So I had this amazing idea. Let’s take our entitled, ‘I want it now’ generation children to a place where people live differently to the privileged lives they are accustomed to.
Deciding on a destination was easy. We wanted food, warmth and culture, and something outside of our comfort zone, but not too much. We’re not talking India here. We also wanted bang for buck. South East Asia was a non-brainer. I was inspired by experienced South East Asia travelers, Red Door Ponderings and Good Food Chronicles, and other friends and family who have only raved about the place.
Deciding where in South East Asia to go required compromise. My husband had traveled in Thailand, Vietnam and Laos before, and I was keen experience all on offer, but we couldn’t do everything. We had five weeks up our sleeves, a 10-year old, a 15-year old, and did I mention we invited my mother along for the adventure? We settled on Vietnam and Cambodia – and my research and planning began in earnest.
My husband is a go-with-the-flow, sort-it-out-when-we-get-there, she’ll be right, kind of traveler. It took some time to persuade him that although I was willing to travel on budget, I was not willing to turn up in a foreign country with two children (and a nana) and no plans, and we would not be backpacking. I wanted to maximise every minute, and this would require planning ahead.
I’m quite laid back…. I only spent eight months perusing the internet most nights (booking.com, Trip Advisor, Travel Fish and many other places on the interwebs), and talking about it constantly to anyone within earshot. Organising and planning things, especially family travel, is my special gift.
I decided that three to four nights in each place, with longer stops at beaches and over Christmas, would be manageable – enough time to see some sites, and chillax by the pool and have rest days if needed. I booked several accommodation options in each place (2-3 star, pool essential) through booking.com, cross-referenced with Trip Advisor. I noted down the main sites or attractions I wanted to see in each place. Travel Fish was an awesome resource for this.
- Siem Rap (four nights)
- Phnom Penh (three nights)
- Koh Rong (five nights planned, we only stayed 3 in the end)
- Sihanoukville (two nights – un-scheduled)
- Kep (one night)
- Phu Quoc (five nights)
- Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) (three nights)
- Hoi An (four nights)
- Hue (three nights)
- Hanoi (four nights)
- Halong Bay (one night)
- Back to Hanoi (one night)
Getting around was really easy. We took advantage of a variety of transport modes – tuk tuks (such fun!), uber taxis, minivans and motorbikes (cheap as chips), buses and a couple of internal flights. We took one overnight train from Saigon to Hoi An. I was actually dreading being in such close quarters, but it was actually very comfortable and clean.
So many highlights, it’s difficult to narrow them down
- Siem Reap was an excellent Asia 101 – introduction to Asia. It’s small enough to navigate on foot, friendly, and feels safe. And of course there is the amazing Angkor Wat. I nearly died of heat exhaustion here – needed to have lots of quiet sit-downs in the shade.
- The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Killing Fields and S21 Prison – These are essential experiences to understand Cambodia’s recent history and how far they have progressed as a people and country. Sobering and impressive. We left nana and the 10-year old at home for these ones.
- Koh Rong – we stayed at Robbie’s Coconut Beach Bungalows and enjoyed the great hospitality, warm waters and beautiful beach. Unfortunately we didn’t get the full five nights after being evacuated due to an impending storm. All good though.
- Phu Quoc – Red Door Ponderings found us the best accommodation at Ninila Fruit Farm Bungalow. The pool and cocktails were definitely the highlight here. It was a short walk to the local village for amazing BBQ restaurants. We also went snorkeling off a boat. It was a personal challenge for me, but I was very happy with myself for doing it.
- Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) – we loved the heat, the crazy traffic, the street food and markets. We did a fantastic motorbike tour of the major sites with XO Tours. This was definitely a highlight.
- Hoi An – the tailored clothes, and the beautiful old town, of course.
- Overnight cruise on Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay – we didn’t scrimp on this, but it was still cheap in comparison to anything we’d get in New Zealand. We had seven staff to five guests and were treated like kings. The food was super-amazing.
- Hooking up with RDP and GFC for the Koh Rong/Phu Quoc leg of the trip – lots of laughs, catch-ups, bobbing in the water, cocktails and food.
- Cheap food, accommodation, transport, cocktails and massages. Safe and easy to get around, friendly people.
- Negotiating the wants and needs of five people of varying ages was challenging at times, and I’m not sure what we could have done better. If someone wants street food, someone else wants pizza. If someone wants to see the sites, someone else wants to stay by the pool. There were benefits in having three adults, but it also meant we went our separate ways on several occasions.
- We liked the small family-owned hotels way more than the big flash ones.
- Bargain, bargain, bargain for everything. It’s expected, and it’s fun.
- Don’t eat the peeled fruit, even if you feel like you can let your guard down in a nice hotel. We got very sick for a couple of days – it could have been avoided.
- The 10-year old struggled in the last week or so which resulted in regular melt-downs. She was homesick and wanted her own bed. This probably could have been avoided by planning a shorter trip, but I actually think it was personality related more than anything. Another 10-year old might have loved it.
- Expect the unexpected, go with the flow, and enjoy it.
Would I do it again? Hell yeah! Loved it! Would I do it again with two kids and a nana? Possibly. That bit was quite challenging.
I do have a renewed travel desire to travel more though, particularly as my children get older – either with or without them. Exploring Asia further is top of my list, perhaps Thailand and Laos next time. I am seeing an opportunity in approximately in three years and six months to be precise (sans children and nana).