I recently returned from a two-week trip through Cambodia and Vietnam with a good friend from college. As anyone who has traveled these parts knows, two weeks is a very short amount of time to make it through these two countries. Heck, try getting through even one! There were plenty of places we spent a night or two where I wished we could have stayed a full week, but that just wasn’t possible with our schedule.
But despite our time limitations, we did it! I can definitively state that you can get through Cambodia and Vietnam in two weeks, although this may mean taking a strict editorial eye to your itinerary. We endured many questionable stares or comments to the tune of “wow… that’s fast…” throughout our journey as people learned how much we were seeing in how little time. A lot of travelers in our situation might have chosen to just see Cambodia, or to only do the south coast of Vietnam. But it can be done. And I’d like to share some advice for those who might find themselves in a similar spot with only a few weeks to spare and a long list of sights to see!
When it came to planning, we each had our own “must sees.” For Anna, my traveling companion, Halong Bay in northern Vietnam was at the top. For me, I had always wanted to visit the part of Vietnam where my Dad had been stationed back during the war. We both agreed that Angkor Wat in Cambodia couldn’t be missed either. Beyond those few stops, everything else was negotiable, which made planning a lot easier.
We met in Bangkok on a boiling Monday morning in March and spent one day wandering the city before taking off for the Cambodian border the following morning. Throughout the entire trip, we booked our guesthouses and transport (including bus, train and plane) one city in advance. This allowed us to be somewhat flexible while still planning far enough ahead that we never got stranded anywhere due to lack of transportation or accommodation, which was a big concern on our tight schedule!
We spent two full days at the Angkor temples with a guide, which I highly recommend. Having Seng, a Cambodian born and raised in Siem Reap, to take us around made the days so much more enjoyable, and manageable. If left to our own devices in that 100 degree heat and 85% humidity, I’m pretty sure we would have thrown in the towel much sooner and missed out on a lot of what the temples have to offer.
There are other tourist attractions in Siem Reap, like the floating villages on Tongle Sap lake. Knowing our schedule, we agreed that we were content skipping all the side attractions. This is one of the keys to traveling on a strict time budget: know what your “must sees” are, stick to them, and forget about everything else. This is important with any trip, but especially important if you’re trying to see a country in less than a week.
A corollary to this is the importance of not lingering on what you didn’t see. Every trip is going to end with some regrets about a city or an activity that was missed. At the end of my two weeks, I shared a ride to the Hanoi airport with a British girl who had been traveling for three months. Instead of being elated at all she had seen and done, she couldn’t stop talking about how upset she was that she missed Halong Bay. This is an easy trap to fall into at the end of a trip, dwelling on the few places that you didn’t see rather than thinking about all the amazing things you did see. If you’re going to try to see a lot in a short amount of time, this feeling has the potential to be much worse. We did a good job of cutting what we needed to and not letting our thoughts linger on the places that we didn’t get to (no matter how many times people asked us why we didn’t go to Hoi An.) Keep in mind that this most likely won’t be the last trip you take and you will never, ever see it all, so be grateful for the time you have and what you are able to see.
If you keep these things in mind as you travel, you’ll enjoy your time even more. Not everyone has the time or money to spend four months backpacking through SE Asia, which a lot of bloggers seem to do, so I wanted to share some advice for those of you who may be considering a shorter trip. Sure, there are places that I wish we had seen… more of Cambodia (particularly the coast), Nha Trang, Hoi An, Sapa… but I returned to Chiang Mai with nothing but fond memories of everything that we got to experience. Plus, I’ve gotta save something for my next trip to SE Asia! 🙂 Now I’m hooked!
If you have any questions, whether about specific places I visited, or are looking for more general travel advice, please feel free to comment below or shoot me an email. I’m always happy to swap stories and ideas with fellow travelers! 🙂