This post was written by guest travel bloggers Bonnie & Bob – from Foster City, California.
Well, we made it! Vietnam and Cambodia were wonderful but exhausting. We had some unique adventures, enjoyed great hotels and meals and met many interesting people along the way. Here’s a recap of the trip.
Vietnam and Cambodia Vacation Adventure
Our flight on Korean Air was wonderful but we landed in Seoul with less than 45 minutes to make our connection to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. We had to rush and go through security again. Luckily we made it and landed in Cambodia at 10pm. At the airport, the visa process was a joke – you gave your passport and $20′s and 5-6 police stamped it, then you waited in a long line for your name to be called. We started meeting the other 35 people on our tour group – and our fearless leader Suzie from Thailand. We were off to the Intercontinental (beautiful and luxurious) for a good night’s sleep.
The following day, after a great breakfast, we enjoyed a full day of sightseeing. We visited Wat Phnom, National Museum of Cambodia, Royal Palace & Silver Pagoda – and the most tragic Museum of Genocide. I still remember the Museum of Genocide and what the Khmer Rouge did to their own people. Our last stop was at the Central Market. Dinner was great and we slept soundly.
Next morning, we drove to Siem Reap and the Angkor Wat temples. The drive was fascinating as you see the small villages, bad roads and interesting landscape. We checked into Angkor Century Resort and Spa and then we were off to see the first of the temples. It is quite expensive to tour the grounds compared to other prices in Cambodia. As we wandered around, we noticed that it was very dangerous walking and climbing in some of the steep areas.
When we got ready to leave the last temple, we discovered that one of the men in our group was missing. Our group retraced our steps and we found him in good care of another guide! Went back to the hotel and had a massage (an hour of very strong massage – a little too much for me!) Then… dinner and sleep.
Next day more touring. Took a boat ride on Tonle Sap Lake (very poor villages… floating villages as the lake is huge and floods). Then more temples and Wats – very warm and humid weather. Enjoyed a fancy dinner at a French influence restaurant, then we got dropped off at the “Night Market.” Later, four of us took a tuk tuk (pronounced “toook-toook” – a motorized rickshaw) back to the hotel.
The following day’s touring included the “Women’s Complex” which was just discovered, an Artist Workshop (it had beautiful things I should have bought), then we were off to the airport for our flight to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon) in Vietnam.
Arrived Saturday night at the Moevenpick Hotel – beautiful and luxurious. We were tired, so we skipped dinner and went to sleep. Sunday, after a great breakfast (ate way too much – everything from sushi to waffles to ice cream etc.), we were off for a boat ride on the Mekong Delta.
First, we visited the town at the juncture of the Mekong river, about 1 1/2 hrs out of Ho Chi Minh City. Then, we started exploring the narrow canals and jungle. Just as we were supposed to get off our small boat, our friend Marianne stepped on a loose board and broke her ankle – it was bad. We were off-loaded and thought they were going to take her by boat back to the docks, but they carried her through the jungle to an ambulance for a 3-hour drive back to a private hospital. Their insurance company made all the arrangements for them to fly back to LAX as she had 2 major breaks. (Another reminder why you may want to buy travel insurance.)
After the boat trip, we went to the Knock-off Market (best place to shop). We enjoyed a full Ho Chi Minh City tour, thanks to Tommy, our great local guide (he was very interesting with a sarcastic humor).
Monday, we went to the Cu Chi Tunnels – really interesting. I went down in the narrow spaces but most people didn’t. Then we did more touring of Ho Chi Minh City – Notre Dame Cathedral, former US Embassy (drove by where it used to be; it doesn’t exist anymore), Chinese Quarter and Market, Post Office – and of course the “Lacquer Factory.”
Then we boarded the plane for Danang and Central Vietnam. Danang’s hotels on the beach (China Beach) are quite fancy, especially the lights. But Danang itself is in need of urban planning – they still have the “old” huts that used to be the big U.S. Air Force Base. We were off to the historic and ancient town of Hoi An and centrally located Historic Hotel (which we could do without – beautiful grounds but rooms were dated).
The next morning, we took a walking tour of this cute old, tourist town… shopping heavens! I had a jacket and sandals made – most of the things I bought on the trip were from here. The town was an old shopping and trading town – a lot of Japanese influence. Unfortunately the hotel was a pain…. at dinner they overcharged for wine and didn’t give you change, they left the doors open and the mosquitoes were everywhere. It just got worse from there!
That morning we also stopped at the Marble Mountains, Cham Museum in Danang and enjoyed a long drive through the countryside to Hue, former Imperial Capital of Vietnam. We stayed at the Gerbera Hotel – nice and great location on the river. We took a Trishaw (Cyclo) ride through the city…. really scary, but fun and interesting! Had a great dinner and 60th Anniversary celebration for one of the couples (oldest couple).
Next morning was a full day of sightseeing. We visited the Citadel (very interesting), Flag tower, Ngo Mon Gate and Forbidden Purple City (Royal family home until 1945), and Thien Mu Pagoda. It was a hot day, but the boat ride on Perfume River was a welcome relief. After that, we went to an awful local market before having the evening free. Bob and I went out for pizza and beer but everyone who took advantage of the recommended Italian or French Restaurants raved about the cuisine. We went to many Art Galleries around the hotel and bought a oil picture of the Citadel in an abstract form (I loved it, the colors are great for the dining room… now the cost of framing!). We were off to bed early as we had a 4:45am wake-up to get an 8am flight to Hanoi.
Hanoi was not exactly what we expected – a lot of French influence. The drive from the airport was long and our driver got pulled over by a host of police. He did not give the right-of-way to an official car and he was cited and detained… it was scary. We had a wonderful local guide by the name of Nam… he was a delight, knowledgeable and open.
That day we visited “Hanoi Hilton” – the prison where John McCain was held as a POW during the Vietnam War… very interesting. They tore down most of it but made a museum of the rest…. it’s something to see, but there is a modern tower right next to it…. no urban planning. We then had the best lunch… so many courses, your head and stomach spin – but great! We then took a tricycle tour of the old French Quarter (and where all the shopping is done). We stayed at the Movenpick and it was a wonderful hotel. We were supposed to leave for Ha Lang Bay, but the government officials took over our hotel…. so change in plans. Had a wonderful dinner (now food is overwhelming) and we got to walk around. Hanoi near the lakes is really beautiful at night but the streets and sidewalks (when they had them) are so dangerous to walk on with the holes and the motorbikes coming at you (even on green lights… when they had them)!
Next day, we visited Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (security tougher than at the airport), One Pillar Pagoda and Temple of Literature. We did another scenic walk thru’ the Old Quarter and went to the Water Puppet Theatre and production (OK… kinda touristy). That afternoon, more shopping. We were supposed to go to a famous restaurant called “Green Tangerine” but again, we were on food overload (I understand we missed something special).
On Monday, we drove to Halong Bay. Stopped along the way to see the countryside and some of the towns that are so polluted from coal factories. Of course stopped at the Pearl Factory and stayed at a pretty nice Novotel Hotel. Dinner was outstanding. We walked to the Night Market but it was misty and cool.
Next morning, we took a boat ride to visit Halong Bay. The natural attraction has thousands of jagged limestone islands rising up out of the water – it’s one of the world’s natural wonders (claimed by locals as the eighth Wonder of the World). We went into several caves (pretty difficult footing and climbing). Enjoyed an outstanding lunch on board the boat and then it was back to the bus for the ride to Hanoi. They gave us rooms to wash up and change clothes and then a farewell dinner before off to the airport.
The flight from Hanoi to Seoul was fine…. we checked into a transit hotel at the airport in Seoul as we had a 9-hr layover. Interesting concept… Had good seats on Korean Air back to the U.S. Was very glad to be home!!!