Trip Report - Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia - 2019

cschaaf

DIS Veteran
Joined
Oct 19, 2013
Oi! So sorry you got sick on the first day!! It's really rough being sick when you're not in your own home. I'm glad it only lasted one day, and you were able to start enjoying your ABD.

Sayhello
Yeah, it sucked, but it could have been a lot worse. I'm one of those 'never sick' people, too.

I felt fine the rest of the trip. I was glad it wasn't during our pre-trip - we were constantly moving from place to place - or on a travel day.

A few others missed some excursions later in the trip. Some felt ill halfway through our day - ABD was great about getting them alternate transportation to get them back to the hotel to rest.
 

sayhello

Have Camera, Will Travel
Joined
Oct 28, 2006
Yeah, it sucked, but it could have been a lot worse. I'm one of those 'never sick' people, too.

I felt fine the rest of the trip. I was glad it wasn't during our pre-trip - we were constantly moving from place to place - or on a travel day.

A few others missed some excursions later in the trip. Some felt ill halfway through our day - ABD was great about getting them alternate transportation to get them back to the hotel to rest.
Yes, we had a couple of people miss days on our China ABD, too. I guess it happens. :(

Sayhello
 

cschaaf

DIS Veteran
Joined
Oct 19, 2013
Day 4 of ABD –

In the morning, I took a walk down to the beach to see if in the light.
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The group all met and we got in the bus and headed to the Old City. We stopped at a tailor shop for people that wanted something made. I decided on two dress shirts.

Then we went to Brother’s Restaurant for a quick welcome drink, then walked to the market.

We took a long walk through the market looking at the interesting things while the chef picked out ingredients for the lunch. We started in the fruits and vegetable section, then moved on to fish and meats. It gets pretty gnarly at points.

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We took a boat back to the restaurant. After a short demonstration, we were off to make our own spring rolls. We made the rice paper first, then put in the ingredients we wanted. After we ate those, we went back for more cooking demonstrations. They showed us how to make the next two courses, banh xeo and eggplant in clay pot, then sent us out to make ours. Everything was very good. They also had some chicken that was made for us. The guides had purchased some ‘food challenge’ items in the market – duck embryos and silk work larvae. Many tried those, I didn’t need to.

After that, it was a lantern making activity. Small groups gathered around an instructor that showed us the process, then put the glue on the frame for us. We got to pick out our silks. She would start them for us, then hand them over for us to smooth out. She would check our work and said she was ‘quality control’. Mostly, she would shake her head at our poor skills and fix things for us. Our end results looked surprisingly good.

Then it was back to the hotel for some down time. The guides arranged for a local laundry for anyone that was interested. We had about 7 days of dirty clothes each (since we did the pre-trip) and it cost around $20 for all of it. Well worth it. Here is the laundry lady all loaded up with ADB laundry.
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My wife and I went to the pool down near the beach. It was really a beautiful setting. The pool was very warm and about 4’ deep. Perfect for just hanging out.

In the late afternoon, we regrouped and headed back out. First, it was back to the tailor shop for fittings and final touches. Then a short walk back to the river right in front of Brothers, where we boarded a small boat for a night cruise and lantern release. It was stunningly beautiful. So many boats were lit up with lanterns. And this wasn’t even a full moon night where they really bust out the lanterns.
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Diner was on our own and we walked to Morning Glory restaurant. The place was very busy but the service was quick. I got their cao loa and really enjoyed it. We took a Grab back to the hotel.
 
  • cschaaf

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Oct 19, 2013
    Day 5 of ABD –

    After breakfast, it was an early morning departure to climb Marble Mountain. The climb wasn’t too bad and the cave was nice. I expected a good view from the mountain, but we didn’t get that.

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    Then we went to a store for some shopping. Lots of marble statues and jewelry. We were there too long for my tastes, but I wasn’t interested in buying anything, either.

    We returned to the hotel and the laundry was back and waiting for us. Everything was washed, ironed, folded, and packaged in tissue paper. Our tailor made clothes were also waiting for us.

    Lunch was on our own, but there wasn’t much time to do anything but eat at the hotel. We tried the Western restaurant and service was extremely slow. It probably took an hour from when we sat down until we got our food. The food was good, but expensive for what we got (compared to other meals outside of the hotel).

    We hopped back on the bus and went to the airport to fly to Hanoi. Dinner was on ABD at the hotel and, once again, you got to pick your restaurant: Asian, Italian, or French. We chose Asian. We got our menus then a big group of other ADBers came in and sat at a large table – there were probably 8-10 of them. When they got their menus, they were handed 3 different versions of the menu. Even the staff seemed confused. As we ordered, the staff would take our menus and give them to the other ABDers at the other table. The food was disappointing. I think we all agreed it was the worst meal of the trip.

    After dinner, we walked over to the lake and it was a very busy place – so many people out. We saw a bunch of groups of people dancing and exercising. We had our first real experience of crossing a busy street. We stuck with locals for the first few crossings, then got the hang of it. Once you got it, it was actually fun! And, thinking about having to wait for the Walk sign at home started to feel like a big waste of time. lol
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    cschaaf

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Oct 19, 2013
    Lovely photos, especially the boats with the lit lanterns at night!!

    Sayhello
    Thank you! It was tough to capture the beauty of all the boats and lanterns. The Sony glass isn't super fast, but it did a pretty good job.

    Here are a few more:

    I loved the trail of lanterns behind this boat. You kind of have to look for them to notice.
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    These will give some idea how crowded it was. There were boats everywhere - and the more, the better.
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  • cschaaf

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Oct 19, 2013
    Day 6 of ABD –

    I think we kicked off this morning with some pre-breakfast tai chi in the park. It got more and more difficult to remember what we did each day - it doesn't help that the itinerary we were given was often wrong.

    They no longer hand out the tai chi uniforms – too many people said they were too hot to wear. It was hot that morning and the idea of wearing a black tai chi uniform was not appealing.

    After breakfast, back on the bus to head over to the Ho Chi Minh complex. On the way, we stopped at Café Giang for some Egg Coffee, Egg Coke, and Egg beers. My wife got the egg coffee and loved it. I tried the Coke - it was a total sugar rush. Basically like a melted Coke float.

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    Egg coffee on the left, egg beer at the top, and (an empty) egg coke at the bottom.
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    We to the Ho Chi Minh complex to see the tomb from the outside – it was closed because the body was “out for repair”. As we all walked into the complex, the guard started looking agitated. He said something to Henry and Henry told us that he wanted the ladies to cover their shoulders. We hadn’t been told that was necessary and Henry said that was the first time they were stopped for that. There were three or four women with bared shoulders, my wife was one. My mom had a scarf in her purse and gave it to my wife. Meanwhile, Henry made a call to someone and, within minutes, they delivered a few t-shirts for the ladies to drape over their shoulders. I have no idea how he managed to remedy the situation that quickly. As we waited, we saw local women walk in with bared shoulders so we aren’t exactly sure what the issue was.

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    After seeing the sights in the complex, we headed to lunch at KOTO and that was very good. One of the best restaurants of the trip. We had pre-ordered our food several days before this. The menu was massive.

    I think this might have been the day that Disney did the Hua Lo Prison. We had already done it, so we skipped it. We went back to the hotel and rested. They had also arranged tours of the bomb shelter under the hotel if you wanted to do that. We looked at some video clips and the 4 of us all decided it would be too claustrophobic for us, so we skipped that, too.

    That evening, we went to the water puppet show. It was fun and was also something that I had always wanted to see.

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    Dinner was on our own and we went to a local place recommended by Henry. Service was slow and we got one dish we didn’t order, but the food was pretty good. I don’t remember the name of the place but the important point is – ask your guides. Tell the what you are interested in – we said we wanted ‘local’ food and he gave us some options.

    My wife wanted to buy some coffee beans to take home, so we went to find a place and ended up in the middle of a street party. Kids were driving around in little cars, tanks, fire engines. There was a play being staged. Lots of vendors selling balloons – whom all started to run away at one point. We never figured out why.
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    cschaaf

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Oct 19, 2013
    Day 7 of ABD –

    After breakfast, we did the electric cart tour of the Old Quarter. It was a new perspective on the city. We went down streets that we couldn’t have gone in the bus and you are sitting at scooter level. It was a lot of fun. When I saw it on the itinerary, it didn’t look like anything great, but we really enjoyed it and wished it was longer – and I’d guess it was 30-45 minutes long already.

    Then it was off to the airport to leave Vietnam and go to Laos.
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    After landing in Luang Prabang, we went to the museum and a temple. It was very hot. It started to rain just as we were entering the temple – that was the first rain we had seen since our pre-trip day in Hanoi. We got very lucky with the rain the entire trip.
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    Many in the group commented on how clean Laos was. Very green and pretty. We didn’t see garbage anywhere.

    We stayed at the Belmond La Residence and it was, once again, a beautiful resort. The pool area was stunning.
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    The rooms were nice, but the wood floors were slick (even when not wet, if they were wet, they were like ice) and very, very creaky. We were worried the people below us would hear every footstep. My parents were below us and said the couldn’t hear us at all. It looked like many of the rooms had great views. We had an okay view, my parents had no view at all.

    That night, we were taken to the night market and dinner was on our own. The market was the least ‘pressure’ market we’ve been to. For many of the stalls, you had to stop and ask them about pricing rather than people thrusting things in your hands like we encountered in Vietnam and other markets around the world.

    We had picked out a place for dinner and asked our local guide, Ken, for directions. He said if we really wanted local food, that he would recommend we go to Manda De Laos instead. It was about a 10-minute walk from the night market and it was fantastic. We saw others from our group there and everyone loved the meals that they got. Highly recommend this place. The place was stunning - there is a lotus pond in the middle of the restaurant.

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    The food and service were top notch! I got the laap and it was prepared tableside. The would explain each ingredient and ask if you wanted that or not.

    I didn't realize it would tableside prep - I wouldn't have ordered it if I knew that, I don't like a tabelside show. I'm glad I didn't know that ahead of time because I would have missed out on this fantastic dish.

    I was doing mental money conversions and thought the meal was maybe a bit pricey, but still totally worth it. When the bill came, I pulled out my phone and realized I was using the wrong conversion factor. I had estimated almost double what the meal actually cost. So it was definitely worth it!
     

    lovetotravel

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Sep 23, 2005
    Thank you for writing this trip report. As you mentioned in another post, the days and flights differ from the itinerary online. I look forward to the rest of the report!
     
  • cschaaf

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Oct 19, 2013
    Thank you for writing this trip report. As you mentioned in another post, the days and flights differ from the itinerary online. I look forward to the rest of the report!
    I think they now have the flights listed correctly, but there are still other errors/differences. Also, it's possible that I have a few of the days and details mixed up - especially towards the end of the trip.

    If anyone is interested, I can try to list out the differences between what we did and what the currently posted 2019 itinerary shows - once I get through the whole trip report.

    For the most part, I don't think it was a big deal. But, if someone wanted to pre-plan a side trip where they skipped an ABD activity, it would be risky. As an example, we went to Angkor Wat a different day than what the posted itinerary shows - if you had planned something else at that time, you'd miss what may be the consensus #1 highlight of the trip.

    Also keep in mind that they might re-shuffle things again, so whatever I post is only valid for the dates we went. ;)
     

    Skylarr29

    <font color=blue>Oh Darn it, I was 'forced' to buy
    Joined
    Oct 8, 2003
    I think they now have the flights listed correctly, but there are still other errors/differences. Also, it's possible that I have a few of the days and details mixed up - especially towards the end of the trip.

    If anyone is interested, I can try to list out the differences between what we did and what the currently posted 2019 itinerary shows - once I get through the whole trip report.

    For the most part, I don't think it was a big deal. But, if someone wanted to pre-plan a side trip where they skipped an ABD activity, it would be risky. As an example, we went to Angkor Wat a different day than what the posted itinerary shows - if you had planned something else at that time, you'd miss what may be the consensus #1 highlight of the trip.

    Also keep in mind that they might re-shuffle things again, so whatever I post is only valid for the dates we went. ;)
    We’re currently trying to plan a side trip and are worried about this. Best we can do is check closer to the time we leave and hope for the best.
     

    sayhello

    Have Camera, Will Travel
    Joined
    Oct 28, 2006
    We’re currently trying to plan a side trip and are worried about this. Best we can do is check closer to the time we leave and hope for the best.
    Unfortunately, this is always a risk, no matter who you travel with, due to weather, schedules, traffic (we arrived late 3 nights out of our Japan trip due to traffic (including some caused by Trump's visit to Tokyo). No-one knew about that. You kind of have to take a leap of faith.

    Sayhello
     

    Skylarr29

    <font color=blue>Oh Darn it, I was 'forced' to buy
    Joined
    Oct 8, 2003
    We are also planning a side trip in Hanoi and it's not looking good with the flight changes. We are thinking about missing the puppet show or flying into Hanoi as @cschaaf did in the pre-trip.
    The day we’re planning is also the Hanoi day. Fortunately the flights posted for our trip (the early morning flight schedules) seem to be working in our favor although I have no idea if those are even accurate. We want to go to Ninh Binh instead of touring the city.
     

    cschaaf

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Oct 19, 2013
    Unfortunately, this is always a risk, no matter who you travel with, due to weather, schedules, traffic (we arrived late 3 nights out of our Japan trip due to traffic (including some caused by Trump's visit to Tokyo). No-one knew about that. You kind of have to take a leap of faith.

    Sayhello
    This. Even our well planned pre-trip got shuffled because of weather.We were very lucky that we were able to reconfigure those 3 days and still do everything we had planed, albeit in a different order.

    We are also planning a side trip in Hanoi and it's not looking good with the flight changes. We are thinking about missing the puppet show or flying into Hanoi as @cschaaf did in the pre-trip.
    I can only tell you what we were told - we were told that the afternoon flights would be the norm going forward. Again, things could always shift again.

    The pre-trip was very affordable. You can find good hotels relatively cheap - I think we paid $70/night at the La Siesta Trendy. The flight from Hanoi to HCMC was around the same price.

    The day we’re planning is also the Hanoi day. Fortunately the flights posted for our trip (the early morning flight schedules) seem to be working in our favor although I have no idea if those are even accurate. We want to go to Ninh Binh instead of touring the city.
    Our full ABD day in Hanoi was one of the more skippable days, to be honest. The HCMC complex wasn't the best excursion, particularly because we weren't able to get in the mausoleum.

    Ninh Binh was an incredible place. If you really want to do it (and you can't add a pre-trip), I'd suggest you reach out to one of the companies that plan day trips there. You may be able to set it up where you have them on 'standby'. When you initially meet the ABD guides, confirm the schedule for that Hanoi day, then make your decision and contact the tour provider.

    I'd think you could also wait until you get to Hanoi then work with the hotel concierge (and/or the ABD guides) to help set up a NB day if that's what you want to do.
     

    Skylarr29

    <font color=blue>Oh Darn it, I was 'forced' to buy
    Joined
    Oct 8, 2003
    This. Even our well planned pre-trip got shuffled because of weather.We were very lucky that we were able to reconfigure those 3 days and still do everything we had planed, albeit in a different order.



    I can only tell you what we were told - we were told that the afternoon flights would be the norm going forward. Again, things could always shift again.

    The pre-trip was very affordable. You can find good hotels relatively cheap - I think we paid $70/night at the La Siesta Trendy. The flight from Hanoi to HCMC was around the same price.


    Our full ABD day in Hanoi was one of the more skippable days, to be honest. The HCMC complex wasn't the best excursion, particularly because we weren't able to get in the mausoleum.

    Ninh Binh was an incredible place. If you really want to do it (and you can't add a pre-trip), I'd suggest you reach out to one of the companies that plan day trips there. You may be able to set it up where you have them on 'standby'. When you initially meet the ABD guides, confirm the schedule for that Hanoi day, then make your decision and contact the tour provider.

    I'd think you could also wait until you get to Hanoi then work with the hotel concierge (and/or the ABD guides) to help set up a NB day if that's what you want to do.
    Some great advice, thank you. We too, think this day looks the least interesting of the itinerary. We aren’t able to add days because we booked the China trip directly following. We realize it might be a stretch, just crossing our fingers we can make it work. We don’t travel until next October, so I will wait until closer to see what’s actually going on with the flights, ours are listed as early morning.
     

    cschaaf

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Oct 19, 2013
    Day 8 of ABD –

    Today was one of our unexpected favorite activities of the trip, the rice farm. We learned about each step of the rice farming process, then were able to participate. The guides were fun and engaging. We had the option of getting in the mud and most did.

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    After we got cleaned up, we had a big lunch. Then it was off to Kuang Si Falls. The falls were amazing and many enjoyed swimming in the pools. We were worried that they would be muddy due to it being the rainy season, but it hadn’t rained enough and everything was still blue and beautiful.

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    Dinner was at the hotel – we had pre-ordered our meals that morning. Most of us totally forgot what we ordered and there was a lot of confusion when the meals arrived. If this ever happens again on trip (pre-ordering meals), I will take pictures with my phone because, even at a normal restaurant, I often forget what I ordered!
     

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