Indochina, originally known as Indo-China, is the geographical name given to the group of countries within the sphere of influence of China to the east and the Indian sub-continent to the west. The name originated in the early 19th century, when European explorers referred to the inhabitants of the area as “Indo-Chinese”, as a way to describe their heritage and languages. In later years, as the French established their base in Asia as French Indochina, the term was used only to refer to that colonial area. Today, the area is normally known as Mainland Southeast Asia.
The countries that originally made up the area of Indochina are Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, and part of the Malaysian peninsular. At its height, the area of the colonial French Indochina only included the countries of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. After the end of the Japanese occupation of Indochina in August 1945, the French once again took control, although after a series of wars, known as the Indochina Wars, France declared their agreement to recognize the countries as independent states within the French Union in 1950. Following the Geneva Conference of 1954, all three countries were given complete independence from France.
Nowadays, the term “Indochina” is still used by some to describe the area of these three Asian countries, all of which have had some of Asia’s most horrific and devastating conflicts since the Geneva Conference. However, these burgeoning nations became a hotbed of backpacker tourism, and in more recent years, have become a haven for those who want to explore more of Mainland Southeast Asia.
The past decade has seen a boom in tourism in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, and places like Angkor Wat, the Plain of Jars, and hoi An, have become must-see attractions on every tourist’s destination list. While these sights are amazing, much of the best of Indochina remains off the radar, and many of the old favorites have been reinvented a little since they first came under the tourist spotlight.
Full of French colonial charm, this beautiful town sits on the banks of the Kampot River, and is one of Cambodia’s most underrated destinations. With beautiful, albeit crumbling French architecture, shaded, tree-lined boulevards, and riverfront dining, for those who find the town it is love at first sight. And if that is not enough, it is within easy reach of Kep beach resort, the ancient Funan Empire temples, and Bokor National Park.
Considering the city carries the weight of the Khmer genocide on its back, Phnom Penh is slowly evolving into a city of spectacular experiences. Visiting is still considered a risky venture, more for the dangers of the traffic as you passenger on a mototaxi through the city than armed insurgents. However, the riverside shops, stunning night views, and peaceful templesmore than make up for the dangers of getting around.
Angkor Archaeological Park
Covering an area of more than 240 square miles, and including a plethora of breathtaking temples and structures, the site is much too big to accomplish it in one visit, and some tourists come back year after year to explore new areas. This unforgettable temple complex, of which Angkor Wat is the centerpiece, reveals tales of Khmer history as well as their architectural magnificence.
If somewhere to relax for a few days after the rush of Phnom Penh and the immensity of Angkor, then Sihanoukville is the perfect place. One of the most beautiful blue-water beaches in Southeast Asia, it is an ideal getaway that has the peaceful beaches and plentiful nightlife that can make for a nice rest.
Set in Bokor National Park, Popokvil Waterfall is a stunning two-tiered waterfall, which looks particularly gorgeous during the rainy season. Although the appearance of the surrounding rainforest has been somewhat marred by the construction of a huge casino on the hill summit, the area is still quite pretty. The waterfall takes its name from an expression meaning ‘swirling clouds’, perhaps due to the ever-present mist that surrounds it. It’s a great place to stop for a refreshing swim and, if you’re lucky, catch a glimpse of the endangered animals that live in the area, such as the pig-tailed macaque and the Malayan sun bear.
Set in central Vietnam, Hue City is one of the most historical sites in the country, and has become a very popular stop for people visiting the area. The site includes the ancient Imperial Citadel, with its palaces, fortifications and royal tombs, as well as several temples and monasteries to choose from. The surrounding countryside is a popular adventure for visitors to Hue, and there are a number of cooking school in the city, where you can learn the best of Vietnamese cuisine.
Known as the rice bowl of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta is the crossing point between Southern Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. The area is full of interesting sights, from floating markets and coconut waterways to small homestay villages and even a pleasure cruise from Vietnam to Siem Reap in Cambodia.
Mui Ne Beach
In 1995, Mui Ne was the best spot in the world to watch the solar eclipse, and was the point on earth which was in direct line with the centers of both sun and moon. Now it is renowned for its kite-boarding, Saharan sand dunes, year-round sunbathing, and the richness of the as-yet unexploited local culture. Once an isolated coconut grove, Mui Ne has grown into one of the hottest spots in Vietnam.
With a decades-long reputation as a backwater town, Danang has been changing fast as an evolving city with a big, bright future. Along the beautiful Han waterfront you can find gleaming, modern hotels, fine apartments, and a multitude of excellent restaurants. The river is now spanned by several spanking new bridges, and in the north of the city, a new landmark has risen – D-City. At its best in the neon-lit nighttime, Danang is a great place to enjoy the beaches and nightlife.
A large and prosperous coastal city, Quy Nhon has one of the most beach-blessed shorelines in Asia. The grand boulevards, seaside appeal, and clean, litter-free streets make it the sort of place rich local Vietnamese couples retire to and watch the ocean waves. Aside from mile-upon-mile of beautiful beraches, and beachfront properties, the main reason to visit is the amazing seafood. With a larger selection of seafood dishes than almost anywhere else in Vietnam, and dozens of fine, seafood restaurants, Quy Nhon is a fish-lover’s heaven.
Phou Khao Khouay National Park
Also known as “Buffalo horn Mountain”, this nature reserve is the most accessible protected area in Laos. Only 40 kilometers from Vientiane, the reserve has herds of elephants, muntjac deer, and many other rare and endangered animals, as well as several Hmong villages where you can homestay. The surrounding mountains are filled with a trove of wildlife, from clouded leopards and green pea-fowl to the exceedingly rare white-cheeked gibbons.
An ancient town in northern Laos, Luang Prabang is now a designated World Heritage Site, that is considered by many to be the heart of Laotian culture. Set at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers, this small town is surrounded on all sides by mountains, and was once the ancient royal capital of the Lan Xang Kingdom until 1545. All of the old palaces are now dedicated to tourism, and includes 33 temples in the site. While the royal seat moved centuries ago, the town has remained the main center of Buddhist learning in Laos, and is ideal for a little spiritual contemplation.
Luang Nam Tha
Nestled in the mountainous region of northern Laos, Luang Nam Tha is the first place you see after crossing the border from China. The town is an excellent base for exploring the north of the country, and is in an area of outstanding natural beauty, and may ethnic tribes. The area around the town is popular for hiking, and the mountains are full of hiking trails.
Often referred to as “Southeast Asia’s biggest village”, Vientiane has little in common with other capitals such as Hanoi and Bangkok. bereft of the looming skyscrapers of other Asian cities, the central boulevard of Vientiane is more reminiscent of the Champ Elysees, a big sign of the French heritage of the region. The city is small, and can be easily explored on foot, or by bicycle that can be rented from every hotel. The pace in the city is slow, and even the nightlife is somewhat leisurely, which only adds to the attraction of the place.
Up in northeastern Laos is a flat, high plateau that is the province of Xieng Khouang, and the home of the Plain of Jars. Hundreds of ancient stone “jars” are strewn across the landscape, some as much as 3.5 meters high. Carved from solid rock from the surrounding mountains, their meaning is a mystery, and has baffled archaeologists for more than a century.