Cambodia & Vietnam

Jackie has recently returned from an amazing trip to Cambodia & Vietnam. She’s wanted to visit this area for a long time now so was thrilled to get the opportunity to visit both countries whilst on a Mekong River Cruise with APT.

Firstly they flew to Siem Reap with British Airways via Bangkok and found the arrival visa procedures swift & efficient and before long they were in a taxi on the way to the hotel. The system of getting a taxi at the airport was very easy and reassuring, everyone goes to the Taxi Office and is given a written receipt of where you’re going to, how much it will cost and who is taking you. A very quick journey took them to the 5* Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf and Spa Resort Hotel which was stunning. On arrival, you are shown to the sofas in reception and presented with iced tea and cold refreshing towels. The check in staff come to you and all details are taken care of from the comfort of your sofa. When you are ready, you are taken via the walk-way over the lake to your room. The grounds are beautiful and serene with tropical gardens and the hotel simply beautiful. After unpacking they had time to enjoy the largest free-form pool in Cambodia and relax after the long journey. The hotel has 5 restaurants & bars so the three night stay was well catered for and the food was fantastic!

The first morning they had arranged a private guide to take them on a city tour. The car picked them up at 8am and off they went to their first stop at Wat Bo, an active Pagoda and one of Siem Reaps oldest temples. They also visited Wat Damnak which was once a Royal Palace and now a place of worship and educational centre. The guide explained the rituals and significance of the Buddhist religion and there was an opportunity to meet with the monks and see how they live. Later they visited the old market, Psar Chas which is a labyrinth of alleys & stalls and a great place for souvenirs. Lastly, they went to Artisans d’Angkor which was established in 1992 to support Cambodian arts & crafts and teaching the traditional arts.

The second morning was the highlight of Siem Reap – Angkor Wat and they chose to do it at sunrise which was such a memorable experience to see the first sunrays slowly appear over the five iconic towers. You don’t have to get up at 4.00am but if you do, you’ll never forget it. Don’t expect it to be quiet though as there are thousands of people doing exactly the same thing – every day! After sunrise they returned to the hotel (10 mins) for breakfast before returning to do a full tour of Angkor Watt, Ta Prohm & Angkor Thom which was fascinating. It is highly recommended to have a private guide where possible as you get the one to one experience and can ask as many questions as you like, take a break when you like, tailor the day to suit you and be chauffeured in an air-conditioned car with bottled water and cold towels.

The following day they joined the APT Touring group for the Mekong cruise. Some passengers had started their tour in Siem Reap but others were on a longer tour having already been elsewhere. You can add several tours together making it a longer trip and many of the Australia & New Zealand guests were doing just that.

The day started with a 6 hour coach journey to Prek K’dam where the cruise began. Jackie hadn’t been looking forward to this journey one bit but in fact it flew by and she’ll tell you honestly that it was actually quite enjoyable. The air conditioned coach drove through remote villages giving you chance to witness rural like in Cambodia. It stopped twice for refreshments and the APT rep was fantastic with his anecdotes and information en-route. Before they knew it they’d arrived and boarded the RV AMA Lotus in time for lunch.

The AMA Lotus is a luxury class ship with 4 decks, 50 crew, and 54 suites with max 108 guests.  Each spacious suite has an ensuite with hairdryer, bathrobes, slippers and toiletries. They all have a small outside balcony as well as a panoramic balcony and individual climate control. The AmaLotus features large public areas, Wifi in the large air conditioned lounge, Sun Deck and Wellness Centre. The Spa prices were very good indeed, for example a 60 mins body massage $45, Manicure $25, 60 mins Facial $30 and is open from 8am to 10pm every day.

An APT Luxury tour is fully inclusive of meals, gratuities, drinks, home to airport transfers and sightseeing excursions including Signature Experiences. It really is very good value for money and gives you the security of knowing exactly what the holiday will cost. The food was really very good indeed and plenty of it! The accompanying wine was good and the service from the top to the bottom was exceptional.

Whilst there, Jackie had the opportunity to take a look at the La Marguerite ship too which is the Travelmarvel/Premium programme which includes slightly less and is therefore cheaper. The main difference is that the lead-in cabins haven’t got balconies and that there’s no butler service, but other than that they’re very similar. This programme uses different pre & post hotels but they are still fabulous hotels. You don’t get some of the sightseeing inclusions that you do on luxury, or the home to airport transfers but this makes it more affordable. She was very impressed with the La Marguerite and wouldn’t hesitate in selling the Travelmarvel/Premium programme as an alternative to the Luxury.

The week was a very relaxed, sedate sail along the river spending the mornings on excursions and the afternoons snoozing on the sun deck. The daily excursions ranged from visiting floating markets, workshops, Buddhist monastery, ox cart ride, small boats rides to learning how rice paper is made. Of course a tour of this area would not be complete without a visit to The Killing Fields & Genocide Museum which obviously was a hard morning, but should not be missed.

They also docked overnight in Phnom Penh giving you the opportunity to go ashore to experience the nightlife if you wish as well as testing your bargaining skills at the markets.

On Luxury holidays you’ll enjoy Signature Experiences – exclusive events which are designed to leave you with lifelong memories. On Premium holidays, you’ll enjoy Insider Experiences – unique sightseeing activities, dining experiences and memorable stays.

Each day is different, well organised, seamless and enjoyable. The afternoons are spent sleeping, in the Spa, reading or joining in an on-board talk or cooking demonstration. There is always coffee/tea & biscuits available and you can cool off in the pool. All in all, she thoroughly enjoyed it and could easily have stayed another week!

The cruise was basically from Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh City but you can also do the reverse and Jackie would recommend that if possible. She felt that the scenery was nicer and more peaceful in Cambodia and more industrial in Vietnam, so in her opinion it may have been nicer to start off the tour in Ho chi Minh and then sail up to Cambodia, with the highlight of Angkor Wat at the end.

She then spent 3 nights in Ho Chi Minh City which was a huge contrast to the previous 10 days as it is a very large bustling city with the sounds & smells that go with that. The traffic has to be seen to be believed (mostly mopeds) but it has great markets and some really good restaurants. Ask the Concierge for recommendations and you’ll be delighted at the local cuisine. Not once did she feel unsafe and the longer they were there, the more she loved it! Once again, they had a private guide and did a city tour the first morning which included the Reunification Hall, formerly known as the Presidential Palace it was towards this modern building that North Vietnamese tanks seized on the morning of April 30 1975, as Saigon fell. This fascinating building is filled with history still fresh in the minds of many. They continued on to the Old Post Office, the Notre Dame Cathedral and the last stop Ben Thanh – the central market for the city and one of its liveliest and most colourful areas. The second day’s excursion was to the famous Cu Chi Tunnels which consist of an incredible underground tunnel network constructed by Vietnamese resistance fighters (Viet Cong) during both the French and American wars. Although a long drive from the city, it is a must do experience.

After a few more trips to the market for last minute souvenirs, their holiday ended and it was time to fly home via Kuala Lumpur with BA.

Jackie had a great time on this holiday and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a visit to Cambodia & Vietnam and the river cruise was the icing on the cake. If you would like to know more about this area or APT Tours in general, please call into the office or call 01937 845678.