This morning we take a short walk to the Chao Praya river where we board a long tail boat for a tour of the local canals. Bangkok was once known as the Venice of the East because of its intricate canal network. We get a glimpse of daily life as we pass locals selling their wares by the river. We will visit what to this day remains the home of the Thai Royal family at the Royal Palace complex followed by Wat Phra Kaew, home to the Emerald Buddha, one of Thailand's most venerated images. Another highlight is Wat Po, the largest temple in Bangkok, housing a 46m long, 15m high gold-plated reclining Buddha. We then head back to our hotel. This afternoon is free for personal exploration.
This morning we fly to Chiang Rai and then visit the Golden Triangle, an area so named after the fact that the opium that moved through was worth more than gold pound for pound. We stand at a view point overlooking Burma (Myanmar), the mighty Mekong and Laos. The area's chequered past is covered in the Opium Museum where we learn about the dark history of this beautiful and rich region of Northern Thailand, and we pause to visit the impressive red brick stupa of Wat Chedi Luang. We then transfer to the town of Chiang Khong (approx 2 hours) where we overnight.
An early morning transfer takes us to the Thai/Laos border where we pass through immigration formalities. We are met by our local Laos Tour Guide. A short boat ride across the river drops us at Laos Immigration, followed by a tuk tuk ride to the river port where we board our private slow boat for the journey to Pak Beng.
Boarding our private boat again, we head further down river with Luang Prabang as our final destination. En route we will visit the famous Tam Ting Caves, cut out of the limestone banks which line the river at Pak Ou. These caves are filled with thousands of Buddha images brought by the surrounding villagers as a sign of their devotion. If there is time we will also stop at a number of minority villages on the way but this will depend on the water level, which affects the speed of travel on the river. Mid to late afternoon we arrive in the enchanting town of Luang Prabang, nestled in a narrow valley cut by the Mekong and Khan Rivers. This beautiful town was designated a World Heritage site in 1995. The afternoon is free to explore the town and stroll amongst the ancient red roofed temples and French colonial architecture. There's also a number of interesting temples to visit including Wat Xieng Thong and Wat Wisunalat.
Day 7 - 8
After an early breakfast we will visit Phu Si Hill for stunning views over the city and the Mekong River below. The climb includes 329 steps and the path zigzags its way to the gilded stupa at the summit past various temples. After the climb we will visit The Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre. The rest of the day is free for individual sightseeing and the opportunity to sit back and relax in this pleasant town. On the second day of our visit we will head out to the Kwang Si Waterfall, where we have the chance to swim in the pools. Luang Prabang is also a centre for markets in the region and there are many opportunities for the souvenir hunter to gather a few special items. For those up at dawn there is chance to witness the daily parade of saffron-robed monks receiving alms.
An early morning departure from Luang Prabang as we drive to the township of Vang Vieng. Surrounded by lime karsts and set on the banks of the Nam Song (Song River), it is a beautiful location. The stunning drive will take approximately 6 hours to complete on roads that wind their way through the surrounding hills and limestone mountains jutting sharply above the flat river valleys. Watching the sun set on the banks of the Nam Song with a cold drink is ample reward for the journey.
This tourist-friendly town is set between limestone karst towers that pierce the countryside and rolling hills. In the morning we climb the 136 steps to the Tham Jang caves, used as a hideout by the local community during periods of war. The rest of the day is free to explore. Optional excursions and activities are easily arranged and there are plenty of opportunities for walks in the surrounding hills, day visits to the numerous caves that punctuate the limestone scenery, or for kayaking down the Song river or trekking to some of the surrounding caves. There are a number of Lao and minority tribe villages in the area, which can also be easily reached in a day trip. Bicycles can also be hired for those who wish to tour the beautiful countryside on two wheels. Alternatively just sit back, relax and soak up the beautiful view.
We leave Vang Vieng in the morning and descend from the hills to the capital Vientiane and our hotel located near the banks of the Mekong River- the name of the city translates as Sandalwood City. We take an afternoon sightseeing tour of this relaxed low-rise city including Wat Sisaket, and Haw Pha Kaew. The temples themselves are noticeably different in style and character from those found in Thailand and there are certainly fewer tourists! In the evening the perfect option is to retire for a refreshing beverage and watch the sunset over the Mekong River.
Today we fly from Vientiane to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. The afternoon is free for individual exploration or to relax in one of the many waterfront bars. A visit to the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) overlooking the Tonle Sap River and only a short walk from the hotel is recommended.
The town still retains a frontier atmosphere and today we have a full day of sightseeing in the capital city. The day will include the beautiful Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, so named for the solid silver tiles that make up the floor. Thankfully the complex escaped the worst excess of the Khmer Rouge rule. Similar in style and scale to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, the Royal Palace has significantly fewer visitors and there is plenty of time to wander among the traditional buildings. There is also time today to shop at either the impressive Central Market or the sprawling Russian Market, a souvenir hunter's paradise! We visit Tuol Sleng museum or S21 (Museum of Genocide), which graphically displays the horrors of the 4 years when Pol Pot systematically ordered the murder of between 2 and 3 million Cambodians. Tuol Sleng was originally a school but was used as a torture and interrogation centre between 1976 and 1979. It is a sobering and disturbing place to visit. Please be aware that the images at the museum are very graphic. We complete our day with a moving late afternoon visit to the 'killing fields' of Choeung Ek. A football-field-sized area surrounded by farmland, the killing fields contain mass graves for perhaps 20,000 Cambodians, many of whom were tortured before being killed.
Today it's a drive north from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap along National Road 6 past Skuon (where fried spiders are the local delicacy) and Kompong Thom.
Day 15 - 16
Rediscovered in the 1870s and famously described as being 'grander than anything of Greece or Rome' by the French explorer Henri Mouchot, this world heritage site stands alongside the Pyramids and Machu Picchu as one of the world's most spectacular archaeological sites. We have two days to explore the complex (the programme will be modified to suit the clients and the time of the year, if you want to spend more time at the temples you will have a three day pass and the guide can help you to find a tuk tuk or taxi to take you out again). We visit the incredible Angkor Wat, the many temples inside the Royal City of Angkor Thom, including the magnificent Bayon, which comprises of 54 intricately carved towers in one single temple. The Bayon certainly left an impression on an early traveller in 1925 who stated, 'we stand before it stunned. It is like nothing else in the land.' We will also see other less-visited outlying temples including Banteay Srei, a temple complex devoted to Brahma. Particularly impressive are Banteay Kdei and Ta Prohm, which is dramatically still covered in jungle. One evening we will make our way to the incredible temple complex of Angkor and watch the sunset over this magnificent scene.
We transfer in the morning for our flight to Bangkok, on arrival in Bangkok we are met and transferred to our hotel. The rest of the day is free at leisure, your tour leader will be more than happy to advise you on how best to use your time.
Free time; depart Bangkok.