Yes, we can [travel on a shoestring budget!]

by misslampa

(I wrote this almost three years ago, and since the Php has gotten stronger against the USD in the last few months, the expenses are more likely to be lower than they were in 2008.)

My backpack and me Ü

5 countries, [almost]12 days, and a shoestring budget of around Php30,000. All in, I promise – from plane fares to accomodations and a little left for pasalubong. No hidden charges, and absolutely no kidding.

Even I thought it was impossible, but hey, the beauty of backpacking is that no matter how much you suck at it or how inexperienced you are, something about it is bound to surprise you. A year ago, I would have balked at even just the thought of traveling because I’ve always thought it would cost too much. But what do you know, we live and life questions our assumptions and we’re proven wrong and we learn.

But prepared you must be. And no, I don’t mean reserve hotels and book tours in advance. When we left Clark, the only thing we had booked was the plane flights. And that’s lesson number one: the earlier you book your tickets, the cheaper you can get them. Budget airlines and promo fares are also your best friend, so you should always be on the lookout for these. Or have a good friend [a.k.a. Marchie] who’s more plane-crazy and flight-savvy take care of the monitoring. Each of my two friends and I spent a little over 8 thou on airfare, and although all three flights were with budget airlines [Air Asia and Cebu Pacific], only two were on P1-seat sale. That means you can even save a thousand or two more if you can get the best promo fares for all three.

By “prepared,” I mean nerd-prepared, in the sense that you know in which area is cheapest, acceptably decent, and most accessible to the tourist spots and restos you’d like to check out. And it goes without saying, of course, that you have to know how to get there. You can do online research yourself, or you can do it the easy way and bank on the resto shops, guesthouse lists and insider tips put together in the book Rough Guide to Southeast Asia. My friend got this one because it’s cheaper [77.95RM, or roughly the equivalent of P1050] but I heard the Lonely Planet guides could also do the job.

So for anyone who’s interested, here’s one way to blow a month and a half’s hard-earned cash without having to regret every peso you spend:

Oh, but don’t forget to take note of the following first:

1. There were three of us when we went backpacking, so some of the expenses we had were split in three. Only my 1/3 appears here [or my 1/2 when Bob left after a day in Vietnam and there were only two of us left to split the bill – this starts on Day 8], so such expenses will be followed by an asterisk [*] so that you’d be prepared to spend more on this particular expense should you plan to go solo.

2. We went in August, which, believe it or not, is the peak-season for backpacking. [July and August are vacation months in Europe and the US, and it’s mostly the Caucasians who go backpacking in Asia. Now tell me, why are we letting them have all the fun?!] That means you can get cheaper prices for accomodation if you have your trip some other time. See, it just keeps getting better, doesn’t it?

3. All prices are available in the denomination we used at the time, but for convenience, I roughly converted everything to US dollar. When we left in August, a dollar was about P50.

4. We did a lot of other things aside from those listed here. Trekking for more than an hour to see the Giant Jesus in Vung Tao, for instance, is free, so I only listed down those which you can’t do without couging up some cash. When I skipped a meal in my list, assume that we ate something we brought with us from the Philippines.

5. Alas, it was inevitable that we forgot exactly how much we spent for every thing. When the price listed is just an estimate, it’ll be followed by the pound sign [#]. Next time, I promise to take down each cent, okay?

What these stand for:

USD – US dollar

P – Philippine peso

RM – Malaysian RInggit

Kip – Kip, currency in Laos

TB – Thai Baht

VND – Vietnamese New Dollar / Dong

Day 1

Manila to Clark to KL > USD 110.66

8.00* gas for the car to bring us there: P400

6.00 toll: P300

2.26 takeout lunch from Chowking [fish and tofu steak and bottled water]: P113

62.00 plane fare to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – via Air Asia [w/ check-in]: P3,101

32.40 airport tax and departure fee:P1,620

KL, Malaysia > 15.03

With one of the Petronas Towers in the background

3.64 round-trip bus ride, airport to city proper: RM14

0.34 train ride from city proper to Puduraya: RM1.3

3.25* overnight stay at KL City Lodge [fan room for 3]: RM12.5

5.20 KL Tower ticket: RM20

1.69 supper at KL Commercial Center [bottled water and nasi lemak]: RM6.5

0.91 past-midnight snack after touring the city on foot til 2AM [na’an and milk tea]: RM3

Day 2

 KL, Malaysia > 2.34

1.04 breakfast at 24-hour nook [roti and freshly squeezed orange juice]: RM4

1.30* cab from city proper to bus station: RM5

KL, Malaysia to Vientiane, Laos > 30.00

30.00# plane fare to Vientiane – via Air Asia: P1,500

En route to Vientiane’s very own Arc du Triomphe

Vientiane, Laos > 18.50

2.50* cab from airport to city proper: 30,000Kip [including tip]

4.00* overngiht stay at RD guesthouse: 33,000Kip

4.50 lunch at Mekong Deck [papaya salad and bottled water]:36,000Kip

0.75 1.5L bottled water to keep us hydrated while we toured the city on foot: 6,000Kip

6.25 takeout supper from hawkers [Lao noodles and roti for dessert]: 50,000Kip

0.50 1.5L bottled water for baon: 4,000Kip

Day 3

Vientiane, Laos > 11.13

1.25 bus ride to and from Buddha Park: 10,000Kip

1.88 exploring Buddha Park by boat [it was flooded, so we did it that way]: 15,000K

0.50 snack of banana fritters from a sidewalk vendor: 4,000Kip

5.00 lunch at joma, the Starbucks of Laos [vegetarian lasagna and iced coffee]:40,000Kip

2.50 take-out from Joma for dinner [spinach quiche]: 20,000Kip

Vientiane, Laos to Nong Khai > 4.87

0.83* tuktuk [their tricycle] to bus station: 6666.67Kip

1.67 bus ticket from Vientiane to Nong Khai: 55TB

1.64* van from bus station to border [because we missed the bus, darn!] 54TB

0.73* cab from border to train station: 24TB

Nong Khai > 12.00

12.00 train ticket from Nong Khai to Bangkok: $12

Day 4

I just looove how this tree (also in the Grand Palace grounds) looks!

Bangkok > 40.43

0.21 bus ride from airport to Samsen: 7TB

1.52 map of Bangkok [for the bus and train routes]: 50TB

3.03* overnight stay at a guesthouse in Banglampu: 100TB

3.94 lunch at BK [fish burger, fries, soda, milkshake] 130TB

0.80 coconut shake

0.79 water, can of rootbeer: 26TB

21.21 personal shopping [2 bags, 2 pairs of fisherman pants, 2 shirts]: 700TB

0.45 corn on a cob for merienda: 15TB

3.03 belt bag [to put our papers in when we go temple-hopping]: 100TB

3.03 dinner at Hemlock [fish in green curry, thai bagoong rice, soda]: 100TB

2.42 2 nutella rotis: 80TB

I wonder, has touching this giant gnome’s foot in The Grand Palace in Bangkok brought me good luck?

Day 5

Bangkok > 13.52

9.10 entrance to Grand Palace: 300TB

0.73 2 1.5L bottles of water: 24TB

0.91 lunch: pad thai: 30TB

1.21 lunch: fruit shake: 40TB

0.76 fresh orange juice for baon: 25 TB

0.81* cab to train station:26.7TB

 Bangkok to Siem Reap, Cambodia > 14.02

1.45 train ticket to Aranyaprathet:48TB

1.21*# tuktuk from Aranyaprathet to Cambodian border: 40TB

11.36 taxi from border to Siem Reap & tuktuk to villa: 375TB

Siem Reap > 3.33

3.33* overnight stay at Rithyrin VIlla: $3.33

Day 6

Siem Reap > 53.55

3.67* day 2 at Rithyrin VIlla: $3.67

2.70 breakfast at hotel: fried rice and stir-fried veggies: $2.70

20.00 one-day pass to Angkor Temples: $20

8.33 tuktuk for temple-hopping [inclusive of faraway Banteay Srei]: $8.33

2.00 tip for tuktuk driver: $2

4.25 dinner and breakfast from hawker stall [loklak fish, noodles, jackfruit shake]: 4.25

11.00 book on Angkor Temples: $11

1.60# postcard and stamp [since Siem Reap was the highlight of our trip]

My fellow backpackers and I pose in front of Banteay Srei in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Among all the wats, I love The Bayon the most. :-)

Day 7

Siem Reap > 30.95

1.25 milk tea from hotel resto: $1.25

2.00 tip for reception: $2

1.00 tip for waiter at hotel resto: $1

25.00 bus from Siem Reap to HCMC/Saigon, Vietnam: $25

1.00# lunch at stopover [noodles]:$1

0.70 merienda of crackers and ice cream: 10,500VND

Ho Chih Minh City/Saigon, Vietnam > 12.96

7.67 dinner at KFC [fish nuggets, rice and soda]: 115,000VND

1.62 cocktails while checking the nightlife [mexican coffee w/ kahlua]:24,000VND

3.67 overnight stay at a guesthouse on De Tham road: $3.67

Day 8

[check note regarding expenses marked by an asterisk]

HCMC > 32.95

6.50* day1 stay at Vinh Guesthouse: $6.50

0.53 souvenir postcards from souvenir shop at the post office: 8,000VND

1.67 3-min phonecall to the philippines [also at the post office]: 25,000VND

1.00 entrance to HCMC museum: 15,000VND

3.07* lunch at Pho24 [Pho noodle soup and soymilk]: 46,000VND

0.35 dessert from grocery store [banana and milk ice drop]: 5,200VND

1.00# entrance to Vietnam War museum: 15,000VND

3.67 merienda at Jollibee in Vietnam [large rootbeer, fries and choco-mallow pie]: 55,000VND

3.33# ticket to the water puppet show: 50,000VND

7.80 pig-out dinner at beerhouse, haha [2 cans of soda, fish rolls, fried cuttlefish, fried rice]: 117,000VND

2.00 rubber slippers: 30,000VND

2.03 grocery at a 24-hr convenience stor: strawberry oreos and band-aid: 30,500

Day 9

HCMC > 17.83

6.50* day2 stay at Vinh Guesthouse: $6.50

1.33* cab going to express boat station: 40,000VND

10.00 express boat to Vung-Tao: $10

We’re on the shoulders of the Giant Jesus in Vung Tao, Vietnam!

Vung Tao > 17.07

5.00# lunch at Mui Da Floating Resto [tom yum soup, fried shrimps, fried rice and house tea]: 75,000VND

1.50 taxi from floating resto to Giant Jesus: 22,500VND

0.27 ice drop: 4,000VND

2.50 taxi from Gian Jesus to Vung Tao beach: 37,500VND

0.47 CR rental [for changing clothes and taking a bath after swimming]: 7,000VND

0.83 rental of parasol, table and beach chairs: 12,500VND

2.50 cab from Vung Tao to bus station: 37,500VND

4.00 bus ride back to HCMC: 60,000VND

HCMC > 8.5

3.50* cab from bus station to guesthouse: 52,500VND

5.00# dinner at Italian resto [hot&sour soup and vegetable curry]: 75,000VND

Day 10

HCMC > 35.61

6.50* day3 stay at Vinh Guesthouse: $6.50

8.00 whole-day bus tour [Cao Dai Temple and Cu-Chi Tunnnels]: $8

2.87 lunch at stopover: [veggie rice toppings and sarsi in can]:43,000VND

1.50# ice cream cone at Cu Chi tunnels: 22,500VND

6.00# pig-out dinner beside Ben Thanh market: [crabmeat rolls, fried shrimp, crabmeat rice, iced cacao, iced coffee]: 90,000VND

5.67 shopping: 2 sets of coasters, 3 purses, 1 pair of earrings: 85,000VND

5.07 nightcap at highlands coffee [iced cappucino, cheesecake slice, bag of coffee beans]: 86,000VND

The beautiful Saigon Central Post Office was designed by the famous architect Gustave Eiffel. Yup, that’s the same guy behind La Tour Eiffel.

Day 11

HCMC > 18.03

4.00# 1/2 day stay at Vinh Guesthouse + overtime: $4.00

2.80 breakfast at Guan An Ngon [rice pancakes, thai noodles]: 42,000VND

0.53 entrance to HCMC Botanical Zoo: 8,000VND

0.13 sugarcane slabs with which to feed an elephant: 2,000VND

3.07 break at My Life’s Coffee [fruit shake and mint ice cream]: 36,000VND

4.00# pig-out dinner beside Ben Thanh market: [fried shrimp, Vietnamese rice, iced cacao]: 60,000VND

3.50 cab to airport: 52,500VND

Day 12

HCMC to Manila, Philippines =p > 81.56

71.56 plane fare to Manila – via Cebu Pacific: P3,578

7.00 nightcap at Illy at the airport [cheesecake and water] $7

3.00# cab from NAIA terminal 3 to house in Parañaque: P150

My informal tally gives me a total of $584.84, or P29,242. I’m pretty sure I overestimated the items I wasn’t so sure about as I don’t remember shelling out more than 26,000, Or maybe I got my math wrong, but well, I’m too lazy to add again. I believe you can bring it down to P22,500 if you’re really intent on saving, but as you may have noticed, we forgot about scrimping when we got to Vietnam. After all, it was the last country and we realized that we still had a lot of cash, yey!

Here’s to the grand tradition of backpacking, my friends! If you still have questions, I’m a PM away… :-)



3 Comments to “Yes, we can [travel on a shoestring budget!]”

  1. i die of envy whenever i read this post! :))

    • Well, that’s payback for when I read your posts on touring Europe! See, the world is fair. :-) But hey, we should travel to China together in say, 5 years or so? I’ll teach you how to backpack, and then you’ll teach me your rich-kid ways, hehe!

  2. hahaha! fine. pray that my chinese is still a-okay during that time! :D anong rich kid!?! =)) you must have mistaken me for gian haha. i think we should book now while airfare is low HAHA kidding :))

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