Cambodia & Vietnam

September 16-30, 2017

Planning for this trip took some time. Our initial deposits were applied in March 2016. This ensured that we’d have enough cabins on the 36 passenger ship that took us from Cambodia to Vietnam. Visa’s were required for both countries, and were easily obtained prior to our departure.

Our flight from Vancouver takes us to Shanghai, China. Clearing customs, picking up baggage, and then checking in for our next flight takes up most of our 5 hour connection time. It’s always great to stretch your legs after a 12 hour flight! Our next flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia is much shorter and gives us a much needed nap before our arrival. We arrive at the perfect time to get to our hotel, and settle in for a great nights sleep. Our  Cambodian guide, Sokun, picks us up at the airport and takes us to our hotel, the Park Hyatt Siem Reap. The hotel is beautiful, with comfortable beds, a couple of swimming pools and is in a perfect location for wandering to shops and restaurants.

The first day is free, as we flew in a day early to adjust to the time difference before touring. We took this opportunity to just walk through the streets. We find Pub Street which has so many restaurants to choose from. This area is very popular with tourists. There is so much to see and experience here. A stroll through a Buddhist temple and then a walk along the river before heading back to the hotel to lounge by the pool and meeting our Avalon Cruise Director, Phiem. This evening, our guide recommends a restaurant called the Chanrey Tree for dinner. The food is great, and one person in our group was brave enough to try the pork stuffed frog!

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Touring – Day 1:  This morning we begin touring Siem Reap and the Temples of Angkor. Constructed between the 9th and 13th centuries, the architecture of these temples is the most amazing thing I’ve seen in my travels so far. Today we visited Angkor Wat, honoring the Hindu God Vishnu. After that, was a visit to Banteay Srea, a temple dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva.

The temperature’s here are hot! Each day is around 30-32 Celsius and very humid. After touring these temples, we head back to the hotel to freshen up before going to a private Apsara Dance Performance. This is a perfect way to enjoy Cambodian food and culture.

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Touring – Day 2: This morning we are riding in Tuk Tuks that accommodate 2 people each. This is a great and inexpensive way to get around Siem Reap. Our Tuk Tuk ride is included with our tour. This is our transportation to see two more Angkor Temples. Our first stop is at Ta Prohm, which unlike other temples, has been left relatively untouched. Tree roots grow over and through the ruin walls. This temple was also used in the movie Lara Croft – Tomb Raider.  Our second stop of the day is at Angkor Thom to explore Bayon Temple. This is a Buddhist temple featuring some 200 faces carved in 54 towers.

On the way back to our hotel, we make a stop at Les Artisans D’Angkor where we watch young artists learning traditional handicraft techniques to create amazing statues and artwork.img_5945

Touring – Day 3: Today we join our ship to cruise across the Tonle Sap lake, and then continue to the Mekong River. The ship is only 18 cabins, and we are a total of 33 passengers with 24 crew. To get to the ship, we board a Sampan that can accommodate all of us. It takes about 30 minutes to get to the ship. Once on board, we have time to explore and check out our staterooms.

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The Avalon Siem Reap was built in 2015 and is the only ship that can travel between Siem Reap and Ho Chi Minh (or vice versa). The ship is beautiful. The cabins are unlike anything I’ve seen on any other cruise ship. The air conditioned cabins, lounge and dining room are greatly appreciated while traveling in this part of the world. All we have to do today, is sit back, relax and enjoy the ship.  The crew and staff learn our names, and by the second day, they know everyone and most of their preferences.

Touring – Day 4: This morning we woke up in Kampong Tralach. This is a small town with lots of character. When we leave the ship, there are ox carts waiting to transport us. We ride these through the town, past rice paddy fields. Once the carts drop us off, there is a motor coach waiting to take us to the silversmith village of Kampong Loung, where we watch local craftsmen at work.  The ship meets us nearby this village.

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On the ship, we enjoy a great lunch. The meals on board and on land have been phenomenal. After a short cruise, we arrive to the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. Our first tour here has us riding in cylco’s to the Royal Palace. Here we see the beautiful Silver Pagoda with a floor that was made of 5 tons of gleaming silver. After our palace tour, we take the cyclos through pouring rain to the National Museum that house a fine collection of Khmer artifacts.

Touring – Day 5: Waking up this morning has us docked in Phnom Penh. This morning’s tour just outside of the capital, takes us to the Killing Field memorial at Choeung Ek. As we walk through this are, everyone is quiet, thinking of the many Cambodians that lost their lives during the Pol Pot regime.
Afterwards, we visit the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. This is a former high school that turned into a prison where enemies of the Khmer Rouge were tortured before being sent to the killing fields. We met a survivor from this prison. His book explains his experience.

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This afternoon, we have some free time and decide to take a tuk tuk ride to the central market. This is a huge market in the center of the city where you can purchase clothing, shoes, jewelry, and so much more at very low prices.
Back on board this evening for a show performed by children from the Phnom Penh Orphanage. This orphanage houses 66 children from birth to 18 years of age. Some performed traditional Cambodian dances and another group showed us their dancing skills to a Michael Jackson tune.

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Touring – Day 6: This morning we are stopped along the river at Wat Hanchey. After breakfast, we climb up 303 stairs to visit the temple of Wat Hanchey. This temple dates back to the 7th century. While here, we enjoy a water blessing by 2 monks. Their voices while chanting are truly amazing. After the blessing, we go to the viewing point to see stunning views of the surrounding area. Then, back down the 303 stairs to the ship.

After cruising for a short while, we pull up to the rural village of Angkor Ban. Walking through this village takes us past many homes and gardens. We stop at one house, where the woman living there invites us in to see her home.

After this, we continue walking to a local school to interact with the children. They are so excited to see all of us. They read to us in english and share some of what they’ve learned. Each of us brought gifts (books, pens etc) to share with the students.  A great day! Tonight we say goodbye to our Cambodian guide Sokun, and hello to our Vietnamese guide Huy!

Touring – Day 7: Good Morning Vietnam! Our cruise director Phiem had collected all passports at the start of the cruise, so entering Vietnam is easily taken care of while we enjoy breakfast. Once we are cleared, we continue to the town of Chau Doc. We do a short walking tour through a local market that is selling fruit, vegetables, fish, frog, eel, just to mention a few. This is a very busy market.

We have some time to check out a local supermarket. We rarely leave any of these places empty handed!
Crossing the streets here is a little more challenging than Cambodian streets. It’s important to just start walking, raise one hand in the air and do not run. We make it back to the ship no problem.

Our next stop is Sam Mountain. We board a sampan from our ship and take a scenic cruise through the backwaters of the Mekong. Along the way, we see traditional floating homes, villages and merchants. At Sam Mountain, we visit their beautiful temple. On the walk to the temple and back, we pass by a local market with shops that sell a wide array of dried fish and other local delicacies.

Touring – Day 8: This morning, we hop on a sampan to the small village of Long Khanh A, where weaving is a well preserved tradition. We walk through this peaceful village and stop at a pagoda to meet a Buddhist nun. She tells us about her life and commitment to the community.
Our next stop is at a local home. Here we meet an ex Viet Cong soldier. He is so interesting and even invites us into his home to see how he and his family live. He offered one lady in our group to wear his uniform with medals, and reminded us that we are all brothers and sisters and should not fight.

Our final stop here is at a family run weaving business. We see how they make scarves that are sold locally, and exported to Cambodia.

Back to the ship for lunch and some time to relax. This cruise had the perfect balance of touring and relaxing. Our afternoon tour takes us along the river via sampan to Cu Lao Gieng. Once there, we ride 6 passenger motor carts to one of Vietnam’s oldest  churches to chat with a local priest about his life there. We continue to a local home were a skilled family works together to handcraft sampans for a living.

Touring – Day 9: This is our last full day on board the Avalon Siem Reap. We have one excursion this morning via sampan that takes us through a scenic narrow canal to Ben Tre. When we arrive, we walk past a crocodile farm. Then we visit a local workshop to see how they make rice wine and traditional coconut candy. Our tour there includes a show with local actors, singers and musicians. We are offered honey tea, candy samples, snake wine samples, photos with a local python, and a chance to do a little shopping.

After a short walk past gardens of indigenous fruits, we board small 3 passenger sampans that take us through a peaceful narrow canal back to our larger sampan. On board there, we are offered freshly cut coconuts. Delicious!

Back to the ship to pack! We cruise and arrive at Ho Chi Minh City around 6:00pm. We will overnight on the ship before our departure in the morning.

Touring – Day 10: Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon to many. This morning we hop on a bus that takes us into the heart of the city for a walking tour. Everything is taken care of for us, so our bags are sent to the hotel for our check in this afternoon at the Intercontinental Asiana Saigon. This morning we walk to some of Saigon’s famous and historic landmarks along Dong Khoi Street past Ho Chi Minh Square, The Municipal Theatre, the Central Post office, and Notre Dame Cathedral. We stop in at the Rex Hotel for a refreshing drink at the rooftop bar. This is where the U.S. Military held the infamous “Five O’clock Follies” during the war.

Our next stop is the War Remnants museum, followed by an orientation walk through the Ben Thanh Market, the largest and oldest in the city.

For lunch today, we participated in a hands-on Vietnamese Cooking class. We learned how to prepare a variety of dishes and then got to eat them! This was at the Mai Home-The Saigon Culinary Art Centre. We all left with full bellies, and certificates for passing the class!

The rest of day is spent relaxing and checking out the neighborhood around our hotel.

Touring – Day 11: This morning, we leave the city and drive through vast expanses of rice paddies to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels, a network of tunnels more than 120 miles in length that was used by the Viet Cong as a hideout and secret village during the war. We learned how the tunnels were constructed and even had a chance to walk through a section or two for those who were brave enough!

This evening, we have our Farewell dinner with the entire group. The meal is fantastic.
We say goodbye to all and get ready to head on to our next adventure!

If you are interested in learning more about this trip, or finding out how you can go, please contact me resi@fernwehtrvl.com


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