It was a milestone for our ongoing backpacking journey as a couple to breakthrough a three-country tour to celebrate our fifth anniversary. Not only did we tick off items from our bucket list, we also made it at the least possible cost and the shortest possible time given our full-time jobs. We only managed to spend a little less than Php 15,000 for the whole trip, split into two which makes it roughly Php 8,000 per person for three countries in four days. How did we conquer the Indochina region? Here’s how.
All these would not have been possible if not for the midnight seat sales of budget travel carriers. So on a random fare sale of Cebu Pacific and Air Asia last year, we grabbed the opportunity to breakthrough our backpacking dream across three ASEAN countries, namely, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. We booked a one-way trip to Bangkok and another via Ho Chi Minh as our exit point. While this is not the popular option, we really never had the choice. Upon quick online research, we realized that crossing the Thailand-Cambodian border by land might take some of our limited time, not to mention the complications at the Poipet border. Good thing, upon checking with Air Asia, a promo fare was up, and the rest is history.
Manila-Bangkok. Getting to Bangkok (Thailand) from Manila is now very much accessible and affordable. Two flights are being maintained by Cebu Pacific daily. To fit our schedules, we took the night flight which takes more than two hours. We arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport (Bangkok International Airport) at about 1AM (Bangkok Time) and conveniently took the airport taxi going to our hotel.
Bangkok-Siem Reap. This was our first flight from a foreign country to another. A little unnerving at first, we were comforted by the fact that we were flying Air Asia, a brand familiar to Filipinos. Air Asia serves this route daily for only an hour’s flight. The tricky part is that all Air Asia flights commence at the old Don Mueang International Airport and not from Suvarnabhumi. Luckily, getting to Don Mueang is very easy and convenient via MRT and a dedicated airport shuttle that goes directly to the airport.
Siem Reap-Phnom Penh. Although Siem Reap is the more popular destination, visiting Phnom Penh en route to Vietnam is a great option for backpackers. Reaching Cambodia’s capital city is possible via bus, van and commercial flights. However, the more popular option is through the sleeper bus trip. We booked via Giant Ibis for the 6 hours trip — mostly which we spent sleeping.
Phnom Penh-Ho Chi Minh. This final stretch of land travel takes around 6 hours. It’s a journey across the Cambodian-Vietnam border to reach Saigon. We booked via Mekong Express Bus. Contrary to some tourist reviews on border horrors, crossing the border via Bavet was very easy and convenient.
WHAT TO DO
- Bangkok City Tour – Royal Palace & Wat Prakeaw, Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn), Floating Market, Wat Pho (Reclining Buddha), Chao Phraya Boat Tour, Khao San Road
- Siem Reap Tour – Angkor Archaeological Complex (Angkor Wat, Bayon, Ta Prohm, Neak Pean, Ta Som, Preah Khan), Pub Street, Night market, Angkor Museum, Landmine Museum
- Phnom Penh Tour – Grand Palace & Silver Pagoda, Independence Monument, Choeung Ek (Killing Fields), Tuol Sleng S-21 Museum, Wat Phnom, Russian Market, Night Market, National Museum, Tonle Sap Lake
- Ho Chi Minh City Tour – War Remnants Museum, HCM Central Post Office, HCM City Hall, Reunification Palace, Cao Dao Temple, Cu Chi Tunnels, Mekong River Cruise, Ben Thanh Market
WHERE TO STAY
Matchbox Bangkok Hostel Rates: $19.23 (PHP 867.00) 12/17 Soi Sukhumvit 33, Sukhumvit Road, Khlong Tan Nuea, Watthana, Bangkok M: +66 91-959-4644 T: +66 2-259-0340 F: +66 2-259-0341 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Angkor Orchid Central Hotel Rates: $12.74 (PHP 574.00) Wat Damnak Road, Siem Reap, Cambodia
(Beside the behind entrance of Siem Reap Art Center Night Market)
Telephone: +855 63 633 4112 | Fax: +855 63 963 858
Feel at Home Guesthouse Rates: $11.00 (PHP 500.00) 17-B Street 29, between Streets 294 and 308, Tonle Bassac, Phnom Penh
T: 023 223 849
LanLan Hotel 46 Thu Khoa Huan st, Ward Ben Thanh, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam Telephone: +84.838227926 Fax: +84.838227925 Email: email@example.com
Sample Itinerary (4 Days / 5 Nights)
- The best time to visit these countries is from November to February. Take note that this is also one of the busiest seasons since flocks of Western tourists escaping winter are headed to this region. The other option is during the dry but hotter months of March to June. The remaining months are the monsoon season.
- There are two major routes to take: the more popular and convenient way is coming from Vietnam to Cambodia and onward to Thailand via Seam Reap. In our case, we took the other way around since we flew out from Bangkok to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. We took this route via plane due to our limited time and partly because of the not-so-friendly reviews along the Thai-Cambodian border.
- It is best to weigh in on the mode of transportation when coming from Bangkok to Siem Reap. In our case, we were able to grab a seat sale via Air Asia so it is better to check out Air Asia’s website and app for updates.
- When looking for accommodations, we recommend online booking sites like Agoda.com for best price deals. The concentration of low-cost hotels and inns are high in these areas so this is friendly for budget travelers like us.
- Make sure to bring with you enough amount of US Dollars, particularly when in Cambodia. USD is widely accepted in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh although the local Cambodian Riel is convenient for small transactions.
- Thais, Cambodians and Vietnamese are in general warm and friendly people. We haven’t had any serious problems in the course of the trip, especially in dealing with our tour operators. In fact, our drivers who also served as guides were most helpful and humble. Gratuities or tips are encouraged but are not required.
- It is best to secure local contact numbers of police, hospital and your nearest respective embassies for any emergencies. These are usually available in your hotels and online.
- Please note that the Indochina region is Southeast Asia’s center of tourism so always be vigilant and take extra care of your belongings (wallets, gadgets, etc.) especially in areas swarmed by tourists. Organized and petty criminals have been invading these tourist areas.