Indochina is well-known for its breathtaking beauty, history and heritage, famed beaches, culinary delights and its amazingly friendly people.
It also has many lesser known delights that make it worth exploring further. Asia travel specialists Insider Journeys have developed a list of ‘hidden wonders’ of Indochina worthy of a deeper dive:
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
There are actually 11 UNESCO World Heritage sites across Indochina. In addition to the expected sites of the Ancient Town of Hoi An, the historic town of Luang Prabang, the beauty of Halong Bay and the temples of Angkor, the first three items on Insider Journeys’ list are some of these lesser known UNESCO gems.
1) My Son Sanctuary, Vietnam: Nestled in the jungle, a two-hour drive from Hoi An or Danang are the remarkable tower temples of My Son. The site was the capital of the Champa Kingdom for most of its existence from the 2nd to the 15th century, a culture unique to the coast of Vietnam with spiritual origins based on Indian Hinduism.
2) Vat Phou within the Champasak Cultural Landscape, Laos: The Vat Phou Temple complex is a planned landscape which has been preserved over 1,000 years. Associated with the Khmer Empire and designed to depict the relationship between humanity and nature as per Hindu teachings, it features a geometric pattern of temples, shrines and waterworks which extend over 10 kilometres.
3) Temple of Preah Vihear, Cambodia: Dedicated the Hindu Deity Shiva, this temple pre-dates the more famous Angkor Wat. Its cliff-top location offers sweeping views of the plains below. Due to its remote position the remarkable architecture and intricate stone carvings are very well preserved.
The religious and artistic icons, ancient temples, colonial buildings and formidable citadels – are all important architectural and cultural features of Indochina. Outside of the major tourist destinations, there are also little known regions that offer special cultural highlights and experiences.
1) Ha Giang, Vietnam: This far-north region of Vietnam is renowned for its untouched mountainous landscape and impressive rocky outcrops. Little visited by tourists, it’s the region to go to if you want to experience ‘the real Vietnam’, meet local people and witness its rich tribal cultural, including its Sunday market at Meo Vac. Dong Van Rock Plateau is a UNESCO-protected geological park worthy of a visit in its own right.
2) Kontum, Vietnam: Capital of the Kontum Province, it’s the gateway to the region’s small villages, which are populated by indigenous hill tribes. It’s highly recommended that you visit these villages with a guide, who can help you with communication and understanding local customs.
3) Kep, Cambodia: The peaceful colonial seaside retreat of Kep was once Cambodia’s most popular, but it suffered greatly in the country’s civil war. Ruins can still be seen amidst the decadent combination of fading French and Indochina glamour. These days Kep is a friendly place with a National Park and an idyllic beach.
4) Kratie, Cambodia: North east of Phnom Penh, this tiny remote town makes a good base for reaching the area’s interesting temples and basket-weaver villages. Irrawaddy dolphin-spotting on the Mekong River is a must when visiting Kratie; early evening is a good time to go on a boat trip, when the heat of the sun is less fierce.
5) The Plain of Jars, Laos: Laos’ answer to Stonehenge, the Plain of Jars in Phonsavan (almost half way between Luang Prabang and Vientiane) are thought to date back to between 600BC and 500AD. Steeped in legend, there are approximately 2,500 huge stone jars ranging from one to three metres tall and up to two metres in diameter dotted over 85 sites across the country.
Exotic Culinary Delicacies
Indochina is also known for its delicious cuisines. Food is a local obsession, with lively markets, popular local eateries and street stalls abounding. Siem Reap is known for its bustling pub street, traditional jaew dips are a must while in Laos, and a local highlight in Vietnam is a seafood lunch on Halong Bay.
In addition to the backbone of delicious gastronomic experiences is some more unusual fare strictly for the not-so-faint of heart:
1) Dried frogs on a stick are a local specialty at Pakbeng, a quaint one-street town nestled on the banks of the Mekong in northern Laos.
2) Deep fried tarantula is a ‘must try’ from the street stalls in Phnom Penh and throughout Cambodia.
Insider Journeys is an Indochina specialist offering 52 tours to the region with over 1,500 departures per year.
Starting from $6,185 per person twin share, the comprehensive 19 day Indochina Explorer takes in the history, culture and natural beauty of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. It uncovers the museums and monuments of Cambodia, Vietnam’s bustling cities, sparkling bays, ancient relics and delectable cuisine and the ‘Asia of yesteryear’ pace of Laos, with its welcoming people.
For further details or bookings, visit www.insiderjourneys.com.au