Vietnam has one of the most robust economies in the developing world, it is a country that exemplifies tenacity, determination and spirit. In its long history, the Vietnamese people have kept China at bay for over a millennium, repelled three Mongol invasions, and, in more recent times, declared victory over the United States in what they call the American War. It is a fascinating and interesting country, with extraordinary landscapes and undiscovered gems.
The Vietnamese capital is where East meet West and where Chinese and French influences have left their mark in their architecture. Hanoi retains over 600 pagodas and temples and has 18 lakes. Important sites include the One Pillar Pagoda (built in 1049) and the picturesque Temple of Literature (1070) dedicated to Confucius.
Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Gulf of Tonkin consisting of around 1,950 towering limestone islands and tiny islets of outstanding natural beauty. Most of the islands are uninhabited. The names given to the islands are based on their shapes and forms: Human Head Island, Sail Island and Fighting Cock Island. There are some spectacular caves, magnificent palaces with huge stalactites hanging down and stalagmites growing majestically upwards.
Hué was the political, cultural and religious capital of a united Vietnam under the Nguyen dynasty from 1802 until 1945. The Perfume River winds its way through the city giving this unique feudal capital a setting of great natural beauty. Hué was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. Within the Hue Citadel were located not only administrative and military functions of the Empire, but also the Imperial Residence, the Hoang Thanh (Imperial City), the Tu Cam Thanh (Forbidden Purple City) and related royal palaces.
Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, is Vietnam’s largest city. Today Ho Chi Minh is very much the heart of the Vietnamese business world whilst continuing to retains its connections to the past, particularly in Cho Lon, Ho Chi Minh’s Chinatown. Here dozens of elegant temples and pagodas can be found. The French also left their marks with some fine colonial-era buildings such as the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office.
During the 16th and 17th centuries Hoi An was a busy trading port attracting merchants from the great navigating nations of the day, the Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese. Hoi An also was an important meeting place of many cultures, such as Champa, Vietnamese, Portuguese, Japanese and Chinese. Today Hoi An also has a large fishing industry as well as plentiful industries in other marine products.
The Sapa district is famous for both its fine, rugged scenery and its rich cultural diversity. Sapa is a delightful picturesque town in the Hoang Lien Son mountain range near the Chinese border in northwestern Vietnam, known as “the Tonkinese Alps”. The region is home to many hill tribes, as well as rice terraces, lush vegetation, and Fansipan, the highest peak in Vietnam.
The coastal city of Nha Trang offers 7km of white sand beaches, warm waters and sunshine all year round. Surrounded by archipelagoes, islands and mountains and with a magnificent coral seabed, it is an attractive and appealing destination for a few days of relaxation at the end of your holiday. Hon Tre Island is just 20 minutes away by ferry, one of a group of islands located southwest of Nha Trang
The “emerald island” of Phu Quoc is the largest in southern Vietnam, located in the Gulf of Thailand. So far, the island is largely undeveloped and offers an appealing combination of laid-back charm, tropical rainforest and untouched remote beaches with calm blue waters and fringed with coconut trees. Phu Quoc is well known for its seafood and fish sauce. The island is linked to the mainland by an airport and by hydrofoil.
There are 16 islands and islets in this stunning archipelago of mountainous rainforest, coral reefs, crystalline waters and lovely beaches. Like many archipelagoes, it has an interesting history. Portuguese navigators first landed here in 1516. England’s East India Company took over the island in 1702 but were ousted by the French in 1721 (who named it Orleans). It was used as a prison island from 1862 until 1975. The Con Dao National Park offers great biodiversity including rare orchids. Sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs between April and November.
The Vung Tau peninsula offers 20km of soft sandy beaches and calm seas, 125km southeast of Ho Chi Minh City, making it popular with residents at weekends. There are five beaches scattered over the peninsula. Bai Truoc, also called Front Beach, is located on the western side of Vung Tau and stands between Nho and Lon Mountains. Vong Nguyet, also called O Quan Beach, is a peaceful cove with good wind, making it popular with surfers. Bai Dau and Dua Beach are both quiet and peaceful whilst Bai Sau, also called Back Beach, has the longest stretch of sand on the peninsula.
They call it ‘the country of smiles’, and Thailand certainly has a well-deserved reputation for hospitality towards travellers. It is a country with a very rich culture, friendly nature, excellent cuisine and good tourism infrastructure where it is still possible to get off the beaten track.
Bangkok is the vibrant capital and the most populous city of Thailand (formerly Siam). Despite chaotic traffic is surprisingly full of quiet escapes. Just step away from the street noise and into the calm of one of the city’s 400 wats (temple-monasteries). Bangkok was at the heart of Siam’s modernization during the nineteenth century and took centre stage during Thailand’s political struggles in the twentieth century, as the country abolished absolute monarchy and underwent numerous coups and uprisings. Royal palaces, temples and museums are amongst the city’s major historical and cultural tourist attractions. The city is also famous for its dynamic nightlife.
Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second-largest city and the gateway to the country’s north. The city has 300 temples, including Wat Chiang Man (home to the 1800-year-old 10- cm-high Crystal Buddha), Wat Phra Singh (built in the classic northern-Thai style) and Wat Chedi Luang (partially ruined by earthquake, cannon fire and recent restoration efforts). 15km west of the city, the golden pagoda of Wat Doi Suthep overlooks the city at 1,156m above sea level on Suthep Mountain. It is one of Chiang Mai’s most important landmarks and dates from 1383.
Krabi is a southern province on Thailand’s Andaman Sea with some fantastic islands and islets. The topmost destinations are Hat Noppharat Thara, Ao Nang, Railay and Ko Phi Phi National Park. The Lanta islands and Phi Phi islands appeal to adventurers, yachtsmen, scuba divers and day-trippers from Phuket. The Koh Lanta National Park, also in Krabi province, includes several coral-fringed islands with good diving sites. The national parks of Khao Phanom Bencha and Than Bokk-horani offer trekking, birdwatching and eco-tours with waterfalls to visit and caves to explore.
Khao Sok National Park in Southern Thailand is an amazing place. It is ideally positioned on the mainland between Phuket, Krabi, Khao Lak and Koh Samui. It is an ideal place for the more adventurous traveller, offering elephant trekking, walking trails, canoe trips and jeep safaris. One of the most interesting areas is stunningly beautiful Cheow Larn Lake in the heart of the National Park with its floating raft houses, you can stay here in a luxury tent.
Phuket is Thailand’s largest island and famed for its beaches. The island is connected to the mainland by two bridges. One of the most popular (and overcrowded) tourist areas on Phuket is Patong Beach. Most of Phuket’s nightlife and its cheap shopping is located in Patong, and the area has become increasingly developed. Other popular beaches are Karon, Kata, Kata Noi, Nai Harn and Rawai. North of Patong, the beaches at Kamala and Bang Tao are generally much less developed and sought out by those with a preference for more relaxed and less crowded atmosphere. Bon Island is just a short boat ride away. There are also several coral islands to the south of Phuket; the Similan Islands lie to the northwest, and Phi Phi Islands to the southeast.
The island of Samui, as it is referred to by locals, is located off the east coast of the Kra Isthmus in Thailand. The beach at Chaweng, on the eastern side, is the most popular, with 5kms of golden sand. Lamai Beach in the southeast, Bophut Beach (Fisherman’s Village) in the northeast and Maenam Beach in the north all offer a range of accommodation from no star frills to swanky 5-star resorts. In recent years the less crowded western side of the island has seen the arrival of many top-end hotels and resorts.
Myanmar lies on the crossroad of two of the world’s great civilizations – China and India – and its culture is influenced by both with added native traits and characteristics. The country has begun to open up in recent years, welcoming visitors who are keen to discover the country for themselves.
The “Garden City” of Yangon richly deserves the name with its tree-lined avenues and parks. A visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda is a must. According to legend this gilded stupa was constructed over 2600 years ago, making it the oldest Buddhist pagoda in the world, although historians and archaeologists maintain that it dates from the 6th to the 10th centuries. For an interesting day trip visit Twante pottery village, or see the pagoda in the river at Syriam or explore the temples and pagodas in Bago. Birdwatchers might like a boat trip through the Moeyungyi wetlands about 2½ hours from Yangon. Please let us know if you are interested in a cooking lesson, or shopping for hand woven fabrics or traditional handicrafts.
Bagan, on the shore of the Irawaddy River in central Myanmar, is one of the greatest archaeological sights in Asia, with over 4000 temples concentrated into just a few square miles. The majority of the buildings were constructed between the 11th and 13th centuries, during the time that Bagan was the capital of the Myanmar dynasty. Bagan is full of ancient architectural designs, mural paintings, precious frescoes and stone inscriptions. It is also the centre for the manufacture of lacquerware.
Mandalay, home to the last monarch of Burma, King Thibaw, is 450 miles north of Yangon on the east bank of the Irrawaddy River. It was the centre of Burmese culture and Buddhist learning throughout the period of British rule (1885-1948) and became the focal point of protest against colonial imperialism. Whilst modern Mandalay has lost some of its charm, the surrounding area has not. Sagaing Hill is dotted with small stupas and temples (it is also famous for its silver workshops) and it is worth exploring the ruins of the former kingdom of Ava. We also recommend a visit to Amarapura with a walk over the wooden Ubein Bridge across Taungthaman Lake. The bridge was built between 1849 and 1851 by King Bagan and is the longest teak bridge in the world.
A luxury river cruise along the Ayeyarwady River between Bagan and Mandalay is one of the most exiting ways to travel, with a range of excursions and activities to explore rural villages and visit golden pagodas and expert lectures to delve into the culture and history of Myanmar. Please contact us for itineraries which to combine the luxury river cruise with the Eastern & Oriental Express from Singapore, via Malaysia and Thailand.
Inle Lake is more than 800 meters above sea level and has a pleasant cool climate. A day trip by motorboat on the lake will take you to villages built on stilts, floating gardens and a colourful market frequented by different tribal peoples living on or around the lake. South of the lake the ruins of Indein are worth a visit. Other activities include a trek to Kakku, an ancient Pa-O hill tribe, canoe trips on the lake or a visit to the market at Nyaung Shwe and the former palace of the Shan prince. The former British hill station at Kalaw retains vestiges of colonial atmosphere and is home to an interesting elephant conservation project.
Ngapali is the prime beach destination of Myanmar, crystal clear water, friendly locals, excellent seafood restaurants and several boutique style hotels. It is an ideal spot to relax or go snorkelling trip but you can also explore surrounding villages such as Maung Shwe Lay in Andrew’s Bay. Ngapali beach can be reached by airplane from Yangon or Sittwe while the more adventurous travelers can take an exciting jeep expedition from Pyay and discover for themselves part of Myanmar that is just beginning to open up to foreigners for the first time since colonial days.
The magnificent temple of Angkor Wat is one of the key highlights of any trip to Cambodia but there is so much more to see and do in this unspoiled and genuinely friendly country, formerly known as Kampuchea. The Kingdom of Cambodia has a very rich cultural heritage and a very tragic and bloody recent history from which it has begun to emerge.
Phnom Penh is located at the confluence of three rivers, the Mekong, the Bassac and Tonle Sap. We recommend a couple of days in this vibrant city, to visit the Royal Palace, the National Museum, the pagoda of Wat Phnom and to venture into the darker side of Cambodian history by visiting the Toul Sleng Museum, a reminder of the atrocities under the Pol Pot regime. On a happier note, enjoy a sunset cruise on the Tonle Sap River, a cycling tour to explore the countryside and the islands of the great Mekong or visit the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre. The riverside is a true hotspot in the evenings with a great choice of bars and restaurants. The night market is open at weekends (Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays).
Angkor Wat dates back to the first half of the 12th century and covers an area of 500 acres, 4 miles north of Siem Reap. It is the largest and best preserved of the Angkor group, regarded as an architectural masterpiece in terms of symmetry, balance, proportions and sculpture with impressive reliefs and exquisitely carved panels depicting legends and battles from Khmer history, triumphant victories and processions and the interventions of the gods in the wars against demon kings. Angkor Wat is generally accepted to have been constructed as a funerary temple for King Suryavarman II.
Siem Reap is the gateway for visiting the ancient Khmer temple complex of Angkor Wat and we recommend a stay of at least three nights to explore the attractions here, including the Bayon, Baphoun, Phimean Akas, The Royal Enclosure, Terrace of Elephants & Leper King and to Ta Phrom. Other popular day tours include visiting the floating villages on Tonlesap Lake. Siem Reap has a very lively night market. If you are looking for night out, Pub Street is a good place to start.
Sihanoukville is the beach destination in Cambodia and a good place for a few days of relaxation after exploring Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor Wat. During your stay we recommend a boat trip to Ream National Park which is home to a number of rare birds and animals. We also suggest visits to Bamboo Island, Chalus Island and Ta Kiev Island, fishing trips with local fishermen. For ultimate relaxation and a high-end resort, we recommend Song Saa, a private island reached in 40 minutes by boat from Sihanoukville.
Kampot is a hidden gem, rather overlooked by the more prominent destinations in Cambodia. It is a picturesque town with a scenic coastline, offshore islands, mountains and a national park. Nearby is the small seaside town of Kep, surrounded by tree-covered hills and famed for its delicious seafood. Popular day trips include a visit to Kep’s Crab Market, a boat trip to Koh Tongsay (Rabbit Island), Bokor National Park and a day tour to the Phnom Kampong Trach Cave, east of Kampot. You can also hire a bike and explore the coastline yourself.
Chi Phat is mainland South East Asia’s largest remaining tract of rainforest located in the heart of the Cardamom Mountains (Koh Kong Province). Popular day tours around this area include a boat trip and bird watching on the Stoeng Prat River, biking to Ancient Jar site with visits to caves and waterfalls, and exploring Pre Chi Paht by kayak.
Battambang is a great destination for travellers who like to get away from the main tourism spots. It is home to some spectacular rural scenery, impressive wetlands, Angkor-period temples, bike trails and mountain vantage points. A short trip on an improvised bamboo train on a poorly maintained railway is not everybody’s cup of tea (especially if you have a bad back) but makes for an unforgettable experience for the more adventurous.
The provinces of Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri in eastern Cambodia are places of natural beauty with thickly forested hills and jungle waterfalls offering great trekking. Near Ratanakiri there are remote hill tribal villages and we recommend a visit to the Gem Mountains. Elephant jungle treks can be arranged in Mondulkiri.
Laos is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia, with nearly three-quarters of its landmass covered in mountains and forested hills. National parks comprise 13% of the country. The Mekong River winds through the country for 4,180 kilometres before reaching Cambodia and, finally, the Vietnamese Delta. Laos has a reputation for being most laid back country in Southeast Asia.
Luang Prabang is a delightful UNESCO World Heritage Site, until 1975 the royal capital of the Kingdom of Laos. It is an ancient city, located at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers, with Buddhist temples and monasteries where hundreds of monks rise at dawn to walk the streets collecting alms. The 500 year old temple of Wat Xieng Thong is an excellent example of what is known as the classic Luand Prabang style. We recommend a visit to the National Museum, housed in what used to be the Royal Palace. Other nearby attractions include the Kuang Si Waterfalls, Pak Ou Caves and the village of Ban Sang Khong, renowned for its silk weaving.
For a capital city, Vientiane is pleasantly quiet and laid-back. Compared with other southeast asian cities it has virtually no traffic and only becomes crowded during festivals. The architecture is a mix of Lao, Chinese and western-style buildings, and there are many temples and pagodas scattered throughout the town. Wat That Luang with its central lotus-bud spire and 30 surrounding stupas is the most sacred structure in the country while Wat Si Muang is a much more vibrant example of living Buddhism, used for everything from new car owners requesting monks to bless their new vehicles to women hoping to become pregnant.
The province of Champassak, near the borders with Thailand and Cambodia, has a rich cultural heritage. The most important sight is the Wat Phou Temple, located at the base of Mount Phu Kao. It is known that a pre-Angkorian temple was constructed here as early as the 5th Century although the surviving structures date from the 11th to 13th centuries.
This is a serene river archipelago in the south of Laos. An estimated 4000 islands protrude from the Mekong river before the rainy season, about half of which submerge over the course of the summer months, when the river is in flood. The legacy of French colonial rule can be seen in the narrow-gauge railway connecting the islands of Don Det and Don Khon. We recommend a boat trip along the “Devil’s Corridor” to the Liphi waterfalls. Keep your eyes peeled: endangered freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins can sometimes be spotted in the river.
Indonesia is a vast archipelago with over 17,000 islands of which 8,000 are inhabited. The country has 25% of the earth’s active volcanoes and an astonishing variety of culture and beauty, a population of some 250 million people speaking over 300 languages.
No Indonesian island captures the imagination more than Bali. They call it the “Island of the Gods” and no Indonesian island captures the imagination more than Bali. It has attracted foreign travellers and artists alike for centuries. This is easy to understand when you see stunning rice terraces of rich green, superb temples and Balinese Hindus performing their daily purifying rituals. Add impressive volcanoes, mountainous landscapes and beautiful beaches with a laid back atmosphere and you have the perfect ingredients for an unforgettable holiday.
Sumatra was referred to in ancient Sanskrit as the Island of Gold from the deposits found in the highlands. It is the largest island in Indonesia, separated from the Malay Peninsula in the northeast by the narrow Strait of Malacca and in the southeast from Java by the Sunda strait. With its protected rainforests, Sumatra appeals to the adventurous traveller for challenging jungle treks and a chance to encounter orangutans.
Java is the most densely populated island of Indonesia and has many faces. Over many centuries Java has been influenced by different cultures, religions and nationalities, which has resulted in the diverse island that it is now. Today, Islam is the main religion, but traces of Hinduism and Buddhism can be found throughout the island.
Kalimantan is the name of the largest part of the island shared with Brunei and Malaysia. Dense forests and the lack of access have resulted in unique and isolated peoples like the feared Dayak who have managed to preserve their own identity throughout history. A river cruise is the perfect way to explore the nature of this impressive island and also allows you to come eye to eye with orang-utans.
Indonesia is one of the few places where you can find Komodo Dragons. Almost identical to their prehistoric ancestors, this predator lives on the islands of Komodo and Rinca. Embark on a relaxing boat trip with enough stops for swimming and snorkeling before visiting the two islands for a close encounter with the Komodo Dragons, always at a safe distance.
Raja Ampat is the ultimate destination for diving in the heart of the coral triangle in the most bio-diverse marine region on the planet. Above the water, Raja Ampat has much to offer. The islands are home to several tribes and people living in startling landscapes, it is the perfect region for travellers interested in roads less travelled.
Sulawesi island is home to the Bugis, a notorious seafaring people that have spread out to all corners of Indonesia and to the Torajas, best known for their extensive burial traditions. This spider-shaped island has many different eco- systems and its culture is an interesting blend of local rulers, heavily influenced by different traders throughout history such as the Portuguese and the Dutch.
The Lesser Sunda Islands, east of the Wallace Line that forms the division between the ecozones of Asia and Australia, offer an interesting mix of religions, cultures, fauna and flora that are very different from other parts of the archipelago. Amongst the islands is Flores, famed for the discovery in 2003 of remains of an extinct species of hominins, which stood just over 3’6″ (1.1m) high. Lombok offers some of the best undiscovered beaches in Indonesia and we recommend a trek to the summit of Mount Rijani. The Gili Islands are easily reached from here.