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Grand Tour Of Indochina (superior)

Grand Tour Of Indochina (Superior)

19 days & 18 nights, Escorted Discovery Group

Luang Prabang, Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hoi An, Hue, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Phnom Penh & Siem Reap

This comprehensive tour takes in the best of Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, staying in character hotels throughout. The journey begins in the relatively untouched country of Laos. Continue on to Vietnam, a rapidly developing and vibrant country. Explore the Mekong delta before a final journey through the captivating kingdom of Cambodia, ending at majestic Angkor Wat.

  • Day 1
    Arrive in Luang Prabang

    On arrival in Luang Prabang, you will be met and taken to your hotel.

    A welcome dinner will be held tonight with the group at a local restaurant.

    Santi Resort & Spa - 3 Nights (D)
  • Day 2
    Luang Prabang

    This morning, you will be taken on a tour of Luang Prabang's sacred temples. Visit Wat Visoun, a 16th century temple which also serves as a small museum for religious artefacts; Wat Aham, an early 19th century temple, whose two guardian figures at the foot of the steps represent two characters from the Legend of Ramayana, Hanuman the Monkey God and a fierce Yaksa; Wat Xieng Thong, a 16th century temple which epitomises all the elegance and grace of Luang Prabang architecture.

    Continue to the National Museum, a former Royal Palace, housing a collection of valuables including the famous Prabang Buddha statue and gifts received from foreign dignitaries. The building is a blend of French and Lao architectural styles and consists of different reception rooms, the throne hall and royal apartments. One of the highlights of the tour is a visit to the King's Reception Room which is decorated with murals depicting scenes of everyday life in the city executed by a French artist in the 1930s, and a display of busts and paintings of past Lao monarchs.

    At the end of the day, a visit will be made to the Ock Pop Tock weaving center. Ock Pop Tok, meaning 'east meets west', was founded in 2000 by a local weaver and an English photographer. Combining a passion for textiles and a driving force for positive change in the community, the center aims to empower women through their traditional skills, as well as promoting the beauty of Laotian textiles.

    The visit will coincide with sunset, which can be enjoyed from Ock Pop Tock's garden.

    Santi Resort & Spa (B, L)
  • Day 3
    Luang Prabang

    Optional excursion: Early morning alms offering to monks (payable locally).

    Option to rise early to participate in the offering of alms and food to local monks. It is an opportunity to participate in the daily morning rituals when saffron-clad monks collect offerings of alms (ubiquitous sticky rice, which must be bought locally) from the faithful residents. This tradition is unique to Laos, being the only Buddhist nation still preserving the procession. Afterwards, return to your hotel to freshen up and take breakfast.

    This morning drive south from Luang Prabang to the beautiful waterfalls of Khuang Si, passing by several Lao tribal villages. It is possible to swim in the clear pools under the multi tiered limestone formations to escape the heat. Alternatively explore the surrounding countryside on walking trails through native forest.

    Picnic lunch will be taken near the waterfalls before returning to the city. The rest of the day is at leisure.

    Santi Resort & Spa (B, L)
  • Day 4
    Fly to Hanoi, Vietnam

    Optional excursion: Morning boat trip to Ban Xieng Mean, Pak Ou caves and Ban Muang Keo (payable locally)

    This morning, travel by long-tail boat to Ban Xieng Mean and visit Wat Loung Khun, which was restored in 1995 and features a beautifully decorated portico from 1937, as well as older sections from the 18th century and a few fading Jataka murals.

    Afterwards, you will be taken to the nearby Wat Tham Xieng Mean, a temple founded in 1889 and since abandoned. It is situated in a 328-feet-deep limestone cave and many Buddha images from temples that have been torched or fallen into decay are kept here. During the Laotian new year festivities, locals come to this temple to pay homage and cleanse the images.

    Continue upstream on the Mekong river to the caves of Pak Ou. Here, thousands of Buddhist statues stand looking out from the caves. These figures are the accumulation of hundreds of years of offerings from worshippers to whom the caves represent the womb of the Earth.

    On your return to Luang Prabang, a stop will be made at Ban Muang Keo, a village famous for its silk weaving. The economy of the village depends on the production of colored fabric, which is woven on simple weaving looms. The village also has a distillery which produces a strong liquor.

    After the excursion you will return to the hotel to collect the rest of the group, then continue to the airport.

    You will transfer from the hotel to the airport.

    On arrival in Hanoi, you will be met and taken to your hotel.

    The Ann Hotel Hanoi - 2 Nights (B)
  • Day 5
    Hanoi

    Start the tour of Hanoi with a visit to the Soviet style Ba Dinh Square, where Ho Chi Minh read out the declaration of the nation's independence in 1945. Visit the museum dedicated to Ho Chi Minh before passing through the mausoleum (you will be asked to remove hats if entering, and no shorts or vests are allowed), escorted by a soldier in full regalia. As you leave, you will be able to walk through the gardens of the Presidential Palace before seeing Ho Chi Minh's house, the modest dwelling he built based on a rural Vietnamese stilt house and where 'Uncle Ho' lived for the last years of his life. Between September and December each year, Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum is closed for re-embalmment of the body and the site can only be visited from the outside. The mausoleum is also closed every Monday and Friday.

    Visit the nearby One Pillar Pagoda, which rests on a single stone pillar emerging from the water, and is shaped like a lotus on its stalk. It houses a statue of the goddess of mercy.

    Continue to the 900-year-old Temple of Literature, Vietnam's principal Confucian sanctuary and its historical center of learning. Made up of five courtyards, this is one of the few remnants of the original city. The morning ends with a visit to Ngoc Son Temple, located in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake, the Lake of Restored Sword.

    Lunch will be taken at the Koto restaurant that provides vocational training for underprivileged youths. You will then visit the Museum of Ethnology to gain an understanding of the diverse culture of Vietnam's 54 ethnic minority groups through a collection of clothes, textiles, musical instruments and many other items from daily life.

    Note: The order of the sightseeing above is subject to change depending on local conditions. Every year, Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum is closed between October and December for re-embalmment of the body and can only be visited from outside.

    Optional excursion: Water Puppetry performance (payable locally)
    In the evening there will be a Water Puppetry performance, a traditional and uniquely Vietnamese art. This highly entertaining form of theater uses the water surface as the stage. Standing waist-deep in the water, the master puppeteers are hidden behind a bamboo screen.

    The Ann Hotel Hanoi (B, L)
  • Day 6
    To Halong Bay

    Note: For your Halong Bay cruise, we recommend you pack a separate overnight bag, including any valuables, for your stay on board as this will give you more space in your cabin. Your main luggage will be stored securely for you by our local agents and returned to you after the cruise. If you prefer, you may take your full luggage on board to store in your cabin.

    The Bhaya Classic is a custom designed wooden junk, featuring 20 air-conditioned cabins and suites, all with private bathrooms. The junk has a large sun deck, elegant dining room, lounge bar, and a beauty spa and massage area. All activities arranged by the cruise are on a shared basis.

    Note: Please be aware that access to the junk boat from the quay will be across a gang plank. The dock is often crowded and, at such times, the boat may not be able to get as close to the quayside as would be desirable. Whilst there is no handrail, the crew members will assist you at all times with your embarkation and disembarkation. However, please exercise caution when making this crossing. At times the junk boat may not be able to reach the quayside due to low tide or crowding and on these occasions you will be transferred to the junk boat by a tender.

    After boarding, enjoy a welcome drink and a briefing on the itinerary and safety information by the cruise manager. Afterwards a lunch buffet is available as the boat cruises towards the south-east of Halong Bay, passing by various rock formations such as Chicken Rock, Finger Islet and Frog Islet.

    Arrive at an area known as 'Dark and Bright Lagoon', and explore the area by rowboat or, if you prefer, at your own pace by kayak. Note, kayaks must be booked and paid for in advance at the boat reception area before you board.

    Return to the boat in the late afternoon, where there is time to relax before a Vietnamese cooking demonstration begins at 5:30 pm.

    Dinner is served later in the evening.

    Bhaya Classic - non-exclusive cruise - 1 Night (B, L, D)
  • Day 7
    Fly to Danang - Hoi An

    Early this morning there is an optional tai chi class on the sun deck, an opportunity to see the sun rising over the bay. Tea and coffee is available afterwards.

    A light breakfast is served at 7am, followed by a visit to 'Surprise Cave', one of the largest caves in Halong Bay with beautiful stalactites and stalagmites.

    Return to the boat to pack up your cabin, then enjoy a brunch buffet as the boat sails back to the harbor. Arrive and disembark at approximately 10:30 am, and begin onward arrangements.

    Disembark the Bhaya Classic mid-morning after a breakfast buffet.

    Drive from Halong Bay to Hanoi airport, a distance of approximately 104 miles and a journey time of up to 3.5 hours.

    Upon arrival, drive from Danang airport to Hoi An, a distance of approximately 15 miles and journey time of approximately 45 minutes.

    Palm Garden Resort - 3 Nights (B, L)
  • Day 8
    Hoi An

    Explore the twisting lanes of Hoi An, passing by 200-year-old wooden merchant houses where Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese architectural styles and intricate woodcarvings combine to create some beautiful houses. Begin with a visit to the Fujian Assembly Hall (Phuc Kien), established as a meeting place by Chinese merchants fleeing the Manchu conquest of China. The hall is dedicated to the goddess of the sea, Thien Hau, and the merchants' ancestors, and is adorned with ornate carvings and statues. Continue to the 400-year old Japanese covered bridge in Hoi An and then to the vibrant riverside market nearby.

    Lunch today is at the Streets International restaurant, a social enterprise initiative with the purpose to develop and operate sustainable programmes for street children.

    Optional excursion: Afternoon visit to My Son (payable locally).

    Today you will visit My Son, located 43 miles southwest of Danang, which was an imperial city during the Cham dynasty, between the 4th and 12th centuries. My Son Sanctuary is a large complex of religious sites that comprises more than 70 architectural works. They include temples and towers that connect to each other with complicated red brick designs. The main component of the Cham architectural design is the tower, built to reflect the divinity of the king.

    Palm Garden Resort (B, L)
  • Day 9
    Hoi An

    Optional excursion: Morning cookery class at Red Bridge Restaurant & Cooking School (payable locally).

    This morning you will be taken to Red Bridge Restaurant & Cooking School from where you will set off on a guided tour of Hoi An's colorful central market. You will have the opportunity to interact with the local sellers and learn about all the ingredients to be used in the cooking lesson later. You will then board the Red Bridge boat for a leisurely cruise (25 minutes) along the Hoi An River back to the school.

    On arrival back at the cooking school, you will explore its herb garden before learning about some of Hoi An's and Vietnam's well-known dishes. The cooking lesson takes approximately 2 hours and you will also be given a brief introduction to Vietnamese food carving. After your lesson, you will be able to enjoy your cooked meal.

    Palm Garden Resort (B)
  • Day 10
    To Hue

    You will be driven north from Hoi An along Highway 1 to Hue, over the spectacular Hai Van Pass (weather permitting). This is a journey of approximately 3 hours.

    Soon, the highway meets the Hai Van Pass (meaning Pass of the Ocean Clouds). Here the Truong Son mountain range cuts across the narrow center of the country. This creates a barrier to the cold airstreams from the north and so results in thick cloudbanks over the peaks. The pass has been a strategic military focal point during Vietnam's turbulent history and from the top there are views of the curve of Danang Bay.

    On the way, a visit will be made to the Cham Museum, which houses a collection of Champa sculpture dating back to the seventh century. A range of exhibits are on display, including altars, statues and carvings collected from Buddhist and Hindu temples, which demonstrate how Champa sculpture evolved over the centuries. Continue to Hue.

    On arrival in Hue, enjoy an afternoon tour of the Royal Mausoleums. The final resting places of the Nguyen emperors are dotted around the hills surrounding the south bank of the Perfume river. They were also designed for recreation - somewhere the emperor could fish, hunt and enjoy the company of his concubines in his twilight years. Each tomb is individual, but usually features a pavilion detailing the lifetime accomplishments of the dead emperor, a temple for worship to the emperor, a sepulchre, where the emperor's remains are enclosed, a decorative courtyard and a lotus pond. The tombs of Tu Duc and of Khai Dinh are two of the best examples and you will be shown around these during the tour. Continue to your hotel after the excursion.

    Imperial Hotel - 1 Night (B, L, D)
  • Day 11
    Fly to Ho Chi Minh City

    Take a one-hour escorted ride through the streets of Hue, travelling by cyclo for a view of the city from street level, which is a regular means of transport for the people of Vietnam. Visit the Imperial Citadel and the Forbidden Purple City, which was modelled on the Forbidden City in Beijing by the Nguyen emperors in the early 19th century. The city was badly damaged during the Vietnam war, but the imposing city walls surrounded by a large moat afford good views of Hue. The palace retains a feeling of its past scale and importance with its detailed stonework and pavilions. End the cyclo river on the banks of Perfume river, named after the tree resins and blossoms it carries on its way to the Pacific. Board a riverboat and cruise to the Thien Mu pagoda. Situated on the riverbank outside the city, this octagonal seven-tier stupa has long been regarded as the symbol of Hue and was founded in 1601. It is still a site of Buddhist worship and its huge bell is said to be audible from the city. There may also be the chance to meet the monks who reside here.

    After the excursion, you will be taken to the airport.

    On arrival in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), you will be met and taken to your hotel.

    Duxton Hotel Saigon - 3 Nights (B)
  • Day 12
    Ho Chi Minh City

    Travel out of the city to the Cu Chi tunnels. This vast network of tunnels, stretching for more than 93 miles, was built by the Viet Cong during the battles for south Vietnam. The tunnels are an insight into the dedication of the Viet Cong who virtually lived in the narrow and claustrophobic tunnels while the war raged above. Nearby is a chilling demonstration into the traps and weapons that were used against the American forces.

    The Cu Chi tunnels have been widened in places for visitors, however they can still be dark, hot and claustrophobic so please bear this in mind if you do not like enclosed spaces.

    This afternoon, proceed on a tour of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). The tour starts at the Presidential Palace, also known as the Reunification Palace. It was here in April 1975 that a tank belonging to the Northern Army breached the gates, signifying the fall of Saigon and the south. In 1976, Saigon merged with the surrounding Gia Dinh Province and was renamed Ho Chi Minh City. The building has remained largely untouched since, with 1960s style furnishings and a collection of military vehicles, including a helicopter, on display. In the basement is the command center for the south, complete with military charts from the time of the war.

    Continue to the Notre Dame Cathedral, which dates from the late 19th century and is built of red brick with two distinctive spires. The area around Notre Dame is a great place for watching local life, with women dressed in their best ao dais (traditional Vietnamese tunics). There is a pleasant park situated in front of the cathedral and the beautiful post office is located just opposite.

    The tour ends at the nearby War Remnants Museum, which displays a number of exhibits relating to the war with the U.S. and battles with occupying French forces.

    Duxton Hotel Saigon (B)
  • Day 13
    Mekong delta cruise

    This morning you will be met at your hotel in Ho Chi Minh City and driven to Cai Be on the Mekong delta.

    The Mekong delta is Vietnam's rice bowl: a fertile region of flat farmland interlaced with the thousands of waterways and tributaries of the Mekong. Known locally as Cuu Long, or the River of Nine Dragons, the delta's waters are interspersed with rice fields, colorful floating markets and isolated villages accessed only by boat. The region remains home to descendants of the former Khmer empire and is scattered with a collection of working temples and resident Buddhists that continue to use Khmer as their mother tongue.

    The drive to Cai Be takes approximately 2.5 hours. Arrive at the waterfront pier and embark on a motorised sampan (traditional flat-bottomed wooden boat) for a journey across the upper reaches of the Mekong delta. See how local people make their living by trading agricultural products from their boats. Enjoy lunch on board while cruising through the canals, then disembark at the village of Cai Thia. Take a 1.2-mile walk along the village road to visit a workshop that produces rice paper. Afterwards, return to the boat for the trip back to the pier, before returning to Ho Chi Minh City in the mid-afternoon.

    Duxton Hotel Saigon (B, L)
  • Day 14
    Fly to Phnom Penh, Cambodia

    This morning, you will be collected at your hotel and taken to the airport.

    On arrival in Phnom Penh, you will be met and taken to your hotel.

    La Rose Boutique Hotel & Spa - 2 Nights (B)
  • Day 15
    Phnom Penh

    Begin the tour with a visit to the Royal Palace, an interesting mixture of temples, gardens and pavilions, which also holds the graceful Silver Pagoda. Visit the National Museum. Situated inside a traditionally styled Khmer building, it houses an interesting set of exhibits, including treasures from Angkor Wat and other Angkor-era temples. Continue to Wat Phnom, from where the city gets its name.

    Lunch will be taken at the Restaurant Lotus Blanc, which serves a delightful selection of French and Asian cuisine. The food is prepared and served by students from the PSE (Pour un Sourire d'Enfants) vocational training center that supports street children and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

    After lunch you will drive out to the infamous Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, now a peaceful field just outside the city, where more than fifteen thousand people were executed and buried in the days of the Khmer Rouge. A large pagoda has been constructed as a memorial and filled with the skulls of the men, women and children who perished here.

    Continue to the haunting and harrowing Tuol Seng Museum of Genocide. This is situated in central Phnom Penh in a former school building. The school was used as a prison during the rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge and has been left as a reminder for future generations. The horrific exhibits can be upsetting, but the museum does offer an insight into Cambodia's recent history and the message now is of reconciliation and renewal.

    La Rose Boutique Hotel & Spa (B, L)
  • Day 16
    Fly to Siem Reap

    Today, you will be collected at your hotel and taken to the airport.

    On arrival in Siem Reap, you will be met and taken to your hotel.

    Enjoy an afternoon tour of the Roluos Group of temples. The Roluos Group is a collection of monuments representative of the remains of Hariharalaya, the first major capital of the Angkorian kingdom. These include the temples of Bakong, Preah Ko and Lolei that are dedicated to the Hindu gods Shiva and Vishnu. The bas-reliefs are some of the earliest and finest surviving examples of Khmer art.

    Tara Angkor Hotel - 3 Nights (B)
  • Day 17
    Angkor temples

    Begin the day at Angkor Wat, the largest and most famous of the Angkor temples, it is visually, architecturally and artistically breathtaking. It is a massive three-tiered pyramid crowned by five beehive-like towers rising 213 feet from ground level. At the apex of Khmer political and military dominance in the region, Suryavarman II constructed Angkor Wat in the form of a massive 'temple-mountain' dedicated to the Hindu god, Vishnu. Angkor Wat is surrounded by a moat and an exterior wall and the walls of the temple are covered inside and out with bas-reliefs and carvings. Nearly 2,000 distinctively rendered apsara carvings adorn the walls throughout the temple and represent some of the finest examples of apsara carvings in Angkorian era art.

    Return to Siem Reap for lunch at a local restaurant.

    In the afternoon, visit Angkor Thom (Big Angkor) is a walled and moated royal city, and was the last capital of the Angkorian empire. After Jayavarman VII recaptured the badly damaged Angkorian capital from the Cham invaders in 1181, he began a massive building campaign across the empire, constructing Angkor Thom as his new capital city. He began with existing structures, such as Baphuon and Phimeanakas, and built a grand enclosed city around them, adding the outer wall and some of Angkor's greatest temples, including his state-temple, Bayon, set at the center of the city. There are five entrances (gates) to the city, one for each cardinal point, and the victory gate leads to the royal palace area. Each gate, as well as much of Jayavarman VII's architecture, is crowned with four giant faces.

    Later, visit the Elephant Terraces and the Bayon. The giant stone faces of Bayon have become one of the most recognizable images connected to classic Khmer art and architecture. There are 37 standing towers, most sporting four carved faces oriented toward the cardinal points. The Bayon was Jayavarman VII's state-temple and, in many ways, represents the pinnacle of his massive building campaign. It appears to be, and is to some degree, an architectural muddle, in part because it was constructed in a somewhat piecemeal fashion for more than a century. There are extensive carvings revealing scenes of everyday life, which are interspersed among battle scenes, including market scenes, cockfighting, chess games and childbirth. The unfinished carvings on other walls are likely to indicate the death of Jayavarman VII and the subsequent end of his building campaign.

    End at the temple of Ta Phrom, hugely atmospheric due to the fact that it has been left untouched rather than being restored. The jungle has reclaimed the temple, with huge tree trunks and vines snaking around the centuries-old stonework. Here, you can get a feeling of how the first European explorers would have found the ruins.

    Note: The order of the sightseeing above is subject to change depending on local conditions.

    Tara Angkor Hotel (B, L)
  • Day 18
    Angkor temples

    Morning is at leisure.

    This afternoon, enjoy a tour of the Temples of Angkor. The red stone of Banteay Srei holds some of the best-preserved sculptures of all the Angkor temples. The carvings are staggeringly intricate and the fact that they have survived over 500 turbulent years is a testimony to the skill of the Khmer artisans. Continue to Neak Pean, a small island temple located in the middle of the Pool of Jayavarman. Its name means 'Coiled Serpents' represented by the encoiled nagas that encircled the temple.

    This evening, a farewell dinner will be held at a local restaurant.

    Tara Angkor Hotel (B, D)
  • Day 19
    Depart Angkor Wat

    You will be collected at your hotel and taken to the airport.

    (B)
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