At the end of last year, I went on my first ever solo trip. My destinations of choice? The beautiful Cambodia and Vietnam, two places that were high up on my bucket list. Anybody who knows me or has read my blog will know that I love Asia, and these two countries were no exception. My trip was 3 weeks long (inc. travel there and back) and this was my itinerary:
Ho Chi Minh (1 day)
Flights from London to Ho Chi Minh were by far the most affordable option for starting off my trip. I flew with Qatar Airways from London Heathrow and paid around £420 return through STA Travel, my go to for the best cheap flight deals to Asia. Qatar Airways were pretty good but I’d choose Emirates in future where possible, as they just seem to be that little bit better than anybody else.
I arrived late afternoon to HCMC, so didn’t get to explore much of the city but as my trip was ending here, I didn’t mind too much. I stayed for one night at CLCC Hostel in a private room. I picked this hostel because it had amazing reviews but I was really disappointed, as my room wasn’t very clean at all. I think if you stay in the dorms and pay a lower price, you would probably have a better experience but there are plenty of other accommodation choices across HCMC.
Siem Reap (2 days)
Early the next day, I flew over to Siem Reap with Cambodia Angkor Air. I was apprehensive about flying with them (one of only two choices to do so), after reading mixed reviews online. However, the flight was smooth and efficient, with great cabin crew. You even got a free bottle of water on board, very rare on low cost airlines.
After arriving at Kiri Residence in Siem Reap, I checked in and spent some time relaxing by the pool in 35 degree sun. This hotel was by far my favourite of the entire trip, I really can’t recommend it enough, from the comfortable rooms to the friendly staff to the delicious food.
Enjoying a cocktail by the pool
My main reason for visiting Siem Reap was to visit the temples of Angkor, the most famous tourist attraction in Cambodia. I opted for a group cycle tour with Grasshopper Adventures: Angkor Sunrise Discovery. Although on the pricey side, it was well worth it. The remainder of the day was spent relaxing after a 4am start.
Sunrise at Angkor Wat
Phnom Penh (2 days)
My next stop was the capital of Cambodia. There are several ways of getting from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh; I chose to take the Cambodia Post VIP Van after reading about it at Movetocambodia.com. This was an efficient, comfortable and quick way to travel between cities.
I was in Phnom Penh to visit a charity project that my company funds but did manage to fit in a little sightseeing. I visited Tuol Sleng Museum, a must-see whilst in Cambodia. It is harrowing and hard to continue in parts but it is very informative about the atrocities that took place under Polpot’s reign of terror.
Sunset over Phnom Penh
I wasn’t overly enamoured with Phnom Penh and wouldn’t say it’s particularly tourist friendly but it is worth passing through for a day or two to learn more about the history of Cambodia.
Hanoi (2 days)
I wish I could have spent longer in Hanoi, it was one of my favourites place of the entire trip and I would have loved to have stayed for a few more days.
There’s lots to see and do in the capital of Vietnam. I spent my time there wandering around the beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake, drinking coffee lakeside, shopping, visiting Ngoc San temple and the “Hanoi Hilton” musuem, getting treatments at Orchid Spa (highly recommended) and generally getting lost amongst the pretty but buzzing streets. The highlight of my time was a 3 hour street food tour with Hanoi Street Food Tours. The tour costs $20pp and you get a crazy amount of delicious food and a great tour guide (shout out to Miss Moon!).
Sitting beside Hoan Kiem Lake
Ngoc San temple
I stayed at See You At Lily’s, an amazing hostel with friendly staff and located down a quiet (ish) street which is a great base from which to explore the city.
After a couple of days in Hanoi, I joined a G Adventures group tour to travel through Vietnam, as I wanted to make sure I met people on my trip, whilst seeing the country’s highlights.
Halong Bay (2 days)
As part of my group tour, we visited Halong Bay for a 2 day, 1 night cruise. Halong Bay is a must-see in Vietnam. If I’m really honest, although I did love Halong Bay, I still prefer Koh Sok National Park in Thailand. I felt that HB was a little too touristy and the water wasn’t very clear. Saying that, I still loved my two days on the junk boat. Eating fresh seafood, kayaking, climbing to the top of the viewpoint, exploring caves and even a bit of karaoke.. it was great fun and obviously the surroundings are amazing.
Overlooking Halong Bay
Cruising around Halong Bay
My boat tour was included but I would say that it’s worth paying a little more for a better tour if you’re booking indepedently- I’ve read some horror stories online about the cheaper tours.
Hue (1.5 days)
After returning to Hanoi, we took an overnight train to Hue. This was relatively comfortable and definitely a better standard than the overnight train I took whilst in Thailand. What I would say is that there is quite a noticeable difference between 1st and 2nd class carriages with less than a $6 dollar price difference, so I would definitely choose 1st class (what we travelled in).
Arriving in Hue, we had what might be the best hotel breakfast I’ve ever had at Asia Hotel then headed off to explore the Imperial City, which was magnificent and well worth spending a few hours at. During the evening we went for dinner and then had the most amazing cocktails at Le’s Garden Bar (the passionfruit mojitos are a must!).
Exploring the Imperial City
The next day, my group went on a motorbike tour with Hue Adventure Tour. We whizzed around on the back of motorbikes, visiting local markets and shops, a rice museum and pagodas. Having never been on a motorbike before, and taking in to account the crazy Vietnam traffic, I was a little scared at first but that soon wore off and I loved every minute!
Hoi An (3 days)
Hoi An was my favourite out of all the places I visited during my trip. I can’t exactly put it in to words but the oldy worldy charm, coupled with lanterns everywhere you look, just makes the place magical.
A lady selling lanterns
During my 3 days there I went on a bike ride, went bamboo rafting, got a beautiful dress tailored, explored the Old Town, shopped (the shopping is amazing!), rode a buffalo and just generally explored. We also attended a noodle making class at Streets, an organisation that takes young people off the streets and trains them to be chefs and waiting staff. The food was so good that we even went along to their proper restaurant for dinner that night. I can’t recommend it enough- the food is delicious and it’s great to give back to an inspiring project like this.
Hoi An Old Town at night
A cycle tour through the Hoi An countryside
I could easily have spent a week or more in Hoi An- I would definitely factor in plenty of time. We stayed at Ving Hung 2 hotel. It was a lovely hotel with a gorgeous pool and within walking distance of the Old Town.
Ho Chi Minh City (3 days)
Personally, I wasn’t a fan of HCMC but this seems to be the easiest start and end point for a trip to Vietnam.
We visited the War Remnants Musuem and took a cyclo tour around the city, visiting the main sites such as The Post Office and the Notre Dame. We also went along to a water puppet show, which was really fun and definitely very unique.
The highlight of HCMC for me was the food, delicious local beef Pho and Hum Vegetarian Cafe & Restaurant, a place that we visited several times. Although prices at Hum were aligned with the Western world, the food was incredible, as were the cocktails and wide array of fresh teas.
A delicious bowl of beef Pho
For my last day, I checked in to the luxurious Merperle Crystal Palace out in District 7, well out the way of the main city. Before a long flight home, I wanted somewhere relaxing and away from the hustle & bustle. I visited Anna Sanctuary Spa and had an amazing (and cheap!) massage before my flight home.
My time in Vietnam and Cambodia was definitely short and sweet- I’ll certainly be back to both countries. Although I didn’t get to visit them, other great places (from my research and meeting other people) to visit are: Kampot and Koh Rong (Cambodia) and Phu Quoc and Sapa (Vietnam).
Have you got any more suggestions on where to visit in Vietnam and Cambodia? Have you been to any of the places I’ve talked about, and if so, what did you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts..