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Bowdoin Feb 4th, 2008 05:02 PM

Trip Report: Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Angkor Wat & Bangkok (Very Long)
 
I recently returned from a whirlwind 8 day trip to Hanoi, Siem Reap and Bangkok and thought I would post a trip report as I found all of the trip reports posted before me to be most helpful. I apologize in advance for the length of this trip report, but I thought I would include as many details as possible in the hopes that it may help others plan their trips. In any case, here we go…due to family commitments, here at home I was only able to manage 8 days away but was lucky enough to travel with a friend. Although we live in the Bay Area and would normally fly out of SFO, we opted for Thai Air’s non-stop flight from LAX to BKK to start our trip because of their non-stop flight and their premium economy class. Due to scheduled maintenance, we learned a few weeks before leaving that the A340-500 that normally flies this route was unavailable and so Thai substituted an A340-600. Since the 600 series does not have a premium economy cabin, we were upgraded to business class and so we were very much looking forward to our flight even though the later arrival time meant that we would now have an 8 hour layover in Bangkok as opposed to the 1 ½ hour we originally anticipated. Since SFO is my normal international gateway, I have not been through LAX in a number of years and I can honestly say it is one of the worst airports I have ever been too—even Nairobi’s airport was better! The International Terminal is dark, crowded and dirty. There seem to be some renovations underway, but it does not look like they will make much of a difference. SFO, by comparison, is clean, bright and airy and is a much better departure point. Check-in at Thai took about 40 minutes as we went down to the check-in desks just as they were opening. Once we got our boarding passes we cleared security—which actually went quite quickly—and we made our way to the new Star Alliance Lounge. The lounge was quite nice although the staff at the check-in desk were clueless and the bathrooms were small and inconveniently located. The food and drink selection was nice and the area was constantly being cleaned. The chairs are comfortable and there are a few computer terminals and a tv room as distractions. There are no boarding calls so we went to the gate a few minutes ahead of our designated boarding time and were able to board the plane by the time we reached the gate. As soon as we boarded we were offered champagne or orange juice as we settled into our seats. We chose two seats in the middle since we would both have access to the aisle. Although we did not have the ability to look out the window, we preferred these seats as those in the window seat would have to climb over the person sitting in the aisle seat in order to get out. The seats are the lie-flat type of seats which recline to about 170 degrees. They cushions are a bit hard but overall the seats are comfortable even though one tends to slide down the seat a little when fully reclined and they are on the narrow side. The flight attendants were uniformly excellent and friendly and the on-demand movies/tv shows/games and music made the trip bearable. Given the change in equipment, we were required to stop in Osaka to refuel. This was a technical stop only and no passengers left the plane although there was a change in crew. After about an hour, we took off from Osaka for the 6 hour flight to Bangkok. Although the total trip time was about 20 hours, the trip was quite good as we were both able to get about 8 hours of sleep.

We arrived at Bangkok’s new airport around 9:00 a.m. and made our way through immigration as we had 8 hours before our next flight to Hanoi. We decided not to venture into town but, instead, booked a day room at the new Novotel Hotel at the airport. Because we were able to check our luggage straight through to Hanoi, we did not have to wait for our luggage and so we were able to make our way right to the hotel shuttle. Check-in at the hotel was quick and easy and even though the hotel’s policy is to only give you access to the room for 4 hours on their day use rate, they were kind enough to extend this for an additional 2 hours for us as no additional cost. The room was nice and very clean. It had a large bathroom and two twin beds. Because we had slept on the plane, we opted simply to shower up and then head down to the pool rather than sleep. The pool, while cool, was quite large and there were nice lounge chairs, a poolside bar and a pool attendant. We swam and sat by the pool for a couple of hours and then went back to the room to change and then down the restaurant for lunch. After lunch, which was quite good, we checked out and headed back to the airport. We had booked business class tickets up to Hanoi because they were not much more expensive that coach. Check-in was very efficient and were able to pass though immigration quickly. Instead of shopping, we headed to the Business Class lounge which was very nice. There was an excellent selection of drinks and food, a computer room with 12 or more terminals, and a variety of different rooms to sit in—some with couches and chairs and others with reclining lounge chairs. There was also a kids room which was a nice touch for those traveling with children. About 10 minutes prior to our boarding time, we made our way to security. There was no line and since we were not required to remove our shoes, we sailed right through security. We boarded our Thai flight on time but were delayed about 20 minutes as they held the plane for passengers arrive on incoming flights. The flight to Hanoi was short—about an hour and a half—and the service was fine.

We arrived in Hanoi at about 8:00 p.m. Our luggage was among the first off the plane and we cleared immigration and customs in a manner of minutes. My sister was waiting for us outside of customs and she had a cab waiting. The trip into town took about 40 minutes and it was our first taste of Hanoi driving. It seems that everyone honks their horn all the time—especially when passing the ubiquitous motorbikes. We arrived at the brand new Intercontinental Hanoi West Lake Hotel and was immediately impressed. The hotel is absolutely gorgeous and the service was on par with 5-star hotel elsewhere in the world. Check-in formalities were handled in the room and the luggage was delivered immediately. The hotel combines traditional Vietnamese design with and more modern minimalist design. There is dark teak everywhere mixed with steel and white. It is a very dramatic and appealing look. Our room was in the main building and overlooked the pool, the other pavilions and the lake. The room was nice and big with a huge bathroom with two sinks and a a separate shower. There was a flat screen LCD t.v., mini-bar and two phones. The bathroom was stocked with some of the softest towels I have ever felt. The beds were a little hard but very comfortable. Over all, the room was great. The hotel has a few restaurants and a great bar which is at the ends of the hotel overlooking the water. While drinks were expensive, it was an incredible place to sit and relax. We ate breakfast and dinner in the café restaurant and enjoyed them both. There is a good mix of western and Vietnamese dishes and the service was quite good. One of the waitresses recognized my sister from KOTO, a restaurant in town, and it seems the hotel has hired a number of KOTO-graduates. KOTO is an acronym and stands for Know One Teach One is a humanitarian program run by Australian ex-pats that takes kids off the street and trains them in the hospitality industry. If her service levels is indicative of all Koto-graduate, they do a great job at training their students and the service was prompt and friendly.

Since we were quite tired after the long trip, we decided to eat our first dinner near the hotel and went to Vine which is run by a Canadian ex-pat that is about a two minute walk from the hotel. Vine has an amazing wine list and an eclectic mix of food ranging from Vietnamese dishes to pasta to hamburgers. The food and the service were both very good and the bar on the second floor was very nice

Given the fact that we only had three days in Hanoi, we opted to spend our first day on a day trip to Ha Long Bay. We booked the trip through Exotisimo and arranged to have a private car drive us back and forth. The driver and English speaking guide picked us up promptly at 8:00 and we made our way to Ha Long Bay. The drive takes about 3 hours and is, frankly, not terribly interesting. We stopped halfway point at an arts and craft school and store which was not too bad but one did feel some pressure to buy. Upon arriving in Ha Long Bay we boarded our private junk and then headed out to the bay with what seemed to be 100 other boats. In that all the boats leave at the same time, there is a massive traffic jam and it took us at least 20 minutes to clear the harbor. All the boats seem to put their engines on full and push their way out. It is a terrible waste of gas and must be horrible for the environment. Hopefully this process will become more organized to avoid this waste. (I also hope that they reduce the number of boats on the water as there is no reason for less than 10 people to be on the same boat). The cruise lasted about 5 hours and we visited a few caves and a couple of coves as well. Lunch is served on board and is primarily seafood although there are French fires and some cabbage as well. Food was included but drinks were not—drinks ran about $1 for sodas and $2 for beer. The bay is very pretty and relaxing and we enjoyed ourselves a lot. With that said, I think it is too long of a trip for a day trip and would not recommend it unless you are able to spend the night on the bay (although I understand all of the boats are required to spend the night in the same area so I am not sure how peaceful it would be at night). Moreover, since we only had 3 days in Hanoi, I would have preferred spending all of the time in Hanoi in hindsight.

Our second day in Hanoi was spent site seeing and we tried to take in as much of the city as possible. Since breakfast at the Intercontinental was $20US per person, we opted to try a little restaurant around the corner from the hotel called the Kitchen that my sister recommended. The Kitchen offers a great breakfast for a reasonable price and we highly recommend it. After breakfast, we headed into the main part of town. Our first stop was to visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum…having seen Lenin in Moscow, I wanted to make sure I also visited Uncle Ho. The line to Uncle Ho was quite long but it moved quickly. No cameras, cell phones or water was allowed but they were incredibly efficient at returning them as soon as you left the mausoleum. After visiting Uncle Ho, we walked around the presidential palace, saw the House on Stilts that Ho built and lived in since he felt the presidential palace was too glamorous, Ho’s office and the large museum near the Mausoleum. Everything but the museum was interesting. The museum was pretty bizarre and eclectic and even though everything was in English and Vietnamese I did not feel as though I got much out of the museum.

After visiting the museum, we took a taxi to the Temple of Literature which is the Confucian center of learning in Hanoi. Before visiting the Temple, we stopped in KOTO for some quick drinks as it was very hot in Hanoi while we were there. As mentioned, KOTO works to train street kids how to work in the hospitality industry. The students learn how to speak English and how to work in the service industry. The drinks were very good and we had some small plate dishes which were also excellent. Once rested, we headed across the street to the Temple of Literature. Upon entering the grounds of the Temple, the sounds of the horns and traffic seem to dissipate and were we spent about an hour and a half walking around. It is a beautiful and very interesting spot and should be on everyone’s list of things to see in Hanoi.

After the Temple of Literature, we took a taxi to the older part of town and had a late lunch at the Green Tangerine. The Green Tangerine is in a very cool building that is part French colonial and part tube house architecture. We opted to have the chef’s Vietnamese tasting menu which was very pricey at $17 per person but it was excellent. The lunch consisted of several courses—including dessert—and the presentation was fantastic. After lunch we wandered through the old quarter including the shops and market. We made our way back to Hoan Kiem Lake and visited to Jade Mountain Temple which is located on a small island in the lake After visiting the temple, we wandered over to the French quarter and checked out the Opera House and the Metropole Hotel. The Metropole is undergoing some renovations but appeared to be very nice albeit somewhat formal. If you wanted to stay in the middle of town, I would think this would be on the top of your list. After stopping for a drink, we headed back to the old quarter where we went to the Water Puppet Theater show. The show lasts about 45 minutes which is plenty long—any longer and I would have lost it. The puppetry is excellent and very interesting as the puppets and puppet masters are in the water and it is pretty amazing what they are able to do. The singers and the orchestra look somewhat bored but, as I said, for 45 minutes, it is worth it. I will add that there were a number of children in the audience and they absolutely loved it. After the show, we walked along the lake over to Fanny’s Ice Cream shop. Everyone told us Fanny’s is the best ice cream in Hanoi and it did not disappoint…the selection was excellent as was the taste. After ice cream, we headed back to the Intercon for a shower and a break and for dinner we met my sister and her friends back in town at a restaurant called Wild Lotus. The restaurant is one of the most beautiful restaurants I have ever been to and the food was excellent. The exterior is art deco and the interior is incredibly peaceful with lots of art adorning the walls. The entrance is very dramatic and the food does not let down. The food is eclectic Vietnamese with some French twists and you can order al a carte or prix fix in either a three, four or five course meal. The prices for the entrée were about $10 and the 5 course meal was $25. Wine was not cheap but the selection was very good. The service was excellent and I would highly recommend the restaurant. After dinner it was back to the hotel where we crashed as we were exhausted.

Sunday morning we woke up relatively early and were on our way by 8:00. We grab a taxi into town as we wanted to see the Hoa Lo Prison aka the Hanoi Hilton. The prison was originally built by the French to hold political prisoners but was used during the Viet Nam war to hold captured U.S. pilots including John McCain. The majority of the exhibit details the French period of the prison but there are two rooms dealing with the U.S. prisoners including a display of McCain’s flight suit. The propaganda pictures are quite funny as it is clear that they were staged and the prisoners were forced to smile—overall the exhibit was very interesting and took about 45 minutes to see. After the museum, we walked over to Church Street to check out the Cathedral. As there was a mass in progress, we did not go. We then did some shopping by exploring the Propaganda Poster shops and some of the silk shops and art galleries. There are a number of very nice shops along Church Street and I would definitely liked to have some more time to check them out.

After exploring Church Street, we headed back to the hotel to check out and then we were off to their airport for our flight to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. The trip to the airport took about 45 minutes and even though there were about 20 people in front of us to check-in at Vietnam Airlines, the line moved very quickly. The agent spoke very good English and was able to assign us aisle seats the near the front of the plane as we wanted to make sure we were off first as we needed to obtain our visas on arrival in Cambodia. Immigration took a little time as there was only one officer working and then we hung out in the departures hall. The airport as quite clean and had lots of chairs and a few stores to look around. We boarded our flight right on time and the plane was pretty comfortable although the pseat itch was pretty tight. The flight crew spoke decent English. The flight was short but we did get a full meal which consisted on a fresh role, some fruit and a mystery meat that I did not eat. Overall, I was pretty impressed with Vietnam Airlines.


Bowdoin Feb 4th, 2008 05:04 PM

HERE IS PART II:

I recently returned from a whirlwind 8 day trip to Hanoi, Siem Reap and Bangkok and thought I would post a trip report as I found all of the trip reports posted before me to be most helpful. I apologize in advance for the length of this trip report, but I thought I would include as many details as possible in the hopes that it may help others plan their trips. In any case, here we go…due to family commitments, here at home I was only able to manage 8 days away but was lucky enough to travel with a friend. Although we live in the Bay Area and would normally fly out of SFO, we opted for Thai Air’s non-stop flight from LAX to BKK to start our trip because of their non-stop flight and their premium economy class. Due to scheduled maintenance, we learned a few weeks before leaving that the A340-500 that normally flies this route was unavailable and so Thai substituted an A340-600. Since the 600 series does not have a premium economy cabin, we were upgraded to business class and so we were very much looking forward to our flight even though the later arrival time meant that we would now have an 8 hour layover in Bangkok as opposed to the 1 ½ hour we originally anticipated. Since SFO is my normal international gateway, I have not been through LAX in a number of years and I can honestly say it is one of the worst airports I have ever been too—even Nairobi’s airport was better! The International Terminal is dark, crowded and dirty. There seem to be some renovations underway, but it does not look like they will make much of a difference. SFO, by comparison, is clean, bright and airy and is a much better departure point. Check-in at Thai took about 40 minutes as we went down to the check-in desks just as they were opening. Once we got our boarding passes we cleared security—which actually went quite quickly—and we made our way to the new Star Alliance Lounge. The lounge was quite nice although the staff at the check-in desk were clueless and the bathrooms were small and inconveniently located. The food and drink selection was nice and the area was constantly being cleaned. The chairs are comfortable and there are a few computer terminals and a tv room as distractions. There are no boarding calls so we went to the gate a few minutes ahead of our designated boarding time and were able to board the plane by the time we reached the gate. As soon as we boarded we were offered champagne or orange juice as we settled into our seats. We chose two seats in the middle since we would both have access to the aisle. Although we did not have the ability to look out the window, we preferred these seats as those in the window seat would have to climb over the person sitting in the aisle seat in order to get out. The seats are the lie-flat type of seats which recline to about 170 degrees. They cushions are a bit hard but overall the seats are comfortable even though one tends to slide down the seat a little when fully reclined and they are on the narrow side. The flight attendants were uniformly excellent and friendly and the on-demand movies/tv shows/games and music made the trip bearable. Given the change in equipment, we were required to stop in Osaka to refuel. This was a technical stop only and no passengers left the plane although there was a change in crew. After about an hour, we took off from Osaka for the 6 hour flight to Bangkok. Although the total trip time was about 20 hours, the trip was quite good as we were both able to get about 8 hours of sleep.

We arrived at Bangkok’s new airport around 9:00 a.m. and made our way through immigration as we had 8 hours before our next flight to Hanoi. We decided not to venture into town but, instead, booked a day room at the new Novotel Hotel at the airport. Because we were able to check our luggage straight through to Hanoi, we did not have to wait for our luggage and so we were able to make our way right to the hotel shuttle. Check-in at the hotel was quick and easy and even though the hotel’s policy is to only give you access to the room for 4 hours on their day use rate, they were kind enough to extend this for an additional 2 hours for us as no additional cost. The room was nice and very clean. It had a large bathroom and two twin beds. Because we had slept on the plane, we opted simply to shower up and then head down to the pool rather than sleep. The pool, while cool, was quite large and there were nice lounge chairs, a poolside bar and a pool attendant. We swam and sat by the pool for a couple of hours and then went back to the room to change and then down the restaurant for lunch. After lunch, which was quite good, we checked out and headed back to the airport. We had booked business class tickets up to Hanoi because they were not much more expensive that coach. Check-in was very efficient and were able to pass though immigration quickly. Instead of shopping, we headed to the Business Class lounge which was very nice. There was an excellent selection of drinks and food, a computer room with 12 or more terminals, and a variety of different rooms to sit in—some with couches and chairs and others with reclining lounge chairs. There was also a kids room which was a nice touch for those traveling with children. About 10 minutes prior to our boarding time, we made our way to security. There was no line and since we were not required to remove our shoes, we sailed right through security. We boarded our Thai flight on time but were delayed about 20 minutes as they held the plane for passengers arrive on incoming flights. The flight to Hanoi was short—about an hour and a half—and the service was fine.

We arrived in Hanoi at about 8:00 p.m. Our luggage was among the first off the plane and we cleared immigration and customs in a manner of minutes. My sister was waiting for us outside of customs and she had a cab waiting. The trip into town took about 40 minutes and it was our first taste of Hanoi driving. It seems that everyone honks their horn all the time—especially when passing the ubiquitous motorbikes. We arrived at the brand new Intercontinental Hanoi West Lake Hotel and was immediately impressed. The hotel is absolutely gorgeous and the service was on par with 5-star hotel elsewhere in the world. Check-in formalities were handled in the room and the luggage was delivered immediately. The hotel combines traditional Vietnamese design with and more modern minimalist design. There is dark teak everywhere mixed with steel and white. It is a very dramatic and appealing look. Our room was in the main building and overlooked the pool, the other pavilions and the lake. The room was nice and big with a huge bathroom with two sinks and a a separate shower. There was a flat screen LCD t.v., mini-bar and two phones. The bathroom was stocked with some of the softest towels I have ever felt. The beds were a little hard but very comfortable. Over all, the room was great. The hotel has a few restaurants and a great bar which is at the ends of the hotel overlooking the water. While drinks were expensive, it was an incredible place to sit and relax. We ate breakfast and dinner in the café restaurant and enjoyed them both. There is a good mix of western and Vietnamese dishes and the service was quite good. One of the waitresses recognized my sister from KOTO, a restaurant in town, and it seems the hotel has hired a number of KOTO-graduates. KOTO is an acronym and stands for Know One Teach One is a humanitarian program run by Australian ex-pats that takes kids off the street and trains them in the hospitality industry. If her service levels is indicative of all Koto-graduate, they do a great job at training their students and the service was prompt and friendly.

Since we were quite tired after the long trip, we decided to eat our first dinner near the hotel and went to Vine which is run by a Canadian ex-pat that is about a two minute walk from the hotel. Vine has an amazing wine list and an eclectic mix of food ranging from Vietnamese dishes to pasta to hamburgers. The food and the service were both very good and the bar on the second floor was very nice

Given the fact that we only had three days in Hanoi, we opted to spend our first day on a day trip to Ha Long Bay. We booked the trip through Exotisimo and arranged to have a private car drive us back and forth. The driver and English speaking guide picked us up promptly at 8:00 and we made our way to Ha Long Bay. The drive takes about 3 hours and is, frankly, not terribly interesting. We stopped halfway point at an arts and craft school and store which was not too bad but one did feel some pressure to buy. Upon arriving in Ha Long Bay we boarded our private junk and then headed out to the bay with what seemed to be 100 other boats. In that all the boats leave at the same time, there is a massive traffic jam and it took us at least 20 minutes to clear the harbor. All the boats seem to put their engines on full and push their way out. It is a terrible waste of gas and must be horrible for the environment. Hopefully this process will become more organized to avoid this waste. (I also hope that they reduce the number of boats on the water as there is no reason for less than 10 people to be on the same boat). The cruise lasted about 5 hours and we visited a few caves and a couple of coves as well. Lunch is served on board and is primarily seafood although there are French fires and some cabbage as well. Food was included but drinks were not—drinks ran about $1 for sodas and $2 for beer. The bay is very pretty and relaxing and we enjoyed ourselves a lot. With that said, I think it is too long of a trip for a day trip and would not recommend it unless you are able to spend the night on the bay (although I understand all of the boats are required to spend the night in the same area so I am not sure how peaceful it would be at night). Moreover, since we only had 3 days in Hanoi, I would have preferred spending all of the time in Hanoi in hindsight.

Our second day in Hanoi was spent site seeing and we tried to take in as much of the city as possible. Since breakfast at the Intercontinental was $20US per person, we opted to try a little restaurant around the corner from the hotel called the Kitchen that my sister recommended. The Kitchen offers a great breakfast for a reasonable price and we highly recommend it. After breakfast, we headed into the main part of town. Our first stop was to visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum…having seen Lenin in Moscow, I wanted to make sure I also visited Uncle Ho. The line to Uncle Ho was quite long but it moved quickly. No cameras, cell phones or water was allowed but they were incredibly efficient at returning them as soon as you left the mausoleum. After visiting Uncle Ho, we walked around the presidential palace, saw the House on Stilts that Ho built and lived in since he felt the presidential palace was too glamorous, Ho’s office and the large museum near the Mausoleum. Everything but the museum was interesting. The museum was pretty bizarre and eclectic and even though everything was in English and Vietnamese I did not feel as though I got much out of the museum.

After visiting the museum, we took a taxi to the Temple of Literature which is the Confucian center of learning in Hanoi. Before visiting the Temple, we stopped in KOTO for some quick drinks as it was very hot in Hanoi while we were there. As mentioned, KOTO works to train street kids how to work in the hospitality industry. The students learn how to speak English and how to work in the service industry. The drinks were very good and we had some small plate dishes which were also excellent. Once rested, we headed across the street to the Temple of Literature. Upon entering the grounds of the Temple, the sounds of the horns and traffic seem to dissipate and were we spent about an hour and a half walking around. It is a beautiful and very interesting spot and should be on everyone’s list of things to see in Hanoi.

After the Temple of Literature, we took a taxi to the older part of town and had a late lunch at the Green Tangerine. The Green Tangerine is in a very cool building that is part French colonial and part tube house architecture. We opted to have the chef’s Vietnamese tasting menu which was very pricey at $17 per person but it was excellent. The lunch consisted of several courses—including dessert—and the presentation was fantastic. After lunch we wandered through the old quarter including the shops and market. We made our way back to Hoan Kiem Lake and visited to Jade Mountain Temple which is located on a small island in the lake After visiting the temple, we wandered over to the French quarter and checked out the Opera House and the Metropole Hotel. The Metropole is undergoing some renovations but appeared to be very nice albeit somewhat formal. If you wanted to stay in the middle of town, I would think this would be on the top of your list. After stopping for a drink, we headed back to the old quarter where we went to the Water Puppet Theater show. The show lasts about 45 minutes which is plenty long—any longer and I would have lost it. The puppetry is excellent and very interesting as the puppets and puppet masters are in the water and it is pretty amazing what they are able to do. The singers and the orchestra look somewhat bored but, as I said, for 45 minutes, it is worth it. I will add that there were a number of children in the audience and they absolutely loved it. After the show, we walked along the lake over to Fanny’s Ice Cream shop. Everyone told us Fanny’s is the best ice cream in Hanoi and it did not disappoint…the selection was excellent as was the taste. After ice cream, we headed back to the Intercon for a shower and a break and for dinner we met my sister and her friends back in town at a restaurant called Wild Lotus. The restaurant is one of the most beautiful restaurants I have ever been to and the food was excellent. The exterior is art deco and the interior is incredibly peaceful with lots of art adorning the walls. The entrance is very dramatic and the food does not let down. The food is eclectic Vietnamese with some French twists and you can order al a carte or prix fix in either a three, four or five course meal. The prices for the entrée were about $10 and the 5 course meal was $25. Wine was not cheap but the selection was very good. The service was excellent and I would highly recommend the restaurant. After dinner it was back to the hotel where we crashed as we were exhausted.

Sunday morning we woke up relatively early and were on our way by 8:00. We grab a taxi into town as we wanted to see the Hoa Lo Prison aka the Hanoi Hilton. The prison was originally built by the French to hold political prisoners but was used during the Viet Nam war to hold captured U.S. pilots including John McCain. The majority of the exhibit details the French period of the prison but there are two rooms dealing with the U.S. prisoners including a display of McCain’s flight suit. The propaganda pictures are quite funny as it is clear that they were staged and the prisoners were forced to smile—overall the exhibit was very interesting and took about 45 minutes to see. After the museum, we walked over to Church Street to check out the Cathedral. As there was a mass in progress, we did not go. We then did some shopping by exploring the Propaganda Poster shops and some of the silk shops and art galleries. There are a number of very nice shops along Church Street and I would definitely liked to have some more time to check them out.

After exploring Church Street, we headed back to the hotel to check out and then we were off to their airport for our flight to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. The trip to the airport took about 45 minutes and even though there were about 20 people in front of us to check-in at Vietnam Airlines, the line moved very quickly. The agent spoke very good English and was able to assign us aisle seats the near the front of the plane as we wanted to make sure we were off first as we needed to obtain our visas on arrival in Cambodia. Immigration took a little time as there was only one officer working and then we hung out in the departures hall. The airport as quite clean and had lots of chairs and a few stores to look around. We boarded our flight right on time and the plane was pretty comfortable although the pseat itch was pretty tight. The flight crew spoke decent English. The flight was short but we did get a full meal which consisted on a fresh role, some fruit and a mystery meat that I did not eat. Overall, I was pretty impressed with Vietnam Airlines.

We arrived in Siem Reap late in the afternoon and experienceg perhaps the funniest part of the whole trip—getting your visa on arrival. Once in the arrival hall, you stand on line and complete a form and hand the first person your passport, the form and $25. We also had passport pictures as we were told this would speed everything up but they now have digital cameras there so they do not need your picture. There are then twelve others sitting in a line and they pass the passport down the line and it appears that each person does something in the process with the final person holding the passport up and handing it back to you. I wish I could have videotaped it as it was hilarious. As soon as we received our visas, we cleared immigration very quickly and our luggage was waiting for us as soon as we made our way to the baggage carousel. We exited the airport and met our guide, Saron, who offered to pick us up upon our arrival. I found Saron on this travel board and corresponded with him via e-mail before leaving. Saron was awesome. He is a very nice, enthusiastic and fun guide and I would not hesitate to recommend him and his driver—Samol. Saron is in his early 30s and grew up in a refugee camp in Thailand where he learned English—which is very good. Saron is very interested in environmental preservation and has worked on several projects in the immediate area. Saron is one of those people that you meet that you like instantly and your affection and respect for him grows the more you interact with him. He was punctual, polite and a really made our trip to Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples much more special than it otherwise would have been. Samol does not speak much English but is really friendly, a very good driver (thank god!), quick with the bottles of water and a delightful person. He drives a spacious Toyota minivan that has a great air conditioning system! Saron is a licensed guide and if you are interested in contacting him please let me know and I will forward you his e-mail address. He can also be found on the web by doing a search for Saron Soeun or Saron Tours. In any case, Saron met us as the airport and drove us to our hotel—Le Meridien Angkor.

The Le Meridien prides itself on being the closest hotel to Angkor Wat and while this is true (by about ½ a mile as the Sofitel is not too far away) this should not be the reason to stay here as nothing in Siem Reap is too far away and it really did not seem to be an issue of how close you area. Instead, the main selling point of this hotel in my mind is the gracious staff. As with the Intercontinental in Hanoi, the staff were really friendly and helpful—particularly in the restaurants where they seemed to go out of their way. The main lobby is quite spacious and impressive and the rooms are very nice although not as nice as the Intercon. Our room was fairly large with a view of the interior courtyard and it had a nice desk, sofa, and two beds. There was also a DVD player and a nice sized bathroom with a separate shower and bathtub. The single beds were pretty narrow but comfortable. The room was very clean and seemed very well maintained. The pool area was pretty nice but not a nice as the pictures indicate as it is right by a road and the have an issue with keeping the bugs out of the water. The hotel seems to cater predominantly to South Korean tour groups and Americans and Canadians and seemed quite crowded while we were there—nevertheless the service levels never dropped. The food at the hotel was good but as others have noted expensive. The first evening we ate at the Italian restaurant because we did not want to venture into town. The meal for 3 of us was $110.00 without wine since they gave us a complementary bottle as part of an on-going promotion. Notwithstanding this, the quality of the food was excellent. The breakfast buffet was extensive and while the offerings did not change from day-to-day, there was plenty to chose from. In addition to the regular facilities, the hotel has a spa (which my sister used and she indicated that the massage she had was o.k. but not great) and also a foot massage salon (which we did use and was great-especially after a long day climbing on the temples). Overall, the hotel was quite nice and I would not hesitate to stay there again but next time I might consider something closer to town as it would be easier to explore town.

We hired Saron for three days and so each morning he and Samol would pick us up at the hotel at about 8:30 and we would return around noon and then head back out at 2:30 and be back at the hotel around 6:00 or 6:30. Because we had three full days, we were able to see quit a bit. On our first morning we need to stop and pick up our tickets. The tickets are $20USD per day and $40USD for a 3 day pass. Brining a passport picture no longer expedites anything as they take digital pictures of you and print it directly onto the ticket. The process takes about 5 minutes and then you simply retain your tickets and show it at each temple.

On the first day we visited the Taphrom, Tanei and Takeo temples as well as the Victory gate. Taphrom was definitely one of my favorites and is a must see. Tanei was great because it was much smaller and there was no one else there so we were able to take our time and soak it all in. In the afternoon, we visited the South Gate of Angkor Thom, Bayon, and Preah Palilai temple, the Terrace of Elephant, Phimean Akas (inside former royal palace) and terrace of the Leper king. That evening we decided to attend the Sound & Light Show at Angkor Wat as we could not resist the idea of seeing the temples lit up at night. Unfortunately, the show was a major let down and was not at all worth the $80 per person price for front row seats. Rather than focus on the temples, it is really a telling of the history of Angkor Wat with some traditional Khmer dancing set in front of Angkor Wat which is all lit up. While this may not sound bad (and, in fact, the dancing was nice), the story they told was totally cheesy and silly and really detracted from the overall show. Although it is spectacular to see Angkor Wat all lit up at night, the show is not at all worth it and you should save your money!

We spent our second morning at Angkor Wat which is truly spectacular. I think I took 300 pictures there alone! Angkor Wat is quite crowded but you are still able to enjoy the site. Until you walk the grounds, you really do not understand how large it is and what an amazing undertaking it must have been to build. It really should be on everyone’s short list of things to see in their lifetime. After walking around Angkor Wat for a couple of hours, we headed back into town and visited the Angkor Artisan school in town. I usually hate these types of things as I find the exploitative and I hate thinking of people as tourist attractions but this was very different and worth the time. The school is a development project which trains physically and mentally impaired Cambodians artistic skills such as painting, silk weaving, sculpture etc. The work is very impressive and there is a great shop located at the school where you can buy the end results—I purchased a gorgeous silk scarf for my wife and the quality and design, in my opinion, was better than that we saw in Bangkok or Viet Nam. After visiting the school, Saron dropped us off in town where we went to the Foreign Correspondence Club for lunch. Although not air-conditioned, they do have big fans and it makes for a pleasant place to sit for awhile. We each had a traditional Khmer dish and the food was very good. After lunch, we walked around the shops at the FCC as we all wanted to check out the prints by Charles McDermott. Mr. McDermott has often times been called the Ansel Adams of South East Asia and I just love his work as I saw it for the first time in several pictures printed in the New York Times. We each ended up buying a few framed prints—about $55 USD each—and then came back later that evening to pick them us as they wrapped them in bubble wrap and put them in nice bags for our trip home. After walking around the area for a while, we headed back to the hotel to freshen up before heading out in the afternoon. That afternoon we went to Banteay Srei which was about an hour away from Siem Reap. Banteay Srei was definitely a highlight of our trip and it is beautiful. Unlike the other temples, this temple was craved out of pink sandstone which looks spectacular in the afternoon sun. The temple is quite small and so it is easy to see the intricacies of the carvings. Although a fair drive from town, it is well worth the trip. After Banteay Srei we visited the East Mebon Temple which was really nice and no too crowded and there was some great views from the top. There were also some great elephant statutes at East Mebon. After East Mebon we went to the Pre Rup temple to watch the sunset. The climb to the top of Pre Rup was really steep but the view from the top was pretty cool. Unfortunately, there were a couple of hundred others who had the same idea as us so there were tons of people around and it was very crowded.

After the sunset, we headed back to the hotel and showered before heading in to town to pick up our pictures. Saron suggested that we eat dinner at the Khmer Kitchen in the old part of Siem Reap. The sales woman at the gallery also recommended it so we decided to give it a try. The Khmer Kitchen is not aesthetically pleasing at all and the service leaves a lot to be desired but the food was really very good. We ended up having a couple of Khmer curries and then a couple of pumpkin dishes that were all delicious. We also had a first taste of Angkor Beer which was very good as well. If you are looking for some traditional Khmer cuisine, I would definitely recommend the Khmer Kitchen—just be prepared to wait a bit as it is quite crowded since it appears to be a favorite with the locals and tourists. The entire meal came to $25USD for the three of us which was very reasonable given the amount of food we had. After dinner, we decided to grab some dessert at the Raffles Hotel as we wanted to check it out. The hotel is quite nice and has been beautifully restored. They had a very nice patisserie right off the main lobby where you could purchase nice cakes so we decided to have some tea and coffee and dessert in the bar off the lobby. The lobby bar had a piano player and the service was quite good and you definitely felt as though you were back in the 20s or 30s. After finishing desert, we walked around the main floor of the hotel and checked out the elephant bar downstairs. Overall, we were impressed with Raffles but were pleased to be staying at Le Meridien because we all prefer a more modern feel.

On our final day in Siem Reap, we visited three temples…Preah Khan, Neak Poan and Tasom. Preah Khan was among our favorites in that it felt as though it had just been discovered as it is not nearly restored as the others. I would definitely put it on the short list of temples to visit and would highly recommend it. Neak Poan was probably our least favorite temple but that may have been because it was so hot and crowded. It is on a man made island in what used to be a reservoir and was used as a hospital or sorts. Tasom was small but had some of the most unique tree growths of any temples. By this point we were “templed-out” so we were glad this was our last temple. After a quick lunch back at the hotel, we headed out of town about 45 minutes to Tonle Sap which is the largest lake in South East Asia. We took a cruise out on the lake and saw some floating villages, some flooded forests and a crocodile farm. It was actually much more interesting than I thought especially given the fact that Sarong had worked in the region as a conservationist. After visiting the lake, we headed back to the hotel which, by the way, was kind enough to extend our check-out so we could shower and clean-up. After showering, Sarong and Samol drove us to the airport for our flight to Bangkok.

The Siem Reap airport is very modern and very nice especially given how small it was. We were flying Bangkok Air and the line was very short—as opposed to my sister’s line at Vietnam Airlines for her flight back up to Hanoi. We were able to catch an earlier flight and Bangkok Air did not charge us for the change. We were through immigration and security in about 10 minutes and then had about a half hour to walk around the terminal before our flight. The terminal has a few souvenir shops-including a shop of the Artisan of Angkor—as well as a place to get a foot massage. The terminal is well air-conditioned as well so it was pleasant just to sit. Our flight was called right on time and since it was maybe half full we boarded in about 5 minutes and took right off. The flight to Bangkok was about 50 minutes but they nevertheless served a snack and some drinks. We landed in Bangkok right on time. Although it took us about 30 minutes to clear immigration, this was not a problem since our luggage had not started coming out yet. As soon as we reached the baggage carousel, our suitcases came out and were exited the airport where our hotel had a car waiting for us.


Bowdoin Feb 4th, 2008 05:05 PM

PART III:

Choosing a hotel in Bangkok was one of the toughest decision of the entire trip. We knew we wanted to stay on the river as this was out first time in Bagkok but we were not sure which hotel we wanted to stay at. The Oriental was out of our price range so we narrowed it down to the Hilton Millennium, the Peninsula and the Shangri-La. Although I have always wanted to stay at the Pen, we ended up getting a very good deal at the Shangri-La in its Krungthep Wing which is their hotel within the hotel concept but it is located in an entirely separate building. The value package included round-trip airport transfers, free laundry and dry cleaning (which we really took advantage of!), a late check-out of 6:00 p.m., breakfast, drinks at the pool all day and then drinks in the lounge at night, free internet and butler service. It sounds silly, but the free laundry and the butler service sealed the deal and we ended up going with the Shangri-La. The laundry service was awesome in that we were able to return home with freshly laundered clothes which was a real relief.

As mentioned, the Shangri-La’s car was waiting for us as soon as we got our luggage and we went straight to the hotel. It took about 35 minutes to get to the hotel and the driver was very friendly. He had cold towels and bottled water in the car which was a nice touch. Once we arrived at the hotel we were given a king’s welcome. There must have been three or four staff members waiting to meet us, they hit a gong to welcome us and they showed us up to our room where we checked-in. The room was quite large with two twin beds, two nice chairs, a desk, tv, luggage stand, a very large bathroom with separate shower and toilet and a deck overlooking the river. There was a fresh fruit plate welcoming us and a nicely stocked minibar. The furnishings were all in good condition but there were a few minor stains on the carpet but nothing major. During the check-in process, the woman who checked us in told us about all of the hotel services that came with our rate and she introduced us to Sophia—our butler. Sophia brought us a welcome cocktail and introduced herself and offered to unpack for us. Since we had a lot of dirty laundry, we elected to unpack ourselves but we called her later and requested that the laundry be picked up. Sophia was very helpful and friendly and certainly made the stay more pleasurable—everyone should have a butler once in their life!

After unpacking and giving Sophia our laundry, we headed over to the main wing of the hotel to catch a bite to dinner as we decided we were too tired to venture out. We ended up at the Next2Cafe in the hotel which was o.k. They were serving a huge international buffet but we decided to order al a carte because we were not hungry enough for the buffet and, at $50USD per person, we thought it too expensive for what it offered. My friend and I both had traditional Thai dishes and they were fine—nothing great but not too bad either. I think living in the Bay Area spoils us as we can get very good Thai food here and so even though the food was good it was not better than what we get at home. After dinner, we decided to get massages at the Chi Spa in the hotel. The spa was very nice and very quiet. The treatment rooms were huge and the massages, while not cheap, were great.

The next morning we got up and had breakfast downstairs in the lounge. The buffet offerings were fine…nothing too elaborate and more like a good continental breakfast. There was also a chance to order off a menu of eggs, pancakes and waffles. The food was fine—again noting stellar but more than adequate and the service was very good. After breakfast we spoke with the concierge and he explained how to take the boat up to the Grand Palace as this was our first stop for the day. Ironically, I had read all about the scams at the Grand Palace and we were on “high alert” for official looking people telling us the Grand Palace was closed but, on this day, our concierge told us it really was closed because of the recent passing of the King’s sister. Nevertheless, he indicated that there was plenty to see and told us exactly how to get there.

One of the best features of staying at the Shangri-La is its location next to the skytrain and one of the major boat stops—both are about a 2 minute walk away. We made our way to the boat dock and waited a few minutes for our boat and then headed up the river. Taking the boats is very pleasurable and quite comfortable and we arrived at the Grand Palace after about a 20 minute ride. I had the pleasure of sitting next to an 83 year old Thai gentlemen who worked in one of the hospitals that helped American soldiers during the Viet Nam war and so he spoke a little English and it was a lot of fun to talk with him. After docking, we made our way up the street and into the part of the Grand Palace that was open and we walked around for about an hour and a half making sure we saw the Emerald Budda and the other sites. The complex was quite interesting and very beautiful—it was also very crowded with tourists from all over the world but what seemed like an inordinate number of Russians. After the Grand Palace, we walked over to Wat Pho to see the reclining budda which was very interesting and then we spent another hour or so walking around the Wat after which we wanted to go over to the Jim Thompson house but the traffic was so bad we elected simply to take the boat back to the hotel and spend the afternoon relaxing by the pool.

The pool at the Krungthep wing was nice although the hot tub was not heated at the time. There was complementary drinks and high tea but the pool which was nice and the service was excellent. Although it is definitely interesting to be able to lounge by the pool and watch the river, it was also quite noisy which made if difficult to relax but I guess you need to expect that in the city.

For dinner we had decided before leaving on the trip to go to Sirroco on top of the State Tower. We knew this was going to be somewhat of a tourist trap and overpriced but the idea of eating 62 stories up outside was too much to pass up. We had a 7:00 reservation so it was already dark by the time we arrived but the view is spectacular. Although I hate heights, eating at the restaurant was not a problem—having a drink at the bar that cantilevers over the side was a different story however and I had to make sure I stayed on the building side of the bar! The food was excellent albeit expensive. My friend and I shared a ravioli dish and a fois gras dish and then we both had the Kobe beef loin special. The Kobe beef was $100 per serving and we were both expecting 3 or 4 oz. based on what we get here in the US for the price but were shocked to see an entire loin on the plate! The beef was cooked perfectly but, frankly, was too much and too rich to finish—especially after the two other dishes we had. Since we were so full, we opted to skip desert but simply have coffee and tea. I should mention that we each had two cocktails instead of wine. Wine was crazy expensive and was marked up at least 5x prices here in the U.S. Nevertheless, the dinner came to about $400 USD but, oddly enough, we felt it was worth it given the portions, the service and the food.

The next day was our last day of the trip and we needed to leave for the airport by 4:00 to catch our flight back to Los Angeles so we wanted to have a casual day to see some final sites, pack and relax by the pool before heading to the airport. Because we did not make it to the Jim Thompson house on our first day, we decided to go today. We took the Skytrain for the first time and it was a delight—very easy to navigate, great air conditioning and very efficient. At the Jim Thompson house you are required to take a tour—which we did and it was quite interesting as you learn a little about Mr. Thompson, Thai architecture and the silk industry. After the tour (which lasted about 20 minutes) we wandered around the site for awhile and then we headed over to the store and then to the café for a quick drink. After the Jim Thompson house we decided to check out some of the shopping malls—which were quite impressive due to their size, the luxury brands they carried and the prices as they seemed to be substantially higher than here in the U.S. After the malls, we were pretty tired so we took the skytrain back to the hotel, packed, hit the pool for a little while and them took a hotel car to the airport.

Check-in at Thai was pretty quick and then it took us about ½ an hour to clear immigration. Since we were flying premium economy on the way home, we did not have a chance to use the lounge and so we were forced to wander the huge shopping area as there are virtually no seats in before clearing security and once you clear security there are no restaurants or shops so you are kind of trapped. The stores were pretty similar to those one finds in most airports but, again, the prices were pretty high.

About 45 minutes before the flight, we headed to security which was quick and easy as we did not have to remove our shoes. Once we got to the gate there was supplemental screening where they inspected our carry on luggage. The entire search took about 5 minutes and was not a problem. We boarded the flight on time and settled in for the 14 hour flight home. Although certainly not business class, the Premium Economy cabin is quite comfortable. I believe the seats have the same recline as regular economy but there is a leg rest and quite a bit of leg room—the same, if not more, than most domestic first class seats. The only issue I had with the seat was the lack of a foot rest. I was able to prop some extra pillows up on the floor but a foot rest would be ideal. The service in the premium economy cabin was excellent and I was able to get a good 8 hours of sleep. We arrived in LA pretty much on time but it took well over 45 minutes to clear immigration as the lines were horrendous. Despite the long wait at customs, our luggage had not arrived by the time we made it to the baggage carousel. Since the luggage had priority tags on it, it was among the first off but it took close to an hour to get the luggage. Clearing customs took about 10 minutes as they seemed to ask a few questions to everyone but we finally made it and high-tailed it over to Terminal 1 to catch our Southwest flight. Despite checking in less than 45 minutes before departure, Southwest was able to get the luggage on the plane which was a huge relief. I had exactly two hours to make it and I just did…in the future I would not try and make any transfers in less than 3 hours given how slow things are at LAX.

Overall the trip was amazing and I would love to visit more of Vietnam. Cambodia was a delight but I am not sure if there is much more to see beyond Phnom Phen. I really have no need to visit Bangkok again. Although I appreciate that the city has a certain buzz about it, it was too crowded and charmless for me. The only real downer of the entire trip was the sound and light show at Angkor Wat…everything else went according to plan and met or exceeded our expectations—especially Angkor Wat despite our very high expectations going in. Again, I apologize for the length of this report but you never know what some people will find interesting and/or helpful. I hope some of you have found this to be both. If anyone has any questions about anything, please let me know. I do not purport to be an expert on the places where we traveled but I am a well seasoned traveler and might be able to provide some assistance. Safe travels!


Luisah Feb 4th, 2008 06:43 PM

Thanks Bowdoin, I enjoyed your report and will file it for future reference. Angkor Wat and Viet Nam are on my list but I'm not sure when I'll get there.

How long was your flight from LAX to Bangkok? Are there any direct flights into Cambodia?

Thanks again, it sounds like you saw and did a lot in the short time that you had. Good for you.

Bowdoin Feb 4th, 2008 06:46 PM

The non-stop flight from LAX to BKK is about 18 1/2 hours. There are no non-stops between the US and Cambodia. The best connections seem to be through Bangkok as they have the most direct flights there. It is a great trip and well worth it...hopefully you can make it at some point.

Kathie Feb 4th, 2008 07:00 PM

Thanks for posting your report. It was a whirlwind trip, but you got to spend a full three days in Siem Reap!

rhkkmk Feb 4th, 2008 08:34 PM

thanks for the report....i think you need to give bkk another chance...more time would help....there are plenty of other things to see and other parts of thailand to visit...

an 8 day trip hardly allows you to unwind enough to see much really...

Bowdoin Feb 5th, 2008 06:21 AM

I agree that more time is necessary but, unfortunately, this trip did not allow for it. I also definitely want to explore other parts of Thailand as well and will likley be making a return trip in 2009 to do just that.

Femi Feb 6th, 2008 02:31 PM

Boy, you managed to acclompish quite a bit. Glad you included all the details, it's a great way for me to relive the experiences.

You note the higher than expected cost of a few items, which I also found to be true. I long for the bargain days of 2002. But as my Thai guide pointed out, there was a recession on then, and although prices were great for me, it wasn't too easy for the locals.

ktny333 Feb 7th, 2008 01:54 PM

Thanks for the report Bowdoin. I'm going to stay at Intercontinental Hanoi next month. It'd be great if you can provide me some tips. You mentioned that your room was in the main building overlooking the pool, are there any special/specific requests on room I should make when I check in (like city view, lake view, etc.?)

Is the hotel within a walking distance to the attractions in Hanoi? I'm going my father (late 60's) who isn't too active. (the most he walks is probably from the garage to front door :-)). If we have to take taxi, are they metered? A friend of mine went last year and told me that she had to haggle with them. Also, are there any good/reasonable priced restaurants near the hotel? We really like Vietnamese food and would love to eat at local spots.

I'm also interested in going to Halong Bay. Did you book the tour in advance before you arrived? I didn't book any tour package yet, but looking into doing so? Do you recommend me using Exotisimo?

Thank you!

Bowdoin Feb 7th, 2008 07:18 PM

With respect to the Intercontinental, we booked a Deluxe Hanoi View room which, frankly, was the cheapest room if I am not mistaken. I think all of the Hanoi View Rooms are in the main building and I would recommend a room in the main building if you father is not terribly mobile as the walk to the various pavillions where the lake view rooms are is not long by and stretch of the imagination but it is certainly more than in the main building. The Intercon, unfortunately, is not too close to any sites in Hanoi as it is in a residential area about 10-15 minutes by taxi to the center of town where most of the main sites. The major chain hotels that are in the "thick" of things would be the Sofitel, the Hilton, and the Melia and then there are a number of locallly owned hotels in the old town. We walked by the Hanoi Elegance 2 and the Church Street Hotel and both looked nice. Despite the fact that the Intercon is not in the middle of town, we did not mind the location at all since it was pretty quiet as opposed to the center of town. In terms of restaurants, the only two that we tired in the immediate vicinity of the hotel with The Kitchen and Vine which are both about a 5 minute walk away. Neither of these restaurants are Vietnamese Restaurants. There are a lot of local restaurants but given our limited time we did not have a chance to eat at any. The two we did go to were The Green Tangerine (which is more French than Vietnamese) and Wild Lotus which is very upscale Vietnamese and was fantastic...I would highly recommend it. In terms of taxis, my sister (who lives in Hanoi) always told us to take a Hanoi Taxi (that is the name of the company. The Hanoi Taxis have their meters in a plastic box on the dash board and we never had an issue with the taxi drivers using the meter. Most of the Hanoi Taxi's have the Sheraton Hotel name on the side so they are pretty easy to spot and since the Intercontinental is right next to the Sheraton it makes it easy to tell you driver where to go. I should mention that the one time we were desperate and could not find a Hanoi Taxi because we were in a huge rush, the trip cost only about 2USD more...not the end of the word but considering the Hanoi Taxi was about 3USD to begin with, we knew were getting ripped off. There are a number of Hanoi Taxis right at the hotel and they are very helpful in arranging them for you. In terms of Halong Bay, we did book our trip before we got there but I do not think this was necessary. We used Exostissimo since my sister uses one of their travel agents for a number of her trips in the region. The agent we coordinated with was very helpful and I was able to e-mail them back and forth and they were prompt and helpful. I believe the trip was $105 USD per person and this included an english speaking guide, a driver with a private car and the cruise and the cruise included lunch but not the drinks. We also had a private junk. You might simply want to contact the Intercontinental's concierge as I am sure they can tell you if you need to book in advance and even arrange the trip for you. It might be useful to see what their cost is compared to Exotissimo. As I mentioned, we did a day trip and I would really recommend against it unless it is all the time you have given the length of the day--it is a 12 1/2 day. Hanoi is a marvelous city and I am sure you and your father will love it. If you have other questions, feel free to let me know. Hope this helps!

ared2879 Aug 6th, 2008 02:40 PM

thanks for the detailed trip report. i'm really glad i found it, as we're planning a trip tp hanoi & siem reap for late feb 2009, & this will be a great resource!

AskOksena Aug 6th, 2008 03:37 PM



... many thanks, 'bow' (nick for a certain, all-time cherished Bangkok masseuse) for your fine report, particularly your observations of the Krungthep Wing of the Shangri-La, easily one of my all-time favourite Bangkok business (and occasional pleasure) destinations. (Heading back to the KW SL in a few days for meetings, and yes, my special room is already reserved.)

... and thank you for acknowledging your KW butler, Khun Sophia; she is wonderful, and her KW colleagues are equally exemplary. (Just between us: with the exception of one long-time, and truly fine "butler" at the Oriental, I consider the KW staff to be every bit the equal of their counterparts at our two BKK honeymoon hotels, the Oriental and Peninsula. (My Oriental/Peninsula - forever wife may respectfully disagree - and yes, personal reasons are involved.)

... thanks again, and oh, by the way: did you have a chance to partake of the Shangri-La's 24-hour, in-room massage treatment services, either through certain health club masseuses, available "on call" or perhaps, the on-site and forever memorable, Maiden Massage? (Always a pleasurable way - to end the day) ...

... hope you return soon - to The Land of Smiles ...

macintosh (robert)


... The Greatest Show in the Sky ...

(Singapore Airlines)








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