Dreams will always be dreams unless you actually do something to achieve it. This is what I always remember every time I want to achieve something in life.
Five years ago when I was working in Vietnam (I was no traveler back then), my Filipino friend and officemate invited me to travel to the Cambodia-Vietnam border to check out the casinos (I didn’t gamble) and food there. While waiting in queue at the immigration line, I noticed that there were lots of foreign travelers lining up, including their kids. My friend said they were backpacking and further explained that some of them taught English from one country to another to sustain their long-term travels. Well of course you all know that teaching English is not the only way to earn money while backpacking.
Fast forward to some years later, I got bitten by the travel bug. I remembered that time in the border. I researched in it, read lots of articles and blogs on traveling Southeast Asia then actually traveled to Thailand and back to Vietnam for 5 days each. I was hungry for more. Then the opportunity came that I could have a one-month break from the corporate jungle. I instantly recognized it and booked the flights immediately; we went on a trip around Southeast Asia for 23 days.
This dream of mine has now come true and I would like to share how we did it. In this post you will see our budget, itinerary and guides so you can plan your trip, too.
Our route is not the common backpacking route that you see in other guides or blogs. In this trip we skipped Vietnam since 1.) I’ve already worked there in Ho Chi Minh last 2011 2.) We went back in HCM last 2014 3.) I wanted to see other places in Vietnam besides HCM so I’m saving that trip for a different backpacking route sometime in the future, hopefully.
Ours is a combination of Indochina destinations plus Singapore and Malaysia. Please see route below:
I wish we could’ve squeezed Batam, Indonesia in the mix too, but I’ve already booked our AirBnb stays in Malaysia and SG so it was a no-go for now. Next time.
In this trip, we wanted to focus more on Thailand so we allotted 14 days in Thailand alone, but please note that we didn’t do much temple touring in Thailand as we already did that in our first trip back in 2014.
And we all know Singapore is an expensive country, so we just stayed there for 2 nights. We stayed in the airport on the first night since our arrival in Changi was around midnight.
You will also notice that there are days that are not as packed because it’s either we were in the market or food-tripping or just simply resting and saving money.
Is it hope for freedom or their last peek at beautiful sunshine?
Compared to other backpacking routes, I think ours is more expensive as we needed to fly to SG from Manila then fly from KL to Phnom Penh. Plus we booked a round trip flight to Chiang Mai from Bangkok (heard of derailing trains but we could’ve tried the night bus instead).
Anyways, here are the modes of transportation we used to go from one country to another. I will detail the transportation for each country in their separate posts. We carried 50L and 35L backpacks. Both are allowed as carry-on baggage so we didn’t check it in anymore.
Manila to Singapore
Airline: Cebu Pacific
Fare: P3199.5 each (no check-in baggage)
A little expensive for low promo fare standards because I booked this just 2 months before our trip. As I mentioned earlier, this trip was kind of unexpected.
Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Since we stayed in Yishun, we opted to go to Kranji station which is in the same line and 5 stops away.
So go to Kranji station, board the purple orange buses SBS 170. It will drop you at the immigration to exit SG. Fare 1.75 SGD.
Once your passport is stamped, board a bus going to Johor Bahru (SBS 170 or the Yellow bus). Fare 1.5 SGD. Enter Malaysia immigration.
Board SBS 170 again to go to Larkin Terminal to ride a bus to KL or other parts of Malaysia. Fare 1.80 SGD.
In Larkin Terminal, there are lots of buses going to KL. Just choose the cheapest. We paid 30RM each from Larkin to TBS Terminal in KL. Don’t worry, cheaper here doesn’t mean your bus is a hellhole. We rode a nice air-conditioned bus with ample legroom and the driver was not a speeding maniac either.
Kuala Lumpur to Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Airline: Air Asia
Fare: P1409.26 each (no check-in baggage)
Phnom Penh to Siem Reap
Night Bus: Giant Ibis
Fare: $15 + $1 online processing fee
This is a sleeper bus and if you are sure with your date of departure or schedule, then it’s better to book it online so you can reserve your bed. Yes, your bed inside the bus. It was comfortable and they have a decent toilet (Use it only when you really need to). It also gets really cold inside the bus. They do provide blankets but it may not be enough so we put on our jackets while sleeping.
Siem Reap to Bangkok
Bus + Mini-van combo: Capitol Tours (capitoltourscambodia.com)
Travel Time: 9 hours including immigration exit/enter at the border
The bus was ok, but the mini-van is a little cramped. They have Wi-Fi on board though.
At the border, they will give you a sticker. Don’t ever lose that sticker. Stick it on your shirt. After exit in Cambodia (right side), you go to the left side of the Thailand border for immigration entry. Once finished, the Capitol tours staff will look for people with the sticker that was given to you. They will guide you to the terminal near 7/11 where you will take the van.
If you are planning to take only a bus/van/taxi to Poipet (Cambodia border), then you can just look for a bus/van in the terminal/car park near 711 in Aranyaprathet (Thailand border). I have read guides that you can also hop on a casino bus to Bangkok from here.
Bangkok to Chiang Mai (Roundtrip)
Airline: Air Asia
Fare: P3,427.01 each (no check-in baggage)
If you want to lessen your expenses and wouldn’t mind travelling for long hours (I think 10 hours or so), you can also take a night bus from Bangkok and vice versa. Fare ranges from 500 to 600 THB. Almost all guesthouses and hostels offer this. You can just approach the receptionist.
Bangkok to Manila
Airline: Cebu Pacific
Fare: P4557.11 each (no check-in baggage)
Same reason with our flight to SG. A little expensive for low promo fare standards.
Below is a quick list where we spent our nights.
N = night(s) e.g. 1 night is 1N
1N Changi Airport Entertainment deck – Free
1N Airbnb in Yishun Ave 11 c/o Poh Heng Anthony
3N AirBnb in Jalan Enggang c/o Hairuddin
1N Top Banana Hostel
2N Rosy Guesthouse
Bangkok (First 3 nights):
Lamphu Guesthouse (2N)
Lamphu Guesthouse (1N)
Julie Guesthouse (3N)
JJ Guesthouse (2N)
Bangkok (Last 6 nights):
Lee Travel Inn (4N)
Lee Travel Inn (2N)
TIP: If you’re traveling during summer to these countries, then consider booking air-conditioned rooms as much as possible. Some hostels and guesthouses’ fan rooms can’t cope with the heat just like in Rosy Guesthouse in Siem Reap. We felt like we were inside an oven there.
We didn’t book many tours in our trip. Almost all of the places we went to are DIY trips and free (or with cheap entrance fee). Some don’t require you to hire a cab/tuktuk because you can just walk to it which we mostly did. I’ll just list below the key places we went to for each country and insert some helpful remarks. Please also note that we didn’t do much “touring” in Bangkok as we already did that in our last trip there back in 2014.
Raffles Place/Fullerton Hotel vicinity, Merlion Park, Esplanade, The Helix, Marina Bay Sands Hotel vicinity
Gardens by the Bay
Petronas Twin Towers
Killing Fields and S21 Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Wat Preah Prom Rath
Angkor Wat/complex Short cycle tour
Wat Saket (Golden Mount)
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Doi Pui Village
Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phan Tao
Thai Cooking class by Asia Scenic
In this Southeast Asia trip, just like in our previous trips, we were also focused on eating and trying different kinds of dishes along the streets, bus terminals, hawker stalls and food courts. There were just times that we had to buy biscuits or bread in convenience stores/street for tomorrow’s breakfast since most of the shops/food carts aren’t open early in the morning. We like to be up early and eat immediately so we needed fast access to our food.
Where else? Hawker stalls of course! Luckily, there are hawker stalls near our accommodation in Yishun. We had an amazing Char Siew Noodle for 4SGD and Roasted Chicken rice for 3SGD.
Just eating in these Hawker stalls will let you experience the food and culture of Singapore.
The very first time we tried Malaysian food is in Larkin Bus Terminal. It was a Roti Telur for breakfast for just 2.2 RM! It already includes a big delicious curried chicken breast.
In KL, you can have amazing food in food courts like the ones in KL Sentral, KLCC mall and Central Market. We love their Nasi Gorengs or any of their fried rice dishes! A dish usually cost around 4 to 6RM. Pretty cheap for such delicious dishes. Don’t forget to try their Teh Tarik (hot milk tea) / Teh Sejuk (cold milk tea) too.
Of course, there are also those mom and pop eateries and street food in the sidewalks of KL. We had the best mee hailam (6RM) just a 3 minutes walk from our accommodations! It is a noodle based dish with vegetables and seafood drenched in dark soy-oyster based sauce. Fantastic dish! For breakfast, lots of vendors are selling Roti Canai, an Indian-influenced flatbread where you can dip in curry sauce. Amazing food, so be sure to grab one of those.
Malaysian food is usually spicy but very delicious. Even if you don’t like spicy food, I’m sure you’ll appreciate the taste. Their fried rice dishes are not that spicy anyways especially the Nasi Goreng Cina that is more like a Yang Chow. And if you are looking for pork, you’ll find that they seldom sell pork dishes there as they are predominantly a Muslim country.
In all honesty, we didn’t like Cambodian cuisine that much. Compared to their neighboring countries Thailand and Vietnam, theirs pales in comparison for us.
They have a dish that is similar to Com Tam in Vietnam. It is composed of white rice, grilled pork, fried egg, soup and condiments. It was good and cheap ($1) but compared to Com Tam, theirs are on a different level.
We also tried their traditional Khmer dishes. First in the list is Fish Amok ($2.25). Again, it’s ok but nothing spectacular about it.
After our Angkor Wat tour, we found a mom and pop eatery and ordered another set of Khmer dishes. We ordered a Beef Lok Lak ($3) and Cambodian salad ($2.5).
The saving grace of our food trip in Cambodia was in the night market (near the river) at Phnom Penh. It was street food galore! You choose your food from the stalls then you let them cook it while you sit in one of the mats laid there. It was a fun experience though every stall there is no different from one another. But hey, even the locals love it! We loved it!
And oh, beer at Pub street in Siem Reap is ridiculously cheap at half a dollar!
What we love about Thailand is you can almost get delicious food everywhere! Here’s our take on some of the foodie places we went to:
Soi Rambuttri/Khao San Road – Lots of Pad Thai stalls ranging from 30 to 60 TH and eateries offering Thai food in the 40 to 80 THB range. If you had enough of Thai food, then there are several Western restaurants catering to big spenders. You can also check the nearby streets for noodle soups, fruits, etc.
Chiang Mai Walking street night markets – nice street food there. Lots of variety. Stalls near Chiang Mai gate also offers Thai dishes.
Terminal 21 food court – oh my, the best ever! Dishes here are very cheap ranging from 25 to 50 THB! And cheap doesn’t mean they aren’t delicious because they are! Lots of variety too. We dined here like 4 or 5 times. The food court in MBK is no match to T21 when it comes to price and quality. MBK food ranges from 45 to 100 THB.
Chatuchak Weekend Market – nice variety of street food and Thai dishes. There’s always a refreshment stall nearby because it can get very hot during midday!
Soi Convent in Silom – When we visited, there weren’t too many stalls. But we still managed to eat some street food like fried shrimp spring rolls and fried chicken with tamarind dipping sauce. We didn’t like Hoi Tod that much though.
Of course, there are your trusted mom and pop eateries everywhere. Just take a look at what they offer and if it looks good, then eat it!
Here is a summary of our Expenses in our 23 days Southeast Asia backpacking trip. Please note that shopping items and souvenirs were not included as this may vary per individual preferences.
Also not included is our travel insurance of P2,358 per person; insurance is recommended, not required. Food and drinks were shared between the two of us. I will further expand the details of expenses in my separate post for each country.
Please note that I converted the currency to Philippine pesos using www. xe.com.
For 32,756.44 per person for 23 days with flights in between, it’s definitely not bad. You can even lower it further by taking the bus to Chiang Mai, squeezing your travel to 10 to 15 days or just doing Vietnam-Cambodia-Thailand instead. Also note that we didn’t do much temple-hopping in Bangkok since we did that already in 2014 where we visited the Grand Palace and its neighboring Wats and the Ayutthaya-Bangpa-In Palace combo. – Rappler.com
Jayson Concepcion is a programmer by profession but has a soul of a traveler. Aside from his ultimate dream of traveling around the world, he loves to eat, drink, listen to music, talk about aliens, and indulge in his occasional secret guilty pleasure of singing love songs in videoke. His favorite superpower is to teleport from one place to another. I guess you know why. Visit his blog: thetraveldebugger.com or follow him on Facebook and Instagram