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Review: Ultimate Vietnam and Cambodia

Specialist Holiday - Tailor-made

The best of Indochina - Cambodia & Vietnam make a great couple

  • By SilverTraveller Penny_11

    1 review

  • Feb 2011
  • Husband

20 people found this review helpful

Arrived in Hanoi at last, after 16 hours of economy travel! Wonderful, there is our guide in a bright Selective Asia cap and a large sign displaying our names – welcome to Vietnam, we have arrived!. We’re taken to our hotel all the time discussing our itinerary in Hanoi whilst our driver skilfully negotiates the dense pack of cars (few) and scooters (many). Our first night’s dinner is booked for us – blissful and we enjoy a nightcap (well, several Singapore Slings actually) in our hotel bar, listening to a trio of great singers belting our 60’s English hits – right up our alley!

Our guide is waiting for us in the hotel lobby, and we set off to see Hanoi. Nothing compares one for the joyous, raucous bustle of the old city, where crossing the road seems to be like taking your life in your hands – our tiny little guide pulling me across, as the scooters miraculously weave around us! We are dropped off for lunch, and then picked up again for a cyclo ride – fantastic fun, and feeling as if we are part of the throng! Then a puppet show, and a wonderful evening meal at our guide’s recommendation – she books it for us and shows us how to get there. Our heads are spinning as we hit the sack – Hanoi is a wonderful place.

Our guide again waiting for us (this is the same throughout the whole trip) and we are off to Halong Bay, a 3 hour trip to the coast. There we find an immense bustling throng of tourists and Vietnamese, all of us getting on our junks to have a day’s cruise through the majestic peaks that rise out of the water. We find ourselves on a boat of 10, and have great fun that night over a simple fresh seafood supper and a large quantity of alcohol. Our guide is with us on the junk, translating for us and coming with us on the walk through fantastic caves.

Back to Hanoi at midday, after lying atop our junk and relaxing, taking in the amazing scenery. We walked through old Hanoi again by ourselves and then sat by the lake enjoying the spectacle. We had booked tickets to Hanoi Opera House (our guide’s suggestion) and had a wonderfully unusual evening, listening to the excellent Hanoi Symphonic Orchestra and some star Vietnamese opera singers – Covent Garden watch out!

We’re on the move again! This time to Mai Chau, a simple village 3 hours away, amidst beautiful countryside, the road lined with rice fields and fascinating life going on all around us – like 3 pigs trussed up on their backs on the back of a bike: our guide pronounces solemly “One way ticket”!
We sleep that night in a villager’s hut, after a walk through rice fields, and most importantly for me, a visit to the 2 little village schools. We give money, a paltry amount to us wealthy foreigners, and the school lines up to sing us a song: I carry that memory with me.

On the way back to Hanoi, we visit the Muong village, an ancient tribe. This is a terrific experience, as the village looks almost entirely unspoilt and we wander through, paying our respects at various villagers’ houses, with our guide translating. We are always invited in – everyone is so friendly. We return to Hanoi, where we wander round our favourite parts, saying goodbye and end up eating delicious ice creams on a floating deck of the lake. Then a sad farewell to our guide and driver, and we are back at the airport to transfer to Danang and onward to Hoi An. We arrive late in Hoi An, having been met again at Danang airport, and driven out to our hotel in Hoi An. Our guide recommends a little restaurant to have supper on the waterfront and we gratefully take up his suggestion. It is the best meal we have every tasted – simple red snapper wrapped in banana leaf – or maybe it is that we are tired, thrilled to be there and consuming several large Tigers, the excellent Vietnamese lager! We sit outside the row of tiny riverside restaurants, with small lights floating on the river in front of us and feel very content.

Day to explore, and one of us knows what they want to do…….. off to the silk shop that our guide has recommended. 2 hours later we stagger out, having ordered mountains of stuff for both of us! Fitting tomorrow. We leave the little town and go out to a peaceful bar on the riverside, where we lie on the deck and have a delicious lunch. There is a boat swinging on its rope and we are offered a ride. Dinner that night at the famous Café Des Amis, where there is no menu and the proprietor brings you the catch of the day .. and it keeps coming and coming!

We meet early at the vibrant and bustling food market on the riverside. Our cooking guide takes a group of us round showing us the produce, and then we go down river to the Redbridge cooking school, a tranquil beauty spot on the river’s edge. We have a cooking demo by a big personality Vietnamese cook (Jamie Oliver, watch out) and then get to have a go ourselves. We eat our offerings on the deck and make friends with all out fellow chefs. We recommend our red snapper restaurant, and find 4 couples there when we go back that night!

We are taken back to Danang airport, stopping enroute to climb the Marble Mountain and walk on the famous China beach. Then off to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh), where we are met by our next guide and transferred to Phan Thiet – the famous Mui Ne beach. This is a long drive, but so worth it. Our chalet looks out over an infinity pool and onward to the surf. It is pure, unabashed luxury – and we love every minute of the next 3 days!

Pure bliss.

We delay our guide’s arrival to move us on as long as we possibly can, in order not to miss a moment in paradise! Then we’re on the road again, back to Saigon, stopping overnight in a lovely hotel, where we happen to bump into some of our cookery school friends, and join them for dinner!

Early start and a journey down south part of it through the “orchards” of Vietnam. We arrive at Chau Doc, on the Vietnam, Cambodian border in the mid afternoon, tired after all the travelling. I head off for a massage, my partner picks up a traditional little punt boat, and armed with cameras, takes some superb shots. Dinner that night in our wonderful hotel, and we are feeling excited about the next stage of our trip.

Onto a boat this time, (all tickets, visas etc done by our wonderful guide), and off we set up the Mekong River to the Cambodian border. The authorities unload some cases from the boat (mine included!) to put through the scanner, in case we are exporting antiques – don’t say a word! Arrive in Phnom Penh to be met by our enthusiastic guide, who took us to our hotel to get sorted, and then took us on our day’s guiding – and what a day it turned out to be. Firstly, the King’s Palace, a marvellously opulent place, and then in complete contrast he took us to the infamous Killing Fields, with the stark charnel monument to all the Cambodians who were slaughtered there. It was a peaceful place and we walked round in bright sunshine – an emotional experience, especially as it was followed by a tour of the genocide museum, but one that we felt was essential, to bear witness to the terrible atrocities of the Pol Pot regime. Our guide, as they all have been, full of interesting information about the history of the country.

We feel daring, and instead of going by plane, we get the local ferry to Siem Reap. We clamber atop the roof with a whole raft of other people, travellers and locals and off we go, up the Mekong and into the vast Tonlé Sap lake, to be met by our last guide, standing on a tiny landing stage with our names held triumphantly aloft and his Selective Asia cap standing out from the crowd – we could see him from a long way off! It is hot, hot, hot so it is wonderful to have our luggage picked up for us and to be transported to our hotel in a comfortable air-conditioned car. We are taken for a late lunch, left at the hotel for a chance to get sorted, and then our guide returns to take us to watch sunset over the Angkor Temples – an awesome sight. We visit a traditional dancing show that night, where we are to eat also, and outside bump into another cooking school couple! We have a lovely evening, comparing notes since we last met each other.

Today is our Angkor temple day (oh if only we had more holiday time!), and we are lucky to have a truly excellent guide, who knows everything there is to know and takes us to all the best photographic viewing places, which my partner is thrilled with! We see the top 4, which are quite different and all magnificent. It’s an overload on our senses as we move from one wonderful ruin to another, all the time being informed by the excellent Soapie.
Our last night, and once again our guide books us into his recommended restaurant, and once again, we have a wonderful meal.

We are dropped off at the airport and waved goodbye – sad, but filled with the most impressive memories. All so different: our holiday has been what we originally told SA we wanted it to be: one of variety, change of pace and seeing life in Vietnam and Cambodia, but above all, with the most wonderful guides, without whom our trip would have been sadly lacking.

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This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.

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Other Members' Thoughts - 1 Comment(s)

  • coolonespa
    over 1 year ago
    Enjoyed reading your review & a lovely trip down memory lane when we visited some of these places. Selective Asia put these trips together so well.