World Heritage Indochina

30 07 2015

Indochina – that is, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos – has a collection of 12 World Heritage Sites, ranging from Khmer Empire masterpieces to colossal caves, from imperial cities to vast national parks. InsideVietnam Tours customers can visit the best of them on our World Heritage Indochina Self-Guided Adventure, but if nothing but the full set will do – if you really have to catch ’em all – then read on…

1. Angkor, Cambodia

Inscribed: 1992

In terms of quantity, Vietnam may have the lion’s share of World Heritage Sites – but it’s Cambodia that really has the big guns, and there’s no bigger World Heritage gun than the Angkor Archaeological Park: home of Angkor Wat.

You might have heard of Angkor Wat. Built over a period of 30 years in the early 12th century, the Hindu-turned-Buddhist temple needs little introduction. It is the largest religious monument in the world, the national symbol of Cambodia, and is covered in miles of some of the world’s finest carvings. Most people think it’s pretty cool.

Though Angkor Wat is the undisputed centrepiece of this archaeological treasure trove, the Angkor World Heritage Site extends over 400 square kilometres (150 sq mi) and encompasses hundreds of temples dating from the 9th until the 15th century – including the giant faces of The Bayon, the overgrown ruins of Beng Mealea, and the “Tomb Raider Temple”, Ta Prohm.

Angkor Wat at sunrise

Angkor Wat at sunrise

The famous Bayon faces

The famous Bayon faces

The "Tomb Raider Temple", Ta Prohm

The “Tomb Raider Temple”, Ta Prohm

2. Hue, Vietnam

Inscribed: 1993

Located in central Vietnam, Hue was the seat of Vietnam’s last royal dynasty from 1802 until 1945. During this period it served as the political, cultural and religious capital of Vietnam, and the Nguyen Emperors built a complex of palaces along the banks of the Perfume River.

Though many of Hue’s monuments were damaged or destroyed during the Vietnam War, those that survived remain as a superb example of imperial Vietnamese architecture.

Hue is also home to Vietnam’s largest international festival, and the 2016 dates have just been announced!



3. Halong Bay, Vietnam

Inscribed: 1994

One of Vietnam’s most recognisable and evocative landscapes, Halong Bay in the north of the country was named a natural World Heritage Site in 1994 for its “outstanding scenic beauty” and “great biological interest”. The bay lies in the Gulf of Tonkin and is renowned for its plethora of over 1,600 limestone islands and islets, many towering hundreds of metres out of the water below.

The best way to experience the scenery of Halong Bay is on a cruise – and there are lots of options out there. Check out our blog post for tips on choosing the best cruise for you.

Halong Bay

Halong Bay

4. Luang Prabang, Laos

Inscribed: 1995

Luang Prabang was recognised by UNESCO in 1995 for its uniquely well preserved blend of traditional Lao architecture with European colonial style. Built on a peninsula jutting out into the Mekong and the Nam Khan Rivers, the city is surrounded by lush mountains and has a laid-back, tropical atmosphere beloved by all travellers lucky enough to stop here.

Not just our favourite place in Laos, Luang Prabang is one of our favourite places in all of Southeast Asia, and we cannot recommend it highly enough.

Luang Prabang

The view over Luang Prabang

The view over Luang Prabang

5. Hoi An, Vietnam

Inscribed: 1999

From one of our favourite Asian towns to another, the ancient trading port of Hoi An is next on our World Heritage list. This beautiful town in central Vietnam became a UNESCO-listed site in 1999 for its colourful mish-mash of buildings, most of which survive from the 15th-19th centuries and exhibit influences from all over Asia and beyond.

While visiting Hoi An, be sure to escape the tourist crowds during the daytime by exploring the quiet suburbs and beautiful surrounding countryside – then head back into town as it comes alive for the night markets. Check out our recent photoblog for some inspiration!

Hoi An's famous lanterns

Hoi An’s famous lanterns

Hoi An's beautiful riverside

Hoi An’s beautiful riverside

The Thu Bon River

The Thu Bon River

6. My Son, Vietnam

Inscribed: 1999

In the same year that Hoi An received recognition from UNESCO, the ruins of My Son – located just a short distance outside the town – were also inscribed on the World Heritage list. The ruins of My Son, whilst nowhere near the size and scope of Angkor in Cambodia, are one of the last vestiges of the Hindu Cham culture that dominated the region from the 2nd until the 15th century, and the remaining ruins represent over 10 centuries of continuous development.

My Son

My Son

My Son

My Son

7. Vat Phou, Laos

Inscribed: 2001

Another remnant of Indochina’s ancient Hindu heritage is Vat Phou, a temple complex in the Champasak Province of Laos. A geometric complex of temples, shrines and waterworks extending over 10 kilometres, itis not as well-preserved or extensive as the monuments of Angkor, but is very much worth a visit.

Vat Phou

Vat Phou

8. Phong Nha-Khe Bang National Park, Vietnam

Inscribed: 2003

The second of Vietnam’s two natural World Heritage Sites, Phong Nha National Park covers a huge area of 857 square kilometres (85,754 ha) and is noted for its incredible geological diversity – including the world’s largest cave, the world’s longest underground river, and the world’s largest cave pearls.

The limestone cave systems in the national park are so extensive that explorers are still discovering them today. The largest, Son Doong, was only discovered in 2009, while the famous “Paradise Cave” was discovered in 2005. Check out our blog post from January this year for more information.

Inside Paradise Cave

Inside Paradise Cave

Phong Nha National Park

Phong Nha National Park

9. Preah Vihear, Cambodia

Inscribed: 2008

The second of Cambodia’s two World Heritage Sites is Preah Vihear, another Hindu temple complex built in the early 11th century during the height of the Khmer Empire. Due to its remote location, the site has been remarkably well preserved and is much less frequented by tourists than its more famous cousin, Angkor Wat.

Preah Vihear

Preah Vihear

10. Hanoi’s Thang Long Imperial Citadel, Vietnam

Inscribed: 2010

Built in the 11th century, this Imperial Citadel was constructed by the Ly Viet Dynasty to celebrate their independence from China, and served as the regional capital for almost 13 uninterrupted centuries. UNESCO has earmarked this site for its unique fusion of architectural styles from China in the north and Champa in the south – two formative influences on what would become traditional Vietnamese culture.

Hanoi's imperial citadel

11. Citadel of the Ho Dynasty, Vietnam

Inscribed: 2011

Though rather less remarkable to the untrained eye than most other locations on this list, the Citadel of the Ho Dynasty was selected for inclusion on the World Heritage list as an example of a new and innovative style of Southeast Asian architecture. Incorporating new building techniques, geometric city planning and aspects of Confucian philosophical concepts, the citadel is evidence of a transitional period in Vietnamese history, as traditional values made way for new technologies and commerce.

Citadel of the Ho Dynasty

12. Trang An Landscape Complex, Vietnam

Inscribed: 2014

Last but certainly not least, the most recent location in Indochina to be recognised by UNESCO was inscribed only last year, and is the only site on the list to claim both cultural and natural World Heritage status. The Trang An Landscape Complex is known for its spectacular landscape of flat valleys and towering limestone peaks – earning it the nickname “dry Halong Bay”.

Not only is the scenery spectacular, but the area’s caves and mountains contain evidence of human culture over a continuous period of more than 30,000 years.

Ninh Binh, part of the beautiful landscapes of Trang An

Ninh Binh, part of the beautiful landscapes of Trang An

8 unforgettable wildlife experiences in Indochina

23 07 2015

Child riding a buffalo in the highlands of Sapa

Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos are home to some magnificent scenery, including lofty mountains, lush jungles, wide plains, vast lakes and verdant river deltas. This amazingly varied topography has allowed a diverse array of wildlife to flourish – from great elephants to delicate orchids.

There are a great variety of ways to get out into the countryside and interact with all this wildlife – but we’ve chosen a few of our favourite experiences to get you started:

1. Spot dolphins on the Mekong

Vietnam is one of only a few places in the world to spot the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin in its natural habitat. Heading out from Kratie in Cambodia, you’ll float out on a small boat skippered by a local fisherman to an area 15 kilometres north of the town – one of the best places on the Mekong to catch a glimpse of these elusive mammals.

The Irrawaddy dolphin population once numbered around 1,000 in this area, but after being hunted for their oils during the civil war there are now thought to be only 70 left.

On the way to spot Irrawaddy dolphins in Kratie.

On the way to spot Irrawaddy dolphins in Kratie.

2. See baby turtles hatch in Con Dao

The Con Dao Islands are a tiny pocket of paradise just an hour’s flight from Ho Chi Minh City. Most of the islands in the archipelago have national park status, and on the main island there is a protected breeding site where visitors can watch as hawksbill and green turtles inch their way up the beach to lay their eggs. Visit at the right time, and you may even be able to assist in the release of recent hatchlings!

N.B. The nesting season is from April to September.

A turtle on the beach on Con Dao Island.

A turtle on the beach on Con Dao Island.

3. Go bird-watching on the Tonle Sap Lake

Tonle Sap is Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake, located at the heart of Cambodia. During peak season, the lake swells to an incredible six times its average dry-season size, engulfing the surrounding fields and forests and concealing the teetering supports of the area’s stilt houses.

For those with an ornithological bent, Tonle Sap is a great place to spot all kinds of bird life, including black-headed ibis, painted storks, milky storks, greater and lesser adjutants, spot-billed pelicans, grey-headed fish eagles, cormorants and snakebirds. Visit the Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary for a chance of spotting these fascinating creatures.

Snakebird spotted at Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia.

Snakebird spotted at Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia.

4. Gibbon sanctuary in Nam Cat Tien National Park

On “Monkey Island”, deep in Vietnam’s Nam Cat Tien National Park, is the Dao Tien Endangered Primate Species Centre. An offshoot of a UK-based NGO, this sanctuary rescues gibbons, loris and langurs from poachers or the pet trade, rehabilitates them in large enclosures and compounds, then releases them back into the wild. Depending on the animal and its history, this process may take a number of years.

Since the focus of the sanctuary is on rehabilitation, visitors cannot have close contact with the primates – but you can view them from a distance and watch them interact in their natural environment.

One of the gibbons at Nam Cat Tien

One of the gibbons at Nam Cat Tien

5. Meet the elephants in Cambodia & Laos

One of the most exciting, hands-on wildlife experiences to enjoy in Indochina is a meeting with the largest land animal in the world: the elephant. We have three favourite elephant sanctuaries in Indochina, where you can rest assured that the elephants are happy, healthy and well looked-after.

In Mondulkiri, Cambodia, the Walking with Elephants Project exists to provide a home for retired working elephants – as well as to protect the natural habitat of the country’s few remaining wild elephants.

In Laos, meanwhile, animal-lovers can head to the Elephant Village, a conservation project 40 minutes from Luang Prabang, or the Sayaboury Elephant Conservation Centre, which is supported by the non-profit charity ElefantAsia. Feed, ride, wash, and learn about these amazing animals while helping to support conservation efforts!

An elephant at the elephant sanctuary in Sayaboury.

A resident of the sanctuary in Sayaboury.

6. Visit a bear sanctuary in Phnom Tmao

Run by the charity Free the Bears, this sanctuary 40 kilometres from Phnom Penh in Cambodia rescues bears from restaurants, poachers, hotels, bile farms and the pet trade. The sanctuary has 21 enclosures built over seven hectares of land, housing a mixture of over 100 sun bears and Asiatic black bears. All of the enclosures are spacious, with climbing frames, toys and vegetation to keep the bears occupied and happy.

A rescued bear at Phnom Tmao.

A rescued bear at Phnom Tmao.

7. Night safari in Nam Cat Tien

Visit Nam Cat Tien National Park in Vietnam for one of the best wildlife experiences around – a night safari through the jungle and the Nui Trong grasslands, where your guide will use a spotlight to search for wildlife from your jeep. Amongst other animals, you might spot samba deer, wild boar, civets, fishing cats, loris, pangolin, gaur and nocturnal birds.

The Forest Floor Lodge in the national park offers eco-accommodation and runs night safaris, as well as exciting day treks to nearby Crocodile Lake.

Nam Cat Tien National Park as the sun begins to set.

Nam Cat Tien National Park as the sun begins to set.

8. Diving at Nha Trang or Con Dao

Last but not least, Indochina has an incredible array of underwater life – and you can get up close and personal with it on a scuba diving trip to the magnificent reefs surrounding Vietnam. Our favourite spots for snorkelling and scuba are found at Nha Trang in central Vietnam, and the Con Dao Islands.

Divers silhouetted in the water.
If you’ve been inspired by these wild experiences, take a look at our Indochina Conservation Fully Tailored Journey, which covers Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos over 15 days and incorporates many of the experiences mentioned above. Alternatively, you can get in touch with one of our travel consultants and have a trip made to measure!

Hue Festival: 2016 dates

15 07 2015

Good news for those planning to travel to central Vietnam in spring next year! The 2016 Hue Festival will be taking place from 29th April – 4th May, as confirmed by our friends on the ground in Vietnam.

The Hue Festival is Vietnam’s largest celebration of culture and tourism, beginning in the year 2000 and taking place once every two years to great fanfare. Millions of visitors descend on the Explore Huefor the celebration, which includes dance, acrobatics, music performances, art and calligraphy exhibitions, traditional games and special tours of the city’s historical sites – concluding with a firework display over the Imperial City. The festival is a joint effort between the authorities of Thua Thien Hue Province and the Embassy of France in Vietnam, taking place over 7 days and nights with the participation of thousands of artists and performers from Vietnam and across the world.

One of the traditional activities enjoyed by revellers is kite-flying, and during the festival the skies above the city become filled with large, intricate kites made in the traditional manner. Hue is known for its elaborate cuisine, developed when the city served as capital of Vietnam, and you can expect plenty of delicious offerings during the festival!

Hue is one of Vietnam’s most historically significant cities, and its illustrious past is still evident in its well-preserved Citadel and Imperial City. When the Nguyen Dynasty came to power in 1802, Emperor Gia Long chose Hue as his capital in an attempt to link north and south Vietnam. He began construction of the Imperial City, modelled on the Forbidden City in Beijing, which is still standing today and provides visitors with a fascinating and evocative link to the past.

The Nguyen Emperors ruled from Hue until 1885, when the French attacked Hue and looted the capital of anything valuable. Though they were allowed to remain as puppet rulers until 1945, the Nguyen Emperors would never regain the ascendancy they enjoyed during the 19th century – and the Japanese occupation during World War Two finally ended the dynasty for good.

Hue’s architectural heritage suffered a great deal during the Vietnam War, but in recent years there has been a great effort to restore some of the city’s former glory. The city was awarded World Heritage status by UNESCO in 1993, and is one of our favourite destinations in central Vietnam.

If you would like to experience the Hue Festival, our Magnificent Vietnam Small Group Tour will coincide with the celebrations. Check out our website or give us a call to book your place! If you’d prefer to travel independently, we can plan a tailor-made holiday exactly to suit your needs.

A Vietnam Vespa Adventure

7 07 2015
Ready to begin my Hoi An Vespa tour!

Ready to begin my Hoi An Vespa tour!

Are you looking for a fast, fun, thrilling and totally unforgettable experience to cap off a fantastic holiday in Vietnam?

You need look no further than a Vietnamese scooter tour. On one of our favourite experiences in all of Indochina, our friends at Vespa Adventures will have you riding pillion on the back of a beautiful vintage Vespa, darting through the city streets amongst countless scooters or speeding through the countryside with the wind in your hair.

Our Vespa tour on the banks of the river, ready to head out on our Streets & Eats adventure

Our Vespa tour group on the banks of the river

If you’re a regular reader of our blog, you may remember Enfys’s 2013 post about her night-time Saigon Vespa tour, or Tyler’s video of the same. This time, however, I took to the streets on an evening street food tour of the World Heritage town of Hoi An!

For those who don’t already know, Hoi An is one of our all-time favourite destinations. An important trading port for centuries, the central Vietnamese town has been shaped by a long history of intercultural exchange, and most of the buildings in its beautiful old town district remain from the 16th-17th centuries. Not only this, but venture just outside the town and you’ll find mile upon mile of beautiful, lush countryside and sleepy rural towns. What better setting for a Vespa adventure?

My personal Vespa driver

My very own Vespa driver

Our fleet of experienced drivers zipped to meet us by the riverside in the late afternoon and we jumped aboard. As haphazard as Vietnamese traffic is (and myself a nervous driver at the best of times), I had my reservations about climbing onboard – but it didn’t take long before I felt completely at ease in the capable hands of my driver.

Heading off on an exhilarating ride through the town, our first stop was Vespa Adventures’ own café for the first of many included drinks and delicious, traditional snacks. Did I mention that Hoi An is renowned throughout Vietnam for its fantastic food?

Making our way to bar #2 as dusk falls

Making our way to bar #2 as dusk falls

Watching a demonstration of "white rose" dumplings at bar #2

Watching a demonstration of “white rose” dumplings at bar #2

From here we went on to stop at four more bars, selected for their great food and local authenticity. In the middle of town we stopped see a demonstration of “white rose” dumplings (and try a few, of course) before paying a quick visit to the night market and jumping onboard a local boat for the journey to Cam Nam Island – where we sampled fresh seafood overlooking the Thu Bon River at bar number three.

Setting lanterns adrift as we float along the Thu Bon River

Setting lanterns adrift as we float along the Thu Bon River

Grabbing some fresh seafood at bar #3

Grabbing some fresh seafood by the river at bar #3

Heading onwards through the alleys of Cam Nam we arrived at our next stop, where we enjoyed Vietnamese hotpot and learned how to make our own Vietnamese wraps, before concluding the journey at a restaurant in the middle of the nearby rice paddies for a BBQ grill of local delicacies.

Enjoying hotpot and Vietnamese wraps at bar #4

Enjoying hotpot and Vietnamese wraps at bar #4

Riders in the night

Riders in the night

As mentioned in a recent post, after dark Hoi An comes alive with night markets, paper lanterns and cafés packed with locals and tourists enjoying the fresh evening air – all of which makes this a superb destination to enjoy a Vespa tour.

Having heard plenty of glowing reviews of Vietnam Vespa Adventures in the past, I can gladly report that my personal experience lived up to every expectation. For an authentic, local experience you would never be able to recreate by yourself – I can’t recommend it enough!

The Vespa Adventures team

The Vespa Adventures team

Yours truly enjoying my Vespa tour! (photo: Vespa Adventures)

Yours truly enjoying my Vespa tour! (photo: Vespa Adventures)

Vespa Adventures offer a wide range of day and night tours in Hoi An, Saigon, and Siem Reap.  If you would like to include a Vespa tour in your InsideVietnam Tours itinerary, don’t hesitate to get in touch with one of our travel consultants now!

Vietnam announces waiver on visa requirements

29 06 2015

Vietnam visa InsideVietnam

Residents of Britain, Germany, France, Spain and Italy now have cause to celebrate, as Vietnam announces its plan to waive visa requirements for an entire year.

The exemption period, which will begin on the 1st of July 2015 and end on the 30th of June 2016, will allow residents of these five countries to travel to Vietnam with nothing but their passport. Belarus will also be added to the list for a period of five years from the same date.

News of the announcement surfaced in the media last week, but it was not until Monday that the Embassy of Vietnam in London confirmed reports in a statement on their website. From July 2016, the visa waiver is expected to be extended to Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

The visa exemption has been introduced to counteract a slump in tourist numbers, which have reportedly been in decline since 2014, and will add to the list of 18 other countries that are exempt from Vietnamese visa requirements. Most countries on the list are members of ASEAN, but it also includes Russia and much of Scandinavia.

What do you need to know?

  • The visa exemption period only covers visits of up to 15 days
  • Your passport must have at least six months validity for you to be eligible for the visa exemption
  • If you wish to visit Vietnam twice during the exemption period, the beginning of your second visit must begin at least 30 days after the end of your first
  • If you are already travelling to Vietnam with a visa and plan to make a second visit during the exemption period, you do not need to leave a 30-day grace period between your visits
  • If you have already applied for a visa to travel to Vietnam beyond the 1st of July 2015, your visa fee will not be refundable

So, now it is easier to get to this great country and we can help you get there.

Hoi An by Night: a photoblog

23 06 2015

The ancient port of Hoi An is beautiful at any time of day, but at night it comes alive with an entirely different atmosphere – a riot of lights, lanterns, noises and smells that cannot fail to make a lasting impression.

These photos were taken on my recent visit to Hoi An, when I was lucky enough to take a street food tour of the town and its environs on the back of a vintage Vespa!

In front of the night market

Street food seller

Cyclos for rent

Renting a cyclo

Lantern shop

Street food seller

Lantern lady

Trinkets for sale

Street food seller

Little boy shopping

Bye bye baby

Lantern shop


Streets of Hoi An

Lighting lanterns

Lighting lanterns

5 great things to do in Nha Trang

17 06 2015

Heading to Nha Trang, Vietnam and not sure what to do? I’ve spent the past couple of days at the seriously stunning, just-opened Fusion Resort, so I have a few ideas to keep you entertained!

1. Relax on the beach!

The beach is the main reason that most tourists visit Nha Trang, and it’s not hard to see why. Beautiful white sand, hot hot sun and the warmest sea you can imagine – what else could you possibly need?

Beach near Nha Trang

This is the beach in front of my villa at the newly opened and seriously stunning Fusion Resort Nha Trang, where I am lucky enough to be staying at the moment. Bliss!

2. Visit the Po Nagar Towers

If you’re not going to make it to the Cham Dynasty ruins of My Son near Hoi An, the Po Nagar Towers are a great alternative. Dating back to the 7th-12th centuries, the towers are located right in the town and are in excellent condition for their age.

Po Nagar Towers

There aren’t nearly as many buildings as you’ll find at My Son, but they do give an excellent insight into an ancient culture.

3. See a floating fishing village

Floating villages are not just found in Halong Bay and the Mekong Delta – out in Nha Trang Bay you can take a trip to see how local fishing families live out on the water, farming oysters and serving boatloads of customers who come to buy their wares.

4. Go snorkelling

Nha Trang is beautiful above the waves and below, so head out with your snorkelling gear – or arrange a day of scuba diving – to enjoy the amazingly diverse coral scenery out in the bay.

Snorkelling at Nha Trang

5. Take a sunset cruise on the Quang Truong River

If you feel like treating yourself and seeing life in Nha Trang from a different perspective, take to the water for a relaxing sunset river cruise. You’ll pass brightly coloured houseboats, busy shipyards, a colonial railway bridge and plenty of lush scenery – all whilst enjoying wine, spring rolls, and plenty of fresh fruit.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 161 other followers