Visa: We ordered Cambodia visas online which meant we saved time queuing up and got a slight discount. You can easily get visa on arrival too was pretty stress-free compared to Vietnam.
Weather: Extremely hot and humid temperatures were 35-40 degrees midday, highly recommend staying somewhere with a pool
Money: Mainly accepted US dollar was no need for local currency, very few places accepted credit cards.
Transport: We got buses from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap which is probably the best solution and get to see countryside too.
Food: We discovered chicken cashew nut rice dish here so will always be remembered for it.
Phnom Penh > Siem Reap
In Cambodia, we visited Phnom Penh the capital and Siem Reap which is also known as Angor Wat where all the temples are. Spent 3 days in Phnom Penh and 3 in Siem Reap and got a bus up to Siem Reap and left via plane to Thailand. Probably could have spent longer in Siem Reap to take more time exploring the temples but 3 days was plenty in Phnom Penh.
We got the bus from Saigon to Phnom Penh which went pretty quickly but we were taken back by the poverty in Phnom Penh. The majority of roads were not tarmac and the city had a weird kind of vibe to it. The city is only now 40 years later starting to recover from the genocide with new buildings and roads.
Our villa really made the stay in Phnom Penh enjoyable the staff were super friendly and the food was absolutely amazing. There are more details on the Samsara villa here which we highly recommend!
We spent one day on a private tour in a car that we booked in a small tourist office on the river front. Was a lot easier to use a private car as got to spend as much time as we wanted at each place with no rushing.
Also got to get back to the villa straight away out of the torturous heat and into the swimming pool. The private tour took us to the Killing Fields and the S-21 jail.
On the way to the killing fields, we got to see the shanty town type of houses people were staying in and noticed there were no real old people around. The killing fields had an audio tour which we didn’t bother getting on a recommendation from the driver and don’t think we missed out on much. The site itself has a large tower with all the skulls found
The site itself has a commemorative stupa filled with the skulls of the victims at the Killing Field of Choeung Ek. The Khmer Rogue tried destroying all evidence of the killing fields before they left so any evidence has been destroyed. There is a building that has information and history of the site which I recommend going to first and then walking around the site which is basically dug up graves you are walking around.
Next, we went to S-21 jail where people were imprisoned and tortured but before ending up at killing fields. There was only a handful survivors from the secret Khmer Rouge prison S21 where at least 12,273 people were tortured and executed. the tour was really well presented and highly recommend getting the audio tour which explains all the different parts of the prison and the graphic images displayed throughout the prison.
We arrived by bus to a barrage of taxi drivers, tuks tuks and good knows what. The best bet is to have it booked but not essential, regardless still bargain the price. Also it is worth bargaining a package for them to take you into town or to the temples or airport.
Smiliar to Phnom Penh the Model Angkor Resort was amazing but only thing was a small bit outside town and they don’t have street lights so possibly dangerous for extra drunk tourists.
The main attraction to Siem Reap is temples. We spent the first day at the museum in town as we overheard someone recommend it on the bus. That was a mistake it was very boring and a waste of a day. You don’t need to know the background to appreciate the temples.
Next day we organised our tuk-tuk to pick us up at 4:30am to take us to get tickets so we can see the sunrise is Angor Wat one of the things nearly every travel blog recommends. There was actually queues of backpackers all with the same idea.
It’s pretty cool getting their so early with all these people but it was a major anti-climax. The sun was well up in the sky and people were still waiting for this amazing Instagram perfect picture to appear but it doesn’t.
What is cool though is all the people situating around the two adjacent lakes in front of the temple all eagerly waiting for the sunrise.
Also since it is so early the place is practically empty so you get to walk around undisturbed and appreciate the vast size of the temple. The other temples we visited that day were also quiet since it was so early.
We went to see the jungle temple, another main one and a ruined temple. All pretty epic but a small bit repetitive after awhile. Maybe because we had no breakfast and was up at 4am in the morning. Most people have itineraries to visit all temples in so many days we were happy to see the main ones and go back relaxing by the pool out of the 8-degree heat.
Siem reap is a really popular backpacker spot with all the temples and they have a night life to match. A dedicated street called Pub street with bars and restaurants down a strip in the middle of town. This being said I couldn’t find anywhere that was showing the Liverpool match in Europa league final so pub street didn’t pass my test.
We would like to include the following….
Visa: Travellers are advised to arrange Vietnam Visa before their departure by applying online for the Approval Letter first. You will receive the letter by email, print it and bring it with you to Vietnam. You will also need to bring two passport photos with you. To get the Visa Stamped on your passport you will need to pay a fee ($25 for single entry; $50 for multiple entry visas) at Vietnam Airports upon arrival.
Food: Favourite Vietnamese dish was the spring rolls. Most dishes came with rice and were not spicy. Started to love pineapple after the trip.
Weather: Very humid and hot around 32°C when we were there in May.
Money: 12 days excluding shopping we spent $1600 on tours, transport, accommodation & eating out.
Transport: The scooter should be their national symbol as they are used so much. I definitely would not have trusted myself to drive one on the streets of Hanoi as it seemed there are no rules of the road. At traffic lights, there is a speaker explaining the rules of the road to drivers, however, this does not seem to have a huge impact. Taxis are the way to go, haggle with the taxi drivers and get a fixed price before departure.
Shopping: Lots of markets where you can haggle. A lot of cheap knockoffs such as t-shirts, shorts and runners.
Hanoi -> Halong Bay -> Hanoi -> Saigon -> Mekong Delta -> Saigon
We travelled from North to South which we personally think was the best way to appreciate both Hanoi and Saigon. Hanoi is a relic and is recently adapting to a new way of thinking while Saigon is a thriving mammoth of a city. If we went to Saigon first I doubt we would have appreciated Hanoi’s quirky smells and culture as much as we did.
We arrived on a Friday evening to our hotel, HM Boutique on Shoe Street just off Hoan Kiem lake in the Old Quarter. The first thing we encountered was trying to cross the road in Hanoi is an adventure in itself, with a wave of mopeds coming at in every direction you just need to take it step by step.
As it was Friday the night market was open (Only open Friday to Sunday) . It is one long street with stalls down the centre and at the sides. You have everything and anything for sale there with loads of opportunities to haggle. We weren’t too sure about the street food so we gave that a miss and kept our hands in our pockets just to be safe.
The next day we went on a tour to see our first Pagoda (temple), Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and the Ethnology Museum. The ethnology museum focuses on the 54 officially recognised ethnic groups in Vietnam showing how they live their lives. The real eye opener of the day though was visiting Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum.
Ho Chi Minh was a Vietnamese Communist revolutionary leader who was prime minister (1945–55) and president (1945–69) of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam). He was a key figure in the foundation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945, as well as the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and the Việt Cộng (NLF or VC) during the Vietnam War. (Source Wikipedia)
Firstly Martina had to buy a scarf to cover her shoulders before we went through the security check and then followed a path around the complex taking us into this huge building. We didn’t know anything about Ho Chi Minh and definitely did not expect to walk in and see a guarded “corpse”. The tour guide said it is actually Ho Chi Minh as they got some special chemicals from the Russians to persevere the body. I think a wax statue made more sense but I didn’t bother debating.
Out tour guide had a lot of admiration for Ho Chi Minh but he wasn’t the only one, you had the army protecting the “body”, tonnes of local Vietnamese people there and hoards of school children on school tours. Every citizen tries to visit the body at least once in their lifetime and they renamed Saigon to Ho Chi Minh city.
In the same complex, we got to see The Yellow House where the president lives, Ho Chi Minh living quarters and the One-Pillar Pagoda that is modelled after a lotus flower.
Our next stop was to a factory that was representing a rural village who created Lacquer art ,which is a famous ancient trade of Vietnam. Lacquer paintings with pearls and sea shells inlay are Vietnamese specialities. A guide illustrated to us how they were created while we also got to see the craftsmen at work first hand.
That night we ate in Highway 4 recommended by TripAdvisor. we hadn’t truly understood the value of TripAdvisor then unlike now which we treat like a bible. We highly recommend the fried rice, with regards liquors such as Son-Tinh (a Vietnamese rice liquor) we would recommend asking for a taster before you order 2 cocktails of it as it has a required taste.
Next day we went shopping. First mission, was to go find a suit that after some initial online research we had a shortlist of 5 places.We ended up choosing Bamboo Silk where I got a cashmere suit, blazer, 2 pants, 4 shirts and Martian got a blazer all custom made for around $450. The lady was extremely helpful and not forceful at all making it a very pleasant experience.
We paid half with the arrangement of paying the rest when we came to collect 3 days later. We were over the moon with the results, the 3 piece suit fit like a glove, ironically we only had to get Martina’s blazer slightly adjusted none of mine. We did other shopping on silk street, silver street, shoe street which all had loads of options.
The following 2 days we spent on an overnight boat tour of Halong Bay which we booked with Halong Tours Bookings. Pictures just don’t do it justice it really is breathtaking. That plus having an amazingly entertaining local tour guide called Hugh made it one of the highlights of the entire trip. Hugh gave us a history lesson on the bus, magic tricks after dinner, Thai Chi at 6am in the morning on the deck and most importantly was an all round nice guy. The food was absolutely amazing we got to taste a range of Vietnamese food for lunch and dinner.
The tour also included kayaking in the crystal water around the islands, squid fishing at night, a trip to a beach, explore a huge cave and cooking demonstration on how to make fried spring rolls.
We stayed in the Ruby River hotel which is very central and everything was walking distance. the first day we walked to the Remnants War Museum which is an absolute must for anyone visiting the city. What the people went through is horrific and was deeply disturbing can’t imagine what Americans think when they go there. I took a lot of pictures of facts and other points of interest that can be seen in the below album. It was a really sad experience reading everything about how brutal the war was for civilians we both left in silence.
Then we took a tour to take us to Interdependence museum (Reunification Palace), Cathedral and Post Office. Paying for a tour was a mistake it was literally a bus dropping us off no tour guide with information and the cathedral and post office are across the road from each other.
Before they took us to the museum we went on a detour to see a factory for disabled people still affected by the war where they demonstrated lacquer art and then made us exit through the shop. We could have easily got our own transport to the museum and the cathedral/post office are not that useful unless you want to send a postcard.
The Interdependence museum was definitely worth the trip. It was the headquarters and home of the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. It was the site of the end of the war when a tank came crashing through its gate in the fall of Saigon. It has been preserved immaculately giving you as true feel how they lived upstairs and fought the war in the bunker underneath the palace.
Next day we went to visit the Mekong Delta where we got a bus from Saigon along the national highway bordered by green rice fields. On the way our tour guide asked what do we call the city and he had a clear passion in the name Saigon as it was the original name of the city before they renamed it Ho Chi Minh after the war. There was a clear contrast to Hanoi where Hugh conveyed that the people would rather forget about the war and are trying to move forward. Was interesting to see the different opinions based on where they lived who have different opinions of their past.
We got a boat ride along the river to Tortoise islet where we were greeted with the sound of Southern Vietnamese folk music performed by locals. We got to taste tea honey and nervously stick my finger into a beehive. We were then taken on a hand-rowed sampan ride under the shadow of water coconut trees along the natural canals. We got to see a coconut candy workshop which very tasty and ended up coming home with a few packets of sweets 🙂
The next day we went to the Cu Chi Tunnels. Cu Chi is located 60km from the city so we got to see rural Vietnam, covered in rice paddy fields and water buffalo’s swimming in the rivers alongside the road. Cu Chi is considered a heroic district in its role in the anti-American war in Vietnam. It is legendary for the original tunnel system of over 220km. We were only shown the top layer of the 3 layer tunnel system as the guide said they are not shown to the public in case there is ever another war.
We found it genuinely hard to find good restaurants in Saigon by just walking around the city centre. We hadn’t realised the importance of TripAdvisor at the time. On our last night, we did take TripAdvisor’s recommendations and found an absolute gem in the middle of the backpacker madness called Bun Chả 145 Bui Viện. Moral of the story TripAdvisor is you’re going to source for information on restaurants while flashpacking Vietnam.
On our last night we went on a tour which started a water puppet show then we got taken through the city to the pier on cyclos and then had dinner on a river cruise. The water puppet show was pretty cool the way they did it but was in Vietnamese so didn’t have a clue what the story was but the young girl in front of us thought it was hilarious. We ended the night with a dinner cruise and taxi home.
Our next stop was Phnom Penh in Cambodia.
We would like to include the following….
Comment below if you have been to Vietnam and leat me know how your trip was.
As we are not all Harvey Spector buy suits everyday here are the basics you need to know. I’m no expert either and got my information from eBay suit selection choices article. Firstly you must decide the material the suit will be made out of, you have the following options…
Suit pants have a habit of wear and tear especially zippers so for very little extra you can get another suit pants made!
I choose Bamboo Silk which was a bit of a struggle to find (3-4 minute walk past the Cathedral heading away from town on the left-hand side of the road).
We were welcomed by a mother and daughter who were extremely helpful and accommodating. I got a 3 piece suit, 2 pants, a blazer and 3 shirts with high collars custom made from showing them a picture and they got them spot-on (Martina got a blazer too).
We were absolutely delighted with the service and when we went to collect ironically the only refitting we had to do was Martina’s blazer.