I wanted to include Laos in my itinerary to complete my French Indochina journey last October but because of limited time and budget, I decided to just travel around Vietnam and Cambodia. Laos, especially its former capital Luang Prabang, will always have a special place in my heart as I spent my first trip abroad in this UNESCO World Heritage Site. I know I will be back in Laos soon, I shall devote time for it.
French Indochina is the original name used to refer to Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, when these countries were still a colony of France. The strong French influence is mostly evident in the architecture of these countries. The same can be said in some of their cuisines.
Undoubtedly, though, these countries have come to create their own identities and travelers recognize the interesting characters that these former French colonies now possess. Here, this hybrid of culture and influence comes to play when you see Vietnamese ladies wearing their iconic wide hat cycle pass an old French building or when you encounter the French NGO that runs a training school for children of underprivileged background in Cambodia.
So, how much of French Indochina can one enjoy in nine days?
Hanoi – Lovely French architecture takes center stage in Hanoi (think of its Opera House) but the sight of Vietnamese women on their bicycles as they peddle an assortment of products from fruits to flowers cannot be missed. Yes, that iconic hat tells you you are in Vietnam.
Ha Long Bay – Ha Long City is a direct contrast to Hanoi’s old world charm. The pilgrimage of tourists who want to see Ha Long Bay, a popular UNESCO World Heritage Site, gave birth to a modern city. The real adventure unfolds when the silhouettes of towering limestone mountains come to view.
Hue – in Central Vietnam, is an often overlooked destination. The Citadel and the numerous Royal Tombs are obviously places of interests that should not be missed but biking around Hue, which allows you to enjoy grand French architecture minus the Hanoi crowd, should be on top of every traveler’s list when visiting this city.
Hoi An – If there’s really a place in Vietnam which could transport its tourists back in time, it is Hoi An, another UNESCO World Heritage Site that is so worthy of this recognition. This well-preserved trading port provides tourists with an experience of how it’s like to live in a bygone era. And their delicious cuisine makes Hoi An a highly irresistible destination.
Ho Chi Minh – Beyond the city’s busy streets that are overflowing with xe om or motorcycles, Ho Chi Minh boasts of a good amount of history that is worth revisiting. Still referred to as Saigon, its former name, Ho Chi Minh is the country’s largest city that represents the old and the new Vietnam.
Phnom Pehn – might soon recapture its “Pearl of Asia” moniker even when some tourists feel that the city has a very melancholic atmosphere despite its charming French buildings. This is, of course, a sentiment that comes to mind when one visits the Killing Fields, which are mass grave sites during the Khmer Rouge empire.
Siem Reap – While Siem Reap might turn out to be a traveler’s nightmare because of the thousands of tourists who flock to see the temples everyday, the fascinating ancient architecture, the most popular of which is Angkor Wat, is definitely worth braving the crowd. Even when the city overflows with tourists, biking around Siem Reap and to the temples has an undeniable calming spell.
Love and light, everyone. Go, juanderlust! 😀
- All photographs taken with a Canon 550d.