Travelling broadens your perspective in a way that scrolling online, watching movies, or imaginative daydreaming never can.
Travelling to Cambodia and Vietnam with my mom was the best experience I could ever ask for. I have always wanted to visit Southeast Asia and going with my mom made it even more special; there was never a dull moment.
Travelling indulges your delight with iconic local foods, landmarks and experiences; while opening your eyes to the reality of turbulent histories and daily challenges. We were lucky enough to have had the chance to meet some incredible people and learn more about the strength of both the Cambodian and Vietnamese people.
We met such interesting people and experienced so much, that it is most definitely impossible to document it all. This is an overview account of some of the stand out moments of our travels. In all honesty, some of my most cherished moments are the simplest; taking refuge from the relentless heat, drinking cold Vietnamese coffee while observing the details of everyday life continuing at a rapid pace.
Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia; with all the hustle and bustle of any city centre. Phnom penh is accompanied by a fast pace energy, disturbed by pockets of calm. The first sign that you’re somewhere other than home, is the uncountable numbers of scooters. This organized chaos, known as “traffic in Asia”, is hard to wrap your head around and you will probably remain in a state of both confusion and admiration. Few road markings or traffic lights are present to give guidance, and yet everyone flows together in a slightly noisy harmony. Busy street shops cluster together and make way for the fresh fruit stalls and food stations attached via tuk-tuk. From the outset, the sounds, smells and sights are completely different.
Our accommodation provided a vintage influenced sanctuary within the overwhelming city. Restaurants were a short walk away, making for an easy introduction. This location was perfect for our first stop where we would go on our first adventures, discover delicious food and learn how to cross the road. The trick to crossing the road; raise one hand, walk slowly, and hope for the best.
Royal Palace & Silver Pagoda
The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda are “two of the finest” buildings in Cambodia; which is obvious once you’ve laid eyes on the mesmerizing architecture. The fine detail, sculptures, rich gold and meticulous gardens create an environment that cannot be described in any other word but extravagant. The Royal Palace offers a tiny glimpse into extravagant royal affairs, conducted in rich red and crystal chandeliers. There are several buildings not open to the public, but what is available does more than enough to create a royal picture. The Silver Pagoda is introduced by marble steps and delicate turquoise gates; this houses many national treasures including many gold and jewelled buddhas. The grounds are covered in many beautiful and extravagant stupas and the neatly pruned flowers make for continuous reminders of where you are.
Choeung Ek is a former mass “killing field” and now exists as a memorial of the victims killed under the Khmer regime. The memorial is the best known of the sites known as “the killing fields” where over one million people where executed. A guided tour takes you through the mass graves and methods used. Choeung Ek gives some insight into a disturbing history and the effects of war; I cannot write too much as I believe that this is a place that needs to be experienced personally as one cannot capture its significance in words.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is a site that once existed as a high school but was turned into Security Prison 21 where gruesome torture was used. Walking through this museum is extremely shocking and emotional, as many of the torture rooms have been preserved in their original state and huge boards of photos document the victims. There is also an art gallery and written accounts which provide some insight into the conditions of this torture prison. The museum is much like the memorial in its powerful effects that can only be experienced personally. I would encourage anyone visiting Cambodia to prioritize these two sites.
This museum houses Khmer art and sculptures from different periods in Cambodian history. The museum building itself looks like a work of art; the open court displays the beauty of its details. This museum is Cambodia’s largest museum of cultural history and is the country’s leading historical and archaeological museum.
Siem Reap felt vastly different to Phnom Penh; instead of tiny roads and tall buildings, there were wide farm roads and forested land with one defiant ancient temple sticking through. Siem Reap is home to the famous ruins of Angkor; including the famous Angkor Wat and Bayon temples. It was beautiful to drive through the tall trees covering the roads.
Siem Reap was the only place that we used a tuk-tuk to get around; an easy option that allowed for convenience and provided a chance to cool down in the unforgiving heat. Each night we took a tuk-tuk to the well-known, Pub Street; passing pagodas, evening exercisers, and oncoming tuk-tuks that felt as if they were coming towards us at times.
Pub Street exudes a high level of energy that attracts people from everywhere; a vast number of bars, restaurants and street vendors provide any cuisine your heart could possibly desire. The classic attractions draw the crowds in, such as fish pedicures, stir-fried ice cream and snakes on a stick.
Pub street is where we got the chance to enjoy authentic Cambodian cuisine and fell in love; I do believe that we returned to Khmer Cuisine for every meal besides breakfast. Pub street is also home to the first night market that we visited, overwhelming big and hot. The night markets seem to sell anything and everything.
Our day visiting the ancient temples of Angkor is one of the most memorable; it truly took my breathe away. It is extremely hard to try and capture such magnificence and detail.
The Bayon Temple, also known as the “smiling temple”, is an extremely detailed work of art with 49 towers, each showcasing 4 faces. The Bayon temple was extremely detailed, with many depictions of war and history covering the walls. We also saw the Terrace of Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King.
Ta Prohm was accompanied by overgrown moss and ridiculously large jungle-like trees. Ta Prohm is where Tomb Raider was shot and is a Buddhist temple dedicated to the mother of Jayavaram VII.
We also had the chance to visit Angkor Wat; one of the largest religious monuments in the world and was once on the 7 ancient wonders of the world. No photos could do Angkor Wat justice, it is absolutely immense and is referred to as “heaven on earth”.
Hanoi- Halong Bay
Hanoi was our first stop in Vietnam; we arrived in a misty night and cold weather, completely different to Cambodia. We would discover, that this would be the only place on our journey that wasn’t unforgivingly hot or humid. We didn’t have time to explore Hanoi, as we needed to leave early in the morning for our trip to Halong Bay.
We stopped at a pearl farm just before we got to the harbour. We had the chance to learn about the farming and grading process and see how every part is used, from earrings, to food, to cosmetics.
Halong Bay has to be one of the most beautiful and mesmerizing sites one will ever see. One thing we were certain about when we started doing research for our trip, is that we definitely wanted to make it to Halong Bay for a night on the waters.
The cold mist made our first glance seem even more mystical. We spent the majority of our one night cruise gazing out the windows, watching the mountains pass by, just as more would appear.
While we were on the cruise, we visited a floating village. The floating village was nothing like I have ever seen before, it truly is a community living completely on the water. Visiting the floating village was a chance to learn about the community’s way of life and the conservation of the bay.
While we were on board, we had the chance to try incredible food, participate in a masterchef competition and enjoy a traditional tea ceremony which inspired me to find the perfect tea set.
Before we docked, we visited Tien Ong Cave and enjoyed the remaining moments of the peaceful beauty. On our way back to Hanoi we visited a wet market and ceramics factory, where we found a beautiful hand-painted traditional tea set.
Halong Bay was definitely a standout from our trip, and I would love to return to see it during the warmer seasons.
The architectural fusion of Hoi An creates a magical feeling when walking the streets. The ancient town is an area which houses some of the most beautiful historical landmarks. This ancient town is known for its French and Japanese influences which neighbour the traditional Vietnamese buildings.
The ancient town is cordoned off twice a day to allow for free movement; during this time you can take the appropriate time to admire the bright colours and finer details of the architecture. The delicate beauty of Hoi An captured my heart, as each and every place I turned I found something so beautifully detailed and so brightly coloured.
The ancient town is home to numerous shops, as well as homes, temples and landmarks; divided by narrow alleyways home to emerald moss and bicycles with baskets.
Hoi An is widely known for the iconic lanterns strung across the streets; at night this becomes a magical scene as the tiny town comes to life; Luminescent lanterns dangle from boats and reflect on the rivers water. The Ancient Town offered a place to wonder and discover things at your own leisure; you feel free to explore the quaint beauty surrounding you.
Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City is a modern city with an upbeat tempo to match; with an estimated almost 9 million motorbikes flooding the streets each day, it feels like this city never sleeps. Even when you’re nestled high above the street life, vibrant honks can still be heard into the early hours of the morning. The overwhelming skyscrapers fight for the skyline, while traditional Vietnamese and French architecture appears every so often.
Ho Chi Minh City is the place to be for revolutionary restaurant experiences and busy night markets. One should be prepared for clammy crowds and persistent salesmen, and simply enjoy the experience. This is also a chance to try traditional street food; from banana pancakes, to noodle soup to sugar cane juice. The convenience of tightly packed buildings means that you have the freedom to simply walk next door for an iced milo and basic necessities. One thing that can be said, as a personal observation, no matter where we traveled in Vietnam or Cambodia, the notion of enjoying life’s every day seemed to exist.
The War Remnants Museum
The War Remnants Museum is an archive of testimonies and visual sources from the war; walking through this museum is an emotional and thought-provoking experience. The museum is organized into collections, some of which touch on the extended generational effect of Agent Orange, journalist perspectives and geographical influence. The outside of this museum displays army helicopters and tanks. This museum houses a diverse range of sources which display the graphic extent of wars effects.
The Royal Palace
This royal palace differs from that of Phnom Penh in numerous ways. The first difference is the exterior which displaces bamboo-like framing. Walking inside feels as if you’ve stepped into a different are; beautifully retro colour palettes and furniture create the atmosphere of a classic royal movie.
Post office & Notre Dame
Unfortunately for us, the Notre dame was under construction; however, it is grand enough to still peak out among the scaffolding. The French influenced Notre dame is an attraction of note, with a beautiful range of colourful flowers marking it’s territory. The post office, which is in fact still in use, feels like something out of a Harry Potter movie. The interior feels frozen in time, and for a brief moment you can imagine what life once looked like.
A full day trip exploring the life surrounding this famous clay river. It is not the distance, but the traffic that makes this trip seem so far out of the city. This is a nice chance to witness the transition form urban city life, to a more rural village life; coconut shells line every garden and coconut candies line the roads.
Before departure we visited a traditional brick making factory, but it was indeed a Sunday which meant that only a single soul remained- drowsily rocking himself on a hammock while tourists made their way around the factory, fascinated by the rice husks used to keep the flame burning.
A boat took us down the muddy waters of the Mekong; vast in width and rich in nutrients, it provides a fertile soil for many coconut trees to emerge from. The coconut candy making factory was the first stop, where we learnt about the traditional process used, as well as discovering the multitude of coconut products made in this region. We then tasted local fruits in the village; including the sweetest jackfruit and sprinkling chilli powder on grapefruit. A tuk-tuk ride took us through what felt like a jungle path, to a homestay for lunch; a traditional meal of deep-fried elephant ear fish was served.
The end of our day on the river came about with a sampan trip back to the main boat; this allowed a peaceful moment to admire this iconic river.
Cu Chi Tunnels
The Cu Chi Tunnels provide insight into some of the dynamics surrounding the war. We travelled for 2 hours to visit this iconic site. The Cu Chi Tunnels provided not only a brief glimpse into the experience of those that built and used this tunnels, but a much larger perspective into the methods used during the war.
Phu Quoc Island
In order to see as much of Cambodia and Vietnam as we could in the time frame that we had, we ended up travelling every second day or so. We were lucky enough to fly between destinations as other modes of transport can often take quite long, with some travels even taking a few days. It was suggested that after all the busyness of sightseeing and travelling, we spend a few days in a more quite spot; taking time to reflect on our journey, as well as prepare for coming back home. Our final destination was Phu Quoc Island, a Vietnamese island off of the coast of Cambodia in the Gulf of Thailand.
We stayed in a garden bungalow, which made it feel even more peaceful.
The humidity on the island was absolutely insane, even when it was raining you felt close to combustion. luckily we had the crisp water to cool off in.
We took this opportunity to wind down, rest and enjoy good food and magnificent views. The resort had really incredible food and a constant supply of fresh fruit. This was our last opportunity to enjoy such delicious food, so we made sure to try our favourites before we left.
The beach sunsets took our breathe away, there is nothing quite like it. Mom and I enjoyed sun downers and walks across the beach as we watched the sky change to a shade of purple.
This experience was something that I’m so grateful for; I feel as if it has inspired a longing to see more in the world. Even more so, I am beyond grateful to have experienced this with my mom, I couldn’t have asked for a better partner to travel with. All in all, we shared so many laughs, first time experiences and created some life defining memories. I will forever reflect on this experience and use it to fuel my future determination to travel more; I would without a doubt like to return to both Cambodia and Vietnam. Who knows when and where Creature will be going abroad?