Cambodia/Vietnam trip report

Apr 16th, 2006, 06:22 PM
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Cambodia/Vietnam trip report

My three week trip started with a 7-night cruise from Saigon up the Mekong and Tonle Sap Rivers to Siem Reap. I travelled aboard the Pandaw Mekong cruise ship (

The cruise was brilliant…..luxurious with great food, excellent self contained cabin, and generally two tours each day. Sometimes the vessel, which carried 56 passengers, pulled into shore for walking tours. Sometimes we transferred to small launches and long tail boats to cruise through backwaters and visit markets, temples, and watch rice paper, snake wine and caramel popcorn being made. The guides all spoke excellent English.

The air conditioned cabins, featuring teak, twin beds, and private facilities and windows. The top deck cabins all had rattan chairs outside. The lower deck cabins, only about 18” above the waterline, had portholes. I was initially disappointed being in a lower deck cabin, but quickly discovered they were cooler, quieter and larger. If I did another Pandaw cruise, I would insist on a lower deck cabin. They are also about $1,200 cheaper. The bunks were extremely comfortable.

The vessel had a huge sun deck and sun lounges, a quiet air conditioned saloon, and a dining room that would have graced a five star hotel, with food to match.

Breakfast was buffet style, and extensive from eggs and bacon through to cereals, yoghurt, fresh fruit, juices, Danish pastries, tea and coffee.

Typical lunch: carrot and ginger cream soup, salad buffet, baked whole sea bass in spicy garlic sauce, steamed rice with tomato, phat thai noodles, sautee mixed vegetables with soy sauce, pumpkin custard, fresh fruits.

Typical dinner: Vietnamese appetizer, sweet and sour fish soup, stuffed squid with minced pork, fried beef with five spices, sautéed spinach with crispy shallot, pineapple fried rice, tiramisu.

The crew was excellent and always helpful. There was no doubt that their goal was serving and pleasing the passengers and doing what they could to ensure their well-being. One felt extremely pampered.

Price included all meals and tours. All I had to pay for was laundry, alcohol and soft drink. Bottled water (as much as you wanted) was free.

Happy to provide more detailed report/answers to anyone who asks for it, but I can highly recommend the cruise (bear in mind the passengers are generally aged 55 upwards, so it might not appeal to younger people). Email me at [email protected]

Siem Reap: Stayed at the Bopha Angkor. It was great, with an excellent restaurant and a most inviting pool ($38 a night). While it was not the best accommodation I had, it was certainly the most charming and still stands out as a great place. I stayed on more expensive hotels in Saigon, and while they were better equipped, none had the charm and atmosphere of the Bopha Angkor.

Angkor Wat: I paid $25 for the guide and $20 for the driver, plus admission fee, and I thought it was good value (paid $5 extra for a 5 am pick-up at the hotel). I booked through: A.T.S Tours #0040, G.1, Sivutha St. (next to CCB Bank ) Tel: (855) 63 965 965, email: [email protected] (they were most efficient, and I also booked my flight from Siem Reap to Hanoi with them – good price of $160US when most other places were quoting $200US or more).

My guide was Ry, who was fabulous. Good English and an amazing knowledge of the ruins. Had one hilarious and red faced moment while touring Angkor Wat. My guide and driver suggested at about 11 am that they take me to a restaurant for lunch, for we had been on the go in the Angkor Wat area since 5.15 am.

We stopped some 5 minutes after their lunch suggestion, and as I dislike eating alone, I invited them to "join me because I would prefer to share the experience".

They looked at me wide eyed and in utter horror as I added as a generous after thought: "It's more fun doing it together..." followed by a bit of mock pleading and gesticulations that while meant to represent eating, could have easily been mistaken for "like a blow job?".

They hurriedly explained the cute little footbridge over the creek and winding pathway through the trees led NOT to a restaurant, but to the very picturesque Angkor Wat public toilets - and was apparently my comfort stop in advance of lunch.....

Had a delicious meal at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, on the river. It also has excellent accommodation for about $100 a night (has a great pool). The FCC is highly recommended.

Hanoi: Stayed at the Win Hotel ($30 a night). A word of warning. I booked it via the internet from Siem Reap. I arrived at about 9.30 pm, checked in, and climbed 76 steps to my room on the 5th floor! I immediately asked for a lower floor and was charged an additional $5. But at least I was on the 1st floor, had a small balcony, and a good view. The Win is centrally located. Not luxurious, but comfortable with friendly staff. The included breakfast was pretty basic.

I booked my Halong Bay overnight trip with Handspan, and was most impressed by the organisation. Good air conditioned mini bus for the trip there and back, and a great guide. The junk was comfortable, and I paid additional for a single supplement (total cost $136US). Cabin spotlessly clean. Food was primarily seafood, and more than we could eat. The trip included lunch and dinner on the first day, and breakfast and brunch on the second.

I would use Handspan again. Not the cheapest, but extremely reliable, and its delivered what I was promised.

Hoian: Booked by flight Hanoi/Hoian with Handspan ($56US). I stayed at the Hoian Hotel (tried to get into the Lotus Hotel, but it was fully booked). Hoian Hotel was great (excellent rooms, but hard mattress), and included a buffet American/Vietnamese breakfast each day ($30US a night). It turned out to be a good choice, as it was only a 10 minute walked from the Old Quarter and had a large pool. Downside: It is a popular hotel for large tour groups of Germans and French, so solo travelers, such as myself, might find that daunting or annoying as meeting people was not easy when those on tours had a ‘herd’ mentality.

Clothing? I used a small tailor adjacent to the Hoian Hotel and called Tien located at 54 Nguyen Truong To Street. I went to the much vaunted Yaly in the old part of the town, and found his prices hugely expensive compared to others. The staff were pompous, and I’d suggest fame has gone to Yaly’s head. A number of other people I spoke to were also disappointed by his staff’s attitude and went elsewhere.

Best restaurant? I liked the Cargo Club. Quality food at a reasonable price, and a great place for morning tea with excellent coffee and pastries. The Retreat Café is a good place to watch Hoian life in the late afternoons. I also ate at Miss Ly’s 22 Cafe (Recommended by Lonely Planet) but was disappointed. Most cafes along the river are pretty ordinary in terms of food, but have good atmosphere.

Saigon: Stayed in the Riverside Renaissance (great hotel and pool, terrific buffet breakfast, and great views – especially over Saigon River) my first night before joining the 7-night cruise on the luxury Pandaw Mekong vessel from Saigon to Diem Reap.

When I returned to Saigon some 18 days later, I stayed at the Duxton for $82 a night including breakfast. Well located, great American/Vietnamese/Japanese style buffer breakfast. It has a small pool and limited sun lounges. I was tempted to stay in the backpacker area, and was glad I didn’t.

I ate my meals in restaurants adjacent to the hotel. The Hoang Yen (side street adjacent to Riverside Renaissance) was astonishingly excellent.

Accommodation overview: I booked all my accommodation via the internet while travelling. I used and the company was outstanding. I never had any complaints, and the prices they negotiated were excellent. One Hoian company quoted me $125US for the Duxton. got it for $82US.

Many hotels in Vietnam (especially Hanoi and Saigon) don’t have elevators. Insist on a low floor, or you may face (like I did until I complained) 80+ steps! I saw one hotel that had 8 stories, and not elevator….Heaven help you if you are on the top floor!

Downside to solo travel and winging it: Organising accommodation via the internet while travelling in Cambodia and Vietnam is easy but time consuming. Sometimes it involved four trips to a net café that took up total time of about 2-3 hours as you sought accommodation in the first instance, and then checked every 2-3 hours to see if there was an offer to accept. And once it was accepted, the process began again while you waited for an accommodation voucher attachment to be sent. Of course, you can book direct by phone or internet, but you might end up paying more than I did via
Mitch04 is offline  
Apr 16th, 2006, 07:03 PM
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thanks for the report..
rhkkmk is offline  
Apr 16th, 2006, 07:08 PM
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Thanks for your report, Mitch. I was especially interested in your report about the Pandaw.
Kathie is offline  
Apr 17th, 2006, 03:11 AM
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Thanks for the report. Glad you liked AW. We also had lunch at the FCC and enjoyed it immensely. VietNam beckons, but not on our next trip.
Gpanda is offline  
Apr 17th, 2006, 04:00 AM
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Mitch04 - great report with some really interesting tit bits. But I want to ask you one question. You say you had thought of staying in the backpacker area in Saigon but are glad that you didn't. Why? Have you been there before? If not, did you go there and check out the alternatives, just out of curiosity? Or is it that you had a great time where you were, and that's it.

Just seeking objective reporting!!

fuzzylogic is offline  
Apr 17th, 2006, 05:17 AM
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fuzzylogic ... I spent about 2 hours wandering through the backpacker area, and it was simply not my thing.

Had I been a bright eyed and bushy tailed 25 year old seeking a gorgeous younge female solo backpacker, I would probably have loved it.

I did the trip solo, but as a 59 yo, and thought the Duxton/Majestic/Rex/Grand area was more my cup of tea.....
Mitch04 is offline  
Apr 20th, 2006, 05:21 AM
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Enjoyed your report.
Jed is offline  
Aug 3rd, 2006, 03:11 AM
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On reading your report we tried to book for the 9-16th September. The trip was cancelled but not until after we had booked all our flights to coincide with the trip. They tried to put us on to the following week which was in the opposite direction and would require three changed flights. The owner said he would look at compensation, but after I checked out alternative flights and it was over £250 per person, he just ignored us. Eventually I got fed up and booked a private charter. He yhen decided to email and I quote his words: the English are the biggest nightmares of all the nationalities we carry - oh how we Scots loathe them!
lfstephens is offline  
Sep 18th, 2006, 11:59 PM
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Ifstephens: Your report differs totally from mine. Mr. Strachan was actually on board for part of my cruise, and I found he and his wife utterlty charming. I also discovered that a number of the other passengers were repeats. Sorry about your apparent experience. Mine was to die for, and bloody wonderful. But then I'm not English!
Mitch04 is offline  
Sep 19th, 2006, 12:31 AM
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I haven't seen many gorgeous young female backpackers in the PNL area, but plenty of young Vietnamese women who are happy to take your money. Wise choice not to stay down there. I like to call it the backpacker ghetto.
Bisbee is offline  
Sep 19th, 2006, 05:52 AM
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Nice report.

I wasn't able to find price and schedule for the Pandaw cruise. At one time in the past I did see it on their web site but now I'm not able to find it.
tatersalad is offline  
Sep 21st, 2006, 02:01 PM
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Thanks for the detailed report Mitch.

I just completed an 11 day cruise on The Road To Mandalay in Burma and loved it, so I'm interested in seeing if I can repeat the experience elsewhere in Indochina.

Your description of the ship and activities sound very similar to the RTM.
Femi is offline  
Sep 21st, 2006, 02:08 PM
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I should add that I am particularly thankful for your review on the 'cruises' site.

Femi is offline  
Oct 19th, 2006, 07:40 PM
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I have not done a trip on TRM, although I have seen pictures of it. Personally, I go for character and atrmosphere, and TRM looks more like a vessel that might cruise a European waterway. The Pandaw is trip along the Mekong is amazing value, and the vessels, while new, are replicas of those that operated more than 70 or so years ago, and have great atmosphere - as well having very well equipped cabins. The food is also sensational.
Mitch04 is offline  
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