WARNING: We wanted this guide to be as helpful as possible so please prepare yourself for a looong post ahead. ✌
Indochina has always been on our bucket list, and to say that we’re happy we’ve finally fulfilled this dream is an understatement. We’re over the moon! The planning that came along with it was not easy but we embraced it nonetheless.
For two weeks, we were able to travel to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. And we only spent a total of PhP 44,830.58 each — including airfare, shopping, tours, food and transportation costs. Without the shopping and other miscellaneous expenses, our total budget can easily go down to even less than PhP 40,000 per person, all-in.
Although this may not be the ultimate budget Indochina travel guide, we’d like to think this was the perfect balance between budget and comfort, ease and experience, steal and splurge. ?
The total amount could be cheaper, but we chose to fill the trip with experiences that came with a price, like our hot air balloon ride in Vang Vieng (instant PhP 5,000 add-on to the budget) and temple tour in Siem Reap.
You may read about the specifics of our budget breakdown here, but below is a pie graph to give you an idea where our money went:
The Thailand ?? → Cambodia ?? → Vietnam ?? circuit has always been the popular route for backpackers, but we chose to include Laos ?? before heading to Cambodia in order to maximize our 2-week trip. It would have been more efficient if there was a direct flight to Laos from the Philippines so we didn’t have to go back to Thailand just to get to Cambodia, but we couldn’t really complain because the flights that we booked only cost us a little over PhP 5,000 per person roundtrip. ?
Our entry was at Suvarnabhumi Airport (Bangkok, Thailand), while our exit was at Tan Son Nhat International Airport (Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam). In between those two airports, we went through three train rides, one minivan ride, one minibus ride and 3 bus rides worth of transits, just to reach all the four countries that we’ve plotted in our itinerary.
2-WEEK INDOCHINA ITINERARY
Specific directions to listed destinations, travel time & costs, plus additional maps, can be seen on our mobile-friendly Indochina artinerary. Download it HERE. (You have to be subscribed to this site to get access to our freebies. Click here if you haven’t.)
But for a quick overview of what we were able to cover during our 2-week trip, here’s a summary of our itinerary:
DAY 1 ?? ??
- Bangkok Arrival (exchanged currencies and bought sim cards for THB 299 each at the airport)
- Check-in: Chao Hostel
- Lunch and Thai milk tea at a nearby local eatery
- Wat Pho (Entrance Fee — THB 100)
- Dinner at Thip Samai Restaurant (around THB 150/pax)
#SharingLang: We initially wanted to visit three major places on our first day — Grand Palace, Wat Pho and Wat Arun to be specific — but ended up only exploring Wat Pho. From there, we actually walked to the Grand Palace and upon reaching the entrance, we decided: ‘wag na lang ? We were too exhausted from the heat and we knew that we won’t be able to maximize the THB 500 entrance fee anyway. Lesson of the story: ‘Wag ipilit kung di na kaya, friends!
DAY 2 ??
- Ayutthaya Day Trip (THB 1,300 tuktuk rental for 4pax; entrance fees range from THB 20 – THB 50)
- Chatuchak Friday Night Market
QUICK TIP: The temples in Ayutthaya are quite far away from each other. Believe us when we say that it’s better to hire a tuktuk than rent a bike, especially if the weather is unforgivingly hot.
QUICK TIP: Skip the Chatuchak Weekend Market and head there on a Friday night instead. Why? Clothes are a lot cheaper (wholesale price, minimum purchase of three items), there are lesser crowds, and the weather is much cooler.
DAY 3 ??
- Check-out: Chao Hostel
- MBK Shopping Mall
- Bangkok Art & Culture Centre
- Siam Discovery
- Sleeper Train Ride to Nong Khai (from Bangkok Hualamphong Railway Station; train tickets picked up from 12go.asia office)
Day 4 ?? ??
- Thailand – Laos Border Crossing
- Vang Vieng Commute from Vientiane
- Check-in: Lao Valhalla Bungalows and Restaurant
- Traditional Lao massage in town proper (LAK 60,000/pax)
- Dinner at A.M.D. Restaurant (Around LAK 35,000/pax)
Day 5 ??
- Brunch at Lao Valhalla Bungalows and Restaurant
- Blue Lagoons 1 & 3 via scooter (LAK 100,000 scooter rental per couple; entrance fees — LAK 10,000/lagoon)
- Dinner at Bearlin Restaurant
Day 6 ?? ??
- Hot Air Balloon Sunrise Ride (USD 90/pax)
- Quick visit to Vieng Tara Villa
- Check-out: Lao Valhalla Bungalows and Restaurant
- Vientiane Commute from Vang Vieng
- Laos – Thailand Border Crossing
Day 7 ?? ??
- Bus Ride to Cambodia (from Mo Chit Bus Terminal in Bangkok)
- Thailand – Cambodia Border Crossing via Aranyaprathet/Poipet
- Check-in: Wheel Garden Residences
Day 8 ??
- Temple Tour with Mr. Rith of Why Not Angkor Driver covering: sunrise at Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, Ta Keo, Angkor Thom (Bayon Temple, Baphuon Temple, Phimeanakas, Terrace of the Elephants, Terrace of the Leper King) and sunset at Phnom Bakheng (highly recommended!)
- Angkor Night Market
- Pub Street
Day 9 ??
- Beng Mealea and Koh Ker Temples Tour arranged by Mr. Rith
- Pub Street
Day 10 ??
- Pub Street
- Check out: Wheel Garden Residences
- Phnom Penh Commute
Day 11 ?? ??
- Cambodia – Vietnam Border Crossing
- Ho Chi Minh Arrival
- Check-in: Treehouse @Ben Thanh Market Airbnb
- Dinner at Bún Mam Phan Boi Châu
- Ben Thanh Night Market
QUICK TIP: Looking for cheap Vietnamese Coffee and/or Teh Tarik? Head to the Ben Thanh Night Market, on the corner of Phan Bội Châu and Lưu Văn Lang. You will see a pretty lady selling coffee and tea on a motorbike for VND 15,000 per cup. We discovered this during our first night and found ourselves buying it every night during our stay in the city.
Day 12 ??
- Brunch at Pho 24
- DIY Ho Chi Minh Walking Tour covering: Notre Dame Cathedral, Central Post Office, Saigon Opera House, Ho Chi Minh Square, Reunification Palace, War Remnant Museum
- Dinner at Ben Thanh Street Food Market
- Booked a Cu Chi Tunnels Tour for the next day
QUICK TIP: Try your best not to miss the War Remnants Museum. The images and stories presented in this space may be heart-wrenching but it will definitely give you valuable knowledge about the Vietnam War.
Day 13 ??
- Emperor Jade Pagoda
- Ba Thien Hau Temple
- Lunch at L’Usine
- Cu Chi Tunnels Tour
- Ben Thanh Night Market
- Saigon Square
Day 14 ?? ??
- Flight back to Manila
- Dinner at the airport
We’re not DIY purists and we believe that availing package tours once in a while doesn’t hurt, especially if it’s within budget and is guaranteed to make your experience more satisfying. Below are some of the tours we got that we thought deserved a special spot in this post:
- Why Not Angkor Driver (Personalized Temple Tour & Tuktuk Service in Siem Reap, USD 25/pax)
Mr. Rith of Why Not Angkor Driver offers packaged tours on his website but also accommodates personalized itineraries like the one we had (we had a list of the temples we wanted to visit and emailed him beforehand about it).
He is an all-in-one tour guide, tuktuk driver and reliable companion. In every temple that we visited, he always gave us a background about the place and what not to miss inside, before sending us off. He even lent us his book for us to use as a guide while exploring the temples on our own. He’s also one of the very few tuktuk drivers who cautiously wears a helmet while driving. But what we loved most about Mr. Rith was his kindness and incomparable hospitality. He had a cooler full of ice cold water for our consumption during our tours. After our visit to Ta Keo, a temple mountain famous for its steep steps, he even welcomed us back with cold fruits because he knew we’d be tired. All throughout our trip, Mr. Rith just gave off a fatherly care that I’ll bet not all tuktuk drivers in Cambodia have.
- Vietnam Travel Group (Half Day Cu Chi Tunnels VIP Bus Tour in Ho Chi Minh, VND 500,000/pax):
We chanced upon Vietnam Travel Group’s office while wandering around the Ben Thanh Market after our DIY tour around the city. What we liked about the tour was that it was very educational. On our way to the tunnels, our tour guide Mr. Khoa discussed with us some interesting facts about the city. We even did a quick side trip to a famous civet cat coffee seller, where we had a free cup of coffee. Upon arriving at the Cu Chi Tunnels, we sat through a quick documentary about the Vietnam War and how the tunnels were made. After that, we proceeded with the tour and Mr. Khoa explained to us every feature (sample tunnels, booby traps, war clothing and footwear, how bombs were made, food during the war, etc.) that the Cu Chi Tunnels had to offer. Before heading back to Ho Chi Minh, we were even treated to a big bowl of beef noodle soup in a restaurant just by the parking lot. Overall, we felt that the tour was sulit because literally everything was taken care of — transportation, food, fees — and the tour guide was fun and informative as well.
IS IT EXPENSIVE? It depends on how you want to travel. If you choose hotels over guesthouses, and restaurants over hole in the wall eateries, then the trip will definitely be expensive. But with smart planning and conscious spending, you can consider this trip pretty much affordable. In our case, we were able to keep our budget at around PhP 40,000/pax all-in. You may read about how we managed our expenses here.
HOW WAS THE FOOD? We enjoyed the food in all the four countries that we visited, but we especially like Thai and Lao food. Both were similar in terms of flavor but Thai food was exceptionally spicy. So if you’re not into spicy food, don’t forget to say “no hot/no spicy please” when ordering. Some of the must-try’s that we recommend are the following: Thailand – Pork Basil Rice, Fried Rice, Noodle Soup, Thai Milk Tea; Laos – Beef Red Curry, Fried Rice, Noodle Soup; Cambodia – Khmer Beef Lok Lak, Khmer Fried Rice, Happy Pizza; Vietnam – Pho, Com Tam, Banh Mi, Spring Rolls, Vietnamese Iced Coffee.
HOW MANY CLOTHES DID YOU BRING? We actually came up with a thorough list of what to bring and how to organize them! (READ: What to Pack: Prepping for a 2-Week Backpacking Trip Across Indochina) But to give you an idea, we only brought one “main” backpack and one small daypack (for valuables) per person. Take our advice and ditch the luggages if you’re following our itinerary because you’ll only suffer carrying them around.
DID YOU BRING DIFFERENT CURRENCIES FOR EACH COUNTRY? To avoid the hassle of finding and buying different currencies in Manila, we opted to bring USD because weren’t sure if we can easily exchange PHP in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
DO YOU RECOMMEND AVAILING TOURS OR ALWAYS GO WITH DIY? We prefer DIY but as mentioned above, we’re okay with availing tours if it turns out to be the more practical choice. Most of the time, it depends on how many you are in the group, and what works with your schedule. Solo travellers may easily travel DIY style as this is more often than not the cheaper alternative, while those travelling with a barkada may save more by hiring a private vehicle.
HOW MANY DAYS IS THE IDEAL DURATION FOR AN INDOCHINA BACKPACKING TRIP? If we didn’t have to consider leave credits, the ideal duration would be at least a week per country, so a total of four weeks. If you plan to include Myanmar, then that would be another week. There’s a lot to explore in each country and 3-4 days is only enough for the basic must-see’s and must-do’s.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO GO? When you have the budget! LOL. But seriously, we did our trip last June which is tagged as a rainy month, but it didn’t stop us from enjoying everything that we planned in our itinerary. Sure there were rainy days but they were manageable. Another upside to travelling during the rainy season (May-November) is that there are lesser crowds, and prices are cheaper during non-peak seasons. It’s a different story if you plan to mostly stay in beaches of course, because then you’d want to travel during the dry months (December-April).
IS IT POSSIBLE TO DO THIS TRIP WITH KIDS/SENIOR CITIZENS? Yes, but you would definitely need to choose to fly instead of doing overland travels. You may also consider trimming down the number of countries to three, para hindi naman sila masyadong mabugbog friend.
HINDI BA PATAYAN ANG PAGOD MGA TEH? Nakakapagod yes, pero hindi naman patayan. We greatly considered this while doing our itinerary because we were set to get back to work on the next day of our arrival. Ubos leaves, besh! There were many other places that we wished to visit but chose to forego (floating market, some temples, etc.) because we simply wanted to have time for rest. Our personal tip: Learn to PRIORITIZE. This will help you save a lot on both energy and money.
And that’s it, congratulations on making it to the end of this post! LOL. We hope this guide helps you in you planning your own trip.
Happy travels! ?
A roundup of all our Indochina guides can be found here.