Happy holidays! This post is brought to you by KAYAK.
Whether it’s off on an exotic beach getaway or back to a snow-filled hometown, it’s no secret that the holidays are a crazy popular time to travel. Despite that I’m on a self-imposed six-month travel sabbatical, even I couldn’t resist getting in on the fun. Right now, I’m off on a six-day, seven-night getaway that I’m just plain giddy about. I might live in a postcard on Koh Tao, but this particular paradise is just thirteen square miles — a little adventure off the island every once in a while is not only required by visa restrictions, but generally a good way to ward off claustrophobia.
But a trip doesn’t start as the plane takes off — nope, I’ve been working on this one for months. As I’ve recently been sharing my own travel planning system in the Wanderland Guide to Travel Planning, I thought it would be fun to show you a real life example of how all the pieces of one of my shorter trips came together. Here’s how we got from daydream to departure gate on my trip to Bangkok and Siem Reap.
1. Picking a Destination
When Ian and I arrived in Thailand in late September, we sat down to plot out our visa extensions (necessary every sixty days after entering the country) and visa runs (necessary every thirty days after that) and noticed we’d have to leave the country in late December. Rather than go on a quick but boring bounce to the Burma border and back to activate the second entries in our visa right before Christmas, we decided to go on a holiday getaway.
First step? Picking a destination! The parameters: We had to leave the country to restart our visas, so it had to be an international trip. We had just a few days, so it had to be a neighboring country in Southeast Asia. And while I knew I was willing to splurge a bit for the holidays, I also wanted to take advantage of the great value that can be found traveling in this region. Using the go-anywhere feature on KAYAK Explore we discussed several ideas, including a weekend away in Penang (accessible via direct flights from Koh Samui!) or a short hop to Singapore (an easy flight from Surat Thani).
Right as our musings started to get serious, I was approached by a resort in Siem Reap generously asking if I’d like to come be their guest and learn more about their wellness programs. I quickly realized they were the perfect fit for Alex in Wanderland, and started daydreaming about mornings at Angkor Wat followed by afternoons on the yoga mat. The timing was perfect. We set our sights on Cambodia.
2. Booking Flights
Our next step was to book our flights. The good news? We found flights from Koh Samui to Siem Reap that had just one stopover and coordinated with the ferry times to and from Koh Tao. The bad news was, those flights arrived late at night and left early in the morning — and were over $1,000 for the two of us. Say what?! That wasn’t going to fly. (Get it?)
So we started to get creative. Expanding our search to Bangkok revealed that we could nab flights for just $220 each round-trip on one of Asia’s low cost carriers, Air Asia. Even better, we’d be able to arrive early and leave late from Siem Reap. Next, we had to get ourselves to and from Bangkok.
To get from Koh Tao to Bangkok, we decided to take an overnight ferry ($15 each) to an early morning Nok Air flight from Chumphon to Bangkok ($33 each)! There was a tight connection, so we booked a private cab ($15 each) to take us the hour from the ferry port to the airport. On the way back, we decided to suck it up and take the Lomprayah overnight bus from Bangkok to Chumphon, plus the morning ferry to Koh Tao ($27 each). So while the travel was more arduous, we totalled $310 each, or $620 for both of us to travel round trip to Siem Reap through Bangkok. A far cry from the nearly $1,100 we would have spent traveling via Koh Samui. Now, $480 is more than my monthly rent, so that’s a pretty significant savings!
Thailand Travel Tip: If you’re staying in or traveling through the Gulf of Thailand long term, grab a Lomprayah loyalty card. Just take 200 baht (about $6) and two passport photos to any office to apply. You’ll save 150 baht (about $4) on each ferry or bus journey — the cost of a lovely lunch in Koh Tao!
3. Creating an Itinerary
Because this is a very short trip, creating an itinerary was simple and went hand in hand with Step 2. However, based on our flights we did decide to expand our trip from one city to two.
Clearly, two nights of overnight travel to spend three nights at your destination is not ideal. But we had an easy solution: adding two nights in Bangkok to make the trip worthwhile. So our final plan became: two nights in Bangkok, three nights in Siem Reap, and two nights of overnight travel. Considering how obsessed we are with Bangkok, it was far from a sacrifice. After all, Bangkok was just named one of KAYAK’s Top 10 Holiday Escapes!
I can see why — I’ve been a million times and yet I still love a few days in Bangkok to go see all the movies, go eat all the food, and go do all the shopping. I’m even going to fit in a bit of medical tourism, but more on that in a future post!
4. Booking Accommodation
Next up, booking accommodation. Our accommodation in Siem Reap was sorted from the start. We’ll be staying at the Navutu Dreams Resort and Spa, where we’ll laze around in one of the three onsite pools, indulge on the nutritional wellness menu, take in a few of the onsite yoga classes and spa treatments, and take advantage of our complimentary tuk tuk and driver (one comes with every room!) to explore around town. I can’t wait.
But for Bangkok, we had a big decision to make. We tossed around several different Bangkok hotels on our wish list, but ultimately landed on Bangkok Tree House, an offbeat eco-hotel tucked down the Chao Phraya. We thought it would be the perfect compliment to our lush and laid back digs in Siem Reap, and have long been itching for an excuse to stay here. We snagged a deal at $100 per night.
5. And beyond…
Finally, all the fun stuff that comes after the big stuff is booked and sorted — finding restaurants, picking tours, and filling up days with adventures.
Because I’ve been to both these destinations before (Siem Reap twice and Bangkok about a billion times), my research was a little less exhaustive than usual. For Bangkok, it mostly consisted of looking into transportation options since we’d be staying slightly out of the city center, and combing Tripadvisor and travel blogs for restaurant recommendations. You guys often ask how I find the restaurants and cafes I stumble upon and here’s one kind of loopy example: Originally, I’d been super keen on attending the Wonderfruit Festival in Pattaya. Due to time and money constraints (basically, we went on this trip instead) it didn’t work out, but I spent so long drooling over the list of food vendors at the festival that I realized most are pop up versions of hip Bangkok restaurants — so we decided if we couldn’t go to the festival, we could at least go to those.
Hence, our two day plan for Bangkok is built around a morning brunch at Rocket on our first day and dinner at lively Peppina on our second, followed by drinks at Bad Motel and a movie at Siam Paragon. In between, we’ll hang around Bangkok Tree House, go on their evening firefly tour and take advantage of their complimentary bikes.
The next morning, we’ll fly to Siem Reap. For my Siem Reap travel planning, I really only turned to three sources — my own memory, the Navutu Dreams website, and Grantourismo. The former is the travel blog of acclaimed travel writers Lara Dunston and Terence Carter, who live in Siem Reap and are absolute experts on the area.
In fact, I so trust their opinions that we decided to enlist Lara to take us on a Sip Siem Reap bespoke itinerary while we are in town. Our four day plan in Siem Reap consists of the requisite tour of Angkor Wat, yoga classes and spa treatments at Navutu Dreams, meals inspired by posts on Grantourismo, and an evening with Lara that will include a cocktail making class as well as a cocktail crawl through the city’s most unique and inspiring bars. And yes, hour-by-hour itineraries for all six days have been drafted.
No two trips are ever alike, and thus, the planning for each is an entirely new process. I hoped you enjoyed this behind-the-scenes peek at how this one came together! To see this plan in action, follow along right now on Instagram and Facebook. And let me know if you have any last minute suggestions in the comments!
Did you plan a trip for the holidays? Tell me all about your planning process below!
Still planning a holiday getaway of your own? Check out KAYAK’s Holiday Travel Hacker tool, and then let’s brainstorm in the comments!