TRAVEL WRITER EILIDH McCABE TOOK AWAY SO MUCH FROM HER VISIT TO CAMBODIA AND VIETNAM’S NATURAL LANDSCAPES, ANCIENT RELICS AND BUZZING CITIES.
NEW WONDERS EVERY DAY
Having never had the opportunity to visit Southeast Asia before, I was unsure what to expect when I jumped on a plane to Hanoi, the first stop in a Vietnamese and Cambodian adventure that would conclude in Siem Reap. I anticipated – and was proven right – that highlights would include ancient temples, fresh, flavoursome food and green, mountainous countryside.
The past is a strong presence in Hanoi, and its strongly contrasting historic influences are on display for all to see. My activities in the city included trips to spectacular St Joseph’s Cathedral, as well as the sombre tomb of former dictator Ho Chi Minh. Zipping motorbikes might dominate the streets, but natural beauty is never far away here, either. Cruising between the dramatic limestone pillars and emerald islands of gorgeous Halong Bay is something I’d urge you to factor into any Vietnam itinerary.
Down the coast in Hoi An the vibe changed entirely. The core of this town can be summed up in one word: pretty. Pretty paper lanterns, pretty traditional buildings, and a huge number of expert tailors flogging tailor-made clothes at pretty amazing prices. Whenever I needed a break from the overwhelming sights, sounds and delicious smells of the streets, peaceful spiritual sites like beautiful Jinshang Temple and Chua Ong Pagoda were there to welcome me with open arms. You can also visit the Oodles of Noodles project, which helps Vietnamese street children and is supported by the Travelsphere Cares programme. You’ll even get to have a go at making noodles yourself!
A CHANGE OF PACE
Once I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, I quickly wondered how I could ever have considered Hanoi to be hectic. Just crossing one of the wide city streets here can feel like quite an adventure. At the end of my first day, I changed pace with a gentle dinnertime cruise down the Saigon River, where fresh, prawn-filled summer rolls were just the beginning of a menu filled with tongue-tingling flavours.
SPLENDOURS OLD AND NEW
Saying goodbye to Vietnam was tough, but boarding my flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia was made that little bit easier by my excitement at getting to know a whole new country. I arrived in Siem Reap in the evening, and my first challenge was choosing somewhere to eat amid the fluorescent lights of its central streets. The problem was there were just too many options, but when I finally settled down to a steaming bowl of coconut-infused amok (fish curry) I knew I’d chosen well.
I turned in for the night straight after dinner, knowing I had to be up in just a few hours for my sunrise visit to Angkor Wat. This ancient temple complex is one of the most popular tourist sights in the world. And yet, despite the masses of visitors, its sheer size meant I often found completely silent spaces amid these spectacular ruins, with no-one but a saffron-clad monk for company. In the space of only a couple of weeks, it seemed as if I had travelled a million miles away from Hanoi – and further yet from my home in the UK.