I have recently returned from a trip to Vietnam & Cambodia and think I have fallen in love with a new destination – South East Asia!!
Apart from short visits to Hong Kong & Singapore, this was to be my first foray into Asia, and my eyes were wide open.
We landed in Hanoi in the early morning and from then on it was all go – the political centre of Vietnam, Hanoi is electric from dawn till late, and really has something to offer every traveller. From museums, art galleries, temples, theatres, bar street, shops, great restaurants and street food stalls. We visited the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum and the war remnants museum and enjoyed a traditional water puppet show.
We also visited the beautiful Halong Bay which is about a 3 hour drive from Hanoi. A UNESCO world heritage site known for its emerald waters and thousands of towering limestone islands topped with rain forests – Halong Bay is truly stunning and we enjoyed a 5 hour cruise through the islands, and climbed one of the highest peaks for the best views.
An hour’s flight took us to Danang and an onwards road trip led us to Hoi An – a beautiful little town on an estuary inlet, located about 4kn from the main beach. Hoi An is a little treasure with ancient buildings, markets and a thriving fishing community. Come evening the narrow streets come alive and are all decorated with lit Chinese lanterns of all shapes and hues – a truly memorable sight. We also found a number of great local restaurants in Hoi An, and all agreed that Hoi An is a wonderful destination for foodies!
We enjoyed a day in the local village of Triem Tay, and were treated to a traditional lunch in one of the houses, and met lots of the local families who were really welcoming.
Another flight took us south to Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon) and wow, this city is buzzing!! Being the commercial capital of Vietnam, there are modern shopping malls standing shoulder to shoulder with traditional markets. Bien Than market in central Saigon is a sight to behold and a shopoholics dream with stalls selling everything from designer handbags, scarves, clothes and shoes, to dried fish, meats, fruits and herbal medicines – the smells were something else & the rats an unexpected sight!! The traffic in Saigon is unreal, with the vehicle of choice being the moped – thousands and thousands of them!
We visited the Cu Chi Tunnels which are about a 2 hour drive from Saigon which lent us a fascinating insight into how the local Vietnamese and army fought in the jungle in the American war. We explored this labyrinth of under ground tunnels which stretch for over 250 square miles and where the army lived, fought and hid for the duration of the war.
We also enjoyed a full day on the Mekong Delta, again taking roughly 2.5 hours drive to reach the dock. This was an incredible day, which allowed us to sail between the many islands visiting riverside villages, and enjoying a traditional lunch of river fish. We also got to sail on small paddle boats navigating the narrow water ways, which we really enjoyed.
Just over an hours flight took us on to Siem Reap in Cambodia. Upon arrival at the beautiful Angkor Palace Resort, we took some time to take in the beautiful grounds and gardens of the hotel – a tranquil little paradise located about 4km from down town Siem Reap. After the busy pace of life an the modernity of the Vietnamese cities, Cambodia felt like a step back in time.
We drove to Tonle Sap lake, the largest lake in South East Asia, and were treated to a fantastic boat trip through a traditional stilt village, where we got to witness the villagers every day activities on the lake, from their fishing, washing, swimming and cooking the produce sourced directly from the murky waters!
We boarded kayaks and wound our way through the back swamps, which was magical. Curious monkeys came down from the trees to investigate us as we sailed through the floating markets which is a memory that will stay with me forever.
Another stand out moment for me was our trip to Angkor Wat to watch the sun rise above the mysterious temples. The tranquillity of the moment the sun peaked with the reflection of the temples in the still lake is a once in a life time experience, and one I would recommend to anyone visiting Cambodia – even if we did have an early start at 4.30am! After a leisurely breakfast we returned to explore the temples of Ankor Wat, Ankor Thom and Ta Promh for a day time tour which was also fascinating.
Vietnam & Cambodia are 2 countries in vast contrast to one another and I would definitely recommend visiting both on the same trip to fully appreciate this.
I really enjoyed the vibrancy, history, and culture in Vietnam, but I also loved the laid-back pace, old fashioned charms, food and Tuk Tuk’s in Cambodia.
I would love to return to this region one day and I would recommend this trip to anyone with a curious sense of adventure.