Explore a rarely-encountered slice of Southeast Asia on a circuit starting in Thailand and visiting Cambodia and southern Laos. Visit rural villages along the Mekong River, wander through jungle-covered ruins from the ancient Khmer Empire, and support local community-based tourism projects as you learn about rural lifestyles in northern Cambodia and southern Laos and the efforts to preserve national treasures and ruin sites. View wildlife in national parks, kayak through wetlands, and explore limestone caves as you visit lesser-known destinations in these heritage-rich countries during this Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos tour.
Hike to Haew Suwat Waterfall and swim in a natural pool
Bike to Angkor and explore the temples of this ancient megacity
Kayak through flooded forest and the Ramsar Wetlands
Boat through Konglor Cave to a hidden valley
Visit remote villages and community conservation projects
Arrive to Bangkok and transfer to your hotel. Set out this afternoon to see Bangkok. Many visitors view it as just an enormous modern metropolis, full of expressways and skyscrapers. Today you visit the more hidden side of Old Town Bangkok which clearly shows the origins of people who still practice traditions from years gone by. From the Giant Swing, you wander through small alleys and past wooden houses and fresh markets. At the city pillar and amulet market learn more about the ancient superstitions held by the locals here. Finish your tour with lunch at a riverside restaurant before boarding a longtail boat to explore the klongs, Bangkok's maze of canals and waterways, and elements of Thai traditional life which have disappeared from modern Bangkok.
Set out this morning towards the dense tropical jungle of Khao Yai National Park, "Big Mountain", Thailand's oldest national park. This 2,000 square kilometer park provides habitat for 318 bird and 66 mammal species. Drive to Haew Narok, the park's largest waterfall. Hike along the lush jungle trails keeping your eyes open for native wildlife. Elephant, the Malayan sun bear, and the always elusive tiger inhabit this forest. You may also see the unusual barking deer or native primates such as the macaque and the forest gibbon.
Later this evening you get a glimpse of the park on a nocturnal wildlife safari. Many of the park's numerous but elusive wild cats are active at night, including the civet and leopard.
Hike this morning through the dry evergreen forest where gibbons, monkeys, and hornbills are often spotted. Enjoy lunch at the Haew Suwat Waterfall and a swim in the natural pool. This afternoon drive to the second highest mountain in the park for a fantastic view, and end the day searching for wild elephants that come to the salt licks in the area. Return to your hotel for a relaxing evening.
Day 4: On to Cambodia
1 Breakfast, 1 Dinner
After breakfast set out to the border of Cambodia and meet your Cambodian guide. Continue to the 12th century temple complex of Banteay Chhmar, which depicts a 32-armed figure. This complex has been listed by world heritage organizations as one of the most threatened sites in the world due to severe looting over the years and the potential for further damage and theft unless additional safeguards are in place.
View restoration of the Banteay Chhmar ruins in progress, undertaken by the Global Heritage Fund. The massive temple, along with its satellite shrines and reservoir, comprises one of the most important and least understood archaeological complexes from Cambodia's Angkor period. Despite the damage caused, the bas-reliefs here are still some of the most exquisite examples of Khmer craftsmanship that remain from the Jayavarman VII period.
The community has taken initiative to conserve this area through development of tourism and sustainable business practices. Relax in your luxury safari tent camp where you have a cold drink waiting as you watch the sun go down over the temple. Enjoy dinner overlooking the temple facade this evening, surrounded by lit torches and traditional Khmer music from a local village band.
Travel to Siem Reap this morning and take a guided biking tour starting with Angkor Wat. 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. Inside the temple, walls are covered with stone carvings and bas-reliefs that depict Hindu mythology and wars Suryavarman II fought during his reign.
After exploring Angkor Wat, cycle to Angkor Thom, the last capital of the Great Khmer Empire. Surrounded by an eight-meter-high wall, the city is a perfect square. Enter through the stone south gate with a row of 54 gods holding the sacred Naga snake. Continue by bike on a dirt trail to Bayon Temple in the center of the city. With 54 towers and four faces, this monument represented the 54 provinces of the then Great Khmer Empire. Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant before continuing on to Ta Phrom. This 12th century jungle temple has been left as it was found and is being reclaimed by massive tree roots, which paints a dramatic picture of the forces of nature. From Ta Phrom ride along a red dirt road back to town in the early afternoon.
Day 6: Siem Reap Countryside
1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch
Set out to visit the remote countryside on a tour rarely experienced by most travelers. Take the morning to visit one of the health centers and primary schools of the Cambodian-Dutch Organization, a non-profit that works on community development in the area. The primary school instructor, Mr. Lous, introduces you to the class, allows you to do a "show and tell" about your life back home, and gives you the opportunity to meet local children. Enjoy lunch with the staff before departing on to Andong Pei Village, where you venture out by oxcart to Prasart Banteay Ampil, a seldom-visited temple ruin that has been taken over by the jungle. Return to the vehicle and continue through this beautiful landscape to Preah Vihear.
Day 7: Sunrise at Preah Vihear | Kayak Ramsar Wetlands
Arise early this morning to drive north to the Preah Vihear Temple, a Khmer temple situated atop a 525-meter cliff in the Dangrek Mountains. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was important to the kingdom's spiritual life and reflects several architectural styles from the many successive Khmer kings who occupied the area. The temple offers breathtaking views across the plain amidst one of the most spectacular settings of all temples built during the span of the Khmer Empire.
Return to the hotel for a late breakfast and continue to Stung Treng, where you set out for a kayak tour through flooded forests and the Ramsar Wetlands, home to a large variety of birds. Stop at a sandy freshwater beach for a refreshing swim and then hop on a bike to visit Wat Postierei Ratanakram. Ride to an ethnic Lao village, made famous for the popular snack krolan, a combination of sticky rice, coconut milk, salt, and soybeans packed into a bamboo wrap. Enjoy the sunset view on the Sekong Bridge before returning to your hotel in town.
Drive to the border, meet your Lao guide, and continue to Ban Nakasang, a small fishing village. Board a ferry boat and cross to Done Khone Island. The rest of the day is free to explore on your own or relax.
After breakfast hop on a bike to visit the Li Phi Falls, which were once a major obstacle to the French in their efforts to open the Mekong River to navigation. Here you may spot some of the 50-100 freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins. See colonial remnants with the small gauge railway and the Colonial Bridge built by the French.
The afternoon is free to relax at the hotel. Set out in the evening for a Mekong River sunset cruise. Watch fisherman hauling in their catch at the end of the day and stop at Don Som Temple and a local village. Float down the Mekong at sunset and return to your hotel this evening.
This morning travel by ferry back to the mainland and visit the huge waterfall of Khone Phapheng, the largest in all of Southeast Asia. From here continue to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Wat Phou. A pre-Angkor temple, these ruins sit on top of Kao Mountain from which visitors can admire the views of the Champasak countryside below.
Continue on to the Bolaven Plateau this afternoon. This plateau sits at 4900 feet above sea level and contains volcanic soils and a cool climate, allowing it to produce some of the world's finest Arabica coffees. Settle into your new accommodation and enjoy some of the onsite activities late this afternoon.
This morning drive around the Bolaven Plateau, an area known for its waterfalls, ethnic minorities, and as being the heart of Lao coffee and tea production. Arrive at a local organic coffee farm that is run by a Dutch expat by the name of Mr. Koffie. Explore the plantation and taste your own fresh cup of roasted Arabica coffee. After lunch here, try wok-roasting a high quality batch of beans and brewing coffee fresh from the field.
Visit the majestic waterfalls of Tad Yuang. Go for a dip in the refreshing pools below, or continue to nearby Tad Fane Waterfall and get your own glimpse of the huge twin waterfalls that plunge 650 ft/200m down a lush gorge. Travel on to your hotel in Pakse.
Day 12: Tham Pa Pra Buddha Cave
1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch
This morning drive north towards the Konglor Cave, stopping along the way near Thakhek to visit the Tham Pa Pha Buddha Cave. This cave was recently discovered by a local villager in 2004 and contains 229 bronze Buddha statues inside, becoming a sacred place for both local and neighboring people. Visit the cave and savor lunch in a local restaurant before continuing your drive this afternoon to Ban Konglor. Check in and enjoy a leisurely evening.
Start the day with an hour long boat cruise through the 4.4 mile/7km long Konglor Cave. Pass by limestone cliffs as you follow Nam Hinboun River. At times the journey through the tunnel reaches even 325ft/100m widths. Keep your eyes peeled inside the cave for a few rare bird species as well as bats. Traverse the entire cave to its other entrance that opens up into an isolated, picturesque valley. Take a walk in this area through the surrounding villages and experience the peaceful atmosphere of rural life. After lunch in a local restaurant, continue by vehicle to Vientiane, Laos' capital city.
Day 14: Vientiane | Return Home
1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch
Venture out today by tuktuk to a local organic rice, fish, and vegetable farm on the outskirts of Vientiane. This farm is run by a Lao NGO and uses traditional farming methods. You are invited today to pull up your sleeves and try your own hand at traditional farming. Depending on the season, you may plant rice seedlings or harvest and thresh rice for lunch as you learn about the traditional farming methods throughout Laos. Try your hand as well at fishing, collecting fresh eggs, or harvesting fresh organic vegetables and bamboo. After you have completed your work, the local farmers teach you how to create a traditional Lao lunch with the produce you have collected. Learn to make sticky rice and papaya salad as you prepare the picnic lunch you sit down to eat together.
Take an afternoon city tour of Vientiane and visit Wat Sisaket, the only structure to survive the Siamese invasion of 1828 intact. Ho Pha Keo, which once housed the Emerald Buddha currently kept in Bangkok, is located across the street. Visit the most sacred structure in all of Laos, Wat That Luang, which is a vibrant example of living Buddhism today. This sacred temple is used by the Lao people to make wishes. If time allows and you are interested, peruse the COPE Visitor Center to receive insight into the Secret War that has left Laos as the most heavily bombed country in history.
This afternoon transfer to the airport for your flight home or on to your next destination.
This was our first trip to South America and we were a little nervous. But Adventure Life made things so easy! All our questions were answered before we left, and our guide, Vidal, was amazing! He gave us enough space to explore without rushing us along. He also knew where the best picture taking opportunities were, which was great.