How to get around South East Asia – Costs, Transport & Border Crossings

Maya Bay

Maya Bay

I recently wrote about places I stayed at in South East Asia and have had some nice questions about my trip. I thought I’d expand on that a little and tell you how I got around this incredible part of the world.

My girlfriend and I took a well trodden route but in a less popular direction: we travelled anti-clockwise from Bangkok to Hanoi overland, then flew on to southern Thailand and Singapore. We only had six weeks and wanted to not rush where possible, so unfortunately we never made it to Laos or Northern Thailand, but it was worth it for getting to see so much in the rest of Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. And it gives me a reason to go back some day!

Bangkok > Koh Chang

We had a wicked time in Bangkok but were itching to move on and explore more of South-East Asia. There are loads of scams and ways to overspend in Thailand as a western tourist – the first thing to know when it comes to getting about Thailand is to take government buses (or if you want to spend more, VIP buses). They are cheap, trusted, used by many travellers and are not associated with any of the scams you read about online. Although if you book through a hotel, you are likely to be herded around like cattle.

There are stations all over Thailand – in Bangkok there is the north/northeast terminal at Mo Chit, the south terminal at Sai Tai Mai and the east terminal at Ekamai (each terminal links to different places in Thailand and goes in the direction named), which we used to book a ticket to Koh Samet. When I was thick enough to leave my phone in our Bangkok hostel and had to go back all the way across the city to get it however, we missed that bus. Instead, we purchased a ticket to Trat, where you can get ferries to Koh Chang. Within an hour we were on our way out of Bangkok and beginning our South East Asian adventure!

The bus was actually a coach – it was basic, a bit dirty and ant-infested but we got a free bottle of water and a no-hassle trip to our destination. There was a toilet (albeit a very stinky one) and the staff’s english wasn’t too bad, either, which always helps. Koh Chang was the perfect place to end up after the chaos of Bangkok.

Nights in Bangkok = 2

Government Bus – Bangkok to Trat = $8

Tuk-Tuk – Trat to Ko Chang Ferry =$3

Ferry to Ko Chang = $2.45

Tuk-Tuk – Ferry to Long Island = $4.60

Accommodation in Bangkok = Lub D Silom $14 a night for a mixed 8 bed dorm

Koh Chang, Thailand > Koh Kong, Cambodia

Pure natural beauty on Koh Rong

Pure natural beauty on Koh Rong

Entering Cambodia was an exciting experience. The next scam to be aware of is bus companies advertising border crossings at Hat Lek/Cham Yeam – this is a lie, buses do not cross there. We used the Thai government bus again to get to the Cambodian border and had a minibus this time which was much cleaner. Again we didn’t need to book in advance.

At Cham Yeam we had to get off the bus as no buses actually cross the border. Don’t let people try and carry your bags for you, politely decline. This is a common scam where they demand money for the service. We got stamped out of Thailand and walked across the 100m or so of no man’s land to the immigration office. Another scam is to try to make you pay to fill out a medical form which you don’t need. Ignore all other booths and proceed straight to the immigration office. Fill out the visa form yourself as again, locals will try to help you and charge for the service. Hand in the form in the small room inside, pay the money and get the visa. I paid 1100B, but my girlfriend already and a passport photo so paid 1000B. Apparently if you haggle down further they will make you wait longer – it’s an embarrassing system and such a shame that a country as beautiful as Cambodia has such a shady and corrupt entry policy.

At that point we headed outside and got stamped into the country, where we had finger print scans done. Car taxis offered to take us the ten kilometres to Koh Rong for 400B – after haggling they still wanted 260B. We had to haggle with tuk-tuks to avoid paying double what we eventually paid ($6.70 for both of us). After starting to worry we had turned down too many taxi bike riders, we did indeed find a moto-tuk prepared to take us for far cheaper.

Nights in Ko Chang = 2

Tuk-Tuk – Lonely Beach to Ferry = $3

Ferry from Ko Chang = $2.45

Tuk-tuk to Trat = $1.50

Trat to Hat Lek border = $3.60

VISA = $30

Cham Yeam border to Koh Kong = $6.70 (for 2 of us)

Accommodation in Ko Chang = Seaflower Resort, a bungalow with a sea view and air con for $18.40 per night.

Koh Kong > Koh Rong

Boat to Koh Rong

Boat to Koh Rong

To get to the beautiful island of Koh Rong, we had to get to Sihanoukville. Cambodian roads are pretty awful and often just a bumpy mud track, so beware if you get travel sick on buses easily. Fortunately we managed to get on the last ferry to Koh Rong of the day!

Koh Kong was only a stop to break up the journey and work out how we would get from Koh Kong to Sihanoukville. We luckily managed to jump on the last ferry to Koh Rong or we would have had to spend the night in Sihanoukville.

Nights In Koh Kong = 1

Virak-Buntham Bus Koh Kong to Sihanoukville = $7

Tuk-Tuk Sihanoukville to Ferry = $6 (the ferry is a dive office who then transfer you to the harbour)

Ferry to Koh Rong = $5

Accommodation in Koh Kong = Paddys Guesthouse $6 for a double fan room

Koh Rong > Otres Beach 2, Sihanoukville

Rural Cambodian view

Rural Cambodian view

The hardest bit of getting around Sihanoukville was working out that there are in fact two Otres Beaches, which even confused our taxi driver! Taxi drivers drive moto-tuks and often expect you to pay more than the agreed price – be firm and clear at the start and end of the journey and tell them you will only pay what was agreed at the start of the journey.

We booked our Virak-Buntham bus to Sihanoukville through Paddy’s Guesthouse where we stayed. We and heard he was reliable and the only horror stories regarded drivers working double shifts and falling asleep on night buses, so we avoided night buses. The Virak-Buntham bus was cheap, basic and punctual like the Thai government buses. Again there were free bottles of water and movies playing in the Khmer language, but annoyingly no toilet.

Nights in Koh Rong = 2

Ferry from Koh Rong = $5 (we jumped back on the connecting bus to Sihanoukville)

Tuk-tuk from Sihanoukville to Otres Beach 2 via the Vietnam Visa Office = $13

Accommodation in Koh Rong = Coco’s $20 for a double fan bungalow

Otres Beach 2 > Siem Reap

Even though the Sihanoukville to Siem Reap journey is ten hours on a bus, we didn’t want to risk taking a night bus so spent a whole day on the bus getting there. It was definitely worth it for the Temples of Angkor though. We used Mekong Express and like most bus companies, they picked us up from our accommodation but like most bus companies, they were late. They weren’t as cheap as other companies but had (temperamental) Wi-Fi onboard, water and snacks. The journey updates were in English as well as Khmer so we actually knew how long each stop would be.

Nights in Otres Beach 2 = 1

Mekong Express Bus Otres Beach 2 to Siem Reap = $20

Tuk-Tuk Bus Station to Hostel = $3

Accommodation in Otres Beach 2 = Footprints = $10 for a double fan room

Siem Reap > Phnom Penh

Where Lara Croft was

Where Lara Croft was

There’s only one road to Phnom Penh so it’s the same journey both ways. It’s a must though to see the Killing Fields and S-21 Prison, which every traveller should visit. We travelled with Capitol Tours, the cheapest company but still a reliable option. They picked us up from our accommodation (not at the quoted time, of course) but there was no water or toilet onboard. They did make frequent toilet stops but the journey took longer than they told us it would.

Nights in Siem Reap = 2

Capitol Tours Bus Siem Reap to Phnom Penh = $6

Accommodation in Siem Reap = Downtown Hostel $11 for a double air con room. The hostel was in walking distance of the bus stop, which saved money on extra taxis.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia > Saigon, Vietnam

This border crossing was a breeze as we already had our visas and buses actually cross the border. It is essential to have pre-purchased your Vietnam visa – do it before you get there.  We got ours at the Vietnamese consulate in Sihanoukville. We went with Mekong Express again and they made it very easy – we just followed our bus guide through each stage of the border crossing at Bavet/Moc Bai. He collected our passports a couple of times but there were no issues, no scammers and no money changed hands because we already had our visas.

Nights in Phnom Penh = 2

Mekong Express Bus Phnom Penh to Saigon = $11

Accommodation in Phnom Penh = Sunday Guesthouse, $8 for a double fan room

Saigon > Nha Trang

There’s loads to do in Saigon – the Re-unification Palace, the Ben Thanh Market and the War Remnants Museum.

To get around Vietnam we bought one bus ticket from Sinh Tourist (formerly Sinh Cafe). They changed their name because so many fake companies started imitating and ruining the brand. The Sinh Tourist open tour bus system in Vietnam is great – we paid US$40 for our ticket in Saigon which took us on a four stop journey visa Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue and Hanoi. They were reliable, our gear was safe even on the two overnight journeys and despite not being the most comfortable and the driving being a little scary at first, they certainly did the job and were cheaper than the train.

Nights in Saigon = 2

Sinh Tourist Bus Saigon to Nha Trang = $40 for whole ticket (Saigon to Hanoi)

Accommodation in Saigon = Vinh Guesthouse $16 for double air con room

Nha Trang > Hoi An

Nha Trang

Nha Trang

Nha Trang was unexpectedly brilliant. I’d highly recommend a visit and a snorkel!

Nights in Nha Trang = 2

Sinh Tourist Bus = $40 for whole ticket (Saigon to Hanoi)

Accommodation in Nha Trang = Truong Giang Hotel $12.50 for double air con room

Hoi An > Huế

Hoi An was wonderful – perhaps the most beautiful town I’ve ever seen with fantastic tailors where I bought a great suit. Huế was also surprisingly awesome and we did a great motorbike tour there.

Nights in Hoi An = 3

Sinh Tourist Bus = $40 for whole ticket (Saigon to Hanoi)

Accommodation in Hoi An = Sunflower Hotel $20 for double air con room

Huế > Hanoi

The colourful boats on our photography tour

The colourful boats on our photography tour

Hanoi didn’t really blow me away but we had to go there to get to the stunning Halong Bay.

Nights in Huế = 1

Sinh Tourist Bus = $40 for whole ticket (Saigon to Hanoi)

Accommodation in Huế = Binh Duong $12 for double room with fan

Accommodation in Hanoi = Bluebell Hotel $10 for double air con room

Accommodation in Halong Bay = Luxury Imperial Cruise boat tour $150 for 2night/3 day tour

Nights in Hanoi = 2

Nights in Halong Bay = 2

After this we flew from Hanoi to Phuket via Bangkok. As flights were looking expensive direct to Phuket we found two individual flights via Bangkok instead for much cheaper – I’d recommend checking this out to save money.

Phuket Town > Koh Phi Phi

Once back in Thailand we stayed in Phuket to decide our next travel plans. We explored the Andaman Coast, starting with Koh Phi Phi which I totally fell in love with and with a view I’m convinced my grandkids will still talk about.

Nights in Phuket Town = 2

Tuk-tuk from Phuket Town to ferry = $3

Ferry to Koh Phi Phi = $18.40

Accommodation in Phuket Town = Ekkamon Mansion $12.30 for double room with fan

Koh Phi Phi > Ao Nang

A citadel within  citadel within a citadel...

A citadel within citadel within a citadel…

After Phi Phi we headed to the beach town of Krabi and Ao Nang where I discovered that perhaps Thailand’s most beautiful island isn’t even an island.

Nights in Koh Phi Phi = 4

Ferry to Krabi = $9.20

Bus from Krabi to Ao Nang = $4.60

Accommodation in Koh Phi Phi = Tara Inn $15.30 for double room with fan

Ao Nang > Patong

Remember how I said to always take government buses in Thailand? Well we were stupid enough to ignore our own advice and instead of taking a taxi into town to get the government bus, we booked a minibus through the hotel to avoid the hassle and cost of getting a taxi into town.

We were herded like cattle, taken from the hotel to the depot and made to wait, piled on another minibus after a wait of more than an hour and made to put up with broken air con and rude drunken Germans. The stress and excessive journey length was absolutely not worth it in the heat and I’d really not recommend it!

We also wasted two nights in Patong Beach, which I was really disappointed by.

Nights in Ao Nang = 3

Minibus Ao Nang to Patong = $13.80

Accommodation in Ao Nang = Ao Nang Cozy Place $15.30 for luxury double room with air con

Accommodation in Patong = Square One Hotel $13.50 for double room with air con

After this we flew to Singapore, which is a whole other story.

During these five weeks in South-East Asia, we spent around $3-4 per meal plus drinks, which were usually about $1 for a beer.

If there’s anything I haven’t mentioned you’d like to know, just let me know!


5 thoughts on “How to get around South East Asia – Costs, Transport & Border Crossings

  1. Pingback: Lisbon in a day | Whaddup JP

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