Planning a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia – 2013

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I tend to have a take it as it comes, plan as I go along kind of travel style. At earliest I might glance at the travel book on the flight, but more likely sitting in a coffee shop when I arrive. I would have booked flights, got an idea of other transport I might need, and also available accommodation, but not investigated too much more.

This is fine when you get a visa on arrival, which is usually for at least three months. But Vietnam and Cambodia seem different, and things may be done differently there. So I am working on basic questions I should get answers to, as I can’t take all the usual things for granted.

What route: This was decided by the flights I bought – flying in to Hanoi and out of Phnom Phen.
Mode of transport: Train from Hanoi to Saigon. Thereafter, no choice but to go by bus.
Visas: Malaysians don’t need to purchase a visa for Vietnam or Cambodia- they can get one on arrival. But with a UK passport I have to organise one. For Vietnam you can buy a letter online that you present when you arrive at an airport, at which time you pay for and receive a visa.  The visa is very expensive. you can get the Cambodian visa on arrival at a land border.
Money: ATMs – plenty exist, and in Cambodia dispense USD, as that is the currency they use there mostly. A problem in Vietnam is that most ATMs have s low withdrawl limit, of perhaps VND 2 million, which means the bank fees are a high percentage. Ask around for ones with a higher limit.
Credit cards: Merchants charge 3% extra
Luggage: The weather is warm at this time of year, so pack lightly

So I borrowed the Lonely Planet guide on Vietnam, read the Man in Seat 61, Tripadvisor.com and Wikitravel online.

If I had lots of time I could have gone overland. Thus flown to Hanoi, taken the train to Saigon, then the bus to Phnom Penh, the bus on to Thailand, the train to Bangkok, and then down to Butterworth.  But instead I will fly back from PP. I have done most of the rest of the journey overland in the past anyway.

FURTHER DETAILS:
booked a hotel for the first night
Noted sights to see in each stop
Found what activities could be done and where
Made a rough schedule
Researched where to buy train and bus tickets
Found how local transport worked in each location and prices
Wrote up all relevant details, put on Evernote as a backup
Also printed all details, including a few maps, airline documents, passport etc.
Got passport photos for visas
Got USD
Visa letter Vietnam
Fill out vietnam visa forms
Put flight docs on phone
phone banks & advise using in Viet and Cam
Book hotel for KL
check in for flights & print out all docs
book taxi to airport
USD for Visa in Vietnam
USD for Cambodia

backpack

backpack

PACKING LIST
This is what I took – and it weighed around 5KG, including the light backpack I took, which itself weighed .75KG.
Documents etc.:

directions, driving licence, money, debit card, ATM cards, credit cards, glasses, passport, travel insurance card, umbrella, wallet, watch, maps, plane/train tickets, pen, paper,sunglasses, torch, back pack, eye mask

Clothes:
socks x 3, underwear x 3, t-shirts x 3, shoes x 1, very small microfibre towel, swimming costume, belt, cargo trousers x 1, shorts x 1, flip flops

Electronics etc.
eBooks and music on phone, adapter plugs, triple adapter, earphones, camera and charger, mini tripod, usb sd card reader, spare camera battery, mobile phone, mobile charger, cable for battery, mini usb cord

Toileteries:
toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, razor, shaving cream small, shampoo, conditioner, hairbrush, hair gel, soap, tissues, moisturiser, colloidal silver gel,
nailclippers, ziplock bag, insect repellant

WHAT I DID WRONG
Internet often has a poor connection, so should have made a shortlist of hotels with phone nos so could book when decided schedule.
Brought old phone and bought sim to call hotels
Maybe one more set of clothes
Studied ticket meaning on Seat 61.com

MISTAKES
Must write down fares and prices before agree – so they can’t ask more later.
Maybe talk to more travellers
Write down or photograph plate of bus alight from so can find it later when at rest stop.

OTHER TIPS
Unless you really have to book before you leave home, book train tickets and tours locally. It is half the price for the same quality.

The biggest headache is getting local transport at anywhere near the right price, and without arguments. For taxis, tuk tuks etc. always agree the price in advance, having checked with your hotel or somewhere what the price is. And in Vietnam write the price down and show it to the driver before you depart. Agreeing 15 times orally is not enough – the driver can and often will demand a higher price on arrival. I would avoid having to rely on a taxi meter as they are often doctored. I’d prefer just to agree a price. Fellow tourists paid $3 one way in a taxi, in HCMC , but $40 for the return trip, as the meter leapt up. It’s better to use reputable taxi firms, but the drivers may still try to cheat you.

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