Families Thailand and Laos Tour – 14 Day 13 Night
Day 1 Join tour Bangkok; klong trip
Arrive Bangkok and check-in to our hotel in the centre of the city. In the afternoon we take a cruise along the city’s Klongs (canals) in a traditional longtail boat. This is the ideal way to explore Bangkok’s network of meandering waterways that lead away from the main channel of the Chao Phraya River. The excursion will also include visits to the Royal Barge Museum and Wat Arun, the poetically named Temple of the Dawn, one of Bangkok’s most iconic landmarks, built to represent the towering slopes of Mount Meru, home to the gods of Khmer mythology.
Day 2 In Bangkok; Drive to Kancahnaburi
This morning we take a short walk to the Chao Praya River where we board a long tail boat for a tour of the local canals. Bangkok was once known as the Venice of the East because of its intricate canal network. We get a glimpse of daily life as we pass locals selling their wares by the river. We will visit what to this day remains the home of the Thai Royal family at the Royal Palace complex followed by Wat Phra Kaew, home to the Emerald Buddha, one of Thailand’s most venerated images. Another highlight is Wat Po, the largest temple in Bangkok, housing a 46m long, 15m high gold-plated reclining Buddha. After lunch we transfer to Kanchanaburi, an area made famous by the movie ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’. The film is fictional but uses the construction of the Burma Railway in 1942-43 for its historical setting. The Japanese used Allied POW’s to build a railway from Thailand to Burma so they could supply their army without the dangers of sending supplies by sea. Thousands of POW’s died under appalling conditions during its construction, and the line became known as the ‘Death Railway’. Jumping in Samlaws (Rickshaws) we will visit the J.E.A.T.H war museum, which is more a memorial to the thousands who were killed whilst constructing the ‘death railway’, and have a chance to pay our respects at the War Cemetery in town. After this we travel to the bridge itself, before returning to our resort on the banks of the river.
Day 3 In Kanchanaburi
Today we take a full day tour to the picturesque Erawan Waterfalls and to Hellfire Pass, so called because POW’s were forced to chisel through solid rock, working by firelight on a particularly difficult section of the line resulting in a heavy loss of life. The afternoon is free to enjoy the falls area and there is a chance to enjoy some swimming or to walk to the top of the falls (approx 2 hours return trip). In the afternoon we transfer to our raft house accommodation floating on the river itself. A true adventure!
Day 4 Drive to Bangkok via Rose Garden, fly to Chiang Rai
This morning we make an early start, driving back to Bangkok, stopping for lunch at the famous ‘Rose Gardens’ on the way to the airport. We then fly up to Chiang Rai, the provincial capital and a thriving market town. The night market is one of the best in the country, and great to explore after dinner.
Day 5 Drive via the Golden Triangle to Chiang Khong and take boat to Ban Houei Sai (Laos)
Today we travel via the Golden Triangle, the point of confluence between Thailand, Myanmar and Laos then take the local ferry across the Mekong from Chiang Khong to the small village of Ban Houei Sai in Laos, a laid back spot where we can settle back and begin to enjoy the pace of life in Laos.
Day 6 Along the Mekong to Pakbeng
We continue along the Mekong River by boat, through the steamy forest, past rugged cliffs and white sandy riverbanks. Travel today is slow but this allows us to absorb the sense of remoteness and timelessness of life on the river. The views are mainly of hills covered with dense vegetation, occasionally dotted with flowering trees, and small fishing villages at intervals along the river bank with nearby rice paddies. We aim to visit a number of villages along our route. We arrive in Pakbeng in the mid afternoon. Ramshackle thatched houses crowd the banks of the river and the warm glow of an Asian-orange sunset adds mystique to the alien, though exotic, setting.
Day 7 Mekong River journey to Luang Prabang
We make an early start and continue our journey down the Mekong River towards Luang Prabang. The Mekong has long been the major trade route for caravans from Yunnan in China to Chiang Mai in ancient Siam. Even today there are few roads through the undulating countryside, so the river remains the main means of communication. Before arriving in Luang Prabang we will stop and visit Pak Ou Caves where we climb steps up the limestone cliff to reach the sacred Buddhist shrine, crammed with small Buddha images of all shapes and sizes. We arrive at Luang Prabang, the country’s former capital, in the afternoon. Situated among the rolling hills of the Upper Mekong River, this tranquil little town is celebrated for its exceptionally lovely setting. We suggest you climb to the small temple on top of Mount Phousi to enjoy sunset views over the town.
Day 8 In Luang Prabang; sightseeing tour
One of the most peaceful experiences in Laos is seeing the safron-robed monks of Luang Prabang walking through the streets at sunrise collecting alms. Today we include an orientation walk which includes a visit to Wat Xien Thong, located in a delightful garden on the banks of the Me Kong River and Wat Mai. In the late afternoon there is the option to ascend the 328 steps to the Mount Phousie for (quite literally!) breathtaking views over this former Royal capital.
Day 9 In Luang Prabang
This morning we travel by bus to the beautiful Kuang Si Waterfalls, approx 45 minutes from Luang Prabang. Passing forested hills and several ethnic minority villages, we arrive at the limestone falls that cascade into several clear pools below. This afternoon is left free to enjoy this tranquil World Heritage town, relax by the hotel pool or you can choose to take an afternoon trip by bicycle (optional) to the Lao Loum village at Ban Phanom. Approx 6km from Luang Prabang, the road gently undulates through cultivated scenery and arrives at a well kept scenic village on the banks of the Nam Khan river. A women’s cooperative has been created at the village to enable direct selling of their woven products.
Day 10 Fly to Siem Reap
This morning we fly to Siem Reap, our base for exploring the ancient temples of Angkor. This amazing ruined city, built between the 9th and the 13th centuries, deep in the Cambodian jungle, is spread out over some 155 square kilometres, scattered with walled cities and magnificent stone temples, sculptures, causeways and reservoirs. Our sightseeing programme today will include the 2nd Angkor capital including Ta Keo, Kravan and East Mebon, ending with a sunset at Pre Rup.
Day 11 Exploring Angkor
Over the next two days we’ll explore Angkor’s most stunning sites. We visit Ta Phrom, lying half consumed by the jungle, Banteay Srei with the most stunning carved lintels at Angkor, the famous Angkor Wat and then take a boat out onto the waters of Tonle Sap Lake. Not only is the lake an important source of fish and other water resource for the Cambodian people but it is also the largest freshwater lake in South-East Asia. It is renowned for its two unusual characters: the direction of its flow changes twice a year and the size of the lake expands and shrinks dramatically with the seasons. In dry season from November to May, the lake drains out into the Mekong River in Phnom Penh while the flow reverses in rainy season, and it’s area increases to 16,000 square km! The lifestyle of the local floating villages are largely influenced by this process. On very few occasions the water level may be too low for us to visit, in this case your tour leader will arrange a suitable cultural alternative.
Day 12 Exploring Angkor
Before we continue our exploration of the incredible temples throughout the area you may choose to enjoy watching the sunrise over one of the world’s most spectacular man made sites (optional) before admiring more of the majestic buildings and temples of King Jayavarman VII, including Angkor Thom, Bayon and the Terrace of Elephants.
Day 13 Drive to Bangkok
A morning drive takes us to the Thai/Cambodian border and then onwards to Bangkok. We stop at a buffalo farm to learn more about these essential animals before heading on to the big city. The late afternoon is left free for further exploration or some last minute shopping in the markets.
Day 14 Tour ends Bangkok
Your tour ends this morning following breakfast and includes an airport transfer for your onward travel plans.
CAMBODIA – VIETNAM – 14 Days 13 Nights
Day 1: Arrive Siem Reap/ Arrival transfer, Explore town
Today you will arrive in the legendary town of Siem Reap, the former capital of the great Khmer Empire and now a town full of ambling lanes full of stalls proffering local food and interesting handicrafts which will have you mentally trying to find more room in your suitcase. You will meet with your tour leader, who will transfer you to the hotel and also will brief you on everything you would like to know about the area, from the history and culture to distinctive and enlightening curiosities not available to most first-time visitors. Having checked into your hotel and having some time to refresh until the evening or early night if you wish, your tour leader will offer to guide you around the town itself, and will suggest the most edifying dining options available, from international restaurants to hidden Cambodian culinary gems. Pub Street (and the surrounding alleys) in the evening offers a wide variety of restaurants and bars to choose from. The Night Market for some great souvenir shopping or perhaps a “Dr Fish” massage.
Day 2: Siem Reap/ Angkor Wat, Butterfly Centre, Banteay Srei, Banteay Samre, Ta Prohm, Angkor Thom
Today we immerse ourselves in one of the most astounding archaeological sites in the world. The magnificent Angkor complex of temples is scattered over an area of 200 square kilometers, with only Egypt’s Nile Valley providing any kind of comparison in terms of such a vast array of monuments. The Khmer kings ruled from this ancient seat, reigning over one of the largest, most prosperous and sophisticated kingdoms in the history of South East Asia. At the height of their power, the kings of Angkor controlled territories that extended from the tip of the Indochina peninsula, northward to Yunnan and from Vietnam, westward to the Bay of Bengal.
This morning we start early and head out to visit Angkor Wat. Erected in the 12th century, Angkor Wat stands as a powerful symbol of Cambodia, and built in the high classical style of Khmer architecture will perhaps form the center piece of your memories, long after you have returned home. Leaving Angkor Wat behind we drive approximately 30 km’s to the small temple of Banteay Srei. This is another of the highlight temples and boasts the finest and most intricate of all the carvings to be found in Angkor. Carved from pink sandstone the name translates as “The citadel of Women” because it was felt that the hands of men could not create such delicate beauty. En-route we stop at the Banteay Srei Butterfly Centre, an interactive butterfly exhibit and features a live display of Cambodian butterflies. The exhibit consists of a netted tropical garden with hundreds of free-flying butterflies, all of which are native species to Cambodia. The enclosure is South East Asia’s largest butterfly exhibit and provides residents and tourists with an interactive and visual environment to learn about butterflies, feeding and flying very close at hand and to witness the complete life cycle of many species. The revenue generated by admissions provides support for local poverty and conservation projects. On the way back we stop at Banteay Samre. Built during the same time as Angkor Wat, this beautifully retoured temple receives relatively few visitors and is a great addition to any itinerary. As we return towards the main temple complex we stop at Ta Prohm. Ta Prohm is one of the highlights of any visit to Angkor, giant trees spread their roots across the temples giving the impression that nature is very much in control. It is definitely one of the most atmospheric temples in the country! Next is the ancient city of Angkor Thom, built by the most prolific of all temple builders King Jayaverman VII. Having expelled the marauding Chams from Angkor, the king set about building a huge walled city, surrounded by a wide crocodile infested moat and entered through 5 enormous ornate gates. Within the great walls were numerous temples, palaces and residences. We enter at the best preserved South Gate and take an in depth look at the Terraces of the Elephants and the Leper King, the Royal Palace, and Baphoun. But we save the best till last, the Bayon is perhaps Angkor’s most moving temple. The base reliefs are among the most interesting in Angkor and offer an insight into the past. They show re-enactments of the war against the Chams and also scenes of daily life depicting childbirth, pig fights, drinking and farming. There are also 37 standing towers each bearing four faces of a figure believed to represent both Loksvara (the Bodhisittva of compassion) and the great King himself. These faces literally come to life with the changing light of the falling sun. We time our visit with the departure of most other visitors to encourage a truly magical experience!
Meals included: Breakfast
Day 3: Siem Reap – Phnom Penh/ Tonle Sap Lake of Mechrey, Ox Cart, Rice Field, Silk Farm
This morning we take a break from the temples and head out to one of the lesser-visited floating villages, Me Chrey. Nestled on the banks of the Tonle Sap lake, this village is smaller and receives far fewer visitors than the other nearby options. Like the other villages everything here takes place on the water, the homes float on rafts of bamboo, there are shops, pig pens, and even the school is afloat. Children paddle boats on their way to school and boats laden with goods travel from house to house. Our journey from Siem Reap is short but as soon as we leave the town we are immersed in the countryside. We also have the opportunity to take a short ox cart ride through the fields and village on dry land. A great opportunity to experience real local transport while supporting the local economy. There is also the chance to stop at Artisan d’Angkor’s Silk Farm at the village of Pouk. Here, talented locals receive vigorous training in traditional Khmer methods of weaving. This helps to preserve the countries cultural heritage while again supporting the local economy. Visitors can see the silk making procedure from the silk worms, through the cocoon stage, dying; weaving etc …
We then return to our hotel for a well-earned siesta.
This afternoon we leave hotel to Siem Reap airport to catch the flight onward to Phnom Penh. Upon arrival Phnom Penh airport, your Phnom Penh tour leader will meet with you and transfer to the hotel. After check in, you are free to explore this great city at your own. Phom Penh has really come into its own in recent years. Repopulated after Vietnam ousted the Khmer Rouge in 1979, the rebuilding and development of this vibrant city continues to pick up pace. It is now a safe place to move around and day and nightlife are flourishing, as is the local arts scene. This evening we have the opportunity to dine in one of the cities many fine restaurants. Or can be spent relaxing in the Foreign Correspondent’s Club (FCC). Situated on the water front, it is a famous and historical location, with three floors of cane furniture and raconteurs swapping tall tales about their adventures in the region, and offers a delectable international menu and mouth-watering cocktail creations.
Meals included: Breakfast
Day 4: Phnom Penh/ TuolSleng, Killing Fields, PSE, Royal Palace, Wat Phnom
Today we take a closer look at the past genocide and learn why Cambodia was referred to as the Killing Fields. Although the Khmer Rouge only ruled the country for a period of 3 years, 8 months and 21 days, this chapter of history devastated the county, its heritage and its people. Toul Sleng is a former high school that the Khmer Rouge used as a centre for torture and interrogation; it now serves as a museum of torture. Of the 17,000 people who passed through the gates of S21 only 7 survived to tell the tale. We also visit the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek; this is where prisoners from S21 were taken to be executed. Formerly a Chinese cemetery Choeung Ek became a mass grave where the remains of 8985 were found. This is a sobering experience and although it’s very interesting it may not be for everyone.
When we finish this morning’s tour we make our way back to the capital. En-route we recommend to stop for lunch at PSE (Pour un Sourire d’Enfant). This is a fantastic project that has rescued thousands of children from scavenging on the rubbish dumps around Phnom Penh. We learn more about their excellent work and have a look around the project. Hundreds of smiling student’s great us on our way as we move away from the horrors of the past, and focus on the promise of the future.
This afternoon we visit the Royal Palace, which is what the current Cambodian Monarch King Sihamoni calls home. Inside the Palace complex we will explore the manicured gardens and the Silver Pagoda with its floor made from over 5000 silver tiles. Inside is a life sized Buddha encrusted with 9584 diamonds. Then we move on to the Wat Phnom Temple, Phnom Penh’s namesake, from where you can enjoy views over the tree-lined avenues of the city during sunset.
Meals included: Breakfast
Day 5: Phnom Penh – Ho Chi Minh/ Departure transfer to airport
After breakfast is free for relaxation or if you wish you could visit one or two of Phnom Penh’s vibrant markets. The Russian Market is a tourist’s Mecca of handicrafts, fabrics, clothes and DVD’s. The surrounding shops offer many well priced original labelled clothing items too. Or there is the Central Market, the recently renovated Art Deco market place built by the French, an iconic landmark of the capital. At around midday, transfer to the airport to catch your flight to Ho Chi Minh.
On arrival in Ho Chi Minh City you will be met &transferred to your hotel
Officially Saigon renamed Ho Chi Minh City after reunification in 1975, most people here still prefer to use the old name, Saigon. Once referred to as the ‘Pearl of the Orient’, Saigon, with its unofficial population around 8-9 million is Vietnam’s largest city and stands in stark contrast to the capital, Hanoi. Perhaps Saigon lacks the same colonial charm of its northern cousin but it still has a certain tropical ambience and general hustle & bustle that makes it a distinctly a modern South East Asian city.
Before check in the hotel you recommend you to visit War Remnants Museum, and the French Quarter allows you to admire many beautiful French colonial buildings such as Notre Dame Cathedral, the main Post Office and keep walking on Dong Khoi Street known as Catinat in French, and the former Hotel de Ville (city hall)
DAY 6 :Cu Chi Tunnels half day(B)
In the morning you take a tour out to the incredible Cu Chi Tunnels. Begun by the Viet Minh and later expanded by the Viet Cong, Cu Chi’s tunnels were constructed to conduct covert operations and then quickly hide from the enemy. There are reputed to be around 200 kilometers of underground tunnels within the area, they include underground hospitals, kitchens and meeting rooms and in some places they even managed to penetrate the perimeters of nearby YOU military bases. You’ll actually be given the opportunity of crawling through a section of the tunnels while you’re here.
DAY 7: Fly to Danang(B)
This morning you have a free time at leisure until you’re transferred to the airport to catch the flight to Danang
Upon arrival in Danang, transfer to Hoi An that takes a 40-minute to Hoi An town.
The ancient and historic town of Hoi An was for three centuries one of the most important ports in Central Vietnam, visited by sailing ships from all over the world seeking trade in silk, ceramics and spices. In the late 19th Century, the Thu Bon River, linking the port to the open sea, began to sit up and became un-navigable for large vessels. Trade moved up the coast to Tourane, now modern day Danang, and Hoi An went back to being a sleepy little fishing and rice farming community. Today however, Hoi An’s fortunes are once again riding on the crest of the wave as Vietnam’s number one tourist destination. This is largely due to the fact that UNESCO has listed the Old Town as a World Heritage Site with its quaint narrow streets packed with ancient Chinese, Portuguese and Japanese styles of architecture that has changed little from its heyday as a major port of trade.
In Hoi An we include a walking tour of the Old Town where you can visit an Ancient House, a Chinese Assembly Hall, the Japanese Covered Bridge and a Museum.
DAY 8 : HOI AN FREE DAY (B)
Leisure at your free time
In your free time you may relax at some of the town’s numerous cheap cafes, or have some clothes made up. Hoi An has nearly 100 silk shops offering same-day service for tailor made clothes at low prices
DAY 9: Hoi An – Hue – Half day city tour (B)
Today you drive out of the town to visit Marble Mountainsnamed the five mountains as NguHanh Son. He also named each of them according to one of the five elements of the universe: Kim Son (metal of gold), Moc Son (wood), Thuy Son (water), Hoa Son (fire), and Tho Son (earth). According to Oriental philosophy, metal, wood, water, fire and earth are five elements that create the universe. Five is a very important number in oriental mentality and life. And so, the five mountains that compose Marble Mountain are filled with mysterious. Continue to Danang and take a scenic three-hour drive to Hue, through a region of Vietnam blessed with magnificent rural and coastal scenery. You drive through Danang, where Highway 1 begins its winding ascent through the Hai Van Pass or ‘Pass of the Ocean Clouds’. On the other side of the pass is the pretty Lang Co Beach before crossing over another two small passes to arrive in Hue around lunchtime.
Hue served as Vietnam’s capital from 1801 to 1945 – during the reign of the Nguyen dynasty emperors – and has a serene and classic character that sets it apart from all other provincial Vietnamese cities. This afternoon, visit the Citadel where you spend a couple of hours exploring Hue’s massive ancient royal walled city and the Forbidden Purple Palace enclosed within. The palace’s splendid ‘Ngo Mon’ gate gives little hint of the destruction that has taken place inside the citadel at the hands of various occupying forces. The bloody ‘Battle of Hue’ during the 1968 Tet offensive all but finished it off but skilled Vietnamese craftsmen, with the help of UNESCO and other non-government organizations, are restoring and rebuilding what remains. Sadly, it can never be returned to its former glory, but it’s still a fascinating insight into Imperial Vietnam.
DAY 10 : Hue – Perfume River Cruise (B)
This morning you enjoy a leisurely “Dragon Boat” cruise along the timeless Perfume River. Our first stop is the Thien Mu Pagoda – one of the oldest and most significant pagodas in Hue, you continue visiting the Tomb of Emperor Minh Mang (1820-1840), one of the best remaining examples of its kind. Constructed between 1841 and 1843, it’s renowned for its architecture, which fits harmoniously into the surrounding landscape. Like in other tombs of this period, the general elements of the tomb architecture are: outer-walls, triple gate (Tam Quan Gate), Salutation Court, Stele House, temples, lakes, pavilions, gardens and the tomb itself. Lazily cruise back to the town and the rest of the day is free at your leisure until you’re transferred to the airport to catch the flight to Hanoi
On arrival in Hanoi, you’re transferred to the hotel for check in. The remainder of the day is free at leisure in Hanoi
Although there has been a permanent settlement here since the 3rd Century AD, the city of Hanoi can trace its origins back to 1010 B.C., when Emperor Le Thai To moved his capital from Hoa Lu to this site. When the French occupied Vietnam from the 1880s to World War II, Hanoi was developed as their colonial Indochinese capital with many of the ancient and historical structures being razed to make way for new French buildings. Today, the people of Hanoi take a lot of pride in their grand old colonial buildings which, together with the wide spacious boulevards and tree-lined lakes, help make Hanoi one of most graceful and charming cities in South East Asia
DAY 11: Hanoi Half day city tour (B)
This morning you start a city tour, showcasing some of Hanoi’s most interesting attractions. You begin by visiting the One Pillar Pagoda which is near to the Soviet-inspired Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. One Pillar Pagoda was first constructed in 1049 and is one of Hanoi’s oldest structures. If it doesn’t look that old, it’s because the French blew it up in 1954 as a parting gesture and the current building is a replica. Afterwards, we’ll visit the Temple of Literature. Founded in 1070, it was Vietnam’s first institute of learning and the place where candidates for the position of Mandarin were examined. Finally we’ll visit the Hoa Lo Prison, better known to many as the ‘Hanoi Hilton’. These days the prison serves as a museum and a reminder of the Vietnamese who were incarcerated here by their French masters and, later, American pilots shot down over North Vietnam airspace during the Vietnam War. And finish your city tour with the rickshaw ride to the Old Quarter well known as 36 Old Streets
DAY 12 : Hanoi – Halong Bay (B,L,D)
Halong Bay became firmly entrenched as one of the “must see” sights of Vietnam after the filming of the 1992 French movie, “Indochine” (starring Catherine Deneuve) and later the 1997 James Bond film “Tomorrow Never Dies” (starring Pierce Brosnan). The images of red sailed junks navigating through the 3000+ limestone karsts (islands) jutting out of the bay are nothing short of spectacular. It’s approximately a three-hour drive from Hanoi to Halong port where we board our boat and head out into the bay enjoying a seafood lunch (non-seafood also available) on the way. During the cruise we will stop to visit a cave and, in the warmer months, there is a chance to enjoy a swim and maybe do some kayaking (optional and extra cost involved). After we have moored up in the bay for the night our crew will busy themselves preparing a sumptuous dinner whilst, weather permitting, we watch an incredible sunset. Conditions are more communal compared to staying in a hotel, however it is a wonderful experience to be spending a night on the bay. All boats have twin-share cabins with en suite facilities and bedding and towels are provided.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
DAY 13: Halong Bay – Hanoi (B)
In the morning we cruise back to Halong port, where we disembark and drive back to Hanoi.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch
DAY 14 : DEPARTURE HA NOI (B)
After breakfast you’re transferred to the airport for departure flight back home