Posted in Travel to Vietnam & Cambodia

Cambodia and Vietnam: The Best 12 Day Tour Jam Packed with Sights and Experiences

We visited Vietnam and Cambodia in June 2019 and although we had visited both countries, on separate occasions, we loved them so much that we wanted to bring our adult children here for a family adventure holiday before our trip to Malaysia.

Nadarajah Family on Tour – Royal Palace of Cambodia
  1. Vietnam
    1. Hanoi
    2. Halong Bay
    3. Saigon | Ho Chi Min City
  2. Cambodia
    1. Siem Reap
    2. Angkor Wat
    3. Kulen Mountains
    4. Phnom Penh
  3. Our Hotels
  4. My Reflections

Nisha, Basker and I departed from Auckland and arrived in Vietnam to tour for 6 days after which time we met Linga, who arrived from the UK to join us and continue on with the rest of the tour, another 6 days. At the end of our Vietnam/Cambodia tour we carried on to Malaysia to visit with extended family and attend a wedding… that is for another post…

So, the three of us were up and off to the airport early on the appointed day safely ensconced in an Ola cab… but the driver’s app was glitching. He started going in circles, it wouldn’t take him on the correct route. At 5am we found ourselves dumped on the side of the road with all our luggage, in the dark, wondering what to do. Luckily an Uber taxi was nearby and finally we were off. However, I somehow think this set the tone for our trip to Cambodia and Vietnam… wonderful excitement followed by some difficulty. Read on, dear reader.

On tour with your adult children…

Vietnam

We certainly had a jam packed itinerary and the pace was hectic because, as it turned out, we had scheduled a lot of attractions within a short timeframe. The days seemed to race by in a blur.

Hanoi

We arrived in Hanoi after an 11 hour flight to Kuala Lumpur then a connecting flight of 3½ hours to Hanoi, not too long for us because our home is so far away that we are used to long haul flights particularly when heading to Europe or USA.

As soon as we arrived we started our tour and visited many sights, I had a foot spa, and we bought souvenirs from a lacquer shop, a beautifully crafted tray with a traditional design. After the official tour for the day ended Nisha wanted to visit Train St so the guide was kind enough to take us there and it was the perfect photo op. Gosh, the place rattled when a train passed by so closely. Everyone scrambled, wonderful.

We continued walking in the evening to find a good restaurant and enjoyed lovely fresh minty Viet food. We loved the pretty Hoàn Kiếm Lake and wandered around this area soaking it all up. Then we went to the Water Puppet Show and were amazed to get wonderful seats in the front row. A double edged sword. The show was cute and whimsical… until it wasn’t. I was splashed with water and it went directly into my eye! Is it just me or do you tend to sink into a dark hole when you’re not sure of what it all means. I obsessed about getting pink eye for 24 hours! Nothing happened and I’m still alive and all is good. Second glitch.

Things we did

  • 1 hour cyclo tour around Old Quarter, French Quarter.
  • Water puppet show followed by dinner at local restaurant.
  • Full Day Hanoi City Tour:
    • we visited Ho Chi Minh complex inclusive of Uncle Ho’s Mausoleum and Museum, house on stilts, One Pillar Pagoda.
    • visit the Buddhist Tran Quoc Pagoda on West lake with “Cha Ca La Vong”
    • visit the Ethnology Museum, the Literature Temple which is Vietnam”s first university constructed in 1070.
    • Ngoc Son temple located at Hoan Kiem Lake.
    • shopping at Dong Xuan market.

Halong Bay

Up and off by 5am because it was a long drive to Halong Bay and we had a boat to catch. We had previously been on this cruise but were thrilled to be taking our daughter this time and we’re glad that she loved it as much as we did. The cruise was stunning. Halong Bay is UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular travel destination and we enjoyed seeing the thousands of limestone karsts as we floated by.

Dinner on the boat was a huge amount of fun. The crew looked after us well, they held a hands-on cooking class making Vietnamese spring rolls, served us drinks, and presented amazing food decorated with fantastical garnishes. We slept well.

The next day on board was full of new experiences. The sunrise on the top deck at 5am while doing tai chi was beautiful. Later we wandered through a limestone cave and then followed along as others did some kayaking. The fishing village was fascinating.

After the cruise we headed back to Hanoi to stay for one night and in the evening Basker hired a rickshaw for us and we were cycled around Hanoi while enjoying the busy night atmosphere and lights.

Things we did

  • Halong Bay / Cruise Overnight
  • Drive about 4 hours to Halong city. See the landscape of the Red River Delta country side and have a short break on the way. Arrive the harbor and embark junk cruise. Lunch served while cruising among the limestone islands. Relax and swim on the beach of Soi Sim island. Or kayak among the hidden areas of the bay. Dinner and overnight on cruise
  • Start your day with Tai Chi on sundeck. Breakfast served at sunrise. Explore the amazing Sung Sot Cave – the nicest cave in Halong Bay. Continue your cruise exploring the Bay, passing Ba Hang fishing village, Dog Islet.
Hạ Long Bay
Halong Bay and flag 🇻🇳

Saigon | Ho Chi Min City

A busy day touring significant places of interest in Saigon. We visited the Vietnam War Museum and discovered that here in NZ we manufactured the devastating agent orange chemical used in warfare. There were some tears. Interestingly, just a couple of weeks ago here at home, there was a news item about the chemical effect on factory workers at the Paritutu manufacturing facility. Also it was mentioned that the facility is now closed with no testing or remediation of any soil contamination planned. A sad testament.

We decided to give the tunnels a miss in favour of a boat tour on the Mekong Delta. It was very pleasant. We landed on Unicorn and Coconut islands, saw a coconut factory, snake whiskey, coconut candy, honey tea and sampled some local fruit such as rambutans. Next we were taken to a smaller river reminiscent of the Whau Creek where tiny boatwomen were to paddle us along the narrow canals. Picture this: us three big people on the banks of a creek looking down at a couple of tiny canoes wondering how to get in… and if we did, how would we balance long enough to sit down? Also, how were these tiny women going to cope?

These questions were full of doubt and anxiety. I was riveted to the spot and couldn’t move. Glitch three.

I have to give all the credit to Nisha. With all the elegance of a softly stepping dancer she managed to gently step into the canoe and lower herself to a plank seat without tipping. I was encouraged to follow suite and my visions of arms flapping, legs wobbling side to side followed by a ungraceful, floundering nose dive into the river all but melted away… I did it! Basker jumped in like a boss and we were paddling away.

Once I got in, I actually enjoyed it and I saw it as an innovative experience giving tourist some appreciation of the skillfulness of the people as they navigate the narrow waterways.

Nisha described it as an awful Disney ride, her words.

Along Mekong River Delta
Along Mekong River Delta

Things we did

  • Independent Palace ( just take photo from outside) which was the residence of the President Ngo Dinh Diem of the former South Vietnam until 1975
  • War Remnant Museum which comprehensively documents the travails of the long Vietnam – American War
  • See some classic European-style landmarks such as the ornate City Hall, the Opera House (only be viewed from the outside), and pay a quick visit to the Central Post Office.
  • Cuchi. This underground tunnels network constructed by Vietnamese fighters during our struggle for independence. Before exploring the system, we watch a short documentary film of how this extraordinary tunnels constructed. We then spend the next hour exploring the maze of tunnels (with 3 levels) which display of various man traps and the remains of war After lunch, return to city center. Free time for shopping till cruise dinner.
  • Mekong river for sightseeing: the view of the river’s banks, floating fish farm and islands of Dragon, Unicorn, Turtle, Phoenix. After that, landing on Unicorn island. Stop at local orchards and try seasonal fruits, listening traditional music. Get on horse cart going through country lanes. Another stop at local farm to see bee farm, coconut candy workshop, taste honey bee tea. You have a chance to experience the rowing by local skillful boatwoman who will lead you go through small canals.

Cambodia

Royal Palace of Cambodia

Siem Reap

We took a puddle hopper to Cambodia with only 20 people on board. It was only a one hour flight but seemed to take forever to get to our hotel. We searched for Amok chicken before turning in for an early night.

The next day we met Linga at the airport mid morning and embarked on our days activities. We went directly to the floating village. The boat ride was etheric as it took us across vast tracts of water in the gloom and mistiness of the morning. I really loved it and it give me glimpse of such a different way of life. Amazing!

At night we visited Pub Street for dinner and we were surprised at how different it was compared to our previous visit, so much more busy. A thriving, bustling street full of restaurants, bars and shops, full of life and promising the odd bargain.

On tour with your adult children…

Angkor Wat

I missed the sunrise but the others were up at 4.00am to visit Angkor Wat. By all accounts it was beautiful. After we reunited for breakfast we all returned to Angkor Wat for the day. It was an amazingly surreal experience. We couldn’t believe that we were here, such a “pinch me” moment in time.

We spent the day walking, climbing steps, taking photos, touching ancient structures and all in 30 degree heat. Be sure to take lots of water, you will need it.

I would suggest a three day pass because it would have been nice to explore all the outer temples and buildings, there is so much to see… next time.

Things we did

  • Chong Kneas Floating Village, take a ride by traditional wooden boat on Tonle Sap Lake to experience the fishermen life. In the wet season, the Tonle Sap Lake is one of the largest freshwater lakes in Asia.
  • Night Market & Pub Street
  • Full Day Temple Tour
  • The South Gate Of Angkor Thom including Bayon Temple,
  • The Royal Enclosure Phimeanakas, Bapoun Temple,
  • The Elephant Terrace and The Terrace Of The Leper King.
  • Continue to Small Circuit including Thommanan, Chaosay Tevoda, Ta Keo and the fabulous Ta Prohm.
  • Angkor Wat The “7th Wonders’ of the World”.
  • Sunset viewing on top of Bak Kheng Temple.
  • Buffet dinner Khmer with traditional show at local restaurant

Kulen Mountains

A full day visiting the mountain, waterfall, puja at the temple, river of the 1000 Lingas, and enjoying the outdoors. Lots of driving, walking and eating. Spectacular.

Things we did

  • Kulen Mountain is considered by Khmers to be the most sacred mountain in Cambodia and is a popular place of pilgrimage during weekends and festivals. Phnom Kulen is in Svay Leu and Varin district, about 60 kilometers from Siem Reap provincial town and 25 kilometers from Banteay Srei.
  • Phnom Kulen, This mountain plateau served as the capital of the first Khmer Empire for more than half a century before it relocated south minor temples are found around the plateau, including Rorng Chen temple, the first pyramid built by an Angkorian King

Phnom Penh

A quick 45 minute flight and we were in Phnom Penh. This was the hardest day.

We visited the Genocide Museum and the torture prison. It was terribly terribly sad and depressing and we spent the day in tears. We actually got to speak to a man who was a survivor and was on the grounds of the prison to promote his book. Was it only such a short time ago that such atrocities occurred? I remember hearing the news when I was at university in the 1970s and got to know the name Pol Pot. It was as abhorrent then as it still is now.

Horrible glitch four. However, it is good to remember, to make sure this is known, never forgotten.

We enjoyed the market and spent our last night shopping for souvenirs, then headed to the roof top bar for well deserved cocktails and cold beers.

In the morning- off to the airport and on to KL.

Things we did

  • Toul Sleng The Genocide Museum
  • Russian Market for souvenir shopping.
  • Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda located in the same
    compound.
  • Wat Phnom Hill
  • Daun Penh statue
  • Independence Monument
  • Victory Monument
  • Sihanouk king Statue (the late king Father of Cambodia Independence)
  • The Killing Field (Cheung Ek) 15Km from Phnom Penh

Our Hotels

My Reflections

We came to Cambodia and Vietnam to see history and we left with the memory of beautiful people.

My heart goes out to Cambodian people. The rebuilding of the country from the ground up has been slow and careful but the positivity of the people is inspiring and makes me think that all will be well. We met friendly and engaging people here who welcomed us, a strange group of tourists.

Funny story… after 3 days on tour our guide wanted to know how it came to be that we were a group of 4 people travelling together, how did we know each other? We explained our individual origins and that we are a family. This endearingly demonstrated just how sweet the people are. Honestly, just ask.

I love it when someone asks about us, how did we met, what do we think, what is our religion. This is my opportunity to educate and inform.

My belief: love does not need to have labels, love has no colour, sex or age.

Thanks for visiting my blog. Ka kite anō.

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This is a blog that aims to share beautiful recipes, crochet ideas, travel inspo, mosaic art… and more

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