I’m spending a couple of weeks with Classic Journeys’ local guides traveling through Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, looking for ways to make our already popular Vietnam vacation even better. An interesting sidebar to my daily explorations is the juxtaposition I see between the past and the present. I want to say it’s jarring, but in reality it’s happening so seamlessly that it makes me think that travelers interested in this part of the world really need to see it now, before it changes completely.

I’ll explain with a few quick examples:

One morning in Luang Prabang, Laos, my traveling companions and I were the only westerners participating in an age old procession of alms giving to the local monks and novice monks at sunrise as they made their way from temple after their morning prayers. The rice we offered them was the first of only two meals they’ll eat that day. Later in the day, we saw a monk walking down the street with a cell phone. Seeing it in the hands of a saffron robed novice made me wonder how long before their lifestyle gives way to the modern world.

Alms ritual

The next day I was in the rural countryside outside Hanoi. Our walk took us through rice fields to a Buddhist temple. Along the way, we passed a little village school, where perhaps 100 children from the surrounding countryside attend morning or afternoon school sessions led by dedicated teachers. As we played soccer with the kids and handed out school supplies, our guide shared with us details about the kids’ lives. Among our questions: what do their parents do? Our guide, Mai, answered that many of the parents work in the rice fields just like generations of their parents did before them. Others are artisans. And still others now work in high tech manufacturing in the Samsung, Intel or other electronics plants not too far away.

One of the greatest moments of my life was waking early and watching the light and then sun come up on Halong Bay on our Classic Journeys’ Vietnam vacation. Birdsong…the islands taking shape…the beauty of the boat. It was all very memorable!

Halong Bay

My final observation came on Halong Bay after we had spent a memorable and exceptional two days and night cruising the bay on a boutique luxury junk. With just a few fellow guests on board, we were able to really have all the quiet time we wanted to relax anywhere on the luxury Halong Bay cruise. We took kayaks from the boat to explore the islands and caves. When I woke before dawn, I sat on the top deck on a teakwood deckchair and watched the sun light the sky while birds chirped from the nearby islands, and coffee brewed in the galley. After the cruise, our guide and I went to visit some other boats and boat owners we know. One of them proudly told us that in addition to the junks that he charters to us, he is also building a 48 cabin boat that will begin cruising in the next several months. He smiled with pride and we recoiled with dismay. Those tourists will never see Halong Bay the way Classic Journeys guests do; in small groups with expert local guides.

I know that a global economy changes everything and that it is unrealistic to assume or even want things to never change. That said, I’d encourage you to travel to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia now, before these magnificent places become homogenized.

If you’re considering a vacation in Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia, drop us a line. We’d be happy to share with you the local contacts we’ve made in this remarkable corner of the world. Just email us at blog@classicjourneys.com or phone one of our exceptional Guest Services Coordinators at 800-200-3887.