Home > Vietnam and Cambodia: a few words about the trip

Vietnam and Cambodia: a few words about the trip

March 7th, 2011 at 06:06 am

Before I start with the pictures, a few words about the trip. Sister and I flew Seattle to LAX, LAX to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to Hanoi to join the rest of the tour. It turns out that I misinterpreted the schedule - the first afternoon read like a simple cyclo ride, something to do while everybody got there. Well, that was the case sort of but it turns out that we missed a bit of old-quarter Hanoi sight-seeing that most got.

Big lesson 1: don’t over-interpret the tour schedule.

If you think of Vietnam as a big "S" we went from the top inner curve (Hanoi, Halong Bay), went down to the middle (Hue, Hoi An), then went to the bottom outer curve (Saigon, Can Tho).

From a full day in Hanoi, we drove about 60 miles to Hai Phong to Halong Bay. Buses could only go about 40 miles/hour tops, so one really had to slow down. It made things relaxing for those who could slow down, but it meant that the schedule itself got re-arranged often and we had to be flexible about it.

Big lesson 2: Be flexible

From Halong Bay we drove back to the Hanoi airport to fly out to Hue (pronounced Way), a day in Hue, then a drive from Hue past Da Nang to Hoi An, another day in Hoi An and the Cham site in My Son, then a flight from Da Nang to Saigon, a few days in Saigon, with a side trip to the Lower Mekong at Can Tho, then back to Saigon to fly out to Siem Riep, Cambodia.

Big lesson 3: you see a lot, but you will definitely see that lot from a bus seat and from a plane or two.

Nearly every day we had three meals – a full breakfast (or rather, a buffet breakfast that took a rare amount of self-control to not make full), a fixed 5 course lunch, a fixed 5-7 course dinner. Yikes! Who eats like this anymore? The food was good, but tamer than I had hoped…and it was fixed. Beer was generally considered part of the meal; it turned out that beer was cheaper than bottled water.

Big lesson 4: treat your liver extra nice after the tour.

Since we did many meals, another strain on me was small talk. I wish I was better, or rather in some cases, I wish I didn't have to do it. I enjoyed about 97% of the trip – I saw everything that I wanted to see, learned a tremendous amount of culture from the Vietnamese and Cambodian tour guides, learned a lot history from the professor and his son who came with us, got some exciting souvenirs and stories.

My 3% dissatisfaction came from the fact that I was being immersed into 3 big cultures: Vietnam, Cambodia, and the culture of the type of person who could afford the trip. Smile My thought was that many on the tour broke my big rule of travel: eyes open, mouth shut. Sister and I seemed a bit at odds sometimes with a few of the rest of the group. Sister and I were a bit younger (not terribly though), I was a bit quieter, neither of us brought our electronic toys (which often worked, wonder of wonders), and we both decidedly didn't want to play keep-up-with-the-Joneses like many others did. However, sister and I did have farm skills and since Vietnam was still mostly a rural society, playing guess-that-crop on the bus was an asset. That being said, about 1/3 were cool, 1/3 could be taken in regulated doses, and the other 1/3 we wanted to avoid. I suspect others felt the same way, but they had their strategies in place to avoid the folks they wanted to avoid. And several told me that the group dynamic was reasonable – no one got sick, no one was chronically late, no one shopped 'til they dropped slowing everyone down. It could have been actually bad instead of 3% dissatisfied!

One woman shared with me that she felt the same – at odds - when she began going on tours and gave me some good advice about it. In a nutshell, she defined what she wanted to get out of the tour – in this case, she wanted to learn about the culture of the country. If she made friends on the tour, fine, but that wasn't her goal and she was all right with that. She told me it was perfectly okay to be quiet, and as far as small talk was concerned, get your lunch partner to talk about their grandkids and you'll never have to say a word. Smile!

All in all, I think I would go again, but I probably would on tours if the culture was edgy enough that I'd prefer the bubble. A couple of the women went to Iran, which I think would be perfect for a tour. For Europe, I wouldn't bother – the mechanics of the tour and the probable Jones-ness of the others on the tour would put me off.

3 Responses to “Vietnam and Cambodia: a few words about the trip”

  1. Thrifty Ray Says:

    Fun update! I savored every someday, I would love to take a 'tour' trip like this...Welcome home!!!

  2. Joan.of.the.Arch Says:

    Interesting about the tour group itself.

  3. Mozaik Says:

    thank you for exquisite pictures; missed the scene that always scared me most, that motorcycle wall comin' atcha' in HCMC. I work in Hai Phong where there is a significant demand for English teachers. Anyone can manage self travel in VN with a bit of patience, notes from Lonely Planet and other tourist's suggestions which cuts costs by 1/2. The north, Hanoi, Hai Phong, Cat Ba, Hoi An are great except in monsoon season. They make beautiful, made to measure clothes & shoes for tourists in Hoi An. Just bring catalogue pictures and empty suitcase; better yet, mail stuff home. Na Trang is building 5 star accommodations for visitors for the sugar like sand at China Beach. Shop the night markets and brush up on your bargaining skills. It is expected and they always ask westerners for 2 or 3 times the local price.

    Unless you are going to traipse about in the fields, you do not need all those shots that are such a cash cow for clinics. Bring an Imodium anti diarrhoea as the product available there could easily be a knock-off and you will not like Asian style toilets.

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