Missing Vietnam would have been easier on our itinerary and pocket but this wouldn’t have been called IndoChina sampler had we missed it. No regrets though. The travel was surprisingly comfortable and fun. No schedule hiccups and we were able to jump from city to city and country to country smoothly. Thanks to God, to our imposed discipline and to all the strangers who helped us along the way. Being in foreign countries with different languages and only a handful can speak and understand English was hard but we made it through. It turned out, the first step was only the hardest. Everything that followed was easier than we thought it could be.
First Leg: Bus from HCMC to Phnom Penh
The info on the net was limited. We were supposed to ride Giant Ibis transport since that was the only bus company who had a kick-ass site and good reputation on my research. What happened was, we never rode a Giant Ibis bus. From Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, we rode Cambodia Angkor Express Co. Ltd night bus. Lesung, the staff in Khmere’s Place in Siem Reap booked it for us instead of Giant Ibis because it has tuktuk pick-up. Giant Ibis had none.
How to Laos?
Phnom Penh(PP) was the crucial part of our leg. It was our decision point. From PP, no night bus for HCMC but it has a bus going to Vientiane, Laos. But going to HCMC will cost us half a day of travel. Going back will cost us another. Yet there was no way we will miss Vietnam. IndoChina trip wouldn’t be complete without it.
We had 7 itineraries for this trip. The only difference is the travel across countries. The hardest leg was going to Laos from HCMC (Saigon). My 1st choice was to travel from Saigon to Hanoi by train, then bus to Luang Prabang, Laos. The husband thought it was crazy. It is crazy but I was pumped with the idea of being in a train for 24 hours. I was concern with the day travel between PP and Saigon also. The husband asked me to re-consider and try plotting the bus route. When I did, I realized that it was actually the shorter route. Going to Hanoi takes 24 hours and the bus from Hanoi to Luang is another 24+ hours while the bus route will only take us exactly 24 hours.
We had a plan but of course we didn’t know if the bus schedule on the net were updated. Thankfully and by God’s grace, He led us to Mr. Dara who took us to Sun Leang ticketing office in Phnom Phen. At Sun Leang, we were able to book the tickets to and from Saigon then the longest leg from PP to Vientiane, Laos. The owners at Sun Leang were very kind. The schedule I found on the net from HCMC to PP was at 8:30 AM and 12:30 PM only, luckily there was a last trip at 4 PM. With the new departure of 4 PM, instead of just doing the city tour in HCMC, we were able to visit Cu Chi Tunnel. It was a stretch and somewhat scary because the tour ends at 2:30 PM. If something had gone wrong, we’d be missing both our bus back to PP and the leg to Vientiane. It would have cost us 160 USD of money and tons of regrets too. Good thing, we were blessed. Not only did the tour went well, we met some awesome people on the tour too. Awesome God indeed!!!
The tour ended as scheduled. We had enough time to eat before the bus leaves at 4 PM. We ate at Subway. While we were waiting for our food, the husband noticed the other diner. He remembered seeing him at Sun Leang ticketing office. He’s the same guy indeed. We chatted for a while until it was time to go but not without adding each other in Facebook first. We wished him safe travels with his new baby – a motorbike then took a photo.
When we checked-in at our transit hotel in PP near Sun Leang, I saw Luna’s post with his bike. Thankful that he too has arrived safely just as we did.
Goodbye Phnom Penh
Sun Leang’s owner told me to call him when we return from HCMC but I forgot about it. Not minding it much too since we didn’t have a phone to call him. When we arrived at the bus station, we were at a stand still again. Our departure to Vientiane is still at 4 AM. We find it costly to checked-in at a hotel since we would be staying for hours only. But we were tired. The next leg of travel was the longest. We needed the extra boost. The tuktuk took us to a hostel near Sun Leang. At that time, I thought it was the bus station. But it was actually the ticketing office. Haha!
We left the hostel at 4:00 AM. Our schedule is at 4:30 AM. The tuktuk told us to go to the end of the road. When I almost reached it, I felt a little dejavu. It was only then that I realized that we are not going to a bus station but to the ticketing office, and the karenderia where we had our first meal in PP was right across Sun Leang. Lol Toast to being meh. Haha!
After my realizations, fear took over. Why were we brought here? Now what? When we approached Sun Leang, a tuktuk driver asked if we wanted a ride. We said no and told him we wanted to go to Sun Leang bus station. Drown in misery, I didn’t noticed him calling somebody. After a while, the ticketing office opened and the owner was surprised to see us. He asked why I didn’t call. Ohhh me.
When I realized that the tuktuk driver had called him to notify we were outside, I turned around. I didn’t noticed him leaving. We were not able to express our gratitude but may he be blessed for his kindness. Being helped without asking is just amazing. Thank God for people like him.
We waited for a while then our pick-up arrived. We bid goodbye to the owner and felt at peace. Bus and transport schedule is everything on this crazy trip so every time we are scheduled to hop on, we are always on our toes until we reached the bus. Haha!
Van to Stung Streng, Cambodia
Yip. You read it right. It was a van, not a bus. And we were quite surprised as well. But they speak no English, how else would we know what’s going on. The husband kept asking if the van would take us all the way to Vientiane. I had no idea. The husband asked if I still have the ticket. The ticket was collected by the tuktuk driver. Whoah. We had no proof. I bet the husband was ultra-worried at that point because I was. But I kept my cool and the belief that we are favored. God is with us so who could be against us?
We were 12 on the VIP Van. There was only 1 that looks like a tourist but he looks a little scary so we felt on our own. There were numerous stops along the way. At one stop, I excused myself to pee. It was then that I noticed that I was the only woman on the van. Negativity washed over me a little but I shrugged it. Thinking of negative things will only invite real danger.
When we had our breakfast stop at 9 AM after traveling for 4 hours, I had a good look at our fellow passengers. They didn’t look that scary at all. When we went back to the van, I felt more at ease until we noticed them leaving the van one at a time at around 11 AM. What’s happening again?
It turned out the last stop of our VIP van is Stung Streng. Once there, our driver dropped us at a local place, talked to the owner and notify him of our destination. After some calls, our VIP van left. We were not told what to do next but as I got the hint, I asked the owner what time is the next ride. But I asked a little late. We’ve been wating for around 30 minutes already. There was no time to eat lunch.
Another Van to Pakse, Laos
The van this time is slightly bigger with around 15 passengers. There were 2 elderly women who I think knew some of the passengers since they kept talking. The other tourist from the previous van turned out not very tourist after all since he knew how to communicate with them. From our little time waiting in Stung Streng, I realized that he too has difficulty speaking in English.
Before we left Stung Streng, I asked the owner if this van will take us all the way to Vientiane. He said no and told me that we will take the night bus to Vientiane. The driver will give us the ticket. I was totally in awe and felt that it was another God-given surprise. Not taking the bus was actually nice since we were able to experience a bit of local atmosphere.
Crossing the border to Laos
After an hour of travel from Stung Streng, we reached the border.
When we cross to Vietnam from Cambodia, our passports were collected by the bus staff. We didn’t have to do anything but lined up to collect our passport after it was stamped.
This time, we did it by ourselves. We went together with the locals. Wrote our name in the arrival and departure cards and lined up to have our passport stamped. As I was writing our name, I noticed people giving their passport with money in it. I actually thought it was bribe. Haha!
Unlike the crossing to Vietnam where we didn’t pay anything, we paid 2 USD on exit and 2 again on entrance. So the money with the passport is actually that payment. Lol
After the exit, we walk to the border entrance of Laos. An officer hand us an arrival card. I thought badly again but nothing happened. And as I was waiting for our passport, negative thoughts ran on my head and again, nothing happened. Now that I was recalling it, I felt a little disappointed with myself for even thinking negative things. I’ve read so much and must have been corrupted by the bad stories. Tsk. I’m just glad everything went by smoothly and even surpassed our expectations. God truly is the best.
At around 3 PM, we stopped at a local store. They must have noticed my look and signed a hand to the mouth. And as we went outside, one of the passengers mentioned Pacquiao. The husband was quick to answer. They all laughed.
We waited with them at the store not really knowing what they ordered. We were at the table with the 2 elderly women. When the order arrived, it was then that they signed if we wanted some. It was noodles. We ordered just 1 in case we wouldn’t like the taste. It was yummy. Our first taste of Lao noodles. Yay!!!
There were vegetables served with the noodles. When I pointed on it, 1 of the elderly woman, showed me how it was eaten. She took a string beans and dipped it at a gray paste. I copied her and realized that the paste taste like salted fish. It must have been salted fish paste. I loved it. I ate everything on our bowl.
We stayed at the store for almost an hour. When it was time to pay, it was then that we realized we didn’t have Laotian kip. The driver paid in our behalf and we gave him our money.
Welcome to Pakse, Laos
We traveled for another 1+ hour and around 5:30 PM, we arrived in Pakse. The driver bought us a ticket and hand it to us. After a while he left. The husband and I went to explore Pakse. Our first stop was the ATM.
Pakse was not what I imagined it would be. From my researched, it seemed like a so-so town but it was not. It had the feels of Helen in Georgia minus the tourists. The streets were well-planned. We especially loved Cafe Parisienne right across the bus station.
On our itinerary, we were supposed to arrive in Pakse at 7 PM. We didn’t know that it had ATMs too. We wasted no time and withdrew without planning how much. We automatically choose the same amount in VND. When the husband checked his currency app, he was surprised at the amount. We have withdrawn way too much. 2M in KIP is so much bigger than 2M in VND. Lol
After the initial currency shock, we roam around to look for a store that sells Laotian SIM card. We went into a mall, found none. We saw one outside but it was almost closing. They were in a hurry so we weren’t entertained.
Like in Hongkong, asking anyone is not a good choice since most don’t understand you. When I saw a kind looking elderly woman, I tried asking then pointing at my phone. She understood it immediately and directed us.
The husband bought a Laotian sim for internet. I bought a sim for call/text. Laos will be our longest stop so buying a sim is a good decision.
Unfortunately, using a sim in Laos is not as straightforward. It has to be registered first. The store owner run through the process with us. When we left her store, the husband had internet while I have my call/text. We stayed for around 30 minutes just to have them up and running.
After buying our sim, we went back to Cafe Parisien and have our dinner. We went back to the bus station at around 7:30 PM. The bus would not accept pasengers by then.
While we waited, 4 of the passengers from our van to pakse saw us. I was surprised to know they are actually university students studying in Laos. They are all taking different courses: IT, Architecture, Civil Engineering and Business Ad. I was quite suprised they could talk English too. They were just shy to talk to us in the van. 😀
The Night Bus from Pakse to Vientiane
This was our 2nd night bus but compared to that of Siem to Phnom, this was wayyy better. The bus has two floors. We were on last bed on the 1st floor. It even had a toilet. The beds are spacious and comfortable too. After some regular update, I dozed off. Woke up around 6 AM. We arrived in Vientiane around 7 AM of our 6th day.
So how was our all-day, all-night of travel? It was surprisingly fun and not uneventful at all. We were able to experience it the non-bus way. We were thankful of having had the chance to experience it the way we did. 🙂 And very grateful to the strangers that extended their kindness and stories to us.
Here’s our expense and itinerary of our 5th day
04:30 ETD to Stung Treng (via van)
09:00 Breakfast Stop
12:00 ETA in Stung Treng
12:30 ETD to Pakse (via van)
13:45 Cam-Lao Border (4 USD/Pax)
14:15 Resume Trip
15:30 Noodle Stop
16:00 Resume Trip
20:30 ETD to Vientiane
Expenses in USD:
Breakfast 2.5 USD
Immigration 8 USD
Noodles 2.5 USD
Kip 1 USD
Sub-Total: 14 USD
Remaining @ PP: 206
Total: 40 USD
in PHP: 1,854
Remaining USD: 166 (Migo 91, Miga 75)
Expenses in KIP:
Starting Money: 2M KIP
Sim Migo 30K
Sim Miga 20K
Bus Station to City Center 60K
in PHP: 1,423.38
Kip remaining: 1.8M
Grand Total in PHP: 3277.38