Two of the most beautiful, historic and friendly places in all of Asia, Vietnam and Cambodia, are intriguing studies in contrast and provide a fascinating, rewarding and multi-layered adventure.
Each possesses its own unique charm and social traditions, its own tragic history and complex past.
A visit here is as much about the people you meet and the experiences you have as well as the sights you see.
Spectacular scenery hides around every corner of this majestic country, from the misty mountains of Sapa to the mysterious wetlands of the Mekong Delta.
Vietnam is immensely long, stretching for more than 2,000km. Carpeted in greenery and sprinkled with historic cities, it stretches along the South China Sea, nestling up to Laos and Cambodia to the west and China to the north.
From the French colonial rule through to the war of the sixties and opening its borders to tourism in the 1990s, Vietnam has undergone extensive and dramatic change.
Visible differences remain between the north and south and travelling around the country provides an opportunity to absorb its cultural, scenic and culinary diversity.
Visitors can explore the immense underground network of the Viet Cong known as the Củ Chi Tunnels and explore the cultural sites that add unique flavour, from the citadel of Hue to the historic streets of Hoi An.
There's a frenetic energy that pulses through Vietnam’s two major cities.
Ho Chi Minh City, locally known as Saigon, has a vibrant metropolitan allure offering a heady mixture of old and new; while Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, has its own unique colonial charm with fragmenting 19th-century merchants' villas tightly packed into the attractive old quarter.
Cruising its rivers and waters assures unique experiences from a traditional junk trip around beautiful Hạ Long Bay, sprinkled with its soaring limestone peaks, to exploring the massive picturesque area of the Mekong Delta dotted by rice paddies, fish farms and fruit orchards.
The country’s expansive coastline ensures a wide choice of dazzling tropical beaches, remote hideaway islands and a plethora of stylish resorts providing serious rest and relaxation opportunities.
The cuisine here is some of the most delicate and carefully balanced in the world.
Throughout the country, you can feast on regional dishes that combine staple ingredients like lime, chilli and the abundant rice noodle that features in Vietnam’s iconic soup, pho.
October through to March offers the best weather for travelling, although outside of these months when the monsoon patterns fluctuate between the north and south, periods of rain are in the main short-lived and temperatures remain warm.
A melting pot of culture, history and unadorned beauty, Cambodia is a fascinating land of extreme contrast, abundant nature and authentic adventure. Alongside majestic places of worship and energetic local markets, a life of luxury is offered to visitors, incorporating esteemed service and stunning villas adorning tranquil sandy beaches.
From the regal elegance of the Royal Palace, the Silver Pagoda containing the Emerald Buddha statue and the shrine at Wat Phnom, through to the thought-provoking Tuol Sleng Prison and the Killing Fields, Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s thriving capital is a city of contrasts.
Captivating Siem Reap provides the gateway to the vast UNESCO designated complex Angkor Wat, home of the magnificent sights of arguably the world’s most famous temples dating from the 9th to the 14th centuries.
Siem Reap is just 3km south of the temple complex and although development is at hand, the city still retains the small shops, cafes and art galleries, and away from the tourist areas, a street food tour to one of the many markets and hidden food stands is highly recommended.
In addition to exploring Angkor Wat, visits to Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple and a stop at the tree-covered Ta Prohm, where some scenes from the Tomb Raider movies were filmed, are popular excursions.
South-East Asia’s largest freshwater lake, Tonle Sap, is home to a huge diversity of fish and many fishing communities that rely on its bounty and a boat trip will enable you to witness the unique lifestyle of Tonle Sap's residents.
The second largest city, Battambang, is home to an emerging art scene and some of the finest French-influenced architecture in the country.
If visiting, be sure to ride the Bamboo Train, one of the most eccentric and noisy contraptions you are ever likely to encounter.
There are many ways to explore the heart and soul of the region, contrast its landscapes, food and cultural heritage and a variety of excellent itineraries that can be tailored to suit preferences. One of the best is with a fully inclusive escorted tour and I have chosen one of my favourites with the specialist Wendy Wu Tours as a great illustration.
Taking a total of 21 days, this tour allows you to immerse yourself in the cultural treasures of both countries and includes a variety of must-see sights, including the incredible temples of the Angkor complex, the calm waters of Hạ Long Bay and the lush rice terraces of Hoàng Su Phì.
With everything below included in the cost, you will enjoy a hassle-free holiday led by exceptional national guides who will provide fascinating insights:
3* plus to 4* accommodation
Touring with guides
Daily entrance fees
Highlights of the tour include:
Hanoi - Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, a walking tour of the Old Quarter and sampling delicious dishes of the street food scene
The emerald green rice fields of Hoàng Su Phì where you will stay in an eco-lodge
Lunch with locals in Tay village
Panhou and the nearby mountains and rice terraces
Hạ Long Bay junk cruise
Ho Chi Minh City - vintage Vespa tour, Củ Chi Tunnels and the Reunification Palace.
The Mekong Delta
Siem Reap & Tonle Sap Lake
The Angkor complex
For further information on this tour or other ways to see these wonderful countries, please contact me for a chat.