When people think about getting away to Southeast Asia, they most commonly envision a fine white sandy beach in Thailand, or increasingly these days, a less trafficked beach in Malaysia. While these destinations have more than their fair share of attractions, there is a more adventurous portion of this region that is begging to be explored.
While this area comprises the nations of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam in the present day, it used to be known as French Indochina back in the age of European colonialism, as France controlled these nations for hundreds of years right up until the 1950’s, when they were driven out of Vietnam by revolutionary forces.
While these countries fully control their destinies in the present day, they still retain elements of French influence in many aspects of their everyday culture. In the three cities profiled in this article, one can find the very best experiences so that they can experience this exotic region in style.
Luang Prabang, Laos
Lined with fine French mansions and scores of flowering trees, Luang Prabang is a cosy small city tucked amidst the sparsely populated mountains of Northern Laos. Buddhist culture is on full display here, with several fabulous temples that can be visited very easily within a couple of days, and a popular (but early!) morning procession where one can give food to the city’s monks.
Those looking for a true taste of this cities’ French past should make a point of checking out a restaurant that serves French cuisine. L’Elephant is one of the best options, with multi-course meals featuring a variety of dining options (duck, buffalo steak, soup, etc) that are available for much less than a similar offering back in the developed world.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Once home to the beating heart of the Khmer empire, Siem Reap is a centre once again on the rise due to the ruins of its former iteration. Sprawling over hundreds of square kilometres, the well-preserved temples, fortifications and royal structures of Angkor Wat will drop your jaw to the floor from the first sight of the main temple complex.
Hiring a car with a driver will allow you to be shuttled around to the major sites in air-conditioned comforts with highly knowledgeable guides, while buying a three day pass will allow the culture connoisseur time to explore this extensive site to the extent where all the significant temples can seen at a leisurely pace.
Formerly serving as the capital of French Indochina, Hanoi should occupy a mandatory slot on your explorations of this adventrous portion of Southeast Asia. After enjoying a steaming bowl of pho and a bia hoi on a street corner, be sure to check out a water puppet show that details the finer points if Vietnamese culture. Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum honours the life of the man that drove the French out of Vietnam, while those with an ear for the finer sounds of life will be duly satisfied by taking in an opera at the Hanoi Opera House, which is modeled after Palais Garnier in Paris, France.
French Indochina: Not Just For Backpackers Anymore
While the countries that comprise French Indochina have traditionally been heavily travelled by backpackers, it doesn’t mean that these nations don’t have the capability to cater to well-heeled visitors as well. With many upscale options available to support an optimal experience for those willing to pay for it, those that crave for the finer things in life will find them in abundance in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.