Join our travellers Nithya, Madhura and Mahaswetha as they narrate their soul-searching through this female traveller’s guide to Vietnam and Cambodia with their girl squad.
The greatest of journeys begin with a quest – ours was to lose ourselves in a foreign land, embrace a new culture and, of course, revel in the high that travel gives. We are a group of six friends – Madhura, Nithya, Apoorva, Mahashwetha, Mayuri and Ashwini. If there is one thing apart from friendship that unites us, it is the love of travel. While each of us have travelled, this was our first girly trip abroad, to not just one country but two! Thanks to PickYourTrail, we got all on our bucket list and more! What made us choose Vietnam and Cambodia? These countries brought together the best of history, culture and of course the fun element too!
Spectacular Vietnam: For us girls, Vietnam held (still holds) a surreal splendour, that of a country which is iconic Buddhist, yet has a deep Communist past. The contrasts that Vietnam presented were very vivid – beaches and war museums, paddy fields and World War tunnels. We wanted to explore these peaceful lands that were once ravaged by war.
Exploring the iconic Halong Bay
Spectacular cliffs rising amidst emerald green waters, dotted with thousands of green topped islands, Halong Bay is probably on top of most traveller wish lists. In 1994, this beautiful bay was made a World Heritage Site. One of the reasons we wanted to start our Vietnamese exploration with Halong Bay.
Our two day cruise began on high note of excitement! It’s not often that you get to chill on the decks of a cruise ship, looking at the most beautiful scenic spots in the world. The cruise takes you through the limestone cliffs of Halong Bay, giving you a glimpse into nearly 1900 islands (we didn’t count!) and the most colourful marine life ever. The sun at the brink of collapsing into the horizon seemed to still the bay into silence.
Central Halong Bay, along which we cruised has many fishing villages that give you the feel of how the locals live. From water-markets to fishing, life revolves around these emerald green waters for these humble folks. We weren’t going to miss out on action too – The Sung Sot Cave was on our agenda. Kayaking our way to Sung Sot Caves was just the tip of the adventure iceberg. These caves are one of the largest and most dramatic ones around. We learnt that the name translates to ‘Surprising Cave’ and it caught us by surprise that the mouth of the caves is reached by ascending more than 100 steps!
Fav Moments: Some fun moments we hold fond in our memories – singing Christmas carols with the crew of the ship! Don’t miss the kayaking for anything, trust us!
A lot can be said about Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. The city boasts of a culture that is a pulsating mix of Chinese, Asian and French all at once. We discovered the best way to feel the throb of the city was by walking through its heart – the Old Quarter. This old part of the city houses the daily night market. It’s narrow streets are choc-a-bloc with shops and are quaintly arranged by the goods they sell. While you could grab a few souvenirs here, what is most interesting is the never ending array of colourful street food. While you are at it, try the Vietnamese spring rolls and the papaya-mango salad. A nip of the infamous Vietnamese egg coffee at Giang’s Cafe and we felt one with the country itself!
Fav Moments: We just loved the Vietnamese Ao Dai, the traditional dress that locals wear. Get one back home and you’ll surely end up making a style statement!
Touring the Nihn Binh
The paddy fields of Ninh Binh were in their sunniest shades of yellow. The peace that prevaded us was something beyond ordinary.The Nihn Binh area is the agricultural belt of Vietnam, that lies in the delta of the Red River. It is most visited for its beauty and also for the Tam Coc caves. A serene boat ride up the Ngo Dong River takes one to these mysterious limestone caves.
Fav Moments: The cave adventure was followed up a countryside cycling trip – the best way to witness Vietnam, with the breeze in the hair and adventure on our minds!
Country : Cambodia
Captivating Cambodia: Vietnam had left us awestruck, but we were sure Cambodia held more than that for us. And how we were right! When we landed at the Siem Reap airport, the sun was about to set, bathing the airport in magical gold. We felt the uniqueness of Cambodia hitting us. The architecture of the airport was very different from any other airport we have ever seen. The roof was temple-like and a big statue of Buddha welcomed us with a smile that made us jump out of joy. With an airport so interesting, we just couldn’t wait to see what the country was like!
Angkor Wat: Beauty amidst wilderness
Our first morning at Cambodia started with a quiet excitement. We rose much before the sun did, as we had to catch him at the UNESCO site of Angkor Wat! As we drove towards the largest temple or religious site in the world, we sensed the beautiful landscape we passed. We were prepared for more beauty. But what we didn’t know was that Angkor Wat catches all its first time visitors by stupendous surprise. A lot of open-mouthed moments later, we took in the grand temple complex and the bright orb of sun that was rising beyond. We had more awe-inspiring moments at the Angkor Thom complex that day.
Fav Moments: Some memorable selfies with the sun. And not to forget the sumptuous Khmer lunch – the Khmer Amor fish curry had us in raptures!
The 10th century Cambodian temple, Banteay Srei and its neighbouring Ta Prohm temple complex, was the perfect example of nature-meets-architecture. Roots of ancient banyans blend with the stone structures. It was a sight to behold! This was where the Angelina Jolie blockbuster Lara Croft – Tomb Raider was shot. The stones have stood witness to more than ancient stories it would seem!
Fav Moments: The Apsara dance, the traditional dance of Kingdom of Cambodia is the best way to enjoy the Khmer culture. We got to take selfies with the dancers!
The Phnom Penh adventure
We were ready to paint the town red! Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city is a great cocktail of modernity and colonial charm. A girlie trip without shopping?! Central Market was a must-do, not just for filling the shopping bags, but to acquaint ourselves with the gentle Cambodian culture. That night we clambered on our beds with some of our booty!
We awoke forlorn the next morning, a little waylaid by the knowledge of the journey ahead. While our minds set in motion prepping on what next, our hearts craved a slice more of this journey. We boarded our flight back to India, persevering to make a journey back here, for our galleries were full but our souls – not yet.
The Great Adventure of Life
Travel always makes one grow as a person. It widens horizons and perspectives. It exposes us new cultures and lifestyles. We loved the time we had together. It brought us closer as friends and also brought us closer to nature. For many of us it was an exploration of a personal side – maybe the adventurer in us or maybe even the birdlover! The friendly Cambodians or the peaceful Vietnamese are something that all of us treasure in our hearts! We hope this is just the start of a series – Tell us if you enjoyed the female traveller’s guide to Vietnam and Cambodia.
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