This packed 17-day itinerary takes you on a voyage of discovery, unlocking the treasures of the three countries of the Indochina peninsula. It is designed to give you a thorough overview of the region and its history, customs and traditions, while providing plenty of opportunities for you to interact with the friendly locals.
- Explore the Lao's spiritual capital, the UNESCO World Heritage City of Luang Prabang.
- Discover two great wonders of the world – the man-made Angkor temple complex and the awe-inspiring natural beauty of Hạ Long Bay.
- Enjoy guided tours of the cities of Hà Nội, Hồ Chí Minh City, Phnom Penh and Vientiane.
- Visit the fascinating underground tunnel complex of Củ Chi and meet with a local war veteran to learn about the war through local eyes.
- Cruise the mighty Mekong River and visit off-the-beaten-track destinations along its banks, including a bird sanctuary and a lively floating market.
- Participate in the daily ritual of giving alms to saffron-clad monks.
Day 1: Arrive Hà Nội
On arrival at the airport you will be welcomed by our guide and transferred to your hotel for check-in and a briefing. You will also be taken on an orientation walk to familarise you with the surrounding areas as well as the traffic. The rest of the day will be free.
Overnight in Hà Nội
Day 2: Hà Nội full day city tour (B,L,D)
We start today with a visit to the Hồ Chí Minh Mausoleum (where the late president’s embalmed body is displayed, closed Mon and Fri and from Oct-Nov), the historic Ba Đình square, the Presidential Palace (from the outside only), Hồ Chí Minh’s house on stilts and the famous One-Pillar Pagoda. Then we take a short drive to the Temple of Literature, Việt Nam’s first university dating from the 11th century. After lunch at a local restaurant, you will enjoy a cyclo ride through the fascinating Ancient Quarter (known as the “36 streets”), where each street was traditionally named after the merchandise made or sold there. At the end of the ride, you also can choose to visit the former prison nicknamed “Hà Nội Hilton,” or walk with the guide though local market and some corners of the city which are not accessible by cyclo. In the evening you can attend a performance by the celebrated Hà Nội Water Puppet Theatre.
Overnight in Hà Nội.
Day 3: Hà Nội-Thầy Pagoda-Đường Lâm village (B,L)
In the morning we travel west of Hà Nội to immerse ourselves in the life of local people in the countryside. Our first visit is to the Thầy Pagoda, dedicated to a Master who is believed to have created water puppetry. Picturesquely located at the foot of a mountain and next to a lake, this is a very old and beautiful pagoda which houses many ornate Buddhist statues. During festival days, water puppetry shows are held here. After visiting the pagoda we will drive to the rural idyll that is Đường Lâm commune near Sơn Tây to visit Mông Phụ village, renowned for its ancient architecture, which boasts a traditional village gate, a Communal House and around 45 houses aged over 100 years. Here the rural lifestyle and customs of villagers hark back to a time long ago. Lunch will be prepared and served by a local family. Take your chance to wander the village's narrow alleyways, visit local temples and, most interesting of all, chat with friendly locals. We return to Hà Nội in the afternoon.
Overnight in Hà Nội
Day 4: Hà Nội - Hạ Long Bay (B,L,D)
This morning we depart for the famous Hạ Long Bay, which means “Descending Dragon” in Vietnamese. Located in the Gulf of Tonkin, this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an area of great natural beauty, with over 3,000 limestone islands rising dramatically out of the water. The islands assume intriguing formations and local legends and stories abound, inspired by their shapes which have been likened to chickens, dragons, sails or human heads. Upon arrival, we board an elegant classic junk which has comfortable private cabins with ensuite bathroom and start cruising the bay. After a seafood lunch on board, you can enjoy beach walking or climb one of the limestone peaks for a panoramic view of the bay.
Overnight on board ship in Hạ Long Bay
Day 5: Hạ Long Bay - Hà Nội - Hồ Chí Minh City (B,L,D)
Start your day with a tai-chi lesson on board. Continue to the Cửa Văn fishing village and board a sampan for a ride through the village, stopping to visit a floating school. After returning to the junk, enjoy a buffet brunch while the junk continues cruising further to Bái Tử Long, with its unusual rock formations. You may recognise one spot as the place they filmed a scene in the famous French romantic movie Indochine starring Catherine Deneuve. Then it’s back to the quay where we leave the boat at noon for a 3.5-hour drive back to Hà Nội airport to catch a two-hour flight to Hồ Chí Minh City (Sài Gòn).
Overnight in Hồ Chí Minh City.
Day 6: Hồ Chí Minh City full day city tour (B,L)
Today we will explore Việt Nam’s biggest city and economic centre, which has a population in excess of seven million people. We take a short walk past an overwhelming mix of street cafes, markets, vendors and shops in the the heart of District 1, where the most prominent French legacy can be seen today in the colonial buildings of the downtown area. Then after lunch we will visit the city’s major sights in a half-day tour which takes in the former Presidential Palace, the War Remnants Museum, Notre Dame Cathedral and the venerable old City Post Office. In the evening you can explore this “city that never sleeps” on your own – it has a lot to offer, from high-class restaurants of all kinds to trendy nights clubs and bars.
Overnight in Hồ Chí Minh City.
Day 7: Củ Chi (B,L)
Today we visit the fascinating underground tunnel complex of Củ Chi. At its height during the war with America this place housed an extraordinary network of over 200km of underground tunnels from which VC guerrillas infiltrated Sài Gòn to carry out attacks or to spy on the American airbases that ringed the city. It was equipped with bunkers, trenches, kitchens, dining rooms, water wells, hospitals and many other facilities necessary for the guerrillas’ survival underground for weeks on end. After a talk and video presentation you can tour the site and crawl inside specially-enlarged sections of tunnel. You can also view the underground meeting rooms where campaigns such as the Tết Offensive were planned and enjoy a simple meal of food that VC fighters would have eaten. You can also meet with a local war veteran and learn about the war through local eyes. Afterwards we will return to Hồ Chí Minh City where the afternoon will be free for you to explore the city on your own.
Overnight in Hồ Chí Minh City.
Day 8: Hồ Chí Minh City - Xẻo Quýt - Cần Thơ (B,L)
Departing from Hồ Chí Minh City, we head to Mỹ Hiệp and take a three-hour boat trip through cajeput forest which was used by guerrillas in wartime as a base called Xẻo Quýt. This little-visited site, now a peaceful bird sanctuary, gives you an insight into the determination of revolutionary forces to endure all hardships in pursuit of victory and helps explain how the Vietnamese eventually won the “Việt Nam War”. Next, we will take a four-hour boat trip from Mỹ Hiệp via the Tiền and Hậu tributaries of the Mekong River, eventually arriving at the Ninh Kiều Wharf in Cần Thơ.
Overnight in Cần Thơ.
Day 9: Cần Thơ - Cái Răng Floating Market - Trà Sư Bird Sanctuary - Châu Đốc (B,L)
Today we make an early start to discover the bustling Cái Răng Floating Market, one of the many floating markets on the Mekong River. In the watery world of Mekong Delta, boats are used as a primary means of transportation, so floating markets are often held right in the middle of a confluence of rivers so that people can access them easily by boat to purchase goods, food and especially fresh fruit and vegetables. This creates an amazing scene every morning at dawn, as people sit in their boats bargaining. Later we will visit a noodle-making house and a rice processing mill, and afterwards an orchard near the market where we can sample different types of local fruit. Lunch will be taken in Cần Thơ, followed by a leisurely stroll in the countryside before we continue on to Châu Đốc in the afternoon. On the way we will stop at Trà Sư Bird Sanctuary, which is just an hour’s drive away and promises a magical experience as you watch many different kinds of birds up-close in the midst of the indigo forest. At around sunset you can climb up the watchtower to enjoy the panorama and watch thousands of storks returning home to the sanctuary. Afterwards we continue into Châu Đốc town and check in to our hotel.
Overnight in Châu Đốc.
Day 5: Châu Đốc - Phnom Penh (B,L)
We’re up early today as we will take a speedboat at 7h30 to the Cambodian border. After clearing immigrations, it’s another 4 hour along the Mekong to Phnom Penh. Châu Đốc is the provincial capital of An Giang province, which is renowned for its basa or cat fish, now a major source of income for local farmers. Thus at the beginning of this trip you will see numerous floating cat fish farms along the riverbanks.
On arrival at Phnom Penh city harbour you will be welcomed and transferred to your hotel for check-in. Once considered the “loveliest French-built city” in Indochina, Phnom Penh is the capital and largest city of Cambodia. Located at the confluence of the three rivers, the Bassac, the Mekong and the Tonle, it is the country’s political and economical hub. After lunch, you will tour the Royal Palace, built in 1866 by King Norodom, where you will visit the Throne Hall, Wat Phnom Mondap with its Buddha footprint, and the magnificent Silver Pagoda..
Overnight in Phnom Penh.
Day 11: Phnom Penh city tour (B,L)
Our city tour this morning will first visit Wat Phnom, the historical cradle of Phnom Penh, after which you get the chance to view one of the finest collections of ancient Khmer artefacts anywhere in the world at the National Museum. Sadly, Cambodia is still often remembered for the excesses of the Khmer Rouge government which held power between 1975 and 1979. As a result of the genocide conducted by the Pol Pot regime, an estimated 1.5 million people are believed to have lost their lives. After lunch you will visit two reminders of this terrible period of Khmer history. First you will visit the notorious Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (a former high school building which the Khmer Rouge turned into the S21 prison), where you can meet with one of the very lucky five survivors and hear his very touching story of living through that tough time. Then you will travel to the Cheuong Ek Killing Fields Memorial on the outskirts of the city, located in an area of land where some 17,000 men, women and children are believed to have been executed.
Overnight in Phnom Penh.
Day 12 : Phnom Penh - Siem Reap – Angkor Thom (B,L)
After breakfast you will transfer to the airport and catch a short flight to Siem Reap, capital of Siem Reap province and gateway to the Angkor World Heritage Site, which contains over 100 temples and other structures built by successive Khmer kings between the 9th and 14th centuries. There you will be welcomed and transferred to your hotel for check-in. After lunch you will visit the 900-hectare walled city of Angkor Thom, built in the late 12th and early 13th centuries by King Jayavarman VII, whose face adorns several of the city gates. Starting at the South Gate, you will view the spectacular 12th-century Bayon, the 11th-century Baphoun and the intricately-carved bas-reliefs of the Terrace of the Elephants and Terrace of the Leper King. Return to the hotel to freshen up before dinner and a special Apsara show at Angkor Village. Afterwards you can explore the night life in Siem Reap, which has numerous bars, cafes and shops.
Overnight in Siem Reap.
Day 13: Siem Reap - Ta Prohm - Ta Keo – Thommanon - Chau Say Tevoda - Sra Srang - Angkor Wat (B,L)
After breakfast on your second day in Siem Reap you will visit the Ta Prohm temple, a wonderful combination of human genius and natural beauty, some parts of which have long been photogenically overgrown by giant trees! Continue to Ta Keo, the “Jewel of Crystal,” an unfinished 50-metre-high temple mountain erected at the end of the 10th century in honour of the Hindu god Shiva. Before lunch you will also visit the 12th-century Thommanon and Chau Say Tevoda temples and the baray (lake) of Sra Srang. Then in the afternoon you will visit the real “jewel in the crown” of the Angkor complex – the famous 240-hectare Angkor Wat, considered one of the great wonders of the world. Built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II and dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, it is visually, architecturally and artistically breathtaking, with a massive three-tiered pyramid crowned by five beehive-like towers which rise 65 meters from ground level. Return to the hotel and enjoy an hour-long Khmer traditional massage and relax after a long day.
Overnight in Siem Reap
Day 14 : Siem Reap - Luang Prabang (B,L,D)
After breakfast, you can choose to visit the School of Arts, Siem Reap, which focuses on Khmer classical dancing and musical training for poor and disadvantaged children from Siem Reap and surrounding areas. You will not only observe the training process but will also be invited to join them on the stage during the performance. The interesting interaction with the children and their teachers will give you a deeper understanding of classical Khmer dance and music. After this visit you will return to your hotel and get ready to transfer to the airport for a flight to the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage City of Luang Prabang, which is perhaps the best-preserved traditional city in Southeast Asia. The tranquility and charm of this town, with its splendid natural scenery and cultural sights, make it one of the most delightful places to visit in Asia. On arrival, we transfer you to your hotel for a short rest. You will then climb up to the top of Mount Phousi to visit the sacred, gilded stupa as well as viewing a beautiful city panorama. As a sign of warm welcome, you will attend a private Baci ceremony. Baci is a ceremony to celebrate a special event, whether a marriage, a homecoming, a welcome, a birth, or one of the annual festivals. A mother is given a baci after she has recovered form a birth, the sick are given bacis to facilitate a cure, officials are honored by bacis, and novice monks are wished luck with a baci before entering the temple. After the ceremony, a traditional dance will be held representing the three ethnic groups coming from the highlands, midlands and lowlands.
Overnight in Luang Prabang.
Day 15. Luang Prabang - Wat Wisun - Wat Sene - Wat Xieng Thong - Pak Ou cave (B,L)
After breakfast, you will take a short-guided tour of some of the city’s oldest temples, starting with Wat Wisun and Wat Sene and then visiting the magnificent Wat Xieng Thong. Then you will take a leisurely cruise upstream on the Mekong River, enjoying the panorama of the tranquil countryside on the way to Pak Ou Caves, two large caverns overhanging the Nam Ou tributary which contain thousands of Buddha images. On the journey we will also visit a local rice wine-making village and the royal temple at Wat Longkhoun. On our way back to the city, we will take a short drive to Ban Phanom, a village well known for its crafts, pottery and hand weaving.
Overnight in Luang Prabang
Day 16. Luang Prabang – Khouangsi Waterfalls (B,L)
An optional early start gives you a fantastic opportunity to participate in the daily alms-giving ritual to saffron-clad monks. This tradition is unique to Laos, which is the only Buddhist nation still preserving the procession. Later in the morning we will go to Phosi Market, which has an eclectic selection of foodstuffs and souvenirs. Afterwards we will head out to visit some ethnic minority villages and see how these colourfully-clad people live. Then we will drive to the beautiful Khouangsi Waterfall, where you can swim in the turquoise pools or walk along the forest paths before returning to Luang Prabang in the late afternoon to observe the sunset at Wat Phabath.
Overnight in Luang Prabang
Day 17. Luang Prabang - National Museum - Silversmith’s - Luang Prabang Fine Arts School – Depart Luang Prabang (B,L)
After breakfast you will visit the Luang Prabang National Museum (closed Tuesday), located in the former Royal Palace, which displays a lovely collection of artefacts reflecting the richness of Lao culture through the ages. Afterwards, if time permits, we will also visit a silversmith’s and the Luang Prabang Fine Arts School. After lunch it’s off to the airport for your return flight.