My recent trip to Southeast Asia took me through 3 countries- Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. It was my first trip to this region, after almost five years in Asia (Taiwan) so it was definitely overdue. I have to say it was really good and I can see why many travelers love SE Asia. I spent 3 weeks there in total, with about 10 days in Vietnam, six in Cambodia, and the remainder in Bangkok. I can say without any doubt, Vietnam was the highlight, followed by Angkor (not just Angkor Wat) in Cambodia, and then Bangkok. I didn’t enjoy the latter that much, especially considering its reputation as a traveling hotspot. I’ll leave my griping for another post. I’ll say that Vietnam is quite underrated, but seems to be up and coming.
To me, my trip was quite ambitious, but throughout my travels, I met people whose trips were much more bolder than mine. I met several young mainlanders, who were going to the same three countries I was going, and also continuing on into India or Nepal with plans to return to China via Tibet. In Vietnam I met an English lady who was in the middle of a four-month trip through Asia and Australia, with China and Japan her next two stops. She’d already gone to Myanmar (Burma), having started in Thailand, and this was her first time in Asia! There were mainlanders who I met in Cambodia who were going on to Laos, which I had thought of going, or Vietnam in the reverse direction of my trip. In Hue, I met a Spaniard who was going through Vietnam, having flown halfway across the world all the way from Spain for a 2-week holiday from work.
I started in Hanoi (having flown direct from Taipei), went to Ha Long Bay for an overnight boat stay, returned to Hanoi and then took the overnight train from there to Hue. I stayed two days in the former imperial capital, then took a bus to Da Nang where I took a flight to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). I spent three full days there, including a Mekong Delta day trip, then took a 6-hour bus to Phnom Penh, the capital of neighboring Cambodia. After one whole day there, I then took another 6-hour bus to Siem Reap, where I spent 3 whole days, going to Angkor each day. Finally I flew to Bangkok from Siem Reap, as I decided two long-haul buses were enough, and I spent 3 whole days there before returning to Taiwan.
–The main reason I was going to SE Asia was to visit Vietnam, and the main reason I wanted to visit Vietnam was to see Ha Long Bay. While I have revised my thoughts after having actually gone to Vietnam (lots of interesting things including the cities, culture, people, scenery), Ha Long Bay was incredibly beautiful and fulfilled the expectations I had of it. The islands are spectacular, the water is scenic, and even all the boats add to the special atmosphere.
–The lively, bustling, attractive cities as a whole, especially Hanoi and HCMC. I’d heard HCMC was the more prosperous and fun city, but Hanoi turned out to be very interesting, charming, and bustling as well, so much that I think I liked Hanoi more than HCMC. Hue was quite decent if a bit laidback, and Da Nang (which I only spent a few hours) has a very nice coastline.
–The night-time atmosphere in Hanoi, including braving the crazy traffic, the sights and people around Hoan Kiem Lake, the bustling Old Quarter, and the weekend night market that ran up one whole street in the quarter. And being able to catch part of a street concert at the night market on my final night in Hanoi.
–The awesome guides I had throughout Vietnam, ranging from the hilarious Mekong Delta guide and his coconut talk about the local place, the friendly, knowledgeable, and very English-proficient young guides (members of free student guide organizations) who took me on great day tours in Hanoi and HCMC, and the warm, humorous, and outgoing guides in Ha Long Bay and Hue.
–The war museums in both Hanoi and HCMC, where planes, tanks, and weapons from the Vietnam War were the main attraction. The War Remnants museum in HCMC has a particularly poignant photography gallery inside.
Ha Long Bay
A lake near Hue. My bus to Da Nang stopped at a roadside restaurant and at the back was this. Beautiful scenery is common in Vietnam.
–Angkor, of course, which includes the great Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm and several other impressive ancient temples and buildings. The whole of Angkor was great and I didn’t get tired of seeing so many temples or “templed out” as I’ve heard some visitors have.
–Royal Palace complex. It’s an impressive place with some beautiful buildings, and it’s both awesome and obscene that a poor country could have such a lavish royal palace. It’s not as big as Bangkok’s Palace complex, but it’s still worth visiting.
–I did visit the Khmer Rouge genocide sites- the “Killing Fields” and the S-21 prison, but rather than call these highlights, I’d rather say these are very meaningful sites that are also worth visiting.
Ta Keo, one of the more striking temple sites in Angkor.
The Palace complex in Phnom Penh, seen from the riverbank.
–Watching muay thai kickboxing live at Lumpinee “Stadium”. The action in the ring and the animated atmosphere in the stands, especially the bettors, were quite good.
–The Palace complex. It’s a large complex with some very attractive buildings including temples, a giant golden stupa (bell-shaped Buddhist tower), and a huge European-style mansion with a Thai/Khmer-style roof.
Muay Thai at Bangkok’s Lumpinee Stadium.
Wat Arun, on the opposite side of the river from the Palace.
There were lowlights as well, but those will be for another day, haha. For now, I just want to look back at my first SE Asia jaunt and say it went quite well.