By boat is a fantastic way to explore Indochina, with its great lakes, long coastline, and mighty rivers.
Check out a few of our favourite boating experiences in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
1. Halong Bay
The undisputed jewel in Vietnam’s crown is the spectacular waterscape of Halong Bay. Covering 1,500 square kilometres (580 sq mi), it is famous for its steep-sided limestone islets, which legend has it were created by a dragon to protect Vietnam. This is a spectacular setting for cruises, of which there are many different options available – from day trips to multi-day cruises and from basic to luxurious.
2. Northern Laos
Lesser-known but no less beautiful than Vietnam is its neighbour Laos, where the north of the country provides some of our favourite landscapes in Southeast Asia. Here the Nam Ou River carves a course through thick jungle and towering mountain scenery, passing rural towns and villages on its way through the country. We recommend beginning in the World Heritage city of Luang Prabang and cruising north on the Nam Ou to Nong Khiaw – stopping to visit the fascinating Pak Ou Caves along the way.
3. Tonle Sap
Tonle Sap, Cambodia’s great lake, is one of the most impressive bodies of water in Southeast Asia, and supports one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. The difference between the size of the lake in the dry season and wet season is phenomenal – each year it swells from around 2,500 square kilometres (965 sq mi) to cover an area of around 16,000 sq km (6,178 sq km) – more than six times its dry season size. We recommend heading out on the lake in a traditional boat to marvel at life on the water: including stilt houses, floating farms and markets.
4. 4,000 Islands
Just because Laos has no coastline doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have islands! As it passes through landlocked Laos, the Mekong River reaches its widest point (around 14.5 km/9 mi in places), and is scattered with a huge number of islands. In this region you’ll find all the attractions of Southeast Asia – including Khmer ruins, awesome natural surroundings, colonial history and a beach-like atmosphere – in miniature, and without the crowds that head to the more famous spots.
5. Mekong Delta
The Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam is where Southeast Asia’s mightiest river meets the sea, creating a vast and fertile region known as “Vietnam’s rice bowl”. By boat is by far the best way to explore this area, with its hundreds of distributaries snaking their way through thick jungle and past stilt villages, with some fascinating floating markets. We recommend taking an overnight cruise from Ho Chi Minh City on a luxurious converted rice barge – or perhaps embarking on a longer adventure upstream to Siem Reap in Cambodia.