Tailor-make your trip to French Indochina
One of Indochina’s most interesting cultural features is its diverse minority groups, many of which still use authentic farming techniques and wear traditional dress.
Many of these groups are found in the hilly, more remote corners of the region including northern Laos, northeast Cambodia and central and northern Vietnam. Although more effort is required to access these areas, you are rewarded with stunning vistas, colourful markets and subsistence level communities, relatively untouched by the modern world.
Visiting these communities can easily be combined with elephant experiences, boat trips or cycling and trekking routes that take you into the heart of rural Indochina. One of the best ways to interact with the minority groups is to visit one of the many local markets in the region, such as Sin Cheng in northwest Vietnam, which is one of our favourites.
This market is primarily used by Flower H’mong, who are known for their colourful and distinctive, traditional dress. It is also possible to stay overnight in a local community and experience rural life and customs at first-hand.
Flower H'mong, Sin Cheng Market
H'mong tribeswomen, Tonkinese Alps, Vietnam
At over 4,000 kilometres long, it is no exaggeration to say the Mekong is the lifeblood of the region, providing transport, food, energy, communication and a cultural focal point for millions of people living along its banks.
The northern parts of the Mekong are incredibly scenic as it winds its way through the remote jungle-clad mountains of Laos. The best way to enjoy this part of the river is to take the two day boat trip from the Thai border to Luang Prabang.
Once the Mekong leaves Luang Prabang it continues south and for several hundred kilometres forms the border between Laos and Thailand. It then flows into an area known as Si Phan Don, or the 4,000 Islands. The scenery here is flat but majestic, with ribbons of water embracing tiny island communities.
Undoubtedly one of the most scenic parts of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta is where the river finally reaches the South China Sea. Known as the rice bowl of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta is a patchwork of verdant rice paddies and traditional villages.
The best way to explore the Delta is to cruise through the backwaters by boat, staying on a converted rice barge or private sampan observing fishermen going about their daily lives and the bustling commerce of this lively area. It is also possible to cross the border into nearby Cambodia by boat.
Sunset on the Mekong, Laos
Local ferry in the Mekong delta.
Off the beaten track
Many operators offer travel to Indochina and most of the highlights are now on a fairly well-worn path. However, it is easy to avoid the crowds, particularly in the remote border regions.
Ha Giang province in northern Vietnam is a fantastic destination, where villagers wear traditional dress as a matter of course, rather than for tourists, and the rice terraces are spectacular.
Northern Laos has some stunning scenery and the mountainous area around Luang Nam Tha and Muang La is a great base for trekking, kayaking and cycling. Sam Neua, close to the border with Vietnam, is home to a variety of interesting sites and can make for an interesting overland trip if travelling on to northern Vietnam.
In Cambodia it is possible to find a less-travelled path as soon as you leave the main centres of Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, but it is the northeast provinces of Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri that offer the most to the more intrepid traveller.
Ha Giang City, Vietnam
Lady of the Akha tribe, Laos
River journeys are the lifeblood of Laos
Banteay Srei, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Hoi An, Vietnam
View from an Ocean Pool Pavilion, Amano'i