Today is arrival day so there are no activities planned. You are free to relax, explore the city & adjust to the frantic pace and humid heat of Bangkok. Please arrive 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. We spend this evening in Bangkok. Our hotel is located in China Town, next to the central train station and MRT (Subway), and is only a short USD2 taxi ride from Khao San road and the central shopping area of Siam Square, MBK, Siam Paragon, etc. All rooms are double or twin share with air conditioning and en suite bathroom. The hotel has a small pool and wifi is available at extra cost.
Enjoy a one-hour long tail boat tour of Bangkok's famous klongs, or canals. Our boat trip finishes at the Royal Temple of Wat Po. Our included guide will introduce you to Thai Buddhist culture and show you the famous reclining Buddha. When your guided tour ends there will still be time for some afternoon shopping, a visit to Grand Palace or a stroll through the backpacker area. We will meet back at the hotel within easy walking distance to the train station where we board our overnight train to Chiang Mai. Tonight's accommodation is an overnight sleeper train. Beds are dormitory style, with bunks on two layers along the side of the train carriage. There are curtains along each bunk for privacy. Your luggage will be accessible during the journey. The train has air-conditioning and clean bedding is provided for each bunk. There are both western style and asian style toilets at the end of each carriage. Food and drinks are served on the train but you can always bring your own food from the shops and restaurants in the train station. Approx travel time: Overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai: 12-13 hours.
We arrive in the early morning and have free time to explore for the rest of the day. To fill your free time you can chose from a large range of optional activities or stroll the city independently. Surrounded by rolling hills, Chiang Mai is the cultural center of Thailand. Enclosed by a moat and crumbling walls, the old city features great cafes, shops and over 300 temples. Many visitors come here to attend cooking courses, massage classes or yoga lessons. It is also a mecca of handicraft production, with a long history of silverwork, woodcarving, pottery-making and weaving. A trip out to the countryside is available for those interested in riding elephants or cruising down a stream on a bamboo raft. The fun does not end when the sun goes down, as the night bazaaar opens. The bazaar is a series of covered markets, shops and stalls that offer the best selection of handicrafts in Thailand. Late afternoon we set off to visit the temple complex, Doi Suthep. Here we can delve deeper into Thai Buddhist culture and we may be fortunate enough to witness the chanting of the monks. We overnight in Chiang Mai. Our hotel is well located within walking distance to Chiang Mai Night Bazaar and other city destinations. All rooms are double or twin share with air conditioning and en suite bathroom. Free wifi is available. Approx travel time: Private transport Chang Mai to Doi Suthep temple: 45 mins each way.
A 5 hour bus drive takes us to Chiang Khong where our guesthouse affords spectacular views of the Mekong River. Enroute we can visit Wat Rong Khun - the dazzling White Temple. Wander the local food market or sit back and enjoy the slow pace of life as we spend our last evening in Thailand peering across the Mekong into Laos. We spend one night in Chiang Khong, a small border town which is a part of the trade route between Laos and Thailand. Free wifi is available in the lobby at no charge. All rooms are double or twin share with air conditioning and en suite bathroom. Approx travel time: Private transport Chiang Mai to Chiang Kong: 5 hours
We cross the river border today to Laos by small local boats to Ban Houay Xai and Lao Immigration. Once we have completed the immigration process we take a songthaew (local bus) to our traditional slow boat. As we travel down the Mekong River you slowly adjust to the relaxed pace of life in Laos. A predominantly mountainous country, we have unsurpassable views of the riverside villages, the tropical jungle and the mountains. Our private boat is reasonably comfortable and spacious. A toilet is available on board. Fruits, tea and coffee, are provided free of charge for you to enjoy and other drinks, such as water and soft drinks are all available for purchase on the boat. It can be quite cold from November to February so make sure you have some warm gear packed. We overnight in Pak Beng village, a stopover for local traders heading to Luang Prabang. As for tourists, the town offers an interesting vibe and good introduction to Laos. Our guesthouse is located some 500 meters from the pier. All rooms are double or twin share with air conditioning and en suite bathrooms. Approx travel time: Songthaew hotel to border: 10 min Songthaew to boat: 10 min Chiang Kong to Pak Beng: 8-10 hours depending on river conditions
On day 6, we approach Luang Prabang in the late afternoon. Before arriving, we will make a stop outside of town at the Pak Ou caves. This dramatic cave houses thousands of Buddha statues and images and is considered an important spiritual sight by many Lao people. After our visit, we re-board the boat and continue to Luang Prabang, arriving around 5pm. Located at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers, Luang Prabang is without a doubt the most charming city in Laos and one of the loveliest towns in the whole of South East Asia. 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. Why not pack a picnic to eat on Phousi Hill and watch the sun set over the horizon or rise at dawn to watch the monks walk through the city collecting offerings of food from the locals. Take an afternoon to browse the many textile galleries and relax and enjoy a local coffee in on of the town's cafes. We take a tour of the Ethnology Museum- a great chance to learn more about the dress and customs of the local people. We also make a half-day trip out to the stunning Kuang Si waterfalls. Don't forget your swimsuit. During our stay, we will enjoy a traditional Lao meal experience in a local home partaking in a traditional Buddhist ceremony and enjoying some Laos delicacies. We overnight three nights in Luang Prabang. Our hotel is centrally located within walking distance to Luang Prabang Night Market. All rooms are double or twin share with air conditioning and en suite bathroom. Free wifi is available. Approx travel time: Pak Beng to Luang Prabang: 8-10 hours depending on river conditions
Travel to a local village to experience a local homestay. Enjoy traditional Laotian food while getting to know your host family. Optional activities in the area include opportunities to go swimming, caving, take a boat ride up the river or participate in short treks in the area. On Day 10 embark on a scenic drive through winding mountains to the picturesque town of Vang Vieng. Nestled along the Nam Song River the town is surrounded by impressive limestone karsts. Vang Vieng is a great place to explore the countryside by bicycle or kicking back and relaxing by the river. Our hotel in Vang Vieng is located by the riverside of Nam Song overlooking the sheer limestone cliffs. All rooms are double or twin share with air conditioning and en suite bathroom. Free wifi is available. Approx travel time: Private transport Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng: 7 hours on a winding mountain road
A drive out of the mountains takes us to one of Asia's sleepiest capital cities. Enjoy the highlights of Vientiane including Wat Sisaket, one of the city's oldest and most fascinating temples and Phat That Luang, Lao's national symbol and one of her most sacred sites. For those who like to shop, don't miss the Morning Market, which, incidentally, is open all day! Our hotel is centrally located within walking distance of all the town’s main sights. All hotel rooms are double or twin share with air conditioning, safe deposit box, and en suite bathrooms. Free wifi is available. Approx travel time: Private transport Vang Vieng to Vientiane: 3 hours
A short flight on day 12 takes us away from quiet Laos and into the bustling city of Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. A leisurely walk through the Old Quarter perhaps followed by a traditional Vietnamese meal are the perfect way to start your visit to this diverse country. On day 13 we visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, his Presidential Palace and House on Stilts. The Mausoleum houses the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh, the founding father of unified Vietnam. Please note: the mausoleum and museum are closed for refurbishment from October-November each year. During the afternoon, your time is free to explore this beautiful city. Visit the Tran Quoc Pagoda, the Temple of Literature, the Museum of Ethnology or just take a walk through Hanoi's Old Quarter – a virtual maze of fascinating streets, each one traditionally devoted to a different product or industry. Late afternoon or early evening, we attend a performance of Vietnam's famous water puppets before sampling one of Hanoi's amazing eating venues. Ask your CEO to tell you more about the local Northern delicacies. We spend two nights in Hanoi. Our hotel is located in the Old Quarter. All rooms are double or twin share with air conditioning and en suite bathroom. Free wifi and a public computer are available at the lobby. Approx travel time: Flight Vientiane to Ha Noi: 1.5 hours. Transfer from airport to hotel: 45 mins There is an opportunity to exchange money or use an ATM at the airport Please note: As this is a combination trip, some of your tour members many depart in Hanoi and you may be joined by some new traveling companions on Day 13.
On day 14, we have private transport to Bai Chay harbour, our entry point to Halong Bay. Thousands of islands rise dramatically from the waters of Halong Bay and, to further their beauty, intricate cave systems naturally exist throughout these limestone karst formations. Our sailing junk will take you to visit some of the islands and caves. You could enjoy a pre-dinner swim (depending on the season) and have an evening drink on the deck beneath the stars. Our accommodation tonight is a truly special experience – sleeping on a boat surrounded by high limestone karsts. All cabins are double or twin share with air conditioning and en suite bathroom. On day 15, after an early lunch on board the boat we head back to Hanoi. You have time to do some last minute shopping. The sleeper trains throughout Vietnam are quite comfortable. Each cabin sleeps 4 people in 2 bunk beds. You will be able to lock the door from the inside. All bedding is provided. The train is air conditioned and has squat and Western style toilets with a wash basin at the end of each compartment. Bags can be stored in your cabin and accessed at anytime. Food and drinks are available for purchase on board. This is not to everyone’s taste, so we recommend you bring your own. Approx travel time: Private bus Halong Bay to Hanoi: 4 hours each way Transfer to train station: 15 min Overnight train Ha Noi to Hue: 14-15 hours
We arrive early on day 4 into Hue, once the imperial capital of Vietnam. After checking in to our hotel, we start our day with a visit to the wonderful Tien Mu Pagoda. Built over 400 years ago, and at seven stories high, Tien Mu is still the tallest and perhaps the most elegant pagoda in Vietnam. We then visit a tomb of one of Vietnam’s former emperors. These tombs are extremely ornate and embrace the concept of Feng Shui. Afterwards, you may choose to enjoy a vegetarian lunch at a local nunnery and there are various options to head out by bike to explore the local countryside. Please ask your CEO for more information. In the evening, take the chance to try some local Hue specialties such as banh khoai (Hue savoury pancakes), and banh bot loc boc tom thit (thin rice paper filled with meat and shrimp). You might want to wash it all down with a Hue beer. Yum! Our accommodation tonight is centrally located in the main street of Hue. All rooms are double or twin share with air conditioning and en suite bathroom. A swimming pool and wifi are also available.
This morning we’ll start our day touring the wonderful ruins of the Imperial Citadel, from where the whole of Vietnam was once ruled. You’ll enjoy exploring the many palaces and gateways, courtyards and gardens of this beautiful complex and of course hearing the stories of the emperors who once lived here. In the late morning we begin our drive to Hoi An. After crossing over the Hai Van Pass, with fantastic views in all directions, we will stop at Lang Co Beach, arriving in Hoi An in the afternoon for our three night stay. Once known as Faifo, Hoi An was an important trading town with strong south Chinese influence and connections. You can take a walking tour of this living museum which includes the Museum of History and Culture, the Tan Ky house, the Japanese bridge, the Fujian Assembly Hall and lunch at a riverside restaurant to sample some of the local delicacies. Hoi An is also a shopping mecca for tourists in the region. Tailors can produce virtually anything overnight, with clothing, silk lanterns, lacquer ware and many other crafts abound. For sun worshipers, Cua Dai Beach is only 4kms from town and it is an easy bicycle ride to reach. We overnight three nights in a Hoi An. All rooms are double or twin share with air conditioning and en suite bathroom. Free wifi and a public computer are available in the lobby. The hotel also has a swimming pool to relax beside. Approx travel time: Private transport Hue to Hoi An: 4 hours
Drive to Danang for the flight to Ho Chi Minh City, the sprawling metropolis that was once the capital of South Vietnam and remains the country’s commercial center. On the morning of Day 21 we take our guided tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels. A complexed network of tunnels 90 minutes from the city where the locals lived during the American War to keep safe. The afternoon is free time to visit the Thien Hau and Giac Vien pagodas and stroll through the immense Ben Than Market. There is also the Reunification Palace, the residence of the presidents of South Vietnam before 1975, Cholon (literally translated: Big Market),the Chinese quarter and the War Remnants Museum. In Ho Chi Minh city all rooms are double or twin share with air conditioning and en suite bathroom. The hotel is well located in near the Benh Than Market, backpackers area, war remnant museum and within walking distance to all the French colonial buildings. Free-Wifi and a computer are available at the lobby. Approx travel time: Private transfer Hoi An to airport: 45 min Flight from Hoi An to Ho Chi Minh City: 1 hour Private transfer from Ho Chi Minh airport to hotel: 30 min
You are free to depart at any time. Please note hotel check out is 12pm. We look forward to receiving your evaluation regarding this tour itinerary and your CEO's 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 on line and fill in this simple form. Thank you so much in advance.