How to see 4 Countries in South East Asia for less than $1500/person

South East Asia is one of our favourite places in the world. It is close to home, it is extremely cheap, the food is great & surprisingly it is very well connected. During the start of our 2 year trip, in 2016, we spent 4 weeks travelling through Cambodia, Thailand, Laos & Vietnam all for less then $1500AUD/person including flights.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia 2 nights

Accommodation: Airbnb for $16USD/Night in the city with private room & bathroom for 2. Get $41 off your first adventure with this link!

Activities: Explore the city & eat plenty of pork, see the darker side of the country’s history by visiting the killing fields & S21 school of torture ($6USD entrance/person). Private tuk tuk for both sites is $15USD/day.

Transportation: Fast Boat to Siem Reap $16USD/person (you can barter for a better price). Takes around 8 hours.

Tips:

  • Don’t let the tuk tuk driver rip you off when they suggest they have no change, they all have wads of cash
  • No more than $9USD from the airport to your inner city hotel
  • Eat in the streets as restaurants are tourist traps
  • Buy visa upon arrival $30USD/person
  • Citybank customers get free withdrawels from Maybank ATMs
  • Take advantage of student discounts at popular sites

Siem Reap, Cambodia 3 nights

Accommodation: Hotel $16USD/night with pool & private room for 2 with private bathroom.

Activities: Angkor Temples, one day is enough to wear you out at $20USD/person. Organise a tuk tuk driver for the whole day for $15USD for the “small loop”. These are by far the best temples we have ever been to, including Machu Picchu.

Visit pub street for 0.50c beers. There are also plenty of overpriced touristy restaurants if that’s what you’re into.

Transportation: Bus/minivan $9USD/person to Bangkok, you can barter for a better price.

Tips:

  • Hotel should organise transportation from the boat dock
  • Drink lots of water
  • If a male monkey displays his appendage he is challenging you
  • Make sure you know how much money you give your tuk tuk driver & do it in an obvious manner so there is no question
  • Try the springs rolls, they will blow your mind

Bangkok, Thailand 1 night

Accommodation: Hostel B468/night, private room for 2 with a shared bathroom.

Activities: Eat at the China Town night markets it is cheap!

Transportation: Train to Chiang Mai B685/person. We got fed twice & the ride is quite comfortable.

Tips:

  • Don’t get sick before the night market like Bonny
  • Stock up on groceries at the 7 eleven (some take credit card)
  • Withdrawing money is expensive in Thailand, B200 for Citibank customers
  • Taxis will pretend to get lost to get more money, but still make sure they use the meter
  • You can buy train tickets with card before 7pm
  • No need for a visa in Thailand for Aussies

Chiang Mai, Thailand 1 night

Accommodation: Hostel B416/night, private room for 2 with private bathroom.

Activities: Sleep & mingle with locals. We only had a stopover before our bus the next day but there are plenty of things to do in the area.

Transportation: Bus/Chicken bus to Huay Sinh B290/person. No aircon except for windows.

Tip:

  • Locals are very helpful even when in a rush to get to work
  • Take a local red truck to the bus station & avoid conversation with racist gringo expats
  • The walk from the train station is a bit of a trek into the main town

Huay Sinh, Laos 1 night

Accommodation: Hotel LAK90,000/night, private room for 2 with shared bathroom. No need to book in advance.

Activities: Eat out, book boat ticket, make friends, cross border.

Transportation: Slow Boat to Luang Probang LAK210,000/person. A 2 day boat ride packed to the rafters. Scenery is amazing.

Tips:

  • Border is easier with US dollars available
  • Exchange rate at the border is reasonable for your left over Thai monies
  • Seats at the back of boat are near the motor & very noisy. The early bird gets the more comfy, peaceful seat at the front
  • Buy your visa on arrival $30USD/person
  • Most ATMs seemed to charge LAK20,000/transaction

In between, Pakbeng, Laos 1 night

Accommodation: Hotel LAK60,000/night, private accommodation for 2 with shared bathroom. You can barter for the price & there is no need to book in advance.

Activities: Eat out at a local indian restaurant, for 2 people including drinks it cost LAK150,000.

Transportation: Slow Boat continued for the second day of the trip.

Tips:

  • Buy your own breakfast the night before as hotels is are overpriced & buy their breaky from the bakery down the road anyway, who may sell out
  • Avoid the beggers at the boat dock, some covered themselves in human excrement & tried to touch peoples food
  • Don’t take the first room offered at the dock, play hard to get & prices will drop
  • People don’t usually stay for more than 1 night but it is possible to hang around another day if you wish

Luang Probang, Laos 3 nights

Accommodation: Hostel with breaky included, shared room with shared bathroom LAK50,000/person.

Activities: Visit waterfalls for a couple of hours (LAK30,000/person), hangout & relax at the Utopia bar, eat the street food, enjoy the free films at the December film fest & climb to the feet of the Budha.

Transportation: International Flight to Hanoi $160USD/person, recommended as the other option is a 26 hour sickening bus trip through the mountains to the village of Sapa,Vietnam.

Tips:

  • Travel on the tour with Spanish people as they will barter hard for everyone
  • Group travel is much cheaper & more enjoyable
  • Tuk tuk & boat are paid for seperately to the waterfalls
  • Entry is also additional for the waterfalls at LAK15,000/person
  • Bring a waterproof bag for your phone in case your boat capsizes

Hanoi, Vietnam 1 night

Accommodation: Hostel with breaky included 315,000d/night, private room with low ceiling (180cm) for 2 with private bathroom.

Activities: Eat street food, wander down different streets of various themes including funeral flower arrangements & christmas decorations.

Tips:

  • If there is a big crowd on tiny stools eating what looks like clag join the queue, it is delicious & hard to find
  • Apply in advance for a Letter of Invitation in order to your pay visa on arrival, it is much cheaper (550,000d/person)
  • Bus from the airport to the city center is easy to use & well organised (30,000d/person)
  • Most major cities had Citibank ATMs

Transportation: Overnight Train to Sapa, if there is a baby on board & in your room ask to be moved, 400,000d/person. Also the ‘coffee’ offered at the 4am arrival is not free & cost 20,000d.

Sapa, Vietnam, 3 nights

Accommodation:

  • Hotel with breaky 225,000d/night for 2 with shared bathroom
  • Homestay with local family $60USD/night with all meals & drinks included
  • Kenpas Hotel has a dodgey owner, breaky incl 247,000d/night for 2 with shared bathroom (we do not recommend)

Activities: Homestay with family in the local farming area is worth the hike & discomfort, food & drink provided is crazy & delicious. We received beer, coke, pork, tofu & plenty of fire water. A traditional fire heated bath was even prepared when there was a miscommunication about swimming.

Transportion: Overnight bus to Bai Chay, outskirts of Ha Long City 400,000d/person, book directly in the station & don’t book with an agent as the bus may be inferior & you may miss it due to misleading information.

Tips:

  • Don’t book your overnight bus through Kenpas Hotel as the owner is dodgey & will sell you bus tickets to a non existent bus
  • Do barter for your overnight homestay
  • Do drink the fire water for every meal with your homestay, it is polite
  • Don’t expect to sleep or arrive when promised on your overnight bus
  • Do ask how to use the loo at your homestay

Bai Chay, Somewhere in between, Vietnam 1 nights

Transportation: Walk 15kms to Ha Long City terminal to save being scammed $5USD. Then take the ferry to the Cat Ba island 70,000d/person & the bus to Cat Ba town 15,000d/person. Checkout The 15km walk to avoid a $5US not-so-scammy scam in Vietnam for more details.

Activities: Fight off the harassing taxis & enjoy the beautiful islands as the sun rises on the way to Ha Long Bay.

Tips:

  • Don’t go into a stranger’s house at 1am, no matter how hard they try to persuade you in aggressive Vietnamese
  • Go to the ferry terminal furthest away from the bus station (10km), all other docks are private
  • Don’t fracture your collarbone on the 15km walk to the ferry terminal like Bonny

Ha long Bay, Cat Ba Town, Vietnam 4 nights

Accommodation: Hostel on the beach with buffet breaky & double beds 110,000d/night/person, shared room with 2 private bathrooms! Best hostel we have stayed at.

For advanced bookings we prefer to use booking.com or hostelworld.

Activities: Enjoy the beach, take a cruise to go kayaking, snorkelling & explore the other surrounding islands (240,000d/person). Hospital Cave is another interesting site on the island leftover from the Vietnam War.

Tips:

  • Don’t swallow the water, it is potentially boat sewage
  • Avoid some of the elderly tourists down at the beach in mesh undies, your eyes will thank you
  • Eat at the seafood buffet for $5USDpp
  • Don’t carry food around the monkeys, do hold your bag tight & don’t scare the monkeys or they may attack
  • Charge your go pro properly

Transportation: Ferry then Bus (100,000d/person) then ciclo then taxi to the Haiphong airport (102,000d). This is the scenic route.

Haiphong, Vietnam 0 nights

Activities: Enjoy a free ride on a Ciclo as the driver takes you to the wrong destination, argue with taxi drivers who try to rip you off, laugh at other drivers who threaten you with their mafia friends. Checkout The awkward ciclo trip in Haiphong, Vietnam for more details.

Tips:

  • Take a taxi from the bus station to airport as a Ciclo won’t/can’t do it
  • Don’t get ripped of at the airport by said taxi, make sure you read the meter before it is turned off
  • Only pay once per carload for entry into the airport (10,000d)
  • Don’t stay in Haiphong, it is an industrial city with not much for tourists

Transportation: Domestic flight to Ho Chi Minh City (1,450,000d/person). We were running out of time, but there is a train as well with plenty of opportunity to get off along the way to HCMC. Checkout seat61 for the route.

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam 3 nights

Accommodation: Hostel with breaky 155,000d/person, shared room with private bathroom. Right in the city center.

Activities: Explore the city, shop at cheap markets, enjoy the street food, meet up with local friends, eat gringo food if necessary.

Tips:

  • Barter hard at the local markets & check the quality of your purchase, counterfeits are not perfect but are still of good quality
  • Check out the war museums (15,000d/person) they are confronting & eye opening but an important part of the country’s recent history
  • Eat everything although you may be getting a little tired of the local food by now
  • Bus from the airport to the city is extremely efficient (20,000d/person)
  • At the post office designed by Eiffel you can pick up free drink vouchers for the Hard Rock Cafe with no strings attached

Transportation: International Flight to Europe to commence our 4 month winter European loop: West to East & back again!

Overall

Duration: 26 days

Countries: Cambodia, Thailand, Laos & Vietnam

Cost per person: $1438AUD

Highlights: Angkor Wat temples, Mountain scenery of Vietnam, Ha Long Bay, the slow boat trip, Sapa homestay & the food everywhere.

Transportation: Many Buses, 2 boats, 2 ferries, 2 flights, 2 trains, 4 tuk tuks, 1 ciclo & 2 taxis.

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