Arrive in Bangkok and get to grips with this awesome city. 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. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have these ready for your leader. If you arrive early perhaps take a riverboat to Chinatown and explore the crowded streets, or head to the magnificent Grand Palace. As one of the world’s largest marketplaces, Chatuchak Market is also a great place to visit.
Start the morning with a sightseeing walk led by your leader, checking out the local scene away from the normal tourist trail. Stop for some local snacks, see some cool street art and stroll through many back streets to see how many people live and work in these small suburbs of Bangkok. Finish in the Chinatown area and the rest of the day is yours to do what you like: shop and haggle for bargains or check out Chinatown. Head north to Chiang Mai in the evening on an overnight train (approximately 13 hours), sleeping in an air conditioned berth. Multi-share compartments are air conditioned and have bunk beds with sheets and a pillow provided. Your baggage travels in the carriage with you. There's also a food and drink service available on board (they don't let you go thirsty here).
Arrive in Chiang Mai in the morning. The day is yours – see how many activities you can pack into two days. There are over 120 temples in the city centre alone. You can set off on an excursion to the top of Doi Suthep. There's a few hundred steps to climb, but the views are well worth it. Maybe treat yourself to a traditional Thai massage, or even partake in a cooking class so you can impress your friends in the kitchen when you get home. The night bazaar is a great chance to practice those ever-important bargaining skills.
Another day, another chance to get your fill of awesome Chiang Mai. You might like to take part in one of our Urban Adventures, such as the 'Mind and Soul' or 'Mae Ping River Experience' day tours. To really get the blood pumping, head to the Flight of the Gibbon and negotiate the zipline and canopy course within the treetops.
Take a public bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong via Chiang Rai (approx 6.5 hours). Explore this quiet town that sits on the Thai side of the Thai-Lao border. Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Luang are both well worth a visit while you are here. Perhaps rent a bicycle to explore the surrounding countryside and the banks of the Mekong. Your accommodation tonight is a basic guesthouse.
This morning you will complete border formalities at Huay Xai before boarding a slow boat for a trip down the Mekong River (approximately 7 hours). This is where the real relaxtion starts, as you ease into proper holiday mode. Read a book, play cards, swap travel stories or just watch the amazing scenery pass by. Arrive in Pakbeng late in the afternoon and have a wander around this colourful village. This place is at the junction of the Mekong and Beng rivers. Remember, 'nam' means 'river', so if you say 'Nam Beng River', you're saying 'river' too many times.
Continue on the private slow boat, stopping to stretch your legs and explore the Pak Ou Caves, which contain hundreds of Buddha statues. Arrive in Luang Prabang in the evening and wander the streets of ‘the best preserved city in South East Asia’ (it's the local government that started using this phrase, but it has caught on for a reason). Get a load of those French villas. And that sunset over the Mekong... damn.
Enjoy free time for optional activities today. There are many on offer. A trip to Kuang Si Falls is highly recommended if you feel like a swim in nature (and when you see these waterfalls, you probably will). Or visit a Buddhist temple. Afterwards, we think you deserve a rest. Find a herbal steamroom or maybe play some pentanque with the locals (it's a bit like boules). Don’t expect them to go easy on you.
Enjoy some free time. Whether it's cruising around town or heading to those waterfalls that an Instagram filter couldn't even make more pretty, this is another day in paradise. By now you may have discovered the delicious (and amazingly inexpensive) night market food, which is always a great excuse to mingle with locals and dine with other travellers. For lunch, before the market opens, you might want to try some delicious noodle soup at one of the top-notch French cafes along the main drag. If you feel like learning, drop in to the Traditional Arts & Ethnology Centre.
Transfer in a private minivan to the village of Vang Vieng (approximately 6–7 hours). This beautifully located adventure gateway lies on a bend in the Nam Song (that's a river, remember). Take in the views of mountains, rivers and big limestone cliffs that are so close you'll feel like you could reach out and touch them. Cross the river and explore the huge caves that line the West Bank. There will be plenty of time to make your own discoveries.
Spend your day checking out the caves, lagoons and forests as you please. There are more outdoor activities on offer here than you could poke a stick at, so just ask your leader for a recommendation. A solid option is Tham Jang. It's a short trip from town, and has a cool spot to swim if you're not game to enter the cave itself. If you are game, rent a torch and let the exploring begin (season depending).
Finish up in Laos’ classy capital of Vientiane by catching a public bus from Vang Vieng (about 5 hours). Swap your instant coffee for a latte and white rice for a baguette before snapping a few pics at Wat Sri Saket. Your tour leader will show you around this chic, French-influenced city. Say goodbye to your travel mates and swap details over an optional group dinner tonight.
Say goodbye to Laos and hello (xin chao!) to Vietnam. Fly into Hanoi, please note you will be unescorted on this flight and you will be met by an Intrepid representative to take you to your hotel in Hanoi. As this is a combination trip, your leader and the composition of your group may change at this location. There will be a group meeting in the evening to discuss the next stage of your itinerary and you're welcome to attend, as this is a great chance to meet your new travel buddies.
Travel by bus and ferry (approximately 3.5 hours) to Cat Ba Island, the largest island in the UNESCO-listed Halong Bay. With thousands of little limestone islands scattered around, this area is one of those quintessential Vietnamese scenes in which bright green water is dotted with traditional junk boats and limestone karsts. Take a cruise around Lan Ha Bay with lunch on the boat, then get up close and personal with this other-worldly landscape by kayak. Stay overnight on Cat Ba Island and enjoy a dip at one of the beaches and a cold beer.
Wake up to the purr-fect scenes of Cat Ba and the bay and enjoy some free time at the beach. Go for a swim, kick back with a book or take a long, romantic stroll along the sand which will probably be neither long (it's an island) nor romantic (it's morning and mornings are not romantic). In the afternoon, head back to Hanoi and jump on the overnight train to Hue (approximately 12 hours). This may be your first time on an overnight train in Asia and trust us, the first time is always special. It's an experience.
Arrive in Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam. You have today free to explore. You could easily spend a couple of hours exploring Hue’s massive walled citadel and the Forbidden Purple Palace that's enclosed within it. Perhaps jump on board a Dragon Boat and enjoy a cruise up the Perfume River to visit the Thien Mu pagoda. You could also check out Dong Ba Market, which offers locally made goods, fresh produce and some tasty, tasty street food. This is a good place to try the grub that Emperor Nguyen used to feast on (banh khoai royal rice cake – can you taste the royalty?). If you like being on two wheels then maybe cycle out to one of the royal tombs such as the tomb of Emperor Tu Duc (one of the most excellent remaining examples of its kind), or set off on an optional motorcycle tour of the sights in Hue and some surrounding villages.
Continue along the coast to Hoi An by private bus (approximately 3 hours). Once in Hoi An, your leader will take you on a walking tour of this unique town which has been influenced over the years by Europe, China, Vietnam and Japan. The town was a major trading port from the 17th century onwards, and its old-school flavour is written all over its architecture. For a small town, it's pretty lively in places. In others, it's chilled out. The tour will take you down the streets that are being restored and look a lot like they did 100 years ago or more. You'll check out 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 Hoi An. Maybe wander to the Central Market and browse the paintings, woodwork, ceramics and lanterns. Hoi An is also famous for its talented tailors, so if you’ve been wearing the same shirt every day and it's starting to smell like coriander, why not hit one of the same-day tailors and get yourself something new? Or, if you're still feeling adventurous, hire a bicycle and tour the surrounding countryside (this is one of the best ways to experience rural Vietnam).
Lucky you – it's another free day in paradise. You could take a trip out to the My Son temples (World Heritage-listed beauties that reflect the rich cultural traditions of the Cham civilisation), hop on a cruise along the Thu Bon River and or get beachy with a trip to the nearby Cua Dai Beach. Afterwards, board your next overnight train. This one's to Phan Rang, a great beach town on the central coast (approximately 8 hours).
Arrive in Phan Rang early this morning for two full days of pure relaxation. With pristine beaches and arguably the best weather in Vietnam, Phan Rang is a low-key coastal city where swimming, snorkelling and seafood take priority. It's vibe is more beach beers than beach bars, so slow down and take it easy because this is meant to be a holiday, isn't it?
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Don't chill too much, there's one last overnight train to catch tonight. Swap the deck chair for a bunk bed and buckle up (metaphorically) for the seven-hour journey to Ho Chi Minh City.
Arrive in Ho Chi Minh City very early (approx. 4am) and transfer to your hotel. Then leave your gear in a day room at the hotel. Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is a whirl of sights and sounds. A blend of old and new, East and West, if you will. You can still see the French influence in the top-notch baguettes and coffee on offer. Compared to the north the food is spicier, sweeter and more varied. Much of city life happens on the streets, which are lined with shops, stalls and vendors whose wares are spread on the footpath – everything from soup to sophisticated electronics. Your leader will take you on a walk through the city to point out the best places and sites. Then you have some free time this afternoon. Well worth the visit are the Reunification Palace and War Remants Museum. Maybe join your newest and best travel buddies for a celebratory meal and drink tonight on Pham Ngu Lao Street.
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 will have a free day today for many optional activities. The Cu Chi Tunnels are an extremely interesting day trip nearby – ask your leader about how to book. 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, as ever, to attend.
Travel to Phnom Penh by public bus today (approximately 6–7 hours). If you're looking for a tasty beverage on arrival, hit the Foreign Correspondents' Club for a mojito on the rooftop. Or you can explore the city on a cyclo tour – generally these go to the central market, USA Embassy, Wat Phnom, Mekong river front, independence monument and Royal Palace. Phew! Maybe it's time for a traditional Khmer massage. Look no further than Seeing Hands, a great cause supporting visually impaired masseurs. Tonight, tuck in at Friends Restaurant – not only will you get a serious taste of delicious local food, you'll also support an organisation that helps vulnerable local children.
Today there's the option of visiting Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum or Choeung Ek (Killing Fields) – both pretty sobering but important and informative. The very different Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda are also well worth visiting, offering brighter aspects of the past. You might also head for the National Museum or Wat Phnom (more like 'Wat Phenomenal'). If your Riels are burning a hole in your pocket, look no further than the Central or Russian markets, both choice places to interact with the locals.
Take a private bus through the idyllic Cambodian countryside to the gorgeous coast of Sihanoukville Province. Whether you like your beaches lively or chilled, you'll find something to your taste along these shores. You might like to boat out to one of the nearby islands, hire a bike for a few hours, or just kick back on the shore with a good book and a beer.
The day is wide open, so why not take a trip to nearby Ream National Park? While exotic wildlife isn't something most people think of when they picture Cambodia, this stunning, thick park is bursting with birds and other beasties.
Travel by private bus into rural Cambodia (approximately 4 hours) to the region of Kampong Speu and the village of Chambok. It's right next to the beautiful Kirirom National Park, so you can imagine how serene it is here. A homestay tonight is your chance to really immerse yourself in everyday life. Not to mention feast on a traditional Khmer dinner, prepared by your lovely hosts. Weather permitting, you might be able to trek to the awesome 40-metre waterfall nearby today too (this is optional).
Kampong Cham in a nutshell: frontier charm, French-colonial character. Take a private bus there (approximately 5 hours) and soak it all up. Koh Paen Island is a good option while you're here, and you can hire a bike and get there with no fuss (you'll just have to take a ferry over the water if you visit during wet season). The 11th-century Wat Nokor is also worth a look. A little further away are the twin 'mountain temples' of Phnom Pros and Phnom Srei which, as well as being fascinating sites of religious, historic and spiritual significance, are more than Instagram-worthy.
Take a public bus to Siem Reap (approximately 5 hours). Your leader will take you on a walk to get you acquainted with the town. Afterwards you might want to hit the markets for some cheap and tasty street food, then get some rest and relaxation before tomorrow's visit to... (drumroll please!)... Angkor Wat!
Get your camera ready, strap on your walkin' boots and get excited: Angkor is one of Southeast Asia's number one highlights, possibly THE highlight. The obvious banger is Angkor Wat, which is every bit as amazing as everyone says it is, especially at sunset. But you'll also spend plenty of time visiting the other gems of this sprawling complex, like the giant carved faces of Bayon and the crazy jungle-juxtaposition of Ta Prohm (a temple that looks like it's being swallowed by the vice-like grip of Mother Nature's tentacles). And the places Tomb Raider made famous.
Kick back in Siem Reap and wander around town, visiting its market, shops and restaurants. You may be a little templed out, so take this opportunity to explore your options and do something different. Depending on the season, you might be able to visit Tonle Sap, the big freshwater lake, for a glimpse of local life. Adventure-seekers and adrenaline-junkies can do the Angkor zip-line course that will have you soaring like an eagle over the lush rainforest. For even more bragging material, you can learn the tricks of the trade in a Khmer cooking class. And if you just can't not go back to Angkor, longer passes than the standard 1-day passes are available, just ask your leader.
Drive from Siem Reap to Bangkok in a private minivan (approximately 8–9 hours, including border crossing and lunch). Again, your leader will assist with the border-crossing formalities. If you expect a soothing and charming backwater, think again – it's go, go, go in Thailand's frenetic capital. If you don't go home exhausted from here, you didn't do it properly! Still, the khlongs (canals) are a great escape from it all – maybe take a boat to the highly recommended Chinatown for a delicious street food dinner. A Thai massage may also be a good option at this point. Those staying on can perhaps visit the Grand Palace, Temple of the Emerald Buddha, or the very cool Jim Thompson museum.
Your adventure comes to an end today, with no more activities planned. You're free to depart the accommodation at any time after check out.