by Lucas Sripathy
On my last vacation I ventured to Southeast Asia and explored Cambodia and Vietman. Both countries are beautiful, have fascinating cultures and are home to warm, friendly people.
I began my journey in Siem Reap, arriving at the airport at midnight. Upon arriving, I paid $20 for the Cambodia visa and cleared immigration and customs. If visiting Cambodia, be sure that you have passport-sized photos for your visa when you arrive. After clearing customs I was picked up by my hotel driver and arrived at the hotel around 1:00am local time. Unfortunately, once I was settled into my room I was unable to sleep due to the 15 hour time difference between Vancouver and Siem Reap! Attempting to remedy this, I called the front desk and the concierge arranged a Sunrise Angkor Wat tour which would begin at 5:00am. The tour was absolutely fantastic. Depending on your interest in temples you can explore Angkor Wat for a single day or purchase a three day pass. In the evening I enjoyed sampling the local cuisine at the Siem Reap night market which features inexpensive, fresh and tasty food.
From Siem Reap I travelled to Phenom Penh, which is a six hour bus ride away. Highlights during my stay included: visiting the war museum, exploring temples and markets, sampling good beers and dining along the riverside.
From Phenom Penh I travelled by bus to Saigon which took around seven hours including crossing the border. When traveling to Vietnam, I recommend obtaining your Vietnam Visa in Canada as it will make the trip across the border much easier. From Saigon I flew to Hanoi and ventured to Halong Bay which I explored by cruise. Halong Bay, a Unesco World Heritage Site, is home to stunning landscapes, lush islands and caves. Depending on the amount of time you have in Vietnam, this breathtakingly beautiful site can be explored on a tour from one to three days. While exploring this region, I also recommend spending an evening out to enjoy Bia Hoi, a fresh local beer, while catching a soccer game with the locals.
After exploring Halong Bay, I traveled to Hue. The Dragon Boat Day Tour along the scenic Perfume River was amazing. The boat tour took us to a number of interesting historical sites, and allowed passengers to observe the lush vegetation and stunning temples that lined the river. Another highlight of my time in Hue which made me want to stay in the city was glasses of freshly squeezed sugar cane drink.
The next stop on my trip was Da Nang, which is short train ride from Hue and offers wide, sandy beaches for beach lovers. From Da Nang I ventured on to Hoi An—a small ancient Vietnamese town. Twice a week this lovely little town and its lakes are lit with beautiful, coloured lanterns which is quite a sight! Hoi An also features delicious cuisine, tropical fruits, baked goods, and beautiful beaches.
After exploring Hoi An I took a train to Na Trang which takes around ten hours. The train offers a choice of hard or soft seats and hard or soft sleepers. While the rail service in Vietnam is very slow, it is a wonderful way to enjoy the countryside, as you observe rice paddies, duck farms, and tropical fruit trees along the way. The train also serves inexpensive hot meals and drinks. Na Trang is a lovely beach destination and a perfect stop for travelers who enjoy visiting night markets, relaxing under the sun or doing a bit of island hopping.
My final stop was Ho Chi Minh City (formally called Saigon). Here, you can visit war museums and historical sites, and take advantage of great shopping. In terms of food and drink, enjoy strong Vietnamese coffee either hot or cold, sample delicious Vietnamese cuisine (such as a Vietnamese sandwich and a bowl of Pho) with good Saigon beer (my favorite is Saigon red label beer). I would recommend staying in Saigon for a couple of days or more. At times you might wonder if there are more motor bikes than population on the roads, but this is an amazing city!
Overall, I loved both Cambodia and Vietnam. Each destination has friendly people and a lot to offer in terms of tourism, such as ample temples, museums, historical sites, and of course, plenty of beautiful white sand beaches. Enjoy local tropical fruits, fresh cuisine, drinks, and shopping, all of which are affordable in these two destinations. I would recommend these destinations to anyone looking for a cultural discovery, culinary adventure or relaxing escape.