18 Days / 17 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. Laos is one of Southeast Asia’s most ethnically diverse countries with literally dozens of ethnic groups each with their own language and customs. The Hmong is one of these many ethnic groups. 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 by Bike and Free PM.
Today we explore the backroads of Vientiane prefecture by mountain bike. We leave the busy roads of the city behind and loop through the countryside along the banks of the Mekong. We pass through farming communities and have the chance to stop off and visit local temples. We arrive at 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 via an alternative route that passes through more of the pretty countryside.
Day 6: Fly to Pakse and transfer to Champasak. After noon Visit Wat Phu
We arrive in Pakse and transfer to Champassak. In the afternoon, we travel to the stunning Khmer temple of Wat Phu, set under the shadow of Lingaparvata Mountain, overlooking the Mekong River. Shrouded in mystery, the exact origins of this site are uncertain, but it is believed to have been sacred to early animist cultures. However, unlike incomparable Angkor, the temples are a sideshow here, as it is all about the location, spilling down the mountainside with a commanding view over the Mekong. It is a magical place, rich in the spirituality of animism, Hinduism and Buddhism, the fusion religion which predominates in Laos today.
Day 7: Day trip to Si Phan Done, Don Det. Don Khon and Phak phen.
Journeying by boat down the mighty Mekong River, we travel into the heart of Si Phan Done to visit the island of Don Khone and the spectacular Li Phi Falls. After visiting the falls, we enjoy lunch in a local restaurant overlooking the river. We also have a chance to see the remains of the only railway ever built in Laos, just 8km long connecting Don Khone and Don Daet. Later we continue to the Phakpheng Falls, the Niagara of the Mekong. This is the most spectacular event to happen along the mother river and the dramatic falls play host to a drama of their own, as fishermen scale bamboo ladders to catch fish from the unrelenting spray. We return to our island home of Don Khong by road and ferry.
Day 8: Return to Pakse. Enter Thailand. Surin Via Chong Mek and Preah Vihear.
Leaving the bustling city of Pakse, we cross the bridge over the Mekong River and travel west to the border crossing at Vang Tao-Chong Mek. We enter Thailand and travel via the Thai city of Ubon Ratchatani towards the Dangrek Mountains, the natural barrier between Thailand and Cambodia. We cross into Cambodia to encounter the king of the mountain temples, Preah Vihear. The views from this most mountainous of temple mountains are breathtaking, the foundation stones of the temple stretching to the edge of the cliff as it plunges precipitously away to the plains of Preah Vihear province below. We cross back into Thailand and continue northwest to Surin, a small provincial town in the Khmer-influenced region of the country. We check into a comfortable local hotel.
Day 9: Surin to Khorat via Phnom Rung.
We leave Surin to visit the well-preserved Khmer temple of Phnom Rung, superbly situated on the summit of an extinct volcano, ascending the stairs for the expansive views. Also see the nearby temple of Muang Tam, a reminder that the once-great empire at Angkor controlled much of modern-day Thailand. We then continue to Khorat for our overnight stay.
Day 10: Khorat to Phnom Penh via Ayothaya and Bangkok ?
Visit the beautifully-restored 12th-century temple of Phimai, once a regional capital of the Khmer Empire and connected to Angkor by an ancient stone highway. A nearby museum contains a collection of the finest lintels from the region. We continue to Sukhothai which was the capital of the first Kingdom of Siam in the 13th and 14th centuries..arrival early evening overnight at Sukhothai.
Day 11: Arrival Phnom Penh. National Museum and Royal Palace
This afternoon, 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 12: Tuol Sleng and Killing Fields. Free afternoon.
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.
Day 13: Phnom Penh to Siem Reap via Sambor Prei Kuk and Angkor bridge.
We leave Phnom Penh and travel north towards the provincial capital of Kompong Thom. En route, there is the chance to pause at Skuon, affectionately known as 'Spiderville', where it is possible to sample the local delicacy of deep fried tarantula. Then we explore the impressive pre-Angkorian capital of Sambor Prei Kuk. The first major temple city in South-East Asia, the brick temples of Sambor Prei Kuk are a peaceful contrast to their more illustrious relatives at Angkor. On our way to Siem Reap we’ll stop at the Angkorian Praptos Bridge which has more than 20 arches and is a spectacular sight, reinforcing the impression that the Khmers were like the Romans of Southeast Asia.
Day 14: Roluos Group, 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). This temple has some well preserved sandstone carvings and the vast stone doors are carved from a single piece of stone. 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 15: Bantey Samre, Bantey Srey, Landmine Museum. Afternoon Visit to Chong Kneas Floating Village.
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 and the name translates as ‘Fortress of the Women’, thanks to the intricate detail here, considered too fine for the hands of a man. Later we visit the 12th century temple of Banteay Samre. Built by King Suryavarman II, the genius behind Angko Wat, this temple has been extensively restored. Then we travel to the Cambodia Landmine Museum to learn more about the scourge of landmines and the shadow they cast over rural communities in Cambodia with a visit to this flagship museum promoting mine awareness and education. Later we take a break from the temples, and 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.
Day 16: Koh Ker Adventure and Beng Mealea.
We travel to the lost temple of Beng Mealea, the titanic of temples, a slumbering giant lost for centuries in the forests of Cambodia. It is the most accessible of Angkor’s lost temples, a mirror image of Angkor Wat, but utterly consumed by the voracious appetite of nature. Constructed by Suryavarman II in the 12th century, the builder of Angkor Wat, the forest has run riot here and it is hard to get a sense of the monument’s shape amid the daunting ruins.
We then head into the bush to the remote Angkor capital of Koh Ker. In the 10th century Jayavarman IV (928-942) fell out with his family, stormed off to the northwest and established the rival capital of Koh Ker. Although the capital for just 15 years, Jayavarman IV left a legacy of 30 major temples and some gargantuan sculpture that is on display in the National Museum in Phnom Penh.
Day 17: Ta Prohm at Dawn, Takeo, Banteay Kdei & Sra Srang. Afternoon at Angkor Thom.
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 18: 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.