This 2018, I started my international travels with a flight to our neighbor Southeast Asian countries – Vietnam & Cambodia. And before you even say “Aren’t those countries look like Manila?”, I’ll answer you with a big YES! After almost a week in Viet-Cam, I witnessed how their cities are less advanced than Manila and how the locals look like Filipinos too. So before you even start your trip to Indochina, I challenged you to shift your focus on this countries.
Focus on their rich history and culture. Focus on their architecture and majestic temples. Focus on their food and extra good coffee. And most of all, focus on the people you’ll meet on your journey.
And when you do, you’ll definitely love it. Plus, it’s cheap!
All About Indochina
It was only in my trip that I learned that Indochina originally refers to the colonies, consists of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, of the French empire before. But now it is referred to be as the “Mainland Southeast Asia” and the land historically influenced and bounded by India (in the west) and China (in the north). Indochina now consists of Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore.
It is very common for travelers to visit multi-cities when heading to the Indochina region for months. But the famous route would be the Thailand – Cambodia – Vietnam by bus for 7-10 days. Since I’ve been to Thailand before, I decided to just explore Vietnam and Cambodia.
If you wanted more than Viet-Cam then here’s some itineraries from other travel bloggers:
First thing you need to do is decide where to start and end so you’ll be able to know where your entry point and exit point are. I booked a multi city flight from Manila to Ho Chi Minh & Siem Reap to Manila via Cebu Pacific for 6,200 pesos, three months before the travel dates.
P.S. You can also check the other way around to compare airfare prices.
There are only two airlines – Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines – who offer direct flights from Manila to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. While only Cebu Pacific offers direct flight from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Manila.
Itinerary (with Expenses)
7 PM – Flight to Ho Chi Minh (via CebPac)
There are no morning flights available in Cebu Pacific to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. Most of the flights are 10 PM but there are days where they offer flights as early as 7 PM.
9 PM – Arrival in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Travel time is almost 3 hours but Vietnam is one hour delayed than Manila. Their airport is called Tan Son Nhat International Airport which is a lot like NAIA.
10 PM – Check-in in Cititel Boutique
We took an Uber to our hotel since it will only cost us around 100,000VND (~200PHP) and also to save us from the hassle of our luggage and taxi scams. I booked our hotel through Agoda for 5,700PHP for 3 nights. The hotel is nice, near the backpacker street Pham Ngu Lao and 5-10 minutes walk to the city attractions.
10:30 PM – Find a place to eat in Pham Ngu Lao Street.
It can be scary to walk at night in Ho Chi Minh because of the dark street. You can opt to try the GrabMoto or UberMoto. It will only cost you around 12,000 VND (30PHP)
Uber to hotel – 67 PHP (P200/3)
Dinner near hotel- 120 PHP
Sim Card (via Klook) – 233 PHP
TOTAL : 520 PHP
7 AM – Breakfast
Our hotel has a free breakfast buffet. It is nothing big but enough to start our day. Restaurants are still not open at 7 am but cafes do. Oh, don’t forget to try their coffee!
9 AM – Reunification Palace
We started our city walking tour with Reunification Palace. It is a government palace that serves as home and workplace of the president of South Vietnam during the war. The place is more on history and he different beautiful rooms of a palace.
Entrance fee: 40,000 VND (~100 PHP/ 2USD)
10:30 AM – War Remnant Museum
10 minutes walk away from Reunification Palace is War Remnant Museum. As the name implies, this is a museum of photos and tanks used during the Vietnam War. This place is heartbreaking so prepare your heart.
Entrance fee is also 40,000 VND (~100PHP / 2USD)
12:30 PM – Lunch
Finding restaurants around is easy. We found this cute cafe near the War Remnant Museum. Prices are almost the same with Manila’s. Each dish will cause you around 90,000 VND (~200 PHP). If you’re on a tight budget, there are some carienderias around.
2 PM – Notre Dame Basilica
The basilica is under construction when we visited (and I heard it will be completed on 2020, correct me if I’m wrong). You can’t enter so there’s nothing much to do but admire it outside.
2:15 PM – Saigon Central Post Office
Beside Notre Dame is the post office. One famous thing to do here is to send yourself or your friends postcards from around the world. There are souvenir shops as well inside. Sending a postcard to the Philippines will cost you around 300 PHP.
P.S. I made a mistake by going to War Remnant Museum first. It is better to visit Notre Dame and the Post Office in the morning after Reunification Palace to avoid the afternoon heat. Then spend the afternoon indoor in War Remnant Museum.
3 PM – Nguyen Street
Nguyen Street is a walking street where the French colonial architecture is still visible. You can see here the City hall, Ho Chi Minh’s Statue, Saigon’s Opera House, a good view of Bitexco Financial Center and lots of cafes and fashion stalls. If it’s too hot for you, then go chill on Apartment Cafe.
4:30 PM – Ben Thanh Market
Unfortunately, Ben Thanh market closes around 5 PM. Went inside for 30 minutes but the place is chaotic and humid. There’s fresh meat, fruits, souvenirs and bad quality bags inside.
5:30 PM – Saigon Square
If you want to shop, then head to Saigon Square. The clothes are nice and you can buy class A Kipling and North Face bags. It is a lot better than Ben Thanh. We went to Saigon Square 1, just near Ben Thanh. Clothes starts from 150000 VND.
9:30 PM – Ben Thanh Night Market
Around 9 PM, the street beside Ben Thanh Market is closed to give way to the night market. It is a lot better than the market itself. There are street foods, souvenirs, and clothes around. It reminded me of Khao San Road in Bangkok.
Reunification Palace entrance – 92 PHP
War Remnant Museum – 92 PHP
Lunch – 300 PHP
Shopping at Saigon Square – 800 PHP
Dinner (+ Street foods) – 250 PHP
Souvenir & Pasalubong Shopping – 1000 PHP
TOTAL : 2,534 PHP
8 AM – Meet up for Cu Chi Tunnel Tour (via Klook)
I book a half day tour Cu Chi Tunnel Experience via Klook for only 673 PHP. Cu Chi is almost 2 hours+ away and it is somehow hard to DIY it. Meet up is in De Tham Street, in front of Starbucks Coffee and mostly the place where there’s a swarm of people.
8:30 AM – Travel to Cu Chi Tunnels
Tour starts on time so avoid getting late.
10:00 AM – Stop Over
We stopped by a showroom of the artworks of the victims of Agent Orange*. You can buy the beautiful arts they produced to help them with their medical bills.
*Agent Orange is a powerful herbicides that the US Military used to the Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. It has a lot of medical effects that are still experienced by the 2nd generation Vietnamese.
11:00 AM – Cu Chi Firing Range
If you are a fan of guns then you’ll definitely enjoy the first stop. You can fire machine guns, M16s, AK47s, and other more. You just need to buy the bullet that cost around 35,000 VND each (minimum of 10). I was not able to get inside the firing range because the sound is too much for me.
12:00 NN – Start of Cu Chi Tunnel Tour
Since we booked a tour with Klook, we already have a tour guide to guide us in the forest. The history behind the tunnels is interesting, fascinating and heartbreaking at the same time. The highlight is crawling the tunnel yourself. If you are claustrophobic, then this will be a big NO for you.
2 PM – On the way back to Ho Chi Minh City
The tour is not actually a half day. It almost took a whole day since we arrived in HCM around 4 PM already.
4 PM – Free time to shop or roam around the city
Cu Chi Tunnel (via Klook) – 673 PHP
Fruit Shake – 80 PHP
Late Lunch / Early Dinner – 350 PHP
Iced Coffee – 50 PHP
TOTAL: 1,153 PHP
P.S. You can also opt to visit Mekong Delta. (or both if you have another day to spare)
8:30 AM – Cat Mekong Delta Express
Mekong Express Bus is what we availed of our trip. It only costs us 12 USD/each inclusive of water, bread, & a guide that helped us in the Vietnam-Cambodia border. Here’s the schedule.
11:30 PM – Vietnam – Cambodia Border
Before arriving to the border, the guide will collect all your passports in the bus. You’ll be asked to get out of the bus and wait for your guide to submit your passport in Vietnam’s immigration officers. After your passport has been stamped, the bus will take you to Cambodia’s immigration office (only 3 minutes away). Again, you need to get off the bus and line up individually for your arrival stamp.
Cambodia has a visa on arrival for 30 USD. If you are from a Southeast Asian country, the visa is free.
P.S. Beware of buying sim cards outside the Cambodia borders. Look for Cellcard’s booth for legit ones.
3 PM – Arrival to Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Travel time is 6 hours+ depends on the traffic and how busy the border is. Don’t worry about lunch since Mekong have a 20 minutes lunch stopover. Phnom Penh streets are scarier than Ho Chi Minh’s. Take care of your belongings and prefer to use Uber/Grab.
3:30 PM – Check in to Asia Tune Hotel
I booked a triple room in Asia Tune Hotel via Agoda for 2,500 PHP and I didn’t expect for a nice room for such price. It is also near the Royal Palace.
6 PM – Dinner along Mekong River
There are a lot of restaurants near the Mekong River. We tried Khmer Saravan Restaurant for authentic Cambodian food.
Bus to Phnom Penh – 630 PHP
Cellcard Sim Card (5GB) – 250 PHP
Carienderia lunch – 200 PHP
Taxi from drop off to hotel – 40 PHP (P120/3)
Dinner – 250 PHP
TOTAL: 1,370 PHP
8 AM – Breakfast
Asia Tune offers a complimentary breakfast. So much love for this hotel!
9:30 AM – Royal Palace & Silver Pagoda
This is the equivalent of Grand Palace of Bangkok. It is the royal residence of the king of Cambodia. Entrance fee: 10 USD (~500 PHP)
10:30 AM – National Museum of Cambodia
Entrance fee: 10 USD (~500 PHP)
11:30 AM – Independence Monument
Ask you tuktuk driver to drop you in the Independence Monument for some photo ops.
12 NN – LUNCH
1 PM – Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
I advice you to take your lunch first before heading here. This museum is once an execution center during the Khmer Rouge but now houses photos and evidences of torture and genocide happened. This is too much for the faint heart. Entrance fee: 5 USD (~250 PHP)
4 PM – Flight to Siem Reap
I was able to score 30 USD flight to Siem Reap via Cambodia Angkor Air. It is almost double of the 15 USD bus fare but I don’t want to waste another 6 hours on the road.
P.S. Cambodia Angkor Air domestic plane is seriously dirty!
5 PM – Arrival to Siem Reap/ Check in with Rithy Rine Angkor Residence
Siem Reap seems like a different country from Phnom Penh. It is safer, cheaper and has the countryside vibes. Again, I booked Rithy Rine via Agoda for 6,200 for 2 nights inclusive of breakfast and roundtrip airport shuttle.
7 PM – Angkor Night Market/ Pub Street
One good thing with our hotel is it is only a walking distance to Angkor Night Market & Pub Street. Dinner is a little expensive here starting from 5 USD but carienderias are also around. If you are going shopping, haggle!
Tuktuk to Royal Palace – 34 PHP (P100/3)
Royal Palace entrance – 500 PHP
Tuktuk back to hotel – 34 PHP (P100/3)
Taxi to Phnom Penh Airport – 88 PHP (P262/3)
Airfare to Siem Reap – 1500 PHP
Dinner – 250 PHP
Foot Massage – 150 PHP
TOTAL :2,556 PHP
4:30 AM – Angkor Wat Sunrise Watching
We hired a tuk-tuk via our hotel (8 USD) to take us to Angkor Wat to watch the sunrise. We were driven first to the ticket office. 1 Day Pass costs 37 USD (~2,000 PHP). We chose not to see all the temples (only the famous ones) to be able to squeeze it on one day.
6:30 AM – Back to hotel/Breakfast
Our tuktuk drove us back to our hotel for breakfast and to wait for our Angkor Wat Tour Exploration with Klook.
8:00 AM – Explore Angkor Tour (via Klook)
We decided to book Klook’s Explore Angkor Tour to maximize our day pass and for the inclusive tour guide. Klook picked up at our hotel at 8 AM and started our temple run with Angkor Wat. If you travel for good photos then I advised you to just rent a tuk-tuk because this tour can be a little fast phased.
11 AM – Ta Phrom
Another famous temple in Siem Reap is the Ta Phrom or commonly known as the Tomb Raider temple. This is where most of the scenes in Tomb Raider were filmed.
12:30 NN – Lunch
If you booked via Klook, lunch is exclusive so you need to pay at your own expense. The restaurant they brought us is a little upscale so be prepared. My order is around 8 dollars.
2 PM – Bayon Temple
Besides Angkor Wat complex is Angkor Thom. It also consists of different temples with Bayon as the most popular. It is the youngest of all temples and also known for its smiling faces.
3:30 PM – Phnom Bakheng
The last stop will be Phnom Bakheng to watch the sunset. There’s a 10-minute hike to the top of the hill and another queue to the top of Phnom Bakheng.
5:30 PM – Travel Back to hotel
Tuktuk for Sunrise Exploration – 140 PHP (P415/3)
Angkor Wat Day Pass – 1923 PHP
Angkor Wat Exploration (via Klook) – 675 PHP
Lunch – 400 PHP
Ice Cream (in Bayon Temple) – 50 PHP
Dinner – 150 PHP
TOTAL: 3,338 PHP
10 AM – Woke up late
We were so tired of the whole day temples exploration. Seriously, you will too.
12 NN – Check out
We already checked out of our room but we left our bags in the reception so we can explore Siem Reap.
12:30 PM – Lunch at Psah Chas Alley
We stumbled upon this cute alley by accident and discovered the restaurants and shops along it. We ate our lunch in one of the restaurants here.
2 PM – Siem Reap Old Market
We shopped for our pasalubongs here. But Angkor Night Market has more to offer so you can choose to chill or swim in your hotel instead.
6 PM – Back to the Night Market for shopping and dinner
Prices are cheap but still don’t forget to HAGGLE!
8 PM – Travel to Siem Reap International Airport
Our hotel has a complimentary drop off at the airport.
11 PM – Going home to Manila
Cebu Pacific is the only airline that offers direct flight to Manila from Siem Reap. Flight is usually late at night.
Lunch – 250 PHP
Pasalubongs & Souvenirs – 1000 PHP
Dinner – 200 PHP
TOTAL: 1,450 PHP
Airfare – 6,000 PHP
Travel Tax – 1,620 PHP
Accommodations – 4,800 PHP (P5,700 + P2,500 + P6,200)/3
Food, Transpo & Tours – 10,000 PHP
Shopping – 2,800 PHP
GRAND TOTAL: 27,000 PHP
This itinerary is overpriced for the backpackers’ style travelers. This is more suitable for travelers who prefer comfort or for those who have kids and parents in tow. I chose to splurge a little for our accommodation. There are other cheaper choices.
Foreign Exchange Tips
NEVER exchange your Philippine Peso to Vietnamese Dong (VND) here in Manila. I exchanged my 5,100 PHP (100 USD) here for 1.7 Million VND. My mom chose to exchange her 100 USD to Vietnam and she got a freaking 2.25 Million VND! I lost 550,000 VND which cost around 1,250 PHP. *cries*
It is advisable to bring US Dollars in your Indochina trip.
Where to buy Sim Card?
I bought my sim card (Vinaphone) in Ho Chi Minh via Klook. It only cost 234 PHP for 2 GB data & local calls. It will also be delivered to your hotel which is a good thing since I don’t have enough time to look for telco stores.
In Cambodia, I bought a sim card (Cellcard) outside the border for 5 USD for 3 GB.
Best time to go?
The weather is the same with the Philippines. There’s hot and very hot. The best months are December to February since rainfall is minimal and the temperature is lower than summer months April-July.
How many days should I allot for each country?
We only have 2 full days in Ho Chi Minh and it wasn’t enough. If you wanted to see the city, Cu Chi tunnel & Mekong River, then 3 full days is advisable. 24 hours in Phnom Penh is enough. While in Siem Reap, it will depend on your budget. There are a lot of temples and it will require 3-5 days to see them all. So the question will always be how much are you willing to shell out for the Angkor Day Pass ($62 for 3 days; $72 for 7 days)? Next question will be, how many days are you willing to walk hundred of step?
Clothes are almost at the same price here in Manila. North Face products are the best buy on Vietnam since even their class A are in good quality and price. Cambodia has good quality sarongs and scarves. In terms of food pasalubongs, they only have dried fruits.
Other Intercity Bus Companies
There are two ways you can travel to Cambodia from Vietnam – by bus or by plane. Plane tickets can cost you around 150 USD one way. If you’re willing to spend that much money, then book your ticket with Vietnam Airlines (Phnom Penh & Siem Reap entry) or Cambodia Angkor Air (Siem Reap entry only). If you want to save some money, then let’s stick with the bus.
Is it safe?
Amidst all the blogs and scams I’ve read online, I felt safe on Ho Chi Minh and Siem Reap. But keep in mind to be still alert. Their money is confusing so avoid showing it to the vendors or drivers. They usually tricked tourist of getting the different value (e.g getting 100,000 bill instead of 10,000 bill). I’ve also heard a lot of scamming incident with habal-habal drivers offering you a city tour. Try to stick with Grab or Uber.
Phnom Penh, on the other hand, is the opposite. I felt like that someone will just grab my bag and phone even at noontime. Our tuk-tuk driver even warned us.
Before, I thought that Vietnam and Cambodia are the countries I’ll only be going once (the Philippines has a lot more to offer they said). I never saw myself enjoying these countries and thinking of going back someday. But I did. And I hope you will too.