Refers to those sites found in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, classified as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. A kaleidoscope of images, colors, exotic smells, of different peoples and languages that reflect the wealth of the human, the natural and the history of the Indochinese peninsula. From Luang Prabang, forever famous for its calmness and tranquility of life, to the millions of motorbikes and the frenetic activity of Vietnam, the new Asian tiger on the road to development, that is running towards modernization whilst at the same time preserving its historical and cultural heritage. Ending, of course, with a triumphant finale at the Angkor temples, gemstones in a display case full of wonders.
Arrive at Luang Prabang airport, welcomed by the guide and transfer to the hotel. Afternoon tour in the peninsula to explore the main temples. Wat Visounnarat , replica of the original temple built in 1519, the oldest in the city; Wat Aham, the first residence of the Buddhist patriarch in Laos; Wat May, former seat of the head of the Buddhist church in Laos; Wat Sene, built in 1718, the first temple in Luang Prabang in Thai style with a yellow and red roof; Wat Sop, a rare temple still visible in Xieng Khouang style; Wat Xieng Thong, one of the crown jewels, impressive at the entrance of the city among the sites classified as World Heritage by UNESCO, and private property of the royal family up to and until 1975. Sunset over the night market and the Mekong from the top of Phou Si hill.
Optional : at 19h go down to a downtown bar to attend an ethnic fashion show of 95 unique pieces of clothing worn by the ethnic groups of northern countries (additional surcharge ).
Visit the National Museum, in the former Royal Palace. The building itself is not very attractive, however the collection of donations to the crown is quite interesting. Then a boat trip on the Mekong River to the holy caves of Pak Ou, at the confluence of the Nam Ou and Mekong rivers. Stop in a village by the river to observe some local traditional activities, particularly the making of rice wine. For over three centuries, the faithful come to Pak Ou on pilgrimage and deposit statues of the Buddha, to offer thanks or for seeking a favor: there are now more than 4,000, of all shapes, sizes and materials, stored in the lower cave. The caves, quite shallow, are the heart of a spectacular setting in the middle of a cliff. It is reached by steps cut into the stone. The first was mainly of religious interest, the second higher up provides some beautiful limestone formations. Returning to Luang Prabang in the afternoon to visit a weaving village and an artisanal laboratory of silver objects.
Lunch in front of the caves.
Amarita Note: Boats for daily cruises are assigned automatically by the boatmen on the central reservation, according to an internal rotation system. Some may be in better condition than others, but it is not possible to intervene on the choice.
Visit to the morning market and the small museum of Traditional Arts and Ethnology (WAD), which displays objects of daily use, clothing and crafts of northern Laotian tribes. Time available for other optional tours, spa treatments or some last minute shopping. By late afternoon direct flight to Hanoi. Entry formalities, meeting with the guide and transfer to the hotel.
Optional : early call for those who wish to attend the offering to the monks that happens every morning at 5h30-6h00 in the streets of the city. Then back to the hotel for breakfast through the morning market. For Laotians it is a genuine religious ritual called tak bat and is imbued with sincere spirituality: therefore visitors are asked to respect the service, by keeping their distance from the monks (who parade without stopping) and from the faithful.
Optional : Puppet show on the water at the Municipal Theatre (50 minutes). A typical form of Vietnamese folk art, originating in the rice fields, to celebrate the end of the harvest. Recommended to pre book as the theatre is very often full.
Transfer by road (about 3 hours) to Halong port, boarding in the late morning for a 20 hour cruise in the bay, with meals and overnight stay on board. Lunch and dinner on board.
Amarita notes: provide only for the bare essential, preferably in a soft bag, because the ship cabins are not big enough to take large suitcases. Any unnecessary luggage can be left at the hotel concierge in Hanoi, and recovered before leaving for the next trip.
For the Cruise we offer 2 types of boats, with different styles: a traditional Vietnamese junk fitted with cabins (in groups or private for families or small groups) or a reproduction colonial style of boat originally built in 1910.
Landing in the late morning, direct transfer to the airport in Hanoi and Vietnam Airlines scheduled flight to Da Nang. Arrival and then immediately continuing on to Hoi An, (30 km, half an hour’s drive).
Brunch on board or lunch along the way.
Morning devoted to touring the old town of Hoi An, a World Heritage site classified by UNESCO. Founded in the fifteenth century under the name Faifo, it quickly became a major maritime centre in Southeast Asia, the center of the trade route between Europe, China and Japan. In the early seventeenth century, the Emperor allowed foreign merchants to settle there, who then built their own neighborhood and settled there comfortably. These districts, remaining virtually untouched for two centuries, constitutes the old town, a real view of living of a bygone era. No cars are allowed (but nothing stops, alas, motorcycles and mopeds), one goes through the streets on foot or by bike, stopping to visit some examples of typical buildings: first the History and Culture Museum, then a local Chinese congregation house, a temple, a house of worship, the French quarter, a Chinese merchant’s house and the Japanese pagoda bridge with its beautiful wood carvings.
In the afternoon transferal by road to Hue. Stopping at Da Nang to visit the Parmentier Museum dedicated to Cham Sculpture, and then to the summit of the Col des Nuages for a panoramic view over the bay and China Beach.
A trip a few km from Hue to discover a typical village in central Vietnam, with its market of fresh product from the countryside and the sea, some beautiful old houses and a hut where Ho Chi Minh lived at the time he was growing up. Back to town to visit Dong Ba market, the Imperial Citadel. Built on the model of the Forbidden City of Beijing, it was badly damaged during the wars of the last century. There still remains however some important parts, such as the South Gate, the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the dynastic temple, and some buildings in the Forbidden Purple City, the residence of the Emperor and his family. Lunch in a former mansion, built like the rest of the ancient capital, according to the geomantic principles of feng shui. Afternoon excursion to the mausoleum of Emperor Tu Duc. He was passionate about poetry, a contemplative spirit, and he built his tomb between 1864 and 1867 in a park of 12 hectares and containing within it a good fifty buildings. Return to Hue to visit Thien Mu Pagoda. Built in 1601, but two centuries later there was added the imposing octagonal tower that characterizes it today and where each of the seven floors depicts a separate incarnation of Buddha.
Lunch in a Garden House during the excursion.
Vietnam Airlines scheduled flight to Ho Chi Minh City. The visit immediately begins with the colonial city, still called Saigon. First stop is the Reunification Palace, a modern building built in the 60s in the place of the former residence of the governor general of Indochina; it was the seat of the presidency and the government of South Vietnam, and in its cellars you can still see the staff maps and the abandoned equipment left behind when Saigon was taken by the Viet Minh in 1975. Then the cathedral of Notre Dame, built with bricks from Marseille and the adjacent Central Post Office, whose design and construction were overseen by Gustave Eiffel. Finally two small temples, quite extraordinary in their way and surprising in the context of the city. The Jade Emperor Pagoda, where co-habit both Buddhist and Taoist pavilions and their cults, and the Sri Mariamman Temple, built by the small Tamil community in Ho Chi Minh City. In the evening a walk along Dong Khoi, once called Catinat Street, the heart of nightlife during colonial Saigon, not far from the main hotels, that is back in vogue today, thanks to its boutiques and luxury shops which sees a renewal of its tradition and past life.
Early start for the Mekong Delta. Crossing the Chinese district of Cholon, with a stop at Thien Hau Temple, Chinese goddess of the sea. Transfer by road to Cai Be, which can be reached in 2h30. Visit a rice paper factory (used in many culinary preparations), and sugar factories. Boarding on to a typical sampan, for a cruise through the floating market and the lateral waters that connect the two main branches of the river. Not as spectacular as the more detailed ones found on the western side of the delta, this wholesale market still remains the most important in the province. Continuing on through the canals, watching village life, and activities of the local people. In the afternoon, landing at Vinh Long, capital of the province, and then returning to Saigon by late afternoon. Direct transfer to the airport for the evening flight to Siem Reap and transfer to hotel.
Lunch in a colonial villa beside a canal.
In the morning an excursion to the group of temples called Roluos. Located 13 km southeast of the city, this resort boasts the oldest buildings, which form the cradle of classical Angkorian art. We visit the three main temples: Lo Lei, Preah Ko and Bakong, before approaching the site of the Golden Age. In the 1920s, archaeologists drew up two routes, the “small circuit” of 5 km and the “grand tour” of 23 km, which are still the best logical options to discover and to follow the changing of styles through successive periods in time. The first was of Hindu inspiration: it makes sense to stop to admire the beautiful reliefs carved in the brickwork of Prasat Kravan, built in the tenth century and recently restored, representing Vishnu and his wife Lakshmi, the goddess of beauty. The afternoon is devoted to Angkor Wat, the most famous and majestic temple-mountain site. The whole massive building is an allegorical representation of Hindu mythology, where the episodes are shown in the reliefs that surround the central body like a giant comic strip. But above all, Angkor Wat is unique in the impression of strength and energy that reflects from it: be it because of the location, environment or its decoration, this temple is a place apart, inhabited by an inexplicable presence that exudes an attraction, an almost palpable magnetism.
Amarita Note: our guides are committed to seek out at all times the best conditions for you to make the most of your visit. In this context, they sometimes may suggest to change the order and the schedule, especially depending on the number of people involved, the weather or the season.
Trip to Banteay Srei, also called the “Temple of Women” because legend relates that once upon a time there was an all-female garrison there. Banteay Srei is famous for its beautiful pink stones and the quality of its reliefs, considered by many senior specialists to be better than those of Angkor Wat. On the way back a stop at Banteay Samre, a small, attractive temple in the style of Angkor Wat. In the afternoon an optional tour to see traditional handicraft workshops: food spices, tea, coffee, perfume, soaps, incense, candles or high quality lacquered items. All made by using traditional methods, but today increasingly replaced in the tourist markets and shops by large-scale production copies.
Optional: several activities can be considered during your stay in Siem Reap, such as temple visits by tuk-tuk or bicycle (day or half day), walking amongst the rice paddies and villages or going by quad or horseback or an elephant ride around a temple, even a scenic helicopter flight around the temple complex, finally a sunrise view at Angkor Wat. Detailed information and prices on request.
Morning visit to Angkor Thom, “The Big City”, returning by the South Gate, via the driveway of Giants and Demons. Inside, the first building you see is the Bayon temple mountain in honor of Jayavarman VII, the great Buddhist king, builder of the new capital. Then Phimean Akas,from the tenth century and the Baphuon, majestic temple whose base measures 120 m by 100m, recently restored by the EFEO. From there we move on to the Elephant Terrace and the Leper King. This is most certainly the place where official court life took place, with ambassadorial receptions, sacred representations, State ceremonies. In the afternoon we move on to see the four temples of the Grand Circuit, as conceived by Henri Mouot during the re-discovery of Angkor in 1859. First Preah Khanh, one of the largest and majestic, with its tree-lined fairways which have probably been around for a millennia. Then Neak Pean, of Hindu inspiration, only sacred building surrounded by a moat, and the plan is taken from a mandala. Ta Som, Buddhist temple topped by towers covered in faces, now almost engulfed in vegetation as in the following case: Ta Prohm, certainly the most romantic, with the roots of gigantic kapok trees that entangle galleries and sculptures. Transfer to Siem Reap airport by late afternoon.
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A boat trip on the Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia.
Boarding 15 km south of Siem Reap, to visit a floating village inhabited by Khmer and Vietnamese families. Then crossing the lake, (1h15), to follow a canal that gouges into the aquatic forest now preserved by the national authority for the protection of fauna and flora. When the lake level is at its highest, only the tree tops can be seen: we can then plow through the forest by canoe, passing under the canopy of foliage. Continuing on to a village of original residents, now under the protection of UNESCO for ethnological reasons, whose houses are still built with old bamboo stilts, high above water level. Disembark and return to the city for shopping or direct transfer to Siem Reap airport, depending on departure time.
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Picnic lunch by boat or the village.