How We Saw 7 Countries in 27 Days
I feel like whenever people ask about my husband and I's whirlwind honeymoon I'm met with a mix of emotions; some of curiosity of how we did it, some who think we're just crazy, some who maybe are in disbelief, and of course, some envy. We should note that our friends have told us we don't take vacations, we take "exhuastations" and that might be true, but if I'm going somewhere new you best believe I'm skipping out on sleep in lieu of exploring new places! And new places we did on this trip; nearly 7 countries, 14 flights, in 27 days.
Nearly a year later I'm ready to share with you all our itinerary! Since we've been only once, I don't consider us experts on what is a "NEED to see" or what "you HAVE to do", but this is what we did, what spoke to us and what we loved.
In this post you'll hear how we did it, and see some never before posted pictures!
Let's start at the beginning. We flew from Chicago to Hong Kong, which is a 16 hour flight, on Cathay Pacific. It was a pretty packed flight and we were grateful for Economy Plus seating (thanks Chase Sapphire for the points!!) but would have shelled out the extra $$ for first class if we could. With such a long flight it was easy to get restless; I recommend lots of movies and comfy layers and a tennis ball to keep your blood moving.
Upon arriving in Hong Kong it was nearly 9 pm, or what felt like 2am I think to us. We prepared ourselves by hardly sleeping on the plane, knowing full well we could sleep when we landed and easily get on the right time zone. We stayed at Hotel Icon, which we absolutely loved, and immediately had dinner and drinks on their rooftop overlooking the impressive city and bay before heading back to our room for some much needed showers and some more champers because #honeymoonvibes. The next morning we awoke bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to explore the city we only had a day in. Breakfast in the hotel among the vertical garden then it was off to our first stops, the Hong Kong Museum of Art and the Hong Kong Cultural Center; both super close to the bay where you can sit and watch the rest of the city. Next up, our favorite, shopping and lunch! After enough exploring we headed back to Hotel Icon to enjoy some rooftop pool living and just kind of taking it all in, poolside drinks and everything. I do wish we had more time in Hong Kong, but it was a great segue into Asian Culture and we had plenty more to see and experience so it was off to Japan via AirAsia, our new best friends of an airline.
We arrived in Tokyo bright and early the next morning, checking in to the Shinjuku Granbell Hotel. We immediately left to explore and of course, shop. We lunched at Yakumo Saryo, where we'd made reservations a few months before. We ate ramen for dinner, drank beer from vending machines, and then did it all over again the following day, doing an omakase sushi tasting lunch and L'Effervescence for dinner, drinks at Bar Four Seasons, and then drinks at an unmarked bar in the Golden Gai district (coincidentally - or not - mere steps from the Shinjuku Granbell). Okay, stretching the truth here. Z did L'effervescence for dinner and I went to Calico Cat Cafe - but the rest we all did together!
on a long trip with your significant other (or your family, or even a friend) it's sometimes really good to have some time apart so you don't get sick of each other when you're with someone literally 24/7.
Same thing our third day in Tokyo, Z went off on his own while I explored a cat cafe (Bengal Cat Cafe, which TBH I didn't like as much as Calico), and then we met up in Harajuku for some quintessential shopping and more ramen from a vending machine.
The following day we did some final shopping, where we purchased a new suitcase (hi, I'm Sahra and I'm an over packer and was already out of room in our second country) and I picked up this gorgeous plate set I had been eyeing for dayyssss from the BEAMS flagship shop. #noregrets that we had to pay to ship this bag with us through the next 5 countries.
That evening we boarded a bullet train (!!) to Kyoto - traveling through the countryside at speeds of over 200mph.
I will say, many guidebooks and people suggested we purchase a Japan Railway pass and I will say that we did NOT. Japan Railway caters to tourists and the stops are fewer and farther between than the city’s transit system. We actually ended up spending less money just being strategic about our daily transportation costs and booking the bullet train in advance.
We arrived in Kyoto ready to explore, but as luck would have it there was a typhoon happening! Sounds scary, but it was like a light hurricane. We took advantage of the inability to sightsee and did our laundry.
We had booked our trip so that every 2-3 destinations we would be in an AirBnB that had laundry facilities.
We also watched Spirited Away and just embraced the whole quiet Japanese countryside vibes.
After a well rested day we set out to explore downtown Kyoto, walking along the river, checking out the shops, and imbibing at Rocking Chair Bar, a place that was recommended to us by the staff at Bar Four Seasons in Tokyo (which we also loved). The next morning we took the train south to Nara for a day with the infamous bowing deer. This quaint little town had a plethora of temples, deer, and friendly faces. We had some amazing udon within the temple grounds and received a fortune and made our wishes among the changing leaves of this quintessential fall day.
Our final day in Kyoto we hiked Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine, the winding orange gates that bring you to some breathtaking views, while also taking your breath away via the long winding stairways and paths. We ended our day taking a trip to Osaka, stopping for lunch, and then heading on our way to our next destination - Malaysia.
One thing I love to do on trips is, if there's a layover, opt for the longest one possible. Get out of the city and see something, even if you have only a short while!
We did this previously in London and now, in Kuala Lumpur that's exactly what we did. With 9 hours to spare before our AirAsia connecting flight to Cambodia we landed in the morning and made our way to the Batu Caves; a set of limestone structures flanked by (fairly new) golden glitzy statues. We had just enough time to explore a bit and head back to the airport for departure.
Cambodia was a whirlwind in itself; 3 days of beautiful resort living contrasted by sight seeing of ancient ruins and third world culture. We drank beer on the side of the road among mangy chickens and naked children and it was possible the best beer I've ever had.
Next it was on to Thailand - first stop Bangkok. We flew Air Asia again, as we had most of our trip and the only issue here was that the ticket ladies decided to be super strict toward backpackers and their (obviously large) backpacks. Us and a few other couples were forced trying to lighten our loads, which eventually we just decided to say "fuck it" and go to a different agent. We narrowly made it through security and to our gate before final boarding (thanks gate-ticket-lady-no-thanks).
I already mentioned how much I LOVED that we accidentally booked our trip during the new year festivals (Loi Krathong and Yi Peng). It was seriously the most magical, taking our riverboat cruise among the celebrating Thai people, seeing the city light up, and exploring the temples decorated in the brightest flowers you can imagine. Words truly can't express how wonderful this was. After two days in Bangkok it was on to our next destination; we flew Thai Smile, which is now my favorite budget airline ever, to Chiang Mai. Now, how can someone have a favorite budget airline? Well, this was on time, clean, had bigger seats than any of our AirAsia flights. The staff was amazingly friendly, the on board dining was free (!) and actually delicious - rivaling my previous favorite airline food, AeroMexico.
We arrived into Chiang Mai on the literal last flight allowed to that day, due to the paper lanterns that people had already begun to set free as part of the Yi Peng celebration. We immediately checked into our AirBnB and headed to a romantic dinner at the fanciest restaurant in town - David's Kitchen - where I was presented with roses and a special take home heirloom to commemorate our trip and experience. Not to mention, a belly full of amazing and vegan friendly food!
After full bellies we made our way to the river, taking in the overwhelming experience of everyone celebrating, lighting their lanterns, and making their wishes. We saw many a-white person struggle with their lanterns, catching themselves, powerlines, and even trees on fire. Locals seemed to either guffaw or be concerned. Instead of taking our chances of trying to go it ourselves, we sought the help of a friendly Thai man who helped us get our lantern lit and to ensure it went straight up, avoiding any fire hazards and ensuring our honeymoon wishes were to come true.
Seriously. This was possibly the most magical experience of our honeymoon.
We then did not try out luck with another lantern, instead seeking the light and life of alcoholic beverages at the infamous Bus Bar. A rowdy place for locals, expats, and travelers we found cheap 40s of Chang Beer, bottles of rum and soda that you mix yourself.
Needless to say, the next day was spent mostly in bed recovering. Sometimes its good to have a rest day on a long trip.
The following day we awoke bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to check out some temples and get a traditional Sak Yant tattoo. We booked through Sak Yant Chiang Mai which was super helpful for us, especially given that most monks will not tattoo a woman, and those that will are quite particular. Booking through them gave us the peace of mind knowing that I would definitely be getting my tattoo.
The tattoo process itself was quick and virtually painless; I have many tattoos and piercings, and this one was by far the fastest and least painful - and it was completely healed in less than 24 hours! Just in time for playing with elephants…
After getting our “buzz” on (cheesy pun, I know), we grabbed drinks in old city Chiang Mai before the Sunday Night night market and the obligatory visit to the Chiang Mai Cabaret. I’m going to be honest, I had a BLAST watching the lady boys do their thing and honestly, they were prettier, sexier, and all around more amazing of women than I am.
On our last day in Chiang Mai it was time to do what we came to do - spend a day with elephants rescued from the logging industry. We booked the Karen Elephant Experience one day trip with Elephant Nature Park, which is the most reputable elephant sanctuary in all of Thailand. If you are interested in going, please, I urge you to read my post about how to be an ethical tourist and it will explain many of the reasons why you should go to ENP over other potential elephant experiences. And please, for the love of god, do not go anywhere with the intention of taking photos with tigers, leopards, or other animals.
Moving on, we started our day by feeding the hungry beasts. Elephants eat SO MUCH. And they’re mouths are huge! I thought this was a great way to encourage us to be comfortable with the elephants right off the bat, so as by the time we were walking into the forest beside them, we were all at peace and knew one another. During the day we were served a wonderful vegan lunch, and then it was off for a mud bath followed by clean up in the river. One thing I loved about this experience is that, when one of the bull (male) elephants decided he wasn’t feeling the mud bath that day, he was encouraged to go off on his own. The handlers were not forcing him to do anything against his will, just for our pleasure and photo op. He eventually joined us for his afternoon feeding (he was a growing angsty teenager, after all), but it was so wonderful to know he was living his best life with HIS intentions. After our long day we headed back through the forest to the city, getting back after 7pm, just in time for a quick street food dinner and some drinks at a dive bar. Our final night in Thailand, as the next morning we were off to Seoul.
So Seoul was another one of those places where we tried to make the best of a long layover.
Fun Fact: Seoul is one of a few airports in the world that offer cultural tours to its layover-ees.
We booked a quick cultural tour, seeing some temples, seeing a cultural ceremony and dancing, and grabbing some quintessential bibimbap. Of course, we carved out time for some beauty shopping! I snagged some snail face wash, face, feet, and hand masks, gifts for family and friends, and more!
Unfortunately, during our time in Korea, we somehow had minimal phone battery and I have no photos, but it was truly a perfect way to spend an extended layover.
Now, we were on to our seventh country…. The United States. As you know by now, we made a pit stop on our way back to DC by stopping into sunny California, on a secret mission of apartment hunting. We’ve now been in California, which is basically it’s own country (seriously; we had to go through border control when we drove across the line from Arizona to California and had to disclose any plants and vegetables we had in the car - crazy!) full of unique people, unique cultures, sunshine and active lifestyles and an eco-friendly stance on everything from packaging, clothes, to straws.
So there you have it - our WHIRLWIND trip of SEVEN COUNTRIES in TWENTY SEVEN DAYS.
Have you ever gone on a long trip like this? Have you traveled around Asia? If so - what was your favorite part?