This fifteen-day comprehensive tour of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos is very popular as it includes the main highlights including World Heritage sites of three countries. As you’re travelling tailor-made, you can make as many changes to the itinerary as you wish. We’ll reorganise the programme accordingly to fit your arrangements.
Upon arriving at Noi Bai airport in Hanoi, you’ll be met and driven to your hotel. You’ll have time to relax after your journey before a welcome dinner at a good restaurant in a colonial building. In the evening, you’ll have tickets for a performance of traditional Water Puppetry (an art form unique to northern Vietnam, and an interesting, light-hearted introduction to its rural culture). Your overnight stay will be in Hanoi.
You’ll have the whole day to explore Vietnam’s capital city. Your guide will take you to the Temple of Literature, the first university in Vietnam dating back to the 11th century, and a popular attraction, as is Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, his simple stilt house where he lived and worked, and the museum dedicated to his memory. You’ll then drive to the excellent Ethnology Museum for an overview of Vietnam’s 54 distinct ethnic groups. Then you’ll visit the Old Quarter by ‘cyclo’ (tricycle taxi), a magnet for visitors – it’s noisy and hectic, but definitely a ‘must-see’ attraction. The Old Quarter is a maze of shopping streets and restaurants with a hotchpotch of architecture - traditional tube houses, religious buildings, artisans’ workshops and cottages, colonial houses and modern concrete edifices and stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake and the Ngoc Son Temple. You’ll spend the night in Hanoi.
We’ll arrange your programme to avoid the busy times at popular destinations, but if there’s anything you particularly want to see, let us know.
In the morning, you’ll visit Hanoi’s Fine Art Museum for an overview and historical perspective of Vietnamese art. Then you’ll call in on two or three of the better commercial galleries in the city. If there are any good exhibitions running at the time, they could replace one or more of the gallery visits according to your preference.
After lunch, you can tune yourself in with some traditional Vietnamese music. A local musician, Mr. Ba Pho, will guide you through his music studio displaying many rare and unique Vietnamese musical instruments. Ba Pho’s enthusiastic insight into the origins of these instruments is extraordinary: he's also well-schooled in the geography and history of the Vietnamese ethnic minorities. The best way to experience his vast collection is by listening to them in concert. An exclusive hour-long performance by Ba Pho can be arranged for an extra fee. You’ll spend the night in Hanoi.
In the morning or in the afternoon, your car will take you to the famous Bat Trang village to visit handicraft workshops producing hand-decorated ceramics. You’ll spend the night in Hanoi.
A morning for relaxing in your hotel's massage centre or be taken up with shopping in Silk Street, a busy thoroughfare with endless shops, galleries and stalls. You’ll spend the night in Hanoi.
You could choose to join a cookery demonstration by one of the hotel's master chefs. You'll sample all the different dishes prepared during the class during lunch.
Your morning will be your own until your private car arrives to take you to the airport for a noon flight to Dalat where your tour guide will meet you and take you to an embroidery workshop in an attractive garden setting and stroll around Dalat Market. You’ll spend the night in Dalat.
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, and the thick forests on the far side. After lunch, you’ll visit Emperor Bao Dai’s Summer Palace, the Crazy House. You’ll spend the night in Dalat.
Bao Dai’s Summer Palace comes as a surprise, and perhaps a disappointment, for unprepared visitors expecting sumptuous luxury. The building is indicative of Bao Dai’s status as the puppet ruler of an occupied country. Both exterior and interior are modest, and the furniture, fittings and decoration are more akin to a suburban town house than the residence of an emperor.
The name ‘Crazy House’ invites curiosity, and deservingly so. It’s a bizarre guest house, the brainchild, and becoming the life’s work, of Ms. Nga, a highly qualified Vietnamese architect originally from Hanoi. She is very well-connected (the daughter of Ho Chi Minh’s successor) and thus escapes official wrath and the demolition that would otherwise be automatic. It’s either a masterpiece of surrealism, or a monstrous eyesore depending on your artistic viewpoint, but very few people are indifferent towards it.
After a morning visit to the Linh Phuoc Pagoda (interesting architecture with dragon statue made of La Rue beer bottles) and a brief look at Da Lat's railway station, you’ll be picked up for your flight to Ho Chi Minh City. When you arrive, a private car will be waiting to take you to your hotel in the city centre. You’ll spend the night in Ho Chi Minh City.
Linh Phuoc is a large Buddhist pagoda with ornate architecture and a spacious interior dominated by a large seated Buddha. Adjacent to the building is a large coiled dragon with scales fashioned from old La Rue beer bottles.
Dalat railway station is an attractive curiosity. Once it was linked to the main line by a cog railway, but the track was destroyed by the Viet Cong during the war. Despite a fully maintained station with a full-time booking office, all that remains is 8km of track and one train that chugs backwards and forwards from time to time. Even the steam driven tank engine has now been retired – it sits forlornly on platform 1, no doubt reminiscing about its heydays when French officers and civil servants were regular travellers.
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) 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 is located in China Town which is the biggest one in Ho Chi Minh City.
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, is packed with every conceivable commodity. You’ll spend the night in Ho Chi Minh City.
You’ll join a cooking class in the morning held at Ho Chi Minh City’s Cookery Centre. You’ll learn how to cook five traditional Vietnamese dishes representative of the all three regions in Vietnam. The programme includes a visit to market to purchase ingredients, followed by a chat over a pot of Vietnamese tea about Vietnamese cuisine and traditional kitchen. You'll be given demonstration and instruction by the chief to cook Vietnam's popular dishes. The class ends after lunch and awarding of certificates.
After lunch, you'll have free time for shopping in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City's commercial hub. You’ll spend the night in Ho Chi Minh City.
Your driver will pick you up at your hotel in good time for noon flight to Phnom Penh. When you arrive at Pochentong airport in Phnom Penh, you’ll be met and driven to your hotel. After lunch, you’ll visit the National Museum and the Silver Pagoda, followed by a sunset cruise on the Chatomouk River. Your overnight accommodation will be in Phnom Penh.
In the afternoon, you’ll be picked up and driven to the so-called ‘Killing Fields’. Your overnight accommodation will be in Phnom Penh.
The term is a misnomer because it implies a single location. In reality, the process of genocide under the Kh’mer Rouge involved a large network of interrogation prisons linked to extermination centres. The most infamous is Phnom Penh’s S-21 Prison and the Choeung Ek extermination centre.
S-21 Prison was originally the Tuol Svay Pray High School on the outskirts of the capital. It became an interrogation, torture and execution centre under the Kh’mer Rouge. Today it is the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide. The name means ‘poison hill’, an apt description.
Choeung Ek, the ‘killing fields’, was the final destination of nearly all the inmates of S-21. The helpless victims were slaughtered in their thousands and thrown into more than a hundred shallow burial pits dug by the prisoners. The total number of men, women and children buried at Choeung Ek is estimated to be around 15,000. It was one of many extermination centres spread across the entire country – and by no means the largest!
A visit to Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek presents a stark picture of Cambodia’s recent past. However, it’s also a profoundly harrowing experience and likely to distress anyone of a sensitive disposition.
Your car will take you to the airport to board your flight to Siem Reap, where you’ll be met and driven to your hotel. The day’s activities, and those of the next, will be devoted to the Angkor 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 Emperor 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. As dusk nears, a walk to the summit of Phnom Bakheng Hill will afford a panorama of the whole complex lit by the rays of the setting sun, weather permitting of course, followed by traditional foot massage. Your overnight accommodation will be in 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 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 touristed and could be sunrise alternative to Angkor Wat.
Your morning will be free until your car arrives to pick you up for your flight to Luang Prabang. Your afternoon city tour will include Wat Xieng Thong, a beautiful temple justifiably described as a scene from an oriental fairytale, and the dazzling Wat Mai temple. After a climb up the steps to the top of Mount Phousi, you’ll be able to enjoy an excellent panorama of Luang Prabang and the sunset.
In the evening, you’ll be free to stroll around to see the Street Night Market, where you can find the lovely collection and handmade textile by local and hill tribe people surrounding Luang Prabang. Your overnight accommodation will be in Luang Prabang.
This is the morning when you need your alarm clock! Early in the morning after a sustaining beverage and a small snack, you’ll witness one of Laos’ unique ceremonies – the daily ‘alms giving’ ritual of saffron-clad monks walking 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. You’ll then return to your hotel for a proper breakfast. Afterwards, you’ll be driven to the Kuangsi Waterfalls, a serene beauty spot where you can splash around in the pools or stroll the forest paths. From there, you’ll return to Luang Prabang and continue to Ban Phanom, a well-known weaving village. It’s quite commercial, but if you look carefully you can pick up some authentic hand-woven material – they make good souvenirs. You should return to the city in time for your chosen dinner venue.
Your time is your own until your car arrives to take you to the airport for your departure flight.