Centuries of history, rich cuisine, nature, and welcoming people wait for you in Southeast Asia. Here’s a 10-day Cambodia and Vietnam itinerary.
Surrounded by legends and mixing a hectic lifestyle with the spirituality of religions like Buddhism and Hinduism, Southeast Asia is one of the most diverse and incredibles places in the globe. With an welcoming people, rich history and cuisine, you will visit a place that will likely make a lasting impact in the way you see the world. Here’s a 10-day Cambodia and Vietnam itinerary to make the most of your time.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Once an ancient empire, this Cambodian city is now a hub for the curious traveler who has a love for mankind’s history. Angkor Wat is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the temples and ruins tell stories that see you travelling back in time to the Khmer kingdom and more. Here’s our itinerary to make the most of your visit to this preserved land.
To truly get to know the archeological zone of Angkor Wat, save around 2-3 days, with a ticket purchase for access to the site. To start the day well, the Cambodian sunrise is a must-see. Check the weather so not to wake up too early to a cloudy day. If you’re lucky, cotton candy rose and blue make the sky reflected on a lake look like a painting.
After watching the beautiful sunrise, head to the interior of the Angkor Wat temple which gives you an idea of the masterminds behind the ancient kingdom. Besides these mindblowing insights, the building style of the five symmetrical towers inspire awe. Don’t forget to climb to the top of the central tower for a view of the entire plateau. Remember to keep knees and shoulders covered to visit the temples.
Next, head to Ta Prohm Kel, the old hospital chapel of the empire or to Phnom Bakheng, where it’s possible to see Angkor from another angle.
Angkor Thom, the walled, forgotten city is the next stop. Enter through the south gates and make your way to the Bayon buddhist temple with more than 50 gothic towers, a homage to the king Jayavarman VII. Its rising stones deteriorated by time, but still holding on with splendor and strength give the place an atmosphere of magnitude that is unmatched. Imagining these ruins in the times of their glory takes the experience to another level.
For video-game lovers and Angelina Jolie fans, visit the ruins that were the set for the movie Tomb Raider, the Ta Prohm. The rustic patio gives you a chance to appreciate the view and maybe even try to play pretend. As an alternative, visit Banteay Kdei, the public pool of the empire, at the margins of the Srah Srang lake.
Also plan to visit the Elephants Terrace, a plaza that was used for entertainment back in the days. Enjoy the morning or afternoon to spend time around the terrace visiting the smaller, but equally fascinating ruins around it, including the Baphuon, Neak Poan, and Presat Pre Rub, the Shiva temple.
If possible, pay a tuk tuk to take you around 30 minutes away from the main archeological site to the Women Citadel (Prasat Banteay Srei), impressive for its pink arenite grooved stones.
You can visit all these attractions on foot, tuk tuk, or even biking. Make sure to visit during a time when the heat won’t be at its peak or during the monsoon – making the Asian Winter the ideal travel season for this trip.
On the third day, take time to relax a bit and get to know Siem Reap, the city in which Angkor and its many archaeological preciosities are located. Some local attractions include the Old Market, a not very photogenic stop that definitely presents a contrast if compared the crowded and touristy ruins, but a must stop for those who want to see how the locals live and shop!
Going to Cambodia and not trying the local food is a sin. Make your way to the Pub Street, a street filled with restaurants and bars serving the best Cambodian cuisine in all sorts of styles and prices, but most of them, for very cheap. After that, enjoy a traditional dance presentation at the Apsara Theatre, a little bit further away from the city downtown.
After 3 days of exploring, visiting, and trying so many new things, one last destination on your Cambodia and Vietnam itinerary awaits.
Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
The biggest Vietnamese city will most likely wow the traveller who wants to avoid a big metropolis. But don’t let the appearances and somewhat funky traffic turn you away from the richness found in this country. From a war influenced history, to lively nightlife, amazing wildlife and delicious food options, Ho Chi Minh can be intimidating at first, but will make you feel welcome. Save three days to fully explore the city.
Being a country that was able to fight and withstand adversity like bloody wars and colonization, not knowing the facts that shaped Vietnam would make this travel plan extremely incomplete. Start day one with a visit to the War Remnants Museum. Take approximately 2 hours off the day to fully explore the 3 floors of the building with 12 exhibitions and become acquainted with what happened in a not-so-distant past to the Vietnamese people. The fee to the museum is symbolic and costs approximately 2 dollars.
After that, head to the Independence/Reunification Palace, which represents the end of the war. The layouts of the rooms in the interior of the Palace were all preserved and you can even visit the basement/underground area where the war strategies were developed.
For the next stop, you can either visit the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon, the physical memory of the French occupation in the country, built with French material brought all the way from Europe. The towers have 58 meters and were the highest in the city until the Saigon Skydeck was built and officially opened in 2011.
Or you can continue its exploration of the Vietnam-US war and visit the Cu Chi Tunnels, an 1h15 minutes away from the city. This place is known because it was an incredibly well designed network of connected underground tunnels that allowed Vietnam to win the war. You can even go inside the tunnels for 100 meters and understand what it was like for Vietnamese soldiers at the time.
After an intense day, relax at the famous Bui Vieng, the most famous street for nightlife and delicious food in
For the second day, it’s shopping time! Head to the Ben Thanh Market and explore the variety of Vietnamese items, especially culinary ones. An insider tip to have a local breakfast is to go to the Market, buy some stuff there and prepare it back home – or have it prepared for you and eat it right there! It is also a nice idea to buy some souvenirs there once that’s where you’ll likely find them for a very good price.
Once breakfast is over and you’ve walked a bit inside the Market, head to the Bitexco Financial Tower, the tallest building in the city, and enjoy a great panoramic view of the old Ho Chi Minh (old Saigon)and take many pictures. Near the Bitexco is the Dong Khoi Street, one of the affluent areas of the city. Walking along this street you can find luxurious hotels, famous haute-couture brands, art galleries and the Saigon Opera House, besides cute benches to sit and relax along the Saigon River.
Continue exploring by visiting the Nguyen Hue Walking Street at night when the luminous fountains light up and the locals go there for outdoor entertainment. The street gets really crowded, so you can “escape” to a side street named Sadec District with many cute shops and a little less overwhelming vibe than Nguyen Hue.
On the last day, make a side trip to the Mekong Delta and ride the maze of rivers, swamps and islands in a little canoe with a tour guide. Dense palm trees form “walls” that shape the course of the waters and take the traveler to estuaries and to the floating market of Cai Be where one can find ceramics, local art crafts, and typical Vietnamese clothing. If you are adventurous enough, try sleeping in the area before leaving Vietnam and living with the locals to experience a different side of the Vietnamese life.
After Ho Chi Mihn, Hoi An is usually a short flight away and definitely worth the visit. Hoi Ann is considered by most travelers one of the most picturesque cities in Southeast Asia. To fully discover and enjoy the vibe of this delightful Vietnamese city, save yourself three days.
One of the most recommended ways to get around Hoi An is on a (push)bike, specially because cars and motorbikes are prohibited in the most preserved areas of the city. Therefore, to begin exploring, rent a bike at a nearby shop or station (or even at your hotel) and ride to visit the long lasting yellow buildings in Ancient Town. The site is listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Amidst the chaos of modern life, Hoi An’s Ancient Town has managed to remain magical and charming with the river hemming along and the red lanterns hanging from strings above. Besides appreciating the quaint landscape, two other activities very popular in Ancient Town are to put a candle to float in the river and take a picture on the Japanese Bridge. Also, check out the preserved Tan Ky House, the Museum of Trade Ceramics, and the Museum of Folk Culture.
Head to one of the many local restaurants offering authentic Vietnamese food and order cau lao, a noodle dish savored since the 17th century and guaranteed to make the tourist fall in love with Hoi An’s culinary scene. Or, if you are the more adventurous type, ask for a tasting plate.
An insider tip is to stick around Ancient Town until dusk. The red lanterns light up and reflect on the river, making the place one of the most romantic and remarkable spots in the city.
Next day, try a basket boat stroll with locals. The basket boats are primarily used for transportation and fishing, and there are several agencies that offer tour deals. The streams are usually surrounded by palm trees and some aquatic trees that form a very defined path.
After the tour, you can remain in the area and eat at one of the floating restaurants, making the whole experience even more complete.
The afternoon can be set aside to go to a – surprise – tailor. Hoi An is informally considered the world’s capital of handmade clothing and shoemaking. It hosts a myriad of extremely talented professionals and you can have a piece done just for you – one of a kind in the whole world.
However, when choosing the shop or atelier, make sure it’s a reputable one as scams are very common. Ask around and especially ask seasoned travelers. With proper care and orientation, this is also bound to be a special and unforgettable experience.
If there’s still time in the day, add a one-hour trip to the My Son Sanctuary ruins, another UNESCO World Heritage site. The place is a complex of abandoned Hindu temples that represent the 4th to the 13th century unique blend of spirituality, culture, and impressive building skills of those who believed and practiced the Indian Hinduism. There are tours to the Sanctuary on a daily basis, but the trip can also be done independently.
On day 3, hop on your bike again and go to the beach! Although Thailand is the one famous for its paradisiac strips of sand, Hoi An isn’t that far behind.
Cua Dai is one of the most popular beaches, but it’s been somewhat damaged due to typhoons and erosion problems. A stream of tourist is still consistent there, but another (and maybe more appealing) option would be Bang Beach, about five kms from the city. There you will be able to find a spot in the white sand to soak in the sun. Bang Beach has also some rustic sun umbrellas.
If you’re up for more, Cham Island, 20km outside of Hoi An is another paradisiac location that is still relatively unknown. There you can snorkel, dive, and interact with local marine life. The water is usually turquoise and the mountains with lush green vegetation make for breathtaking scenery. To add to the atmosphere, there is also a rustic wood pier that leads to the boats.
The sea gets really rough during the rainy season and all aquatic activities in the Island are considered extremely dangerous and risky, so make sure to check before you go.
After a fun day at the beach, bike back and treat yourself to a complete Vietnamese massage in one of the many shops. You can enjoy a two hour massage session for less than 10 US dollars. You will probably leave feeling renewed and a little bit sore too (but that’s part of the deal). The massage comes as a perfect end to the three days in Hoi An – it provides some final relaxation before the packing and braving all the airport hussle begin again.
The truth is that a 10-day Cambodia and Vietnam itinerary will seem like very little compared to the richness this region has to offer. Nonetheless, the experiences will have you ready to plan the next trip there!