Blog - Vietnam & Cambodia

Added on Friday, 2019-02-08 20:27 CET in category Traveling


Last summer, when we were discussing going somewhere warm in winter, our friends Vova & Masha suggested we go all together to some place in South-East Asia. We eventually settled on visiting Vietnam, where our friends Jeremy & Rebecca had moved to. Our entire group has Russian citizenship, so entry to Vietnam was visa free :)

Mostly, anyway, as it turned out. When we entered Vietnam the border guard asked us about our stay, and when he heard we'd be going to Cambodia and then coming back to Vietnam, he warned us we could enter Vietnam visa free only once per 30 days, which meant for our second entry we'd need a visa :( We (kinda stupidly) decided to park the issue until evening, so we could at least enjoy our only day in Ho Chi Minh City.

Ho Chi Minh City

Jeremy & Rebecca had arranged for a private tour bus to drive us around to see the city's main highlights. With it being ~33 °C on the streets and having small kids with, being able to get back into an airconditioned bus made for a great way to see the city.

Traffic in Ho Chi Minh CityДа здравствует Ленин! The Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh CityThe post office in Ho Chi Minh City The Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica in Ho Chi Minh CityHo Chi Minh city hallThe Tan Dinh Church in Ho Chi Minh City Ho Chi Minh City temple (1)Ho Chi Minh City temple (2)Ho Chi Minh City temple (3) Bitexco Tower in Ho Chi Minh City (1)Bitexco Tower in Ho Chi Minh City (1)

The visa debacle

After a lovely dinner with loads of meat and lobster, we decided to discuss our little visa debacle. It was Friday evening, and we'd be leaving to Cambodia the day after. Our stay in Cambodia would be quite short; we had planned to come back to Vietnam already on Monday evening. So the big question was: would we have enough time to get our visas to Vietnam done on Monday, the very next working day? If not, we would have to forgo going to Cambodia altogether, but then at least we could stay in Vietnam until the end of our trip.

Vietnam offers several ways of getting a visa: 1) at an embassy, 2) an e-visa online, 3) or a visa on arrival at a major international airport. A few weeks prior we had already arranged for our e-visas to Cambodia, and since those had been granted very quickly (within the hour during the weekend), we had high hopes the ones to Vietnam might also be issued in time. So we applied. And left to Cambodia. And then nothing happened…

The visa were supposed to be done within three working days, so we were prepared to stay in Cambodia for a few days longer, and forgo part of our planned trip in Vietnam. By Monday morning we still had received nothing, so decided to look into the visa-on-arrival option. To be eligible for a visa on arrival, you need an approval letter from a Vietnamese travel agency inviting you to Vietnam. Fortunately, there are plenty of companies that offer such letters online, and can have it ready within 2.5 hours, at a cost of course… Pity about the extra costs, but at last we were sure we could re-enter Vietnam :)


Before our arrival in Cambodia, we had arranged for a transfer from the airport to the hotel. We had quite a lot of luggage with for our daughter (suitcase, stroller, bed, car seat, freezer bag), so imagine our and the driver's surprise when we met:

Empty tuk-tuk in Siem ReapCompletely stuffed tuk-tuk in Siem Reap

Angkor Wat

Our main reason for visiting Cambodia was to see the Angkor Wat temple complex.

The hotel suggested we rent one of their tuk-tuks for the day, so as to not have to walk the many kilometers between the different temples. In ~33 °C and with a toddler strapped to your back that turned out to be a lifesaver: the breeze during the rides and the cooled wet tissues the driver had with (seriously :) made the heat a lot more bearable.

The temple complex itself is not only the largest religious structure in the world, it was also wildly impressive. It uses more stone than all of Egypt's pyramids combined, with most of it intricately carved. Or, as French naturalist and explorer Henri Mouhot put it mid-19th century: "It is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome".

Do marvel at these for a bit:

Angkor Wat (1)Angkor Wat (2) Angkor Wat (3)Angkor Wat (4)Angkor Wat (5) Angkor Wat (6)Angkor Wat (7) Angkor Wat (8)Angkor Wat (9)Angkor Wat (10) Angkor Wat (11)Angkor Wat (12)

Siem Reap

After a fantastic, but tiring day in the Angkor Wat temple complex, we relaxed a bit, and strolled along the city of Siem Reap. We were pleasantly surprised by how friendly the Cambodians were, and how everything was so well taken care of. During lunch time our approval letter was done, so after a sigh of relief we were off to the airport (in two tuk-tuks this time).

Back to Vietnam

Getting the visas on arrival at Hanoi international airport turned out to be a breeze, and surprisingly: free :)


Unfortunately, Hanoi didn't impress us much. We visited the Hồ Chí Minh Mausoleum at the Ba Đình square, which was very reminiscent of the Red Square. For others, the main sight there was our blonde and blue-eyed daughter :P

Pagoda in HanoiTemple in HanoiSt. Joseph's cathedral in Hanoi Ba Đình square in HanoiHồ Chí Minh's mausoleum

Afterwards we tried to walk around the old center a bit, but that proved futile.

Traffic in Hanoi

The sidewalks were filled with stalls, people loitering, and scooters parked, and with Vietnam's crazy traffic we decided walking on the street with a stroller wasn't a good idea. Instead we rented a taxi for two hours, that drove us around to some of the sights.

Besides the few interesting sites, because of the crazy traffic, the cold and rainy weather, the overall communistic atmosphere, and the rats running around at night we were glad we were staying for a day only.

Hạ Long Bay mini cruise

Hạ_Long_Bay ("descending dragon bay") has some 2000 islets, many of them sticking straight out from the water. The cruise led us around the bay, with a short transfer to a boat trip around one of the fisherman's villages. We were obliged to wear life vests, which didn't work too well with our baby carrier :P

Hạ Long Bay (1)Hạ Long Bay (2)Hạ Long Bay (3) Hạ Long Bay (4)Hạ Long Bay (5)

The next morning we had an excursion to one of the caves that started at 6:30. At first this seemed impossibly early, but once we got out of the caves and saw the line trying to get in, we were glad we got up a bit earlier :)

Hạ Long Bay Cave (1)Hạ Long Bay Cave (2)Hạ Long Bay Cave (3)

AirBnB in Vietnam

Whereas the first week of our trip we tried to see many interesting new places, the last week was all about sun, sea, and beach :) We had rented a villa on Airbnb, but had quickly come to the conclusion it wasn't what it advertised to be. The pool was a lot smaller than advertised, the rooms hadn't really been cleaned (we found nail clippings, an old sock, and plenty of dust), and the bathroom ceiling was partially open (by design), so that during a rainy night our bathroom got soaked… To top that off the neighbors were doing some construction work, and we could hear dogs barking at night.

Sun, sea, and beach

After we got our refund from Airbnb, we found a lovely resort for the rest of our stay.

Đà Nẵng resort (1)Đà Nẵng resort (2) Đà Nẵng resort (3)Đà Nẵng resort (4)

Hội An

The last small trip we made was to Hội An, known for its well-preserved streets and homes.

Hội An group picture (1)Hội An group picture (2) Hội An paper lantern (1)Hội An paper lantern (2) Hội An temple (1)Hội An temple (2) Hội An paper lantern (3)Hội An paper lantern (4)

Going home

After a short stopover in Ho Chi Minh City and an absolutely fantastic massage :), we headed back home. Thanks for all the great new impressions and memories :)