Major cities in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand
Once known as the Pearl of the Orient, Saigon - today called Ho Chi Minh City - is located in South Vietnam near the Mekong Delta. A friendly face for foreigners, is what this great capital exhibits full of pride and commitment. Experience an adrenaline rush, while making use of the most popular means of transportation in the city, by motorbike. Dine, Shop, Tour and sun bathe all in one, in this fast developing Capital
The grand old dame of Asia, Hanoi lay in a deep slumber after Vietnam’s partition in 1954 until the effects of economic reforms kicked in four decades later. The city survived American bombs and Russian planners to emerge relatively unscathed in the early 1990s as an example of a French-conceived colonial city. Huge mansions line grand boulevards, and lakes and parks dot the city, providing a romantic backdrop to the nonstop soundtrack. There are still moments of Paris, as the smell of baguettes and café au lait permeates street corners.
Known by many names down the centuries, Thanh Long (City of the Soaring Dragon) is the most evocative, and let there be no doubt that this dragon is on the up once more.
Known as Faifo to Western traders, from the 17th to 19th centuries it was one of Southeast Asia’s major international ports. Vietnamese ships and sailors based here sailed all around Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia.
Perhaps more than any other place in Vietnam, Hoi An retains a sense of history that envelops you as you explore it. This is especially true on ‘Hoi An Legendary Night’. Every month on the full moon, motorbikes are banned from the Old Town, which is transformed into a magical land of silk lanterns, traditional food, song and dance, and games in the streets.
If art and architecture matter more to you than beaches and beer, Hué will be high on your Vietnam must-visit list. The capital of the Nguyen emperors, Hué is packed with temples, tombs, palaces and pagodas – or at least the remains of those that successive armies didn’t manage to completely destroy. Foodies won’t want to miss the fussy degustation-style Imperial cuisine for which this city is rightly famous.
On the banks of the enigmatically named Perfume River, the peculiar light of this historic place imbues photographs with a hazy, purple tinge. It would all be quite idyllic if it weren’t for the constant dogging most tourists face as soon as they step off the bus. The touts in Hué are more incessant than most.
While the offshoots of mass tourism may be annoying, it should be remembered that Hué’s cultural sites were destined for oblivion without it. After 1975 they were left to decay – Imperialist reminders of the feudal Nguyen dynasty. In 1990 that the local People’s Committee recognised the potential of the place and declared these sites ‘national treasures’. In 1993 Unesco designated the complex of monuments in Hué a World Heritage site, and restoration and preservation work continues
Siem Reap is situated about 6 km south of Angkor Wat and 10 km in the north east of Tonle Sap Lake - the biggest lake of Southeast Asia and one of the most fish-populated inland waters in the world.
Siem Reap has approximately 60.000 inhabitants and developed through the integration of some villages, which were built around numerous Wats (Buddhist temples and monasteries).
Phnom Penh is the largest city and the capital of Cambodia. In the 1920's, it was known as the "Pearl of Asia".
As a newcomer, you will experience some sort of odd energy from the busy bustling streets to the mystery surrounding the pagodas.
Phnom Penh is known for its traditional Khmer and French influenced architecture; it is Cambodias wealthiest and most populous city.
Pure, calm and clean - the riverside is not far out, and definitely worth visiting.
Colour is the first of Luang Prabang’s virtues to greet travellers. Pearly frangipanis with their heady perfume, banks of overgrown trees peppered with scarlet flowers, the burnt sienna robes of hundreds of monks and their novices, and resplendent gold and claret wats. The scent of fresh coffee, river activity, produce markets and spicy food soon follows. And then the broader aesthetics begin to unfold. Encircled by mountains, and set 700m above sea level at the confluence of the Nam Khan (Khan River) and the Mekong River, Luang Prabang is now Laos’ foremost tourist showpiece. The brew of gleaming temple roofs, crumbling French provincial architecture and multiethnic inhabitants captivates even the most jaded travellers, and the quiet benevolence of the city’s residents lulls them into a somnambulant bliss.
This delightfully friendly capital, studded with crumbling French mansions, bougainvillea-blooming streets and steaming noodle stalls, is somewhere between a big town and a diminutive city; the kind of place you might find a Graham Greene protagonist. Its conveniently compact travellers’ enclave is based around Nam Phu, the Mekong riverside and Setthariat and Samsenthai streets. Full of things to see, from Buddha Park to the Morning market and an impossibly rich selection of international cuisine – most pointedly French – you’ll find yourself slowly won over by the easy charms of this evolving backwater. The city may reveal its beauty less readily than Luang Prabang, but spend a few days visiting its unusual sights, sampling its excellent food and enjoying a Beer Lao at sunset by the river, and you’ll soon feel at home here.
Bangkok is excess in all of its unrestrained glory. Bigger, better, more: the city is insatiable, a monster that feeds on concrete, shopping malls and diesel exhaust. The city demands that you be in the present and in the moment, not necessarily for a religious epiphany, but because the city is self-absorbed and superficial, blissfully free of wrinkle-inducing self-reflection. Smiles and sà·nùk (the Thai word for ‘fun’) are the key passports into Bangkok society. A compliment here, a joke there – the demands of social lubrication in this megalopolis are more akin to a small village than an anonymous city and a necessity for survival.
As Bangkok forcefully kneads out of you all demands for order and predictability, you’ll understand the famous Thai smile. It is the metaphorical brakes on the urban overdrive. Packed into these concrete corridors are religious spectacle, unapologetic consumerism and multi-flavoured hedonism – corrupting and purifying souls within footsteps of each other. A tragicomic confluence of human desires and aspirations best viewed through a detached smile.
Of the famous and infamous attractions, Bangkok’s best feature is its intermingling of opposites. A modern world of affluence orbits around a serene traditional core. Step outside the four-star hotels into a typical Siamese village where taxi drivers knock back energy drinks and upcountry transplants grill chicken on a streetside barbecue. Hop the Skytrain to the glitzy shopping malls where trust-fund babies examine luxury brands as carefully as the housewives inspect produce at the open-air markets. Or appreciate the attempts at enlightenment at the city’s famous temples and doorstep shrines, or simple acts of kindness amid the urban bustle.
Chiang Mai has always had many feathers to its bow with its cultural riches, relative peacefulness, fantastic handicraft shopping, delicious food and proximity to many natural treasures. Changes are afoot however, with the city becoming somewhere to watch in the style stakes. Chic, Thai-style boutique hotels are popping up everywhere, and one look at the trendsetters setting up shop (and bars and restaurants), particularly in the Th Nimmanhaemin area, shows that the city’s identity is changing. Yet, the northern capital still manages to retain the relaxed, temple-sprinkled, cultural capital atmosphere of yore, alongside these new hip happenings. With its many and varied attractions, the days of Chiang Mai just being a quick stop off point before heading to the hills are long gone.