Indochina tour – escorted small group vacation featuring top guides, luxury hotels, authentic local cuisine, village and school visits.
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Hanoi – Ha Long Bay – Da Nang – Hoi An – Ho Chi Minh City – Phnom Penh – Siem Reap – Luang Prabang – Bangkok
Explore the essence of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. Marvel at Indochina’s ancient glories and intriguing customs. From scenic Ha Long Bay to quaint Buddhist temples in Luang Prabang, the sensual overload is simply overwhelming. Packed with UNESCO World Heritage Sites, this grand Indochina tour represents truly the best of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
Our trips emphasize history, culture and interactions with locals. Highlights of this particular trip include visits to rural villages, tasting authentic local cuisines, Vietnamese cooking class, and chatting with school children in their classroom.
- Small group (20 max)
- Experienced tour leader
- Expert local guides hand-picked by company owners
- No forced shopping stops
- Gratuities for local guides & drivers included
- Authentic local cuisine
- Ha Long Bay overnight cruise aboard one of the most luxurious junks
- Unlimited supply of bottled water
- Free Wi-Fi in every hotel
- Water puppet show in Hanoi
- Cooking class in Hoi An
- Village and school visits in Siem Reap
- Rice farm visit in Luang Prabang
Meal Code: B = breakfast / L = lunch / D = dinner
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Day 1/Thu: Departing Home City
Your Indochina tour begins with your transpacific flight departing from a city of your choice. You’ll lose a day upon crossing the International Date Line.
Day 2/Fri: Arrival in Hanoi
Welcome to Hanoi! Meet your guide on arrival and transfer to the hotel. The balance of the day is at leisure. Airport transfer for guests arriving ahead of tour schedule is not included and taxi fare is about $15 US.
Day 3/Sat: Hanoi (B/L/D)
Hanoi is the capital and the second largest city of Vietnam with a population currently estimated at close to 3 million. The ancient city has had many names throughout history, all of them of Sino-Vietnamese origin. Hanoi received its current name from Emperor Minh Mang in 1831. Ha and Noi mean “river” and “in between” respectively, to reflect the fact that the city sits between Red River and To Lich River. Hanoi was the most important political centre of Vietnam between 1010 and 1802. It was eclipsed by Hue during the Nguyen Dynasty (1802–1945). The city served as capital of French Indochina from 1902 to 1954. After the French were driven out in 1954, Hanoi became the capital of North Vietnam and subsequently capital of the unified Socialist Republic of Vietnam since 1975.
Our city tour following orientation in the hotel takes in the Presidential Palace, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Temple of Literature, the Old Quarter and traditional water puppet show.
The Presidential Palace was built between 1900 and 1906 to house the French Governor-General of Indochina. When Vietnam achieved independence in 1954, Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969) declined to live in the grand structure for symbolic reasons. Instead, a traditional Vietnamese stilt house was built for him in the same complex and he lived in it until he passed away. The palace is used for government functions, not open to public. The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is located nearby the palace.
The Old Quarter near Hoan Kiem Lake has the original street layout and architecture of old Hanoi. At the beginning of the 20th century the city consisted of only about 36 streets, most of which are now part of the old quarter. A night market (near Dong Xuan Market) in the heart of the district opens for business on weekends offering a variety of clothing, souvenirs and food.
We attend a traditional water puppet show later in the day. The show is performed in a waist-deep pool with the surface of water as stage. The puppets are made out of wood and then lacquered. The puppeteers standing behind a split-bamboo screen control the puppets using long bamboo rods and string mechanism hidden beneath the water surface. The themes are rural with strong reference to Vietnamese folklore. Stories of harvesting, fishing and festivals are highlighted, often with a humorous twist. Legends and national history are also told through short skits.
We wrap up the day with a delicious welcome dinner.
Day 4/Sun: Hanoi (B)
Today is set aside for you to recover from jet lag or explore on your own. Please feel free to ask your local guide for recommendations.
Day 5/Mon: Hanoi – Ha Long Bay (B/L/D)
Our morning drive to Ha Long Bay takes about three and half hours. Board the luxurious junk on arrival. Our overnight cruise on Ha Long Bay includes visits to a sandy beach and a limestone cave full of stalactites and stalagmites.
Inscribed in 1994 by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, Ha Long Bay, located in the Gulf of Tonkin and 165 kilometres from Hanoi, covers an area of 43,400 hectares and includes over 1,600 islands and islets. The exceptional scenic beauty of the limestone pillars complemented by biological interest is an ideal model of a mature Karst landscape developed during a warm and wet tropical climate. The outstanding value of Ha Long Bay is centered around the drowned limestone karst landforms, displaying spectacular pillars with a variety of coastal erosional features such as arches and caves which form a majestic natural scenery.
Day 6/Tue: Ha Long Bay – Hoi An (B/L/D)
After a leisurely breakfast, we disembark the boat and drive back to Hanoi for late afternoon flight to Da Nang, a major port city in Central Vietnam 30km north of Hoi An.
The early history of Hoi An is that of the Cham people, who created the Champa Empire which occupied much of what is now central and lower Vietnam, from Hue to beyond Nha Trang. Europeans first reached Hoi An in early 16th century when it was still known as Hai Fo. In the 18th century, Hoi An was considered by Chinese and Japanese merchants to be among the best destinations for trading in all of Southeast Asia. But its importance waned sharply at the end of the 18th century as a result of domestic turmoil and rise of Da Nang after the Vietnamese imperial court granted the French exclusive trade rights to Da Nang.
Day 7/Wed: Hoi An (B/L)
Our tour of the food market in the town centre is followed by a cooking class. We then spend the rest of the day exploring the ancient town of Hoi An, a UNESCO inscribed World Heritage Site. Our walking tour of the Old Town takes in the 400-year-old Japanese Covered Bridge Pagoda, Sa Huynh Museum, Tran Family Chapel, Phuoc Kien Assembly Hall, and a lantern making workshop.
Day 8/Thu: Hoi An – Da Nang – Ho Chi Minh City (B/L/D)
Free morning to explore on your own. Many guests probably would like to spend some time in the hotel’s lovely outdoor swimming pool. The local guide would be on hand to help you rent a bicycle and pedal into the countryside with you.
After lunch, we drive 30km back to Da Nang and visit the Museum of Cham Sculpture – a highlight of the city, prior to our late afternoon flight for Ho Chi Minh.
Day 9/Fri: Ho Chi Minh City (B/L)
Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam, with a population of 9 million. Formerly named Saigon, it lies 1,160km (720 miles) south of Hanoi and 605km (375 miles) southwest of Da Nang.
Ho Chi Minh City began as a small fishing village called Prey Nokor inhabited by Khmer people, who lived here for centuries before the arrival of the Vietnamese. Beginning in the early 17th century, colonization of the area by Vietnamese settlers gradually isolated the Khmers of the Mekong Delta from their brethren in Cambodia proper and resulted in their becoming a minority in the delta. Increasing waves of Vietnamese settlers, which the Cambodian kingdom could not impede because it was weakened by war with Thailand, slowly Vietnamized the area. In time, Prey Nokor became known as Saigon. Prey Nokor was the most important commercial seaport to the Khmers and the loss of the city and the rest of the Mekong Delta cut off Cambodia’s access to the East Sea. Subsequently, the only remaining Khmers’ sea access was southwesterly at the Gulf of Thailand.
Under the name Saigon, the city served as capital of the French colony of Cochinchina from 1862 to 1954 and later of the independent republic of South Vietnam from 1955 to 1975. Saigon was officially renamed Ho Chí Minh City on July 2, 1976.
Our sightseeing today begins with a stroll along Dong Khoi Street, formerly known as the Catinat Street, the main shopping district and the heart of the old colonial Saigon. Highlights include such classic European-style landmarks as Hotel De Ville, the old Opera House, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office.
We then proceed to the Reunification Palace, formerly the presidential palace of the South Vietnamese government, which was stormed by Viet Cong troops on April 30, 1975, signifying the fall of the Republic of Vietnam commonly known as South Vietnam. The War Remnants Museum is the last on our schedule.
Day 10/Sat: Ho Chi Minh City (B/L/D)
After breakfast we embark on an excursion to Cu Chi Tunnels. Stretching over 200km, this incredible underground network was an important Viet Cong base during the Vietnam War. The tunnels were used by Viet Cong soldiers as hiding spots during combat as well as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters. The tunnels were also Viet Cong’s base of operations for the Tet Offensive in 1968.
We then visit Cao Dai Temple in Tây Ninh and take in the midday service. The religion practiced here is known as Caodaism, a monotheistic religion officially established in the city of Tây Ninh in 1926.
We return to the city after lunch at a local restaurant near the temple.
Day 11/Sun: Ho Chi Minh City – Phnom Penh (B/L/D)
Depending on the type of aircraft in use, our early morning flight to Phnom Penh can take anywhere between 30 to 45 minutes.
Located at the confluence of three rivers (Tonlé Sap, Mekong and Bassac), Phnom Penh is the wealthiest and most populous (1.6 million) city in Cambodia. The Phnom Penh metropolitan area is home to about 2.2 million of Cambodia’s entire population of 15.5 million.
Phnom Penh first became the capital of Cambodia after Ponhea Yat, king of the Khmer Empire, moved the capital from Angkor Thom after it was captured and destroyed by Siam (Thailand) a few years earlier. Phnom Penh remained the royal capital for 73 years—from 1432 to 1505 before it was abandoned for 360 years (1505 – 1865) by subsequent kings due to internal fighting between the royal pretenders. Later kings moved the capital several times and established their royal capitals at various locations in Tuol Basan (Srey Santhor), Pursat, Longvek, Lavear Em and Udong. It was not until 1866, under the reign of King Norodom I (1860–1904), the eldest son of King Ang Duong, who ruled on behalf of Siam, that Phnom Penh became the permanent seat of government and capital of Cambodia again.
Beginning in 1870, the French colonialists built this riverside village into a city with hotels, hospitals, schools, prisons, barracks, banks, public works offices, telegraph offices, law courts and so on. In 1872, the first glimpse of a modern city took shape when the colonial administration employed the services of a French contractor Le Faucheur to construct the first 300 concrete houses for sale and rental to the Chinese traders. By the 1920s, Phnom Penh was known as the Pearl of Asia, and over the next four decades the city continued to experience rapid growth with the building of railways to Sihanoukville and Pochentong International Airport (now Phnom Penh International Airport).
During the Vietnam War, Cambodia was used as a base by the Viet Cong’s North Vietnamese Army. Thousands of refugees from across the country flooded the capital to escape the fighting between the various factions, thus increasing the population of Phnom Penh to reportedly 3 million. The Khmer Rouge captured the city on April 17, 1975 and started to forcibly evacuate the entire city soon after. All of its residents, including the wealthy and educated, were forced into the countryside to do manual labour so that they could become “new people” according to the Khmer Rouge. Tuol Sleng High School was turned into a prison camp known as S-21, where people were detained and tortured. Pol Pot sought a return to an agrarian economy and therefore killed many people perceived as lazy or political enemies. The Khmer Rouge was driven out of Phnom Penh by the Vietnamese in 1979, and people began to return to the city. Vietnam is historically a state with which Cambodia has had many conflicts, therefore this liberation was and is viewed with mixed feelings by the Cambodians. A period of reconstruction began, spurred by the continuing stability of government, new foreign investment and international aid.
Our sightseeing today includes the Royal Palace Complex and the National Museum.
Day 12/Mon: Phnom Penh (B/L)
Today we visit Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Choeung Ek Killing Fields.These sites may be too much for the visitor to stomach but they embody an important period in the country’s history no matter how repugnant that period is in our common memory.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is on the same site of the high school turned prison known as S-21. Inside, Khmer Rouge’s torture devices and photos of their victims are on display. If you have read about Tuol Sleng and feel the gruesome scenes may be too disturbing, you may instead opt for a walk through the neighbourhood outside the former high school.
Choeung Ek (The Killing Fields) is 15 kilometers from the city centre. It was one of the mass grave sites of the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime.
Day 13/Tue: Phnom Penh – Siem Reap (B/L/D)
The morning flight to Siem Reap takes 40 minutes. After a light lunch, we visit the Angkor National Museum and Angkor Wat.
The archaeological museum is dedicated to the collection, preservation and presentation of Angkorian artifacts, also to provide information and education about art and culture of Khmer civilization, with collections mainly dated from Khmer Empire’s Angkor period circa 9th to 14th-century. Most of the artifacts are discovered in and around the Angkor archaeological sites nearby. Opened on November 12, 2007, the Angkor National Museum covers the golden era of the Khmer Empire in eight galleries. The museum visit at the beginning of the stay in Siem Reap is designed to better prepare tour participants for what to see next.
Angkor Wat, the modern name for the temple complex, means “Temple City” or “City of Temples” in Khmer. Angkor, meaning “city” or “capital city”, is a vernacular form of the word nokor, which comes from the Sanskrit word nagara. Wat is the Khmer word for “temple grounds”. Angkor Wat was a Hindu temple complex that was later used for Buddhism. It is the largest religious monument in the world. The temple was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century in Yaśodharapura (present-day Angkor), the capital of the Khmer Empire, as his state temple and eventual mausoleum. Breaking from the Shaiva tradition of previous kings, Angkor Wat was instead dedicated to Vishnu. As the best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious center since its foundation. The temple is at the top of the high classical style of Khmer architecture and has become a symbol of Cambodia, appearing on its national flag.
Angkor Wat combines two basic plans of Khmer temple architecture: the temple-mountain and the later galleried temple, based on early Dravidian architecture, with key features such as the Jagati. It is designed to represent Mount Meru, home of the devas in Hindu mythology: within a moat and an outer wall of 3.6 kilometres long are three rectangular galleries, each raised above the next. At the centre of the temple stands a quincunx of towers. Unlike most Angkorian temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west; scholars are divided as to the significance of this. The temple is admired for the grandeur and harmony of the architecture, its extensive bas-reliefs, and for the numerous devatas adorning its walls.
Day 14/Wed: Siem Reap (B/L)
Visit Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm in the morning.
Angkor Thom (literally: great city) was established in the late 12th century by King Jayavarman VII as the capital of the Khmer Empire. It covers an area of 9km² and includes several monuments from earlier eras as well as those established by Jayavarman and his successors. One inscription found in the city refers to Jayavarman as the groom and the city as his bride. Angkor Thom was the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer empire. At the centre of the city is Jayavarman’s state temple, the Bayon, with the other major sites clustered around the Victory Square immediately to the north.
Ta Prohm is the modern name of the temple built in the Bayon style largely in the late 12th and early 13th centuries and originally called Rajavihara. Located approximately one kilometre east of Angkor Thom and on the southern edge of the East Baray, it was founded by the Khmer King Jayavarman VII as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university. Unlike most Angkorian temples, Ta Prohm has been left in much the same condition in which it was found: the photogenic and atmospheric combination of trees growing out of the ruins and the jungle surroundings has made it one of Angkor’s most popular temples with visitors.
Day 15/Thu: Siem Reap (B/L)
After breakfast, we drive 25km to Banteay Srei (Citadel of Women), a 10th-century temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. The buildings themselves are miniature in scale but the stone carvings are magnificent. On the way back to the hotel, we stop by a village and a school in it to gain a deeper insight into the local rural life.
Day 16/Fri: Siem Reap – Luang Prabang (B/D)
We plan to fly to Luang Prabang in the morning but due to limited flight availability we may have to wait till afternoon. It is also possible that our flight includes a brief layover in Pakse, which would stretch our travel time to 3 hours and 20 minutes. Additional activities may be arranged in Siem Reap or Luang Prabang depending on flight schedule.
Modern-day Laos has its roots in the ancient Lao kingdom of Lan Xang, established in the 14th century under King Fa Ngum. For 300 years Lan Xang had influence reaching into present-day Cambodia and Thailand, as well as over all of what is now Laos. After centuries of gradual decline, Laos came under the domination of Siam (Thailand) from the late 18th century until the late 19th century when it became part of French Indochina. The Franco-Siamese Treaty of 1907 defined the current Lao border with Thailand. In 1975, the communist Pathet Lao took control of the government, ending a six-century-old monarchy and instituting a strict socialist regime closely aligned to Vietnam. A gradual, limited return to private enterprise and the liberalization of foreign investment laws began in 1988. Laos became a member of ASEAN in 1997 and the WTO in 2013. The population of the country is estimated to be around 6.77 million.
Day 17/Sat: Luang Prabang (B/L)
Luang Prabang is the capital of Luang Prabang Province and the fourth largest city in Laos with a population of 50,000. Strategically located at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers, after the establishment of the French Protectorate in 1893, following a period of turmoil during which the country was divided into three independent kingdoms, Luang Prabang once again became the royal and religious capital during the reign of King Sisavang Vong. It played this role until Vientiane became the administrative capital in 1946. In 1995, the old town of Luang Prabang was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as “an outstanding example of the fusion of traditional architecture and Lao urban structures with those built by the European colonial authorities in the 19th and 20th centuries”. The unique, remarkably well-preserved townscape illustrates a key stage in the blending of these two distinct cultural traditions. Luang Prabang is known for both its historical sites and natural beauty.
We rise at dawn to go out and witness an extraordinary ritual – procession of monks emerging from temples to seek alms from local residents. This traditional food collection ceremony by monks early in the morning, known as tak bat among locals, has become a major attraction to tourists.
After breakfast, we set out for the National Museum, former royal residence built at the turn of the 20th century. We then visit the Wat Mai, the largest and most decorated Buddhist temple in Luang Prabang. A drive through the scenic countryside leads us to the Tad Kouang Si waterfalls, tumbling over limestone formations to create turquoise-colored pools; the natural footpaths here are perfect for hiking.
On the way back to Luang Prabang, we stop by at a Hmong village. The Hmong are an ethnic group from the mountainous regions of China, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. During the first and second Indochina Wars, France and the United States governments recruited thousands of Hmong people in Laos to fight against invading military forces from North Vietnam and communist Pathet Lao insurgents.
Day 18/Sun: Luang Prabang (B/L)
We begin today with a visit to a morning market where locals go for their daily food supplies. The exotic spices and food will keep your eyes busy.
After breakfast we drive to a communal rice farm set in idyllic countryside for a better understanding of farming life in this landlocked country. You are invited to try your hand at various farm activities. There is also time to check out nearby workshops of bamboo weavers, blacksmiths and sugar cane processors. Return to the hotel in Luang Prabang and have the balance of the day at leisure.
Day 19/Mon: Luang Prabang – Bangkok (B)
Free morning to explore on your own. We board late afternoon flight for Bangkok. The flight time can be anywhere between 1 hour 20 minutes to 2 hours depending on aircraft in use.
Located in Chao Phraya River delta, Bangkok is the capital and the most populous city of Thailand, with a population of 8 million within the city proper or nearly 13% of the country’s total. The city is known in Thai as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon.
Bangkok traces its roots to a small trading post during the Ayutthaya Kingdom in the 15th century, which eventually grew in size and became the site of two capital cities: Thonburi in 1768 and Rattanakosin in 1782. Bangkok was at the heart of Siam’s (as Thailand used to be known) modernization during the later 19th century, as the country faced pressures from the West. The city was the centre stage of Thailand’s political struggles throughout the 20th century, as the country abolished absolute monarchy, adopted constitutional rule and underwent numerous coups and uprisings. The city grew rapidly during the 1960’s through the 1980’s.
Day 20/Tue: Bangkok (B/D)
We begin our sightseeing today at the royal Grand Palace. Established in 1782, the palace was dramatically expanded throughout successive reigns. The king and his royal government were based on the grounds of the palace until 1925. The present monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), resides at Chitralada Palace, but the Grand Palace is still used for official events.
We then proceed to the National Museum, which is the largest museum in Southeast Asia and features exhibits of Thai art and history.
Afternoon sightseeing takes in Wat Arun, a Buddist temple on the Chao Phraya River. The temple derives its name from the Hindu god Aruna, often personified as the radiations of the rising sun. Wat Arun is among the best known of Thailand’s landmarks.
Finally, we go on a long tail boat for an hour-long cruise on picturesque Chao Phraya River and the Klongs (canals) of Thonburi on the west side of the river. There will be chance to observe and photograph the serene family homes and temples along the waterways.
Day 21/Wed: Bangkok – Home City (B)
Your Indochina tour plus Bangkok ends this morning. Transfer to the airport by taxi (cab fare about $10) or by Airport Rail Link (10% of cab fare) to board return flight. Arrive home the same day.
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|Ha Long Bay cruise||1||Paradise Luxury||5-star/luxury|
|Hoi An||2||Hotel Royal Hoi An||5-star/luxury|
|Ho Chi Minh City||3||Sofitel Saigon Plaza||5-star/luxury|
|Phnom Penh||2||La Rose Suites||5-star/luxury|
|Siem Reap||3||Victoria Angkor Resort||5-star/luxury|
|Luang Prabang||3||Sofitel Luang Prabang||5-star/luxury|
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Passport, Visa & Photograph
A passport with at least three (3) blank visa pages and six (6) months validity at the end of the tour is required.
You’ll need two photos of passport type (2×2 inches) for this trip but please bring four (4), just in case.
Vietnam Tourist Visa on Arrival – $45 USD
Although you may apply for your visa prior to arrival through the Vietnamese embassy, we advise against it because visa on arrival (VOA) is simple and more cost-effective. We will send you a private Letter of Invitation prior to the trip and provide you with visa assistance service on your arrival so that you don’t have to wait in queue. The fee for a single entry visa valid up to 30 days is $45 USD, payable on arrival and in US dollars cash only – no other currency or form of payment is accepted. Costs associated with your letter of invitation and visa assistance service are included in the tour price.
Cambodia Tourist Visa on Arrival – $35 USD
No letter of invitation is needed. Just bring $40 USD cash and a photo of passport type. The visa fee is $35 but they may charge a $5 service fee on weekends and public holidays.
Laos Tourist Visa on Arrival – $30 ~ $42 USD depending on nationality
No letter of invitation is needed. Just bring $30 to $42 USD plus a passport-type photo. Overtime charge of $1 may apply outside standard office hours, on weekends and statutory holidays.
Thailand Tourist Visa
Visa is not required of nationals from Canada, the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom and a host of other Western countries if the stay is within 30 days.
Health & Immunization
You are not required of any inoculation certificate to enter any of the above countries. However, we do suggest you visit your family physician or a travel medicine clinic to determine what precautions you should take. We recommend inoculation shots for hepatitis A and suggest that you check out advice provided by the US CDC and Health Canada.
Tap water is not safe to drink. Ask for bottled or boiled water when eating in restaurants. When buying bottled water from street vendors, especially at tourist sites, make sure the cap is properly sealed because some vendors may be selling tap water in recycled bottles.
Try to avoid uncooked food. Even the food you eat is clean, you may still experience stomach upsets or diarrhea due to ingredients your stomach is not used to.
Always carry a roll of toilet paper and a bottle of hand sanitizer containing more than 60% of alcohol, no matter where you go.
Vietnam: Vietnamese Dông (VND)
Cambodia: Cambodian Riel (KHR)
Laos: Laotian Kip (LAK)
Thailand: Thai Baht (THB)
Major credit cards are widely accepted throughout the above countries and can be used for major purchases. U.S. dollars are widely accepted in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, particularly so in Cambodia, but it is still better to use VND while in Vietnam. Merchants in Thailand generally decline any currency other than their own.