Good morning from Seminyak, Bali, Indonesia.
For the past 8 weeks our family has been traveling throughout SE Asia. The total trip will be ten weeks, and I thought this would be a good time to update you on what we’re doing.
We are traveling from Seattle to Beijing, Phuket, Krabi, Phi Phi Island, Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Siem Reap, Hanoi, Hoi An, Da Nang, Multiple places in Bali, Kuala Lumpur and ending our trip in Singapore.
This trip is a beta test for us, while we’ve done some 1-2 week trips to Europe, Mexico, and the Caribbean, we’ve never been gone this long. Mostly because of work or other obligations.
Back in 2012 my husband and I were at a cross roads. We talked about either taking a year off and traveling the world, or buckling down and buying as many rentals as we could and busting our butts for a few years in order to get him to retirement early.
This was about the time that I discovered Tim Ferriss’s book, The Four Hour Workweek. While that book has a ton of tactical advice, the mindset piece made the biggest difference for me on the importance of building a business that would allow you to be location independent.
We chose portfolio growth mode over traveling, and spent so many hours working and building up our portfolio, all with the hope that it would some day pay off. During those years there was a lot of blood, sweat and tears. We were both working 10-15 hour days, then on nights and weekends doing much of the renovation work ourselves. It was a rough time, but we were obsessed with our goal and just kept going.
We were making great money working, flipping and building houses, and receiving rental income but we weren’t slowing down to enjoy the fruits of our labor.
The problem was, we reached our financial freedom goal but had grown so accustomed to working that we didn’t quite know how to slow down. Starting in 2016, it took me almost 2 years to slow myself down enough to a point where I’m choosing to work 15-25 hours a week.
Now that our rental portfolio is producing more than enough that we need to live on, we’re testing out mini-retirement trips to see how long we can travel for before things go crazy (since we self manage and I run a business).
So in January 2018, we came up with a plan that we would take ten weeks off to travel SE Asia.
I also wanted to use this trip to test my travel hacking skills. Earlier this year we had two major real estate projects. One being the repair of rot we found at our primary residence shortly after move in, and the other being our new build project.
Both projects would require a significant amount of capital, and since we had planned on this big trip at the end of the year I figured it would be a good time to learn.
I started learning about travel hacking from YouTube videos and blogs. Basically, travel hacking is signing up for new points/mileage earning credit cards and spending a certain amount in a certain period of time (usually 3-4 months) in order to get the sign-up bonus.
In addition to the sign-up bonus, some cards come with other features such as lounge access (via priority pass), global entry credit, free hotel nights, premium hotel status, and free checked bags.
I strategically signed both my husband and me up for cards that could help us redeem points & miles for hotels and airlines for this trip to Asia.
My first redemption was booking three one-way business class tickets on Hainan Air from Seattle to Phuket, and by booking with Alaska Airlines ( a partner of Hainan) we were able to add a free stopover in Beijing.
Beijing allows a visa-free travel if staying less than 144 hours, but since I knew it would be colder in Beijing and didn’t want to pack extra cold weather clothes, I kept our stay to only three days.
The 11-hour flight wasn’t so bad in business class. The service was phenomenal and we received two three-course meals during the flight and had the option to order snacks from the menu at any time.
We were also provided amenity kits, Bose headphones (to borrow during the flight), slippers, pajamas and a nice comforter.
The only downside was the lack of movie choices, I’ve seen better options on domestic flights with Alaska, Delta or American.
Flying regional airlines are cheap and easy, so we paid for those flights using my Amex Platinum for 5x points.
When it came time to get from Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam to Denpasar, Bali there were no direct flight options. Since I knew we’d be flying on a lot of cheap regional airlines (with no leg room) I splurged and redeemed Chase Ultimate Reward Points for two business class flights on Singapore Air. Each flight was about two hours, the first from Ho Chi Minh to Singapore with a three-hour layover in Changi airport (the number one airport in the world) In Singapore to Denpasar, Bali.
Singapore Airlines’s business class was amazing, we had a nice selection of movies and enjoyed the chef created lamb dinner.
We have two more business class flights on our way back to Seattle, one with Singapore Airlines and the other with Asiana.
Bucket List Activities
When planning the trip and deciding where to go and what to see, I created a bucket list of activities that we wanted to do in SE Asia. There’s really so much to see and do, and traveling with a toddler can rule out some of the more adrenaline type of activities, we found no shortage of amazing experiences to have as a family.
Here are some of the highlights that we’ve experienced so far:
CHINA: The great wall of China and the Forbidden City in Beijing
Our first stop on the trip was Beijing, and the first night we went to sleep around 7:30PM due to the time zone change and exhaustion from our travels. I had set up a private tour the next morning with an 8am pick up to go to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. This section is a further drive than other sections of the wall, but it is much better preserved and less crowded.
We chose the option for the cable car up and the toboggan down since we had our 3-year-old in tow. It was a bit touristy, but overall a great experience.
That evening we had booked a food tour so that we could try some of the local food that we likely would not have on our own. First, we tried a donkey burger which consisted of donkey meat (a local delicacy) stuffed into a Chinese-style flatbread. It was a bit salty, but quite good.
Next we tried hot pot, some sesame dessert bars, crabapples on a stick, jianbing (a street food savory crepe), a noodle dish and some beef skewers. We tried all but pig intestines, that was a bit too far out of our comfort zone.
The next morning we walked from our hotel to the forbidden city. Due to time constraints, we skipped Tiananmen square and headed straight for the Forbidden City. Most everything was outdoors and we practically froze in our layers of warm weather clothes and light rain jackets so we quickly walked through it all and headed back to our hotel to prepare for our flight to Phuket.
THAILAND: Bathing elephants in Phuket
One activity we knew we had to experience was visiting an elephant sanctuary. There are a lot of options in Thailand, and we chose the Green Elephant Sanctuary in Phuket.
All of the adult elephants at the park are rescue elephants, where they use to be used for shows or riding. We were able to feed, bath and interact with the elephants for half of the day, and it was an incredible experience.
The elephants at Green Elephant Sanctuary are getting a lot of love from tourists!
THAILAND: Snorkeling with sharks and turtles in Phi Phi Island
We ended up spending 28 days in Thailand, starting in the Islands with Phuket, Krabi and Phi Phi Island. Our family loves to snorkel, and we were able to snorkel in all places, but the best was in Phi Phi Island.
We booked two separate day trips with locals to jet around the islands in a long tail boat. Our guides did a great job showing us the best spots to see the wildlife.
Swimming with the baby sharks was the highlight of our trip to Phi Phi, and it’s by far our new favorite beach location!
THAILAND: Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai
We arrived in Chiang Mai after a one-hour speedboat ride, and a two-hour plane trip from Phi Phi Island on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
We timed it perfectly to be in Chiang Mai for the Loy Krathong festival, which happened to start on November 22nd, our Thanksgiving. The festival takes place over several days, and coincides with the Yee Peng festival. Each evening lanterns are lit and released into the sky along with krathongs, or woven baskets as offers are lit and released down the river.
The whole city was decked out in lanterns big and small, we loved walking around at night under the light of all of the beautiful lanterns.
The lanterns themselves were a little challenging to light, and required at least three people to hold. We found some friendly tourists to help us get ours off the ground, and it was an amazing experience we will never forget.
If you are planning on visiting Chiang Mai during this time, you may want to look into buying tickets to the mass release event, where thousands of people release their lanterns at the same time. By the time I found this option, the tickets were all sold out.
THAILAND: Rooftop dining and the Grand Palace in Bangkok
At first I had left Bangkok off the list of places to visit. My mind kept going to Hangover 2, and I didn’t think it would be a good city for kids.
I’m glad I was wrong and that I did further research because we enjoyed our visit to Bangkok.
We mostly spent our time admiring the many Christmas displays and window shopping at the many shopping centers, and we made a day trip to the grand palace.
Bangkok was incredibly hot, so we spent a good amount of time indoors enjoying the Siam area malls, which pretty much put our malls to shame.
CAMBODIA: UNESCO World Heritage Site Angkor Archeological Park
My personal favorite part of our trip was visiting Angkor Archeological Park over two days with a private guide. We opted to hire a guide to save us time, and so that we could escape to an air-conditioned car in between temple stops.
The government has been slowly restoring the temples that had been taken over by the jungle over hundreds of years. The trees growing on top of the temple walls are a result of the jungle overgrowth, and it’s quite spectacular.
We also loved the people in Cambodia, by far the most friendly and kind in all of SE Asia!
VIETNAM: Ha Long Bay Overnight Boat Trip
We spent a week and a half in Vietnam, and while it rained the majority of the time, we had a great time.
For our daughters 4th birthday we spent the weekend on the Dragon Legend cruising through Bai Tu and Ha Long Bay, another UNESCO world heritage site.
There were thousands of tiny islands throughout the bay, so many in fact that most remain unnamed.
VIETNAM: UNESCO City of Hoi An and Golden Hands Bridge in Da Nang
We had originally planned on visiting Ho Chi Minh city after Hanoi, but after hearing how busy it was there from other travelers, we changed plans and instead flew to Da Nang and stayed a few days in Hoi An.
It rained every afternoon, but we loved this beautiful historic city!
The easiest way to get around is by bicycle, and fortunately, our hotel had bikes for us to use, we even found one with a kiddie seat.
Our favorite activity was biking around in the evenings, picking out our favorite lanterns.
From Hoi An we made the short drive over to Da Nang for a two-night stay. The first day it poured all day long, so we enjoyed the indoor pool and the views from our hotel, which was across from the dragon bridge.
The second day we made the trip up to Ba Na Hills, found some rain ponchos and made the best of it. The golden hands bridge was an incredible site to see despite the wind and rain!
Visibility at the rest of the park was limited, so we mainly stayed inside and enjoyed the five-story indoor arcade and game area.
INDONESIA: Waterfalls, Rice Fields and Monkeys
Going from Vietnam to Bali was quite the change. We were greeted with warm air and beachy vibes and no noisy honking scooters.
We spent a total of 2 weeks in Bali, and have stayed in Nusa Dua, Ubud and Seminyak.
The highlights of our trip to Bali were the amazing waterfalls, rice terraces, sunsets, and the monkeys.
Our first full day we spent making the 2 hour one-way trek to Gitgit and Sekumpul waterfalls. It was a lot of stairs up and down through the lush jungle, but it was so worth it!
We also spent half a day at the Monkey Forest Sanctuary in Ubud, and not only was it fun to watch the monkeys, but the park itself also had some beautiful temples and sites.
The monkeys are more tame in the monkey forest because they are fed often, but we did have one try to steal our water bottle and watched another monkey get ahold of some hand sanitizer strapped to a back pack. They’re pretty sneaky!
Self Managing Our Rentals From Asia
Even though we’re on the other side of the world, we’re still self-managing our rentals. I’ll share another post soon about our systems and processes for self-managing from Asia, though not much has changed from our usual routine.
We have had two repair requests while we’ve been traveling, all were routed directly to our handyman who has taken care of everything for us.
Overall in the last 8 weeks we’ve probably spent a total of 2 hours on “work”, and yet the income has continued to come in.
We have really come to appreciate the simple things that are easily forgotten in the US. Little things such as having the ability to fill up a glass to drink from the kitchen sink, and the availability of public restrooms (with toilet paper and soap) were under-appreciated until we spent time in Asia.
Also, the quality time we’ve spent together as a family has been priceless, we are making memories that will last a lifetime, and all because of a few smart decisions and delayed gratification in the past.
If we worked regular 9-5 jobs, it’s highly unlikely we would have been able to take 10 weeks off and keep those jobs. Owning rental properties that produce an income no matter where we are at in the world is the only reason we’ve been able to do this.
Lastly, watching our daughter pretend to be superwoman and run about the great wall of China, snorkeling with baby sharks, eating Thai ice cream watching a new sunset every evening, lighting our own lantern to be joined by a sea of thousands of others on Thanksgiving, making our own lanterns in Hoi An, and jungle trekking for hidden waterfalls are just a few memories we’ve experienced, and we still have many more to come.