One of the highlights of my career as a travel writer was visiting Southeast Asia aboard the now defunct Pearl of Scandinavia. It was a dream cruise that stopped at the fascinating Kotakinabalu, Malaysia, the over-the-top wealthy Sultanate of Brunei, Whampoa, a region of Guangdong, China now Huangpu District, Guangzhou, People’s Republic of Chins and other exotic ports. We saw pandas, rice fields and child prodigies playing classical piano—it was surreal, and a long time ago. So when a press release arrived promoting a dream-like Southeast Asia tour I immediately felt ready to return.
The announcement read, “For the price of a new mattress, bicycle or refrigerator, you can visit the magical temple of Angkor Wat and other remains of Cambodia’s great Khmer Empire, plus all the attractions of Vietnam, whose people are delighted to welcome American visitors.” If that doesn’t get one’s attention.
It’s World Spree’s 15-day Best of Vietnam and Cambodia tour that takes you the aforementioned areas for $3,299 from San Francisco. That price includes transpacific flights on Korean Air, all other flights and transportation, deluxe hotels, daily American buffet breakfast, 16 other meals, comprehensive sightseeing, entrance fees, professional English-speaking guides, taxes and fuel surcharges. The rates rise in December, but go down again in February. There are direct flights available from Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, Washington, D.C. and New York for an additional price.
The tour takes off in lively Ho Chi Minh City aka: Saigon, which boasts glass skyscrapers in addition to ancient temples, French-colonial architecture and the infamous Cu Chi tunnels. Then there’s Hue, the old imperial capital that is home to a wealth of royal palaces, temples and gardens, and Hoi An, a relaxing port town full of traditional Vietnamese architecture (here you’ll have a river cruise and a free afternoon to enjoy the beach at an ocean-front resort).
On to the capital, Hanoi, known for its 600-year-old Old Quarter, exquisite French architecture, leafy boulevards and the prison called the “Hanoi Hilton.” Next, a tour highlight: the spectacularly-beautiful Halong Bay, one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, where you’ll have an overnight cruise on a deluxe traditional-style “junk” (well, yes, traditional, but it has private baths and air-conditioning).
Finally, a flight to Siem Reap, gateway to the famous Angkor, built when it was capital of a Khmer Empire (802 to 1432 A.D.) that stretched across much of Southeast Asia. Here you’ll visit the magnificent Angkor Wat, the world’s single largest religious complex, as well as local villages and several of the other restored and ruined temples located in the dense Cambodian jungle.
Almost all departures offer a complimentary tour of Seoul during a layover in Korea on the way home to the U.S. Prices are per person double occupancy on a cash only basis. For more information about the Best of Vietnam and Cambodia tour, log onto www.worldspree.com, click “Tour Packages” and then “Cambodia.”