Day 1 Arrive Hanoi
Arrive to Hanoi where you are met by your guide and transfer to your hotel for a leisurely evening.
Day 2 Explore Hanoi
After breakfast, meet up with your guide and driver set out towards Hoan Kiem Lake to see Hanoi's morning rituals. Many Vietnamese, mostly women of varying ages, wake up early and start the morning with some exercise. Typically they do group Tai Chi or aerobics in the park surrounding the lake. It is very interesting to see how the local people start their busy day routine with mindful exercise. Feel free to join them!
Marvel at the French architecture of the buildings and community houses which have been carefully restored by UNESCO. Along the way, stop to taste the local cuisine, including springs rolls and other snacks common in Hanoi. To finish the morning, pay a visit to the Huu Tiep Lake, better known as ‘B-52 lake’, where US B-5 bomber wreckage can be seen.
In the afternoon, head to the Old Quarter to enjoy a local lunch and visit the Temple of Literature. Built in 1076 as Vietnam's first university, this temple was used to educate Vietnam's royalty, mandarins, and other members of the elite class. The university operated for 700 years, and now its gardens and well-preserved architecture offer a fascinating glimpse into Vietnam's past.
Finish your day with a walk along the Hanoi railway tracks, which at times are located just meters away from houses. End the day tasting local draft beers at the typical and well known Bia Hoi. Return to your hotel and enjoy a free evening on your own.
Day 3 Ha Long Bay
- 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
After breakfast, set out for your 3.5 hour journey to Ha Long Bay, one of the most spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Areas and the world’s largest marine limestone Karst landscape. On the way, visit Yen Duc Village to enjoying water puppets show. Continue onto Ha Long Bay, and embark your cruise at Hon Gai Harbor.
Explore the well-hidden Thien Canh Son Cave covering an area of 2000 square meters, Thien Canh Son Cave offers a wild and mysterious beauty. The pathway to Thien Canh Son Cave is set below the forest canopy and a stone cliff, so you will have the feeling they are climbing towards heaven. Next, enjoy on a white sandy beach at Hon Co Island, swimming or kayaking. As the sun sets over the bay, we head back to the cruise and relax. Dinner will be served with local seafood and then you can choose to enjoy a drink from the bar or experience squid fishing, before going to bed.
Day 4 Disembark | Fly Luang Prabang
Enjoy a leisurely morning cruise through the bay this morning as you make your way back to the pier. Disembark after brunch and set out towards Hanoi's airport. Catch your flight on to Luang Prabang in Laos.
Nestled between the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers and surrounded by lush forest, Luang Prabang's charming colonial streets draw visitors from far and wide. This UNESCO World Heritage city is also considered to be the spiritual capital of Laos with many temples and saffron robed monks.
Day 5 City Bike Tour & Pak Ou Caves
Rise early this morning to the sound of the monastery bells at dawn. Rise early enough and witness the lines of monks emerging to receive their morning rice from the townspeople. Respectfully wander the streets to witness this sacred ritual as long lines of barefoot monks weave through the streets on their alms rounds. We request that you observe this from a respectful distance and discourage photographs that interfere with the ritual. Transfer next by tuk tuk to the historical center of the city for a tour of the fresh market. Watch locals buy and sell their produce and other exotic specialties here before returning to the hotel for breakfast and to get ready for your next outing.
Set out on your e-bike tour of the city, exploring the Royal Palace, now the National Museum, and see a brief overview of the history of Laos. Continue to Wat Mai, a temple renowned for its golden bas-relief. Continue your ride on to Ock Pop Tock, a non profit organization which seeks to preserve silk weaving and dying techniques. Ride along the Mekong back to the city to the Traditional Arts & Ethnology Centre, a museum dedicated to the rich diversity of Laos' ethnic minorities. Drop off your bikes at the station and continue by tuk-tuk to Tamarind Restaurant for a delicious Lao lunch.
After lunch drive to the pier for a 2 hour cruise on the Mekong River upstream to the famous Pak Ou Caves, a mystical pilgrimage site high above the Mekong River. Peer into the dark corners to see the more than 3,000 Buddha figurines and faces. After your visit, cruise downstream on your way back to the city, stopping at a couple riverside villages with specialities like textiles, mulberry paper production and even rice whiskey. Try a swig of this potent drink before continuing back to Luang Prabang.
Day 6 Kuang Si Waterfall Trek & Mount Phousi
Today enjoy breakfast at your hotel before setting out for a half day hike to the most well known waterfalls outside of Luang Prabang. Drive 30 minutes to Long Lao, a community of Hmong and Lao people. Start your trek through various landscapes until you arrive to the top of the falls. Enjoy lunch at the falls and chance to swim in the refreshing turquoise waters. Kuang Si is said by locals to be a rejuvenating source with medicinal properties.
Visit also the bear sanctuary located next to the falls. Run by Free the Bears Fund, this organization is currently rehabilitating 23 Asiatic Black Bears saved from poaching. The main threat to their survival is poaching for the use of their bile in Chinese medicine. Read about their habits and observe these playful creatures. Return to Luang Prabang mid-afternoon for some leisure time. At the end of the day, visit Mount Phousi and walk up the 328 zig zag stairs to enjoy the best view of Luang Prabang and the valley below.
Kuang Si Trekking Time: 3.5 hours, approximately 5 miles/9 km flat terrain
Day 7 Fly Vientiane | Lao Cooking Class
This morning drive to the airport for your flight south to Vientiane, the capital of Laos and commercial hub. Drive to your hotel for check-in and to rest up a bit. Early evening head to the Full Moon Cafe for a cooking class participants! Learn how to incorporate traditional Lao elements into a variety of dishes. An experienced chef oversees the experience and helps you customize the dishes to your own taste. Once the meal is ready, sit down to enjoy the feast you have created!
After your meal, set out on a walking tour with your guide through Chao Anou Park and the night market along the banks of the Mekong where adventurous foodies can sample a huge range of snacks along the way. Your guide will let you know what snacks you may be eating, as well as recommend places to stop for a drink for the rest of the night. Chic wine bars and lively karaoke bars are fairly common in this area. Return to the hotel in the evening.
Day 8 Orchid Trek
Leave Vientiane early in the morning for an hour and half drive to the starting point of the trail in Ban Nam Yarm village. The trek leads you through Phou Khao Kway national park and terrain filled with rugged mountains, waterfalls, and gorgeous sandstone cliffs in search of wild orchids. A community based tourism project, the Orchid trek, you are led by local guides from the village of Ban Hatkhai. The full day trek allows ample opportunity for wildlife spotting and a beautiful hike through breathtaking scenery. Your guides help you spot many of the orchid species during your trek and you will be amazed at the vibrant colors and shapes of these elusive flowers*. Enjoy a picnic lunch near a river bank and soak in the tranquility of the area. Continue on to Tad Xay waterfall which is a great place for swimming at the end of your hike. Late afternoon return to Vientiane, en route stop at the Dong Mak Kai Market where you can find a host of unique foods, such as ant eggs and insects.
*Please note that wild orchids are rare plants. Most bloom only one time a year and often for only a few days. Various species bloom during different months from January through June. During other months this hike is still a great choice for viewing the flora and fauna of the region. During the rainy season, a boat ride may be used to get to the starting point.
Hiking Time: 5 hours, approximately 7 miles/12km
Day 9 Fly Siem Reap
Spend the morning at leisure to explore on your own. Mid-day you are picked up for a drive to the airport and your flight on to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Arrive to Siem Reap and drive to your new hotel for the evening. Siem Reap is the base for exploring the fabled ruined city of Angkor, the ancient capital of the Khmer Empire.
Day 10 Angkor Thom & Angkor Wat
This morning you first visit the ancient city of Angkor Thom, the last capital of the Great Khmer Empire under the reign of Jayavarman VII. Surrounded by an 8m high wall, the city is a perfect square. Inside the walls are fantastically carved gods, demons, snakes, and elephants many representing the different provinces of the then Great Khmer Empire. Buddhist monks celebrate a private blessing ceremony for you, wishing you health and a safe journey. Return to the hotel for a break from the mid-day heat.
In the afternoon set out to visit Angkor Wat by vehicle before sunset time, when this most popular spot is less visited by tourist crowds. Built during the reign of King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century, the city was constructed modeling Mount Meru, or the home of the gods. The divine residence of Vishnu, the King himself was said to reside here after his death. Inside the temple, walls are covered with stone carvings and bas-reliefs that depict Hindu mythology and wars Suryavarman II fought during his reign. Angkor Wat is also well known for the more than 2,000 Aspara dancers that decorate the temple. Construction is thought to have taken around 30 years of intensive labor and today a depiction of Angkor Wat is said to symbolize the soul of the Khmer people. Explore the ruins before returning to your hotel later this evening.
Day 11 Small Circuit | Fly Ho Chi Minh City
This morning explore the temples of the Small Circuit, the most illustrious of which is Ta Prohm which was built in the mid 12th to early 13th centuries. Ta Prohm was largely left as it was found, with overgrown jungle trees and vines causing many parts of the temple to crumble to the ground. The picturesque ruins very much live up to their portrayal in the film Tomb Raider. Also visit Banteay Kdei, a Buddhist monastery from the late 12th century and Srah Srang, known as the 'Pool of Ablutions'.
This afternoon transfer back to the airport for your flight on to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. Settle in to your hotel this evening.
Day 12 Ho Chi Minh City | Return Home
This morning take a half day city tour of Saigon. Visit the landmark Reunification Hall, formerly the Presidential Palace. This fascinating building is filled with history from the Vietnam War still fresh in the minds of the locals Visit next the red-brick Catholic cathedral of Notre-Dame, the 19th Century Old Post Office and the City Hall. These all have a notably European look to them. Visit Cholon, the city's Chinatown district where you discover the markets and shops of the areas well as Thien Hau Pagoda which is dedicated to the goddess of the sea. If time permits stroll through the bustling and colorful Binh Tay Market in the city center.
Transfer to the airport then in time for your flight home or on to your next destination.