Insider Tips for Indochina
Here we have gathered together tips and suggestions from our Indochina team on ways to help you make the most of your time in this timeless part of the world. You could experience the new in Vietnam, the old in Cambodia and Laos, and the quirky in Thailand. And for those that aren’t visiting Southeast Asia, we have a selection of our favourite books and films and artists that we think will give you a real flavour of the areas life, culture and traditions.
Try the Street Food
The Street food in Vietnam, in general, is very good and reasonably priced, ideal for adventurous foodies.
Vietnam’s signature dish, comprising rice noodles in a flavourful soup with meat and various greens, plus a side of nuoc cham (fermented fish) or chilli sauce.
Banh mi is a unique French-Vietnamese sandwich that’s great for when you’re in need of a quick meal. Reasonably priced, it consists of a toasted baguette sandwich, pickled vegetables, pate, butter, soy sauce, coriander, chillies, and hot peppers.
Ca Kho To
Ca kho to is a must-try if you’re a fan of fish, consisting of a catfish fillet that’s braised and served in a clay pot. Mostly available in cities in southern Vietnam, particularly Ho Chi Minh City, this dish is prepared by slicing a whole catfish into fillets before caramelising it in a thick gravy made with a combination of soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar, shallots, garlic, and various spices and seasonings. Ca kho to is known for its intense sweet-salty flavour, so this dish is always served with a plate of white rice and fresh greens.
Goi cuon (Vietnamese fresh spring rolls) consist of thin vermicelli noodles, pork slices, shrimp, basil, and lettuce, all tightly wrapped in translucent banh trang (rice papers). Due to its subtle flavour, goi cuon is usually dipped into ground chillies and a hoisin-based dipping sauce topped with crushed peanuts.
Probably the most popular Cambodian dish. This dish is composed of a rich and creamy curry-like sauce that is the perfect balance of ginger, lemongrass, turmeric, and coconut milk. This is usually served wrapped in a banana leaf and isn’t too spicy.
Banana Blossom Salad
The banana blossom is stirfried and is topped with garlic, fried shallots, and aromatics like lemongrass. The entire salad is then topped with lime adding a light yet citrusy taste to it.
Red Tree Ants with Beef
A stir fry using beef, basil, garlic, shallots, ginger, lemongrass, and lots of ants. Red tree ants of different sizes are mixed with the beef and are topped with chili and served on top of a bowl of white rice.
This dish is a type of minced meat salad and widely considered to be the national dish of Laos. You can find Larb made with chicken, beef, duck, fish, or pork. It is usually flavoured with fish sauce, lime juice, fermented fish juice, ground rice, and fresh herbs, and usually comes with a few chilli peppers.
Tam Mak Hoong
Green Papaya Salad is typically made with shreds of unripe papaya, similar to Thailand’s Som Tam dish, but without peanuts and usually made with fermented fish sauce. Other ingredients include palm sugar, lime, garlic, tomatoes, dried shrimp, chillies, and raw aubergine. All of these ingredients are pounded together in a traditional mortar and pestle.
Sai Uah, Sai Gok
These pork sausages are mixed with lemongrass, galangal, kaffir leaves, shallots, coriander, chillies, and fish sauce. You may also find another variant of this sausage in Laos, known as Soured Lao sausage. In addition to the above ingredients, sticky rice is included and the sausage sits outside for a couple of days before it becomes sour.
Tom Yum Goong
Shrimp is mixed in a hot and sour broth flavoured with lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lime juice, fish sauce, and chilli peppers. You can add in your choice of meat for this which can be chicken, beef, pork, or shrimp. You can also order tom yum goong with coconut milk (tom yum goong nam kohn) or without (tom yum goong nam sai).
A regional specialty from northern Thailand. This silky noodle dish is cooked in coconut milk-based curry, and then garnished with crispy egg noodles. The hearty meal can also be cooked with curdled blood or rice noodles, depending on where you order.
Khao Niew Mamuang
This silky noodle dish is cooked in coconut milk-based curry, then garnished with crispy egg noodles. The hearty meal can also be cooked with curdled blood or rice noodles, depending on where you order.
The Quiet American by Graham Greene
Narrated in the first person by journalist Thomas Fowler, the novel depicts the breakdown of French colonialism in Vietnam and early American involvement in the Vietnam War.
At Home in the World by Thich Nhat Hanh
A collection of autobiographical and teaching stories from peace activist and Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh is thought-provoking, inspiring, and enjoyable to read.
Survival in The Killing Fields by Haing Ngor
"Nothing has shaped my life as much as surviving the Pol Pot regime. I am a survivor of the Cambodian holocaust. That’s who I am,” says Haing Ngor. And in his memoir, Survival in the Killing Fields, he tells the gripping and frequently terrifying story of his term in the hell created by the communist Khmer Rouge.
A Woman of Angkor by John Burgess
The time is the 12th Century, the place Cambodia, birthplace of the lost Angkor civilisation. In a village behind a towering stone temple lives a young woman named Sray, whom neighbours liken to the heroine of a Hindu epic.
To Cook A Spider by Mark Bibby Jackson
Recently retired British entrepreneur Don Oake accepts an invitation from his old schoolmate George Defaux to visit him in Battambang, Cambodia, where the latter owns a hotel, La Maison, with his wife Marie and daughter Sophea.
The Edge of Tomorrow by Tom Dooley
Dr. Dooley, leader of a volunteer American medical team which offered its services to the Laos government "recalls the months he spent in Laos, the problems of unimaginable disease compounded by age-old superstition; the terrific inadequacy of supplies and money; the political suspicions which often halted their work; and finally, the intangible rewards.
The Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill
Siri Paiboun, a 72-year-old medical doctor, has unwillingly been appointed the national coroner of the new socialist Laos. His lab is underfunded, his boss is incompetent, and his support staff is quirky, to say the least. But Siri's sense of humour gets him through his often frustrating days.
Ant Egg Soup: The Adventures of a Food Tourist in Laos by Natacha Du Pont De Bie
A self-proclaimed food tourist, Natacha Du Pont De Bie’s Ant Egg Soup follows her adventures in Laos, the stories of the people she met, the places she visited and the food she tasted.
The Bridge Over the River Kwai by Pierre Boulle
Set during the Second World War, British soldiers are captured and kept as prisoners in a Japanese camp and forced to build a bridge so Japanese trains can move across the river Kwai.
Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap
Set in contemporary Thailand, this collection of short stories are tales of family bonds, youthful romance, generational conflicts, and cultural changes beneath the glossy surface of a warm, paradise setting.
Films Featuring Vietnam
Good morning Vietnam
Adrian, a disc jockey, goes to Vietnam to work for the Armed Forces Radio Service. While he becomes popular among the troops, his superiors disapprove of his humour.
The Quiet American
During the Vietnam War, a young American falls in love with a Vietnamese girl, who is dating an English reporter. The reporter retorts by framing the American for bombings in the city.
The residents of Ho Chi Minh City face rapid Westernization and widespread poverty. Retired Marine James Hager (Harvey Keitel) arrives on a search for his daughter, whom he abandoned at the end of the Vietnam War.
The Buffalo Boy
In 1940s southern Vietnam, the rainy season threatens to consume life as much as sustain it. With his family's survival heavily dependent on a pair of buffalo, young Kim (Le The Lu) agrees to take the animals inland from the water-logged coast in search of food.
Films Featuring Cambodia
The Killing Fields
A biographical drama film about the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, which is based on the experiences of two journalists: Cambodian Dith Pran and American Sydney Schanberg.
The Last Reel
A contemporary story about love, family and the ghosts of Cambodia's past.
Two tiger cubs, one shy and gentle and the other bold and fierce, are separated when one is sold to the circus. Years later, they are reunited by a ruthless explorer.
Films Featuring Laos
After his Laotian village is levelled to make way for a dam, a 10-year-old boy leads his family and two new friends on a perilous journey to find a new home, then enters a rocket festival to prove he's not bad luck.
Good Morning Luang Prabang
Photographer Sorn, is assigned by his editor to take pictures of Laos. Even though, Sorn is half-Laotian, going back to his homeland is never on his mind. Sorn arrives at Pak-Cher town where he hires a guide, Noi to take him out to the best picture spots in Laos.
Films Featuring Thailand
The Railway Man
Eric, a POW during the Second World War, is tortured by a Japanese officer. Years later, Eric is pushed by his wife to confront his oppressor when they learn that the Japanese officer is alive.
A romance between a soldier and a country boy, wrapped around a Thai folk-tale involving a shaman with shape-shifting abilities.
Richard, a young man, travels to Thailand and finds himself in possession of an odd map. Rumours state that the map leads to an island paradise. Accompanied by a few friends, he sets out to find it.
Halong Bay is so picturesque, it truely is a sight-to-behold. A 2-night cruise is the best option, as you will get to see more and move away from the crowds.
Currency in Siem Reap
The official currency in Siem Reap (Cambodia) is the Reil, but everyone uses US dollars. All the cash machines in Siem Reap will give you USD, but when you purchase something small, sometimes they will give change in Reil which is pretty worthless. So buy more than one thing at a time to get your change in USD.
In general, the people in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos are very friendly and can’t do enough for you. So be friendly back, learn some to say "Hello", "Goodbye", "please" and "Thank you".
Most people don't think "beaches" when they imagine Vietnam and Cambodia, but there are some beautiful sandy beaches with safe swimming.