One of the main reasons we travel is to interact with other cultures and uncover their history as a way of achieving a more worldly view. Vietnam and Cambodia feature some astonishing monuments and scenery, rich with religious movements and prosperous dynasties of years gone by. But these countries also each have recent hardships embedded into their infrastructure, and those become inescapable when you visit these areas.
Global Connections Inc Travel Agent Marsha C. recently visited these countries and came back with a wealth of respect for the beautiful people who live there and the history they had to endure. To share that appreciation, Marsha told us about her 10-day tour through Vietnam and Cambodia.
Day 1: Hanoi
We flew into Hanoi where we went to the Ho Chi Minh Complex and Quan Thanh Temple. They have something call the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater, which was kind of a big deal. The play describes the lives of ancient Vietnamese people (mostly farmers) under the feudal period.
There were so many moped-type motorcycles. Hanoi has seven million people and five million scooters. You would see families of four, or people with dogs in cages on the back – even chickens. It was unreal. They kind of rule the streets. They move in and out of traffic and cars have to work around them – it looked kind of like a video game. Those not on a scooter rode bicycles. It amazed me how much people could carry on a bicycle.
We ate at the Hanoi Food Culture, which was really interesting. They had dishes such as roasted fish with dill, grilled chicken with lime leaves and a lot of pork. The beef that you would get in Vietnam was so tough because the cows they have are mainly for work and are very skinny.
Day 2-3: Halong Bay
From Hanoi, we took a bus up to Halong Bay, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. That was probably the most beautiful part of Vietnam. We spent the night on an old boat (Indochina Sails), which looked almost like a pirate ship. Even though the boat was small and older, the accommodations were very nice and modern.
We went spelunking in Sung Sot Cave (Surprise Cave) on Bo Hon Island. These caves are huge and beautiful with crystal and stalagmites.
I did another excursion, solo, to Ti Top Island. After climbing 427 steep steps, the reward was another spectacular view of Halong Bay.
Day 4: Hue
In Hue, we visited the Imperial Citadel and the Royal Antiquities Museum. We saw the Thien Mu Pagoda (Pagoda of the Celestial Lady), which has a little story behind it. Once upon a time, people spotted an old lady in red appearing every night on top of the hill. She prophesized a lord would come and bring the town wealth and prominence.
Day 5: Hoi An
We went to a 400-year-old Japanese covered bridge, one of Vietnam’s most iconic attractions. People say it was built by Japanese living in Hoi An so they could access the Chinese quarter across the water.
Day 6-7: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
The people are very gentle, so proper and so gracious. I was really struck by that. When you think about the war situation, you wonder how it happened. But war is usually about the government, not the people.
We visited the War Remnants Museum, which exhibits original tanks and planes, as well as many photos of the war with definite anti-American explanations. It was an odd feeling being there. When you arrive, you watch a video full of Communist propaganda. Our guide didn’t go with us, she said, because when you walk around, there are people that look like tourists but are not tourists, and they listen to what you say.
People most likely knew we were Americans, but they didn’t treat us any different. There was just that undercurrent wherever we went, especially in the north because of the war. I came back home and thought, “Why didn’t I study this more before I had left?” There’s just so much history I want to know.
Near Saigon, we went to the Cu Chi Tunnels where the Viet Cong had their kitchens and hospitals – everything. The ingenious design of this tunnel system was very interesting – you would have to be very small to get through them.
Day 8: Phnom Pehn
We took a bus to Cambodia where we saw the Killing Fields and the S21 detention centers from the Cambodian genocides. When (Cambodian revolutionary) Pol Pot took over, he rounded up young boys and girls, and turned them against their parents. They would go after educated people, such as teachers and doctors and lawyers, and put them in these detention centers. We walked around the cells and saw pictures of what went on in the prisons.
It was the most depressing part of the trip, but it serves as a testament to the crimes of the Khmer Rouge communists. That is their history. And these events took place in the 70s, so it wasn’t all that long ago.
Day 9-10: Cambodia
We visited Angkor Wat Temple in Siem Reap, deep in the Cambodian jungle, spread out over some 60 square miles. Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world and is featured on the country’s national flag.
On our last day there, we wanted to see the people. So we hired a van and went out on mud roads and other areas for three hours. We stopped at fields with beautiful lotus flowers, then we wound up at a goat farm where a family lived in a ramshackle hut.
We went on to a fishing village, which was really interesting. Around 170 villages live around this lake, Tonle Sap Lake. But when the flow of the water changes, they pick up their stilted houses and move to a better location. Kids were out there playing in the water, waving and asking where we’re from. That was a highlight.
Marsha went on to say that Vietnam and Cambodia have become a popular destination for travelers in over the past couple years, as more and more people are realizing how much there is to see and do in the areas.
We hope Marsha’s story encourages you to look deeper into the history when you take one of our tours to either of these countries. We currently have two amazing tours listed on our website and membership sites.
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You can find even more dates and itineraries if you call our travel agency at 855-999-7654.
Have you ever been to either Cambodia or Vietnam? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below!