Close the labs, because the RMTs went on a vacation. Haha, kidding. The RMTs had filed their respective leaves and were going on their first trip abroad.
We were college friends who had suddenly thought of doing a tri-city trip over a year ago. The original plan was that we’d all go together, but people had their different tastes when it came to doing trips. So we’d decided that one group would do a staycation type of trip. And for adventure seekers like me, we went on a rollercoaster of a vacation.
The target cities: Hanoi, Siem Reap, and Bangkok. But for our group, that would be Hanoi, Ninh Binsh, Dong Hoi, Hue, Hoi An, Da Nang, Ho Chi Minh, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur. We’re crazy. I know. But we weren’t the type to sit around and do nothing when you could do everything. So to each her own! The most important thing was that everybody’s happily enjoying their trips. 😊
And let me share to you the kind of trip that we did.
Duration of trip: 10 days
Kind of trip: Think Amazing Race type
Itinerary: Bizarre yet organized 😂
And here was how it went…
Manila International Airport (MIA)
January 6, 2018
Around 6pm, we were on our way to the airport from Alabang. We already did online check-in the day before so we weren’t in a hurry. But apparently, hearsay in the airport said that two of our friends, who each got 20-kg check-in luggage in their tickets, had to check-in at the same time. One friend was already in the airport. Us? We were stuck somewhere outside, circling around and trying to get inside the right terminal.
It was around eight in the evening when we finally arrived in the airport, and we instantly clarified with a Cebupac employee if the two who had check-in luggage in their tickets had to check-in at the same time. She said it wasn’t the case. That was a relief because two of our friends were still in Alabang, and they were going to share the 20-kg check-in luggage with us.
For people who had a 9:50 flight, we were too carefree. But even when we were in college, those two were always late. It wasn’t like we expected them to change all of a sudden. 😂
And this was how we did our trips. Aside from the 7-kg hand-carry allowance, in order to save up, we’d just share the allotted check-in luggage of one person and split the cost. For a group of nine people, we only got 2 20-kg check-in luggage.
So the trick was to always pack light. This was what we kept on repeating to ourselves. Some did. Some didn’t. But a luggage to her own. Carry it at your own risk. Pay the excess if you must. But everyone would have around 5kg if they wanted to check-in something.
Four of us would be doing the amazing race type of trip–Cha, Cris, Sherla, and yours truly. Cris and Sherla arrived at the airport at around 8:30pm, just as we were paying for our travel tax. So we still paid our travel taxes together.
After that, we panicked a little, because Cris brought a 13-kg suitcase. We didn’t know how to fit it in a 20-kg baggage allowance, but it somehow worked after several adjustments. But the thing was, after all the commotion, we were running out of time. It was already past nine in the evening, and we still hadn’t got our boarding passes.
Fast forward to when we got our boarding passes and we were at the immigration. As we were filling up a card (I forgot what they call them), a Cebupac employee was calling for those who were still going to board the 5J 744 flight to Hanoi. That would be us. The Cebupac employee sounded and looked as if the flight was going to leave soon.
So yes, we were frantic.
The Cebupac employee had told us to use a certain line, so that we wouldn’t take up a lot of time in the immigration. During this time, I really thought that we would be left by the plane. The immigration officer took her time about asking us what we were going to do there in Hanoi. Make sure you have a copy of your itineraries and tickets, so that you could show them to the immigration officer. It’ll make things easier.
After a few more questions, the immigration officer stamped our passports and we were good to go. But who would have thought that our boarding gate was so far from the immigration? It was at the other end. So yes, with only a few minutes left, we were running like crazy to the gate.
When I saw the gate, I hurriedly gave my passport and boarding pass to the Cebupac employee, telling them that we were on the 5J 744 flight to Hanoi. The only thing I feared at this point was that the Cebupac employee would tell us that the plane had already left.
That was when everybody laughed.
It was, like, we were pulled from a trance. When we looked around, our friends were sitting on one side, also laughing at us and telling us to take a seat beside them. When we looked at the Cebupac employee again, he patiently told us that our flight would be a little delayed.
So why was that employee in a hurry back in the immigration? He sounded as if the plane would leave without us. Why, kuya? Nagtatakbo talaga kami (We ran for our lives). 🤣
Imagine four people running like crazy to a boarding gate with a delayed flight. And then everyone on the same flight was around us, watching our little dramatic entrance. It wasn’t surprising that the laughter had continued for a while. But at least we made them all happy despite our delayed flight.
Scene at the airport
*inabot ang passport at boarding pass*
Me: *haggard at pawisan at habol hininga* Kuya, flight to Hanoi. Flight to Hanoi kami.
Me: *tingin sa kaliwa at kanan* Nakaalis na ba ‘yung eroplano?
Kuya: Ma’am, hindi pa po boarding. Delayed po ‘yung flight.
Nagtawanan sa buong terminal. Charot. Sa medyo one eight lang ng terminal. Basta lahat ng tao sa paligid namin na nakakita. Tuwang-tuwa sila sa amin, in fairness. Kami din aliw sa ginawa naming dramatic entrance. Pwedeng humakot ng award ung itsura namin. 🤣
About an hour later, we were finally on the plane heading to Hanoi. Shortly after, we dozed off. It would be a long trip, and it was best to catch an hour of sleep or two. 💤
January 7, 2018
Xin chào, Vietnam!
We arrived at around two in the morning at their timezone. That was one hour earlier than our time here in the Philippines. I had made an arrangement with Hanoi Transfer Service to pick us up. They were on time. Only that I had made the arrangement to be two hours late, so that we would have enough time to eat and such. But the driver was already there. What could we do?
After doing some money exchange, we now had Vietnamese dong. The millions was still getting into us and made us all confused. Everyone’s a millionaire here in Vietnam.
The transfer service was good. And the bonus thing was, since it was only a little after three in the morning, the transfer service company let us stay in the lobby of their hotel (Pavilion Hotel) for free while we were waiting for sunrise.
Their hotel was actually located in the Old Quarter. There were pubs around. But the tired and restless us mostly stayed inside the lobby.
After using their washroom as well, supposedly, we were on our way to Hoan Kiem Lake. But the infuriating thing was, we’d been conned as early as the hours of the morning.
Before we go on about this side story, let me just say that there are good taxis in Vietnam. It was just that we didn’t remember to use them. Use only Mai Linh (green) and Vinasun (white) taxis. No buts and ifs. They go by the meter, arguably more honest, and there’ll be a much lesser chances for you to be tricked like us.
We learned this lesson the hard way when we picked a taxi that was waiting right outside Pavilion Hotel. I think it’s safe to say that you should flag down a moving taxi instead of getting one that’s parked.
So anyway, here’s how the irritating story goes. We went with a taxi that was parked outside the Pavilion Hotel. He said he’d go by the meter. I hated that meter. The rate went up in a flash. And the thing was, this taxi driver wasted our time by going around the blocks.
We knew that he was doing it on purpose, because we went on a straight road to get to Pavilion Mall from the airport. Supposedly, it would only take a few minutes to Hoan Kiem Lake, but this taxi driver took his time and it was already 5:20am when we passed by the lake. He asked us if this was our stop. We said we’d get food on the other side of the lake. But the horrible thing was, he was going full circles again on the opposite side of the lake! We had it. We said that he should just bring us to the train station. And he still brought us to the wrong side of the train station.
Halfway through this horrible taxi ride, we already knew that we were getting conned. But we couldn’t do a thing about it, because it was still dark outside and we didn’t know anything about the place. So after paying him a hefty amount of 700k dong, we blamed it all to experience and hoped that not everyone was like this man.
But at least he didn’t harm us. At least we were safe.
This was the wrong side of the train station. It wasn’t like the one in the pictures. But it turned out that this was kind of like the back side of Ga Ha Noi. The guards helped us get to the other side, which included us crossing the rails and such.
It was already 5:40am, and our train was supposed to leave at 5:50am. Imagine us losing our heads at this point. But with everybody’s help, we still got on the right train with just a minute or two to spare. We met good people in Vietnam from this point on. Great, even.
Speaking of train tickets, we had booked all our train tickets for Vietnam using Baolau.com. I would highly recommend it. Easy to book and make payments. They accepted foreign cards and had the same price as the train stations, with just about $2-3 service charge. It was a good deal compared to other sites who doubled the train ticket price.
It could also be possible to get your train tickets at the train station, but there’d always be that high chance that the train you had in mind was already full. If you have spare time to take chances, why not book at the train station? But if you’re on a tight schedule like us, get your tickets with Baolau. Just print out the ticket that will be sent to your email. We didn’t encounter any problem.
This was the hard seat, but it was already okay for us. It was the one that was open when we booked our tickets. The soft seats were much better, with the reclining chairs and all. You could also buy all sorts of food on the train. There was a cart that passed by every now and then.
After several hours, we finally arrived at our first destination: Ninh Binh.
First, we decided to get a room for several hours, so that we could take a quick shower and drop by our things as we went to the destinations we had in mind.
Just right outside the train station, there were already hotels. We booked a room with Viet Nhat Hotel, and they gave us a good price for about 12 hours. The room was good. The staff was very accommodating and friendly. But the most remarkable thing for us was their food. Their food was amazing. It was the tastiest we had in Vietnam. We even ordered their stir fried noodles for takeout, so that we could eat it on the overnight train.
We also booked a tour with their hotel, since the tourist attractions for Ninh Binh were far apart. It was either we booked a tour with them or hire a taxi. Since we still had taxi phobia at this point, we decided to book with them.
Our original plan was to see Tam Coc, mostly because this was nearest. We highly considered the taxi fare. But there were no rice paddies at the time we were there, so Tam Coc would only be river and karst mountains.
We also heard that Trang An was way better (w/c later proved to be true) and less touristy. And if they were offering it w/ the tour, then there we would go. We also did a little bargaining before we ended up with $40 per person and it would include all entrance fees and lunch. Our itinerary included Trang An, Mua Viewpoint, and Bai Dinh Pagoda. We didn’t get the buggy (additional $3/pax) for Bai Dinh Pagoda. Tip: get the buggy.
We left at around 10am, since it took us a while to get prepared. We badly wanted to have a shower first. If we had left earlier, say 8am, then it would have been possible to do these three main attractions. We were able to do all three of them, but we didn’t have enough time for Bai Dinh Pagoda. More about that later.
So first off, we went to Mua Viewpoint.
It was approximately 500 steps. The thing was, we were all wearing leathery sandals, and it was a bit raining. Not a downpour, but like rain showers. It made the steps a little bit slippery. It would also be better if you were wearing hiking or running shoes or hiking sandals. But only because it was raining.
But still, we made it. Exhausted and catching our breaths. Even if it was foggy, the view was already amazing. We could only imagine what it would be like during sunny days. It must have been so breathtaking.
After this, we went to Trang An!
The place reminded me of El Nido with the karst formations, only more on the jungle-side. It was also where the movie King Kong’s shooting took place. The movie set was still there.
It was quiet here and there would be moments when you could have the place for yourselves. Also, going inside the caves was such a great experience. We applauded the lady boaters for their skills.
This is the cave entrance. For a moment, we wondered how we would fit inside. But we did. We did.
When the lady boater told us to get off at Kong Skull Island, we thought it was the end of the trip. We already said goodbye to our lady boater. We weren’t interested in visiting Kong Skull Island. It felt like we’d seen enough beauty for one day. So we went around and around this temple without really knowing where the exit was located. It turned out that the exit was across Kong Skull Island. And it wasn’t the end of the trip yet. 😂
After Trang An, we went to Bai Dinh Pagoda. We didn’t take the buggy, thinking it was only a few meters away from the entrance. How wrong were we. It was almost a kilometer away.
Since it was also late, around 5pm, and the last buggy left right in front of us, we decided to take a picture at the entrance and go back to the hotel. We were craving for sleep at this point. The best way to do all our trips for one day was to have a decent sleep the night before. Allot at least two days for each place. First day – don’t do anything. Just eat, relax, and get lots of rest. Second day – sightseeing; start at around 6am and finish off at around 5pm. This was how we should have done it. That’s how you’ll appreciate each beautiful province in North and Central Vietnam. Next time. 😊
After getting a few hours of rest, we were off to ride our very first overnight train. Ha, we were so excited.
We had booked hard sleepers for the night. Again, because it was the only one available right away. However, I think the only difference was that there were six beds in our room, and for the soft sleepers there were only four beds. As for the comfort provided, I think it was pretty much the same, just a little bit more space for the soft sleepers. But if you were going to lie down the entire night, I doubted anyone would notice. We were off to dreamland before we realized it.
I didn’t get a full shot of all the bunk beds, but it was cozy enough to sleep. The eight-hour ride to Dong Hoi was very fast. There were moments when the train would shake and we would suddenly wake up. But soon enough, we’d be sleeping again.
Also, there was a sink right outside the rooms. You could wash your face and freshen up a bit there. Also, the washroom was nice and clean and the flush was working well.
Riding an overnight train is a must when you’re in Vietnam. It’s a one of a kind experience. It also provides a spectacular view.
Dong Hoi, Vietnam
January 8, 2018
Around six in the morning, we arrived in Dong Hoi. Yes, we’d been stuck in fog for about three days now. It’s been very cold at some point. But we also considered it a nice weather to stroll around here and there.
Our accommodation for the day was Nam Long Hotel.
The room was nice and cozy. What we remembered the most about this hotel was their shower. It was the best shower we had for our entire trip. Also, just outside the hotel, there were plenty of restaurants and stores at night. There was also a river and some place where you could walk around.
Also, this was where we bought a sim card. It was good enough for one month, 2gb each day, and for only 100,000vnd. I thought they were kidding. Vietnam’s internet speed was cheap, reliable, and fast.
When we were ready for the day, the hotel offered us a Paradise Cave Tour for around $60. It was a little bit pricey. And compared to Ninh Binh, this town had an organized bus system that we thought we could use. Only that, nobody told us how far it was from Dong Hoi to Paradise Cave. 😂
Tip when using the bus station:
Just because it is a bus station doesn’t mean all the bus will stop there. Pay attention to the sign. Those that are indicated there are the bus routes. Make sure you’re waiting at the right station. Simple yet easy to forget when you’re caught up in the moment.
Still, we didn’t know that we probably wouldn’t be able to make it to Paradise Cave if we had gone by the bus to Phong Nha. But truly, God was kind to us that 1) we were at the wrong bus station 2) when we were at the right one, the bus didn’t arrive on time 3) just as we were waiting for the delayed bus, a Mai Linh taxi driver asked us where we were going 4) when we said we were going to take the bus, he even went down his taxi and offered us a cheap price 5) we decided that we didn’t have enough time to wait 6) so we rode the taxi 7) it was a relief that we did.
Why? Paradise Cave was still far from Phong Nha. We were supposed to do both Phong Nha and Paradise Cave, but we ran out of time while waiting for the bus. They said that Phong Nha Cave was amazing. But if they would have to choose between Phong Nha and Paradise, reviewers would undoubtedly say Paradise Cave. So we’d chosen Paradise Cave. Yes, it was amazing. So amazing that there were no words to describe it.
I think it was also more than 20km from Dong Hoi to Paradise Cave. There were no taxis going to and fro, unless you’d hire one. There were scheduled buses at Phong Nha Cave, but we would still need a taxi from Paradise Cave to go back to Phong Nha. The only means of transportation of the ones going there were bicycles or motorbikes.
Everything works together for good.
My advice would be this? Hire a Mai Linh taxi (never let your guard down; we flagged down green taxis all the way to Ho Chi Minh City) from Dong Hoi. We’d been quoted 800,000vnd to do both Phong Nha and Paradise Cave. The rate was for five hours. There was a surcharge of 30,000vnd per additional hour. But since it was already 11am and we didn’t have time, the taxi driver gave us Paradise Cave for 700,000vnd.
But we had doubled that amount when we paid him. If you’d experience the drive from Dong Hoi to Paradise Cave and back to Dong Hoi, it’d make you feel guilty if you would give him just the 700,000vnd that he had quoted. He also didn’t turn off the meter, so we saw that it was more around 1,400,000vnd when we had arrived back in Dong Hoi.
Qui, the Mai Linh taxi driver, didn’t impose that we should pay him more, but we wanted to pay him right for his wonderful service and initial concern for our desire to ride the bus to Paradise Cave. Qui didn’t really know how to speak English, but we could see how bothered he was with what we’d wanted to do. If he could only speak English well, maybe he’d tell us that what we were thinking of riding the bus would be impossible. And don’t worry if the taxi driver doesn’t understand English. They have a customer service that they use in order to translate everything. We also did body language, facial expressions, Google translate, and writing numbers on the paper. It could still work with just that.
If you were a group of four like us, 700,000vnd was a really good deal. If you would split the transportation cost between yourselves, it was already cheap compared to getting a pricey tour package.
I still wished that we’d seen Phong Nha Cave, too. But you could only work around a certain time for a day. And what we’d seen in Paradise Cave, it would last a lifetime. We were so mesmerized by the amazing works of nature.
Since there weren’t many restaurants near the bus station and also around Paradise Cave, this had turned out to be our breakfast/lunch.
I didn’t know if we were just hungry, but the eggs were so tasty. Also, they had this salt with spices that was so good. I didn’t know what they called them. After devouring all the available boiled eggs, we finally went to Paradise Cave’s entrance.
This time, we finally got a buggy. Hahahahaha. No, don’t get one. It was only a short walk until you reached the slopes that would lead you to the entrance of the cave.
Yes, the slopes that would amount to more than half kilometer. So we went on hiking yesterday, and we hiked again today. Great. Just great. And yes, I was still wearing my sandals. But Mendrez was the right wrong sandals that would never let you down.
Even when you get tired of going up the slopes, don’t turn back. Don’t tempt yourselves into thinking that it won’t be worth it. You’ll miss half of your life if you’ll succumb to your tiredness. Just push on. Hold the rails if you must. Go along. You’re almost there in paradise.
Before we went to the entrance of the cave, we took a seat and ate some delicious icecream. Try the Merino brand. It was delicious.
So here we were. For some reason, it was unusually cold there at the entrance.
Isn’t it amazing? These were only some of the pictures we took inside the cave. There was so much more inside there.
And the view on the way back to Dong Hoi?
We can live here in Dong Hoi. Take us back. We were even joking around (not really; we were a bit serious) that we should buy a land here and just live there. We even asked them for the price of land per square meter hahahaha.
Someday, I would go back to this place and stay here for a much longer time. I’d just look at the beautiful mountains and be amazed at how life could be this amazing.
After that, we spent the night trying different foods in Dong Hoi, walking around, and then we ended up at Tree Hugger Cafe. It was only a few meters away from Nam Long Hotel.
Since it was already late at night, we couldn’t really order coffee, unless we’d be staying up all night. Ha, not the luxury we could afford. We badly needed to rest our tired bodies.
I’m not really into alcoholic drinks, but Tree Hugger Cafe made me finish a glass. That was saying something. Because the only way you could make me drink was that if it was not beer (sorry, not a fan of the taste or the smell) or you mixed it in such a way that my taste buds would appreciate it. And that I wouldn’t be tipsy afterwards. But I could finish another glass of Bo Mau Nau, their bestseller in cocktails. It was so tasty.
We also made a video call to our other friends who were currently fighting the coldness of Hanoi. I felt like we were already freezing in Dong Hoi (says my shorts and thin clothes), but it was much, much colder there. We really missed them. Even if it was only a video call, we felt like we had shared a meal together.
After that, we called it a night.
January 9, 2018
We took the morning train from Dong Hoi to Hue. I was asleep all the way. When we got off the train station, Khanh of Hue MotorBike Adventures was waiting for us. He was what you would call as a jolly good fellow. Khanh also speaks excellent English, so it made things so much easier.
We had booked a tour package with Mr. Vu’s office a few weeks ago. I had inquired here and there, because the tour we had in mind was a bit out of the norm. We wanted to visit the Imperial City, Thien Mu Pagoda and then the Khai Dinh Tomb. After that, we wanted to go straight to Hoi An, where we would be spending the night.
Mr. Vu made it possible for us. We were able do it all in one day.
Since we were starving, we decided to have some breakfast at one of the stores outside the train station. A very kind grandma accommodated us. She served the tastiest beef pho we had in Vietnam. I suddenly missed the taste.
Also, their coffee was amazing. I thought that Vietnamese coffee was too strong for my taste, well, until I tasted their coffee. It was still strong, but of the good kind. Or of the kind that suited my taste.
After having some hearty breakfast, we were off to the Imperial City. Did I mention that it was raining that day? So we all rode the private car for a while, waiting for the rain to pass by.
When we got off at the Imperial City’s entrance, they provided us with purple raincoats. So cute.
The Imperial City was beautiful. I wished we had more time to look around. We already spent, like, 2 hours there, but it still didn’t feel like it was enough.
Next was the Thien Mu Pagoda or The Pagoda of the Celestial Lady.
Just outside the pagoda was the Perfume River.
Next was the Khai Dinh Tomb. We were supposed to do two tombs, but the other one had similar structures to The Imperial City.
After that, we were served with tasty barbecue lunch. We were also surprised that Khanh had searched for the food that we’d asked about earlier that morning and had bought it for us. They were all delicious.
Banh ram it
There was also a unique kind of dessert that was sold in that restaurant. It’s kind of crispy with sesame seeds inside. Yum.
After that, we had to decide whether or not to ride the bike to Hoi An. It was still raining, and it didn’t look like it would stop anytime soon. But it would have been a waste to just go by car.
We asked Khanh if it was safe even when it was raining. He told us that they were experienced drivers. It would be up to us if we wanted to go or not. In the end, we went with the motorcycle tour. And yes, it was very safe, even with the rain. My only personal complain was that it was cold. And yes, I was wearing the wrong clothes and I usually got cold very easily. But it was mind over matter and Sherla lending me a new jacket halfway through and all was good.
I have posted a vlog below, which includes our Hai Van Pass experience. It was the highlight of the tour, and it really took my breath away. We went up and down the Hai Van Pass a little before sunset. When we were near Da Nang, it was almost sundown, and the view was spectacular. The clouds and fog were around us, the darkness, and the city light of Da Nang from a distance. When I close my eyes, I can still see it. I’m glad we went along with the motorcycle tour.
The riders/guides of Hue Motorbike Adventure were all professionals. They were also very kind and accommodating. They always paid attention to what we wanted and if we were okay. Also, they made sure that we were having a great time.
You can contact them here:
Hue Motorbike Adventure Office – Rental – Self Rider
Head Office: 29/103 Nhat Le . Hue
35/42 Nguyen Cong Tru str – Hue city – Vietnam
WhatApp (+84)(0) 985 005 113 message or call
Email: email@example.com – firstname.lastname@example.org
Hoi An, Vietnam
January 9 – 10, 2018
We arrived in this quiet, warm and traditional town around eight in the evening. We had a booking with Tribee Cham and were readily accommodated. After putting down our things, it was so easy to call it a night. But since we only had one night allotted for Hoi An, we had to see the night market and the lanterns now.
And we didn’t regret it.
Hoi An was what you would call picturesque. This was the kind of place where you could have a breather.
And unusual as you would call it, we were craving for pizza at this point. A little walking and we found a nice place and had some tasty pizza and pasta.
Their pizza was so good, especially this one with egg inside. I forgot the name of the place, but they were the ones that delivered pizza 24 hours a day.
After that, we rode the floating wish lanterns boat that would take you down the river.
After making a wish, we went to the night market nearby. I went ahead and tried the street foods. My favorites were the potato that they sliced in circles, their ice cream (socola!), and their ice cream again. And potatoes again.
While I was busy eating street foods, my friends were busy buying lanterns.
When they were through, I brought them to the ice cream stall across the street.
And then we called it a night.
When morning came, we saw the lanterns again. They were still colorful and beautiful.
Today, our agenda was just to walk around town. We got our entrance tickets from a ticket booth nearby.
We went to see several tourist sites, before we got hungry. And then I saw the potatoes again. Patata-love.
And after having lunch, we spent the day idling around. We went a bit to the Japanese Covered Bridge. But mostly, we spent the afternoon sitting beside the river and just laughed and talked there. It was really amazing how just sitting there gave us some sense of fulfillment. I guessed that it was what Hoi An could do to one person.
Da Nang, Vietnam
January 10, 2018
We had our booking for the night with Barney’s Hostel in Da Nang. Making things less complicated, we just booked for a transfer with Tribee Cham (450,000vnd). It took, I think more than an hour, to get to Da Nang from Hoi An.
Da Nang was what I would call as a fancy city. We didn’t get to see much of it, since we had an early flight the next day. But when we passed by the malls and other establishments, the city was truly posh and sophisticated.
Despite our several misadventures during our trip, we did a great job when it came to booking for a place to stay. Barney’s Hostel is a backpackers’ hostel, meaning that a room is shared between backpackers. But since we were a group of four, we had the room for ourselves. It was a such a nice room, and it was a shame that we only stayed there for just a few hours.
Who had a five o’clock flight to Hanoi? Us! Why did we do this to ourselves? I don’t know. 🤣
But we were still able to fulfill our original plan of going on a cruise in Da Nang. The staff of Barney’s Hostel helped us a lot. A Grab taxi later and we were on a cruise!
It was actually a river tour. The entrance fee was about 100,000vnd. There was a restaurant inside where you could order food.
It was cold. It was terribly cold. We weren’t ready for this hahahaha. We kept on leaving our jackets. Why?! But the lights and the view were amazing. We still enjoyed it, mostly by staying close to each other.
Da Nang was such a sight to see at night. The place was vibrant with colors and they were pleasing to the eyes. We stayed up late and went around the city until 10pm. And when we got back to Barney’s Hostel, we barely had time to sort out our luggage for our early flight tomorrow. We were only able to get two hours of sleep that night.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
January 11, 2018
We were on the earliest Vietjet flight from Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh City. Surprisingly, the plane ride was very smooth, considering the very cheap price.
Also known as Saigon, this city resembles Metro Manila in many ways. It was so different from North to Central Vietnam. Now we were just in the city.
We stayed in Khoi Hostel 2. We had the family room and it was nice. Their hostel was located in a street filled with hostels, so it was safe and the streets were bright at night.
Tired and sleepless, we tried our best to stay awake and finish the walking city tour. However, we were only able to visit a few sites. But I was glad that we were able to go to War Remnants Museum.
I couldn’t talk about the War Remnants Museum in details. I think that the only way to see it is to be there. There had been moments when all the visitors had tears in their eyes. After a while of going around, we also put our cameras down and just read about this horrible history that this country went through.
At the end of the day, we are with these words.
With our remaining energy, we passed by the Independence Palace and went to visit The Postal Office.
After that, we had lunch with the Lunch Lady. And then, we dozed off again. 😴 We went around the night market when we got up. Sadly, we didn’t make it to Oc Dao to eat seafood. So it was mostly a newfound love for seaweeds when nighttime came. They were really cheap here and we bought a ton. Try their chips and bottled drinks here in Vietnam. I really liked them.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
January 12, 2018
As bizarre as our itinerary went, we’d been sleep-deprived for about five days. And then, for the next day, all we had to do was sleep. This was when I was on full masandal, tulog mode. Like when the bus started moving, I’d just find a comfortable position to sleep. Next things I knew, our attention was being called as we were approaching the border.
We were given an arrival and departure card by our bus coordinator. He told us to keep it in our passport and don’t lose it. We felt at east during the entire border crossing thing, mostly because Giant Ibis was a good company. There were many scam stories when crossing the borders. We’d done a lot of research before we’d chosen to go along with their company. Thank you to those who made those detailed blogs. Yes, I also believe that Giant Ibis is one of the safest ways to go.
We booked tickets with their office for both Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh and then Siem Reap to Bangkok. I can personally recommend their office. They were always there to guide us. They were honest as well. They’d tell you where the scams would likely occur. Most of the time, it was out of their control, but they’d do their best in order to stir you away from it or at least let you be aware how it usually went.
But this was not yet the case for us. It was more notorious in the Poipet Border. Crossing the Vietnam-Cambodia border was easy.
So it was an eight-hour ride from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh. We left Ho Chi Minh City at around 7:30am and arrived at the border during lunchtime. Exit Vietnam. We paid $2 each for this one; not sure for what and we also forgot to ask. But we didn’t line up for anything after that. The Giant Ibis employee got all our passports and he did everything for us. We just waited, before we got our passports back and were instructed to exit the building.
We had a quick lunch at a duty free shop. You could also use your USD or other currencies here and then ask for a change in the currency of the country you were going to next.
And then, after that, we lined up at the border to enter Cambodia. It was just a little way from the duty free shop. Getting across the border was pretty straightforward. Just listen carefully to the instructions given to you by your bus coordinator. Mostly, you only had to fall in line, wait for your turn, hand over your passport, and then have your fingerprints taken.
After that, we dozed off again as we were on our way to Phnom Penh.
You knew you were in Cambodia when the buildings started to look like this. We didn’t stay long in Phnom Penh. After getting off the bus at past three in the afternoon, we went straight to Larryta Express’ office. It was only a little way from the Giant Ibis office. There was no need for a tuktuk. Yes, the tuktuk drivers would insist that they’d take you by tuktuk, but there was no need for it.
If you’re facing the Giant Ibis office, the Larryta Express’ office was to your right. Just walk a little bit. Turn around the corner to your left. You will see the river at this point. Walk straight ahead. If you’re lost, don’t hesitate to ask around. We usually asked people who worked in offices or restaurants instead of random strangers around. Less scam this way. Also much safer.
We’d chosen to go by Larryta Express, since they had a minivan to Siem Reap departing every thirty minutes. The schedule of Giant Ibis bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap was 10:30pm. We wanted to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat and wanted to arrive in Siem Reap earlier.
When we arrived at Larryta Express’ office, we just paid $11 (if my memory serves me right) each and were asked where we wanted to sit. The minivan was comfy. There was no wifi, although the poster said that there would be. It was only available at their office. But setting that and the mosquitoes aside, their service was okay. There was also plenty of mosquitoes in Cambodia. Even our accommodation gave us mosquito coils every night. So wear mosquito repellents.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
January 12-14, 2018
It was another six hours from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. Another six hours of sleep. But we were able to witness our first sunset in Cambodia. The skies were the pretties here, of all colors and shades.
We arrived in Siem Reap at around past nine in the evening. Taking a tuktuk, we went to our accommodation, The Luxury Concept Hostel. We actually booked a room that was supposed to be finished by the time we got there, but it was still under renovation. But they fixed it up for us and gave us a discount. We only paid $16 for each room instead of $22. Not bad at all.
The location of Luxury Concept Hostel was very near the night market and the pub street. It was also safe to walk around that street, even during late at night. The owner also told us that the government had heightened the security around the area and had placed CCTVs around, so it was very safe. True enough, that was the case.
So for our first night in Siem Reap, we headed to the pub street. Actually, we ate at a restaurant near the Pub Street because we were very hungry. Everything was expensive here in Cambodia, especially when you just came from Vietnam. A meal would roughly cost around $7 – $10. So keep that in mind and plan accordingly.
Pub Street lived up to its name. We stayed there until 12am and then headed back to our accommodation.
The funny thing about waking up after four hours of sleep was that there was a chance that you wouldn’t be able to hear your alarm. Also to be considered was the fact that I somehow put my phone on silent mode. It was vibrating from a distance and not really helping much.
So when we heard a knock on our door, Cha was the first one to get up. I was still half in dreamland when Sherla told us that it was already 4:30am. Our tuktuk driver would arrive at 5:00am!
It was a good thing that I’d prepared my clothes the night before. After taking a quick shower, we headed off to greet Soeun. You can search for him on Facebook (Soeun Angkor Driver). He was a great tour guide. He also gave us loads of wet tissue and water bottles for free.
After some quick introduction, Soeun drove us to the ticket office first. For Angkor Wat, wear the appropriate clothes. No bare shoulders and knees. Or else, they wouldn’t give you a ticket. Sandals are okay. See more of their guidelines.
The ticket office was quiet in the morning. The staff was also friendly. After getting our tickets printed out, we headed to Angkor Wat temple to see the sunrise.
It was a good thing that the sunrise was around 6:30am. We still had time to look for a good spot. There were a lot of people there during this hour, and we were all waiting for the same thing.
You shouldn’t miss the sunrise at Angkor Wat. It was one for the books.
After that breathtaking experience, we grabbed some breakfast nearby. It was delicious. By this time, we already accepted the fact that every meal would be expensive.
When we were finished, we headed straight to Angkor Wat temple. For this temple, since it was the biggest one, we hired an English-speaking tour guide for $20, so that we could understand it more.
He explained to us the temple’s history. How its purpose constantly changed from Hinduism to Buddhism, depending on the belief of the reigning king. Actually, if we had more time, it would be nice to buy the guidebook that was being sold here and really get in depth with the temple’s history.
We spent three hours going around the place, meeting vendors who accepted Philippine peso, and enjoying fresh buko while waiting for our friends while they did their shopping.
Locals would try to sell you everything, from an overpriced photo to anything you could think of. Just say no. We learned this the hard way when we had agreed to a photographer to take just one photo of us for $3. She was really persistent. And then we thought why not take one as a group?
We closed the deal with one group photo. But after that, she innocently insisted on taking solo shots, even nodding her head that when we said we’d just take the group photo. We just posed and wanted to get it over with.
We told her that we only wanted the group photo. But when she came back, she had developed everything and insisted that we paid her $15. We told her that we would only take the group photo that we’d agreed on, and she was mad about it. She was raged. Ha. Funny how she was the angry one. We just told her we didn’t have enough and settled with $12 for everything. She took it. We were really set on leaving her w/ the excess photos if only she wasn’t fuming about it.
So just say no. Take your own photos. Also, your tour guide might know how to take that kind of shots for free. The thing about tour guides was that they were also good photographers. Try asking and give them a tip afterwards.
Angkor Wat Complex had plenty of temples to choose from. But for us, visiting Angkor Wat was enough. It was a must see place. Like everything you needed to see. Maybe we were also exhausted that we only took a seat in the other temples and let time slip by.
It might be better to buy the 3-day pass and take your time visiting each temple. You would be able to appreciate it more instead of squeezing everything into a single day.
We went back to our accommodation at around four in the afternoon, after thanking Soeun for his great service. The tuktuk fee was $25 for four people. This included the sunrise plus until around 5pm, which was the temples’ closing time. We gave him a little bit more, mostly for his kindness and all the free drinks that we’d consumed.
After resting for a few hours, we were off to the Night Market this time. It was just right across the Pub Street. There was a show for the ones getting a massage there. And for some reason, it was very entertaining. The impersonators were so funny. We stayed there and watched them, while we were waiting for our personalized keychains.
There wasn’t much to see at their Night Market, aside from the usual pasalubongs. We already saw everything that was sold there in Angkor Wat temple.
So after having dinner nearby, we stopped for some fried ice cream (which was very delicious!). And then we went to a grocery shop. It was fun going around the grocery shop and seeing all these new products that were being sold there. If you were into balms like me, try smelling their balms. We all grabbed one, whichever scent we liked.
Tip: If you were planning to stay in Siem Reap for a much longer time, you could save yourselves a few dollars by buying things from the grocery shop instead of eating at the restaurants all the time.
January 14 – 16, 2018
The funny thing about us was that we were always catching up with time. I couldn’t blame us because we really had a hectic schedule.
So we had made a reservation with Giant Ibis, and the bus would depart at 8am. By 7:45am, we were rushing to the bus station. Only that, there was actually two Giant Ibis stations in Siem Reap. We really thought the one near our accommodation was where we would get on. We even searched for it the yesterday.
But when we got to their office near our accommodation, it was when we came to know that the bus was at their other office. I thought we were doomed, but their employee made a call to the other office and told them to wait for us.
We had to ride the tuktuk in order to get to the other station where the bus was waiting. It took us about 10 minutes to get there. We arrived at exactly eight o’clock. It was a relief that the bus waited for us. If not, we would have to find another way to go to Bangkok.
If it had been easy breezy crossing the Vietnam-Cambodia border, it was a little tricky for the Poipet border. It was still the same process in the immigration. We were asked to get off the bus; leave our things there, except for our valuables; and then fall in line at the immigration. When it was your turn, an officer would stamp your passport and get your fingerprints.
But there was a catch. For Philippine passport holders, you might or might not have to pay $3. The officer who had stamped my passport didn’t ask me to pay for anything, but three of my friends were asked to pay $3 each. Of course, my friends had insisted that as Philippine passport holders, we didn’t have to pay for anything. But the officer just went on with the $3 thing.
The Giant Ibis coordinator was waiting for us outside the immigration office and guided us where we should walk and such. Earlier on, he had told us that we didn’t have to pay for anything. So we asked him why three of us had been asked to pay $3 dollar each. He was a bit embarrassed to admit that it was something like an under the table thing. He said that it was a lot more for other foreigners. Sometimes, it could go as high as $40. So it’s a tricky thing. You meet the right people and sometimes the wrong ones.
For this border crossing, you had to walk past all these buildings until you see the arch. Just follow all the other foreigners around. You wouldn’t miss it.
Since it was a Sunday, there was no traffic. We’d arrived in Bangkok at around 3pm. It was two hours earlier than our expected time of arrival.
Bangkok taxis were also known for being notorious. Sadly, there were no Mai Linh taxis here. So we secured a sim card first with some internet access to see how far we were from Smile Society Hostel, our accommodation. This was an epic fail because the sim card we got was so slow we didn’t really get to use it. Don’t bother getting a sim card w/ internet if you were not going to buy the 299baht one that was good for one week. That’s the one w/ an okay internet access. The one we got was around 150baht and we could barely open Google. Take me back to Vietnam! 😂 We missed our fast and reliable internet that was only 100k vnd and good for one month.
So enough of our internet access misery. We had a fast internet access in our accommodation.
In the end, we still hired a taxi. Of course, he didn’t turn on the meter. It was about 12 minutes from our location to Smile Society Hostel, and the driver quoted us 400baht. After a little bargaining, he agreed to take us there for 300baht. Still expensive.
From here on, we only walked around, haha. No more taxis. And the reason why we made a booking with Smile Society was because it was near the train station. We only needed the train station to go to the tourist spots.
So what’s the best thing about Bangkok? The food. When in Bangkok, you just eat and shop at the night markets. Their servings were also big, and you could share it among yourselves. Also, everything we ate here was very tasty.
But like in every other place, watch out for people who will likely scam you. It’s everywhere. When we were in 711, we were approached by this foreigner who was asking about Manila and such. He showed us a lot of dollars and asked if we had peso. Hahaha, bad news was that we had spent a lot in Cambodia just by existing, so we were pretty much broke at this point. And like he was asking for Filipino food and was pointing out to a curry pack. Or an Ajinamoto pack. I didn’t know which one. But seriously?
After a while, a girl in her early twenties came and she was talking in Filipino, but you could see that she wasn’t fluent and was stammering for words. She asked where we were from, what province, etc. We were just going along, wondering what she was up to. But we also kept our bags secure, just in case she was an experienced pickpocket. Be wary. And then she was asking for our Facebook account. We said we didn’t have Facebook lol. Then an older guy also arrived, and he was doing the same thing. And when they were all saying nonsense, we just ignored them and walked out. We were too tired to be scammed.
Actually, we also witnessed a much terrible thing in the DMK airport. It was two days later and we were on our way back to Manila. Since we had an early flight, we were at the airport at around 5am. As we were getting out our things from the taxi’s trunk, a girl was crying and shouting near us.
We thought she was having an argument with someone, because we couldn’t understand what she shouting. But it was off. Who was she arguing with? We couldn’t point it out.
When we got inside the airport, my friend told me that she must be Taiwanese, because she was crying ‘No!’ in Taiwanese. That was the only thing she understood. It was then we realized that she must have had her bag stolen and was left with just her small body bag.
Because when we gave it a thought, she was looking past our direction, crying and shouting. There must be someone who ran off with her things. We also didn’t notice any guards at the airport during that time. Imagine it happening to you. We really felt sorry for her.
So yeah, be careful when in Bangkok.
But more about our Bangkok experience. So the following day, we rode the train to the boat station. And yeah, we also got lost a bit and went to the other direction. We did ask the guard which train we should take, and for some reason, she pointed us to the other one. I also got separated from the group. The door closed right before my friends were able to hop on the train. They went to me me at the wrong station. And after asking around some more, we found the right train.
Life’s an adventure. Embrace it.
So we went to the boat station and got ourselves a one-day pass. If you were going to look around all day, it was cheaper compared to getting tickets everytime. And it was really helpful, since the one-day pass served as a priority pass of some kind. We didn’t have to fall in line and were always the first ones to get on the boat.
Tip: Do visit the Grand Palace first. It closes at 3pm. The other places close at around 5pm.
After sightseeing, we met Sherla’s friend, Nai. She brought us to the authentic pad thai restaurant that’s very famous in Bangkok–Thipsamai.
Go here. Eat this. It’s one of the best tastes in the world.
After that, we went around Chinatown. Since it was Monday, there wasn’t much streetfoods. But we got to taste some, like roti. My friends liked it.
Nai also brought us to one of the oldest cafe in the city. We were really thankful to Nai for showing us around.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
January 16, 2018
We had different flights for the day. But somehow, we both ended up getting ready at four in the morning. Even if we had an earlier flight, we said goodbye to Cris and Sherla first. They had some things to fix at the airport.
Insert my earlier airport story here.
Cha and I had a layover in Malaysia. It was the reason why we’d chosen to go with Airasia. This was also the flight where the cabin got fumigated before and after entering the Malaysia. I wonder why.
We landed on KLIA2. From there, there was an express train that could bring you to the city. Ride it! Such a great experience.
It was the purple line (KLIA ekspres). If you got a return ticket as well, you would get a discount. And if you got the tickets using their kiosk machine, you would get a 10% discount. We’d been informed about this by the lady who sold the tickets. She also helped us with the kiosk machine.
After riding the KLIA ekspres train, we arrived at KL Sentral. It was where all the other train lines interconnected.
We at late lunch first, before we went to Batu Cave. You only had to ride the commuter train from KL Sentral to Batu Cave station.
After that, you would have to ride any train that would stop at KL Sentral.
In order to get to Petronas Towers, you would have to ride the LRT train and get off at KLCC station. Walk across the mall. And tada!
After that, we grabbed a taxi to a nearby market, which was also near the MRT line. A little street food eating side-trip, before we went back to KL Sentral. After that, we rode the KLIA ekspres again back to KLIA2, where our flight to Manila was waiting for us. Or rather, the other way around.
And we were on our way back home. 🇵🇭
- Book your flights early. We took advantage of the promo fares.
- Pack light. Make sure that you still have some space left in your bag. There are many interesting things/clothes along the way. You’ll be tempted to buy some.
- Use a backpack. It’ll make things easier for you. Some roads are not paved. Some alleys are too small or very crowded. Like us, you can also be in a rush to catch your flight or the train.
- Don’t forget your padlocks. Keep extra ones. One of my padlocks got broken when we arrived at Hanoi airport. On our way back to Manila, we didn’t have any spare padlocks for our check-in luggages.
- Haha, katwiran namin ay susumbong namin sila kay Duterte pag ninakawan nila kami. And in fairness, wala naman mananakaw sa chineck-in namin. Bitbit namin ung lanterns! Pati ung mga packs ng pad thai!
- Maawa naman sila kasi tig-iisang magnet lang per place binili namin. ‘Wag na nilang kunin. 😂
- Good news–walang nawala sa gamit namin.
- For Vietnam, use Baulao.com for booking train tickets. When riding taxis, choose Mai Linh or Vinasun.
- For crossing the borders by bus, book your tickets with Giant Ibis. It will put your mind at ease.
- Bring US dollars. $100 and $50 have better exchange rate than smaller bills. However, there will be instances wherein you will have to use small dollar bills, like for tipping.
- Also, in Cambodia, they usually charge in US dollar, but you can also pay in riel. Download an offline currency converter. All the conversion will get you confused.
- The ATMs usually have a $5 – $6 fee every time you make a withdrawal.
- For Bangkok, exchange your money in the BTS stations for a higher exchange rate.
- Usually, they only exchange US dollars. But for larger cities, like Ho Chi Minh and Bangkok, you can exchange your Philippine peso to their currency.
- Surprisingly, there are stores in Angkor Wat temple that accept Philippine peso. They can also give you a change in peso. There’s also a kid there who knows how to speak a little Tagalog. You can bargain with him.
- In Vietnam, the locals said that you can bargain up to 40% of the original price.
- Internet in Vietnam is cheap and fast. Enjoy it. Cambodia, costly and moderately slow. Bangkok, expensive and the speed depends on how much you have paid. But know that your accommodation will likely have a very reliable and fast Wifi.
- Download maps.me. It’s an offline map app that’s very helpful.
- Download Google Translate and the languages of each country that you would go to, so that you could use it offline.
- When all else fails, use body language and a calculator. It works like magic.
- Bring a mosquito repellent. You’ll need it in Cambodia.
- Don’t forget to check the weather of the places that you’ll go to.
- Stay in each place for at least two days. Also, read blogs. It was how we finished our itinerary.
What you shouldn’t miss:
-Overnight Train in Vietnam
-Hai Van Pass by motorbike
-Sunrise in Angkor Wat
-Angkor Wat Temple
-Food in Bangkok
Special thanks to Cha, Cris, and Sher for the pics that I also included here.
For questions, just leave a comment. I’ll try to answer them to the best of my knowledge. I can also send you our itinerary and our budget for this trip if you want to have an idea.
North and Central Vietnam are the places I want to go back to one day. I want to see more of it. I want to stay longer there. This will be another dream that I will hold on to.
So until then! Thanks for reading. 💛