A holiday in SE Asia; Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam

My wife and I visited these three countries in November 2011. This was our first visit to Cambodia and Laos, our forth visit to Vietnam. We had most of one day in Singapore – by accident.

The purpose of this page is partly as a short record of our holiday, partly to show friends and others some of our better photos, partly to record some interesting (at least to me) observations on SE Asian culture, and partly in the hope that it might be of some use to others who are considering a similar trip.

Written 2011/12/16,last edited 2023/03/25
Contact: David K Clarke – ©

Specific countries...


Angkor Wat at sunrise Luang Prabang from Wat Chom Si, near sunset
Angkor Wat at sunrise
Click on the image (or touch it) to see full size

Introduction: SE Asia

Cambodian child at Angkor
Child at Angkor
Perhaps a few notes on the region are in order. People drive on the right in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam; but on the left in Singapore (and, if I remember rightly, Malaysia and Thailand).

There are many similarities in the culture and society of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam; and then there are differences, genetic and cultural, between peoples within each nation.

An interesting part of polite behaviour in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam is in how one should pass something to, or accept something from, other people. One should use both hands. It is not necessary to hold onto the object with both hands, but the hand that is not grasping the object should at least be touching the other arm. This behaviour is considered more important in a young person passing something to (or acceptiong something from) an older person; less important in the older person. It is a mark of respect to the other person. In fact the local people make allowance for foreigners; they don't expect it from foreigners, and often do not bother using both hands themselves when interacting with foreigners.

Who are we?

My wife, Denece, and I were in our late sixties and early seventies at the time of the visit. Younger people would want to do more active things, of which there were plenty: canioning, hiking, etc. What we enjoyed as much as anything was sitting, sipping a coffee or eating a good meal and watching the local people and observing their culture.

I am an early riser. When on holiday or any other time I usually get out of bed as soon as I notice daylight, if not before. In most places this means that I am one of the very few Caucasians out and about; in Seam Reap this was not so because many made the effort to rise early to see Angkor Wat at sunrise.
SE Asian electrical wiring
Electrical wiring
This example, more chaotic than average, was in Hanoi, Vietnam

Travel and tours

In most places it is possible to travel by organised tours. You can probably arrange all your trip before you leave home; we did not. All that we had booked when we left home was our flights to and from Vietnam (into and out of Ho Chi Minh = Saigon), a connecting flight from Saigon to Siem Reap, a hotel in Siem Reap (it's no fun arriving in a strange place late in the day and having to find a hotel), flights from Siem Reap to Luang Prabang and from Luang Prabang to Hanoi; the remainder we organised as we went along.

The air and smog

Visibility is often limited by smog in SE Asia. It does vary from place to place and time to time, but if you can see more than ten kilometres at any time consider yourslelf lucky. Coming from Australia, where it is not unusual for visibility to be more than fifty kilometres, Denece and I found this disapointing. Probably the worst visibility on our trip was at Hanoi and the first few days at Ninh Binh. I remember on a previous trip to Hoi An visibility was so bad that the Sun could not be seen until it was twenty or more degrees above the horizon.

Mobile phones

Mobile phones

One change since our last visit to the region (in 2008) that Denece and I noticed was the greatly increased use of mobile phones. The photo on the right was taken in Singapore (waiting for one of the underground trains); note that all three people in the foreground are using mobile phones, when we were sitting in a train later we noticed that six out of seven people in a particular line of seats were all using mobile phones at one time.

There was not so much use of mobiles in the other three countries, but still a remarkably large amount of use. Not only did city business people carry and frequently use mobile phones, but even tuk-tuk drivers and small farmers in the country.

Equality between the sexes

Formally, and in law, I believe women and men have the same rights; but in practice women seem to be expected to work longer and more consistantly than men. Particularly in Vietnam one often sees men sitting around in coffee shops or cafes; it is much more unusual to see women doing nothing.


Having seen only one place in each of Cambodia and Laos all I can say about those two countries is that visitors will do well to visit Siem Reap in Cambodia and Luang Prabang in Laos.

I feel more able to advise on what to see in Vietnam, having visited quite a few places and travelled by road or rail almost the whole length of the country. Obviously on the must-see list is Halong Bay, but if you want to see similar karst topography in an area not quite so dominated by tourism the Ninh Binh area is the place to go. Also at Ninh Binh a must see is the huge new Buddhist temple of Bai Dinh. In the vicinity of Ninh Binh, but also not a long way from Hanoi, is the beautiful rural Phu Luong area, where you can get right away from Western tourists. (One place, there must be others, where visits to Phu Luong can be organised is at Xuan Hoa Hotel, Ninh Binh.)

Very touristy, but still very worth-while is Hoi An; great for tailor-made clothes and shoes as well as being a fascinating historical city.

A boat and bus tour of the Mekong Delta shows a part of Vietnam that will be, with the Red River Delta, at great risk with the rising sea levels that will come with climate change.

Under-rated, but certainly worth a short visit are Quy Nhon and Danang.

Finally, one of our favourites is Dalat, at 1500m altitude, is a great place to relax in the relative cool of the Southern Highlands. In Dalat, at the end of the cable car ride, is the beautiful Thien Vuong Pagoda and gardens.