What is Indochina? It is an area in SE Asia made up of three countries, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. It was in effect a colony of France, dominated and ruled from 1887. The Second World War saw a serious weakening of the power of France and they were indeed driven out of Vietnam but the famous leader, Ho Chi Minh. The federation of Indochina was finally officially disbanded on April 27th 1954 and the three countries were declared to be independent of outside rule.
And independent they truly are. They are akin to family members with some similarities but totally unique characters. To visit one is a wonderful experience, to visit all three is just the perfect adventure packed full of memories that will last you a lifetime.
So what exciting delights await you among the smorgasbord of choices? Well, as I have used the analogy of food, we might as well continue in the same vein.
Wine, beer are widely available in all three countries as is the spirits made from rice….delicious and potent. Although as a nation, the locals of the trio tend not to be regular drinkers themselves, alcohol is readily available as are the most delicious smoothies and fresh juices. Interestingly, there is little left of the legacy of food from the French reign other than baguettes and wine although you will see hints of the old influence when you see items like roasted frogs legs and snails on the menu. Laos and Cambodia are heavily influenced by Thailand as well as China in their cuisine. But both counties add their own unique flavor to the dishes that they create. And of course as with most countries, there are also regional differences. Lots of rice dishes, noodles with sauces of fish, meat, tofu and vegetables. Vietnam
has more of a cuisine of its own. Meals are crafted with a balance of tastes, textures and content. A typical meal is made up of many dishes that complement each other many served with their own sauce on the side. Noodle soup and Hot Pots are firm also favorites in the area.
Ok so that deal with the culinary needs. Now let’s move to the more spiritual.
Whatever you own personal beliefs, you will be delighted with the many Pagodas that you will visit in your travels. All three countries are Buddhist but of differing styles of worship. The Vietnamese are Animist Buddhists which means that they worship the ancestors. They are deeply spiritual people many of whom pray daily at their altar at home and visit the Pagoda at certain times. There are people who serve the Pagodas but it is not in the way in which we think of Buddhism. For the orange clad Monks walking the streets with their begging bowls and spending many hours at quiet mediation in the temple, go to Cambodia and Laos. Both countries have beautiful Pagodas that have ornate decorations and a very active and evident community of Monks, young and old.
History abounds in all three countries from past history from the ancient and extensive Champa dynasty, through the Chinese domination through the French region and finally into the more recent history of the Vietnamese/American war and the Khmer Rouge horror in Cambodia. All three countries have their stories to tell through their architecture, their way of life, their way of being and even their languages.
Let’s have a whistle stop of the highlights to visit. In Cambodia THE highlight has to be the UNESCO World Heritage site of Angkor Wat National Park. Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. Stretching over some 400 km2, including forested area, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. They include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations. This is definitely one for the bucket list.
Laos boasts spectacular countryside that links the two main most visited cities are the small but beautifully formed capital of Vientiane and magnificently preserved Luang Prabang. Both snuggle up to rivers, both have some beautiful buildings to visit and both exude a laid back, gentle approach to hospitality. If you are looking for more adventure, head North of Luang Prabang to the mountainous area, West along the stretch of the Mekong Delta that takes you into North Thailand or South to the exquisite 4000 Island area where you can get away from just about everything and enjoy the vistas and the simple lives of local people.
Vietnam is a treasure trove of many gems. Travelling south to north, you start off in the modern, busy and charismatic city of Ho Chi Minh. From here, short trips will take you to visit the river life of the Mekong Delta, the beaches of the south coast including a trip to the adorable island of Phu Quoc and the Cu Chi tunnels where the Viet Khong not only fought but they lived in large communities during the war with America.
The central area of Hoi An and Hue offers you an insight into past times when the country was influenced by the Chinese. Despite damage from the war, the area exudes charm and warmth (from the climate and the people alike). Travelling East takes you into the magnificent Central Highlands to visit the wonders of nature and man alike. The North of Vietnam is not without its own unique charm. Hanoi is arguably the most interesting of all the Indochina cities. It has ancient charm in its architecture but also in the way the locals live their lives. Street culture is huge here in the Old Quarter and you cannot but help be charmed by the vendors, cafe’s and family gatherings that happen in the narrow and hectic streets. Hanoi, as any good capital city should, can offer just about anything that you want, ancient, new, traditional. modern, beauty and innovation. Travel East to Ha Long Bay, another UNESCO world heritage center and this year voted as one of the 10 Natural Wonders of the World. Words belay the mystery and wonder of the Bay. It is unique and totally engaging. Travelling north brings you to the extensive area of the Northern Highlands, home of many of the 52 Ethnic Minority groups who live in Vietnam. Each province has a different character, different ethnic groups but all share the most majestic scenery that is rarely challenged.
Looking for something different? Want to guarantee a warm welcome in a charming, beautiful and varied setting? Indochina just cannot be beaten. It is somewhere you will either crave to revisit or it will live in your memories for a lifetime.
A variety of tours are arranged by HGHTravel to the Indochina area. Visit the website and check out the options www.HGHtravel.com. And if you don’t see exactly what you want, don’t hesitate, email or call HGH and the helpful staff will be more than happy to discuss options. As well as doing published tours, HGH also specialize in planning bespoke tours designed to match your exact profile. Don’t settle for less, make sure you go for the best!!!