How to do…
Cambodia’s Killing Fields
Rising amid the Killing Fields is the imposing memorial of a Khmer-style Buddhist stupa. The silence hangs heavy as you step inside to find tiers of human skulls, testament to the unimaginable horror of the 1975-1979 Cambodian genocide. The Choeung Ek camp is surprisingly small, the fields reduced to memorial gardens. Their history is signposted – otherwise you’d have no idea the deep, overgrown pits here were once mass graves. A visit is almost unbearable, but essential all the same.
TOP TIP: The audio guide (included in ticket) is moving, but locals resent it for taking guides’ jobs. Consider a full day with a guide.
You’ve fantasized about…
Cruising Halong Bay
Invaders pour in from the North. The battle is all but lost. Then, there be dragons. A fire-breathing beast screams across the sky, a blaze of ferocious offspring at her back. From their mouths, infernos erupt and emeralds spray like cannonballs. Victory is won, Vietnam is free and Halong Bay is born. Or so goes the legend, which doesn’t seem that outlandish when you first glimpse this mesmerising UNESCO World Heritage site – just squint to obscure the 8,000-plus other visitors that arrive every day.
One way to arrive is by seaplane: Hai Au Aviation (seaplanes.vn) is the only operator, with flights from Hanoi costing from USD285 one way. A splurge, yes, but it’ll spare you four hours of dreary road travel. And that dragon’s-eye view of Mr Whippy clouds over velvety mountains will stick with you for as long as you live. Alternatively, stay overnight. Halong’s day-trip boats are restricted to five set routes, with most racing along the same course like a Red Bull-fuelled flotilla (starting from about USD6o). By contrast, a one-night cruise can loop among the bay’s 1,60o islands at leisure: with Paradise Cruises you’ll get to kayak around the tucked-away Cua Van floating village, explore the eerie Sung Sot cave and enjoy a sunset swim in the idyllic bay at Coconut Tree Island. Or try Journeys to the East, which does ‘glam’ with pimped-up private junks delivering bubbly, private chefs and massages.
TOP TIP: To get the bigger (not to mention less-populated) picture, look for boats doing `route five’ – the day-trip boats stick to routes one to three to get back to port on time, but fewer make it around route four, and fewer still route five.
Where to stay:
Accommodation in Vietnam and Cambodia ranges from backstreet cheap to palatially opulent and when it comes to the latter, Anantara has two of the best hotels in Vietnam – by a sweeping beach in Mui Ne and riverside in Hoi An. Park Hyatt Siem Reap is the hippest spot near Angkor Wat or, for a taste of colonial charm, try Grand Hotel d’Angkor. Places fill up fast during peak tourist seasons, so booking in advance is wise. Dnata has a whole host of accommodation in both countries.
As in most Asian countries, there are always a few street scams to watch out for. The most common is taxi drivers and market sellers trying to overcharge or short-change you, so ask drivers to turn on the meter before getting in, and have plenty of loose change in your pocket for exact payments. Remember that Southeast Asia is still a relatively poor region, so aim to tip people for good service, or if they’ve gone out of their way to help.