Banana Pancake Trail

I can finally write about it.  Our Indochina trip.  Two weeks.  Banana Pancake Trail. Four countries. Six cities. Traveled with a friend for the first time.  Lost same friend halfway through the trip.  But gained more along the way.  A lot of painful lessons.  Should I write about it?  Maybe.  But not this time.  Nonetheless, it was an experience I’d cherish forever.

chao-phraya-river
Monks crossing, Chao Phraya River
saigon post office
Snail mail is not dead, Saigon Post Office
penang
Mailing a postcard to myself, Penang.

We bought our tickets last year (February 2015 via Air Asia’s seat sale) so it was, in a way, a trip a year in the making.  But in reality, all the planning, hotel bookings and bus reservations were done just two weeks prior to our flight to Kuala Lumpur.

Kuala Lumpur was our jump off point.  We could have started in Singapore but that would mean another 3 days added to our schedule which was not possible as our passports  were near their expiry dates.  We only had 2 weeks before our passports could be rendered invalid by any immigration officer and it was actually calling it too close.  You know how immigration officers are.  They think they’re gods.  And we can’t leave early as MG still had school.  I made sure that our trip won’t affect her studies.  So timing was critical.  We only had two weeks instead of our original plan of 3.

chulia street
Chulia Street comes alive at night, Penang.

 

siem reap2
Is this the entrance or the exit to Bayon?

There were a lot of issues aside from schedule.  Finances were also tight as we spent most of it on a trip on a whim to Bali, Indonesia early this year.  But no regrets there as we enjoyed our Bali vacation so much.  Anyway, two weeks was two weeks and we needed money to get us through this vacation comfortably.  I always travel with my daughter so comfort is important.  If it were only me, I would be one of those extreme budget travelers living on 10USD a day! Crazy!  I actually didn’t want to push through with it but obviously, we did.  I was short on cash but surprisingly, we managed to end the trip with some loose change in our pockets.  Thank God travel to these 4 countries is so cheap!  If it had been Japan or South Korea, it would be a different story altogether.

Basically and in essence, we came up with this itinerary.  More about each destination in separate posts.

 

WHAT TO PACK

cambodia
Our suitcases carrying two weeks worth of clothes

So how do you pack for 2 people?  I had 3 bags, one each for me and MG and an extra exclusively for items purchased while touring.  Hers was smaller, not that she had less clothes but because her clothes are generally smaller.  I had a bigger bag, of course.  I actually planned everything we’d wear for the duration of the trip. I’ve thought about every single item we packed and everything was essential.  So I had the following:

  • 10 tops (mostly shirts and light blouses)
  • 4 dresses
  • 2 shorts
  • 1 pair of leggings
  • 1 skirt
  • 1 pair of loose pants
  • 3 pieces of sleepwear
  • 3 pairs of footwear & foot socks
  • light jacket
  • delicates (bra and undies)

As you may have noticed, I don’t pack light.  I had no intention to wash clothes or have them laundered during the trip.  So I had more tops than bottoms.  Well, the tops generally get more dirt, grime and sweat compared to bottoms so I would often use my bottoms more than once.  But the tops would go straight to the laundry bag.

MG basically had the same but with more shorts, skirts plus swimwear for use in Bangkok. She only had 1 pair of pants and a pair of leggings.

Other items:

  • Toiletries (my favorite shampoo and conditioner in sachets, feminine wash, sunscreen, moisturizer, lotion, panty liners, deodorant, soap bars, toothbrush and toothpaste, facial wash — all in travel-sized bottles and containers)
  • Perfume or cologne — can’t travel without a cologne/perfume.  When you’re all sweaty and most likely, you smell too from all the walking under the sun, something to at least mask the unpleasant odor is highly recommended.  We are not Pinoys if we don’t smell good, right?  This one from ETSY smells so heavenly and it’s travel-sized!

TIP: If you’re not too picky, you can buy your shampoo and other needs once you get to your destination.

  • OTC medicines, vitamins and prescription drugs which I keep inside this Travel Medicine Organizer
  • Travel journal
  • Gadgets & Gears (iPad, chargers, power bank, camera, whistle, door stop, portable safe, no laptop)
  • Sunglasses (Would you believe I had 4 pairs for this trip?!!!)
  • BookThe Historian by Elizabeth Kostova is a favorite!  I’ve read this countless of times. I bring this to travel often as it’s my security blanket.  I actually need to replace my copy as some pages are already missing.
  • A MUST!! I can’t stress this enough.  You must have Travel Insurance especially for long-term travel (long-term meaning 2 weeks or longer).  I use World Nomads.  The coverage is extensive and the site is fairly easy to navigate.

 

TRANSPORTATION

  • Flight (Air Asia) from Manila to Kuala  Lumpur
  • Bus from Kuala Lumpur to Penang
  • Ferry from Penang to Butterworth
  • Train from Butterworth to Padang Besar
  • Sleeper train from Padang Besar to Hualamphong/Bangkok, Thailand
  • Bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap
  • Bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh
  • Bus from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh
  • Flight (Cebu Pacific) from Ho Chi Minh to Manila
hualamphong station
On board a Sleeper train on our way to Bangkok

SIDE NOTE:  If there’s only one semi-reliable transportation in Southeast Asia, it’s the MRT.  But if you want to venture further where there’s no MRT, Uber is the way to go.  I am surprised how reliable Uber is abroad.  We used Uber in Bangkok and Vietnam countless of times and it was so convenient.  You just need an internet connection to book your ride which is not a problem these days as most shopping malls and cafes have wi-fi. And Uber abroad is so cheap.  I love how I can get in and out of a neighborhood easily.

penang1
Street art hunting around old Penang
bangkok2
Rode a tuk-tuk to Wat Po

Tuk-tuk in Bangkok is expensive so we rode it only once for photo-op’s sake.

ACCOMMODATIONS

All accommodations were booked via Agoda.com except for our stay in Bangkok and Siem Reap which were booked via AirBnB.

qube suites
Our AirBnB 2 bedroom condo in Bangkok

 

Kuala Lumpur – Tune Hotel near the airport for the 1st night and Corus Hotel for the 2nd day

PenangChulia Heritage Hotel

Bangkok – Qube Suites

Siem Reap – A private room in our AirBnB host’s Khmer house

Phnom Penh – Angkor International Hotel

Ho Chi Minh – An An II Hotel in District 1

 

ATTRACTIONS & ACTIVITIES

Kuala Lumpur 

Petronas Twin Towers, Batu Caves, Bukit Bintang, Merdeka Square, Restoran Yut Kee

kuala lumpur1
Fountain just outside Suria KLCC

We’ve been to Kuala Lumpur many times in the last 5 years.  I use it as a base and a jump off point to other cities in Malaysia and neighboring countries.  But since my daughter and I were traveling with a friend, we had to play tourists agin.

Penang 

George Town, Penang Street Art, Chulia Street, Gurney Drive Hawker Market

gurney drive hawker street
Happiness in a bowl of Assam Laksa, Gurney Drive Hawker Center

Just like KL, we’ve been here many times as well.  We love Penang.  We love it for the food, the cute little cafes, the locals, and the mix of old and new. So we didn’t mind doing our usual here.  Since we only had two days here, we only got to visit our favorite cafes and of course, our hawker haunts.

Bangkok 

The Grand Palace, Wat Po, Wat Arun, Khao San Road, Phra Arthit Road, Chao Phraya River, Em Quartier, Roots at The Commons, Pratunam, Jim Thompson House, Siam Paragon

grand palace bangkok
Amazing & Grand Palace, Bangkok

We’ve been to Krabi and Phuket last year on a cruise but  never to Bangkok before this trip.  So we were kind of excited to see the city and try some authentic Thai dishes.  If we had more time in Thailand, I would have wanted to visit Chiang Mai and Pai. But I guess it was not really meant to happen on this trip.

Siem Reap

Big Circuit Tour (Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Som, Ta Phrom, Bayon Temple, Prasat Kavan, Pre Rup Temple, Banteay Srei, Banteay Kdei, Srah Srang), Pub Street, Night Market, eat bugs at the Old Market, Traditional Aspara Dance, Khmer food trip.

pub street
People watching, Pub Street Siem Reap

After Bangkok, I was so over temples.  But we still visited the temples here in Siem Reap. We just settled for the temples included in the Big Circuit.  But we enjoyed Pub Street and the Night Market.  We were there every night.

Phnom Penh

The Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda, National Museum, Central Market, Ton Le Sap River.

phnom penh
Inside The Royal Palace compound

We only had one day in Phnom Penh.  This just served as our jump off point to Ho Chi Minh as we didn’t want to do an all-nighter bus trip from Siem Reap.  After Siem Reap, we stayed here one night then left for Vietnam the following day.

Ho Chi Minh

Food trip, Saigon Notre Dame Basilica, War Remnants Museum, Reunification Palace, Ben Thanh Market, Saigon Post Office, The Lunch Lady, Vietnamese  Coffee Crawl

ho chi minh
Crazy road situation, Ho Chi Minh

We were quite excited to see Ho Chi Minh and to finally have some time to relax and take it slow.  We decided early on not to do the Cu Chi Channels nor the other tours and just stay in the city. This was the final stretch and we were already very tired at this point so there was really no pressure to do touristy things.

Budget

USD 1800 or Php 90, 000 (for 2 people)

Please don’t expect a a very detailed breakdown of expenses.  I’m not built that way.  Whenever I travel, I just set a certain amount that I know would be enough to cover our expenses.  If at some point I have doubts about our budget, I would just cut back on some aspects of our trip just like what happened in Bangkok.  We wanted to eat at The House on Sathorn but that had to be set aside because it was expensive.  We can eat there some other time as I know we would be back, anyway.  I also wanted to shop at Monki in Kuala Lumpur. But the thought of dragging all those clothes from KL to Ho Chi Minh was a big turn off for me, thus saving me money that could be used for more important stuff like food and transportation.  But we managed to stay on budget by limiting our spending to $300-$400 per city (including accommodations).

Flights – Manila to Kuala Lumpur and Ho Chi Minh to Manila- USD 400 or Php 18,000
Accommodations –  USD 670 or Php 30,000
Transportation – Taxis and Buses – USD 60-80
Food – USD 500
Activities & Shopping –  USD 300

Total Per Person = USD 965

Conclusion

This post was meant to remember this crazy trip and to be a sort of reflection. I don’t know why some things happened but I cannot change them back.  If it happened then it was meant to.  Now as to why it happened, that’s for me to find out later.  When? God only knows.

Looking back at those days of hopping from one bus to another, of lugging around 15 days worth of clothes every 3 or 4 days, of losing a friend, of experiencing different cultures in so little time, of missing bus rides, of turning strangers into friends…I’m glad they happened even before I turned 50.  I’m glad I was able to experience them all before my body becomes too old to travel.  I know I’m already old to be doing these long trips but  I have this gift of time and LIFE and I intend to fully utilize it.  But best of all, I’m glad I have experienced, seen, done it all with my daughter beside me. This trip was worth it!

grand palace
With MG, my daughter and love of my life!

Southeast Asia Guide

Not fond of DIY tours?  You can join one of these tours, and don’t forget to compare hotels, vacation rentalsrooms, or even homes for your trip before you go. And never leave home without Travel Insurance!

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