Sa-wat dee! Welcome to Thailand. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where it will take place. Bangkok has so much going on if you've got time to explore. Why not hit the canals for a riverboat trip to Chinatown? Visit the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha? Or indulge in some Thai massage?
Brace yourself for a long day of travel as you board a private bus to Siem Reap (approximately 10 hours, including border crossing and lunch). Say 'Laew phop gun' to Thailand as you exit at Aranyaprathet, and enter Cambodia at Poipet. When you arrive in Siem Reap (150 km or so past the border), the markets are a great place to start practicing those haggling skills. Better yet, try some cheap and tasty street food. Get some rest and relaxation tonight before your Angkor visit tomorrow.
Time to visit the mighty Angkor complex with your guide. Get that camera ready, because it's going to be oh-so-pretty. Some of these temples are over a thousand years old, going back to the days when the Khmer Empire was top dog in South East Asia. These beauties were known to represent the cosmic world and were set in perfect balance, symmetry and composition. Let your mind be blown as you roam around the complex with your leader. Don't even think about missing the sunset. 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 get to grips with the larger-than-life Angkor Wat, the Bayon and the jungle-covered Ta Prohm.
Today is a free day for you to experience Siem Reap in your own way. If you're all templed out, but still feel like something pretty out-there, you can opt for an Angkor zip-line course, which will have you soaring like an eagle over the rainforest (and perhaps getting that ticker started again, if Angkor Wat made it stop).
Jump on a bus and head to Kampong Cham (approximately 5 hours). It's a public bus, which means you'll reaaally travel like a local. When you arrive, you might notice how chilled out this town is. It used to be an important trading hub in the area. Mingle with the locals and enjoy the change of pace. It's a slice of small-town Cambodia with plenty to see and do. You can explore the 11th-century Wat Nokor (also very chill, some might say 'tranquil'). You can hire a bike to explore the rural island of Koh Paen, linked to Kampong Cham by a fancy bamboo bridge (in the wet season you'll have to take a ferry over). The locals here make their living fishing and growing tobacco and sesame, so it's an awesome place to go for a closer look at some of Cambodia's cottage industries. A little further afield are the twin 'mountain temples' of Phnom Pros and Phnom Srei.
Travel by private bus into rural Cambodia (approximately 3 hours) to the region of Kampong Speu and the village of Chambok. This is the location of your homestay for tonight. Here is your chance to really immerse yourself in everyday life. Facilities may be basic, but this is your chance to BE in Cambodia with the PEOPLE. Not to mention feast on a traditional Khmer dinner, prepared by your lovely and very talented hosts.
Catch a private bus to the capital city of Phnom Penh (approximately 3 hours). Cambodia's capital is set on a major junction of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers and boasts some mighty fine examples of French-inspired architecture. Top of the list of things to do: head out to the Choeung Ek Memorial, and the infamous Killing Fields where a stupa made of some 8000 human skulls lies. Confronting but important to see, these sites are places to learn about the dark legacy of the Khmer Rouge. Visit the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda to learn about brighter parts of Cambodian history. You can also explore Wat Phnom, check out the National Museum, take a cyclo tour of the city's key sites, or hit the pretty art-deco Psar Thmei aka Central Market (it's pretty AND pretty art-deco). Tonight, tuck in at the Friends International restaurant – not only will you get a serious taste of delicious local food, you'll also support an organisation that helps vulnerable local children.
The perfect way to cap off your time in Phnom Penh would be to take an optional traditional massage at the Seeing Hands Massage Centre. The visually impaired masseurs here are some of the best in town, and it's a great cause to support. Also, let's be honest, after a week on Asia's bumpy roads you could probably use a little limbering up. Tonight will be your last night in Cambodia before you move on to Vietnam.
Travel by local bus from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City (approximately 7 hours). You'll exit Cambodia at Bavet and enter Vietnam at Moc Bai. Your leader knows the drill, so they'll assist you with border crossing procedures. Arrive in Ho Chi Minh City and get your first taste of this fast-paced, fun city. You'll see it's a combo of all kinds of flavours, old and new, East and West. Get a French baguette, best taken with a cup o' joe (the coffee is excellent here). Don't miss Reunification Palace. And there are some really cool things to see at the War Remnants museum, like a helicopter and a fighter jet.
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. You have a free day to consider many optional activities. Some of the Urban Adventures available in Ho Chi Minh City include Mekong Discovery, Cyclos & Markets, Cu Chi Experience and Saigon Street Food by Night. Your leader can help you book on the tour of your choice. 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 this evening to discuss the next stage of your itinerary and you're welcome to attend, as this is a great chance to meet any new travellers joining your group.
Head down to the Mekong Delta and visit unexplored Ben Tre where coconut is everything and anything. The fertile delta is famous for its abundant harvests of tropical fruits and flowers as well as boating along the canals. On arrival, we board our private boat and cruise along the maze of waterways to visit some local cottage industries. Then head to our overnight local guesthouse along the water.
Rising early to the sounds of the delta coming alive, we enjoy a simple breakfast before boarding our boat, and catching a bus back to Ho Chi Minh City. Enjoy some free time in Ho Chi Minh City to go check out a few more sites or some tasty street food snacks. Late this afternoon board an overnight train to Tuy Hoa, a beach town on the central coast (approx 11 hours). Although conditions are basic, overnight trains are all part of the experience and the best way to travel long distances with the locals.
Arrive in Tuy Hoa early this morning for two days by the beach. Though Tuy Hoa is much quieter than its southern neighbours, you'll still find the perfect spot of sand to lay down a towel and plenty of dining options. Check out the Eglise de Mang Lang and Da Dia Reef, or head south to the Mui Dien lighthouse for a nature fix.
Today is all yours! Soak up some more free time on the beach. Board an overnight train late in the evening bound for Danang (approx. 8 hours).
Arrive in Danang and travel by minibus to Hoi An (approx 1 hr). Recently declared a World Heritage site, Hoi An is being beautifully restored and preserved. Known as Faifo to early western traders, it was one of South East Asia's major international ports during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Today, parts of Hoi An look exactly as they did more than a century ago and it retains the feel of centuries past, making it the sort of place that grows on you the more you explore it. It's also a shopping mecca – with much to browse and buy. Choose from original paintings, handcrafted woodwork, ceramics, embroidery, lanterns and more. Hoi An has also become famous for its tailoring, with a great variety of fabrics and tailors to choose from. Bring your favourite piece of clothing or even just a picture, and you'll be able to have it copied.
There's no better way to explore the peaceful countryside of Hoi An than by bike. Your leader will take you to places few tourists get the chance to see, past green rice paddies and small creeks, this is a true insight into country living in Vietnam.
Departing Hoi An, we can pass by My Khe Beach before crossing the dramatic Hai Van Pass to the picturesque fishing village of Lang Co. After a quick stop, continue on to Hue (approx 5 hrs including stops). As the former imperial capital of Vietnam, Hue holds the treasures of Vietnam's royal past and is a curious mix of bustling streets and tranquil settings. Your afternoon is free to go exploring. The Dong Ba market, which sells everything imaginable, is a great place to spend some time. Visit the Imperial Citadel, including the Forbidden Purple City. The latter was almost totally destroyed during the Vietnam War's Tet Offensive, but the foliage-covered ruins are still atmospheric and the gaping holes left by bombs give an idea of the destruction wreaked upon the country during the war.
Today is a free day. You might like to take a dragon boat cruise on the Perfume River, and a visit to Thien Mu Pagoda, considered by many to be the unofficial symbol of Hue. It's an active Buddhist monastery with its origins dating back to 1601. One of the most poignant displays is a car belonging to a former monk who, in 1963, drove to Saigon and set himself alight to protest against the treatment of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese regime.
Jump on the bus and make your way to Phong Nha. On the way there's the chance to check out the Hien Luong Bridge – it's smack bang on the 17th Parallel, so it separated the North from the South during the war. You can also choose to head underground at Vinh Moc, an expansive network of limestone tunnels that locals used as shelters from the bombing. Travel on to Phong Nha and take the afternoon to explore your surroundings. You'll stay just outside Phong Nha Town, and there are loads of optional activities to take advantage of. The town is near Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, an amazing landscape riddled with caves and underground rivers. Maybe take a boat through Phong Nha Cave, or check out one of the spectacular caverns like Paradise Cave.
Take the day to make the most of your time in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. This World Heritage site and is the oldest karst (which basically means underground eroded limestone) mountain range in Asia. This bad boy is over 400 million years old so there's plenty to explore. Jump on one of the optional activities, or just sit back and take in this stunning scenery. Later today you'll head back to Dong Hoi and hop back on a sleeper train (approximately 8 pm to 5.50 am) – you'll be pro at this now and know exactly what to do.
Arrive in Hanoi very early (approx. 5.30 am) and transfer to your hotel. Then leave your gear in a day room at the hotel. The capital of Vietnam is a charming city with a population of over six million. Hanoi is famous for its beautiful lakes, shaded boulevards, verdant public parks and its thriving Old Quarter, which is an architectural museum piece with blocks of ochre buildings retaining the air of a 1930s provincial French town. As Vietnam develops to compete with other South East Asian countries, the beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake reflects the contrasts of modern office buildings, old Buddhist temples and the tangle of ancient streets in its still surface. Take a walking tour of the Old Quarter. You'll visit the Dong Xuan market, the biggest wholesale market in northern Vietnam, stroll through the ancient '36 streets' where you can discover an amazing selection of shops selling everything from souvenirs to exquisite silk clothing, beautifully embroidered tablecloths. Your leader will point out some of the unique architecture around Hoan Kiem Lake and the myths and legends of the lake.
Get ready for some seriously stunning sights after an early morning of travel, taking a bus and ferry to Cat Ba Island. Cruise past bright green limestone karsts while you munch lunch onboard, then get as close as you want with a kayak. There's tonnes of tiny beaches around Cat Ba, so plenty of places to swim, snooze or sunbathe.
Wake up in paradise, maybe starting your morning with a refreshing swim. Make sure you soak up as much sun and sand as possible, because this afternoon it's back to Hanoi via ferry and bus. Tonight you can head out for an optional last dinner with your new friends and spend the evening swapping stories and contact details for the inevitable post-trip catch-up.
The trip ends this morning. There are no activities planned for the final day and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time.