Exploring Indochina: Expenses


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You’ve already read it from countless travel blogs yet you still think that you need to have lots of moolah to travel, so I’m giving you another proof to debunk that notion.
 
Below is a breakdown of our Indochina expenses per country and per item so you can have an idea of how much you need per day to get by.

 

Yes, you don’t need to break the bank to travel to three countries for more than a week.

 

ACCOMMODATION

1 – 3 nights accommodation based on twin sharing

2 – 3 nights accommodation based on twin sharing – Amount indicated is just an estimate since we got a package (accommodation + tour) from the guesthouse.
 
33 nights accommodation based on twin sharing – Amount is significantly higher than our Vietnam and Cambodia accommodations because we stayed in a hotel.
You can obviously bring down the cost further if you don’t mind staying in backpacker hostels or if you’re traveling with a group.

 

FOOD & DRINKS

VietnamFood is very cheap in Vietnam. A bowl of Pho costs about VND40,000 ($2/Php80)

Cambodia – Food and water can be quite expensive since prices are in US Dollars. A meal can cost between $3 – $6. By the way, the buffet with Apsara dance ($8) is included in the cost above.
 
Thailand – We ate a LOT in Bangkok but we still did not spend much. Yes, we survived on street foods (if you’re not picky)! 😀 Typical meal can cost between THB30 – THB50 ($1-$2).

TRANSPORTATION

4 Cost includes airport pickup and bus from Vietnam to Cambodia

5 – Cost includes tuk-tuk/remork for Angkor tour and bus from Siem Reap to Bangkok

 

TOUR & ENTRANCE FEES

Vietnam – Includes Mekong Delta tour, Cu Chi Tunnel tour and admission
Cambodia – Includes one day Angkor pass and tour guide fee
 
Thailand – Includes entrance to Wat Phra Kaew & Grand Palace, and Wat Pho

 

SOUVENIR

Cost obviously varies for this one. 

Vietnam – We bought souvenirs from Benh Thanh Market which is a tourist trap. We found out the Saigon shirt we got for VND250,000 can be bought for only VND125,000 from a souvenir shop in Pham Ngu Lao.

Cambodia – We went to Angkor Night Market but went home empty-handed. Again, we were turned off because items are priced in US Dollars.
 
Thailand – We bought most of the souvenirs in Khao San Road. Unfortunately, our last day in Bangkok fell on a Friday so we weren’t able to shop much in Chatuchak.

 

MISCELLANEOUS

Includes laundry, tip/gratuity, IDD call (because my roaming wasn’t working) 

***

If you do the math, we only spent roughly about Php5,000.00 per country! It may not be the cheapest, but it’s not that expensive either. 🙂

Exploring Indochina: Moc Bai-Bavet Border Crossing


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After our last breakfast in Bich Duyen, we were picked up by the Mekong Express staff around 7:00 am and were led to the bus parked across the other side of Pham Ngu Lao. They handed us a copy of the receipt ($22 per head) and we boarded the bus.
 
There was nothing fancy about the bus except that it has its own toilet (W.C. as in water closet as it is commonly called in Vietnam and Cambodia). While waiting for other passengers, we were handed arrival/departure cards to fill out. The staff collected (I think) $20-$25 and ID photos from tourists who require visa on arrival (VOA). Being Filipinos and members of ASEAN, we can enter Cambodia without visa and stay for a maximum of 30 days.
 
As soon as everybody was onboard, the bus left. Shortly after, the staff started distributing bottled water, cold towels, and snacks.
  Each box contained a slice of strawberry chiffon cake and some kind of meat pie.
Since it was still early, I took a nap knowing that the border was still 3 hours away. Before we reached the border, the staff collected our passports with the accomplished arrival card. Upon reaching Moc Bai Immigration, everyone was asked to proceed to the immigration building. Take note that you have to bring your bags. It has to pass through the scanner.
 
After the security check, we waited for the Mekong Express staff to call out our names and hand us back our stamped passports. Before exiting the building, there will be another immigration staff that’s going to check your passport. Then it’s time to head back to the bus.
 
Anybody know what this ‘monument’ is for?
Rear view of the Moc Bai Immigration building I took from the bus. For some strange reason, it reminds me of the Sky Terrace in Victoria Peak, Hong Kong.
 
Faster than I can say ‘Cambodia’, we were already in Bavet Immigration. It was literally just a stone’s throw away but we still boarded the bus going there.
Welcome to Cambodia!
 
Unlike earlier where we had to bring our bags, this time we just went inside the building, lined up, and waited for our turn in the immigration. I was surprised they had biometric scanners here. First they will scan your right hand, right thumb, left hand, then left thumb before they hand your stamped passport.
Officially in Cambodia
 
After passing the immigration and numerous casinos, we stopped by a Khmer restaurant for lunch then we’re off to Phnom Penh – another 3 hour bus ride and a river crossing.
Vendors aboard the ‘ferry’
Short river crossing
 
Upon reaching Phnom Penh, others were dropped off the market while those heading straight to Siem Reap stayed in the bus until we reached the Mekong Express office.
First glimpse of Phnom Penh
 
We arrived at their office past 2:00 PM and had to wait for another bus that will take us to Siem Reap. Too bad our second bus seemed older and had very poor air conditioning. I think we left their office past 3:00 PM and, again, were served with bottled water, cold towels, and snacks.
Another meat pie and ‘chewy’ bun with toasted sesame seeds. It was not much but enough to fill our tummies for another 6 hour ride
 
In those six hours I just slept, listened to my iPod, slept, listened to my iPod *repeat cycle*. While the view might be something new for Westerners, really I just felt like I traveled from Laguna to Baguio passing by Tarlac and other provinces in between. LOL The scenery is almost the same except for the temples of course and that I’m heading somewhere hotter.
 
Final stopover was at Kampong Thom. It was already dark and I overheard another passenger say that the travel time took a bit longer than usual. Anyway, we stopped by this restaurant but we decided to just have dinner when we get to our guesthouse. After more than 30 minutes, we left the restaurant along with new passengers. It was a bit scary from this point because the road to Siem Reap was really dark.
 
Don’t be misled by the word ‘limousine’
 
If you don’t have reservations in Siem Reap and have not arranged for a pickup service, Mekong Express can also get you a tuk-tuk for $2. In our case, I have already pre-arranged pick-up service from our guesthouse so our tuk-tuk was already waiting for us when we arrived at the Mekong Express terminal in Siem Reap.
 
How I was able to endure a 13-hour bus ride — well that, my friends, is the advantage of having a sedentary lifestyle. LOL It wasn’t as butt-numbing as I thought. :p And unless you have a penchant for Khmer music videos, then better make sure that your gadgets are fully charged.
 
P.S.
 
Good news for Filipinos planning to visit Cambodia, you might not have to endure the half day bus ride after all because there are direct flights from Manila to Cambodia.

Exploring Indochina: Down and Dirty in Cu Chi Tunnels


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We booked a half day tour to Cu Chi Tunnels on our second day in Vietnam.

The tunnels of Củ Chi are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels located in the Củ Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country. The Củ Chi tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the, and were the Viet Cong’s base of operations for the Tết Offensive in 1968. – from Wikipedia
 
Our tour guide for the day: Mr. Binh; half-Filipino, half-Vietnamese war veteran
 

Upon boarding the bus, we were given stickers with the letter ‘B’ on it to put on our shirts so that Mr. Binh would know that we are part of his group. The guy has lots of stories about the tunnels as well as personal experiences of the Vietnam War. He gets a bit emotional sometimes while recounting the past.

Before we reached our stopover, Mr. Binh said he had to go to another bus since his colleague is not as good at telling stories, and that he would just meet us again in Cu Chi Tunnels.
 
We stopped by the Handicapped Handicrafts lacquer ware factory

The craftsmanship is impeccable but most items come with a hefty price tag.  

***
Upon reaching Cu Chi Tunnels, we went through some sort of underpass before emerging in the ‘forest’. There, we sat down to watch a documentary of why and how the Viet Congs built the tunnels. Mr. Binh also showed us the diagram of the tunnels; it was three layers deep with several chambers for cooking, sleeping etc. the bottom layer served as an escape route.
 
The Viet Congs may not be as buff as the Americans but they sure know how to use this to their advantage. The Cu Chi Tunnels are testament to their resourcefulness.

Trap door with deadly spikes underneath

sniper hole

 
More traps can be seen in the Self-made Weapons Gallery. Another proof of the Viet Congs’ ingenuity.
 

After seeing the different kinds of booby traps, we took a break and had refreshments near the shooting range. I’m not kidding! We were serenaded by gun shots while eating ice cream LOL. By the way, they only have snacks so better eat heavy breakfast before joining the tour.

After the break, it was now time to enter the tunnel!

One of the exits. The tunnels are made of clay so the bombings only reinforced it.

At the entrance. Definitely not for claustrophobics!

See the guy behind me? We still had to go down a bit and make our way through the zigzagging tunnel. It was made that way so that American soldiers couldn’t fire at the Viet Congs.

To attract more tourists, they made the tunnels a bit wider and higher to accommodate westerners. So while they did the duck walk, I was able to tread just by bending at the waist. I thought it was pitch-black inside so I brought my flashlight. Good thing lights were placed sporadically.

At first it was a bit cool since the walls were kind of moist, but the deeper you go and as more people enter (with people before you stopping periodically to take pictures) it gets a bit exhausting so we just did the first 30 meters and went out.
 
Finally, here’s a short video of our Cu Chi Tunnels experience (please forgive the amateur editing haha):
 


K