Vietnam + Cambodia

Hi everyone,

I’m going to be in Vietnam from November 4-15 for work. I have a return flight to the USA on November 20, and in those last few days I’m planning on taking a trip to Cambodia to see the Angkor Wat temple area. There’s a lot of “information” online but I wanted to check here to see if anyone had done this trip and has any ideas/thoughts/recommendations on the best way to go about it. Also, I’ll potentially be travelling alone, as a young woman, so if there is anything I should be aware of in regards to that (aside from the obvious) please let me know. I am half asian, so I’ve tended to “blend in” a little bit when we travel to China more specifically, but I generally feel pretty comfortable (aka not stared or gawked at) in asia.

  • I’m planning on NOT taking a plane to Cambodia. I know this is the quickest route, but I’m also trying to stick to a budget. Can anyone chime in on the best way to get from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh? I’m down for taking a bus or a boat or whatever, but the fewer transfers, the better.

  • There are a million guesthouses and hostels advertised online, but in my experience, you just don’t know until you get there… but I don’t want to leave housing up to chance. Especially if I’ll be taking a 5-7 hour ride from Vietnam to Cambodia.

  • Things to avoid?

All this said, my roommate has couchsurfed in six different countries (unfortunately Cambodia not included), and is almost completely selling me on the idea of doing this. But I’d still love to hear anything anyone can add here.

Also- if anyone happens to be travelling during those dates, I’d love to talk about being potential travel buddies to Cambodia too.

Cheers everyone

Have your cambodian visa done before you get to the border. You can get it there but it makes you a tout-magnet.

I wouldn’t worry about the gender thing - you’ll be right in that part of the world. The Angkor temples are well worth the trip.

We did the bus from HCMC - SR. Bit of a sh!t as its long and you’re often hungover, but not thaaat bad. Guesthouses are a dime a dozen and range in quality - there’s no real good way about it though. Check out TripAdvisor if you’re concerned.

I took a bus from Bankok to Siem Riep, then a speedboat to Phnom Phen and a prop plane to Ratanakiri in the NE

It was a REALLY bad road - shakes you non-stop the whole time once you pass through into the country. there’s a good chance it’s like that from the other direction as well

The border itself wasn’t bad and we bought the visa on the spot without problems. It was interesting to see the country that way, but in hindsight it probably would have been better to just fly

You can take a speedboat up the Tong Lee Sap between PP and SR and it’s nice and sunny, but everyone says not to go inside the overcrowded boats in case they sink! We drove the same journey and the road was too shakey

Ankor Wat is great once you get there, especially the temples still overgrown in the jungle. Have fun!

Adding quickly and randomly to Travisimo’s comments…

I traveled with friends for a month from Cam to Vn, Ankor to HCMC then northward to Hanoi/Ha Long bay.

The boarder is no big deal. Friends and I passed through when SARs was just starting and so we, the only westerners, were singled out to fill out a (laughable) health form. “Have you coughed in the last 48 hours?” Get your visas in advance.

Ankor is great. They are still getting finding temples and it is possible to go to some of them. At the same time the 3 ‘main’ loops are worth the time. Start your day very early. You beat the heat and bus loads of other tourists.

We took a bus from from PP to HCMC. Didn’t think the roads were that bad (Peru has much worse). Might depend on what time of the year you are traveling (Dry season for us). I wanted to try the boat down the river but friends had been traveling for months in Asia and were understandably worn down the heat and humidity.

Look around at everything! The sights are cool, but see how folks live. Go to the local markets. The local ‘hardware’ bizarres are amazing. Watch other tourists. Folks from many other countries go there (you wont stand out) and they all have there own tourist ‘style’.

Get ready for the onslaught of people selling you services and goods. Books warn you but it doesn’t really prepare you. Tuk-Tuk drivers, kids with trinkets at the sites, services, goods, drugs and “$10 for 1hr of boom-boom” and on and on … Don’t by from kids as it gives parents more incentive to keep them out of school. At the same time, haggle, haggle, haggle.

Finally, DON’T, again DON’T, eat the tried frogs from the guy, in the van, on the ferry. We said we would try something local. Bad idea. Sure we laugh about my night of discontent now.

More later…

Haha- I will not be eating fried frog from anywhere. I got enough stomach sickness last time in Asia as it was, without eating anything (too) out of the ordinary, so I think I’m already conditioned to stay away from anything that might make me feel sick…

Thank you everyone for your advice… turns out I’ll be couchsurfing! About 50 km outside Siem Reap, in Kralanh, so there will be a bit more bussing going on but no big deal. I’m so excited. My host recommended Mekong Express bus service for getting from VN to Siem Reap, anyone have any experience with this?

I am planning on not having a guide, and just getting a map and maybe a book. Thoughts on this anyone? My host is going to be too busy to accompany me to the temples, unfortunately. Though being a guide themselves I’m sure they will be able to give me lots of good information.

Maybe this is a dumb question- should I be worried about pickpockets? I’ve never gotten mugged or anything and I consider myself pretty aware of my surroundings, but… I want to bring (my friend’s) DSLR to take some photos, but don’t want to worry about it, especially since it’s not mine.

Getting my Visa in advance. Any vaccines I should be looking at? I got a bunch for China about two years ago. Researching this too…

So excited!

I never felt too worried about pickpockets. One thing you’ll hear it over and over again is to stay on the trails… there are still un-exploded landmines everywhere in the country and you see a lot of people who’ve been injured by them. be careful!

well that’s a great piece of advice (seriously.)

thank you!

How did you figure out all this transportation stuff? Did you just go and figure it out on the spot or did you figure out everything in advance? Prop plane sounds awesome…

There are certain vaccines you need to get before going (coming from the states). I had a card with me that the doctor gave me with what I got in case I needed to show customs. I forget where I found out I needed. Guide book, doctor and/or countries (tourist) website. If memory serves, I got Yellow fever, Typhoid, Rabies and maybe one or two others.

I was a little worried about my belongings, but in the end I/we never felt threatened in any way, anywhere. The usual rules apply. Stay aware, keep things close, put your wallet in your front pocket and you should be good. We did have a couple pieces of clothing that had the inside pockets for really important stuff (passport, CC that I wasn’t using but didn’t want to leave in the room). Again you are going to a major tourist area. There will be tons of folks with DSLRs and other gear.

Get travel insurance that offers evac to a country with better hospitals. We didn’t need it but it’s better than ending up at a local hospital.

We didn’t have a human guide for the ruins. We did have a book that we referred to now and then. One thing that my friends did in general was to download web pages with the most recent reviews/recommendations/info (WikiTravel, Wikipedia, other travel sites) to their smartphone for reference when needed specially when there was no wifi or phone connection.

I figured it out on the spot, but had checked out a Thailand and Cambodia guide book beforehand… it was pretty straightforward. Once we got there, getting speedboats, taxis, and tuk-tuks was pretty easy too.

The prop plane was trickier… my brother in law is a commander in the French military and had been working as an adviser down there. We were there to visit him and he had set it all up for us

He recomended that corner of the country and it was interesting. That’s where they filmed Apocalypse now. It was thick thick jungle and the animalistic hill tribes that lopped the head off that water buffalo are real and live there (and really do that kind of stuff :open_mouth: ). If you think you might go up there, I know a good guest house - just PM me

So… In the interest of time, I decided to suck it up and get a plane ticket. It will give me literally 24 extra hours time to wander around, so to me it’s worth it. Though I do admit I was kind of looking forward to traveling through all the provinces on land… I doubt that that can beat walking around in a cazy overgrown jungle temple.

Also, I was just looking on google maps and didn’t realize that the airport is basically walking distance to the Temples, as well as to the ‘downtown’… that is nuts, and has this walker really excited…

Best place to change money: Airport?

(I know, I really just need to get a book…)

Wow, jealous. The views must have been incredible. I unfortunately won’t have enough time this time around to jet off to another ‘faraway’ place (Ratanikiri) but it looks awesome, on google.

Glad to hear that you never felt threatened. It’s always a fear I have, despite having been around the world a bit and it always turning out okay.

You should be able to exchange money at the airport but that will be the worst exchange rate.

ATMs are becoming universal. I know I used them in Vn. Think I used them in Cam? You might be able to get cash advances/exchanges at banks on your CC, though of course you will be hit with fees.

Side note: When you go to Peru (Machu Picchu lives up to the hype and Kuelap is worth the visit) they love Visa, Mastercard not as much. I got a little jammed, even at international banks. South America = Visa.

Travel books can be a bit dated in places that are quickly changing like Cam and Vn, as I found out on my trip. Again we found Wikitravel and Lonely Planet sites useful.

Again as Travisimo mentioned you can do pretty easily find housing and transport when you are there. Though that may vary a bit if it is peak season. We travel right when the world economy crashed and it was off season. There still were tourist but thinner than usual.


Sounds like you have housing all set but will say be careful of locals that meet you at the bus/airport offering their place. They might be safe but you are definitely not getting the best price. We had a owner follow us from the bus and we are pretty sure he was telling all the other Guest house owners (in Vietnamese) to tell use that they were full. So while one of use checked out his place (it looked fine) another friend slipped away and checked out other places. Guess what, we found tons of places that were available.

There are ATMs all over SE asia. Even in little tiny towns.