Embarking on a whirlwind Southeast Asian adventure, our journey took us through the cultural tapestries of Chiang Mai, Luang Prabang, Siem Reap, Ho Chi Minh, and Bangkok. From ancient temples to bustling markets, each destination unveiled its unique charm, leaving us spellbound by the rich history and vibrant energy of this captivating region.
Day 1, Sun: Arrive Chiang Mai (No meals)
Arrival in Chiang Mai, after check-in and debriefing, you’ll guide will take you to visit to the vibrant Worarot Market by the riverfront. From there, we’ll embark on a “Samlor,” or rickshaw ride, passing through Thapae Gate, one of the city’s original gates. We’ll then explore Wat Chedi Luang, a beautifully preserved example of Lanna Thai temple architecture. Next, we’ll visit Wat Phrasing, home to the exquisite Lai Kham Chapel with its intricate wood carvings and Northern-style murals. Our journey continues as we drive up to Wat Prathat Doi Suthep, where you’ll experience a traditional blessing ceremony. Take in the scenic views before returning to your hotel.
Day 2, Mon: Chiang Mai (Breakfast, Lunch)
Depart from the hotel for a captivating adventure to Doi Inthanon National Park. At the highest peak, you’ll have the opportunity to explore the enchanting Ang-Kha Nature Trail, surrounded by lush ferns and moss. Visit the Twin Pagodas, a tribute from the Thai Air Force to their Majesties King and Queen on their 60th Birthday Anniversaries. Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant. Afterward, embark on a hike along the Pha Dok Siew trail for nearly two hours, passing through rice fields to reach a serene Karen tribe village. The Karen people have mastered living harmoniously with nature and practice organic farming. Here, you can savor exquisite coffee in the peaceful, picturesque surroundings before returning to Chiang Mai.
Day 3, Tue: Chiang Mai (Breakfast, Lunch)
Our day kicks off with a hotel pick-up, followed by a visit to one of Chiang Mai’s largest local markets, the Sam Yaek Market. Here, you’ll shop alongside locals and gain insight into selecting the ingredients integral to Thai cuisine. Later, we head to a beautiful organic garden farm for an enjoyable experience of harvesting fresh ingredients for the day. You’ll spend a delightful day learning how to prepare your favorite Thai dishes, including curries, stir-fries, salads, desserts, street food, and local home-style cuisine.
Day 4, Wed: Chiang Mai – Luang Prabang (Breakfast)
Morning pick-up from your hotel and transfer to Chiang Mai Airport for your short flight to the northern capital of Laos, Luang Prabang, a World Heritage Site.
Upon arrival at Luang Prabang Airport, after you finish all customs and immigration procedures, please head to the exit gate and look for your guide who will be waiting for you, holding a welcome signboard with your name on it. Then, you will be transferred to your hotel in town by a private vehicle. The remainder of the day is at leisure or explore the surroundings on your own.
Day 5, Thu: Luang Prabang (Breakfast)
Set in Laos northern mountains, Luang Prabang, once the royal seat of the Lane Xang Kingdom or “Land of a Million Elephants”, is a sleepy town perched in a peaceful mountain valley at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers. Endowed with a picturesque landscape of palm lined riverbanks, ornate golden temples, and ancient monuments amongst the backdrop of the towering Mt. Phousi, It is no wonder that UNESCO declared Luang Prabang as a World Heritage Site in 1995. Today, spend a full day exploring the key highlights that make the elegant tranquility of this charming town. Start the exploration with a visit to the Royal Palace featuring the combination of the French beaux-arts styles and traditional Laos architecture. The palace is now turned to a National Museum boating the precious collections of the Royal artifacts.
Drive or enjoy a leisurely walk on through the peaceful tree-lined streets to admire some of Luang Prabang’s famous temples. Considered as a significant religious symbol of the Buddhist architecture, Wat Xieng Thong is a great masterpiece of mosaics and carved wood featuring traditional Lao style. Wat Aham signifies “The Monastery of the Blossoming Heart”; and is widely known as the “watermelon stupa” because of its distinctive rounded shape. Wat Vitsoun, the most ancient temple of Luang Prabang, was built with simple architecture and housed the Prabang Buddhas ancient statues and steles.
In the afternoon, visit Wat Mai, one of the town’s most sumptuous monasteries, famed for its classic Laos architectural style. The temple once housed the most revered Buddha image, which was later removed to the Royal Palace Museum. Climb up to the top of Mount Phousi to explore the sacred, gilded stupa and admire the panoramic sunset view of the Mekong and Khan rivers as well as the mountain range. At the end of the day, opt to stroll around the Street Night Bazaar where you can find the various handicraft collections such as hand-woven silks by local weavers, indigenous Lao wood handcrafted by master carvers and turners, handicrafts made from silk, and other natural products including packaged spices.
Day 6, Fri: Luang Prabang (Breakfast)
Set off for a leisure boat trip to discover the famous Pak Ou Caves, which sits beneath a dramatic karst formation about 25 kilometers away from downtown Luang Prabang. Located next to the mighty Mekong and opposite the mouth of the Mekong and the Ou rivers, two magical caves embedded into the limestone cliff and crammed with myriad sacred Buddhist statues and images
Get onboard a traditional long-tail boat for cruising gently on the Mekong River. Admire the sleepy villages mostly visible behind the huge trees, wooden sampans bobbing by the shore attached to bamboo poles, and the floating marks showing the location of nets and fish traps. Upon arrival, start exploring the magical cave systems: the lower cave houses a photogenic group of Buddha statues, silhouetted against the stunning riverine backdrop, the upper cave is a 7-minute climb up steps surrounded by lush trees. You will notice Buddhas in every position, every era of life, and every size line the cave walls and understand a sacred religious practice that depicts the devotion and commitment of Laotian to Buddhism.
This afternoon, enjoy a scenic 1-hour drive south of Luang Prabang, to visit the Kuang Si waterfall, one of Luang Prabang’s most picturesque sights with a multi-tiered cascade of pale turquoise blue water flowing from the thick jungle above into perfectly sculpted limestone pools below. Opt to stop along the way at a hill tribe village to take in the sights and sounds of the local life. Follow the unpaved trail as it gradually climbs through the forest to reach different levels of natural blue pools, some are shallow and one central pool has a rope swing. Swimming in the refreshing waters is possible, although between November and January the water temperature is very cold. Take a leisurely hike through the natural park past the Asian Bear Rescue Center, home to more than 20 Asiatic Black Bears rescued from dire circumstances. The bears live in an enclosure with lots of trees, swings, and other playthings. Stroll along with the wooden viewing platform and view the adorable beasts as they lazily lounge or play together or search for foods.
Day 7, Sat: Luang Prabang – Siem Reap (Breakfast)
The alms-giving ceremony (or Tak Bat in Lao) is a longstanding tradition of Lao Buddhist culture as well as a sacred ceremony for Luang Prabang’s residents. Every morning, hundreds of monks in vivid saffron-colored robes leave their pagodas and walk barefoot down the streets, quietly line up and collect offerings from devout Buddhists.
Today, wake up before dawn to witness and take in offering alms to hundreds of saffron-robed monks in the early morning light. This is also one of the ways that Buddhists can make merit, helping contribute good circumstances for the future. A gift of alms can be prepared if you wish to make an offering. Then observe the town come to life and continue to visit a bustling morning market to peruse a vibrant range of uniquely Lao ingredients. Enjoy the sights and sounds of the local life before heading back to your hotel.
Return to the hotel for check-out and transfer to airport for your flight to Siem Reap.
Day 8, Sun: Siem Reap (Breakfast)
Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Angkor complex is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia as it contains the outstanding remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th Century.
Today, set off to encounter the beautiful temples which are considered as Angkor’s jewel. Transfer from your hotel to Ta Prohm, perhaps most popularly known as The Tomb Raider temple. Built in the late 12th and early 13th Centuries as a Buddhist temple dedicated to the mother of Jayavarman VII, this
beautiful temple is the photogenic and atmospheric combination of trees growing out of the ruins and the jungle surroundings. The magnificent tree roots have merged over the centuries with the temple’s huge stone blocks, emphasizing a “forgotten city” feeling.
Explore the ancient Angkor Thom, founded by King Jayavarman VII in the 12th Century and was one of the largest Khmer cities and remained the capital until the 17th Century. Get inside the reinforced city of Angkor Thom to admire the mysterious Bayon temple, crowned with the large number of serene faces sculpted on its towers. Also, take this chance to learn more about the intricate carvings of the Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King.
Your temple exploration continues as you enter the gate of Angkor Wat, a vast temple complex originally constructed in the early 12th Century by King Suryavarman II. Originally constructed as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu for the Khmer Empire, it was gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple. Stroll through the intricate and astonishing bas-reliefs that represent hundreds of fine carvings of Apsara, Hindu mythology as well as key events in its narrative tradition. Be amazed by the sheer size of the temple and learn how the Khmer Empire prospered between the 9th and 13th Century.
Day 9, Mon: Siem Reap (Breakfast)
Today, depart to Siem Reap’s outskirts to visit Banteay Srei which translates to “the Citadel of the Women”. Originally constructed in the 10th Century and dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, this red sandstone temple is one of Angkor’s most significant structures as its walls are decorated with elaborate carvings which have been remarkably well preserved. These magnificent ruins offer a great insight into the Angkor civilization and their beliefs. Drive back to downtown Siem Repa, stop along the way to visit Banteay Samre, the 12th-century Hindu temple often compared to a mini Angkor Wat.
In the afternoon, continue to visit to visit one of the largest floating villages of Tonle Sap Lake. Located about 60 kilometers away from downtown Siem Reap, Kampong Kleang is home to over 20,000 people, many of whom have been living here for generations. Set off for a memorable cruise discovering a massive floating community. Take in the amazing views and colors of the floating houses and the flooded forest. You will get to know how the floating villagers earn their living by fishing the Tonle Sap. It is possible to make a stop along the waterway to have a chat with the local villagers to learn more about how this floating community lives, works, and trades. One thing to be sure, life on land is very different from life on the water!
Day 10, Tue: Siem Reap (Breakfast)
A one-hour drive through stunning scenery gets you to the foothills of Kulen Mountain, considered a haven for nature and wildlife lovers. Visit the Bos Thom Community Forest, home of retired Angkor Temple elephants. These elephants have spent their entire life entertaining tourists and are now living out their golden years in peace. This half-day package provides you a chance to interact with elephants in their natural habitat, learn about the creatures’ fascinating history and behavior, and make memories that will endure for a lifetime.
Day 11, Wed: Siem Reap – Ho Chi Minh (Breakfast)
Breakfast at hotel, time to relax until transfer to airport for your flight to Ho Chi Minh.
Upon arrival at Tan Son Nhat Airport, after you finish all customs and immigration procedures, please head to the exit gate and look for your guide who will be waiting for you, holding a welcome signboard with your name on it. Then, you will be transferred to your hotel in town by a private vehicle.
Being Vietnam’s commercial centre, Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as “Saigon”) is famed for its busy street life throughout the day, it particularly comes alive at night. Tonight, get ready to explore Saigon’s exciting night-time culinary scene from the back of a motorbike and understand what makes Southern Vietnamese cuisine famous. After the tour briefing, join the hustling traffic, wander through the backstreets as the sun goes down. Stroll through some lively street food gems where you will sit down and sample the trendiest dishes which are well-known by locals, well-loved by locals, and well-eaten by locals. Personalized for the curious minds who love to put their footprints off the beaten track, the flexible menus introduce you to different courses including most popular local specialties such as green papaya salad with beef jerky, trendy street food of Saigon like “Vietnamese pizza”, steamed seafood with chili and lemongrass, sugarcane juice… This is another approach to get in touch with
Saigon’s soul through its gastronomy when the sun goes down.
Day 12, Thu: Ho Chi Minh (Breakfast)
Set off with your guide for a half-day excursion taking in some of the important sites of the city. Visit the War Remnants Museum which presents a partial yet vivid view of the American War through the Vietnamese’s eyes as it contains fascinating remnants and photographs of the past including US armored vehicles, artillery pieces, bombs, and infantry weapons. (Please note that some of the displays are very graphic and sensitive).
Wind your way to one of the most significant historical sites of the city, the Reunification Palace which is former Residence of the Indochina Governor-General and later of the President of the Republic of Southern Vietnam until the down fall on April 30, 1975. Take a stroll around the Palace and admire the amazing work of its architecture while learning from your guide the untold stories connected to great changes in Ho Chi Minh City’s history.
A short drive or walk away is one of Saigon’s most historic landmarks, the Notre Dame Cathedral, a red brick edifice with twin spires, based on the original construction from Paris. Then head across the square to the Central Post Office, designed by the French architect, Gustav Eiffel, before he had risen to fame for the Eiffel Tower.
Opt to wander along with the many tantalizing shops of Dong Khoi Street, once known as Rue Catinat, the boulevard where the high society flocked and shopped in colonial times. Conclude your visit to the bustling Ben Thanh Market to enjoy shopping and discover your bargaining power and come away with unusual items that will always remind you of this exciting day.
This afternoon, get ready to embark on an exciting journey exploring how Saigon has changed over the years and how its history, culture, and urbanization have shaped the city. Meander through the alleys giving you a glimpse into local life. Wind your way through a slum area and stop to talk to the residents, many of whom have spent their entire lives in the same tiny houses.
Get lost in Saigon’s alleyways and relax at Saigon’s oldest café, now in its 80th year of operation. Attend a talk with the owner to find out how she prepares coffee using a long stocking-like fabric filter, a charcoal stove, and traditional clay pots to create a style of coffee that was originally used by Chinese coffee vendors. Walk through the corridors of a French colonial apartment building and listen to your guide’s stories of the building’s mysterious past
Cap off your memorable exploration of new urban areas of the city where the striking contrasts between old and new will astound you. Stunning historical landmarks and modern skyscrapers provide a stunning backdrop for the sunset over the Saigon River.
Day 13, Fri: Ho Chi Minh (Breakfast)
Originally dug as a base to organize guerrilla-style actions against the French, the Cu Chi tunnels were expanded during the Indochina War to become an ingenious and incredible underground network to protect the Viet Cong guerrillas from the French air and ground sweeps. There are more than 200 kilometers of subterraneous complexes containing storage rooms, kitchens, hospitals, sleeping quarters and even schools, once occupied by more than 10,000 people.
Today, depart Ho Chi Minh City for 1.5-hour drive northwest to the famous Cu Chi Tunnels, passing through urbanized areas and a typically lush southern Vietnamese countryside. Tour the vast network of underground passageways to gain an insight into the tunnels’ history, life in the tunnels as well as the tenacity and resourcefulness of the Vietnamese during combat.
- The Cu Chi Tunnels have been widened in places for western visitors, however they can still be dark, hot and claustrophobic inside so please bear this in mind if you do not like enclosed spaces. For those who choose to stay above the ground there are plenty of easily accessible rooms and excavated areas to visit.
Day 14, Sat: Ho Chi Minh – Bangkok (Breakfast)
Situated not too far away from downtown Ho Chi Minh, Cho Lon is a historic and cultural Chinatown. This morning, meet with your guide and drive west toward China town. Upon arrival, start walking through the vibrantly colored Soi Kinh Lam textile market. The market is well known for its long-established role as a crucial distribution product not only for the city but entire southern Vietnam. Continue walking past by the scenes of daily life on the way and get a chance to observe the street life of the area by venturing through Cho Lon’s busiest streets.
Stop at Cha Tam Church where President Ngo Dinh Diem was seized after taking refuge, after fleeing the Presidential Palace. From here hop on a local cyclo for a leisure ride around the Chinatown area, offering a great opportunity to admire the Chinese architecture through the local houses, pagodas, and temples, explore the sights and sounds of China town with your guide explaining everything along the way. Stop at the Hao Sy Phuong Alley to explore the heart and soul of the Chinese community in Ho Chi Minh City. This is an authentic place where the local people live their tranquil life away from the noise of the city. Wind your way to a famous Chinese temple, with the enormous burning incense-coils
that never fail to impress. Take time to make a wish, write it on a small card and attach it to one of the incense coils according to local customs.
Evening arrival at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, clear through immigration and luggage collection before exiting into the arrival hall where your guide will be waiting to meet you, after transfer by air-conditioned vehicle to your hotel for check-in.
Day 15, Sun: Bangkok (Breakfast)
Experience Bangkok’s many contrasts on a private tour that starts with a hidden gem for a picture-perfect view over the Wat Traimit. See the immense 5.5-ton Buddha statue made from gold, and explore the temple’s surroundings. Then, go to Chinatown to immerse yourself in one of the city’s food havens, day and night. Stroll among the stalls, restaurants, gold shops and Chinese temples before taking a local bus to Pak Klong Talad Flower Market. Mix with the locals as they buy flowers to use as offerings in the temple. Follow your guide to the beautiful Buddhist temple complex of Wat Pho and admire the reclining Buddha statue before a lunch of typical Thai food. Next, travel by tuk tuk and experience the city from a different perspective. Climb the man-made hill to the Golden Mount to see the golden chedi (Buddhist stupa) at the top. Get a 360-degree panoramic view of Bangkok as you soak up the serene atmosphere. Climb aboard a boat and ride from Phan Fa Lilart pier to get a glimpse of the city’s local hustle and bustle, traveling down the canal, watch out, as you may catch sight of a monitor lizard lurking around. End with a refreshing drink at a local venue chosen by your guide before bidding farewell, we will leave you at the sky train station for you to return to the hotel on your own later.
The remainder of the day is at leisure for you to relax, but if you wish to go out, speak to your guide about optional tours, we especially recommend a visit to the Thai Boxing at Ratchadamnoen Stadium.
Day 16, Mon: Bangkok (Breakfast, Lunch)
Your journey commences with a leisurely drive through rice paddies and salt fields. En route we visit farmhouse along the way and watch locals produce sugar from coconut. The tour continues with a 30-minute longtail boat trip along fruit plantation to see Thai houses and the traditional way of life. Arriving at Damnoen Saduak floating market you will be fascinated by boats of various shapes and sizes used by local merchants to ferry their goods. Continue to the Maeklong Railway Market. It is one of the largest fresh seafood markets in Thailand, and is centered around the track of the Maeklong Railway. When trains approach, the awnings and shopfronts are moved back from the rails, and then replaced once the train has passed. Lunch will be provided at a local restaurant. Continue to the home of the former Kings of Siam of the Chakri Dynasty, originally built by King Rama I, it served as the royal residence until 1946. Today the palace is still used on certain occasions for visiting royalty or special guests of the Kingdom. Adjoining the Grand Palace you will find the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Keo), which is probably the best-known of the royal temples. It is regarded as the most important temple in all of Thailand and it is the venue of many of the numerous religious ceremonies in which the King participates, especially at the beginning of each of the three seasons when His Majesty personally changes the elaborate robes of the Buddha image, carved out of a single piece of emerald-green jasper.
Day 17, Tue: Depart Bangkok (Breakfast)
Today your guide and vehicle will pick you up from the hotel, and transfer you to the airport to check-in for your flight home.