An amazing trip to Thailand and Vietnam

When you hit a landmark birthday in the Kinghorn household, the traditional presents go out of the window in favour of something much more extravagant. For my 30th, I didn’t receive a single pair of socks, a book or a not-very-thoughtful gift voucher! Instead, my parents offered to pay for a trip to anywhere in the world.

I love travel. I have enjoyed lots of overseas holidays, experiencing the different cuisines, climates and cultures of just about every corner of the globe, and there’s always been an endless list of places that I have wanted to visit. When asked “where do you want to go?” I really had no idea. I could easily have named half a dozen destinations – mostly in Asia – that had enormous appeal.

The Philippines, Cambodia and Vietnam sat at the top of my travel bucket list so it really had to be one of the three. With 13 trips to Thailand under the belt, and mad about the place, I imagined each of these countries to be less developed, still largely undiscovered by tourists and of course cheap.

Within days, my mum and I were planning an immense itinerary, taking in the sights of Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, the island of Phu Quoc and the country’s largest city, Ho Chi Minh – or ‘Saigon’. To wrap up the holiday, we would return to Thailand and enjoy a few days by the beach.

Originally, we were to visit Da Nang in Vietnam, but this idea was quickly knocked on the head. Da Nang isn’t known for spectacular beaches and the thought of sitting on a train for a day and a half as we travelled from the north to the south of the country had limited appeal. With air travel in Vietnam being very cheap, we swapped the train for the plane and Da Nang for Phu Quoc.

Day 1 – Tuesday 2 June
British Airways
London Heathrow to Paris Charles de Gaulle

By flying out to Bangkok from Paris but returning to London, we saved about £200 per person, and with plenty of British Airways Avios points to use, a flight to Paris wasn’t exactly inconvenient nor expensive. A one way ticket costs just 4,500 points plus £17.50 per person and the flight time is a mere 40 minutes.

The flight was uneventful. We took off, we were given a packet of crisps (yes, just a packet of crisps on British Airways) and then we landed. With complimentary beverages though, it wasn’t so bad, and I enjoyed a vodka and orange on the short trip.

Disembarking our Oman Air flight in Muscat after arriving from Paris.

Disembarking our Oman Air flight in Muscat after arriving from Paris.

Oman Air
Paris Charles de Gaulle to Muscat

After a little hanging around in Paris, we were soon on our way to Muscat with Oman Air. The airline is one that I have used many times before. Their fares are always very competitive and their service is superior to many other airlines that I have travelled with including British Airways and Emirates. Muscat, Oman is where the airline calls home so a change of aircraft is required when you get there.

The flight was a little under 7 hours, taking us through the night to the Middle East. With just 53 passengers on board the enormous aircraft, there was plenty of room to stretch out. We landed a little after 7.30am and had to spend around 90 minutes in the airport before continuing to Bangkok, Thailand.

Day 2 – Wednesday 3 June
Oman Air
Muscat to Bangkok Suvarnabhumi

Eating at the airport in Muscat is inexpensive and there's a good choice of food outlets.

Eating at the airport in Muscat is inexpensive and there’s a good choice of food outlets.

The time in the terminal was whiled away in Dairy Queen, eating chilli dogs and ice cream, and browsing the duty free shops. The airport isn’t very big but it is cheap for just about everything. Cigarettes are very cheap as is food and drink. The very random WHSmith didn’t offer great value for money and nor did it sell the sort of things that would expect such a shop to sell.

We soon found ourselves back on a plane again, this time heading for Bangkok. Our flight this was time was to take around five and a half hours, getting us into Bangkok for a little after 7.00pm in the evening.

Immigration in Bangkok was as painful as ever, requiring us to stand in a very slow moving line. When we finally reached the counter, we were seen by some very stern immigration staff, who, after many clicks on their computers and lots of passport stamping, waved us through. It wasn’t too long ago that BBC made a programme about the airport in Bangkok, calling it something along the lines of ‘the airport of smiles’. I have travelled through the airport more times than I can remember and I’ve yet to encounter a single smiley member of staff!

Sinsuvarn Airport Suite (3-star)
Bangkok, Thailand

Arriving in Bangkok in the evening and with a midday flight the next day, we wanted somewhere inexpensive to get some sleep and to freshen up before continuing our travels to Vietnam. In Bangkok, there are no end of airport hotels, and many are very cheap. The 3-star Sinsuvarn Airport Suite was a little over £20.00 for bed and breakfast with complimentary airport transfers included.

For one night, it was adequate, but for any longer and for anybody wanting to use it as a base for exploring Bangkok, it’s sure to be a disappointment.

Our twin bedroom was clean, although basic, and offered sufficient amenities in the room to make our overnight stay comfortable. From the balcony, we had a fantastic view of the car park, which, at the time, was being used by a number of coaches. We could also see the empty swimming pool across the car park – ’empty’ in the sense that there was no water in it.

The lifts in the hotel were unusual. When I use a lift, I use it because I don’t want to to have to use stairs. At the Sinsuvarn, the lift stops between floors so no matter where you are going, you must always tackle a half flight of stairs to get from it to your desired floor. The same is the case from reception, where you must go down half a dozen steps to get to the lift.

Day 3 – Thursday 4 June
Vietnam Airlines
Bangkok Suvarnabhumi to Hanoi Noi Bai

I woke up in Bangkok feeling a little worse for wear. I had a slight headache and no appetite, which, for me, was unusual. Normally excited by a breakfast buffet, I wasn’t this morning, and could only manage a glass of water and a yoghurt.

3-VietnamAirlines

The flight from Bangkok to Hanoi was to take just 90 minutes. Return flights with Vietnam Airlines were around £105 per person.

As the morning went on, I started to feel worse and catching a flight was the last thing I wanted to do. Thankfully, this was only to be a 90 minute trip. We would soon be in Hanoi and I could rest until feeling a little better.

On the flight, we were served a hot meal (putting British Airways and their nuts to shame) but again I wasn’t in the mood for food. I ate the piece of broccoli on top of my pork noodles but had to leave the rest.

Lotte Hotel Hanoi (5-star)
Hanoi, Vietnam

This hotel was undoubtedly the best on the trip and probably the best I have ever stayed in. The service was fantastic as was the location, the facilities and the room. The brand new hotel stood 65 storeys tall, sitting on top of a department store and supermarket. Our room on floor 51 didn’t disappoint.

We were met from our taxi by a friendly team of staff and sent to reception on the 38th floor. Sitting down to check in, we were distracted by the almost panoramic view of Vietnam’s capital.

The Lotte Hotel (pictured on the left) was a first class hotel. The service, rooms and facilities were brilliant.

The Lotte Hotel (pictured on the left) was a first class hotel. The service, rooms and facilities were brilliant.

We were taken to our room by a very enthusiastic bell boy who insisted on planning our 48 hours in the city, even giving us a free book, which talked about Hanoi, and, when flipped over, Ho Chi Minh as well, which we would visit a few days later on the trip.

I was still feeling a little unwell when we reached the hotel and wasn’t in the mood for straying too far. We agreed to spend the afternoon at the hotel and to see how I felt in the evening. With it being hot (close to 35°C) and very sunny, it was perfect pool weather, so we spent a few hours outdoors. I grabbed a lounger in the shade and fell asleep almost straight away.

It was an hour or so later that I woke up, feeling very hot and worse than ever. Before I had a chance to get indoors, I was sick, covering the sun lounger and the hotel’s towel in vomit. I was quickly surrounded by some very caring hotel staff, who escorted me to the toilet so that I could freshen up and next to the nurse’s room, where I spent a while lying down and enjoying a salty fruit-flavoured rehydration drink.

The view from our room on the 51st floor, overlooking Hanoi.

The view from our room on the 51st floor, overlooking Hanoi.

I retired to the room and slept through the night, waking up at around 8.00am the next morning. Despite the 6 hours of time difference between the UK and Vietnam, I had no trouble at all adapting to the new time zone.

Feeling much better, we had only one full day to enjoy the city, but we made the most of it. Organised tours from the hotel were ridiculously expensive, and, by the time we had washed and dressed, we had missed some of the cheaper tours that had set off earlier in the morning. With taxis being very cheap, we grabbed one (and there were plenty available) and headed to the Old Quarter around 15 minutes away.

Whilst not quite as cheap as a taxi, these electric cars are a fun and inexpensive way of exploring the old quarter.

Whilst not quite as cheap as a taxi, these electric cars are a fun and inexpensive way of exploring the old quarter.

The Old Quarter is a maze of streets, shops and restaurants, and we set off on foot, exploring all that it had to offer. It’s easy to get lost here (and we did) before eventually finding our way back to where the taxi had dropped us off earlier on. Keen to see all of the main sights in the old quarter, we hired an electric buggy for an hour (around £9.00) and drove around, stopping when and where we wanted. It was the perfect way to get around given the limited time that we had in Hanoi.

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi.

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi.

By not reading our guide book, we had no idea that Ho Chi Minh’s mauseleum was only open five days a week from 8.00am until 11.00am – and even that was for only 10 months of the year. Ho Chi Minh’s body is taken to Russia for two months every year where he undergoes maintenance before going back on display in Vietnam. Now quite late into the afternoon, we had missed our chance to see the former President lying in state, but we did get to see the quite impressive building itself and witnessed a bit of an altercation outside between a Vietnamese visitor and a handful of guards. All around the mausoleum are yellow lines, which cannot, under any circumstances, be crossed. The Vietnamese man crossed the line, took off his hat and fell to his knees, and then appeared to pray outside. The whistling of the guards achieved nothing and nor did the more hands-on approach. As guards tried to pull him to his feet, he continued to mutter things in the direction of the building. Once finished, he got up and walked off. At first, it appeared that there were no serious consequences for his actions but another guard quickly appeared and insisted that he be taken away. With that, he was escorted away by three or four guards.

The timings of the traditional water puppet show meant that we weren’t going to see a performance whilst in Hanoi, but there were almost certainly going to be other opportunities as we continued our trip through the country.

On the eve of my sister’s birthday, we met in Hanoi for something to eat and drink. She was on an organised tour through Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, travelling with a friend and countless others. Having last seen her a week or so before, it was nice to see her again, and this was to be the last time for another four weeks as she continued her trip and then recharged on the beach in Thailand.

Enjoying one final session in the jacuzzi at the Lotte Hanoi. There are separate facilities for men and women.

Enjoying one final session in the jacuzzi at the Lotte Hanoi. There are separate facilities for men and women.

We returned to the hotel and headed to bed, ready for our flight to Phu Quoc the next morning.

The Hanoi hotel was absolutely faultless. Everything about it was just perfect – from the ultra modern rooms to the leisure facilities and of course the staff as well. Value for money was reasonable too, with a carvery available for around £9.00 per person! Should I ever return to Hanoi, the Lotte will be my first choice of hotel.

Day 5 – Saturday 6 June
VietJetAir
Hanoi Noi Bai to Phu Quoc

I must admit, I have never been a huge fan of low cost air travel. I have always preferred paying just one fee and getting everything included – an allocated seat, something to eat and drink and luggage as well. With all three of Vietnam’s major airlines operating the two hour (or so) flight down to the picturesque island of Phu Quoc, we had plenty of choice, but at short notice, VietJetAir was the cheapest.

A one way flight with all of the optional extras thrown in was around £70.00 per person.

Flying from Hanoi to Phu Quoc took around 1 hour 50 minutes with VietJetAir. The price was £70.00.

Flying from Hanoi to Phu Quoc took around 1 hour 50 minutes with VietJetAir. The price was £70.00.

Only when checking in for our flight the evening before did we find out that the departure time had been brought forward by an hour. There hadn’t been any emails to notify us of the change previously. It wasn’t a problem but had we not have checked in online, there’s a chance that we would have turned up at the airport later than permitted – and missed the flight.

At the check-in desks, the process was chaotic, and definitely the worst airport experience that I have encountered with any airline – ever. The airline had lots and lots of desks available, and, with every flight number scrolling above the screens above the desks, it was clear that we could use any one of them. We stood in one line with just two people ahead of us. We stood there for 15 minutes or more and didn’t move so we tried another line with another two people ahead of us. Again, we didn’t move. This time, a member of staff explained that a large group was being checked in, and she ushered us to another desk, where again we had people ahead of us. Not moving again, we had to ask what was going on. I had tried to stay calm but the operation was a complete shambles! By now, we had been trying to drop our bags for a good 30 minutes and still were no closer than when we first arrived at the airport. The member of staff who helped us was extremely apologetic and she escorted us again to an available counter – waiting until the check-in process was complete.

The flight itself was rather enjoyable and uneventful. In typical low cost fashion, we were taken out to the waiting aircraft by bus. Ours had a big Pepsi advertisement on the side. The staff on board were very friendly and their uniform was like nothing I had ever seen before. The ladies wore shorts with a Burberry-style tartan colour along with a red polo shirt. It was practical for the heat, I suppose!

Having pre-paid for our meals, these were quickly delivered to us after departure. For around £1.50 each, we were served ‘Singapore Bun Xao’ – or noodles with shrimp – and a small bottle of water.

Mercure Phu Quoc Resort & Villas (4-star)
Phu Quoc, Vietnam

When we walked into the small arrivals hall at the airport, it was nice to see a representative of the hotel holding our name on a little board. They had sent transport for us, without charge, which was unexpected but appreciated. The journey to the hotel took a mere 5 minutes.

We were met in the deserted reception area by a number of members of staff and were also offered a welcome drink whilst some details were taken. Keys were quickly given and we were sent to the room on the back of a golf cart. We had opted for one of the few first floor rooms here. The villas, which contain are the rooms, are in rows and from front to back offer only single storey accommodation. We were house in the back corner of the resort, requiring a few extra steps to the pool and the private beach, but the slightly elevated position gave us the most brilliant view of the sea and the sunset each evening.

The room at the Mercure Phu Quoc.

The room at the Mercure Phu Quoc.

The room was again very nice, with an L-shaped balcony that stretched around the building and complete with rattan furniture. There was the usual [overpriced] mini bar, a separate shower and toilet, a nice big television and a chaise longue too. When we asked the hotel staff if they could provide an iron, they told us no, instead recommending that we make use of the laundry service.

After our time in the city, Phu Quoc was to be a chance to relax and recharge, ready for Ho Chi Minh City a few days later. Our first stop was the pool, which, at around 3.00pm in the afternoon didn’t have anybody sat around it. It was surrounded by more good quality rattan sunbeds. I believe that plastic sunbeds should be kept for the lesser rated establishments – more on that later. With so few people around, the jacuzzi bubbles and the spouting fish were offered on-demand by the pool staff, and they were only too happy to turn them on.

The inifinity pool at the Mercure was just a few steps from the private beach.

The inifinity pool at the Mercure was just a few steps from the private beach.

Just a few steps away from the pool was the private stretch of beach with lots of beds but no sign of any hotel guests! Either the hotel was completely empty or absolutely everybody went out by day, which I doubted, given that the island was so small and that the places to visit were few in number! The Mercure was definitely not a hotel where we would need to get our towels down at 7.00am in the morning!

Also great about the hotel was the most brilliant sunset to be seen on the beach each evening. On our first night, the sky lit up pink, which wasn’t repeated again during any of the following three days. Rather conveniently, the hotel’s Happy Hour coincided with the sunset so it was possible to grab a couple of cheap cocktails and watch the sun go down over the Gulf of Thailand.

After a couple of lazy days, we decided to book ourselves on a trip. For just $15, we enjoyed a day out at various local attractions including the very special Sao Beach – the best beach on the island and arguably the best in Vietnam. A number of stops on the tour were a waste of time e.g. the pearl farm, the vineyard and the peppercorn farm. Each stop consisted of some sort of demonstration lasting not more than 30 seconds, followed by a 15-20 minute stop in a shop. We didn’t need or want peppercorns, pearls or Vietnamese wine! In the case of the pearl farm, we watched as a very unenthusiastic young lady broke open an oyster shell and then pointed to a piddly pearl inside. Every few minutes, she would do it all over again – with less and less enthusiasm each time.

The popular Sao Beach on Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam.

The popular Sao Beach on Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam.

Sao Beach was really very nice and accessible to most only by road. We spent a few hours here, enjoying the crystal clear waters and white powdery sands. For many visitors to the beach, it is a part of an organised tour. There’s just enough time to paddle your feet and grab a bite to eat at one of a handful of inexpensive seafood restaurants dotted along the beach.

The last stop on the tour was the Coconut Tree Prison, which was built and used by the French for Vietnamese political prisoners. Later, the Americans would use it as well. It is thought that as many as 40,000 passed through the prison with 10% of them dying here – through food deprivation and torture. When the Vietnam war ended, the prison was knocked down by the local people. What remains now is a mock-up of just one part of the prison with various torture devices and some very suspect looking mannequins used to illustrate what exactly went on there.

We decided to pass on the fish sauce farm. Neither one of us was a fish fanatic and we did not need (nor want) any fish sauce to take home. Whether the guide also could not be bothered with this stop, I have no idea, but he told us that UK customs would not allow us to carry Phu Quoc’s most famous export into the country.

Our time in Phu Quoc was unfortunately coming to an end. We spent the last evening enjoying the hotel’s happy hour and watching the most spectacular sunset on the beach.

Everything about the Mercure was brilliant… until check-out. An electric car came and collected us from our villa for the short drive to the reception building, stopping once on the way to pick up another gentleman. In the 3-4 minutes between travelling from the villa to reception, a member of staff inspected our room, obviously keen to ensure that we had not stolen items from the mini-bar or stuffed a towel or three into our suitcases. We were challenged over two ‘missing’ umbrellas – two golf sized umbrellas that had been provided in the room for us to use during our stay. Despite the obvious difference in size between the large umbrellas and the more medium sized suitcases, reception staff still appeared suspicious! With us already cutting it fine for our flight to Ho Chi Minh, my mum insisted on being driven back to the villa to show them that they were still in there. Sure enough, they were. They had been put onto a shelf, out of the way, since we had no intention of using them. It was embarrassing for the house-keeping staff who did a rubbish job of searching the room for them, the reception staff for accusing us of having taken them and for us too – having been accused! Many apologies later, we were on our way.

Day 9 – Wednesday 10 June
Jetstar Pacific Airlines
Phu Quoc to Ho Chi Minh (Tan Son Nhat)

It was time to board another flight – but this was to be the shortest of the nine taken during this trip. The journey time from the tropical paradise of Phu Quoc to the hustle and bustle of Vietnam’s second city, Ho Chi Minh, was to be a mere 40 minutes. The flight time and distance is comparable to London to Manchester.

We planned to get to the airport for a little over an hour before departure. Phu Quoc was not a big airport and it was not somewhere that we wanted to spend too much time.

Jetstar Pacific was our airline of choice today. At around £35 per person for a one way flight, it was good value. For such a short flight, we could make do with low cost again. We fuelled up on Burger King in the terminal (the only western burger chain that I saw in Vietnam).

Renaissance Riverside Hotel Saigon (5-star)
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

The ride from the airport to the hotel was again quick and inexpensive. Aside from the taxi driver pulling into the wrong hotel first of all and then deciding to retain 15,000VND of our change (around 45p) as a tip, the trip was also problem-free.

Check-in here was super quick and I was able to enjoy the bowl of complimentary sweets on the counter whilst the man dealing with us did whatever it was that he had to do.

We were taken up to our room, which overlooked the river and a busy street below. The fixtures and fittings in the room were nice, although not quite as modern as other hotels visited on the trip. On the top floor was a small outdoor swimming pool, which we did not use – partly because the hotel decided to close it from 6.00am until midnight on my birthday!

With so little time in the city, we headed out straight away, exploring some of the city on foot. Although not the capital city, Ho Chi Minh is bigger and definitely better than Hanoi. It seemed that there was more to do here – more to see, more places to eat and more places to shop.

We ended up at the Ben Thành Market in the centre of District 1. This is a well known and popular market for locals and visitors alike, selling everything imaginable. Like many Asian markets, the prices here are made up on the spot by occasionally cheeky vendors, who will often try to extort as much money as possible out of you.  The market is open all through the day and then closes at dusk before another market pops up in the street outside.

Walking around the night market, we were approached by a young girl selling fans. It was definitely hot outside but far from unbearable. Neither one of us needed a fan and politely declined the very uncompetitively priced item. Not long afterwards, the same girl approached us and insisted that we buy a fan, which again we declined. I put her forgetfulness down to the fact that she must approach hundreds of shoppers during an evening and she had obviously forgotten that we had been asked already! Approaching us a third time, I was getting a bit fed up. This girl, who I understand was only trying to make a living was irritating me, so much so that I had nicknamed her Devil Child. She continued to push a handful of fans in front of us, insisting that we buy from her. I told her to simply “go away”. Obviously understanding me, she asked “why?” and I told her “you are annoying me” followed by one or two other things that she most probably will not have understood! We quickly walked away but continued to see the Devil Child all over this huge market. She seemed very determined to sell us both a fan!

I have tucked into many hotel breakfasts all over the world but none have been as good as the Renaissance.

I have tucked into many hotel breakfasts all over the world but none have been as good as the Renaissance.

We woke the following morning and headed downstairs to breakfast. This was not an everyday hotel breakfast but rather the best hotel breakfast ever! The Renaissance buffet breakfast was exceptional. A vast selection of pastries, cold meats, quality cheeses, fruit and a huge choice of more familiar items. Bottled juices and waters were available from the fridge and a couple of cooking stations offered cooked-to-order Asian dishes and eggs, whether fried, scrambled, in an omelette or otherwise. Large pots of tea and coffee were brought to the table by the friendly restaurant staff – many of whom wanted to put their English to the test. They were a really friendly bunch.

On our only full day in the city, we decided to explore it for ourselves. Vietnam is by no means expensive and organised tours can be picked up for not more than £10 per person, but doing it ourselves worked out considerably cheaper and it meant that we could skip the attractions with little or no appeal.

Just some of the Vietnam War photographers that died.

Just some of the Vietnam War photographers that died.

We hopped into a taxi to the War Remnants Museum, which was not only brilliant value to get into at 15,000VND (45p) but it was fascinating and upsetting all at the same time. The museum contains mostly photographs but there are a handful of American aircraft outside – all used during the Vietnam War – and one or two other war artefacts as well. Many of the images here are quite graphic but they really help visitors to understand the death, suffering and destruction during the 30 year battle.

One corner of one of the exhibition rooms featured portraits of the many photographers and photojournalists killed during the Vietnam War. Many of the images in the museum were taken by these men and women, which made the experience much more harrowing.

The water puppet show in Ho Chi Minh was the most mind numbing experience of the entire trip.

The water puppet show in Ho Chi Minh was the most mind numbing experience of the entire trip.

Having missed the traditional water puppet show in Hanoi, we decided to go and see a performance at the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre, just around the corner from the War Remnants Museum. The 45-minute show cost around £6.00 for a ticket and was, frankly, rubbish. Traditional or not, I founded the experience mind-numbing, and I was not the only one. All around me, other members of the audience were struggling to stay awake as some puppets splashed around in a pool of water to the music made by a small band sat either side of the water. The venue was quite an intimate one and the only exit was right at the front next to the stage. It meant that a sneaky exit mid-performance was not possible! It was a relief when the performance came to an end.

Just like the water puppet show, our time in Ho Chi Minh City and Vietnam was at an end. We retired to bed and prepared to depart back to Thailand the next morning. On returning to the room, the hotel staff had somehow known it was my 30th birthday and left some chocolate strawberries and a bottle of wine in the room. It was an unexpected but hugely appreciated touch.

Day 11 – Friday 12 June
Vietnam Airlines
Ho Chi Minh (Tan Son Nhat) to Bangkok Suvarnabhumi

Another day, another flight. Our low cost flights were behind us and we were back to full fare flying, where everything is – as it should be – included in the price of the ticket. We jumped aboard another Vietnam Airlines flight from Ho Chi Minh back to Bangkok, where we would wrap up our trip in more familiar surroundings. This was to be my fourteenth trip to sunny Siam.

The flight was quick and easy, lasting a little over an hour. A cold meal was served consisting of a salad, a spam-like meat and a single olive. It was rather unpleasant but a more than adequate portion size given the short duration of today’s flight.

Royal Cliff Beach Resort (5-star)
Pattaya, Thailand

Pattaya is like Benidorm. The only difference between the two is that one is a mere 2 hours from the UK whilst the other is around eleven! It is somewhere I have visited a lot and somewhere I will continue to visit in the future. It is fun, cheap and on the coast as well.

We travelled by coach for a little over two hours from the international airport to the tiny Pattaya bus station. A ticket costs 124THB (£2.50) and the coaches are comfortable, air-conditioned and seats allocated too. Obviously it is slower and takes a good 30 minutes more than a taxi would.

The Royal Cliff Resort in Pattaya is probably one of the best known hotels in Pattaya and undeniably one of the best in terms of service. The resort comprises three accommodations and the ‘PEACH’ conference centre, which sits right at the entrance to this enormous development.

The infinity pool at the Royal Cliff Beach Resort, Pattaya.

The infinity pool at the Royal Cliff Beach Resort, Pattaya.

Our hotel offered two swimming pools, a number of restaurants and bars, a cafe on a private stretch of beach and two swimming pools – one of which was an infinity pool overlooking the island of Koh Larn and the warm waters of the Gulf of Thailand. This pool was known [by me] as the ‘selfie pool’ as countless tourists would spend an hour or more photographing themselves against the quite impressive backdrop. I watched as one girl took 100 or more photographs of herself in every pose imaginable, with even a couple of outfit changes too!

Just like Vietnam, Thailand is really not expensive. Getting around is cheap in one of the literally thousands of Baht buses that drive up and down the city’s busiest streets. Flag down a Baht bus and you can ride any distance for just 10THB per person (20p). If you are staying in a more secluded hotel where Baht buses tend not to operate, taxi rides cost a little more. A 10-minute ride from our hotel into the city was around 150THB (approximately £3).

As I have done on my past three or four visits to Thailand, I hired a 150cc moped, and it was again the perfect way of getting the two of us around. At just £3 per day for this larger-than-average sized vehicle along with fuel at around 50p per litre, it was great. Thailand’s road are dangerous however so you have got to have your wits about you if you want to reach your destination in tact. Few drivers have any respect or regard for those on two wheels. It should also be considered that the Thai police in Pattaya especially are on the look-out for motorcyclists who might not be adhering to the Thai equivalent of the highway code. Helmets in Thailand are compulsory and there are penalties for not wearing one. Similarly, foreign riders must hold an International Driving Permit, which can be picked up from the Post Office back at home for £5.50. Obviously it helps to have a motorcycle licence as well, just to avoid being caught out should the police stop you. Even if you have a motorcycle licence, you are likely to be fined without the International Driving Permit. In fact, police in Thailand will fine road users for everything imaginable. You will read all over the internet about corruption amongst Thai police officers – with some offering a reduced fine if you pay in cash, on the spot!

In Pattaya, there is something for everybody. There’s the year-round good weather (albeit with a little bit of rain from June to September), endless shopping (both international brands and markets), amazing food, lots of beaches and temples. But Pattaya especially is perhaps most famous for its booming sex industry. Western men in vast numbers can be seen in the company of Thai women and few of these women, if any, are offering their ‘friendship’ for free. In addition to a daily rate, the women expect to be bought gifts and to feast on the finest foods.

A once brilliant sunset is ruined by Pattaya's endless construction!

A once brilliant sunset is ruined by Pattaya’s endless construction!

Our final days of the trip were more for relaxation so we spent many of our four days either sat by the beach or beside the pool, whilst enjoying all that the city had to offer by night – including the once spectacular sunset from the Navy base at the top of the hill. Development in Thailand is getting out of control and whoever it is that gives planning consent in the country decided to say “yes” to a 50+ storey building right in front of the setting sun. It meant that we could not see the sun disappear below the horizon. We could however see a halo around the most unsightly block of flats! With regards to development, Pattaya is at the point of no return. A once sleepy fishing village is fast becoming a city of high rise apartment blocks, few of which are likely to be anywhere near 100% occupancy. There is not a huge demand for property in the city at the moment yet construction companies are building eye-sore skyscrapers wherever they will fit. Many blocks of flats that I saw being built on visits to the country years ago still sit there empty – with nobody prepared to buy.

Day 15 – Tuesday 16 June
Oman Air
Bangkok Suvarnabhumi to London Heathrow

Landing back at Heathrow with an old British Airways Concorde parked up.

Landing back at Heathrow with an old British Airways Concorde parked up.

At 5.00am, a taxi arrived at the hotel to take us back to the airport for our flight home (via Muscat). The flights were again both really enjoyable. There was a bit of a falling-out between us and and a man of Middle Eastern appearance when we reached our seats in Bangkok. Boarding the aircraft before us, this man decided that he liked our seats more than his own and so he decided to occupy them. We pointed out his mistake and showed our own boarding cards, believing that he would get up and move away. He didn’t. Instead he ushered us towards the back of the aircraft to the seat (or seats) allocated to him. We refused and insisted that he vacate our seats. Muttering something in a language that I could not understand, I shouted “move!” and with that, he got up, collected his belongings and disappeared. Feeling so tired after just two hours of a sleep, I was in no mood for silly games or silly people.

After a first flight of 6 hours hours and a second of 7 hours 30 minutes, we touched down in a very bright and very warm London. The lovely weather made the normally difficult return home a bit more bearable!

Summing up

All in all, this was the most amazing trip. During our two week trip, we flew more than 15,000 miles with five different airlines, we visited four cities in two countries, staying in five different hotels. Best of all, my total expenditure for the 15 days was just £140!

I had expected the trip to be exhausting. It was anything but. We alternated between beach and city hotels, ensuring that after a couple of days exploring cities that we had some time to recharge next to a pool or on a beach. Compared to a package deal, this trip actually worked out surprisingly cheap as well, even with so many flights and a great selection of four and five star hotels – many with breakfast included.

No hotel on the trip was a disappointment. The Lotte Hanoi offered the best service, the Royal Cliff Beach Resort offered the best pool (even if the second pool had plastic furniture – and I hate plastic furniture), the Renaissance Saigon offered the best breakfast and many aspects of the Mercure Phu Quoc were pretty special too – the pool, the beach and the warm and friendly service.

Vietnam is a country that I will definitely return to in the future.

Check out my Instagram for more pictures from this trip and others!

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