Touring Southeast Asia

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Like Luan Prabang, Hanoi reflects Southeast Asia’s rich colonial past. This is where French, Chinese, Japanese and Indian influences have comingled to form a distinctive culture while managing to retain a thoroughly Vietnamese essence.

Moving south to Hue, where travelers enjoy a voyage down the Perfume River to the ancient Thien Mu Pagoda, tour members are treated to Vietnamese cuisine in private homes and later taken to the royal Citadel where U.S. Marines engaged in a bloody 2-week battle against North Vietnamese regulars during the 1968 Tet offensive.

The tour also include stops in central Vietnam’s alluring Hoi An, a marvelous small town near Danang followed by a few days in lusty, sprawling Ho Chi Minh City, a neon jumble of nightspots that awes by its clutter of motorcycles, thriving lifestyle and hectic pace.

No tour to the area can be called complete without visiting Cu Chi, where a web of dank, intimidating tunnels running for miles under the area baffled and tormented U.S. troops fighting there three decades ago.

After that, Asian American Adventures’ tour pauses at the floating villages and markets of the Mekong Delta to sample mouth-watering French-Vietnamese cuisine in an old French garden villa before moving on to Angkor, the seat of the enigmatic Khmer Empire that once ruled nearly all of Southeast Asia.

Angkor may be Indochina’s most iconic spot.

Travelers will explore the arresting temple ruins on foot, elephant and hot air balloons for a different perspective on a historic site that never fails to astound.

brendan vacations Clients preferring independent travel should consider Brendan Vacations, a firm of long-standing experience in the area and known for its top-of-the-line independent vacations.

Brendan calls its package Best of Vietnam. It’s a highly educational and exciting 7-day land tour of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh costing $987, including daily breakfast and expert guides.

It takes visitors to the most historic and colorful sites, including Hanoi’s Tortoise Tower, the One-Pillar Pagoda and the Temple of Literature, founded almost one thousand years ago.

Before moving south to Ho Chi Minh City there are stops in Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage site, where 2,000 limestone peaks rise from the South China Sea in an improbable and awesome marvel of nature.

While in the former Saigon, travelers will be taken for an extensive daylong tour of the former presidential palace, the Opera House, Saigon’s cathedral and other places brushed by much history and bloodshed.

abercrombie & kent Abercrombie & Kent, one of the most distinguished tour operators in the country, also offers a marvelous package called Images of Indochina.

This is a first-rate, 12-day adventure that encompasses Vietnam and Cambodia but also includes the marvels of Thailand. The tour is limited to 13 travelers and costs about $7,520 pp dbl. Airfare is extra.

Beginning in Bangkok and moving east to Cambodia’s Siem Reap, the tour veers southeast to Ho Chi Minh City and stretches north to Danang before winding down in Hanoi.

Most of what’s alluring about the area is showcased in the distinctive style that’s become Abercrombie & Kent’s trademark.

According to Pamela Lasser, Abercrombie & Kent’s director of media relations, “It [the tour] offers a fascinating look at the contrast between the old and the new, exploring how the Buddhist cultures in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam are evolving, while striving to retain their traditional values. This package helps to illuminate the shared cultural, religious and historical links between these countries and the influences they’ve had on one another.”

She adds that the firm’s long-established “relationships and deep roots in Asia make it possible for Abercrombie & Kent to offer a degree of access and insight no other travel company can easily match, with a choice of small group escorted journeys at varying levels of luxury, ready-to-book Signature programs with private guides, or completely tailor-made itineraries.”

Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are in a remarkable transition, from being ex-colonial nations to becoming graceful players on the world tourism stage, and travel agents and tour operators should take full advantage of it.