Itinerary Suggestion for a Vietnam and Cambodia Tour

Vietnam and Cambodia are two countries well worth exploring in-depth, and it's very easy and highly recommended to combine the two countries into the same trip. It does depend on how much time you have for your trip, however it is possible to experience a comprehensive Vietnam and Cambodia tour in under three weeks.

Starting in Hanoi, you can experience the dramatic scenery of Halong Bay on an overnight trip on a traditional junk boat before heading south to the friendly town of Hoi An, full of old-world charm. Continuing south to Ho Chi Minh City you can take part in a crawling expedition through the Cu Chi Tunnels and explore the capital city for a couple of days. Jumping on a boat, you can travel through the Mekong Delta and wander over the border to Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. After visiting the sights in this bustling city you can catch a bus (or take a boat trip across the lake) to reach Siem Reap, where you will find one of the great wonders of the world, the Angkor temple complex, including Angkor Wat.

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi

Arriving into a big city like Hanoi after a long international flight can sometimes be a bit daunting, so it's a good idea to organise an arrival transfer to meet your flight and take you directly to your hotel. On the road from the airport you'll catch your first glimpses of Vietnamese street life, with small houses and peddlers on the side of the road, and many, many motorcycles. It's recommended to stay in a hotel in the old town, in the heart of the city with a huge array of food stands and small restaurants to choose from. Small streets run criss-cross through each other and sidewalks have a wide variety products for sale displayed on them. While zigzagging through the many motor cycles parked everywhere, you're sure to find what you're looking for.

Day 2: Explore Hanoi

After a good nights' sleep it's time today to kick start your Vietnam and Cambodia tour and get out and explore this lively city. You could spend the day wandering through the markets, complete with live chickens, fish and sweet-smelling herbs and spices. Or perhaps you could jump in a tuk-tuk and travel through the historic district. Hoan Kiem Lake in the heart of the city is a great spot for a stroll in the afternoon, and be sure to stop at a local restaurant for a typical Vietnamese spring roll.

Day 3: Hanoi - Halong Bay

If you have organised a Halong Bay tour, you'll be picked up from your hotel in the morning for the journey to the small coastal town of Halong. A Chinese sailing ship (a junk) will be waiting for you on your arrival. On board you'll be served a lunch fresh from the sea. The scent of the fresh fish dishes being prepared in the kitchen is sure to make your mouth water.

The boat will start off on its cruise through the area and it will set anchor at Dinh Huong Island, Ga Choi Island, Dog Island and Sail Island. Then you'll go on to visit the Sung Sot cave and you can take a refreshing dive into the waters at the Titov beach. Those who like to fish can try to catch different types of fish from the boat with a rod and some fishing twine. During dinner you'll be able to enjoy the view once while you watch the sun set with a glass of Vietnamese wine in hand.

Day 4: Halong Bay - Hanoi

The following morning you'll wake up to a delicious breakfast and you'll explore some nearby islands in the bay. Keep your camera on hand; these islands are incredibly photogenic. On the way back to Halong lunch will be prepared and after arrival a transfer will be waiting to take you back to Hanoi.

Day 5: Hanoi

Today will likely be your last full day in Hanoi on this Vietnam and Cambodia tour. If you feel up to it, you may enjoy going for an early morning visit to Hoan Kiem Lake. Shortly after sunrise, the Vietnamese head out to the lake for an energizing early morning work-out. Men and women practice Tai Chi, play games of badminton or groups of women walk around the lake. Along the way they'll do stretches for their arms and legs from time to time. A great way to start the day...

Hanoi has many temples, pagodas and museums. The temple of literature is an oasis of peace and tranquillity amidst a bustling city. Visiting several of these temples by bicycle rickshaw is a fun past-time. It usually doesn't cost more than a few dollars and it's an excellent way to see more of the city while also not being cut off from the sights and smells.

Day 6: Hanoi - Hoi An

Today you'll fly from Hanoi to Danang, near Hoi An. The city of Hoi An is a Vietnamese highlight for many due to its abundance of small restaurants and cafés, dirt-cheap tailors and an appealing beach. The intriguing historic Hoi An monuments are less well known. In the historic part of the city you'll be able to buy a ticket for about $10 which comes with entrance vouchers for the famous Japanese bridge, the ancient trade houses and a small museum. The charming city centre can easily be explored on foot and is exactly as it was in the 17th and 18th century when it was an important harbour and trade post.

In the afternoon, perhaps you could rent bicycles to explore further, visiting the large market, the historic harbour and then biking past the paddy-fields to the beach. The beach is surprisingly quiet during the day. You'll be able to find a deck chair beneath one of the awnings and let yourself be pampered with drinks and snacks by the beach restaurant waitresses. If you stay until sunset, you'll see the beach slowly begin to fill up as the Vietnamese come to the beach to cool off with their families after a long work day.

Day 7 - 8: Explore Hoi An

These extra days in Hoi An are a great chance to do something a bit different on your Vietnam and Cambodia tour. One option is to visit the nearby historic temple complex of My Son. Despite American bombardment, the temple complex at My Son has been well preserved. The area was the most important religious and intellectual centre of the ancient Champa kingdom up until the 13th century. Nowadays, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site lying in a lush emerald valley.

Hoi An also offers excellent cooking classes. Most of the classes include a visit to the local markets where ingredients are purchased for the dishes to be made. There are many different types of vegetables and fruits that will appeal to your senses. This is an opportunity to get to know local Vietnamese dishes and to become acquainted with the friendly sales women at the market. Once you've purchased the right ingredients you'll head out towards the cooking school where you'll receive instructions on how to prepare typically Vietnamese meals. You'll be able to prepare your own meals and naturally you'll be able to eat your self-made meal after lunch.

The little town of Hoi An is also well known for its tailors, and you can have a good made-to-measure suit made for under $40. It's the perfect opportunity to update your wardrobe! Although the tailors can put together a suit for you in no time, it's best to plan to do this at the start of your stay in town. This way any alternations can be made while you're in town and you can collect your items just before you leave

Day 9: Hoi An - HCMC

It's quite a long way from Hoi An to Ho Chi Minh City, therefore it's a good idea to fly this section (but an overnight train is also a unique experience). Once in Ho Chi Minh City, and checked in to your hotel, you could stroll around the city to get a feel for your surroundings. Ho Chi Minh City has many sights worth visiting, including the Reunification Palace, Saigon's many pagodas or the War Remnants museum. You may also want to rent a bicycle rickshaw for a day and let yourself be driven through this interesting city.

Day 10: Cu Chi Tunnels

We recommend a guided tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels, located 30 km northwest of HCMC, as there is a lot of history to the area which you will be sure to have some questions about. The Vietcong hid in the tunnels during the Vietnam War in the 60's. Approximately 250 kilometres of small, deep tunnels were used as a hiding place, but also to attack from. The tunnels were actual homes with living areas, kitchens, ammunition stock rooms, weapon factories and command centres. The Vietcong also built many fake entrances and booby traps to mislead the enemy.

Day 11: Mekong Delta

The next two days can be spent travelling along the mighty Mekong Delta, and is how you will link your Vietnam tour and your Cambodia tour together. The Mekong River and its enormous delta filled with fertile soil brings prosperity to the south and also enables the growth of one of the most important export products, rice.

You will travel toward Cai Be where a boat will be waiting to take you to the floating markets. Peddlers in fully laden boats sell a wide assortment of fresh produce. Boats have a stick on their bow featuring one of each of the products sold on that particular boat. Many boats are positioned very close together and the peddlers sell and trade produce with everyone... it's quite a unique sight.

The boat will also take you through small canals where local inhabitants of the Mekong Delta live. Enthusiastic children will be waiting to greet you from the banks of the canals and will wave and shout to you. Your boat will take you to the small town of Can Tho and you can make your way to your hotel for the night.

Day 12: Mekong Delta

Early in the morning you'll travel by boat to the largest floating market in the Mekong Delta, Cai Rang. Hundreds of boats and vendors gather here to trade all kinds of exotic fruits. Later you'll travel by coach from Can Tho to the border town of Chau Doc where you'll arrive late afternoon and spend the night. Many people here make a living from fishery and have a small fish farm under their floating houses.

Day 13: Mekong Delta - Phnom Penh

Today you'll travel by speedboat to Cambodia, stopping off at the border to buy your visa (around 25 USD). You'll arrive in the harbour of Phnom Penh around 1.30pm where you can take a tuk-tuk to your hotel.

Phnom Penh is a charming city with many historic colonial buildings. Unlike most Cambodian cities, Phnom Penh is quite modern and has paved roads, modern stores, a beautiful boulevard and many ATM's. During your time in Phnom Penh you could visit the National Museum of Cambodia for instance. The museum was built in 1917 and has a large collection of Khmer artefacts. Afterwards you could visit the Silver Pagoda, otherwise known as the temple of the Emerald Buddha, and the Royal Palace.

Day 14: Phnom Penh - Tuol Sleng Museum and Killing Fields excursions

We recommend a guided tour for today, as you visit more remote parts of Phnom Penh, such as the Tuol Sleng Museum and the Killing Fields. In 1975 the Red Khmer invaded the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh. Pol Pot became prime minister of Cambodia and made a very cruel and bloody attempt to turn Cambodia into a communist agricultural state. The Tuol Sleng Museum is quite an impressive museum. It confronts visitors quite directly with Cambodia's brutal past by means of photography. For instance, you'll see pictures of an old elementary school that was used as a prison for torturing political enemies during the rule of the Red Khmer. For many this was their last stop before they were taken to the mass graves of the Killing Fields, located just outside of Phnom Penh in an orchard. Over 17 million people died during this time.

Day 15: Phnom Penh - Siem Reap

This morning on your Vietnam and Cambodia tour you will make your way to the bus station in Phnom Penh to meet the bus heading north to Siem Reap, which takes around 6 hours. On arrival into Siem Reap there will be plenty of tuk-tuk drivers waiting to pick you up, and the trip to your hotel should only cost a few US dollars.

In the evening, you could perhaps try a nice Khmer dish at your hotel or walk into the city and visit a local restaurant. The centre is not very big, and is quite charming with little streets and small cafes.

Day 16: Siem Reap - Angkor Wat

You're likely to consider today as one of the highlights of your Vietnam and Cambodia tour; today you'll visit a part of the Angkor temple complex, and a guided tour is recommended. In order to see the entire complex, you would need to spend several days here since the dozens of temples are spread out over an area of about 25 kilometres.

Angkor is the name of the ancient capital of the Khmer-empire that was established during the 8th century. The empire was enormous and included territory all the way down to Southern Vietnam and China. Later, the Thai ruled this territory during the Siamese empire and introduced many Buddhist influences. "Siem Reap" literally means "victory by Siam". For centuries this city was covered by jungle until a French expedition discovered the ruins early in the 1900's. Several of the temples have since been restored while several others show how the jungle swallowed the temples from sight. The Ta Prohm temple has not yet been completely restored. It's quite interesting to see how towering trees have taken the temple prisoner. The tops of the trees shoot up into the sky, far beyond the temple roof and the roots of the trees have wrapped themselves around the walls of the temple; truly an impressive sight.

Day 17: Angkor Temples

On your last full day in Siem Reap you could perhaps visit the Angkor temple complex again, to see some of the more remote temples which you may have missed on your first day. Wander endlessly through the statues, temples and historic reliefs, but be sure to stay on the defined and marked paths, as there are still mines in some of the unchartered areas. The temples were built in various time periods with each ruler building his own temple. Because of this, each temple has its own character; the most famous temple, Angkor Wat, features Hindu influences while the Angkor Thom temple features Buddhist influences.

Day 18: Departure from Siem Reap

Today marks the end of your Vietnam and Cambodia tour, after breakfast at your leisure you can organise a taxi to take you to the airport, which is only around 7km outside of town.

Or perhaps you have some more time and would like to consider extending your Vietnam and Cambodia tour into Laos or Thailand? If that's the case there are quite a few flight options available from Siem Reap.