Return to Indochina

Because I’ve always wanted to…

Issue 32 / May 2018

Late Spring greetings to you all,

We have just returned from a fascinating trip around Indochina namely Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Certain places that I last visited in 2001 have sadly become so over developed I no longer consider them worth visiting – Hoi An being one place.  However, as some places drop off our favourites list others pop up!  Below you will find a few of our current top picks.

Wishing you all the most wonderful summer with lots of adventures and glorious weather!

Laterally yours,

Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang, mixing traditional Laotian and French colonial architecture, must be one of the most charming places in South East Asia.  The best way to approach it is by boat down the Mekong from Northern Thailand.  There’s lots to see when you get there – the magnificent royal palace containing both the glitzy and the domestic, the daily morning market with its array of fresh, and sometimes weird, produce and some of the prettiest temples you’ve ever seen.  Stay at the historic 3 Nagas right in the centre of town, or at the elegant, impeccable and glamorous Amantaka.

Hanoi, Vietnam

Big, bustling Hanoi has lots to see and do.  Absolutely the best way to see it all is to take a Vespa tour.  You are comfortably seated on the back of a vintage Vespa scooter and taken to see all the main attractions in the city along with a few which would be difficult to find in a car or on foot.  An excellent English-speaking guide explains all on the various stops and travelling between them is invigorating to say the least!  I enjoyed it so much that I took two more Vespa tours with the same company, Vespa Adventures, in Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City.  Highly recommended for those with an adventurous spirit. There’s really only one place to stay in Hanoi and that’s the Sofitel Legend Metropole.  It’s a big, busy, highly efficient city hotel in the old colonial style with great bars for a decadent cocktail before you head out for some of the famous and delicious street food.

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, is Vietnam’s commercial hub. A must-see is the Reunification Palace, completed in 1966.  In 1975 a North Vietnamese Army tank crashed through its main gate ending the Vietnam War and that’s when time froze. It is full of authentic 1960s furniture and decoration and you can see the private living quarters of the former occupants as well as the grander spaces, and even an extensive network of rooms in the command bunker.  It’s truly fascinating.  Stay at the funky and fabulous MGallery Hotel des Arts right in the centre of the action, or at the relaxing retreat An Lam a little further out.

Halong Bay Cruise, Vietnam

Leave the noise of the city behind as you board a seaplane and take in the impressive aerial views over Hanoi as you fly 45 minutes to Halong Bay before taking a scenic flight over Halong itself. Called “Bay of Descending Dragons” in Vietnamese, the archipelago of Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site composed of almost 2,000 islands and jungle-clad limestone pillars. Take a cruise on the Violet for a relaxing and scenic detour.

Mai Chau, Vietnam

Mai Chau is only a short hop from Hanoi but a world away from its hustle and bustle.  Located in a green valley edged with hills, it’s perfect for hiking around the countryside. Miles of rice paddies stretch out around the small town of Mai Chau.   Explore the beautiful ethnic Thai villages and meet the local hill tribe people pursuing their daily routines such as rice planting, herding buffalos, or building houses.  Enjoy staying at Mai Chau Lodge which is right in the heart of this stunning area, lying in a sea of rice paddies on a mountain-hemmed valley floor.

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap is the place from which to explore one of greatest wonders of the world, the vast temple complex of Angkor Wat.  You really need a few days to do justice to this magnificent place and a week isn’t too long.  Suggested daily itinerary – wake early to see the temples at sunrise – and before the crowds arrive – then spend the rest of the day around the pool at one of the many superb hotels in Siem Reap.  The Amansara is an elegant oasis in town, Sala Lodges has a unique collection of just 9 old stilt houses beautifully restored and fitted out, Shinta Mani is big and glamorous and Phum Baitang is a relaxed out of towner which has the feel of a luxurious beach resort.

Glamping on the Tatai, Cambodia

How about this for a lateral location?  Located way up on the Thai border, 4 Rivers Floating Lodge offers an experience like no other.   Arriving by boat, you will find this luxury ecolodge hidden along the gentle waters of the Tatai from where you can enjoy some pristine nature and beauty.  Look out from your floating tent to the Cardamom Mountains and the surrounding rainforest.

Song Saa Private Island, Cambodia

To experience the full wow factor in Indochina, stay at Song Saa Private Island off the south east coast of Cambodia.  You’ll feel like you’ve died and gone to heaven when you wake up to your very own infinity pool looking out over the deep blue ocean of the Gulf of Thailand.  Coming soon on this golden stretch of coast are Six Senses and the Alila.

Knai Bang Chatt, Kep, Cambodia

Does it get any more relaxed than this?  Knai Bang Chatt is a small resort in Kep, an old French colonial seaside retreat.  It’s well worth the scenic two hour journey from Sihanoukville to spend a couple of nights here where you can enjoy the Sailing Club, part of Knai Bang Chatt, and the most famous sundowner spot in Cambodia.

Up Periscope: Fanjove Island, Tanzania

Earlier this year (February) I was fortunate enough to escape “the beast from the East” and travel around the Islands of Zanzibar, Mafia and Fanjove. Between October and March the magnificent whale sharks are in abundance just minutes off shore from Butiama Lodge on Mafia Island. A mega box tick!!  After that I flew to Songosongo and sailed on a local dhow to Fanjove Island – breathtakingly beautiful and unspoilt with an outstanding local house reef. There are only 6 comfortable ‘bandas’ for guests, a restaurant and a bar on the island. The beaches are stunning and completely safe to swim from, and the phenomenal local house reef on which you can snorkel and dive.   This is a true Robinson Crusoe style Indian Ocean paradise. The difference is that there is a fabulous chef offering superb food, cold drinks aplenty in the sandy floored bar and warm and welcoming staff.  This is one of the most relaxing, peaceful and charming islands I have ever had the pleasure to visit.  Big Nick tick!!

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