Just Got Back: Southeast Asia

Judith Kitzes: Leisure Travel Agent, Premier Aussie Specialist and Travel Insider.

Where did you Just Get Back from? Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Mekong Delta with AMA Waterways

When did you go on this Cruise/Tour? December 29, 2015 – January 13, 2016

Words to describe what you felt when you first arrived: Exhilarated, aware, in awe, overwhelmed. First stop was Hanoi for two nights; a night on the beautiful Halong Bay sailing on a traditional wooden junk; Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor Wat; then boarded the beautiful RV Amadara for a 7 night river cruise, ending in Ho Chi Mihn City (Saigon).  It was exotic, unfamiliar, at times heartbreaking, and wonderful.

Where did you stay? 

  • Sofitel Legend Metropole, in Hanoi. Perfect location near the river, beautiful hotel with great history. I loved it. Nothing else as good in terms of service, location, anything. The restaurant choices are fantastic, from French, to Vietnamese (outstanding) to a general spot.
  • Sofitel Resort & Spa Siem Reap. Good location, pretty grounds, but mostly a group hotel. There are other choices, such as Raffles, the Park Hyatt, and the gorgeous Amansara.  However, the Sofitel is convenient to town and the temple sites. Angkor Wat is the most visited site in the world, and there are over 4000 temples in the region from around the same period. We visited the four most important sites, including Angkor Tom, The Bayon, and Banteay Srei. But there are many others rarely visited, and worth exploring.
  • The RV Amadara is a lovely vessel partly owned by AMA Waterways and partly owned by the Vietnamese Government. It has all the nicer touches of AMA Waterways.  Spacious rooms, all with twin balconies. Lovely public areas. The food was amazing on board – local flavors, traditional dishes, but you can always get a Western meal if you must. The staff on board is outstanding.
  • Sofitel Saigon Plaza is in a good location near the American Embassy, and walking distance to many of the shopping areas and restaurants. The hotel has a fantastic buffet, and an excellent French restaurant. Service is terrific. Rooms are spacious. I do prefer the location of the Park Hyatt, right by the Opera House, but the Sofitel is still excellent.

With whom would you recommend staying at this hotel / resort? Because Cambodia is fairly new as a tourist destination, it is authentic. The cruise is a comfortable way to experience this destination. There was infrastructure in place in Vietnam, but still an authentic place. I recommend this trip for true culture-seekers, adventure-seekers, and anyone wanting to learn more about history.

Tempt us- Name the most special place you discovered on this trip: So many moments. Cambodia is now only 30 years old, post the Pol Pot led Khmer Rouge and the genocide of nearly 50% of the population. The Killing Fields were heartbreaking, and probably the most important part of the experience. The day before we went there, our group was in a small village known for silver work  Walking along the dirt road, we were stopped by a woman who was sitting on her deck  Our guide translated from the Khmer – she’d lost her husband and six children to the Khmer Rouge. Later she met a man who had lost his wife and four children to the Khmer Rouge as well. They married, had another child together. She was serene, lovely, happy to see us. At 77, she was a rarity in Cambodia – a senior citizen.

Vietnam was an eye opener – their 4000 year history was filled with others occupying them, and our war with them was one of many. There were two more after we left (including one with Cambodia that overthrew Pol Pot and ended the genocide.)  HCM City was surprisingly cosmopolitan. Last night, we went to a performance at the Opera House by À Ố Show,  http://www.aoshowsaigon.com/ , an inventive circus show that uses bamboo for sets and props. Like Cirque du Soleil, but less flash. Yes, we visited the sites pertinent to the Vietnam war (or the American war, to them), which was emotional and necessary, but it was the very professional and delightful show that solidified Vietnam for me. Art is robust in Vietnam.

Traffic in all locations is terrifying! We stuck together like sticky rice to cross the street. It became a funny meme, and we just did it. Took Rickshaw (bicycle in front), Tri-Shaw (bicycle in back), Tuk Tuk (Motorcycle with cart for four passengers) and Ox Cart – Ox pulling a slanting cart, hoping you don’t fall out.)

What’s the best time of year to go in your opinion? January is theoretically less hot and humid, so the best time of year. But they said they have two seasons: Hot and Wet, and Hotter and Wetter. Hanoi was cool, and lovely. Everything else, light clothes with sun and bug protection a must.

Anything else to add? Go. Go now, while still unspoiled by Western demands. Go, knowing that there might be some challenges to comfort, but it is so emotionally fulfilling that those challenges are worth it. Go, because the people are amazing. Go, because it will connect you to your history and to the world. I can’t wait to go back and experience the places I missed.

If you’re interested in traveling to Southeast Asia, contact Judith at judith.kitzes@altour.com or 310.683.0149.