The former French colonies of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos are known collectively as Indochina. The mighty coffee-coloured Mekong River carves its course through these countries to connect Thailand and the cultural and geographic values of the region as a whole.
Despite the collective name Indochina – each country has a very unique history & people.
Above – a local Vietnamese woman on the Mekong Delta punts across the river to sell her vegetables at market.
Vietnam is remarkably diverse, as are its people – from the refreshing mountain air and rice terraces of Ta Van valley in the north
to the steamy, bustling sensation of Saigon in the South, powder white sand beaches of the coast, and the stunning limestone islands of Halong Bay – it is a vibrant country of Asian tradition and colonial influences. I loved the relaxed trekking through the stunning scenery and intriguing villages in the north – observing the hilltribes and their very traditional way of life. It is a very spiritual place and very good for the soul.
One of the highlights was a cruise around Halong Bay with its magical limestone islands & lovely beaches with warm crystal clear water – and it’s only a few hours’ drive from Hanoi – a whole destination in itself ….
Hanoi has taken a long time to emerge from its war-torn, communist past but is now an exotic, safe, stylish good value destination – its a wonderful place to get lost by foot exploring the narrow, tree-lined backstreets and Hanoi’s old quarter, or trundling around the French quarter by rickshaw. I loved heading deep into the city’s interior and discovering wonderful markets & ancient French townhouses. There are cosy, traditional coffee bars & Parisian-style pavement cafes perfect for some people-watching which is high on my list of top things to do!
Laos is a mountainous country landlocked between Vietnam, Cambodia & Thailand. Until the last few years it has been ‘hidden’ from the outside world, but is gently waking up following years of economic and cultural isolation. A visit to laid-back Laos is a trip back in time and a total immersion into the Buddist values – think ‘detachment from stress’; ‘humility of your surroundings’; ‘impermanence of the moment’.
Luang Prabang is the historic royal capital of Laos and is labelled the best-preserved traditional town in South-East Asia. It is certainly one of the most intriguing and charming I have ever visited. Luang Prabang is a collection of fascinating people, golden-roofed temples, wooden houses and crumbling French provincial buildings.
One of the highlights of my stay in Luang Prabang was to wake at dawn with the rising mist & crowing cockerels and wander the streets observing the saffron-clad monks from various monasteries, collecting alms of rice. So exotic to absorb the noises, smells & flavours of the streets as people prepare for their day, sellers fanning smoky firewood to cook their sticky rice & chicken feet soup, tuk tuks and bicycles rumbling by, The local cuisine is an experience in itself with river weed a staple eaten dried, with garlic and sesame seeds dipped in a sweet chili paste with buffalo skin a delicacy.
Laos boasts the greatest share of the Mekong River which is Laos’ principal transportation. A journey along the Mekong allows a different glimpse of local life. Neat rows of plants line the sandy riverbanks and villages nestle behind tamarind trees, fishermen cast their nets into the mysterious waters and children somersault in the shallow waters – I traveled a stretch of the river in the north of Laos which was one of the most stunning journeys I have ever experienced … but that’s another story for another time!
Above: The Plain of Jars are a scattering of stone jars believed to be associated with prehistoric burial practices – a fascinating phenomenon.
With stupas, monuments, monasteries, temples and caves full of Buddha sculptures Laos is a treasure trove to be explored. Its a heavenly destination and I can’t wait to go back!
With its complex history, charming people, khmer cuisine and rich culture Cambodia is a magical destination. I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Cambodia yet, but intend to very soon – for some travel ideas, take a look at our Cambodia itineraries page.