Updated: Sep 7, 2020
Welcome to my blog! I did a TON of research when planning this trip, but I couldn't find a good SE Asia route that was less than two weeks that hit as many places as I wanted to go. I didn't have much time away from work, but I knew I wanted to take advantage of my time off and see as many places as I could. Of course, we had to balance what we cared about more, money versus time. This trip is definitely do-able on a budget, but if you have a little extra cash, I highly recommend upgrading to a nice hotel once or twice. Continue reading below to see how we traveled Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos in only 13 days.
Where we went:
•Cambodia (Siem Reap)
•Vietnam (Da Nang, Hoi An, Hanoi, Ha Long Bay)
•Laos (Luang Prabang, Vientiane)
SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA
How? Plane from Seoul to Siem Reap
How much? USD $246 per ticket
Why? Angkor Wat has been on my bucket list since we learned about it in high school. I honestly never in a million years would have thought that I would have the opportunity to visit until I moved to South Korea.
Transportation. Tuk tuks will be your friend, until they aren't any more. You might as well order a "no tuk tuk" shirt now, because you will never hear "tuk tuk?" so many times in your life. But when you do need one, they are very easy to come by and super cheap. Chasen and I spent about USD $16 for a six hour private tour of the temples by tuk tuk, which we booked via our hostel.
Visa. Make sure to finish the e visa process online before you arrive. I payed around USD $36 for my visa. Print it off, and bring passport photos with you.
Where to Stay.
Onederz Hostel -- Rated the #1 hostel in Cambodia. The chain has a handful of hostels around Cambodia, I don't think you can go wrong with any of them. We stayed here at Onederz Siem Reap Hostel for our first two nights. It was about USD $10 per person per night. It was wonderful because we were in the city and hostels are a great place for booking tours and finding things to do, and we didn't plan to be in the hostel very much. The AC in the rooms worked wonderfully, and the beds were very comfortable and clean, and the food was cheap and delicious. The best part about this hostel is the rooftop pool. Our first night, we didn't get much sleep due to the "full grown man beast" as our British roommate called him...he snored, okay? It was extremely loud. The next morning, I kindly asked if we could switch rooms, and the receptionist was very hospitable and gave us our own room! If you want to go with a cheaper option for hotels, I highly recommend Onederz.
The Beige -- Have you ever stayed in a six-star hotel? If such a thing existed, this would be it. This hotel was heaven on earth and only for less than $250 a night. The hotel offers rides to and from the airport, but since we were in the city, we mistakingly took a tuk tuk and got lost. This hotel is not easily found on your own. Once you arrive, there are flags leading down a long gravel road. As we approached the property, and turned the corner, we began to see a crowd of people waving their arms, cheering for our arrival. There were a couple people holding parasols, and everyone else started grabbing all of our bags and immediately led us inside where a bottle of iced Chai latte awaited us. Everything was so beautiful and specially hand picked for the hotel's safari theme. The Beige will need it's own blog post because I've never stayed anywhere so wonderful with such superb customer service. The Beige is worth every penny and more.
What I would have done differently. I would recommend more than three days in Siem Reap. I had wished we had gone to see the floating village, where disadvantaged women make things such as rugs and bags out of rokhak. There products are truly amazing, and very soft. They also make earrings out of old bullet casings. Another thing we would have enjoyed was an insect cooking class with Backstreet Academy.
After two days viewing the temples and city, and one day in paradise, we got a ride to the airport and headed to Vietnam!
DA NANG and HOI AN, VIETNAM
How? Plane from Siem Reap to Da Nang, duration 1 hour 50 minutes.
How much? USD $169
Why? Originally we wanted to go to Hue to see the abandoned water park. I also wanted to go to Hoi An to see the colorful French style streets. We flew in between those two cities, with Da Nang having one of the biggest airports in the area. However, due to very recent blog posts, many travelers warned us that the abandoned water park has closed. How an abandoned park closes is beyond me, but they made it clear it has become much harder to get into so we crossed it off of our to-do list.
Transportation. Motor bikes are the best way to get around. Tuk tuks are not as common in the cities since there is a lot more traffic. Motor bikes are easy and cheap to rent. If you don't feel comfortable on a motor bike, or have a family, taxis are just as easy to come by, but they limit freedom and are more expensive.
Visa. I CAN NOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH. Vietnam visas are NOT TO BE FUCKED WITH. I've NEVER in my life had more problems than with a Vietnamese visa. I've been to China, and Brazil, I lived in Chile for a year, and worked in Spain for a summer, and I've never had so many issues trying to get into a country. Going to a Vietnamese embassy prior is an option. However, if you choose to do the e visa process beforehand, make sure your visa name matches the name on your passport EXACTLY. In fact, just write it all in caps. If you have a middle name on your passport, make sure you have a middle name on your visa. And print off the letter they email you. They almost didn't let me on the plane to Vietnam because I didn't put my middle name on my e visa. They gave me a waiver form, and told me I would need to bribe immigration upon arrival. Luckily, I never gave them the waiver upon arrival to Vietnam, and no one asked me about my middle name.
Where to Stay. Don't stay in Da Nang, haha. I would recommend staying in Hoi An. Da Nang is good for the beach during the day, and if you like clubbing, there are some cool clubs there as well. We stayed in a hostel in Da Nang that was super cheap but made out of storage containers. It looked cool...it wasn't cool. I killed a cockroach on the bed our second day there, and a spider. And there was mold all over the bathroom. Although the hostel itself was gross, the customer service was outstanding, they were super friendly, accommodating, and had free breakfast. The receptionist even made us coffee one morning, it wasn't good, but it was the thought that counts. A little bit of time and a lot of bleach could go a long way there. I can't tell you where to stay, but I can tell you where NOT to stay, and that is Da Nang.
How? 17 hours later, we arrived to Hanoi by train!
How much? USD $66 per person for a 4-bed sleeper. Highly recommend getting the 4 bed over the 6 bed.
Why? One must go to Hanoi, it's just a right of passage in Vietnam. It was one of Anthony Bourdain's favorite cities, he even share a meal there with Barrack Obama. Two days was enough for me to ride around on a motor bike, see a few museums, eat a few meals on short stools, share a few beers in the street, and drink some egg coffee.
Where to go.
Polite and Co. If you are looking for a cute cocktail bar in Hanoi, look no further. A couple told us about this bar and it did not disappoint. Whether you are in need of a whiskey, a cocktail, or a glass of wine, they have it all. Including Pisco Sours.
Cafe Giang. Ever wanted to try some traditional Vietnamese egg coffee? Well, I don't really care if you said no, you need to try egg coffee while in Vietnam. Cafe Giang is where it all began.
Long Biên Bridge. Why travel to Paris, when you can enjoy Gustev Eiffel's other creation in Hanoi?
Where to stay.
Old Quarter View Hanoi Hostel. I don't recommend any other hostels but this one. We stayed in the First Hostel after staying in the Old Quarter View Hostel, and the difference was outstanding. Old Quarter View Hostel had the most comfortable beds I've ever layed down on. Where do they get their bedding? Because I must have it for myself. I don't know if I was just exhausted or what, but even with Chasen passing out next to me in my twin sized hostel bed, I slept like I had just worked a catering shift for 20 hours straight. I do wish that they had a place for the guests to park their motor bikes though.
HA LONG BAY, VIETNAM
How? Tour via booking.com. Book a two day, one night cruise on any website of your choice. The majority of them will provide additional transportation to and from Hanoi for an additional cost. The drive is about three to four hours one way.
How much? Our cruise was more expensive than most, USD $130 per person plus USD $80 for transportation and an additional $$ for alcohol. Alcohol was outrageously expensive.
Why? Why not? I've heard about how beautiful this area was, something from a fairy tale. And it was very beautiful. It just makes me sad to see how many tourist visit this place and how much trash is in the water. It's still an amazing sight to see.
We had a great time, but I just don't know why it wasn't as great as I had hoped it would be. The water was dirty, they didn't offer any swimming, everything including drinks was outrageously expensive, and I didn't like how structured the tours were. My mom isn't even that strict. Chasen and I were exploring a little bit, and I felt like they were going to ground us. No matter what tour you book, or how much money you spend, the view will remain the same, breathtaking.
We headed back to Hanoi for one more night before flying out to Laos.
LUANG PRABANG, LAOS
How? There really is no better way to get to Laos from Hanoi. It's very mountaneous, and there are no trains between those two cities. Flighing is honestly the best way to get to Laos.
How much? USD $143 per person one way from Hanoi to Luang Prabang. We paid an extra $40 to change our flight to Luang Prabang instead of to Vientiane because we didn't plan very well. But it all worked out in the end.
Why? During our 12 hour planning process one weekend, we did no research about Laos, and we didn't really know what was in Laos either. It wasn't until maybe a week or two before our trip that I sat down and did some digging. I realized I didn't really want to go to Vientiane to get to know Laos for the first time. I read that Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng were two popular destinations that had a lot to offer. Since we had only given ourselves two to three days in Laos, we didn't have the time to travel between cities since the 10 hour bus rides were so long and unpredictable. As Vang Vieng was known for its partying and drinking, and Luang Prabang was more cultural, I decided I wanted more of a quiet, cultural experience.
What to do?
MandaLao Elephant Sanctuary. At dinner I looked over at Chasen and asked, "have you ever seen an elephant before?" He hadn't, so I booked a tour with MandaLao right away. I discovered them on instagram, being the only non riding conservation in Luang Prabang. We got to feed the elephants, and hike through the jungle with them. I absolutely love elephants, they are some of the most beautiful creatures, with big hearts, literally. If you are going to be spending your money traveling, spending it at an elephant sanctuary is one of the best ways to do it. Elephants cost a ton to maintain and feed, and the sanctuaries take good care of them. I highly recommend visiting MandaLao during your trip to Luang Prabang.
Kuang Si Falls. The highlight of people's trip to Laos. As Chasen and I were hiking to the top, two guys had followed us and kept asking "is this it?" We had no idea, but we kept climbing. As soon as we got to the top the guys said to us, "wow this is disappointing" and then climbed back down. Chasen and I continued to explore at the top, and then we found the water with the swing hanging from the tree that I remembered in pictures. It was all so beautiful. The falls contained many little bodies of clear water, that all cascaded in a waterfall down to another body of water. You can find videos of tourist jumping or flipping into the bodies of water.
Where to stay. We booked two nights with Ancient Luang Prabang Hotel for about USD $35 per night. And that was an average price, hotels in Laos are super cheap! There are quite a few to choose from and they are very affordable. I highly enjoyed this specific hotel because the monks pass by there every morning before sunrise, so you can roll out of bed and watch them from your private balcony.
Why and How much? We flew from Luang Prabang to Vientiane on our last day for USD $143 per person, in order for us to fly back to Seoul, South Korea. The flight was pretty expensive if you ask me, but it beat the 10+ hour unreliable bumpy bus ride.
Where to stay? Sailomyen Hostel was a very inexpensive (USD $10/night), clean and cute hostel in Vientiane. It's very foreign friendly, and in walking distance to the center and restaurants.
Baggage. Although my research showed there was luggage storage in the airport, there wasn't. Please, prove me wrong, but we walked up and down that airport and asked everyone where it was. Maybe there was at one point. We booked a cheap hostel in the city to store our luggage and rest before our flight.
Seoul, South Korea
How much? Vientiane is the only city in Laos to have a flight to Seoul. Our flight to Seoul from Vientiane was cheaper than our flight from Luang Prabang! For less than USD $100 per person, we were able to make it back home to Seoul.
If you've never been to Seoul before, I HIGHLY recommend it. With Itaewon, Gangnam, Hongdae, and Hongik, to name a few, you will want more than just a few days in Seoul. Then there's Busan, so, you'll need some time.
•Get a SIMS card at the airport
•Bring passport photos for visas
•Bring your own sunscreen
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Da Nang and Hoi An, Vietnam
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
Luang Prabang, Laos