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Take an epic 35-day Lonely Planet Experience that hits the best of the best in South East Asia. From the majestic Angkor ruins and the beaches of Phan Rang to the frenetic pace of Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok, past the relaxed vibes of Hoi An, Chiang Mai and to the riverside of Luang Prabang, you'll learn the history, meet friendly and welcoming people, eat delicious food and stay with local communities along the way. If you want to capture the true essence of this region, this all-encompassing itinerary is for you. See what all the fuss is about in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia - four shining gems in South East Asia.
Day 1: Bangkok
Sa-wat dee! Welcome to Thailand. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm. Bangkok has much to offer those with time to explore, so we recommend you arrive a day or two earlier to see its wondrous sights. You can sample some world-class street food, visit the Grand Palace, wander down the bustling tourist mecca of Khao San Road or indulge in a Thai massage. If you would like to spend more time in Bangkok, we’ll be happy to organise additional accommodation (subject to availability). After your group meeting, why not get some of the crew together and head to one of Bangkok’s renowned street food markets for some delicious food. Sitting on a roadside plastic stool never felt so good when you’re eating a curry or khao soi (chicken noodle soup).
Day 2: Bangkok – Overnight Train
Start the morning by jumping on a public ferry to Wat Kalayanamit and enjoy an included walking tour around the fascinating Thonburi area. See the mixture of cultures with Buddhist temples and Catholic churches as you stroll around. Away from the usual tourist trail, you will experience untouched local villages living by the waterways and visit quaint local markets that have plenty of interesting snacks waiting for you to try. Finish the walking tour at Amulet market and be lured into a shopping frenzy. Enjoy some free time in the afternoon for optional activities. This evening, board your overnight train to Chiang Mai (approximately 13 hours). You will travel by 2nd class and your carriage will be air-conditioned.
Day 3: Chiang Mai
Wake up on the train and glimpse the northern scenery as you arrive in Chiang Mai, then transfer to your hotel. Get out and explore this 'Rose of the North', which boasts spectacular temples, delicious food, an enormous night market, a picturesque riverfront and excellent shopping. Hiring a bike to get around town is a great activity or venturing to the Doi Suthep temple is a great choice too. There is so much to do in Chiang Mai and you’ll have two full free days to do as much or little as you like.
Day 4: Chiang Mai
Adventure seekers, ask your leader about white-water rafting or flying like a bird with Jungle Flight ziplining. Today is a free day and there are many optional activities your leader can help you organise. You could also participate in a Thai cooking course or see those amazing Asian Elephants in an ethical way with a visit to the Elephant Nature Park. It’s totally up to you, and your group leader knows all the best people in the right places, so ask them for their recommendations.
Day 5: Nan
Take a private minivan to Nan (approximately 5 hours, not including stops). On the way, stop by the town of Phrae, which is very well-known for their production of indigo fabrics – some of the best in Asia. Head straight to the Baan Thung Hong Village, where you’ll get shown the ‘hom’ (indigo) plantation and participate in a traditional workshop. You’ll get a small handkerchief and will be able to try the dying process yourself. Have lunch nearby at a local restaurant, then continue on to Nan. Once arrived, your leader will take you on an orientation walk of the town, then you’ll have the rest of the evening to do as you please.
Day 6: Chiang Klang
Make tracks for Chiang Klang today with a couple of stops along the way. Just outside of Nan is Ban Cha Manut Ancient Kiln and Huan Ban Suak Saen Chuen Museum, where you’ll learn about the ancient art of pottery in the region. The Ban Cha Manut kiln has been used in this house for over 800 years; you’ll feel like you’ve taken a step back in time. Take a visit to the nearby museum, and afterwards, head to the Bo Suak Cultural Place for a pottery workshop and get a chance to whip up a creation of your own. Enjoy lunch with your group at an open-air community restaurant with expansive views over the surrounding countryside. Relax with an included meal and be sure to have your camera handy. You may also have time to visit the Nan Art Gallery, set beside the river, showcasing work from modern Thai artists. Onwards to Chang Klang – it's approximately a 2.5-hour journey between towns, and upon arrival, freshen up and join your group leader on a visit to the local food markets, where you may like to taste some regional specialties. Enjoy a dinner with your leader and the group.
Day 7: Thailand/Laos Border Crossing – Pakbeng
Leave your accommodation after breakfast and make your way to the Thailand–Laos border. Your group leader will help you complete immigration and border formalities, and then you’ll continue on to the Laos town of Pakbeng. If there is no holdup at the border, you will reach Pakbeng just in time for lunch, so tuck into some good food, and have a chilled-out afternoon. Perhaps rent a bicycle to explore the surrounding countryside and the banks of the Mekong. Your accommodation tonight is a basic guesthouse.
Day 8: Mekong River – Luang Prabang
Get on the water this morning and cruise downriver at a nice leisurely pace on your way to Luang Prabang (6–7 hours). This way of ‘slow travel’ is popular among travellers to the region, as you’ll wind down the Mekong River, passing riverside villages and lush forests on the banks. Arriving late afternoon, you'll have time to hit the highly recommended night market food stalls, a great place to mingle with the locals and enjoy a meal with fellow travellers. With temples and French colonial villas lining the Mekong under blazing orange skies, you can see why this city has a reputation for exotic beauty.
Day 9: Luang Prabang
Join your guide for a walk around the local area, learning more about Lao culture at the temple of Wat Phra Mahathat. Today and tomorrow are then yours to spend as you please. Take the time to explore the local market by day, where the textiles made by local women will amaze. You can also make the steep climb up Mount Phousi, the spiritual and geographical heart of the city and a prime location to see the sunset over the Mekong.
Day 10: Luang Prabang
Your leader can help you organise many optional activities today. Kuang Si Falls, a spectacular spot to swim, is well worth a visit. Also, at the gate entrance to the waterfalls you will have the chance to stop by the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre where you can see the wonderful work being done to rescue bears from poachers and captivity, and provide them with a home. If you want to learn more about the local cuisine you can enjoy a cooking demonstration in the heart of town. Today is all yours to choose your own adventure.
Day 11: Vang Vieng
Take a private minibus through dusty villages and winding mountain roads to Vang Vieng (approximately 7 hours). The mountain scenery en route is as impressive as that of your destination. Situated on the Nam Song River, Vang Vieng is surrounded by towering limestone karsts. Please note that the standard of accommodation in Vang Vieng tonight and tomorrow is a little more basic than in some of our destinations.
Day 12: Vang Vieng
Vang Vieng is known as an adventure town, thanks to its unique and varied surrounding countryside. Its many local caves are easily accessible and make for great day trips or half-day trips. Notably, Tham Chang, with its beautiful cavern fed by a natural spring, is an interesting swimming hole. Those looking to relax or perhaps learn more about local niche industry can visit the organic mulberry farm just outside town and enjoy a meal there (guided tours of the farm are available).
Day 13: Vientiane
Take a beautiful local bus ride through small villages to Vientiane (approximately 4 hours). Enjoy the slow pace of what is possibly Asia's most laid-back capital city. On a guided walk you will visit the key Buddhist sites Wat Si Saket and Haw Phra Kaew and continue on to Patuxai (Victory Gate) for sweeping views over the city. You will also visit COPE, an organisation dedicated to assisting those who have been injured by the multitude of unexploded ordnance across the country.
Day 14: Hanoi
Take an unaccompanied flight from Vientiane to Hanoi (approximately 1 hour). Keep an eye out at the airport arrivals hall where a local representative will meet you and transfer you to your hotel. This evening, there’s another group meeting scheduled where you’ll meet your Vietnamese group leader and new group joining you for the next stage of your journey. This meeting is generally followed by an optional group meal out at one of Hanoi’s many fantastic eating spots, and after a bit of travelling today, you’ll be surely ready for some local food!
Day 15: Cat Ba Island
An early start is necessary to get the most out of your day. Take a 7.30 am bus ride and ferry transfer to the steep karsts and tiny beaches of Cat Ba Island, arriving before midday – you’ll have a quick stop to stretch your legs en route. The largest of all the islands in World Heritage-listed Halong Bay, charming Cat Ba will be your base for exploring the limestone cliffs and turquoise water that define this area. Get acquainted with this stunning spot with an afternoon cruise around the bay, enjoying lunch on the boat while floating past the karsts covered in emerald-green foliage. Later, get closer to the water and explore on a kayak, perhaps stopping at one of Cat Ba’s many beaches for a swim. Stay overnight on Cat Ba Island and enjoy the sunset with a cold beer.
Day 16: Hanoi – Overnight Train
Wake up in paradise and enjoy some free time lazing on the beach. Maybe go for a swim, kick back with a book or take a stroll along the sand. In the afternoon, head back to Hanoi. Hopefully you’ll have some time to grab dinner with the group before boarding an overnight train for a 12-hour journey to Hue later on. Although conditions are basic, overnight trains are the best way to travel long distances and brush shoulders with the locals. Most trains have a dining carriage which serves simple food, but some travellers like to take some fresh bread, cheese, fruit and other snacks for the journey.
Day 17: Hue
As the former imperial capital of Vietnam, Hue holds the treasures of Vietnam's royal past and is a curious mix of bustling streets and tranquil settings. Packed with historic monuments, Hue is also perfectly located to explore the surrounding countryside, which features stunning scenery, quaint villages and the peaceful Tam Giang Lagoon. The bustling Dong Ba Market offers a plethora of goods and foods to see and sample, and it's a good place to try some of the specialities that graced the Nguyen emperors' banquet tables, such as the banh khoai – a royal rice cake. You have a free day to explore, which you could easily spend exploring Hue’s massive walled citadel and the Forbidden Purple Palace enclosed within. Perhaps jump on board a dragon boat and enjoy a cruise up the Perfume River to visit the Thien Mu pagoda, or cycle out to one of the Royal tombs such as the tomb of Emperor Tu Duc. Otherwise, set off on an optional motorcycle tour of the sights in Hue and some surrounding villages.
Day 18: Hoi An
Continue on your journey and travel to the World Heritage-listed town of Hoi An, where on arrival, your leader will take you on an orientation walk around town. The city was a major trading port with the west from the 17th century onwards, and has various architectural influences from Europe, China and Vietnam. Today, the city is being restored and looks exactly like it did over a century ago. The rest of the day is free for you to do some optional activities or soak up the ambience of the place. You may like to wander Hoi An Market and the street stalls selling paintings, woodwork, ceramics, lanterns and much more. It’s also famous for its talented tailors who can make beautiful items to order within 24 hours, so be sure to check that out!
Day 19: Hoi An
Enjoy a free day to further explore Hoi An. Perhaps take a cruise up the Thu Bon River or learn the secrets of cooking delicious Vietnamese dishes. Visit some of the main art galleries or simply wander around the beautifully restored Chinese shop houses. There’s also the option of cycling around the surrounding countryside – a truly relaxing way to get off the beaten track and see rural Vietnam up close. Your leader will be able to suggest activities to help you get the most out of your time.
Day 20: Hoi An – Overnight Train
Make the most out of another free day in Hoi An. Perhaps do some of the activities you couldn’t fit into your schedule over the past couple of days, or go pick up your fresh threads from the tailors. There’s also Cua Dai Beach nearby – the perfect place to rest up before continuing on your way. This evening, board another overnight train bound for Phan Rang. Remember, it’s always a good idea to have some snacks and a book on hand.
Day 21: Phan Rang
Arrive in Phan Rang early this morning for two days of beachside bliss and relaxation. With arguably the best weather in Vietnam, Phan Rang is a low-key coastal city where swimming, snorkelling and seafood take priority. While you’re here, look out for banh can and banh xeo – egg, squid, shrimp and vegetables cooked into a pancake. Delicious!
Day 22: Phan Rang – Overnight Train
Take a break with another day in Phan-tastic Phan Rang. You could squeeze the sand between your toes and grab some rays on the beach, or take a quick ride out to Dinh Cape – one of the most picturesque bays and stretches of sand in the area. Otherwise, perhaps ask your leader where you can get a massage to really get your zen on. Keep in mind that there’s your overnight train journey waiting for you this evening, so get outside and enjoy all that Phang Rang has to see, and eat! Tonight’s overnight train journey will take approximately 7 hours and drop you right into bustling Ho Chi Minh City.
Day 23: Ho Chi Minh City
Arrive in Ho Chi Minh City very early this morning and transfer to your hotel. Today you’ll have plenty of free time to explore Vietnam’s largest city. Ho Chi Minh City has a busy atmosphere and many French influences. In your free time, it’s recommended to visit the Reunification Palace and the War Remnants Museum. There’s also the historic Dong Khoi Street, and the chaotic markets of Ben Thanh and Cholon (Chinatown). Ho Chi Minh City has a different style of cuisine to its northern counterpart Hanoi, so be sure get out for restaurant meals and street food with your travel crew. Your group leader has all the best people in the right places, so they’ll know of some delectable places to eat, for any budget.
Day 24: Ho Chi Minh City
Today you may be required to move to a different hotel in Ho Chi Minh City for the next section of your trip. Your leader will let you know if this is the case, and will help with the transfer to the next hotel. You have a free day to consider many optional activities. Why not head out of the city and take an Urban Adventure to the Cu Chi Tunnels – an underground tunnel network in the middle of the jungle that was used by the Viet Cong during the war. See urbanadventures.com/destination/ho-chi-minh-city-tours for more information. Tonight, there’s another group meeting planned, usually around 6 pm, where you will be briefed about the next stage of your South East Asian adventure. Afterwards, you could get acquainted (or reacquainted) with your group with a local dinner – your group leader will know of some delicious options nearby.
Day 25: Phnom Penh
Travel by public bus through rural Vietnam and Cambodia to Phnom Penh (approximately 10 hours including two border crossings and lunch). Cambodia's capital city is set on a major junction of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers and boasts some fine examples of French-inspired architecture. You may want to take a cyclo tour of the city's sights, including the central market, US Embassy, Wat Phnom, Mekong river front, independence monument and Royal Palace. If you're in the mood for shopping, stop in at the art deco Psar Thmei (Central Market) or travel out to Psar Tuol Tom Pong (the Russian Market) for the best range of local souvenirs.
Day 26: Phnom Penh
Take a day to explore the swirl and bustle of Phnom Penh. Included today is a visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S21) and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. These serve as sobering reminders of the violent rule of the Khmer Rouge. Here you can learn more about this confronting but important chapter in history – if you'd rather not visit these sites, simply let your leader know. Otherwise, the rest of the day is free for you to explore. You could visit Wat Phnom, a Buddhist temple shrouded in myth, or the National Museum and its excellent Khmer collection. Perhaps indulge in a traditional massage at Seeing Hands – a great social enterprise supporting visually impaired masseurs. A traditional Cambodian massage may be a little different than you are used to – it’s generally an oil-free, fully-clothed affair. In the evening, perhaps head up to the Foreign Correspondent’s Club bar with your group for a drink overlooking the Tonle Sap River.
Day 27: Chambok
Travel by private vehicle (approximately 3.5 hours) into rural Cambodia to the region of Kampong Speu and the village of Chambok. There's a lot of natural beauty to discover here, and the Chambok community is renowned for its ecotourism. A member of the Chambok community will take you on a village walk and be happy to chat about their community’s history, lifestyle and local ecotourism projects. Meet the families your group will spend the night with and settle into your homestay accommodation. In the afternoon, take a walk around the village and head to a nearby waterfall. If it's warm enough, you may even opt for a swim! In the evening, head to the community centre to enjoy a traditional Khmer dinner prepared by women from the community. You'll also be treated to a traditional dance performance – tonight is an experience that won’t be forgotten any time soon.
Day 28: Kampong Chhnang
Say goodbye to your homestay hosts and head in a private vehicle to Kampong Chhnang (approximately 4–5 hours). Kampong Chhnang is a central province of Cambodia and borders South East Asia’s largest freshwater lake, Tonle Sap. After you’ve arrived, head to a pottery workshop demonstration where you’ll see how the locals use this craft, plus try it out, if you want! Otherwise, you could book on a boat trip on Tonle Sap lake, passing by the floating villages and fishing boats. This evening, there is also an optional (but highly recommended) experience to have dinner in a local home – you’ll never get over that traditional Cambodian hospitality.
Day 29: Battambang
Onwards to Battambang. Take a private vehicle for about 4 hours towards the Thai border, and you’ll hit this town on the Sangkae River. This afternoon is free for you to do as you please. Perhaps head to Wat Banan – an Angkor-era temple perched high about the river overlooking the surrounding region. With around 300 stairs to climb to the temples, it’s worth the exercise, as the largely untouched temples are a sight to behold, and the 360-degree panoramic views over the province are stunning, especially on a sunny day. Otherwise, Battambang’s Killing Fields of Phnom Sampeau are also a sobering reminder of how the Khmer Rouge affected this area. At sunset, an extraordinary sight occurs with thousands of bats emerging and streaming out from the nearby caves, sometimes for over half an hour. If you do decide to go to Phnom Sampeau, be sure to time your visit for this.
Day 30: Battambang
With another free day in Battambang, consider one of the optional activities. If you’re feeling active, there’s a cycling tour which takes you around to visit local producers of traditional foods, plus you get a different look at the countryside, with the fresh air cooling you as you ride. Instead, there may be a chance to book into a cooking class in a local home, or head out in the evening for a street food tour – best to ask your group leader, as they know all the best people in the right places.
Day 31: Siem Reap
Take a public bus to Siem Reap (approximately 3.5 hours). The small but expanding town of Siem Reap is the gateway to the Angkor archaeological site. This is the most popular destination for travellers in all of Cambodia, perhaps even in South East Asia. The markets are a great place to shop or to try some cheap, delicious street food.
Day 32: Siem Reap
Today you will visit the world-famous Angkor complex with your guide. These temples were built between the ninth and 13th centuries when the Khmer empire was the pre-eminent influence in South East Asia. The temples were believed to represent the cosmic world and were set in perfect balance, symmetry and composition. The intricately carved bas-reliefs and architectural designs are mind-blowing and there are spectacular photographic opportunities at any time of day – seeing them at sunrise or sunset is highly recommended. The ruins are scattered over an area of some 160 square kilometres, but the main cluster of temples is close to Siem Reap. You'll have plenty of time to fully appreciate the great archaeological sites of Angkor Wat, the Bayon and the jungle-covered Ta Prohm, among others.
Day 33: Siem Reap
Today there may be a chance (depending on the season) to visit Tonle Sap Lake for a look at local life. If you feel like some adventure, another option is to do the Angkor zip-line course, which gives you a birds-eye view of the beautiful rainforest and an adrenaline rush, of course. Otherwise you could visit the sobering Landmine Museum. It's located a little further field but is well worth the journey. You may also take the opportunity to spend a second day at the Angkor complex to explore parts of the site you may have missed yesterday. Please note that if you choose to return to Angkor, an extra day pass will be at your expense.
Day 34: Bangkok
It's a long drive from Siem Reap to Bangkok (approximately 10 hours in a private minibus including two border crossings and lunch), so strap in and have some car games at the ready. Once arrived, embrace Thailand's bustling capital by getting out amongst it – a world of tuk tuks, khlong (canal) boats and street vendors serving up delicious Thai food. Head out with your new crew for an optional group dinner and find out why this city never sleeps.
Day 35: Bangkok
With no activities planned for the final day, you are able to depart the accommodation at any time. That doesn’t mean your adventure has to end! Bangkok is a bustling hub of food, culture and chaos, so we recommend you spend at least another day here to explore. Better yet, book into one of the many Urban Adventure tours on offer – they take you around the best places with a knowledgeable local guide. Find out more at urbanadventures.com/destination/bangkok-tours. If you would like to spend more time in Bangkok, we’ll be happy to organise additional accommodation for you (subject to availability).
- Bangkok - Thonburi tour
- Phrae Province - Organics Indigo Dyeing Center
- Nan Province - Ban Cha Manut Ancient Kiln & Huan Ban Suak Saen Chuen Museum
- Nan Province - Bo Suak Cultural Place (Pottery Workshop)
- Nan Province - Nan Art Gallery
- Luang Prabang - Pak Ou Caves
- Luang Prabang - Walking tour
- Vientiane - COPE visit
- Vientiane - Walking tour
- Cat Ba Island - Kayaking
- Cat Ba Island - Boat trip on Lan Ha Bay
- Hoi An - Old Town walking tour
- Ho Chi Minh City - Orientation Walk
- Phnom Penh - Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S21)
- Phnom Penh - The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek
- Chambok - Traditional dancing
- Chambok - Homestay and activities
- Kampong Chhnang - Pottery Demonstration
- Siem Reap - Angkor Temples Guided Tour
- Siem Reap - One day Angkor Pass
11 Breakfast(s) Included
2 Lunch(es) Included
1 Dinner(s) Included
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The trip was both both educational and exciting. I very much enjoyed the sights and culture.
The itinerary was just as I expected! The guide was very good as were the accomodations
Intrepid did such a great job. I never had to worry about where I was supposed to be and it felt so good not to worry about a thing but just to enjoy myself. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable about culture and history.
Taiwan people very friendly. Accommodation were centrally located and easily accessible. Did extra activities then in brochure which was greatly.
Larus our tour guide did an excellent job and was very attentive to our needs. He is very knowledgeable and has a great sense of humor.
Our guide Tarang chandola was exceptional. Courteous, knowledgeable, organized, polite, professional and went above and beyond taking care of our needs and requests offen anticipating what that might be. He made sure we all had the best possible time and offered suggestions to meet the needs of everyone on the tour. This made the trip even more enjoyable.
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