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Old 22nd November 2011, 23:21   #1
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Arrow Footloose in VAMBODIA (Vietnam + Cambodia)

Vietnam + Cambodia - story of the 21 days story: With the holidays approaching in October, it’s time to start the research to be footloose from 21st October. Who would travel is clear; eldest son in Bangalore with engineering projects was out of question, youngest son was allowed only 7 days by his IIT/AIEEE Resonance guys, that left me and wife to enjoy (?) each other’s company for 3 weeks!! To be cooped up for 3 weeks on a foreign land would test any relationship, but we agreed on some ground rules, this is important from our experience from the Europe & UK tours.
  1. When the wife speaks the husband listens. Not applicable to the wife.
  2. Just hand over the budgeted money for the purchase to the wife, do not interfere with the purchases and no smart comments. The excess baggage will have to come from husband @ 3 USD per kg.
  3. Each person can wear what he/ she wants, no comments on the colours, outfits and choices.
  4. Each one will have a separate bag, no mixing up or messing around the wife’s bags.
  5. The passport, money, important documents, booking, check in / check outs, transportation, handing over / currency and all mission critical tasks (read stress and tension) will have to be naturally handled by the husband, rest of the important things will be handled by the wife.
  6. Th cameras, capture and storage would be handled by the husband, the wife would predominantly pose and ensure the husband do not click large number of “other women” in the guise of photography or ogle through the zoom at all and sundry ‘objects’
Our New Zealand Driving holiday plan was almost green; the World Rugby finals in Auckland pushed it out the windows, the rates and rentals went crazy so we dropped it and looked in the Indo China Direction. Our good friend Himanshu in Hochi Minh City (HCMC), Vietnam, emerged as the jump-off point for the Vietnam leg, we know him to be a sheet anchor from past experience. Not many Indian tourists go there, most of the packaged tour agencies gave crazy rates and ideas on the itinerary, confusion reigned, till we decided the destinations and no. of days to spend in each place.

Once Himanshu assured about the safety, food and other basics of Vietnam, we only had to choose the place. The first stop at HCMC, Himanshu’s house was the logical choice as we needed on the ground briefing on Vietnam and also to spend time with him and family. The next choices were difficult, so many places to choose within a short time. We locked on to Nha Trang, it’s the diving capital of the region, Hanoi for Halong Bay and left everything else behind. Convoluted logic if you will; if we see the south, the middle and the north we have seen the country!! Turned out to be a fair sized sample of Vietnam, IMO.

Cambodia was an open and shut case, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap was only possible with just 7-8 days and 3 nights in Bangkok in between on the way back. Booking / Visa was done by Harshil a friend at Paradise Holidays through Jet Airways, the best international choice, IMO. Most of the hotels were done by me after research on the web, this turned out to be good from past experience of touring Europe and UK, Trip Adviser emerged as the most authentic review portal. Posted many queries on climate, culture, dress, touring, things to see do and diving; questions for which I got straight answers from area experts, without these I would have gone in blind and got ripped for sure.

The plan:

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Snippets from execution, almost 100%, except for Bangkok:

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The bookings thorugh Jet Airways for the whole trip was done by Harshil, the A’bad-Mumbai-Bangkok-Mumbai fares were OK at 22 K per pax, but the regional ones from there to PMPN, Nha Trang, Hanoi, Phnom Penh was a rape; only Vietnam Air and Bangkok Air few on timings and days we wanted!! Surface transport was not an option, it would zap all the time and we wanted to keep one day buffer in most places we stayed due to the rainy season, Vietnam can be dicey with rains, access roads. The Cambodian leg from Siem Reap to Bangkok, 1 hr flight on Bangkok Air blew a hole at 11K per pax, time was running out, bookings had to be frozen. As in the past we wanted the hotel booking vouchers on hand and pick up drops fixed before we left India, so freezing everything was critical to peace of mind. Bangkok floods were giving me jittters, contacts at Suvarnabumi Airport assured me not to worry; nothing can happen to the Airport, my transit would be safe at all times.

We had glitches last time in Europe / UK with mobiles, the 3K deposit we gave in India for Matrix vaporized in 3 days!! Himanshu said he’d take care of the sim card for Vietnam; Thailand and Cambodia would be local cards. Put a request for my official Reliance CDMA for roaming, got large number of confusing mails about handsets / modalities, did not work for the first 7 days of our tour and suddenly started working when it pleased, more unpredictable than the rains. Airtel (10 yr old number) also activated my roaming, NOTHING happened, this was the most disappointing, but my wife’s Vodafone with 1000/- deposit worked fine everywhere. This is to get a perspective of what needs to be done when traveling abroad, good to have backups as the most unexpected things happen. Local cards proved to be equally expensive there, we switched to mails, chat on our laptop which we carried; we selected hotels with free wi-fi and internet access, in Hanoi we got a room with an IBM lappy with stunning speed that was good for video calls. I agonized over the camera part; carry the Nikkon D500, lenses and heavy tripod or a simple bridge cameras. Finally settled for the small but powerful bridge, Sony HX100V for still + video and a compact camera for quick use.

20-10-2011: Jet Flight 9 AM A’bad to Mumbai and 0100 PM Mumbai to Bangkok. Boarding at Mumbai turned out to be tense, there were only 10-15 people waiting and on the flight.

The BKK flood threat was on the air, the fear of the unknown and media hype was adding to the anxiety, if we get stuck in BKK, the whole trip would get smoked. One Indian couple with a child were equally jittery, they were going to spend 5 days and the empty flight foxed us. The airport at BKK was practically empty, Mary who came to pick us up said it has been like this for the past one month and the hospitality industry is hit hard.

Booking was done at Lilac Residance near the Airport with pick up/ drop and breakfast, reach BKK around 0700 PM, stay there and next day 11 AM flight to HCMC, Vietnnam. All went on plan and we landed, the visas were done earlier. Visa on Arrival at Thailand is easy, 2 queues; one for 30 USD, sometimes the waiting can be long, express line for 50 USD does the same job fast. You need a passport which has 6 months more validity, proof of travel out of Thailand by way of ticket and address for stay there.

Link to Visa formalities of most countries of the world:

Global Visa

Pick up was smooth, Mary was very good, the van covered the short distance and entered the narrow street in about 15 minutes; sandbagging was visible all over, our street had water for about 1 feet and entrance at Lilac was sandbagged too.

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Room was clean, the fridge was full of free items and pretty good for the price we paid, Mary and the Driver handled the luggage too, they run a lean clean house, the reviews checked out, they were worth every rupee we spent thee. We had a quick shower and wanted to go out for dinner, in house restaurant is only for breakfast. My wife Anu being a vegeratian, we wanted a restaurant nearby; Mary arranged for us to be dropped 3 KM away into a Thai restaurant and gave us a mobile phone to call them the minute we are finished. They give mobiles to most customers for use, the customers had to come to the SKY train station nearby and call for a pick up!! Talking about mobiles.. my Airtel & Reliance died on us when we landed, Vodaphone was the lifeline. I tried many combinations on my Airtel & Reliance, the voice message that came on the phone drove me nuts and.. Anu laughed her heads off!! So much for planning and back up.

The restaurant was OK, locals stags having beer, bar girls having fun with them, wife gave me a raised eyebrow, I said, “It’s OK, this is Bangkok”. Rice and veg curry tasted funny, so were ordered plain veg salad, bread and an omlet which solved the problem. The first lesson; order a boiled egg, an omlet, plain bread, plain sticky rice or plain vegetables (not boiled, they boil it along with non-veg) you cannot go wrong. Finished up by 9, called in the pick up and crashed by 10 PM.

Photo of restaurant, sand bags etc.

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22-10-2011: Bangkok – Hochi Minh City (HCMC)
: Rise and shine, the reception was handled by Laila the owner of the place. Breakfast was great, made to order, eggs, breads, jam / honey, coffee, milk and a spread of fruits, enough and more for us. Our flight was at 1130, we decide to go early at 9 AM. Bangkok airport is pretty well organized; it’s one of the modern and busiest ones. We find our counter for Vietnam Air and present our combined ticket and get another shocker, our names are not on the system. We again point out the e-ticket number given by Jet Airways, the wait was getting on to our nerves, they are not very communicative either, they just stare at you!!

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The lady then says, I have to check with the supervisor and disappears leaving us and a couple of others fidgeting on the line, she comes with the supervisor and he logs into another system and finds our number. Same problem in Nha Trang, Hanoi and Siem Reap; the combined tickets have to be tracked by a different system. So those of you who take combination tickets from an Indian Agent / Carrier, go early to the airport or get separate tickets for separate carriers, have the number of your travel agent handy, just in case the airline does not find you on the logs.

Attachment 846183

Flood damage was extensive, the photos from the Air were a sad commentary, many places marooned, this was the scene even in places in Cambodia, they have the worst flooding in 50 years.

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Can you spot the rainbow in between the clouds?

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They check our sponsor letter which Himanshu had sent us through a travel agent carefully, one spelling mistake on your passport and the letter / visa, you’re in trouble; so those who are traveling out, check and double check it. A Canadian couple who had a ticket to Vietnam had two spelling mistakes, they were NOT allowed to fly to Vietnam, without sponsor letter, you are not allowed to even board. We clear immigration and settle into the full flight, the menu was fish, but we were stocked up with apples and chips. On landing, there were hardly 5 people waiting at the immigration counter, we fill out a form, give two photos (carry at least 10 passport photos when you go abroad, never know when you need one) and pay 25 USD per pax and wait for 45 minutes, they work pretty slow there. Finally, we were clear and meet Himanshu outside. He heads Torrent Pharma in Vietnam, has a company Innova, left drive, it’s left in Vietnam. We reach his flats a good 45 minutes away and meet his family for the first time, though we have exchanged notes many times.

I vibed with his son Akshu, 6 year old immediately, constant talker, asks an awful lot of questions and can stump anyone. His younger brother, Namay 3 is a silent worker and believes in action… get the drift?

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I vibed with his son Akshay, 5 year old immediately, constant talker, asks an awful lot of questions and can stump you or anyone. His younger brother, Namay 3 is a silent worker and believes in action… so you get the drift? Himanshu’s wife is a great lady, a personification of patience and hospitality, you would warm to her instantly. We had perfect hosts and enjoyed our 4 days there thoroughly, time flew by quickly. Time to realax till evening and then off to District 1 which is the commercial capital of HCMC.

Last edited by ramkya1 : 23rd November 2011 at 13:49.
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Old 23rd November 2011, 12:07   #2
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Arrow Re: Footloose in VAMBODIA / Evening 22 HCMC

Evening at HCMC: I ‘d try not to reinvent the wheel; I’d give links to most places that is well written already. I’d give my take on the locations, photos and tips which would be more useful to prospective travelers. Here’s one on Dsitrict 1:


District 1 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The plan was to visit Notre Dame Basilica and Central Post office and taste the streets of Vietnam. We parked and walked to the Basilica, the road sides were alive with sidewalk cafes, vendors of all kinds, people sitting on the nano stools passing time. The Basilica is a grand, striking and domineering French structure of the area. The areas around it were flush with photographing wedding teams. Saw these teams all over Vietnam; reportedly couples spend a fortune clicking themselves in wedding costumes in various settings. There was a wedding going on and entry inside was blocked, wanted to see the inside and were disappointed. Himanshu does not give up easily, he somehow managed to get us entry (don’t know what he did) through a side door, we were inside in a flash; the atrium was grand, reminded about the Cologne Cathedral though in a smaller scale, the air was electric, spent about 15mts quietly. Read more here:


Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Light was fading at 530PM so we came outside and clicked some more and walked to the Saigon Central Post Office. A grand Gothic building on the French style is another tourist attraction today, we walk inside, the arching dome is a huge striking feature, people sending post cards to themselves / relatives, people shopping in the arcade there and many tourists just sitting on the wooden benches to relax. Me, Himanshu and the Children waited while the ladies went souvenir shopping.

Saigon Central Post Office - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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On the way back we decided to try the street offering, the whole shop is on a bicycle, so many things rolled into one!! Was so tasty that me and children licked the styro plates; our ladies were aghast and the local people were smiling too, what do we care… it’s a holiday, for Pet’s sake!! Sat on a sidewalk café, a proper one and ordered Coffee Mocha, glass of black coffee with lots of ice cubes, you keep on sipping and stirring till the ice melts… this goes on for some time. Frankly, I hated the vile stuff, not my kind of filter coffee.


It was dark, we circled around for 15 minutes in District 1 before we could find a place to park. The attractions there are plenty, you’d need about 2 hours of walking around to soak it all in. Most places were closed so we did a walking tour around:

The Opera House : Municipal Theatre, Ho Chi Minh City - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

City Hall: Ho Chi Minh City Hall - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Caught you... Himanshu and Viju enjoying a lone moment.

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The colourful hotels in and around the area and finally our Indian Restaurant for dinner.
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The dinner was great by any standards, we were happy to see Roti, Dal and Curry after the disappointment in Bangkok. The children enjoyed Dosa and South Indian fare, me and Himanshu polished off a couple of Smirnoffs in betwee; a tiring and satisfying start to the adventure. I don’t remember walking so much in recent past, little did I know that the Walking part is going to increase in days to come!!




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Last edited by ramkya1 : 23rd November 2011 at 13:10.
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Old 23rd November 2011, 17:01   #3
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Default Re: Footloose in VAMBODIA/ Cu Chi Tunnels

23-11-2011: Cu Chi Tunnels, HCMC: Been looking forward to this day, visit to Cu Chi Tunnels, lots of information on this here:



http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C%E1%BB%A7_Chi_tunnels

These tunnels were built mostly by hand, farming equipment and was a constant pain to the Americans during the war. The technique was very clever, alien to the Americans, the tunnel system almost 250 KMS under the ground and was a parallel city in working, bugged the US to no end. Even carpet bombing with B52’s was of no use, by that time they had switched the tactics. It’s a great tourist attraction today, about 70 KM from HCMC, a national pride to the Vietnamese today. Only after a full tour, you’d realize how ingenious the Cu Chi guys were.

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Watch how our guide disappears into the tunnel, it's almost impossible to discover these tunnels once it's closed.

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We got the entrance tickets, about 4 USD for adults and got a guard who agreed to guide us through. He explained he tunnels, the ammo factory, rice paper and Sake making and lots of other things. 2 things of great interest to me were the Firing Range where we cold fire AK 47 or M16 for a price and at the end of the tour their offering of Tapioca or “Kappa” as it’s called in Kerala. I loved the “Kappa”, like potato w, with local tea and chutney, it was exactly like what they make in Kerala and so delicious, we were tired after the long walk, the best food I had in the whole tour. Vietnam has a lot of common with Kerala, communism, rubber plantation, sea and Kappa!! After the tour around 3 PM we went home and had home cooked lunch which the ladies rustled up fast. Time for a nap and in the evening we went to the Cho Ben Than market for bargain hunting, it’s a must see place for Souvenir buying and almost anything is bargainable, as a thumb rule start at 50% of the quoted price.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cho_Ben_Thanh_1.jpg

The photos would tell the story more than words. Did you see "Rambo" in this lot of pictures?
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Last edited by ramkya1 : 23rd November 2011 at 19:25.
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Old 23rd November 2011, 19:09   #4
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Arrow re: Footloose in VAMBODIA (Vietnam + Cambodia)

More pictures from Cu Chi Tunnels and Cho Ben Tan Market.

We tried tunnel crawling, you have to do a duck walk, just enough to crawl, after 3 minutes we were sweating, legs paining, we scrambled out of the nearest exit, our guide looked like he was born there!!

Making Rice Paper
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Delicious Kappa (Tapioca)

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Rubber Estates resembling Kottayam, Pala regions of Kerala

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Tallest building in HCMC, Bitexco Financial Tower with a helipad on the 50th floor.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bitexco_Financial_Tower

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Last edited by ramkya1 : 23rd November 2011 at 19:16.
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Old 23rd November 2011, 22:12   #5
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Default re: Footloose in VAMBODIA (Vietnam + Cambodia)

Thread moved from the Assembly Line to the Travelogues forum. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 23rd November 2011, 23:03   #6
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Default re: Footloose in VAMBODIA (Vietnam + Cambodia)

Awesome ramkya1! Great write up & amazing pictures. Looking forward for the entire log and more pictures. Rating a well deserved 5 stars!!

Quick Query: How long it took to get Vietnam visa or is it visa on arrival like Thailand?

I am sure you will share more details on the whole trip, cost, etc - so pls. let it come!!
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Old 23rd November 2011, 23:19   #7
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Default re: Footloose in VAMBODIA (Vietnam + Cambodia)

Wow!!! another Vambodia TL which seems to be flavour of the season. Ramky, Nice to see you coming with up a great TL. These places are definitely on the list "to see".

The dos and dont's on these trips applies only to male species

Good going. Waiting to hear more.
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Old 23rd November 2011, 23:41   #8
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Arrow re: Footloose in VAMBODIA (Vietnam + Cambodia)

My friend managed the sponsor letter tCrough a Travel Agent there, mailed to me, I used the print out along with the application on landing. Copy of which goes to the immigration offfice at the airport, I show the letter at the airport, wait for a long time, pay 25 USD and it's done. I was given to understand, visa on arrival at Vietnam is available, but can be tricky, they ask all sorts of questions and check everything like places of stay, air tickets etc., so I didn't want to risk it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by maheshramaling View Post
Awesome ramkya1! Great write up & amazing pictures. Looking forward for the entire log and more pictures. Rating a well deserved 5 stars!!

Quick Query: How long it took to get Vietnam visa or is it visa on arrival like Thailand?

I am sure you will share more details on the whole trip, cost, etc - so pls. let it come!!
@ GTO: Thanks and lot.

@ Fauji: Tnx. The female of the species have no rules!!

===

Last edited by ramkya1 : 23rd November 2011 at 23:44.
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Old 24th November 2011, 00:31   #9
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Default re: Footloose in VAMBODIA (Vietnam + Cambodia)

Can relate to the flood situation Ramky, was in Thailand around the same time (1st to 8th Nov). Eagerly waiting for rest of the travelogue.

Didn't see two types of VoA in Bangkok, we had paid 1000 Thai Bhat for visa, which is around 33/34 USD.

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Old 24th November 2011, 06:13   #10
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Originally Posted by arindamray View Post
Can relate to the flood situation Ramky, was in Thailand around the same time (1st to 8th Nov). Eagerly waiting for rest of the travelogue.

Didn't see two types of VoA in Bangkok, we had paid 1000 Thai Bhat for visa, which is around 33/34 USD.
In VOA there are two queues, right for 30D (don't remember the TBH, exchanged approximate of 30 USD, must be the exchange rate on 10-11-11) the one of the left is express for 50 USD, all were empty.

Travel Tip: Our agent got ONE TIME entry in Thailand but we had to come back through Thailand and had to pay Visa charges AGAIN for the return journey on 10th and 11th November, 2011. You need to ensure that it's multiple entry and covers the whole period of travel, that would have been more economic.

There's almost 20 GB of photos, it's a decision dilemma what to upload with a limit on time and 30 photos for upload.

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Old 24th November 2011, 07:10   #11
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Default re: Footloose in VAMBODIA (Vietnam + Cambodia)

Superb coverage.

The air shots flooded of plains show the devastation across the farming districts. Sad.

Did you not get a bout of claustrophobia crawling along those tunnels?
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Old 24th November 2011, 07:57   #12
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Superb coverage.

The air shots flooded of plains show the devastation across the farming districts. Sad.

Did you not get a bout of claustrophobia crawling along those tunnels?
Yes, Sudevji & thanks.

The real damage is heavy. Today's news, Honda has stopped production of City due to supply crisis due to Thai floods, most industries north of Bangkok are shattered, Bangkok itself is behind a dam of sandbags, tourism too is at its lowest ebb. Pretty bad scene up north. Pattaya and south has survived, tourists have moved in there, huge traffic jams on the roads, most places booked out, so really not the place to go now.

Got pretty hairy, air is thin, you could hardly move on hands and knees, the walls rush in you, only source of light is from the guide's torch in front, only one section of about 1 kms is allowed with many exit points, doing 100 mts was enough before we shouted at the guard, "outside, outside". The guard was about 5 feet, 50 KG and slithered in and out like a snake, made it look so easy!! Not for heavy/tall people for sure
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Old 24th November 2011, 09:02   #13
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Default re: Footloose in VAMBODIA (Vietnam + Cambodia)

As usual, a well-researched trip planning process! Another how-to-do TL!
Why did you choose this particular travel circuit?
I am surprised that you did not drive or mobike around! I am told that they have some lovely drive circuits (self-drive tours or with groups) in Vietnam & Cambodia.
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Old 24th November 2011, 10:05   #14
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As usual, a well-researched trip planning process! Another how-to-do TL!
Why did you choose this particular travel circuit?
I am surprised that you did not drive or mobike around! I am told that they have some lovely drive circuits (self-drive tours or with groups) in Vietnam & Cambodia.
HVK, Tnx.

This is the less trodden path, economic, all the planning was in place, we almost did it last year. My friend there in HCMC is a marketing guy touring the region constantly and said safety is not an issue for tourists in Vietnam, as safe as any other tourist place.

All blogs advised against driving; you need at least 6 months residence in Vietnam & Cambodia for a driving permit, no insurance cover, if you hit somebody YOU are at fault and most do not understand English. However, we did Nha Trang entirely on a hired bike. We did check out the drive groups, different tastes, they linger too long on any given spot. We love to move fast and keep moving

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Old 24th November 2011, 10:44   #15
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Default re: Footloose in VAMBODIA (Vietnam + Cambodia)

Now this is a log that I have to read at leisure. Because your style of travel is very similar to mine. 4 trips to Europe and 6 to Apac region has been a self planned (most like almost back packing trip) for me. And I saw that streak in you in your UK trip. I'm sure you'd bettered that this time in Vambodia. So this thread will be keenly followed Saar.

Here's the first rule I notice you broke in the first 5 mins of browsing.


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Th cameras, capture and storage would be handled by the husband,
The photograph of Akshay is clicked by your wife I guess! Anyway, I knew this was brewing up when we spoke of a potential meet in AHD where you said you are planning a vacation. And I knew from an earlier log here that there's high possibility you are off to see Angkor Wat.
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