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Comprising a trio of culturally related countries – Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos – Indochina refers to the part of the southeast Asian peninsula colonized by France in the 19th century. Gallic rule began here with Napoleon III’s attack on DaNang (then ‘Tourane’) in 1858, and lasted until the three Protectorates gained independence a century later.
A legacy of French influence in the region are the elegant colonial-era buildings forming a stately backdrop to the compelling streetlife of cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly ‘Saigon’). But it is to see vestiges of much older, indigenous kingdoms that most visitors travel to Indochina. Spread across a vast area of mountains, forest and coast are no less than eight UNESCO-listed World Heritage Sites, ranging from the famous Angkor Wat, the world’s largest temple complex, to equally spectacular Khmer ruins at Wat Phu.
Alongside its world-class monuments, Indochina also boasts a wealth of contrasting landscapes, from the white-sand beaches of the Vietnamese coast, to the tropical magnificence of the Mekong River, the forested mountains of Laos and, most iconic of all, the islets of Halong Bay in Vietnam, which rise sheer from the water and may be explored on cotton-sailed junks. Couple this with a dependably sunny climate, cuisine that’s endlessly inventive, varied and fragrant, and a local population which, despite enduring decades of foreign-backed wars and political upheavals, remains as cheerful, gentle and welcoming as any in Asia, and you’ll appreciate why Indochina inspires such enthusiasm among today’s travellers.