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Trip Report Trip Report: Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam - January 2013

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Like my prior trip reports, I will start off by saying that my report is mostly highlights and tips. Of course, what we liked and didn't like is a matter of opinion, but I wanted to provide my perspective here because I used Fodor's extensively to plan this trip, like many others before. I'm not going into detail of every attraction we saw since there's already a ton of information about that out there. But hopefully, this trip report helps someone.

My husband and I (30 years old, from NYC) visited Southeast Asia for 20 days in January, leaving on Jan 1 - what a way to kick of 2013! We visited Siem Reap and Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Luang Prabang in Laos, and Hanoi, Hoi An, and Ho Chi Min City (HCMC) in Vietnam. Overall, it was a fantastic trip and I am so happy that I spent my last winter break of graduate school taking advantage of the time I had off.

We flew Korean Air for our international flights. Although flying into Seoul to connect takes a little extra time since you are going further east than you need to, these were the best priced flights for us. And the airline was wonderful. The plane was new, clean, and comfortable. The in-flight entertainment, cabin crew and food were all great. And the Seoul airport is one of the best airports I've been too. It's incredibly modern and clean, and has high quality dining options and good duty-free.

I'll start with Cambodia....

CAMBODIA:
We landed late at night on Jan 2nd and after a relatively short wait to get our visa, our driver dropped us off at Le Meridien Angkor Hotel. We are not luxury travelers by any means, but we always stick to Starwood hotels when we can because we rack up a lot of points on business expenses....which translates into a lot of free hotel stays. It's funny how the most luxurious 5-stars hotels in Asia require 7x less points than 3-star hotels in Europe, but I digress. Suffice to say that the hotel, grounds, room, service, food, etc. were absolutely stellar.

Day 1:
We were still jet lagged, so we decided not to do the Angkor sunrise today. Instead, we took it easy and went into Siem Reap town. We got a cyclo driver at our hotel, who we booked for two days to get us to/from town that day and the day after for going to the temples (~$30 total, not bad at all). In town, we walked around the Old Market, had lunch at Chamkar (in the Alley, clean, friendly, veggie, delicious Cambodian cuisine), and walked around some more. In between lunch and dinner, we went to the Angkor National Museum (fascinating information and artifacts here), and we picked up our passes for the next day's temple sights -– we got there at 4pm, ticket booth opened up at 4:30pm. Because it was after 5pm, the one day pass went into effect the evening before, so went to see Angkor Wat. We didn't go up the famous hill to see the sunset from the distance. Instead, we went inside and took advantage of the great light to take pictures and just walk around. Unfortunately, we couldn't go up the towers because the guards wanted a bribe, and we just weren't having any of that. We had dinner at le Tigre Papier (good but very sloooow service) and walked through Pub Street for some strong drinks at Angkor What? (we just had to!)

Day 2:
This was our temple day. We started at Angkor Wat at sunrise, and the experience was in line with our expectations. It was crowded, people were rude and pushy...and overall it was underwhelming. Once the sun rises, the light isn't great at Angkor Wat and I would rank the experience of seeing this temple right before sunset as much higher. The good part about starting early though was going to the other temples before it got too hot. We went to Ta Phrom (very cool, but under construction), saw Bayon (again, very cool, but it was heavily crowded by then) and finished at the Angkor Thom gate. By then it was 1pm, and we were templed out. We went back into Siem Reap for lunch at Blue Pumpkin (modern, clean, global eatery, with good food and drinks). After lunch, we went back to the hotel to shower and relax and went back into town for dinner at The Sun (good pizza and pasta, and great to watch people and life go by if you get a seat at the window or outside). We ended the night with ice-cream and a stroll through the Night Market, which I thought had better stuff than the Old Market.

Day 3:
This was our last day in Cambodia and we had a late afternoon flight to Laos. We were jet lagged and still waking up around 5am, so we took advantage of the early start to have a fantastic (and incredibly reasonably priced) breakfast at the hotel. We went out to the FCC Angkor shopping center to do some window shopping. All of the stores sold beautifully designed clothes, jewelry, and objects that were fun to look at, and there was a trendy cafe on the second floor where we had a snack before our flight.

Other insights:
- Siem Reap is an incredibly clean town. After being to India, I am always prepared for the worst, and I was surprised that there was no trash on the street and I didn't get sick from eating salad, cold food...and I, unfortunately, have a very sensitive stomach.
- One day to see the temples, and seeing Angkor Wat at sunset the day before, was enough for us. Unless you are a huge history/temple buff, two full days in Siem Reap is probably enough if you are short on time.
- Cambodian cuisine is delicious – a good mix of the freshness and crunch of Vietnamese food, with the spice of Indian food...I'd describe it as a lighter Malaysian and Thai. It's very veggie friendly. The desserts are delicious, but beware Cambodians like things very, very sweet!
- Get a massage. I don't splurge for these back home, but they are very reasonably priced here, and very good.
- The Cambodians are incredibly warm and friendly people. We didn't come across one rude person in our interactions, although women probably don't want to walk around late at night. I went out to the shops across the hotel one afternoon while my husband was napping. It was 90 degrees and I was wearing capris and a loose T-short, and I got gawked at by all of the idle cyclo drivers. I didn't feel unsafe, just uncomfortable.

Luang Prabang, Laos for my next post...stay tuned...

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    In the beginning of January, Siem Reap was pretty hot during the day (high 80s, maybe hitting 90). But it was cooler in the early morning and evening, so definitely being a light sweater or shawl, especially when you're zipping around in cyclos at those times of the day (since they are open).

    Luang Prabang got into the high 80s during the day, but it was much cooler (high 60s) during the early morning and after sunset.

    As for Vietnam, Hanoi was unseasonably cool (50s day/40s at night, and cloudy) when we went, but it should have been at least 10 degrees warmer, Hoi An was high 70s/low 80s, and HCMC was hot and humid (80/90s, with no significant cooling during the night).

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    LAOS:
    We stayed at The Satri House in Luang Prabang for four nights. While the property was nice, with lots of old world charm in our room, and very friendly/helpful management, the price and 5-star rating were not justified. If we had to do it again, we would probably stay somewhere else and pay less, and closer in town. We didn't get enough hot water for the two of us to take 15 min showers each, the pool was out of commission, the wi-fi connection was very weak, and the staff didn't speak any English, so there were quite a few mix ups with simple requests. Other guests felt the same. That being said, management acknowledged that they were having growing pains. They allowed us a late check-out on our last day (4pm), with no charge. And breakfast was delicious. I'd give the hotel 3.5 out of 5 stars.

    We landed in the evening after our flight from Cambodia. We had arranged all of our airport transfers with Tonkin Travel (based in Vietnam). Everything was great except for this one transfer, where the driver came almost 45 min to pick us up. We were pretty frustrated, especially because we had been waiting outside for him and got quite a few mosquito bites. Ouch. Anyway, we were pretty tired once we made it to the hotel and checked-in. We had some fruit that the hotel provided us, skipped dinner and went to bed early. Still jet lagged.

    Day 1:
    We woke up early to ride our bikes (free, courtesy of the hotel) into town. We got the lay of the land and drove back to the hotel because we didn't have locks for our bikes and didn't want to worry while we were sightseeing. We walked back to town (15 min walk) and visited all of the major Wats and the Royal Palace and Museum. The Palace and Wat Xien Thong are especially beautiful, but even the smaller temples had some beautiful carvings and details. We took a break for lunch at Coconut Gardens, which had great Laotian food and fast service. Luang Prabang is great just to wander around in, which we love doing. After doing that for a bit more, we took a tuk tuk ($3) back to the hotel for some rest.

    We went back into town to do the climb up Mt. Phousi. Our driver was smart and he dropped us off at the back of the mountain (the north side). Our walk up was pretty quiet, because most people tend to go up the south side and walk down the north. The south side has beautiful Buddha statues on different levels of the mountain. It takes about 10-15 minutes to reach the top, and 10 more to stop and see the statues, and you want to get there at least 30 min before sunset to get a good view. The sunset itself was absolutely beautiful, as was the 360 degree view it offered of the town below. Unfortunately it was ruined by the crowds and agressive people, but again, it was something we expected. We zipped down the south side of the mountain because everyone was going down the other side, and upon reaching the bottom walked right into the Night Market. We wandered around here and took in the atmosphere before making our way to Dua Fua for a drink and snack, and then on to Blue Lagoon for dinner (a bit formal, but great drinks and food, and the best green curry I've ever had)


    Day 2:
    We took a tuk-tuk ($20 RT) to Kuang Si Falls at 10am in the morning. The falls were beautiful and the sun bear sanctuary was great to observe for a bit on our way out. The drive to and from the Falls lets you see more traditional Laotian life, away from the tourists. The passing scenery was beautiful. We ate a late lunch at le Bannneton Cafe French bakery, which was delicious and served unique fusion of French/Asian food. We came back into town in the evening for dinner and walking around. We decided to take a break from Asian food and ate at The Pizza, which was pretty mediocre.

    Day 3:
    We had purchased cooking classes at Tam Nak Lao the day before and the day kicked off around 10am with a visit to the food market and then cooking 5-7 dishes with two breaks to eat what we cooked. Our day ended around 5pm. The food we made was good, but the classroom facilities were not exactly clean and very basic. We were served instant coffee with powder creamer and tea bags as our snack. For $30 per person, which is A LOT in Laotian kip, we expected much more. On the plus side, we made friends with the people who were taking the class with us. I'd advise people to book a cooking class at Tamarind, which is supposed to be much nicer. We tried to get a reservation, but the phones on that side of town were down the first two days we were in town and then the class got full.

    After the class, we walked the river across the old bamboo bridge to get to the other side of town. There is a small fee to walk the bridge for upkeep. The other side of town is much quieter and much scenic, but there isn't much to do there. There is a cool restaurant and bar, Dyen Sabai when you walk up the hill after crossing the bridge that looks really nice. Most of it is outdoors, so it probably has great views of the sunset on the river. We had dinner at Tamarind (wonderful, friendly owner, good and unique drinks, like cinnamon iced tea)

    Day 4:
    We had an evening flight to Hanoi, so we spent the day walking around and soaking in the wonderful atmosphere. We had breakfast at the hotel and walked into town for lunch at the Riverloft Cafe, which has porch seating on the second floor, perfect for people and river watching. After walking around some more, we went to le Cafe Ban Vat Sene for more Lao ice coffee, which we had become addicted to by this time.

    Tips:
    - Bring mosquito spray for Luang Prabang as it's right on the river. We really liked the herbal stuff that a lot of the shops sold and used it around the clock - it works!
    - Ice Lao coffee is delicious. Strongly brewed with condensed milk. But have too much, and prepare to be wired and have serious caffeine withdrawal headaches.
    - Laotian food is very good. It's fresh and crunchy like Vietnamese food, but a bit lighter and heavier on cilantro. The cuisine offers a perfect blend of tanginess and sweetness in most of its dishes
    - Don't feel pressured to see every Wat in town, there are dozens. Take a break at one of the many French-inspired cafes with a window seat and watch life go by. The town still seems removed from the present day, so enjoy it while it lasts.
    - We didn't do the alms giving ceremony in the morning because we had heard too many controversial things about it. On a related note, the monks are friendly and some will talk to you, but it's rude to take pictures of them like you're the paparazzi. I have a few pictures of them in the scenes I was shooting, but I didn't feel comfortable getting up close and personal. They looked very uncomfortable when tourists did this and it was embarrassing to witness this. My advice – if you want a portrait of a monk, just download it from National Geographic website.

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    HANOI & HALONG BAY:
    We checked in the late evening to the Sheraton Hanoi Hotel. The hotel and service were stellar, no complaints. We went to dinner right outside our hotel in the West Lake area, at a restaurant called Vine run by an American expat, who was very friendly. Good pasta, salads, and wine.

    Day 1:
    The next day we woke early for our 8am bus and cruise to Halong Bay. Tonkin had booked us on Handspan's Treasure Junk (luxurious boast and rooms, served us a lot of food for each meal, alcohol not included). Once we were out on the bay, we kayaked with our fellow shipmates for two hours. It was very peaceful to be out in the water. Unfortunately it was very cold, too cold to swim in the bay. We didn't get that postcard view of blue green water because of the fog, but it was still a great experience. If you're going to kayak, dress to get wet! We made friends with a good amount of the other people on the boat because we were close in age. After dinner, everyone had drinks and ended up singing karaoke into the night. Yes really!

    Day 2:
    We woke up early on the boat and took a smaller boat out to tour the bay and see floating fishing villages and a pearl farm (this is probably a tourist trap, since you are then invited to go into the shop to buy pearls). We took the bus back to Hanoi. Being pretty tired and incredibly chilled we stayed in the hotel for dinner. We took advantages of the low pricing and ordered room service, which was delicious.

    Day 3:
    We started with a walking tour of Old Quarter starting at Ngoc Son temple and made a full loop through the different streets that each sold only a certain type of goods (shoes, metal, food, etc.) We had lunch at a restaurant whose name I can't recall, but it was one that locals went to, and it had delicious ramen. We took a coffee break at Moca, for Vietnamese coffee with milk, which is similar to the Laotian stuff with condensed milk. Sweet and strong. Dinner was at the hip Pots n' Pans (good service with English speaking staff, inventive food with some misses but they are trying to do something different in Hanoi, so I would recommend it.)

    Day 4:
    We visited the Ho Chi Min Complex and walked around town and the West Lake area, which has a lot of shops. Lunch was at the Hanoi Social Club (hip shabby chic decor, very dirty bathroom, good food, big portions, fun to chill and people watch). For dinner we went for Indian food at Mamaste Hanoi (very, very good Indian food, elegant, clean, and very fast service)

    Day 5:
    We had lunch at Joma Cafe, which was just wonderful. I wish we had gone to the one in Luang Prabang. Going to Joma is not a very "local" experience, but we needed a change. Joma has great hot drinks and food. Everyone speaks Engish, and it is clean, modern looking and comfortable - basically a million times better than Starbucks. We did some shopping for gifts in the Old Quarter and went back to the hotel for our flight to DaNang (for Hoi An).

    Tips:
    - We had a great time on the Halong Bay Cruise, but the overnight cruise is a major drain on time. It takes four hours to get to Halong from Hanoi, due to traffic and our bus (like many other buses) did a 30 minute stop at this tourist rest stop filled with stores. We then had to wait to wait another 30 minutes to get on the boat. The boat and our guide were wonderful, and we made great friends, but if you're on a budget and don't enough time, I'm not sure if an overnight trip is necessary. After awhile the scenery on the bay all starts to look the same. A same day trip might be more efficient, although I'm sure some would disagree.
    - Most of the shops in the Old Quarter, with the exception of the more expensive boutiques all sell the same goods. I think this due to some government laws, but it is tough to find "unique" things to buy if every shop looks the same. I had expected to spend a some money in Hanoi, but ended up spending very little.
    - Overall, I really liked Hanoi's charm, but the cold weather definitely dampened our mood. I had to buy fur-lined boots (luckily there is a whole street devoted to shoes in the OQ) because it was too hard to enjoy sightseeing with cold feet. The weather was pretty abnormal from what we heard. A lot of the restaurants and bars were pretty empty because people were just staying home! Definitely bring warm weather gear if you are going in the winter and remember that Halong Bay will be 10 degrees cooler than Hanoi.

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    Still enjoying your report. We were in Luang Prabang in January 2012 and had no mosquitos - amazing how it could vary year to year.
    Re Halong Bay - I think either go for the overnight or don't go. it's too long of a drive and boring to boot for just one day. Also would you be able to go very far out on the junk if you just went for the day? We too had fog and it was very chilly, so I agree dress warmly. We had a private driver and he also made that 30 minute stop both ways -- I thought it was annoying! I found out that is when the drivers eat, so I guess you have no choice but hang out.

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    Yestravel, you make good points about going same day. I don't know how far you actually go out on the one day trip. I have seen some pictures of acquaintances who have done the same day trip and it looked like they had a good time. Overall, I'm glad we did it, but I didn't realize it would take up almost 2 full days! Completely understand that the drivers need to take a break, I just wish the rest stop had some closed areas. It was freezing! Thank goodness for the hot ginger tea they served there. I drank cupfuls.

    Funny about the mosquito discrepancies! We thought they would be the worst by the river, but our hotel had quite a few (we slept underneath netting), and it wasn't even close to the water.

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    HOI AN:
    We got to Hoi An in the early evening after transferring from DaNang airport (30 min drive). After checking into Hoi An Hotel (modern, clean, good breakfast, free Wi-Fi). Our room was fine, but the bathroom was horrible designed. The shower water would spill out from the edge of the tub and soak the entire floor. The hotel staff rationed the number of towels and wash cloths they would give us. When we checked out they even asked us about a towel that was "missing." We had just put it on the floor to clean up the water. Intense. Anyway, the hotel's in a great location, but I wouldn't recommend staying here. We had dinner that evening in town at Morning Glory (good food and service, tried Cau Lao noodles - a Hoi An speciality, good juices).

    Day 1:
    We started the day at the tailors at A Dong Silk (very expensive men's suits and not a lot of fabric choice for women, so we left). We went to Mr. Xe, which had a friendly staff and good prices. I was fitted for two blouses and my husband ordered two suits and a couple of shorts. (Men have a lot more options to get stuff made than women do, based on my observations. You'll see a lot of pretty dresses on the mannequins in all the stores, but none of the stores I visited actually had the material to make the dresses. On the other hand, material for suits and shirts was plentiful.)

    After making our order, we walked around Hoi An, saw the famous Japanese Bridge and had lunch at the Cargo Club (good food, big portions, nice decor and service). We had dinner at Mango, Mango (great food, unique fusion flavored, very expensive for Vietnam), and drinks at Q bar.

    Day 2:
    We went back to Mr. Xe in the morning. My husband's suits looks fantastic, as did my stuff. It needed minor alterations so we were asked to come back. We decided to check out the Cua Dai Beach area and went to the Victoria Resort, which is gorgeous, but looked incredibly expensive. We sat outside by the pool area and looked out to the beautiful beach. The water looked rough and definitely not for swimming. After, we went back to Mr. Xe to pick up our clothes, which had turned out great. We dinner at Morning Glory and dessert at the Cargo club for our last night in Hoi An.

    Tips:
    - Hoi An is a beautiful looking town (loved how everyone lit up lanterns at night), but on closer inspection it is a massive tourist trap. All of the beautiful merchant houses are now tailor shops or souvenir shops (that all sell the same goods) for tourists.
    - Our experience at Mr. Xe was fantastic, as were some of the restaurants in town. But if I had to do it again, I would have chosen this leg of the trip to stay at a hotel by the beach and come into town when needed. We got sick of the town pretty fast. Our decision to stay in town was partly due to the weather forecasts we saw online which showed much cooler temperatures than what they actually were.
    - ** For our internal flights in Vietnam we used Vietnam Airlines. Our flights' schedules were only a few days in advance by more than +3 hours later each time. You constantly MUST monitor the flight times online if you take this airlines, or you will get to the airport way too early. When this happened from our Hanoi to DaNang leg, we were able to move to an earlier flight for free. For our flight from DaNang to HCMC, we had to pay to move to an earlier flight. I think it was about $50 per ticket. We decided to go for it because we had nothing left to do in town and our hotel wouldn't give us a late check out. Frustrating, but apparently, it happens a lot with this airlines.**

    HCMC coming....it will be my last post on this trip report...hope this has been helpful!

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    I like the way you do your report with the "Tips" section. HoiAn proved to be a nice break during our 9 week trip and 3+weeks in VN. We enjoyed just kicking back and strolling around town. Thought it had very good food -- loved Morning Glory and had desserts also had Cargo Club. We also visited My Son which was interesting and about 90 minutes or less from Hoi An. Curious to hear your thoughts on HCMC.

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    even though hoi an is geared totally for tourists it still has planty of charm. we stayed 2 streets away from the old town in a nice resort on the river and really liked it.

    my wife found plenty of fabrics in the shops for her clothing. she primarily used the shop Yala ( several locations). for custom clothing the prices were very reasonable. they made me a couple of linen shirts which i am fond of too---totally custom with all kinds of special features. K had a short winter woolen coat made which is very stylish for about $75.

    we did a day trip to halong and that was enough for me... we were staying in hy-phong so the commute was less.

    we were very happy vietnam air. tonkin made our flt and hotel arrangements.

    thanks for your report.

    i would welcome a return trip to hanoi

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    I made a typo in my post. What I mean to write was, "Our flights' schedules were CHANGED only a few days in advance by more than +3 hours later each time."

    Tonkin told us that this happens a lot with Vietnam Airlines. We thought the planes and flight crew were great. But it frustrating when all of your flights are pushed out 3 hours. It means having to check out of your hotel and waiting in the lobby for a few hours, even though you specifically booked a morning flight...and then arriving to your next destination way past dinner time.

    Out of all the mishaps that can happen during travel, this is probably one of the least serious. But I wanted to make people aware that they should expect to be "flexible" when they're travelling with this airlines.

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    Suzy, Lao has problems with water shortages. 15 minute showers are excessive anywhere, but particularly so in Lao.
    This is the first time I have heard of a restaurant, (Blue Lagoon), being criticised for being formal; some of us like that!

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    Vientianeboy, I appreciate your insights, but I don't think 15 minute showers are excessive when you have long hair. And 15 minute showers don't mean the water is running for the entire 15 minutes. In any case, whether we took 5 or 45 minutes, the hot water ran out after 5 minutes. That's ridiculous for the prices this hotel was charging us. And management admitted that they were indeed having problems with their hot water tank in one section of the hotel. We spoke with other guests who were also having the same problem, and some who weren''t.

    Writing that Blue Lagoon was formal, wasn't a criticism. I simply meant to say, relatively speaking, compared to other restaurants in Luang Prabang, this one is nicer, in terms of ambiance and service, and people were a little bit more dressed up for it. It was simply an observation and I thought it might be helpful to people. We thought the restaurant was great.

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    HCMC/Saigon (because that's what people there still call it, please don't bite my head off):

    Were were in HCMC for 3 nights and we really enjoyed it. Being city folk, we love being in urban environments. HCMC reminded us of a more expansive Paris, but definitely more hectic and crowded. We stayed at the Sheraton Hotel & Towers, which was in a great area and had wonderful rooms and staff. No complaints. We had an evening flight back to NY and they let us check out at 5pm. We waited the rest of the time in the hotel lobby, which has free wi-fi and a huge comfortable seating area.

    First evening:
    We got to HCMC in the evening. Once we checked in, we stepped out just as it was getting dark to walk around and see the surrounding area. We walked by the Central Post Office, which is a beautiful building inside and out, Saigon Opera House, Rex Hotel, cathedral, and most of the Dong Khoi area. We had dinner at Hoa Tuc, which was very good food and service. Hoa Tuc is located on Hai Bai Trung in a courtyard type area filled with other great restaurants and bars that we went back to a few times.

    Day 1:
    We woke up and got out early to avoid the coming heat. We started with doing the walking tour in our Lonley Planet guide, including the Ho Chi Minh Square, Ben Thanh market, the Reunification Palace, and ending at the Museum of War Remnants (a powerful and haunting experience, a must see). We went to L'usine for a late lunch (great upstairs cafe with a shop selling quirky stuff on street level). We stopped for coffee at Highlands, which seems to be the Starbucks in the city. The coffee was not so great, but we needed a rest from the heat and the cafe was there right when we needed it.) We had dinner at Xu (good food, but expensive) and drinks downstairs in the restaurant, and then on to another drink at Blancy's Tash. It was fun to see the nightlife in a different city and observe Vietnamese youth culture.

    Day 2:
    We went to the Saigon Square Shopping Center, which neither of us really cared for, although I did pick up a nice iPhone case for $5. Afterwards, we decided to check out the Vincom Center which is an upscale shopping mall with lots of Western chains and a two-story food mall in the basement levels, which we took full advantage of. We ate at Thai Express for lunch (very good), and treated ourselves to Fanny's Ice Cream and mochi and Japanese Creations (amazing). We walked around the mall some more before going home. This was our last night in Vietnam and of our vacation. We had dinner at Blanchy Street and dessert/drinks at Refinery, both were in that courtyard we went to on our first night, and both were great.

    (You'll probably notice that we took it easy in HCMC – We had both come down with awful colds, probably from the wild swings in weather from Hanoi to HCMC.)

    Day 3:
    We did some last minute souvenir shopping in the Saigon Tax Center (a nice large mall with lots of locals). We showered, checked out of the hotel at 5pm, and then had an early dinner at a sushi restaurant (we wanted something light) whose name I can't recall, but it was in the corner of the Hai Bai Trung courtyard complex. The ramen and sushi was delicious and the service was incredibly nice. It was a good last meal to have in Vietnam. And with that, we walked back to our hotel and were off to the airport for our flight back home.

    Tips:
    - HCMC was incredibly hot in January (close to 95 degrees). Bring sunblock, light clothing, and a hat.
    - The sidewalks are pretty uneven in some parts of the city. If you have a tendency to trip like I do, bring shoes that give you extra stability. I would say the same for Hanoi.
    - Watch out for pickpockets. Not from personal experience, but this is what the hotel told us. They told us a lot of people were getting their bags stolen from thieves on motorbikes. And sadly, we did notice a lot of homeless people on the streets.
    - Crossing the streets is not for the faint hearted. You just have to go despite the oncoming traffic, they will slow down and go around you. It definitely takes some getting used to. At first, we would just get behind some of the local people and cross with them.
    - We didn't do the Chu Chi tunnels, as we are both incredibly claustrophobic or the Mekong River cruise (we did Halong Bay and that was good enough for us). Those are two major HCMC attractions, as you probably know. We are not people who need to see every attraction in a place we are visiting. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Everyone has different things they want to experience when they travel!

    THE END

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    Thank you for this excellent trip report. I was especially interested in the HCM/Saigon section as I was there at the end of Feb for a combined/work leisure visit to Vietnam and Singapore. I came home regretting I hadn't had more time to spend in HCM (and devoutly praying that my next visit coincides with an unseasonable cool weather front -- temps in the mid-90s and high humidity in both places drained my energy more than I'd expected so I saw and did less than planned)

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    The heat made us slower as well. And for me, having a bad cold in hot weather is worse than one in cold weather! I think we saw a lot of the stuff we wanted to see, we just walked around a lot less in the daytime than we normally do.

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