Hand-feeding rescued elephants, sailing through an ancient bay with a cocktail in hand and learning how to cook authentic Vietnamese food is probs on everyone’s bucket list.
But what if, like most of us, you’re kinda stuck for time?
It’s fairly tough to go long-distance travelling without taking annual leave from work, but if you plan out your trip in advance, are super organised (I had a notebook with every day planned out with travel connections), then you’d be surprised just how much you can fit in in under three weeks.
Here’s the must-see highlights of Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam for a whistle-stop trip – that you’ll remember forever.
DAY 1: Bangkok, Thailand
Get used to the humidity and hustle n’ bustle of the Tuk-Tuks by exploring the markets of this insane (but amazing) city. Don’t bother with too many temples, as by the end of the trip you will have severe temple-fatigue – stroll around the vast Chinatown area and have cocktails at a fancy rooftop bar.
Bangkok is the place to go all out.
DAYS 2-3: Siem Reap, Cambodia
Cross the border to Cambodia’s temple town, Siem Reap. Check out the Old Market, eat the specialty dish Fish Amok (a fragrant fish curry cooked in banana leaves) and go wild on Pub St.
Get up at 4.30am the next day to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat, making sure you see Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm, the infamous ‘Tomb Raider’ location.
An overnight sleeper bus will bring you to Phnom Penh.
DAY 4: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Visit the Choung Ek Killing Fields just outside the city, to learn about Cambodia’s mass genocide in the 1970’s led by the Khmer Rouge, and then the Genocide Museum in the grounds of former S21 Prison.
Try the baked clams at La Marmite, a tiny yet amazing inexpensive French restaurant, and hang out with locals at Phnom Penh’s coolest and most secret Speakeasy bar, Bar Sito.
DAYS 5-6: Mondulkiri, Cambodia
Get ready to go again with a five hour bus ride north to Mondulkiri province, rich in vegetation and countryside life. The Greenhouse Café doesn’t disappoint with its €3 Khmer chicken curry dish but have an early night because it’s ELEPHANT TIME.
The Mondulkiri Project work closely with local tribes to prevent logging in forest areas, and currently look after six rescued elephants whom you can feed bananas and bathe in the water. This is the best place in the area for elephant trips, as there’s no riding them and no cruel practices.
DAY 7: Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Say goodbye to Cambodia as you cross the Snoul border into Vietnam, followed by a bus to the motorbike city of Ho Chi Minh. Make a quick stop off at Com Nieu Saigon for a bowl of their corn and crabmeat soup before hopping on the sleeper train to Da Nang, where you can spend the 16 hour (!) journey catching up on some reading.
DAYS 8-9: Hoi An, Vietnam
Climb up the Marble Mountain for an unbeatable view before exploring Vietnam’s prettiest town, Hoi An. The colourful lantern-filled Old Town is SO dreamy, and a deadly spot to get some clothes tailored (they’ll mail them to you for cheap).
Morning Glory restaurant is the best in town for dumplings, and also has a cookery school where you can cycle out to see water buffalo and a herb garden before getting a full low-down of how to make Vietnamese specialties such as Bahn Xeo.
DAY 10: Hanoi, Vietnam
Fly from Da Nang to the capitol, Hanoi. Grab a tasty northern Vietnamese specialty, egg coffee, to perk you up, visit the Vietnamese Women’s Museum and stroll around the main Temple and lake.
An overnight sleeper train will bring you to the mountain area of Sapa.
DAYS 11-12: Sapa, Vietnam
Take a two day trek through the rice fields with Sapa O’Chau, a locally founded tour group. You hike into the mountains, passing through several local villages before arriving at Ta Phin, where the Red Dao tribe live who are experts in herbal medicine and will feed you a feast of pork and rice wine.
Trek down in the morning to Sapa town to pick up some gorge local embroidery at the market and eat a steaming hot bowl of chicken Pho.
DAYS 13-15: Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
Splash out on a two day boat cruise, with Halong Imperial Cruises, to Ha Long Bay, where the mystical waters are dotted with limestone islands.
Kayak in between caves, go midnight squid fishing and sail over to a pearl farm. Islands to spend some time in after your cruise include Nam Cat Island which has a fab private bay, and Cat Ba, where you’ll be sipping on fresh coconuts by the beach allll day long.
DAYS 16: Bangkok, Thailand
Finish off your trip with a visit to Damnoen Saduak, the famous floating market where vendors sell their goods from row boats.
Pick up last minutes bits n’ bobs, get one last cheap massage and spend the evening in one of the city’s spectacular sky bars, trying desperately not to think about having to go back to work.