Most of our travels abroad consists of myself and Jess making base in a city and seeing the sights through recommendations (thanks to you guys!) as well as simply stumbling upon a hidden gem. However, since our first venture into extended small group tours in Alaska we have been itching to find another opportunity to see the world whilst exploring with fellow like minded companions.
This time we teamed up with Geckos Adventure to tick off an Asian bucket list item so high that we couldn’t resist pushing back all our other travels plans to pave way for our first ever backpack trip through Cambodia.
Geckos Adventure: Ultimate Cambodia
Our trip consisted of 1 day in Bangkok, 1 day in Ho Chi Minh City and 10 days exploring Cambodia with a local tour leader. This is the ultimate Cambodia trip so if you expect to tick off Vietnam or Thailand we recommend adding on to your preceding trip or extending into the Indochina Highlights package which will tick Vietnam off too – p.s. we totally wish we knew this before as we so would’ve extended!
Cities you will see:
Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City
We were honestly surprised at how each hostel/hotel exceeded our expectations. On the trip you won’t be staying in dorms containing 4 bunk bed, but instead have either a double (for couples) or twin share with another traveller on the trip. Hot water, WiFi and in some cases TV with Australian channels to ensure you don’t miss any of Kochi’s antics back home.
This is not necessarily budget travel but instead a tiny step in the direction of comfort. You will still get to say you backpacked and used hostels in South East Asia but you secretly still get to use Snapchat from your room.
Oh and if you want to know the best accommodation from the trip? The homestay we had in Chambok, 10 out of 10 for the experience of living with a local, 2 out of 10 for comfort – but totally worth it for the stories to be told after the trip.
Tuk tuks, both private and public buses as well as your feet will get you around Cambodia. Though we were hoping for a bit more run down, missing window, chicken on board type set up for the public buses, at the end of the day aircon is always a savour in the heat. Tuk tuks need no introduction – they are simply the most enjoyable and cheap way to get around – they will be what I miss most about Southeast Asia
You won’t be able to tell the difference between the organised private transport and public ones as you head from city to town and we were thankful to only experience two days of full travel days on this journey, both being to cross a country border which was an experience in itself.
You will be telling the story of how a local used a polaroid camera to take your Cambodian visa photo and then following it up by using clag glue to stick it directly into your passport for years to come.
The Tour Leader
A tour leader can make or break a tour and this is truly where Gecko’s Adventures shines. Instead of opting into hiring Americans or Australians with tourism degrees they have instead taken to the locals who live and breathe the country every single day, the ones who know the ins and outs of a pub street or how much that tuk tuk ride should really cost you.
Our guide Hai was a leader to begin with but a friend at the end. If half of us wanted to go see a ladyboy show, he would be right there having a drink and a cheering along with everyone else. However, where Hai stood out was his organisation skills. If we arrived at a border crossing he would have passports, visa forms and instructions on where to go every time. We failed to find a time where we all stood around looking confused and feeling uneasy in a foreign country.
The Group – Fellow Companions – the #GeckosSquad
This is why you book a small group tour, to meet and explore with like minded travellers from around the world to hopefully bond and create friendships with. After all, who doesn’t want a couch waiting for them in London when you fly over to do a eurotrip?
We dubbed them the “Geckos Squad” and though it’s not worth sharing our thoughts on a section that will be radically different for every traveller, we can say that the 16 person group size is perfect. If we are talking real talk for a moment, there’s enough variety within the group that you can pick who you want to spend time with and also enough people so that you can leave those alone whom just don’t click with you.
Thankfully in our group everyone got along and personally we were quite sad to say our goodbyes on the last night. I even noticed the odd tear quickly wiped away from a few members of the squad.
Included Activities and Do I Need to Book the Optional Activities/Adventures?
As with any small group tour the initial price booked won’t be the final price you pay, it’s just the honest truth but don’t let it hold you back, the best part of travelling is the adventures you go on. When thinking of booking a small group tour, get the trip notes, see the costs of some of the activities and add it into your budget from the get go, rather than when you arrive.
We have planned week long trips around specific adventures, like the time we skydived in Dubai. That adventure was booked before we planned the trip and we took it from there. You never know, zip lining through temples in Cambodia may be what convinces you to go in the end.
How much extra did we spend?
We did an optional activity everyday (sometimes twice a day), had to get 2 visas (Cambodia + Vietnam) and also had to cover the costs of 34 meals (we had 3 meals which were included in the price) as well as nik naks that we probably didn’t need to buy.
This is a breakdown of all the additional stuff we paid for:
Optional Activities: $451 (Around 9 tours)
Food: $150 (about $4 a meal)
Visas: $162 ($110 Vietnam, $52 Cambodia)
Other: $70 (New pants (Jess ripped hers at Angkor Wat), phone credit and other bits and bobs that I can’t recall it all but probably didn’t need to buy).
Total: $833AUD per person.
Some Tips & Advice
Backpack: If you are heading to Southeast Asia and doing a tour like this one, we highly recommend you look at purchasing a backpack. We had a non-branded 50L medium backpack that we picked up from Ebay and had about 8kg each – yes for some that sounds crazy small but it’s easy to pack light when travelling in a hot climate.
Mosquito Repellent: Australia does have nastier mosquitoes than what we found in Cambodia but it doesn’t contain the same diseases as those found there. We easily ran out of our one can of tropical strength Aerogard half way through, so take two cans and don’t be shy in going crazy on the spray. Speaking of diseases…
Malaria Tablets: We always recommend that you consult your doctor before going overseas and only take the advice given by them and not from the information provided here. We both did not take Malaria tablets with us and didn’t get sick, a fellow group member did, and got sick from the after effects of Malaria tablets than actually getting Malaria.
Visa’s: Always consult your local consulate but:
> Thailand visas for Australians: Free visa on arrival.
> Cambodia visas for Australians: $40USD that was organised whilst on our trek.
> Vietnam visas for Australians: $100AUD which must be organised at least a week before you go ($110 for express if you were like us at left it to two days before the trip).
Forget your headphones: Yes it can be easier on a bus day to just plug your headphones out and block the rest of the world out (don’t worry I am so guilty of this). But it’s these days that you really get to chat to and bond with your fellow companions.
Take a moment to take it all in: Your trip will be over in a flash, make sure you stop, look where you are and really enjoy the moment. These are the times you remember the most as it won’t go past so quickly.
Should you book this?
In one sentence, yes we cannot recommend doing this tour enough. We feel like we ticked off Cambodia and saw everything we wanted to see. The sunrise at Angkor Wat, island hopping in Sihanoukville and enough tuk tuk rides for a lifetime (who am I kidding? I want more!).
The value for money combined with a local tour leader is the best of both worlds.
As with all our journey reviews that extend past your standard weekend we will be breaking down the trip into three parts to give you our full thoughts, breakdowns and personal experiences – just let me write them first and I will update this post as they come out.
Day 1 – Arrival in Bangkok
Day 2 – The big travel day to Cambodia
Day 3 – Siem Reap – Angkor Wat
Day 4 – Siem Reap – Activities Day
Day 5 – Kompong Cham – Where are all the tourists?
Day 6 – Phnom Penh – The capital
Day 7 – Chambok – Homestay
Day 8 – Sihanoukville – Made it to the beach
Day 9 – Sihanoukville
Day 10 – Phnom Penh
Day 11 – The Big big travel day to Ho Chi Minh City
Day 12 – Ho Chi Minh City – Saying our goodbyes
You can book the Ultimate Cambodia trip for $1075 per person for 12 days through Bangkok, Cambodia and Ho Chi Minh City.
READ NEXT: GECKOS ADVENTURE THROUGH CAMBODIA PART I