Day 1 Bangkok
Upon arrival you will be transferred to hotel. There are no activities planned. You are free to relax, explore the city & adjust to the frantic pace and humid heat of Bangkok. Please plan your arrival at our start point hotel before 6pm for an important group meeting where you will meet you Chief Experience Officer (CEO) and the other group members. Please look for a sign on the hotel's notice board for the time and location of your group meeting. At this meeting your CEO will ask to sight your travel insurance, check that you have a visas for Vietnam and complete some other paper work. Please note that you MUST arrive on tour with your Vietnam visa. Please refer to the visa information section of these trip notes for more information on obtaining your Vietnamese visa. After your meeting, you may choose to head out for an optional dinner to further get to know your CEO and fellow group members. Our hotel is located in heart of Silom, very close to the BTS Skytrain which allows easy access to most of Bangkok including MBK, Siam Paragon shopping areas. The hotel has a beautiful pool and has wifi available.
Day 2 Chiang Mai (1B)
This morning we take a boat ride through the klongs (canals) of Bangkok, where we catch a slice of local people living a simple life inside such a vibrant city. We also visit the halls and murals decorating the Grand Palace, built in 1782 and view the sacred emerald Buddha at Wat Phra Kaew temple. Later, catch a flight to Chiang Mai. Approx travel time: Flight to Chiang Mai: 1.5 hours
Day 3 Chiang Mai (1B,1D)
We arrive early into Chiang Mai, and settle into our exquisite surroundings, taking a relaxing break from the fast pace of Bangkok. Later in the day we visit Doi Suthep Temple and listen to monks chanting at sunset.. Established in 1383, this is one of the most sacred Buddhist temples in Thailand. The views and serenity, our reward after climbing over 300 stairs to reach the top, are amazing. Later, enjoy an authentic khantoke dinner and community visit in a local village. Option to visit the Elephant Conservation Centre or local handicraft workshops. Our hotel is located in the heart of Chiang Mai city, within 5 a minute walk of the famous night bazaar. The hotel has great views of the city. The rooms are all air conditioned with en suite bathrooms. Wifi is available for an additional cost. There is also a pool for a relaxing afternoon swim.
Day 4 Chiang Mai (1B,1L)
Today, we try our hand at creating some of the dynamic taste's we’ve been eating for the past few days at a Thai cooking school. With our teacher, we visit a local market to learn more about the main ingredients in Thai cooking and then take our purchases back to the school where the teacher will explain and demonstrate the basics of some of the more popular Thai dishes. We then enjoy the results for lunch. In the evening, explore Chiang Mai’s popular downtown night market where all the locals and visitors are spending the evening.
Day 5 Luang Prabang (1B)
Flight to Luang Prabang, Laos. Visit the Royal Palace Museum, Wat Xiengthong and Wat Visoun Temples, then catch a boat to Pak Ou Temple caves with stops in local villages. The center of the UNESCO world heritage listed town is quite small and is accessible either on foot or by bicycle. You can visit the most impressive of Luang Prabang’s 32 temples including Vat Vixoun, Vat Sene, and Vat Xiengthong. Opt to pack a picnic to eat on Phousi Hill and watch the sun set over the horizon. Take an afternoon to browse the many textile galleries and relax and enjoy a local coffee in one of the town's cafes.
Day 6-7 Luang Prabang (2B)
On Day 6, rise at dawn to watch the monks collecting offerings of food from the locals and receive a blessing. Afternoon excursion to stunning Kuang Sii waterfall. Upon returning climb Phuosi Hill to watch the sunset over this UNESCO World Heritage designated town. Day 7 is free for optional activities, such as visiting textile galleries and the night market, relaxing in one of the town's cafés or visiting the Ethnology Museum.
Day 8 Hanoi (1B,1L)
This morning we catch our flight to Hanoi, Vietnam. Classic French colonial architecture, beautiful decor and a scenic location makes Hanoi a fantastic place to visit. The capital of Vietnam is a charming city of about 4 million people, famous for its beautiful lakes, shaded boulevards and vast public parks. The city center is an architectural museum piece, its blocks of ochre buildings retaining the air of a provincial French town of the 1930s. As Vietnam develops to compete with other South East Asian countries, Hanoi's Hoan Kiem Lake reflects this struggle with modern office buildings, old Buddhist temples and tangles of ancient streets. The city hums with the never-ending flow of bicycles, cyclos, the latest Mercedes Benz and motorbikes. In the afternoon we take a guided cyclo ride and orientation tour of the Old Quarter and enjoy lunch at Hoa Sua, an NGO and training school for disadvantaged youth. Our hotel in Hanoi is located a 20 min walk or a short taxi ride away from Hoan Kiem Lake and the Old Quarter. The rooms are comfortable twin / double share with air conditioning. There are computers for use in the lobby as well as free wifi in the rooms. Approx travel time: Flight to Hanoi: 2 hours Transfer to hotel Hanoi: 45 min
Day 9 Halong Bay (1B,1L,1D)
Early on day 9 we enjoy a visit to Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum before our drive takes us to Bai Chay Harbor, the entrance to Halong Bay where we board a junk boat, our home for the evening. This traditional wooden sailing boat offers a unique way of navigating the lime karsts of Halong Bay with all the comforts of a motorized, floating hotel. Once settled in, you start your cruise around the majestic Halong Bay, while enjoying a delicious seafood lunch. Halong Bay is a breathtaking secluded harbor with 2,000 limestone islands rising from the emerald waters of Bac Bo gulf. It is one of the most scenic regions in Vietnam and has been referred to as the 8th Wonder of the World. The area of about 1,500 sq km is dotted with innumerable beaches and grottos, created over thousands of years by waves and wind. After lunch we will have the chance to explore some of the limestone caves dotted around the bay. In the evening the cook will prepare a sumptuous meal as the boat weighs anchor in the heart of the bay and we spend a very peaceful night beneath the stars. Approx travel time: Private bus Hanoi to Halong Bay: 4 hours
Day 10 Hanoi (1B)
On the morning of day 13 we continue the cruise past the many islands and visit one of the caves by small bamboo boat. After Brunch on board the boat, head back to Hanoi where the rest of the afternoon is free for shopping or visiting one of the many historical museums.
Days 11-12 Ho Chi Minh City (2B)
Catch our flight to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam and take a thrilling cyclo tour of this bustling city. On Day 12, take a guided tour of the infamous Cu Chi tunnels, legendary for the vital part they played during the Vietnam War. With a population of approximately 7 million, Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam. The huge number of people rushing about their daily business gives it a dynamic atmosphere. Ho Chi Minh City is characterized by a vast variety of sights and sounds, from ancient pagodas, mosques and cathedrals to the former Presidential Palace and the War Museum. Explore Dong Khoi Street (the Rue Catinat from Graham Greene's novel The Quiet American) to the bustling markets of Ben Thanh and Cholon (Chinatown). Much of the city's life takes place on the streets which are lined with stores, shops, stalls and vendors with their wares spread out on the footpath selling everything from soup to sophisticated electronics. The French influence is evident in the excellent baguettes and coffee. During our time here, we take a short cyclo orientation tour of the city’s main highlights. On day 12 we take a half day trip to the Cu Chi tunnels with a local guide. This network of over 125 miles (200 km) of tunnels became legendary during the 1960's when they played a vital part in the war, allowing the Viet Cong to control a large rural area only 25 miles (40 km) from Ho Chi Minh City. At its heyday, the tunnel system stretched from Ho Chi Minh City to the Cambodian border. The network, parts of which were several stories deep, included trap doors, specially constructed living areas, storage facilities, weapons factories, field hospitals, command centers and kitchens. Today the remaining tunnels have become a major site giving the visitor a unique experience and feel for what underground life during the Vietnam war was like. Our afternoon will allow some free time for independent exploration or shopping; we can try our hand bargaining at the Ben Thanh Market, hire a cyclo (pedicab) for sightseeing or take a boat ride on the Saigon river. Our hotel in Saigon is located a 10 minute walk from the Ben Than Market and a 15 minute walk to the Reunification Palace. The hotel is very comfortable with twin and double share air conditioned rooms. Free wifi is available throughout the hotel and there are computers to use for free in the lobby. Approx travel time: Private transport to Cu Chi tunnels: 1 1/2 hours each way
Day 13-14 Phnom Penh (2B)
Flight to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Take an NGO-supported cyclo city tour along the waterfront and key city sites, with option to visit the famous Foreign Correspondents club for drinks. On Day 13 explore recent history with a local expert, including Tuol Sleng Prison Museum and Choeung Ek (the Killing Fields). Here we explore the dark side of Cambodian history with visits to Choeng Ek Memorial, the site of the infamous Killing Fields that were the execution grounds for Pol Pot and the Khumer Rouge during their rein from 1975 - 1979. We also visit Tuol Sleng prison, the notorious Khmer Rouge prison where thousands of Cambodians perished. This is a haunting look into history which serves to remind everyone that genocide must not be ignored or those lost, forgotten. Our hotel in Phnom Penh is located a 2 minute walk from Sisowath Quay and the waterfront. The rooms are all twin / double share with air conditioner and en suite bathrooms. There is a beautiful pool and wifi in the hotel.
Day 15 Siem Reap (1B)
Drive today to Siem Reap, Cambodia and take an orientation walk through the entertainment district and visit the exciting night market. The former capital of the Khmer kingdom, Angkor is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the great wonders of the archeological world, rediscovered at the end of the last century by French explorers. This vast ruined city is becoming one of the most popular sites in Southeast Asia. We arrive in the afternoon, and catch our first views of Angkor Wat at sunset. You will have the evening to enjoy an option al Khmer dinner and then visit the night market for a little bit of shopping. Our hotel in Siem Reap is a very well appointed hotel with all the amenities for your stay. It is located near the Angkor Wat temples and the old city of Siem Reap. The rooms are all air conditioned twin or double share rooms with a relaxing swimming pool to use after a long day of temple touring. Free wifi is also available. Approx travel time: Private transfer Siem Reap: 6 hours
Days 16-17 Angkor Wat/ Siem Reap (2B,1L)
Over the course of two days, we visit some of the highlights of this ancient capital, such as; the magnificent temple of Angkor Wat, the enigmatic Bayon within the walled city of Angkor Thom, Preah Khan and Ta Prohm, which is a temple in the jungle also known as the 'Tomb Raider' temple. We also visit New Hope, a Planeterra supported project located in Mondul 3, Siem Reap, one of the poorest areas in Cambodia. This community consists of army families, karaoke/sex workers and displaced men, women and children. The mission of this project is to restore hope, dignity and promise to these once proud and prosperous people. New Hope conducts workshops in the community, with the goal of providing people with skills they can use to earn a living including; a sewing work shop, tourism courses and a cooking and hospitality school. During our visit we learn about the importance of this project and have lunch at the cooking and hospitality school. Here we will see the positive results of the project, as local villagers work in the kitchen, and are taught how to prepare meals using local ingredients. Other villagers work as waiters and restaurant staff, providing them with skills that will help them find jobs. While here, we will taste the delights of Khmer Cuisine. Known for its use of Prahok, a type of fermented fish paste, and coconut milk, Khmer cuisine is often less spicy than its South East Asia neighbors. Over lunch, we get to sample some well known local dishes that can include: -Local Catch of the Day - Frog, locust, snake, tarantula or simply fish -Vegetable Curry -Stir Fried Noodle with Vegetables -Hot and Sour Fish Soup or Amok Trey, fish cooked in a thick coconut milk curry wrapped and steamed in a banana leaf -Pork with Ginger -Loc Lac, a stir fried beef served with lime and pepper sauce. -Rice -Fresh tropical Fruit
Day 18 Siem Reap (1B)
Depart any time today. We look forward to receiving your evaluation regarding this tour itinerary and your CEOs performance. We value your input into what we could improve to make this trip even better and of course love hearing about what we are already doing well! You will be sent a post tour email on your return with details on how to go in line and fill in this simple form. Thank you so much in advance.