Amy’s Education Journey With Trails of Indochina: Temples, Tunnels & Tranquility
By Amy Bakko
Landing in Asia for the first time filled me with an indescribable feeling of excitement! This was the start of an eight-day journey with Trails of Indochina, exploring the wonders of Cambodia and Vietnam. We got to wander through ancient temples, bustling cities, and historic tunnels and sail through the famous Ha Long Bay.
I loved traveling with Trails! The three guides we had were extremely welcoming and knowledgeable. They made us feel so comfortable and well taken care of.
The hotels they chose for us, the Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor, Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel, and Hotel Des Arts Saigon MGallery Collection, were beautiful and luxurious. Each one had fabulous staff, delicious breakfasts, a relaxing ambiance, and spacious rooms, and they were in great locations.
Immerse yourself in 900 years of Cambodian Hindu and Buddhist history while exploring the largest temple complex in the world: Angkor Wat.
There are over 300 temples near Siem Reap, but only about 30 are open to visitors. Whatever type of temple you are looking for, whether it is temples covered in tree roots or the smiling face of Buddha, you’ll find it in this area.
The tours we took were awesome! Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world, was beyond beautiful. The walls – inside and out – were all covered in incredibly intricate carvings. I could’ve easily spent all day exploring here.
It does get very hot and humid, so I would recommend doing a sunrise tour. The breathtaking sight will be worth the early start to the day!
There are more than 300 temples near Siem Reap, Cambodia. For several hundred years, many of them laid abandoned and were slowly reclaimed by nature. While most of these temples are now being restored, Ta Prohm Temple has been left to showcase the beauty and destruction of the tree roots. We’d love to help you travel to Cambodia to see this amazing site in person!
Additionally, if you like biking, this is a great place to go! There are many amazing cycling tours throughout the different temple complexes.
After Siem Reap, we headed over to Vietnam. If you consider yourself a foodie, this is the place to go! The food everywhere in Vietnam was amazing and inexpensive.
Personally, I got completely hooked on deep-fried spring rolls. I’m also gluten-free, and I had an easy time finding gluten-free options. Trails was super helpful with this as well! Vietnam, of course, had plenty of traditional Vietnamese food, but there were plenty of international food options as well.
Enjoy a cyclo ride through the capital city of Vietnam, Hanoi. This is one of the best ways to experience the city and see how the locals live!
Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, was a fascinating city. The traffic, especially the millions of motorcycles (literally), was a little crazy. However, if you cross the street with confidence, you’ll be perfectly fine! The guides did a great job making sure we were comfortable with this.
One of the highlights here was doing a cyclo tour, a buggy attached to the front of a bike, through Old Town. There are countless markets lining the streets and a surprising number of trees and other greenery.
If you are curious about the recent history of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum is an interesting place to visit. If you want to learn more about ancient Vietnam, there are plenty of temples and pagodas to visit around the city.
Cruising Through Northern Vietnam
One of my favorite parts of the trip was the two-night cruise through Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay off Northern Vietnam. The embarkment point is only a two-hour drive east of Hanoi.
Along the way, you can stop at a pearl market. Here, you can learn how pearls are created and harvested. Additionally, if you like to shop, you can buy all kinds of beautiful hand-made pearl jewelry.
This is Cat Ba Island in Lan Ha Bay, Vietnam
For the cruise, we stayed on the Ylang with Heritage Line. The ship was amazing! There were only 10 cabins onboard, and the staterooms were the largest I’ve ever seen.
The food presentation was gorgeous for every meal, the excursions were fun and informative, and the ship experiences were extremely relaxing. Most importantly, the scenery was breathtaking!
Interested in small ship cruising? Check out the Heritage Line in Ha Long Bay! They have two sister ships, Ginger and Ylang, for one and two-night cruises respectively. Gorgeous suites, private balconies, delicious food, and exciting excursions are just some of the many joys you will experience on this magnificent cruise! Swipe to see what the suites look like!
After three amazing days onboard the Ylang, we made our way back to the Hanoi airport. Along the way, we passed several traditional Vietnamese villages and countless rice fields.
The airport in Hanoi is small and easy to manage. We were able to quickly get through security and arrived at our gate with plenty of time to spare. The flight between Hanoi and Saigon is only about two hours, so the trip wasn’t bad at all.
Speedboating the Saigon River to Cu Chi Tunnels
After landing in Saigon, also known as Ho Chi Minh City, we had a full day of tours to look forward to!
The first was a trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels. To get there, you hop on an hour-and-a-half-long speedboat ride up the Saigon River. This is a beautiful and relaxing trip! You get to see the surrounding area of Vietnam’s biggest city and enjoy all the water flowers that grow in the river.
The Cu Chi Tunnels, where the Vietcong lived during the American occupation, were incredibly interesting. It was fascinating to learn about the war from the Vietnamese perspective, but the whole experience was slightly eerie. The tunnels were still surrounded by jungle, the traps used against the American soldiers were on display, and a machine gun shooting range was on the premises. All of that combined made it very easy to imagine what it would have been like to fight in that war.
That being said, I would recommend going! I think it was a very necessary trip to learn about this recent shared history.
Interested in learning more about the Vietnam War? Look no further than the Cu Chi Tunnels outside of Saigon. This fascinating network of underground tunnels will provide you with a deeper understanding of the fighting conditions during the conflict. If you are willing to brave the dark and the heat, you are able to explore some of the tunnels yourself. Just get ready to crouch down! As a relief from the heat, enjoy a speedboat ride back to the city.
Pro tip: Don’t wear white! If you choose to go through the tunnels, they are very short and narrow. If you wear white going in, it will not be white when you get out! It is also very hot and humid, so I would recommend going as early in the morning as you can.
After taking another 1.5-hour boat ride back to the Saigon city center, we went to a traditional medicine museum. This was very cool! Among many other things, it showed the 300 plus herbs and spices that traditional Vietnamese doctors used for 100s of years and still use today.
Additionally, we got to have a traditional pulse reading! A doctor took our blood pressure and pulse and, just from that, was able to detect things that were ailing us/things that would affect us in the future. From all the different tourists our guide has brought to him, he was right 90% of the time! And he was right about me as well!
We ended this incredible experience with a dinner with the owner of TOI, John. We got to watch traditional Vietnamese dances from four different regions of the country. The dances were so cool to see! We were then served a wonderful multi-course meal and got to enjoy John’s company. He was such a gracious host! It was the perfect way to end a perfect trip!
After being driven back to our hotel, it slowly became real that we were going home the next morning. Not at all ready to go home, our group said our goodbyes to each other and promised to stay in touch.
It was such a fantastic trip! I would highly recommend Trails of Indochina for everything. Everything went so smoothly, and each of the inclusions was wonderful. If you ever have the opportunity to head over the Pacific, 100% do it!
Even a cloudy day can be made brighter with a visit to Singapore’s beautiful Gardens by the Bay! Learn more about Singapore’s fascinating history while strolling through this amazing botanical wonder.
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