Visiting the “Kingdom of Wonder”, and the country of “Endless Charm”

© Michael Kern

Cambodia, the Kingdom of Wonder, positions itself quite uniquely as a tourist destination among its neighboring countries. It may lack the luxurious  shopping malls and relatively advanced infrastructure of neighboring Thailand; Yet year after year, increasing numbers of tourist from all over the world flock to Cambodia.

What makes Cambodia such a wonderful destination is debatable. Many may argue it is the the people, while others will argue it is Angkor Wat.

As far as the former is concerned, yes, Cambodia could be called “Kingdom of Wonderful People”. Generally everyone is happy, smiling, helpful, and willing to start a conversation with a tourist. Sometimes it is part of a sales-pitch that will follow at some point (something definitely not unheard in tourist destinations). The difference in Cambodia is that even after one may politely turn down a service offer, the respective person(s) will keep smiling and be interested in conversing. Considering the country’s violent past, including a long history of civil war and genocide, it sometimes seems like a wonder how uplifting the Cambodian people’s spirit can be. This sincere and warm mentality leaves a lasting impression on visitors.

The other argument for why Cambodia is such a wonderful destination is the acclaimed “8th Wonder of the World’; Angkor Wat. And this over 200 square kilometer complex is nothing short of a true wonder. It amazes on so many different levels: Engineering, Architecture, Religion, Anthropology, History, etc.; the list goes on…

This “City of Temples” is the largest religious monument in the world, and is likely the most impactful experience someone will have in Indochina; whether exploring Angkor Wat for a single or multiple days.

While Angkor Wat/Siem Reap is suitable for year-round visits, a trip between  April and June can prove challenging to some as it is the hottest and driest  period (in terms of rainfall) of the year. However, there are two pristine days for experiencing a sunrise at Angkor Wat: During the equinox (around March 20th and September 23rd). On those two days, the sun rises on the peak of the main Angkor temple; connecting the earth with the sky.

If Cambodia is the “Kingdom of Wonder”, it is no surprise that Vietnam is known as having “endless charm”. And charm is indeed plentiful in this country which is a host of seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

© Michael Kern

Vietnam presents its charm in a myriad of ways; from veiled to extravagant. In places such as Halong Bay, one does not have to wait long to be charmed; regardless of the direction one is looking at. Although touristy, the landscape seems like something from another world, leaving anyone in awe.

In the big cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, visitors sometimes have to look a bit harder. In the case of Hanoi, anyone will be charmed by the sights, sounds, and scents of the streets and alleys in the city’s old district; time here simply seems to have stood still. Something as simple as observing life – people cooking, eating, transporting goods, navigating traffic, etc. can be utterly charming. And Hanoi’s beautifully tree-lined streets and amazing architecture are an equally charming find in Ho Chi Minh City.

Whether up north in Hanoi, or all the way down South in the Mekong Delta, the Vietnamese food and coffee culture are an integral part of its touristic appeal and endless charm.

Like Cambodia, Vietnam also is suitable for year-round tourism. But one should be aware that the North (Hanoi/Halong Bay) experiences much greater temperature fluctuations throughout the year and its rainy season is at a different time than in the South (HCMC/Mekong Delta).