A captivatingly beautiful country, travellers can discover tradition and history charming rural areas on a tour to Vietnam, and see the dynamic new face of Southeast Asia in the hubbub of its thriving cities. From the northern attractions like Halong Bay (recently named as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature) to Hue’s beautiful temples, Hoi An’s famous tailors and down to the Mekong Delta and Saigon in the South, Vietnam is an unforgettable country. And let’s not forget the cuisine!
While beautiful, there is of course much to learn about Vietnam’s past, especially the tragic Vietnam War. See relics of the war, including the famous Cu Chi Tunnels, an ingenious underground network of tunnels that ran beneath the jungle, allowing Viet Cong fighters to gain the upper hand.
Similarly scarred by past conflicts, Cambodia has emerged as a firm favourite with travellers to Southeast Asia. Spectacularly beautiful and endowed with fascinating archaeological sites, the highlight of a tour to Cambodia is probably Angkor Wat, the largest temple complex in the world, with Siem Reap serving as a gateway to the Angkor complex. And, along with the nation’s capital Phnom Penn, wild jungles, pristine beaches, beautiful offshore islands and vibrant cities, Cambodia has plenty to offer travellers to Southeast Asia.
One of Asia’s most beautiful secrets, Laos is laid-back and still largely untouched by the effects of mass tourism that affect some of the other nations in the region. Even the capital, Vientiane, preserves a laid-back riverfront style of life thanks to some smart city planning. Enjoy Vientiane’s provincial-style buzz, or escape to even more tranquil spaces, like Buddha Park and Wat Si Saket. UNESCO-listed Luang Prabang retains a French colonial atmosphere, along with stunning gilded temples and charming villas.
For the history buffs and archaeology fans, Laos also has plenty to offer. See the Plain of Jars (above) outside Phonsavan, a remarkable site where thousands of enormous stone jars – thought to have been used in prehistoric burial ceremonies – dot the countryside. In the south of Laos, the quiet rural villages of Pakse and the island of Don Khong are the perfect bases from which to explore the 4000 Islands region of the Mekong Delta.
Burma (also known as Myanmar) has held on to the aura of a bygone era, retaining elements of tradition and culture in a way that many other nations haven’t quite managed. Vibrant markets, cultural festivals, friendly locals and stunning temples reveal the country’s deep-rooted Buddhism, which naturally contributes to the country’s laid-back vibe.
Top of most people’s lists when travelling in Burma is Bagan, a surreal dusty plain filled with stupa upon stupa, their exotic shapes stretching off into the horizon. Yangon, (also known as Rangoon), the former capital, is a dynamic city retaining much of its colonial character, with the added bonus of the gleaming Shwedagon Pagoda, attracting streams of devotees with offerings. Don’t miss the magnificent palace of Mandalay, or Inle Lake and its friendly people. Burma is bound leave a lasting impression even on the most seasoned travellers.
Have you travelled to Southeast Asia? What are some of your favourite spots? What’s still on your to-do list?