I'm planning to travel with my mother for her 60th birthday and I'm seriously considering Cambodia (we've already done Thailand). We'll be coming around mid April. We're coming in from Bangkok We have about 14-16 days for this trip. I'm attracted to Cambodia because of Siem Reap /Ankor Wat and what sounds like really great people, but the rest of it seems a little underwhelming to me (I'm not sure I want to go down to the beach in Sihaounkville). Am I missing something??? I also seriously contemplated Northern Vietnam, but from all that I've read, it sounds a little harder to travel there (with the scams and all that) and this is meant to be a vacation more than an adventure :)
So my questions are: does Cambodia have scenic attractions that are worthwhile? Am I way off about Vietnam and should I reconsider? Should I consider combining Siem Reap and Laos?
Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
#1 Jehonna has been a member since 1/2/2011. Posts: 2
Kampot and surrounds has some beautiful scenery, I would also say Kampong Cham, especially Koh Paen which I recently visited, further north east Ratanakiri would be another good bet. All these are great in my book but if you are looking for stunning landscapes they probably won't hold up to a Sapa or Halong Bay.
I agree with Voyagner
Op mentioned vacation as an important point so I would say to stick to Cambodia.
Cambodia & Laos seems out of the question for an easygoing comfortable vacation. It's beautiful but travel will be too hard.
Cambodia & northern Vietnam is doable and worth it but you'll have to spend significantly more time travelling. It's not really bad but time consuming for a 2 week vacation because distances between sites are much bigger.
Cambodia alone seems fine to me. Few days Angkor, few days PP and indeed Kep/Kampot region. There are some excellent hotels guesthouses where you could easily unwind. Short daytrips to Bokor, rabbit island, pepper farms and so on are not spectacular but pleasant enough to kill a few hours during the day. Travel times are also very easy there over decent roads. The short distances also make private taxi hire a feasible option.
Just bare in mind that April is the hottest and driest month of the year in Cambodia, and most of south-east Asia. Northern Veitnam, particuarly the hill regions such as Sapa (which are magnificently beautiful) will be much cooler then the plains of Cambodia.
We arrived in Siem Reap in April 2010 to see the Angkor ruins. By 8AM to we were sweating and by 10 or 11AM it was quite difficult to walk around outside. Most people opt to get up before dawn, do the ruins for a couple of hours, head back and find somewhere cool for the day and then head back in the late afternoon.
It is doable as long as you are both quite fit and can withstand some intense heat.
I also agree that the Kampot/ Kep region is beautiful. Kep in particular was stunning and much greener at that time of year than elsewhere.
Also, the scamming and touting seemed to me to be just as rampant in touristy areas of Cambodia, particularly Siem Reap, then it did in Vietnam, but that is just my experience. As long as you do some reading and keep a cool head you'll be fine. It's normally only a matter of a few dollars anyway.
Enjoy your trip :)
........Very good point about the heat - Cambodia is scorching at that time! However, I never want to put people off visiting, as it's an amazing country. Temples aside, many people find Phnom Penh distracting for a few days - plenty of markets, great restaurants, lovely boutique hotels if that's in your budget, swimming pools, a museum or two, sunset river cruise, day trips to Silk Island, Oudong (former capital) and the Phnom Tamao wildlife rescue centre.
Kampot and Kep are beautiful, sleepy and surrounded by lush countryside. Kratie is a great place to see Irriwaddy dolphins. The 'point' of Cambodia is the relaxed pace of life, rural scenes that feel like they haven't changed in hundreds of years, the sound of laughter everywhere and touching encounters with people.
Having said that, Sapa and Halong Bay in northern Vietnam are great visits, and if you want to avoid the hassle of doing it by yourself (although it's pretty easy) there are plenty of tours available. Spending a night on a boat anchored in Halong Bay was one of my favourite Vietnam experiences. It's all a bit touristy when you first get to the harbour and then all the boats head to the same cave, but it calms down after that as you float around looking at the amazing towers of rock.
Hanoi is a great place to spend a few days - the Ethnology museum is one of the best, and very informative before you head north. Hoan Kiem lake and the Old Quarter are busy but enjoyable, the water puppet shows are much more entertaining than you might expect, there's lots of restaurants, amazing street food and plenty of places to sit and drink coffee and watch the crazy traffic go by.
If you don't mind flying, you could consider Luang Prabang in Laos - a beautiful city on the Mekong with a few days trips to waterfalls, Buddha caves etc to keep you occupied.
Hope this helps!
First of all, thank you all for the information that you shared.
About the heat in Cambodia: my mom and I are used to heat and humidity and we're both pretty fit, so I think it won't be too hard for us to take, even though I am aware that it's not ideal. As for Laos, I did some reading and found that like in North Thailand, this is the season when farmers burn fields (on this site, March to May was "yuck!"), so I'm going to leave Laos for another time. My main worry about Vietnem is not being hassled on the street by touts, it's mostly about avoiding tour scams and finding a good tour operator from which to book the Halong Bay trip and train to Sapa. I can always do it via the hotel in Hanoi, but I guess reading other peoples experiences has scared me off. I do not want to be on my toes all the time, after all, this is supposed to be a vacation.
So now I'm leaning towards Cambodia. I'm warming up to the beach/Kampot/Kep area (I am reassured by your personal recommendations), but also think it would be cool to check out Ban Lung.
#6 Jehonna has been a member since 1/2/2011. Posts: 2
This is my first post but we have just finished traveling through both Cambodia and Vietnam, heading to Laos now. My partner and I found that both had issues with aggressive touts and scams. Most of the hotels, especially the ones which are vouched for in forums or in guide books can help you organise tours and will often discount your room rates if you agree to book through them, remember to always know what somethings worth and negotiate a good deal for both parties. I can give you the name of the hotel that we stayed with in Hanoi which organised all our tours to Sapa and Halong Bay (It is freezing there at the moment but will be nicer when you are looking at going.) We organized to leave the bulk of our packs there and just took day packs. We found travel in North Vietnam to be hassle free, you just have to be informed and organized. Motorbike tours with companies like Easyrider are also an AMAZING way to see the country, if you have the cash. Cambodia is equally beautiful just hotter, we are going back there now to get to Laos. Let me know if you need more details. Good luck with your planning and hope this helps.
#7 chikey has been a member since 1/1/2011. Posts: 4
Thanks for posting. I gave my mom both options and she decided that she wants to see Vietnam, since sh'es more into the scenery. So I'm trying to organize everything in advance as much as possible. We'll be doing Hanoi, Halong Bay and Sapa (not really into motorbikes :0) ). We have 2 weeks which is plenty of time to enjoy them all. I'm thinking about booking the Halong Bay tour through the hotel (did not make reservation with hotel yet, so don't know which tour) and I also thought about booking the train to Sapa with the hotel, in advance, if I can't find a trustworthy website... I would love to get any info about your Vietnam trip. Thanks very much for the encouragement!
#8 yonabisk has been a member since 2/11/2005. Posts: 1
Before I start I'd just like to say it looks like I'm giving this place a plug but I know how hard it can be to plan a trip and not have specific names of places you can trust. We had a really good experience here that's why I'm writing about it, I'm sure there are other equally awesome places out there and I hope some of them are shared here so J has a nice selection.
Till then, I can give you the details of the hotel we stayed in in Hanoi. I took my Mum on this leg of our journey so it's been tested :). They do family rooms if you don't mind sharing. I think the larger rooms were approximately $25p/n they do basic rooms with a double bed for about $15. We got these prices over Tet so we were pretty pleased. The main thing I can say about these guys were they were incredibly helpful and had lots of different Halong bay tour options but also didn't hassle us at all which was great! Of course they are a tour agency so all the tours they offer are connected to them in some way.
The best thing is I was able to negotiate a good price for a room and see the tour companies and offers that they had on offer online before we got there. There was heaps of communication, they will pick you up from the airport which is a great 1st step because you don't have to worry about airport taxi scams or anything like that. My advice is that you contact Kelvin at the hotel and ask him about exactly what you want. If he can't deliver he should be able to put you onto someone who can.
Hanoi Phoenix Hotel and Travel 43, Bat Su Street, Hanoi
Contact Kelvin Nguyen
Hope you have a great time!
#9 chikey has been a member since 1/1/2011. Posts: 4