Famous for its breathtaking beauty, Indochina – Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos – is an enthralling fusion of heritage architecture, poetic landscapes, golden and white sand beaches, natural wonders, and a medley of cultural and religious sights. To the first-time visitor, it is a mélange of unforgettable sounds, scents, and colours.
In the past 10 years or so, despite the fact that the region’s history is marred by war and conflict, many travel destinations in Indochina became tourist hotspots. Furthermore, a total 12 of attractions across Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam have been included in the esteemed UNESCO World Heritage list, thrusting the three fascinating countries under the spotlight.
Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam are packed with attractions and the best way to experience the best of the Indochina is to see a combination of the three countries’ most popular and lesser-known destinations. Check out the unmissable places in Indochina that should be in every traveller’s must-visit list.
Vietnam is a country that’s definitely worth visiting. Its largest cities – Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi – are vibrant and literally buzzing with life. Chaotic and charming at the same time, the two cities are chock-full of attractions.
Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon is home to popular attractions like the Notre Dame Cathedral, War Remnants Museum, Reunification Palace, must-see sights for discovering Vietnam’s rich history. It is also very easy to arrange a day tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels, a remnant of Vietnam’s tumultuous past. You can also take a tour to Mekong Delta from Saigon.
In Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, you will find popular attractions like the Old Quarter, One Pillar Pagoda, Temple of Literature, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, and Hoan Kiem Lake.
Approximately 183 kilometres from Hanoi is Halong Bay, an attraction that boasts karst pillars, stunning turquoise waters, mysterious caves, and tiny islets in one impressive package. Considered one Northern Vietnam’s most popular destinations, Halong Bay was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.
If your ideal vacation spot has to be near the beach, three places you need to visit in Vietnam are Mui Ne, Da Nang and Nha Trang.
For the perfect beach holiday, head to Nha Trang, where you’ll find an unbelievable long stretch of white sand beaches. Also located in Nha Trang is the Long Son Pagoda, a modern Buddhist religious structure set on the foothill of Trai Thuy Mountain, and the Po Nagar Cham Towers, an ancient Cham temple tower that dates back to the 8th century.
Aside from being a gorgeous coastal city, Da Nang’s claim to fame is that it showcases attractions like the Museum of Cham Sculpture, Monkey Mountain, and Ba Na Hills. It is also just a two-hour drive from My Son Sanctuary, the ruins of the temples of the Champa Kingdom.
Easily accessible via Ho Chi Minh City, the resort town of Mui Ne is a favourite weekend getaway, thanks to its sand dunes, lively festivals, and glorious beaches.
If you want to visit more UNESCO heritage sites in Vietnam, Hue and Hoi An are two destinations you should visit from Da Nang. Explore Hue City and the Imperial Citadel, the political, cultural, and religious centre of the Nguyen Dynasty from 1802 to 1945.
Another heritage site to spend time in is Hoi An Ancient Town, a historic trading hub inscribed into the sought-after UNESCO World Heritage List in 1999. Hoi An makes a lovely picture at night when colourful paper lanterns light up the traditional townscape.
Eight hours by train from the capital city, Sapa is a charming mountainous town in northwest Vietnam. Sapa’s rugged terrain, lively markets, and exotic hill-tribe villages in addition to awe-inspiring rural vistas are all waiting to be experienced.
High on everyone’s list when visiting Cambodia is Angkor Wat, a landmark attraction in Siem Reap that attracts hordes of tourists to the country annually. Dating back to the 12th century, the sprawling 208-hectare temple complex is the world’s largest religious monument and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Next on your must-visit list in Cambodia should be Phnom Penh, the capital city. And while it may be impossible to visit Phnom Penh without being reminded about its tragic past under the oppressive Khmer Rouge regime, it is an emerging tourist destination that teeming with offerings, from historic attractions to stunning architecture, delectable local cuisine, beach resorts, and a thriving shopping scene. Cambodia’s capital is clearly a far cry from what it once was and is now a picture of fast-paced economic development.
One of the most underrated travel destinations in Cambodia, Kampot is a seaside town popular for its heritage buildings, tree-lined boulevards, salt fields, expansive pepper plantations, and a host of other attractions. Visit this laid-back town for a taste of authentic French colonial charm.
Laos may lag behind other Southeast Asian destinations but it is one of French Indochina’s most treasured gems. And those who have visited the charming country couldn’t agree more.
Start your Laos holiday by visiting its capital, Vientiane. A picturesque city oozing with small-town charm and hospitality, it deserves a spot in your Indochina itinerary. Explore the city’s fascinating café scene as well as its collection of temples and romantic French villas to sample its intoxicating rustic vibe.
Luang Prabang, the country’s cultural hub and former Royal capital and political seat of the Kingdom of Laos, is another unmissable place to visit in Laos. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is a mixed bag of well-preserved ancient temples, traditional Lao structures, and European architecture, all situated in a peninsula where two rivers meet. Not to be missed when visiting the city is its iconic landmark, Mount Phou Si, a precipitous hill topped by a temple. Climb all the way to the Wat Chom Si shrine to admire breathtaking views of the city and the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers.
Nestled at the base of the majestic Mount Phu Kao in the southern part of Laos are the ruins of a Khmer temple called Vat Phou. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2002, it is one of the oldest and most well preserved archaeological attractions in Indochina. Dating back to the 5th century, it was built way before the Cambodia’s famous Angkor temples were constructed. An important thing to take note of when exploring Vat Phou is the geometric pattern of its religious buildings and waterworks within the temple complex. The pattern is believed to illustrate the interconnection between humankind and nature.
Perhaps the most intriguing tourist attraction you can explore in Southeast Asia is the Plain of Jars. Located in Central Laos, it consists of numerous sandstone, granite, or limestone jars scattered across different sites. Believed to be Austro-Asiatic or Indian in origin, many different theories regarding the purpose of this strange collection of huge stone jars have been floated but to this day, no one theory has been proven.
Need inspiration and ideas for your next travel adventure? Check out the best tours and packages here!
By: Brendelyn Balaga