22 Days / 21 Nights
Day 1: Arrive Chiang Rai and transfer to resort.
Upon arrival in Chiang Rai International Airport, we are transferred to our resort in the fabled Golden Triangle, where Burma, Laos and Thailand meet. Once famous as the heartland of the heroin trade in Southeast Asia, it has reinvented itself as an ecotourism destination for trekking, cycling and elephant encounters. A beautiful area, we have time to relax and recover from the flight.
Day 2: Golden Triangle Tour.
This morning we explore our surrounding and visit the famous Golden Triangle viewpoint where we can see the confluence of the 3 countries. Later there is the option of an elephant experience, including a leisurely ride around the Golden Triangle area and the chance to help bathe the elephants in the river. We also visit the Hall of Opium, a state of the art museum funded by the Thai royal family introducing visitors to the turbulent history of the opium trade in this region.Overnight in the Golden Triangle.
Day 3: Travel to Laos and Board the Luangsay Boat. Cruise to Pakbeng.
We leave the Golden Triangle region of northern Thailand and enter Laos at the small but bustling town of Huay Say. We join the lovely Luangsay boat and begin our cruise down one of the world’s great rivers … the mighty Mekong River. This comfortable cruiser includes a full galley where local food is prepared, it also has a well-stocked bar and is the perfect vessel to soak up the river views in comfort! We stop at one or two local villages along the way to encounter the tribal people of northern Laos. Our journey takes us around 150km Southeast to Pakbeng, our base for the night. We stay in the atmospheric Luangsay Lodge. We enjoy dinner from the elegant terrace restaurant here before retiring to our private bungalow for the night.
Day 4: Continue Cruising to Luang Prabang, Via Pak Ou Caves.
After an early breakfast at the lodge, we continue to cruise down the Mekong River. The mornings are often cool and misty and the scenery becomes more and more spectacular, immense mountains looming over the water and thick jungle tumbling down to the river's edge. We visit the village of an ethnic minority where they brew Lao Lao or rice wine, the local firewater. After lunch, we continue to the Pak Ou Caves or the Caves of a Thousand Buddhas. This sacred spot is 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. We then continue to lovely Luang Prabang and check into our hotel.
Day 5: City sights, including Museum and Temples.
In this morning, 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 follow the river until we reach Wat Xieng Thong, one of the most celebrated temples in Laos. We then make our way to 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. We then return to our hotel.
Day 6: Visit 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 (ordered from Luang Prabang). 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 7: 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 8: 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 9: Arrive Pakse and Transfer to Don Khong via Wat Phu.
Leaving Pakse 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. It is a magical place, rich in the spirituality of animism, Hinduism and Buddhism, the fusion religion which predominates in Laos today.
After a local lunch in the pretty town of Champasak, we continue south towards Si Phan Done or 4000 Islands is where the Mekong splits into tiny tributaries creating hundreds, the name suggests thousands, of small islands where the pace of life is unhurried and the people unconcerned by the changing world beyond. Don Khong, the largest inhabited island, is our base for the night and a sleepy place to explore by bicycle.
Day 10: Day trip around Si Phan Done to Visit Don Khon and Phakpheng.
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. We walk across the island on foot, passing through an active monastery and learning about the agriculture of the island. 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 11: Don Khong to Kratie via Stung Treng and Kampi.
Today we depart Lao and continue to the next gem on our journey, Cambodia. Once across the border we follow the Mekong South through to the town of Stung Treng and then on to Kampi. This is perhaps the best place to view the endangered Irriwady dolphins. Here there are many deep pools where the rare river dolphins gather to feed. We board a local boat and cruise out into the mighty Mekong for a chance encounter with these gentle creatures. Then we continue to the sleepy provincial capital of Kratie.
Day 12: Kratie to Kompong Thom via Chhlong and Kompong Cham.
Today we travel south to the bustling provincial city of Kompong Cham, nestled on the banks for the Mekong. We pass through Cambodia's rubber country on the way, vast plantations that were originally established by the French. In Kompong Cham, we see the 'fusion' temple of Wat Nokor, an 11th century sandstone temple with a colourful modern wat set in its central courtyard. There are some intricate carvings at this temple and the kitsch contrast between the Hindu past and the Buddhist present is almost unheard of elsewhere in Cambodia. We continue to the sacred hills of Phnom Pros and Phnom Srei (man and woman hill), offering great views across the countryside. We’ll make a stop at Skuon, affectionately known as 'Spiderville', where it is possible to sample the local delicacy of deep fried tarantula. We stay overnight in a comfortable local hotel in Kompong Thom.
Day 13: Sambor Prei Kuk and on to Siem Reap. Floating Village Boat Trip.
Today 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. 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.
Day 14: 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). 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: Ta Prohm at Dawn. Banteay Srei and Banteay Samre.
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. In the afternoon, 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.
Day 16: Angkor Wat sunrise. Afternoon at Walled City of Angkor Thom.
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. In the afternoon, we visit the immense walled city of Angkor Thom that was the masterpiece of King Jayavarman VII. We begin our visit at the Terrace of the Leper King and continue to the Terrace of Elephants, originally used as a viewing gallery for the king to preside over parades, performances and traditional sports. Our climax is the enigmatic and enchanting temple of the Bayon.
Day 17: Fly to Phnom Penh Visit National Museum and Royal Palace.
Having arrived in Phnom Penh we visit 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. The exquisite building was completed between 1917 and 1920 and features a lush courtyard garden surrounded by collections from the pre-Angkor, Angkor and post-Angkor periods.
Day 18: 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 19: Phnom Penh to Chau Doc by boat.
We travel to the boat dock in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh and board our boat that will take us to Chau Doc. We travel south on the Mekong River, passing striking riverside temples and small rural villages. We eventually come to the Cambodian border post at Kaam Samnor and pass through immigration to the Vietnamese side, called Vinh Xuong. We continue downstream into Vietnam, where the river is a much busier artery with fishing boats and cargo vessels travelling up and down. We arrive in the bustling riverside town of Chau Doc, our base for the night and check into a comfortable hotel.
Day 20: Chau Doc to Cantho by road.
After breakfast, we visit the floating villages of the Bassac River near Chau Doc. We stop to visit a floating fish farm and learn how important fishing is to the communities of Vietnam and Cambodia. We also visit a traditional Cham village to learn about the traditions of this minority that once ruled a mighty empire that stretched across much of southern-central Vietnam. We visit a local weaving village and meet the friendly children. After lunch, we continue southeast towards Cantho, commercial capital of the Mekong Delta and our base for visiting the amazing floating markets of the Mekong Delta.
Day 21: Visit Floating Markets and Travel to Saigon.
This morning we rise early to experience the watery world of the floating markets in the Mekong Delta. We travel to the floating market of Cai Rang, the biggest in the region. Everything is available here, just like a normal Vietnamese market, only the stalls are boats. We then continue north to the town of Vinh Long where we board a small boat to cruise through the waterways and canals of the Mekong Delta. We visit fruit orchards and learn about the local cottage industries like coconut candy, popcorn and brick-making. We stop for a local lunch on one of the pretty islands and may sample the local speciality of elephant ear fish. After lunch, we can experience a sampan ride along one of the canals before we continue to the bustling floating market of Cai Be. We then move onto Saigon.
Day 21: Cu Chi Tunnels and Saigon Sightseeing.
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. 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. 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 22: Free Time until onward flight.
After breakfast, free at leisure for shopping or packing. Transfer to the airport to catch the departure flight.