Trip Report, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Dubai

October 31st 2019

It had been a goal of Kendra’s to explore South East Asia and what better excuse did she need to go than turning 30. Kendra organized a trip which had her flying from Kirkwall via Glasgow and Dubai to Bangkok, where she stayed with friends for 4 nights before joining up with an Intrepid Tour. This saw her spend 1 more night in Bangkok pre tour, 7 nights traveling Cambodia and 10 Nights in Vietnam. She followed the tour up with a solo 48 hour stop over in Dubai on the way home through Glasgow to Kirkwall.

Kendra spent the first few days of her trip to Asia travelling to and exploring Bangkok, Thailand before starting her Best of Cambodia & Vietnam Northbound Intrepid Travel tour. After having a fantastic experience flying with Emirates via Dubai she had a relaxing day familiarizing herself with the Sukhumvit area. This included experiencing her first Thai massage, before having Sky Bar drinks with friends at the Marriott Sukhumvit. Navigating Bangkok is fairly straightforward with a mix of Metro & train lines, walking on foot, getting a Grab (Asia’s version of Uber) or Tuk Tuk. With the help of an inexpensive phone sim, that was easily acquired at the airport, it wasn’t long before Kendra was comfortable venturing into Bangkok on her own.

The following day Kendra went to the Royal Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Wat Arun, and Wat Pho Temples before stopping for a late afternoon snack at a rooftop bar overlooking the river and Wat Arun. All of which can be explored on foot or with a quick ferry trip across the river. Entry tickets for the various sights can be pre-arranged or bought on the day, but remember there are very strict and modest dress codes in place, so bring a sarong if you're in doubt. Kendra’s evening was spent exploring Bangkok’s large bustling Chinatown, with its open air restaurants and amazing food followed by taking a tuk tuk to the famous Khao San Road. This is your chance to experience a bit of the party life and eat some tarantulas or scorpions.

While based in Bangkok, Kendra took the opportunity to take a day tour outside the city and went on a tour to the Kanchanaburi area of Thailand to visit the Bridge over the River Kwai and the Death Railway. After an early morning pickup and a long drive the small group were brought to a war cemetery and museum before hopping on a long boat down the river to the bridge featured in the film ‘Bridge over the River Kwai’. The original bridge, however, has been destroyed and rebuilt many times since its initial construction. Free time was spent taking a walk across the bridge and back for photos. The group boarded the train for a trip up the Death Railway, named so due to the large number of workers who perished during its construction. After a 2 hour journey through the countryside the group disembarked for lunch in an open air restaurant before heading back to Bangkok.

After 4 nights exploring on her own and with some local friends, Kendra joined her Intrepid Travel tour group for 18 days in Cambodia and Vietnam. Intrepid is a company who prides itself on small group tours (no more than 16) that are ethically and environmentally friendly. If you wanted to travel like a local but have the security of a group and have a local and knowledgeable guide, then Intrepid is a great company to consider. Kendra’s group had a great mix of age ranges from 28-72 of both male and female travelers from all walks of life. There was also a good mix of solo travelers and couples as well as a good variety of nationalities represented.

The first stop of Kendra’s tour after a long day of bus travel and a short walk across the border from Thailand to Cambodia, was the town of Siem Reap near the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat. After getting a 3 day pass for entry, she spent her first full day exploring Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom (Bayon’s Temple) and the Woman’s Shrine. Day 2 had an 0430 start today to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat, which Kendra insisted was worth the early morning start. The sun rising over the back of the temple is a highlight and something she will never forget. As the sun rose the group moved on to visit Ta Prohm (aka the Lara Croft Temple). The entire site with its 76 temples covers over 425km is considered one of the 7 New Wonders of the World.

After an afternoon nap during the hottest part of the day, Kendra and her roommate headed into Siem Reap’s restaurant & market districts for a late lunch and some shopping. After meeting up with the rest of the group they headed out on an optional boat tour to watch the sunset over the floating villages of Tonle Sap lake. This was followed by a quick dinner and a trip to the circus to see a local Phare Circus troupe perform.

Departing Siem Reap, Kendra and her Intrepid Tour Group travelled all morning by private bus, stopping along the way at a local street food stand where they could experience some of the more unusual delicacies. Including an assortment of fried bugs & spiders, a few of which had yet to be cooked and were handed out to hold. Kendra chose not to hold the giant tarantula, especially after it tried to make a home in a fellow traveler's beard. The group spent the night in a small rural town named Sambor Prei Kuk as part of a Home Stay. They stayed with a local guide and host Teng and his lovely family in their home. Teng showed the group around his village and rice field for sunset, before serving a beautiful home cooked meal of pumpkin and egg, fried rice, pork & onion and courgette soup. After dinner he chatted to the group, gave a bit of a local history lesson and told his life story. The accommodation and facilities were basic, with floor mats and mosquito nets set up in one large room but the experience was so enriching and worth it! Intrepid Travel has incredible ethics and strives to support locals with these types of programs.

After some sad goodbyes with her host family Kendra continued to make her way towards Vietnam, but spent the last few days of the Cambodian leg of the tour in the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. The group went on a sunset tour of the city by Tuk Tuk on the first night and a sunset cruise on the second. They also went on a guided tour of one of the over 240 known killing fields, as well as a former high school, turned prison, turned museum. Cambodia has a long and bloody history with many perishing in the various conflicts of South East Asia. It was an incredibly emotional and difficult morning but such an important part of Cambodian history. Some of the group then proceeded on their own to the Royal Palace in the afternoon, while others headed into the city to explore and seek refreshments.

Crossing from Cambodia to Vietnam by local bus was fairly simple, but make sure you check visa requirements and get the correct visa for entry. It was then a busy few days for Kendra exploring Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) with its crazy traffic. It is a city of 12 million people with over 9 million motor bikes! Kendra also explored the Chu Chi tunnels used by the Viet Cong during the American (aka Vietnam) War. All before wrapping up her time in southern Vietnam with a trip to the Mekong Delta. The whole group took a long boat to an island community made up of Coconut farmers, followed by a Tuk Tuk ride around the island, a row boat through the canals and lunch along the river. It was a much needed break after the hectic pace of Ho Chi Minh City.

Kendra and her fellow travellers hopped on a quick flight up the coast to the De Nang, followed by a 45 minute transfer to the beautiful historic port town of Hoi An. The tranquil Palmy Villa hotel was the perfect break from the busy ancient city centre. At night the ancient city, which is pedestrianized, comes alive with tourists and locals, and is lit with hundreds of lanterns. If you want to have any clothes or shoes tailor made, this is the place for you! Within 24 hours you can have a full suit made to measure. With so much atmosphere and charm it has been a favourite stop for Kendra.

Kendra’s trip continued as she travelled up through the Hai Van Pass by private bus to the city of Hue for one night before taking the 13 hour overnight train to Hanoi. In Hue, Kendra went on a walking tour of the Royal Citadel, before going for an amazing home cooked traditional Vietnamese dinner. The following day included a fantastic motorbike tour to a rural village, emperors temple and Buddhist school. The group met the 5 times great grandson of an Emperor, who was commemorating the death day of his ancestor. The evening was spent on board the train in 4 bunk cabins, which is considered 1st class, chatting and sharing a takeaway while traveling overnight to Hanoi. While the facilities are not high end by western standards, it was an incredible experience and one Kendra won’t soon forget.

A highlight of the trip had to be when spending the night in Halong Bay on a Junk Boat. After a 4 hour journey from Hanoi the group enjoyed a seafood lunch on board while making their way through the rock formations. The afternoon was spent exploring Surprise Cave and swimming on Ti Tot beach before a fantastic dinner. Early risers caught the sunrise and then headed out for a quick kayak and swim before breakfast. The scenery was spectacular and the photos just don’t do it justice.

Kendra’s last stop in Vietnam was the city of Hanoi, where she visited the Literature and Confucius Temples, the Old and French Quarters, and Ho Lo Prison, which held US POWs including the late Senator John McCain during the Vietnam/American War. The final Intrepid Group dinner was held at their foundation supported training restaurant KOTO. The whole trip was truly incredible filled with so many laughs, adventures and memories to be cherished for years to come.

After saying goodbye to her new found friends and travel companions, Kendra spent her last day exploring the Vietnamese Military History museum and picking up a few souvenirs before heading off to the airport to start the journey home.

Dubai was Kendra’s last stop with a quick 48 hour layover. A city of luxury and excess, located in the United Arab Emirates, it is a favourite stopover and vacation spot for many. Although slightly nervous about being a solo female traveler in Dubai, Kendra felt very safe in the tourist areas of Dubai. Staying in the Marina area at the 5 * Stella de Mare Dubai, Kendra felt comfortable walking to the beach and boardwalk which was filled with western shops & restaurants. Arriving on a very early morning flight Kendra left her luggage with the hotel and headed out on a morning city tour which took in The Palm Atlantis and Jumeirah beach with views of the Burj Al-Arab, followed by a visit to the Blue Mosque. The small tour group then took a traditional water taxi to the Spice and Gold Souks, before a final stop at the Burj Khalifa. Kendra’s second afternoon was spent on desert safari! Which included an amazing roller coaster like ride through the sand dunes to a camp where she watched the sun set and ate a BBQ dinner at Bedouin camp.

The following morning Kendra was up early to catch her flights back to Glasgow and then on to Kirkwall after an amazing trip through South East Asia and Dubai. This trip comes highly recommended for the travelers who want to travel like a local or may be on a budget. It was fast paced, with lots of activities packed in, however it also allowed for a lot of free time to explore and relax too. Kendra is always happy to answer any questions you may have about her trip, however both John and Mandy have also traveled to Vietnam in recent years.