USA: 26 Days In The USA

a couple months back, I had the opportunity to travel around in the USA after the work part of my Work and Travel USA program ended. before I start… as much as I want to call this A Guide To USA, it’s more like How I Spent 26 Days in USA - a reference rather than a guide. I try to compact as much information while at the same time not make it too overwhelming, so it’ll have the essential information and helpful tips that you’ll need to know. marked with star are the things or food that I’d love to try but alas, didn’t have the time. also, to protect the hosts’ privacy, I’ll only disclose up to the street names of the AirBnbs that I stayed in. I’ll write more details on each individual posts, coming up soon. stay tuned!



Itinerary

finally, after much staring at Google Maps and tracing my options on it multiple times, I settled on something like this that actually make some sense instead of me breaking my bank flying all over America:

Day 1 - Day 3: Washington, D.C.
Day 3 - Day 7: New York City, New York
Day 7 - Day 9: Niagara Falls, New York
Day 9 - Day 12: Chicago, Illinois
Day 12 - Day 15: San Francisco, California
Day 15 - Day 16: Las Vegas, Nevada
Day 16 - Day 17: Arizona
Day 17 - Day 19: Utah
Day 19 - Day 20: Las Vegas, Nevada
Day 20 - Day 21: Death Valley, California
Day 21 - Day 23: San Diego, California
Day 23 - Day 26: Los Angeles, California

once, I took the midnight train and another night, I camped at the airport. so that’s two nights of accommodation missing. also, from Day 15 onwards till Day 23, I joined two friends and we road tripped for 9 days, from Las Vegas all the way to Los Angeles. the compact-car rental was $331 for the entire 9 days.


Washington, D. C.

Getting In

From Williamsburg, VA, I took the Amtrak ($36) + Insurance ($9) with two pieces of free check-in baggage

Accommodation

City House Hostel Washingon D. C. ($77.57 for two nights in a 4-person mixed dorm)

it’s one of the cheaper hostels that’s close to Union Station compared to those that are close to the city center because it doesn’t make sense to for me to stay in the city center.

Getting Around

I personally didn’t take the Metro but walk instead and then took an Uber Share back to my hostel, which cost $4.65. that’s it. but if you want to, you can get a SmarTrip Metro card for $10 with $8 stored value or $30 with $28 stored value. fares range from $1.85 - $6 vary with peak and off-peak hours.

What To Do / Where To Go

  • White House

  • Lincoln Memorial

  • Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

  • National Air and Space Museum

  • National Gallery of Art

  • Library of Congress

  • United States Capitol

  • Newseum*

  • Washington Monument, which you can see from afar from Lincoln Memorial

  • National Museum of African American History and Culture*

  • Tidal Basin

  • International Spy Museum*


New York City, New York

Getting In

From Washington D.C. by Greyhound ($21) with one piece of free check-in baggage

Accommodation

The Local Hostels NYC ($292.34 for four nights in a 4-person mixed dorm)

it is located at the LIC of Queens, an industrial area - five minutes walk to the nearest subway station.

Getting Around

NYC Subway: $32 for a week + $1 for the card or $3 single trip

What To Do / Where To Go

  • take a stroll through Central Park

  • see the city from the Top of the Rock

  • Empire State Building

  • Manhattan Bridge / DUMBO

  • Brooklyn Bridge

  • Battery Park

  • One World Trade Center

  • see the Statue of Liberty at Ellis Island or take the free Staten Island Ferry

  • watch a Broadway show at Broadway

  • Times Square

  • spend an afternoon at The High Line*

  • eat at Little Italy*

  • Fifth Avenue

  • The MET

  • MoMA (free admission every Friday from 4PM - 8PM)

  • Guggenheim Museum

  • Museum of Natural History

What To Eat

  • Shake Shack

  • The Halal Guys

  • Piccola Cucina Osteria Siciliana

  • Raku NYC*

  • One-Dollar Pizzas*


Niagara Falls, New York

Getting In

From New York City to Buffalo by Greyhound ($52), with one piece of free check-in baggage

From Buffalo to Niagara Falls by Uber ($32.77)

Accommodation

Wanderfalls Hostels ($27.22 for a night in a 4-person female dorm)

it’s a house turned into a hostel so it’s small and cozy. the best thing about it? the pancakes for breakfast! best pancakes I’ve ever had.

Getting Around

depending on where you wanna go, but to me it’s not exactly a big town. I tried to walk the first evening, but it scared the shit out of me, so for safety purpose, I always took an Uber when it’s dark but if there’s day light, I walked. there’s no Uber Share in this area.

What To Do / Where To Go In Niagara Falls State Park

  • Observation Deck

  • Maid of the Mist - ferry tour

  • Cave of the Winds - touch the American Falls!

  • Luna Island

  • Terrapin Point


Chicago, Illinois

Getting In

From Niagara Falls to Buffalo by Uber ($39.11)

From Buffalo to Chicago by Amtrak ($60) + Insurance ($17) with two pieces of free check-in baggage

Accommodation

AirBnb @ South Aberdeen Street ($153.48 for two nights for two person)

Getting Around

Bus: $2.50 single trip
Bus and Rail: $3 single ride or $10 for one-day disposable Ventra ticket (24 hours)
Bus and Rail: $10 for 1-Day CTA Fun Pass or $20 for 3-Day CTA Fun Pass

I only took the Metro once before my friend came with his rental car. with it, the parking fees meant the death of our wallets. it didn’t make the travel time shorter in the city center. but seeing that we stayed somewhere quite far away from downtown, it helped a little. you can get more details on getting around the city here.

What To Do / Where To Go

  • see the city from high above of Willis Tower or 360 Chicago

  • Cloud Gate

  • Millennium Park

  • Crown Fountain*

  • Buckingham Fountain*

  • The Art Institute of Chicago

  • catch a game at Wrigley’s Field

  • watch a comedy show*

  • Field Museum of Natural History*

  • Lincoln Park zoo*

  • enjoy a cocktail and the night view from The Signature Lounge*

  • Adler Planeterium*

  • Navy Pier*

  • Michigan Avenue Bridge*

  • Lakefront Path

Where To Eat

  • Sun Wah BBQ for their Beijing Roast Duck


San Francisco, California

Getting In

From Des Moines to San Francisco by United Airlines ($278.16 including travel insurance and one piece of check-in baggage, one transfer at Denver)

Accommodation

HI San Francisco City Center Hostel ($183.80 for three nights in a 4-person female dorm)

I personally don’t recommend this hostel, especially for solo travellers. honestly, I don’t feel safe here.

Getting Around

BART: fare varies based on distance, click here to calculate yours
Muni bus: $2.50 single ride on MuniMobile or Clipper Card or cash or $5 Day Pass on MuniMobile
Cable Car: $7 single ride on MuniMobile or Clipper Card or cash
Golden Gate Transit: fare varies by distance and zone, click here for more info

you can get a Clipper Card from Muni Metro, Golden Gate ferry ticket machine or SMART fare machine at $3 with a minimum value. for more information about MUNI fares, you can click here.

I usually take the MUNI bus and although most say that it is a must-do, I never took the cable car. I never plan to take the Golden Gate Transit but somehow got onto one, thanks to Google Maps. it’s a lot faster to get to the Golden Gate Bridge (duh) but slightly pricier. and I only took the BART to and fro SFO airport.

What To Do / Where To Go

  • Golden Gate Bridge

  • Fisherman’s Wharf

  • Pier 39

  • Alcatraz Prison*

  • SFMoMA

  • Chinatown

  • Ghirradelli Square

  • The Painted Ladies

Where To Eat

  • Saigon Sandwich - cheap Vietnamese banh mi

  • Brenda’s French Soul Food

  • The Bird

  • Kitchen Story*

  • Sweet Maple*

  • Sushirito*

  • House of Prime Rib*

  • State Bird Provisions*

  • El Farolita*

  • Limon Rotisserie*


Las Vegas, Nevada

Getting In

From San Francisco to Las Vegas by Southwest Airlines ($179.98 including travel insurance and one piece of check-in baggage)

Accommodation

Ellis Island Hotel Super 8 ($85 for a night for four person)

Getting Around

monorail: $5 single ride or $13 for 24-hour pass (for more different passes you can click here)
Deuce or SDX buses: $6 for 2-hour pass; $8 for 24-hour pass or $20 for three days

we didn’t take any of those and although we have a car, we actually preferred walking the Strip. for more details regarding Las Vegas’s public transport, you can click here.

What To Do / Where To Go Near The Strip

  • watch the Bellagio Fountain Show - and imagine you just pulled a heist on a casino

  • The Mirage Volcano*

  • Paris Las Vegas

  • MGM Grand

  • Luxor Hotel & Casino*

  • Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign

Where To Eat

  • Gordon Ramsay Hell’s Kitchen

  • In-n-Out - because the one in Hollywood is always crowded


Arizona

Accommodation

RV AirBnb @ North Smokerise Drive  ($55.60 for a night for three person, can fit up to five)

What To Do / Where To Go

  • Grand Canyon National Park

  • Upper / Lower Antelope Canyon - book your slots earlier!

  • Horseshoe Bend


Utah

Accommodation

Hotel Zion ($129 for two nights for three person)

What To Do / Where To Go

  • Zion National Park - challenge yourself to Angel’s Landing!

  • Northgate Peaks Viewpoint

  • Arches National Park*

  • Bryce Canyon National Park


Las Vegas, Nevada

Accommodation

Main Street Station Casino Street Brewery Hotel ($36.37 for a night per person) - this hotel charges resort fees

What To Do / Where To Go

  • North Premium Outlet

  • Fremont Street*


Death Valley, California

while a lot of friends told us that it’s boring and some people said it’s so empty that it’s eerie, three of us love Death Valley National Park a lot. it’s a desert so bring lots of water with you and always, always make sure your car is in a good condition. you don’t want to be stranded in nowhere with no sight of any other human.

Accommodation

AirBnb @ South Jorgensen Circle ($68.68 for a night for three person, can fit up to four)

What To Do / Where To Go

  • Badwater Basin

  • catch the sunset at Zabriskie Point

  • Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

  • catch the sunrise at Dantes View

  • Ubehebe Crater

  • Artist’s Drive and Palette


San Diego, California

Accommodation

AirBnb @ La Presa Avenue, Spring Valley ($114.43 for two nights for three person)

Getting Around

Old Town Trolley Tours: $35.95 1-Day Tour or $69.90 2-Day Tour

North County Transit District Bus: $1.75 single trip or $5 day pass

we didn’t take any of those because we had a car and we stayed quite far away from the main attractions. for more information on how to get around San Diego, you can click here.

What To Do / Where To Go

  • spend a day Balboa Park

  • Gaslight Quarter

  • watch the sunset at La Jolla Cove

  • Old Town

  • USS Midway Museum

  • San Diego Zoo

Where To Eat

  • Rockin Baja Lobster


Los Angeles, California

Accommodations

Getting Around

DASH Bus: $0.50 single trip or $0.35 single trip on TAP card or $5 7-Day Pass
Metro: $1.75 single trip; $10 1-Day Pass or $25 7-Day Pass (additional charges for Silver Line and Express Buses)

you can get a TAP card (stored value card) at $2 from TAP vending machines in metro stations or on board buses. click here for more information.

be prepared to spend an hour commuting from one attraction to another and expect the bus to be late.

What To Do / Where To Go

  • catch the sunset at Griffith Observatory

  • Walk of Fame

  • catch the sunset at Santa Monica Pier

  • Walt Disney Concert Hall

  • LACMA

  • The Broad

  • Hollywood sign

  • see the city from high above at L.A. City Hall for free*

  • Venice Beach*


Driving in USA

as far as I know, the Malaysian driving licence—the new, hard one, not the old laminated one, works just fine in most states there. so long as the vital infos are in English and Americans can understand, you should be okay. we went on the road-trip without any IDP. none of us.

if you want to be on the safe side by getting an International Driving Permit, you have to do it here in Malaysia before you depart. as a foreigner, you cannot get an IDP in the US. it is only valid if you also have your driving licence with you and the current fee in Malaysia is RM150.

as for car rental, you need a car insurance which usually already comes under the rental. if you’re 25 and under, you’re subject to a “Young Renter Fee” or “Underage Fee” to compensate the rental company for extra risks. however, there are ways that you could get away with it. I know a friend who rented a car from Kayak.com and managed to waive it.

remember to download an offline map and star places of interest, or learn how to actually read a paper map before you leave for your adventure. expect to have bad to no cellular service on the road. know the basics like how to change a tyre, etc. for emergency. be careful with your valuables and personal belongings.


Handy Apps

Travel-focused

  • Skyscanner Travel Deals - flight comparison

  • Hopper - flight prices forecast

  • Expedia - flight tickets purchase, car rental, accommodation search, tour bookings

  • Kayak - flight tickets purchase, car rental, accommodation search

Transportation

  • Enterprise - car rental

  • Turo - car rental

  • Lyft - ride-sharing

  • Uber - ride-sharing

  • Amtrak

  • Greyhound

  • SuperShuttle - airport shuttle

  • Frontier Airlines

  • Alaska Airlines

  • Fly Delta

  • United Airlines

  • Southwest Airlines

  • MuniMobile - San Francisco public transportation

  • New York Subway MTA Map - NYC subway

  • LA Mobile - LADOT Transit ticketing

Accommodation

Tickets / Passes

  • Ticketmaster - concerts / shows / games

  • TKTS - Broadway shows

  • Headout - shows / activities

  • Go City Card - discounted city pass

  • Ballpark - baseball game

Navigation / Tips / Etc.

  • Google Maps - navigation

  • Yelp - food recommendations

  • Companion: Personal Safety

  • Venmo - money transfer

  • Paypal - money transfer

  • The Outbound - activities / attractions recommendations

  • SunSurveyor - for light chasers *smirks*

  • Uber Eats: Food Delivery

  • 7-Eleven, Inc.


USA: A Guide To Work and Travel USA

Work and Travel USA Malaysia Application Guide | A Beautiful Distraction by Ruo Ling Lu

so… I’m back from the Work and Travel USA summer season program after spending three months working in a water park in Virginia and one month travelling to places like New York City and San Francisco.

I’m just gonna cut through the chase and write what I know about the Work and Travel USA program. but before you read on, please know that this is based solely on my experience. you can still ask me about my opinions on simple things but for any important pieces of advice like things regarding money or safety, please consult an agent. also, if there’s anything that I got it wrong here, let me know! :)

Jump to any sections:

Introduction

What is Work and Travel USA

basically, if you’re eligible, you can get a J1 Visa allowing you to work for the summer or winter season in places like theme parks, restaurants, hotels or retails in USA and then another 30 days to explore.

Who can participate?

  • Full-time university student or recently graduated

  • Between the age of 18 and 30

  • Able to stay in the United States for the duration of your program

  • Able to work and live in an English-speaking environment

  • Have approximately 800 USD to support yourself in the first few weeks

  • Capable of performing the tasks in your job description

How long was the program?

including training, I worked for 13 weeks. usually the requirement by employers is to work at least 10 weeks. naturally, the longer period you work, the more money you’ll make.

after your working period, you’re allowed to stay in the United States for another 30 days. some of my peers continued on with their travels to other countries after that 30 days. so, you could be away from home for as long as 5 months. I mean… if you want to escape from your evil witch mother or something… you could consider that. XD

Process

How was the process?

you can sign up yourself without an agent but I reckon it’ll be troublesome. I signed up through Out Of The Box which my friend did too the previous year so I felt that they’re reliable.

as far as I know, there are three agencies in Malaysia, which are:

my experience with Out Of The Box was good. they’re helpful with my concerns, communication with them was clear, and Yeen never forgot to look out for us when we were in the US.

I had an initial interview with OOTB via Skype basically to see how prepared I am to leave home, financially as well as mentally and if my family is well aware of the details.

then, when I’ve signed up with, I’m provided with a list of employers and their details such as hourly wage, location, job description, etc. I was allowed to pick three, just in case I couldn’t make it for the first on my list.

after that, there’s another face-to-face interview with my employer Busch Gardens Williamsburg / Water Country USA.

after I got my job offer, there was the visa interview and an orientation session by OOTB before we headed off.

What documents did I prepare?

  • Proof of study / graduate

  • Passport

  • Bank statement

  • Visa application photo

  • Simple resume

the process was quite hassle-free to me. basically, OOTB would let me know what to prepare and my job was just to get it and then hand it to them. if you’ve passed the interview, you’ll get your DS-2019 form, which is one of the most important documents that will allow you to enter the United States.

What was I asked during the job interview?

it was a simple face-to-face group interview with 5 others. the questions were pretty basic like self-introduction, reason for participating in the program, previous work or co-curricular activity experience. the interview was mainly to see our attitude and English speaking level. all of us passed it.

What was I asked during the visa interview?

it was also a group interview. we were asked about our employer and our rights. I got asked who is funding me and if I was going to consider getting a job there as I’m already done with school.

other questions to expect are questions such as your wages, employer, where are you staying, etc. we weren’t asked to present any documents but it’s always wise to bring them along.

Money

How much did I spend?

I spent roughly a total of RM14,600 upfront. here’s the breakdown of the expenditures:

I paid a total of RM5,450 to OOTB, some of which are subjected to currency rate, which includes:

  • Initial fees: RM420

  • Programme fees: RM4,250

  • SEVIS Fees: RM140 (35 USD)

  • Visa Fee: RM640

I paid RM3,150 for my round-trip air tickets for KUL > NRT > NEW > RIC and then LAX > SIN > KUL.

it was RM2,700+ from United Airline’s promotion but because there were three of us who wanted to fly together, we paid a little extra and let a travel agency to handle that.

I couldn’t remember the currency rate and also I exchanged a number of times but it’s roughly RM6,000 (1,500 USD) for my pocket money. it is actually almost double of what is required (800 USD).

How much did I make from my work?

I earned a total of 4,200 USD after tax. my pay for the first couple of weeks was 9.30 USD and then I got a raise to 9.55 USD after I attended alcohol training, which was provided by my employer. the total hours I worked per week ranged from 30 to 50 hours, depending on the weather, because it’s a water park. I don’t get OT pay because it is a seasonal business.

Did I recover the upfront payment?

I’m just gonna be truthful and say: no.

before you feel disheartened by the news, here’s what you should note:

  • I wasn’t hardworking enough to look for a second job

  • there wasn’t OT pay

  • the rental for my entire period of stay was about 1,000 USD

  • I didn’t travel in a, uhm, budget friendly way

for the one month of travel, I spent about 3,500 USD, which explains why I couldn’t recover the upfront money. the rest of the money went to my living expenses and some shopping. the premium outlet near where I stayed wasn’t helping me much in saving money. :P

I could’ve spent the same amount of money to just travel and not work, so why did I work?

I thought of this too before I went. does Work and Travel USA make a difference? yes.

making money apart, the other thing that I made within those three months are friends and memories. I remember many people crying during my last few weeks there as we parted ways. that’s the kind of one of a lifetime experience you’re gonna have.

the other reason is exposure. I know myself pretty damn well enough to know that I wouldn’t work in a theme park in Malaysia or move out of my house without any strong reason. so it’s a time for me to learn to manage my own money and be independent. it’s also an opportunity for me to improve my interpersonal skills.

that three months were also for me to familiarize myself with the US. with the amount of American media we’re exposed to, there wouldn’t be any huge culture shock lah but there are still those little things like tips, pedestrian crossing, cashless payment, stuffs like that that I’m sure would pretty much make me info overload if I just bam, landed in America and started travelling. and oh, jetlag. it solves the problem.

besides, I wouldn’t make it for my one month of travel if I hadn’t spent the previous 3 months standing at least 8 hours a day and walking so much. the working beat my body up so hard that it can take walking 15,000 steps a day while carrying my camera gears like a breeze.

lastly, the bonus work perk is that I got to enter both the theme park and water park whenever I want, which was quite fun and pretty much what we usually did on our days off. kinda missing the rides now. ;___;

Work

Where did I work and what’s my job scope?

I worked under culinary operations at Water Country USA, a water park under the SeaWorld family in Williamsburg, Virginia. at the beginning we were everywhere in the park but after things settled down, I mainly worked as a cashier selling food. sometimes I sell Dippin’ Dots and sometimes I made food like pretzels, churros and corn dogs. pretty easy stuff - just let the oven handle it. some of my friends ended up serving burgers or frying funnel cakes. it really depends on where each one of us ended up. apart from that, other internationals also worked as lifeguards, area hosts or ride operators at Busch Gardens Williamsburg.

Why did I choose Busch Gardens Williamsburg?

mainly because I signed up alone so it’s better to look for an employer that provides lodging. my first choice was actually to work in a hotel at Salt Lake City where no lodging is provided. so OOTB had to hook me up with other participants, if there were any to begin with and we had to do our own research and da da da there’s just too much trouble.

another reason would be me not being able to live three months in the nature like national parks. HAHA. Williamsburg is a historical town where there’re chain restaurants, banks and department stores that are easily accessible with public transport, Uber or Lyft. it’s usually about 1 USD - 2 USD each trip if four of us shared a car. we even have a club!

other than that, Busch Gardens Williamsburg hires more than a hundred internationals every year so it’s a great opportunity to make new friends.

generally, the thing I looked out for were things like lodging, location, transportation and weather. the biggest concern to me was being alone.

Insurance and Bank

Was I covered by any insurance?

yes. the type of insurance you’ll get varies from sponsor to sponsor and I didn’t need to pay any extra for mine. I was sponsored by GeoVisions and was covered from when I left Malaysia, including my travel period. as far as I know, the same batch of participants with me who were sponsored by CIEE was covered only during their work period. however, you can always obtain extra insurance on your own or seek advice from your agent.

Which bank did I use?

I opened a BB&T account which is available at my area, but not nationwide. it’s a student checking account that I did not have to close so hopefully there wouldn’t be any problem for my tax refunds. fingers crossed.

before I left Williamsburg, I wanted to have another bank account where the ATMs are pretty much anywhere because ATM charges for withdrawing from a different bank is 3 USD. pretty expensive compared to our RM1 huh. so, I opened a Wells Fargo account, for when I travel but I actually didn’t really need it. it’s more of a just-in-case thing. I had to close the account before leaving the United States because they would start charging me after 90 days upon opening the account.

I don’t know much about other bank services - like if you have to close them or not before leaving, or if there’s any monthly charges, etc. but if you’re looking for one that’s available almost anywhere there’s Bank of America and Chase Bank. I saw Chase everywhere I go but it was until my very last days in the US that I realized they’re not a car company, but a bank. LOL.

another thing I was warned to watch out for is bank overdraft. my friend got into trouble with overdrafts and the bank almost charged him. I almost got into trouble too even though I’ve made sure that my checking account doesn’t allow me to do so. but problem solved, whew.

Travel

Where did I go after the work part ended?

if you want a more detailed guide, you can teleport to my guide to USA. here’s a quick list of places I’ve visited during my 26 days travel:

  • Washington, DC

  • New York City, New York

  • Niagara Falls, New York

  • Chicago, Illinois

  • San Francisco, California

  • Las Vegas, Nevada

  • Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

  • Antelope Canyon, Arizona

  • Horseshoe Bend, Arizonaa

  • Zion National Park, Utah

  • Death Valley National Park, California

  • San Diego, California

  • Los Angeles, California

Suggestions:

  • Orlando, Florida

  • Miami, Florida

  • Seattle, Washington

  • Portland, Oregon

  • Boston, Massachusetts

  • Yosemite National Park

  • Glacier National Park

  • Yellowstone National Park

  • Arches National Park

some of my international friends even went to Canada and Mexico during their work period. I’m not sure how our Malaysian passport can allow us to do so but it’s a great opportunity. start saving places of interest to your Google Maps or Pinterest! it helps when you’re planning for your travels.

Miscellaneous

What did I regret bringing? What did I regret not bringing?

I regretted bringing too many contact lens solution. haha! I ended up carrying two extra travelling bottles back. apart from all that Malaysian food, whatever that you can get in Tesco / Jusco here, you can get from Walmart / Target there. we also get some things for dirt cheap price at secondhand store like Goodwill and Dollar Tree.

as for anything I regretted not bringing… I think I’m pretty well-packed. XD but if you’re a shutterbug like me, don’t forget your lens hood like I did. :(

What useful apps did I use when I was there?

  • U by BB&T - banking

  • Wells Fargo - banking

  • Venmo - money transfer

  • Splitwise - splitting money with friends

  • Yelp - food recommendations

  • 7- Eleven - convenient store

  • Target - department store

  • Walmart - department store

  • Food Lion - department store

  • Amazon - online shopping

  • Uber - e-hailing

  • Lyft - e-hailing

I’ll put together another list for apps I used for travel purpose in the coming post.

How did I survive there?

well… “survive” would be too strong a word. but the number one tip is: don’t be stupid. if you know there’s a risk in doing something, do some calculations beforehand. if you feel like something is wrong, always follow your intuition. there are also all the general travelling safety tips like keep a copy of all of your documents, let your friends and family know your current status, keep in mind who to go to if you’re in trouble, etc.

also, make friends! there’s a Chinese saying that goes “rely on your family when you’re at home and rely on your friends when you’re out.” look out for each other and let your family know who they are and their contacts and you should be fine.

What is my takeaway from this program?

it would be silly to say that I changed. I mean, even if you sit at home and do nothing for four months you’re definitely bound to change too.

jokingly, it would be learning that everyone cusses and calculates in their mother tongue. I know the melting pot culture in Malaysia makes us cuss mostly in English but try doing Maths, your true colours will appear. XD

jokes apart, I always believe that if you want to learn to swim, then you have to jump into the ocean. reading about people’s journeys and experiences will never beat going out and doing it yourself because you’ll never know what you can do until you meet all sorts of challenges, just like I never knew I am a lot more independent than I let myself to be back at home.

so, good luck in applying, fellow adventurers! I hope this post helps you. :)


A Quick Guide To Bangkok

 

hello, hello! it's almost four months since my second time in Bangkok (check out the post here!) so here's finally a Bangkok guide! it'll be a quick one packed with information that I hope will help you, especially for first timers! I'll constantly update this as my sister and I visit Bangkok in the future (yes, definitely) so here you go! 

last updated: 1 June 2017

 

 

BEFORE YOU GO

52 countries including Malaysia, Singapore, UK, US, Canada and Australia are allowed for visa exemption (full list). for others, you need to get a visa upon arrival or at the embassy of your home country for USD 30 to stay for a period 15 or 30 days.

Documents Required

- passport or travel document with a validity not less than 6 months
- visa application form (filled out)
- one(1) recent 4x6cm. photograph of the applicant
- round-trip air ticket or e-ticket (paid in full)
- proof of financial means (20,000 baht per person/40,000 baht per family)

>>> complete information for Tourist Visa in Thailand)

 

GETTING IN

 

there're two airports in Bangkok - the newer Suvarnabhumi International Airport and the old Don Mueang International Airport. people traveling from Malaysia also do it by car. 

Suvarnabhumi International Airport

to get from Suvarnabhumi to your destination, you can take either of these:

Airport Rail Link
- Express Line to Makkasan
- Express Line to Phaya Thai
- City Line
- operates between 6AM - 12AM
(see "Getting Around" for more info)

Public Bus
- bus Bor Khor Sor runs from 5.40AM - 9PM
- tickets are available at BorKhorSor's service counter
- bus Bor Khor Sor's number and route
- bus BMTA operating hours are dependant on the route
- fare is from THB 24 - 45
- bus BMTA's numbers and routes

Taxi
- fare is based on meter with a surcharge of THB 50

Rental Cars
- rental cars are available if you want to travel comfortably
- search, compare and book one here

 

Don Muang International Airport

to get from Don Muang to your destinaition, you can take either of these:

Bus
- Bus No. 29 to Central Bangkok (Siam Area)
- THB 18

Taxi
- fare is based on meter with a surcharge of THB 50
- approximately THB 150, 30-45 minuntes to BTS Mo Chit
- approtximately THB 220, 40-90 minutes to Phra Khanong, Sukhumvit

 

Suvarnabhumi - Don Muang

- buses between the two airports run from 5AM to 12AM daily
- one every hour from 5AM - 10AM and 9PM - 12AM
- one every 40 minutes from 10AM - 9PM.

 

- ADDITIONAL INFORMATION -

>>> more info about To & From Bangkok Airport
>>> distance, travel time and approximate fare for Don Muang Airport Transportation
>>> schedule for Transfer Buses Between Suvarnabhumi - Don Muaeng
>>> location of Public Transport Services at Suvarnabhumi Airport

 

WHERE TO STAY

 

there are many types of accommodations to choose from in Bangkok. 5-stars hotels, smaller budget hotels, the more economical hostels, and the homey AirBnB. choosing a place to stay depends on your priority, your budget and the area you want to stay.

I'll suggest looking for newly-opened budget hotels/hostels because they will usually offer discounts for their opening. 

some of the places that we considered when planning for our trip:

Pratunam

- Movylodge Hostel (Agoda // Hotels.com // Expedia //  Booking.com)
- KC Place Hostel (Homepage // Agoda // Hotels.com // Expedia // Booking.com)
- Vimarn Hostel (Homepage // Agoda // Hotels.com // Expedia // Booking.com)
- Metro Pratunam Boutique Hotel (Homepage // Agoda // Hotels.com // Expedia // Booking.com)
- Patra Boutique Hotel (Homepage // Agoda // Hotels.com // Expedia // Booking.com)
- Gaam Hotel (Agoda // Hotels.com // Expedia // Booking.com)

Sukhumvit

Analog Hostel (Homepage // Agoda // Hotels.com // Expedia // Booking.com)

 
 

our budget was RM400 - 500, but we end up paying RM640 (didn't realize the price at Agoda fluctuates together with the currency and rate, so ended up paying a lot more zzz) for a Double Room for 4 Nights at MovyLodge hostel (yes you can trust the photos on Facebook, it's that nice!), across from BTS Ratchathewi. the place is new so it's clean and the the atmosphere is good. it's also near the Airport Rail Link (if you get down from Phaya Thai, walk ~7-10 minutes or you can choose to take BTS Phaya Thai to BTS Ratchathewi). there're 7-Elevens (one ~3-5 minutes walk, the other ~5-7 minutes walk), a massage parlour (next to the first 7-Eleven), McDonald's. what I like most about this place is that it's off the main street so it's quiet at night.

>>> stay updated to hotel deals with this I Love Bangkok Facebook Page

 

GETTING AROUND

 

there are plenty of transportations that you can choose in Bangkok to get around depending on your priorities, here's the list:

AIRPORT RAIL LINK

ARL is the most convenient way to get to the city from the airport. you can also get around the city with this depending on where you stay. there are 2 express lines and 1 city lines but it is said that the express lines have closed down. anyway, here are the infos for all 3 lines. 

Express Line Makkasan
- departs every 40 minutes
- non-stop train service
- 300 meters away from MRT Phetchaburi
- THB 150
- runs from 6AM - 12AM

Express Line Phaya Thai
- departs every 30 minutes
- non-stop train service
- connects to BTS Phaya Thai
- THB 150
- runs from 6AM - 12AM

City Line
- departs every 12 - 20  minutes
- stops at Phaya Thai - Ratchaprarop - Makkasan - Ramkhamhaeng - Hua Mak - Ban Thap Chang - Lat Krabang - Suvarnabhumi Airport
- connects to MRT Makkasan and BTS Phaya Thai
- THB 15 - THB 45
- runs from 6AM - 12AM

>>> additional info for Bangkok Airport Link

BTS SKYTRAIN

- the more convenient and cheaper way to get around the city
- the two BTS lines are Silom Line and Sukhumvit Line
- runs from 6.30AM - 12AM
- last train runs between 11.30PM - 11.50PM
- THB 15 - THB 55
- day pass costs THB 140
- Rabbit Card (like Touch n' Go, EZ-Link, Octopus Card, Oyster card) is available

>>> Bangkok BTS Homepage

MRT

- the more convenient and cheaper way to get around the city
- the two MRT lines are Blue Line and Purple Line
- runs from 6AM - 12AM
- departs every 10 minutes
- THB 16 - 42
- runs from 6AM - 12AM
- one day pass (THB 120), 3-day pass (THB 230) and 30-day pass (THB 1400) are available
- stored value card is available for THB 180 (THB 100 Travel Value + THB 50 Deposit + THB 30 Issuing Fee)

>>> Bangkok MRT Homepage
>>> detailed and simple map for Airport Rail Link, BTS Skytrain and MRT

TAXI

- the pink and green-yellow taxi works the same.
- fares depends both on distance and traffic.
- meter starts at 30 Baht. 
- always make sure the driver uses the meter. if the driver refuses, just wait for the next taxi.
- check online the rough amount you need to pay before taking a taxi.

we were told that taxi from BTS Wongwian Yai to Taling Chan Floating Market cost about THB 100-150, so I think it's fair that we were charged THB 127 (~30 minutes, 8KM) because the traffic was pretty bad that morning due to MRT construction. using the meters will always be cheaper; we got into one who refused to use and charged us 150 Baht for a ~70-100 Baht trip according to Google Maps (maybe because we asked "how much")

TUK TUK

Tuk Tuks ain't cheap too. a short trip from Grand Palace to Wat Poh cost us 80 Baht. we gave in because the sun was scorching hot that day and we didn't have our umbrellas. I don't think it's necessary to take Tuk Tuk. walk! it's always the best way to explore a place by walking.

>>> 5 Tips to Ride a Tuk Tuk in Bangkok

BOAT TAXI

- cheap
- do your research well before you take the boat taxi
- Orange Line is the safest choice, next will be Blue Line
- Orange Line runs from 5:50AM to 7PM and costs THB 15
- Blue Line 6AM to 6:30PM and costs THB 10 - 20
- map at pier is easy to understand, but pier doesn't have name sign (so you have to count by yourself which pier you're at or ask the locals)
- convenient access to Wat Arun, Wat Pho, The Grand Palace, Chinatown and Khaosan Road

>>> Boat Taxi Route
>>> more information about River Boats & Ferries in Bangkok
>>> Chao Phraya Pier Guide highlighting the attractions near each piers

BUS

we never try taking the bus because I'm always paranoid but I guess it will be a lot cheaper than cabs and trains. you can get the bus number by looking for directions on Google Maps. nonetheless I don't think it's worth it to be stuck in the Bangkok traffic.

MOTORCYCLE

there are lots of motorcycle-taxi services at the roadside, and at almost every train station and night markets. I haven't seen tourist on it though I think solo tourist can try. saw a student haggling so I guess you can get a good price if you've done your research well enough. 

 

WHAT TO SEE

GRAND PALACE

 

if you're interested in history...

for THB 500 you can enter the palace. and you can also rent the audio guide that's available before the entrance. there's also a lot of Chinese tour guides offering to guide you, but if you don't want the service just politely say no.

but if you don't want to enter the palace like us, you can still see it from the outer compound. we went anyway even though knowing that the entrance fee isn't cheap because it's less than a KM away from Wat Pho. 

 
GETTING THERE

take boat taxi to N8 - Tha Thien Pier
or
taxi

WAT PHO

 

if you're interested in culture...

Wat Poh is definitely a must-go when you're in Bangkok. the entrance fee is THB 100. the main attraction here is the Reclining Buddha that measures 46 metres long and 15 metres tall. for me, I love the architecture and colours here. 

 
GETTING THERE

take boat taxi to N8 - Tha Thien Pier
or
taxi

WAT ARUN

 

if you're interested in culture...

the entrance fee to Wat Arun is only THB 50. alas, the temple is under construction when we went, nonetheless it still look majestic. the best time to come here is in the evening, when you can see the stunning sunset as the backdrop to this temple.

 
GETTING THERE

take the boat taxi from N8 - Tha Thien Pier (across from Wat Poh) to cross the river

CHINATOWN

 

if you're interested in local life...

then Chinatown is the place! it's my love since my first time there. I still think the best time to visit is before twilight. come here, get some seafood at one of the restaurants (T&K Seafood is highly recommended on the net) and watch the streets light up with signboards, taxis and tuks tuks as the sky dim. 

 
GETTING THERE

take the Orange Line Boat Taxi > N5 - Rachawongs Pier > walk for 5-10 minutes
OR
taxi
OR
MRT Hua Lamphong > walk for 5-10 minutes

FLOATING MARKETS

 

if you're interested in local life...

I've been to two floating markets now, one big and crowded with lots of things to see whereas the other one is very local and small. so I think it's better to choose carefully which floating market to go according to your preferences. I'll suggest to go for the crowded one.

Damneon Floating Market

GETTING THERE

taxi
OR
join a tour

GO:
- if it's your first time in Bangkok
- don't mind the crowd
- don't mind paying a little more

Taling Chan Floating Market
 

GETTING THERE

BTS Wongwian Yai > taxi (THB 100 - 150)

GO:
- if you want a more local experience

other floating markets:
Amphawa Floating Market (crowded, big)
Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market (local, small)

 

BANGKOK ARTS AND CULTURAL CENTRE

 

if you're interested in arts and culture...

BACC is a new museum exhibiting arts from the local artists. when we were there, there were two exhbitions going on, one painting and the other is photographs of Bangkok. camera is allowed and only bags that are smaller than A4 size are allowed but don't worry, locker is provided. however, you'll need to give your identification document.

 
GETTING THERE

BTS National Stadium > cross the link to building
 

SKY BARS

 

if you're interested in getting a drink with a view...

one of the things that we wanted to is drink at a sky bar and enjoy the metropolitan city view, but right when we finally decided which one to go, it rained and by the time we reached, we would've missed the entrance time. anyway, here are some that's on our list:

 
 

The Roof Top Bar at Baiyoke Sky Hotel

- highest builing in Bangkok
- opens from 5PM - 2AM
- no dress code

>>> more information on The Roof Top Bar

 
GETTING THERE

Take the ARL to Ratchaprarop Station > walk for 10 minutes
 

Sky Bar Rooftop at Lebua State Tower

- opens from 6PM - 1AM
- dress code is smart casual
- no entrance fee is charged

>>> more information on Sky Bar at Lebua

 
GETTING THERE

Take the BTS to Saphan Taksin Station > walk for 10-15 minutes
 

Vertigo and Moon Bar

- opens from 5PM - 1AM
- dress code is smart casual

>>> more information on Vertigo and Moon Bar

 
GETTING THERE

take MRT to Si Lom station > walk for 10 minutes
or
take MRT to Lumphini station > walk for 10 minutes
or
take BTS to Sala Daeng station > walk for 10 minutes

KHAO SAN ROAD

 

if you're interested in nightlife and parties...

Khao San Road is like a backpackers hub where you can find cheap hostels here and make friends with other backpackers. the night here is very lively with lots of bars and pubs. apart from that, here's where many backpackers buy or sell their stuffs away. so you can probably get a good bargain...

 
GETTING THERE

take the boat taxi to N13 > walk for 15 minutes

MAEKLONG TRAIN MARKET

 

if you're interested in an one-of-a-kind experience...

Maeklong Train Market is not any usual market. the main attraction is watching the hawkers draw their goods in when the train arrives after a loud ring. the market is about more than an hour away from Bangkok city. to go to Maeklong Train Market, take a minibus from Victory Monument to Bangkok Southern Bus Terminal and get on the minivan that travels to the market. there's no fixed departure time, the minivan leaves when it's full. when you've arrived at the market, you can check the train schedule.

 
GETTING THERE

take minibus from Victory Monument > Bangkok Southern Bus Terminal > minivan to Maeklong Train Market

WHERE TO SHOP

 

SHOPPING MALLS
> Platinum Mall (BTS Chit Lom or BTS Ratchathewi)
> Union Mall (take BTS to Mo Chit Station and switch to MRT to Phahon Yothin Station)
> Siam Discovery (BTS National Stadium)
> Siam Center (BTS Siam)
> Central World (BTS Siam/BTS Chit Lom)
> Terminal 21 (BTS Asok)
> Silom Complex (MRT Silom)
> Big C (BTS Chit Lom)

MARKETS
> Pratunam Morning Market (opposite Platinum Mall)

NIGHT MARKETS
> Rod Fai Night Market (MRT National Stadium)
> Chatuchak Weekend Night Market (BTS Mo Chit)
> Chatuchak JJ Green Market (BTS Mo Chit)
> Pat Pong Night Market (BTS Sala Daeng)
> Box Space Night Market (MRT Phahon Yothin then take taxi to SCB Plaza)
> Art Box Night Market (seasonal)

to put it simply, shopping malls in Bangkok can be broken down into expensive and cheaper ones. Siam Center, Siam Discovery, Central World, Terminal 21 and Silom Complex are the more expensive malls and the first three are located next to each other whereas Platinum Mall and Union Mall are where you can get clothes at wholesale price. Big C is my favourite place. it’s where you can get all the snacks!

our favourite shopping spot for clothes is Pratunam Morning Market, we even return there on our third day. we didn’t like Platinum Mall because it’s slightly more expensive and we didn’t go to Union Mall because it’s similar to Platinum. 

as for night markets, if you're looking to shop for fashion items, they are all almost the same. there are also night markets that sells certain stuffs like vintage goods or handmade arts. so it depends on what kinda shopping you want to do. 

 

WHAT TO EAT AND DRINK

 

FOOD! another attraction in Bangkok, especially the street foods. cheap and yums! here are some we ate~

 

MANGO STICKY RICE

Mango Sticky Rice is a must-eat when you're in Thailand. try the roadside one if you can for a cheaper price and authentic taste. 

STREET VENDORS ORANGE JUICE

orange juice for 20 Baht to quench your thirst when you're tired and sweaty from all the walking and shopping. I don't think it's reasonable to pay more for that (okay maybe I'm a cheapskate) and I also realize there's only 20 Baht juice in the morning and mostly at Pratunam Morning Market. 

KO KHUN PON YANG KAM

we didn't get to eat street vendor tomyam kung so we satisfied our cravings here! the tomyam kung tastes as good as it smells. it's slightly more expensive than the street food but it's worth it. 

THAI MILK TEA

surprisingly, I had my first Thai Milk Tea in Malaysia and since then, I fell in love with it so I swore to myself to try it when I'm there. didn't manage to but I bought some Nestea Thai Milk Tea back and it was gooood~ definitely restocking those at home on the next trip.

OMU RICE

we had some extra time in Silom Complex so we decided to try it out. it's recommended by a friend. we ordered the mushroom omurice. it's not bad but at some point it started to taste... ugh. I'm never gonna eat that sauce again for 6 months I guess. 

WONTON NOODLES

although the SabX2 Wanton Mee is not worth it (THB 100 for a small portion of Wanton Mee that couldn't even beat the one in my hometown...), my sister recommends trying more hidden ones where it's not crowded with tourists. so I'll suggest you to walk into any local stalls and hope you get the delicious one by chance. 

PORK SATAY

never had a satay that's this good (yes, even Kajang satay can't beat this). not really sure if eating pork in foreign country is a thing only for Malaysians ('cause most food here is Halal - pork-free) but pork satay in Bangkok is really delicious. 

AFTER YOU

after it's popularity hike this year, After You opened up in basically all the big malls, from the original Siam Paragon to Central World, Siam Discovery, etc... so don't need to worry much about the long queue. we also realized that one of the reason the queue is long is that people keep missing their turns and taking a new number (we took three...). I think it's not worth the hype but if you like toast, why not try it?

BETAGEN

my friend asked me to buy some for her so we tried it. it tastes sorta like Vitagen. it's so hard to resist the urge to buy it everytime we went into 7-eleven. it also comes in different sizes and packs. (did some maths, the cheapest you can get is the 4-bottles-a-row pack from Big C, whoah I'm really such a cheapskate).  

 

 

 

 

WHAT TO BUY

 

specifically "what to buy in Big C". I'm not someone who like to load my luggage full of souvenirs back home but here are some things that I will always get from Bangkok.

MAMA INSTANT NOODLES

for when you crave for tomyam but you're not in Thailand anymore... the green curry flavour is good as well~

BIG SHEET

my sister and I are big fans of seaweed snack so Big Sheet is naturally a must-buy for us especially the tomyam and spicy one!

PRETZ

try the tomyam one also! there're also larb and pizza flavour. some find larb weird but some friends like it a lot. 

NESTEA

I just discovered this from my recent trip and I'm definitely packing this into my bag the next time I'm there. 

 

NEARBY BANGKOK

 

if you've already seen enough of Bangkok and want to go elsewhere, here are some places that are nearby:

HUA HIN

Hua Hin is a beach getaway about 2 hours away that’ll be perfect for an escape. to get into this beachside town, get on a minibus from Victory Monument to Bangkok Southern Bus Terminal. then take a minivan from there. other ways to reach there are bus, train and taxi/car. the main attraction there would be Santorini Park that’ll be worthy for you Instagram feed.

KHAO YAI

Khao Yai is an attraction that is currently still under the radar. The best season to visit here is in between November and February when the sunflowers bloom. However, these things still depend on the climate. Currently, you can only book a minivan to get from Bangkok to Khao Yai and it’s a 3 hour journey.

 

OUR ITINERARY

 

our flight arrived at 8PM and left at 11AM. that meant 3 full days and 1 half day - the last day was merely enough for us to rush to 7-E for 1 quick, last haul. here's our itinerary:

DAY 1
Suvarnabhumi Airport - check in hostel - Rot Fai Train Night Market

DAY 2
Pratunam Morning Market - Wanton Noodles - Platinum Mall - hostel - Terminal 21 - Silom Complex - JJ Green Market - Chatuchak Night Market

DAY 3
Taling Chan Floating Market - Grand Palace - Wat Poh - Wat Arun - Chinatown - Massage

DAY 4
Pratunam Morning Market - hostel - Bangkok Arts and Cultural Centre - Central World (Ko Khun Pon Yang Kam and After You) - hostel - massage

DAY 5
7-Eleven - Suvarnabhumi Airport

PROFESSIONAL SHOPAHOLIC TIP:
if you wanna shop as well as sight-see, then it's wise to put your shopping on the first two days so in case you missed something out you can buy it another day before you leave.

 

MORE TIPS

 

of course, without the help of these sites, my Bangkok ctrip wouldn't be as fun. so here I'm sharing them with you:

- Lady Iron Chef's Bangkok Travel Guide
- Meowiie's Guide To Bangkok
- Bangkok.com by Hotels.com

also, this wouldn't be done without the help of Jye Yu and my sister so kudos to them! if there's any mistakes here, do not hesitate to correct me!

 

CONTINUE READING ABOUT BANGKOK HERE...