Top Ten Destinations in Indochina

Siem Reap (ANGKOR) – CAMBODIA

No trip to the region would be complete without a trip to the abundant ruins of Angkor.  You hear about the grandeur of Angkor Wat, but nothing can quite prepare you for that special morning when you watch the saffron sun peak over the world’s largest and most audacious religious structure.  You’ll need at least two memory chips and three days to navigate the 1,000 square kilometers of the former Khmer Empire.  Prepare to be amazed!

Hue – VIETNAM

Hue makes a great midpoint on the North to South route through Vietnam.  The city was the imperial capital of the Nguyen Dynasty in the 17th century and the capital of Vietnam from 1802 to 1945.  While the old citadel’s historical buildings suffered considerable damage in the American War, UNESCO protection led to a rapid restoration.  On the edge of town, spend time exploring the grand tombs of Vietnam’s famous emperors.

Vientiane – LAOS

Like a dash of France sprinkled along the Mekong River, the smell of freshly baked baguettes wafts over Vientiane every morning.  The café-lined streets of old town and perfectly manicured lawns of the commercial district are a stroller’s dream.  More of a big village than an international city, Vientiane is Asia’s friendliest capital.  If that’s not enough to win you over, click here.

Mekong Delta – VIETNAM

The Mekong Delta is a beguiling mix of wilderness and extreme habitation.  It’s a landscape that morphs from watery jungle to dusty urban sprawl with remarkable ease.  Imagine New York City forklifted up and set in the middle of the Florida Everglades and you begin to get the picture.  The “Rice Bowl of Vietnam,” the Delta is the country’s greatest agricultural region.  Yet, it houses the entire population of Australia within its densely populated backwaters.   While several tours leave from Ho Chi Minh City, the Delta is best explored on your own steam.

Muang Ngoi – LAOS

Some find paradise on the beach.  Others find it in a hammock overlooking a pristine river valley.  If the latter sounds like you, then Muang Ngoi is the authentic Asian destination you’ve been seeking.  Only accessible by boat from Nong Khiaw, Muang Ngoi is the ideal location for exploring caves, waterfalls, and tribal Laos.  Trek to a homestay in a remote tribal village and bring along books from Big Brother Mouse to promote rural education in Laos.

Kampot / Kep – CAMBODIA

Kampot is the gourmet pepper capital of the world.  You may never have realized that pepper (as in the table companion to salt) could taste so good until you toss it atop your fish amok in Kampot.  This quiet riverside town has an awesome array of riverside restaurants and secluded bungalows.  It is the perfect place to kick back for some small-town Cambodian charm.  It is also an ideal base for trips into Bokor National Park or the beaches in nearby Kep. 

Mai Chau – VIETNAM

While all of the Western tourists flock to Sapa, the Vietnamese go to Mai Chau.  Just four hours from Hanoi, this foggy valley of rice paddies is the closest place from the city to find ethnic tribes.  Don’t expect elaborate costumes – most are wearing tracksuits these days.  However, several nights a week, members of the White Thai tribe perform elaborate cultural dances that end in communal drinking and a hopscotch-like game.  Go to Mai Chau to act like a Vietnamese tourist in Vietnam.

Don Det and the 4,000 islands – LAOS

Laos may be a landlocked country, but it is no stranger to water sports.  The antithesis of party-crazy Vang Vieng, 4,000 islands is a relaxed rural hideaway deep in the south by the Cambodian border.  You can wallow away the whole day on an island hammock, go for a dip or hop on a tube for a trip down the Mekong River.  Home to the extremely rare Irrawaddy dolphin, a quick kayak excursion will find you surrounded by these friendly tricksters.

Halong Bay – VIETNAM

According to local legend, the Vietnamese Gods sent out a family of dragons to protect their people from Chinese invaders.  These dragons spit out jewels and jade into the sea that formed the dizzying, dazzling defense of Halong Bay.  A junk boat trip into this odd realm is a journey to another world.  Floating fishing villages wobble atop emerald green water, while sharp limestone peaks shoot skyward.  The views are surreal, the caves are spooky, the monkeys are mischievous, and the adventure is unforgettable.

Luang Prabang – LAOS

Nestled at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers, Luang Prabang’s dreamy backstreets overflow with art, architecture, and a rich history.  Dignified monks, cloaked in tangerine, far outnumber tourists fighting for space under shared yellow umbrellas.  The bald-topped next generation train at the city’s dazzling temples and spill out onto the streets at daybreak to gather their alms from the kneeling public.  This is Luang Prabang, a once inaccessible former capital that harkens back to a different era of time-old traditions.

Have some more suggestions?  Feel free to comment below!

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