Saigon to Bangkok
17 Days / 16 Nights
Day 1: Arrive Saigon. War Remnants Museum. Notre Dame Cathedral.
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 2: 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 3: Saigon to Cantho, including Cai Be to Vinh Long Boat Trip.
After breakfast, we leave behind the hustle and bustle of Saigon as we delve into the Mekong Delta, a patchwork of emerald greens and the rice bowl of southern Vietnam. We travel to the small community of Cai Be, where we visit a colourful floating market. We cruise through the waterways and canals of the Mekong Delta to 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 specialty of elephant ear fish.
After lunch, we can experience a sampan ride along one of the canals before we continue to the important port of Vinh Long. We then return to our vehicle for the onward journey to Cantho, commercial capital of the Mekong Delta and our base for visiting the amazing floating market of Cai Rang. We check into our hotel for the night.
Day 4: Floating markets of Cantho and around. On to Chau Doc.
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. We stop at large bridge that is the perfect spot for some aerial photographs of the action. We then board a small boat and cruise through the market. Everything is available here, just like a normal Vietnamese market, only the stalls are boats. Fresh fruit and vegetables, dried fish, household goods, the boats are heavily laden with anything and everything. These are family enterprises and some of the vendors actually live on their boats. After lunch, we travel northwest to Chau Doc, a charming border town on the banks of the Bassac River, and check into our hotel. There may be time to visit nearby Sam Mountain, a holy peak peppered with shrines and stupas.
Day 5: Chau Doc to Phnom Penh by Fast Boat.
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. Later, we travel to the boat dock in Chau Doc and travel upstream on the Bassac River towards the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh. We eventually come to the Vietnamese border post at Vinh Xuong and pass through immigration to the Cambodian side, called Kaam Samnor. We travel north on the Mekong River, passing striking riverside temples and small rural villages. We arrive in the lively riverside city of Phnom Penh.
Day 6: National Museum and Royal Palace.
This morning 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. This afternoon is free for personal exploration or you may like to visit one of Phnom Penh’s many markets
Day 7: 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 8: 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 9: 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 10: 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 11: 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 12: Siem Reap to Banteay Chhmar. Temple Safari.
Today, we travel northwest from Siem Reap to the incredible jungle temple of Banteay Chhmar, famous for its signature faces of Jayavarman VII. After travelling through some beautiful stretches of Cambodian countryside, we arrive at the main temple of Banteay Chhmar for a thorough exploration. We see the magnificent carvings of Lokesvara with 32 arms, nicknamed lok sam-pee (Mr 32) by Khmers, as well as the beautiful Hall of Dancers, similar to the famous Preah Khan. After clambering about among this sleeping giant, we continue to explore the outer complex, including the outer gate of Ta Prohm, like a smaller cousin of the impressive Angkor Thom gates and protected by a moat, and the jungle-clad face-towers of Yeay Chy and Samnang Tasok. We spend the night in our luxury tent close to the temple of Banteay Chhmar.
Day 13: Banteay Chhmar to Khao Yai National Park via Poipet.
After our temple safari experience its time to bid farewell to the Kingddom of Cambodia and make our way to Thailand. We drive south to the border at Poipet and cross into Siam. Our journey takes us to Khao Yai National Park. This is Thailand’s first national park and the country’s second largest. Gazetted in 1962 this park is home to over 300 species of bird and an array of mammals including elephants and tigers. Although sightings of Asia’s biggest cat are very rare there is a good chance of spotting gibbons in the tree tops. It is very common to hear these sociable beasts whooping creating a haunting atmosphere. This evening we’ll head out to witness one of the wonders of nature as up to four million wrinkle lipped bats exit their cave in formation as they head out to hunt at dusk. Our accommodation tonight is a lodge located on the fringes of the park.
Day 14: Khao Yai National Park.
Today we explore one of Thailand’s most highly valued wilderness areas. We’ll take a guided walk using the network of trails which criss cross the park. Our specialist guide will share their wealth of knowledge enabling us to learn about this amazing natural environment and its inhabitants. With a little luck we may be able to view some of the wonderful creatures whose home we are exploring. We’ll take a rest near the river for a picnic lunch before we visit one of the park’s famous waterfalls.
Day 15: Khao Yai to Bangkok.
Leaving the natural beauty of Khao Yai behind we head now to the capital, Bangkok. One of Asia’s great cities Bangkok has it all; shopping malls, temples, restaurants, nightlife. You name it Bangkok has it! The capital for last 200 years Bangkok still holds on to its past while striding into the future and is one of the world’s most exciting cities. After checking into our hotel, there will be time for you to explore this thriving metropolis.
Day 16: Bangkok Sightseeing.
Today we take in the most important of Bangkok’s sights. We’ll start with a visit to the opulent Royal Grand Palace which has a place in the hearts of all Thai people. The king is truly loved by the nation and is revered as a semi divine figure, as were his predesessors. We’ll visit the palace, Wat Phra Kaeo (the Temple of the Emerald Buddha) and also Wat Pho, home to a famous 48 metre, gold plated reclining Buddha. Then we’ll take to the waters of the Chao Prae River and the canals of Bangkok. Bangkok used to be known as the Venice of South East Asia and the city is connected by a network of rivers and canals which are still used by city folk on the commute to work. We’ll travel by long tail boat through the water ways of Bangkok, escaping the traffic on the roads, travelling on the canals offers a very different perspective of this great city. There will be the chance to stop at the Royal Barge Museum and Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn).
Day 17: At Leisure until Departure.
Today is spent at leisure until your onwards flight.