14 days in Vietnam & Cambodia On a Budget

So we did a bunch of dumb things in Vietnam, but one smart thing we did was plan our itinerary keeping in mind all the delicious food we wanted to eat.

Here’s an overview of how we spent 14 days travelling across Vietnam and Cambodia:

— The Plan —

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi
Day 2: Explore Hanoi
Day 3: Visit Halong Bay
Day 4: Hanoi/Travel to Da Nang/ Explore Da Nang
Day 5: Explore Da Nang
Day 6: Visit Hoi An
Day 7: Explore Da Nang
Day 8: Travel to Ho Chi Minh/ Explore Ho Chi Minh
Day 9: Explore Ho Chi Minh
Day 10: Travel to Phnom Penh, Cambodia by Bus
Day 11: Explore Phnom Penh
Day 12 : Travel to Siem Reap by Bus/ Explore Siem Reap
Day 13: Explore Siem Reap/Angkor Wat
Day 14: Depart from Siem Reap

Here’s a detailed breakdown of how the trip took place:

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi

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Best seats in the house

We caught the previous day’s 11 pm flight from New Delhi. With a 5 hour layover at the Kuala Lumpur airport, we landed in Hanoi at about 3:00 pm. We had already booked our stay at the Original Backpackers Hostel in Hanoi’s Old Quarter so we just UBER’d our way there. Spent the rest of the evening eating and watching the festivities around the lively Haon Kiem lake, which is walking distance from the hostel.

Day 2: Explore Hanoi

 

We devoted the entire day to checking things off our to-eat list. We saved a ton of money on transport because we walked everywhere. Hanoi’s Old Quarter is a delight to explore since food joints and souvenir stores are aplenty. They’re also right next to each other – so you could walk off that food belly by exploring the souvenir shops.

 

But keep your eyes open: the Vietnamese ride on the right side of the road and crossing the road is like flipping a coin of chance – given the innumerable scooters in transit. But they are kind people, so they will most likely not run over you. Keep your eyes peeled though. More details on what to eat where are here.

Day 3: Visit Halong Bay

 

We decided to do just a one-day cruise of Halong Bay since we were short on time and didn’t have too much money for a two-day cruise. The one-day cruise is fine for a brief visit to the spectacular bay, costing us about $50 each which we booked through the hostel. – which includes the 4 hour trip to and from your hotel to Ha Long Bay and food.

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Fresh & yum food on board the cruise

We were served a feast on board the cruise boat and were thoroughly entertained by our tour guide. We also got to interact with a lot of people from around the world as we shared our meals together.

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Boating into the Ha Long Lagoons

We did a quick tours of 2 caves and a stint of boating through the lagoons in amidst the islands. You can kayak too if you want, but you’ll probably end up focusing on not falling into the ocean than absorbing the peaceful beauty around you. You’d be pretty exhausted by the end of it, though the experience itself is very soothing and peaceful.

Day 4: Hanoi/Travel to Da Nang/ Explore Da Nang

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Domestic airlines in Vietnam are top-class

Yes, we flew inter-city on a budget trip. Why? Because it was quicker and cost about the same as travelling by bus/train.

Da Nang by Train/Bus:

Travel Time: 14 hours, Cost: $65

Da Nang by Flight:

Travel Time: 2 hours, Cost: $55

The math seems pretty clear. We booked the flights in advance through the Vietnam Airlines website. The domestic air travel system is great and I’d totally recommend it, unless you want to absorb more of the countryside through a train journey.

We arrived in Da Nang by about 3 pm and checked into the Tomodachi Hostel which is in the heart of the city and walked around the city, doing what we love doing: eating.

Sidenote: Why you shouldn’t skip Da Nang (post in progress)

Day 5: Explore Da Nang

 

So we devoted an entire day to tick things off our Da Nang to-eat list which included eating shrimp burgers at Lotteria, gorging on a deeeelish BBQ & watching a Vietnamese movie. You can easily explore the whole of Da Nang on foot, if you have an entire day to do so. Which we did, and oh man did we walk. (All that $$ we saved on cab was obviously spent on food)

Day 6: Visit Hoi An

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Treasures on the Marble Mountain

We rented a scooter for about 200,000 VND (about 600 rupees) and rode to the famous tourist town of Hoi An. En route, we stopped by the Marble Mountains and laboriously climbed up the stone steps carved into the mountain (almost passing out several times). It’s a beautiful place with a lot of gigantic ancient Buddha statues inside caves, as well as shrines and temples around. It took us about 2 hours and we were ready to hit the road again.

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Hoi An by the Riverside

The road to Hoi An from Da Nang is set on a highway – great, wide, smooth roads just by the ocean that make you feel like a superhero on wheels. Going by scooter also gives you the flexibility to explore the town as you want and leave as late as you want. Travelling by bus costs about the same but the last one leaves by 6 pm, I think, so you’re just more carefree on your scooter.

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At the Hidden Beach

Here we chased down some Banh Mi, talked by the river, did sand writing at the Hidden Beach and were back just in time to watch the 9 pm Da Nang Dragon Bridge breathe fire.

Day 7: Explore Da Nang

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I’d actually advise against spending so many days in Da Nang. Tulsi & I had covered 90% of Da Nang by now and we were a little bored. Of course, there are a bunch of activities you could do like scuba diving, visiting a fish oil village etc but all of them are packaged tours and cost quite a bit. We instead took the time to… yes, eat more!

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There’s no dearth of good food in Da Nang!

Day 8: Travel to Ho Chi Minh/ Explore Ho Chi Minh

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The gorgeous Ho Chi Minh skyline

We took an 11:45 am flight to Ho Chi Minh and landed sometime in the afternoon. We got our first taste of ‘strange’ food when a friend’s friend took us to a market and encouraged us to try crab soup with fermented eggs and chicken feet. We spent the day shopping at the massive Ben Thanh market, picking up souvenirs to take back home.

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An excellent spread!

We stayed with a super fun friend of mine, Amrita, who took us out to dinner. Ho Chi Minh is a lot more bustling that Hanoi and it was interesting to see the vibrant nightlife in the capital city.

Day 9: Explore Ho Chi Minh

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Getting inked in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh

Amrita suggested we could spend the day visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels, a complex network Vietnamese soldiers used during the war. But we had just one more day in Ho Chi Minh and a very special task to complete. We travelled to Saigon Ink and Tulsi got her first tattoo done there. I felt like I was in an episode of LA Ink, the place looked super professional and the tattoo artists were so precise with their inkwork.

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The best Banh Mi is in the South of Vietnam!

Day 10: Travel to Phnom Penh, Cambodia by Bus

We left early next morning to catch our bus to Phnom Penh. We booked it through a travel agent that Amrita knew of and also took the chance to convert all our Vietnamese Dong to US Dollars. The bus cost us about $12/Rs 800 and was pretty comfortable for the 7 hour trip with a short break for lunch in between. Crossing the border into Cambodia was pretty straightforward with the bus conductor collecting all our passports & e-visas and then guiding us to the required counters. We were in and out in 20 minutes.

Don’t worry too much about converting USD to Cambodian Riel since USD is widely used. But for smaller transactions like trinket shopping & street food you will need your Riels.

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Supremely delicious chicken knees in Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh was a great city to explore because we had great hosts, who took us around the city. The street food culture is very vibrant here as well and the streets less crowded with scooters than Vietnam was.

Day 11: Explore Phnom Penh

We spent the first half of the day buying stuff that we weren’t able to in Vietnam. The kindness and warmth is so lovely, even while bargaining. Prices didn’t differ too much, although Cambodia had more funky artifacts, while Vietnam had a better selection & quality of garments.

We then spent some time at the Genocide Museum, which left us brutally shaken and with a newfound appreciation for how far the Cambodian people have come.

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Hindi serials playing in a Phnom Penh restaurant!

Phnom Penh also has a number of massage parlours and beauty salons which are very affordable and a good way to rewind after a long day of shopping.

Cambodian night-life is very quirky – as a visit to the Container Market proved. It’s a lot of Delhi’s Haus Khas village – all the clubs in one area – but here they’re all housed in shipping containers. The place was buzzing like crazy even on a Tuesday night, so weekends must be out of this world.

Day 12 : Travel to Siem Reap by Bus/ Explore Siem Reap

 

 

We took a 10 am bus to Siem Reap which cost us about $10. Well it wasn’t a bus as much as an AC minibus. The ride was alright, except for one woman kept talking incessantly on the phone. Considering the heat outside and the confined space of the vehicle – it made sure we didn’t sleep at all. But it was alright, as the 5 hour journey sped by very quickly.

We were lucky to find a helpful tuk-tuk driver, Dan, when we landed in Siem Reap. He dropped us to the hotel and then promised to be our tuk-tuk driver for the Angkor Wat plan for the next day. Tulsi’s cousin very kindly treated us to a fabulous stay at Glory Angkor Wat Hotel , so the end of trip was pretty luxurious where we had a fancy room & pool.

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Pub Street is a must-visit

Siem Reap isn’t really big and you can get around everywhere on foot. Pub Street has a lot of restaurants and the Night Market as well where we ate and completed the last of our shopping.

Day 13: Explore Siem Reap/Angkor Wat

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The moment we waited an entire year for

We woke up at 4:30 am so we could get to the Angkor Wat Temple site in time to watch the sun rise over the glorious structure. Dan was waiting for us and we set off to get our one-day ticket which cost about $37. The sunrise at Angkor Wat CANNOT be missed. It’s beautiful – you’re sitting on the grass, using your phone lights to guide you around because it’s pitch dark. And slowly, the Angkor Wat emerges from the darkness as morning comes. And with time you can see the intricate details of the towers, and see it reflected in the lotus pond in front of you.

Power up with a good breakfast, because there’s a LOT of walking to do. And you’ll definitely need a tuk-tuk driver through the day because the different temples are pretty far away from each other. With all the walking around the temples, you will NOT have the energy to walk to each one.

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Trying to be cool in Cambodia

We were done with all the temple exploring by 2 pm. We spent the evening stuffing our face and shaving my head. We then hit the Night Market for more face stuffing and etc. It’s open till 5 am I think, so yeah, do your thing.

Day 14: Depart from Siem Reap

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Leaving the Siem Reap airport 😦

We had an 8:00 AM flight back to Malaysia with a 7 hour lay over at the Kuala Lumpur airport. We finally arrived back in Delhi by 12:30 am. The entire day was spent travelling, yes – but it was Ok, because by this time we had run out of money and were glad we didn’t have anywhere to be or look at food and be sad we couldn’t eat it. It was all good, and the plentiful (and free!) Wi-Fi kept us well entertained.

So yeah, you set aside Rs. 7000 every month from your salary for a year, (or your pocket money if you’re rich like that) and you’re sorted for 2 unforgettable weeks in two beautiful, warm and friendly countries (with AMAZING food).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Texas W says:

    Thanks a lot for putting your travel experience very well and in detail.
    One question: “..set aside Rs. 7000 every month from your salary” for how many years?

    Like

    1. SatshyaT. says:

      Oh hehe, for a year – shoot, I’ll add that bit!

      Like

  2. Sheena Dias says:

    What according to you is the best time to visit these two countries? And when did you visit them?

    Like

    1. SatshyaT. says:

      I think Oct-Feb is peak season in Vietnam & Cambodia. I visited them in September so there was a little rain and overcast skies but otherwise it was all good 🙂

      Like

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