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Trip Report Back from a Trip of a Lifetime! Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia!

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Hi all. We are now back from a 3 week trip to Southeast Asia visiting Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. We had a spectacular time! I am so thankful to all of the forum members who helped to shape our itinerary, especially recommending Laos and encouraging more time in specific cities. I know I don't have to go on and on about how beautiful, exhilarating, and spiritual Southeast Asia is or how friendly and warm the people are because everyone here knows it. But for us, the whole trip surpassed our expectations or wildest dreams.

Because I know I can't write a breezy, funny, enlightening trip reports like the ones I read before leaving, I will just write about some highlights in each city we visited in terms of food, attractions and activities....and some likes and dislikes...


I traveled with my family that included my kids ages 5, 9 and 11 and our 11 year old cousin, as well as three adult family members. We left June 21 and returned July 10. We flew American Airlines from NYC to Chicago where we transferred to a Asiana flight to Saigon through Korea. We decided to fly out of Chicago after reading reviews on Skytrax and learning that Asiana uses their newer, bigger planes out of Chicago. We had a combination of coach, business and first class seats and everyone thought the service, food and entertainment was first ratein each class. And I must tell you that one member of our group mentioned at the counter in Chicago that they forgot to bring their passport photos for our Visa on arrival and questioned if it eas possible to take photos at the airport in Seoul. After checking, they said that they did not know but would send a message to the staff in Korea. As we exited the plane, there was an Asiana crew member with a sign with our names who told us they were meeting us to personally escort us to a photo booth. What service!

Our itinerary was as follows:

3 nights Saigon
4 nights Hoi An
2 nights Hanoi
1 night Halong Bay
4 nights Luang Prababg
3 nights Siem Reap

We used Aurora/Vietnam Stay and we were very happy with their services. We used them for hotel reservations, internal flights and all activities and tours. They had great suggestions and were flexible with my changes, even the ones I made while in country. And they always got better rates at all of our hotels. I was very pleased.


We loved Saigon. We loved the energy, the motorbikes, the food and the people. Highlights included:

1. Staying at the Park Hyatt hotel. It was a great location with really great service. The breakfast was a highlight with the most amazing selection of fruit I have ever seen. It was so wonderful to try such new, exotic and delicious fruit each morning.

2. XO Tours. You guys there is a reason why it's #1 on trip advisor. It is the most fantastic way to experience Saigon. We took the night tour and went to districts we would have never seen, ate street food, and learned about the way of life of the Vietnamese in each district. And the rush of being on the back of a motorbike among millions of motorbikes. Thrilling! And the female drivers are great. I lost any fear after 5 minutes and just went with it!

3. Cu Chi Tunnels. I thought going to the tunnels was well worth it. The drive gives you a great look at Vietnamese life and the tour gives you an insight that you really coud not get any ther way. As a parent, I was happy for my kids to get a greater understanding of the war and they were captivated by the tunnels and went through every single one one them. One was enough for me as the heat and the claustrophobia almost did me in. There is a lot of debate as to whether you shoud spend a 1/2 a day or full day at the tunnels, but I am one that was glad that we did.

4. Crossing the street. It was so fun. I perfected the "keep my head straight while my eyes looked out of the side of my head" walk. How is it possible that all those motorbikes go around you?

5. Dinner at Hoa Tuc. My favorite meal in Saigon! The restaurant is located in an alley with about 5 other eateries across the street from the Park Hyatt. There is a terrace and indoor restaurant and its open until 2:00 am! I had an amazing chicken clay pot which I am still dreaming of to this day. They have Internet and the service was good. We were also traveling with several food allergies and they got it an were very helpful with menu selections.

We also saw all of the normal sites and spent a day on the Mekong. I was underwhelmed with the Mekong except for a canoe ride and mule drawn carriage ride through a village in the rain. I was glad I did not book sn overnight. Night market did not compare to Luang Prabang or Siem Reap but it was a fun walk to and from.

Visa on arrival worked seamlessly with the letter we obtained in advance from Aurora.


Hoi An was hot. I mean burn your skin, dehydrate you in minutes, sap your energy, sweat poring down your back hot. So my feelings about this town may be skewed by this as I was underwhelmed by a town I thought I would love! I liked it a lot but I did not love it. Highlights included:

1. Cooking with Green Bamboo Cooking School. Van is fantastic and we had the most wonderful day! This is the #1 activity in Hoi An and it deserves it. The day started with choosing 6 dishes to prepare out of about 30 choices. This was followed by shopping at the meat, seafood and veggie markets which was exciting and eye-opening. We then went to Van's beautiful home where she proceeded to teach us to make 6 intricate and delicious dishes. She does a great job teaching and really letting you make everything. She's great with kids too!

2. Entering the night market on the river for dinner. It was just magnificent to walk through the alley ways and enter the magical scene of lanterns, music, performers, and merchants. It was just so scenic and special.

3. Dinner at Ms. Ly. This restaurant had amazing authentic cuisine, a great atmosphere and good service. We really enjoyed it and went across the lane to the Cargo Club for dessert after dinner. Had a great dinner at Mango Rooms as well.

It was too hot to enjoy our bike ride with Heaven and Earth. In fact, I did not go and the rest of the group came back early. It was no fault of the tour. We just should not have booked it with it being so excruciatingly hot. We also did not enjoy the beach like we wanted because of the heat. We enjoyed early morning walks on the beach at 5:30 am and spent the rest of the time in the pool. I also thought I woud get lots of clothes made, but one step into the tailor stores without AC had me running for the hills! I could not imagine peeling off the clothes that were sticking to my body like glue. I did manage to order dresses for my three daughters like a nice Mommy should. And the tailors agreed to come to our hotel for the final fitting which was lovely and cool! The dresses came out beautifully and the girls wore them in a Luang Prabang and Siem Reap.

But most of all, Hoi An was not as relaxing as I imagined. For a small town on the water, I found the traffic and motorbikes to be as aggressive as Saigon -- less of course but aggressive. While it was exhilarating and wild in a good way in Saigon, I did not appreciate it in Hoi An.

I left Hoi An wishing I had stayed 2 days max. And after experiencing Luang Prabang, boy did I wish I had added the extra days there. But more on that later.

I will tell you about Halong Bay and Hanoi next which I loved!

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