A Journey through Indochina: Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos

6 - 25 January, 2025

Vietnam Cambodia Laos

Trip Dates:
6 - 25 January, 2025

Trip Length:
19 days

Trip Price: £4870

Accompanied by Dr Peter Sharrock explore three countries at the heart of Southeast Asia. Dr Sharrock made his first visit to Southeast Asia in 1970 when he became the Reuters correspondent in Cambodia and Vietnam. He reported the American war there (and in Laos) for four years and discovered how, as the French said, Indochina ‘attaches to the skin’. Through Dr Sharrock’s many close contacts in the region, he has very kindly organised several local academics and museum staff (many of whom are former Alumni of SOAS) to accompany the party for specific visits as described in the itinerary.

The journey begins in Hanoi, one of Asia’s most beautiful capitals. Visit the ancient quarter with its narrow streets of merchants’ stall and sidewalk cafes. Learn more of the 11th century Temple of Literature, a Confucian centre of Mandarin learning established early after the country’s independence from Chinese rule. Enjoy a visit the National Museum in Hanoi accompanied by archaeologist Dr Le Thi Lien.  Fly to Huế, the graceful old imperial capital, where the 19th century Nguyen Dynasty citadel, modelled on Beijing’s Forbidden City, has been restored as a UNESCO Word Heritage site with a museum of the Dynasty’s treasures. Visit the tombs of the Nguyen dynasty emperors gracing lovely pine forests along the Perfume River.

From Huế, drive along the spectacular coastline to Da Nang and visit the Museum of Cham Sculpture with SOAS alumna Nguyen Duyen, an important contributor to the stunning catalogue ‘Vibrancy in Stone: Masterpieces of the Cham Museum of Sculpture’ written by Museum staff and SOAS.  Spend two nights at the charming riverine port of Hoi An, which was originally settled by Cham navigators thousands of years ago. With leading Cham art historian Nguyen Ky Phuong, drive up to the My Son complex of ancient Cham brick temples beautifully set in a circle of mountains and sacred mostly to Shaivism but also to tantric Buddhism. Fly to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, the bustling commercial capital of the south, squeezed on to a strip of delta-land in the estuary of the Mekong River. The party will stay in the Rex Hotel – which was originally the American Cultural Centre in the early 1960’s. Visit Ho Chi Minh’s, History-Museum accompanied by the Museum Director Dr Hoang Anh Tuan, curator Uyen Pham and alumna Dr Nguyen Thi Tu Anh. 

Fly to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, now growing prosperous after the devastation of the Khmer Rouge. Visit the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda on the waterfront at the junction of the Mekong and Tonle Sap Rivers. Walk to the National Museum to be guided around the greatest masterpieces of Khmer art by SOAS alumna Khun Sathal, now Deputy Director. From Phnom Penh, drive to Siem Reap and Angkor, stopping en route at Kompong Thom museum and the nearby large 7th century pre-Angkorian temple city of Sambor Prei Kuk. At its apogee in the 12th century, the Khmer Empire stretched from Central Vietnam to the Burmese border and down to the Thai Peninsula. The capital Angkor rivalled the Chinese capital with a population of almost a million, while at the same time only about 20,000 Parisians lived around Notre-Dame. The Empire’s kings and craftsmen built temple complexes that count among the most sophisticated and impressive in world history. From Angkor the party will drive to the remote and much less visited Khmer sites at Bantey Chhmar and Preah Vihear. 

The journey finishes in Luang Prabang, in Northern Laos, described by UNESCO as the best-preserved town in Southeast Asia. This magical place, the former royal capital, is in a spectacular mountainous setting on the banks of the broad Mekong River. Once part of the kingdom known as Lane Xang, Land of a Million Elephants, it is the cultural and spiritual heart of Laos. With its gentle pace and population of monks, Luang Prabang is a treasure trove of 33 glittering Buddhist temples dating from the 16th century, exquisitely gilded and frescoed, with multi-tiered roofs sweeping to the ground. The party will visit the Royal Palace and look at French buildings from the colonial period and also take a boat ride up the mighty Mekong River to the sacred Pak Ou caves to see thousands of Buddha images left by pilgrims.

The journey has been planned for the Alumni of SOAS University of London and is also open to family and friends of Alumni. Please note that Distant Horizons has sole responsibility for the operation of this tour. SAOS, the participating University has no direct control over the operation the tour.

Trip Leader: Professor Peter Sharrock

Dr Sharrock obtained his doctorate on Buddhism and Imperial politics as he researched the sacred art of the Khmer civilization at SOAS. He is currently the SOAS-Alphawood Group Director of Regional Partners, Summer Programmes and Alumni Support in the university, which is redefining the young states of Southeast Asia as the leading innovators in temple building (Angkor Wat, Bayon, Borobudur, Bagan) and 'state protection Buddhism' at the turn of the first millennium, when Buddhism faced extinction in India and China. He has travelled widely in Southeast Asia and has accompanied several journeys for Distant Horizons.

A Journey through Indochina: Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Trip Comments:

‘Peter Sharrock was outstanding. As well as his ability to teach us about Buddhism, he retains his journalistic curiosity about Indochina, its politics, economy and aspirations.’

‘This was a fantastic trip – extremely well organised with a first-rate leader in Dr Sharrock.’

‘Overall it was a wonderful and exciting holiday. Thank you very much.’

‘It was a fascinating trip; Dr Sharrock and his contacts made it particularly so.’

‘An excellent lecturer with a strong academic background and interesting experience as a journalist during the war. Very helpful throughout the journey in suggesting possibilities.’

‘The tour was a huge success. Dr Sharrock was a star and held the whole trip together at the intellectual level.’