Indochina Treasures (15n/16d)

Wat Sisasket

Wat Sisasket

Day 1.    Arrival – Luang Prabang
Upon arrival at the airport, you will be met and transferred to your hotel. Luang Prabang is perhaps the best-preserved traditional city in South East Asia. The tranquility and charm of this town with its splendid natural scenery and cultural sights make it one of the most delightful places to visit in Laos. After a short rest, we visit the impressive stupa of Wat Visoun and the shrine of Wat Aham, Wat Mai. We then climb up to the top of Mount Phousi for an enjoyable exploration of the sacred, gilded stupa as well as a beautiful sunset view of the city and the Mekong River. From there, we explore the Night Market, where you can find a lovely selection of handmade textiles made by the local and hilltribe people surrounding Luang Prabang. Overnight in Luang Prabang (B)

Day 2.    Luang Prabang – Pakou – Luang Prabang
After breakfast, we enjoy a short-guided tour seeing the city’s oldest temple Wat Sene and the magnificent Wat Xiengthong with its roofs sweeping low to the ground, representing classical Laotian architecture. We then board a cruise upstream on the Mekong River, which gives us a panoramic view of the tranquil countryside as well as an interesting visit to the mysterious Pak Ou Caves, two linked caves crammed with thousands of gold lacquered Buddha statues of various shapes and sizes left by pilgrims. En route, we stop at the village of Ban Xanghai, where the local specialty of rice wine is produced. Once back in Luang Prabang city we take a short drive to Ban Phanom, a village well known for its hand weaving. We also have time to visit Ban Xangkhong, Ban Xienglek, small villages well known for silk weavings and for Saa (jute) Papermaking Overnight in Luang Prabang (B)

Day 3.    Luang Prabang – Khouangsi Waterfalls
An optional early start gives you the fantastic opportunity to participate in the daily morning rituals of saffron-clad monks collecting offerings of Alms (ubiquitous sticky rice) from the faithful residents. This tradition is very unique in Laos, being the only Buddhist nation still preserving the procession. From there you will visit the morning Phosi Market where you will see such diverse offerings as dried buffalo skin, local tea and saltpeter among the chickens, vegetables and hill-tribe weavings. Laos is also known for its traditional handicrafts, and today you will visit local village of Lao ethnic minority groups at Ban Ouay and Ban Thapene. Time permitting you may also wish to drive to the beautiful Khouangsi Waterfall where you can splash around in the turquoise pools or walk along the forest paths. We return to Luang Prabang by late afternoon and continue to Ban Phanom, a well-known weaving village, and then return to the city by late evening to observe the sunset at Wat Siphouthabath. Overnight in Luang Prabang (B)

Day 4.    Luang Prabang – Vientiane
After breakfast we visit The National Museum (closed Tuesdays) at the former Royal Palace, which displays a lovely collection of the artefacts reflecting the richness of Lao culture dating from the days of the early kings right through to the last sovereign. The Central Market is also not to be missed, and today you will have some free time for your own exploration of the town and for shopping prior to bidding farewell to this ancient city and taking our afternoon flight back to Vientiane. After transferring to the hotel, we may have time for a short orientation walk of Vientiane, strolling around some of the colonial sights that make this a dream-like city. Overnight in Vientiane (B)

Day 5.    Vientiane – City Tour
AM: After breakfast, we continue to explore Vientiane capital by visiting the major sights of the capital, including the oldest temple Wat Sisaket with thousands of miniature Buddha statues and the former royal temple of Wat Prakeo, which previously housed the famous Emerald Buddha Image. Enroute to Lao’s national precious heritage, the famous and sacred structure of That Luang Stupa, you will have the opportunity to take some pictures of the imposing Patuxay Monument, which is well known as Vientiane’s own Arc de Triumph. PM: We continue visiting the rest of Vientiane by foot, including Wat Ong Tue, Wat Inpeng and Wat Haisok. We pass by the major shopping area continuing to the Vientiane Central Market of Talad Sao and Talad Kouadin where various goods are displayed for sale, including fresh food, household goods, souvenirs, textiles, gold, silver and antiques. We return to the Mekong Riverside in the late afternoon to observe the sunset. Overnight in Vientiane (B)

Day 6.    Vientiane – Pakse – Khong Island
After breakfast, we take an early flight to Pakse. On arrival, we drive on the National Road No. 13 heading south to Champassak to visit the ruins of Wat Phu, the pre-Angkorian temple, one of South East Asia’s most dramatically situated temples. We have time to explore these intriguing Khmer ruins, which are perched at the base of Mount Phu Kao. Wat Phu is one of the Lao World Heritage sites recognised by UNESCO in 2001, this wonderful archeological site of Khmer civilisation dates back to the 10th century, predating the famous Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Here we also have a chance to visit some nearby Khmer temples and Buddhist shrines. After lunch we head towards peaceful Khong Island, the largest in the magical 4000 islands region.  Overnight in Khong Island (B)

Day 7.    Khong Island – Tadlo – Pakse
Upon leaving Done Khone Island, we continue our journey towards Tad Lo, through Boloven plateau. The Boloven Plateau is known for its cooler temperature being located high above the Mekong Valley. Rivers run off this high plateau in all directions and then plunge out to lush forests along in a series of spectacular surging waterfalls. A trip to the plateau provides a refreshing break from the heat and allows you to observe the cultivation of rich coffee, tea, cardamom, bananas, and other crops that can be seen en route.  This trip gives visitors the chance to venture off the beaten track and to discover some of the lesser-known areas of Laos, exploring the wild beauty of this southern region. Upon arrival at Tad Lo waterfall, we visit the villages of Alak, Nge, and Katu, populated by ethnic minority groups. We return to Pakse by late evening. Overnight in Pakse (B)

Day 8.    Pakse – Siem Reap
After breakfast there will be free time for your own exploration of Pakse Town before transferring to the airport for your flight to Siem Reap. A former French Colony until independence in 1953, The Kingdom of Cambodia has emerged from decades of war and isolation to become a captivating destination for exploration. Cambodia boasts many famous places to see including the Angkor monuments, architectural masterpieces, astonishing heritage, sandy beaches and amazing landscape. Even after its tragic history, Cambodia still retains a gentle pace of life, unspoiled by commercialisation and over-development; you can really feel the incredible warmth and generosity of the people.
On arrival at Siem Reap International Airport, you will be met and transferred to your hotel. The town of Siem Reap is our base for visiting the world famous temples of the ancient city Angkor, which was the capital of the powerful Khmer Empire from 802 AD to 1350 AD. After checking into your hotel, we drive to the archeological area to visit the Roluos Group of temples, including Lo Lei, Preah Ko, Bakong. These temples represent the remains of Hariharalaya, the first capital of the Khmer empire. Overnight in Siem Reap.

Day 9: Siem Reap – Exploration
Today, we continue exploring the wondrous Angkorian ruins by visiting the south gate of Angkor Thom, which is famous for its series of colossal, human faces carved in stone. We also visit the impressive centerpiece of the city, The Bayon Temple, which emerges from the jungle as an incredible forest of heads. We also visit the Royal Enclosure, Phimeanakas, Elephant Terrace, and Terrace of the Leper King and the famous Wonder of the World, Angkor Wat. Built in the early years of the 12th century by Suryavaram II honouring the Hindu gods Vishnu and Shiva, Angkor Wat, is one of the most breathtaking architectural masterpieces and the largest religious monument in the world. A spectacular view over these sandstone monuments at sunset is a perfect way to finish the day. Overnight in Siem Reap. (B)

Day 10: Siem Reap – Exploration
The temple of Ta Prohm, one of Angkor’s most atmospheric and popular temples due to its jungle surroundings has enormous fig trees and gigantic creepers embracing themselves in the stone foundations of the temple structure, giving the impression of man’s creation being reclaimed by the powerful forces of nature. This temple is an incredible sight; Ta Prohm was used as a location in the film Tomb Raider and unlike most of the other Angkor temples has been left in much the same condition in which it was found. We explore this masterpiece as well as its surrounding temples of Banteay Kdei, Sra Srong, TA Keo, Thommanon, Chau Say Tevado. The grand circuit including Preah Khan, the Kravan, Neak Pean, Krol Ko, TA Som, East Mebon and Pre Rup Temples are also visited this afternoon before walking up to Phnom Bakheng Hill to enjoy the sunset. This hill sits high above the surrounding landscape providing a breathtaking, glowing sunset view of Angkor Wat. Overnight in Siem Reap (B)

Day 11: Siem Reap – Exploration
We head out of the town, visiting some outlying sights including the Preah Dark village, the intricately carved and well preserved temple of Banteay Srei, the River of 1000 Lingas, locally named Kbal Spean and the Banteay Samre Temple, with its impressive relieves depicting scenes of Vishunu as well as Krishna legends. The rest of the day is free for your own exploration of the town and strolling around the shopping area. Overnight in Siem Reap (B)

Day 12: Siem Reap – Phnom Penh
An early morning start to navigate by hydrofoil on the Tonle Sap River to Phnom Penh (from January to June, it is difficult to cruise by boat due to the water which is very low in Tonlé Sap Lake). The Tonle Sap is a combined lake and river system; it is also the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia. The cruise is long, however the changing picturesque scenery along the way makes this an interesting journey. The capital city of Phnom Penh was once considered the loveliest city in Indochina. Despite its recent turbulent history, it still maintains a considerable charm. A half-day city tour acquaints us with some major sights of Phnom Penh. The private quarters of the Royal Palace are now home to the royal family and are therefore very close to the public. At the northern area of the palace grounds is Silver Pagoda, which is the most sacred temple in the country. We visit both structures as well as the National Museum (closed Tuesdays), with an excellent collection of artefacts illustrating the splendour of Khmer history. Overnight in Phnom Penh (B)

Day 13: Phnom Penh
Your sightseeing tour of Phnom Penh begins with a visit to the Royal University of Fine Arts where the young Cambodians learn the ancient arts of their ancestors. The most interesting part of this structure is the Dance Academy. Here, many young children practice the graceful movements of the beautiful national dances. We then continue to one of the city’s lively open markets, Psar Toul Tom Pong, also known as the “Russian Market” where anything and everything is for sale. The Tuol Sleng Museum, a former school that was transformed by the Khmer Rouge into a torture and detention center for over 17,000 prisoners also known as Security Prison 21, or S-21 and the notorious ‘Killing Fields’ of Choeung Ek are of interest to many people and are not to be missed. A visit to these sites will provide you with a reminder of this country’s tragic history and for a deep and graphic insight into the painful bloody rule of the Khmer Rouge. Overnight in Phnom Penh (B)

Day 14: Phnom Penh – Sihanoukville
Today, we travel by road to charming beach resort of Sihanoukville, which boasts Cambodia’s most important seaport. Although tourism has increased over the years, Sihanoukville remains unspoiled offering some of the most beautiful, white sandy beach spots in South East Asia. After checking into hotel, we take a short-guided tour to catch a glimpse of the city and spend the remainder of the day lazing around on a beach absorbing the slow paced atmosphere or swimming in the clear, turquoise sea. Overnight in Sihanoukville (B)

Day 15: Sihanoukville – Phnom Penh
This morning is free for you to unwind on the beach. You will have the option of visiting the Ream National Park with its mangrove forest and ecosystem before driving back to Phnom Penh. Along the way, we can make a few rest stops to admire the scenic countryside. On arrival back in Phnom Pehn, enjoying your last dinner in a riverside café is a perfect end to your trip. Overnight in Phnom Penh (B)

Day 16: Phnom Penh – Departure
There is free time for your own exploration and for shopping before your transfer to Pochentong Airport for departure. (B)

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