During the Christmas holidays last year we had some time to relax and think about the coming year. We ended up booking all of our holidays for the year in the course of a few days. I am not sure this was the best idea but on the plus side everything was paid for early in the year and all we have had to do is sit back and enjoy the ride…though, of course, it is never as simple as all that.

I have always been fascinated with Asia with its varied cultures and, quite important for me, amazingly tasty food. Despite this interest I have never visited Thailand or Vietnam, never mind Cambodia so this area appealed to me for a visit particularly “over land” rather than a resort holiday with the easy, but very removed, transport option of flying. I have heard of people travelling through Vietnam and Cambodia backpacking or riding bicycles but not knowing the area and, yes, not being the best of shape we figured the best bet was to ease off on the physically demanding side of things and go with an escorted holiday. Later as we learned more about the climate we agreed avoiding the exercise was probably a good idea anyway. We had decided that travelling in August/September was the best time of year as it is the rainy season so temperatures are a bit easier to take. We eventually decided to go with Intrepid Travel ( as their philosophy appealed to me with the focus on sustainable and cultural tourism - Attempting to get to the heart of the area being visited including using local transport, local guides, and home-stays, where you stay with a local family. If we were going to go to the effort to get there it made sense to try to get into the culture as much as we could for the time we were there.

We booked the “Cambodia Adventure” tour ( which consists of 12 days starting in Bangkok, Thailand travelling through Cambodia and ending in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam with highlights including Angkor Wat and a stay with a family in Cambodia for one night though the last made me a bit nervous from my previous homestay when volunteering in Africa (see Day Fourteen - Friday, February 8th, 2002 - Homestay - Sanyang Family). I booked our flights at a very reasonable price on Singapore Airlines with brief stopovers in Singapore in either direction - Brief but hopefully enough time to make our transfers. The flights corresponded, of course, with the start and end date of our tour, arriving slightly before and leaving slightly after but I kicked myself shortly after booking as I realized I had booked to leave on the Tuesday but Monday was a holiday! I should have booked to leave on the Sunday (Mel generally works on Saturdays) for extra time in Bangkok before our tour…but, it turns out, this was not a problem…I did check with the airline but the cheap fare meant to change the dates would have cost the same amount as the original ticket so we left it unchanged.

Map (from

Late in June we were told that we were the only ones booked into the tour so were asked whether we would like to switch to slightly shorter 9-day tour “Angkor Trails” ( which not only fitted into our already booked travel arrangements but they would also give us some money back and pay for the extra nights we would be in the Bangkok hotel before the tour began. Their biggest concern was that if we were interested in the travelling in a group aspect this would be a better experience. This was a no-brainer for us: Not only would it give us the extra days in Bangkok that we had been looking for, it would also not cost us anything, indeed, we had a bit more money in the bank and we would have company on our trip.

Of course there were a lot more logistics involved such as visas and money. The visa for Thailand was easy enough as you get one when you land at the airport. For Cambodia you can get this at the border but we thought the easier option was to get an electronic one issued in advance as I feel the more advance preparation you do the more enjoyable and, more importantly, relaxing the experience. Vietnam was tricky. British citizens can have a visa issued on arrival but for us Canadians we had to get a Visa issued by the embassy in London (thankfully we live in London so Mel visited on a weekday when she was not working).

As far as money is concerned, Cambodia and Vietnam needed a bit of work. I think it is always good to have at least some cash in the local currency before arriving in a country so you are not immediately scrambling to find some when you arrive. Of course, just in case, we needed to tell the banks we were going away in advance so they did not get suspicious if we used our bank or credit cards. For the Thailand currency I had read that Thai Bahts were much easier to obtain on arrival at the airport where they also offered a much better exchange rate so I held off on getting any of those. For Cambodia they largely use US dollars so those were easy enough to get ahold of but for Vietnam their currency is “not freely convertible” (yeah, I don’t completely understand it myself but I from what I have read this means the currency is not openly traded on foreign exchange markets - no idea how this affects travellers though…) so was surprised when I was able to get some Vietnamese Dong (yes, yes, get the jokes out of the way now…) in advance along with my US dollars. Figuring out how much to get was also a bit tricky but Intrepid’s “trip notes” helped a great deal with this.

All that was left for us to do was to get packing. A few weeks ahead of leaving we started putting things into a pile on a chair in our front room then, a week ahead, I put the pile into one of the pieces of luggage we would be taking with us. On advice from both Intrepid but also for our own piece of mind (and body) we agreed to just each take a “carry on” sized suitcase and a rucksack. Though we would not be taking the carry on onto the plane with us it is small so should be easy enough to drag behind us on our travels. There was going to be a fair amount of transport and transfers involved so travelling light was important to us.

We had to put our cat, Apple, into a cattery for our trip as we were concerned she would be lonely in the house alone for the two weeks we were going to be away even if we had someone drop in on her from time to time. With the holiday this meant we actually dropped her off on the Saturday even though our flight was on Tuesday. It was odd being in the house without her before we left - It didn’t feel right. We did manage to distract ourselves in London before we left though with a Zip line experience on Saturday (see Review of 'Zip World London') and a food festival on Sunday (see Review of 'Foodies Festival: Alexandra Palace'). Monday came and we completed packing, charged up the phones, the iPad, the camera…we were as ready as we would ever be.

>> Tuesday, August 29th