By Neil Murray | January 2017 | 6 minute read
A trinity of culture, culinary delights and adventure activities: Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos combine to make the perfect touring destination. Vietnam’s meteoric rise into mainstream tourism has coincided with improved access to the region but there are still plenty of undiscovered delights in all three countries.
“Suggest travelling beyond the main sights of Laos and Cambodia to explore Laos’ riverside communities and countryside or the jungle and beaches of Cambodia”
MATT SPILLER, AGENTS SALES MANAGER, INSIDEASIA TOURS
Cu-Chi Tunnels: Experience the claustrophobic tunnels the Vietnamese used in the war against the US
Bamboo Train: Unique ‘train’ trip near Battambang, Cambodia, on open-air, bamboo ‘platforms’ which once transported rice
Religious experience: Rise early for the Tagbat (alms-giving) ceremony in Luang Prabang, Laos, or visit a local house to take part in the ancient spirit-calling Baci ceremony
Historic location: In Ho Chi Minh City, visit the Rex Hotel, where the Five O’Clock Follies (military briefing of cynical US journalists) took place during the Vietnam War
Bargains: Check out the night markets in Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Siem Reap
Head to the beach: Try Cambodia’s Sihanoukville or Vietnam’s Nha Trang, Mui Ne or Phu Quoc Island
Set sail: A night or two on a boat is a great way to see Indochina, with life built up around its great rivers
Troubled past: Cambodia’s Killing Fields, Killing Caves and Genocide Museum are all harrowing but important experiences
How the other half lives: Take a trip on Cambodia’s Sangker River to see the amazing floating village
Big name: Singapore isn’t the only place with a Raffles. Call in to the one in Phnom Penh for a drink
How to sell three in one
Growing steadily in popularity over the last decade, the area’s star is without doubt Vietnam, which has the largest selection of luxury product, followed by Cambodia, thanks to its famous ancient temples, and lastly by land-locked Laos, whose tiny cities and beautiful landscapes have escaped mainstream tourism.
Access is better than ever due to Vietnam Airlines now flying direct from Heathrow into Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, while several airlines (such as VietJetAir, Lao Airlines and Cambodia Angkor Air) fly internally.
Indochina offers a wealth of cultural attractions and tours cover themes ranging from the culinary to the historical. More adventurous types can juggle the temple trail with more off-beat adventures in the jungle and quirky experiences such as TransIndus’s Vespa tours of Ho Chi Minh City or Wendy Wu’s Tuk-Tuk tours of Angkor Wat.
With five-star resorts such as Song Saa in Cambodia and Fusion Maia near Danang, Vietnam, travellers can add on a beach stay to their tour without having to venture into neighbouring Thailand.
Cruising is on the up, with Halong Bay or the Mekong River between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap top choices and interest in the Upper Mekong, through Laos, increasing.
Shivjit Bagga, Product Manager for TransIndus, commented: “The new Pandaw cruises in Laos are generating quite a bit of interest in the area. Cruises have boosted the area’s reputation as a safe destination. There have been very few incidents concerning travellers’ safety and the area is well developed for tourism. The quality of cruises on the Mekong is generally quite good.”
Vietnam is ideal as a starting point for a two-centre holiday. Its biggest attractions are the bustling cities of Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, the palace and tombs of Hue, the crumbling lantern-lit Hoi An and the picturesque beauty of Ha Long Bay.
Laos, less developed than Vietnam, offers temples and buddhas galore, along with exotic river, mountain and jungle scenery. Its ancient capital, Luang Prabang, lies in a valley surrounded by limestone karts at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers and gilded by its many temples.
Cambodia has UNESCO World Heritage Angkor Wat and its surrounding complex of temples, floating villages, a historical capital and river cruising.
What the experts say
“We are planning an agents’ fam trip to Vietnam in May, and will soon announce a competition for places.
We will also be promoting some summer tours to Indochina. It’s a place that people don’t think of much as a summer destination but because Vietnam has such a varied climate, parts of it are very good in the summer, especially the Central Highlands. Danang is relatively dry during the summer so it is possible to have a very good beach stay then.
While summer tours will be primarily to Vietnam, there will be possible extensions to Laos and Cambodia. Admittedly, there is more rain in these two, but there are places to visit which aren’t directly affected by the weather. Like Siem Reap, which has a very good infrastructure and a lot of excellent hotels, or Luang Prabang.
Emphasise the fact that travel to Vietnam now is particularly good because of the country’s no-visa policy –extended until July 30, 2017 it covers visits up to 15 days). If a family of four or five are travelling, that’s quite a significant saving”
SHIVJIT BAGGA, PRODUCT MANAGER, TRANSINDUS
Operators: Wendy Wu is offering free flight upgrades on Air China, Cathay Pacific and Etihad Airways flights when customers book tours to Vietnam and Cambodia in January.
InsideAsia Tours has a new InsideVietnam/InsideBurma brochure featuring several new, fully-tailored trips.
Exotic Voyages has a new tour that recreates Top Gear’s Glory Days by tracing a 2008 journey by the Top Gear trio with a 15-night itinerary that spans the length of Vietnam. It is also launching the Spiritual Journey tour which includes a number of sacred experiences, including a week’s stay at the Plum Village monastic centre in Thailand, a visit to Tu Hieu Pagoda in Vietnam and a Baci ceremony in Laos (not normally available to tourists).
Resorts: The Anam in Cam Ranh, a ‘luxurious, all-villa five-star resort’ on the south-east coast of Vietnam, opened in September, offering ‘colonial-era charm and service with 21st-century design and convenience’, as well as more than 300 metres of beach.
The Ananatra Hoi An Resort has teamed up with Active Adventure Tours to invite guests to explore Vietnam’s more off-the-beaten track sights with a range of open-jeep countryside tours.
Where to book it
Insider Journeys’ 19-day Indochina Explorer small-group (maximum 16 people) tour starts from £3,500pp and takes in Phnom Penh and Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Saigon, Hue, Hoi An, Halong Bay and Hanoi in Vietnam and Vientiane and Luang Prabang in Laos.
Wendy Wu Tours’ Indochina Delights is a 17-day tour (from £2,990pp) which flies to Ho Chi Minh City, followed by visits to Hoi An, Hanoi and Halong Bay in Vietnam; Luang Prabang in Laos; and Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) in Cambodia.