See the sights but also get off the beaten track to experience the real joys of ancient Indo China. Indulge wonderful scenery, enjoy delightful hospitality and become immersed in the lifestyle and distinctive cultures of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. This is the ultimate adventure for those who relish the natural environment and want to know about the great ethnic diversity of Indo China and who wish to understand more about the religious significance of temples, architecture and rituals. You don’t need to be an Olympic athlete but do require a reasonable level of fitness. Be prepared to rough it at times. Most rural accommodation is basic but this is the appeal as you feel and sense the environment even more. We guarantee this tour of discovery will stay in the memory forever!
Day 1: Ho Chi Minh City Arrival
Arriving at Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh City you’ll be met and driven to your hotel. You’ll have time to relax after your journey before a Welcome dinner. In the evening, you’ll have tickets for a performance of traditional Water Puppetry (an art form unique to northern Vietnam, and a good, light-hearted introduction to its rural culture). You’ll spend the night in Ho Chi Minh City.
Day 2: Ho Chi Minh City orientation
After breakfast, your guide will arrive to show you around Ho Chi Minh City. You’ll visit the History Museum where there is a special exhibition of the 5th century ‘Oc Eo’ civilisation. (Alternatively, you’ll visit the Fito Museum (First Museum of Traditional Vietnamese Medicine) which is host to a large collection of relics, including traditional Vietnamese medicinal implements, and chronicles the history of medical practice in Vietnam from 2000 BC). The Museum of War Remnants provides a very partial, but riveting, perspective of the ‘American War’: not for the squeamish! The Binh Tay market and the China Town are worth a stroll to explore the local daily life and cultural mix.
You’ll also call in at the Jade Emperor Temple. It’s one of the best Taoist temples in Vietnam with superb effigies, remarkable carved panels of the descent to Hell and somewhat incongruous terrapin and tortoise sanctuaries. You’ll then return your hotel for freshen up or wander around the huge Ben Thanh market, one of the liveliest areas of Ho Chi Minh City and packed with every conceivable commodity. You’ll spend the night in Ho Chi Minh City.
Day 3: Ho Chi Minh City/Cai Be/Vinh Long Homestay
Today venture beyond the thrum of the city to Cai Be for a sampan cruise to the colorful Cai Be floating market. You’ll then visit local handicraft villages to see the manufacture of rice-nets for spring-rolls, fish and Soya sauces, cooking salt and the sewing of coconut-leaves for use in weather-proofing cottages. Later, a rowing boat will lead you through the maze of the Mekong Delta’s myriad channels to connect you with the real life of the local people before visiting the nursery garden of celebrated farmer, Mr. Tiger. There you will enjoy the fresh fruits of his orchard gardens and listen to live music performed by local artistes. You’ll spend the night at this hospitable homestay, where you can prepare your dinner with the locals or wander the gardens enjoying the peaceful serenity of rural life in the Delta.
Day 4: Cycling in Vinh Long/Can Tho
Today you’ll board a boat for a short cruise of the Mekong River, visiting the brick-kilns to observe the techniques used in the making of pottery from locally sourced clay. You’ll then call in at Vinh Long to visit the town market. Once you have seen as much as you wish, your bicycle will be waiting for a cycle ride along the shadowy zigzagging road and paths, passing canal-side villages, orchards and many small and narrow bridges, so much an iconic feature of the area. You’ll see the rice fields and visit a vegetable farm with an opportunity to join in the daily work of the farmers, planting and watering vegetables*. After lunch, you’ll be driven further into the Mekong Delta to Can Tho city where you’ll spend the night.
Day 5: Can Tho/Ho Chi Minh City
After breakfast and a boat cruise you’ll arrive at Cai Rang floating market on the Mekong Delta. Both the journey and the market provide insights into the rural Mekong Delta lifestyle. On your return to Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll call in at the beautiful and ancient Vinh Trang pagoda, 3 km from My Tho centre. You’ll arrive in Ho Chi Minh City late afternoon with plenty of time to freshen up at the hotel before exploring downtown.
Day 6: Ho Chi Minh City/Can Gio/Ho Chi Minh City
Today you will visit Lam Vien’s ecological mangrove reserve site in Can Gio. Arriving in Can Gio, you’ll visit Can Gio museum to learn about the history of the region and the typical fauna and flora of the ecological microcosm of the forest ecosystem. Your guide will show you the monkey reserve before a sampan cruise takes you to Sac forest to visit the revolutionary base used during the American War. After lunch at a local restaurant, you’ll call in at a Whale Tomb – a temple where the local people worship the skeleton of a whale. The fishermen here believe that the whale protects them at sea and brings them bumper harvests of fish. You will be driven back to Ho Chi Minh City and your hotel for the night. The afternoon s at leisure.
Day 7: Ho Chi Minh City/Tay Ninh/Cu Chi
A morning drive will take you to Tay Ninh to visit the Cao Dai Holy See in time to watch the mid-day ceremony. After lunch you’ll visit the famous Cu Chi tunnels, a Byzantine maze of underground passages, chambers, rooms and booby traps used by both the Vietminh and the Viet Cong to suddenly materialise as if from nowhere, launch a lightning ambush, and vanish equally rapidly. You’ll spend the night in Ho Chi Minh City.
Day 8: Ho Chi Minh City/Nam Cat Tien
Today, your driver will take you to Nam Cat Tien National Park. Upon arrival at the National park, you’ll discover the “Reserve Core area”. Then you cycle via a rough path (9 kilometres at least) to see the abundant fauna and flora in the Park including the “Uncle Dong Tree” and the “Bat Cave”. You’ll stay overnight in the guesthouse in the centre of the park. After dinner, a two- hour jeep night trip takes you into the forest for the wild life spotting. You’ll be equipped a good pair of binoculars to see monkeys, deer and other small mammals.
Day 9: Nam Cat Tien Trekking
In the morning, you’ll drive 16 km in a jeep to the giant Ficus Tree which covers over two hectares. Wander around the massive trees, dripping vines, and visit the rapids, water level permitting. You’ll then drive back and hike for five kilometres through the rainforest to Crocodile Lake - you may see some of the typical wild fauna en-route before rowing on the lake to watch the park’s feathered inhabitants. In the evening, you’ll be equipped with binoculars and a spotlight to spot the “Night Life” on Crocodile Lake and see up to a hundred crocodiles with red eyes hunting for food. If you’re lucky you can watch some of the innocent deer which often wander around the Lake for their fresh grass, but they need to be wary of predators. Your accommodation will be in the Bungalow in the Lake.
Day 10: Nam Cat Tien/Dalat
You’ll wake up to the sound of birds and monkeys for a forest breakfast. You’ll then say “good bye” to the natural Lake and hike back to the forest edge where our jeep is waiting for you and take you to the National Park Headquarters. Later, a cruise down Dong Nai River on a motor boat takes you to Ta Lai village to visit the farms and houses of S’Tieng and Chau Ma ethnic minorities. You’ll then return to the Park to collect your luggage and depart for your next destination, Dalat. We will drive northwards through the cultivated lowlands before climbing up onto the Lang Bian Plateau and the charming town of Dalat. We will make stops along the way for any interesting-looking habitat and natural beauty, including a waterfall. The hill resort of Dalat, perhaps the most attractive large town in Vietnam, is located at 4,900 feet (circa 1,475 meters) in a temperate region. It is dotted with lakes and waterfalls and surrounded by evergreen forests, including various native pine woodlands. You’ll spend the night in Dalat
Day 11: Dalat City tour
In the morning, you’ll ride a cable car to Truc Lam Pagoda and Tuyen Lam Lake. The pagoda is quite plain but is surrounded by an attractive flower garden. There are good views of the lake which lies below and can be reached by steps with thick forests on the far side. You’ll then cruise across the Tuyen Lam Lake to enjoy an hour’s elephant ride on the island in the middle of the lake. After lunch, you’ll visit Emperor Bao Dai’s Summer Palace, the Crazy House and Dalat market. You’ll spend the night in Da lat.
Day 12: Dalat/Jungle Boogie Hike
After an early breakfast, you’ll be met for the scenic drive to Tuyen Lam Lake where you’ll board a boat, crossing to the southernmost point. Here you start your trek. You may see some of the tame local elephants living near the lake-shore. Your trail begins through pine forest, gradually ascending over a meadow and into the jungle canopy so you can full enjoy the flora and fauna along the trail to the summit of Temple Peak. If you are lucky, you may catch a glimpse of the local monkey troop. When you reach the top, lunch, prepared from local ingredients, will be served while you relax and take in the views of the valley below.
After lunch, you’ll follow the ridge downwards, the forest gradually thinning as you approach the flower, rice and vegetable farms which pepper the valley floor. You’ll finish your trek at the Koho ethnic minority village of Lang Dinh An, popularly known as ‘Chicken Village’ after it’s chicken statue. From there you’ll be picked up by your driver for the return journey to Dalat.
Day 13: Dalat/Danang/Hoi An – Ancient Town
You’ll have free time until we drive to the airport for your flight to Danang. Upon arriving in Danang and a brief look at the remarkable Hindu statuary in the Cham Museum we continue to Hoi An. You will have a guided visit to the Ancient Town of Hoi An where you spend the night.
Day 14: Hoi An/My Son/Hoi An
After breakfast, you’ll be driven to the World Heritage ‘My Son Sanctuary’. Your guide will show you the remains of the remarkable towers constructed by the Cham builders, many centuries ago - their origins and purpose have yet to be fully explained. In the afternoon you can return to your hotel to relax or be dropped downtown. The rest of the day is free to enjoy this delightful town and its rich history. You’ll spend the night in Hoi An.
Day 15: Hoi An – From Farmer to Fisherman Tour ½ day for
The day starts with cycling the narrow roads through the countryside, passing by rice paddy fields, water buffalos, bamboo bridges and local farmers on their daily work. You’ll then board a boat to the mouth of the Thu Bon estuary where the river meets the Cua Dai Sea and cruise along the coastline observing the lives of the local fishermen.
After joining the fisherman to try your hand at catching fish in a traditional ‘Thung Chai’ basket boat, meander through the water palm coconut canal. During the American War, Viet Cong soldiers made use of this area as a highly effective hiding place from enemy attacks through their long struggle. Following an insightful visit to a local fishing village, you’ll be free to relax and enjoy a fresh seafood lunch before cycling back to your hotel.
Day 16 to Day 17: Hoi An Free
The day will be free for chilling out, strolling in the town, lazing on the beach, shopping in the ancient town or whatever takes your fancy. You spend the night in Hoi An.
Day 18: Hoi An/Danang/Hue
In the morning, your car will arrive to drive you to Hue. On the way, you'll cross the high mountain pass of Hai Van. The views from the top are excellent – you should be able to see Lang Co beach and village, and the lagoon far below, with Danang spread out before you to the south.
Upon arriving in Hue, your guide will take you on a tour of Hue’s ancient citadel, once the seat of the powerful Nguyen Dynasty Emperors that ruled Vietnam from approximately 1800 to 1945. You’ll begin with a stroll around the area between the Citadel’s massive walls and the defensive moat, now filled with lotus flowers. You’ll then enter via the Noon Gate to wander around the Thai Hoa Palace, the Pavilion housing the Nine Urns of the Nguyen rulers, and the remains of the Royal Palaces before crossing the river to modern Hue and the bustling Dong Ba market. You’ll spend the night in Hue.
Day 19: Cycling to get closer to Hue’s lifestyle
In the morning, your bicycles will be at your hotel ready for you to ride through Hue’s rural villages towards the Thanh Toan Bridge (roofed in Chinese style). Nearby, a local market will provide you with views of daily life and local products. You'll then return to Hue’s city centre with en-route visit the Ngoc Son Princess ‘garden house’. It has an attractive family altar and the owner is an expert on Hue’s culture and history – he will be pleased to explain the geomantic principles underpinning the building and garden’s construction.
After lunch, your route will take you past the Imperial Citadel to visit some of the garden houses in Phu Mong Kim Long village. You continue to a handicraft village in Hue’s hinterland, specialising in a single product range of traditional cakes - ‘banh it’ and ‘banh phu the’ - before looping back to your hotel for overnight accommodation.
Day 20: Hue/Ho Chi Minh City/ Phnom Penh arrival
In the morning, you have free time before we drive to the airport for your flight to Ho Chi Minh City to take the flight to Phnom Penh. On arrival, you’ll be greeted by our guide and driven to the hotel for your overnight stay.
Day 21: Phnom Penh/Tamao Zoo
After breakfast, we drive to Phnom Ta Mao, located in Tro Pang Sap village about 40k from Phnom Penh. Phnom Ta Mao is a varied site consisting of temples, mountains, scenic backdrop and a big zoo. Phnom Ta Mao has 2,500-hectare land area called forest-protected area. The Department of Forestry has taken 1,200 hectares of land for planning trees and 70 hectares for the zoo complex. You’ll also visit Tonle Bati where you will see Taprom temple. This has been adapted from Bayon Style architecture and was built during the late 12th and early 13th centuries, in the reign of King Jayavarman VII (AD 1181 - 1120) as a place of worship for Brahmans and Buddhists. The temple is 42 m long, 36 m wide and 11 m high. Today the temple body, the gallery, the wall, the (gateway) and moat surrounding the temple are heavily damaged. The temple was constructed of brick and laterite and divided into many rooms.
In the afternoon, you’ll visit the National Museum which exhibits 5,000 objects including Angkorian era statues, lingas, artefacts – most 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 by Silver Pagoda. Your overnight will be at hotel in Phnom Penh.
Day 22: Phnom Penh/Chiphat Arrival
After breakfast our guide and driver will take you from your hotel for your journey to Chi Phat. Mid-morning we arrive at Andoung Tuek village to be picked up by CBET Moto taxi (helmets provided) for transfer to the Chi Phat community to see the forest conservation area. On arrival enjoy fresh coconut as you register at the CBET office where you will have lunch. You then walk to the nearby Chhay Chrey rapids with a local guide (about 2km) where you can swim and relax. A CBET Moto taxi will take you the short journey to the Reforestation Project Nursery where the reforestation project will be explained with the chance to plant a tree and contribute to conservation of the Cardamoms. Late afternoon you travel by CBET Moto taxi to Bold Mountain View and Sunset point which is close to the commune. Your dinner is at the CBET office. Later the owner of the Home Stay/Guesthouse will arrive to take you to your overnight accommodation.
Day 23: Chi Phat/Veal Ta Prak/O’Key/Chi Phat
After an early breakfast you begin the trek to Veal Ta Prak (about 11km) and arrive at the pond where you can spot wildlife and birds. You have lunch here and continue trekking through the forest to O’Key junction and start your return to Chi Phat, arriving late afternoon. Dinner is at the CBET office and your overnight accommodation at the Home Stay/Guesthouse
Day 24: Chi Phat/Phnom Penh/Siem Reap
A slightly more leisurely breakfast before your departure by speedboat for the 30 minutes journey to Andong Tuek village where a car will take you back to Phnom Penh, arriving mid-afternoon. You then drive to the airport for your flight to Siem Reap. On arrival, you’ll be picked up and taken to your hotel to check in and relax. Your overnight stay will be at hotel in Siem Reap
Day 25: Siem Reap Angkor Comnplex
Your day will be devoted to the Temple complex, of which Angkor Wat is a key element. You’ll begin with a visit to 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. You’ll explore Angkor Wat itself, the largest, and for most people the most impressive temple in the complex. As dusk nears, a walk to the summit of Phnom Bakheng Hill affords a panorama of the whole site lit by the rays of the setting sun, weather permitting of course. Your accommodation will be in Siem Reap.
Day 26: 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. After lunch, you’ll also see Ta Prohm, strangled by massive tree roots and typical of the condition of the whole complex when it was discovered in 1860 by the French naturalist Henri Mouhot. Your guide will then show you the Prasat Kravan (also known as the Cardomom Sanctuary) and Srah Srang Lake and landing terrace. The Srah Srang is less touristy and could be a sunrise alternative to Angkor Wat. You’ll spend the night in Siem Reap.
Day 27: Siem Reap/Kampong Pluk floating village/Luang Prabang
After breakfast, you’ll be picked up and driven to Siem Reap River, for a boat trip on Tonle Sap Lake to visit the village of Kompong Pluk. Here you can ‘go native’ aboard a dugout canoe for a paddle through the flooded forest near the village. You’ll then return to the hotel to freshen up. Your time will be your own until your driver arrives to take you to the Siem Reap airport for the flight to Luang Prabang. On arrival at the airport you will be met and transferred to your hotel. Luang Prabang is perhaps the best-preserved traditional city in Southeast Asia. The tranquillity and charm of this town, with its splendid natural scenery and cultural sights, make it one of the most delightful places to visit in Laos. Today is free at leisure for you to explore the city.
Day 28: Luang Prabang Orientation
After breakfast, we enjoy a short-guided tour seeing the city’s oldest temple of Wat Sene and the magnificent Wat Xiengthong with its roofs sweeping low to the ground, which represents classical Laotian architecture. During our time here we visit the impressive stupa of Wat Visoun and the shrine of Wat Aham, Wat Mai. We then visit the National Museum at the former Royal Palace which displays a lovely collection of the artefacts reflecting the richness of Lao culture dating from the days of the early kings right through the last sovereign. We then climb up to the top of Mount Phousi for an enjoyable exploration of the sacred, gilded stupa as well as a panoramic view of the city at sunset and the Mekong River. We then explore the Night Market where you can find a lovely selection of handmade textile made by local and hill tribe people surrounding Luang Prabang. Your overnight will be in Luang Prabang.
Day 29: Luang Prabang/Bak Ouv Cave – Kuang Si Waterfall
An optional early start gives you the fantastic opportunity to participate in the daily morning rituals of saffron-clad monks collecting offerings of Alms (ubiquitous sticky rice) from the faithful residents. This tradition is unique to Laos, being the only Buddhist nation still preserving the procession. After breakfast, we will board a cruise upstream on the Mekong River which also gives us a panoramic view of the tranquil countryside. Enjoy an interesting visit to the mysterious of Pak Ou Caves, 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 small village of Ban Xanghai, where the local rice wine is distilled. After lunch, we’ll continue our excursion toward Khouangsi Waterfall and en route visit local villages of Lao ethnic minority groups at Ban Ouay, Hmong Village, Ban Ou, Laoloum Village and Ban Thapene, Khmu Village. Then we drive to the beautiful Khouangsi Waterfall where you can splash around in the turquoise pools or walk along forest trails. The Khouangsi Waterfall setting really illustrates paradise. We return to Luang Prabang by late afternoon and continue to Ban Xangkhong, a village well known for silk hand weaving and for traditional Saa Paper making. In the evening you’ll have a chance to observe the sunset at Wat Phabath. You’ll spend the night in Luang Prabang.
Day 30: Luang Prabang Departure
After breakfast, you’ll drive to the airport for your international departure flight. Your fabulous Discovery Tour of Indo China Tour ends!