. We opt for the former since we plan to visit at least twice. $124
5:15AM – Hop back into our tuk tuk and head to Angkor Wat.
5:30AM – We arrive and walk about 100 m from the parking area to the temple itself. The walk there crosses the moat and we begin to see the outline of the temple as the earliest bits of the morning sun begin to peak over the horizon.
5:45AM – It is PACKED! And it’s become apparent that we won’t get the deep orange/pink sunrise today – the clouds are too thick. The sun comes up without any specter. Sigh. Though the herds of people don’t exactly make it a spectacular experience anyway.
6:45AM – After walking around outside Angkor Wat a bit (we decide to fully explore tomorrow), we head over to Ta Prohm – aka the site of Lara Croft’s Tomb Raider. Snack on the complementary packed breakfasts that our hotel gave us (such a nice touch).
7:30AM – The temple opens and it’s amazing. We’re early enough that only a small crowd has come in so far so we have most of it to ourselves.
8:30AM – Back in our tuk tuk and head to the next temple.
9:00AM – Ta Kao is one of the smaller but more towering temples. It’s already HOT and climbing the steep steps takes most of my energy.
9:30AM – At our last and final temple of the day, Angkor Thom – the largest temple complex in Angkor.
11:30AM – After getting lost and worrying we wouldn’t be able to find our tuk tuk driver, we make it to the last of the sites in Angkor Thom, the famous Bayon. It’s beautiful but I’m whooped. We find our driver (thankfully!) and head home.
12:00PM – Back at our hotel the heat give us the perfect excuse to hop into the pool. I jump in and out while Chas orders lunch for us. Hot chili chicken and stir fried chicken with turmeric paste – yum! $13.50
1:00PM – Take my time eating lunch at the pool as I do some work. I have back-to-back calls starting soon so I cherish the time I have left to lounge.
7:30PM – While I’m discussing an upcoming project with my team, Chas goes out and picks up dinner. Fried rice for me and curry for him. $7.
10:15PM – Finally done with my back-to-back work calls! Exhausted, I climb into bed and fall asleep after some pillow talk.
Daily Expense: $169.50
Day 5 – Siem Reap, Cambodia
6:30AM – Pop up like a daisy. Oh the irony of not being able to sleep in when you finally can on the weekends. I see a text from my brother and we FaceTime for a bit.
7:45AM – Catching up on news I missed yesterday. Neil Gorsuch has been confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Prompted by an email, I make a donation to Planned Parenthood. Before I finalize it, I decide to make it a monthly gift. Hopefully in the future I can make more sizeable contributions. I remind myself to save the receipts for next year’s taxes. $20
8:30AM – Breakfast time! I devour my lot char and pineapple juice – yum!
10:00AM – Chas decides he wants to see some of the temples that are part of the “large circuit’. In Angkor, there are essentially two popular routes you can follow for exploring the different temples. The small circuit – which is what we did yesterday – hits the most popular ones. The larger one goes to the temples located farther out and therefore are usually less visited. Since today is supposed to be the hottest day so far, I opt to stay in and catch up on some ‘housekeeping’ and blogging. We make a plan to meet up at Angkor Wat later this afternoon.
12:00PM – Order room service because it feels good to have a lazy day. I enjoy my curry chicken while packing, catching up on blog stuff, and watching reruns of Jane the Virgin on Netflix. $7
3:30PM – Hop into a tuk tuk and head to Angkor Wat. Riding in a tuk tuk is such a fun experience in and of itself and I love watching the different glimpses of everyday life whiz by $8
3:45PM – Chas spots me as I drive by and I hop off. We reorient ourselves and head to the entrance of the complex. Everywhere I look I see women wearing spaghetti straps and above-the-knee skirts (which supposedly violate the park’s strict dress code). In the meantime I’m boiling under my pants and shawl.
5:45PM – We walked through the whole complex which is stunning. Probably not my favorite of all the ones we saw but it is remarkable to think of what it took to build this nearly 1000 years ago. We had hoped to catch the sunset here but the park staff start forcing people out.
7:15PM – While cooling off at the hotel I check us in for our flight. We’re headed to Thailand tomorrow. Decide we need to pay to check one of our bags in because it will be over the allotted 7kg weight limit. It’s a rip off but that’s how these budget airlines make their money. $29
7:30PM – We head into town for our last night in Siem Reap. I read on TripAdvisor that there’s a good pasta place (whaaa??) and am curious to see if the reviews hold up. They don’t. Two drinks and two bowls of pasta later, I’m disappointed we wasted our last meal in Cambodia on this. $21.50
8:30PM – We walk around Pub Street and the various night markets. Grab some ice cream to cool down. Two scoops because Chas always eats mine even though he says he’s not hungry. $2.75
9:30PM – Hail a tuk tuk to go back to the hotel and call it a night. $4
Daily Expense: $92.25
Day 6 – Siem Reap, Cambodia / Railay Beach, Thailand
6:30AM – I’m up and ready to finish the last of the packing.
8:15AM – I was supposed to be finished by now but I got sidetracked. Luckily, I’m almost done. Decide to head to breakfast so we have enough time after to check out. I have a ham and cheese croissant and Chas has yogurt, muesli and a delicious fruit bowl. It prompts a quick Google search for how many different kinds of dragon fruit there are (FYI there are three). There are a few slices of bread and some croissants leftover – the hotel kindly boxes them for us to take away. We’ve had the same waiter for the last few days. He has the cutest smile – I’m going to miss seeing it every morning.
9:00AM – Chas runs out for one last walk about and picks up some snacks for the flights. $5
9:30AM – We check out and head to the airport. Thanks to the hotel, the tuk tuk ride there is covered again.
10:00AM – Get through security and immigration no problem. Air Asia apparently has “Fly-Thru” service which means we won’t have to re-check our bags in Bangkok before transferring to our domestic flight. I only paid to check Chas’ bag but the check-in counter attendant offered to check mine too for free. I hesitate at first because I usually prefer to keep my stuff with me but then reluctantly say ok.
11:15AM – Our flight was supposed to be boarding now but inbound plane still hasn’t arrived…
12:00PM – On the plane and, surprisingly, it looks like we’ll be on time! Yay!
12:55PM – Land in Bangkok. Rush to make our connection to Krabi. Because we don’t have to collect and re-check our bags, we head straight to immigration. There’s a bit of a wait but get through without any issues.
1:30PM – After pulling some cash out of the ATM, we get a bottle of water (because budget airlines also love to not give you anything for free). 10 TBH ($0.30)
2:45PM – On the plane. I get a bit emotional when I see someone that reminds me of my brother. My parents, brother and future sister-in-law are on a road trip together right now. While I don’t feel left out per say, knowing they’re all together makes me miss them more.
4:00PM – Land in Krabi. Our flight was a bit delayed. We get off in the domestic arrivals terminal and are immediately redirected to pick up our luggage from the international terminal. We take a long walk to a bus that takes us to another building where we find our bags. I’m worried now that our hotel pick-up (which we pre-paid a few weeks ago) won’t know where to find us since we’re in a different terminal.
4:05PM – Exit the terminal and immediate see a sign with my name. Yay – he found us! Phew!
4:30PM – Take a 20 minute comfy van ride to the Ao Nammao Pier, then hop into a golf cart that takes us to the end of the pier, where we hop into a long tail boat. I am SO UNBELIEVABLY EXCITED for my first long tail boat ride. I’ve been dreaming of this day for so long. And even though it’s just a short 5-10 ride over to Railay (our destination), it’s a magical few minutes that I cherish. We have the boat to ourselves so I shameless take photos of everything. When we arrive in the bay of Railay Beach East it’s low tide so the long tail boat can’t go all the way to the pier front. It stops in the shallow water and we hop onto a truck bed pulled by a giant tractor --- yup, a tractor! Needless to say it was the most fun I’ve had en-route to a destination. The total journey takes about 1 hour.
5:45PM – Check in to our hotel and immediately walk/run to the beach to try and catch sunset. Railay Beach is a small but popular beach town on the coast of the Krabi province in Thailand. It’s located on the neck of a peninsula and surrounded by karst mountains – which means it can only be reached by boat. The town itself straddles the narrowest part of the peninsula. We’re staying on what is called Railay Beach East, which is the east side of land. It’s a short walk over to the west side, less than 10 mins.
6:00PM – We’re gifted with the most stunning sunset. Dare I say it is the most incredible one I’ve ever seen. There is a rain storm in the distance over what looks to be Phuket. The long tail boats bob up and down in the water as deep yellows and orange hues take over the sky. It starts to rain but that only seems to add to the amazingness of this moment. I relish in it. With the hustle of today’s flights, it hadn’t fully settled in that we’re finally in Thailand. A country that has been #1 on my bucket list for years. What an incredible welcome.
7:00PM – Post sunset, we walk down Railay’s one and only “street”. Because of it’s size, the town is completely walkable. The only vehicles you see are small motorbikes for transporting goods from ships to the various shops. Even though TripAdvisor let me down last night, I’m still a religious user. We check out the top-rated restaurant, which as it turns out is an Indian place! There aren’t a ton of food options here so we give it a go.
8:00PM – Satisfying but spicy. Two dishes, rice, a garlic naan, one large beer and one pineapple juice. Not the cheapest meal but we expected this area of Thailand to be a bit more expensive because it’s essentially all tourists. 760 TBH ($21.97)
9:00PM – Walk around a bit more and then back to the hotel. I’m asleep within the hour.
Daily Expense: $27.27
Weekly Total Spent: $466.40