Cultural Safari in Southeast Asia

Duration: 12 days

Highlights: VIETNAM, CAMBODIA, LAOS, THAILAND
• Walk with a UNESCO consultant in Laos
• Gourmet dining and skyline views in Bangkok
• Taste Vietnam's diverse culinary traditions
• Witness timeless Khmer arts and culture

Description: Experience Southeast Asia's diverse cultures on this immersive 12-day journey that takes you from the iconic Old Quarter of Hanoi, Vietnam to the timeless landscapes of Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia and the serene riverside scenes of Luang Prabang, Laos and the bustling city streets of Bangkok, Thailand. Explore local life and hidden gems as well as sacred palaces, temples and off-beat local neighborhoods with in-depth insights from resident insiders and specialists.

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This tour is a recommended sample itinerary that can be fully customized to your preferred dates, time frame, hotels and interests. Contact your preferred travel agent for more information.

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Itinerary

Day 1 - Arrive Hanoi

Arrive in Hanoi, the cultural heart of Vietnam. A picture of French-colonial mansions, ornate traditional temples and rows of narrow houses, Hanoi is a vibrant, bustling city filled with small boutiques, Vietnamese coffee houses and lively street vendors built around an Old Quarter with scenic lakes and meandering streets. Explore the city at your own pace. Your guide accompanies you on the transfer from the airport to your hotel and is happy to help with suggestions and recommendations. You may wish to try one of Hanoi’s charming restaurants such as Madame Hien’s. Situated in a restored French-colonial Mansion, this casual restaurant serves refined Vietnamese specialties by Chef Didier Corlou.

Overnight: Hanoi

Meal Plan:

Day 2 - Hanoi

Uncover Hanoi's history and heritage with your private guide. Learn about the life and times of former President Ho Chi Minh, who played a key role in the nation's journey towards independence. Visit the mausoleum where his body is embalmed and see his humble stilted house, which was built in the style of an ethnic village home. Continue to the One Pillar Pagoda, an 11th century structure dedicated to King Ly Thai To's son. Later, discover small local shops and sidewalk cafes in a neighborhood build around a working railway track.

In the late afternoon, travel by local style cyclo (bicycle rickshaw) for a fun foodie adventure in the Old Quarter. The Old Quarter's meandering 15th-century streets are each named after the trade that was once conducted here, such as: Silk Street, Rice Street, Paper Street and Jeweler’s Street. Sample local street food specialties while exploring the area. Continue to “Food Street” where you can sample a variety of snacks and a glass of fresh bia hoi, (locally brewed beer). Continue to an area near Truc Bach Lake for more delicious treats, such as a Vietnamese beef wrap and roll.

Overnight: Hanoi

Meal Plan: B,D

Day 3 - Hanoi

Enjoy a day at leisure in Hanoi, exploring the city at your own pace and according to your own interests. Your guide is happy to assist with suggestions and recommendations. Alternatively, consider one of the following optional excursions (arranged upon request, supplementary fees apply).

OPTION 1: Ethnic Tribes and Traditions of Vietnam

Experience life in rural northern Vietnam with cooking and village cycling in the Ky Son community. Explore a picturesque garden estate with Vietnamese ethnic homes set in a garden of pomelo, mango, longan and frangipanis. Join your hosts in the kitchen and prepare Vietnamese spring rolls and a traditional dessert for lunch. A soothing hand massage and herbal foot bath are offered after lunch. Explore more of the scenic countryside by bike, passing traditional houses, fields and a local pagoda. Cycle to Duong Lam, a village with over 1,200 years of history and 400-year-old houses made of laterite and mud. Cycle through the quiet streets, passing the village gate, a water well and a communal house before returning to Hanoi. 

OPTION 2: Nature of Ninh Binh

Discover the beauty of Ninh Binh, a scenic province with towering limestone karsts and lush rice fields nestled about two and a half hours' drive from Hanoi. Take a wooden row boat along the meandering river to explore the caves of Tam Coc and visit Thai Vi temple, a sanctuary built in 1258 with exceptional stone carvings. Back on dry land, enjoy a local lunch before exploring more limestone cliffs and quaint villages by bike. Stop at a local coffee stall for scenic views of rice terraces. Alternatively, swap the bike for a private vehicle and visit a tenth-century temple or a historical mountaintop pagoda complex.

Overnight: Hanoi

Meal Plan: B

Day 4 - Hanoi - Siem Reap

Transfer to the airport for your flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia, where your journey continues in the ancient lost city of Angkor. A flourishing provincial town, Siem Reap is best known as the gateway to the treasures of Angkor, including the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Angkor Wat. This evening, upon request, reservations can be made at one of Siem Reap’s best restaurants. Consider dining at Embassy, a true Khmer fine dining venue that serves traditional Khmer cuisine with a twist. The menu features local ingredients from around Cambodia and changes every month to reflect the season.

Overnight: Siem Reap

Meal Plan: B

Day 5 - Siem Reap

Explore the ancient Angkorian landscape of sandstone temples and palaces. See the old royal reservoir of Srah Srang where kings and queens once bathed, marvel at the tree-covered Ta Prohm temple and discover a small, rarely-seen temple called Ta Nei. Continue to Ta Keo, a five-tiered pyramid structure known as the “mountain with bronze peaks”. Later, travel by air-conditioned vehicle to Angkor Thom, an old walled city which was the last and most enduring center of the Khmer empire. Enter through the Victory Gate and continue by road or walk along the old laterite wall. See the statue at Vihear Prampeilveng and pass by the Terrace of the Leper King. Stroll through shaded parkland from the royal Preah Palilay to Phimeanakas temple and admire the grand Baphuon temple before arriving at the Bayon, a dominating structure in the center of the city. End the day with a cocktail or two on the moat of Angkor Thom while enjoying a leisurely boat ride at sunset.

A car and guide remain at your disposal should you wish to explore the city in the evening. This is an opportunity for you to experience the night market or visit a local bar to experience the life of the city, with any incidentals at your own expense.

Overnight: Siem Reap

Meal Plan: B

Day 6 - Siem Reap

Pass through rustic villages, rice paddies and old, dried-up reservoirs on the way to Banteay Srei. Built in the tenth century, this beautiful pink sandstone temple remains remarkably intact and is notable for its intricate carvings. En route, meet a rural family and discover how their life has changed as a result of Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy’s (AKP) Cambodia Clean Water Project - a non-profit initiative that has provided over 20,000 villagers with access to clean water, a scarce resource in this developing nation. Explore the temple of Banteay Samre, which was built in a similar style to Angkor Wat. 

In the evening, embark on an exciting Siem Reap foodie adventure by night. Your local guides take you to their favorite after-dark hotspots and reveal hidden gems that only insiders know about. Immerse in the hustle and bustle as you zip around town by Vespa, exploring the flavors of Cambodia, from sweet to bitter in a fun and exhilarating way. Try exotic fruits, fried creepy crawlies, grilled meats and other treats and wash it all down with local beer, rice wine and soft drinks.

Overnight: Siem Reap

Meal Plan: B,D

Day 7 - Siem Reap - Luang Prabang

Start before dawn today to witness the spectacular sunrise over the iconic lotus towers of Angkor Wat. Watch the sky slowly transition from dark to light, marking the birth of a new day. Then bask in the early morning atmosphere and experience the splendor of Angkor Wat in all its glory. The rest of the day is free at leisure and, depending on your flight departure time, you may wish to take this opportunity to explore more of Siem Reap's arts and culture. Your guide can assist with arrangements to visit local craft workshops or designer boutiques around town. You can also spend time wandering the Old Market, a great place to pick up souvenirs, jewelry or textiles or sample some of the street food. Transfer to the airport where you are assisted with Fast Track service on departure. 

Fly to Luang Prabang, Laos and enjoy Fast Track assistance on arrival. Surrounded by lush forested mountains, meandering rivers and an uplifting spiritual vibe, Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage filled with traditional temples and French-Indochinese architecture. The city is built around a sacred hill, Mount Phousi, and was once the capital of the old Lan Xang kingdom.

Overnight: Luang Prabang

Meal Plan: B

Day 8 - Luang Prabang

Start early to experience the cultural wonders of Luang Prabang. Head out before dawn to participate in tak bat, a silent ceremony offering food to local monks who walk in meditation with their alms bowls. Then visit a local market before returning to your hotel for breakfast. Later, visit the Royal Palace Museum and gain more historical insights on a walk through the town with former UNESCO consultant and city insider, Francis Engelmann. Explore streets lined with old teak houses, temples and Indochine buildings and visit Wat Xiengthong, a classical temple with glittering mosaics.

In the evening, your guide can help to arrange a fine dining experience upon request. Consider Manda de Laos, where traditional Lao family recipes are served in a beautiful open-air setting overlooking UNESCO heritage-listed lotus ponds. The multi-course tasting menu features home-style specialties from various parts of Laos as well as a selection of cocktails.

Overnight: Luang Prabang

Meal Plan: B

Day 9 - Luang Prabang

Venture into the remote jungles of northern Laos to discover Mandalao, a rare sanctuary that offers sustainable and ethical experiences with elephants. Meet one of the directors of the project to learn about their commitment to conservation, education and animal welfare. Cross the Nam Khan river to feed fresh fruits to the resident pachyderms, watch them bathe in the river and walk side by side with them through rice fields and meandering creeks. Enjoy lunch overlooking the river before returning to Luang Prabang. Later, experience a traditional baci ceremony, a blessing of good luck, performed by a Lao royal arts specialist. Explore his family's former royal residence and discover a private collection of handmade textiles, art and ceremonial items.

A car and driver remain at your disposal in the evening should you wish to visit the night market or explore the life of the town in the evening.

Overnight: Luang Prabang

Meal Plan: B,L

Day 10 - Luang Prabang - Bangkok

Fly to Bangkok, Thailand, where you are greeted with Fast Track service on arrival. The vibrant capital of Thailand, Bangkok is bustling with an eclectic mix of ornate temples and towering skyscrapers. Both traditional and contemporary, the city is a hive of colorful food and flower markets, buzzing off-beat streets and intriguing waterways complemented by a dynamic dining scene with some of Asia’s top restaurants as well as Michelin-worthy street food all just waiting to be explored. 

Experience Bangkok’s buzzing nightlife with One Night in Bangkok, complete with well-crafted cocktails, city skyline views and a gastronomic Thai meal! The evening includes sundowners at one of the city’s tallest buildings and a glass platform viewing experience followed by dinner of authentic Thai cuisine at a Michelin star restaurant.

Overnight: Bangkok

Meal Plan: B,D

Day 11 - Bangkok

Discover the richness of Thai art, architecture, history and culture on a journey through Bangkok’s awe-inspiring palace and temples. Visit the Grand Palace and the sacred Emerald Buddha complex. Admire the Queen Mother’s exquisite fashion at the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles and enjoy a short tuk tuk ride to the 200-year-old Wat Pho temple, home to a large reclining Buddha covered in gold leaf. Later, witness life on the city's meandering waterways with a leisurely boat ride along rivers and klongs (canals). Visit Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn) and visit the Royal Barge Museum, a collection of ceremonial barges used for official ceremonies and celebrations.

Overnight: Bangkok

Meal Plan: B

Day 12 - Bangkok

Experience the city's dynamic food scene. Sample fresh fruits and local snacks at a busy morning market. Then explore a wholesale market in the backstreets of Chinatown which sells everything from Thai fabrics to stationary. Cross the road into Little India for a change of vibe with the fragrant smell of exotic spices, flamboyant textiles and an array of hand-crafted goods. Continue to the city’s largest flower market, stopping at a quaint little café before wandering through the lively maze of stalls selling every color and variety of flowers imaginable, including rare orchids, sweet-smelling jasmine and bright yellow marigolds which are often used to make offerings at Buddhist temples. 

Transfer to the airport and enjoy Fast Track service ahead of your departure flight. 

Overnight:

Meal Plan: B

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