Grand Indochina Journey
22 Days / 21 Nights
Day 1: Afternoon Sightseeing including Museum and Temples.
We arrive in Luang Prabang and transfer to our accommodation. In the afternoon, we begin to explore the historic town of Luang Prabang. We walk along Sisavangvong St, the heart of the old quarter and explore the National Museum, set in the former Royal Palace. Built in 1904, the palace is a blend of Laotian and French influences and houses many royal treasures. The most important item is the solid gold Pha Bang Buddha, a gift from the Khmer King to his son-in-law, Fa Ngum, founder of the Lao Kingdom. We then continue into the centre of Luang Prabang, exploring the narrow alleys that criss-cross the town, stopping to enjoy some views over the mighty Mekong River. We wind up at the beautiful temple of Wat Saen, originally built in 1718 and under the guidance of Ajahn Khamjan, one of the most revered abbots in Laos. There is the option of climbing Mt Phousi to explore the small temple here and enjoy sunset over this charming town.
Day 2: Wat Xieng Thong and Pak Ou Caves.
This morning, we travel to Wat Xieng Thong, one of the most celebrated temples in Laos. We then take a boat up the Mekong River, passing abandoned riverside temples and isolated villages. Our destination is the Pak Ou Caves, a sacred spot where thousands upon thousands of Buddhas were hidden for safekeeping during earlier invasions. Pilgrims have since added their own offerings and the caves are literally overflowing with Buddhas. After exploring the caves, we cross the river and have a local lunch on the banks of the Nam Ou River. We dine in traditional thatch bungalows overlooking a dramatic cliff face. We then return by boat to Luang Prabang and leave the rest of the afternoon free to enjoy the town.
Day 3: Kuang Si Falls
After breakfast, the destination is Ban Long Lao, a small Hmong village. From here you will walk through open farmland and forest trails to the Kuang Si Waterfall, which, while not very high, is striking in its lush jungle setting. Upon arrival there are plenty of opportunities to swim in the refreshing pools and enjoy a boxed picnic lunch. There is also a Bear Rescue Centre where captured bears have been taken from poachers and rehabilitated and cared for. We’ll take some more time for relaxation and swimming before heading back to Luang Prabang by late afternoon. There is also the option to visit Ban Phonesay, a village well known for its silk weavings once been published on the New York Time Magazine. Back to your hotel for a free & easy evening.
Day 4: Fly to Vientiane. Afternoon Sightseeing.
We arrive in Vientiane and check into our hotel for the night. After lunch, we visit the historic temple of Wat Si Saket, the oldest surviving temple in Vientiane. Then its time to visit the striking golden stupa of Pha That Luang, the most sacred monument in the city. We continue to the 'Arc de Triomphe' of Vientiane, or Patuxai as it is known locally. Built in the 1960s, the US-supplied cement was originally earmarked for a runway extension at the airport, but the Laotians found a much more creative use for it. We ascend the monument for some refreshing breezes and great views over this low-rise garden city. We finish with a stroll along the Mekong riverfront.
Day 5: Buddha Park and Free Time.
Today we step outside the city boundaries and visit the incredible Buddha Park, a kitsch riverside garden brimming with garish religious statues. We see a famous reclining Buddha and can clamber inside some of the bigger sculptures to discover strange scenes from heaven and hell. There is a local café here where we can enjoy a local lunch with views over the Mekong. In the afternoon, we return to Vientiane and can enjoy some free time or take an optional visit to a well-known Textile Gallery, enjoy a Traditional Herbal Sauna or visit the COPE Centre to learn about the scourge of UXO in Laos.
Day 6: Arrive Hanoi. Old Quarter Tour and Water Puppets.
We arrive in Hanoi and transfer to our accommodation. We explore the burstling Old Quarter on foot. We walk through the vibrant street market before exploring a real hidden tube house. We take a rest and enjoy a tasty Vietnamese coffee while enjoying the fascinating view of the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem lake from the terrace of the house. This evening, we attend a water-puppet theatre performance. The art of water puppetry began a thousand years ago, possibly in the flooded rice fields of Vietnam.
Day 7: HCM Mausoleum, Temple of Literature, Museum of Ethnology.
You’ll have the whole day to explore Vietnam’s capital city. Your guide will take you to the Temple of Literature, the first university in Vietnam dating back to the 11th century, and a popular attraction, as is Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, his modest stilt house where he chose to live and work. We will also visit the museum dedicated to his memory. In the afternoon, we will proceed to the most beautiful of Hanoi’s museums, The Ethnology museum. This showpiece provides a fascinating insight into the histories and lifestyle’s of the 54 ethnic groups of Viet Nam.
Day 8: Transfer to Halong Bay. Overnight aboard junk.
We leave Ha Noi and drive to Ha Long City through the Red River Delta. Our Cruise begins and we enjoy a seafood lunch while cruising into misty Bai Tu Long Bay to see the amazing karsts with different formations, such as Teapot Islet, Dragon Islet, Vung Oan Islet. Stop to visit the Thay cave enroute and have time for swimming and kayaking. After dinner, night fishing is available upon request. Enjoy a quiet night in your cozy cabin.
Day 9: Morning cruising the bay. Transfer to Hanoi and fly to Hue.
Early risers can have a swim or enjoy a morning view of the Bay’s landscape with a cup of tea or coffee, fresh fruits and cake. Sitting on the upper deck, you can enjoy the bay. We’ll Visit Vong Vieng floating village by sampan. Meet the locals, call at floating school and fish farms. We then return to Halong City and transfer directly to Noi Bai airport for our flight to Hue,
Day 10: Sightseeing in Hue, including Imperial Citadel and Emperors’ tombs.
Hue is one of the country's foremost cultural, religious, and educational centers. Formally the Royal capital of Vietnam. During the American War, Hue suffered some of the bloodiest battles of the 1968 Tet Offensive. The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops held the citadel for nearly a month, in which time the city was almost reduced to rubble by fighting on all sides. In 1993 UNESCO declared the city a World Heritage Site. Kinh Thanh, the citadel, is perhaps the most well known site in Hue. Built in 1805 by Emperor Gia Long, it is actually a large complex comprised of the Imperial City, several museums, lakes, and lovely gardens, all laid out in a series of concentric circles. We also visit the Forbidden Purple City. Nearly destroyed in the Tet Offensive, today the ruins house the Royal Library and the grounds flourish with mimosa plants and vegetable plots.
Return to our hotel and have rest of the day free at leisure. We’ll also take time to visit one of the majestic Emperors tombs.
Day 11: Hue to Hoi An. Via Hai Van Pass, Cham Museum, Marble Mountain.
Today’s journey takes us from Hue to Hoi An. En-route we climb the Hai Van Pass (literally “Pass of the Ocean Cloud”) before reaching Danang. Danang city is the commercial gateway to the centre of Vietnam. In Danang we visit the Cham Museum which houses the largest displays of Cham art anywhere in the world. After leaving Danang we will visit the nearby Marble Mountains: five limestone peaks studded with Vietnamese Buddhist pagodas and shrines. At the foot of Marble Mountain, you can see many aritsans crafting fine marble objects. In the afternoon, we continue to the ancient town of Hoi An where we will be able to soak in the uniqueness of the town on a walking tour. We’ll marvel at the unique architecture of this charming town. The temples, the market and the Japanese Covered Bridge built in the 16th century will be some of the many highlights of this walk.
Day 12: Exploring Hoi An Old Town. Afternoon Free.
This morning we visit the port town of Hoi An. Recently named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, this is a trading outport dating back to the 16th century. Because of its location on the Thu Bon River, Hoi An became a magnet for merchants from all over the world. Today its streets display a rich mix of Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, and European architecture and culture. Explore the small town on foot. Visit Tan Ky House, a late 18th-century merchant’s residence. The Fukhien Association, also known as the Assembly Hall of the Fujian Chinese Congregation, was founded as a place where minority Fujian Chinese could hold meetings. Later it became a temple for the worship of Thien Hau, goddess of the sea and protector of fishermen and sailors.
Free afternoon at your leisure.
Day 13: Visit My Son Cham Temples.
After breakfast (or before for those who want a sunrise option), we head inland towards the ancient Cham city of My Son. Surrounded by mist-shrouded jungle and lofty peaks like Cat's Tooth Mountain, this is a very atmospheric location. A Unesco World Heritage site, this is the most extensive Cham site in Vietnam and dates from the 4th to the 13th centuries. The Kingdom of Champa controlled much of southern Vietnam and was one of the most powerful empires in the region. After extensively exploring the site, we return to Hoi An by road.
Day 14: Fly Danang to Saigon. Afternoon sightseeing.
We arrive in Saigon and transfer to our accommodation. In the afternoon, we begin exploring the sights of Saigon. We learn about the legacy of war at the dramatic War Remnants Museum. The Requiem photo exhibition showcases the work of the era's most famous combat photographers and is a must. We also visit Reunification Hall, formerly the Presidential Palace of South Vietnam. It was here that a North Vietnamese tank famously crashed through the gates bringing an end to the long Vietnam War and the building has been preserved exactly as it was in 1975. We then take a stroll around the impressive old French-built post office and Notre Dame Cathedral before continuing to the City Hall area, another grand old colonial-era relic. We then leave guests free to explore the famous Dong Khoi area, home to the legendary Continental Hotel, made famous by Graham Greene in the Quiet American, and lots of popular restaurants, bars and boutiques.
Day 15: Cao Dai Temple at Tay Ninh and Cu Chi Tunnels.
We leave the bustling streets of Saigon and head northwest to the town of Tay Ninh, headquarters of the Cao Dai religion. The Cao Dai Great Temple is an incredible cotton candy building and we learn about this unique religious fusion of East meets West. We arrive in time to witness one of their noon prayer service.
After a local lunch, we continue to the Cu Chi Tunnels an incredible underground world used by the Vietnamese communists to elude the Americans. Whole villages went underground during the 1960s and the tunnels stretched for more than 250km, from the Cambodian border to the suburbs of Saigon. Using this incredible warren of tunnels, the Vietcong were able to stage ambushes and attacks on American patrols and even bases. We explore this astonishing complex, a testament to the tenacity of the Vietnamese people. Return to Saigon.
Day 16: Fly to Phnom Penh. National Museum and Royal Palace.
Up on arrival Phnom Penh This morning we explore the stunning Royal Palace complex, home to the Cambodian royal family and a symbol of the nation. We continue to the Silver Pagoda, named after the 5000 silver tiles covering the floor, each weighing 1kg. Inside are some of the country's most cherished treasures, including a life-size gold Buddha studded with 9584 diamonds, the largest weighing 25 carats. We leave the Royal Palace and continue to the nearby National Museum, home to the world's finest collection of sculpture from the Angkor period.
Day 17: Tuol Sleng & Killing Fields. Travel to Kompong Thom.
We come face to face with the horrific crimes of the Khmer Rouge. Tuol Sleng was a former high school that the Khmer Rouge turned into a centre for interrogation, torture and death. Today it is a museum of torture and serves to remind visitors of the terrible atrocities that came to pass in Cambodia. 17,000 people passed through the gates of this prison and only seven lived to tell the tale. We then travel out of town to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. Prisoners from Tuol Sleng followed this same route to their fate. An old Chinese cemetery, Choeung Ek was turned into an extermination camp for political prisoners. The remains of 8985 people were exhumed from mass graves and are kept in a memorial stupa here. In the afternoon we drive to Kompong Thom.
Day 18: Sambor Prei Kuk and on to Siem Reap via Angkor bridge.
Today we explore the impressive pre-Angkorian capital Sambor Prei Kuk. The first major temple city in South-East Asia. We explore the main temples here, including Prasat Tao with its elaborately coiffured lions and Prasat Sambor, with its crumbling sanctuaries. As we continue to Siem Reap we’ll stop at the Praptos Bridge which has more than 20 arches and is a spectacular sight upon arrival the afternoon is free.
Day 19: Roluos Group and Preah Khan and Remote Temples.
We travel back in time to one of the earliest capitals in the Angkor area, Hariharilaya, now known as Roluos. We begin with a visit to the brick temple of Lolei, originally set on an island in the centre of the Indratataka baray (reservoir). We continue to Preah Ko and finally onto Bakong, the earliest of the temple mountains. In the afternoon, We travel to the mighty temple of Preah Khan or 'Sacred Sword'. This is one of the few temples originally dedicated to Buddhism and Hinduism. We then continue on to the elegant curves of Neak Poan. Our day ends with a sunset over the rice fields from the royal crematorium of Pre Rup, a classic view of the Cambodian countryside.
Day 20: Banteay Samre, Banteay Srei. Floating Village of Chong Kneas.
This morning we head to Banteay Srei, Angkor’s ultimate art gallery. This petite pink temple is the jewel in the crown of Angkor-era sculpture. The elaborate carvings here are the finest found in Cambodia. Later we visit the 12th century temple of Banteay Samre. Built by King Suryavarman II, the genius behind Angkor Wat. On the way back to Siem Reap, we visit the Cambodia Landmine Museum to learn more about the scourge of landmines and the shadow they cast over rural communities in Cambodia. In the afternoon, we travel out to the mighty Tonle Sap Lake to visit the floating village of Chong Kneas. Nestled under the hill of Phnom Krom, this floating community moves location with the waters of the lake. Everything floats on water in this living fishing community. There are floating schools, floating shops, floating petrol stations, even floating karaoke bars.
Day21: Ta Prohm Dawn, Takeo, Banteay Kdei & Sra Srang. Angkor Thom pm.
We rise early to travel to Ta Prohm in the dawn light. Ta Prohm has been abandoned to the elements, a reminder that while empires rise and fall, the riotous power of nature marches on, oblivious to the dramas of human history. Left as it was ‘discovered’ by French explorer Henri Mouhot in 1860. We continue to the giant pyramid of Takeo, one of the highest temples in the Angkor area. After visiting a number of other temples we continue to the Ancient Walled city of Angkor Thom.
Day 22: Angkor Wat at Dawn. Free Until Departure.
Rising at the crack of dawn, we journey out to the Mother of all temples, Angkor Wat. Believed this temple is the perfect fusion of symbolism and symmetry and a source of pride and strength to all Khmers. Built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II, this is most famous temple at Angkor. The afternoon is kept free for your leisure.