Get off the beaten path for your next adventure and explore two of Southeast Asia's little visited countries. Khmer Empire ruins and history, centuries-old temples, and warm local hospitality make a tour to Cambodia and Laos a truly authentic adventure for the more experienced traveler.
Explore Siem Reap, with a focus on temples and ruins including Angkor Wat
Go boating on Tonle Sap Lake and witness the daily lives of locals
Hike to Kuang Si Waterfall and hike in its turquoise pools
Learn about the lasting impact of the region's dark recent history
Arrive to Phnom Penh, meet your guide, and drive to your hotel to settle in for the evening. Once considered one of the most beautiful cities in the Orient, the bustling city still retains its colonial charm and picturesque location along the confluence of the Mekong and Tonlé Sap rivers.
This morning you set out to visit some of the sights of Phnom Penh by cyclo, a traditional way to explore the city. Visit first Wat Phnom temple, the founding place of the city on a small hill. Continue on to the Royal Palace which dates back to 1866. Next visit the National Museum which houses the world's foremost collection of Khmer artifacts from the 4th to 13th centuries. The museum, built in traditional Khmer style itself, displays over 5,000 pieces and constitutes the repository of the Kingdom's cultural wealth.
This afternoon take some time to learn about a more somber and dark spot in Cambodia's recent history. Visit the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, housed in the former school that was used by the Khmer Rouge. Also visit the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek.
After breakfast take a flight on to Siem Reap, the country's base for exploring the fabled temples of Angkor, the ancient capital of the Khmer Empire. On arrival meet your guide and transfer to your hotel for check-in and short break before your explorations begin.
Later this afternoon set out to 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. Visit also Banteay Kdei, a Buddhist monastery from the late 12th century and Srah Srang, also known as the 'pool of ablutions'.
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. Here the 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.
This 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. Explore the ruins before returning to your hotel later this evening.
Drive to Kampong Kleang village. Imagine wooden houses on 32 foot (10 m) tall stilts, surrounded by water in the wet season and on the flood plains of the lake in the dry season. Drive on the dirt road to the village; along the way see many wooden houses and traditional fishing equipment as well as small children waving their hands and saying hello to you. Upon arrival at the stilt house the family welcomes you with some tea and coffee before you start walking around the village. This community of Kampong Kleang knows many inventive ways to catch fish. Learn about the village life while visiting a local school, seeing the smoking of catfish, and speaking to a fisherman while he is making reparations on his net.
Head back to Siem Reap for lunch at a local restaurant.
Transfer this afternoon to the airport for your flight north to Luang Prabang in Laos. Upon arrival meet your guide and driver for your transfer to your hotel.
*Boat trip is only possible from Aug to Feb when the water levels are high enough. An alternate floating village of Chong Kneas may be arranged in Mar and Jul.
Rise early this morning to the sound of the monastery bells at dawn and witness the lines of monks emerging to receive their morning rice from the townspeople. We ask that you keep a respectful distance while obseving this sacred ritual. If you take photographs, do not use a flash and try not to let this interfere with this highly revered ritual. Visit the lively Morning Market and be immersed in local lifestyle, observing locals who are doing their grocery shopping, and return to your hotel for breakfast.
After breakfast, travel by local tuk-tuk to the pier, where you board the Nava Mekong for a scenic cruise of the countryside to the Pak Ou Caves, a mystical pilgrimage site perched high above the Mekong River 27 miles outside of Luang Prabang. Head up the Mekong River to the famous Pak Ou Caves - two caves of great spiritual importance to the local population, containing thousands of Buddha images of varying ages and sizes. After exploring this sacred site return to your boat for lunch and the gentle cruise downstream back to Luang Prabang.
In the late afternoon, return to a small village called Ban Khomkhuang for a private baci ceremony. The ceremony led by the Nai Ban (village chief) offers visitors tidings of good luck and fortune for their life and travels by gently tying cotton cords symbolizing luck, friendship, and good health around the wrists. The baci ceremony is held at a private family home. If you like, stop at a local Petanque arena where locals show their skills
After breakfast meet your guide and driver, starting the day with a visit to the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre*, a museum dedicated to the ethnic minorities of Laos. Then drive into the peaceful countryside to Ban Long Lao, stopping to explore several villages along the way. See a Hmong, a Khmu, and a Lowland Lao village and compare their different lifestyles, traditions, and religions. In Ban Long Lao, see Hmong and Khmu people live peacefully side-by-side. The Hmong settlers were the most recent to come to Laos. They built their villages on the mountain tops and practice shifting cultivation of corn and other crops. With local guides you have the chance to get to see houses from inside, traditional dresses and explanations about different craft productions, or other common work routines. The villagers are grateful for this additional income and they are proud to welcome visitors from far away!
Continue on with a trek through various landscapes until you arrive to the top of the Kuang Si Waterfall. Hike down and enjoy lunch here as crystal water cascades into idyllic turquoise pools. Also take time to visit the nearby Sun Bear Refuge to learn more about the poaching of these endangered creatures. Return to Luang Prabang for the evening.
Hiking Time: 3.5 hours, approximately 5 miles/9 km flat terrain
*Note: closed on Mondays
Day 8: Walking tour of Luang Prabang | Fly Vientiane
Continue exploring historic and charming World Heritage Town. Explore some of the most popular temples, such as Wat Xieng Thong, an exquisite 500-year-old temple built in the classic Luang Prabang style. Continue wandering up the peninsula, stopping at other temples, the National Museum, which is the former Royal Palace, and other sites as you wish. Overlooking the palace is Phousi Mountain - be sure to climb the 328 steps up, as it is said those who haven't climbed the steps have not truly made it to Luang Prabang. Later this afternoon transfer to the airport for your flight to Vientiane.
On arrival in Vientiane, meet you guide and transfer to the hotel. After check in visit Patouxai, the Lao Victory Monument. Also visit Wat That Luang with its central lotus-bud spire and 30 surrounding stupas - the most sacred structure in all of Laos.
After breakfast, travel out of town to visit Xieng Khouan Buddha Park. It was here that a renegade monk formed his own sect and in 1958 began to mold magnificent, but eerie statues out of concrete, based on Hindu, Buddhist, and Brahman iconography. Each statue tells a story or a moral fable. This is a surreal place full of interesting photographic opportunities!
On the way back to Vientiane stop at Mai Savanh Lao to explore the traditional textiles of the Lao people. This community shop run by several families specializes in high quality silk products. Stop next at the Lao Disabled Women Development Center*. This center aims to bring knowledge and skills to disabled women to help them become self-sufficient members of the community. Visit the center today and talk with the women or observe their skills at creating handicraft.
Back in Vientiane visit Wat Sisaket, which is the only structure to survive the Siamese invasion of 1828 intact. Across the street sits Ho Pha Keo, reconstructed in the 1930s on the site of the original building. A short journey up Lane Xang Street gives you a glimpse into the changing face of the city. Also pay a visit to the COPE Visitor Centre for a moving insight into the Secret War which left Laos as the most heavily bombed country in history.
*This activity is subject to change based on the scheduled activities of the center on that particular day.
Day 10: Return Home
This morning, return to the airport for your flight home or on to your next destination.
The trip was terrific with great planning on your part. Most of the adventures were not mainstream and somewhat off the beaten path which made it especially enjoyable!! We felt taken care of and you all were readily available to respond to questions and issues. I would highly recommend your company and friends have already expressed interest based on our pictures and excitement.