Southeast Asia is one of the most popular backpacking travel destination. Aside from it is cheap, it is also accessible by land. One popular route backpackers usually take is the Indochina route which includes Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. These countries are next to each other so it can be easily traveled by land. The fact that direct flights from Philippines to Vietnam and Thailand are cheap, it is a very attractive and affordable route for Filipinos who wants to try backpacking for 15-30 days. In our case we followed Indochina route but we also added 2 countries, Laos and Indonesia.
We first started our journey flying direct from Manila, Philippines to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam via Cebu Pacific.
HO CHI MINH A.K.A SAIGON, VIETNAM
This city in the south of Vietnam is home to Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral, a famous landmark in the city built by French during their occupation in Vietnam. For 5 days in this city, we spent around Php 7,500 for food, transportation and tours for 2 people. A decent fried rice meal, noodle soup or sandwich a.k.a banh my cost VND 20,000- 50,000 (Php 50- 100). City buses are also available around the city for only VND 5,000- 6,000 or Php 10- 12 while motorbike ride (Xie Ohm) may cost VND 30,000- 50,000 (PHP 60-100). Private double room cost VND 300,000 (Php 600) per night but you can also book a dorm room which cost cheaper. One full day city or Mekong River tour with free lunch will cost USD 9- 30 depending on the agency. I suggest that you pay your travel agency in USD since it is accepted and to be safe. There might be instances that the agent will give you a wrong conversion and you will end up paying more than the actual price. Believe me, I experienced that before.
After spending 5 days in Ho Chi Minh city we took a 6-hour bus crossing Moc Bai Border to Phnom Penh, Cambodia through a travel agency near our hotel.
PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA
The worst mistake we did in this city is booking our guesthouse far from the city center. Accommodations in Phnom Penh are cheap but be sure to book it in the center or near the sites. Since city buses here are not really used, we are left with no choice but to hire a tuktuk (motor taxi) which cost USD 5 (PHP 250) each ride but be sure to haggle first as it may go down to USD 3-4. During our stay here, it was a week-long holiday which make it like a ghost town. Most business establishments are closed and the price of food is way too inflated. I remember 2 pieces of grilled fish in a local market cost USD 8 (PHP 400). The convenient stores are also out of stock with food supplies which made our food options very limited. Eating in a local restaurant or street food stall will cost at least USD 3-6 (PHP 150-300) per meal. I don’t know if it is because the long holiday that made this prices too high because for 3 days we spent USD 70.4 (PHP 3,520) for food and transportation alone.
*Note: Khmer Real (KHR) is the currency of Cambodia but USD is widely accepted everywhere.
From Phnom Penh we took another 6- hour bus to Siem Reap.
SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA
The home of UNESCO World Heritage site Angkor Wat! Gladly this city has lower cost of living than Phnom Penh despite being more touristic and interesting. The average meal cost USD 1.5-3 (PHP 75-150)and street food choices for only USD 1. If you stay near the city center in Pub Street you don’t need to hire a tuk tuk because the markets and restaurants are on foot away. Half day or whole day tours are available through agencies or tuk tuk drivers from USD 13- 35 each depending on the tour.
From Siem Reap we took a bus to cross the border to Laos and boat to reach the island of Don Det.
SI PHAN DON (4000 ISLAND), LAOS
I must say this island will get you disconnected to the outside world. There’s nothing much to see in this island. Although activities such as kayaking, tubing and Irrawaddy dolphin watching are available, most travelers stop in this place to enjoy the slow phase of time and lie on the hammock outside their bungalow. Laos is more expensive country than the rest of Southeast Asia, because most of their basic commodities like diesel are imported. Expect that the South of Laos is more costly compared to the rest. The food options are also limited with sandwich, fried rice, fried noodles, soup and Indian food which ranges from LAK 10,000- 50,000 (PHP 60- 300) each meal. However since it is lean season when we were here, so our accommodation which is a bungalow by the river with a perfect sunrise view only cost LAK 50,000 (PHP 300) a night. There are tuk tuks in the island but travelers either usually rent a bicycle for LAK 10,000 (PHP 60) or motorcycle for LAK 80,000 (PHP 490) for a day or walk their way to the sites.
From 4,000 Island we took a boat and a 3-hour bus to Pakse.
This city has also nothing to offer but it is nearby Paksong or Bolaven Plateau which houses the 120 meter high twin waterfall, Tad Fane. Compared to other parts of Laos, Pakse is the cheapest. A decent meal can cost LAK 10,000- 35,000 (PHP 60- 215) with various food option and street food. Tuk tuks cost LAK 10,000- 20,000 (PHP 60- 120) each ride depending on your haggling skill. I would say I experience the warmest and kindest people here. I never felt being ripped off, people smile at you, and would never take advantage of you. One best part of this travel is when a family of 6 offered us a free ride from Paksong going back to our accommodation in Pakse. Despite the language barrier and being a stranger, they still welcomed us in their van. We communicated through gestures and smiles until we said goodbye to them through handshake which is a unique experience.
From Pakse we took an overnight bus to Bangkok.
Originally, we plan to stay in Bangkok for just 6 days but our allotted budget for Cambodia and Laos ran out. Since we got short of budget in Siem Reap, we decided to take our budget in Laos and mix it with Siem Reap. But as we read from travel forums that South of Laos is more expensive than the rest, we decided to cut Laos trip shorter and spend longer time in Bangkok to make our budget last. We ended up staying in Bangkok for 8 days. Bangkok is almost the same like the Philippines when it comes to cost of living. There are city buses that you can use for free or air-conditioned buses which cost from TBH 9-15 (PHP 14-25). Food are inexpensive from TBH 30- 100 (PHP 50- 150) with various options to choose from. For 8 days stay our TBH 6400 (PHP 10,000) made it for transportation, food, and entrance fee on the sites.
Our next stop, we took 4 and half hour direct flight to Bali, Indonesia thru Airasia.
I have to be honest, we totally love the place. Bali is such a paradise with a picturesque view and amazing sunset. However, the lack of public transportation like public buses and vans is a major drawback. Plus the fact that in some tourist spots like temples and waterfalls, Uber, Grabtaxi, and Go-Jek are banned. The cheapest way to go around Bali is to rent a motorbike but for travelers who don’t know how to ride a bike and drive a motorbike be prepare to spend more on taxis and private cars. The average taxi ride is IDR 100,000-300,000 (PHP 380-1,150) depending on the distance and depending on your haggling skills. We also experienced our Grab driver asking us to pay 3 times more of what is charged on the meter app. My tip to you, get a grab driver that has 5 stars rate on their profile only. For food, Indonesian food is close to Indian food, so better inform them ahead that you don’t want your food spicy before they make it because it will be hell of a spicy if you don’t.
EXPENSES: For 2 PAX or 1 Pax
Manila, PH to Ho Chi Minh, VN via Cebu Pacific:PHP 5,198 (no check in baggage)
Ho Chi Minh, VN to Phnom Penh, KH via bus: PHP 1000
Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, KH via bus: PHP 800
Siem Reap, KH to 4,000 Island, LAO via bus and boat: PHP 2,000
4,000 Island to Pakse, LAO via bus and boat: PHP 610
Pakse, LAO to Bangkok, TH via bus: PHP 2,700
Bangkok, TH- Bali, IDN via Airasia flight: PHP 7, 560 (no check in baggage)
Bali, IDN to Manila, PH via Airsia flight (lay over to Kuala Lumpur): PHP 12,396
Total: PHP 32,264 divide by 2= PHP16, 132
Accommodation: Private Double Room
Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam: PHP 3, 288 (5 nights)
Phnom Penh, Cambodia: PHP 1,290 (3 nights)
Siem Reap, Cambodia: PHP 1,196 (3 nights)
4,000 Island, Laos: PHP 900 (3 nights)
Pakse, Laos: PHP 700 ( 2 nights)
Bangkok Thailand: 1st hostel: PHP 900 (2 nights)
2nd hostel: PHP 2,448 (5 nights)
Bali, Indonesia: Ubud: PHP 1,852 (4 nights)
Kuta: PHP 1, 053 (2 nights)
Total: 13, 627 divide by 2= PHP 6, 813.50
PHP 50,000 divide by 2= PHP 25,000
TOTAL COST: PHP 95, 891 divide by 2 = PHP 47, 945.50