Adventures in Southeast Asia

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Last summer my husband and I decided to go on a 16 day tour in Southeast Asia for our honeymoon. While most of our friends were relaxing on the beach in Hawaii, we wanted to be more adventurous and spent our vacation in Ho Chi Ming City, Vietnam; Siem Reap, Cambodia; and Bali, Indonesia.

Vietnam: We started our journey in Ho Chi Ming City (old Saigon). We were shocked by the HUGE city atmosphere. We pretty much had to close our eyes while crossing the street and pray that we did not get hit by a motorbike. Almost everyone in this city gets around by driving one of these vehicles. Although these motorbikes are primarily made for 2 people, it was not rare to see a family of 5 travelling through the city this way (high chairs were even placed in front of the seat for the baby!). Our first day in Vietnam we took a day long tour outside of the city along the Mekong Delta. We took a rustic boat through the delta to a smaller island where they were making coconut candy. We then took a river canoe ride through the river to another island. We were fed a huge lunch, drank lots of amazing tea with honey, and saw some whisky with a scorpion in the bottle. We battled a massive rain storm – June is the beginning of rainy/monsoon season in Southeast Asia. We saw many interesting fruits, experienced local song and dance, and enjoyed such an interesting day! Our second day was more cultural where we went to the Cu Chi Tunnels. This is where the Vietnam war was fought. At first seeing the tunnels you never can imagine how men were able to get through them, they are tiny! The tunnels go down multi-levels and contained kitchens and beds and places for soldiers to hide and be safe. The tunnel structure was a huge maze. We then spent the 2nd half of the day wandering around Ho Chi Ming City. We went to the Ben Tham Markets, where you can get any souvenir for cheap! I bought a few tea sets and a painting.

Hotel: Park Hyatt Saigon – the nicest hotel in the city. Unbelievable hotel and service. With diamond status got upgraded to a massive one bedroom suite and free breakfast at the restaurant in the morning (could order anything off the menu!).

Restaurants: Our average meal (after ordering whatever we wanted to eat and drink on the menu) cost about $15 (with tip and tax included)!

Currency: Can use the US Dollar or local currency for everything. The US Dollar is widely used with many places advertising prices in this currency. This is due to all of the left over money from the Vietnam War. 

Cambodia: This was by far the most unique place we have every been. Siem Reap is mostly known for Ankor Wat (and Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie). We arrived in the morning and the concierge at our hotel hired us a Tuk Tuk driver. A driver for the entire day was $15 (and you could negotiate if you wanted). We had the same Tuk Tuk driver, Niang, for the three days we were there and he was amazing. First off, you are probably wondering, “What is a Tuk Tuk?” Well, essentially it is an auto rickshaw or three-wheeler attached to a motorbike. This is the primary mode of transportation in Siem Reap. Tourists actually are not allowed to rent a car themselves. The first day and a half we toured the temples. These temples date back to the 12th century built for the king and his empire. Ankor Wat is the best-preserved temple and still to this day remains as a religious center. Throughout the temple complexes there are many people praying. Additionally, there are little kids everyone begging for money or selling postcards/scarves/anything for $1. It was really sad to see that instead of being in school these kids were told by their families to beg for money. I, of course, gave in way too often, but many say to not condone and reinforce the negative behavior. When we were done with the temples, Niang took us to the floating villages. Here we took a run down boat from the dock. Since rainy season just began, there was not nearly enough water to push us down the river and it took quite some time. The floating villages consists of an entire village run on the water, including, houses and a school. We visited the school and brought them pencils and notebooks we purchased at the store. They were so happy to be given something that is taken for granted in the US.  Our last day in Siem Reap, we explored the area and went to silk, word carving, and jewelry factories. It was so interesting to see how they made this all from scratch. At the end of the trip we were so sad to say bye to Niang, but so happy we were able to meet him. The Tuk Tuk drivers do not make much money and work really hard. It is very hard for them to get work and many times it is just taking a tourist into town for $1 and then they have to get back in a line and wait their turn again. During the off-peak months, it might be a month till they have another standing customer.

Hotel: Le Meridien Siem Reap – wonderful hotel! Upon arrival the GM sat down with us giving us recommendations and telling us everything there is to see in the area. Platinum members are upgraded to a huge suite and free breakfast. The hotel is a Tuk Tuk drive away from the town, but is only about $1USD to get to/from. And MANY Tuk Tuk drivers to take you home. There are many less expensive hotels walking distance to the town. If on a budget can probably get a room for $30.

Restaurants: We ate dinner every night in the town. The town has many bars/restaurants/shops. Is a very lively area. During lunch we ate near the temples. Our Tuk Tuk driver took us to different places, they eat for free if they bring tourists. I would HIGHLY recommend to bring plastic silverware with you everywhere. Most restaurants idea of sanitation is putting the silverware in a cup of hot water. Do not drink sink water, ice cubs, lettuce (anything washed with water).

Currency: The US Dollar is the most accepted currency in Cambodia (over their own local currency). We did not know this and had a hard time getting rid of the local money.

Bali, Nusa Dua: We arrived in Bali in the evening and headed straight to our hotel in Nusa Dua. Nusa Dua is the very touristy area with guards at every hotel entrance. The hotels here are beautiful resorts, but might not get the feel that you are in Bali. We stayed at the Grand Hyatt Nusa Dua for 6 nights. We spent the first few days in Bali just relaxing at the hotel actually resting during our honeymoon! After the relaxing portion, we were back at our excursions. We spent one day going to Kuta beach. This is closer to the airport and VERY touristy, primarily with back packers. The beach was packed and all the locals were trying to sell us anything and everything. We did not love Kuta, but glad to see it. The next day we went to Jimbaran. This beach area was great. There was also a beautiful Four Seasons resort that we walked through. The beach area was secluded with many fisherman. This was a great place to be at during sunset. All of the restaurants set up tables outside right on the beach for dinner time. Upon ordering your dinner (which you’d most likely order fish), they take you to the tanks to pick out the fish you want them to cook for you. This is extremely fresh fish as you can see them out there all day catching your dinner for that evening! The next day we hired a driver to take us to Uluwata Temple. This was one of the most sacred (and beautiful) temples in Bali. It is filled with monkeys who have no problem snatching items from tourists. A guide brings you though the temple explaining the cultural significance (while also ensuring the monkeys stay away!). From here we had the driver drop us off at a nearby beach where we hung out then walked along the coast to Dreams beach. This beach was packed with many Indonesians who had never seen the ocean. They were all in jeans and long sleeve shirts (while it was 90 degrees) and running away from the water when the waves came. It was very interesting!

Hotel: Grand Hyatt Bali – This hotel reminded me of the Grand Hyatt in Hawaii. It was a nice resort, however, lacked in the service department. Could also be because everything is in a much slower pace in Bali. All the resort hotels are primarily all in the same area in Nusa Dua, but the Hyatt had a nicer area of the beach. On the beach, however, there are many locals trying to offer you back massages and selling you random items. This happened at all the hotels in Nusa Dua, which definitely interfered with trying to relax on the beach. As a Hyatt Diamond member was given access to the concierge lounge, which was great! This was an outside area with a beautiful setting. They were very stingy with upgrades as well.

Restaurants: We primarily ate off of hotel grounds, however, the hotel had many restaurants. We are at Bumbu Bali twice we liked it so much. This restaurant is close to the Conrad Hilton Hotel, about a 5-10 minute cab ride from where the Hyatt and Starwood hotels are. The service was great and on Wednesday nights they have a show during dinner.

Bali, Ubud: Ubud was my favorite part of Bali. I was so happy that we split our trip up and did not stay at the beach. Although I loved the beaches of Bali, for some reason it did not meet my expectations. While living in the US, going to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world in the Caribbean, I was not too impressed. Ubud is in the center of Bali and filled with culture and art. We stayed at a little boutique hotel where all guests had their own villa and pool. The only chain hotel is the Four Seasons (although Hilton is building a hotel there in the next few years). We went on a white water rafting tour one day, spent a day in the town walking around and touring the monkey forest, and the third day hired a driver to take us on a tour of the area. We visited many beautiful rice paddies, drove up to the volcano, and even spent time at a coffee plantation where they were making kopi luwak coffee (the worlds most expensive coffee). In Ubud it does rain often, but usually just light rain, so we took the opportunity to get $9 hour-long massages at a nice place the days we were there. While in Ubud we also bought a lot of art for our apartment for really cheap! Aside from losing my camera we had a great time and would highly recommend staying in Ubud if going to Bali.

Hotel: Ubud Village Resort and Spa – This hotel was absolutely luxury. All the rooms are seperate villas with individual pools and lounge area. The hotel is not in town (about 5-10 minute drive), however, they provide a shuttle to/from town during certain hours, which was extremely easy. The hotel sits right next to a rice paddies where you get a beautiful view while eating breakfast every morning. There is also a central pool, but we did not use. The grounds overall were breathtaking. There are many hotels right in town, as well, but not as resort like. They do, however, provide a lot of convenience. 

Restaurants: We loved the restaurants in the town of Ubud that were part of the Bali Good Food group. Cannot go wrong with these restaurants (including: Terazo, Cinta Grill, Batan Waru, and Siam Sally). All offer different types of food. The menu and service were excellent.

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    • Heidi – I am glad you enjoyed. I am also planning a trip to Thailand in December so will post those experiences as well. Feel free to email with any specific questions.

  1. There are many Vietnamese people who live in the US. They often send US dollars back to help their relatives. When they visit Vietnam, they also bring back US dollars. This is another reason why “the US Dollar is widely used” in Vietnam.

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