Sa-wat dee! Welcome to Thailand. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6pm on Day 1. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where it will take place, and have your insurance details and next of kin information ready for collection. Bangkok has so much to offer those with time to explore, so perhaps arrive a day or so early and take a riverboat to Chinatown and explore the crowded streets, uncover the magnificent Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, pay a visit to Wat Pho (home to the country's largest reclining Buddha), wander down the tourist mecca of Khao San Road, or indulge in some Thai massage. After the meeting tonight perhaps gather your fellow travellers together and tuck into some into world famous street food.
A long travel day awaits you today. It's a long drive from Bangkok to Siem Reap by private bus (approximately 10 hours/450 kilometres, including border crossing and lunch). You will exit Thailand at Aranyaprathet and enter Cambodia at Poipet. Your leader will help you with border procedures. If you are getting your visa at the border you will need cash in US dollars. From Poipet to Siem Reap is approximately another 150 kilometres. The small but expanding town of Siem Reap is the gateway to Angkor. This is the most popular destination for travellers in all of Cambodia, perhaps even in South East Asia. You'll probably notice a change of pace here, so take a walk and enjoy the atmosphere. Perhaps start by hitting the local markets to try some delicious street food.
Spend a full day temple-hopping with your local guide to make the most of your visit to the world-famous Angkor complex, built between the 9th and 13th centuries when the Khmer empire was the pre-eminent influence in South-East Asia. The ruins are scattered over an area of some 160 square kilometres, but the main cluster of temples is close to Siem Reap so you'll have plenty of time to fully appreciate the great archaeological sites. These include Angkor Wat, the Bayon and the jungle-covered Ta Prohm. The temples were believed to represent the cosmic world and were set in perfect balance, symmetry and composition. The intricately carved bas-reliefs and architectural designs are mind-blowing and there are spectacular photographic opportunities at any time of day - watching a sunrise or sunset is a must.
Continue your exploration of the Angkor Complex this morning on a half-day tour. The constructions you’ll see yesterday and today include the eponymous Angkor Wat, 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 that is famous for its series of colossal human faces carved in stone. Of all the temples visited, Bayon temple is the centrepiece, with over 200 smiling carved faces and more than 50 gothic towers. You’ll also visit Ta Prohm temple, where nature has taken over again and large trees are embedded in the stone foundations of the structure. Your afternoon will then be free and there are some optional activities to keep you busy. If you feel like some adventure, maybe do the Angkor zip-line course, which gives you a birds-eye view of the beautiful rainforest – and an adrenaline rush, of course. Depending on the season there may be a chance to visit visit Tonle Sap Lake and its floating villages, or explore the town’s market stalls and shops, where the silks, cottons, sarongs, silver and statues are a riot of colour and a feast for the eyes.
Travel by private bus to Sambor Prei Kuk and your homestay (approximately 3.5 hours). You will embark on a tour of the village with your local guide. The guide will introduce you to the way of life of the local people, your homestay facilities and your hosts for tonight. Facilities are simple at your homestay, but this is a fantastic opportunity to experience everyday life in rural Cambodia. The temple ruins at Sambor Prei Kuk just nearby are some of the oldest in the country (dating back to the 6th century) and are well worth a visit (this is optional). In the evening, relax and unwind as you enjoy a traditional Khmer dinner with your host family.
Notes: We stay in the one room in multishare accommodation. Depending on the group size, we may use two homestays that are located close to each other. The will be a thin mattress on the floor, with pillow provided and mosquito net. The bathroom facilities will be shared and will often consist of a squat style toilet and a washing area. The washing area may be a shower or it could be Asia style with a bucket shower. This is when there will be a large bucket of water with a small scoop that you use to poor water over yourself. Towels will be provided for you to use for washing. For passengers wanting a little more comfort we recommend bringing your own towel and extra pillow.
After breakfast, leave the village and travel to Phnom Penh in a private minibus (approximately 4 hours). The journey is a great opportunity to see the real Cambodia, with several stops at points of interest along the way. It may be possible to see the cottage industry at Santuk Silk Farm and sample the local cuisine of deep-fried spiders at Skun. Cambodia's capital is set on a major junction of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers and boasts some fine examples of French-influenced architecture. This afternoon, enjoy some free time for optional activities. Perhaps explore Wat Phnom, a peaceful temple situated on a local hill. A great way to see the city's key landmarks is a cyclo tour, which generally covers the central market, US Embassy, Wat Phnom, Mekong river front, Independence Monument and Royal Palace. If you're in the mood for shopping, stop in at the art-deco Psar Thmei (Central Market), or travel out to Psar Tuol Tom Pong (Russian Market) for the best range of local souvenirs.
Phnom Penh remains a living relic of the country’s past struggles and successes. Your included visits to the Tuol Sleng Prison Museum and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek tell the story of the tragic legacy of the Khmer Rouge. Tuol Sleng is a former school that served as a Khmer Rouge torture centre, and it’s estimated that more than 20,000 people were held and tortured here. The Choeung Ek Memorial is home to stupa made up of some 8,000 human skulls, marking the site of the infamous Killing Fields. This was the execution ground for the torture victims of Tuol Sleng, and standing in this peaceful setting it's almost unthinkable to imagine that to date nearly 9,000 corpses have been exhumed from the area. You’ll have free time for the rest of the day. Perhaps learn about a brighter period in Cambodian history with a visit to the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, while the National Museum, housed in a beautiful traditional building, is a great place to see some excellent Khmer craftmanship. An ideal way to spend the late afternoon and evening is to stroll along the famous Sisowath Quay and enjoy a coffee or cocktail at one of the many riverside cafes.
Say goodbye to Cambodia as you travel by public bus through rural Vietnam to Ho Chi Minh City (approximately 6-7 hours). Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is a vast array of sights and sounds, a fascinating blend of old and new, East and West, where daily life plays out on the streets. The huge number of people rushing about their daily lives in Vietnam's largest city gives it a dynamic atmosphere, and the French influence is evident in the excellent baguettes and coffee on offer. You’ll have a few hours in the afternoon to `explore the frenetic heart of the city, or to get bargaining for final purchases at the historic Ben Thanh Market. Tonight maybe toast to your trip with an optional final dinner with your fellow travellers.
Today you may be required to move to a different hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, for the next section of your trip. Your leader will let you know if this is the case, and will help with the transfer to the next hotel.
Enjoy a free day today. Perhaps take a half day trip to the famous Cu Chi Tunnels. This former Viet Cong stronghold provides an insight into the resourcefulness and tenacity of the Vietnamese people, as well as a unique sense of what underground life was like during the American War. Or take a Cyclos and Markets Urban Adventure to cruise through the hectic streets, and have your expert local guide to take you to sites such as the War Remnants Museum.
As this is a combination trip, your group leader and the composition of your group may change at this location. There will be a group meeting to discuss the next stage of your itinerary and you're welcome to attend, as this is a great chance to meet your new fellow travellers.
Today you'll travel south by private bus (approximately 3 hours) for a day trip to explore the Mekong Delta. When you arrive, you’ll board a boat and explore the intricate waterways of the Mekong Delta. Often referred to as ‘the rice bowl’ of Vietnam, the fertile delta is where rice, tropical fruit and flowers are grown for the whole country. The views along the canal will take your breath away. Disembark at Ben Tre and visit a local cottage industry - coconut candy - and sample the candy which the region is famous for. You’ll have the opportunity to take a tuk-tuk around this remote village and make a stop to sample tropical fruit and learn more about rural life. For lunch, go to a restaurant in the heart of the delta and try regional specialities such as the famous elephant-ear fish. After lunch, board sampans (small rowing boats) and paddle along the canals under the shade of lush water coconut trees. Get back on the main boat and cruise though more major waterways on your way to the town of My Tho. After a scenic cruise, take the bus back to Ho Chi Minh City.
This morning, say goodbye to Ho Chi Minh City and fly north to Danang (approximately 1 hour). From here you’ll take a forty-five minute bus ride to Hoi An with the five spectacular peaks of the Marble Mountains as a backdrop. Once in Hoi An, your leader will take you on a walking of this unique town, influenced over the years by Europe, China and Vietnam. The town was a major trading port from the 17th century onwards, and the outside influences can be seen all over its architecture, with pagodas and assembly halls found across the town. For a small place it has a liveliness alongside its charm and serenity. The tour will take you down the streets that are being restored and look much like they did over a century ago. Past low tiled buildings, you'll take in a historic house (formerly home to a prominent trader), the Japanese Covered Bridge, a Chinese assembly hall and a museum.
Enjoy a free day in the world heritage listed Hoi An. You may like to wander the Central Market and the street stalls selling paintings, woodwork, ceramics, lanterns and much more. Hoi An is also famous for its talented tailors who can make beautiful items to order within a few hours. For those still feeling adventurous, why not hire a bicycle and tour the surrounding countryside? This is one of the best ways to get an insight into rural Vietnam. Other optional activities include a day trip to My Son Cham (elaborate World Heritage-listed temples that reflect the rich cultural traditions of the Cham civilisation), a cruise along the Thu Bon River and a trip to the nearby Cua Dai Beach.
Leave Hoi An today and on your journey you’ll cross the dramatic Hai Van Pass, a sometimes bumpy but incredibly scenic stretch of highway with views of Lang Co Beach. Make a quick stop at the fishing village of Lang Co, then continue to your final destination of Hue (approximately 5 hours including stops). Arrive in Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam. Hue contains the treasures of Vietnam’s royal history, and has a interesting blend of bustling streets and tranquil settings. Your excursion here will be to the Imperial Citadel. This fortress houses the Imperial City and the citadel-within-a-citadel, the Forbidden Purple City. This icon was almost completely destroyed during the Vietnam War, and the ruins and holes left by bombs are a reminder of the destruction caused by the war. In your free time you might like to visit to Dong Ba Market which offers locally made goods, fresh produce and tantalising street food. This is a good place to try the specialties enjoyed by Emperor Nguyen such as the banh khoai royal rice cake.
Today’s adventure will be taken on the back of a motorbike. You’ll have your own driver who will take you first on a drive around the Imperial Citadel, then to the Thien My Pagoda, the unofficial symbol of Hue. This site dates back to 1601 and is still an active Buddhist monastery. Here you’ll also see the car left by a monk who set himself alight to protest the treatment of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese regime. Hop off the motorbike for a bit and go on a dragon boat cruise along the Perfume River. After the 40-minute cruise get back on your motorbike and ride to a special lunch spot at a convent or Buddhist monastery. After lunch, drive to the royal tomb of Emperor Tu Duc, set amid a lake, frangipani bushes and pine trees. In the evening, board an overnight train to Hanoi (approximately 12 hours). Although conditions are basic, overnight trains are a true Intrepid experience and the best way to travel long distances with the locals.
Arrive in Hanoi early in the morning and transfer to your hotel. Vietnam’s capital is famous for its beautiful lakes, shaded boulevards, public parks and Frenchy Old Quarter. As an emerging city in Southeast Asian, Hanoi has an attractive contrast of modern office buildings, old Buddhist temples and a labyrinth of ancient streets. Later in the day you'll take a walking tour through the city. You’ll see Ho Chi Minh’s former stilt house and other icons such as the Temple of Literature. In your free time, perhaps stop by the ’36 Streets’ of the historic Old Quarter, head to the beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake, or visit the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum. This Museum plays a crucial role in maintaining and promoting the cultural heritage of Vietnam’s ethnic communities.
Travel by private minibus to the spectacular World Heritage site of Halong Bay (approximately 4 hours). This is one of Vietnam’s most beautiful places, a secluded bay of emerald waters flecked with sandstone islands and caves. Here you’ll go on a cruise to explore the rock formations and caves and in the warmer months perhaps go for a swim from Ti Top Island Beach or perhaps go kayaking.
There’ll be a dining room and bar on board where you’ll enjoy your meals, including fresh seafood for lunch and dinner. Spend the night on board the boat beneath a sky alive with starlight. The boat has twin-share cabins with air-conditioning and private facilities.
Leaving the memorable scenery of Halong Bay behind, return by bus to Hanoi (approximately 3.5 hours). Return to Hanoi late this afternoon, and enjoy a couple of free hours to explore Hanoi's sights or do some last minute shopping. Otherwise, why not just relax at a cafe or stop for a bia hoi (freshly brewed draught beer) at one of the microbars in the Old Quarter? Tonight there will be a farewell dinner to enjoy with the group at KOTO restaurant, an organisation that supports street kids with a career in the hospitality industry.
Today your exploration of Vietnam comes to an end. There are no activities planned for the final day and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time. Maybe consider continuing your adventure with a short tour such as ‘Hanoi Street Food by Night’ or ‘Village Discovery by Bike’ with our partners Urban Adventures (see urbanadventures.com for more information). Or perhaps visit the Hoa Lo Prison aka the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ which was used for prisoners of war during the Vietnam War. There’s also the Museum of Ethnology with its fascinating indoor and outdoor exhibits. Consider booking some extra nights in Hanoi to further explore this delightful city.