Itinerary

Days 1-3

U.S. / Siem Reap, Cambodia

Fly independently to Siem Reap, Cambodia and transfer to the Victoria Angkor Resort, your home for three nights. (Meals Aloft)

Days 4 & 5

Siem Reap

The massive Angkor Wat temple, the largest and best-preserved monument of the Angkor complex, is thought to have been the funerary temple of King Suryavarman II and is oriented to the west to conform to Hindu symbolism between the setting sun and death. After 1432, when the capital moved to Phnom Penh, Angkor Wat was cared for by Buddhist monks. Our Siem Reap tour also includes the South Gate, with its huge statues depicting the churning of the ocean; the 12th-century capital of Angkor Thom, last capital of the Khmer Empire; and the often-photographed Bayon, with 54 towers decorated with the smiling face of the Buddhist god Avolokitesvara. We also visit the Royal Enclosure, Phimeanakas, Elephant’s Terrace and the Terrace of the Leper King. One of the area’s most beautiful temples, Ta Prohm has been left largely untouched since it was discovered. Unlike other monuments near Angkor, Ta Prohm was abandoned and swallowed by the dense, surrounding jungle. Only narrow paths have been cleared to allow for visits, so the monuments here, with tree roots wrapping around towers, look much the way the Angkor temples did when Europeans first explored the area. Free time is also given for you to enjoy the wonders of Angkor Wat on your own or relax at the resort. (Day 4: B,L,D; Day 5: B,L)

siem reap

 

Day 6

Siem Reap / Luang Prabang, Laos

Visit Artisans d’Angkor, a school and shop where the vanishing Khmer arts are being taught to the young people of Cambodia. Vast numbers of artists and craftsmen were lost during the genocide of the Khmer Rouge, so Artisans d'Angkor was founded as a professional school to help young Cambodians rediscover traditional handicrafts and to give them the opportunity to take part in the rebuilding of the country and in the revitalization of a priceless art form. Watch the young artists at work. This afternoon, fly to Luang Prabang, the beguiling ancient capital of Laos. Check in at the boutique Burasari Heritage Hotel, our home for the next three nights, and enjoy dinner overlooking the Nam Khan River. (B,L,D)

big brother mouse

 

Days 7 & 8

Luang Prabang

In a country that has been open to tourism for just over a decade, the town of Luang Prabang is widely regarded as the most authentic and peaceful city in Southeast Asia. It was named an UNESCO World Heritage Site for its combination of traditional, colonial and urban architecture as well as for the centuries old customs of the Buddhist monks and the many temples and wats they occupy. Guests of IE will be welcomed to Laos with a private baci ceremony given by local villagers to their honored guests. Explore a variety of traditional wats (monastery temples), including Wat Vsoun, Wat Xieng Thong and Wat Xieng Muan, where monks are learning skills to maintain the structure and artistry of their temples. Visit the Royal Palace Museum and see the golden Prabang before climbing Phu Si Hill for magnificent views of the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers, the verdant farms and plantations in the area, and the mountains of northern Laos. Cruise the Mekong River and delve into the diverse cultures of Laos during a visit to an ethnic minority village, where youl distribute school supplies purchased through our local partnership with Big Brother Mouse. Big Brother Mouse, a Lao-owned and operated project in Luang Prabang, is striving to bring the fun of reading and learning to the children of Laos by publishing books in their language. In many villages, children have little to read except textbooks. However, in 2008, more than 30,000 rural Lao children got the first book they had ever owned through a Big Brother Mouse book party. Explore the Pak Ou Caves and enjoy meals in some of Luang Prabang’s finest restaurants. Free time will be given to explore this charming town. With its ideal location, all the history and romance of Luang Prabang is at your doorstep from our boutique hotel. The center of Luang Prabang is a pedestrian-friendly area, inviting locals and travelers alike to stroll its charming lanes. Explore the sprawling and eclectic night market or meander along the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers. (Day 7: B,L,D; Day 8: B,L)

tak bat ceremony

 

Day 9

Luang Prabang / Vientiane

Arise early to be enveloped in the silence and ceremony of tak bat, the sacred practice of giving rice to the over 1,000 orange-robed monks as they make their way through the city streets. A centuries-old tradition, tak bat provides the monks with their only meal of the day and is a show of respect and gratitude from the local people. Guests are welcome to join in tak bat. From Luang Prabang, fly south to the Lao capital of Vientiane, the heart of French-colonial Indochina. This afternoon we’ll begin our exploration by visiting Wat Sisaket; Vientiane’s oldest monument and home to over 2000 Buddha images; Haw Phra Kaew, once home to the emerald Buddha now found in Thailand; and Patousay, built with American-donated concrete meant to build a runway for the airport (hence its nickname “vertical runway”). Enjoy two nights at the boutique and elegant Ansara Hotel in the heart of Vientiane. (B,L,D)

that luang stupa

 

Day 10

Vientiane

This morning, continue our exploration of Vientiane with a visit to the city’s busting morning market (called Talat Sao). Here local people come to buy all manner of goods, from clothing to electronics, as well as fruits, vegetables, meats, and handicrafts. Talat Sao is where you can truly rub elbows with the locals as they consider this an important market as well. Visit Ban Nong Bouathong weaving school to see the intricate art of silk weaving before heading to That Luang Stupa; a giant golden stupa said to hold a piece of the breastbone of the Buddha himself. That Luang Stupa is the very symbol of Lao sovereignty and also an important school for Lao monks. The afternoon is at leisure to visit the many other attractions or stroll along the Mekong River, all within easy access of our hotel. (B,L)

Day 11

Vientiane / Hanoi, Vietnam

Fly to Hanoi, capital of Vietnam, and check into the five-star Melia Hanoi, our home for two nights. Tonight, venture out for an authentic Vietnamese dinner. (B,L,D)

vietnam street vendor

 

Day 12

Hanoi

Every dynasty of Vietnam has left their mark on Hanoi, a city inhabited since 3000 B.C. Survey the city by touring the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and One Pillar Pagoda complex, home to Ho Chi Minh during much of the latter part of his life. The stately Governor’s Residence used by the French is also on the grounds but was not used by Ho Chi Minh, who preferred his small rooms with just a bed, table, his desk and a radio. Also visit the Temple of Literature, a former school for Confucianism and the oldest university in Vietnam. After lunch, enjoy a cyclo (pedal-taxi) ride through the Old Quarter, getting a unique view of the chaotic traffic and vibrant Old Quarter life of Hanoi. Tonight enjoy the Thang Long Water Puppet show, a fun, colorful and uniquely Vietnamese art form. (B,L,D)

halong bay

 

Day 13

Hanoi / Halong Bay Cruise

Drive through the villages and rice paddy-lined countryside of Quang Ninh Province to reach Halong Bay, in the Gulf of Tonkin. Embark the Emeraude for a cruise among this spectacular seascape of 1,600 limestone islands and islets. The stunning karst scenery and largely untouched islands are what have made this area an UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must-see for lovers of scenic beauty and peaceful sailing. The Emeraude is one of the most luxurious and historic boats in Halong Bay, with award-winning cuisine and attentive staff. During our cruise, we stop to explore one of the many grottos and enjoy the endless picturesque scenery.  Watch sunset paint the limestone pillars before overnighting in a peaceful cove on the bay. (B,L,D)

hanoi bicycle

 

Day 14

Halong Bay Cruise / Hanoi

Watch the sunrise and take in the astounding natural setting of romantic Halong Bay as we sail through turquoise waters. After disembarking, head back to Hanoi, enjoying lunch, photo stops, and a visit to a local crafts center before arriving at the Melia Hanoi. The late afternoon and evening are at leisure to explore the wonders of Hanoi as you like from our well-located hotel.  Perhaps pay a visit to nearby Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton), now a museum, or stroll to Hoan Kiem Lake (Lake of the Restored Sword), the historic center of Hanoi and a hub of activity. Legend has it, Emperor Li was boating when a turtle surfaced and reclaimed the magic sword (called “heaven’s will”) previously given to the emperor to repel the Chinese invasion of the Ming Dynasty in the mid-15th century. The Turtle Tower on the lake commemorates this event. The Temple of the Jake Mountain is connected to shore by a red bridge, a favorite spot for photography by locals and visitors alike. (B,L)

Day 15

Hanoi / Hoi An

Fly this morning to central Vietnam. Hoi An, possible the most charming and lovely city in all the country, is our destination. From the 16th to 19th century, Hoi An was a hub for international trade and cultural exchange between East and West. Merchant vessels from as far away as India, Japan, China, Portugal, Spain, and the Netherlands stopped here to buy and sell. Its name means “peaceful meeting place.” Thousands of the relics and treasures of old Hoi An have been well preserved, including houses, temples, pagodas, bridges, churches and markets. The very number and remarkable condition of these things makes Hoi An a rarity in the modern world — truly a living museum! Along with lunch in a local restaurant, explore this pedestrian friendly city on foot before checking in at Palm Garden Resort, where we spend two nights enjoying the resort’s facilities and private beach location. (B,L,D)

pho

 

Day 16

My Son / Hoi An

Drive to the Cham ruins of My Son, an UNESCO World Heritage Site. My Son is regarded as one of the most important Hindu temple ruins of its kind in Southeast Asia and certainly the most important in Vietnam. My Son was an imperial city and the most important religious complex of all the Cham dynasty from the 4th to the 12th centuries. It was used, among other things, as a place to worship Siva Bhadesvera. It’s a large complex made up of temples and towers, the largest of which built to reflect the divinity of the king. The ruined and abandoned structures still stand as a shining example of Cham architecture and culture. Return to Hoi An to enjoy a late afternoon and evening at leisure. Our hotel enjoys a private section of Cua Dai Beach, regarded as the best in all of Vietnam. (B,L)

my son

 

Day 17

Hoi An / Saigon

Fly south to modern and cosmopolitan Ho Chi Minh City, still called Saigon by the locals. Before checking into the Sheraton Saigon for two nights, tour this historic city, seeing the Notre Dame Cathedral, Post Office and Presidential Palace, where we tour the war rooms used by U.S. and South Vietnamese officers to coordinate war efforts. Vietnam has long been influenced by Chinese culture, more so than cultures to the west due to the land barriers and mountains.  Hence, there is a very strong Chinese presence in Saigon and along with that, a very rich and colorful culture and lifestyle. Explore China Town, bustling Binh Tay market and beautiful Thien Hau pagoda. Perhaps most interesting about Saigon is the buzzing motorbike traffic. Thousands of motorbikes zip and weave through the streets in a humming symphony of chaotic order…truly a site to behold. (B,L,D)

Day 18

Mekong Delta / Saigon

Drive south through the lush, fertile countryside to reach the Mekong Delta. In My Tho board a local boat to head off into the bustling waterways that wind through the Mekong Islands. Spend a full day exploring the quaint villages on the islands, tasting honey and coconut candy before a lunch of the local delicacy — elephant fish. Free time is given in Saigon to enjoy the sites from our centrally located hotel or just to relax and reflect on a journey through so many intricate and diverse cultures. (B,L)

Day 19

Saigon / U.S.

Board your independent flight back to the U.S. today.  (B, Meals Aloft)