VietnamLast summer, when we were discussing going somewhere warm in winter, our friends Vova & Masha suggested we go all together to some place in South-East Asia. We eventually settled on visiting Vietnam, where our friends Jeremy & Rebecca had moved to. Our entire group has Russian citizenship, so entry to Vietnam was visa free :)
Mostly, anyway, as it turned out. When we entered Vietnam the border guard asked us about our stay, and when he heard we'd be going to Cambodia and then coming back to Vietnam, he warned us we could enter Vietnam visa free only once per 30 days, which meant for our second entry we'd need a visa :( We (kinda stupidly) decided to park the issue until evening, so we could at least enjoy our only day in Ho Chi Minh City.
Ho Chi Minh CityJeremy & Rebecca had arranged for a private tour bus to drive us around to see the city's main highlights. With it being ~33 °C on the streets and having small kids with, being able to get back into an airconditioned bus made for a great way to see the city.
The visa debacleAfter a lovely dinner with loads of meat and lobster, we decided to discuss our little visa debacle. It was Friday evening, and we'd be leaving to Cambodia the day after. Our stay in Cambodia would be quite short; we had planned to come back to Vietnam already on Monday evening. So the big question was: would we have enough time to get our visas to Vietnam done on Monday, the very next working day? If not, we would have to forgo going to Cambodia altogether, but then at least we could stay in Vietnam until the end of our trip.
Vietnam offers several ways of getting a visa: 1) at an embassy, 2) an e-visa online, 3) or a visa on arrival at a major international airport. A few weeks prior we had already arranged for our e-visas to Cambodia, and since those had been granted very quickly (within the hour during the weekend), we had high hopes the ones to Vietnam might also be issued in time. So we applied. And left to Cambodia. And then nothing happened…
The visa were supposed to be done within three working days, so we were prepared to stay in Cambodia for a few days longer, and forgo part of our planned trip in Vietnam. By Monday morning we still had received nothing, so decided to look into the visa-on-arrival option. To be eligible for a visa on arrival, you need an approval letter from a Vietnamese travel agency inviting you to Vietnam. Fortunately, there are plenty of companies that offer such letters online, and can have it ready within 2.5 hours, at a cost of course… Pity about the extra costs, but at last we were sure we could re-enter Vietnam :)
CambodiaBefore our arrival in Cambodia, we had arranged for a transfer from the airport to the hotel. We had quite a lot of luggage with for our daughter (suitcase, stroller, bed, car seat, freezer bag), so imagine our and the driver's surprise when we met:
Angkor WatOur main reason for visiting Cambodia was to see the Angkor Wat temple complex.
The hotel suggested we rent one of their tuk-tuks for the day, so as to not have to walk the many kilometers between the different temples. In ~33 °C and with a toddler strapped to your back that turned out to be a lifesaver: the breeze during the rides and the cooled wet tissues the driver had with (seriously :) made the heat a lot more bearable.
The temple complex itself is not only the largest religious structure in the world, it was also wildly impressive. It uses more stone than all of Egypt's pyramids combined, with most of it intricately carved. Or, as French naturalist and explorer Henri Mouhot put it mid-19th century: "It is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome".
Do marvel at these for a bit:
Siem ReapAfter a fantastic, but tiring day in the Angkor Wat temple complex, we relaxed a bit, and strolled along the city of Siem Reap. We were pleasantly surprised by how friendly the Cambodians were, and how everything was so well taken care of. During lunch time our approval letter was done, so after a sigh of relief we were off to the airport (in two tuk-tuks this time).
Back to VietnamGetting the visas on arrival at Hanoi international airport turned out to be a breeze, and surprisingly: free :)
HanoiUnfortunately, Hanoi didn't impress us much. We visited the Hồ Chí Minh Mausoleum at the Ba Đình square, which was very reminiscent of the Red Square. For others, the main sight there was our blonde and blue-eyed daughter :P
Afterwards we tried to walk around the old center a bit, but that proved futile.
The sidewalks were filled with stalls, people loitering, and scooters parked, and with Vietnam's crazy traffic we decided walking on the street with a stroller wasn't a good idea. Instead we rented a taxi for two hours, that drove us around to some of the sights.
Besides the few interesting sites, because of the crazy traffic, the cold and rainy weather, the overall communistic atmosphere, and the rats running around at night we were glad we were staying for a day only.
Hạ Long Bay mini cruiseHạ_Long_Bay ("descending dragon bay") has some 2000 islets, many of them sticking straight out from the water. The cruise led us around the bay, with a short transfer to a boat trip around one of the fisherman's villages. We were obliged to wear life vests, which didn't work too well with our baby carrier :P
The next morning we had an excursion to one of the caves that started at 6:30. At first this seemed impossibly early, but once we got out of the caves and saw the line trying to get in, we were glad we got up a bit earlier :)