Asia

23-day travel guide to Vietnam and Cambodia (part one)

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Day 1: Flight Barcelona-Paris-Ho Chi Minh
Day 2: Ho chi minh
Day 3: Mekong Delta Tour from Ho Chi Minh City
Day 4: Hoi an
Day 5: The Marble Mountain (Hoi An)
Day 6: The ruins of My Son (Hoi An)
Day 7: Hue
Day 8: The tombs of the emperors (Hue)
Day 9: Phong Nha Ke Bang (Dong Hoi)
Day 10: Cave paradise in Phong Nha Ke Bang (night train to Hanoi)
Day 11: Halong Bay Cruise (night on board)
Day 12: Lan Ha Bay Cruise (night on board)
Day 13: Halong Bay Cruise (Hanoi)
Day 14: Hanoi
Day 15: Excursion to Tam Coc (Hanoi)
Day 16: Hanoi and flight to Siem Reap (Siem Reap)
Day 17: Helicopter flight and «Big Circuit» (Siem Reap)
Day 18: Beng Mealea, Banteay Srei and Ellago Tonlé Sap (Siem Reap)
Day 19: Angkor Wat and «Small Circuit» (Siem Reap)
Day 20: Relax in Siem Reap
Day 21: Nom Pen
Day 22: Nom Pen and bus to Ho Chi Minh (Ho Chi Minh)
Day 23: I return to spain

When planning the trip, the first intention was to enter through Hanoi and exit through Nom Pen to make the most of vacation days. Unfortunately, this combination was very expensive. Therefore, in the end We enter and leave by Ho Chi Minh, since there are many more offers than with Hanoi. The flight with Air France cost us € 600. Before buying a plane ticket to Vietnam, it is important take into account the internal flights you intend to do, why Vietnam Airlines does discounts on internal flights if you book the flight from Spain to Vietnam with them. Thus, the trip may be cheaper in total. For example, the flight from Hanoi to Hoi An costs € 50 and the one from Dong Hoi to Hanoi € 40. But the greatest savings are noticed especially on flights to Cambodia, because the flight from Hanoi to Siem Reap costs only € 55 (compared to the € 160 it normally costs) and the flight from Siem Reap to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh is free If you have flown with them from Spain. Vietnam Airlines fares are a bit more expensive for the Spain-Vietnam flight, but if you take advantage of this discount on internal flights, it may be cheaper in the end.

It is very important to keep in mind that it is it is necessary to have a visa to enter Vietnam. There are two options to get it: in the Madrid embassy or in the «on arrival» airport, that is, when arriving at the Vietnam airport. The way to ensure 100% entry into the country is by processing the visa at the Vietnam embassy in Madrid. However, those of us who do not live in the capital face several problems. The first is that there is almost no information on the web; the second, that when we got in touch with the embassy they gave us half information, so we stayed the same or worse; and, third, that it is much more expensive to do it at the embassy than at the airport (the multi-entry visa at the embassy is € 95 plus shipping, compared to $ 65 at the airport). In addition, seeing the little agility they had, we were not very happy to send passports by mail or courier, so we began to study the option of processing the visa when arriving at the Vietnam airport.

When you arrive at the visa area you have to go to the left

To get the visa at the Vietnam airport it is essential to present an invitation letter to the countryalong with a completed form, a passport photograph and $ 45, if an entry visa, or $ 65, if it is multi-entry, as in our case. On the internet you will find many websites that process the invitation letter for a small fee, but it is better to hire a tourist service with a local company and that they process the letter to avoid taking risks. We carry two invitation letters: the first one was managed by a friend who works in a travel wholesaler with whom we booked three hotel nights. This was a personal favor, so I will not put you contacts. We get the second card when booking the Halong Bay cruise with the company Asia Tour Advisor (in reality only one letter is needed, but as we were offered a second one, we also processed it in case the flies). One tip: it is better to process the reservation weeks in advance, because the Vietnamese government takes about two or three weeks to issue the letter and it is always better to have plenty of time in case you are wrong in some personal data. Once you arrive at the Vietnam airport, you have to go with the documentation to the window «Landing visa ». There you give the passport documentation and wait for your visa to be made. We wait about 50 minutes. An entry visa for a 30-day stay costs $ 45 and a multi-entry visa for $ 30. It is paid in US dollars, so it is better to take that amount ready before getting on the plane. To bad, you can pay in euros, but you will pay € 45 or € 65 and it will be more expensive. Once with the visa issued, you can proceed to passport control and go looking for the checked bag.

Queue to apply for a visa at the airport

Since July 1, 2015, a law that allows citizens with a Spanish passport to enter Vietnam without a visa is in force. This law, for now, will be in force until July 1, 2017 and to qualify for it, the following requirements must be met:

  1. Travel to Vietnam less than 15 days.
  2. Have the return plane ticket purchased to prove that you will leave the country in 15 days.
  3. Do not reapply for entry into Vietnam within 30 days.

You can find more information about visas in the Vietnam Embassy in Madrid.

It is the main port of entry for flights from Europe and the economic capital of the country. Life is a constant coming and going of people, motorbikes everywhere chirping and business open late, but it was the least we liked the trip.

It depends a lot on where the hotel is, but there are several line buses that connect the airport to the center. In our case, we took bus 152. The single bus ticket costs 5000 dongs and you have to pay another 5000 for the suitcase, since it occupies a bus seat that is quite small. In our case, the bus stopped 200 meters from our hotel, which was very convenient and cheap. Bus 152 runs from 6 in the morning to 6 in the afternoon and one passes every 15-18 minutes. It takes 25 minutes from the airport to the hotel, although it may vary depending on traffic. Another more practical but more expensive option is to go by taxi: at the hotel we were recommended to use only the Vinasun or Mailinh companies (do not accept fakes). Taxis have a meter, but you may be asked to negotiate a price sooner. Anyway, if you find that case it may be better to stop another taxi driver and go with the meter because it will be cheaper.

152 the bus that connects the center of Ho Chi Minh with the airport

The least complicated option is to ask the hotel to pick you up. We were asked for $ 13, but the price will depend mainly on the distance and the category of the hotel. On the way back we take the bus 152, this time from Ben Tanh Market. As the first bus leaves at six in the morning, it passed through the square at 6.20 am. Keep this in mind if you have to take a morning bus.

Stop 152 at Tanh Market, Ho Chi Minh City

In Ho Chi Minh City there are a huge number of hotels of all types and all categories. We finally opted for him Town House 50, a small hostel with a very careful decoration located in the 1st district, in the Bui Thi Xuan Street. The double room with bathroom, breakfast and Wifi It cost us $ 32. If you pay by card, you have to add a 3% commission. As they do not have their own website, we book on Booking and pay directly at the hotel. The only downside is that it has no elevator and our room was on the second floor. We also spent the last night of the trip in Ho Chi Minh City, but Town House 50 had no double rooms available for that night, so we booked accommodation at the hotel Hong Vina, again through Booking.com. We opted for that hotel because it is very close to the bus stop 152. It is in the area of ​​the Ben Tanh market and it cost us $ 32. The room was small and without windows, but it was clean and recently refurbished. In the morning we could not have breakfast because breakfast starts at 7:30 am, although in the reviews we read that it was very bad. This hotel is not bad for one night, but for the value we stayed with the Town House 50.

Double room at Town House 50

We arrived in Saigon at 8 in the morning with hardly any sleep during the entire flight. We only visited the city in the morning, while we were preparing the room. We did the whole tour on foot because the hotel is very central. This is what we visited in one morning: 1. Ben Tanh Market 2. The Independence Palace 3. Notre Dame Cathedral 4. Ho Chi Minh Post Office 5. September 23 Park 6. Museum of the remains of the war 7. Jade Emperor Pagoda. This pagoda is an hour's walk from Town House 50, so we took a taxi with a meter that cost us 69,000 dongs. It is about 20 minutes walk from Notre Dame.

In this article we make some recommendations of restaurants in the city made by natives.

Prior to travel to Vietnam we had heard all kinds of opinions about the excursion to the Mekong Delta. You can make cruises of several days as in Halong Bay, but we saw that they were quite expensive and we didn't have that much time either. This was one of the biggest problems, since the ideal would have been to travel to the delta on our own and spend a night there to get up early the next morning and visit one of the famous floating markets. Since we only had one day to explore the delta, we decided to do the excursion with the hotel. Kim Travel, the agency that the hotel works with, has two day trips. The first is to Cai Be and Vinh Long, to see the floating market, but as he told me Locos MC for travel, when you arrive at Cai Bei it is already so late that the market is almost closed. So we opted for the second excursion in which My Tho and Ben Tre are visited. What had to be a beautiful experience visiting a couple of islands of the delta, ended up being a total tourist nonsense. It was as if we had landed by magic in the new thematic area of ​​Port Aventura. For the record I love Port Aventura, but because I know exactly what I'm going to and on this excursion I don't.

Traditional express music

Perhaps the problem was that we were not well informed. At 7:30 they came to look for us at the hotel and about 11 in the morning we got on a barge to go to the opposite island. There we stopped first at a post where they explained the wonders of the honey that is produced there. After tasting a tea with honey and lemon, they showed us the products we could buy. Then we walked about a hundred meters along a crowded path of souvenir shops until we reached another bar, where we sat down to hear a couple of traditional songs accompanied by fruit and more tea. After the performance, they passed the tip dish for the artists. Afterwards, we continued walking along the road full of shops to a small jetty and gave us a boat ride between the reeds. I thought this was going to compensate for all of the above, but no. The canal was a swing of boats, on the one hand they were full and on the other they were empty, and it seemed that we were at the attraction of the trunks of Port Aventura. The ride lasted just 5 minutes, we returned to the boat and took us to another island.

As in the trunks of Port Aventura ...

There we went to a candy factory, with the consequent demonstration and sale. Finally, we ended up in a restaurant where they offered us the basic menu included, but that could be improved by paying more, of course. And so our visit to the Mekong Delta ended, with a certain face of fools for wasting time in this way. I insist that it was our fault, first for not informing us and, second, for having little time to explore the area, but on no other trip had I had such a clear feeling of being on an excursion fast food: visit little, buy a lot and fast. This excursion cost us 345,000 dongs, although the price varies according to the commission that each hotel takes.

Note: Edorta, a good friend and reader of the blog who traveled to Vietnam in 2016, told us that he did the Mekong tour of two days and one night for € 25 per person. The tour included one of the two meals in the Mekong, transportation and visits to different workshops in the area (noodle factory, coconut candy factory, tropical fruit show, visit to the floating market ...), and hotel night in the Mekong with breakfast. He was booked at a Ho Chi Minh agency in the backpacking area (bookingyourtravel) but nearby there were many others and all with similar prices. He says it was cheaper than booking it from Spain or at the Ho Chi Minh hotel. The Mekong hotel was nothing from the other world, but for that price, what more could you ask for?

If you are interested in everything that surrounds the Vietnam War, you cannot miss the excursion to the Cu Chi tunnels. We did not do it because the theme of war does not attract us so much that we get into very narrow cavities. We had enough when we enter the pyramid of Dashur and claustrophobic experiences are not ours.

If you are interested in doing this excursion, Edorta hired you at the same agency that hired the Mekong excursion. They made a one-day visit to see the Cao Dai temple and the Cu Chi tunnels. The price is € 11 but the entrance of the tunnels is paid separately and costs 110,000 vnd per person.

This town is famous for tailors, colored lanterns and for being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although they are spoiling the historic center with an overabundance of tourist shops, it is a good place to spend a few days to get lost in the surroundings by bike, eat well and enjoy.

The city of Hoi An has no train station or airport, so to get there you have to travel to Danang city, where is the nearest train station and airport. We opted for the plane, since it is faster, more comfortable and affordable. Since Ho Chi Minh can fly to Danang with Vietjet Air and with Vietnam Airlines. The first is a low-cost company, but when we checked prices and schedules, flying with Vietnam Airlines was almost the same price and so we scored the miles. The outbound flight cost us 1 100 000 dongs. When you go to the Ho Chi Minh airport, it is better to do it well in advance since the check-in at the domestic flight terminal is a bit chaotic. In May 2014, domestic flights to Hanoi from Vietnam Airlines billed at the G and K counters, the rest of the destinations at the H counters and the queue was quite long.

The cheap option would be to take the minibus to the city of Danang and there go to the local bus station to go to Hoi An. The problem is that the Hoi An bus station is quite far from the center, so there you will have to take a taxi or motorcycle taxi to the hotel. Another downside is that the bus drivers from Danang to Hoi An are very piratillas and they will surely make you pay much more than the 18,000 dongs that the journey costs. In fact, at the bus station we met a couple who had just arrived in Hoi An and each one had been charged 100,000 dongs. At the airport you can take a taxi, the price with a meter can range from 400,000 to 560,000 dongs depending on the situation of the hotel and the moral integrity of the taxi driver. On the other hand, in the information office you can hire a transfer for 420,000 dongs for two people, exactly the same price that the hotel charged us for going to look for us. It gives me that everyone has agreed the prices of the journey from Danang airport to Hoi An, because to make the way in reverse (from Hoi An to Danang airport) there are services shuttle that take you for 95,000-110,000 dongs per person. In Hoi An we asked if this service was done in reverse and they said no. Finally, we went with a taxi but we negotiated the price to avoid surprises and it came out for 420,000 dongs.

Tan Ky House in Hoi An

We spent three nights at Ancient House Resort. It is about 20 minutes walk from the center, but has a shuttle service to the center at specific times and also has a bicycle loan service. The hotel is pretty good, although somewhat worn. The pool they have is much appreciated, because with the embarrassment I did in May, I really wanted to take a dip in the water. They also have a reserved area on the beach, which is 3 kilometers away and includes sun loungers, towels, showers and parking for bicycles available to hotel guests. The double room with bathroom, breakfast and Wifi It costs 1,563,750 dongs.

The main attraction of this population is the old town, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Formerly it was a very prosperous port and that contributed to the architecture of various styles that still remains. The old quarter is beautiful and reminded us slightly of Pingyao in China. The negative side is that the entire historic center is full of tourist shops and restaurants, and that makes it lose some charm. For visit the historic center it is necessary to buy a ticket which is valid for every day of the stay and entitles you to access five of the twenty three points of interest. It costs 120,000 dongs.

Marble Mountain Excursion

After the disappointment that we had assumed the excursion to the Mekong Delta, we decided to make the excursions from Hoi An on our own to go to our air and see things with more tranquility. Marble mountain It stands on the road from Danang to Hoi An, so if you are interested you can negotiate a two-hour stop with the driver at the airport or when you return to Danang. We went to the local bus station, since the bus from Hoi An to Danang stops five minutes from the entrance. The first problem is that it took us almost two hours to get to the station because both the map that we were given at the hotel and that of the Lonely Planet indicated the station very badly. One tip: go by taxi or motorcycle to the local bus station. The second problem is that the bus wanted to charge us more than it touched. Instead of the 18,000 dongs of rigor, we were asked for 30,000 per person, but since we were tired, drenched in sweat and with little desire to argue, we got on the bus, we gave the driver a 50,000 ticket and everyone was happy. Total, we were not going to discuss for € 0.23.

The visit to the marble mountain is highly recommended, especially the visit to the Linh Nhan cave, which is quite impressive. It's a good idea to get there at 11 in the morning because the rays of light enter like jets of water into the cave. The entrance costs 15,000 dongs and the map 15,000 more. There is an elevator that goes up to 30,000 dongs round and 45,000 dongs round trip, but the climb is not long and if you are more or less physically well worth paying. When we got back with the bus, we met precisely the same driver and when he saw us get up he smiled, we gave him another 50,000 dongs and we sat down.

Map of the Marble Mountain enclosure

Upon arriving at the bus station, we decided to go by motorcycle to the hotel so as not to do the cousin anymore. Going both mounted on a single motorcycle (with the taxi driver) cost us 50,000 dongs and it took us 10 minutes to arrive and throw ourselves away ipso facto to the hotel pool.

Cave interior

Excursion to the ruins of My Son

East archaeological ensemble of the cham culture this one hour from Hoi An. The group tour can cost you between $ 10 and $ 15 depending on where you hire it and if you return by bus or boat on the river. Since we didn't want to do a group tour, we looked at how to do it differently. We were trying to make the day trip with Hoi An Motorbike Adventures that offer a motorcycle trip on secondary roads and stopping to eat at the home of a family of locals for $ 90. Although this excursion attracted us a lot, we found it a bit expensive, so we negotiated with the same motorcycle driver who had taken us from the Hoi An bus station to the hotel the day before. For two motorcycles with two drivers to go to the My Son ruins, waiting there for two hours and bringing us back, he asked us for 500,000 dongs. We tried to negotiate the price, but he told us that it was far away and we thought it was right, so at 6:30 we came to find the hotel the next day. The entrance to the ruins costs 150,000 dongs and a minimum of an hour and a half is required to see them calmly. Best of all, being there at 7:45 in the morning, we could see the ruins alone and very quietly. At 9 in the morning the hotel groups started arriving and it started to get impossible. So the advice is to arrive first thing in the morning (they open at 6 am). At noon there is almost no one, but in some ruins there are almost no shadows and you will beheaded. The temples of My Son reminded us a little of the Prambanan temples in Indonesia.

Attention because when returning to the hotel, the driver goes and tells us that there were not 500,000 dongs in total, but 500,000 per motorcycle. Good thing we had the day before left the deal written on a paper with our name, the name of the hotel and the price we agreed. The driver spoke very little English and I do not know if it was confusion of him or that he really wanted to deceive us, but we stood firm and having agreed in writing ended up resigning himself.

Tailor-made clothes in a tailor's shop in Hoi An

Hoi An is famous for its tailor shops They make custom clothes at really good prices. It is even said that many Australians go there to dress as grooms and bridesmaids. There are so many tailor shops, that it is difficult to know where to make clothes with a certain quality. Think that the cheaper you pay for the garment, it will possibly be of worse quality. After looking through several stores for the quality of the exposed garments and fabrics, I decided to make a warm jacket in the tailor-boutique Yali. Since I was going to spend my money, I wanted something that would last me and be timeless. In this tailor shop they have a list with the approximate prices that the garments cost, so you don't have to negotiate like in other places. Upon entering they take you to a small room and ask you what you want to do. If you do not take a photo of the design that you want them to do, they start teaching you catalogs full of fashion magazine clippings classified by garments: women's jackets, work dresses, party dresses, shirts, etc.

Once you have decided on the design you want, they take you to choose the fabrics. Here you have to have a very open mind, because they have no infinite materials. For example, I wanted the jacket a very specific color, but they didn't have it. If you really have a specific fabric and color in mind, first ask them to show you the fabrics so you don't waste time. Finally, I made my jacket a neutral color, because I thought it would take longer to go out of style. The good thing about making custom clothes is being able to decide how you want it to be, how you want the cut, pockets, neck, etc. to be. The bad thing about following a photo as a model is that until you try it on you don't know if you will like it or not, and once it's done, you have to eat it with potatoes.

After deciding on the design and the fabric, they take the measurements. In Yali they took me to a room where there was a computer with a camera to get the image on a green background with the height and width measurements indicated. Then, they measure you more accurately with the tape measure. The clothes are made in 24 hours and several tests are done. When making the order 50% is paid (you can pay by card and do not charge commission) and the remaining 50% when finished. The next day at noon I did the first test. The jacket was not completely finished and left very narrow, so they had to remove tissue from the back and lengthen the sleeves. In the second test we decided on the buttons, although the selection they have is a bit reduced, and in the end I decided on ones that were quite large.

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