Indochina is comprised of three countries in the Far East – Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Their geographical location, shared histories and fascinating culture make these three countries the perfect combination for a holiday in the Far East. With iconic historical attractions such as Angkor Wat, stunning coastal areas such as Halong Bay, and the vital lifeline of the Mekong River, this region offers diverse experiences along with a chance to learn about the culture, traditions, and way of life of the people.
Vietnam Airlines now offers a direct flight to Ho Chi Minh City from London Gatwick, making the region more easily accessible. Alternatively, there are plenty of flight options via other Far Eastern gateways – Bangkok being one of the most popular.
The region can be explored independently by the more adventurous traveller, or one can join a small-group tour if preferred. The below independent itinerary provides an example of a comprehensive holiday to the region, but is by no means the only option – there are almost endless possibilities to consider.
Day 1: Arrive Phnom Penh
Arrive into Phnom Penh for a two-night stay. Take time to explore the Royal Palace, the majestic Silver Pagoda, and gain an insight into Khmer history at the National Museum. Visit Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields, and learn about the Khmer Rouge regime and the legacy this has left.
Day 3: Siem Reap
This morning, depart for Siem Reap by road. Siem Reap is the base for exploring the temples of Angkor, the ancient capital of the Khmer empire. Over 100 temples are spread over a vast area and the site easily lives up to its status as one of the seven wonders of the forgotten world. Witness sunrise at Angkor Wat and explore some of the many other temples, including the ruins of the tree-covered Ta Prohm. Take a river cruise on Tonle Sap Lake – the second largest freshwater lake in the world and home to the famous floating village, where you’ll see floating houses, a school and even a floating hospital.
Day 6: Luang Prabang
Fly to Luang Prabang for a two-night stay. Luang Prabang is often referred to as the ‘Jewel of Indochina’, and is a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site. The ancient royal city is surrounded by mountains and is situated at a junction of the Mekong and Khan rivers. Watch the ancient ritual of local monks collecting alms, take a boat trip to Pak Ou Caves, or visit stunning Kuang Si Falls. In the evening, visit the vibrant night market.
Day 8: Elephant Explorer
Today, begin a two-day adventure by elephant, providing the opportunity to explore the region and learn about these magnificent creatures.
Take an elephant ride through forests and over hills to the hidden valley of Huay Sae Valley. See the secluded waterfalls and swim in the natural pools. Continue by foot across bamboo bridges, passing waterfalls and dense jungle. Raft down the Nam Khan River, floating slowly downstream passing local farmers and fishermen going about traditional village life, and stopping en route at the Tad Sae waterfall. Stay overnight in a luxury tent
Day 9: Hoi An
Get up early with the magical sunrise atmosphere and trek to the jungle to collect the elephants from their forest home. Together with the Mahouts, the traditional elephant drivers, walk back down to the river for their daily morning bath. Ride bareback on the elephant’s neck, wash it, scrub it and guide it through the river to the camp – an unforgettable experience of a lifetime. Return to Luang Prabang, fly to Danang and transfer to the charming town of Hoi An. Explore traditional houses and temples and see the Japanese Bridge. Relax on the beach, or take a boat trip through ‘Water Coconut Palm Canal’ – a tranquil area little visited by tourists, and learn about the likes of the local fishermen.
Day 11: Hue
Today, your destination is Hue but en route visit the Marble Mountains; an important religious site with a number of imressive caves, temples and viewpoints. Drive the short distance to China Beach with a chance to enjoy a refreshing swim in the South China Sea. Continue on to Danang City to visit the Cham Museum. The Cham people occupied this area of Vietnam from the 2nd to the 17th century and the museum houses the best examples of Cham sculpture anywhere in the world. Complete the drive over the spectacular Hai Van Pass to Hue. Here, relax on the beach or take time to explore the old Citadel.
Day 13: Hanoi
Fly to Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital for a two-night stay. Explore the vibrant Old Quarter and visit the ancient Temple of Literature. Watch a water puppet show or visit the Hanoi Hilton prison.
Day 15: Halong Bay
This morning transfer to Hon Gai, the gateway to Halong Bay. Considered Vietnam's greatest natural wonder, Halong Bay boasts over 3,000 limestone islands that rise out of the sea to provide a spectacular natural environment. Take an overnight cruise on a wooden junk ship on the bay, exploring fishing villages, islets, and caves and with a chance to swim.
Day 16: Hanoi
Return to Hanoi today for the onward or homeward flight.
More time? Consider adding a cruise along the Mekong River – a great way to see small riverside villages and learn about the local’s traditional way of life. Explore Ho Chi Minh City, see the Cu Chi Tunnels, discover Vientiane – the capital of Laos, or add a beach stay in Thailand.
Photographs courtesy of Travel Indochina and Elephant Village Camp, Laos