A Retirees Guide to South East Asia, Cambodia, Vietnam, The Philippines, and Laos is the second book in The Retiree Series of travel books. The books are aimed at retirees or future retirees who want to enjoy their retirement years traveling and seeing places that they maybe couldn’t afford or did not have time for when they were working and raising a family. Sixty-five is the new fifty so most of us are fitter and healthier than our parents were, and when you retire there is a whole world out there waiting for you to discover it. The challenge is being able to afford and enjoy your adventures on a pension. I am often amazed at some of the people I have spoken to on my travels who, have just booked their trip through a local travel agent, and not checked prices elsewhere. Though we may have traveled on the same airplane, gone on the same tour or be staying in the same hotel, the price I paid was sometimes half of what they had paid. I am not backpacker, just a retiree who loves his comfort, staying in nice hotels, eating in good restaurants, drinking decent wine and cocktails and going on tours. I manage to do this on a retirement income by looking for bargains wherever and whenever I travel. This is a journal of a two-month trip that I took through Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Laos. I did this trip on a budget, surviving on my pension. During that time I ticked off many items on my bucket list, ate and drank well, saw some breathtaking sights and did some amazing things including:
• The beauty of Angkor Wat and watching the sunrise over the temples.
• The atrocities of the Killing Fields and S_21 Prison in Phnom Phen.
• Sailed on the mighty Mekong River.
• Crawled through Vietnam’s Chu Chi Tunnels and visited the war museum.
• Explored the ancient cities of Ho Chi Min and Hanoi.
• Had clothing made to measure by expert tailors in Hoi An.
• Cruised Vietnams Halong Bay.
• Experienced Wind Surfing in Boracay and saw Bohol’s Chocolate Hills in the Philippines.
• Visited Laos.
My philosophy is the more I can save when traveling, the more I can travel, having said that, be frugal, not cheap. Look for deals and don’t waste money, but don’t miss out on great experiences or walk miles to save money.
Targeted Age Group:: Retirees
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
The end of your working life should be an exciting start to your new life, as I discovered when I retired in 2017. I decided to retire to Thailand, a country where, your pension can stretch much further than your home country, where the people are friendly and accepting and where the weather is beautiful for most of the year. After I managed to get my Thai retirement visa and completed the innumerable things that I had to do to establish myself in Thailand, I decided to write a book on my experiences on retiring to The Land of Smiles, “The retire in Thailand handbook, the first six months”. The book relates to the countless problems that can arise when coming to a new country to retire, based on my own experience when I arrived in the country. I placed the book on Amazon, and it was picked up by Austin Macauley a London based publishers a few months later, and I was then offered a publishing contract. Because of my own experiences traveling as a retiree on a budget I was then inspired to write a series of travel books aimed at the retiree and Baby Boomer market from a retiree perspective. There are lots of travel books out there that cater to backpackers, couples, families and budget travelers but not many dedicated to retirees, many who love to travel, more so now that their children have grown and they no longer have to work. The book is a journal of a two-month trip I took to Cambodia, Vietnam The Philippines and Laos, living on my retirement pension but not missing out on any of the experiences because of my budget.
Since I was a young boy reading books, watching movies and dreaming of one day traveling to the Far East, I always wanted to visit Cambodia. There is something about the mystery of Cambodia, and the names of the cities and the rivers that conjure up in my mind the essence of the darker side of the Orient. I would picture monks’ in saffron robes walking the steamy streets with their alms bowls extended waiting to be filled with rice and vegetables by their followers. Rickshaws, with men in white linen suits and Panama hats, being conveyed through the busy markets of China Town. The sound of Muslims being called to prayer (it was my imagination, I have since found out the country is 95% Buddhist). Phnom Penh, the Mekong Delta, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat. When I think of those names and places, in my mind I see Humphrey Bogart lurking in the shadows near some deserted temple, lighting a cigarette, watching, waiting for Peter Lorre or Sydney Greenstreet to appear, with stolen secrets that could destroy the world if they got into the wrong hands. Unfortunately thanks to the Vietnam War and then Pol Pot, Cambodia didn't open up for tourism until the mid-1990s, and even then it was mainly for backpackers and aging traveling hippies. In the mid-1990s, I was living in Australia, working hard with a huge mortgage and trying to put four children through school, so Cambodia was long before put on the shelf for another time. Since 1994 Cambodian tourism has come on in leaps and bounds, and they mainly have their jewel in the crown, Angkor Wat to thank for that. The hotel chains are all here now, Hyatt, Raffles, Intercontinental and Sofitel, Cambodia is well and truly on the tourist map. According to statistics, nearly 6 million tourists visited Cambodia in 2017 up 11.7% from the previous year, and 400% more than when the country first opened up for tourism in 2004. It’s a far cry from the 39 million people who visited Thailand in 2017, but that is what appeals to me. Cambodia now is like Thailand was back in the early eighties before it was discovered and inundated with "Farang Tourists".
Once the ‘Pearl of Asia', Phnom Penh' went in to decline due to the impact of war and revolution from the Second World War until the death of Pol Pot and the fall of the Khmer Rouge. For many years it was still fresh in people’s minds about the horror of the millions of people that had died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge and it would be quite some time before tourists had the confidence to visit a country with such a tragic, bloody history. In 1999 Pol Pot and most of his senior Khmer Rouge henchmen were dead, the people of Cambodia had their monarchy back on the throne and had a somewhat stable government, the country was starting to overcome its former problems and the future was looking more and more optimistic. In December of that year, the then Prime Minister Hun Sen, probably after seeing the massive effect tourism was having on neighboring Thailand's economy, declared an open skies policy in a bid to attract more direct international flights to arrive in both Siem Reap and Phnom Penh airports. The foundation was now in place to put
Cambodia on the tourism map. Since 1999 Phnom Phen has grown considerably. There have been huge investments from many overseas countries (mainly China) that have seen the potential Cambodia has to offer, and Phnom Phen, Siem Reap, and Sihanoukville have been the main benefactors of those investments.
I had arrived in Thailand in February 2017 and had been living in Phuket while I sorted out my Thai Retirement Visa, opened a bank account, got a Thai driving license and organised the endless list of things I needed to do to establish myself in a new country. Before I left Australia, after spending many hours doing research, I originally thought that Phuket would be the best place for me to retire, which was why I headed there when I got off the airplane in Bangkok. After about six months I realised that Phuket was not the best place for me to retire, a nice place, but not for me. I decided to move on to the next place on my list that I had marked off as an acceptable place that would suit my retirement needs, I chose Koh Samui, an island paradise five hours drive northeast of Phuket. When I arrived in Koh Samui at the end of October 2017 I had already booked a hotel for two weeks online for a comparable price to what I had paid previously in Phuket. When I went to rebook it for another two weeks twelve days later the price had risen dramatically, and when I again checked the prices for after those dates, I found that as it got closer to the high season months of December, January and February the hotel prices would rise even more, and would eventually be triple what I was paying now. I had to make a choice, either rent a condo in Koh Samui or move elsewhere in Thailand or South East Asia, somewhere with cheaper accommodation. As I had only just arrived in Koh Samui I wasn’t a 100% sure that it was the place for me, I needed more time to make that decision, so I decided not to rent a condo as it would restrict me if I decided that I wanted to move to another area of Thailand. I spent some time on the internet looking at other areas of Thailand and South East Asia that might be a cheaper alternative until the high season ended. I eventually decided that I would go to Cambodia at the end of December 2017. I had been told by some of the people that I had met on my travels, that Cambodia was very much like Thailand was 25 years ago”. I would try Cambodia and if I could budget my money I would also go to Vietnam, the Philippines and Laos, depending on flight and hotel costs.
It's here that this book begins. I checked out of my hotel in Koh Samui, very early on the morning of December 23rd, 2017. I was to fly from Surat Thani airport to Bangkok and then transfer to a connecting flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia. I was living in Koh Samui but the reason I didn’t fly from Koh Samui airport was because of the costs of the airfares. Koh Samui airport is owned and operated by Bangkok Airways and they have a monopoly on the domestic flights that fly in and out of their airport. No other domestic airlines fly out of Koh Samui airport, which means Bangkok Airways, can charge what they want. When I checked the prices from Koh Samui to Bangkok the price was a staggering ฿8,000 ($240) one way. The flight from Surat Thani airport to Bangkok was ฿1900 Baht ($55). The flight times for both flights were one hour, but to get to Surat Thani Airport would entail a 30 minute bus ride from my hotel in Chaweng to the ferry port, then a 90 minute ferry ride from Koh Samui to Donsak in Surat Thani, followed by a ninety-minute bus ride from Donsak Pier to Surat Thani airport. So about four hours more in travel time. As I’m retired and have plenty of time on my hands, I decided to take the cheaper Surat Thani Airport option. The flight and ferry and transfers ended up costing me
฿2,450 ($80) opposed to the ฿8,000 ($240) I would have paid flying out of Koh Samui, with a saving of ฿5550 ($160.00). The ferry and minibus ride was very enjoyable and in air-conditioned comfort. That's one of the great things about being retired, I have slowed down a lot and I am not in so much of a hurry to do things anymore, even more so if it saves me money. The flight from Surat Thani to Bangkok’s Dom Muang airport with Lion Air took about an hour. I then checked in for my connecting flight to Siem Reap with Air Asia which was the cheapest flight I could find for ฿3,200 ($92.00).
* CAMBODIAN TRIP TIP… There are many airlines that fly from within Thailand to Cambodia and other South East Asian destinations. Many of them are budget airlines that charge you extra for checked baggage. Lion Air includes 15kg of checked baggage in their ticket price, Thai Airlines 30kg, Thai Smile 20kg, Nok 15kg, Bangkok Airlines 30kg, so factor the added cost of checked baggage when deciding which airline to fly.
* As Cambodia prefers to use US dollars I have kept prices in US dollars.
The flight from Bangkok to Siem Reap took just over an hour. After I had my visa stamped in my passport, cleared immigration and picked up my bag and cleared customs, I needed to get to my hotel. I had already researched the cheapest options through a Google search, so to save money I walked through the parking lot towards the exit, and just outside the airport, I found a Tuk Tuk that had just dropped off their passengers and were now waiting for a new fare to head back into town. Google said the fare should be between $4.00 and $6.00, so I haggled the price down from $10.00 to $5.00 and off we went. If I had booked a taxi from the airport desk it would have cost me $10.00 so it was about half the price I would have paid, just by taking the short walk to the road outside of the airport.
I had booked the Kingfisher Angkor Hotel for $26.00 a night inclusive of a full buffet breakfast through booking.com, my favorite website for booking hotels. (See useful website page), I usually find that they come in cheaper than the other hotel booking websites that I use. I usually go to booking.com to find a suitable hotel within my price range, using the filters on the site to choose my preferences such as swimming pool, breakfast included, restaurant facilities, gym or how many stars the hotel has. I usually take 3-star hotels unless one of the 4-star hotels is discounted. 3 stars in Thailand and South East Asia are normally of a very good standard and as I spend most of my time out of the hotel, I find it a waste of money to pay for the extra luxury that the 4 and 5-star hotels charge. I also use hotels.com a lot when booking hotel accommodation if their prices are comparative, as after booking a total of ten nights with them you get one free night. Keep in mind when booking accommodation through websites, that some companies add taxes and fees to the price at the end of the booking whereas the booking.com price that you see includes taxes and fees. Kingfisher Angkor Hotel was a boutique hotel with a small shady swimming pool. I was offered a welcoming cold drink and then shown to my room, which was modern and spacious. I had booked this hotel because it was only a few minutes’ walk to the main tourist area of Pub Street where most of the bars and restaurants are situated. I showered and changed and went out to sample my first ever Cambodian meal and beer.
Pub Street was full of great restaurants and bars and the adjoining streets were also teeming with pubs, restaurants, markets and entertainment venues. I had been told that Cambodian food was similar to Thai food but less spicy, so I was keen to find out how the food compared. Thai food is more renowned than Cambodian food, as I have not seen many if any Cambodian restaurants on my world travels, whereas Thai restaurants are like McDonalds they are found everywhere. Personally, even though I love their unique flavors, I find Thai food is often too spicy for my taste buds and the chilies they use in their cooking, can sometimes overpower the unique herbs and spices that go into their recipes. I found a nice restaurant called The Khmer Family Restaurant and with a name like that it specialised in Cambodian cuisine. The food and drinks listed on the menu were a lot cheaper than what I was used to paying in Thailand and unbelievably cheap compared to Australia and other western countries. I ordered a large Angkor draught for only 50 cents, (no not a misprint 50 cents); the beer came in a frosted glass, it went down so well, that I ordered another, while I watched the hordes of people walking along Pub Street. I ordered Fish Amok which is a Khmer coconut curry with jasmine rice. The meal was served on a banana leaf and was beautifully cooked, the fish white, juicy and flavorsome, and as promised, not as spicy as the Thai equivalent. The bill for 2 beers, fish curry, and rice $6.00, I left a $1.00 tip, then walked a few meters down the street to the Temple Bar and watched a live Filipino band play some good cover songs. I then walked back to my hotel and had an early night, as the next morning I was setting off before dawn to see Angkor Wat.
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