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Mom +2 kids needs itinerary advice on Vietnam and Cambodia Trip in June

Mom +2 kids needs itinerary advice on Vietnam and Cambodia Trip in June

Apr 17th, 2009, 06:08 PM
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Mom +2 kids needs itinerary advice on Vietnam and Cambodia Trip in June

I have faithfully used Fodors' Forum to help plan some wonderful trips for the three of us in past years -- we take a trip each June to somewhere new. With invaluable input from knowledgable Fodorites, we have enjoyed fabulous trips to England, France, China, Japan, Greece, Turkey, Italy, Spain, Portugal, etc. And this June, we head to Southeast Asia for the first time! My kids are 12 and 14, excellent travelers, and both are passionate about history and other cultures. Originally, we had booked flights (using my husband's frequent flier miles -- he stays home to play golf while we are away) into Bangkok June 9 and out of Siem Reap June 21. But with the recent uproar in Thailand, we needed to appease the worried folks at home, so we switched it and are flying into Saigon on June 9 instead. (I have been in touch with Ponheary and Lori, and plan to spend our last several days with them, probably arriving in SR on June 17 or 18.) Here's where I need some help. I had spent the last few months planning the Thailand portion (BKK and Chiang Mai) and now that's been abandoned. I am just starting to look at Vietnam, and am feeling really behind the learning curve. Advice please!

I always hesitate to post my first query on FF because I feel I need to educate myself first and not ask stupid questions. But this time, I need to get the input and advice sooner rather than later. Here are some of my specific questions:

1. Given our limited time, and the fact that Siem Reap/Angkor Wat is non-negotiable, how should we spend it? We tend to be able to cover a lot of ground and are energetic, flexible travelers. I know it is ALWAYS better to spend twice as long anywhere, but we want to get around. Although they are teens, the kids are up and out and low maintenance. We cannot extend our time because of final exams (son will have to leave one 1/2 hr. early to catch flight) on the front end and daughter's choir trip when we get home. So, given this short time, how to maximize it?

2. Should we fly into a different city in Vietnam? When I switched from BKK arrival, I was unprepared to choose an arrival city and just said Saigon without thinking. Would Hanoi be better?

3. What are the best ways to travel between? We love overnight trains and especially appreciate not losing days. We will pay to fly where that makes sense.

4. Phnom Pehn looks intriguing. Can we fit it in?

Once I get a basic itinerary down, I will come back and read more trip reports and will likely have follow up questions on accommodations, etc. But if someone could just offer some thoughts on how to frame this trip, I would really appreciate it!
TravelTrio is offline  
Apr 17th, 2009, 06:51 PM
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I'd stick with Bangkok, to be honest. Vietnam is a hard country even for travellers familiar with Asia.

Or, fly into Singapore, take a train or bus through Malaysia to Kuala lumpur, and fly from there.
lcuy is offline  
Apr 17th, 2009, 08:12 PM
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Certainly Thailand would be easier. Like lcuy, I'd stick with Thailand.

If you opt for Vietnam, personally, I'd fly into Hanoi.
Kathie is offline  
Apr 18th, 2009, 11:53 AM
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Vietnam is really not that difficult. If you're in Saigon you can go up river to Phnom Penh and then take a bus or taxi to Siem Reap. If you do that, either skip north Vietnam for this trip, or fly into Hanoi and do a combination of night trains and a flight to Saigon. (I'd say do the whole trip south by night train, but you're pushed for time.)
thursdaysd is offline  
Apr 18th, 2009, 03:25 PM
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TravelTrio - I just got an e-mail this morning from my niece who was in Bangkok. Thought I would paste part of it here just FYI.

Well Bangkok was interesting. It wasn't really normal while we were there. There were huge protests in a large part of the city, so we were cut off from that area by police barricades (not that we would have wanted to go there anyway given the circumstances). The area that we were in (near the city palace and Ko San Road) was also crazy because it was Songkran, the festival to celebrate the Buddhist New Year. They celebrate by having a huge water/mud fight. You couldn't walk the streets without getting mud smeared on you or drenched in water. We decided to make the best of it, put on grubby clothes, armed ourselves with water guns, and joined the fun. We have to go back to Bangkok to catch our flight out, so it will be interesting to see it the way that it normally is."

Now we are resting on the beach at Koh Pha-nagn. It is really pretty here, and it is the off season, so it isn't too crowded. We got a great little beach bungalow overlooking the water for a good off-season price. We will probably stay here for a couple more days before heading up north."

She is thinking of heading to Cambodia from there.
patandhank is offline  
Apr 18th, 2009, 06:30 PM
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Saigon (HCM) will be hot, hot, hot. Hanoi was much more interesting to us. Plus Halong Bay is a good dsytrip. Saigon is a huge, rebuilt business city. Thailand is much better tourist-wise than Vietnam, especially for kids. BKK is special. I have been with my grandkids in both and they are excellent travelers. I would recommend Thailand. As for Cambodia, it too is very hot. Do fly there and plan to take a mid-day break in the swimming pool. Going with Pon to a school will be a very rewarding experience for your kids.
Elainee is offline  
Apr 19th, 2009, 03:43 PM
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Well, my fourteen-year-old has spent the last week reading up on Vietnam history, so there is no turning back. We will definitely try to get to Thailand another time.

thursdaysd, you encouraged us to consider flying into Hanoi, and Elainee thinks Hanoi would be much more interesting. I have also seen some information on Halong Bay (overnight boat). I may try to switch again to Hanoi. If we do that, what suggestions to you have for timing, daytrips, and getting on to Cambodia.

I welcome any input at the early planning stage! Thanks all.
TravelTrio is offline  
Apr 19th, 2009, 06:18 PM
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There are more to do for kids in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Vietnam is much more sceneries. If you are afraid of Bangkok protesting then skip Bangkok and fly directly to ChiangMai, Krabi etc.....
funnetbabe is offline  
Apr 19th, 2009, 11:17 PM
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I definitely preferred Hanoi to Saigon - not so hot, and a more interesting town. Definitely consider the Halong Bay overnight. If you pick the right boat I believe there should be kayaking.

From Hanoi to Cambodia I would fly - although to PP and then overland to Siem Reap rather than directly to SR so you see something of the countryside. Otherwise go overland from Saigon - see my previous post. (Or see wilhelmswords.com/asia2002 for my TR on Vietnam.)
thursdaysd is offline  
Apr 21st, 2009, 09:49 PM
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Hi there, I live in Hanoi with my husband and two kids (11 and 8) We have been to all the places you have mentioned. He is my input. Hanoi is intersting for a few days, an overnight train ride to Sapa is very cool, and walking through the villages feels like you are in another world. It is much cooler in the mountains as well. My kids loved Sapa and as we are leaving to return to Canada in June we are sad that we will not be able to get there again. The poeple who live there haggle you a bit, but this is their livelihood too. Halong Bay is neat, 3-4 hours by bus/car and then you can spend a day visiting a heritege site on a boat, you can sleep on the boat or take car/bus home. There are caves in the regions are are very old.
Siem Reap, we were there for 4 days which was enough for me and teh kids, read up on the most famous ones and find a guide, this was important to us as we did not know where to go and she answered alot of questions, we also moved at our pace not hers. Angkor Watt is amazing, you may want to try and spend a half to a full day there. Where are you staying in Siem Reap? We stayed in teh downtown core and my kids loved the pool, and we were close to great foot massage places, which you need after walking all day in the hot sun, and but some great Cambodian restaurants. I loved the time we were there. Ho Chi minh, I agree it is a big hot city, and not much to see either except the Chu chi tunnels, which unfortunatley freaked my kids out, but very intersting again. Hope this has helped, if you have any questions feel free to contact me at [email protected]
SaraJane is offline  
May 7th, 2009, 01:10 PM
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Thank you all so much for your input. Here is what I have come up with, and I would appreciate input and suggestions. I could not switch our flights (frequent fliers) to any other city, so we are still arriving HCMC and departing Siem Reap. Internal flights were not working out, or were much too expensive, to get us up to Hanoi with any amount of useful time, so I gave up on that. Thus, we are sticking to only southern Vietnam, Phnom Penh, and Angkor Wat, and feeling very fortunate to do this much. We will definitely need to return, which is what we say about every place we go.

Itinerary so far:

June 9 -- Depart Chicag

June 10 -- Arrive HCMC late (need hotel)

June 11 -- HCMC (Cu Chi tunnels, war-related sites for history-obsessed son (suggestions???)

June 12 -- Depart HCMC am with Exotissimo Travel 4 day package. Drive to Cai Be, Bassac cruise overnight towards Co Lach on Tien Giang River, visit village, fruit orchard, rice field, etc.), overnight on boat

June 13 -- Breakfast on boat, Tra On floating market on way to Can Tho, local boat to Cai Rang floating market, drive to Victoria Can Tho hotel for overnight.

June 14 -- Drive Can Tho to Chau Doc via Thot not. Bird sanctuary, basket making at Long Thanh, Boat to fish farms, boat to Cham village. Overnight at Victoria Chau Doc

June 15 -- Boat from Chau Doc to Phnom Penh (need hotel recommendations in Phnom Penh)

June 16 -- Phnom Penh

June 17 -- Mekong Express to Siem Reap -- We have lined up touring and school visits with Ponheary and Lori for the days here.

June 18 -- Siem Reap/Angkor Wat
June 19 -- ""
June 20 -- ""
June 21 -- Depart evening for home

I welcome all comments and suggstions! I'd especially like to hear reaction to Mekong part of trip, recommendations on HCMC and PP hotel and activities (esp. history-related) As always, thank you all for your valuable insights.

TravelTrio is offline  
May 7th, 2009, 06:48 PM
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Forgot to ask -- for one day in HCMC, would you opt for Cu Chi tunnels? My son is a history buff and will want to see as much as possible, but I'm not sure the drive out and back is worth it when we only have the one day???
TravelTrio is offline  
May 7th, 2009, 07:43 PM
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I would definately do the Cu Chi tunnels, well worth the drive IMHO. You should be able to do it in half a day and the country side on the way makes the drive interesting. Just avoid too many side trips on the way.
Try to find a few spare hours to hire a Cyclo driver and make sure the war museum is on the itinery. Not as much of a must see as the tunnels but fascinating in it's own right.
I really enjoyed HCMC, pity you dont have a few more days there but the rest of your trip sounds fascinating.
My kids (boys) are 7 and 10 and we will do something similar in a few years. We were planning on going to Siem Reap as part of our trip next month but my wife won out and we put it off. She felt that it would be like pulling teeth for our 7 year old and she is probably right.
shanek is offline  
May 7th, 2009, 07:54 PM
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I wasn't that excited by the Cu Chi tunnels, but I didn't go down (tendency to claustrophobia). I preferred the Cao Dai temple I saw on the same tour. With only one day I might stay in town and visit the Reunification Palace as well as the War Museum for a war fix.

That's a lot of time on the river, and I wasn't wowed by the floating villages, etc., but I get bored on boats.
thursdaysd is offline  
May 7th, 2009, 08:52 PM
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The highlight of the trip to the tunnels was going down into them so if you and the kids intend to do that, I would make the effort. I also did the Cao Dai temple on this trip and I was underwhelmed by this so I guess it depends on what floats your boat. In your case, if your kids are history buffs, I really think you should do it. It really gives you a more complete understanding of what both sides had to deal with during that war. If you set out early, you should still be able to get back in time to see the Palace and the war museum, but even if you dont, the tunnels are a more unique "real-life" museum.
shanek is offline  
May 9th, 2009, 01:50 PM
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Thanks for these suggestions. Maybe we should cut the Mekong trip by a day and add an extra day in HCMC?
TravelTrio is offline  
May 9th, 2009, 08:23 PM
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You asked about hotels in Phnom Penh. Ther are quite a few good ones and in my opinion the best place to stay is along the river. You did not say the price range or whether you want 2 rooms or 1 that can accommodate 3 people. Have a look at The Pavilion (http://www.thepavilion.asia/homeeng.htm) or the Himawari Apartment Hotel (http://www.himawarihotel.com/) which is more costly but gives more space.

As for sightseeing the must see places would be Wat Phnom, National Museum, Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda and since you kids are old enough, the Killing Fields and the Museum of Genocide Crimes (S21). For shopping visit the markets and the a/c Sorya Mall.

If you do not have a hotel yet in Siem Reap have a look at the Bopha (http://www.bopha-angkor.com/accommodation.html) This is where I have stayed and it gets good reviews from travellers. Lovely pool which you will appreciate in the almost unbearable heat in june.

I would also suggest that a 3day/2night Mekong tour is about right
Scotters is offline  
May 10th, 2009, 04:01 AM
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I think Vietnam is a great destination; it's particularly interesting for history buffs!

I'd definitely suggest the Cu Chi tunnels and Cao Dai temple combination; a bit of sensory overload in a day, but then, that's part of what makes life interesting. The War Remnants Museum is interesting (albeit not, of course, a very happy place) and the History Museum quite lovely. I have a trip report here (from 2002, so outdated in some respects, but the essentials should remain the same) with a link to photos at the end of it; the Saigon/HCMC bits start about half-way down:

Amy is online now  
May 10th, 2009, 07:34 PM
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Hyatt in HCMC is very nice and has great pool. Very comfortable and good location.
Elainee is offline  
May 10th, 2009, 08:03 PM
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Traveltrio- I'm in the process of planning a trip to Vietnam for July and have been to Cambodia twice (in 2002 and 2007) both times had Ponheary as my guide.

Some comments:
HCMC-I think being there only 1 day and then going out to the Chu Chi tunnels seems like a disservice. Is there any way you can add a day there? You're likely to be very jet-lagged your first day there.
As for hotel, do you (or your husband) have Starwood points? We are staying at the Sheraton there for $90 a night plus 4000 Starwood points. It's a pretty good deal.

Siem Reap- I'm glad you will be spending time with Ponheary and Lori. I think you (and the kids) will really enjoy the school visits and the temples.
Ponheary's guesthouse is in the process of being remodeled. If you want to save some money, you might consider staying there. Ask Lori about it.
If you want to see my trips to get an idea of what 4 days in SR touring and visiting the schools is like, go to http://www.wired2theworld.com and click on "Cambodia and Thailand 2007"
Kristina is offline  

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