Indochina Travel features an extraordinary cultural journey to Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia.
Indochina is a historical name that refers the location of the territory between India and China. The history and culture of Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia offer a world of enchantment. With thousand years of history, Indochina has long lasting traditional cultures, great scenery, friendly people, and mouth-water cuisine.
On our Indochina Travel, you will travel from the elegant temples of Luang Prabang to the charming city of Hanoi, from gorgeous limestone formations of Halong bay to the dazzling Angkor Wat. You will find the unforgettable combination of ancient architecture and modern culture, enticing cuisine and unparalleled countryside. The allure of our Indochina Travel is in its past, present, and future.
Indochina Travel immerses you deeply in this engaging realm with a private Baci (‘welcoming’) with Laotian villagers, and a visit to a local silk-weaving community in Luang Prabang. In Vietnam, we’ll visit a studio of a renowned artist in Hanoi, and overnight aboard a private traditional wooden junk in breathtaking Halong Bay, with its emerald waters and dramatic rock formations. Explore the famous ancient town of Hoian, and the ancient capital land of Hue. Our grand finale is Cambodia’s surreal jungle-shrouded city of temples lost in time, the dazzling Angkor Wat.
Day – by – Day Itinerary
Upon arrival in Luang Prabang, Lao’s ancient Royal capital, you’ll be met and escorted to the Villa Santi, a formal royal residence situated in the heart of the old historic town, your accommodation for the next three nights. Located on the Mekong River and encircled by mountains, Luang Prabang is a delightful town of gilded temples, palaces, elegant French colonialist architecture, and now preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area is noted for its outstanding handloom weavings, and so there are many fine products available for purchase. In addition, the local market here operates as a venue for the H’mong hill tribe communities, with their unique cross-stitch and applique work. This evening you’ll have an orientation briefing and enjoy a special welcome dinner of royal Laotian cuisine at the Villa Santi. (D)
Today you’ll enjoy a walking tour through the atmospheric lanes of old Luang Prabang, visiting several temples dating to the 15th century, including the magnificent Wat Xieng Thong (“Golden Temple”), and getting to know some of the local people and their traditional and unique lifestyle. After lunch, we walk to the former Royal Palace, now a museum housing heirlooms of the former Lao monarchy. The collections include the highly revered Pra Bang Buddha image, claimed to have been cast in Sri Lanka over 2,000 years ago. You can also climb the Phu Si Hill, an important site with fine views over the town and the Mekong River at sunset. This evening we enjoy a special private Baci (“welcoming”) ceremony with villagers, followed by dinner at a local French restaurant. (B, L, D)
This morning you visit the local Morning Street Market with all manner of food products on display including insects, fish, frogs, birds, beetle nut, and a large selection of tropical fruits and vegetables. You then board a local boat for a scenic trip up the Mekong River to Pak Ou Caves, a Buddhist pilgrimage site located above the river.
Over the last five centuries, processions of worshipers from kings to peasants have brought Buddha images to the caves, and it is a fascinating site. Proceeding further upriver to a traditional village, you experience the life of rural Lao people at first hand, including visits to a local family and to the simple village school. Following a picnic lunch, we return to Luang Prabang, where you can visit a local silk-weaving community village and the local hill tribe market located in the old town. Dinner tonight is at a charming restaurant in town. (B, L, D)
By sunrise every day, a procession of a hundred or more Buddhist monks and novices, from different temples, passes directly in front of the Villa Santi on their alms round. This offers us the opportunity to “make merit” by donating food to the monks, while you in turn receive their blessing, and it can be a wonderful photographic opportunity. After breakfast, you drive out of town into the surrounding hills to visit Hmong and Khamu hill tribe villages.
About 200 years ago, the H’mong were gradually displaced from their ancestral home in the mountains of southern China and many settled in the hills of Laos. During the Vietnam War, the CIA actively recruited H’mong “warriors” in the CIA’s secret war with the Pathet Lao communists, and many subsequently fled to Thailand (and the US, France) with the fall of the Royal Lao government in 1975. H’mong villagers still practice ancient animistic rituals, including animal sacrifices, and some still dress in traditional colorful handmade costume and silver jewelry. You have an opportunity to meet with several H’mong families inside their simple bamboo and wood homes, and to experience the fascinating lives of these mountain people.
The Khamu were original an aboriginal group living in the lower mountains of northern Laos and have a very different culture, language, dress, and religion from the H’mong, and you’ll also able to visit a typical Khamu village. A direct afternoon flight bring you to Hanoi, where you’ll meet our Vietnamese guide and drive to your hotel, the Hanoi Sofitel Metropole, located in the elegant French quarter in the heart of Hanoi. Dinner is on your own. Your Tour Guide will be happy to make recommendations and reservation for your dinner, depending on how fancy or how local you want to go for. (B, L)
Having a turbulent history going back over a thousand years, Hanoi is surrounded by the Red River and located in center of the mighty Red River Delta. Though being the capital of Vietnam, this charming city is decidedly slower-paced than the bustling Saigon. Hanoi is graced by many parks and lakes, and the Old Quarter still feature some magnificent French colonial architecture. Everything is developing rapidly here, but now the city has many tasteful new restaurants, cafes, and nice hotels.
We start our visit to Hanoi this morning with an exploration of some of Hanoi’s ancient sights, including the Confucian Temple of Literature. This university for Mandarins was founded in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong to honor scholars and men of administrative and military accomplishment, and is now an island of tranquility in a busy city. We also visit Quan Thanh Taoist Temple, established in the 12th century and dedicated to Tran Vo (“God of the North”), and Tran Quoc Pagoda, the oldest Buddhist pagodas in Hanoi and still inactive use. After a lunch of ‘bun cha’, Hanoi’s famous grilled pork and noodle specialty, we continue our exploration of Hanoi with a visit to the Hanoi’s excellent Museum of Ethnology. Designed with the help of the Musée de l’Homme in Paris, it features a fascinating collection of art and artifacts gathered from throughout Vietnam and its diverse tribal people. Hanoi is also the undisputed art capital of Vietnam, and there are numerous artists of international caliber who reside and work in the city. This afternoon we visit the studio of one of Hanoi’s more renowned artists in lacquer ware painting, an art form unique to Vietnam, and this evening we enjoy dinner in one of Hanoi ’s fine restaurants. (B, L, D)
This morning you’ll visit the impressive Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, where the body of Uncle Ho is being preserve. It can be a chilling or an emotional experience, but one that is not easily forgotten (please note that the Mausoleum is usually close for periodic maintenance September through November). You walk via the beautiful Presidential Palace, formerly the residence of the Governor of French Indochina, to visit Uncle Ho’s simple Stilt House, where he lived off and on from 1958 to 1969.
Next we tour the Army Museum, with its excellent displays from both the “French” and the Resistance war against the American” wars in Vietnam. Finally you enter the notorious “Hanoi Hilton” prison, called Maison Centrale by French, now a museum. Inmates here included Senator John McCain and Pete Peterson, who became the first post war US Ambassador to Vietnam in 1995. In the afternoon, you take a break from the recent past when you explore Hanoi’s Old Quarter by rickshaws and on foot. In the 13th century, Hanoi 36 guilds established themselves here, each street named after the good being produced. The streets still remain today with Fish Street, Silversmiths Street, Incense Street, Buddhist Altars Street, etc., as well as silk, paintings, lacquer ware and other commodities. Later you’ll enjoy a water puppet show, a unique Vietnamese traditional famer’s performance. (B, L)
After breakfast, you drive out of Hanoi to Halong Bay, where you board your own private junk for an overnight trip around this magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the natural marvels of Vietnam. Covering an area of 1,553 square kilometers, Halong Bay is a magical setting of thousands of sheer limestone islands jutting out of a jade-green sea. Its numerous tiny islands with sparsely forested slopes are dotted with beaches and grottoes created by wind and waves.
Halong means “bay of descending dragons,” and local legend has it that dragons created these islands to protect people from invasion by sea. You enjoy a delicious seafood lunch on board and cruise around the immense bay, stopping to visit some stunning rock formations, lagoons, and beautifully illuminated caves. Our overnight aboard our private junk is a unique opportunity to capture the evening and early morning vistas in this magnificent setting. (B, L, D)
After breakfast on boat, you enjoy a full morning cruise around the bay. Lunch would be served before you are picked up at the harbor and head back to Hanoi for your afternoon flight to Danang.
On arrival we head to the picturesque riverside town of Hoian, located 30 kilometers south of Danang. Hoian is one of Asia’s most enchanting places with a real sense of history in its streets. Known as Faifo to early European traders, it developed into a major international port between the 15th and 19th centuries, during which time many splendid houses and other buildings were built by prosperous European, Japanese, and Chinese merchants. When the Cai Thu Bon River silted up, the port was moved to Danang and Hoian was virtually abandoned to a legacy of its glorious past. Today, Hoian contains numerous ancient buildings and lanes and is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. For dinner tonight, we sample Vietnamese fusion cuisine at a local restaurant. (B, L, D)
Today, you’ll spend much of the day strolling around this charming town and visit several houses, temples, a museum, and the old Japanese Covered Bridge. You also visit the lively market on the quay and see fishermen bringing their catch to market in small boats. For lunch, you sample delicious Cao Lau noodles, unique to Hoian. In the afternoon, you take an interesting river trip and see how local fishermen employ gigantic nets to catch fish. Hoian is something of an artists’ colony and there are a number of studios and galleries, and excellent tailor-made silk clothing is available. Dinner is on your own tonight. (B, L)
After your breakfast, you head out on a beautiful and scenic drive along the magnificent coast from Hoian to Hue, stopping en route in Danang, central Vietnam’s major port city. Our first stop will be at Marble Mountains, five hills representing the five elements of the universe: water, wood, fire, metal, and earth. You climb Thuy Son (“Water Mountain”) and explore its natural caves and Buddhist sanctuaries. You’ll then stop briefly at Danang Beach, the notorious R&R stop for American troops during the war, and after that the Cham Museum, housing an exquisite display of Cham sculpture. The Indianized kingdom of Champa flourished from the 2nd to the 15th centuries, even conquering the mighty Angkor empire in 1178 (scenes from this battle are sculpted in bas-relief at the Bayon Temple in Angkor).
Our route to Hue takes us over Hai Van (“Sea Cloud”) Pass with spectacular views, and we’ll have lunch overlooking the East Sea. You arrive in Hue in the late afternoon with time to visit Thien Mu Pagoda, one of the most famous structures in all Vietnam and a symbol of Buddhism and nationalism during the 1960s. A number of monks are resident here and we may have the opportunity to discuss Buddhism with one of them over a cup of Vietnamese tea. We then take a private “dragon boat” from the pagoda direct to our hotel. Dinner tonight is at a French-Vietnamese restaurant near the ancient Citadel. (B, L, D)
Hue was Vietnam’s political capital from 1802 to 1945 under the reign of 13 emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty, and was also the site of some of the bloodiest battles of the 1968 Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War. This morning we venture into the countryside to visit two Royal Tombs of the Nguyen Dynasty: the majestic and serene tomb of Emperor Tu Duc is exquisite, set amid lovely gardens and pine groves; in contrast, the grandiose concrete tomb of Emperor Khai Dinh represents the later decline of the Vietnamese monarchy under French colonialism. We return to Hue city for lunch.
In the afternoon we walk inside the moated Citadel, which formally housed the Royal Palace, including the Forbidden Purple City. Much of the complex was damaged in the Tet Offensive, but ghosts of the past still lurk around its massive walls. Major restoration projects within the Citadel are ongoing under UNESCO, with excellent results. Later today you may stop to visit Dong Ba Central Market, where many goods are on display, including exotic fruits and vegetables, traditional Hue clothing, and the famous Vietnamese conical hats. Dinner today is on your own. (B, L)
After breakfast, you proceed to the airport for our early morning flight to Ho Chi Minh City, still known to the locals as Saigon. Here you take a brief sightseeing trip around this big and bustling city, stopping briefly to see the French Notre Dame Cathedral and Eiffel’s distinctive Art Deco Post Office, before transferring to the Caravelle Hotel, situated adjacent to the French Colonial Opera House in the heart of Saigon’s lively downtown. After lunch, you’ll visit the historic Reunification Palace (formally the Presidential Palace of South Vietnam), where the ornate and spacious chambers are in sharp contrast to Uncle Ho’s Stilt House in Hanoi.
Diem, Thieu, war rooms, underground telecommunications centers, pictures of VC tanks crashing through wrought iron palace gates—the history of America’s war in Vietnam is all here. The remainder of the afternoon is at leisure for you to explore this vibrant city on your own. The War Remnants Museum contains graphic displays of the US-VN war. Saigon also has some of the best shopping in Vietnam and excellent massage is available. Dinner tonight will feature distinctive Vietnamese cuisine. (B, L, D)
Today you have a midday flight to Siem Reap, and then transfer to our hotel, our home for the last three nights of the trip. Covered with intricate bas-reliefs and scattered across a tropical landscape, Angkor is a lasting monument to the glory of a bygone Khmer civilization and is one of the wonders of the world.
Built between the 9th and 13th centuries to glorify a succession of Khmer kings, the temples are massive and majestic, with wide causeways, imposing gateways and towers, huge moats, and colossal sculptured Buddha images—all in a wonderful jungle setting. This afternoon you’ll visit the “Great City” of Angkor Thom, which was larger and more splendid than any city in Europe of the late 12th century.
You start your explorations at Victor Y Gate, where you climb atop the massive ancient city wall and walk to the obscure Death Gate (about 500 yards). Both gates have magnificent giant Bodhisattva heads towering above them. From here you drive along a deserted track directly to the East Entrance of the magnificent Bayon Temple, noted for its gigantic Bodhisattva sculptures and its remarkable bas-reliefs—some of the best at Angkor. Dinner tonight will be on the Royal Court Terrace of the hotel accompanied by a classical Khmer dance performance. (B, D)
Your start the day’s Angkor explorations with a visit to the Khmer’s grandest and most inspiring temple complex: Angkor Wat. This architectural masterpiece was constructed in the 12th century and covers an area of over 500 acres. You explore its many galleries with columns, libraries, pavilions, courtyards, and ponds full of water reflecting the temple. Intricately carved bas-reliefs extend the length of the outer walls and corridors, depicting mythological scenes of Hindu epics and day-to-day life at the time of Angkor’s construction.
This morning you’ll also see the South Gate of Angkor Thom with its impressive causeway flanked by gods and demons, the Elephant Terrace, Phimeanakas Temple within the Royal Palace Enclosure, Preah Palilay Temple, and the Leper King Terrace, all within the “Great City” of Angkor Thom. After a delicious Khmer lunch, you drive to Tonle Sap (“Great Lake”) where you’ll take a short cruise by private boat, stopping to visit Khmer and Vietnamese floating villages, a glimpse of real Khmer life in the raw. Dinner this evening is on your own. (B, L)
After breakfast, you’ll drive out into the Cambodian countryside to experience some very special Khmer sites. Beyond the main Angkor complex, you discover the enchanting 10th century Banteay Srei Temple. It appears that the temple was designed to leave no space undecorated, and its extraordinary fine carvings in pink sandstone are quite unique. From here you drive through rural Cambodia to the 12th century “jungle” temple of Beng Mealea, described as “a spectacular sight to behold…one of the most mysterious temples at Angkor, as nature has well and truly run riot here”. For many years off limits, Beng Mealea has only recently opened up to a few intrepid travelers.
After a picnic lunch we will visit a local Cambodian village, and then drive back to Siem Reap via the 9th century Rolous Group of temples—the earliest at Angkor. If time permits, we may an opportunity to visit Les Artisans d’Angkor, a school promoting the arts and crafts of Cambodia, much of which were temporarily lost under the Pol Pot regime. Tonight we celebrate our farewell dinner at Mahout’s Dream French Restaurant in the Sofitel Royal Angkor Resort Hotel. (B, L, D)
On you last day in Angkor, you visit two special temples. Ta Promh, a favorite with visitors because of the way in which huge fig, banyan, and kapok trees have grown throughout the temple monuments, their giant roots often splitting open ancient Buddha sculptures with surreal effect.
You also visit Preah Khan, the “Sacred Sword,” a magnificent structure dedicated to the Buddhist religion by King Jayavarman VII. This huge temple complex is also largely overgrown with great trees and smothering roots still clinging to the sandstone and laterite walls, and is presently under careful restoration by the World Monuments Fund of NYC.
You return to hotel for lunch, and then transfer to the airport for afternoon homeward-bound flights. (B, L)
Price per person: $4500
Holiday surcharge: non
All costs are per person, based on a private guide and car.
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As you are not confirmed on the trip until deposit has been received by our office, please do not make non-refundable air arrangements prior to us confirming your booking. Our payment schedules:
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