1. Ho Chi Minh City, better known as Saigon, Vietnam. We spent our first two days here, visiting the war museum and narrowly avoiding the thousands of scooters screaming in every direction at every intersection. Because Vietnam is home to many talented tailors, I had my very first dress made and Whit got a gorgeous brown linen suit. Our friends also got two dresses and a suit. (Needless to say, we made good friends with the sweet young tailor.)
2. Mui Ne Beach, Vietnam. This town was to the northeast of Vietnam. Though it looked quite close on the map, it ended up being a six-hour bus ride on a two-lane road. I think back on this trip as one loooooong honk. Mui Ne was a posh resort town and we stayed in an amazing little bungalow on the beach. This part of our trip was called Bliss. On our second day in this resort town, we rented scooters and headed to a nearby fishing village (hence the photos of the Vietnamese children in front of the water) and then on to the incredible red sand dunes (hence the fun jump shots). This turned out to be one of our favorite days on the trip.
3. Mekong Delta, Vietnam. After two days of the good life, we headed to the Real Vietnam. The Mekong River is the bloodline of the country and 85 percent of the country’s rice is produced here in the delta. This was also one of our favorite places. We went to two different delta towns: Can Tho and Chau Doc. We visited a floating market similar to the one in Thailand. But the difference was that in this one, the locals were the consumers, not the tourists. It was so interesting to see these warm Vietnamese people doing what they do every day. We took a small boat on the river to see two different markets. Our ancient boat driver spoke no English but was a steady friendly presence from the time he showed up our hotel to six hours later when he kissed our hands in shocked appreciation to our generous tip. (Generous by Vietnamese standards–miserly by American standards.) This charming boat trip was the point in which all four us fell in love with Vietnam. Along the river, kids waved at us, old women smiled at us, and long oars swept the waters around us.
4. Phnom Penh, Cambodia. We were only in the capital of Cambodia for about 2 hours as we transferred from boat to bus on our 18-hour journey to Siem Reap in the north. We had read lots of warnings about the capital city and how seedy it could be after dark. So we all wanted to avoid it, especially since it was New Year’s Eve. But, we did enjoy a short tuk-tuk ride and an Indian/Pakistani lunch. Delicious!! The city is said to have “tattered charm” and I couldn’t agree more. The tuk-tuk drivers were a little too hawkish in their attempts to sell us rides, but overall, I’d like to go back someday and get a better look.
5. Siem Reap, Cambodia.
If I could pick the most charming city in Asia, this would be it. Whit says this is because of my love for all things France and European. He is right. Once occupied by the French, this town with its winding river is geared toward tourists but still has its warm Cambodian charm. The people could not be friendlier. We stayed at the most wonderful French-owned hotel, La Noria ($40 per night). I cannot tell you all enough to go to Siem Reap, visit Angkor Wat, and stay at this hotel
. It was oozing with charm and good food. And even better, the hotel is connected with a local humanitarian group and features weekly music by Cambodians to raise money for the many who have been afflicted by the landmines. The market in Siem Reap is reason enough to visit this city. I spent less than $100 there but am now fully outfitted in everything Cambodian (beautiful silks, handbangs, jewelry, T-shirts, dresses–I got it all.)
6. Angkor Wat, Cambodia. Located just about 5 kilometers from Siem Reap, these temple ruins are truly a world wonder. I hold it in the same high esteem as I did the Great Wall of China. Simply amazing. And they are all yours to explore, climb all over, and talk to the locals who live and work around the complex. We even played Travel Scrabble (thanks Sallie!) at the top of one of the ruins with a Cambodian boy working there while waiting for the sun to set. The only downside is the many children working there, like I mentioned before. But these children are the sweetest, brightest and most tenacious I have met in this world, despite their many afflictions.