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Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Burma: The Highlights

| Words by Rachel McCombie | , , , ,

Make the most of your time in Asia, extend your trip and don’t miss out on these must see destinations.

The fascinating Indochina region offers so much for the visitor to see and do that it’s hard to know where to begin. Our small group tours introduce you to the highlights of this diverse part of the world, from the rice paddies of Vietnam to the dizzying energy of Bangkok. In this slideshow, we show you some of the incredible sights awaiting you when you travel to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Burma and Thailand.

1. Mekong Delta, Vietnam

The Mekong Delta - known as the “rice bowl of Vietnam” - is the place to go to see traditional Vietnam. Village life here is much as it’s been for centuries, a way of life characterised by floating markets, fishermen, and farmers working the rice paddies. This area is responsible for around half of Vietnam’s total agriculture.

2. Sapa, Vietnam

The picturesque mountain town of Sapa is surrounded by terraces of rice fields set against a majestic mountain range. It’s the perfect base for trekking in the mountains, as well as for getting a glimpse into the lives of the ethnic minority hill tribes who call this their home.

3. Halong Bay, Vietnam

You might have seen Halong Bay’s dramatic limestone outcrops in the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies. With over 2,000 islands and numerous caves, this bay is one of the most impressive in the world, and well worth exploring by boat. Referring to a local legend, the word “Halong” means “where the dragon descends into the sea”.

4. Saigon, Vietnam

Energetic Saigon - known these days as Ho Chi Minh City - is Vietnam’s largest city, and it could scarcely be more different from the agricultural landscapes of the Mekong Delta and Sapa. Reminders of the city’s French colonial past contrast with futuristic skyscrapers, which sit side by side with peaceful temples.

5. Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Phnom Penh was freed from the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror in 1979, and many visit to see the chilling Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, 17km to the south - a haunting reminder of those years of horror. There are a few colonial-era buildings left, and the Royal Palace is a popular destination; but it’s the chaotic street life, as seen here, that many tourists come to witness.

6. Temples of Angkor, Cambodia

You don’t have to be interested in archaeology to enjoy a visit to the stunning temples of Angkor. With buildings dating from between the 9th and 15th centuries, this World Heritage site is one of southeast Asia’s most impressive. Its numerous temples are of immense religious and cultural importance, and the Bayon Temple, the iconic faces of which are seen here, is one of the most famous.

7. Luang Prabang, Laos

This charming, UNESCO-listed city is located on the confluence of two rivers, and it’s the place to go to see Buddhist monks taking part in a traditional alms ceremony. The city’s unique architecture is an intriguing mix of wooden houses in the local style and colonial buildings left over from French rule. By night, the banks of the Mekong River provide the perfect setting for an atmospheric dinner.

8. Elephant Hills Camp, Thailand

Camping in the jungle doesn’t have to mean roughing it. At Elephant Hills Camp, the first of its kind, visitors sleep in luxury floating tents. Set in Khao Sok National Park, Thailand, it’s the perfect place to stay if you want to experience the jungle in comfort. After a day’s trekking, canoeing or meeting elephants, unwind in the camp’s bar or gather around the camp fire.

9. Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok is Thailand’s mesmerising capital, and no trip would be complete without experiencing its hustle and bustle. Famous for its buzzing nightlife, Bangkok is just as interesting by day, when you can take a tuk-tuk ride around the old city to see sights such as the Grand Palace and the Golden Mount.

10. Bagan, Burma

The incredible UNESCO-protected landscape of Bagan is littered with a vast number of ruined temples and stupas. Dating from around the 12th century, the thousands of ruins are a breathtaking sight, particularly when viewed at sunrise or sunset by hot air balloon. It’s a lot less crowded than Cambodia’s Angkor, yet it’s every bit as impressive.

11. Inle Lake, Burma

Take to the waters of this atmospheric lake to witness a traditional Burmese way of life, unchanged for countless generations. At dawn, you’ll see fishermen at work, and later in the day you can visit some of the lake’s numerous cottage industries to buy locally-produced souvenirs such as jewellery and clothes. Keep an eye out for wildlife, as the lake is home to many endangered species of birds.