Treasures of Indochina - View from the Inside

"We were guided through a floating village where we saw locals fishing and selling goods straight from their pontoon-like houses and children rowing home from their floating school"

October 2015 • Jules Verne

Treasures of Indochina - View from the Inside

This was my first visit to Asia and Treasures of Indochina was definitely the perfect way to experience a taste of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in just one trip.

When we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City one of the first places we visited was the War Remnants Museum. Like most of my generation, my brief knowledge of the Vietnam War was learnt at school a few decades after it ended; so it was very moving to see up close the impact this conflict had on the people of Vietnam.  To see the photographs, exhibits and armoured vehicles from the war, all set amidst their now thriving city really put into context how far this country has come in the last 40 years.

We explored the city’s streets in our free time, where the trick is to keep moving as the mopeds and motorcycles navigate their way around you. Trust me when I say that even the usually mundane task of crossing the road seems new and exciting in Ho Chi Minh City!  The French colonial style architecture sitting alongside the tall mirrored skyscrapers makes for an eclectic mix and illustrates perfectly the dynamic and divergent journey this city is taking.

One of my favourite experiences was when we boarded a boat in nearby Ben Tre to explore the labyrinthine channels of the Mekong Delta. We were taken to see local products being made including coconut sweets and chopsticks, and were also treated to a home cooked Vietnamese meal which was as delicious and authentic as you can get!

Our next stop was Cambodia, where we almost took a step back in time. The streets were quieter, the atmosphere more relaxed and the world renowned temples really took centre stage. The size and scale of Angkor Wat is breathtaking and the almost perfectly preserved details are astounding. The real wonder was Ta Promh, we visited in the morning before the crowds arrived and were able to see it at its most beautiful and serene. The trees rise up through the ancient ruins, branches twist through solid stone and gigantic roots have prised the walls apart. The dappled sunlight filters through a great canopy of leaves creating the most beautiful ‘roof’ giving the temple an ethereal quality like no other. Nature continues to thrive here as man’s creations crumble around it.

One of my highlights in Cambodia was our boat trip on Tonle Sap Lake. We were guided through a floating village where we saw locals fishing and selling goods straight from their pontoon-like houses and children rowing home from their floating school. It was a truly memorable experience and I felt like we really gained an insight into their daily life.

The third country on our tour was Laos and I fell in love with Luang Prabang even before we arrived. Face pressed against the window of the plane, I watched the sunset over the lush mountains and I knew this was going to be a special place.

The following morning we left the hotel early to witness the Tagbat ceremony. We arrived to find the town already awake, locals and tourists’ alike waiting patiently for the saffron robed monks to descend upon the streets. I felt privileged to experience this humbling alms-giving ritual and it definitely added something extra special to our trip.

We also visited the Kuang Si Waterfalls, which were breathtakingly beautiful. We walked through the forest trails where we saw black bears in their sanctuary and had the opportunity to swim in the cool turquoise waters of the mineral rich pools. Diving into the water on a hot and sticky day was a refreshing treat and it surely must be one of the most beautiful bathing spots in the world. 

It was with some sadness that we said goodbye to beautiful Laos but we were more than excited to return to Vietnam where Hanoi was a different experience entirely. On our first day we visited Ho Chi Minh’s house and walked around the beautiful surrounding gardens. In the centre of these is Hoan Kiem Lake, it’s placid green waters full of fish and even though it was busy with tourists we found it to be a tranquil and relaxing oasis in the middle of the city.

One of my favourite experiences in Hanoi was The Water Puppet show. This traditional performance was a fun and interesting way to learn about Vietnamese culture, traditions and mythology. The puppeteers were so talented you soon forgot they were hiding behind the split bamboo screen and were transported into the vibrant scenes they were portraying. The colourful wooden puppets moved so fluidly across the water and the live music and singing really brought the performance to life.

The best way to see the Old Quarter of Hanoi is by cyclo, so one by one we set off - pedalled by the driver behind us. It really felt like we were right in the heart of the action, riding alongside the mopeds and motorcycles and perfectly placed to take photos as we meandered through the bustling streets.  

For me Vietnam was a country of great contrasts; the tranquil Ha Long Bay seemed worlds apart from the city we left behind and yet it was only a scenic 4-hour drive from hectic Hanoi.  The limestone islands have a prehistoric feel to them, emerging from the ocean and towering spectacularly over the junk boats that cruise serenely around them. We boarded one of these and as we set sail across the bay I felt a genuine sense of awe, the islands seemed to go on forever, each one distinct and unique and just as beautiful as the last. It was a perfect place to end the perfect trip of a lifetime.

Indochina was more varied than I expected, each part of the tour offering unique insights into different cultures that we may have missed without the accompaniment of such knowledgeable local guides.

The main thing all of these countries have in common though is the willingness of their people to share these beautiful places with you, to show you their customs and traditions and welcome you into their world. If you’re anything like me you will return home with many treasured memories and a longing to return.

View our Treasures of Indochina tour >