Kim Saunders has lived in Hong Kong and Indonesia and is a current resident of Singapore. A passionate student of Asian culture, with a special interest and expertise in regional textiles, she is a frequent lecturer with Zegrahm, energetically leading groups into local markets, and promoting appreciation for locally produced handicrafts.
I've been hooked on Indochina for a long time now, and our recent October journey to Cambodia and Vietnam served to emphasize the incredible ecological and ethnographic diversity of the region.
If you want to check UNESCO World Heritage sites off your list, try some of the most exotic on the planet: Vietnam's old Cham capital of My Son; the Imperial city of Hue with its royal tombs; the ancient maritime port of Hoi An; the magnificent limestone karsts of Halong Bay; Laos' mysterious Plain of Jars; and its delightful provincial capital, Luang Prabang. And, as Somerset Maugham once said of Cambodia's magical temple complex: "No one should die before they see Angkor." We were supremely fortunate and saw it at the break of dawn.
Another superlative of this trip—beyond its incredible daily diversity—is the comfort of an expedition cruise along Vietnam's gorgeous coastline. After our wonderful Cambodia and Angkor Wat experience, Zegrahm's privately chartered flight jetted us to Phnom Pehn, and on to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) where we boarded the Clipper Odyssey to begin the northward journey—every mile a photographer's paradise.
From the deck of our ship, we watched the ancient and modern worlds of Vietnam collide. What in particular did we all come to love about this land? Most of all, the Vietnamese people—so welcoming, so positive, and so forward looking. We lingered among magnificent old ruins; wandered through bustling markets; savoured the timelessness of quaint fishing villages and the energy of buzzing kindergartens; went birding through golden sand dunes; and snorkelled in warm, turquoise waters. And, in commendable efforts to balance our rewarding educational experiences, we maintained a bound-and-determined mission to support the local economy by doing some very serious shopping. Vietnam's tailors are second to none!
Then there was the food—fantastic, both on board and on shore! Vietnamese coffee is a truly "mocha" experience, and we couldn't get enough of the exotic local fruits such as the crimson dragon fruit. Freshly-baked Vietnamese bread (courtesy of the French influence) is delicious, as are the spring rolls served with nuoc mam (local fish sauce), fresh mint, and basil.
Our grand farewell dinner, set in the 11th-century Co Loa citadel outside Hanoi, was a truly magical experience. Flaming torches lit the approach to cocktails and canapes in the courtyard; then the gates swung open to reveal the main temple where elegantly laid dining tables lined the sides of the square. Our sumptuous Vietnamese feast was accompanied by traditional music, dancing, and an enchanting marionette performance from one of Hanoi's leading puppet masters.
Because of my fortunate multiple visits to these wonderful countries I may be biased toward Indochina, but I do urge you to visit before it's overly discovered. This is a very special—and magical—place and well worth the journey.