Well the trip has begun, arrived safely at Birmingham Airport with no problems it helped being a sunday so no traffic. Its the first time we have flown from Birmingham Airport quite a strange place, pretty characterless really, but again I suppose all airports are really. I really don’t get excited about the flying part of our trips anymore. I just want to get where we are going. One thing on the subject of flying that I did find strange is that we checked in online the day before thinking that it would make things easier when we arrived but it did not make an ounce of difference we still had to endure the obligatory showing of your passport at every gate we passed through, we even had to show our bording card to buy a bottle of water, quite what that is about I couldn’t tell you, enough of my gripes. Boarded the plane with the minimum of fuss, and was very impressed with the amount of leg room in economy, also very impressed with the in flight entertainment, which had an impressive amount of films and music, also usb connectivity even an electrical socket to charge laptops etc.things seem to have moved along since the last time we flew long haul.Well done Emirates We were a little delayed in leaving the UK which did not give us a lot of time for our onward flight to bangkok so we were transprted to the other side of the airport quite some distance in a oversized golf cart, dropped off and was told to go up one leval and keep walking, after what seemed like an age we got to our gate, well at least we could see it down below us but with no visable means to get down there, we asked a member of staff who wanted to direct us all the way back the way we came but the girls were having none of this so one of them who shall remain nameless (initial J) saw a staircase behind a glass door, opened the door the alarm went off and world war three broke out, thought we was going to be locked up before we had even arrived in Asia, woke security up though it had the desired affect though we got to our gate. More later
Well the day is very close when we embark on our month-long trip to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, it’s been some eight months now since we booked our flights to Bangkok, and the journey since that day has been immensely pleasurable, with many hours spent reading guide books, researching the internet, reading the invaluable blog post from people who have had first-hand experience in visiting the countries we are going to. On the journey I have learnt a great deal about their history and culture and the many facts about the various conflicts they have had. Some of the facts I have read about the Vietnam War and Pol Pot regime in Cambodia were very startling indeed.
I diverse, back to the planning. Now anyone who reads my blog will know that I am a great advocate in independent travel, as for me the months as in this case of planning is just as pleasurable as the trip no doubt will be itself, as I feel like I have been on the journey all this time, and no doubt my fellow travellers will agree. Now there are many people who would never attempt to do an independently arranged trip and would be completely out of their comfort zone in doing so. I’ve had people say to me “your brave” or “are you mad” but I’m neither (or maybe I am having served many years as a London firefighter), but have gained this experience over many years and on many trips, but everyone has got to start somewhere, so if anyone reading this post has the slightest interest in I urge you to have a go. Now I am not saying do something like we are embarking on, just something small like a city break in Europe or a country nearby whatever part of the world you live in, having said that our very first independent trip was back in 1993 when we went to California for a month with two small children, we just booked a flight and a car and found the accommodation along the way, we travelled some 2500 miles and had a fantastic time.
So let’s start. First the flights, if you are booking short-haul flights with a budget airline the rule of thumb is to book well in advance as this is when you will find the best deals, this is normally the same case for long haul but this can be a bit more hit and miss on pricing, we booked some eight months before the trip hoping that this would be the best deal but later found out we could have got the flights cheaper if we had left it a while, you win some you lose some as they say. I have also found it pays to go to the various airlines direct as they all offer deals from time to time, so my advice is to take the time to register your details with them, and get on their mailing list and they will email you from time to time with their various offers and promotions. Also whilst on the subject of flights there are numerous web sites and phone apps to help you with the process, like flight search engines like Kayak and Skyscanner also another very good tool to use in conjunction with booking flights which is also available as a phone app is Seat Guru, this will enable you view the various airlines seating plans and help you in choosing the best seats.
Next onto the accommodation, there are many sites available on the web to help you find the right hotel, villa or apartment; it is really all down to your personal preference in which you use, personally I use booking.com, but like I said there are many others. In conjunction with Booking.com another good site to which I use a lot is Trip Advisor, Once I have found the accommodation I am thinking of booking I go onto Trip Advisor and get the low down and reviews on the accommodation I am thinking of booking, which in my experience are pretty accurate on the whole.
Next the legalities and requirements of whichever country you are planning a trip too, like what are the visa entry requirements for the country you are visiting. My advice on this one is to contact the country concerned embassy direct either via their website or phone for entry advise, the reason I say this there are many third-party companies offering to do this for you but like everything in life nothing is free and there will be an additional charge on top of the normal fees, and it’s quite easy and painless to do it yourself, many of the embassy’s offer an online service as well. If you read one of my previous posts on “Vietnamese visa application” you will see how easy and pain-free it is.
Now onto vaccinations, obviously your first port of call for this is your GP, but a really useful website is FitForTravel which is run by the NHS it was recommended by the nurse at my GP’s practise and is the one that they use.
One last website worth a mention is the Foreign and; Commonwealth office which will give you up to date advice on any countries you may be thinking of visiting.
Once last useful tool I want to mention and which I have used extensively and found invaluable in planning this trip is Pearl Trees, now I will try to explain but if I loose you just visit their site as they will do a far better job than no doubt I will so here goes. First things first is to set up an account which is totally free, then you download the add-on for your web browser in my case I use Firefox but I’m sure it will work with all others, then you start by creating a main pearl, which in my case is Vietnam then when you are doing your research you just add the various things you find to your pearl, I said I would make a hash of explaining, just visit the site and you will see what I mean. Before anyone says you can just use bookmarks, but pearltrees is unique whereby your pearls are available for everyone to see so it’s a great way of sharing information on any given subject. Phew that was tough I was even boring myself.
So like I said at the beginning start off small and work up to a more adventurous trip or jump straight in at the deep end like I did all them years ago and I am sure you will be throughly rewarded by the experience and also save some money in the bargain for your next adventure, let me explain. On browsing the various itinerary’s from the various travel companies offering trips to Vietnam I was amazed at the cost. Typical trip for 11 to 14 days in just Vietnam were ranging from between £2500 to £4000 per person, our month-long trip which include return flights from UK to Bangkok, two internal flights in Vietnam, a flight from Hanoi back to Bangkok, 30 nights accommodation in nice hotels not hostels all for the grand total of approx £4000 for three people give or take a £100, bargain in my book.
So hopefully after reading my post I hope I have wetted your appetite for independent travel, and given you some useful tips along the way. So as always stay safe, keep well and keep travelling. Next stop Bangkok watch this space.
I thought I would write this post to hopefully give some tips to anyone planing a trip to either Cambodia or Vietnam and obtaining visa’s for these countries. Firstly I will deal with obtaining a visa to enter Cambodia. Now a visa can be bought on arrival at the two main airports, these being Siem Reap or Phnom Penh and various other border crossing points, click here for official embassy link but as we were travelling overland and entering Cambodia from Thailand at the Poipet Aranyaprathet crossing, and having done some exhaustive reasearch into the crossing process and reading about the many visa and currency scams we decided to opt for the eVisa route. At this point I must mention not all crossing points accept the eVisa’s, the two main airports do as mentioned and the crossing that we are going through, but I suggest that if you crossing into Cambodia at any other point check the eVisa map on the official website. Now as I mentioned previously about my reasearch into the crossing point and the many posts about the visa and money changing scams at the border I don’t want to put you off travelling into Cambodia in this way as having viewed some very good YouTube clips of the crossing and reading various posts regarding the crossing it does not seem that bad at all. (for a very good article on the crossing “Click Here” ). Back to the eVisa application, all you need to do is to visit the official Kingdom Of Cambodia website click on the eVisa apply now button fill out the form, (you can add a new form for each traveller in your party in the same application) upload your passport photo or photo’s, which you either scan in your photo’s or get a digital copy from a photo lab, or in my case, as photography is one of my hobbies took them myself, of each applicant pay your fees and wait for your email with your visa delivered to your inbox in a PDF format with full instructions on how to proceed, which is basically print off your eVisa, it suggests printing off a couple of copies cutting out the visa, which is the size of a passport page and stapling it into your passport. The fees for the visa at the date of this post is $20 + $5 processing fee which is the same as the border crossing, but it’s far easier and less hassle sitting in front of your laptop or PC. Now for the Vietnamese visa which is a little bit more involved and definitely more costly. If you conduct an internet search on ” Vietnamese Visa” you will get a whole raft of hits from various sites offering to do the whole process for you, a lot will be offering “visa on arrival” service but having read numerous post and forums there seems to be mixed messages some people have done this and seem to have had no problems and others have had bad experiences, basically “Visa on Arrival” is just a letter of intent stating that you have been accepted for a visa but you will still have to go through the visa application process when you arrive in Vietnam. The official Vietnamese website does not recommend getting a visa in this way as there are many unrecognised and fake websites offering this service and they cannot verify the validity of these visa’s, so my advice to anyone reading this article is to apply in plenty of time and go down the official route. Now for the application itself, you need to either apply in person at the embassy or download the forms from the offical site fill them out attach a passport photo and send them via special delivery to the embassy along with your passport. You can send more than one application in the same envelope to save on postage, you need to email the embassy before you send your forms & passport off for the current visa prices as they do not display them on their website. The current cost at the date of this blog is £54 for a thirty-day single entry visa, you will also need to include £8 per single passport or £6 per passport if you are sending two or three, this goes down the more passports you send (see their website). One last thing to mention is that the website and the email they sent me with the current pricing differs slightly on the website it states that you can send with your application a pre paid special delivery envelope but their is still a £3 processing fee for each passport, the website also states payment can be made in either cheque, postal order, cash (if you apply in person) and bankers draft, but on the email I received with the current pricing it stated that pre paid envelopes were not accepted and there was no mention of payment by cheque, but as I had already bought a pre paid special delivery envelope and was going to send a cheque I telephoned them to ask was it ok to send a cheque and return envelope they told this was in fact ok so thats what I did. Well I hope so as at time of writing this article we have not had our passports returned but it has only been a couple of days, so watch this space.
Well its holiday planning time again,and this trip is a big one, you see its my dear wife’s let say milestone birthday next year and also we have been together for forty years so we decided that we would do something special. Now from previous posts you can see we love travelling and have always been ones to do lets say not your average holiday, we have always booked our holidays independently and not with tour or holiday company, now for many people having the comfort of leaving it all to a travel agent is the way they like it but personally the planning of the holiday is just as enjoyable as the holiday itself.
We have travelled a great deal but mainly to the USA and throughout Europe and we have only been on the eastern side of the world a couple of times both these times to India with a stop overnight in Qatar but our experience of the east has left us wanting more. Now the idea of going to Vietnam was conceived after watching an episode of Top Gear where they travelled to Vietnam and travelled from Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) in the south, travelling north along the coast and ending up in a place called Halong Bay a Unesco world Heritage site which I instantly fell in love with as it looks a truly magnificent place.
Another reason for booking independently is that you can change your plans along the way the more information about the country you are visiting to you gain, so here is the itinerary so far
- Fly to Bangkok with Emirates airlines, where we have three nights at the hotel Boonsiri Palace.
- We then have the option of either taxi, coach or train to the border town of aranyaprathet
- Cross the border into Cambodia then travel onwards to Siem Reap by coach or taxi (no trains in Cambodia)
- We have three nights at the Hotel La Tradition d’Angkor it’s from here will be visiting the temples of Angkor
- Then our next leg is an onward journey by river speed boat , (looking forward to this part) to Phnom Penh for two nights where we are staying at the Aqua Boutique Guesthouse.
- Next it’s onto Ho Chi Minh City formerly Saigon. We are staying here for four nights and are staying at the Nhat Ha 3 Hotel it’s from here will be visiting the various sights that Saigon has to offer, the Mekong Delta, Cu Chi Tunnels (not all the 200km of them I might add) and the Killing Fields etc, although the killing fields will be a rather sobering and distressing place to visit I feel its a must if you are in Saigon
- Next it’s an overnight sleeper train to Nha Trang where its time to chill for a couple of days. We staying at the Fairy Bay Hotel in a luxury sea view suite, I might add all for £60 per night bargain
- Then its on the train again to Hoi An a Unesco World Heritage site for three nights at the Vinh Hung Hotel & Spa
- Next it’s off to Hue (pronounced hway) where we are staying in the Orchid Hotel for two nights
- Then it’s an overnight sleeper train to Hanoi where we are staying for three nights at the Ha Noi Eternity Hotel with a day visiting Halong Bay
- Then it’s a flight back to Bangkok for a relaxing three nights at the Anantara Bangkok Riverside Resort & Spa before flying back to the UK
Finally here are some of the websites that I have used to put this trip together just click on the highlighted links
- Emirates Airline
- Wiki Travel
- The Man in Seat Sixty One (Train, bus & Coach travel throughout the world)
- Booking.com (Hotel accommodation)
- Air Asia
You can find more of the sites that I have used by checking out my Pearl Trees account, just click here Bob Rouse@ Pearl Trees . Keep a check on this from time to time for more additions and useful information for anyone planning a trip to Vietnam.
Finally please follow my blog if you are interested so you can keep up with the regular updates