Over recent years, travellers are turning to the delights of Cambodia and Vietnam as an alternative trip to South East Asia. This area of the world offers an array of beautiful landscapes, soft sandy beaches, and stunning temples – namely, the famous Angkor Wat. There are a range of tours covering both countries, which will take you overland, on the sea and amidst bustling cityscapes.
Our trip started in Hanoi, located in the north of Vietnam. Although Hanoi has a strong Chinese influence, it has a very distinct culture in its own right. To encourage tourism in the country, the Vietnamese Government stipulates that all hotels are of a certain standard; they must have air con and hi-speed broadband. Throughout our trip, we were impressed by the high quality of hotels including those at the lower end of our budget. Wandering through Hanoi in the evening is a fascinating experience. We booked onto a street food tour, which we highly recommend doing early on in your trip. You will taste lots of tantalising foody treats, sitting on small plastic stools on the street or within hidden, delightful cafes. This tour will give you the confidence to order food on your own as you explore this exciting city.
One of the highlights of our adventure was the Ha Long Bay island boat trip. You will travel through limestone islands, jutting high out of the ocean, covered by rainforest. Stay overnight on the boat as it anchors in the calm, glittering aquamarine sea. As the sun goes down you will see spectacular sunsets and views across the mountainous islands – you can even take part in a spot of squid fishing. The next day you will explore local caves, walk up to one of the highest island points, and you can go sea kayaking too. We enjoyed tasty meals on the boat and met many other fellow travellers.
From Hanoi, we flew down to Hội An, a sleepy village positioned between rice paddies and the ocean. One tip: If you travel down the coastline, you will avoid having to take anti-malarials – if you go further inland, e.g. up into the tribal highlands, you will need to take medication. Flights are easy and cheap, but you can take a train or travel by road with an organised tour company.
Hội An is a shoppers’ dream. A lot of clothing is now produced in Vietnam for major high street retailers. There is a great mix of affordable boutiques and good quality souvenirs including artwork that you can bring home with you. Take a riverboat trip to see local villages to get a true flavour of the culture. You will have a choice of beautiful beaches nearby with plenty of restaurants to choose from. Why not treat yourself to a massage while you’re there?
From Hội An, we flew down to Ho Chi Minh, previously known as Saigon. You will find a distinctly different cultural dynamic compared to Hanoi; the North/South divide is still very evident. A big bustling city, full of interesting museums and culture, we visited the sobering yet highly educational War Remnants Museum. Warning: this is not for the fainthearted – as the focus is on the tragic Vietnam War, expect to see many disturbing exhibits.
One of the ‘must sees’ when you are staying in Ho Chi Minh is to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels. An incredible and immense network of tunnels built by the Viet Kong during the Vietnam War, you can walk through this open-air war museum and even crawl through a couple of the tunnels (definitely not for the claustrophobic!). A fascinating trip, we highly recommend this tour.
Our next stop was Cambodia. Flying from Ho Chi Minh, we embarked in Siem Reap; the nearest town to the jaw-dropping Angkor Wat temple complex. Considered as one of the only remaining Ancient Wonders of the World, this was actually my second visit. I was not disappointed. Nothing prepares you for the sheer magnitude of the numerous temples you will see. Imagine yourself as Indiana Jones, exploring the incredible Bayon Temple – just watch out for the naughty monkeys! Whether you visit the temples during the day, at sunset or sunrise, this will be a trip of a lifetime you will remember for years to come.
Make sure you spend a few days in Siem Reap. Wandering down endless lanes, you can browse quirky, individual shops selling good quality clothing and souvenirs. Then stop off for a bite to eat in one of the many cafes and restaurants, which serve all types of local and international cuisine. Try the Cambodian curry served in a coconut; this was one of our favourite dishes!
Would you like to tour Cambodia and Vietnam? We can explore a range of itineraries with you – Call Destinasia from Not Just Travel on 01455 240522 for more information.
Featured Image 1