I have always wanted to go…Vietnam has ‘called to me’ for many years. So, when I saw that a small local holiday company was organising an 18 day trip to Vietnam and Cambodia, what could I do?
The itinerary looked amazing and varied, all 4 star luxury hotels, overnight on a junk, overnight on a sleeper train – words like ‘intrepid’, ‘adventure’ and ‘experience’ – they had me.
This was a group holiday, 28 people from the local area, several who already knew each other and had been away with the same company before, some of them many times so we knew we were in safe hands. We were all ‘mature’ travellers.
We left home by coach at approximately 4.00 am on the first day and landed in Hanoi early the following morning. We then went straight to our hotel, straight out on a tour of the city, straight back for lunch, straight out again for another tour, back to change, straight out to a restaurant for dinner with a 6.00 am start the following day!
This pretty much set the pattern for the whole trip.
Our journey took us down the eastern coastline of Vietnam taking in Halong Bay (more of that later), Hue, Hoi An, Danang, Nha Trang, Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Siagon), up the Mekong River where we crossed the border into Cambodia, on to Phnom Penh, into the killing fields and to the temples of Angkor.
We stayed in 10 different hotels, all of a very high standard but were unable to unpack a suitcase as we moved on almost every day. Rather than those enticing words used at the beginning of this piece, the word that now springs to mind is ‘endurance’.
But there were moments that I will never forget as long as I live. The friendship that developed with my travelling companion is enduring and we have made many (smaller) trips since.
When we joined a luxury junk in Halong Bay I was completely overwhelmed by the view from our cabin across the bay where we sat amongst the hundreds of huge limestone karsts. If the rest of the holiday had been as stunning as that I would have been a happy traveller.
We then spent a particularly uncomfortable, dirty, noisy night (and a 9hr day) on a sleeper train from Hoi An to Danang, an experience certainly, but one I could do without, including the cockroaches!
The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City was both revealing, moving and exhibited some wonderful war photography relaying iconic images recognisable worldwide. There is, however, a considerable level of anti American propaganda.
The killing fields in Cambodia and the Genocide Museum were also moving and educative; I have photos of piles of skulls and clothing discovered as recently as 1988, currently displayed in the monument to the dead at the museum.
The people were wonderful, friendly and welcoming, the food was disappointing only in that we were served almost the same meal at each restaurant throughout the holiday – this became somewhat of a joke after a few days!
The route through Vietnam has already become a busy tourist route which is unfortunate. Any organised trip that you choose to take to Vietnam/Cambodia will follow the same path and visit the same sites, if you’re fine with that then you will enjoy it.
It cannot be denied that we saw a great deal of two beautiful countries, but I can’t honestly say we ‘experienced’ them. If I did it again, I might stay longer in the most interesting places and actually have a ‘holiday’.
by Janice Clark
If you have had an adventurous holiday please do send your review with pictures to firstname.lastname@example.org as our readers would love to hear from you. Ed.
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