We were on the AMA Vietnam/Cambodia tour early April 2014. We started in Hanoi and ended in Ho Chi Minh City. First of all we concur with a prior review which stated that the breath of touring from this trip could not be done on your own. ... Read More
We were on the AMA Vietnam/Cambodia tour early April 2014. We started in Hanoi and ended in Ho Chi Minh City. First of all we concur with a prior review which stated that the breath of touring from this trip could not be done on your own. Our group was in the 50-80 age range with many in their 60s and 70s, retirees, Americans, Canadians, Europeans, Australians overwhelmingly white crowd, a number of Jews and I would guess more Democrats than Republicans. There was one former US army officer who had served in Vietnam who found this to be an emotional experience, all in all an intelligent concerned group That said - this was not a vacation experience but rather a working cultural exchange.
Get the Cambodia E Visa - it is about $24 on line and will save you time in line in Siam Reap and you do not have to send in your passport. Otherwise get the Vietnam multiple entry visa, easy to obtain about $250 from any Vietnam embassy or consulate.
Inchon airport rescreens international transit passengers causing you as much as additional 30 minute delay in airport between changing flights. We ran the last .5 mile to get our Seoul/Hanoi flight.
Shots etc - the AMA tour leader was opposed to anti malarials stating that too many folks get serious reactions beyond the risk of malaria. We took the newest drug and had no reactions. Did have one 24 hour period of loose stool as did a number of folks on our trip. There is NO potable water in Vietnam and Cambodia and although AMA goes to great lengths to assure proper food preparation, there is some RISK of stomach upset so prepare accordingly. After my brush in Siam Reap at the Sofitel, I went on the 169 degree program until coming home. It is extreme and you won't get to eat the tasty salads but you are less likely to need imodium or more. Bring DEET - we were in plenty of villages in Vietnam and Cambodia with standing stagnant water - mosquito breeding grounds. That means the possibility of malaria, Japanese encephalitis and dengue fever (It only takes one bite) I regularly sprayed with DEET before going on rural tours and this was in the dry season. Also in the Mekong, the air can be plenty polluted - lots of smoke and haze. If you have respiratory issues - be forewarned you may have problems. It bothered some us on the trip. Also you will be going in and out of air conditioning into very hot and humid conditions. Don't be surprise to catch a cold or upper respiratory infection. Prepare accordingly. That said - noone on our trip got very ill and AMA is prepared to take you to area medical facilities if needed AND you should have adequate medical insurance and trip insurance to PAY - and you should have plenty of cash if needed. Remember - there is no CVS nearby so bring all the stuff that you may need in 16 days.
Cash: Bring at least $40 in $1 bills and maybe about $300 total cash. You will use them for tips - guides, staff etc. Dollars are accepted in Vietnam and Cambodia willingly. ATMs are in cities but credit cards are used only in cities and on board the ship at the end to settle bills.
Connectivity: Biggest complaint outside the hotels and the cities was internet connectivity. I brought an Ipad which is light, easy to use and can give access to Skype for cheap phoning -but AMA has chosen to have lousy connectivity on the ship. They use the local cell systems which are poor in rural areas. On the other hand the guides used cell as well but a different carrier and often had better connectivity than AMA so ask them to use their hot spots if they have them. AMA could use satellite for internet. There is NO TV on the ship and a very poor movie selection. Again AMA could use satellite for TV but does not. That said, you are pretty tired in evenings and need sleep for the next day's excursions. There is no problem, recharging devices in hotels or the ship. Bring 220 connectors. Most devices have 110/220 volt capability. Hair dryers are available in hotels and the ships.
Clothng: Everyone brings too much. I worse shorts everywhere, even to the temples and palaces. Just make sure shorts come BELOW the knees. Cargo styles work well. Some women wore dresses to dinner which is overkill but hey! Take advantage of laundry service in the hotels and ship to keep travel weight down.
All hotels used by AMA are first class, excellent, comfortable. The Sofitel Metropole in Hanoi has the nicest Hotel fitness center I have ever seen. The Sofitel Siam Reap is spectacular - see other comments and the Sheraton in Ho Chi Minh City is a decent first class hotel but could use some updating.
The Ship: The AMA Lotus is comfortable, rooms very nice. We had cabin 220 at the front, big king bed, plenty of storage, decent bath. However when the anchor goes up - only happened a couple of times, you will hear it. Public rooms are spacious and comfortable. The pool is a cross between a pool and jacuzzi - nice to use to relax. The small fitness facility has an elliptical and treadmill and gets quite a bit of use early in the AM. The Lotus has laundry service which you will probably need to use - as the weather is 95-100 and I found myself showering and changing as much as 3X a day.
Food: There is lots of it, do not understand a previous comment on amount. If you eat everything offered - you may gain weight. Food is western and asian with plenty of buffets - breakfast and lunch and multiple choice menus for dinner. The salads look great but if you have had your stomach upset issue - be careful. It only takes one lapse of sanitation to make you ill. Plenty of folks went to private restaurants in Hanoi,
Siam Reap and Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh city and did fine but ask for suggestions. We were surprise that the quality of ingredients was as good as it was. Bottled water is everywhere. Local Vietnamese and Cambodian beer was fine. AMA bulk wines were good and our tour liked them. At the Sofitel Siam Reap, try the home made chocolate ice cream - it is astoundingly good.
Tours: You go on this trip for the touring and the AMA program is spectacular. If you take it seriously you will learn much on Vietnamese, Cambodian culture, history as well as multiple forms of Buddhism. Our guides all had local involvement with the places we visited which made this a much better experience than just touring objects - you really get a sense of the people. That said rural Cambodia has stark poverty with rampant pedophilia sex tourism in the the bigger cities. Children are vulnerable to exploitation and families are VERY poor. Touring is a very intense experience with about 30 separate tours during the trip. Ankor complex was VERY crowded with dense crowds, hot/humid miserable conditions - but then you are seeing one of the great wonders of the world. Halong Bay was not much with pleasant scenery. The bay is very polluted and there are no sea birds - few fish in this dying area. There was a bad storm in the morning before we arrived and the guide made a comment on the possible cancellation. Be careful on the bay, it is not place to be in a bad storm. The "luxury" junk was nice but there was a deadly accident in 2011 where a junk sank in the night with some tourists dying. Hanoi is a busy capital, somewhat austere in comparison to bustling Ho Chi Minh City. Urban Phnom Penh has plenty of street crime so be careful wandering at night. Ho Chi Minh city is developing economically and you will see a big difference with the other venues. For us, the Killing Fields was the most amazing tour. It is quite raw, like visiting the death camps in 1946 with many unsettled issues. The Vietnamese have turned the Vietnam war into Disneyland with national parks with caves and tunnels for tourists and school age children. You will see many temples, excellent museums, palaces, city tours and small villages, crafts demonstrations and daily life. You will be thrilled and depressed with the poverty especially in Cambodia. Expect to get plenty of exercise walking and sweating. Going up from the Lotus on newly made steps up the river bank can be arduous for those with mobility issues. People forgo some tours as they tend to tire out later on this trip. End the trip with Ho Chi Minh City. It is a pleasant experience and there is plenty of shopping and good eating. The AMA staff is amazing, excellent hard working tour director and wonderful young ship staff who attend to your needs - they will spoil you.
Bottom Line: We found this trip to be a fantastic experience, well put together. The AMA staff, tour director worked hard to ensure we could enjoy this.