The Three Kingdoms
16 days / 15 Nights
Day 1: Arrive Yangon. City tour.
After arrival, our first stop will be at the Kyaukhtatgyi Pagoda to see a 70 meter long reclining Buddha statue before we head into Yangon’s city center and visit the Sule Pagoda and Bogyoke Market. Then it’s onto the legendary Shwedagon Pagoda. Witness the colors transform on the 100-meter chedi which is literally enclosed in over 40 tons of gold leaf. Shwedagon is largely considered to be the most important religious site for the Burmese.
Day 2: Fly to Bagan. Ananda Temple and sunset.
After breakfast we take a domestic flight to Bagan, the center of Myanmar from the 11th to 13th centuries and home to 4,000 evocative stupas and pagodas on the shores of the Irrawaddy River. We start at the golden stupa of Shwezigon Pagoda for a closer look at Bagan’s affluent past. Continue to Wetkyi-In, Gubyaukgyi, a cave temple with beautiful wall paintings and the stylish Htilominlo Temple.
This afternoon will begin with a visit to a traditional lacquer workshop followed by Ananda Temple, certainly one of Bagan’s most beautiful temples, housing two distinctive Buddha images. Their expressions transform, according to your viewing point. By horse cart we visit Thatbyinnyu, the tallest temple in Bagan, Dhammayangyi Temple noted for its remarkable brickwork, and Sulamani Temple. We watch the extraordinary sunset over the plains from the higher verandas of one of these 3 temples.
Day 3: Markets, school visit, village life and crafts.
We start the day at the Nyaung U market, followed by a drive to Ngat Pyit Taung Monastery and the chance to explore the temple’s caves, with a visit to the Monastic Primary School where you can observe the children in their classrooms. NOTE ( School visits are not possible on Saturdays and Sundays). *An optional tour could be a memorable hot air balloon ride over Bagan (only available Oct-March).
This afternoon we begin with a walk through Myinkaba village where you’ll have the chance to see local craftsmen at their lacquer workshop. We carry on to Manuha Temple (constructed in 1059) and investigate the Nanbaya Temple, a distinctive sandstone shrine, which according to myth, was the bastion of King Manuha. Then it’s off to Bupaya Pagoda or Mingala Zedi Stupa to catch the sunset over the celebrated Ayeyarwaddy River.
Day 4: Fly to Mandalay. City tour.
We take a domestic flight to Mandalay, the second largest city of Myanmar, and begin with a visit to Mahamuni Pagoda. This pagoda houses one of the country’s most honored Buddha images, completely covered in gold leaves. We carry onto Kuthodaw Pagoda (where the 729 marble stone slabs of Buddhist scriptures are called the ‘World’s Biggest Book’). Then it’s off to Shwenandaw Monastery, before we reach summit of Mandalay Hill to catch the stunning sunset views.
Day 5: Ancient capitals of Amarapura, Ava and Sagaing.
We begin with an expedition to investigate the previous capitals of Amarapura, Ava and Sagaing, starting at Amarapura’s Mahagandayon, home to more than a thousand monks, and a busy alms collection. Then it’s on to Ava which was the standing capital from the 14th through the 18th centuries. By horse and carriage, we visit Bagaya Monastery renowned for its extraordinarily elaborate woodcarvings and the Nanmyint Watch Tower - also called “the leaning tower of Ava“ – the remnants of the ancient palace, and Maha Aungmye Bonzan Monastery.
After lunch we cross the Irrawaddy River to Sagaing, with Sagaing Hill known as the spiritual hub of Myanmar and which claims residence to around 3,000 monks and nearly 100 meditation shrines. We stroll along the legendary U Bein Bridge which at 1.2 kms is said to be the longest teakwood bridge worldwide, before we return to Mandalay.
Day 6: Fly to Heho and onto Inle Lake. Phaung Daw U Pagoda.
After breakfast we take a domestic flight to Heho. After an hour’s drive we reach Nyaung Shwe, gateway village to Inle Lake. En route, we’ll stop at the teak monastery of Shweyanpyay to witness the intricate wood carving artwork. We take a boat out onto Inle Lake, one of Myanmar’s most spectacular sights. We’ll pass several stilted Intha villages built over the lake, and observe the local leg-rowing fishermen and see their ‘floating gardens’.
We’ll check into the hotel and then visit Nga Hpe Chaung Monastery, which houses many early Shan Buddha Images. It’s also famous for its unique ‘jumping cats.’ We continue onto Phaung Daw U Pagoda, the lake’s main haven, which contains five sacred images of Buddha decorated in gold leaf. A stop at the weaving village of Inpawkhone and a cheroot factory, where traditional Burmese cigars are handmade, will close the day.
Day 7: Inle Lake and Indein Pagoda. Fly to Yangon.
After breakfast we visit the lake’s morning market, the location of which changes every day.A 1-hour boat ride will take you to the Pa-Oh village of Indein, on the western shore of Inle Lake. We ascend the moss-covered stairway to the top of a hill, and the Indein Pagoda complex with its iconic Buddha image which sits enshrined among hundreds of stupa ruins and overgrown shrubbery. We return to Heho Airport for a short flight back to Yangon, with the rest of the day at leisure.
Day 8: Fly to Siem Reap. Roluos group.
Today we depart for Siem Reap, the gateway to the fabulous temples of Angkor in Cambodia. On arrival in Siem Reap 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 (sacred cow), named in honour of Shiva’s mount, Nandin. Originally coated in stucco and painted, there is still some of the ancient plaster visible on the rear towers. Finally, we encounter Bakong, the earliest of the temple mountains, which later became the signature of Khmer kings. It is a giant pyramid, its cardinal points marked by giant elephants.
Day 9: Kbal Spean, Banteay Srei, Landmine Museum.
We journey north to Kbal Spean. The original ‘River of a Thousand Lingas’, Kbal Spean is an intricately carved riverbed deep in the foothills of the Cambodian jungle only discovered in 1969. The Khmers venerated its limestone bed with a riot of carvings, including thousands of lingams. A trip to Kbal Spean is one of the easiest ways to experience a short jungle trek in the Angkor area, as it is a steady but scenic climb to reach the river carvings.
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.
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 with a visit to this flagship museum promoting mine awareness and education.
Day 10: Ta Prohm at Dawn. Afternoon at Walled City of Angkor Thom.
We rise early to travel to Ta Prohm in the dawn light. Ta Prohm has been abandoned to the elements, left as it was ‘discovered’ by French explorer Henri Mouhot in 1860, the tentacle-like tree roots here are slowly strangling the surviving stones. After soaking up the unique atmosphere of Ta Prohm, we continue to the giant pyramid of Takeo, one of the highest temples in the Angkor area. Built at the end of the 10th century, it was never completed.
We walk to the first great Buddhist monastery in Cambodia, Banteay Kdei, built in 1186 by Jayavarman VII. We explore its extensive corridors and elegant sculptures. Although it is in a ruinous state, it often receives far fewer visitors than nearby Ta Prohm, giving it a serene atmosphere. We then visit the royal bathing pond of Sra Srang.
In the afternoon, we visit the immense walled city of Angkor Thom that was the masterpiece of King Jayavarman VII. The scale is simply staggering and we are immediately overwhelmed by the audacity of Jayavarman on arrival at the city’s gates. We begin our visit at the Terrace of the Leper King, continue along the Terrace of Elephants, and visit the Baphuon, once of the most beautiful temples at Angkor, dating from the 11th century. It has undergone a massive renovation by the French and is now once again open for viewing. Our climax is the enigmatic and enchanting temple of the Bayon. Its 54 towers are each topped off with the four faces of Avalokiteshvara (Buddha of Compassion), which bear more than a passing resemblance to the king himself. We unravel the mysteries of the temple’s bas-reliefs, with their intricate scenes of ancient battles against the Chams and their snapshot of daily life during the Angkor period.
Day 11: Beng Mealea and Kompong Khleang.
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.
Then, we travel southeast to one of the largest and least-visited villages on the Tonle Sap Lake, Kompong Khleang, about 55km from Siem Reap. It’s population of 10,000 all make a living from the fishing industry. We explore the canals (wet season) or streets (dry season) of this incredible town. In the wet season, the houses appear to be floating, as water laps at the verandas, but in the dry season towering stilts are revealed, the houses almost like wooden skyscrapers. We cruise into the open water of the great lake to see a small floating village and learn some more about this incredible natural flood barrier. Later we return to Siem Reap by road.
Day 12: Angkor Wat sunrise.
Rising at the crack of dawn, we journey out to the Mother of all temples, Angkor Wat. Believed to be the world's largest religious building, 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. We stay at Angkor Wat to enjoy a picnic breakfast. As the crowds return to their hotels, we venture into Angkor Wat to enjoy its magnificence in peace and quiet, beginning at the bas-reliefs that tell of tales from Hindu mythology and of the glories of the Khmer empire. The rest of the day is at your leisure to explore the town’s markets or enjoy pool-time at your hotel.
Day 13: Fly to Luang Prabang. Visit Pak Ou Caves.
We leave Siem Reap and fly to Luang Prabang, the beautiful Unesco world heritage jewel in the crown of Laos. This afternoon we head to 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 return by boat to Luang Prabang.
Day 14: City Tour including Wat Xieng Thong, museum and temples.
This morning, we travel to Wat Xieng Thong, one of the most celebrated temples in Laos and continue our exploration of the historic town of Luang Prabang throughout the rest of the day. 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. We also take the option to climb Mt Phousi to explore the small temple here and enjoy sunset over this charming town.
Day 15: 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 16: Free time until departure.
Free at leisure for shopping or packing. Transfer to the airport to catch the departure flight.