Solo Backpacking to Vietnam and Cambodia was one of the amazing trip I had last year 2016. I’ve been traveling a lot alone in Philippines for many years and people think the usual truculence negativity of women travelling independently. Well, for me it’s a mixed emotion of being alone but at the same time I am excited to explore the world will be one of the most liberating, empowering and enjoyable things I can ever do for myself. I met countless women on the road and happy to hear their solo backpacking stories around the globe.
Arriving Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh)
My flight was from Manila to Ho Chi Minh (formerly known as Saigon) with Cebu Pacific Air, arrived at Tan Son Nat International Airport at 12:20am. Since I am from Philippines and I am visa free to stay Vietnam for 21 days. Foreigner’s not from ASEAN countries usually have visa on arrival. One month single tourist must pay $19 and citizens from countries like Belarus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Russia, South Kora, Spain, Sweden and UK may enter Vietnam visa free for 15 days.
I’m using the app Grab Car in the Philippines and fortunately they have also in Vietnam. I recommend this Grab Car because they are much safer and they charge cheaper than taxi. From airport to Long hostel at Pham Ngu Lao, I payed VD 107,000 ($4.72). It’s 7.8km from the airport to my hostel for 25 minutes, I walked in a small alley 373 in front of circus and Thai Binh Market. When I arrived to Long Hostel it was closed and knocked the door and there’s a staff opened me and checked in me. My 1 night stay was $8. The staff are friendly and gave me a compliment water and free breakfast.
Day 1 – Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh)
I woke up around 7:00am, got shower and had a breakfast. I checked out and moved to the hostel in front of Long hostel coz I booked only 1 night and the Khoi hostel ($8) has same price with long hostel but they don’t give compliment water to the guest.
I booked my Cu Chi tunnel tour at Long hostel and payed VD 100,000 ($4.39). The tour guide named ‘Johnny’ picked me up at my hostel around 8:00 – 8:30 am and walked to the bus station. The bus is clean and air-conditioned with a free bottle of water and a wifi.
After an hour and half of travel, we stopped at Handicapped Handicrafts. The factory employed handicapped people, some caused by the Vietnam War, to give them and their families some forms of employment. Inlaid eggshells and mother pearl with lacquer and finished products displayed at the shop.
Cu Chi Tunnel
From the Handicapped handicraft, it took an hour to travel to cu chi tunnel. I payed VD 110,000 ($4.82) for the entrance fee. According to historian, the tunnels were used by Viet Cong soldiers as hidden spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous North Vietnamese fighters. The tunnel systems were of great importance to the Viet Cong in their resistance to American forces, and helped to counter the growing American military effort. The 75-mile (121 km)-long complex of tunnels at Củ Chi has been preserved by the government of Vietnam, and turned into a war memorial park with two different tunnel display sites, Ben Dinh and Ben Duoc.
Around 12:30 pm, we had a break from our guided tour and I bought a grilled corn worth VD 15,000 ($ 0.66) and also tried the shooting range with M16 assault rifle. 10 bullets for VD 400,000 ($17.54), but I payed half of the price for 5 bullets and share the other 5 bullets with my friend.
War Remnant Museum
According to the museum, the museum of thematic research, collection , storage, preservation and display of the material, photographs, artefacts on the evidence of the crime and the consequences of the war that the invasion force has caused to Vietnam. Thereby, the Museum is educating the public, especially the younger generation, mental struggle for independence and freedom of the country, the anti-war sense of invasion, to protect peace and solidarity friendship between the peoples of the world. Vietnam achieved complete victory, peace, sovereignty and territorial integrity and independence on April 30, 1975.
Entrance fee – VD 15,000 ($0.66)
Open all days of the week (including holidays) 7:30am -12noon, 13:00 – 17:00
Motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh City
Crossing the streets of Ho Chi Minh was a huge challenge for me. I was scared to be hit by motorbikes and they drive very fast and even on the walking lanes the motorbikes go in that area. According to Thanh Nien News, Ho Chi Minh City has 7.43 million motorbikes putting serious pressure on its transport infrastructure, local media reported, citing the Department of Transport. The huge number of motorbikes is overburdening the city’s traffic system, according to the department. It said motorbikes are chosen by many people over buses.
Binh Tay Market
Not far from the war remnant museum, I walked to Binh Tay Market to buy souvenirs and presents for my family and friends. The dominant business hub and attraction in Cholon, Saigon’s Chinatown. There are two section of Binh Tay market – outside street is the wet section and inside, the dry section. Outdoor section or at the side of the street is the fresh wet market, where you can buy fresh meat, fishes, vegetables, flowers and some street foods while inside the market are those souvenir items, local Vietnamese clothing, dried spices, dried seafoods, snacks and many more. I bought souvenirs like ref magnets, keychains, t-shirts with Vietnam prints and also local products like coffee, candies and chips, total cost was $20. Always ask for a discount and they will try to give if you buy in bulk items.
I went back to Khoi hostel for a short nap and took a shower to prepare to experience Ho Chi Minh nightlife. I have a friend in HCMC, who is a Vietnamese. He was my colleague at work when I was working at Goodyear Philippines. Hai Trong came at my hostel to picked me up and good thing he had a driver to drive us around HCMC.
Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon
This cathedral was built by French colonist and constructed between 1863 and 1880. Affiliation of the cathedral is Roman Catholic and it has two bell towers that reach a height of 58 meters.
Ho Chi Minh Central Post
Located beside of Notre Dame Cathedral. According to history, the building was constructed when Vietnam was part of French Indochina in the late 19th century. It counts with Gothic, Renaissance and French influences. It was constructed between 1886-1891 and is now a tourist attraction.
Formerly known as Independent palace. It is known as the famous historical witness which passed through the two fierce wars against the French and American colonists. Vietnam is split in North and south Vietnam, its also served as Presidential home and workplace. Since its construction, the building has gone through several renovation. A major work was undertaken from 1962 to 1963, which made the President change his office temporarily to Gia Long Palace, which is now the location of Ho Chi Minh Museum. Much political turbulence led to the come and go of several South Vietnam President, until 1975 when the war officially ended and Vietnam became one country.
Open all days of the week from 7:30 – 11:30 and 13:00 -17:00
Entrance fee – VD 20,000 ($.89)
Dinner at Nah Hang Ngon
I told my friend that I wanted to taste an authentic Vietnamese cuisine and he brought me to the famous authentic Vietnamese restaurant named Nah Hang Ngon.
One of the things I love when traveling is to try the local cuisine and specialties. If you want to try an authentic and delightful Vietnamese cuisine, dine at Nha Hang Ngon. Located at 160 Pasteur, Ben Nghe, Quan 1 Thanh pho, HCMC. The menu is full of all staples of Vietnamese cooking. Skilfully prepared, fresh spring rolls, pork meat and seafood with a platter of vegetables, fruits, herbs, noodles and different textures of leaves with tasty dipping sauce as a norm of Vietnamese dining. You need to book a reservation or come earlier because it is famous, it draws massive local and foreigner customers.
Ho Chi Minh Monument
Ho Chi Minh also known as Nguyen Tat Thanh and Nguyen Ai Quoc, was a Vietnamese Communist revolutionary leader who was prime minister (1945–55) and president from 1965 to 1969 of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam). He led the Viet Minh Independence movement from 1941 onward, establishing the Communist-ruled Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945 and defeating the French Union in 1954 at the battle of Dine Bien Phu. After the war, Saigon, the former capital of the Republic of Vietnam, was rename Ho Chi Minh City.
Bitexco Tower & Saigon SkyDeck
It’s one of the tallest building in Ho Chi Minh City and standing 262 meters high at the centre of business district. The building has 68-storey houses, offices, shopping centres, restaurants, helipad and coming soon Ao Dai museum. The SkyDeck has Breathtaking 360-degrees views across the city. The 48th floor is the SkyDeck Bar and 50th & 51st floors are the restaurant.
My friend Hai Trong brought me to the SkyDeck and we had an amazing view of the city facing the Mekong river.
Opening hours will be 9:30-21:30 Monday-Sunday and purchase of the last ticket and entry will be 45 minutes prior to close. Located at no. 36, Ho Tung Man street, district 1, Ho chi Minh. Entrance fee for adult is VD 200,000 ($8.79) and for kids is VD 130,000 ($5.72).
The whole trip in Ho Chi Minh cost me $52.12 or 1,181,821 Vietnamese Dong
$1 = 22,675 Vietnamese Dong
Day 2 – Cambodia
Travelling to Phnom Penh
The bus going to Phnom Penh was at 8:00am for the price of $10. Travel time was around 6-7 hours. The bus is air conditioned, gave us free 1 bottled water, but the wifi is not working. The bus representative collected the passport of all passengers to give to Vietnam border officers and have a stamped of exit.
Around 10:00am when we arrived Immigration check point at the border from Vietnam to Cambodia and have our passports stamped with exit. We waited our name to be called by immigration officers and went back to our bus going to Cambodia.
After 4 hours travel from the border of Vietnam, we arrived at Cambodian border for the immigration and visa check. Fortunately, I am from Philippines so it was easy for me to get stamped and had a different queue. Citizens from ASEAN countries are exempted to visa and I can stay at Cambodia for 21 days. Citizens not from ASEAN countries must pay $30 for 30-days visa. Afghanistan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Nigeria passport holders must apply tourist visa before travelling to Cambodia.
After few hours of travel from Cambodian immigration, we stopped at the restaurant owned by local. I ordered rice and fish but seems the fish has been cooked for many days and I stopped eating and ordered soda to forget the taste of the fish. I will advice travellers to bring food or snacks before leaving Ho Chi Minh or Phnom Penh.
Arriving Phnom Penh
Total of 7 hours travel and finally arrived at Phnom Penh, I hired a tuktuk from bus terminal to Mad Monkey Hostel. I took a tour around Phnom Penh central area. First stop, tour inside Royal Palace and tour around the city for $7.
Stay at Mad Monkey Hostel
One of the best hostel in Phnom Penh with 150 beds plus its a great guesthouse, restaurant and bar all in one place. I had nice stay in this hostel, amazing atmospehre plus they have a swimming pool where you can take a dip. I payed $8.40 plus $1.60 deposit for the key.
The palace serves as the royal residence of the King of Cambodia and it was built in 1866. Entrance fee was $6.50. The staff of the palace will not allowed visitors to enter the palace if you are wearing sleeveless, flip-flops, shorts, mini skirts. Visitors must show a respect to the palace and to their gods. I bought a shirt from an entrance because I was wearing sleeveless that time and cost me $3.
The Royal palace of Phnom Penh is open to the public daily from 7:30-11:00 and 14:00 – 17:00 except for official acts.
It is located at the south side of the Royal Palace complex. It was formerly known as Wat Ubosoth Ratanaram.
The monument was built in 1958 for Cambodia’s independence from French in 1953 and was designed by by influential Cambodian modern architect Vann Molyvann. This monument is close to the Sihanouk Monument and it’s walking distance from Royal Palace.
Norodom Sihanouk Monument
The monument was built for Norodom Sihanouk, the King of Cambodia from 1941- 1955 and again from 1993 – 2004. He died on October 2012.
Dinner at The Corn Restaurant
This restaurant offered vegetarian cuisine. Me and my friend Sarah was lost when we tried to locate the restaurant, good thing we haven’t gave up and tried many times to search the restaurant. I tried the Amok with wild rice and my drink was ginger plus lemongrass shake. Sarah ordered green curry served with wild rice. Highly recommended for those who wants to try Khmer food but waiting time was a problem because there were only few tables and we waited for some customers to finish their meals and move to the table. The dinner cost me $7 for the food and drink. Located at #58 Street 268 Suramarith, Phnom Penh and opens everyday from 12:00 noon to 22:00
After our delightful dinner, we strolled around the city of Phnom Penh and tried the edible insects in the street. I payed $1 for different species of insects. Insects actually have a high fat, protein, vitamin, fiber and mineral content that is often comparable to fish or livestock according to iflscience.com. They multiply faster than the livestock animals or fishes. I liked the taste of cricket and its crunchy.
Nightlife in Phnom Penh
Me and Sarah decided to try the in-house bar at the hostel. We met our fellow travellers Andrew from Australia and Andrew from UK and drank with them. The bar offers hype for the travellers and its a nice atmosphere to chill with friends. The bar closes around 12:00 midnight, so the staff who is a Filipina, brought us to Love Club. Its just 5 minutes walk to Love Club and we continued our party there. We had an amazing stay and also nightlife in Phnom Penh.
The whole trip in Phnom Penh cost me $53.40.
Day 3 – Siem Reap, Cambodia
Travelling to Siem Reap
Before I went to bus terminal, I had my breakfast first with Andrew and I ordered banana pancake with ice cream on the top for $4.50, actually quite expensive for a pancake.
My bus ticket was $12 and the travel time was 7 hours to Siem Reap. Around 11:30 in the morning, the bus stopped at the restaurant and have lunch. I learned already my lesson from the restaurant near the border of Phnom Penh, I brought some light snacks and I only bought water for $ .50 cent.
Stay at Angkor Sun Siem Reap
It is located conveniently at the centre of Siem Reap, 500 meters from Pub street, while 7 kms from Angkor Wat and 8 kms to Siem Reap International airport. The hotel offers barbecue and sun terrace. I met my new friends from the hotel who were Jacqueline from Austria and Anjelica from New Zealand.
Dinner at the Street of Old Market
I had a challenge to eat $1 or less in every meal and wallah, we dine at the street near old market from mobile food cart. I ordered fried rice with egg and sprinkled with spring onion, while Angelica ordered wok noodles. We payed $1 on the on each meal and bought 1.5 Liter of water in supermarket for $.56 cent.
Nightlife in Siem Reap
Me and my friends decided to spend our night at Mad Monkey Hostel bar. I like the atmosphere of the bar when I was in Phnom Penh. We ordered Cambodian beer 500ml for $1 and flaming shot for $2. The hostel bar gave us free shots and there was also a guy celebrating his birthday and gave us free shots. It was super fun. Around 11:00pm, we decided to move to Temple Club and danced with fellow travellers.
Day 4 – Whole Day Tour at the Temples
I woke up around 4:30am to get prepared to be picked up around 5:00 am and I hired a tuktuk a day before my tour to Angkor temples. I wanted to see sunrise so I got up early. Its 7 kms from my hotel. We first stopped at the ticketing centre and the staff took a face-photo and place to the ticket for security purposes. I payed only $20 last August 2016 and please refer for the updated price below.
Angkor Temples Entrance Fee as of February 1, 2017:
1 day pass- $37
3 days pass- $62
7 days pass valid for a month – $72
It was built by Khmer during early 12th century by the Khmer King Suryavarman II. Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world and the designs are impressive. Today, Angkor temples are the major tourist attractions in Cambodia and receive 2 million of foreign tourists every year.
Located at the northwest of the Angkor Thom. According to the hostorian, Preah Khan was built by Jayavarman VII in honor to his father.
Before heading to Bayon temple, we stopped at the small restaurants owned by locals infront of North Kleang . I ordered Fried rice with vegetable served with hot tea with milk for $4. I had no choice but to eat because the tuktuk driver brought me there, despite I had a already an early breakfast at the hotel.
This is the last temple built in Angkor, and the only state temple to be built as a Mahayan Buddhist shrine dedicated to Buddha. Bayon stands at the centre of Jayavarman’s capital in Angkor Thom.
Walk northwest, you will see the Baphoun Temple. It was built in the mid- 11th century to dedicate to the Hindu and Shiva and it has three-tiered temple mountain. I climbed the top of the temple and you have view of the tress and green environment around the temple.
Terrace of the Elephants
The terrace of the Elephants is 350-metres long and attached to the palace of Phimeanakas. The terrace served as a platform from which to view the King Jayavarman VII victorious returning army and also used as a giant platform for public ceremonies and for the king’s grand audience.
It also known as Vimeanakas is a Hindu temple in the Kleang style and located inside the walled Royal Palace of Angkor Thom.
North And South Kleang
Kleang means ‘storeroom’. The north and south kelang are two buildings located on the east side in Angkor Thom. North kleang was built under King Jayaviravarman while south kleang built under his successor Suryavarman I.
Terrace of Leper King
It is located in the northwest corner of Angkor Thom. A Cambodian legend of an angkorian King Yasovarman I who had leprosy thats why the statue called *leper King’ and also the growing moss on it was reminiscent person.
Ta Phrom was originally called Rajavihara. Located around 1 km east of Angkor Thom. Built in Bayon style and have atmospheric combination of trees growing out of the ruins. It’s one the most popular Angkor temples today with visitors and was also used as a location of the film ’Tomb Raider’ by Angelina Jolie.
After a day of tour, I was exhausted by the heat, sweat and dust all over my body. I went back to my hotel and payed the tuktuk driver $15 for the whole day tour. I took a shower and nap.
The staff and owners of Angkor Sun Siem Reap Hotel prepared a barbecue beef kebab and salads for the dinner. They invited us to eat with them and taste the Turkish meal. That was a great dinner and .
Me and Jacqueline went out with some travellers to reggae bar nearby. After an hour, we moved to Pub street and went disco at Temple club. Entrance of Temple club is free.
Day 5 – Last Day
Around 10:00am, I woke up and a little bit sleepy coz I went back to hotel around 1:ooam. I need to get up and buy some presents and souvenirs for my family and friends. Walked around the old market and the central area of Siem Reap.
I had my breakfast at Viva Restaurant near Old market. I ordered toast bread with jam, egg and hot tea for $3.50
One of most crowded market in the city. Old market or known as Psar Chaa. Its filled with shops, galleries, restaurants, massage parlours, bars and more. The market offers different variety of fresh goods like fruits, vegetables, meat, fishes and many more. The market sells souvenir items, local Cambodian clothes, motorcycle parts, furnitures, kitchen needs and many more. I bought key chains, ref magnets, shirts and some dried foods as presents and souvenirs for my family and friends. The souvenir items and some dried fruits cost me only $8.
Lunch at Taj Mahal
My Chilean friends arrived that day in Siem Reap and I met them. We had lunch together at Taj Mahal. Borne in Delhi, the restaurant chef and owner shared his passion in cooking. The food is delicious and the portions are big. Worth to spend our money for an authentic Indian lunch.
Flight back to Philippines
After my lunch, I went back to my hotel and packed my things and get ready for flight back to Manila. My friend Loan sent me to airport with his motorcycle. Flight departed Siem Reap International Airport at 22:50 and I arrived 2:45am in Manila.
The whole trip in Siem Reap cost me $53.06 including souvenirs. My 5-day trip cost me $160 or around 8,000 in Philippine peso.
- When travelling to Cambodia, if you have US dollars with you, don’t change to Cambodian riel. Cambodian people prefers US dollar than their currency.
- When hiring a tuktuk, always ask for a discount and also find other people to share on the Angkor temples tour and share the payment for a tuktuk ride.
- Buy water, fruits or bread at supermarket, it’s more cheaper than buying at hostel or in a restaurant.
- Stay at hostel, it’s easy to meet new friends and fellow travellers, just be friendly.
Source: Wikipedia, TourismCambodia.com, War Remnant Museum