A visit to Cambodia and Vietnam allows you to experience a journey across two distinctive Asian cultures, entwined in a single trip.
The best place to start your tour is at the end of the Mekong River. As it nears the end of its course it passes from Cambodia into Vietnam before splaying out into the vast Mekong Delta. It’s one of the most significant geographical landmarks in the region, a natural highway that’s given rise to great cities, such as Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh. It allows you to get a feel for both countries without internal or short haul flights. Instead, you can get a feel for the two countries as you navigate the ebb and flow of the river.
The two nations complement each other. Siagon is a more modern city, with skyscapers and French architecture. But you don’t need to travel far to feel the great traditions of the past. By the time you reach Cambodia, the industry of the river is replaced by the uninterrupted vista of rice paddies as far as the eye can see.
Both countries have experienced their own harrowing history. The depravity of the Communist era is still evident in and around Phnom Penh, while the Cu Chi Tunnels near Saigon are a poignant reminder the region’s time spent as a theatre of war in the second half of the 20th century.
Vietnam is a dense country, with so much to see. Unless you can spend longer than a month exploring, focusing on the South of Vietnam is recommended, as it gives you easy access to Cambodia, and a whole raft of cultural experiences to take on in Vietnam itself.
Most travellers fly directly to Saigon and spend a few days enjoying the city. From there, heading to Cai Be to take a river boat ride through the Mekong Delta that lasts several days is an unforgettable experience. Taking this cruise on a Bassac boat is a popular choice, as they feature comfortable cabins and on-board dining.
The scenery is a vibrant green tapestry of palm trees and paddy fields interspersed with rows of wooden floating villages and traditional fishing nets attached to the banks of the river. Peaceful waterside towns are lined with French colonial villas. Once you see it for yourself, you quickly realise why it serves as an Agricultural hub in Southeast Asia.
The riverboat tour will likely ends its journey in Can Tho, which is the biggest city in on the Delta. From here take a drive to the border town of Chau Doc, which serves as a link to Phnom Penh upstream.
Anyone interested in the harrowing history of the region will find this area fascinating. A the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum should feature on your itinerary.
From Phnom Penh you may want to head to Siem Reap either by boat or a short internal flight as your final leg of the tour. This will give you the chance to take in the temples of Angkor. This complex is the largest religious monument in the world, and features some truly astonishing man-made structures. It’s an almost overwhelming place, but one that is well worth spending time touring with a guide. It’s a perfect place to finish your journey.