Last year I immersed myself in the waters of the largest archipelago on the planet. Flying through the aerospace of the nearly 17,500 islands that make up Indonesia, I finally arrived in Bali. 

I’ll admit it. I added Bali to my list when I was returning from Ko Phi Phi island in Thailand. After reading the book ‘Eat, pray and love’, and being captivated by the photos of a friend posing on a swing while watching a spectacular sunset, I couldn’t resist the FOMO from the social media bombardment  

In the book, the writer Elizabeth Gilbert recreated a quiet island with ancient traditions, where tourists come looking for that elusive spiritual “peace”. Its landscape, a tapestry of green rice fields and turquoise beaches. 


But the daily life in Bali is full of contradictions. Although it is known for its pristine and paradisiacal beaches, unless you stay in the luxurious hotels, you may find yourself in beaches where you dive into the midst of floating plastic debris and visible pollution. 

The island is a Hindu sanctuary, the only one within a predominantly Muslim country. The main nearby cities of Kuta and Ubud, on the other hand, have chaotic traffic and a permanent surge of tourists. When I say traffic, I mean hour and a half parked on the road for a distance of 10 km. 

Downtown Ubud, Bali

Unlike Thailand, there are no temples with golden buddhas, but houses with shrines. Every morning the Balinese offer flowers, rice, food and incense to the gods and the spirits of their ancestors. They ask for protection against demons. 

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And, in the afternoon, the women make new offerings with leaves and flowers to leave on the sidewalks for the next day. These colorful squares do not last more than a couple of hours. Many offerings die under motorcycles, others are crushed by pedestrians, fall into the river, or are left in the trash. 

Bali creates expectations. It is a giant island, and to know it in depth, you need more than a week.  I suggest you include at least 6 places to visit if you dare to experience the famed Balinese adventure. 

1.-Tirta Empul

This temple was built in the year 926 A.D, during the Warmadewa dynasty. It is a place of pilgrimage for the Balinese, as legend has it that its 12 fountains have healing powers. The entry fee is 1 USD and you can even bathe among the fish. 

2.- Pura Ulun Danu Batur or “The Temple of the Lake” 

It is the postcard from Bali. A temple with different roofs that emerges from the waters of a volcanic lake and with a mountainous landscape behind it. It is dedicated to the goddess Dewi Danu, in charge of protecting the area as a symbol of fertility and prosperity. Its entry fee is USD 4 



It is a charming city in the center of the island. To get there you will go through the paddies. It became famous among tourists for the book and movie Eat, Pray and Love. The featured house (which is now a hostel) of the Balinese sage Ketut Liyer is a must.

Although the healer died a couple of years ago, his son will read your palm, due to the dozens of tourists who knock on his door and want to live the experience of the writer and also the actress Julia Roberts.


4.- Monkey Forest, Balinese long tailed monkey sanctuary in Ubud  

It is a natural sanctuary. More than 340 Balinese long-tailed ‘macaque’ monkeys live in this forest and roam freely along the trails and trees of the enclosure. Be aware that you’re entering their home.

Everything you have on hand, as well as earrings, glasses, and wallets are up for grabs if it’s interesting enough for them. The entrance to this temple costs 1.50 USD per person 


5.- The Ubud Market

Wooden masks, wallets, sarongs, dresses and souvenirs from the trip. It is a two-story market where you can haggle to buy everything at a fair price. 


6.- Beach and pool day

Escape for once the island’s traffic. Relax all day in one of the private clubs along Kuta Beach. My favorite was Potato Head. It has a bed with an ocean view and the bar is inside the pool. Get their mojitos until you see the sun go down. 

Swings on Gili Trawangan Island 

When I was planning my trip, I realized that the sunset with the swings that I saw in the photos were on one of the three Gili islands. So, I took the ferry and in 3 hours I reached this beach. It will take you an hour to make the complete tour on foot and 15 minutes by the only means of transportation available: Horses. 

Gili Trawangan, like the rest of Indonesia, has a majority Muslim population. There are no human shaped decorations or temples, no flower offerings and you could only hear the call to prayers from the mosque. I thought for a moment that the island was sparsely populated, imagine my surprise when later on I found throngs of tourists looking for parties. 

After a rainy day and almost at the end of the afternoon, I finally arrived at the place where everybody got ready to enjoy the show. Along the beach, you find dozens of swings that are part of the hotels and restaurants in the area. 

So, it was there, in the swing and with all kinds of pastel colors in the sky, I enjoyed my last day on the beaches of Indonesia. 





Thailand chose me. I dare say it, because it was never on my travel list. At least not in 2016. It only appeared suddenly on my life and it happened at the right time. Those were 10 days in which the word “plan” was not on my agenda. I just ventured to a totally unknown region for me: Southeast Asia. 

I do not regret it. I believe It’s one of the most captivating countries on earth. The wonder of its beaches and its majestic temples surround you. The extreme contrasts are the reason why it’s so alluring and constitutes its very essence. 

Deep religiosity, reverent loyalty to the King and visible prostitution may share the same area. And the best thing about Thailand is that you don’t need a fortune to experience the country. Even a low budget can give you options. 

It all happened in November for this reason: Yi Peng or the lantern festival in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand. Searching for air tickets was not difficult with Expedia. A week before the event (Nov 13) I found them at 630 USD by China Southern Airlines. The price may be even cheaper if you get them in advance.  

I must remind you, the first flight departing from New York has an average of 16 hours and almost all other options have extensive layovers in Chinese cities that you probably have never heard of, where hardly anyone speaks English, so you must be prepared.  

In my case it was seven hours in Guangzhou, China and later on, eight hours in Bangkok, to finally arrive in Chiang Mai. In terms of accommodation, the range of options is extensive. Hostels, luxury hotels, bed & breakfasts located in the historical sector of the city with different prices for every budget. I chose Fuengfa Place for a nightly rate of 34USD for a double-bed room.  

Chiang Mai is a city with a lot of traffic and noise, but its imposing Buddhist temples are the main attraction. On each street, the monks in their orange robes give a colorful fleck on the landscape, and tuk tuks (tricycles) and the songthaew (small public transport vans) finish the ensemble with an urban touch. 

These sites are a must: Wat Pa Prao Nok Temple, Wat Phra Singh, Wat Phan Tao, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep and the oldest, Wat Chedi Luang Worawihan, for which you only pay 1.50 USD. The bazaar and the night market are the perfect places to shop. 

The Prices are unbeatable: In one day your expenses can include 60 cents USD on transportation, 5 USD for a full lunch, beer brands like Chang for 1 USD a bottle, Coconuts 50 cents USD, T-shirts for 3 USD, Handbags for 10 USD, and the famous Thai massage for 6 USD. 


My friends and I rented a taxi so we could take the tours outside the city. The first stop was at Elephant Nature Park, a rescue center. For 79 USD, We fed, walked and bathed our new friend Satawy for two hours. It was unforgettable. 

We ended up in the village of the Kayan tribe, whose women are known for the collar rings on their long necks. 

It was finally the night of November 13. The full moon was the perfect background setting to kick off the lantern festival that happens every year. Since we couldn’t buy the tickets for the main event, we had to go to a town called Lumpung. 

At that site the tour cost us 60 USD including transportation, food coupons, entrance and the floating lanterns 

Letting go and leave all bad things behind is part of Buddhist doctrine. The monks’ prayers and blessings, turning the lanterns on and releasing them was magical. Thousands of yellow lights adorned the sky, just like in the Disney movie Tangled


For a moment, you immerse yourself in a light show where you don’t know whether to take photos, hug those who are with you or let go of your lantern. That moment was a joyful checkmark on our bucket list. 

We made new friends from Chile and Spain.

Once the event was over, our next destination was to discover the south and its beaches. For what I’ve lived at that point, I thoroughly recommend Thailand. Whether on a budget or not, this is a destination that you can’t say no to. 




On my first part of the trip, Thailand was full of temples, an atmosphere of coexistence with wild animals and the lantern show. Now, it was my turn to visit the paradisiacal beaches. 

And the stop was at Phucket, South Thailand. After paying 36 USD for a stopover flight in Bangkok (cheaper than a taxi ride from Manhattan to the JFK airport) we arrived at one of the islands in the south of the country. 

The airport is located one hour from Patong, one of the most infamous nightlife beaches on the island for its tolerance to prostitution. On your way there, you can find the Resorts with private beaches. A taxi can cost between 15-20 USD, but for much less, you can take a minibus, although the journey will be double the time. 

Once on the beach, you can enjoy the warm turquoise sea, white sand and sunlight that will roast you. The temperature can reach over a 100 Fahrenheit! The sea is generally calm, but at times it was unexpectedly very rough. 


Essential stops in Thailand are the Giant Buddha of Phuket, the town of Karon and Promthep Cape, known for having the best sunset in the country. 

After 2 days, our next destination was the province of Krabi and the famous Phi Phi islands and Ko Phi Phi in Maya Bay. Here you’ll encounter all the backpackers who saw Leonardo Di Caprio’s film, The Beach.  Unfortunately, the area is closed to tourist.

Maya Bay at 2016

After three hours by ferry (45 USD), we reached Phi Phi, an area that was destroyed by the tsunami of 2004, but it has recovered over the years and is now the most famous tourist attraction in the country.

There are hotels for all budgets. My choice was Phi Phi Nice Beach Resort, with cabins right in front of the beach and only 15 minutes from the pier. The nightly rate is 34 USD but if you can reserve ahead, you can get it from 10 USD. 

Without a doubt, the best part of the trip was renting a boat or “long tail” for 4 hours. In these picturesque Thai motorboats, you travel all around the nearby islands. You can even haggle the price down to 45USD (with capacity for 10 people). At that time, I considered it a bargain. 

Simply fantastic and fascinating. This is how I define Maya Bay, Loh Samah Bay, Pileh Lagoon and Viking Cave. You can admire the crystal-clear water, swim with schools of fish, and have a Chang beer lying down in the boat while you admire the sunset… Perfect moments that make life worth living. 

I stayed only one day. If you can afford more time, it’s totally wort it. Live the best backpacking experience: 

Dance at the Moon party, relax with a Thai massage by the sea, savor the spicy delicacies for 5-10 USD or even less than a dollar, and refresh yourself with mojitos… 

By then, I’ve stayed for 10 days and there was still a flight ahead to the capital: Bangkok 




Chaotic, exotic and very, very hot. Full of life, movement, smoke, pollution and noise. That’s how I would describe Bangkok. The capital of Thailand is a mosaic of colors, ornaments, architecture, and paintings. It is not a city that makes you fall in love at first sight, but the kindness and joy of its people will captivate you.


Known as the gateway to Southeast Asia, it is a mix up of skyscrapers, temples, Buddhas surrounded by offerings, “tuk-tuks”, floating markets, street food and flower stalls, with a subway that runs through it all in the city. It requires a couple days to know it better.

You should not miss the Grand Palace. For 500 Thai Baht’s (15 USD), you get to see this giant complex built in 1782. It comprises a series of majestic temples including the royal palace and the temple of the Emerald Buddha, which is the most revered in the country.

The Grand Palace is a complex of buildings at the heart of Bangkok, Thailand.

The line to enter seems endless, and inside, there is a tidal wave of Asian tourists who arrive daily to visit the seat of the Thai monarchy. When entering the temples, you must be barefoot and always covered. You are not allowed to take photos inside.

The décor, the small carved pieces and the precious stones that make up each pagoda have an otherworldly beauty, which will definitely make you gawk. A few blocks away is the reclining Buddha of Wat Pho, a statue that measures 43 meters.

Bangkok is much more than temples. Take a ‘tuk-tuk’ (a three-wheeled motorized vehicle used as a taxi) and haggle a little for the price, so you can go through the shortcuts and discover Chinatown.

Here, the delicious smells will come from everywhere, especially fish, and then cross to Khao San Road, the famed backpacker street that is full of restaurants and nightlife.


At night, my next stop was the Lebua Tower, and to be precise: the SkyBar. This famous rooftop came to be known from the Hangover 2 movie and it’s one of the most popular in the world. From the 64th floor you have all the lights of the city for yourself .

The bar is small and without chairs. It is permanently full because all tourists want to live the experience. I suggest you order the Hangovertini, a cocktail that was specially created due to the films popularity and has green tea liquor and Martini Rosso. After a few, you might believe that Bradley Cooper will be coming down the stairs. Pricing starts from 20 USD.

On my last day in Bangkok, I skipped a long list of amazing sites, due for my next visit, and headed instead to the Ayutthaya archaeological center. This is known as an iconic place in Thailand.

My tour included Wat Maharat (Temple of the Buddha Head). And although the citadel is completely in ruins, the famous buddha head surrounded by the roots of a tree, is perhaps one of the most famous photographs from Thailand.

In the ancient ruins you can see the number of beheaded Buddha figures during the last Burmese invasion. The Burmese decided to destroy them as a punishment in the conquering raid.

To visit the temple, the taxi (round trip) from the hotel cost 30USD. There are also buses and trains available. The journey can take about 5 hours. The temple staff recommend renting bicycles or taking tuk tuks to visit all the temples. But with a temperature of 40 degrees centigrade, I decided to tour the park in a taxi.

Sadly, my visit in Bangkok was really short. There are other sites like the Floating Market and Temple of the Dawn (Wat Arun) that cannot be overlooked. Despite the short time, the 10 days I spent in Thailand were an unforgettable experience. The smiles and friendliness of its people will be the best memory of the country.