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Inspiring • Authentic • Tailor-Made

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Highlights of Asia

Author: David Pettitt

With Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Japan all open to international travellers, there has never been a better time to head to Asia. All four countries have removed their pandemic travel restrictions and with visa-free travel, or simplified visa requirements including e-visas, heading to south and east Asia is simple and uncomplicated. With fewer foreign tourists at key sites, less pressure on hotels and tranquil beaches, explore Angkor Wat without the crowds, cruise the mighty Mekong on a river cruise, enjoy beautiful Luang Prabang or experience Japan at its most picturesque during the famous sakura cherry blossom season.

1 Vietnam

Market seller in Hoi An, Vietnam

With a long sweeping coastline and mountainous interior, Vietnam stretches from the Chinese border to the riverine landscapes of the tropical Mekong Delta and is a melting pot of landscapes, climates and cultures with each region offering their own unique experiences. The north is location of capital Hanoi. Here modern Vietnamese culture blends seamlessly with ancient Confucian temples and French colonial buildings. From Hanoi it is possible to head north into the mountains to visit traditional hill-tribe villages or east to the coast and the famous karst landscapes of Ha Long and Lan Ha Bay. Many of Vietnam’s most historic towns can be found in central Vietnam including the ancient capital of Hue and the charming trading centre of Hoi An. This is also the best place to see some well-preserved Vietnam War era remains. The stretch of coastline between Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City is where most of Vietnam’s beach resorts are found from China Beach to Qui Nhon and Nha Trang to Phan Thiet although there are also exclusive resorts on the lesser visited islands of Con Dao and Phu Quoc. Southern Vietnam is dominated by the nation’s most cosmopolitan city Ho Chi Minh. This is the ideal base from which to explore the floating markets of the Mekong Delta or join a river cruise travelling upstream to Cambodia.

Best time to visit: November to May
Visas: Visa-free travel for stays of up to 15 days

Vietnam Holidays

2 Japan

Matsumoto, Japan

No country manages to blend the futuristic and the traditional quite like Japan. Vast modern cities, bullet trains and extraordinary cuisine sit seamlessly alongside ancient temples, manicured gardens and ancient culture. Although at first glance Japan can seem overwhelming to a visitor, whether that be due to the language, the myriad of traditions or, simply, its size, this vast island is in fact easy to navigate and, with a little planning, it’s possible to experience both sides of Japanese life. Explore Tokyo with its world-class museums, shops, temples, gardens, palaces and restaurants which are amongst the best in the world. On a clear day it is possible to see the instantly recognisable snow-capped peak of Mount Fuji. Surrounded by the beautiful Hakone National Park, this is a place to enjoy the great outdoors and, if time allows, experience a traditional onsen. Further inland are the Japanese Alps. The delightful towns of Takayama and Matsumoto serve as the gateway to this region and a number of fascinating sites including the UNESCO protected villages of Ogimachi, Suganuma and Ainokura and the geothermic hot springs of Jigokudani Park. Further south lies Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital and a highlight of any visit to the country. Home to an incredible 2,000 temples and shrines, Kyoto is the cultural capital of the country and also renowned for its cherry blossom in spring.

Best time to visit: Year-round but best in spring or autumn
Visas: UK citizens do not require a visa for stays of less than 90 days

Japan Holidays

3 Cambodia

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Nestled between Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, Cambodia is famous the world over for the extraordinary temple remains of Angkor Wat. Yet Cambodia is a land of great diversity with vibrant cities, a pristine coastline, a jungle-clad interior and a number of spectacular, if little-known, archaeological remains, all bisected by the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers. Cambodia is also at the crossroads of Southeast Asia – easily reached by land from Thailand and Laos, and with road and river borders shared with neighbouring Vietnam making it the ideal destination for a two or three centre holiday. Angkor Wat is rightly regarded as one of the wonders of the ancient world and the temple remains located outside of the bustling town of Siem Reap are, for many, the highlight of the country. There are also a number of other impressive ancient monuments including Preah Vihear, Koh Ker, Kbal Spean and Srah Damrei. From Siem Reap most travel southeast to the riverside capital Phnom Penh although the sleepy town of Battambang and villages of Tonle Sap Lake are a worthy diversion. For those wishing to explore rural Cambodia, head south from Phnom Penh to visit pretty Kampot and the laid-back French colonial coastal town of Kep or north to see endangered river dolphins in Kratie and explore the remote jungles of Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri.

Best time to visit: November to early May
Visas: Online tourist e-visa valid for 30 days from the date of entry

Cambodia Holidays

4 Laos

Wat Phra Luang, Vientiane

The least known of the nations of Southeast Asia, landlocked Laos is a mysterious country framed by the Mekong River along its western flank and high mountains that straddle the Lao-Vietnam border in the east. It is possible to reach Laos overland from Thailand – the Mekong is navigable between northern Thailand and Luang Prabang, and there are a number of land crossings too. In the south, it is also possible to cross into Cambodia from the region known as the ‘Four Thousand Islands’ although most visitors arrive by air. Much of Laos is rural and large towns are few and far between. One of these towns is the beautiful and sleepy Luang Prabang with its riverside setting, gilded palaces and atmospheric temples. Located in northern Laos, from Luang Prabang most head south, first via Phonsavan and the surreal archaeological remains of the Plain of Jars, then Vientiane, the nation’s capital which boast a fine historic core and impressive temples including Wat Phra Keo and Wat Sisaket. The south of Laos is centred on Wat Phou, a spectacular temple complex only rediscovered in the 19th century and one of the finest in the region. This region is also the setting for the 'Four Thousand Islands' where the Mekong swells to form channels, islands and waterfalls close to the Cambodian border.

Best time to visit: October to early May
Visas: Online tourist e-visa valid for maximum of 60 days or visa on arrival

Laos Holidays

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