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Trip Report SE Asia - Gem of a Journey

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SE Asia - Gem of a Journey

The New Year 2013 (the year of the snake, which was just a month away) began in a most wonderful way! DH and I embarked on our greatly anticipated trip to Bangkok, Siem Reap, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Hong Kong. Initially, I could not imagine that I could ever plan what I thought was such a complicated itinerary myself. However, with the expert advice and support of all you Fodorites, I made the decisions and successfully arranged the many steps of our agenda. Thank you very much for all the detailed information and suggestions. We really appreciated it, and we certainly enjoyed the sights and experiences as they unfolded. And so our “gem of a journey” finally began on January 10, 2013….

We flew from Newark to Shanghai (about 14 hours or so), and after a 3 hour layover we flew to Bangkok (about 5 hours or so). This was United business/first; so we were comfortable during the long flight. It was now January 11. Many months ago, we had made some land arrangements with Tour with Tong; we were met at the airport and driven to the Royal Orchid Sheraton. We had booked the ROS with Starwood points and dollars, and upon check-in, we were upgraded to the Club floor in the Tower, with a river view. Hooray! We started off our days there with buffet breakfast in a lovely riverside setting overlooking the Chao Phraya River. We really enjoyed the ROS – its location (their luxurious boat to the skytrain station), the helpful and courteous staff, a room with river view. This was a good choice, the first of many.

Saturday, January 12
Sawaddee ka (Hello)! After a delicious breakfast, our excellent guide, Jerry, met us in the lobby at 8am. We took a taxi to Wat Traimit, in Chinatown area, where we saw the Golden Buddha. Next we took a taxi to the Grand Palace complex and the Emerald Buddha, made of jade. Then we took a taxi to the pier for our private longtail boat tour of the klongs (canals) in Thonburi. Bangkok is sometimes called the “Venice of the East”, and we witnessed everyday life on the waterways, very enjoyable. Lunch was at a local eatery (called Roon & Rub, or something like that). We had pad thai and a stir fry dish with veggies. After lunch, we walked over to Wat Pho to see the Reclining Buddha. I especially marveled at the beautiful soles of his (huge) feet, intricate inlaid mother of pearl! Then we took a ferry across the Chao Phraya River to go to Wat Arun. The exteriors of the buildings here are covered with shards of ceramics, in beautiful floral motifs. We then took a ferry back across the CP and then an express ferry to the ROS. (Everything today was on the ROS side of the CP River, except for Wat Arun). BTW, one needed to remove shoes to enter the Wats. Jerry was a knowledgeable and personable guide, fun to be with.

We walked to nearby Harmonique for dinner, after a short rest. We enjoyed stir fried asparagus and oyster mushrooms, pad thai with shrimp (encased in a crust), and sizzling prawns. Coconut ice cream for dessert. As we were tired from a wonderful and busy day, we slept quite well.

Sunday, January 13
After another “riverside breakfast” at the ROS, we took a taxi to the Weekend Market for some shopping. Then we successfully navigated the skytrain system (which DH compared to the Paris metro, but of course this one is “up in the sky”)) over to the Jim Thompson House. We were very proud of ourselves! We had a wonderful lunch there in a lovely setting. We had the most delicious pomelo salads and stir fried broccoli and shrimp. Mmmm…. (We really loved the pomelo available at many of our breakfasts thereafter)! We took a tour there and checked out the leafy grounds. We took the skytrain and then the club-like ROS boat on the CP River back to the hotel. (On the ROS boat, the attendant always gave us cold, wet towels and bottled water, very refreshing while we were relaxing away on the leather banquettes)! We sat at the ROS pool, overlooking the river, writing in our travel journal.
We took a taxi to Mango Tree for dinner. We enjoyed steamed bass, chicken curry, pomelo salad, (much preferred the one at lunch today at Jim Thompson House), 3 flavors of ice cream with sticky rice. We taxied back to our hotel and after another great day in Bangkok, slept very well. Tomorrow will be a very busy and memorable day….

Monday, January 14
After breakfast at the ROS, we met our guide, Daeng, in the lobby at 7am. Our (very good) driver was Nope. First we drove south and west to the Maeklong Train Market. What a unique experience! The vendors sell their fish and seafood, produce, flowers, etc., on and around the train tracks, until just a few seconds prior to the arrival of the train. (There is only 1 train, and it makes the trip about 4 or 5 times a day; this one was early in the morning). Then at the last possible instant, the vendors jump out of the way. After a short stop, the train departs again, and life at the train market goes back to the way it was. Of course we had never seen anything like this; so we were thrilled to start off the day here! Next stop was the Damnoensaduak Floating Market. We all went in a paddle boat through the main, bustling part of the floating market and also through a very quiet section of the klongs too. It is amazing to see the local people making their purchases by boat in such a setting. Afterwards, we stopped at a local palm sugar production place, where we watched, and even tasted the delicious palm sugar (and “helped” stir the very hot molten mixture). We went to the Damnoensaduak Elephant Village, where we rode on an elephant, with a mahout. The ellie went tramping right through a body of water – what fun! Then we had a quick lunch in a local place. Next we went to Tong’s “secret place”, the Klongkhone fishing village. We went out in a motorized boat into the Gulf of Thailand/Pacific Ocean. On the way, we fed dozens of bananas (which we had just bought on the roadside) to countless wild monkeys, a lively scene, to say the least! In the fishing village area, we saw Thai houses on stilts in the water and fishermen immersed in the water catching fish and cockles with nets. This was indeed a very secluded area; in fact there were no other people in sight, other than Daeng, us, and our boat man. He steered us out to an isolated wooden building right in the middle of the water, where we climbed up a steep rope ladder-like structure to enjoy the “look-out” to the ocean. We also were somehow brave enough to walk out on a shaky path/bridge for additional unobstructed vistas. We spent a good amount of time there, which was just lovely and most unusual, before the inevitable – the even more scary climb back down again to the little boat to take us back to land. This was a very special and remote spot! All during the long, activity-packed day, Daeng enthusiastically took pictures of us (our camera, of course), capturing the spirit of the day. Also, Daeng was not only great to be with, knowledgeable, and considerate, but she was very flexible in terms of our schedule and preferences. A truly wonderful guide! The drive back to the ROS was about an hour and a half, in a comfortable air-conditioned car.
Tired and happy, we got ready for dinner at the (thankfully) nearby Gallery Café. We tried stir fried morning glory (had seen it for sale at the train market!) and pad thai. We were exhausted at this point. Then we took a stroll through the River City Mall, which is sort of attached to the ROS, and we also enjoyed ice cream, before R & R.

Tuesday, January 15

After breakfast at the ROS, we took the hotel water shuttle to the skytrain and then the skytrain to the Siam stop and then walked on the skywalk to the Intercontinental Hotel . There we shopped at Narai Phand, a Royal Thai Government Handicrafts Center. We bought a good amount of items. Love that store! We also checked out Thai Crafts nearby. We took the skytrain back to the hotel. After a brief rest, we had cocktails al fresco overlooking the CP River, watching the sunset and the various vessels going by! Watching the boats on the CP was one of our favorite relaxing activities at the ROS: at our outdoor table at breakfast daily, from our room, at sunset enjoying a glass of wine, at the pool area. How nice….
We had dinner at Tongue Thai: great chicken and cashews, pad thai, and giant river prawns. Then we had ice cream and returned to the ROS to pack.
Tour with Tong was excellent. They delivered everything expected, and more. The tour guides were outstanding and very likeable, making our sightseeing in BKK most enjoyable and special. We highly recommend Tong. Kob kun ka (Thank you).
Stay tuned for the next installment: Siem Reap, Cambodia….

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    Enjoying reading about your stay in Bangkok. We're heading out to Wat Po this morning. Looks like we had a similar route but we're ending with five days in Bangkok. Waiting to read more.

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    I am loving reading this report. We are starting a similar trip next week and have scheduled time with tour with tong also. Based on your info I think I am going to change or inteniary a little. I did not schedule the elephants and I might do that. I rode an elephant in Africa but it was different I am sure. If you are iterested in the work the elephants do in this culture read the book "Modoc" it is excellent.

    Re the weekend market, did you like it? Was it worth going to, did you buy anything

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    Yes, since we were there on a weekend, of course we wanted to check out the weekend market ("JJ Market"). It was very large and bustling. We wandered around for a couple of hours. I bought 2 elephant skirts and a funky purse there. It was fun!

    Glad my TR helped. I'm working on the next episode. Have a wonderful trip! Enjoy!

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    Wednesday, January 16

    After our last riverside breakfast at the ROS, we checked out, and a driver from Tong drove us to the airport for our 11:25am Bangkok Airways flight to Siem Reap. (We booked this flight ourselves). It was only about a 45 minute flight! The visa process was easy and quick, and cost only $20 per person. We were staying at the Golden Temple Hotel. A tuk-tuk driver ( airport pick-up & drop-off included in hotel price) met us at the airport. With all our luggage piled into the tuk-tuk, he drove us to the hotel, where we were greeted warmly. What a lovely find this little hotel in Siem Reap is. The wonderful staff was always anticipating our needs and eager to make us feel beyond comfortable. They insisted on taking photos with us during our stay, so that they could remember us. Within 2 hours of our arrival, we were in a tuk-tuk, off for our much-anticipated first visit to Angkor Wat! (We stopped and quickly bought our multi-day tickets to the Temples). We spent the rest of the afternoon with a guide at Angkor Wat and also visited the Bayon at Angkor Thom. This was a wonderful beginning here. We returned to the Golden Temple and got ready for dinner. Prior to our departure for Asia, we had thankfully made a dinner reservation at Cuisine Wat Damnak. They offer a choice of 2 set menus (6 courses) for $26. It was a charming restaurant serving innovative French cuisine, including delicious steamed dark chocolate cake with pralines. We needed to get a good night’s sleep; up next is sunrise at Angkor Wat….

    Thursday, January 17

    We awoke at 4:30am and left with our guide, Chai, and a car and driver at 5:30am. We brought with us a small boxed breakfast prepared by the hotel, which we ate after the magnificent sunrise. Chai brought us to his favorite spot for the sunrise at Angkor Wat, and was it spectacular! Of course we loved this adventure, and we took numerous beautiful photos. It was so exciting to see the gradual “waking up” take place and to see how every minute it seemed that things looked different. A very memorable experience! Next we drove to Angkor Thom, and we saw the elaborate Terrace of Elephants and Terrace of the Leper King. Then we went to Ta Prohm, an amazing sight with giant tree roots growing over and through the stones. Next we drove some distance to Banteay Srei, which is beautiful pinkish stone with carvings. (This was perhaps my personal favorite). On our way back to the hotel, we went up in a stationary balloon to see the aerial view of Angkor Wat, which we enjoyed. After a Khmer lunch at the Golden Temple and a much-needed rest, we had fabulous, relaxing massages ! In the evening, we went to an Apsara Dinner and Dance Show, which was very entertaining. We stopped at the Blue Pumpkin on Pub Street for delicious ice cream. This was a spectacular day, and we were, needless to say, very tired (but happy campers) and slept quite well that night.

    Friday, January 18
    Breakfast at the Golden Temple was very good: yummy pineapple pancakes and absolutely delicious croissants (best of the trip), etc. Then we took a tuk-tuk to Angkor Wat for our final visit there. Each time one can perhaps see something a little different – the angle, the light, etc. On the return to the hotel, we shopped in the Old Market, and we got back in time for another great massage! Afterwards, we took a tuk-tuk back to Pub Street for pizza and gnocchi at Il Forno, a very good little Italian restaurant, and then we stopped for ice cream again (we liked this place) at Blue Pumpkin. The hotel manager, Mr. Pon, allowed us to keep our room until about 5pm; so having maximized the day, we finally packed and got ready to check out of this lovely hotel. Mr. Pon sent us to the airport in a private car with our own guest services aide, who told us her interesting life story on the way. She” liked practicing her English” she said, and she wanted to go home with us in our luggage! Our Vietnam Airlines flight departed promptly from Siem Reap at 7:45pm for the 1 and 1/2 hour flight to Hanoi. Our visa on arrival (VOA) process went smoothly and quickly at the airport. (Fee went up to $45US on January 1st). As we had made arrangements with Tonkin Travel, we were met at Hanoi airport by a driver and brought to our hotel in the old quarter.

    The Golden Temple Hotel is a wonderful place to stay in Siem Reap. We were in room #40, which was on the 2nd floor and overlooked the pool/garden area, a good, quiet, and pretty location. (We had specified this particular room in advance, thanks to a Fodorite’s recommendation). As I said, the staff here was extraordinary and took special care of us. Also, note that US dollars are accepted in Siem Reap.

    Stay tuned for the next episode: Hanoi, Vietnam….

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    I'm very much enjoying your report. We stayed at the ROS & Golden Temple. They were both great places to stay. Next time I want to go to the train market and the fishing village. They sound like a real experience. That is the advantage of hiring a guide. Some of these places are just not that easy to find on one's own. Thanks for posting and I am looking forward to more.

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    Saturday, January 19

    We stayed at the Hanoi Elegance Diamond Hotel, in a great location in the old quarter. We had a lovely junior suite with a balcony. Upon check-in, there was a welcome gift in our room: a bottle of wine and fruit platter. There were 2 little elephants formed out of towels; since I really like ellies, this made me smile even bigger! This is a beautiful boutique hotel with a wonderful, helpful staff. There is a computer in each room.

    We enjoyed an excellent breakfast, served on the top floor, included in the rate. We loved sitting side by side in the corner spot of the breakfast room at a “half-table”, which had no seats on its other side, and it faced the windows, with a view of the lake. (We called it our train car seat – fun start to each day)! Here, too, there were delicious pineapple pancakes to order, good coffee, nice crisp baguettes, pomelo (my new favorite fruit), etc. We met our guide, Ving, in the lobby at 8:30am. Our driver drove us to Tonkin Travel to pay our bill and to meet Nhung, with whom I had been working for many months. Today we had a full day city tour, including Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, his house on stilts, the One Pillar Pagoda, the Tran Quoc Pagoda, the Temple of Literature, the Museum of Ethnology (similar to a folklore museum), Hoa Lo Prison, and a look at the art nouveau Hanoi Opera House. We lunched at Pho 24, an excellent and authentic place for pho.

    We enjoyed a delicious dinner at Green Tangerine (French/ Vietnamese fusion). We had an appetizer of mille feuille of crabmeat and veggies, caramelized loin of pork (DH), outstanding rack of lamb (me) with a wonderful sauce. (I couldn’t put my finger on the exact taste in the sauce, and upon asking, I found out the very surprising ingredient……cocoa)! Dessert was frozen yogurt with Cointreau, served in a green tangerine shell. I highly recommend this fine restaurant.

    Afterwards, we packed small totes for our overnight to Ha Long Bay. We stored our main luggage at the hotel, a great convenience.

    Sunday, January 20

    This morning we had our usual breakfast (in our train car seat) at the Elegance Diamond, and we checked out and stored our luggage there. We were picked up in the lobby at about 8:15am for our approximately 4 hour ride to beautiful Ha Long Bay. We embarked on the Dragon’s Pearl III at about noon; we had requested a cabin in the front part of the boat. The boat is new and the cabin, although small of course, was handsome, very comfortable with a king size bed, and had nice amenities in its modern, sparkling bathroom. There were 19 passengers, hailing from France, Australia, Canada, Indonesia, and the U.S. We really enjoyed their company and conversation (albeit our French is rusty)! We were welcomed on board with a drink and a cruise briefing. After very quickly getting settled in our cabin, we lunched on deck, while oohing and aahing the stunning scenery. We cruised through Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage site; there are more than 2000 limestone rock formations/islands, which are magnificent. We hiked on one of the little islands and explored a secluded cave. Then we went kayaking, lots of fun indeed! We returned to the Dragon’s Pearl and relaxed before dinner. Dinner was served in the dining room; the food throughout the cruise was very plentiful and tasty.

    Monday, January 21

    We continued to view the limestone formations from the deck and had breakfast, including pho ba (!) and other items as well. We went on a rustic sampan (2 to a boat) to a fishing village, where we watched local children in a floating school and also a woman seeding an oyster. We paddled past fishermen’s floating houses. We returned to the Dragon’s Pearl and continued cruising through the Bay, all the while admiring the absolutely beautiful scenery! Lunch was served, which included shrimp and scallops right from Ha Long Bay, yummy. We disembarked and we were driven back to Hanoi. The overnight Ha Long Bay cruise should not be missed; it is an opportunity to marvel at a most unique and unforgettable landscape. This was surely a highlight of our trip!

    Upon arriving back in Hanoi, we re-checked into the Elegance Diamond Hotel. Management had already placed our stored luggage in our new room – we had been upgraded to an executive suite! How lovely! We got settled and then walked just a few blocks to the Thang Long Theatre to see a water puppet show at 6:30pm. It was very entertaining and whimsical; we thoroughly enjoyed it! Next, we went by taxi to dinner at La Badiane, a wonderful French restaurant. DH had shrimp bisque, lamb shank cooked with haressa (a spice), couscous, and almonds, etc., and (deconstructed) crème brulee with hazelnut ice cream. I had a fabulous grilled eggplant and goat cheese appetizer, the same lamb shank entrée as above, and an apple and pear pastille (open tarte of phyllo pastry) with ice cream and dark chocolate sauce. Everything was absolutely outstanding and presented beautifully! We taxied back to the hotel. Somehow we managed to stay up to watch President Obama’s inauguration on TV. With the 12 hour time difference, it was airing at midnight!

    Tuesday, January 22

    We had our customary breakfast and once again met Ving in the hotel lobby at 8:30am. Seated in individual cyclos, we took a tour of the old quarter of Hanoi, seeing early morning everyday life on the streets, up close (very close) and personal! We rode right through huge jams of motorbikes, cars, bicycles, people carrying their wares, etc. There were very few, if any, traffic lights; so it was chaotic fun! DH’s take on the situation is that the only rule of the road is that there are no rules!! Crazy stuff! Every time we successfully crossed a street clogged with countless motorbike drivers doing their own thing with no traffic regulations, we looked at each other, thinking – don’t try this at home!! Next, we took a walking tour of the French Quarter with Ving, admiring the architecture. We stopped along the way for some shopping, and we walked around the lake back to the hotel. There we said goodbye to our guide. Then we walked back around the lake to a bakery for a light lunch, followed by ice cream at Kem Trang Tien. This is a favorite hangout where there is a constant stream of young locals driving indoors and pulling right up to the ice cream counter on their motorbikes. A little more strolling and shopping and the afternoon was complete. Important to note again: Vietnam has millions of motorbikes, and so crossing the street is challenging. One needs to keep moving at a steady pace and “hope for the best”. We got the hang of this, eventually….

    We had dinner at Quan An Ngon (Vietnamese). It has food similar to what one can get on the street, but in a restaurant setting. We had crab and shrimp filled wantons, grilled prawns on skewers, stir fried noodles with seafood, stir fried noodles with veggies, and ice cream (“kem”, a word I handily learned)! We taxied back to the hotel and packed.

    I highly recommend the Hanoi Elegance Diamond Hotel for its wonderful staff, great location, and high standards. If possible, get a suite. The exchange rate during this time was approximately $1 US = 20000 VND (Dong).

    Stay tuned for the next episode: Ho Chi Minh City, (Saigon), Vietnam….

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    Wednesday, January 23

    We enjoyed our last breakfast in our train car seat at the hotel, and then we checked out and we were driven to the airport for our Vietnam Airlines flight from Hanoi to HCMC. The flight was about 1 and ¾ hours, arriving at 11:30am. We were met at the airport and driven to the Rex Hotel. We checked in; our room was in the new wing, just lovely. We met our guide, Quang, in the lobby at 1pm. Our tour of the city of Saigon included Notre Dame Cathedral and the large General Post Office across the street, the Reunification Palace, and the War Remnants Museum (a very emotional visit). We had lunch at Pho 2000, (where Bill Clinton had eaten in 2000); of course we had pho, (delicious)! Then we went to the Ben Thanh Market , very aggressive and crowded. We returned to the Rex for a much needed nap.

    At sunset, we had drinks at the famous Rex roof-top bar, which has a great panoramic view of the city. It is an open-air space, and it’s rated as one of the top places for a drink. It was most enjoyable. We had dinner at Augustin, a charming French restaurant. DH had sea bass in a delicious dill, ginger, and cream sauce with roasted potatoes and veggies, and a dark chocolate soufflé for dessert. He said that it was the very best soufflé he had ever had, including Paris!! Ooh la la…. I had large prawns sautéed in sweet onions and garlic with rice and veggies, and profiteroles for dessert .

    Thursday, January 24

    We had breakfast in the Rex Hotel and then met Quang in the lobby at 8am. Our driver drove us to Cu Chi Tunnels, about 1 and ¾ hour ride. It is an intricate series of underground tunnels built and used by the Viet Cong during the war. It is an amazing maze of bomb resistant tunnels, where the Viet Cong lived hidden from the Americans. On the return trip to HCMC, we visited the Emperor Jade Pagoda and also a lacquerware company, where we watched production and made some purchases. At the Rex, we said goodbye to Quang, and after a light bite and a rest, we went to Tax department store and then Dong Khoi Street to buy a few things. Then we got ready for dinner. On the walk to the restaurant, we stopped at the small park across the street from the Rex, a very pretty spot.

    We really enjoyed our dinner at Augustin last night, and so....we had dinner there again! We had chatted warmly with An, the owner, the previous night, and so she was very happy to welcome us once again! We each had the sea bass entrée which DH had chosen previously. An was kind enough to send a nice French wine over to our table. I had only tasted DH’s chocolate soufflé; so now this was my chance….yes, this IS the best one ever! Going to Augustin twice was a splendid decision! We walked back to the Rex and got our things ready for an early departure.

    The Rex Hotel has an excellent location, and its roof-top bar is a convenient plus. The lobby is large and impressive. The room was new and very comfortable. Saigon has millions of motorbikes, even more than Hanoi, making it hectic indeed. The cuisine here, as in Hanoi, is very good.

    Stay tuned for the next episode: Hong Kong….

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    Friday, January 25

    Driver transported us to the airport for our 1 and ¾ hour flight from Saigon to Hong Kong on United. We took a taxi (($350 HK) to the Grand Hyatt Hotel. We were upgraded to the Club floor. After check-in, we taxied to Din Tai Fung for dim sum; we had chicken, shrimp, and mushroom dumplings – fun and delicious. We were able to watch the chefs making the dim sum. Then we took the Star Ferry ($5 HK) to Kowloon, where we walked through the Peninsula Hotel and the Ocean Place department store. We returned to the Grand Hyatt by ferry, and we relaxed with cappuccino and delicious cookies at the Grand Club lounge on our floor, the 31st floor. This is the perfect spot to sit and watch the ferries and other vessels on Victoria Harbour. After a much-needed nap, we returned to the lounge for wine and hors d’oeuvres. We retired early.

    Saturday, January 26

    We had breakfast at the Club lounge, quite nice. Then we taxied to the Peak Tram and rode up to the top. Here we spent about an hour enjoying the fantastic view! After coming back down on the tram, we taxied to Soho, where we took the mid-level escalators up to higher areas. We strolled around, checking out the shops and markets of fish, meats, vegetables, etc. We had a late luncheon at Al Dente. DH had penne with chicken and ‘shrooms , and I had capellini with shrimp (lots of them!), asparagus, and grape tomatoes in a truffle oil and white wine sauce. Yummy! After returning to the Grand Hyatt and relaxing in our room, we went to the Grand Lounge for our farewell happy hour here. Before the sad chore of packing for home, enjoying the Harbour view surely was a fitting and grand finale….

    The Grand Hyatt offers luxury and flair, impeccable service, and a great location. The staff was efficient and personable; addressing us by name. It was certainly a very fine choice and a perfect ending for a memorable vacation.

    The exchange rate during this time was approximately $1 US = 7.78 HKD.

    Sunday, January 27

    After our last breakfast in style at the Grand Club, we checked out and taxied to the airport (about ½ hour) for our 11:25am flight from HK to Newark. The flight was about 14 hours, and we arrived at EWR at about 1pm, NJ time.

    Capping off our adventurous journey with a stay in cosmopolitan Hong Kong helped ready us to resume life as we know it!

    All the many, many components of this intricate itinerary actually flowed seamlessly. I know that the expert advice provided by all of you Fodorites throughout the past year or so was based on your experiences and love of the various destinations. Your information was surely appreciated! Special thanks to simpsonc510 for BKK info, dress code ideas, and Narai Phand (great shopping spot); rhkkmk for restaurant recommendations along with very precise directions, and important tip for pomelo salad at J.T. House (spot on); aussiedreamer for Golden Temple and Elegance Diamond; Kathie for restaurant recommendations; yestravel for Hanoi restaurants; and rkkwan and kmkrnn for ATM and taxi info for HK. Of course, many others greatly contributed through fun, informative TR’s, which I really enjoyed reading (and still do)! Thank you, thank you to all. This was definitely one of our best trips ever!

    Coming soon, in this same place….DH’s comments, travel tips, and observations….

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    Thank you for the rest of your report. I will look forward to seeing Vietnam in the future and will follow many of your suggestions. It sounds like it was a really great trip.

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    Tips, Highlights, and Recommendations

    Now that you have read DW’s very interesting and detailed TR, I would like to add my own personal tips, highlights, and recommendations. Some were mentioned in the TR, and some were ideas of Fodorites, but I think they bear repeating for anyone about to do this trip.

    In Bangkok, definitely use the Skytrain. It was convenient, cheap, and went to lots of places. We had pomelo salad many times, but none came close to the pomelo salad at the Jim Thompson House. You must try it.

    Most hotels offer coffee or tea when you sit down at the breakfast buffet. We love cappuccino, and we found that every hotel was glad to make cappuccino for us at no extra charge. We just had to ask.

    The Golden Temple in Siem Reap was a great pick. The VIP service included being picked up at the airport in a Tuk- Tuk, which I loved. Somehow all of our luggage fit inside! It also included breakfast, 1 lunch or dinner, and a 1 hour massage. Plus they were the nicest, friendliest staff you could imagine. The croissants on the breakfast buffet were the best on the whole trip, really, they were Paris quality. Room #40 was a good choice, quiet, with a pool and garden view. I enjoyed the Apsara dance show in Siem Reap. It was a 1 hour show with colorful costumes and came with an international buffet, all for about $12.00. Hard to beat.

    The most danger and excitement on this trip was crossing the street in Hanoi! There are 4 million motor scooters and the only traffic rule is that there is no traffic rule! To just start walking across the street at a steady pace, and hope that the cycles will go around you, took a lot of courage.

    Amazingly, I did not see or hear an ambulance, fire engine, or police car with sirens blasting the entire trip. How is that possible?

    We had decided to have some laundry done at the hotel at the half-way point. Luckily that was Hanoi. The Elegance Diamond charged $.30-.50/item, and returned them nicely washed and ironed the same day. At the Rex in Saigon, the same items were $3.00-4.00/item, 10 times as much!

    The trip to Ha Long Bay was well worth the 3.5-4 hour drive. We enjoyed looking at the farms and towns along the way. Obviously, I would not want to do this every week, but the cruise was well worth it and the Dragon’s Pearl III was a good choice.

    I was very happy I went to the Water Puppets in Hanoi. It was a 1 hour show that is a rite of passage for Vietnamese. If you like marionettes you would like this.

    In Saigon, I highly recommend Augustin. The chocolate soufflé was really the best I have ever had. We liked it so much we ate there twice! The 2nd night, An, the owner, bought us a bottle of wine. I guess not too many people dine here twice in 2 days.

    A drink at the rooftop bar at the Rex was delightful and relaxing. It’s been rated one of the top bars in the world!

    We did not like the Ben Thanh market. The vendors were pushy and literally grabbing at us to come to their booths, which I felt was a possible precursor to being pickpocketed. The nearby TAX had a souvenir and lacquerware dept. that had less pressure, and you could do the same bargaining.

    If you are going to be some place for multiple days, don’t be afraid to ask for a new guide if you are not happy. We had one guide whose English was not very good, and though we felt bad about it, we asked for another guide that we could understand better, and we were glad that we did.

    Thanks again to everyone who helped us plan our fantastic trip!

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    Just finished reading Modoc by Ralph Helfer. It was a true, sensitive story about an elephant, his care, training, and the work elephants do. I really enjoyed reading it. Thanx for the recommendation.

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    We're headed to Vietnam and Cambodia in a few weeks. Your trip report was very helpful, THANKS! Do you recall the name of the apsara show in Siem Reap? The ones I looked into get very mixed reviews. Thanks.

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    The apsara show in Siem Reap is Koulen. The show is only about an hour, and it was entertaining. It includes a large international buffet dinner. My husband ate the food there; I did not. It only cost $12 US. (Afterwards we went someplace else to eat). If you decide to go here, I suggest that you actually go there earlier and select specific reserved seats and check out their location (near the front, if possible)! This is a large place. (Some people go to the apsara show at Raffles, I have heard). Enjoy - it was a fun evening!

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    Your report was terrific! Sounds like you had a really wonderful time. How soon are you returning? (haha) The Asia forum on Fodors gives out some of the best and most courteous information for travellers, in my opinion. So glad "we" could all lend a hand in your preparations/planning.

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    Thanx so much for your kind words. I enjoyed writing the TR! It gave me a chance to relive the trip and savor some of our favorite parts, again. Yes, we both really had a fabulous time! Thanks again for all your expert advice.

    As much as we'd love to return there next January, we can't allow ourselves that luxury because we have other places we'd also like to explore (and haven't yet been to).... It was a difficult decision. I am now in the midst of considering/planning a journey to India, with the wonderful help, of course, of many Fodorites. Hopefully, we'll return to SE Asia someday....

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