Maintaining fidelity to our commitment in 2017 to avoid Europe for Christmas for a while, we spent Christmas and New Years in Southeast Asia this year. Really interesting trip! We planned to focus on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia (who doesn’t think of Cambodia when they think of Christmas, after all?). However, the layover location for our selected flight, as well as the arrival location, gave us opportunities to add two more countries to our list – Qatar and Thailand.
We posted our detailed itinerary in this previous article, but in summary, our trip entailed the sequence of events noted below.
1. Take advantage of an 11-hour layover in Doha, Qatar:
Highlights in Doha included the I.M. Pei-designed Museum of Islamic Art (very cool), a long walk along the harbor corniche, and the Souk Waqif:
The real trip started when we touched down in Bangkok:
As noted in the numbered sequence in the map above, the trip went like this:
2. Arrive in Bangkok, Thailand, and spent a full day (and 2 nights) there. Bangkok wasn’t supposed to be part of the trip, per se, but simply where we’d fly into and sleep in before heading up to Laos. However, one of us screwed up in planning early on (how is this possible when a spreadsheet is involved?!) and didn’t account for an extra day we’d pick up due to the time zone change. As a result, we gained a full day to spend there, primarily at the Grand Palace and markets along the Chao Phraya River (where we finally got to eat Pad Thai in Thailand).
3. Fly to Luang Prabang, Laos, and spend 3 nights there, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Highlights included mountain biking between villages in the mountains outside of town, sunset on the Mekong River, and early-morning alms-giving to the monks in a nearby village.
4. Fly to Siem Reap, Cambodia and spend 3 nights there. The major highlight was an all-day bike trip through the Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and Ta Prohm temples (which was an amazing way to see the temples and avoid the crowds).
5. Fly to Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and spend 3 nights there, including New Years Eve. Highlights included a night time scooter ride through the city to sample street food (probably the most fun we had on the entire trip), traveling upriver to the Cu Chi tunnels used by the Viet Cong, and visiting the frozen-in-time Independence Palace – the seat of government for South Vietnam that was overrun by North Vietnam in 1975, ending the “American War.”
6. Fly to Hoi An, Vietnam, and spend 3 nights there. The main highlight was the ancient town itself, situated on the Thu Bon River, but this was supplemented by biking through rice paddies to the beach and a 43-dish food tasting event one morning.
7. Fly back (which entailed 23.5 hours in the air on 3 flights + 13 hours in combined layover time in Bangkok and Doha). We’re still migrating our circadian rhythms back to East Coast time, after spending 2 weeks in a time zone 12 hours ahead of Alexandria’s. The process is definitely not complete, and we’re still waking up for good each day at 4:00 AM as recently as this morning. It’s getting kind of old, at this point.
More to come on each location! (After we finish posting the remaining pics from Morocco . . .)