This grand tour of Indo-China is a must to experience the richness and diversity of the different cultures, history and way of life. Indo China originally comprised the French colony of Cochin China and the protectorates of Annam and Tonkin, later united to become Vietnam, Cambodia (formerly Kampuchea) and Laos. Each is now independent as you will observe in the lifestyle, buildings, food and much more. In this fabulous tour, be captivated by the peaceful and simple lifestyle of people in idyllic rural settings, little altered in centuries. Feel part of busy life on the Mekong and sense the historic importance of architecture, statues and artefacts as you meander through three distinctive countries.
Day 1: Ho Chi Minh City arrival
On arrival at Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll be met and taken to your hotel to check-in and relax after your flight. Later, enjoy a welcome dinner. Your overnight stay will be in Ho Chi Minh City
Day 2: Attending to a cooking class and visit to a Music House
After a leisurely breakfast you’ll join a cooking class held at a Cookery Centre. Firstly, you’ll visit a local market to learn how to select and purchase fresh ingredients, followed by an introduction to Vietnamese culinary culture.
Guests get busy in the kitchen under the careful supervision of a Vietnamese, English-speaking cook. There is a whole range of menus to choose from – one for each day of the week! Each has been developed specially to give an all-round flavour of Vietnamese cuisine.
Your lunch comprises the dishes you’ve cooked so pay attention! After lunch you will be awarded a certificate of competence and be given a souvenir gift.
In the afternoon, you’ll visit Truc Mai Music house and enjoy the show performed by Artist Dinh Linh. Mr. Linh will explain the different musical instruments in three main regions of Vietnam. You spend the night in Ho Chi Minh City.
Day 3: Ho Chi Minh City/Cai Be/Vinh Long/Sa Dec
Escaping from Ho Chi Minh City’s urban sprawl, you’ll be driven to Song Xanh’s pier in Cai Be town.
Shortly after embarkation you will experience the vibrant Cai Be floating market where you will see local barges full of fruits and vegetables and visit an ancient mandarin house dating from 1890.
The river cruise continues to Phu An hamlet. A delicious lunch will await you at "Le Longanier," an impressive Indochinese villa located by the river, set in a lush tropical garden. After lunch you head towards Sa Dec. En route, you transfer to a small boat to cruise along a narrow canal through fruit plantations and visit one of the largest artisan brick and tile factories. Compare the factories at home with these more traditional methods.
Sa Dec town will appear like a little “Venice” with numerous narrow canals. You will disembark for a very interesting visit at a beautiful ancient house or “Nha Co” dating from the early 19th Century, home of Mr. Huynh Thuy Le, former “lover” of famous French novelist Marguerite Duras.
A delicious dinner will be served on board with the wonderful ambience of river life. You spend the night on board the sampan too.
Day 4: Sa Dec/Long Xuyen/Cho Moi
An early breakfast is served on board. You then disembark for a guided visit of the charming and peaceful Sa Dec town. Walk along narrow streets to view beautiful French old houses and Chinese & Vietnamese temples dating from the 19th Century. You will also visit one of the most attractive markets in Vietnam.
Back on board your sampan will slowly leave Sa Dec and proceed upstream to Long Xuyen. You pass by several luxuriant islands and countless sampan boats carrying sand, rice, fruits and many other products that illustrate the intense activity on the river. Lunch is served on board.
Later you will have a quick tour of Long Xuyen, an important trading city, before cruising further to “Cu Lao Ong Ho” (The Tiger Island) for a visit at Ton Duc Thang museum, the second president of Vietnam. We continue upstream on the Mekong River to Chau Doc.
In the evening, we will organize a memorable evening at an ancient house located by the river in the suburbs of Cho Moi where dinner is arranged. Back on board enjoy your private sampan for your second night on the river.
Day 5: Cho Moi/Chau Doc
Early morning, your breakfast will be served on board while we cruise to Chau Doc on a small arm of the Mekong where several traditional artisan activities can be observed on the river banks (such as boat factories, bamboo basket making, palm leaf cutting, net fishing) as well as old Vietnamese temples dating from late 19th century.
We reach Chau Doc late morning. Located on the upper Mekong Delta, the town is 280 km south-west of Saigon on the Cambodian border. In such proximity to the local population you will be fascinated by an eclectic mix of Cham, Khmer, Chinese and Vietnamese sharing different cultures and rich histories.
The cruise then makes its way to the pier in Chau Doc town where you check out at the pier and disembark for check in at your riverside hotel.
After lunch at your hotel you’ll board a small boat to Vam Nao. There you will visit the Cham Islamic village in Chau Giang, one of the biggest Muslim towns in Vietnam where the locals speak both Vietnamese and Cham languages. They read the Quran in Arabic and, of course, all the men in the village wish to travel to Mecca once in their lifetime. You will visit the Mubarak Mosque, one of the main mosques in the Chau Doc area. You return to your hotel late afternoon and spend the night in Chau Doc.
Day 6: Chau Doc/Phnom Penh
After breakfast you board a speedboat to travel upriver to Phnom Penh. On arrival in Phnom Penh you’ll be met and taken to your hotel to check-in, relax and have a look around.
In the afternoon you’ll visit the National Museum where exhibits 5,000 objects including Angkorian era statues, lingas and other artefacts – notably the legendary statue of the 'Leper King" - and a good collection of pieces from later periods. You'll call in at the Royal Palace and the nearby Silver Pagoda. You spend the night in Phnom Penh
Day 7: Phnom Penh
In the morning you’ll be picked up and driven to the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide and the so-called ‘Killing Fields’. The reminder of the day will be free for your own activities in Phnom Penh. The importance of this sad chapter in history is starkly revealed. So is the horrific nature of acts carried ou by the Kh’mer Rouge. For those who don’t wish to visit we will discuss and organise another activity instead.
Day 8: Phnom Penh/Siem Reap overland
This morning you depart for Phnom Penh and head northeast towards Kampong Thom. The first stop en route is Skun spider village where you’ll see people selling fried and live spiders before continuing to Kompong Thom. We have lunch at a local restaurant but no spiders unless you wish to taste some! In the afternoon there is a visit to Sambor Prei Ruk which was the capital of the Chen La empire in the 7th century. The temple groups, in the style of Sambor Prei Ruk (600 – 650), represent one of the earliest forms of the Chen La art. Though many temples are in a poor state of repair, and many vandalised, they offer an early glimpse of architectural and artistic styles that continued into Angkorian art.
Later, we drive to Siem Reap. En route, you visit the ancient bridge, Kompon Kdei. The road passes an old Khmer bridge with a Naga balustrade across the River Praptos. This bridge is one of few stone bridges dating back to the Angkor period. We continue onto Siem Reap and on arrival transfer to the hotel for your overnight accommodation.
Day 9: Siem Reap
Your day will be devoted to the Temple complex of which Angkor Wat is a key element. You visit Angkor Thom, starting with the Bayon, a bizarre structure of several architectural changes reflecting a switch from Hinduism (the foundations) to Buddhism (the superstructure). Your next visit will be to the Elephant and Leper King Terraces followed by the Baphoun Temple, which is now nearing the end of an eight-year multi-million dollar restoration programme. In the afternoon, you’ll explore Angkor Wat itself, the largest, and for most people, the most impressive temple in the complex after which you can watch the sunset from the top of Phnom Bakheng Hill. Your overnight stay will be in Siem Reap.
Day 10: Siem Reap
Your day will be taken up with visits to some of the outer sites including Preah Khan, a huge and highly explorable monastic complex, Neak Pean, a Himalayan-style lake and sanctuary, and East Mebon, a temple-mountain. You’ll also visit Ta Prohm, strangled by massive tree roots and typical of the condition of the whole complex when it was discovered in 1860 by French naturalist Henri Mouhot. The reminder of the day will be free for leisure in Siem Reap.
Day 11: Siem Reap/Rolouse/Kampong Pluk by Tuk Tuk
An early breakfast and then begin the day by Tuk Tuk from hotel with your guide to the start of the Angkor complex at Rolouse, about a 40 minutes ride away. The first temple is Preah Ko (879AD), Bakong (881AD) and Lo Lei (893AD). You continue along an unpaved route from the temple to Rolouse boat pier for a river trip to Kampong Pluk floating village. Here you will discover the real life of Cambodian people who live in this scenic flooded plain with its rice fields and tame water buffalo. On arrival at the boat pier your guide will help with your luggage before we depart to Kampong Pluk for an hour’s journey along this scenic river. In the village have lunch on a floating house in local style; no air-con and no chair as you sit on a mat to enjoy a local fish or chicken meal. If you prefer, bring a picnic from Siem Reap.
After lunch, relax by taking a canoe ride through the flooded and eco-managed mangrove forest that is home to a variety of wildlife. We return Siem Reap via Chon Kneas. In late afternoon enjoy another sunset view on the great lake Tonle Sap before reaching the river bank. You will then be driven a short distance by car from Chong Kneas to Siem Reap town to stay overnight at a hotel in Siem Reap.
Day 12: Siem Reap/Luang Prabang
The morning is free until you're taken to Siem Reap International Airport for your regional flight to Luang Prabang. On arrival in Luang Prabang you’ll be met and taken to your hotel. You spend the night in Luang Prabang.
Day 13: Luang Prabang Orientation
After breakfast at your hotel, your guide will take you to visit the magnificent Wat Xieng Thong, the roofs of which sweep low to the ground, typical of the classical architecture of Luang Prabang. The morning will culminate with a stroll around Wat Mai temple and a visit to the ‘Day Market’.
After lunch, a climb up the steps to the top of Mount Phousi gives a panorama of the ancient royal city and the Mekong River - the evening views can be spectacular if there is a good sunset. Mount Phousi also has many shrines and votive statues, topped by a large gilded stupa. The rest of the day will be free. You’ll spend the night in Luang Prabang.
In the evening, you may wish to stroll around to see the Street Night Market where you can find the handmade textiles made by locals and ethnic minorities from the surrounding countryside. Your overnight accommodation will be in Luang Prabang.
Day 14: Luang Prabang ‘Alms giving’ and Pak Ou Caves
Another wake-up early morning, but not for a flight this time! Just before the first light of dawn, you’ll be provided with a beverage and a light snack and then see a Laos’ daily ‘alms giving’ ritual. Far in the distance, a tiny speck of colour gradually emerges as a long crocodile of saffron-clad monks walking steadily in a long line holding black bowls to receive offerings from local people. The traditional gift is a handful of ‘sticky rice’, but nowadays money is equally acceptable.
After returning to your hotel for a full breakfast, you embark on a cruise upstream on the Mekong River, firstly stopping at Xiengmene, where we visit Wat Long Khun, and the limestone cave Tham Sakkarin, and a tour around Ban Xiengmene village. Following a picnic lunch, we continue by boat up the Mekong which also gives us a breathtaking view of the tranquil countryside as well time to explore the mysterious Pak Ou Caves. These are two linked caves crammed with thousands of gold lacquered Buddha statues of various shapes and sizes left by pilgrims. Along the way, we stop at the village of Ban Xanghai, where they make the local rice wine. On return, we take a short drive to Ban Phanom, a small village known for its hand weaving. You spend the night in Luang Prabang.
Day 15: Luang Prabang - Elephant experience
After breakfast, you take a short drive out of Luang Prabang to the Elephant Park Project area. The “Elephant Village” is in the middle of a green, natural surrounding on the banks of the Nam Khan river. Here you will be introduced to our protected Asian Elephants and go out for a scenic ride in the natural setting along the river and hills. Enjoy a tranquil and new perspective on life and the wonderful nature on this one hour ride through which you support the rescue of our former logging elephants. You make your way through forests and along the Nam Khan river to Tad Sae waterfalls. Back at the Elephant Village enjoy a buffet lunch before driving back to Luang Prabang early afternoon, depending on free time spent at the waterfall or Elephant Village.
Day 16: Luang Prabang/Xiengkhouang
After breakfast, you’ll drive to Xieng Khouang, an area once devastated by American bombing between 1964 and 1973. These back roads are a great way to explore the real Laos. We see very few other travellers, mostly rural dwellers who are just as interested in finding out about our lives as we are of theirs. The drive is long but we make many stops to stretch our legs and take some wonderful photographs. You’ll spend the night in in Xieng Khouang.
Day 17: Xieng Khouang/Plain of Jars/Xieng Khouang
After breakfast, you’ll be driven out to visit the Plain of Jars, an impressive archaeological site where hundreds of large stone jars are littered all over the plateau. You’ll also see the old capital of Muang Khoum and its surrounding villages which are home to the H’mong hill tribes. They have an interesting local culture and a colourful history. You’ll spend the night in Xieng Khouang.
Day 18: Xieng Khouang/Vientiane
After a leisurely breakfast, you’ll be taken to the airport for your flight to Vientiane. Arriving at Vientiane airport, you’ll be met and driven to your hotel. After a short rest, you’ll have a short Walking Tour of the Lao Capital, strolling around the city and observing the sunset by the Mekong Riverside. You’ll spend the night in Vientiane
Day 19: Vientiane city tour
Your city tour will include visits to Wat Si Saket, Vientiane’s oldest temple, and easily the most impressive, and Wat Pha Keo Museum. From there you’ll visit That Luang Stupa, stopping en-route to photograph the imposing Patuxay Monument, known popularly as Vientiane’s own ‘Arc de Triomphe.’ Later, we visit the local ‘Morning Market’ – it’s good for antiques (occasionally a genuine item turns up!), handmade textiles and other souvenirs.
After lunch, you’ll visit Wat Ong Tu, the Temple of the Heavy Buddha and an important centre of learning. The day culminates with a stroll along the Mekong riverfront to enjoy the sunset. You’ll spend the night in Vientiane.
Day 20: Buddha Park
After a leisurely breakfast, you’ll be taken to visit the Buddha Park on the banks of the Mekong, with its distinctly modernist Buddha statues, one of which is the largest Reclining Buddha in Laos.
You return to Vientiane for a visit to the first Lao private museum. You’ll spend the remainder of the day and evening at Lao Textile Museum, owned and run by Mr. Hasana Sisane and his sister, Mrs Bouavanh Phouminh. In the evening, you’ll have dinner in their garden and the host will tell you stories about his collection. You’ll spend the night in Vientiane
Day 21: Vientiane departure
Your time will be your own until your private car and driver arrives to take you to Wattay International Airport for your international departure flight. Your Great Tour of Indo China ends!