From Vietnam to Thailand – Highlights on every step

17 days, 3 countries, 4 beautiful beaches, 3 capitals, swamp, mountains, islands and historical sites – my journey through one of Indochina’s most exciting regions had everything a traveler can dream of.  Working as an intern at Jewel Tours, I, a 24-year old German was assigned to check travel destinations for what the company stands for: quality, authenticity and local experience. From Saigon to Bangkok, passing Vietnam’s Mekong Delta and marvelous Phu Quoc Island, Cambodia’s Sihanouk Ville, Phnom Penh and the ancient Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, and finally Thailand’s paradise islands Krabi and Koh Lanta. A new highlight with every step!

I started my journey in Saigon, a truly dynamic city with bustling traffic, big markets, historical sites and an impressive skyline. Those who like big cities and Vietnamese history will love Saigon. The war remnants museum and the reunification palace offer great insights into the infamous past of the country, whereas the central Ben-Thanh market is ideal for those looking for exotic food, souvenirs, clothes or simply the thriving Vietnamese everyday life. On Saturday I took a bus to the Cu Chi Tunnel, one of the most historical places of the country, where you can learn about the Vietnam War of the 50s-70s. Local guides that have fought in the war themselves guide you through the dense network of narrow tunnels, explain the function of tools and traps and tell their story from the little-known Vietnamese point of view. Something you find only here!

Saigon, Vietnam, authentic travel, city life, capital
Vietnam travel, Cu Chi tunnel, authentic, Saigon
Cu Chi Tunnel

On Sunday I made my way to the Mekong Delta, the South-western region of the country, which mostly consists of swamps and untouched natural reservoir, making it a biological treasure trove. Visiting bee farms, holding giant snakes, making coconut candy and having lunch in a traditional swamp restaurant designed the first part of the day, before we jumped onto the wooden canoe and paddled through the marvelously peaceful swamp. A natural beauty as I had never seen it before!
I spent the night deep in the swamp at a home stay family far, having fresh seafood dinner and sleeping in a small bamboo cottage. Authenticity approved!

Mekong Delta, Vietnam, Saigon, authentic travelMekong Delta - Paddling through the peaceful swamp

At the crack of dawn the next morning, motorboat and –bike brought me to the infamous floating market of Can Tho – a remarkable place! Travelling alone I was forced to organize my own boat and eventually ended up with an old man and his grandson driving me around the countless fruit and vegetable sellers in their old, brittle boats.

Mekong Delta, Vietnam, Floating market, authentic travelMekong Delta, Vietnam, Floating market, authentic travel
Floating Market - Can Tho

Back on land, I set forth towards my next destination: Phu Quoc Island. 2 motorbikes, 1 bus, 1 relentlessly crowded minivan and 1 speed boat later I reached my destination  and for the first time in Vietnam had sand under my feet and a the wide ocean in front of me. Phu Quoc offers everything you expect of a remote Southern Vietnamese island: beautiful coastlines, fresh seafood, friendly locals, untouched nature and a marvelous sunset. Travelers: take note!

 Phu Quoc island, Vietnam, south, authentic travel, beachPhu Quoc island, Vietnam, south, authentic travel, beach
Phu Quoc Island

Fresh and relaxed I continued my journey to the next peninsula, Sihanouk Ville, only few kilometers away from Phu Quoc but in a different country: Cambodia. Following my inspection duties, I now travelled with 3 Cambodians of a partner travel agency and together we examined the local setting. The next few days were characterized by city exploration, sightseeing and an unforgettable seafood picnic on the white sand beach. Work can be worse.

 Sihanouk Ville, Cambodia, authentic travel, beach, seafoodSihanouk Ville - Beach picnic

Next on the list was the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, a city that may not convince through its beauty definitely through its immensely interesting culture-historical background. Phnom Penh’s streets are bustling, tuc tucs are rushing through small alleys, bringing tourists to the various historical sites around the city. The Royal palace being residence of the king makes it the arguably most impressive building of all and is definitely worth a visit. Other places that make this city so special are the Wat Phnom, a hill amid the city center offering an excellent view over the city; the Silver Pagoda, the National Museum of Cambodia; the Tuol-Genozid museum and the Choeung Ek. The latter is recommended only to those with strong nerves: visitors of The Killing Fields can view the mass graves where between 1975 and 1979 over one million people were executed and buried by the Khmer Rouge regime. At all hazards, this place is a must-see for every history enthusiastic traveler. At nightfall, Phnom Penh’s streets lighten up and unite locals and tourists in a vibrant nightlife.

 Phnom Penh, Royal Palace, sightseeing, authentic travelPhnom Penh - Royal Palace

Phnom Penh, National Museum, sightseeing, authentic travel
Phnom Penh - National Museum

10 days into traveling and 2 nights in Phnom Penh behind me, I headed out to what would be one of the major highlights of my trip: Siem Reap. The bus only takes about 5 hours and leaves you in a beautifully green, tranquil city bordering the picturesque Tonle Sap Lake. The city itself is ideal for those seeking rest, walks along the plant-covered river and a huge, lively night market. Highlight of the city, however, is the infamous Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious monument. Seeing the sun rise behind the temple complex and reveal a spectacle of colors reflected in the fronting like, was definitely worth getting up at 4 am.

Inside the temple site history-lovers’ heart flourishes with the walls carrying ancient carvings and the origin of some stone figures on the top floor going back to the early 12th century. The Angkor Wat visit was followed by inspections of several other impressive ancient temples, including the Bayon Temples with their engraved stone faces, and the Ta Prohm temple, famous for giant roots covering the ancient constructions. I have never been much of a history fanatic but seeing these temples was different. A truly amazing experience!

 Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Siem Reap, authentic travel Angkor Wat - Siem ReapBayon Temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia, authentic travel Monk in front of Bayon Temple - Siem ReapTa Prohm temple, Cambodia, Siem Reap, authentic travel
Ta Prohm Temple - Siem Reap

My trip continued with a flight to Krabi, Thailand, the next morning. Arriving at the hotel, I went out to discover the small town of Krabi by foot and came to the conclusion that Thailand is fundamentally different than Vietnam and Cambodia. It’s a much more developed country and the vast number of tourists brings along a different living style as well as higher prices for everyday commodities. Visiting the beaches of Rai Leh on the next day, however, I realized why it has become such a popular tourist destination: the nature is sheer astonishing! Warm turquoise water and white beaches provide best conditions for relaxation and massive limestone crags invite for spectacular rock-climbing. Beach & nature seekers find their paradise in Krabi but the authenticity enthusiast might feel at the wrong place with countless tourists around him.

Rai Leh Beach, Thailand, authentic travel, beautiful nature Rai Leh Beach - Krabi 

And so it came that I set forth towards the south to explore the remote peninsula Koh Lanta where I found an incredibly hostile family amid the mountain forest that would host me in their little wooden shack. I learned about traditional agriculture and jewelry artisanry in the morning and cruised along the hilly streets with my rented motorbike in the afternoon. Surrounded by beautiful untouched nature, few tourists and a friendly Thai people, this place is made for those seeking authentic and relaxed holidays in Indochina.

Home Stay Koh Lanta, Thailand, Krabi Authentic home stay - Koh Lanta

As last stop of my trip, big city life in Bangkok was on the program. 8 million people, sky train, metro, countless shopping malls and ever-shining ad signs created the greatest-possible contrast to recent days and show the impact of Indochina’s by far biggest economy. Bangkok is adventurous, exciting and definitely interesting to discover but remains an acquired taste for those preferring paths over roads and local dishes over McDonald’s.

 Bangkok, Thailand, city life, authentic travelBangkok

17 days after leaving Hanoi I finish my exciting journey through Indochina and board the plane that would bring me back to known ground. It has been a very exciting trip with all the ingredients an authentic Asia experience needs. Back in the office in Hanoi, the team and I work hard on implementing the suggestions that I brought along so as to make every of our Indochina adventures as authentic and culture-close as somehow possible.


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