ASEAN Backpacking: The Great Mekong Adventure

May 14, 2014 ASEAN Backpacking

This Mekong Adventure is truly a very memorable backpacking experience for me.  

It was a lot of firsts.  It was my first time visiting Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.  It was my first time to cross borders.  It was my first time to get “happy.”

This blog post is two years late but I am still doing it since I am days away from another ASEAN backpacking trip and for my friends who ask about our itinerary.  

Day 1 was my first pho.


Our trail started in Ho Chi Minh City. We took an evening flight of Cebu Pacific Air from Manila and the first thing we did in Phnom Penh, of course after checking into our hotel, was having a bowl of authentic Vietnamese Pho.  That bowl was enough for me to be glad I visited this city.

Our home in Ho Chi Minh is Saigon Mini Hotel (196 Bui Vien St., District 1). Our friend Mervin always chooses the best place to stay and we thank him and his reference of choice, TripAdvisor.  Saigon Mini Hotel is in a good location, meaning near shops and tourists’ destinations and has good service. 

Day 2 was our attempt at being flaneurs in Saigon.   


From our hotel, we walked to Benh Tanh Market for some souvenir shopping.  Then, we also had our souvenir pictures taken in front of the Ho Chi Minh City Hall and Opera House. We also visited another landmark, the Saigon Notre Dame Basilica, which was also an opportunity to give thanks for the opportunity to travel and meet new friends.  After that, we crossed the street to the Saigon Central Photo Office to admire its architecture and more souvenir shopping.  The walking tour took us one whole morning.

The afternoon was spent shopping for backpacks at Saigon Square and eating ice cream at Kim Bach Dang Ice Cream.

Dinner was at Kim Cafe (268 De Tham St., District 1, HCM City).  Food was really good.  

Day 3 was crossing borders and touring Phnom Penh.


We booked our bus tickets to Cambodia with Sinh Tourists located at De Tham St. District 1. Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh was USD 10.00 and Phnom Penh to Siem Reap was USD 7.00.

We left at around 6:30 AM.  We had our breakfast stop around 8AM and the border was 30 minutes from the place where we had breakfast.  It took us more than an hour to get our passports stamped at the Moc Bai / Bavet crossing, the most popular border crossing to Cambodia, but it was easy because we were assisted by Sinh Tourists. 

We arrived in Phnom Penh around 1:30 PM.  Good thing food at Sinh Hotel was good, where the bus dropped us off.  After that, we hailed tuktuks, to take us to our hotel.  That was my first tuktuk ride.

In Phnom Penh, we stayed at Paragon Hotel at Sisowath Quay, which gave us a magnificent view of our travel inspiration, the Mekong River.

From our hotel, after freshening up, we walked to the National Museum of Cambodia, then to the Royal Palace.  We spent a few minutes feeding pigeons at the park in front of the Royal Palace and watching some locals dance.

The highlight of our trip, which should be a must for every Phnom Penh visitor, was a dinner at Romdeng.  Romdeng is known for its good cuisine, creative interiors and service to former street children.

Day 4 was going to Siem Reap and Riding an ATV.


Our stay in Phnom Penh was short and sweet.  The following day, we traveled to the gateway to Angkor, Siem Reap.

Again, we took the Sinh Bus (emphasis on the h).

By afternoon, we were already checking in at one of the best hotels I have ever stayed in.  Golden Temple Villa is just simply adorable.  It has a lush tropical garden, nice rooms and really, really good food.  Plus, we also got free wifi, bike rentals, 1 hour massage, coffee, jasmine tea and bananas.

We spent the afternoon trying the ATV Tour of Quad Adventure Cambodia ( and watching the sunset.  Of course, the evening was spent eating and shopping at Night Market, which was walking distance from Golden Temple Villa.

Tip when buying anything in Siem Reap, have those USD 1.00 ready.  All stores accept US Dollars but will give you change in local denomination.

Day 5 was unleashing my inner Angelina.


The best time to arrive in Angkor Wat is before sunrise. 

The site is 5.5 kilometers from Siem Reap and we arranged for tuktuks the night before to take us to the old city.  Entrance fee was USD 20.00.  We paid the tuktuk USD 5.00 each for the whole morning tour.

We woke up early, but when we arrived, a lot of tourists had already secured their places for sunrise viewing.  It was a cloudy day, though, so there was no magnificent sunset, but that didn’t make Angkor Wat less beautiful.  When the sun was up, we had breakfast in one of the food stalls.  The fried rice was delicious.

The tour was half a day and after Angkor Watt, we rode our tuktuks again and proceeded to Angkor Thom to see the Bayon Temple, which is known for sculptural decorations and then to Ta Phom, which has trees growing in its ruins.

After our tour of the archeological complex, we freshened up in our hotel and visited Artisans Angkor, which promotes Cambodian crafts.  It was a few steps away from our hotel.

We had our dinner at Haven, a must when visiting Siem Reap. Haven, just like Romdeng, helps indigents.  Food was also superb.

Since it was our last night in Siem Reap, we decided to stay late to explore the nightlife, which included a walk to Hospital Street for a sampling of its Happy Pizza.  Since it was legal and I have never tried it, I decided to eat a few slices.  It was a bad decision.

Day 6 was crossing the border happy


I regretted eating the Happy Pizza, especially when I was about to face the immigration officer.  Glad I pulled it off.  That was one stunt I will never, ever do again.

We rented cars through Golden Temple Villa to take us to the border.  From the border, we rented a van to Bangkok.  We paid USD 5.00 each for the car to the Poipet border, then another USD 12.00 each for the van to Bangkok. At the border, there were lots of cars and vans available for hire.  There were also locals who helped us carry our bags.

Our hotel in Bangkok was Erawan House located at Chanasongkhram Phra-Artid Road, Pranakorn, Khaosan, Bangkok.  Just like the other hotels we stayed in, Erawan is near shops and restaurants.

Since it was a weekday, we quickly checked-in, ate lunch near our hotel then proceeded to Chatuchak, Bangkok’s popular weekend market.  It was for souvenir shopping, including little gifts for my travel companions.

That night, I had my first authentic bowl of Tom Yum Soup, which is one of my favorites. 

Day 7 was river cruising and more temples in Bangkok.


We decided to forgo the temples and explore more of Bangkok through its river system.  It was a relaxing tour of the Chao Praya River, however it lacked highlights.  So, we just decided to just visit the temples after.

First was Wat Pho, home of the reclining buddha and birthplace of traditional Thai Massage.  Then, we visited Wat Arun or the Temple of Dawn.

Beware of taxi drivers in Bangkok. The drivers told us the temple was closed and insisted on bringing us to another temple.  Good thing we didn’t believe them.

It was already the last night of our Mekong Tour so we stayed late and explored Khaosan Road, which is a short walk from Erawan. It was a celebration of the end of a great adventure and the beginning of our friendship.

Day 8 was home sweet home

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