Sorry I haven’t been posting much recently, but I have been keeping up with my travels over the last two months 🙂 I just got back last week from an amazing trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. Two neighboring countries that are totally different from each other, Vietnam is wealthier, more modern, high energy, development everywhere, and a culture and cuisine more akin to China, where as Cambodia feels and eats more like Thailand, a much poorer Thailand. I don’t mean that to be a negative, it just couldn’t be more different than Vietnam.
First off getting there from anywhere in the US isn’t cheap and it’s a long trip, very long trip. There are no direct flights from the US to either country, so you have to change somewhere in Asia. But when you’re there, hotels, dining, pretty much anything is extremely affordable, at the end of the day it’ll probably cost you less than a trip to Europe.
Vietnam is a large country of 90 million people and while the air network is pretty well developed, roads and trains are less so, so it’s not extremely easy to get to every part of the country in a week, and so disclaimer I only saw a small part of the country from Hanoi down to Hoi An in the middle of the country, so I didn’t visit Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) whatever you prefer to call it.
Hanoi is the capital and a city of 7-8 million, but from what I hear less hectic and fast paced than Saigon, and it’s not a city that feels overwhelming, the old quarter is always buzzing and slammed with motorbikes and traffic, but it’s a fascinating mix of old school Asia, French colonial buildings and new hip restaurants and bars opening up everywhere it seems like.
I really can’t say enough too about the cooking classes at Hidden Hanoi, the market tour and cooking class was one of the best experiences I had on the trip, you don’t even need to be much of a cook to enjoy the class.
A quick day trip over to Halong Bay, was a bit too rushed for the awesome beauty that is the bay, but it’s not an easy multi day trip when you’re short on time, but so glad to have gotten out there even just for a day, though it is totally overrun with tourists
From Hanoi we flew down to the imperial city of Hue, which was the seat of the monarchy and has it’s imperial/forbidden city much like Beijing, except for thanks to two wars was almost entirely destroyed, only about 20 building remain. Then from Hue we took the train (which is an experience in Vietnam) down to Hoi An, by way of Danang. Hoi An was a booming port in the 1600’s and 1700’s attracting a large international community and which eventually became a sleepy backwater until the tourist boom recently. Change is everywhere, the old quarter of Hoi An is almost a Disney perfect picture of an old Vietnamese town. Danang, just passing through, there’s literally a new beach resort being built on every inch of the waterfront and blocks of avenues going back behind the waterfront with empty lots but massive avenues just waiting to be filled in, the government has obviously decided Danang is going to be THE beach resort of SE Asia.
Finally we decided to add on 48 hours in Cambodia, in Siem Reap where the temples and ruins of Angkor are located, it doesn’t do Cambodia justice, but it’s not often that I’m going to be in that part of the world and really wanted to see Angkor. Cambodia is totally different, it’s much more spiritual a place, the culture and cuisine takes more from Thailand than Vietnam and it’s much slower paced. There’s development here, and I’m sure it’s far different than it was say 10 years ago, but it’s still a place with striking poverty when you get away from the tourist areas and the town center…not to mention the country has had a pretty miserable history. But the experience was amazing the ruins literally take your breath away, the people are extremely warm and outgoing, and the cuisine after being pretty much wiped out by the Khmer Rouge is experience a renaissance.