9 days Trip – Ho Chi Minh City to Bangkok
I just got back from a G Adventures trip in the South East of Asia and I wanted to share some quick, useful tips with you all. Everything I`m providing you here is real and not some kind of paid ad, or whatever.
Firstly, G Adventures has defined (and redefined) the travel of small groups for over 25 years. Traveling with them is the very best way to get up close and personal with your planet in a way you would never manage on your own. Moreover, when you travel with G Adventures, you support local communities and help make the world a bit better for everyone.
Not only you do not need to plan the details of your trip, (because a guide will be there coordinating everything, translating and providing all the professional support, while also traveling along with you), which makes it a lot more relaxing and stress-free, but you`ll also have a much safer trip.
You can book your G Adventure of your liking on their website, based on the preferred group size, location, service level, physical activities, age requirements and travel style. I did not want a large group with a lot of physical activity or to spend an absurd amount of money, so we picked the Cambodia Experience. Of course, they have all sorts of plans and can accommodate all kinds of travelers for a variety of budgets, ages, etc.
- If you`re a creative person, you might want to bring your laptop (to empty your phone faster, since the internet is bad everywhere) and camera. This adventure has a lot of great locations to photograph.
- Do not pack too much. Leave some space for whatever you`ll buy there, because trust me, you will buy more than you expect.
- Vietnam is the best to shop. Much better quality stuff than even in Thailand. I actually regret not buying all the stuff I wanted here, thinking that I would find better stuff in Thailand. That was not the case.
- Bring Peptobismol, Maalox or some kind of stomach medicine. Things are much spicier here, and it is always good to have some medicine, just in case. We all needed it at some point during our trip.
- Do not drink tap water during this trip, especially not in Cambodia.
- Everything on the Vietnamese TV is PG13, and all their movies are censured. Safe for kids.
We first landed in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and a driver was waiting for us at the airport. He picked us up, carried our bags and even held an umbrella for me, so I would not get rained on. By the way, July is the rainy season.
Ho Chi Minh City – Arrival Day and the Welcome Meeting
We arrived a day earlier, because we did not know what to expect and wanted to explore this specific city a bit more.
Ho Chi Minh City (commonly known as Saigon) is a city in southern Vietnam famous for the pivotal role it played in the Vietnam War. It’s also known for its French colonial landmarks, including Notre-Dame Cathedral, made entirely of materials imported from France, and the 19th-century Central Post Office. Food stalls line the city’s streets, especially around bustling Bến Thành Market. I`m not a person that loves shopping much, but shopping in that market was spectacular.
During the evening, we gathered at the hotel for our “Welcome meeting”. Our group was small (a total of seven people with the CEO and both of us) and we had the best CEO. His name was Sunny, and I totally recommend him. (If you book this trip, you can request Sunny as your CEO.) We loved everyone in our group right away, and we grew close during our G Adventure trip. As a matter of fact, we still keep in touch via Whatsapp. After the introductions, our CEO reviewed the details of the tour. The introductions happened over coffee (or whatever drink) at a restaurant table, nothing formal, fancy or anything where you`d be put on the spot. It was a very friendly and relaxed meeting.
We stayed at the Lotus Boutique Hotel and we loved it. The hotel had such friendly staff, great breakfast, best location (close to the Cathedral and to the market), and some super cool bidet I`ve never seen before. As you can see, new, cool things impress me. This hotel had a toilet machine (not even sure what to call it) that would massage, bidet, wash, warm or cool your booty. It was absolutely genius! I wish all hotels would have such advanced technology and gadgets too! Haha!
The awesome streets of Saigon.
The next morning, we took a mini-bus and started our exploring experience. We enjoyed a boat cruise through the villages, islands, and markets of the Mekong Delta, visited traditional candy factories, ate amazing fruits (I never even heard of), and tasted their homemade chocolate. While serving us all sorts of fruits and an amazing tea, they also had a few artists sing and perform traditional music for us. We walked around the small islands, met and spoke with the locals, shopped some local honey, chocolate and other cool things, but also had a big python wrapped around our necks for a few seconds.
After enjoying a day in the Mekong Delta, we traveled back to Ho Chi Minh City in time for an optional dinner, so we went to a food market that had hundreds of options.
Ho Chi Minh City/Phnom Penh
Travel day with border crossing from Vietnam to Cambodia. Well, I would advise you to buy your visa at the border. The price is less than half, than when buying it from the embassy prior.
- The restrooms at the border (and throughout this whole country) have no toilet paper, so you might want to bring some napkins or tissue on this trip.
As we arrived in Cambodia, we enjoyed a cyclo-tour through the city.
The next day included a guided tour of Tuol Sleng Museum (S-21 Prison) and Choeung Ek (Killing Fields). We also had the choice of visiting the Royal Palace, the National Museum or the Central Market instead.
We met a local guide to learn more about the dark side of Cambodian history and together we visited Choeung Ek, the site of the infamous Killing Fields. After learning so much about this dark time of their history, we visited Tuol Sleng Museum (S-21 Prison), the notorious Khmer Rouge prison where thousands of Cambodians perished. I must have cried for two hours straight, but I still recommend this tour. It is one thing to learn about it in a History class or while watching Angelina`s “Killing Fields” movie, it is another thing to actually have a local explain everything to you, while meeting the survivors as well.
Choeung Ek (Killing Fields) Guided Tour
Tuol Sleng Museum (S-21 Prison) Guided Tour
Phnom Penh/Siem Reap
The drive from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap was awesome. Siem Reap is the home base for exploring the incredible Angkor Wat.
Cambodia had a lot to offer, from standing in awe of the architectural achievement of Angkor Wat, to contemplating the horrors of the Killing Fields at Phnom Penh. This nine-day trip is ideal for the traveler who is short on time, but wants to soak up the colors, culture, and history of this incredible region. Its natural beauty coupled with tumultuous history make Cambodia a truly fascinating destination. With your accommodation, transportation, and entrance to Angkor arranged by the Chief Experience Officers (CEOs), you can concentrate on making this the time of your life.
- Shopping is not as great as in Vietnam, but you can get massages and manicures for as low as $5. This was the cheapest location of them all.
- The manicure was super cheap, but it was not something I`d do again.
- Do some research on the history of Cambodia and the Killing Fields before you`ll visit, so you can keep up with all the overwhelming information, and not get sick (as I did), trying to take it all in.
- This place has the cheapest souvenirs, such as spices, trinklets or whatever.
- May is when women plant the rice, so it`s a very pretty scene to photograph.
- November and December are the most popular months for traveling here and the high season.
- Good thing you`re vegan, because there is no cheese in Siem Reap.
Enjoy a guided tour of the Angkor Wat temple complex. Opt to visit the Tonlé Sap floating village and the Angkor National Museum. Enjoy a traditional meal of Khmer food at a G Adventures for Good-supported project.
Spend two days exploring Angkor, the former capital of the Khmer kingdom and one of the wonders of the archaeological world. See some of the highlights of this ancient capital, like sunrise at the magnificent temple of Angkor Wat, the enigmatic Bayon within the walled city of Angkor Thom, and Ta Prohm, also known as the ‘Tomb Raider’ temple.
Enjoy a traditional meal to learn about Khmer food and meet some friendly locals. Alternating locations of our included local meal means we can support multiple small businesses and projects in the area. Each experience is truly unique and memorable.
Angkor Wat Guided Tour
Follow a local expert through the massive grounds of Angkor Wat for 2 days. You’ll have the opportunity to go in and out of the complex, resting at the hottest part of the day.
Local Khmer Meal
Depending on the day of the week your tour visits Siem Reap, you will either enjoy a traditional meal at the G Adventures-supported New Hope Project or in a local home in a nearby village. With so many travelers coming through this area, alternating experiences helps to allow multiple small businesses to flourish. Both experiences are truly unique and memorable.
The New Hope Vocational Training Restaurant, an initiative kick-started by G Adventures, provides skill-building opportunities to marginalized community members. The project also funds the adjacent free community school and health center. Meals at Phila’s house support the education of underprivileged children in the area. Visit either project – both run by locals – and see how they have supported positive change in the community.
Our last night in Cambodia included going to a show. Besides their great performance, I noticed that Americans were perceived as loud, obnoxious people that dress inappropriately to sacred places, are too touchy-feely (or touch too many things), don`t like getting their feet dirty and are too stuck-up. I did feel a bit uncomfortable during a few moments of this show, but their dancing and acting were amazing.
- The locals we meet in Cambodia were not big fans of their royal family. They said that the royals speak French among each other and only care about their own good.
- 80% of the people of Cambodia are farmers.
On the 8th day, we crossed the border into Thailand and continued on to the bustling metropolis of Bangkok. The drive was 3 hours and a half.
Aranyaprathet is known for being one of the most hectic border crossings, but our CEO helped make the process go as smoothly as possible. The border crossing is done on foot and can take up to an hour so be patient and think of all the fun Thailand has in store. If you buy your digital visa prior to flying into Vietnam, make sure you print two copies of it. I only printed one copy, and had to run around the whole place (which in a 3rd world country can be very difficult) to find a printer. Hours later, after we finally found a way to print another copy of my visa, the line was huge. Luckily, the border patrol guy was corrupt enough to accept some money, so I would not have to stay in that long line.
Once we arrived in Bangkok, the hotel was awesome.
Bangkok is a much bigger and more modern city than I expected. Bangkok is called “the city of angels” , with a population of 8 million, and 11 million visitors every year. There are more than 500 people per kilometer. This city is constantly evolving, and a lot of it was under construction. Luxury hotels are everywhere, floating and fancy restaurants, temples, parks and shopping markets…
- Check out the Ko Kret Island. It`s an island of tranquility in the heart of a metropolitan place. Here, they wear pink on Tuesday; green on Wednesday, and each day of the week is represented by a color.
- The Thai people are very religious and respectful of traditions. They regularly pay their respects to the dead and leave offerings to Buddha.
- Street-cooking is their big passion. Their breakfast consists of soups. Thailand is an unforgettable gastronomic experience.
- The most sought-after items are mythological statues, pottery, kramas and spices.
- Bangkok is the Venice of the Orient.
- Houses of the wealthy sit side by side with the fishermen houses.
- Thailand has available islands for people that want to escape the modern and busy life.
- Ko Kret is the version of a traditional Bangkok, before the skyscrapers. It has narrow streets, old houses and a modest lifestyle.
- Asian elephants are smaller than the African ones.
- A Thai man told me that their elephants don`t like cameras and people staring. When an elephant shakes its head, it`s sign of stress and aggression.
- The elephants used for tourism, are treated very badly. The Thai people owning them, hit their heads to make them obey and listen to their orders.
The Bangkok region has a few more surprises in store, such an amazing floating market, proposed by all travel agents in the city. Our CEO took us there, and asked us to let the boat driver know when he should stop (for a photo, something we want to buy or eat). It takes an hour and a half to drive there, and about 2 hours to explore it. The Floating Market is a must for Bangkok visitors looking for authenticity.
- According to legends, the layout of the streets of Bangkok, forms the shape of a dragon.
- China town is above all a multitude of small shops, which make the Chinese community one of the wealthiest in the country.
- Some tourists also visit Jim Thompson`s House. He founded the Thai silk company. He disappeared in Malaysia and his body was never found.
Although Bangkok is a very developed city, it still manages to remain zen. It cleverly mixes an almost futuristic universe with its distinctive way of life, and its aged, old traditions. This vibrant, cosmopolitan city certainly deserves its name of “A city of Angels”.
This wonderful vacation is one to cherish and remember forever.
A big “Thank you” to Sunny, the G Adventures and all the amazing friends we made there.