Planning a trip to Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam…?
Q & A : SAFFRON TRAVEL
Doan Huy Long lives in Ho Chi Minh City and manages Saffron Travel, a full service Boutique Travel Agency that organizes authentic journeys in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. ‘Long’ loves the tourism business and founding Saffron Travel is a dream come true. He enjoys the interactions that can happen between people from different backgrounds and says he’s not sure that he’s describing it correctly but that for him, travelling evokes an “endless feeling.” Remembering his first trip to Europe he explains, “It was the middle of winter. I travelled to Norway and for the first time I saw and touched snow. I played like a kid running outside, amazed that the snow could pile on the roadside twice my height! New experiences feel endless.”
Q: Where in the world are you?
A: Well, I’m currently watching the sun go down over the sky line of Ho Chi Minh City – previously known as Saigon – and it’s a beautiful, dramatic evening. This time of year the rains start and you get the most amazing skies as the sun sets and gigantic, operatic cloud formations appear out of nowhere. Saigon is a bustling, but not choking, city in the south of Vietnam and there are gorgeous rooftop bars dotted throughout the city. The Saffron Travel head office is right in the centre so it’s easy to pop out for a drink, or a coffee and enjoy the changing light towards the end of a busy day.
Q: I have heard that you’re the best Boutique Travel Agency in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. Is it true? What makes you the best?
A: Haha! That’s kind of you. Well, it’s true we do bring people to all those wonderful countries and we like to think we help them have genuinely vivid experiences. Of course it helps that all four countries are blessed with fantastic natural treasures: coastlines, caves, jungles, rivers and mountains; you can find anything you want. And then there are the people and the cultures they come from. Laos and Myanmar are really opening up to the world for the first time in decades and great opportunities for cultural exchange abound. And lastly, there’s the food. There are times when you feel like you are in the Garden of Eden. For example, in the Mekong Delta, the land is so fertile and green it’s almost unbelievable. Tropical fruit, amazing spices, the freshness of everything is fantastic. This part of the world really is a foodie’s paradise and you can enjoy it all from street stalls to really up market restaurants tucked away in unexpected corners of cities like Luang Prabang.
I have worked in the tourism business for more than 15 years and I wanted to do something a bit different to enable people to experience the wonderful flavours, colours, people and culture of this region. I wanted to give them more unique and more vivid experiences. So we offer local experiences like dinner in the home of a local restaurateur. It’s a great experience on so many levels. For example, in Saigon we partner with Chef Tuan (from Tuan Tu Restaurant.)
We also offer exclusive home stays and if you’re into Art or Wellness, for example, we are able to introduce you to experts in those fields. We provide our guests with unique opportunities that cannot be found in even the very best guidebooks. This region is remarkably ill documented so learning from experts can be the only way to discover more meaningful insights.
Q: Most of us wish we could take a month, but we usually can’t. How many days do I really need to have a full experience in the region?
A: I think the experiences you can have here are pretty immediate and quite intense, so time is not really the issue. For example, lots of friends and clients come over from Hong Kong or Singapore just for a long weekend and leave saying they feel like they’ve been away for weeks. Of course if you want to see everything it’s going to take more time and it’s a real pity when people rush through places like Angkor Wat in an afternoon. You could easily spend a whole week exploring the entire temple complex as well as the surrounding sites and villages. That’s what is so great really, whether you only have a few days or you’ve decided to take a few months, there’s just so much to see and experience. If you want to see all four countries I would suggest that you should plan for at least 3 weeks.
Q: Give it to us straight: Which are the top 5 absolute must see places?
1. The Angkor Temple Complex in Siem Reap, Cambodia is a must see if you’ve never been.
2. Hanoi City is such an evocative and beautiful mix and just a great city in which to get lost.
3. There are some staggeringly luxurious beach resorts to choose from now off the south coast of Cambodia, or on the islands off Vietnam such as Phu Quoc or Con Dao and even along the coastline by Nha Trang, Hoi An and Phu Yen.
4. Luang Prabang (Laos) and Pagan (Myanmar/Burma) are both magical spiritual centres.
5. Halong Bay and the Mekong Delta are also breathtaking if you know where to go and who to go with…and of course we do, haha!
Q: When is the best time of year to visit?
A: You can visit all year round really with the possible exception of September when the North of Vietnam often experiences quite intense storms.
Q: Vietnamese Food is an adventure in itself. Can you tell us a few not to miss dishes? And what about street food: where to get and what to try?
A: Vietnam in particular has just the most delightful cuisine that can be enjoyed at all levels. Every community has a market and the food sections are by far the most interesting. Just the range of tropical fruit alone will leave most people drooling and of course the prices are unmatched anywhere in the world. Mangosteens, Soursop, Custard Apples, Guavas, Passion Fruit, Sapodillas … the list really is endless. Of course Vietnamese soups are well known, but the barbecues are often even more delicious and can be found down most alleyways. And the wonderful thing is snacks and meals are available all day long wherever you look. As you move across to Myanmar you can see and taste the influence of Indian cuisine much more.
There’s absolutely no question that eating is one of the key, and most pleasurable ways, to experience this region.
Q: I have a travel fantasy: We are on bicycles, winding along country roads through ancient villages. We stop for a meal in a local home and when our bellies are full, we find a hammock and take a really good nap. When I visit can we do this?
(Photos Top to Bottom: 1. Women working the rice terraces in the valley of Sa Pa, Northwestern Vietnam © Cristal Tran 2. Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda, also known as Golden Rock, in Myanmar is a popular Buddhist pilgrimage site ©iStockphoto.com/tomgigabite 3. Cambodian school girl ©iStockphoto.com/btrenkel 4. Root of a banyan tree on the lost temple of Wat Ta Prohm in Cambodia © Emily Van Tassel 5. Local dish, Hanoi ©iStockphoto.com/vinhdav 6. Mystical Halong Bay in Vietnam ©iStockphoto.com/Raisbeckfoto) 7. Man with water buffalo in Vietnam ©iStockphoto.com/pirjek 8. Market offerings in Luang Prabang, Laos ©iStockphoto.com/urf )
Posted on July 21, 2014 and filed under asia, vietnam, laos, cambodia, myanmar and beach.