I booked my trip to Asia a little bit last minute compared to some people so I knew I was going to need help. I wanted to be part of a tour group just to help me navigate some of the borders into the different countries I wanted to visit. After doing some research online, I found a trip that seemed relatively cheap in comparison and that is with the tour company G Adventures. I actually booked my trip through Gap360 as they had an offer on at that time. The trip I booked was called Cambodia on a Shoestring.
This post needs a little disclaimer in that I had never travelled as part of a tour before but I had also never travelled solo before. This tour was starting in Bangkok roughly two weeks after I had arrived and started travelling round the north of Thailand alone. As it happened, on the first day of the tour I was actually almost gutted to be leaving my hostel. I didn’t want to leave my new friends behind as well as my freedom, to go and join an organised tour. By the end of the tour however, I was almost gutted to leave the tour and head off on my own so it’s a bit of a tricky one.
The first night was just a meeting night and we had a really nice hotel in the centre of Bangkok. I didn’t manage to meet anyone from my tour group before the meeting as I had been at my hostel. Doing my own thing meant that when I got to the meeting it was a bunch of people I’d never met. I soon realised that my tour (Cambodia on a Shoestring), was only part of what some people were doing and they were all continuing on travelling together after my last day. It was a great first meeting and we all introduced ourselves and had our itinerary explained to us. We had to be up early the next day as we were leaving to go to Cambodia and this journey was pretty long and I’m not going to lie it wasn’t easy.
I’m so happy I did this as part of a tour and wasn’t on my own for this part. It wasn’t that getting to the border was difficult, it was the queue’s and knowing where to go, and then actually crossing from Thailand to Cambodia and knowing which office to wait in. The actual walk across the border wasn’t easy either, with small children actually pulling at your hands and really ill people sitting at the side of the road begging. It was a bit of a disaster zone and every step seemed to bring more people who were crying and wanting money or food.
We all had big backpacks and were trying to navigate this dirt road to get into this little office just to be stamped into the country, but finally, we were in and if you’ve never been to Cambodia, it can be a bit of a culture shock. Due to the poverty and poor conditions it did feel a lot more unsafe then Thailand or Vietnam but understanding more about the people and the history of Cambodia, you only begin to feel empathetic for the lives of the people who live there and are unable to do anything about their living conditions.
Our first stop was Siem Reap and after a six hour journey, we made it to our hotel and we soon left to go get a meal at a really interesting G Adventures Homestay. One of the reasons I chose G Adventures is because of the good work they do, giving back to the local communities that they visit so I was looking forward to meeting some people who have been positively affected by G Adventures.
We were taken by Tuk tuk to a home outside of the main town and found ourselves in a small village. We were shown around by someone who lived and worked in the village and it was really interesting to see the village through her eyes. Everyone seemed friendly and they were surprisingly ok with a group of ten westerners invading their village for the evening. As we walked around children started to follow and would be laughing and running around, which was really cute. The place where we were eating was a local school that was run by an English man and his wife and although we didn’t get to meet them, the people that worked for them who had grown up in the village were amazing at speaking English and very helpful with all the questions that we were asking.
After dinner, a whole load of children appeared and having grown up with young children I went and sat with them and they were talking about their school. It was really interesting to see how people living in a village in Cambodia live their lives and I got chatting to a young woman about the ways in which some of the villagers are trying to improve their living conditions which I found really interesting to hear. I wanted to get some more information on the name of the school and to see if there were ways to help but I wasn’t able to get a lot of specific information from them.
The next day we had to be up at 4am for a guided sunrise tour of Angkor Wat. It was as breathtaking as I thought it would be but what I did not count on was the sheer exhaustion I felt and by the third time we were loaded back into our minibus for the journey to the third temple of the day, I was falling asleep. There are so many factors under which I would love to return to Angkor Wat but having to be covered up, and also having had little to no sleep, just didn’t make for a happy tourist in me.
If I was to go back I would be better prepared and would also just walk where I want, having to wait for the guide and the group I found a little boring at times which is strange because it is such an exciting temple and the largest religious monument in the world, so there is a lot to see. There are different passes which you can get, you need to be prepared and get these as early in the day as you can, otherwise you can end up queuing for a long time so I would get a three day pass and take your time as it gets so hot and full of people! As soon as we got back to the hotel we all just passed out then most people went out that evening but unfortunately I was feeling really ill so gave it a miss.
The next day we were leaving for Phnom Penh, I was really excited about this as I had heard a lot about the capital of Cambodia. Not going to lie, day 4 was a bit of a waste as everyone was just still so exhausted from getting up so early the day before. We all tried to rest up and then head out but a lot of people were getting sick so most people stayed in.
This was a brutal awakening into the dark and tragic history of Cambodia as we visited the Killing fields. I felt so ignorant and felt like I just didn’t have the knowledge I would have had, had this occurred closer to home. A lot of us in the group felt quite emotional after this visit and just used the rest of the day to relax. The Kmer Rouge definitely became a topic of conversation that evening so it was very thought-provoking. I didn’t feel comfortable taking pictures at the memorials and just wanted to take it all in.
In the afternoon we went on a tour of Phnom Penh via a buggy contraption that was pushed by a man on a cycle. It was strange to have a man on a bike in control of a buggy, which I sat in while he pushed me around. But it was a great way to give back to the people as they were homeless people who ran the tours and earned a small wage from helping us see the sights of Phnom Penh.
After the tour, we were taken to see a kickboxing fight. It was a unique experience, not going to lie, it was a stupidly hot building and we were sat there between each round, absolutely melting. I wasn’t having a great time but it was still something that I look back on and have good memories of. I don’t know if I’d every willingly watch another man beating the crap out of another man for money but there you go.
This was spent mostly on a bus as we travelled to Sihanoukville. When we got there we had a hotel which was a lot nicer than some of the ones we had been in before. We were close to the beach so spent some time there before getting ready to go out for the evening. It was a fun evening as we were all a little more relaxed on the coastal town. We found a really fun bar and stayed there most of the evening, but it was relatively quiet there compared to our other evenings out in Siem Reap and Phhnom Penh.
A little repeat of the day before as we did pretty much, more of the same and spent the day by the beach and then the hotel swimming pool and I think by this point so many of our tour group had become ill and worn down with tiredness. We were all looking forward to a day of just relaxing and I’m happy I didn’t push myself to do too much.
We left to go to Can Tho which meant crossing the border into Vietnam. Another moment of feeling so appreciative of being in a tour group as the border crossing was another waiting game to get stamped in and out the country. This one was slightly more in the countryside then before but it was a dirt track in the middle of nowhere which I found strange for a border crossing. Once we crossed into Vietnam I felt a lot more relaxed, it was a lot cleaner and just more colourful. I enjoyed this part of the journey a lot more as we travelled to a homestay past Can Tho.
The homestay was an experience. I’m happy I did it but it was a night of sharing a room with two of my fellow travellers and sleeping inside my sleeping bag liner with it pulled up over my head as well as an insect net. The homestay was little more then a few huts built outside and as we arrived in the dark it felt a little daunting. Hearing the wildlife living around us as we were trying to sleep was a bit scary especially with huge lizards on the walls and animals crying throughout the night. But we did it and when we left I was happy to go! We had a traditional meal that night which we helped cook and played some games with matchsticks which sounds absurd but we all got into it quite quickly and it was a fun evening.
We left the homestay quite early and most of us in the group were happy to go. We left and travelled down the Mekong Delta towards Ho Chi Minh. On the way there, we actually stopped at a floating market and all had some pineapple for breakfast. The Can Tho floating market was really fun because it’s how a lot of the locals actually shop so we got quite an authentic experience.
We soon carried on and arrived in Ho Chi Minh which was a bit of a relief. After the homestay the night before a lot of us wanted to shower and nap and just get comfy as the hotel we were checking into was actually a little bit of luxury in comparison to the night before. There was an optional food tour but the group I was with decided to do our own version, take it easy, and explore some places where we could get some good food. I met up with a friend I had made in Chiang Mai that evening and we caught up on what we had each missed the last two weeks which was fun.
This was the last day of the tour for me and I just focused on moving into my hostel and saying goodbye to everyone I had met. I have mixed feelings about this tour but I would do another one. My friend is travelling around India with G Adventures though and loves it so I would recommend it. Next time I think I would choose a tour that isn’t on a shoestring as I think the hostels I stayed in on my own were a lot nicer than some of the hotels I was in in Cambodia, but I understand with a big tour group it isn’t always possible to get everyone into a hostel.
I did not like Ho Chi Minh as much as I thought I would, I think it’s a very vibrant city but I found it to be quite dangerous. Maybe this is because when I stayed on in Ho Chi Minh on my own, I came across quite a few instances where people had been mugged or hit by bikes or ripped off by locals. It’s a shame but it really put me off exploring. Ho Chi Minh is also where I found out that I had to fly home early and leave to go back to Bangkok and then to London as I was starting my new job sooner than expected. So it was sad for me to be leaving because I had a ticket booked to Phuket but I had to do a no show and leave for home instead.
Looking back if I was booking a tour, I would book it at the start of my trip especially if I was solo so that I could carry on after and also not feel that I was missing out on adventures that I could have had if I had been travelling solo. Not in the sense that I would want to get it out of the way first but it would be nice to join a group of people until the tour ends and then have your own freedom to do what you wanted and just explore on your own schedule.
Having to do things on someone else’s schedule after having two weeks to stroll around Chiang Mai was just too much for me and I think it’s why I got ill, which actually made my experience worse. A lot of people in the group were getting very sick and someone left the tour because of how ill they got. Not being able to rest when you wanted, eat when you wanted or just be on your own at all completely wiped me out for maybe 4 out of the 10 days of the tour when I just needed a day in bed to get over it and look after myself.
I think tour groups are amazing for people who don’t like to plan too much but I always do so much research into where I go so found it a little restrictive. On the other hand, I could not recommend G Adventures enough because this tour was so full of incredible experiences. I personally am happy I did it and I met some really nice people, I would always say it’s best to try something like this and see how you feel rather then stay away if you’re unsure. The guide we had was absolutely incredible, the information he knew and also the charity work he was telling us he did was so nice to hear. I can’t imagine having a better guide.
I’ve linked the G Adventures website as there as so many tours they do which sound incredible. Hopefully one day I’ll go again and maybe look at not doing the budget style one!
It’s taken me longer then I expected to put together this post but it’s also the last of my posts about my time travelling around Asia. I’m going to do a little round up but I hope you’ve enjoyed them. Get ready for some Europe content next because I’ve got a lot to share from my summer in Tenerife!
I post once a week covering topics such as solo travel, working and living abroad and also creating Gabriella’s Guides to places I have been. I cover topics under the following categories such as Planning and Packing, The Travel Diary, Travel Inspiration, Photo Diaries, Gabriella’s Guides and Working Abroad.