Explore French colonial cities, vibrant riverside life and lost jungle temples on this fast-paced adventure through Vietnam and Cambodia. We travel using a variety of transport and sample some of the tastiest, most authentic local food Vietnam has to offer. Halong Bay - Cruise through turquoise waters and past towering limestone cliffs Hoi An - Discover the ancient merchant's town with its temples and Chinese architecture. Siem Reap - Explore the once-lost jungle temples of Angkor.
Arrive in Vietnam's capital which is famous for its rich culture, bustling life and colonial influences on their centuries-old architecture. Little lakes dotted around the city are encased by busy streets and secret alleyways, which are waiting to be explored. For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 6pm for the welcome meeting and for those that wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Hanoi at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you will need to arrive into Noi Bai International Airport (HAN), which is only a 45 minutes\ drive to the hotel. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information by note left at the front desk. If your flight arrives earlier in the day, perhaps you might choose to take a stroll through the narrow lanes of the Old Quarter, or perhaps enjoy a gentle walk around Hoan Kiem Lake.
This morning we will embark on a city tour encompassing some of the main sights of Hanoi. The city showcases superb French architecture from its colonial days, with large tree-lined boulevards and low-built mansions and houses. Some of the main sights we will be visiting today will include the One Pillar Pagoda, Confucius Temple and the Presidential Palace. Ho Chi Minh himself, a spartan-living and scholarly man, chose not to live in the Presidential Palace; he preferred instead a simple teak stilt-house specially built for him in the grounds. This afternoon is left free for further exploration. Your Explore Leader will provide you with a map of the Old Quarter should you wish to walk through the narrow lanes of this fascinating district, where the streets are named after various crafts or specialties: Paper Street, Silk Street, Basket Street and so on. The shops themselves have very narrow frontages but are actually quite deep; they are known locally as tube shops. On the pavements food sellers sell noodles, snacks and stir-fries from shoulder panniers, all adding to the charm of this historic quarter of the city.
We leave the city behind this morning and head east towards Halong Bay. The Bay is as mystical as it is beautiful; it is a place where thousands of jagged limestone islands rise majestically out of the jade green waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. It is also the stuff of legend; in fact Halong means: 'Where the dragon descends to the sea'. It is said that the World Heritage site was created by the pounding tail of a dragon as he ran from the mountains into the sea, carving the islands in his wake. This afternoon we raise anchor and head out of the bay, cruising past the towering limestone cliffs, and visiting the eerie Sung Sot Cave. We spend tonight on board a traditional wooden junk boat which has been converted to offer a traditional sailing experience, but with all comforts of a more modern vessel.
We wake this morning to the romantic scenery of Halong Bay and continue our adventure through this awe-inspiring seascape. There will be chances to drop anchor and explore, perhaps visiting a beach, a floating village or a grotto beneath towering cliffs. We enjoy a traditional seafood lunch on board, before disembarking and returning to Hanoi. This evening we board the Reunification Express for our overnight rail journey south, to Danang.
The train is scheduled to arrive around lunchtime into Danang, where we then make the short transfer by road to Hoi An. The historic merchant town of Hoi An had become one of the busiest international trading ports of Southeast Asia by the 17th and 18th centuries. First colonised by the Portuguese in the 16th century it still retains its medieval charm today, with many of its old buildings superbly preserved. After some time to freshen up we will set off on foot for a walking tour through this charming port town. We visit the famous Japanese Bridge, along with some of the Chinese temples and grand meeting halls. The traditional wooden houses are an interesting feature in this town and offer us some wonderful photographic opportunities.
Today is left free to explore and soak up Hoi An's unique atmosphere. There are many shops, bars and restaurants in this charming town and it is a great place to buy souvenirs, have clothing tailored or simply watch the world go by in a riverside café. You may wish to take an optional excursion to the holiest and most evocative of Vietnam's Cham sites, My Son. The Chams were dynastic lords who rejected the authority of China in 2AD and established their own kingdom. Although they benefited from strong sea links with the rest of Southeast Asia the kingdom's interior could not supply sufficient food for a strong military force. For 1000 years they managed to stave off attacks by the Vietnamese and Chinese, before being overcome by the Vietnamese in the 15th century. The track that leads to the site is slow and bumpy through wooded hills, but the site is certainly impressive with several groupings of Cham temples to be visited. Nowhere are the fine masonry skills of the Chams more evident than at My Son, despite the fact that much of the site was bombed in the 1960s. Alternatively, if you would prefer to stay in Hoi An, you can attend a cookery course. Here you can learn the secrets to sumptuous Vietnamese cuisine and sample your own creations for lunch. Another option would be to take a fishing trip out to the Thu Bon River Delta, where we learn how to fish using a traditional cast net. We travel out by boat where we meet local fisherman and try our hand at cast net fishing as well as trying the bamboo winches used to haul in the huge drop nets from the river. We also have a chance to go out in a Vietnamese 'basket boat' - a circular boat constructed from bamboo that takes some practice to row!
This morning has been left free for some last minute-shopping or sightseeing before driving up the coast to Danang. Here we will board our overnight sleeper train south, to the rather different and modern Ho Chi Minh City.
This morning we arrive into Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as it is better known by the locals. Saigon was heavily bombed during the war, and modern day Ho Chi Minh City is now a curious mix of French Colonial architecture and modern gleaming skyscrapers. Today we walk around the central sights of this multi-faceted city, taking in the Notre Dame Cathedral and the GPO building as well as some of the old Colonial hotels such as The Rex. We then drive to the Independence Palace (renamed the Reunification Hall) and the graphic War Remnants Museum, where you will learn about the Vietnam War from a very different view point to that of Hollywood. This afternoon has been left free to either relax, or perhaps for further exploration of this fascinating city.
Today we head into the fertile lands of the Mekong Delta that lie sandwiched between the South China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand. A traditional area where people have lived off the land for generations, we have the chance to witness the daily life of the fisherman and farmers as we cruise through the myriad of waterways that make up the Delta. Passing through narrow tree-lined canals and past floating villages, we reach the trading town of Cai Be where we have the chance to visit the floating market and barter with the locals for exotic fruit, vegetables and refreshments. We enjoy a fresh seafood lunch at a local restaurant before visiting a family business to see how coconut sweets are made. We then transfer back to Ho Chi Minh City late this afternoon.
This morning we take a short drive out to the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels, which formed an incredible underground command base for 10,000 Viet Cong troops and were a major part of the 1968 Tet Offensive. The site offers a fascinating insight into the resourcefulness of the Vietnamese. There is the opportunity to crawl through a small, specially adapted section of the tunnels should you wish to sample the claustrophobic conditions in which the Viet Cong lived. Afterwards we continue north to cross the border into Cambodia, and seemingly into a different world compared to Vietnam. Border formalities take place at Moc Bai (Vietnam) and Bavet (Cambodia) crossing point. Our final destination is Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital.
Phnom Penh is now a lively city, complete with trendy river-side restaurants and bars, a warm welcoming atmosphere and smiling friendly locals. The modern upbeat nature of the city is fascinating to witness, given the recent atrocities the residents of this city would have endured just forty years before. Accompanied by a local guide we visit the National Museum, a treasure trove of beautifully preserved carvings and lintels rescued from Angkor; the glittering Royal Palace Silver Pagoda as well as the temple of Wat Phnom before having some free time in the city. This afternoon there is the option to visit the emotive Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, formerly a high school that became the Khmer Rouge's main torture and interrogation centre; and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek - where the memorial stupa is a glass tower filled with human skulls - a gruesome reminder of the scale of Pol Pot's atrocities.
We set off into the countryside this morning, driving out of the city and towards Siem Reap. The drive is very picturesque, taking us through rural Cambodia, past vast rice fields and through stilted villages. After checking into our base in Siem Reap for the next 3 days, we set off towards the vast Tonle Sap Lake. Here we board our charter boat for a leisurely cruise through the fascinating floating village of Chong Kneas, where we see floating houses, riverside markets and an array of locally made boats.
Our exact programme over the next three days may change slightly at our local guide's discretion. Angkor was actually a series of cities, built between the 9th and the 13th centuries by the Khmer kings, with a population of 750,000 in its heyday. The Angkor complex is spread out over some 155 square kilometres, scattered with magnificent carved stone temples, elegant sculptures and incredible bas reliefs. We visit the Rolous group, which are some of the earliest temples. In the afternoon we visit the temples of Banteay Srei, a small but beautiful temple with exquisite carvings. We end the day at East Mebon, with a visit to Pre Rup temple which enjoys a spectacular sunset.
We continue our exploration with a visit to the temples of King Jayavarman Vll, reputedly Angkor's greatest king. The fortified city of Angkor Thom, which he built at the end of the 12th century, is enclosed by a square wall with five monumental gates decorated with stone elephant trunks. Originally, crocodiles inhabited the moat and huge statues of 54 different gods protected each gate. The city contains another of Angkor's true gems - The Bayon. Although not as impressive as Angkor Wat from a distance, The Bayon is nevertheless incredible for its maze of corridors, gothic style towers and magical central temples. A highlight for many is a visit to the atmospheric temple of Ta Prohm, where the film Tomb Raider was filmed, lying half consumed by the jungle. We leave the best known and most breathtaking of all the sights, Angkor Wat, to the end - where we stay until the sun sets on the last night of our adventure. Please note that from the 1st January 2020 the third tier of the Bayon Temple - the striking centrepiece of the ancient city of Angkor Thom - will be closed until 2022 for extensive restoration. As a result, it will only be possible to view the large stone faces from a distance and it will not be possible to get up close. However, the two lower tiers will remain open and accessible, so it will be possible to view the impressive bas-reliefs and intricate stone carvings around the temple.
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Siem Reap. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Siem Reap at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Siem Reap International Airport (REP), which is 20 minutes from the hotel. If you have time you may choose to browse the old market for some last minute bargains, visit a fish spa or enjoy afternoon tea at The Foreign Correspondent's Club.
12 Break Fast(s) 3 Lunch(es) 1 Dinner(s)
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