Indochina Explorer – Independent Tour
Enjoy the journey of a lifetime on a spectacular 19 day trip through the stunning South East Asian nations of Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, visiting many cultural and historical sites and admiring the beautiful landscapes while gaining a taste of local life. In historic Cambodia, uncover the museums and monuments of the capital, Phnom Penh, before witnessing the incredible temples of Angkor. Travel from south to north through Vietnam, which reveals bustling cities, sparkling bays, ancient relics and delectable cuisine. In Laos, experience the Asia of yesteryear with its languid pace and welcoming people. This tour includes breakfast daily and other meals as described.
Day 1: Arrive in Phnom Penh
Upon arrival in Phnom Penh, you will be welcomed by your local English speaking guide, who will accompany you to your hotel for check in. Phnom Penh was once considered as one of the most beautiful cities in the Orient, and despite its recent turbulent history, it still retains a colonial charm. Cambodias capital is a bustling city, majestically located at the confluence of the mighty rivers of the Mekong and Tonle Sap. Wide tree-lined boulevards and many colonial-era buildings reflect the glorious days and add to the allure of the city, where Asian and Western traditions meet in a fascinating way. Overnight in Phnom Penh.
Day 2: Phnom Penh
This morning visit the Royal Palace. The palace dates back to 1866 and houses the Silver Pagoda, named for the over 5000 heavy silver tiles that cover its floors. Its original name is Wat Prakeo, meaning Temple of the Emerald Buddha. In this temple you will view a collection of Buddhas in gold, silver, crystal, and bronze. After visit the National Museum, which was built in traditional Khmer style. It houses the world’s foremost collection of ancient Khmer artistic, archaeological, and religious artefacts from the 4th to the 13th centuries. Over 5,000 pieces are on display, constituting the repository of the Kingdoms cultural wealth. In addition, the roof space is home to a large bat colony! Take a break at your hotel around midday.
In the afternoon gain insight into Cambodias recent dark history on a visit to the remarkable Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, housed in the former school that was taken over by the Khmer Rouge and used as its main detention and torture center named S-21. Further visit the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. The audio headset guide provided is available in 15 different languages and gives some harrowing but informative stories from survivors and liberators of the camp. A grim, but important visit that will allow you to dig below the surface and understand Cambodia better. Overnight in Phnom Penh.
Day 3: Phnom Penh – Siem Reap
After breakfast you will transfer with guide to the Phnom Penh airport for the 45 minute flight to Siem Reap. Welcome to Siem Reap, the charming gateway to the famed Temples of Angkor. You will be greeted by your local English speaking guide, who will accompany you to your hotel for check in. This afternoon there is time to relax at the hotel, have a swim or visit Siem Reap town under your own accord. Overnight in Siem Reap.
Day 4: Siem Reap
Start early to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat, it surely is a memorable experience to see the first sunrays slowly appear over the five iconic towers. Built during the reign of King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century, Angkor Wat is constructed following the model of the temple mountain symbolizing the MountMeru, home of the gods. The divine residence of Vishnu, the King himself was to reside here after his death. Inside the temple, the walls are covered with stone carvings and bas-reliefs depicting Hindu mythology and the wars Suryavarman II fought during his reign. Moreover, Angkor Wat is well known for the more than 2,000 Apsara dancers decorating the temple. Construction is thought to have taken around thirty years of intensive labour. Angkor Wat is figured on Cambodias national flag as the temple symbolizes the soul of the Khmer people. Your visit pre-breakfast will see fewer tourists and is a great opportunity to enjoy an UNESCO World Heritage Site as its quietest time. After exploring Angkor Wat enjoy breakfast at a cafe just opposite and relax for a while. Visit the ancient city of Angkor Thom, the last capital of the Great Khmer Empire under the reign of Jayavarman VII. This city is surrounded by an 8m high wall, drawing a perfect square. Enter the city through the ancient South Gate, an impressive stone gate carved with Elephants and four giant faces. From here, continue to BayonTemple in the exact center of the city. This 12th century masterpiece is a study in grandeur and is well-known for its 54 towers with enigmatic faces representing the 54 provinces of the Great Khmer Empire. The Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King are also must-visits as they are both known for their intricate bas-reliefs. Now time for a well-earned rest at your hotel.
In the afternoon drive to the countryside to see the gem of the Angkor area, the pretty temple of Banteay Srei. The so-called Citadel of the Women remains the best preserved temple in Cambodia. It displays some of the finest examples of classical Khmer art as this small temple is noted for its truly remarkable fine bas-reliefs. Banteay Srei is unique in that it is constructed of pink sandstone, which is seen nowhere else in Angkor. The final stop is at Ta Prohm, unique in that it has been left largely as it was found: overgrown by jungle trees and vines, with many parts of the temple crumbling to the ground. At the end of a long day relax back at the hotel with the evening at leisure. Overnight in Siem Reap.
Day 5: Departure Siem Reap – Ho Chi Minh City
Enjoy the day at your leisure for some relaxation at your hotel or for some personal shopping on Siem Reaps interesting markets. Transfer to the airport for your departure flight to Ho Chi Minh City. Upon arrival, meet with your guide and transfer to your hotel journey time is approx 30 minutes. Remainder of the day is at leisure. Overnight in Ho Chi Minh.
Day 6: Full Day Cu Chi Tunnels and City Tour
Depart Ho Chi Minh City at 0800 in the morning for the drive to Cu Chi district. Leaving the city behind, the scenery changes to views of rice paddies, villagers drying noodles by the side of the road and other scenes typical to southern Vietnam. Arrive and start the visit of the famous Cu Chi Tunnels which consist of an incredible underground tunnel network constructed by Vietnamese resistance fighters, Viet Cong, during both the French and American wars. Start the visit with the Ben Dinh or Ben Duoc sections of the tunnel. Here you can imagine what it was like to be a guerrilla complete with Russian Carbine rifles and AK 47s. After lunch at local restaurant, visit the War Remnants or History Museum, choose which one you would most like to see, and the former Presidential Palace, from there stroll (your vehicle will be available at all times) to the major sights of colonial Ho Chi Minh City: the Old Saigon Post Office, Dong Khoi Street, formerly Rue Catinat, Continental Hotel, Opera House and City Hall. Overnight in Ho Chi Minh.
Day 7: Ho Chi Minh – Cai Be and Mekong Delta
This morning, leave bustling Ho Chi Minh City for the 2.5-hour drive to the delta town of Cai Be. On arrival, board your boat for a cruise in the delta’s waterways. Start your journey by passing by Cai Bes floating market, once a busy place to trade fruits and vegetables and nowadays a quiet although quaint local market. Then, continue to a cottage factory where pop-rice, rice paper and coconut candies are made. Return to the boat for the cruise to Dong Hoa Hiep Island; along the way admire the scenery and the daily life of the local villagers. Lunch will be local Mekong style serving specialties of the area. Your tour includes an optional sampan trip. We recommend that you wear the lifejackets provided and that non-swimmers exercise caution. Please advise your consultant if you have any concerns. Following your cruise drive back to Ho Chi Minh City. Overnight in Ho Chi Minh.
Day 8: Ho Chi Minh – Hue – Half Day Hue City Tour
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for the flight to Hue. Upon arrival, meet with your guide and transfer to your hotel to drop off the luggage. Start your tour of Hue with a visit to the Imperial Citadel where the Nguyen Dynasty ruled between 1802 and 1945. After exploring the ruins of this wonderful monument take a cyclo ride through the Old City to Tinh Tam Lake where the Emperors used to come to relax, full of lotus flowers in Summer, there are many local style coffee shops around the lake where university students come to study. Drive onto Thien Mu Pagoda, constructed in 1601, the 21-metre tall tower is the centrepiece of the pagoda. Overnight in Hue
Day 9: Hue – Danang – Hoi An
Leave Hue for Hoi An, a major Asian trading port in the 17th and 18th Centuries whose architecture and relaxed lifestyle has changed little over the years. The scenic route passes through the wonderfully photogenic fishing village of Lang Co before climbing over the Pass of Ocean Clouds. In the afternoon, take a walking tour of the ancient town centre to visit former merchants houses, the 400 year-old Japanese Covered Bridge, a Chinese communal hall and the colourful market. Overnight in Hoi An.
Day 10: Hoi An at leisure
Full day is at leisure. Overnight in Hoi An
Day 11: Hoi An – Danang – Hanoi Half Day City Tour Water Puppet Show
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for the flight to Hanoi. Upon arrival, meet with your guide and transfer to your hotel. In the afternoon visit Hoa Lo Prison (formerly known as the Hanoi Hilton during the American war). At the end of the day, take a walking tour of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, also known as the 36 streets. This bustling area of narrow streets and alleys is home to literally thousands of small businesses and shopkeepers. It is a great place to explore with plenty of photo opportunities all around you. Finish the day with a Water Puppet show. This is a uniquely northern Vietnamese art form depicting scenes from rural life and episodes of national history. Overnight in Hanoi.
Day 12: Hanoi – Halong Bay
Depart for the 3.5-hour drive to Halong Bay. Arrive late morning and be welcomed at the pier of your boat. Check-in and transfer to your boat for the overnight journey into Halong Bay. Lunch is served on board as you cruise into the Bay. Cruise by rock formations with such names as Sail, Dog and Dinh Huong. Towards the end of the day set anchor for the night as the sun sets followed by dinner. Overnight onboard the boat in Halong Bay including breakfast lunch and dinner.
Day 13: Halong – Hanoi
On your return to Halong City enjoy a full breakfast or brunch as your boat weaves its way back to the dock. Upon disembarkation, your guide and driver will meet you for the transfer back to Hanoi. Remainder of the day is at leisure. Overnight in Hanoi.
Day 14: Half Day Hanoi City Tour – Vientiane
This morning depart for the mausoleum of the historic figure and father of modern Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, viewed from the outside and closed on Monday and Friday afternoons. Then it is on to a wooden ethnic minority style house which was his temporary residence from 1954 to 1969. In the same complex you will see the One Pillar Pagoda, founded by King Ly Thai To in 1049. This structure has become an important symbol for the people of Hanoi. Your next stop will be the Temple of Literature, Vietnams first university. Constructed in 1070, the gardens and well-preserved architecture offer a relaxing glimpse into Vietnams past. Continue to West Lake and one of the oldest Buddhist pagodas in Hanoi, Tran Quoc, and the nearby Taoist temple of Quan Thanh which dates from the Ly Dynasty. Then you will take a transfer to Hanoi airport for the flight to Vientiane.
Welcome to Vientiane whose name means The City of Sandal Wood. Upon arrive at Vientiane, you will meet guide and driver at the airport to assist and transfer you to check-in at hotel. The rest of the day is at your leisure to explore Vientiane, whose name means The City of Sandal Wood. You might choose to end your day along the banks of the Mekong River. Stroll along the river, stop to enjoy a cold drink, or sample a snack from one of the many local food stalls. This area is very popular with locals who go to exercise in the park in the evenings and you can also browse the evening market for souvenirs. Overnight in Vientiane
Day 15: Vietiane City Tour
Breakfast at the hotel, you will enjoy a guided tour to discover the hidden charms, Vientiane is one of the quietest capitals in the world, far away from the bustle and hustle of other Asian capitals and far from the real-estate frenzy of the regional megalopolis. Your tour begins at the serene Wat Sisaket, the only temple left intact after the Siamese, Thai, invasion in 1828. It is one of the most beautiful temples in the capital, and its breezy teak covered hallways are filled with thousands of miniature Buddha statues. Continue on to the nearby Wat Phra Keo. Used as a religious museum, Wat Phra Keo displays a collection of both Lao and Khmer works of art. Also nearby, is the Presidential Palace. Although you are not allowed to visit inside, it is a good glimpse in to the towns colonial past as this building formerly served as the French governor’s palace. Visit Patuxay monument, Laos version of the Arc de Triomphe, where you can climb the stairs to the roof for sweeping panoramic views of the city. Next, your tour takes you to That Luang, the holiest site in Laos. Constructed by King Setthethirat in the 16th century, the temple is resplendent as the sun is shines upon its towering golden spire.
Visit COPE, an association working to help landmine victims. A visit to the center provides in-depth information about the history of the American – Vietnam war and the lasting impact of unexploded ordinances, UXO, in the area and the efforts underway to clear them.
Today you will have a chance to participate in a unique, traditional Lao ceremony. The Baci is performed in celebration of an important event such as weddings, births, or for welcoming guests and is a means of expressing good will and good luck to others. The Lao believe that each person has 32 spirits which constitute their spiritual essence and the Baci is the ritual used to call back any escaped spirits in to the body. During the Baci, special flower trays and food treats are prepared which are then touch by the participants while a Buddhist mantra is chanted. After the chanting is completed, cotton threads are tied around the participant’s wrist whilst they receive an individual blessing. Overnight in Vientiane
Day 16: Vietiane – Luang Prabang
Enjoy your leisure time in the morning till your guide and private car will transfer you to the airport for your flight to Luang Prabang. Your guide and private car will meet you at the airport and transfer you to your hotel for check-in. Free time in the afternoon to wander the lanes of the spiritual capital of Laos, the UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Prabang. Overnight in Luang Prabang
Day 17: Luang Prabang – Pal Ou Cave and Cooking Class
After breakfast you will be picked up from your hotel and transferred to a pier on the Mekong River for a boat ride up the River. Laos has several waterways that have traditionally been used as the local form of transportation and they continue to be used in that manner today in many parts of the country. Taking a local boat cruise is probably one of the most rewarding ways to discover the life along the rivers. As you cruise along, observe the daily activities of fishermen, how they throw their nets in an elegant arm gestures, and rely on the water for their livelihood. For the villages settled along the Mekong, the river plays an important role in their daily life and usually represents the only means of transportation and commerce.
Two hours upstream from Luang Prabang, disembark to visit the famous Pak Ou Caves. Locally called Tam Ting, the caves are filled with thousands of gold-lacquered Buddha statues. The statues range in size from a few centimetres tall to the height of a human and are crammed into the cave which is nestled in a limestone cliff. The caves are a destination for local pilgrimages, especially at Lao New Year, Pi Mai in April. After visiting the caves, reboard the boat for a cruise back to Luang Prabang. En route, stop at Ban Xang Hay, a village which specializes in making traditional rice-wine. Lunch is at your convenience in Luang Prabang.
In late afternoon, enjoy cuisine with a cooking class run by one of Luang Prabang most famous restaurants; Tamarind. The expert chefs will demonstrate how to prepare authentic Lao dishes before it is your turn! You will be given a cook book that you can take home and use as a guide to impress your family and friends with new flavours and your new expertise. As a reward for your hard work, sit down to a delicious meal of the dishes you have helped create. Closed on Saturdays and Sundays. Overnight in Luang Prabang.
Day 18: Luamg Puang Prabang – Alms Giving and Kuang Si Waterfall
For early risers, there is a very special dawn visit to watch the monks collecting the alms. As the sun begins to rise, long lines of orange-robed monks leave their pagodas and walk barefoot down the streets collecting offerings from Luang Prabang residents. It is a beautiful, serene ceremony that highlights the spiritualism of the Laos people. Return to the hotel for breakfast. Transfers to and from Alms giving are by tuk-tuk. Return to the hotel for breakfast.
Your guide and private car will meet you at your hotel for a short transfer through the Luang Prabang countryside to Kuang Si Waterfalls, 32km southwest of the city. Along the way, you will drive through beautiful landscapes of rice fields, hills, and small villages. There are also many viewpoints overlooking the Mekong River. Stop en-route to visit a small village which is home to one of the areas many ethnic minorities. You will have an opportunity to learn about their traditions and culture, much of which has remained unchanged for centuries. Upon reaching Kuang Si Waterfall, relax and enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings. The water tumbles down a large drop and cascades gently in to several cool, clear pools where you can enjoy a refreshing swim. For the adventurous, it is possible to walk to the top of the falls via a steep track where stunning views await you at the top.
Before you leave you might like to visit the bear sanctuary which is next to the falls, run by Free The Bears Fund Inc. There are currently 23 Asiatic Black Bears living in the sanctuary, which has saved them from poaching. The main threat to these bears is poaching due to the use of their bile in Chinese medicine. You can read about their habits and observe their playful nature, whilst learning about the difficulties they are facing.
Join the local petanque players. Try your skills at this sport, which is a favourite pastime of the Lao people. They will cheer you on and give you hints as you play a few games and enjoy snacks and drinks. This is great fun for all ages and a brilliant introduction to the charming Lao culture. Overnight in Luang Prabang.
Day 19: Luang Prabang – Departure
Free time at leisure till your guide and private vehicle will meet you at your hotel and transfer you to the airport for your departure flight.