Discover the incredible diversity, delectable cuisines, dramatic histories and natural beauty of Cambodia and Vietnam. Delve into the confronting Khmer legacy in Phnom Penh, view Vietnam's colourful history on the busy streets of Ho Chi Minh City and explore the colonial-era grand architecture of Hanoi. This trip offers places of breathtaking beauty, from the backwaters of the Mekong Delta, to the jungles of Cambodia and the natural limestone wonder of Halong Bay. Add to that a mix of friendly locals and age-old traditions for the ultimate 20-day South East Asian experience.
Sua s'dei. Welcome to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. You'll be transferred to your hotel – check with hotel reception for more information about your important group meeting this evening. If you have free time in the afternoon, perhaps stroll the streets of Phnom Penh and explore the city, taking in the interesting French colonial architecture. The National Museum, with its collection of classic Khmer craftsmanship, is well worth a visit. Dinner tonight will be at the restaurant run by Friends International. You might decide to go for a drink at the Foreign Correspondents' Club afterwards. Notes: The restaurant run by Friends International is closed on public and school holidays. Alternative dinner arrangements will be made during these times.
Today a full city tour introduces you to the sights of Phnom Penh, a city that lies near the confluence of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers. The private quarters of the Royal Palace are home to King Sihamoni and are closed to the public. You will, however, be able to visit the Silver Pagoda that lies in the palace complex, which is the most sacred temple in the country. Phnom Penh remains a living relic of the country’s past struggles and successes. Your included visits to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek tell the story of the tragic legacy of the Khmer Rouge. There is an optional visit to Wat Phnom, the temple that gave rise to the foundation of the city in the 15th century. Later you head out of town to a working monastery to learn more about the life of a monk and Theravada Buddhism. Buddhism in Cambodia is a way of life that most people incorporate into their daily life. You will get to meet the monks, enjoy a sacred water blessing for good luck and prosperity, have a red band tied around your wrist to keep you safe in your travels and see the temple’s fascinating Pagoda art. Note: The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S21) and Killing Fields of Choeung Ek are major parts of the experience here, but if you don't wish to visit them, please inform your leader.
Fly north to Siem Reap (approximately 40 minutes) where the great temples of Angkor await. After a relaxing morning at your hotel, travel into the countryside to a local farming community, walk through rice fields and learn about Cambodian stilt homes and life in a typical farming village. Hear about the myriad ways a non-government organisation called HUSK Cambodia works directly with this community to improve the lives of Cambodian families. End the day with a stop for a sunset drink at a scenic point overlooking the countryside.
Spend a full day visiting the amazing temples of Angkor on a guided exploration. Angkor Wat is the largest and most complete structure, and the only one of Angkor's temples that has its entrance facing west – the others face east. Then there is Angkor Thom, the 'Great Royal City', a temple famous for its series of colossal human faces carved in stone. Of all the temples visited today, Bayon temple is the centrepiece, with over 200 smiling carved faces and more than 50 gothic towers. For lunch you'll visit the Sala Bai Hotel School where underprivileged local youths learn skills that enable them to find gainful employment in the hospitality industry. Here you can enjoy a meal prepared by students at the school. After lunch it’s off to the Ta Prohm temple, which has large trees embedded in the stone foundations of the structure – powerful symbols of nature. Note: The Sala Bai Hotel School is closed on public and school holidays, so on these days an alternative restaurant will be used.
Embrace a very early start today if you wish to experience a sunrise visit to the Angkor complex (this is optional). From here, continue onto Banteay Srei. You'll see it's not a huge temple, but thanks to its intricate stone carvings it is sometimes referred to as ‘the jewel in the crown of Angkorian art’. At this point you can either head back to your hotel or carry on exploring more temples, such as Preah Khan. This temple contains a maze of vaulted corridors and is another complex that has been largely reclaimed by the jungle. Your ticket for the Angkor ruins also lets you spend more time exploring this site. Otherwise you might like to take a free afternoon to explore the town. If you have time, perhaps indulge in a traditional Khmer massage. Tonight you will enjoy a final dinner at a great restaurant in town serving local cuisine.
Take an unaccompanied flight from Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh City where you'll be met and transferred to your hotel. There are no activities planned until another group meeting in the evening, usually at 6 pm. If you do have time, get out and acquaint yourself with the city beforehand – it is a bustling centre of shopping, historic sites and traffic mayhem. Afterwards, enjoy a welcome dinner with your new group at one of the city's excellent eateries.
After breakfast, drive south to Ben Tre for a boat cruise along the intricate and beautiful waterways of the Mekong Delta. En route you'll stop and visit an orchard and sample some local tropical fruit and visit some local cottage industries. As the sun starts to drop, continue to your local guesthouse, your place of rest tonight. Here you will enjoy a beautiful home-cooked meal of local specialties.
Today you'll return to Ho Chi Minh City, and take a bus and walking tour around the city. You'll visit Reunification Palace, the War Remnants Museum and the Notre Dame Cathedral. Admire the many beautiful French colonial buildings along the way, such as the main Post Office and the former Hotel de Ville (city hall). Ho Chi Minh City is full of history and you will visit many of the major sites today.
This morning after breakfast, head on a half-day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels – an extensive underground network (some 200 kilometres) of tunnels dug initially by the Viet Minh and later expanded by the Viet Cong. They contained hospitals, dwellings and schools and were used extensively for refuge and storage, as well as being a military base. As you explore this extraordinary labyrinth you will learn more about its history and the 1968 Tet Offensive. A section of the tunnels has been widened to allow tourists to get a feel for what the underground life must have been like. Please note that these tunnels will be hot and can get claustrophobic, so there is an option if you’d like to view from above ground. Later this afternoon, fly to Dalat (approximately 1 hour).
Dalat is high in Vietnam’s southern highlands, and is surrounded by hills, pine forests, lakes and waterfalls – it is a natural mountain paradise. Dalat, commonly known as the City of Flowers, is part of a region ideal for growing crops and flowers that cannot be otherwise grown in Vietnam, because of its temperate climate and high rainfall. Today, visit some of these plantations, including the renowned flower and vegetable gardens, a coffee plantation, and an interesting visit to a cricket farm, where you may have the chance to taste these delicacies. Afterwards, see the process of silk making at a silk farm, then head deep into nature in search of some stunning waterfalls. Today is a jam-packed day, so perhaps choose to relax this evening. If you still want to keep exploring, there are some vibrant night markets in the centre of town, spilling into the streets around Nguyen Thi Minh Khai.
Enjoy a free morning in Dalat to perhaps explore the Bao Dai Summer Palace and gardens, or head to the Crazy House – a bizarre guesthouse commissioned by avant-garde architect Hang Nga, who still lives on site. In the afternoon, take a short flight to Danang (approximately 1 hour). From here you will embark on a short ride by private vehicle to Hoi An (approximately 1 hour). Hoi An was originally a Cham port town but has been influenced by traders from many cultures. With its charming low tiled houses and tranquil feel, this is a delightful town to walk around. You'll notice a distinctly Chinese appearance here, with pagodas and assembly halls scattered along the narrow lanes.
A morning walking tour today takes you to a historic house (formerly home to a prominent trader), the Japanese Covered Bridge, a Chinese assembly hall and a museum. Afterwards, sit down to a delicious lunch with the group. This afternoon you are free to make the most of Hoi An and its surrounding areas. Your leader will be able to help with suggestions for extra activities in Hoi An and the surrounding countryside.
The day is yours to spend as you please in this historic haven. Hoi An is renowned for its specialist tailors and some do same-day turnaround, so perhaps take this opportunity to get some clothing made from some unique local fabrics. If you feel like getting active, beautiful Cua Dai Beach is located nearby and is easily accessible by bicycle (you can rent them in town). Otherwise, book in a tour to My Son Cham to explore the ruins dating back to the 4th century. You might also like to visit a local workshop to learn how to make your own rice paper. A Vietnamese cooking class too is a great way to familiarise yourself with some age-old culinary techniques, not to mentioning feasting on the fruits of your own labour!
Depart Hoi An today bound for Hue: the former imperial capital and hub of Vietnam's historic past. En route, pass through the Hai Van Pass – a scenic mountainous stretch of highway with views across Lang Co beach. Arrive in Hue and discover its eclectic mix of frenetic streets and peaceful beauty. In the afternoon you will visit the Imperial Citadel, including the Forbidden Purple City. The latter was almost completely destroyed during the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War, but its humble, foliage-covered ruins remain a testament to its proud history. Here you'll gain some insight into the horrific damage endured during the war.
Venture out this morning for a local breakfast, feasting on a popular dish called bun bo hue, which contains rice vermicelli (bun) and beef (bo). This is a signature of the city, and is a fresh and delicious start to the day. Head in a private vehicle to Tam Giang lagoon – one of South East Asia’s largest freshwater areas, which provides this part of the country with a rich ecosystem and fruitful fishing ground. It is where the region’s three largest rivers – Huong, Bo and O Lau – meet before they reach the sea. Take a boat trip on the lagoon, passing by local fisherman on their daily catch, and then head to a local home for a prepared seafood lunch. If your fishing adventure did not provide much to eat, not to worry – the locals will ensure that there’s enough food to go around, including vegetarian options. In the afternoon, take a visit to the Thien Mu Pagoda, the unofficial symbol of Hue. The Pagoda is an active Buddhist monastery that dates back to 1601. You will also visit the elaborate royal tomb of Emperor Tu Duc, with its beautiful lake, frangipani and pine trees. Afterwards, travel back to your hotel for a relaxing evening.
Fly from Hue to Hanoi today (approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes). Your departure will mostly likely be in the morning but can vary a little depending on flight schedules. After some free time on arrival, be taken through the ancient 36 Streets and discover a varied selection of shop-lined alleys that sell everything from souvenirs to exquisite silk clothing, jewellery and beautifully embroidered tablecloths. In the afternoon, be treated to a traditional Hat Xam performance. Hat Xam is an artform of Northern Vietnam dating back to the Tran Dynasty, and literally translates to ‘singing in darkness’. Originally, this was performed by blind performers, and was enjoyed by local working-class audiences, right up until the late 1950s, when a wave of communism deemed all art forms to be corrupting influences. Today, this style of performance occurs rarely, but you and your group will be taken to a private club house for an exclusive performance; one of the few places where such artists still perform acoustically. The performance takes around 90 minutes, and includes some story telling aspects, performances and possibly interaction with guests, so be ready to get involved!
Enjoy a guided half-day tour of Hanoi, visiting the major sights, including the Temple of Literature, One Pillar Pagoda and the former residence of Vietnam’s most famous revolutionary, Ho Chi Minh. Enjoy a delicious lunch at KOTO restaurant – an Intrepid Foundation supported program that teaches disadvantaged youth hospitality skills. In your free time, the Vietnam Fine Arts museum is well worth a visit. Walking is a great way to explore the city, many lakes and parks provide enjoyable escapes. You'll see that this enchanting northern capital can be quieter than its southern counterpart, and the West Lake, north of the main city, is an ideal place to interact with the locals and relax by its banks.
Leave your luggage at the hotel and pack an overnight bag as you drive to Halong Bay (approximately 3 hours). Take in glorious views of this World Heritage-listed beauty and its spectacular limestone islands. You will travel to Tuan Chau Port (Halong City West) and board a boat for an exploration of the karsts and caves in the bay, stopping to explore Surprise Cave on foot. Access to Surprise Cave is via staircases. Once inside the cave the pathways are a little uneven and slippery. On board your ship, enjoy a seafood lunch and dinner, with other dietary options available. During the warmer months your leader will discuss the option for swimming from Ti Top Island. There is also the option for kayaking to get up close to the towering limestone karsts. A candle-lit dinner on the deck of the boat (weather permitting) is a truly memorable experience, as the views at sunset are stunning.
In the morning, sail back to the port, disembark and take a bus back to Hanoi (approximately 3 hours). Arriving back in the capital, there will be a few hours free to wander around and enjoy some of the city’s attractions you may have missed the first time. You can shop on Hang Gai Street or perhaps enjoy some afternoon tea at the Metropole Hotel. In the evening, enjoy a dinner in a Hanoi restaurant, sharing stories with your newfound friends.
After breakfast, you are free to leave at any time, as there are no activities planned today. If you would like to spend some more time in Hanoi, we’ll be happy to organise some additional accommodation for you (subject to availability).
Minimum: 1 Maximum: 12
19 Breakfasts, 6 Dinners
Delve into the dramatic Khmer legacy in Phnom Penh on a full-day guided tour around the Cambodian capital, passing by the sobering Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S21) and Killing Fields of Choeung Ek.
Enjoy two days of fully guided Angkor complex tours in Siem Reap, with in-depth insights into the history of these extraordinary structures and plenty of time to see the spectacular Angkor Wat.
Discover Vietnam's astounding histories, both modern and ancient, from the Cu Chi war tunnels in Ho Chi Minh City to old-world heritage and architectural marvels of Hue.
A cruise along the waterways and a friendly guesthouse in the Mekong Delta and a candle lit seafood dinner on a junk boat in Halong Bay are just some memorable moments on your small-group adventure.
Discover the French influence of the northern city of Hanoi, and be treated to an exclusive Hat Xam performance – an ancient art form conducted in darkness.
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