Day 1 : Bangkok
Upon arrival you’ll be met by your local guide and transferred to your hotel. Bangkok is an intense place of movement ~ a cityscape of high-rise buildings, expressway flyovers, colorful advertising billboards and traffic. However, in between the skyscrapers and sophisticated shopping centers, we find stillness in the elegant temples, pagodas, spirit houses and historic sites. Dine on the Chao Phraya River aboard The Manohra, a traditional barge converted into a floating restaurant serving fine royal Thai cuisine.
Day 2 : Bangkok
Explorations begin this morning by long-tail boat. Motor upstream to Wat Arun, a remarkable Buddhist temple constructed between 1809 and 1851. Continue by boat across the ‘river highway’ to disembark at Ta Chang Pier. We continue by foot to the Grand Palace, one of the most spectacular palaces in Thailand. We also visit Wat Phra Kaew, the temple of the Emerald Buddha. This temple is considered the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand.
Our explorations continue through the bustling Bangkok streets to visit Wat Po, which houses the enormous reclining Buddha as well as the Chedis (stupas containing the ashes) of the Kings. Further on is the impressive Wat Trimitr, which houses a huge five-ton solid Gold Buddha. Our afternoon rounds off in Bangkok’s Chinatown, one of the oldest neighborhoods of the city. A maze of small roads and crowded Soi (alleys), overflowing with restaurants, shops, street markets and food stalls, sells virtually anything you can imagine. (Ladies should wear short-sleeved top with full-length trousers or knee-length skirts. Gentlemen should wear trousers and short-sleeved shirts for religious reasons.)
Day 3 : Chiang Mai
We take an early flight to Chiang Mai. Upon arrival transfer to the hotel for check-in or to drop-off your luggage.
Our explorations begin at the Wanoros local market, before taking a short “samlor” (tricycle) ride to Wat Phra Singh. This 14th century Lanna style temple has been one of Chiang Mai’s most important sanctuaries. Our route continues to visit Wat Suan Dok, where the ashes of the former Kings of Chiang Mai and the Royal Family are interred. Our last temple visit of the day is at Wat Chedi Luang. The remainder of the day is at leisure.
Day 4 : Chiang Mai
Our cultural explorations continue as we’re introduced to the ethnic mosaic of the Hill Tribes. There are several groups of Meo Hill tribes but the Blue and White Meo’s are the largest grouping. The people are distinguished by their costume; for example, the White Meo’s wear black costume. Their village is furthest away from the city and the experience is less commercialized. The journey offers spectacular views of Northern Thailand, driving through mountains and forests, ending with a visit to the 600-year-old Doi Suthep Temple near the summit of Doi Suthep. The final climb to the site is via a magnificent Naga (dragon-headed serpents) staircase of 306 steps. Inside is an intriguing copper-plated chedi (stupa) topped by a five-tiered gold umbrella, which purports to contain relics of Lord Buddha. On a clear day, there are great views over the city and valley of Chiang Mai.
Day 5 : Siem Reap
We bid Thailand farewell and head for Siem Reap today. Upon arrival in Cambodia you will be met by your local guide and transferred to the hotel. The remainder of the day is at leisure.
Day 6 : Siem Reap
Optional: sunrise over Angkor Wat temple. Return to your hotel for late breakfast. If you’re an early riser, consider catching the sunrise over Angkor Wat temple. It is certainly one of the most unique places in the world for sunrise but be forewarned, you won’t be alone!
After breakfast, return to visit the intricately carved Khmer ruins at Angkor – one of the world’s most impressive heritage sites. The temple still holds fine examples of stone carvings and engravings from the rich Angkorian era. Look for Apsara’s or celestial angel figures dancing in intricate still life scenes on the bas-reliefs. In the afternoon, take a tuk-tuk ride from the Southgate of Angkor Thom to Bayon and explore the mysterious Royal city of Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom’s 50-tower temple is an inspiring sight. At first glance, it seems to be a shapeless mass of stone, but further scrutiny reveals a face, and then another and another until suddenly you are engulfed by the heavy, enigmatic and silent gaze through half-closed eyes. Enjoy sunset at one of the quieter temples.
Day 7 : Siem Reap
This morning drive further into the Cambodian countryside to visit the petite but magnificent temple, Banteay Srei, built in the 10th Century and dedicated to Shiva. The temple was the birthplace of Khmer classical style architecture and its bas-relief work is the best remaining example of Khmer classical art. The pink sandstone structure hosts a series of striking and beautiful sculptures, lintels, pediments and friezes. Khmers say women must have carved the temple, for the details are too fine for the hands of a man. We continue our sightseeing after lunch to visit the striking Ta Prohm. The temple was once reclaimed by the jungle and disappeared until a French explorer uncovered the ruins. It remains overgrown, an oddly haunting and powerful scene. The ficus family continue to embrace the ruins with their twisty, winding roots and branches, ever threatening to reclaim the temple.
Day 8 : Ho Chi Minh City
Your morning is free for packing or last-minute shopping. Then transfer to the airport for the flight to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh is Vietnam’s largest city. Upon arrive you’ll be met by your local guide and transferred downtown. The first thing you’ll become aware of is the vast number of motorcyclists in seemingly constant motion around town. About 92% of commuters travel by shared motorbike, sometimes carrying three of more people. Always keep your camera on hand as the traffic mayhem tends to offer fantastic photo opportunities!
Day 9 : Ho Chi Minh City
This morning your guide will present the historic overview of the city as you take in the main points of interest. It’s an energetic city and the architectural disorder gives you an idea of the rapid growth over the past decade. The past and present may be found on the same block; French colonial heritage buildings flanked by a flashy Louis Vuitton boutique. Architectural highlights include the Notre Dame Cathedral, built between 1877 and 1883. The stone used to create it was exported in its entirety from France. Next to the cathedral stands the Central Post Office, finished in 1891. It is another fine example of French architecture and is Vietnam’s largest post office. We continue to the Reunification Palace, the former residence of the President of South Vietnam until April 30, 1975. We end the architectural highlights with a stroll through the bustling Ben Thanh Market.
Cu Chi Tunnels option: It is possible to include a morning visit of the site, followed by an afternoon visit of Saigon. This network of tunnels, which stretched for over 200km, became legendary during the 1960s. The Cu Chi tunnels played a vital part in the U.S.-Vietnam War in that they allowed the Viet Cong to control a large rural area only 30 to 40 km from Saigon. At its height, the tunnel system stretched from Saigon to the Cambodian border. The network, parts of which were several levels deep, included innumerable trap doors, specifically constructed living areas, storage facilities, weapons factories, field hospitals, command center and kitchens. Today the remaining tunnels have become a major tourist attraction, giving the visitor a glimpse of the underground life and strategy during the war.
Day 10 : Hoi An
We transfer back to the Saigon airport for your flight, north to Da Nang. Upon arrival it’s a short drive to the Cham Museum of Da Nang city for an introduction to the Classical Era of South East Asian art and history. The time span roughly corresponds to the medieval period in Europe. The Champa Kingdom was a maritime powerhouse, trading in spices and ivory. The culture was highly developed, leaving a legacy of refined artworks and architecture. The museum houses the largest and most impressive collection of Cham sculpture and artifacts, dating from the 4th to the 14th centuries. We continue past the striking Marble Mountains for photo opportunities and on to Non Nuoc Beach, immortalized for many by the US television show, China Beach and still one of the most spectacular beaches in Asia. Our end destination is Hoi An. In a country ravaged by war, Hoi An managed to remain untouched. Wander the relatively traffic-free streets of this ancient seaport and imagine yourself amidst the sailors and merchants of the 18th Century, when Hoi An was one of the busiest trading ports in Asia. And don’t forget that this is the town famed for its great tailors; so, if you brought anything with you to be replicated—or want to have traditional Vietnamese dresses tailored —this is the spot.
Day 11 : Hoi An
Today your guide will lead you through Hoi An’s historic Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The picturesque riverside town was a major trading port between the 15th to 19th centuries. Mansions built by prosperous Japanese, Chinese, and European merchants characterize the enchanting Old Quarter. Appreciate the vivid sense of history as you walk the narrow streets. Visit temples, houses, artisan workshops and the bustling fish market along the quay. In the late morning, get involved in a hands-on cooking class with a local chef. The chef offers us an introductory cooking class that leads into lunch together (Don’t worry, you won’t be obliged to cook your own lunch). After your market visit this morning, you will have gained a good understanding of local ingredients and the basic techniques of Vietnamese cuisine. The remainder of the day is free to explore on your own or spend a few hours with the tailors of Hoi An.
Day 12 : Hanoi
We leave the center of the country and head north today. Transfer to Da Nang airport for the one-hour flight to Ha Noi. Upon arrival, transfer with guide to your hotel downtown.
Day 13 : Paradise Peak Cruise
This morning we have a 2.5-hour drive to reach one of the newly declared 7 New Wonders of the World – Ha Long Bay. Journey through the impressive countryside of the North, by now you’ll have a sense of how distinctly different each region of Vietnam is. Arrive at the pier by noon; board your luxury junk (flat-bottomed sailing vessel), which will be your accommodation for the night. Cruise through the magical bay, where thousands of sculpted limestone islands rise from the water. Lunch is served on board. Drop anchor in a bay, disembark to visit spectacular limestone caves or trek to a nearby summit for a panoramic view of the evocative bay. Choose to swim near a secluded beach, or simply lounge on deck soaking up the atmosphere. Visit a floating fishing village and meet third-generation fishermen to learn about their traditional way of life at sea. The day rounds off at sunset with a libation before feasting on fresh seafood for dinner.
Day 14 : Hanoi
Catch an early sunrise this morning from the deck with a traditional Vietnamese coffee in hand. Breakfast will be served on board. Continue cruising through the Bay with its limestone formations and small islands. Small-uninhabited beaches and grottoes carved out by wind and water action provide an ever-changing backdrop for photography. Not to mention the images of distant junks, or round basket boats floating on shimmering waters. Drop off at the pier will be around mid-day and then you will transfer back to your hotel in Ha Noi. In the late afternoon, we’ll enjoy a performance of water puppetry, an art form that developed in the rice paddies of northern Vietnam.
Day 15 : Hanoi
(All museums in Ha Noi are closed on Monday & Friday)
This morning, we travel by rickshaw cyclo (traditional bike-propelled cart) and by foot along tree-lined boulevards and through the 1000-year-old “Old Quarter”. Other stops on your visit include Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, the One Pillar Pagoda and the hallowed “Temple of Literature”- Van Mieu as it is known in Vietnamese – the country’s most renowned temple complex. A Confucian sanctuary and academy, the center once housed the country’s first university, founded in 1076. Take time to wander through the stone tablets and soak up a thousand years of learning with your local guide. After lunch at another of our favorite local spots, we leave you to enjoy the afternoon as you see fit. Depending on your interests, your tour guide will be happy to lead you to some of the city’s more interesting art galleries or take you on a shopping tour for silks and linens (this is perhaps the best place in Vietnam to pick up gifts for people back home). There are numerous historic sites to recommend or even a visit to the Museum of Ethnology to enhance your understanding of Vietnam’s diverse culture. In the late afternoon, we’ll enjoy a performance of water puppetry, an art form that developed in the rice paddies of northern Vietnam.
Day 16 : End of Itinerary
Today, you will have a private transfer with your guide to the airport for departure flight home.