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Thursday, March 19, 2015

VietBodia 2015: Places To Visit in Vietnam and Cambodia

Third post is exciting post! VietBodia 2015 is very, very close. Single digits close. Days away instead of weeks away. I’ve decided to move the visa entry to a post-trip entry because I won’t really know the procedure fully until I am in the countries! That leaves only one more pre-trip entry after this one, which will be about packing!

This is my first trip out of the country (aside from a couple visits home) since I moved to Japan over three years ago. Vietnam and Cambodia may seem like a slightly odd choice. What about South Korea? China? Australia? Well, those places are nice and I hope to visit them, but Vietnam and Cambodia are higher on my list of places to go. Why? Because they have what I want to see!

When I first decided on this trip I had two places in mind to visit, and I did some research using websites like to find other places to visit in each country. These kind of websites are invaluable when planning trips like this, I think. Mainly because I’m not the type to just go somewhere without an idea of what I want to do.

Here’s a list of the places I will be visiting in each country and why I want to go to these places. Hope this can provide some inspiration for visiting these fantastic countries!



Ha Long Bay
 This is the place that makes me want to visit Vietnam. It’s beautiful and so unlike anywhere else on Earth. Yeah, it’s probably overrun by tourists and it’s going to be very difficult to get to. But it will be worth it. The hours long drive to get out there should be beautiful, too, right?

Hang Da Market
This place just sounds exciting. A market area with super old stalls, haggling is the only way to buy anything, exotic birds in wooden cages on the street corner. This is where I will be buying souvenirs… if I don’t get too intimidated at the idea of bargaining.

One Pillar Pagoda
This is a Buddhist temple that was built nearly a thousand years ago. It’s one of the two most iconic temples in the entire country (the other being the Perfume Pagoda located south of a Hanoi).

Water Puppet Theater

I had never heard of this before planning this trip. The theater is located next to Hoan Kiem lake and it’s super cheap to view one of the many daily showings. Spending a nice afternoon by the lake and then going to the water puppets sounds relaxing. Not to mention I have no idea what a water puppet is.

Temple of Literature

This is a temple for Confucius located in Hanoi. I’ve only been to Japanese temples, so I am looking forward to breaking away from the Buddhist and Shinto styles and seeing this temple! It has many courtyards and is dedicated to learning. It’s also close to 1,000 years old, and was the site of Vietnam’s first university in 1076!

Ho Chi Minh City

Ben Thanh Market

Similar to the Hang Da market, it’s just a busy place to find traditional Saigon things and go souvenir shopping. Prices are apparently higher, but we can haggle for lower ones. Or, most likely, get scared and accept whatever price they offer.

Jade Emperor Pagoda

A younger temple, build just over 100 years ago, but it is dedicated to a Taoist god. I’ve never been to a Taoist temple, and apparently you can feed turtles outside for merit. It also apparently has loads of creepy statues which I am 100% for. Atmosphere-wise, this should be one of the most interesting temples I’ll ever see!

Giac Lam Pagoda

I am a sucker for a good pagoda, and this one reminds me of the bird one in Disney World, which was always one of my favorite things to do as a child. I feel slightly bad comparing the oldest temple of Ho Chi Minh City to a Disney attraction, but this is what happens when you grow up in Orlando.

Mekong Delta

Finally, I want to see the ending spot of the Mekong river. There are a number of tours you can take that will guide you through this traditional farming area. You’ll paddle through tiny canals, eat local foods, and experience the true beauty of Vietnam. It’s a full day, roughly 8hrs, to do this. But I think it’ll be a highlight of the trip!


Phnom Penh

Phsar Thmei (Central Market)

Of course there is a market I want to visit in Phnom Penh. That’s all this trip is, apparently, markets and temples. This was apparently the largest market in Asia when it opened, no idea if it still is. But it looks massive and must have loads of hidden gems to discover.

Royal Palace

Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia, so it would house the royal palace. It looks stunning in pictures. All golden and white and royal. When I went to Tokyo, I attempted to see the imperial palace, but that place is so surrounded by ugly gray stone walls that I was left disappointed. This palace, however, looks amazing! Especially since I’ll be able to visit the throne room. ~Fancy~

Wat Ounalom

The central temple for Cambodian Buddhism, it is located super close to the palace so it will be very easy to get to. It’s a few hundred years older than America, it sits on the Mekong and should offer wonderful views of the river. Again, temple. Again, I am going.

Siem Reap

Angkor Wat

This is probably the most obvious inclusion on this list. Of course I am going to Angkor Wat! It’s one of my bucket list items and I still can’t believe that in a few days I will be here. We are going to try to get two days at the complex, since it’s so huge. I’ll likely make a post dedicated to this place, so stay tuned for that! Hopefully get to see the sunrise (with loads of other tourists), so a super early morning for this one!

Apsara Dancers

I honestly had no idea what this was prior to planning this trip. It will definitely be full of tourists and not the most native experience of Cambodia, but a relaxing evening with a Khmer dinner followed by some pretty dancing sounds pretty nice. Also, it’s quite different from all the temples and markets we will be visiting. Apsara is a Hindu and Buddhist female spirit, so it is a religious dance. So it’s kinda temple-esque…

Tonle Sap

This is the largest lake in the whole of Southeast Asia. In the dry season (when we’re going) it’s basically a huge river that flows from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh (you can even travel between the cities on a boat tour). In the wet season, however, it transforms into a huge lake. There are tours you can take around the floating villages and sunken forests. I would like to see these places in the wet season, but it should be fascinating regardless!

All photos are from the respective Wikipedia pages

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

VietBodia 2015: How to Find a Hostel

Click here to read part one: Early Planning!

Welcome to the second installment of my VietBodia2015 series! I have completely failed at my "post every four days" plan, and I actually wrote this post the same day as the first one (which just makes it worse). Sorry! I'll hopefully get the others out before my leave date... but I won't make any promises.

This second post will focus on hostels. As I am a very cheap person, I love hostels. And traveling anywhere in the Mekong/Indochina region will give you plenty of cheap places to stay. The dollar is very strong there, and both Vietnam and Cambodia accept the currency. Vietnam also uses their national currency, the dong, but Cambodia uses dollars almost exclusively.

I’ve gone on a number of trips around Japan and have stayed at great hostels along the way. Granted, the hostels in Japan will likely be quite a bit different from those in Vietnam and Cambodia, but I imagine the experience to be similar. I really, really enjoy staying in hostels for a number of reasons.

One of the most enjoyable parts of staying in a hostel in a foreign country is that you can meet other people like you and take a break from the “foreignness” of the place you’re in. If you’re traveling alone you can meet a travel partner, or if you want suggestions of places to go you can likely find someone to give you suggestions. They have common areas with computers and televisions and even kitchens where you can socialize, and it appears that many of the hostels in Vietnam and Cambodia double as bars, making the walk home at the end of the night that much better (and safer)!

Since I’ve mentioned bars, I think it is important to note that hostels are usually not very quiet places. You can find more basic hostels that aren’t as social and focused more on just providing a place to sleep, but I personally would put up with the noise to meet awesome people I couldn’t meet anywhere else. I’ve met people from all over the world and it’s always great to stay up late talking to people and sharing your culture and learning about theirs.

Finding a hostel is very easy, I was actually shocked at just how easy it was when I first started staying at them. There are a number of websites you can use to find hostels. and are the two that I most often use. I highly recommend looking at multiple websites before deciding your hostel. For this trip I used Hostel World mainly, for no particular reason other than I have used in the past and wanted to check out Hostel World. But I double checked all of my choices on before deciding!

Using these websites are super easy, when using you see the main page asks for a city and a length of stay. I’d enter “Hanoi” and click on the city when it pops up in the drop down menu, then change the dates to “March 24” and “March 28” since those are the days I’ll be there, and leave the guests at 2.

Right away you get loads of results. These can be daunting. It’s automatically sorted by availability, which I think is useless. I usually begin by sorting by rating and seeing the prices for the highest rated options. The top hostels range between \1000-\1500, but I switched it to US dollars because that’s what I’ll be using there, and that changes to $8-$12. How cheap! Now, since it is so cheap I could probably stay anywhere I wanted to, but chances are these highly rated hostels don’t have a lot of reviews. I would rather stay at a place rated 90% with 500 reviews than 100% with 10.

Now that I know the price range, I like to fiddle with the settings on the left hand side, also has a nearly identical setup. The sliders for price and rating are what I focus on, as they are the most helpful. For this trip I moved the price down to $10 max and the rating to 83%. Then I sort it by price and see the cheapest options with this limits. There are a lot of acceptable hostels at $5 a night, so that is what I set my budget to reflect.

After finding a hostel that looks good with a good number of reviews and a good rating, I look at the page itself. The pictures are the first thing I look at. How does the common area look? What is the design of the bedrooms? How about the bathrooms? These pictures alone will knock out a good number of options. Then I read the descriptions, which are usually written by the staff. If they sound nice and friendly, it makes me like them. Then, I see what kind of rooms they have available. You usually get a few types of rooms at hostels, and you have to be careful when picking one.

There are “mixed” and/or “private” rooms at every hostel. The former is shared with many people, while the latter is just you. I have decided on mixed rooms for my trip, as it’s super easy to make friends that way. Though you have to deal with people coming and going at all hours, but that hasn’t really been a huge issue in that past. Though it is sometimes jarring to wake up to a shirtless man hunched over his bag at 2am, I honestly feel there is little danger in the situation, since nearly all hostels are guarded by security (don’t stay if they aren’t) and you will know who is in your room. Anyone who is stupid enough to try something in a hostel probably won’t be that big of a threat. And if you’re staying with someone else you’ll never be alone.

Private rooms are good, I’ve not often stayed in one, as they are more pricy and I would rather spend the money on other things, but be careful when booking. If you book a four bed private for $10 per person, you will have to pay $40 for that room regardless if you have 2 or 3 people, and you cannot put five people in a four bed private room. Also, if you’re getting a two person room, be sure that if you get a 2 person double you don’t mind sharing a double bed! If you want a separate bed you’re stuck looking for a 2 person twin, which can be difficult to find and another reason I opted for the mixed dorms!

After I see that the price and type of room is okay, I move onto the reviews. I read the really good reviews first to see what positives the hostel has. After that I read a view of the not-so-good reviews, usually those who gave it 60-70% and see what their issues are. If there are a lot of the same complaints, it’s likely a large issue. Always read with an objective eye and know that sometimes hostels are having a bad week, or maybe that person is just hard to please. Often people go into hostels with unrealistic expectations, like complaining that the bar way noisy. Of course it was! You stayed at a place with a bar. It comes with the territory. And honestly at $5 a night as long as the toilet flushes and the shower runs I can accept almost anything!

The best part about using websites like these are that they have a handy “Facilities” section near the bottom of the main page which gives you a quick list of things the hostel offers. Must haves for me are 24 hour security, air conditioning, free WiFi or internet access, hot showers, lockers, and linen included. There are others that are bonuses, but if the place doesn’t have all of these I likely won’t stay there at all. In my experience the vast majority do.

Booking the hostel is really easy! All you have to do is just select how many people you want for the room and enter your information. Making an account speeds up the process. You’ll have to do a downpayment on the booking, which is usually 15% of the total cost, at the time of making the reservation. But the rest will be available upon arrival. For an extra couple bucks you can even gain the ability to change your reservation and get that downpayment back!

Once you’ve booked your hostel you’re set. The hostel should email you within a couple of days to verify your reservation, and at that point you can ask them any other questions you have. Can they arrange pick up at an airport (there’s an option for that in the “Facilities” section so look for that if you want it!), can they help you arrange tours to different sites, is there anything they recommend doing in the city, those type of things.

The best thing to remember about hostels is, you're only using them to sleep. When you're traveling around you won't be spending much time inside it's walls, only to socialize in the common rooms or grab a few hours of rest before you're off on another early morning adventure. And it's temporary. If you can remind yourself of these things, you will likely really enjoy staying in a hostel. Sure, there are awful ones that have gross old sheets and disgusting showers and broken toilets, but the majority won't!

Have you ever stayed in a hostel in Asia? How about Europe? I'm curious to know how the two regions compare. Hopefully one day I'll get to know first hand! ;)

Monday, March 2, 2015

VietBodia 2015: How To Plan a Trip to Vietnam and Cambodia

For the past month(ish) I have been planning a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia with one of my friends! We will be leaving later this month for a 16 day, 4 city tour of these two countries so I thought I’d make a series of it on here. So welcome to #VietBodia2015! Hopefully “VietBodia” isn’t offensive, but who knows.

I’ve got roughly ten posts planned out, starting with this one. Five before the trip and five after. Since I’m leaving in 20-something days, I am going to try and get a post out every four days!

Here is a list of posts I am hoping to make over the next few weeks, I’ll add links to the posts as I make them for easy access!
1. Early stages of planning a trip (what you’re currently reading!)
3. Traveling between countries and visa processes.
4. Places I want to visit in Vietnam and Cambodia
5. Packing: Is “backpacking” really possible?

There are five post-trip posts I have planned, but I can deal with that later. J

The early stages of planning a trip are always the most exciting for me. I decided randomly that I wanted to travel in April, as I have the entire month free of work. After I acquired a traveling buddy, I began my fervent planning process. I love planning things. Sometimes I feel like I missed my true calling when I get into planning, but then I remember just how all-consuming and how much of my entire life it takes up and I realize that doing this every day for the rest of my life would easily kill me.

The first step of any trip is deciding how long the trip should be. It was originally going to be a Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand trip of roughly three weeks, but due to some outstanding circumstances my travel buddy wasn’t able to have as much time off as originally expected, so we cut Thailand from the trip. Vietnam and Cambodia have places that I must see, whereas Thailand doesn’t (plus she’d been there before).

Once a rough outline of days (two weeks) was picked for the trip, I began researching the places that I wanted to visit. This involved Excel and lots of googling. The site was a great resource for learning about different sites and their locations. So I recommend it if you’re traveling in the Indochina area! Japan has a similar site ( that I’ve used for planning trips in the past. Lonely Planet ( is always a good choice, but I prefer sites that are focused more on the area I am visiting. Googling things like “top places to visit in Vietnam” or “must see spots in Cambodia” are also great ways of finding the things that you can’t miss out on when traveling. Later you can go in and add little places to visit once you see how much time you will have.

This is my actual Excel sheet.
Now, because I love planning, I take this spot a step further. I like to open Google Maps and type in all these places and see which ones are located where, and then decide a rough daily schedule based on these locations. Things that are closer together get seen on the same day. Places which close early get seen early in the morning. While this may sound time consuming, it really isn’t, and it gets me super excited for the trip as I get to actually see where it is I will be going. This daily schedule also makes me see how much time I really need to dedicate to each thing and finalize the number of days that would be best for each city I am going to.

We’ve decided on four nights in Hanoi, a flight to Ho Chi Minh and a bus to Phnom Penh that same day. Two nights will be spent in Phnom Penh followed by an overnight bus to Siem Reap with a four night stay there. Finally an overnight bus back to Phnom Penh and a bus back to Ho Chi Minh with a two night stay there. This may sound kind of crazy, but a round trip ticket from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh was very, very cheap and this is the easiest way to do that!

Now that the dates have been decided, it is time to book the flight! This is where I got in trouble with my friend. We waited far too long to actually do this, as it took time to finalize the amount of time we would have free. Due to this, we missed out on the perfect flight by hours. When I checked it at school it was there and when I got home that evening it was gone. We booked the tickets almost exactly a month in advance, and that was cutting it really close. I strongly suggest booking it earlier than that. The prices didn’t change much over the span of the weeks, one of the flights we needed just got full so we couldn’t get the days we wanted. We ended up pushing the trip back two days (because that makes sense…) to get a much cheaper flight, which just meant that I needed to take a couple of my last days of work off. Oh well!

We are flying via Korean Air from Sapporo, with a six hour layover in Seoul before landing in Hanoi late at night. This sucks, but can’t be helped. It’s part of traveling overseas. You’re going to lose a day no matter what. I’m sure if you book well in advance and are willing to dish out more money for premium flight times you could spend only half a day flying from Japan to Vietnam, but we aren’t those people. The flight back is similar, flight from Ho Chi Minh early in the afternoon to a 10pm flight from Hanoi to Seoul. Landing in Seoul at 5am and a five hour wait until our flight back to Sapporo. At least I can say I’ve been to Korea!

These are the early stages of planning. Once all this had been decided it is time to move onto the next exciting part, deciding where to stay! My friend and I have decided on staying at some hostels in each city, because they’re cheap and I love staying in hostels when traveling. Look out for the next blog post where I go into detail about hostels!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and that it is helpful (or inspirational) to your travels! I’d love to hear how you plan trips, so leave your methods in the comments!

Here’s some questions for you:
Have you ever been to Vietnam or Cambodia? What do you suggest doing there? If not, have you ever wanted to go?

How long does it take you to plan for trips and what are the things you do early on in deciding how the trip will pan out?

Click here for part 2 about hostels!