In the late 1800s, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos fell under French control. All three would eventually regain independence after a series of brutal 20th-century wars, yet the inimitable French elegance didn’t disappear as the curls of opium smoke faded away. Today, the region is a visual and cultural contrast of old and new, and it can be visited with some style. Traveling by plane, long-tail boat and tuk-tuk, French artist Jean-Philippe Delhomme took in four great cities that embody Indochina’s current pulse: Luang Prabang, Hanoi, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh. His journey begins in Laos, the seat of the royal government until the Communist takeover in 1975. With its gold-tipped temples and palaces, Luang Prabang is a neat little town—small enough to walk, with tony boutiques, delightful steak tartare, frothy café au lait and a clutch of very fine places to stay. It’s where you go to inhale the Buddhist spirit of Southeast Asia in the most genteel environs before flying into the maelstrom that is Hanoi. All mopeds, frog’s legs and pots of pho, the 1,000-year-old capital is the frenetic heart of an Asian city on the rise. Its Gallic influences remain (treelined boulevards, the glorious Metropole hotel and a love of fine French cuisine), as does a relic of Vietnam’s modern history: the embalmed remains of Communist leader Ho Chi Minh encased in a mausoleum. But that’s just the beginning of his monumental travels. There are 390 square miles of temples to discover in Cambodia, and, before the Louboutins are thrown off for a poolside massage, some Le Corbusier to take in—or at least a few surprising buildings by the architect’s Cambodian followers in the capital, Phnom Penh.
Abercrombie & Kent (800-652-7984; abercrombiekent.com) organizes trips similar to Delhomme’s ten-day itinerary through Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Recommended hotels include Amantaka ( amanresorts.com) in Luang Prabang, the Sofitel Metropole (sofitel.com) in Hanoi and the two Raffles properties in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh ( raffles.com). A bespoke trip with stays at these hotels starts at $13,000 per couple, while a private tour with a guide begins at $6,875 a person.
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