Tailor-made Tour 21 days from £5600 per person
Places Visited: Luang Prabang, Hanoi, Halong Bay Cruise, Hue, Hoi An, Ho Chi Minh City, Can Tho, Chau Doc, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap
Experience the cream of Indochina’s world-renowned sights on this 3-week odyssey around Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. Taking advantage of the region’s excellent flight network, we’ve devised a way to see Luang Prabang, cruise Halong Bay, flit from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City via Hue and Hoi, then sail up the Mekong to Angkor Wat all in the space of 20 days. A fair amount of travel is involved, but rest assured that it’s all conducted in great style and comfort, with stays at some of Asia’s most chic and characterful hotels.
Cultural Tours River and Island Cruises
Fly overnight from the UK to Luang Prabang, in northern Laos.
On arrival, you’ll be met by your driver and guide, and accompanied to your hotel. Spend the remainder of the day recovering from your flight, perhaps venturing out in evening to Wat Phu or the night market.
Enfolded by low, wooded hills, Luang Prabang languishes on a peninsula in the Mekong. Long regarded as the country’s pre-eminent cultural and religious capital, the town served for 15 centuries as the abode of Lao royalty. Stucco French villas and wooden colonnaded houses, festooned with bougainvillea and the foliage of overhanging mango and jackfruit trees, line its quiet streets, along with a wealth of delicately gilded temples and monasteries. At sunset time, we recommend you climb the frangipani-lined steps leading to the hilltop pagoda of Wat Phu, from where the 360-degrees panorama is wonderful.
Sightseeing in and around the city.
Begin your tour of the city sights at the former Royal Palace – a graceful fusion of Lao and European styles housing a glittering throne room and exhibitions of heirlooms. Afterwards, relax in one of the many stylish cafés or restaurants occupying the old quarter’s colonial-era mansions. In the afternoon, take a trip into the countryside around Luang Prabang to experience the life of traditional rice farming families. Try your hand at planting, harvesting or threshing – depending on the time of year – and visit local handicraft workshops to see bamboo weavers, blacksmiths, and sugar cane processors in action.
Rise early to watch a thousand barefoot monks and novices, dressed in luminescent saffron robes, make a circuit of the peninsula to collect alms from the town’s householders. Afterwards, take a river trip to the Pak Ou Caves.
Hollowed from a limestone escarpment, the caves at Pak Ou were formed by erosion from the river but embellished over the centuries by local people with hundreds of gilded Buddhas – among the area’s most striking spectacles. The caves are usually accessed by boat.
Spend the afternoon relaxing by your hotel pool, or browsing the pretty souvenir boutiques back in Luang Prabang. In the evening, attend a recital by the Royal Ballet, whose dancers are dressed in vibrant brocaded silk, elaborate headdresses and masks, accompanied by live music from a traditional orchestra – a magical experience.
Spend the morning shopping and taking in a few last sights around town. In the afternoon transfer to the airport for your flight to Hanoi, in Vietnam, where you’ll stay for two nights.
On arrival in Hanoi, you’ll be escorted by your TransIndus guide and driver to your hotel. In the evening, unwind in one of the city’s traditional Vietnamese restaurants, or catch a performance of old-style puppetry, where performers stand waist-deep in water wielding elaborate fire-breathing dragons and other ornate figures to a soundtrack of exotic live music!
A full day’s sightseeing in and around Hanoi.
Vietnam’s charismatic capital, on the Red River, may be expanding at an extraordinary pace, but it’s a great city to explore on foot. Surrounded by parks and lakes, the core is a picturesque Old Quarter – one of the most atmospheric square kilometres in all of Asia – where traditional craftsmen ply their trade in narrow alleyways lined with antique tube- and shop-houses. Uptown, colonial mansions and relaxing cafés line the boulevards and leafy shores of Hoan Kiem Lake. Iconic landmarks include Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, the 11th century ‘One Pillar Pagoda’, and ‘Temple of Literature’, a feast of medieval Vietnamese architecture.
Halong Bay Cruise
Travel by road to Halong Bay and board a traditional junk boat for a one-night cruise.
Comprising 2,000 islands, islets, outcrops and towering mountains draped in vegetation, the karst limestone formations of Halong Bay create a unique landscape. In an overnight trip, it’s possible to take in both the more famous landmarks – such as Hang Dau Go (the ‘Cave of Marvels’) – as well as the more rarely visited eastern fringes, where many of the islands are edged by exquisite white-sand beaches. Whichever option you choose, superb landscape is guaranteed, along with opportunities to swim, lounge on deck, sunbathe or kayak and enjoy guided cycle or jungle treks on the larger islands.
Disembark from the boat in the morning, and drive to Hanoi airport for your onward flight to Hue, where you’ll spend two nights.
During the 143-year reign of the Nguyen dynasty (1802–1945), the last ruling family of Vietnam, Hue was an imperial capital famed for the splendour of its royal palaces and tombs. Much damage was inflicted on its monuments by the Indochina wars, but extensive restoration work has revived some of the town’s former glory. It’s a delightful place to wander, with plenty of traditional Vietnamese atmosphere despite the tower blocks which these days encircle the old citadel.
Visit the Imperial Enclosure and Nguyen Tombs today.
Hue’s north side is dominated by the Imperial City or Dai Noi (literally ‘Great Enclosure’) – a splendid fortress of interlocking courtyards encircled by high ramparts. At its heart lies the ‘Forbidden Purple City’ where the Emperor, his Queen and five ranks of concubines, servants and eunuchs resided amid fabulous pomp. No less architecturally impressive are the Nguyen’s ornate tombs, dotted over pretty farmland to the south of the town, best reached by bicycle.
Drive to Hoi An in the morning, via the coastal city Danang en route.
With the beautiful, pristine sands of ‘China Beach’ on the east-side, and a maze of local cafés, street food stalls and markets on the west, there’s plenty to occupy you for an afternoon in the rapidly growing seaside city of Danang. Before moving on, consider a trip up to ‘Marble Mountain’, a cluster of peaks bristling with ancient temples, pagodas and Buddhist statues. You can climb to the top via an endless flight of stone steps or take the elevator! Either way, the view will be stupendous.
In the evening, soak up the magical atmosphere of Hoi An's Old Town, with its hundreds of paper lanterns and lively bars. Housed in a stately colonial building, Brother’s Café has a particularly gorgeous candlelit garden.
Take a walking tour of Hoi An’s old town in the morning, and spend the afternoon at leisure, lazing in cafés and browsing local handicraft boutiques.
A thriving port before it was eclipsed by nearby Danang, Hoi An’s Old Quarter preserves a unique cultural legacy spanning more than three-hundred years of colonial trade. Wandering its grid of 17th century streets, you’ll pass some fine examples of old tube houses, Chinese pagodas, elaborately decorated community halls and shrines, and a wonderful Japanese covered bridge, as well as a restored French enclave. Savour the traditional Vietnamese atmosphere of the riverfront and market district, or shop for locally made art, crafts and silk, displayed in numerous boutiques around the backstreets. Hoi An’s traditional tea shops and restaurants are good places to sample local cau lau noodles and white-rose dumplings.
Ho Chi Minh City
Fly to Ho Chi Minh City, in the far south of Vietnam, for a two-night stay.
As ‘Saigon’, Ho Chi Minh City earned the epithet ‘Paris of the Orient’, and more than a hint of Gallic grandeur survives in the swanky Dong Khoi district (setting for Graham Greene’s novel, The Quiet American). In the evening, wander around the atmospheric Cholon quarter, whose markets are brimming with silk, spices and jade souvenirs, then head for one of the rooftop bars for a dizzying view over the metropolis – the Eon Heli Bar, on the 52nd floor of the city’s tallest building, Bitexco Financial Tower, is one of our favourite venues for a sundowner.
Ho Chi Minh City
Visit the Cu Chi Tunnels in the morning, and the sights of HMC in the afternoon.
During the Vietnamese War, Vietcong guerrillas evaded capture by digging an extensive tunnel networks, protected by hidden entrances. One of the largest of these secret underworlds survives at Cu Chi village, just north of HCMC, where you can explore a small section of a staggering 125 miles (200km) of cavities carved on various levels.
Back in Ho Chi Minh City itself, start your sightseeing at the former presidential palace, now known as ‘Reunification Hall’. The 1960s behemoth has been turned into an extraordinary museum where visitors can marvel at the decadent décor installed by the South Vietnamese régime. No less extravagant, though more traditionally Asian, is the resplendent Jade Emperor Pagoda, the loveliest of HCMC’s many Chinese-style temples.
Travel by road to the Mekong Delta and board a small boat to explore the region. Continue in the afternoon to Can Tho, where you’ll spend the night.
One of the most intensively farmed regions in Asia, the Mekong Delta is also one of the most ethnically diverse – a fact reflected in the rich architectural heritage of the larger towns, many of whose inhabitants live crammed into houseboats on the river, or in stilt houses perched above it. During your excursion you’ll get to experience Delta life at close quarters: field workers in conical straw hats hunched over fields of ripe rice paddy; boats piled high with cargoes of pink dragon fruit; children sluicing water over their buffaloes in the morning, as fishermen cast hand-nets from tiny canoes.
Visit Cai Rang floating market in the morning, then travel by road to Chau Doc for a one-night stay.
Local people from across the Delta travel to Cai Rang’s ‘floating market’, near Chau Doc, to buy and sell fresh produce. Farmers begin to gather shortly before dawn, advertising whatever they may have to sell that day by tying samples to tall bamboo poles (in the absence of space for stalls) and hoisting them into the air. Buyers chug or paddle around the wholesale vessels in smaller craft to compare prices, serviced by a flotilla of long-tail boats selling hot-noodles-and-crab-broth breakfasts, with steaming cups of coffee – all a compelling experience for the visitor.
Travel down the Mekong by motorboat to Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia, for a two-night stay. The river trip takes just half a day.
The river broadens as you leave Chau Doc and head north up the Mekong towards Cambodia. Border formalities are generally brisk and cordial, and the 4–5-hr journey itself comfortable, with pleasant views and cooling breezes off the water. You can sit on deck or in the cabin on reclining chairs.
After you’ve checked in to your hotel in Phnom Penh and had a spot of lunch, head across town to breezy Sisowatch Quay, a riverside promenade where trinket sellers and strollers mingle in the evenings. At the Foreign Correspondents Club, enjoy a sundowner while savouring the views over the confluence of the Tonlé Sap and Mekong.
Spend today sightseeing in the capital.
Begin your city tour with a visit to the splendid Royal Palace and adjacent Silver Pagoda, whose central shrine, lined with thousands of solid silver tiles and marble pillars, holds a Buddha made from an enormous emerald. Then admire the impressive collection of antiquities at the National Museum before visiting Boeung Keng Kang Market, where you can sample local delicacies such as pungent durian and dragon fruit.
In the afternoon, consider a visit to the Killing Fields memorial, on the outskirts of the city, where a stupa containing 8,895 human skulls commemorates the 20,000 people who were put to death here by the Khmer Rouge. Phnom Penh’s heart-rending Genocide Museum tells the full story.
Fly to Siem Reap, where you’ll spend a couple of nights. Visit the market in the afternoon, followed by an early supper and culture show.
Siem Reap may have been transformed by the tourism boom of the past decade or so, but a few pockets of authentic Cambodian atmosphere survive, notably the old fresh produce market, which is a delightful place for aimless wandering and crowd watching. When the stall holders pack up, head across the river and turn right for a traditional Khmer barbeque, washed down with chilled beer. For evening entertainment you have a choice between performances of Apsara dance, music and shadow puppetry or a visit to the colourful Angkor Night Market, which sells a wide range of locally made textiles, jewellery and handicrafts.
A full day’s sightseeing around Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom.
To make the most of the soft morning light, an early start is recommended when visiting Angkor Wat, the greatest of all the shrines created by the Khmers, and a vivid testament to the power, ambition and unbridled narcissism of the region’s ancient rulers. Colonnaded galleries of exquisite stone-carved apsaras (celestial dancers) enfold the corn-cob towers of the shrine, reflected to sublime effect in the lotus-dappled moat. No less emblematic of Angkor are the colossal smiling faces adorning the nearby Bayon, in the walled royal city of Angkor Thom, where you’ll also find the famous bas-relief panels depicting battles with the Cham – some of the finest stone carving to survive from the Khmer era.
Angkor Temples, Siem Reap, Bangkok
You’ll be at leisure today to explore more temples at your own pace, cram in a final shopping trip or simply lounge by the poolside ahead of your evening departure for Bangkok, where you’ll board an onward flight to the UK.
If you’ve still not had your fill of temples, we’d recommend a brief visit to Ta Prohm, a hauntingly beautiful shrine where the roots of giant banyans and strangler figs enfold much of the stonework. Further north, Banteay Srei is famous for its sculptures of voluptuous female deities standing in intricately framed niches around the base of the main sanctuary towers.
Anyone interested in traditional Cambodian arts and crafts should also squeeze in a visit to the workshops of the renowned Artisans Angkor company, which has spearheaded the revival of silk-making, stone and wood carving, lacquering and painting in the area.
Arrive back in the UK.
Tailor-made Tour 21 days from £5600 per person
✓ International flights from London
✓ 19 nights accommodation
✓ All internal transportation and transfers
✓ English-speaking guides
✓ Breakfast daily
✓ Entrance fees to sites and monuments listed in tour itinerary
Places and Experiences in this tour
Enfolded by low, wooded hills, Luang Prabang languishes amid a gauzy tranquillity on a peninsula in the Mekong. Long regarded as the country’s preeminent cultural and religious cap…
Rising in majestic fashion from the northern shore of Vietnam, the karst limestone formations of Halong Bay create a unique, spellbinding landscape. Around 2,000 islands, islets, o…
During the 143-year reign of the Nguyen dynasty (1802–1945), the last ruling family of Vietnam, Hue was an imperial capital famed for the piety of its monasteries and splendour of…
A thriving port before it was eclipsed by nearby Da Nang, Hoi An’s Old Quarter preserves a unique cultural legacy spanning more than three-hundred years of colonial trade. Wanderin…
Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City – or ‘HCMC’ as it’s more often referred to these days – epitomizes the contrasting facets of modern Vietnam. Vibrant, dynamic and evolving at a breathless pace, it…
Cu Chi Tunnels
During the Vietnam War, among the tactics used by Vietcong guerrillas to evade capture, was the digging of extensive tunnel networks, protected by hidden entrances. One of the larg…
The Mekong Delta
The Delta of the Mekong River begins a couple of hours’ drive south of Ho Chi Minh City, and extends west over 15,000 sq miles (39,000 sq km) to the Gulf of Thailand. Known as ‘Vie…
Although the Delta is primarily a rural region, it holds plenty of large, bustling towns too, and Can Tho is the liveliest of them. It’s also the most rewarding to explore, thanks…
The Cambodian capital doesn’t feel in quite so much of a rush to embrace the future as its counterparts elsewhere in Southeast Asia. High-rise buildings are beginning to spring up,…
A provincial market town until the tourism explosion of the post-Pol Pot era, Siem Reap is the gateway to Angkor. Over a million visitors pour through here each year and most stay…
The greatest of all the shrines created by the Khmers – in fact, the single largest religious building anywhere in the world – is Angkor Wat. Dedicated to Vishnu (the Hindu deity o…
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