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Indochina - Southeast Asian Highlights

22 days, 21 nights

Introduction

Our expedition includes so much in three weeks; we planned this trip for maximum exposure to the best parts of Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and northern Thailand.  In addition to the sights and experiences of the region, you’ll leave with a great taste from one of the best cooking schools in Asia!  Finishing the trip off with the majestic ruins of Angkor Wat and from our itinerary you’ll be wanting to live here!

Brief Itinerary

Day 1: Bangkok - Chiang Rai - Mae Sai
Day 2: Mae Sai - Chiang Mai
Day 3: Chiang Mai Excursion - Luang Prabang/Laos
Day 4: Monk Offerings - Cooking Course - Pak Ou Cave Tour
Day 5: Luang Prabang City Tour - Vientiane
Day 6: Vientiane City Tour and Buddha Park
Day 7: Vientiane - Klong Lor Cave - Na Hin
Day 8: Na Hin - Vinh/Vietnam - Sam Son
Day 9: Sam Son - Ninh Binh - Hanoi
Day 10: Hanoi City Tour
Day 11: Ha Noi - Ha Long Bay
Day 12: Ha Long - Hanoi
Day 13: Hanoi - Hue - City Tour
Day 14: Hue - the Museum of Cham Sculpture in Da Nang - Hoi An Tour
Day 15:  Hoi An -My Son - Cooking Class
Day 16: Hoi An - Da Nang - Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) - China Town
Day 17:  Ho Chi Minh City Tour – Cu Chi Tunnelsfaces of Angkor
Day 18: Mekong Delta Tour ­
Day 19: Ho Chi Minh City - Phnom Penh/Cambodia
Day 20: Phnom Penh - Siem Reap
Day 21: The Temples of Angkor Wat
Day 21: Siem Reap - Bangkok/ Thailand

Day to Day Itinerary

Day 1: Bangkok - Chiang Rai - Mae Sai

We take a morning flight from Bangkok to Chiang Rai and check into our hotel.  We then take a drive to visit The Golden Triangle e where Myanmar, Laos and Thailand meet.  Our journey takes us to the border town of Mae Sai for a closer look across the river to Myanmar.  Lunch today is at the Golden Triangle.

Accommodation: Overnight at your proposed Hotel from our list
Transit : 1 hour flight/ 5 hours car
Meal plan: L

Day 2: Mae Sai - Chiang Mai

We start with breakfast at the hotel and then take a drive along the border area on a steep winding road offering superb views of Myanmar and the mountains of northern Thailand. We descend and begin driving to Chiang Mai.  We break for lunch along the way at a small lodge along a river.  Our arrival in Chiang Mai will be late afternoon and after checking into the hotel, take a short walk to the Tha Phae Gate area where vendor set up shops and maybe we’ll float prayers to the sky, Thai Style.

Later in the evening we’ll visit the Night Bazaar and there are numerous places to enjoy a meal.

Accommodation: Overnight at your proposed Hotel from our list
Transit : 6 hours drive
Meal plan: B, L

Day 3: Chiang Mai Excursion - Luang Prabang/Laos

We’ll get an early start with breakfast at the hotel and then take a short drive to the north of town and visit an Elephant campDoi Insep, a temple located near the city and well above.  Weather and conditions permitting, we’ll have an excellent view of the city and surrounding towns.  Our flight to Luang Prabang is at 15:00 and we’ll transfer directly from the temple complex. until lunchtime.  We return to Chiang Mai, have a quick lunch and continue on to

Upon arrival in Luang Prabang, we’ll check into our hotel and refresh ourselves.  Tonight we’ll take a short walk in the colorful night market and enjoy dinner with traditional Lao music.

Accommodation: Overnight at your proposed Hotel from our list
Transit : 3 hours drive, 1.5 hour flight
Meal plan: B, L, D

Day 4: Monk Offerings - Cooking Course - Pak Ou Cave Tour

We start the day in the early morning at 05:30 for Khao Niew Offering. This unique experience gives us the chance to offer sticky rice to the adolescent monks and to join the tradition of Laotian people. We’ll practice the night before and make sure you observe the traditional way to making an offering to the monks.  We’ll have breakfast at the hotel and then at 08:30 begin a half day cooking course at Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School.  The menu will be primarily Lao culinary tastes mixed with a western fusion style.  Lunch is not served but prepared by you and your fellow classmates!

After lunch, we drive slightly north of town and take a boat across the Mekong River to Pak Ou Cave.  Pak Ou is a popular pilgrim destination for local people.  The caves are filled with images and statues of Buddha and are a holy site for Lao People.  The upper and lower caves are explored and we will make an offering. Only a short distance away from the Pak Ou Caves, lies the village of Ban Xang Hai. This village has for centuries made the earthen jars used as fermenting containers for Lao wine. Nowadays, it specializes in producing a wide range of lau lao (Lao whisky) and lau hai (Lao wine). Be sure to try just a little. We return down river by boat to Luang Prabang is in the late afternoon. 

Accommodation: Overnight at your proposed Hotel from our list
Transit
: 1.5 hour boat trip/ ½ hour transfer to Pak Ou/ ½ hour to and from the morning offering
Trekking time: 2 hours
Activity difficulty: Easy
Meal plan: B, L, D

Day 5: Luang Prabang City Tour – Vientiane

We’ll start the day with breakfast at the hotel and then begin a half day tour of the World Heritage City.  We’ll then visit the old Royal Palace which was built in 1904 during the early French colonial era as a residence for King Sisavang Vong and his family. The building features a blend of Lao motifs and French beaux-arts styles. We continue to Wat Visoun which was built by Visounnarat in 1513. It is the oldest operating temple in Luang Prabang. We continue to Wat Xieng Thong which was built by King Setthathirat in 1560. It is Luang Prabang’s most magnificent temple.  

We then drive east to Thai Lu village of Ban Phanom, which is well known for cotton and silk hand – weaving. We finish our half day tour at Ban Xang Khong, Sa paper making village and back to the town.  Dinner tonight will be at a local Lao restaurant with traditional Lao music performance. 

Our flight to Vientiane is late afternoon and upon arrival in Vientiane, check into our hotel.  Before dinner, we’ll enjoy a massage at Papaya Spa and really renew ourselves.

Accommodation: Overnight at your proposed Hotel from our list
Transit
: 30 minutes car, 1 hour flight, airport transfer Luang Prabang and Vientiane
Meal plan: B, L

Day 6: Vientiane City Tour and Buddha Park

In the morning time, we take a sightseeing tour of Vientiane, to visit religious museums of Wat Sisaket, the oldest temple to have been survived from the Siamese war of 1828 and its cloister contains more than 8000 Buddha statues; Ho Prakeo, the former home-temple of the Emerald Buddha statue or Pra Keo from the early time of Lane Xang Kingdom until 18th century, but today it contains a collection of Buddha statues, antiques and all artifacts found in around Vientiane; That Luang Stupa, the single most important monument in Laos, which was built to cover the original small stupa containing a piece of the chest bone of Buddha, That Luang serves as the main and symbolic stupa in Laos. It's also our national symbol and recognizable throughout the world, gathering place for national Buddhism ceremony. It's also the biggest stupa in Laos; Patouxay (Arch de Triumph), built quite recently in commemoration of those who died during the wars in the past and it is today as the land-mark of Vientiane. We make a lunch stop at a riverside restaurant.

In the afternoon, we continue the sigthseeing tour to Carol Cassidy House, a Gallery weaving Lao textiles and natural dye making process from A-Z.  We then transfer to Buddha Park on the Mekong of which Buddha statues are built in various shapes and sizes. One of them is the largest reclining Buddha in Laos. They were built by a Lao man in order to teach following generations about religions worldwide after his study in India. A larger park was built in Nong Khai, Thailand and his body has been kept there. We return to Vientiane in the afternoon.

Accommodation: Overnight at your proposed Hotel from our list
Transit
: 2 hours by mini bus or car
Trekking time : 3 -4 hours
Trekking difficulty: Easy
Meal plan: B, L

Day 7: Vientiane - Klong Lor Cave - Na Hin

We depart Vientiane after an early breakfast and are driving south on Highway 13 to Na Hin, the entry point to Klong Lor Cave.  We’ll have lunch at the cave and our boat ride through this 7 kilometer cave is truly spectacular.  Upon returning to Na Hin for the evening, we’ll drive a short distance to Sala Hinboun view point to have a scenic overlook of the Hinboun Valley and its interesting rock formations.  Na Hin is a quiet town and we’ll most likely be off to bed early.

Accommodation: Overnight at your proposed Hotel from our list
Transit : 4 hours by mini bus or car, 3 - 4 hour boat tour
Trekking time : 1 hour
Meal plan: B, L

Day 8: Na Hin - Vinh/Vietnam - Sam Son

Breakfast and we’re on our way east to Vietnam!  We cross the border around 10:00 in the morning and transfer to our Vietnamese driver and car.  We make the short transit to Vinh.  Upon arrival in Vinh, we’ll enjoy lunch and then continue to Sam Son for a night break between Vinh and Hanoi.  Before arriving in Sam Son, we’ll visit Doc Cuoc Temple, Co Tien Pagoda and Truong Le Mountain. They are local attractions that contain history of the area

Sam Son belongs to Thanh Hoa Province, a popular beach during summer. We spend the night at Van Chai Resort (Fishing Village Resort). The resort situated right in a private white sandy beach features the Vietnam traditional architecture.

Accommodation: Overnight at your proposed Hotel from our list
Transit : 5 hours by mini bus or car
Walking time : limited
Meal plan: B, L

Day 9: Sam Son - Ninh Binh – Hanoi

We depart early today to Hoa Lu, one of Vietnam’s earliest capitals where magnificent temples set strategically in a dramatic landscape of limestone cliff and rice paddies. We’ll visit to Kenh Ga Floating Market. This is the only other place in Vietnam where you can see anything like this in Mekong Delta and on the other hand nowhere in Mekong Delta you will find a stunning mountain backdrop like the one at Kenh Ga. We’ll then enjoy a 3 hour boat trip to Tam Coc to contemplate the beauty of the natural landscape of Halong Bay on the rice paddies’ and then visit to a hot springs and Van Trinh Cave.

After lunch we continue the trip to Hoa Lu. It was the Ancient Capital of Vietnam during the Dinh (968-80 and early Le (980-1009) dynasties, a smart choice for a capital city because of the natural protection.  Before continuning to Hanoi, we visit to the remaining two temples of the King Dinh and the King Le in Yen Ngua Mountain, a scenic backdrop for Hoa Lu.

Upon arrival in Hanoi, we’ll check into our hotel and refresh ourselves.  At 19:00 we’ll take a short ride to local restaurant for our first dinner in Vietnam.  We’ll enjoy dinner and perhaps a walk around Hoan Kiem Lake and take in the pace of Hanoi driving!

Accommodation: Your choice of hotel from our list
Transit : 4 hours by car, 2 hours boat trip
Walking time: 1 - 2 hours
Walking difficulty: Easy
Meal plan: B/L

Day 10: Hanoi City Tour

Today we spend a full day exploring the capital city and our first visit is to the Ho Chi Minh Complex.  We first visit Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum - the number one place of pilgrimage of Vietnam to pay respect to Uncle Ho. We continue to the Residential Palace - a beautifully restored colonial building constructed as the residence of the Governor General Indochina and now used for official receptions that is not open to public yet.  We then spend time at Ho Chi Minh's house on stilts where he lived on and off from 1958 to 1969.  The house is built in the style of Vietnam’s ethnic minorities, sitting in a well-tended garden next to carp-filled pond.  We then continue to One Pillar Pagoda, Hanoi’s most famous pagoda is designed to resemble a lotus blossom, symbol of purity, rising out of a sea of sorrow.  Our last visit before lunch is the Temple of Literature, Vietnam's first university. It is an excellent example of well-preserved traditional Vietnamese architecture.

We break for lunch at local restaurant. Afternoon, we continue to the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. The museum features a fascinating collection of art and everyday objects gathered from Vietnam and its diverse tribal people. This wonderful museum is quite away from central Hanoi, but it shouldn’t be missed. On the way back to town, we’ll visit Tran Quoc Pagoda which is one of the oldest temple of Vietnam and Quan Thanh Temple, one of the four important temples, each located at North, South, East and West of Hanoi and dedicated to the Gods who are the guardians of the old capital Thang Long.  

At the end of the day, an optional cyclo ride around the old quarter streets from Hang Dau to Hang Gai.

Accommodation: Your choice of hotel from our list
Transit : short journeys around Hanoi by car
Walking time: 2 - 3 hours
Walking difficulty: Easy
Meal plan: B/L

Day 11: Ha Noi - Ha Long Bay

Breakfast at our hotel and we then leave for Ha Long through the Red River Delta with its scenery of rice fields, water buffalo and everyday life in the villages. Upon arrival, you will get aboard a Traditional Style Junk and enjoying a well-prepared lunch of local fresh seafood while the junk cruises among thousand of odd shaped limestone islands. You will have opportunity to visit Surprise Grotto and have a swim at the Titop beach or follow the steps all the way up to the top for a view over the Bay below. You will then have dinner on board while watching sunset.  Should you feel like taking another swim, there will plenty of time. (Additional Option: Kayaking).


Accommodation: Your choice of Junk from our list
Transit : 3 hours by car
Meal plan: B/L/D

Day 12: Ha Long – Hanoi

You enjoy breakfast in the fresh air morning and serenity of the bay and the junk will continue its way among thousands of islets. You will then cruise through several beautiful views of Teapot Island, Chopstick Island, Horse Saddle and even Charles De Gaulle Island. You may wish for a swim before your lunch is served. The Junk will disembark Halong wharf at noon, where your bus is waiting to transfer you back to Hanoi. You will arrive in Hanoi about 16.00.

Accommodation: Your choice of hotel from our list
Transit : 3 hours by car
Meal plan: B/L

Day 13: Hanoi - Hue - City Tour

We are taking the early flight today to Hue. We arrive in Hue, check into hotel and enjoy breakfast there. After breakfast, we enjoy a cruise on the Perfume River to visit the extravagant mausoleums that were constructed along this water’s edge. We first visit the Tomb of Emperor Tu Duc who had the longest reign and lived a life of ultimate imperial luxury and then the Tomb of Emperor Minh Mang, the most majestic of the royal tombsOur river journey includes a visit to Thien Mu Pagoda, an icon of Vietnam and has become an unofficial symbol of Hue. During 1960s and 1980s, it became a flashpoint of anti-government demonstration.

Lunch at a local restaurant is followed by a visit Dong Ba Market, Hue’s largest market where anything and everything can be bought. We then continue on to the Imperial Citadel where the Nguyen Dynasty ruled the country between 1802 and 1945 and the Ruins of the Purple Forbidden City which was constructed for personal use of the emperor and was entirely destroyed during Tet Offensive 1969.

Accommodation: Your choice of hotel from our list
Transit : Airport transfer, short drives around Hue, boat cruise on the Perfume River
Walking time: 3-4 hours
Walking difficulty: Easy
Meal plan: B, L


Day 14: Hue - the Museum of Cham Sculpture in Da Nang - Hoi An Tour

Today we depart for Hoi An, another World Heritage Site, via Da Nang. Along the way we stop at Lang Co Beach - a crystal clear turquoise lagoon beach followed by the spectacular view from atop Hai Van Pass.  Our next stop is in Da Nang at the Museum of Cham Sculpture where you can see the finest collection of Cham sculpture in the world. 

Following lunch, we continue to Hoi An. We check into hotel and stroll around the town visiting the Japanese Covered Bridge. The bridge was constructed in 1590 by the Japanese community to link them with Chinese quarter and a few interesting stories about the bridge will be revealed. We continue to the Museum of Trading Ceramics where a collection of white and blue ceramics of the Dai Viet period and a great ceramic mosaic are worthwhile.  Our next destinations are a sampling of beautiful architecture styles including Tan Ky House - a private home that features Japanese and Chinese influence, the Assembly Hall of the Cantonese Chinese Congregation - the temples and pagodas of molded on Chinese style. We end our day by walking along Silk Street of Hoi An. You may have your silk clothing made in just a few hours!

 Accommodation: Hotel selection from our list
Transit : 3 - 4 hours by car/bus
Walking time: 2 hours
Walking difficulty: Easy
Mean plan: B, L, D

Day 15:  Hoi An -My Son - Cooking Class

Following breakfast, we depart for My Son, a World Heritage site, 40 km southwest of Hoi An. Located in a verdant valley; My Son was a capital and religious center of Cham people. My Son is considered to be in the same league as some of Southeast Asia's greatest archaeological sites, including Angkor in Cambodia, Bagan in Myanmar and Ayutthaya in Thailand.  The towers and sanctuaries were built from the 7 to 13 centuries and have survived war and time itself with care from Vietnam.  Vietnam’s dedication to My Son is to honor the distinct heritage of the Cham People.

We return to Hoi An for lunch and enjoy the afternoon at the Red Bridge Cooking School. You are met and greeted by your chef at Hai Scout Café.  First, we learn how to buy typical Vietnamese ingredients at the market.  After the market visit, you board the Red Bridge boat for a leisurely cruise (25 minutes) along the Hoi An River to the Cooking School. On arrival, we explore the cooking school’s herb and vegetable garden, before learning about some of Hoi An’s and Vietnam’s well-known dishes, which is the mix of Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine. The cooking lesson runs for about 2 hours – each dish is first demonstrated by the Red Bridge chef’s, before you prepare the same dish ourselves. Included in the class is a brief introduction to Vietnamese food carving (plate decoration). By the end of the day, we sit down and enjoy what we have cooked. Then the boat will pick you up for a return river cruise back to the town.

Accommodation: Hotel selection from our list
Transit : 2 hours by car, short boat journey
Mean plan: B, L, D

Day 16: Hoi An - Da Nang - Ho Chi Minh City - China Town

We drive a short distance back to Da Nang and take a morning flight to Ho Chi Minh City  (HCMC), the largest city of Vietnam and the heart the southern Vietnam. With a population of over 7.5 million, the city is continuously attracting people from all over the country hoping better their life.

After checking into our hotel, we’ll visit Cho Lon or China Town – a jewel box of interesting Chinese-style temples such as Thien Hau Pagoda (the Protector of Mothers and Newborns) and Quan Am Pagodas (the Goodness of Mercy)the most active pagodas in Cho Lon. Emperor Jade Pagoda – one of the most spectacular and colorful pagodas in HCMC. We end the tour at Ben Thanh Market – a huge indoor market selling all manner of good surrounded by one of the city liveliest area.

Accommodation: Overnight at your proposed Hotel from our list
Transit : 15 minutes from the airport by car or minivan
Walking time: 2 hours
Walking difficulty: Easy
Meal plan: L

Day 17:  Ho Chi Minh City Tour – Cu Chi Tunnels

After breakfast at the hotel, we start a sightseeing tour to the Reunification Palace, which was once the symbol of South Vietnamese Government until end of April 1975, and some French colonial structures including the Notre Dame Cathedral – a neo-Romanesque with two 40m-high square towers tipped and the Old Central Post Office.

We break for lunch and then continue to Remnants Museum and Cu Chi Tunnels, an underground tunnel network constructed by Vietnamese fighters during the struggle for independence. The tunnels contained hospitals, accommodation, etc. and were used as a military base for the Vietcong in the American War. Cu Chi has become legendary and a place of pilgrimage for Vietnamese school children and communist party cadres.

We end our day by late afternoon. If you feel like thirsty after a long day sight seeing, the local beer Ba Ba Ba (333) is sure to satisfy!

Accommodation: Overnight at your proposed Hotel from our list
Transit : 2 hours by car or minivan
Walking time: 3 - 4 hours (the walk in the tunnels is sometimes difficult due to its small and short passageway
Walking difficulty: Easy
Meal plan: B, L

Day 18: Mekong Delta Tour ­

After an early breakfast, we depart for My Tho. Here we cruise along small canal to the Mekong River until we meet Con Phung e(Phoenix Island).  We stop at the island for a Vietnamese lunch in a garden restaurant of a local houlse

After lunch, the motorized boat continues the cruise along natural canals, pass quiet villages in Ben Tre Province. There is time to visit orchards and honey bee farm, taste natural honey and honey wine, enjoy tropical fruit and traditional music, wander round a distillery, explore the local coconut candy production process, taste candy and coconut pulp. On the way back, we stop at The Cao Dai Great Temple, is one of the most striking structures in all of Asia. Cao Dai Religion is a curious combination of the Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism – Vietnam’s Triple Religions. We return to HCMC late in the afternoon.

Accommodation: Overnight at your proposed Hotel from our list
Transit : 3 hours by car or minivan/ 2 hours by boat
Walking time: 2 - 3 hours
Walking difficulty: Easy
Meal plan: B, L

Day 19: Ho Chi Minh City - Phnom Penh/Cambodia

Today we leave Vietnam and take a short 40 minute flight to Phnom Penh.  Upon arrival we’ll check into the hotel and then begin a short tour of Phnom Penh.  Depending on our arrival, we will have lunch at a Khmer restaurant and then take a short drive to The Killing Fields.  After our remembrance here, we’ll drive to Toul Sleng Museum.  Our last visit of the day is the renowned Central Market complex. Dinner tonight will be at a Khmer restaurant with traditional food and music.

Accommodation: Overnight at your proposed Hotel from our list
Transit : Airport transfers, 40 minute flight
Walking time: 2 - 3 hours
Walking difficulty: Easy
Meal plan: B, L, D

Day 20: Phnom Penh - Siem Reap

After breakfast, we take a short ride to the National Museum of Khmer Art and Silver Pagoda.  We’ll then take the mid day flight to Siem Reap.  Upon arrival, we’ll check in and have lunch.  Our first temple visit will be the Angkok Thom (the old King Palace) with Bayon, Terrace of Elephants, Terrace of the Leper King, Phimean Akas and BaPhoun. 

Accommodation: Overnight at your proposed Hotel from our list
Transit : Airport transfers, 40 minute flight
Walking time: 2 - 3 hours
Walking difficulty: Easy
Meal plan: B, L

Day 21: The Temples of Angkor Wat

Morning breakfast will wait and we are off to enjoy sunrise over Angkor Wat.  We’ll return back to the hotel for breakfast and then take the short journey back to Angkor Wat and spend the entire morning in the temple.

Lunch will be at a food shop near Angkor Wat.  Afternoon finds us visiting Prasat Kravan, Banteay Kdei, Ta Prohm, Pre Rup, Ta Som, Preah Khan and then return to town for the evening.

Accommodation: Overnight at your proposed Hotel from our list
Transit : Short transfer between locations
Walking time: 4 - 5 hours
Walking difficulty: Easy
Meal plan: B, L

Day 21: Siem Reap - Bangkok/ Thailand

Depending on your flight time, we’ll take time after breakfast to visit the market and have a last look as souvenirs for sale.  We will most likely have a last lunch together and transfer to the airport for your flight.

Transit: Airport transfers, 1 hour flight

Meal plan: B

Our trip includes

  • English speaking guide
  • Accommodation as indicated
  • Meals as indicated
  • Transfer and pickup airport
  • Transportation by car or minivan and boat
  • Flight Chiang Mai – Luang Prabang, Hanoi – Hue and Danang – Hochiminh City
  • Tour as indicated
  • Entrance fee

Our trip excludes

  • Other domestic and international flights not indicated
  • Visa & visa arrangement
  • Meals not indicated
  • Drinking water, soft drink and alcohol
  • Tips & personal expenses

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