Vietnam, Laos & Thailand on a Shoestring
Day 1 Ho Chi Minh City
Welcome to Ho Chi Minh City, the sprawling metropolis that once was the capital of South Vietnam and remains the country’s commercial center. Today is arrival day so there are no activities planned. You are free to relax, explore the city & adjust to the frenetic pace and humid heat of Ho Chi Minh City. You will have a scheduled group meeting in the evening around 6pm. Please check at the reception desk or look for a G Adventures notice board with details of the actual meeting time. At this meeting your CEO will ask to sight your travel insurance, double check your Vietnam visa and complete some other paper work. Please note that most nationalities requires a visa to enter Vietnam, please double check this with your travel agent or local Vietnamese Embassy. After your meeting, you may choose to head out for an optional dinner to further get to know your CEO and fellow group members. Day 2 is free for your to explore. You may choose to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels, a complex network of tunnels 90 minutes from the city where the locals lived during the American War to keep safe. Perhaps visit the the immense Ben Than Market and grab a snack at one of its many food stands. Those with an interest in Vietnam's recent history may like to visit the Reunification Palace, the residence of the presidents of South Vietnam before 1974, and the fascinating nearby War Remnants Museum. Also very interesting is Cholon, Saigon’s Chinese quarter. A cyclo can take you to any of these places for a very reasonable price and is a fun way to travel around Ho Chi Minh City. Enjoy one of three street food crawls with the group and CEO while in Ho Chi Minh City. Bring your appetites and your wallets, and the CEO will bring you to the best spots and teach you a bit about the local street food. On the evening of day 2, we take an overnight train to Nha Trang, the first of 3 sleeper trains you will take in Vietnam. 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 located 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. Our Saigon hotel is located in front of the city’s main market, Ben Than Market, and very close to Saigon's backpackers street. All rooms are double or twin share with air conditioning and en suite bathroom. Wifi is available. A small swimming pool is also available on the second floor. On the evening of day 2, we catch the overnight train to Nha Trang. Approx travel time: Overnight sleeper train Ho Chi Minh City to Nha Trang: 10-11 hrs
Day 2 Ho Chi Minh City (1B)
We arrive in Nha Trang in the morning with plenty of time for you to explore the local shops and markets, relax on the beach soaking up the sun or visit nearby historical sites. Optional activities in Nha Trang include a boat trip to nearby islands for snorkeling, or perhaps a fun filled all day beach party. On the evening of day 4 we take the second of our overnight trains in Vietnam to Danang, where we will transfer to our final destination, Hoi An. The train is air conditioned and has squat and Western style toilets and wash basins at the end of each compartment. Your bags are located in your cabin and can be accessed at anytime. Our hotel in Nha Trang is centrally located in town and everything is within walking distance. All rooms are double or twin share with air conditioning and en suite bathroom. Wifi is available. Approx travel time: Transfer train station to hotel: 10 min each way Overnight sleeper train Nha Trang to Danang: 9-10 hrs.
Days 3-4 Nha Trang (1B)
From Danang, it is only a short drive to the picturesque port town of Hoi An. Once known as Faifo, it was an important trading town with strong south Chinese influence and connections. Enjoy a tasty cooking class with oodles of noodles (more than 26 types!). Run by Planeterra Foundation partners STREETS International, the class was developed exclusively for G Adventures. Former street youths that are part of this hospitality training program will help you prepare and cook a number of different types of noodles. This program helps these youths practice their English, increasing their skill-set and the amount of opportunities available to them in the tourism industry. Enjoy tasting these yummy creations while learning more about the local cuisine and this initiative which empowers street youths through skills and employment training. Take a self guided walking tour of this living museum whose main sights 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 delicious local delicacies and fusion food at the restaurants for which Hoi An is becoming famous. You might consider heading off on an optional motorbike or bicycle tour to visit the beautiful countryside surrounding Hoi An. Or opt to support a Planeterra project and spend an hour learning how to make your own traditional lantern and support local Vietnamese with chronic disabilities. Hoi An is a shopping mecca. Tailors can produce virtually any item of clothing you may wish for overnight at extremely reasonable prices, and silk lanterns, lacquer ware and many other crafts abound. It is also the centre of modern art in Vietnam. For sun worshipers, Cua Dai Beach is 4kms from town- a great flat bike ride away. Add in lots of fun bars into the mix and this really is a town that has it all and trust us, you’ll have trouble tearing yourself away! Our hotel is located approximately ten minutes walk from Hoi An downtown. All hotel rooms are double or twin share with air conditioning and en suite bathroom. The hotel also has swimming pool. Approx travel time: Transfer from train station in Danang to Hoi An: 45 min Approx Travel Time: Danang to Hoi An, 45 minutes by private mini van.
Days 5-6 Hoi An (1B)
We continue our journey north to the city of Hue. We will make a stop about half way into our ride at the Hai Van Pass where you can enjoy spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. When in Hue, options to explore include a visit to the former Royal Citadel which was modeled on the Forbidden City in Beijing or traveling by boat along the Perfume River. Don't miss a visit to the seven tiered Tien Mu Pagoda and try to fit in a visit to at least one of the tombs of the former rulers of Vietnam, located here in the quiet countryside, all of which are like self contained mini palaces. A true highlight of Hue is the surrounding countryside and cycling is a great way to get out and experience this while checking out the sights. On the late evening of Day 8 we will travel by sleeper train from Hue to Hanoi. Our hotel is centrally located in town and is very convenient to explore the city. All hotel rooms are double or twin share with air conditioning. The hotel has internet, with a computer available for passengers at the lobby. Approx travel time: Private bus from Hoi An to Hue (Day 7): 4 hours Overnight sleeper train Hue to Hanoi (Day 8): 14 hours
Days 7-8 Hue (2B)
We arrive in the early morning to bustling Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. After meeting our local guide we transfer to a private bus and make our way to the beautiful and famous Halong Bay. Thousands of islands rise dramatically from the waters of the Bay and, to further their beauty, intricate caves have been hollowed out through these limestone karst formations. Aboard a sailing junk we'll enjoy a seafood lunch and a visit to one of the islands and caves before transfering to the mainland for our overnight stay. Our hotel is located on the Bay Chai beach front with great views of Halong Bay. Our hotel has internet in the lobby with one public computer being available and free wifi. All hotel rooms are double or twin share with air conditioning. Approx travel time: Private bus Ha Noi to Halong Bay: 4 hours
Day 9 Halong Bay/Bai Chai Harbour (1L)
After breakfast, we'll transfer back to Hanoi. Upon arrival, explore Hanoi with an orientation walking tour through the city's old quarter. Each street is named after the trade practiced on that street for several generations; it's an interesting glimpse into the life of a Hanoian in one of the oldest parts of town. Opt to visit the Tran Quoc Pagoda, the Temple of Literature (Van Mieu) or Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and Museum. The Mausoleum houses the remains of Ho Chi Minh, the founding father of the unified Vietnam (closed October-November). Don’t miss taking a walk through Hanoi's Old Quarter – a maze of street, each one traditionally devoted to a different product or industry. Follow this up with a walk around nearby Hoan Kiem lake and see if you can spot one of the famous 100 year old turtles which may still live within its murky waters. In the evening you have an option to attend a performance at the famous Water Puppets and sample some of Hanoi's amazing eating venues. Ask your CEO to tell you about the local Northern delicacies. Our hotel in Hanoi is located in the Old Quarter some 20 minutes walk to Hoan Kiem Lake, the centre of Hanoi. Make sure you grab the map and hotel card before you leave the hotel. All hotel rooms are double or twin share with air conditioning and en suite bathroom. Computers and wifi are available. Approx Travel Time: Private bus Ha Long Bay to Ha Noi: 4 hours. Please note: As this is a combination trip, some of your tour members may depart in Hanoi and you may be joined by some new travelling companions for the Laos portion of your tour.
Day 10-11 Hanoi (2B)
Explore a bit of Hanoi in the morning before an afternoon flight to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. There is a wealth of cultural delights to discover - on foot, by bicycle or, for the less energetic, by tuk-tuk. Visit Laos' most important national monument, Phat That Luang, or meander down the dusty riverside tracks to find villages full of friendly children, dogs and chickens. A visit to Vientiane's vibrant, colorful morning market (which incidentally is open all day!) is worthwhile, to find plenty of local treasures. A great way to round off the day is to enjoy a spectacular sunset over the Mekong. 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. Approx travel time: Transfer hotel to Hanoi airport: 45 min Flight Hanoi to Vientiane: 1.25 hrs Transfer airport to Vientiane hotel: 15 min.
Day 12 Vientiane (1B)
A picturesque drive north takes us to beautiful Vang Vieng. This quiet town is set along the Nam Song river amidst rice fields and limestone karsts. On Day 14 why not explore some of the caves by bicycle or take an invigorating walk. In the evening, soak in the natural beauty of Vang Vieng as the sun sets over the river. Our hotel is centrally located. As the town itself is small, it is convenient to explore on foot. All hotel rooms are double or twin share with air conditioning and en suite bathrooms. Free wifi is available. Approx travel time: Private bus Vientiane to Vang Vieng: 3-4 hrs
Days 13-14 Vang Vieng (2B)
This morning we travel from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang. Luang Prabang has a magical feel about it. Nestled in the hills of northern Laos on the confluence of the Mekong and Khan Rivers, it is studded with ornate temples and French colonial architecture. A visit the Royal Palace Museum, which has remained untouched since the royal family departed in 1975, is sure to impress. Traditional Laotian culture is to give daily alms to monks. Monks are only allowed to eat food which has been donated to them before noon. On one of your mornings here, you may decide to rise with the sun, and watch one of the most important religious ceremonies in Laos. This is simply an unforgettable South East Asian experience. Our hotel tonight is centrally located and convenient for exploring most of the tourist attractions in town by foot. All hotel rooms are double or twin share with air conditioning and en suite bathroom. Computers and wifi are available. Approx travel time: Private bus from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang: 7 hours The road crosses mountains on a winding road. The spectacular views make this overland trip well worth it.
Days 15-16 Luang Prabang (2B)
We board our boat for the two day journey up the mighty Mekong River making our way to Chiang Khong. The journey is relaxed, as we experience the slow pace of village life and the breathtaking scenery along the river. Our private boat is reasonably comfortable and spacious. A toilet is available on board. Fruit, tea and coffee are provided free of charge for you to enjoy and other drinks, such as water and soft drinks might be available for purchase on the boat. It can also be quite cold from November to February so make sure you have some warm gear packed. Tonight we will stay in a basic village homestay along the Mekong including dinner. Typically the group is divided into two or more houses (depending on group size) in close proximity to each other. When it comes time to sleep, mattresses are placed across the floor in central living area. Each mattress comes with a blanket, a pillow and a mosquito net. Bathroom facilities are shared. The evening meal is eaten together in one of the houses with the food provided being very simple - giving you the chance to experience typical Laotian cuisine. A vegetarian option is always served and the second option is typically a pork stirfry. Your local guide will take time to explain the local life of the people in this village. You have the option of swimming in the Mekong. Evenings can get cold, so bring a long sleeved top. Approx Travel Time: 8-10 hours depending on river conditions.
Day 17 Mekong River (1B,1D)
This morning we re-board our boat and continue our leisurely cruise up the river before arriving at the Laos/Thai border and crossing to Chiang Khong in the late afternoon. Our hotel in Chiang Khong is located right on the riverfront of the Mekong river. All hotel rooms are double or twin share with en suite bathroom. Free wifi is available. Approx travel time: Pakbeng to Chiang Khong: 8-10 hours depending on river conditions Immigration to hotel: 10 min
Day 18 Chiang Khong (1B,1L)
Departing Chiang Khong after breakfast, we drive to Chiang Mai where you have the afternoon free to explore this fascinating city, once the capital of the Kingdom of Lan. Surrounded by rolling hills, Chiang Mai offers both pretty scenery and architecture. Enclosed by a moat and crumbling walls, the old city features great cafes, shops and accommodations. An important Buddhist centre since the 14th century, Chiang Mai is home to more than 300 temples. Many visitors come here to attend meditation retreats, massage classes or yoga lessons. It is also a centre of handicraft production, with a long history of silver work, woodcarving, pottery-making and weaving. Not to be missed is the Night Bazaar, a series of covered markets, shops and stalls that offer the best selection of handicrafts in Thailand. Our hotel is located near the Chiang Mai Gate to the old city, walking distance to the many temples and to the famous night markets. The hotel is comfortable twin/double share with en suite bathrooms. Wifi is available. Approx travel time: Private transport Chiang Kong to Chiang Mai: 5 hours
Day 19-20 Chiang Mai
Today, why not try your hand at local cuisine with a Thai cooking class, visit the magnificent temple of Doi Suthep standing watch over the city from the hills above, take a bicycle ride in the countryside or Embrace the Bizarre and get a massage from the training school at the local woman's prison! Tonight we catch our final overnight train to Bangkok Tonight's accommodation is an overnight sleeper train. Bunks 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 is stored beside you. 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, with wash basins. Food and drinks are available on the train, but you may choose to bring your own snacks from the shop and restaurants around the train station. Please note: Due to disruptions of Thai trains in the north during the monsoon season, trips running July through October may be upgraded to a flight and extra hotel night in Chiang Mai instead of the overnight train. Approx travel time: Overnight train Chiang Mai to Bangkok: 12-13 hours
Day 21 Bangkok
We'll arrive early in the morning to Bangkok, Thailand's capital city. The day is free to explore the many sights of Bangkok. The Grand Palace, Wat Po, National Museum, and Jim Thompson's House are just a few suggestions. A trip along the Chao Praya river and through the canals (or klongs) gives you a different perspective of daily life in this busy city. In the evening we'll say good bye and enjoy a Thai meal and perhaps a beer together to celebrate the end of an amazing journey. 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.
Day 22 Bangkok (1B)
You can depart at any time today. Please note that the hotel check out time is 12pm midday. 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.