Travel Diary ~ Southeast Asia

Hanoi to Angkor Wat

Arrival into Bangkok to be met by our private driver with VIP treatment from the very start - An early am arrival whisked us to our accommodation, a former 1920's residence converted to a beautiful hotel in 2009. David, the owner, joined us for breakfast and provided a wealth of local knowledge. On this free day, we maneuvered the Sky Train to the Chao Phraya River to view the never-ending parade of unique water craft that ply the waters. Enjoyed a sumptuous lunch at the Riverside Restaurant aside the Mandarin Oriental Hotel followed by a "Jet-Lag" massage in their beautifully appointed teakwood Spa. The next few days were spent both in Bangkok and Phuket. 

Our private driver and guide accompanied us to riverfront, where we boarded our long tail boat for a ride along the klongs (canals) to the backwaters surrounding Bangkok city. Stilted homes scattered along the shoreline had gardens growing out of the water and where its not unusual to see a monitor lizard basking in the sunlight. We disembarked to visit the Temple of Dawn and the Grand Palace. The following day we flew to Phuket, and next day we sped by motor craft to Phi Phi Island for a day of snorkeling and adjusting to the time change in a tropical paradise. Returning to our resort, we enjoyed many of the fine amenities offered to guests.

Our flight to Hanoi took us high above the jungle carpet into a most provincial setting for a capital city. Enjoying the smiles and welcomes of those we met as well as the continuing VIP treatment of our private driver and guide who led the way. Relishing 5-course lunches, highlighting local cuisine in gorgeous restaurants, lingering over a local beer until ready to continue on. Never rushed and each day seemed a brand new adventure. Upon arrival into Hanoi and accompanied by our guide, we were cycloid (bicycle driven cart) through the "36 streets" of Old Town in the center of Hanoi. 

Continuing on the next day, we viewed Ho Chi Minh lying at State, and visited the former "Hanoi Hilton" used to house American flyers taken capture during the war. Our hotel, centrally located in Hanoi, allowed us the time to venture out in the early hours to explore the 1,000-year old city and challenge ourselves to maneuver across streets filled with what seemed like some 5-million or more scooter bikes coming from all directions. A marvelous drive across countryside brought us to Ha Long Bay, passing rice fields dotted with water buffalo. An incredible experience as we boarded our own private junk, lounging on the top deck as we ate seafood prepared by our own chef, cruising for hours past some of the 3,000 islets and bays. A late afternoon return to hotel led us to enjoy a fun-filled theatrical performance by the renowned Vietnamese water-puppeteers.

We next flew to the city of Hue, thought by some to be the most beautiful within all of Vietnam. Our private boat cruise took us to one of the more famous pagodas in Vietnam and to visit three of the more outstanding tombs of former emperors, located within different regions of the treelined forrest that surround the city. Hue is a wonderful city to visit, both for its beauty and historical importance. The citadel, which commands a hefty presence within the heart of the city culminated a day filled with contrasts and the continual welcoming smiles of its local residents.


A three-hour drive aside the South China Sea, passing fishing villages and across mountain passes led us to the beauty of Hoi An. A former fishing village, which welcomed international traders to its port, it has become one of the most visited towns within Vietnam for its quaint venues and beautiful shoreline. A cyclo-driven tour of the city presented us with a welcoming tea at a local Clan House, a visit to the Chinese temple where fishermen left offerings in hopes of protection on the high seas and the colorful Japanese bridge linking the walking streets within the town.

On to Saigon to visit the Cu Chi tunnels, used by former enemy forces to hide and store their supplies during the war. A huge complex of underground tunnels, which housed a field hospital, kitchens, supply rooms and quarters for hundreds of soldiers. Next came our private boat cruise through the beautiful, lush Mekong Delta to observe quaint villages in a primitive jungle setting, while meandering along backwater canals. Saigon itself is a vibrant, sprawling city with newly built tall buildings towering over the Saigon River with obvious signs of growth.Seeing the Rex Hotel, the opera House and other significant landmarks left us trying to imagine what life must have been like there in the 60's and 70's.


Flew to Siem Reap to experience the wonders of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Phrom. These magical temples are a must see, especially at sunrise, watching the glow appear behind their beautifully adorned temple grounds, some with rooted trees atop the temple walls. Each day was a new adventure, such as going to a local cooking school, planting some peanuts and then heading into the kitchen to help prepare the meal. Visiting the local markets was an eye-opener as we witnessed first hand how these hard working people made use of everything available to them from the land. From snakes to scorpions, their use of a food source is something to behold. Our dinners in the fun section of "pub Street" left us energized with the sights of street food and multiple restaurants, some with loud music and shows featuring local dancers with lovely costumes. 

Our private cruise past the floating villages near Tonle Sap Lake completed our stay. We were in awe at how some 300 families lived in the various floating houses, some of which were the size of an American living room, yet all had welcoming smiles as we journeyed on our way passed their particular home. Children swaying to sleep in hammocks, a charcoal fire cooking recently caught fish and the ever-present pot of rice being prepared for their evening meal.


Arriving in Luang Prabang, Laos was perhaps the most surprising visit of all along the journey. A captivating small town with a continuing flow of warm smiles and welcomes. We were graciously greeted with food and drink by the owner of the charming, former royalty home, now converted to a villa for visiting guests. Our private boat cruise up the Mekong River aside the jungle shoreline provided another example of how these people manage their lives using the full resources of the land available to them. One highlight of our visit was the sunrise offerings of sticky rice by the townspeople to hundreds of saffron robed monk novices. Quite an incredible experience to view at daybreak, a tradition dating back to 1344, the year Buddhism was first introduced to Laos. A quaint town setting, it is one of the few remaining destinations where innocence continues to have a foothold.


Our trip concluded with a return to Bangkok, enjoying a late night swim in a lovely hotel, while mentally preparing ourselves for the "re-entry" back to the USA. The kind, gentle, humble, and considerate people that we would be leaving behind taught us a lifelong lesson of being thankful for our blessings and to cherish our family and friends. So many that we met who struggle each day to care for their families seemed always to have a welcoming smile each and every day on what truly was yet another marvelous journey. First Cabin Travel once again arranged an exceptional itinerary.