Thailand & Cambodia & Vietnam- Cynthia
It’s no doubt that travelling has in the past 2 years become a favourite pastime of mine. Within this time, I must have visited about 13 countries and 26 cities, with some visited more than once.
When I was planning my summer 2017 trip my number one spot to visit was South East Asia. I had heard so much about Thailand that I wanted to experience it too for myself but I did not just want to go to Thailand on its own. My travel preference is once I visit a part of the world, I try as much as possible to see as much as possible of the area and surroundings so if you one day become my travel buddy do not expect to have days of rest! With that in mind, it was only normal that I added Cambodia and Vietnam since as they were quite close to Thailand and the transport links between the 3 countries were very adequate and reliable. It would have been an even greater pleasure to add Laos on the trip but with already 3 countries to visit, I was really pushing it with just 2 weeks to spare.
As the days drew closer for me to jet off, I was getting very excited as well as anxious for the experience that this trip was going to offer me. I knew I was pretty much prepared for anything besides, I would say I am a laid-back type of traveller who is neither strict nor rigid – I go with the flow!
With my bags packed, visa to Cambodia sorted; I was ready to head off. My first stop was Bangkok and I flew (for my first time!) with Emirates on the luxurious twin deck Airbus A380 (what an experience) where we made a stop in Dubai and changed planes.
Six hours to Dubai and six hours to Bangkok with a few hours in between meant by the time I reached my final destination, I was completely knackered! Bangkok is certainly a buzzing city with lots to experience and see and I can see why it is the number one most visited city in the world this 2017 and the traveller’s favourite city to visit.
Getting to Bangkok: As previously mentioned, I flew Emirates from London to Bangkok via Dubai. The stopover was certainly a great idea but if you prefer direct, you may want to check what is available. I booked my flight via Skyscanner and so far, this site has merited my trust.
Days Needed: I had in total about 4 days in Bangkok and I would say it was not enough! I would recommend 5 days minimum nonetheless, you might be able to cramp a lot of things in 4 days or 3. I spent 2 days sightseeing which included checking out the temples, tailoring boutiques, walking, mini boat trip etc
Where to Stay: Throughout my time in Bangkok, I stayed in different hotels and in different areas. I stayed in a £50 a night deluxe room at the Chillax Resort a 10 mins walk away from the famous Khao San Road. The main features of the hotel that I loved are definitely the roof top pool and the massage facility. The staff was nice and I would certainly recommend the hotel. The next hotel I stayed in was the Eastin Makkasan although the room was a bit dated and the décor in the hotel was not so modern, I loved the pool area and the views across Bangkok. To see even greater views take the lifts to the roof top restaurant…on my final day in Bangkok, I stayed in a cheap and cheerful surprisingly modern and clean hotel near Suvarnabhumi airport at a cost of about £15 a night…I recommend A-Port in Lat Krabang.
What Not To Do: Don’t do like us, in case you take a metered taxi, please do not haggle the price beforehand! We realised much later that we were bargaining and paying a lot more than we should have had we just let the taxi man use the meter. Don’t be like us!!
Also when you jump on a tuk tuk for sightseeing, you will be taken to places and shops you do not need to go to just because they need to fulfil a certain criteria to collect stamps for food and petrol. Though you pay like 10 or 20 Baht for about 4 hours it is not worth it and the driver can become very irritated with you if he fails to meet the criteria to collect stamps because you did not spend as much time as required in the store/place.
Bangkok, reminded me of Ponte Vecchio!
Getting to Chiang Mai: We left for Chiang Mai on the overnight train. Our tickets were bought online via 12GoAsia.com and picked up from their office near the main train station an hour before. The train journey took about 12 hours and about an hour or so into the journey, the train assistants came to change the seats into cosy berths complete with new sheets, pillows and a blanket.
Night train to Chiang Mai
What to Know:
The overnight train berth was quite comfortable but the train was just a little too cold for me at night because the AC was on full blast. So my tip, either request a second blanket or pack an extra one in your suitcase.
If like me you are unable to sleep well with the lights on, bring your eye mask! Guess where mine was – in my suitcase under the lower berth *d’oh*
For vloggers doing a post along the way, there is no Wifi on the train therefore ensure you record and post before an hour and a half into the journey because there will be no phone internet signal for a few hours after that!! I actually lost a few videos I was trying to upload on social media *sad face*
Days Needed: We had almost 2 full days in Chiang Mai and that was certainly not enough to see and do what we wanted to do however when I visit a city, I don’t necessarily want to see and do everything because I want to leave some things for when I next visit. I keep a reason to push me to go back and not doing everything means I have more to look forward to next time. We did a lot of walking around the old city but because it was so hot, it was very exhausting. My tip would be to take little breaks in-between to refresh, relax and replenish the body.
Where to stay: We stayed at the Hyde Park ChiangMai hotel which was a superb brand new hotel with modern, stylish warm tones. I felt as if I was nestled away from the hustle and bustle in a lovely retreat location! One tip I must share is when I made my booking online, there was no option to book the one-bedroom apartment however when we got to the hotel, the one bedroom apartment was going for 2,000 Baht a night! Great value if you ask me!
Some habits I noticed at Chiang Mai
Battery low while out? No problem!
Getting to Siem Reap: After reading much online to plan our Thailand to Cambodia part of the trip by ground, I was getting pretty worried about what was going to be involved but luckily, I fell on a website online which pretty much provided a simplified version of the trip to be made. I booked our journey on the Giant Ibis bus via 12GoAsia.com at USD 32 per person plus payment fee. The bus left from Khao San road, we were about 10 people on the bus therefore allowing us to spread out on the bus and enjoy the 8 hour journey (seriously, it did not feel like it was that long!). There was Wifi on board, we had breakfast and even lunch provided to us. The journey was very relaxing and the assistance given by the bus staff was A+! We sailed through from Bangkok to Siem Reap and through the Thai and Cambodian immigration like pure pros!
What to Know:
The Cambodian visa was even sorted (on an American passport) during the journey at a cost of USD 40 extra. If you have time on your hands like I did, you too can sort out your Cambodia eVisa yourself online by going to: evisa.gov.kh
Make sure you have a digital photo available to upload. The process was pretty simple and took about 3 working days for me to receive their approval and a copy of the eVisa which I had to print 2 copies and take with me.
Always have tissue in your handbag or pockets because during the toilet stop, you would need it! Also be aware that there is an option to use water for cleaning yourself if you use the squatting toilet!!
Days Needed: We had a full day and a half in Siem Reap which was not long at all but our main target was to see the temples and get a feel of the town so we agreed to let the tuk tuk driver who picked us up from the Giant Ibis stop in Siem Reap to our hotel to be our guide the next day. We agreed to pay him about 500 Baht for the day which was from 10am till about 4pm. We chose to pay him in Thai Baht because we knew the currency in equivalent to Pound and the Dollar and we were advised not to change our money to the Cambodian Riel because they accepted dollars everywhere we needed to go to but as you can see we were a bit headstrong and changed about 10 or 20 Dollars! Obviously, you would have to decide what exactly you would like to see and allocate your days accordingly, but I would suggest a minimum of 2 full days.
Where to Stay: We each stayed in a spacious one bedroom apartment at Chateau d’Angkor La Residence, a colonial style modern hotel centrally located in the Old French Quarter which has many beautiful and stylish colonial style mansions. You could sense some of Cambodia’s French past by being in this area. I would very much recommend this hotel however the apartment is far too large for one person alone and you might feel lonely and secluded in it as I did and couldn’t sleep a wink at all coupled with the fact that my apartment had all these artefacts that did not sit well with my spirit *big sigh*
Little touches that made the trip even more wonderful!
Getting to Phnom Penh: Our journey to PP was quite early in the morning, we had booked our trip online via BookMeBus.com with the Cambodia Post VIP Van at a cost of USD 9 each and the journey was scheduled to take 5 hours. The Cambodia Post office (which is where you’ll take the bus from) luckily was located just behind the Chateau d’Angkor La Residence hotel so we were offered a lift by the hotel driver and it took less than 10 mins. Again, we were not many on the bus and therefore could seat comfortably however there was no Wifi available. We had about 1 stop on the way and got to PP on time.
Days Needed: We had about a full day and a half in PP which we used to relax a bit and to go see the Khmer Rouge killing field which was both a reflective and emotionally disturbing moment. It was distressing to still see human bones, teeth and clothes unearthed from the ground by rain and time *huge sigh* Nonetheless, this did not meddle with the fact that PP has now become one of my favourite cities in the world a tie with Ljubljana in Slovenia. What I love about PP was the vibe it oozed and the outdoor nature of life. We saw people picnicking in the middle of the city, families outside enjoying and appreciating life…this lifestyle got me weak in the knees! The weather too was more bearable than Thailand which I found to be extremely hot and uncomfortable.
Where to Stay: We stayed in a 2 bedroom Presidential Suite at the Chateau The Meliya Hotel & Apartment located in the Daun Pehn area. The hotel was fabulous and the breakfast was also delicious! The staff too was helpful. I’d recommend it!
The Three Cameroonian Musketeers in Phnom Penh!
Getting to Sihanoukville: Our trip to Sihanoukville took about 6 hours on the Giant Ibis bus with a stop along the way for snacks and toilet use. Ticket cost about USD 11 each booked online via 12GoAsia.com
Days Needed: You definitely need more than a full day in Sihanoukville *don’t be like us!* We did nothing but relax and take pictures at the hotel and the beach which was needed. Our bones were too tired and weary from all the days of travelling.
Where to Stay: We stayed at the Naia Resort a beach front property with views from our balcony onto Otres beach. Would I recommend it, definitely yes!!
Welcome drinks at Naia Resort
Refreshing drink at Naia resort
Getting to Ho Chi Minh City: We were getting to the final leg of our journey and our trip from Sihanoukville which is down in the south of Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City – HCMC in Vietnam was very long and tedious on the Mekong Express. We left on the 8am bus and arrived HCMC around 8pm with a stopover in PP to change buses. The driver and his assistants handled our passports and getting through the Vietnamese immigration was pretty much simple. Ticket for Mekong Express cost USD 12 and can be booked online via BookMeBus.com
The bus was small and not very new however they offered a direct(ish) journey from Sihanoukville to HCMC with a stop in PP for bus change. There was Wifi on the bus but, sometimes it was switched off and I had to keep reminding the bus driver to turn it back on!
What to Know:
If you are taking a taxi, do not haggle the price but get on a meter taxi. We ended up paying 5 times the price of the taxi ride and got duped by the taxi driver *sigh* When we got to our apartment, our host was very sympathetic because he had tried to help by corresponding with me on email but I hadn’t checked my mail on time*sigh*
British passport holders get a 15 days visa free entry into Vietnam. Please check the status of your passport before you travel. For American passport holders, you need a visa before entry and should you leave it last minute, it could cost you USD 60 for an express visa which is done in an hour at the embassy. Mekong Express handled this for us. Standard visa fee is usually USD 25.
Days Needed: We had 2 full days in Saigon (HCMC). At this point of our trip we were all clearly exhausted and just wanted to relax and keep it low key. We spent one day visiting the war museum and the other just looking for food and planning our respective return to normal life. You would obviously need more days in Saigon and if you also wish to see other parts of Vietnam.
Where to Stay: We stayed at an apartment on the Icon 56 Saigon block located in District 4, a walking distance to Ben Than market and surrounding areas. We booked a 2 bedroom apartment at a cost of about USD 165 for 2 nights however we were upgraded to a 3 bedroom apartment for free! The apartment we were given was definitely top notch and it came complete with a washing machine and a roof top pool with views across the city. Our final night, we spent it in another apartment because we had decided to stay one more night than planned and we paid USD 90 for the 2 bedroom. For group stay, an apartment is more economical than a hotel. I found the hotels in Saigon (HCMC) to be the most expensive of our entire trip hence why we opted for an apartment and overall, it was the better choice.
Getting back to Bangkok: We flew back to Bangkok from HCMC by Thai Lion airlines at a cost of USD 116.45 per person one way on a lastminute booking decision. Had we booked a few days earlier, we would have paid around USD 75 nevertheless the return flight was easy peasy lemon squeasy. Within an hour we were already landing at Don Mueang airport.
The delicacies at Khao San Road!!
My summer seventeen South East Asia trip is my best summer holidays yet and I mean that!! The experience, the memories, the people, the food all made this trip unforgettable and incredible. Despite us being stared at many a times and people sneakily taking pictures of us – given another opportunity to visit these countries, I would jump at it!
Thinking back and asking myself; would I have done anything differently on this trip? I’d say yes and no! Yes, maybe I should have chosen to fly in between cities/countries to save time considering two weeks was not that much time. On the other hand, no! I don’t think I would have wanted to change anything because part of the memorable moments of the trip included the bus and train travels and everything in between. These journey times also allowed me to soak up on my environment, contemplate, appreciate, see things/places along the way that I would not have had the opportunity to see if I had flown. The whole experience of this trip included every single detail – good and bad!
Oh Sihanoukville you were so good!
Things to Remember when planning your trip:
Check visa requirement for each respective country and allow time to sort before you depart if needed.
Plan ahead by booking your connecting transportation online.
Carry sun cream; even though it was rainy season (Aug/Sept) it was extremely hot!
Remember to bring a raincoat or an umbrella.
Haggle in the markets, start at 50% off the price you are told and don’t be scared to walk away and walk around to see if you can get a better price before buying.
Take metered taxis, and don’t haggle! Don’t do like us!
Wear appropriate clothing if you want to go into the temples. Exposed arms and legs are prohibited.