Endowed with an exceptional cultural, historical and natural heritage, Vietnam and Cambodia, two countries of the former Indochina, are among the best destinations in South-East Asia. People often hesitate between these two extraordinary countries, and so the questions often arise: “Vietnam or Cambodia, what to choose” or “Going to Vietnam or Cambodia”. Here’s some basic information to help you make the right choice.
Vietnam or Cambodia: Which country to visit first for its climate?
Climate in Vietnam
There are 4 seasons in North and Central Vietnam: spring, summer, autumn and winter.
In spring (February, March and April), the weather is mild with high humidity due to the drizzle that ends towards the end of March.
Summer starts in May and finishes at the end of July. This is the hottest time of the year, with plenty of sunshine.
Autumn (August, September, November) is the transition between summer and winter, with pleasant temperatures, plenty of sunshine and little rainfall.
In winter (December and January), temperatures can be very low in the mountains of northern Vietnam.
In the south, there are only two distinct seasons when it is warm all year round:
The dry season (November to April), which is characterised by sunshine and high temperatures.
The rainy season (May to October) with showers at the end of the day.
Climate in Cambodia
Like southern Vietnam, Cambodia has two seasons: the dry season, from November to April, and the wet season, from May to the end of October.
>>> Which country to choose?
Vietnam and Cambodia have tropical climates. Vietnam’s climate is more diverse, with 4 distinct seasons, whereas Cambodia’s is always hot. So study the weather characteristics of the two countries and then choose a period that suits your dates and has favourable weather conditions for visiting Vietnam or Cambodia.
Vietnam or Cambodia: which to choose for its stunning scenery?
Beautiful places in Vietnam
The pearl of South-East Asia, Vietnam captivates travellers with its incredible diversity of landscapes. From the mountains sculpted by rice terraces to the languorous landscapes of the Mekong delta, not forgetting the enchanting Halong Bay and the spectacular UNESCO-listed landscapes of Tam Coc and Phang Nha, your trip to Vietnam will never be dull. As well as offering remarkable natural and urban landscapes, all the must-see sites in Vietnam also offer a fascinating historical and cultural heritage.
Vietnam’s thousand-year-old capital is one of the most seductive destinations in South-East Asia and Vietnam. You’ll be dazzled by its exceptional urban landscape, shaped by more than 1,000 years of history. The city boasts a beautiful colonial architectural heritage that blends perfectly with the “tube” houses, a Vietnamese speciality that is an integral part of Hanoi’s urban landscape.
Head to Hanoi’s old commercial district, where the thirty-six streets teeming with hard-working people are considered the soul of the Vietnamese capital, as is the charming Hoan Kiem Lake, a veritable oasis of tranquillity in this hyper-active city.
Ranked among the top 10 most beautiful bays in the world, Halong Bay is the delicate idyll between sky and sea. This serene destination is gently embraced by limestone rocks and emerald waters, creating a marvellous picture of thousands of islands and islets. Immersing yourself in the magnificent beaches, contemplating the sunrise or sunset, squid fishing, visiting the floating village and the fish farm are all interesting experiences to be had here.
Not far away are Lan Ha Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay and Cat Ba Island, which also look excellent with their clear waters and beautiful beaches. You can discover these majestic sites in a different way by taking an itinerary that is off the beaten track and more authentic.
Known as Halong Bay on land, Ninh Binh, the former capital of Vietnam, boasts a ravishing natural environment and cultural relics. Like Halong Bay on the sea, Ninh Binh is surrounded by thousands of sugar loaves and clear rivers.
The landscape complex of Trang An is known for its mix of river and limestone peaks, while Tam Coc is seductive for its harmony between sky, river, mountains and rice fields, especially for the beauty hidden in the middle of nature of the Jade Pagoda or Bich Dong, a stone pagoda.
As well as Trang An and Tam Coc – Bich Dong, don’t miss the Cuc Phuong national park, Am Tien cave (Fairy cave), Van Long nature reserve, Thung Nham, Mua cave (Dancing cave), Phat Diem cathedral… All of which make this a destination where magnificent nature meets varied heritage.
The mountains of the north
The mountains of northern Vietnam are home to some extremely wild and breathtaking landscapes: limestone peaks, rugged mountains, lush green valleys, magnificent rice terraces and winding roads clinging to the mountainsides make up some of the most beautiful landscapes in South-East Asia.
The high mountainous region of northern Vietnam is also home to many ethnic minorities fiercely attached to their ancestral traditions, which you can meet at the flamboyant ethnic markets where they love to crowd around dressed in their most beautiful traditional costumes.
>>> Also read: Rice Terraces in Sapa, Vietnam
Hoi An was already one of the busiest ports in Southeast Asia during the 17th and 18th centuries, situated on the banks of the Thu Bon River. Considered the most charming city in the country, Hoi An has an exceptionally well-preserved heritage of Asian culture, which has earned it UNESCO World Heritage status.
The old town is home to more than 1,000 century-old timber-framed buildings, numerous temples, pagodas and a delightful Japanese covered bridge built in the 1590s by Hoi An’s Japanese community. There is a huge range of things to do in Hoi An, so you’ll enjoy discovering its beautiful countryside, divine beaches and tempting cuisine.
The Mekong Delta is a unique world, half land and half water, located in the extreme south of the country. It is like a net of rivers, canals and arroyos, peaceful green villages and rice fields as far as the eye can see. On foot, by bike or by boat, lose yourself in this enchanted labyrinth to discover its languorous landscapes, its orchards bursting with tropical fruit, its river activity and its typical floating markets with a dizzying atmosphere.
You’ll also have the chance to discover a rich and varied range of handicrafts that draw their inspiration mainly from the bountiful natural surroundings, such as coconut palms, which are used by craftsmen to make a host of everyday objects and highly addictive sweets.
Whether you’re on a honeymoon, a family holiday, with friends or on your own, Vietnam and its 3,000 kilometres of coastline has something to satisfy every desire for idleness and seaside escapism. From the north to the south of the country, depending on the season, you can punctuate your trip to Vietnam with seaside stops.
Halong Bay, of course, with its grandiose karst seascapes, but also the deserted beaches of Hué, Danang and Hoi An, the seaside resorts of Nha Trang and Mui Ne, not forgetting the paradise-like islands of Phu Quoc and the Con Dao archipelago, a veritable natural marine and land sanctuary.
The beautiful beaches of Vietnam offer a wide range of water sports (diving, sailing, kayaking, paddle, kitesurfing, etc.) and cultural sights that will make your seaside holiday a memorable experience.
Beautiful places in Cambodia
Cambodia is a magnificent destination in South-East Asia. This charming country never ceases to caress travellers’ souls with its grandiose ancient temples, its natural wonders, its bustling markets, its bewitching countryside and the kindness of its people. A rich destination that will delight lovers of history and natural sites alike.
Situated in the north-west of Cambodia, Siem Reap is the gateway to the fabulous Angkor architectural complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Angkor reveals to its visitors the extraordinary architectural work of the Khmer builders, of which Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Bayon, Banteay Srei, Pre Rup, Takeo and Ta Prohm are among the most majestic representations.
As well as discovering these architectural remains, which are unique in the world, you will have the opportunity to explore the charming Cambodian countryside, some of the kingdom’s finest museums and the aquatic life of the Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in South-East Asia, recognised as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1997.
Phnom Penh is a must-see destination on your trip to the Kingdom of Cambodia, offering visitors a superb cultural, historical and architectural heritage. Let yourself be seduced by its magnificent colonial architectural heritage, its glittering Royal Palace, the official residence of the current King Sihamoni, and its National Museum, which houses an incredible collection of Khmer sculptures, pottery, bronzes, ceramics and various ethnographic objects from the pre-Angkorian era to the classical Angkor period.
The Cambodian capital is also home to magnificent markets, remnants of the traumatic Khmer Rouge period and a wide range of charming hotels. In the evening, take a stroll along the Sisowath Quay, a long pedestrian promenade running alongside the Tonle Sap River. This is one of the capital’s liveliest spots, where you can mingle with the local population in a friendly, family atmosphere.
Cambodia is not just about the temples of Angkor. With its magnificent coastline, the country can also be considered as a seaside destination. There are several options for enjoying the pleasures of the sea with your family, friends or partner.
There’s Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s largest seaside resort, with miles of idyllic beaches. The quiet, more intimate resort of Kep has something for everyone.
And for those who want to play Robinson, there are a handful of paradise islands where you can spend hours relaxing between the ocean and coconut palms.
So, “Vietnam or Cambodia, which to choose?” the answer isn’t always obvious, because each has its own charm and interests. However, if you want to discover original architecture and exceptional temples, Cambodia seems a good choice. On the other hand, if you’re looking for marvellous rice terraces, ethnic diversity and magnificent natural landscapes, Vietnam is a perfect choice. Both countries offer beautiful beaches, so you can choose a destination to suit your preferences.
Going to Vietnam or Cambodia for the experiences on offer?
Offering a wide variety of cultures and landscapes, Vietnam is an exciting country to travel to. A rich and varied range of activities will allow you to discover the country in depth: trekking through the superb scenery of terraced rice fields to meet the mountain ethnic groups, cruising in the enchanting Halong Bay or the Mekong Delta, cycling in Hué, in the limestone maze of Tam Coc, boat trips in the heart of Lake Ba Be or Lake Lak, urban walking tours to discover the remarkable architectural and cultural heritage of Hanoi, Hue, Hoi An or Saigon,…
In Vietnam, you can also spend the night with local people in different parts of the country. This is an unusual experience that appeals to travellers. They have real contact with the local population and share a few daily activities with them.
Vietnam’s beautiful beaches are as much an invitation to relax as they are to take part in a variety of water sports.
A cookery class is also a popular activity for travellers during their stay in Hanoi and/or Hué, Hoi An to discover the excellent Vietnamese cuisine.
The Kingdom of Cambodia will win you over with its many activities, allowing you to discover this beautiful country beyond its tourist façade. On foot, by bike, in a hot-air balloon or in a tuk-tuk, discover the wonders of the legendary site of Angkor and its many temples and statues.
By boat, explore the aquatic world of the Tonle Sap, go trekking in the jungles of Mondolkiri or Ratanakiri, cycle through the hypnotic Cambodian countryside, take a boat out to sea to discover the sumptuous islands that have remained untouched, and so on.
>> Which country to choose?
“The answer depends on what you want to do. More mountainous and with a greater variety of landscapes, Vietnam will delight nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, while Cambodia will delight history buffs.
Vietnam or Cambodia: which country to discover for its gastronomy?
Vietnamese cuisine is light, often dietetic, very varied, inexpensive and very tasty, making it one of the best in South-East Asia and even in the world. It is based on a blend of herbs and spices found nowhere else, as well as cooking methods and eating habits that are unique to the Vietnamese people.
Vietnamese cuisine is distinguished by its geographical, cultural, ethnic and climatic characteristics, which are what make it so rich. It is a cuisine that changes from north to south, marked by its terroir and its history.
Some specialities to suggest:
Phơ (rice noodle soup with beef)
Banh mi (sandwich bread)
Bun cha (grilled pork vermilles)
Banh cuon (Vietnamese ravioli)
Bun bo Hue (rice vermicelli with pork and beef)
Banh beo (steamed rice cakes filled with prawns and pork)
Banh bot loc (translucent shrimp dumplings)
Hu tieu (pork soup with seafood)
Banh xeo (Vietnamese pancake)
Cambodian cuisine is a blend of Chinese (with soy sauce, pasta and steamed dishes), Indian (with curries, sweet and savoury dishes and warm colours), Vietnamese (with soup) and Thai (with coconuts and chillies) cultures.
Fish, prawns, peanuts and rice are often used, along with a variety of condiments: garlic, onions, coriander, lemongrass, ginger, Thai basil, kaffir lime, spring onion, banana blossom, and so on. A feature of Cambodian cuisine is the use of insects (crickets, grasshoppers, silkworms, tarantulas, etc.). All of which make for a typical and delicious Cambodian cuisine.
Some specialities to suggest
Samla chapek (pork soup with ginger)
Amok trei (steamed fish with coconut milk and lemongrass)
Kdam chaa (crab sautéed with green pepper)
Lok lak (beef marinated in lemon and sautéed with fish sauce)
Bai sach chrouk (rice with grilled pork)
Phlea sach ko (raw beef salad marinated in lime juice)
Ang dtray-meuk (grilled squid)
>> Which countries to choose?
It’s a difficult choice, but it has to be said that Vietnamese cuisine is much more varied than its Cambodian neighbour. It’s also more creative, more refined, tastier and, above all, less spicy for unaccustomed palates. Vietnam or Cambodia, whichever you choose, it will be a real feast to taste either of these two gastronomies.
So, have you made up your mind? Why not both or all of Indochina?