Prunella Scales and Timothy West, two of Britain’s adored actors recently set off on an epic adventure, cruising canals and sailing bays of two of our vibrant destinations, Vietnam and Cambodia. The two-part TV series on Channel 4, ‘Great Canal Journeys: Asian Odyssey’, follows the pair as they journey through both countries via boats for one last voyage.
From the limestone islands of Halong Bay, to characterful Hanoi and the lantern-lit streets of Hoi An, they explore the abundant canals and beautiful scenes in these areas. The second part of the series, which is due to air this Sunday (16th June), sees the two venturing down the Mekong Delta and across to the humble and chaotic country of Cambodia, where they finish their journey visiting the historic city of Phenom Penh and exploring the ancient temples Angkor Wat.
If you’re feeling inspired and want to put yourself in Prunella’s and Timothy’s shoes, here’s a taste of how you can experience your own Vietnam and Cambodia adventure; exploring all amazing the places they saw and heading out on your own Asian Odyssey adventure.
Start in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi, packed with character and rich in culture, it’s a must visit on any Vietnam adventure. Set foot in the heart of the city – the chaotic Old Quarter- where you’ll see motorbikes zip through the maze of long streets. Head to the bohemian cafes nudged up by sprawling fruit markets and food hawkers serving classic Vietnamese dishes including steaming bowls of fragrant Pho.
While on your journey through Hanoi, how about getting closer to the culture? Meet a local guide who’ll double up as your language tutor, as they explain the basics of the Vietnamese language and give you a ‘survival kit’ for the rest of your adventure. Your time in Hanoi wouldn’t be complete without embarking on a street food safari. This way, you’ll learn all about local legends, admire the ancient architecture and taste a range of delicacies from grilled pork to vermicelli dumplings, as you wander the streets of the Old Quarter.
After leaving the chaotic city of Hanoi, you can find some solace in Bai Tu Long Bay. This bay is every bit as beautiful as its neighbour, Halong – but is less famous and therefore has fewer tourist boats. Rich in the fairy-tale feeling that Halong Bay has perhaps lost, it’s a more peaceful way to experience this extraordinary landscape, which is peppered with tiny jungle-topped islands and white sandy coves. You’ll spend the night on a traditional Chinese junk boat with huge billowing sails, eating fresh food in true local style. The afternoon will be spent sailing between towering jungle-topped islands before dropping anchor so you can exp0lore the bay yourself. Swim in the azure waters, kayak between rock formations and relax whilst staring out at the magical views. You’ll also explore caves filled with sparkling stalactites and if you’re up for it – a bit of morning Tai Chi.
After cruising through the bay like Prunella and Timothy, it’s time to follow their journey onwards and watch lanterns twinkle along the river in Hoi An. This is known as Vietnam’s most atmospheric town – a jumble of crumbling Chinese shop-houses, boutique cafes, artist studios and riverside restaurants.
If you’re a sucker for arts and crafts, you can learn from a local family how to make your own souvenirs from Bamboo. They’ll show you the ropes on how to get creative and the rest is up to you. If you, like us, agree that part of exploring a new destination is all about tasting the local cuisine, then how about learning to cook some classic Vietnamese dishes? Hear all about typical Vietnamese food and have a go at preparing your own lunch. From seafood noodle soups swimming with fresh herbs to grilled fish with tangy mango salsa, it will send your taste buds on an adventure!
Leave the honking scooter horns and rapid pace of the city behind as you head into a completely different world of riverbank villages and jostling floating markets. This is where you’ll depart Vietnam and head to humble Cambodia. The river journey is very eye-opening, you’ll sail between small islands marooned in the Mekong and watch the daily delta life unfold around you. Whilst cruising down the river, make a stop at Tiger Island, where you can hop on a bike and cycle around the green island, visit ancient temples or learn about the farming practices in the area. After another evening on the river, you’ll reach the Cambodia crossing – harbouring into the capital, Phnom Penh; Pru and Timothy’s penultimate destination.
A city that pulses with energy, history and survival, discover this beautiful city with its heart-breaking past. Packed with character you’ll see that the city is a colourful riot of sounds, sights, monks, motorbikes and tangy aromas. When exploring Phnom Penh, it’s worth visiting the Tuol Sleng Museum if you want to learn about the former Khmer torture site and killing fields; it’s totally harrowing and is sure to send shivers down your spine.
After looking back, start thinking forwards with a visit to the Apsara foundation; a programme set up to educate Cambodian children and preserve local arts. If you want to fill your tummy with some goodness, take a tour through Cambodia’s unique and diverse cuisine. Enjoy noodle soup at a pavement cafe, sample French bread at a local coffee shop, try traditional Khmer food as you wander past colonial buildings and visit markets packed with souvenirs, crafts and cuisine.
Before your adventure ends, it’s time to get lost in the overgrown jungle temples and giant carved reliefs of Angkor; Timothy and Pru’s final stop on their Great Canal Journeys adventure. There’s nowhere really quite like this man-made wonder. Watching the sunrise behind Angkor is something that’s likely to stick with you for a lifetime. You’ll visit the temple highlights, wander between endless carved relics and learn about the fascinating history. The site measures over 162 hectares, giving you plenty of beautiful areas to see and explore.
Want to see Pru & Timothy’s canal journey in action? Find out more about the latest episode on Channel 4, here.