Ten “Must-Do” Experiences While Traveling Through SE Asia

It’s been nearly a year since I’ve been on an airplane and I have to admit I miss it. I can’t wait until we can safely travel again, especially internationally.

While I don’t plan to blog solely about travel, you know that’s my greatest passion so expect the majority of my posts will be about our travel adventures. And you all know I take way too many pictures so expect lots of those! In order to ease my longing for exotic places, I thought I’d post a few of my favorite photos and travel memories from the past few years. Starting with a more recent trip, our 2019 vacation to SE Asia.

Here are 10 of our top experiences from that trip (not ranked, just in the order we experienced them).

1. The Star Ferry, Hong Kong

Crossing the harbor

In Hong Kong we stayed at the Hotel Intercontinental Grand Sanford (a truly wonderful hotel that I highly recommend). It’s on the Kowloon side of the city which meant we had to take the ferry over to Hong Kong Island. No hardship since the ferry ride across the harbor is an iconic experience and a bargain at 35 cents, one-way. Another benefit of staying on the Kowloon side is being able to walk along the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade at sunset, taking in the skyline of Hong Kong island across the harbor.

2. Victoria Peak, Hong Kong

The view from the top of Victoria Peak

We purchased a 2 day ticket on the HOHO bus from Big Bus Tours. It made it much easier to get around and included a ticket on The Peak Tram, the best way to get to the top (we weren’t gonna walk it!). The Hong Kong skyline is incredible and the harbor is among the most beautiful in the world. You don’t get a sense of how large, developed and vibrant Hong Kong is until you’ve seen it from this vantage point.

3. The Ruins of Saint Paul, Macau

The Ruins of Saint Paul

While we had no desire to gamble, I wanted to visit Macau for the historic Portuguese architecture. An independent trip looked fairly easy, however we decided to book a day trip through Viator to be able to hit all of the sights we wanted. The overall tour, and especially the ruins of Saint Paul, were fantastic. We even enjoyed our time at the Venetian casino. Even though we didn’t gamble, at 10.5 million square feet the casino itself makes the one in Vegas look like a kiddy ride. Watch the crowds at the ruins though, we were warned it’s a notorious place for pickpockets.

4. Cooking Class, Ho Chi Minh city

My husband learning to cook Pho

From Hong Kong we took a flight to Ho Chi Minh city, which I was surprised to find the locals still call Saigon (at least the historic city center). Saigon is beautiful, with outstanding French colonial architecture everywhere. One highlight was our cooking course at the Saigon Culinary Arts Center. We made our own spring rolls, and Dennis ended up being volunteered to help prepare some delicious Beef Pho. The expression on his face tells it all.

5. Street Food Tour, Saigon

Our gang getting ready to ride (and eat)

Food became a theme for our time in Saigon, and I definitely fell in love with Vietnamese food on this trip. Some new friends we made at our hotel had booked this tour, and talked us into joining them. I’m so glad we did! It was a wonderful experience riding scooters through the city and tasting a wide variety of street food. I was a bit nervous about food safety but the knowledgeable guides with Street Food Man made sure we only went to the best places. The scooter ride through the crowded city streets was insane at times, and a fantastic way to sightsee from a very different angle.

6. Cruising the Mekong, Vietnam and Cambodia

Our ship, the Avalon Saigon

The river cruise we booked with Avalon Waterways was the centerpiece of our vacation. We boarded in Ho Chi Minh City and sailed up the Mekong. The sights along the way were fabulous, from fish farms to riverside temples. I truly enjoy river cruises over large ships, it brings you much closer to the places you visit. For this trip we even spent an afternoon helping local schoolchildren improve their English. With fewer passengers you get to know and bond with your fellow guests in a way you never could on a large ship. This was our fourth trip with Avalon and I hope we will be joining them again soon!

7. The Royal Palace, Cambodia

The Royal Palace

We docked in Phnom Penh for two days, another city full of fantastic French colonial architecture. The highlight of our time there was the Royal Palace. The grounds are amazing, and large enough to wander around in for a couple of hours. I particularly loved the serpent shaped railings and all of the amazing carvings. Be sure to also spend some time at the National museum next door.

8. Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat

Seeing Angkor Wat was the main reason we took the trip. After a short flight, we landed in Siem Reap, a charming small city and gateway to the temples. Before we went I didn’t realize how expansive the temple complex is. In addition to Angkor Wat, we visited Bayon, Ta Prohm (my favorite, and where they filmed Tomb Raider), Banteay Srei and Angkor Thom. If you’re interested in reading more about the temples, On the Go Tours has a great description of the Top 10.

9. Cruising the Chao Prahya river, Bangkok

Wat Arun, viewed from the river

From Siem Reap we flew to Bangkok for two days. While we found Bangkok to be a hot and uncomfortably crowded city, there are many incredible sights to see. The Grand Palace and Temple of the Reclining Buddha are worth visiting. We wanted to escape the crowds for a while, and found respite relaxing on a Long Tail canal boat along the Chao Prahya river. You see all the sights including the impressive Wat Arun.

10. Ayutthaya, Thailand

The Buddha in the Banyan tree, Wat Mahathat

On our last day, we wanted to get out of Bangkok and see a little more of Thailand so we booked a Viator day trip to Ayutthaya. The temples were amazing, and normally we have great luck on these group tours. This one, not so much. One of our fellow tourists got lost in a temple and we sat on the bus for 45 minutes while they tried to find him. Many yelled “just leave him” and in the end we missed our time at the Bang Pa-In Summer palace. Maybe we’ll catch it next trip!

And a few more pictures if you’re interested!

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