My 2 weeks backpacking adventure across Indochina

Feb 09

It all started when my dearest AirAsia was having yet another free tickets giveaway on May last year. Highly enthusiastic on traveling after completing my 3 weeks journey in Vietnam-China-Macau-Hong Kong, I booked the tickets without giving it much thought. The destination I choose was Indochina. Why? Firstly, it is in South East Asia and I hope to visit every countries in SEA by this year. Why visit faraway places when I haven’t get to know my own neighbors? Secondly, it is cheap, dirty and challenging which is something I still can handle and also I cannot afford those expensive and exotic places now. Maybe later when I’m richer. I’m born with plastic spoon in my mouth, OK?

At first, I am a bit worried about traveling by myself. That’s right, I never travel by myself before. I guess the only worry I had was being alone. Who like to have fun all by himself? Happiness is only true when shared. My worry seemed to be gone after Justin; one of my campus’ buddy decided to join in my trip. However, my joy was short-lived after he let go the biggest aeroplane ever. He fell sick few weeks before the trip and was advised by doctor not to travel for few months especially to those 3rd world countries. So it was back to square one. After much hesitation, I proceeded with the trip by myself anyway. After all, everything has been prepared. It couldn’t be that bad, right? As I found out along the journey, traveling alone is actually fun! Even though I went there alone, I was never alone on my journey. I was accompanied by fellow travelers from all over the world and most of them are very fun to travel with. I was happy to see there were many travelers who traveled by themselves just like me. We helped each other out, shared our expenses, exchanged our travel experiences and most importantly kept each other accompanied. I got a lot of useful tips for my next destination from those who has been there. They were like my living guide book. It pays to be friendly. At times when I was alone, I found solitude in it. As we headed for Bangkok from Siem Reap, Lenny from UK once told me, loneliness is just a phase.

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Charles and friends from USA

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Exploring Angkor Wat together with Masaki from Japan

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With Tookie who was kind enough to be my personal guide in Bangkok.

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Pedi and friend from Germany

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Conny, my bunk mate from Holland

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My travel mates in North Thailand; Annie and Monica from China

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My travel mates in Luang Prabang; Clockwise from left: Guillaume, Pierre, Remi and Antoine

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Su In and Hyo Ju From South Korea

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Danny my tubing mate from USA

Since 2 weeks is a very short time, I should be careful on my travel plan. Since I am not very good in planning, I just let it flow according to circumstances. My ‘brilliant’ plan was; fly to Angkor Wat, visit north Thailand and reach Vientiane before 5th February. In fact, I was prepared to loose my flight tickets if I stayed longer than expected. After all, the flight ticket from Vientiane back to KL is only USD40 and from KL back to Penang is less than RM30. However, I am glad that everything went smoothly according to my lousy plan. En route to Vientiane from Siem Reap, I have stopped at Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pai, Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng. The total distance I covered on land was more than 2,000 km.

Here was my travel itinerary.

Day 1 – Day 3 : Discover Angkor Wat
Day 3 – Day 4 : Transit in Bangkok
Day 4 – Day 5 : Overnight train to Chiang Mai
Day 5 – Day 6 : CNY celebration in Chiang Mai
Day 6 – Day 8 : Relaxing in Pai
Day 8 – Day 10 : The long journey to Luang Prabang
Day 10 – Day 12 : Luang Prabang, the UNESCO World Heritage City
Day 12 – Day 14 : Chill out in Vang Vieng
Day 14 – Day 16 : Vientiane, French city in Asia?

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Angkor Wat, Cambodia

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Wat Arun, Bangkok

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Night market in Chiang Mai

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Pai

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Kuang Si waterfall in Luang Prabang

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Tubing down Nam Song river in Vang Vieng

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Patuxai, Vientiane

One of the biggest blunder I made on the journey was traveling without my credit cards’ PIN number. That means, I cannot withdraw cash out from ATM machine. I know I still can use my credit card to buy stuffs, but on a shoestring trip, cash is everything. I ate at roadside stalls (aka pasar malam style), I slept in guest houses (not more than RM20 a night) and I traveled by local buses, train and boat (sampan). They only accept cash. All I had was RM2,000 cash in various currencies and I was lucky not to spend more than that. It was amazing because I never planned in detail how much my expenses would be before I left Malaysia. It was like I picked the number out of the air. It would be very inconvenient if any emergency occurred or I embarked on a shopping spree (I was tempted once).

To save money, these are the types of food that I ate. No pizza, KFC, McD, chicken chop or steak.

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Chicken noodle soup

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Bee hoon type dish with fresh vegetables

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Grill sausages

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Grill seafoods

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Road side food stall in Chiang Mai

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Fresh fruit juice

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Porridge with ‘yau char kuai’ in Vientiane

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Noodle salad in Vientiane

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Sticky rice in bamboo leaves in Vientiane

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Banana pancake (roti canai Lao style)

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Baguette sandwich in most part of Laos

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Laos satay

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Yummy dessert almost similar to Penang’s bubur cha cha

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Rice soup (porridge)

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Putu mayam?

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Mix rice in Siem Reap

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Banana fritters in Luang Prabang

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Koay teow soup?

I came across many hardcore travelers along the way (no, they were not porn stars). They traveled for many many many months. For them, 2 weeks is a short vacation. I even met 2 Belgians who cycled for two weeks months from Singapore to Vientiane. Most of them are Ang Moh who haven’t started working or just resigned from their job. As much as I wish I to follow their footstep, I know I have commitments I cannot ignore. For me, it wasn’t all play but rather a mixture of play and work. It may sound dull to work on a holiday, but that’s the only way I can travel for long period of time and still maintain my career. My biggest concern was how to provide the same level of support to my customers while I was away. My customer’s satisfaction has always been my top priority. Without them, this trip would not be possible. Even though I have delegated some of the job to my people, most of my customers still prefer to deal directly with me.

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Working while having lunch in a Wifi cafe in Vientiane

Even though it was not a problem to get connected to Internet at all the places I went, I needed to be reachable by phone as well. Unlike Internet, receiving phone calls while I’m overseas are ridiculously expensive. Roaming charges on Maxis line alone will make me cry. I’m talking about thousands of ringgit on my phone bill. I don’t mind that if I am running a multi million corporation. After I studied all the available options, the cheapest and most reliable method to receive phone calls is to use a combination of Skype and a local mobile phone number. Luckily, getting a prepaid SIM pack from Cambodia, Thailand and Laos was hassle free and cheap. The SIM pack I got in Cambodia was Cellcard ($10 USD), in Thailand was Happy (50 Baht) and in Laos was ETL (35,000 kips). All of them have excellent coverage except at certain rural part in Laos. Despite all the preparations, it wasn’t without any glitches. There were times like I couldn’t receive any calls because I was traveling in a non coverage area or during transition at the borders. I admit, working while traveling is not as easy as I hoped for especially when I tried to cover so many places is such as a short time. This journey has provided a great experience that I can use to improve on my future travels.

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The prepaid SIM cards I had. Happy, CellCard and ETL

I consider myself lucky because I did not suffer any illness or injury during the trip, never missed any flights or buses, never run out of cash, managed to visit every places I wanted to visit, met a lot friendly travelers, did not get conned or cheated, was not attacked or robbed and none of my stuffs were stolen. However, I wouldn’t call the trip an adventure if it was without any challenges. Some of the challenges I had were supporting my customer while I was climbing up the gigantic stairs of Angkor Wat, eating food that make me wish I won’t get diarrhea, sleeping in a room with strangers that performed 6 hours of nasal symphony (snoring), lugging 20kg of backpack for an hour looking for a place to sleep at 3am, traveling in a cramped local bus full of bags of rice and chickens for 14 hours on an unpaved (bumpy and dusty) and winding road or spending few hours in police station to pay my traffic fine. Nonetheless, it was fun. I seriously encourage everyone to try it at least once while they are still young and energetic. After all, life is an adventure. Like Remi from France said, “tough experience makes the most memorable experience”.

Unlike packaged tour, backpacking is different because it was not everything about the places. It was the experiences and challenges that make the journey meaningful. Will I do it again? Hell, yeah!

17 comments

  1. come to india n do it again! hell yeah!! ^.^

  2. Nice one mate, ask u for pointers when i eventually hit laos…

  3. Esther – India, I’m coming!
    Logan – Sure pal. It’s my pleasure.

  4. Kah Ying from KL /

    Tauke,you are so lucky man!what i can see is your trip going very well,almost met so many international sui za boh(beautiful girls)! I am not lucky like you,first day i start my trip in New Zealand all my stuffs were stolen including my Passport.Last three weeks i had broken my right ankle and now just can stay at room do nothing!Poor trip!Haha..By the way,i will back to KL next month.Then,i want plan my trip to Vietnam,Siem Reap and Bangkok,so hope to get some information from you =๏ผ‰

  5. Again, really envy & salute you, backpacking alone for the 1st time & to across Indochina some more lor… & meeting so many international friends!!!

    • Thanks Agnes. I wish that you can do what you wanted to do and be who you wanted to be in this life.

  6. Hi! I loved reading this.
    I am going around Indochina (Thailand, laos, vietnam and cambodia) in two week :)) im soo excited.
    Do you know where i could find mobile sims for these places? I will be spending most of my time in Thailand… Thinking to just get one for there or do you think its worth getting ones for the other countries (going to be in others for 25 days or so)
    Thanks ๐Ÿ˜€

  7. Angelin /

    hi Ben nice to see u travel around indochina. im planning to leave to there in 2 wks time with my boyfriend. is there any tips that u can give us?oh and how did u get the free flight tic to those destinations?and are u from penang??thanks and hope to hear from u again.cheerz…

  8. hi ben,
    i always wanted to go for backpacking but worried of going alone. Any tips for u to have a safe trip and which is the best country to start from?

    • You can go alone, but try to group up with other travelers at your destination. So, be friendly. You just need some common sense and know when and how to avoid trouble when you sense one is coming your way. Always have a backup plan and extra protection such as travel insurance and the contacts of your country’s embassy handy. Do some homework before you start your journey.

  9. Hye, reading your post made me more gung-ho about going backpacking. Just a question though, I’m going to have 2 months hols from study mid next year and I’d like to backpack across Indochina for a month alone. Only thing that I’m concern right now is I’m not sure how much money should I bring. How much did you spend in total when you went backpacking across Indochina? Hope to hear from you soon!

  10. nice read.
    i am looking forward to my backpacking stint on December. starting point will be in Bangkok and anything further than that… i dont know. =)
    all i know is i have a limited time(half-month) and budget and an unlimited appetite for adventure =)

  11. Hi Ben, what a journey! Love the photos. I am taking on Indochina as well in april but backpacking for 2 months! Doing a yoga workshop in Phonm Penh for a Yoga NGO. Unlike you, i will be in a tighter budget. About USD25 a day. Hope can survive.. I am taking off from Butterworth and off to Bangkok-Siem Reap-Phnom Penh-Saigon-Hanoi-Vientiane-Kuala Lumpur. Anyone wants to join?

    Azmi
    azmiyogi.tumblr.com

  12. Amazing! I envy you so much.

    Came across your blog while searching for helpful tips on how to backpack your way through IndoChina.

    I want to be able to visit ALL the country in the Fareast – starting with the members of ASEAN. ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. Stumbled upon this writing of yours and loveddd it! Thank you so much for sharing, as I’m also thinking of doing a two-week Indochina trip next year. Good luck for your future solo journeys! Cheers from Indonesia.

  14. It seems that you make friends with so many like – minded people on the way to explore some spots in each destination. It is also the thing I like when travelling. Keep up with your good work!

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