I have always had my eye on the Indochina backpacking tour but the dates were always off and I never had the money at the right moment. Try the Land Travel from Ho Chi Minh to Siem Reap.
After learning that I could DIY my way through the Indochina, I booked my ticket. Originally, I just wanted to go to Siem Reap to see the temples and bask in their glory but my friend had a better idea – why not maximize the trip and visit two countries! And so we did.
We immediately booked Manila – Ho Chi Minh and Siem Reap – Manila with no assurance of our schedule and transportation between these two places. Thank heavens for the Internet and my friend’s organization skills; we (well more of she was) were able to come with an itinerary for our 10-day trip.
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Splitting up the days is definitely a challenge. Being the ambitious one, I wanted to see Northern Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh and Angkor Wat without paying for domestic flights. To save us time and the hassle, we agreed on Ho Chi Minh, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap – no regrets.
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I fell in love with all three cities immediately, each having its own personality you’ll never forget.
Walking around Ho Chi Minh City
Mekong River Tour
Visiting the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center
Phnom Penh Royal Palace
Angkor Temple Tour
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Research, research, research! My friend and I fell for rookie tourist traps because of our lack of research despite coming up with an itinerary and planning carefully.
July was supposed to be the start of wet season but it was still hot when we were there. Bring a lot of water with you and a towel at all times.
DAY 1 (July 5 Ho Chi Minh):
After getting some rest and breakfast from our hotel, we decided to walk around the city. We did a coffee crawl and ended up in the Independence Palace.
DAY 2 (July 6 Ho Chi Minh):
We booked a One Day Mekong River Tour before hand. We were picked up at the hotel at 8:00AM. The bus ride to the port is 2 hours with 1 stop. The Mekong River Tour takes almost 1 day. The tour guide was funny, polite and very knowledgeable. We visited different islands along the Mekong River, listened to some Vietnamese music and had some local fruits.
After the tour, we rested for a while and headed to Ben Tanh Night Market afterwards. It’s a series of stalls of different goods whose prices go up as the stall gets nearer the main road. The key to happy shopping: haggle. Keep walking around and walking away until you find the magical stall that will agree to the price you want. I was able to bring down shirt prices from VND 120,000 to VND 50,000. What a steal, right?
DAY 3 (July 7 Ho Chi Minh – Phnom Penh):
Before heading to Phnom Penh, we dropped by the War Remnants Museum, which was eye opening! Remember to follow the flow suggested because everything will make more sense that way.
The ride to Phnom Penh was pleasant, we were given a free water bottle and the van was not full at all. The driver was courteous and assisted us properly in crossing the border. We were dropped off in the backpacker’s district which was a tuktuk ride away from our hotel. We were charged $5 for the tuktuk ride but it should just really be $2, so be mindful of that.
DAY 4 (July 8 Phnom Penh):
A supposed city exploration day turned into a trip to the Killing Fields. While we were taking photos of the Independence Monument, a tuktuk driver started chatting us up. He offered to bring us to the Killing Fields – having nothing specific planned for that day, we said yes. “It is up to you” he said, after we asked how much it would be.
After visiting the Killing Fields, he brought us to Wat Phnom, a temple by the backpacker’s district. I handed him $20 but he said “No, not enough.” He wanted $55 per person making that $110! I definitely did not have that amount allocated for a tuktuk ride! After some bargaining, we brought the price down to $80 ($40/head) only to find out that it should be $15-20/head! What a rip off. So remember to bring a price down before jumping in.
Day 5 (July 9 Phnom Penh):
City Exploration and Palace Viewing Day. After reading reviews online about the Royal Palace, we decided not to pay for a tour in the palace. Instead, we stood outside, took a couple photos and admired the beauty of the palace.
Day 6 (July 10 Phnom Penh – Siem Reap):
We took the Cat Mekong Express Limousine bus to Siem Reap. We were given a wet towel, a bottle of water and a box of pastries for the 7 hour trip from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. A good deal for $14 I think! There is only 1 stop for the entire trip but don’t worry, the bus has its own toilet.
We were dropped off far from the city (looks like the middle of nowhere) and it cost us $5 to get to the hotel which was a fair price because it was pretty far.
Day 7 (July 11 Siem Reap):
First Day of our Angkor Temple tour. We were picked up in the hotel at 9AM, headed to buy our passes before seeing any temples. Keep in mind of the new law on temple dress codes: all temples require shoulders and knees to be covered. We visited Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Phrom, Elephant Terrace, Ta Nei and Bayon. The good thing with booking a tour is that we were told stories and information about each temple and the details. Also, we went around in a car with unlimited bottled water and menthol wet towels. Super refreshing for the hot weather!
Day 8 (July 12 Siem Reap):
On our second day, we were picked up at 4:45AM to be able to watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat and take a photo of the temple with its reflection on the still lake. Since wet season was about to start, the sky was very gloomy and there was no sun rising. We were still able to take beautiful photos nonetheless. After having breakfast and a little nap, we headed to Tonle Sap lake for the river tour, saw the floating villages, some crocodiles and cat fish.
After the river tour and having lunch, we proceeded to Banteay Sre, Pre Rup, Phom Bakheng, Ta Keo. After this full day of temple running and climbing, we were brought back to the hotel to rest a little bit just before the Apsara Cultural Show and Buffet.
Day 9 (July 13 Siem Reap):
City Exploration and last minute shopping. We decided sleep a little longer and take a nap after breakfast. We explored Pub Street and the Night Markets surrounding Pub Street.
Day 10 (July 14 Siem Reap):
Flew back to Manila.
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STILL LOOKING FOR OTHER TOURS TO DO IN VIETNAM and CAMBODIA?
Even the best DIY trips need a little help here and there. If you’re headed here, check out all these awesome experiences for only $120 and below. Use them to spice up your budget DIY itinerary, or buy one as a gift for a friend (click the photo for more details!)
Kaye T. Lavin, A food wanderer who works as a barista and a freelance video producer. She is slowly eating her way around the world. Follow her food adventures in The Chuncky Munchies.
Name of the Country: Vietnam & Cambodia
Date/s of your Travel: July 4 – Jully 14 2015
City / Places Visited and Number of Days:
- Ho Chi Minh (3)
- Phnom Penh (3)
- Siem Reap (4)
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