Few regions in the world can claim a cultural and historic past as rich and varied as the former territories of French Indochina. Laos, Cambodia and Việt Nam are home to some of the most ancient temple complexes in the world. In the past these countries have endured devastating warfare, but now they are finally at peace the world is discovering their spectacularly beautiful landscapes and charming peoples. This epic tour takes you to all three countries over a period of 24 days, visiting all of the most special and unique sights that each one has to offer.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Relax in the laid-back Lao capital of Vientiane and then explore the country's spiritual capital, the UNESCO World Heritage City of Luang Prabang.
  • Visit a remote hill-top temple in southern Laos on the back of an elephant.
  • Cruise the mighty Mekong River and visit off-the-beaten-track destinations along its banks, including a bird sanctuary and a lively floating market.
  • Explore two of the great wonders of the world – the man-made Angkor temple complex and the awe-inspiring natural beauty of Hạ Long Bay.
  • Relax in the charming old port of Hội An and discover the imperial capital of Huế, both recognised as UNESCO World Heritage.
  • Enjoy guided tours of the cities of Phnom Penh, Hồ Chí Minh City and Hà Nội
  • In Hà Nội, enjoy a home-hosted dinner at a communist party member family where you can join in preparing the meal and share an analysis of local current issues from your host’s perspectives [this is not mentioned in the itinerary]
  • Visit a school and interact with teachers and students to understand about the education system

Day 1: Arrive Luang Prabang (D)

Our first stop is the old royal seat of Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage City and the spiritual and cultural capital of Laos. Situated at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, magical Luang Prabang is home to friendly people, dozens of ancent temples and plenty of French colonial architecture. Today you can climb the 328 stairs at Mount Phousi for spectacular views over the town. Then in the evening receive Lao blessings of good luck in a traditional Baci ceremony inside a UNESCO World Heritage building.

Overnight in Luang Prabang.

Day 2: Luang Prabang - Pak Ou caves - Luang Prabang (B,L)

Soak in the beautiful scenery as you take a boat up river to the Pak Ou caves, where thousands of golden Buddhas are crammed inside limestone caves. Go ashore to visit a local village, Ban Xang Hai, where you can watch the locals produce Lao rice wine using traditional methods. Then travel back down river to Luang Prabang where you will have time to explore more of this quaint town, including its famed Royal Palace (now the Luang Prabang National Museum) and its many old temples. There is also an option to view a performance of royal classical dance by the Pharak Pharam Royal Ballet Troupe.

Overnight in Luang Prabang.

Day 2: Luang Prabang – Vientiane (B,L)

This morning we visit the village of Ban Xang Khok, the inhabitants of which specialise in the weaving of silk and cotton and the making of natural paper products. Then we head to the airport and take a short flight to the country's capital, Vientiane. After checking into your hotel you can enjoy a city tour of the capital’s major sights, including Wat Sisaket with its 8,000 Buddha statues, Wat Ho Prakeo, former home of the famous Emerald Buddha, and the That Luang Stupa, the single most important monument in Laos. You will also get the chance to climb the Patuxay Monument (the Lao Arc de Triomphe), built in commemoration of those who died during past wars. Its blend of French architecture, tree-lined boulevards and Buddhist temples give Vientiane a memorable quality. There is an option to enjoy dinner at a local restaurant while watching a traditional song and dance performance.

Overnight in Vientiane.

Day 4: Vientiane – Pakse (B,L,D)

A morning flight will take you to Pakse, a charming little town located at the confluence of Mekong and Sedone Rivers in southern Champassak province. From here you will head to the Bolovens Plateau to enjoy a spectacular view of the cascading water and lush greenery at Tad Lo and Tad Fane Waterfalls, followed by visits to tea and coffee plantations where you will get the chance to savour a cup of famously aromatic Lao coffee.

Overnight in Pakse.

Day 5: Pakse - Xepian Protected Area (B,L,D)

After breakfast you will drive to the Xepian biodiversity reserve where you can enjoy an elephant ride to the rocky summit of Phou Asa to visit the mysterious temple ruins and enjoy sweeping views over the magnificent, bird-rich wetlands. This will be followed by a light guided nature walk through lush green forest, with your guide showing you medicinal and edible plants along the trail, identifying bird-calls, and pointing out unusual insects.

Overnight at an Ecolodge or homestay.

Day 6: Xepian - Khone Island (B,L,D)

Today we drive to Khone and Det, two of the larger islands of Si Phan Don (four thousand islands) in the very south of Laos, to glimpse relics of the only railway line ever built in Laos during the French colonial period. Then we head for the Lippi Falls, a local sacred site believed to trap bad spirits, and the majestic Khone Phapheng Falls, considered the largest waterfall in Southeast Asia. In the evening you can stop by the night market and pick up some local handicrafts.

Overnight on Khone Island

Day 7: Khone Island - Siem Reap (B)

This morning you will transfer to the airport for your flight to Siem Reap, gateway to the temples of Angkor. The rest of the day will be spent at leisure.

Overnight in Siem Reap.

Day 8: Siem Reap (B,L)

Your morning tour of the Angkor World Heritage site temples starts at the South Gate of the 900-hectare walled city of Angkor Thom, the last capital of the Khmer empire. Its massive 8-metre-high walls surround an area filled with temples and at the centre of this area is the Bayon, which features towers carved with enigmatic faces. After a rest at the hotel, the day will end with a tuk-tuk tour of the Small Circuit temples, the best-known being the atmospheric Ta Prohm, which sits engulfed by jungle.

Overnight in Siem Reap.

Day 9: Siem Reap (B,L)

This morning you will head out to the 10th-century temple of Banteay Srei, which was built of pink sandstone and contains some of the most beautiful and intricate carvings of any Angkorian temple. Then you’ll continue on to Kbal Spean, the “River of a Thousand Lingas,” where phallic symbols of the god Shiva are carved into the riverbed. In the afternoon you will return to the heart of the Angkor complex to visit the temples along the 'Grand Circuit', including the evocative Preah Khan. You will end your day exploring the intricate carvings and passageways of Angkor’s most famous temple, the 12th-century Angkor Wat. Watch the sun set over Angkor Wat's five towers and marvel at its wonder.

Overnight in Siem Reap.

Day 10: Siem Reap - Tonle Sap (B,L,D)

Today we’ll take a morning boat ride across the Tonle Sap Lake, the largest body of fresh water in Southeast Asia and a lifeline to Cambodia's people, many of whom have even taken to living on its waters in floating villages. Then we will transfer to a homestay in a village where you can spot water buffalos in swampy ponds, kids in school uniforms on their bicycles and oxcarts in a tranquil countryside setting. Enjoy a delicious dinner prepared by your host.

Overnight in homestay

Day 11: Tonle Sap - Phnom Penh (B,L)

This morning we will transfer overland to Phnom Penh with a stop en route to see an old bridge. Arriving in the afternoon, you will have free time to explore the Cambodian capital, where the former grandeur of French Indochina still shines through in glimpses amidst the modern buildings of this rapidly growing city.

Overnight in Phnom Penh

Day 12: Phnom Penh (B,L)

Despite the fact that the city was the epicentre of the Khmer Rouge reign of terror in the late 1970s, Phnom Penh’s main sights have survived relatively untouched. The splendour of the Royal Palace, the graceful lines of the National Museum and the tree-lined river quayside are just some of the highlights of the capital. This morning you will tour Phnom Penh’s major attractions by cyclo. First you will visit Wat Phnom, the oldest monument in the city, from which Phnom Penh derived its name. Then you will continue along the riverfront to visit 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. In the afternoon you will gain insight into Cambodia's painful recent history by visiting the remarkable Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, housed in a former school that was taken over by the Khmer Rouge and used as its main detention and torture centre, “S-21.”

Overnight in Phnom Penh.

Day 13: Phnom Penh - Châu Đốc (B,D)

The morning will be free until noon when you will transfer to the pier and board your boat for a trip down the Mekong and across the border into Việt Nam. Upon arrival in Châu Đốc, you will check into your hotel and then set off on a trip to the top of Sam Mountain to watch the sunset over the temples and rice fields below.

Overnight in Châu Đốc

Day 14: Châu Đốc - Cần Thơ (B,L)

Today we will visit southern Việt Nam’s largest bird sanctuary of Trà Sư, then set off by road for Cần Thơ at the heart of Mekong River Delta.

Overnight in Cần Thơ

Day 15: Cần Thơ - Hồ Chí Minh City (B,L)

An early departure this morning to see the bustling Cái Răng Floating Market, then we will continue our journey to Hồ Chí Minh City. Known in French times as the “Pearl of the Orient” and still known to its residents as Sài Gòn, the city is a fascinating combination of fast-paced economic growth and leisurely tropical lifestyle.

Overnight in Hồ Chí Minh City

Day 16: Hồ Chí Minh City - Hội An (B,L)

This morning you can enjoy a sightseeing tour of this dynamic city, taking in the former Presidential Palace, the War Remnants Museum and the bustling Chinatown area. Then you will transfer to the airport for a flight to Đà Nẵng, where a short drive along the coast will take you to the UNESCO World Heritage town of Hội An. This town was major Asian trading port in the 17th and 18th centuries but it has a relaxed lifestyle that has changed little over the years.

Overnight in Hội An

Day 17: Hội An (B,L)

This morning you can take a tour of the charming ancient town centre to visit the homes of former merchants, the 400-year-old Japanese Covered Bridge and the exotic local market. The afternoon will be spent at leisure in the town or at the beach.

Overnight in Hội An

Day 18: Hội An - Huế (B,L,D)

Today we drive along the coast to Huế, passing the Marble Mountain, Lăng Cô beach and the spectacular Hải Vân (“Ocean cloud”) Pass en route. We arrive in the afternoon in the former Imperial Capital, where a mesmerising mix of imposing royal tombs, peaceful rivers and ancient traditions await. In the evening you can enjoy a royal banquet at a family-run restaurant, where the chef will teach you the art of decoration, carving a humble tomato into the shape of a turtle or a peacock. Huế is famous its cuisine which is not only tasty but also beautifully presented.

Overnight in Huế

Day 19: Huế (B,L)

After breakfast we will visit the historic Thiên Mụ Pagoda, Huế’s best-known religious site, then we will call at a Buddhist monastery for a delicious vegetarian lunch. This is a great chance to learn about the daily life of the Buddhist nuns, as well as the most popular religion in Việt Nam. Later you can jump on board a cyclo and tour the sites of city before exploring the Imperial Citadel. The day continues as you drive through the countryside to visit the elaborate Tu Duc Emperor mausoleum

Overnight in Huế

Day 20: Huế - Hà Nội (B)

This afternoon we fly to Hà Nội, Việt Nam’s capital. With its ochre-coloured colonial buildings, tree-lined boulevards and scenic lakes, Hà Nội is full of charm. On arrival you will transfer to your hotel and enjoy the rest of the day at leisure.

Overnight in Hà Nội

Day 21: Hà Nội (B,L,D)

The city that celebrated 1,000 years in 2010 has countless fascinating cultural and historic sites and today’s tour will visit several highlights. You will see the grand and solemn mausoleum of President Hồ Chí Minh (closed Mon and Fri and from Oct-Nov), the famous One-Pillar Pagoda, the beautiful Temple of Literature and the West Lake's Trấn Quốc Pagoda and Quán Thánh Temple, as well as the fascinating National Museum of Ethnology, the bustling Old Quarter and, in the evening, a performance by the celebrated Hà Nội Water Puppet Theatre.

Overnight in Hà Nội

Day 22: Hà Nội - Hạ Long Bay (B,L,D)

Today we depart for the famous Hạ Long Bay, which means “Bay of the 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 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 23: Hạ Long Bay - Hà Nội (B,L)

Start your day with a tai-chi lesson on board before visiting one of the most beautiful caves in Hạ Long Bay, Sửng Sốt or Surprise Cave. Upon returning to the junk, enjoy a buffet brunch before leaving the boat for the drive back to Hà Nội.

Overnight in Hà Nội

Day 24: Depart Hà Nội (B)

This morning you will be free at leisure until your departure for the airport.