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The Leader in Small Groups on the Road Less Traveled Never more than 10-16 travelers—guaranteed!

2016 Ancient Kingdoms: Thailand, Laos, Cambodia & Vietnam

19 Days from only $5295 including international airfare

Bangkok • Luang Prabang • Mekong River Cruise • Vientiane • Phnom Penh • Angkor Wat • Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Courtesy BBC.com Travel
My City: Ho Chi Minh City

Get a local’s perspective on Ho Chi Minh City, the "powerhouse" of Vietnam.

Trip Itinerary

Plot your course through the landscapes and people of four of Southeast Asia's most fascinating countries.

©2013 The New York Times
36 Hours in Bangkok

Dive into the vibrant culture of Bangkok by experiencing its nightlife, exploring its markets, and more.

Trip Extension: Undiscovered Thailand

Explore northern Thailand’s Buddhist culture and ride an elephant during this extension.

Trip Extension: Burma

Discover Burma's ancient temples, local markets, and Buddhist monasteries.

FROM
$5295
19 DAYS
$279/DAY
including international airfare
18 DAYS FROM $3795 Land Adventure Only
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CRITICAL AIR INFORMATION
The air routing for this trip is very demanding. Learn More »

 
 

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Itinerary Overview

Small Groups: Never more than 10-16 travelers—guaranteed!

Veer off Southeast Asia’s trodden paths to uncover the glory days of lost empires—and immerse yourself in the vibrant cultures that have emerged in their wakes. As you travel through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, you’ll encounter temples and shrines devoted to Buddhist, Hindu, and animist worship; romantic remnants of French Colonial architecture; and gilded palaces where royals still reside. Along the way, you’ll meet locals in their markets and schools, and learn about traditional crafts like silk-weaving and paper-making from artisans who have practiced their trades for generations. From the grandeur of Angkor Wat’s temples to the simplicity of life along the Mekong River, it’s an Asian adventure like none other.

Day-to-Day Itinerary

  • 7 nights from only $1895

    Burma, currently known as Myanmar, is a forest-clad country of mountain ranges and river systems, with an abundance of golden pagodas. After a period of isolation, it has again opened itself to visitors, while remaining one of the least Western-influenced countries in Southeast Asia. Travel to Burma to experience Asia as it once was.

    View Extension Itinerary
Bangkok Ho Chi Minh City Expand All
  • Fly overnight from the U.S. to Bangkok, losing one day en route as you cross the International Date Line over the Pacific.

  • You will be met by your O.A.T. Trip Leader and transferred to our hotel to begin our travel in Thailand. Here, you'll be joined by travelers who took our optional Burma & the Irrawaddy River pre-trip extension.

  • Discover the Old Kingdom of Siam on a tour of Bangkok

    After breakfast at our hotel, step into the Old Kingdom of Siam at the Grand Palace of Thailand, a sprawling compound of ceremonial halls, gilded spires, and ornate buildings. The ancient city's defining landmark since 1782, the palace became the centerpiece of a new Thai capital called Krung Thep ("City of Angels"), known outside of Thailand as Bangkok. It was King Mongkut (or Rama IV) who ruled from this palace, expanded trade with the West, and was romanticized in the musical The King and I. Amid the grandeur of the palace, a surprisingly simple sculpture captures the attention of most Thai visitors: the 26-inch Emerald Buddha in the temple of Wat Phra Kaew. Carved out of jade, the figurine is so beloved by the Thais that the king himself changes its robes for each hot, rainy, and cool season.

    After lunch at a local restaurant, we'll return to our hotel and take a brief orientation walk.

    This evening, we board a traditional wooden rice barge for a memorable Welcome Dinner. We'll cruise past the Temple of the Dawn and the Grand Palace, both of which are spectacular by moonlight.

  • Explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site Ayutthaya and Ancient Siam

    After breakfast, we visit the ancient city of Ayutthaya, located about 50 miles north of Bangkok. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was home to 33 kings from many different dynasties. The capital of Siam from 1353 to 1767, the city was once a place of such fabulous wealth that early travelers described its “2,000 spires clad in gold.” A coach ride brings us to Wat Yai Chai Mongkol (wat is Thai for temple), flanked by a row of saffron-draped Buddha statues. Although its stones were laid centuries ago in 1357, the site still functions as a meditation center today. We also explore the ruins at Wat Phra Sri Sanphet, a temple complex situated within the former Royal Palace grounds which served as a model for Bangkok's Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

    After lunch at a local restaurant, we'll then board a motorized long-tail boat—so named for its long, thin design—for an afternoon cruise, with a stop a Muslim village to learn about their lives. As we coast, we'll see villagers going about their daily routines at temples, schools, markets, and even churches and mosques near the river banks. We return to Bangkok by late-afternoon.

    We'll have dinner at a local restaurant this evening.

  • Enjoy a day in Bangkok for independent discoveries or join our optional Floating Market & Mangrove Adventure excursion, which begins in Ratchaburi at the colorful Damnoen Saduak floating market, where we enjoy a paddle-boat ride along the canal and a walking tour of the floating market. Then, we stop at a palm sugar workshop and coconut farm, followed by lunch at a local restaurant. After lunch, we journey by bus to Khlong Khon district of Samutsongkram province, where we board a fisherman's boat to explore the mangrove forest area, feed the wild monkeys, and visit a local fisherman’s home. We return to Bangkok by bus in the late afternoon.

    Dinner is on your own this evening.

  • After breakfast at our hotel, we depart for the airport for our flight to Luang Prabang, Laos. The ancient, royal capital of Laos, Luang Prabang is located on a peninsula between the Mekong and Khan rivers with green mountains all around. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this is one of the quaintest towns in Southeast Asia.

    Upon arrival in Luang Prabang, we'll take a short bus ride and since large coaches aren't allowed in the inner city, we'll then use tuk-tuks, the local mode of transport, and  enjoy an included lunch along the peaceful banks of the Khan River.  After lunch, we'll check into our hotel and have an orientation walk around the neighborhood. Set in spectacular scenery, Luang Prabang is famous for the more than 30 active temples and hundreds of architectural treasures that reside here. It will be like a journey into the distant past as we mingle with monks and local people heading to market and going about their daily business. Notice the many 19th-century French Colonial villas mixed in with the more traditional Lao-style homes. Next, we'll hop aboard local transport to visit the royal temple Wat Xieng Thong, the oldest in the city. Originally built of wood in 1560, it was reconstructed in brick and stucco following a fire in the late 19th century. Then we head to Phousi Hill, in the center of the old town. Here you may wish to climb the 328 steps and at the top, overlook most of Luang Prabang. You'll enjoy views of the Khan and Mekong rivers, and if the weather obliges, enjoy a colorful sunset. We'll continue on to a night market, and then we'll have dinner at a local restaurant.

  • We start our day in a local village, Baan Xang Kong, to learn about their paper traditions. From there, we'll embark on an excursion along one of the longest rivers in the world. The Mekong River, or “mother of all rivers,” supports some 90 million people who produce 54,000 square miles of rice every year. Also home to more species of giant fish than any other river, this majestic waterway is said to produce balls of light along its surface, which the locals attribute to the Phaya Naga, or Mekong Dragons. Our Mekong cruise takes us to a rural village known for producing a local rice "whiskey,” and to Pak Ou Cave, filled with thousands of Buddha icons.

    Three-wheeled tuk-tuks bring us back to Luang Prabang for some leisure time. In the evening, we'll gather for dinner at a local restaurant.

  • A Day in the Life

    Get a window into the lives of members of a Hmong community in their village.

    Today we rise very early to participate in an ancient Buddhist tradition: alms-giving to local monks. In the quiet of early morning (around 6am), we watch as hundreds of monks parade solemnly and single-file through the streets of Luang Prabang, collecting food offerings from the citizens who, in turn, receive prayers for their families and friends. Dressed in traditional Lao orange robes, the monks provide a sense of calm and solemnity to the inhabitants of the city each morning. We'll walk to a nearby temple with the monks and have a few minutes to ask them about their way of life before they sit down to their breakfast. Next, we'll visit a nearby market where we'll have typical Laotian breakfast foods for our own morning meal. We'll also purchase ingredients to bring to our Home-
    Hosted Lunch.

    Then we set out to experience A Day in the Life of a local village, where we'll get to meet young students at a local elementary school, supported in part by Grand Circle Foundation—part of the World Classroom initiative. We'll then walk to a nearby village of the Hmong hill tribe, an indigenous people of Laos' northern highlands. Here, we'll be welcomed inside the home of a local shaman. After a lively discussion with village leaders, we'll enjoy a Home-Hosted Lunch which we help to prepare. We return to Luang Prabang for some free time to explore, and dinner is on your own.

  • We spend our final morning in Luang Prabang exploring the Royal Palace Museum, which was built from 1904-1909 during the reign of King Sisavang Vong and served as his palace. Today it is a museum where you can see the royal throne and other artifacts. The building itself is a fine example of the French beaux-arts style and traditional Lao artwork. The ground floor of the museum is divided into several halls and rooms displaying gifts from other countries to the Lao kings and collections of swords and Buddha images.
    Then enjoy lunch on your own before we take a short flight to Vientiane, Laos' easy-going capital. Despite its growing population, the city still retains a small-town feel: Laundry dries in the sun on French-style balconies, and street vendors spread out their wares on blankets and banana leaves. When we arrive in the capital this afternoon, we'll take a brief orientation walk, perhaps witnessing group aerobics at King Anouvong Park. We'll experience life in Vientiane this evening as the guests of a local family for a Home-Hosted Dinner.

  • Discover Vientiane's temples and statues of Buddha

    We have breakfast at our hotel and then set out to explore some of the famous city landmarks of Vientiane. Pronounced “Vieng Chan,” the capital of Laos is a slow-paced, friendly city of some 600,000 people.

    The city was built around the twelfth century as an early center for commerce in the region. We start our explorations with a visit to the golden-domed Phra That Luang (Great Sacred Stupa), a national symbol of Laos built in the 16th century, and the imposing Patuxay Victory Gate Monument. We also visit the Haw Phra Kaew (House of the Emerald Buddha), which contains some of the best Buddhist sculptures in Laos. Nearby stands Wat Sisaket, the oldest monastery in Vientiane, which dates back to 1818. The temple contains a total of 6,840 Buddha statues in varying sizes and positions.

    We'll have lunch together at a local restaurant, and then you are free to spend the afternoon exploring Vientiane at your own pace. Dinner is on your own this evening.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    After breakfast at the hotel, we head to the airport for our flight to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. After lunch on our own, we'll visit the Royal Palace, home of the present King Norodom Sihamoni. The palace was opened in 1870 and now contains the Royal Residence, the Throne Hall, and the Silver Pagoda (Wat Preah Keo Morokat), which draws its name from the more than 5,000 silver tiles that cover its floor. We check in to our hotel afterwards. Later this evening, we'll have dinner at a local restaurant.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    After breakfast, we visit the Tuol Sleng Prison Museum and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek—both grim reminders of Cambodia's bloody past under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. It is almost inconceivable to confront the nature of true evil here in this gentle land, but the Buddhist memorial at Choeung Ek commemorates the 1.7 million victims of the 1975-79 Pol Pot genocide. This execution site is one of many throughout Cambodia. After lunch at a local restaurant and some time to relax, we'll witness a dance performance by some children at the Champey Academy of Arts, an organization that preserves Khmer culture. We'll then enjoy a ride in a remok (the Cambodian version of a tuk-tuk, a three-wheeled motor rickshaw). Please note: The Champey Academy of Arts is closed Sundays and public holidays. If our visit falls on one of these days, we will visit the academy on Day 11 instead; and our visit to the Royal Palace will take place on Day 12. Dinner is on your own this evening.

  • Discover a local floating market in Siem Reap

    This morning, we depart to the airport for our flight to Siem Reap. We'll arrive in Siem Reap in time for an included lunch at a local restaurant. In the afternoon, we'll take a boat ride and arrive at an agricultural village. Here, we'll take a ride in a water buffalo cart to learn more about the local way of life. Afterwards, we'll have some time to relax at our hotel before gathering for dinner at a local restaurant.

  • Discover one of the oldest and most preserved temple sites in Cambodia

    This morning, we'll visit the Angkor National Museum, where we will view its impressive collections relating to the history of Khmer civilization and the story behind the Angkor temples. Then we'll stroll through the Royal Independence Gardens and take an orientation walk in Siem Reap. In the afternoon, join our optional tour to visit Banteay Srei, one of the oldest and most beautifully preserved temple sites in Cambodia. Built in AD 967, Banteay Srei means “Citadel of Women,” and is recognized as a tribute to female beauty. This tour includes dinner and also offers a glimpse into the daily life of rural Cambodia, as we stop to visit basket weavers, a Khmer noodle maker, and the local fair of Angkor Pyungyu. Or enjoy free time to explore the charming shops and cafes of Siem Reap, with dinner on your own.

  • Explore Angkor Wat temples

    Today we'll venture into the heart of ancient Angkor, a holy city that took centuries to build and whose scale is still breathtaking today—it sprawls across an area of roughly 96 square miles. The Khmer Empire aristocrats who built the temples and monuments here between AD 800-1200 were motivated by their Hindu and Buddhist beliefs. We'll begin at Angkor Wat, a masterpiece of Khmer architecture. Angkor Wat is a large pyramid temple, built between 1113 and 1150, surrounded by a great moat 570 feet wide. Note the bas-relief carvings throughout the temple, and take a moment to stand in the courtyard of this temple whose towers represent Mount Meru, the
    center of all physical and spiritual universes and the home to many gods in Hindu and Buddhist mythologies. After we enjoy lunch at a local restaurant, we'll  return to the hotel to rest for a bit. In the afternoon, we pass through the South Gate of Angkor Thom, the
    capital city of Khmer rulers. We'll see the Bayon, and make brief stops at Baphuon and the Elephants Terrace, where amazing bas-reliefs depict the huge beasts almost life-sized. At the nearby Terrace of the Leper King, equally intricate wall carvings depict rank after rank of court attendants and mystical rulers. We conclude our explorations of Angkor's most notable features with a visit to Ta Prohm. Unlike Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm has been left the way it was found, covered by a dense jungle of trees and roots and allowing you to discover this archaeological treasure just as it was found by the French in the mid-1800s. Dinner is on your own this evening.

  • My City: Ho Chi Minh City

    Get a local’s perspective on Ho Chi Minh City, the "powerhouse" of Vietnam.

    After breakfast at the hotel, we head to the airport for our flight to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, the country's largest city.

    While many locals still call the city Saigon, the city was officially renamed Ho Chi Minh City in 1976. We embark on an included city tour this afternoon, passing the French Quarter and the Catholic Cathedral of Notre Dame. Dressed in beautiful stained glass, the church was completed in 1880 and is said to stand on the site of an old pagoda. We also see the architecture of the majestic Post Office, built during the same time period and featuring two enormous murals depicting maps of Vietnam as it was many decades ago. Later, we explore the landmark Ben Thanh Market, where local merchants peddle everything from carved wooden animals and coffee beans to delicately painted cookware.

    Dinner is at a local restaurant this evening.

  • See the Cu Chi Tunnels used in the Vietnam War

    After breakfast at our hotel, we visit the Cu Chi Tunnels—a 125-mile-long underground maze where thousands of fighters and villagers hid and fought during the Vietnam War, referred to by locals as the “American War.” The South Vietnamese Communists, or Viet Cong, built this vast network of tunnels in and around the district of Cu Chi and worked continually over 25 years to expand the multi-level network. The tunnels—which include mess halls, meeting rooms, an operating theater, a tiny cinema, small factories, and vast ammunition stores—allowed the Viet Cong to control large areas near Saigon. Today, the Cu Chi Tunnels provide invaluable insight into the war era.

    We return to Ho Chi Minh City in time for lunch at a traditional Vietnamese restaurant. Afterwards, we'll have a chance to explore the Vietnam History Museum, which holds excellent collections of ceramics, weaponry, and Cham sculpture.

    You can spend the balance of your day at leisure, or later this evening, you may wish to join our optional tour, which starts with a cyclo-rickshaw ride through the city, followed by a traditional puppet show and dinner at a local street kitchen.

  • After breakfast, we journey outside of Ho Chi Minh City to discover Vietnam's famous Mekong Delta. We'll drive to the picturesque province of Ben Tre, where we'll enjoy a brief walk through Ben Tre village—famous for its coconut plantations—and take a sampan ride along one of the town's scenic and peaceful canals. We'll also visit a coconut candy workshop to learn about making the sweet keo dua the region is known for, and cruise to nearby Phoenix Island, where we'll learn about the local belief started by Ong Dao Dua, known as the "Coconut Monk." Then, after lunch at a local restaurant, we'll drive back to Ho Chi Minh City, where we have some time at leisure before regrouping for a Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant this evening.

    • Meals included:

    We rise before daybreak for an early morning flight back to the U.S. Or, fly to Bangkok to begin our post-trip extension to Undiscovered Thailand: The River Kwai, Chiang Rai & Chiang Mai.

  • POST-TRIP EXTENSION:
    Undiscovered Thailand: The River Kwai, Chiang Rai & Chiang Mai

    8 nights from only $1295

    Discover the World War II legacy of the infamous Bridge on the River Kwai before exploring the lush, temple-strewn hills of northern Thailand, home to some of Southeast Asia’s most colorful and fascinating cultures. In Chiang Rai, we’ll set out into the mountains and meet local hill tribes that have called the forests home for generations. In canal-laced Chiang Mai, explore temples as old as the city itself and venture outside the city on unforgettable elephant and raft excursions.

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