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Interested in a Vietnam and Cambodia holiday? Discover many highlights and further information.
Vietnam boasts stunning natural scenery aplenty. There are lush hilly landscapes dotted with rice paddies, the beautiful Halong Bay; a natural wonder near the Chinese border, plus picturesque villages and golden beaches. In contrast, it also has metropolitan cities such as Ho Chi Minh City, with its glistening skyscrapers, high-end restaurants, plush hotels and rooftop bars.
Vietnamese culture is complex with Chinese influences in the north of the country and Hindu temples in the south. The capital, Hanoi, on the other hand, is home to tree-lined streets and grand buildings that are distinctly from a French colonial period.
Vietnam is also famous for its diverse cuisine that dishes up Chinese flavours in the north and more subtly spiced Southeast Asian flavours in the south. It’s this diversity, coupled with the local street food scene that means that has led to food tours becoming increasingly popular with tourists visiting Vietnam.
In fact, tourism as a whole in Vietnam is increasing year on year, and it has become a popular destination for all types of tourists embarking on a Vietnam package tour.
Like Vietnam, Cambodia has stunning countryside with waterfalls, lakes, mangrove forests and rainforests in the north-east. It’s metropolitan capital, Phnom Penh is an interesting blend of high-rise modernity beside ancient temples and pagodas.There are also magical glimpses into the ancient world at the Angkor Wat complex, often classed as unrivalled in scale and beauty.
Like Vietnam, Cambodian culture is complex and its capital is a mixture of French colonial, Chinese, modernist architecture, high-rise skyscrapers and riverside shanty towns.
Cambodian cuisine traditionally consists of rice and fish, and home meals are often eaten on a raised bamboo platform. However, in the major cities, worldwide cuisine is available with everything from American fast food to grand rooftop restaurants serving European dishes. A traditional Cambodian dish that is popular with tourists is Bai Sach Chrouk, often served as breakfast and sold by street vendors, it consists of pork marinated with garlic and coconut milk that has been grilled over charcoal.
Tourism in Cambodia is one of its most important sectors and like Vietnam, it has seen a significant increase year on year. Once a rather closed-off country, Cambodia is now attracting various types of tourists from far and wide.
As Cambodia shares a long border with the south of Vietnam, twin-centre holidays which incorporate both countries are also becoming an increasingly popular choice. Travel between the two countries is usually stress-free, especially through an organised tour, and the two destinations complement each other well. Most tour itineraries will begin in Hanoi (North Vietnam) and travel down towards central and south Vietnam before heading west to Cambodia. Although tours that begin in Cambodia and end in Hanoi are also readily available. Many tours offer additional options to any set itinerary, making it easy for visitors to have some input into the route their holiday takes.
With its emerald water and towering limestone pillars, Vietnam’s number one tourist attraction looks like the setting of a fantasy novel. Boasting some 1600 islands and islets emerging from the water, Halong Bay’s stunning scenery means that it is often cited as a natural wonder of the world. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994, many tourists opt to take a Halong Bay Cruise(usually included in a Vietnam and Cambodia package tour), which allows you to take in the scenery at leisure and admire the many islets. Cruises also usually visit Sung Sot Cave / Surprising Cave which is located on Bo Hon Island and is one of the widest and most striking caves in the region. Most tourists opt to spend at least one night on board an overnight cruise, as the calm water against the dark starry sky makes for a wonderful experience. Halong Bay is located around three hours’ drive from Hanoi on the Western side of the Gulf of Tonkin in the northeast of Vietnam and is an essential part of any Vietnam tour.
Buzzing with energy, this city of contrasts has plus hotels or cheap hostels, high-end dining or scrumptious street food, designer boutiques or people-packed markets, and modern skyscrapers sitting not far from ancient temples.A popular attraction in the city includes the War Remnants Museum, which gives a fascinating and sombre insight into the brutal effects of war on civilians.
The Bitexco Financial Tower – Saigon Skydeck is also well worth a visit and sitting at 262 metres high, it is the tallest building in the city. The design of the building is taken from the shape of a lotus bud and its modern structure is a nod to the city’s vast development. Visitors can experience the thrill of a high-speed elevator (7 metres a second) as they ascend to 49th floor. The option to view other floors, all the way up to floor 60 is also available. At the top, the Saigon Skydeckoffers up incredible 360°views of the city and beyond. There are also a whole range of interactive and informative displays for you to enjoy. The tower is usually open late, and the best time to visit is during sunset; when the views are even more impressive than usual.
Slightly outside of the centre of Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll find one of the areas’s the most popular tourist spots - the Cu Chi Tunnels. This legendary tunnel network spans over 250 kilometres and was used by Vietnamese soldiers to house troops, transport supplies and mount surprise attacks during the war. The huge tunnel network also has the remains of trapdoors, living areas, kitchens, armoury, hospitals and command centres. After watching a short film, visitors to the Cu Chi Tunnels can walk (and even crawl) through the safe areas, view booby traps, sample a typical meal that soldiers in the tunnels would have eaten, and fire an AK-47 on a nearby firing range.
Vietnam’s vibrant capital city has a fascinating architecture that reveals periods in the history of French and Chinese occupation. Like Ho Chi Minh City its home to 21st-century skyscrapers, however, its old, historic streets are far more prevalent. Most hotels and attractions are located in the beautiful Old Quarter, which is also the city’s prime shopping district. The colourful roads contain grand, colonial architecture and a maze of ancient streets to explore, whilst locals on scooters go about their daily life.
If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of Hanoi, the peaceful Hoan Kiem Lake with its leafy gardens offers a tranquil retreat. In the middle of the lake, you’ll find the pretty Ngoc Son Temple, situated on Jade Island, which can be reached by crossing the ‘Rising Sun’ bridge. The temple and gardens are especially scenic to visit during the hours of sunset.
The popular Vietnamese Women’s Museum is also well worth a visit and sits close to Hoan Kiem Lake and the Old Quarter. Inside the museum, you’ll find more than 1000 items that showcase the role that Vietnamese women played in history and currently play in family life. Descriptions are labelled in English and French or you can opt for a guided tour via headphones. During the visit, you’ll find interesting propaganda posters, costumes and tribal wear from Vietnam’s minority groups. There are also plenty of moving stories and a whole floor dedicated to female soldiers and the leaders of Vietnam. The museum also gives an interesting glimpse into some of the struggles that Vietnamese woman still face today.
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum(Ba Ðình Mausoleum) is another interesting sight in Hanoi and serves as the final resting place of Vietnamese Revolutionary leader and President, Ho Chi Minh. Located in a large building in the centre of Ba Dinh Square, the popular tourist attraction contains the preserved body of Ho Chi Minh within a glass case, and was designed to ensure locals that their legendary leader ‘lives on forever.’ Modelled on Lenin’s mausoleum in Russia, the exterior of the building is quite a vision in itself, with large granite columns built on raised stone.
Often cited as being one of Vietnam’s most atmospheric towns, Hoi An boasts grand ancient architecture, a stunning riverside setting, and a much more peaceful place than the large cities. You’ll find family-run boutique hotels, independent restaurants and ancient architecture that is often described as a ‘living museum’.There’s also a stunning covered Japanese Bridge that dates back to the 15th century and has remained incredibly well-preserved. This popular, famous bridge actually appears as an illustration on the 20,000 Vietnamese dong note. The Ancient Town remains the top attraction for visitors to Hoi An and after sunset, it is particularly beautiful. In the evening tourists can enjoy riverside dining, the night market and colourful lanterns that illuminate the town.
In contrast, just a few kilometres away from this historic town you’ll find a stunning coastline with pearly-white sand. Hoi An beach offers all types of accommodation for tourists, ranging from budget rooms and hostels to luxury resorts and family-friendly hotels. If visitors have time, a trip to Cham Island(18 kilometres offshore from Hoi An) makes for a lovely afternoon. Only recently opened to tourists and just for seven months of the year, the island remains beautifully unspoilt and contains just a few small villages.
Renowned for being the gateway to the Angor complex, the city of Siem Reap has plenty of attractions to keep tourists amused. Tourism has allowed the city to reinvent itself, and it now boasts trendy hotels, world-class dining, luxurious spas and fantastic shopping.
The city is around a 30-minute drive (25 km)fromTonlé Sap Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and a famous tourist attraction. The lake also has one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems, with a large number of different wildlife species and it was recognised as a world biosphere reserved by UNESCO in 1997. The main attraction of a visit to the lake are the incredible floating villages, which includes Chong Khneasa floating village with houses, shops, schools and even a police station.
About five miles away from Siem Reap lies the incredible Angkor complex, which is home to giant statues, elaborately decorated temples and historic monuments, and of course: Angkor Wat- the most famous, and best-preserved of all the temples in Cambodia. This iconic temple, built by Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century is an architectural masterpiece and visitors often spend a couple of hours exploring it. Many Vietnam and Cambodia holidays incorporate a thorough tour of the complex, allowing you to visit various sites including the Bayon Temple and the Terraces of Elephants.
Dubbed the ‘Pearl of the Orient’, Cambodia’s capital is a city that is constantly reinventing itself and after being virtually depopulated during Pol Pot’s regime, the city is now full of life and thriving. Boasting an appealing café culture and world-class food scene, Cambodia’s capital really feels like it has moved with the times. Aside from enjoying its lively atmosphere, highlights include The Royal Palace, a stunning complex of grandiose buildings that serves as the royal residence of the King. To the south of the Royal Palace, you’ll find the Silver Pagoda, which has a floor lined with over 5000 silver tiles. Many tourists also visit the moving Genocide Museum which is a former school that served as a Khmer Rouge torture centre and now confronts Cambodia’s tragic past.
For tourists who want to indulge in some retail therapy and pick up some souvenirs, the Central Market(Phsar Thmei) in Phnom Penh offers an enchanting experience. Constructed in 1937, the market has an art deco design with a central dome-shape with four arms branching out and containing a myriad of stalls. Under the dome, you’ll find jewellery merchants, whilst the four arms hold electronics, household goods and clothing. You’ll also find tourist stalls with books, maps and souvenirs. It is common to practise to haggle at the market which can be a fun and new experience for visitors.
The best time to visit both Vietnam and Cambodia together is between November to April, which means you will avoid monsoon season and the extra hot weather. Slightly outside this period can also be a good option for travellers keen to avoid other tourists and benefit from the low-season prices. Many Vietnam and Cambodia tour companies will take the time of year into consideration.
With a wealth of attractions to see, the minimum amount of time recommended for a twin-center holiday to Vietnam and Cambodia would be 10 nights. Ideally, allow for a minimum of two weeks, which will give you the chance to see all of the main sightseeing spots and get an understanding of both countries. However, if you embark on a Vietnam and Cambodia package tour, then the must-see attractions are usually included, despite the length. There is often also the option to extend your tour if you would like to see a place that isn’t on the main itinerary.
Vietnam and Cambodia are both very safe countries to visit. However, sometimes unescorted travel through the countries can be frustrating. The conditions of some roads may be poor and public transport can be infrequent and unreliable. Therefore, the safest and most hassle-free way to travel throughout both countries is with an organised tour.
In Vietnam, the currency is the Vietnamese ‘dong’, which can be found in notes ranging from 200 VND to 500,000 VND. Many places also use US dollars, especially large hotels and shops, so it’s handy to bring some along with you.
The ‘riel’ is the official currency of Cambodia; however, most Cambodians also use US dollars (even small shops) – so this is the recommended currency for visitors.
Until the 30th June 2021, British citizen passport holders can enter Vietnam for up to 15 days without a visa.
For entry to Cambodia, British citizen passport holders will need a visa, these are easily available at arrival to Phnom Penh or Siem Reap International airports.
Tour companies can often provide further information or answer any questions regarding visas.