Sa-wat dee! Welcome to Thailand. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm on Day 1. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where it will take place. Bangkok has so much going on if you've got time to explore. Why not hit the canals for riverboat trip to Chinatown? Visit the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha? Or indulge in some Thai massage?
Brace yourself for a long day of travel as you board a private bus to Siem Reap (approximately 10 hours, including border crossing and lunch). Say 'Laew phop gun' to Thailand as you exit at Aranyaprathet, and enter Cambodia at Poipet. Your tour leader will help you with border crossing procedures. You'll need some US currency for this, so ready those greenbacks. When you arrive in Siem Reap (150 km or so past the border), the markets are a great place to start practicing those haggling skills. Better yet, try some cheap and tasty street food. Get some rest and relaxation tonight before your Angkor visit tomorrow.
Time to visit the mighty Angkor complex with your guide. Get that camera ready, because it's going to be oh-so-pretty. Some of these temples are over a thousand years old, going back to the days when the Khmer Empire was top dog in South-East Asia. These beauties were known to represent the cosmic world and were set in perfect balance, symmetry and composition. Let your mind be blown as you roam around the complex with your leader. Don't even think about missing the sunset. The ruins are scattered over an area of some 160 square kilometres, but the main cluster of temples is close to Siem Reap, so you'll have plenty of time to get to grips with the larger-than-life Angkor Wat, the Bayon and the jungle-covered Ta Prohm. Notes: A 1-Day Angkor Pass is included on this tour. If you'd like to return to Angkor outside of your included visit, you can buy a longer pass. Just ask your leader.
Today is a free day for you to experience Siem Reap in your own way. If you're all templed out, but still feel like something pretty out-there, you can opt for a Angkor zip-line course, which will have you soaring like an eagle over the rainforest (and perhaps getting that ticker started again, if Angkor Wat made it stop).
Jump on a bus and head to Kompong Cham (approximately 5 hours). It's a public bus, which means you'll reaaally travel like a local. When you arrive, you might notice how chilled out this town is. It used to be an important trading hub in the area. Mingle with the locals and enjoy the change of pace. It's a slice of small-town Cambodia with plenty to see and do. You can explore the 11th-century Wat Nokor (also very chill, some might say 'tranquil'). You can hire a bike to explore the rural island of Koh Paen, linked to Kompong Cham by a fancy bamboo bridge (in the wet season you'll have to take a ferry over). The locals here make their living fishing and growing tobacco and sesame, so it's an awesome place to go for a closer look at some of Cambodia's cottage industries. A little further afield are the twin 'mountain temples' of Phnom Pros and Phnom Srei.
Catch a private bus to the capital city of Phnom Penh (approximately 3 hours). Cambodia's capital is set on a major junction of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers and boasts some mighty fine examples of French-inspired architecture. Top of the list of things to do: head out to the Choeung Ek Memorial, and the infamous Killing Fields where a stupa made of some 8,000 human skulls lies. Confronting but important to see, these sites are places to learn about the dark legacy of the Khmer Rouge. Visit the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda to learn about brighter parts of Cambodian history. You can also explore Wat Phnom, check out the National Museum, take a cyclo tour of the city's key sites, or hit the pretty art-deco Psar Thmei aka Central Market (it's pretty AND pretty art-deco). Tonight, tuck in at Friends restaurant – not only will you get a serious taste of delicious local food, you'll also support an organisation that helps vulnerable local children.
Travel by private bus into rural Cambodia (approximately 3 hours) to the region of Kampong Speu and the village of Chambok. This is the location of your homestay for tonight. Here is your chance can really immerse yourself in everyday life. Facilities may be basic, but this is your chance to BE in Cambodia with the PEOPLE. Not to mention feast on a traditional Khmer dinner, prepared by your lovely and very talented hosts. Notes: Accommodation is multi-share, with mattresses, bedding and moquito nets provided.
Take a private bus to Sihanoukville (approximately 4 hours). Named after the Cambodian royal family, Sihanoukville has loads of beaches and welcoming folk. It's probably stating the obvious that you'll want to take a dip here.
There are plenty of ace things to do here, like taking a boat bound for one of the nearby islands. If you do that, you can chillax among swaying palms trees and have nice barbeque lunch. Or, if the jungle is more your thing, make the trip out to the Ream National Park. It's 21 hectares of coastal mangrove forest, buzzing with exotic birds and animals.
Take a local bus back to Phnom Penh (approximately 4 hours). Tonight will be your last night in Cambodia before you move on to Vietnam. The perfect way to cap off your time here would be to take an optional traditional massage at the Seeing Hands Massage Centre. The visually impaired masseurs here are some of the best in town, and it's a great cause to support. Also, let's be honest, after that bumpy bus ride you could probably use a little limbering up.
Travel by local bus from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City (approximately 7 hours). You'll exit Cambodia at Bavet and enter Vietnam at Moc Bai. Your leader knows the drill, so they'll assist you with border crossing procedures. Arrive in Ho Chi Minh City and get your first taste of this fast-paced, fun city. You'll see it's a combo of all kinds of flavours, old and new, East and West. Get a French baguette, best taken with a cup o' joe (the coffee is excellent here). Don't miss Reunification Palace. And there are some really cool things to see at the War Remnants museum, like a helicopter and a fighter jet.
Today you may be required to move to a different hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, for the next section of your trip. Your leader will let you know if this is the case, and will help with the transfer to the next hotel. You have a free day to consider many optional activities.Some of the Urban Adventures available in Ho Chi Minh City include Mekong Discovery, Cyclos & Markets, Cu Chi Experience and Saigon Street Food by Night. Your leader can help you book on the tour of your choice. As this is a combination trip, your group leader and the composition of your group may change at this location. There will be a group meeting to discuss the next stage of your itinerary and you're welcome to attend, as this is a great chance to meet your new fellow travellers. Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is characterised by a vast array of sights and sounds, and is a fascinating blend of old and new, East and West. The huge number of people rushing about their daily lives in Vietnam's largest city gives it a dynamic atmosphere and the French influence is evident in the excellent baguettes and coffee on offer. Much of city life takes place on the busy streets lined with shops, stalls and vendors, who have their wares spread out on the footpath and sell everything from soup to sophisticated electronics. If you arrive early, this city has a vast array of sights and sounds to explore: ancient pagodas and cathedrals sit squarely up against the former Presidential Palace, historic Dong Khoi Street (the Rue Catinat from Graham Greene's novel, The Quiet American) and the bustling markets of Ben Thanh and Cholon (Chinatown).
Travel by bus to the Mekong Delta today (approx 3 hours). Explore Ben Tre, where coconut is everything and everywhere. Coconut candy anyone? The fertile delta is famous for its abundant harvests of tropical fruits and flowers as well as its waterways. Board a private boat and cruise along the maze of waterways to visit some local cottage industries. Then head to a guesthouse, our home for the night. Lunch and dinner are included today, so fill up on typical Vietnamese staples and enjoy some home cooking.
Wake to dawn on the Delta and enjoy a simple breakfast before getting back on the boat and then bus back to Ho Chi Minh City. You'll have a bit of free time here to squeeze in more sightseeing or street food. Shared hotel rooms will be available today between up to 6 members of the group, so you can prepare or repack if needed before your train journey. Late this afternoon transfer to the train station and board our first overnight train to Nha Trang (approx 11 hours). Settle in for the night and enjoy the experience of snoozing as you snake through the countryside, knowing you'll wake up in a new and exciting destination tomorrow morning.
Arrive in Nha Trang at approximately 5am and transfer to your hotel. As it's early we may not be able to check in right away, but there's always a cafe selling Vietnamese coffee nearby to perk us up. We will have shared use hotel rooms before regular check in. Nha Trang is one of Vietnam's most popular beach side cities. In recent years it has ended up on every Chinese and Russian tourist's bucket list, which means that you'll see plenty of other travellers around town. Still, Nha Trang's sandy palm-lined beach and island-dotted bay make an idyllic picture. Spend your days here soaking up the sun on the beach, exploring the local markets or checking out the ancient Cham Towers nearby. Make sure you try some of the excellent seafood restaurants - you are right by the sea after all! There are Urban Adventures available here too. Check them out here: https://www.urbanadventures.com/destination/Nha-Trang-tours. Your leader can help you to book.
Today is the day is all yours! Fit in some more time seaside or maybe check out the mud baths. There's also a palace near here known as the Bao Dai Villa. Board our next overnight train late in the evening, this time bound for Danang (approx. 8 hours).
Arrive in Danang around 7am and travel by private vehicle to Hoi An (approx 1 hr). Declared a World Heritage site, Hoi An is being beautifully restored and preserved. Today, parts of Hoi An look exactly as they did more than a century ago and it retains the feel of centuries past, making it the sort of place that grows on you the more you explore it. It's also a shopping mecca – with so much to browse and buy. Spend your hard earned pocket money on original paintings, handcrafted woodwork, ceramics, embroidery, lanterns and more. Hoi An has also become famous for its tailoring, with a great variety of fabrics and tailors to choose from. Bring your favourite piece of clothing or even just a picture, and you'll be able to have it copied. Sweet! It's not just shopping here though. Your leader will take you on a walk through the old town streets and cooking classes here are always a hit. Of course, there's Urban Adventures here too: https://www.urbanadventures.com/destination/Hoi-An-tours
This one of our favourite days of the trip! There's no better way to explore the peaceful countryside of Hoi An than by bike. Your leader will take you to places not every tourist gets the chance to see, past green rice paddies and small creeks and out into rural Vietnam. It's a leisurely cycle, no need to be a professional. In the afternoon you might like to head out to the My Son ruins, the most extensive legacy of the Cham dynasty in Vietnam or take a boat trip along the river.
Departing Hoi An by bus, we pass by My Khe Beach before crossing the dramatic Hai Van Pass to the picturesque fishing village of Lang Co. After a quick break here, continue on to Hue. Total travel time is usually 5 hours, including stops. As the former imperial capital of Vietnam, Hue holds the treasures of Vietnam's royal past and is a curious mix of bustling streets and tranquil settings. Your afternoon is free to explore. The Dong Ba market, which sells everything imaginable, is a great place to spend some time. Visit the Imperial Citadel, including the Forbidden Purple City. The latter was almost totally destroyed during the Vietnam War's Tet Offensive, but the foliage-covered ruins are still atmospheric and the gaping holes left by bombs give an idea of the destruction wreaked upon the country during the war as well as a glimpse of the distant past.
Today is another free day. Some favourites are dragon boating on the Perfume River or visiting Thien Mu Pagoda, considered by many to be the symbol of Hue. It's an active Buddhist monastery with its origins dating back to 1601. One of the most poignant displays inside is a car belonging to a former monk who, in 1963, drove to Saigon and set himself alight to protest against the treatment of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese regime.
Bus your way to Phong Nha today, around 4 hours journey. On the way there's the chance to check out the Hien Luong Bridge – it's smack bang on the 17th Parallel, so it separated the North from the South during the war. You can also choose to head underground at Vinh Moc, an expansive network of limestone tunnels that locals used as shelters from the bombing. Travel on and take the afternoon to explore your surroundings. You'll stay just outside town, and there are loads of optional activities to take advantage of. Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is an amazing landscape riddled with caves and underground rivers. Maybe take a boat through Phong Nha Cave, or check out one of the spectacular huge caverns such as the giant Paradise Cave.
Make the most of your time in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is the oldest karst (which basically means underground eroded limestone) mountain range in Asia. This bad boy is over 400 million years old so there's plenty to explore. Jump on one of the optional tours available or just take in this stunning scenery. Later today you'll head back to Dong Hoi and hop onto our final sleeper train, leaving around 8pm. You'll be pro at this now and know exactly what to do!
Arrive in Hanoi very early (like 5.30am early!) and transfer to your hotel. Shared use hotel rooms are available at your hotel this morning before check in. The capital of Vietnam is a charming city with a population of over six million. Hanoi is famous for its beautiful lakes, shaded boulevards, verdant public parks and its thriving Old Quarter, which is an architectural museum piece with blocks of ochre buildings retaining the air of a 1930s provincial French town. As Vietnam develops to compete with other South-East Asian countries, the beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake reflects the contrasts of modern office buildings, old Buddhist temples and the tangle of ancient streets in its still surface. Take a walking tour of the Old Quarter with your leader. You'll visit Dong Xuan market, the biggest wholesale market in northern Vietnam and stroll through some of the ancient '36 streets' where you can discover an amazing selection of shops selling everything from souvenirs to exquisite silk clothing. For your free time today, see the Ho Chi Minh Complex and Mausoleum to learn more about the revered man himself, stop in at one of the many excellent museums (we highly recommend the unique Womens Museum) or take in some more war history.
Travel by private minibus (approximately 4 hours) to the awesome World Heritage site of Halong Bay. This secluded harbour has something like 2,000 little limestone islands. And the water is one pretty green scene. It's one of Vietnam's most 'scenic' places, so get that camera ready. You'll jump on a boat and cruise the bay so you can take it all in. You'll explore some of the awesome caves in the area and fill up with both lunch and dinner onboard. What's on the menu? Seafood of course. Enjoy optional kayaking or swimming from Ti Top Beach in the warmer months. Once you settle into junk boat life you won't want to go anywhere – so spend the night rocking away on the waters of Halong Bay (with the waves and maybe a spot of karaoke).
Perhaps wake up early if you want to practice some Tai Chi on the deck. All that is left to do is enjoy another meal prepared by your crew as you cruise on in to port around midday. Take a bus back to Hanoi (approx. 3 hours) for some free time and a optional final group dinner.
The trip ends in the morning today. There are no activities planned for the final day and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time. For those staying on longer, there are Urban Adventures to keep you busy. Check them out here and ask your leader to book for you: https://www.urbanadventures.com/destination/hanoi-tours