1 Start Saigon
Arrive in the heat, hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City. Still commonly known as Saigon, it is an exciting and absorbing city where scooters pack the streets and temples stand defiantly alongside modern developments. Devastated by the Vietnam War, it is now a bustling free market city where anything goes. Our hotel is in the heart of this incredible city. A welcome group meeting will be held later this afternoon with you leader followed by an optional group dinner after the meeting. Stay: Huong Sen Hotel or similar.
2 Visit Cu Chi Tunnels used by Viet Cong during the war; free afternoon; markets within walking distance of the hotel
Depart early to beat the traffic as we head out to visit the Cu Chi tunnels, located 2 hours outside of the city. Used by the Viet Cong during the war the network covers 3 levels and approximately 240km of tunnels. Exploring Cu Chi gives us an indication of the tenacity of the Vietnamese people and the conditions that both Vietnamese and American troops had to endure. Originally the tunnels were very narrow but some areas have been widened to allow visitors to explore the system. We are able to crawl through the tunnels and are introduced to life below ground as we visit make-shift kitchens, bedrooms and even an underground hospital. Claustrophobes may prefer to stay outside in the sunshine! The afternoon is free for exploration and there are a number of interesting things to do and see - the Saigon River, Ben Thanh Market, Reunification Palace and Notre Dame Cathedral are all within easy walking distance. There is also time to visit the War Remnants Museum with an interesting (if a little gruesome) photographic record of the Vietnam/American War. Stay: Huong Sen Hotel or similar.
3 Transfer to the Mekong Delta; pass through fruit orchards en route to overnight homestay on island
This morning we leave the busy city for the rice bowl of Vietnam – the Mekong Delta. We'll be struck by the fertility of the land and how every piece of land is used for producing food - fruit, vegetables, rice, fish farms, duck farms - there is cottage industry everywhere all fuelled by the amazing network of waterways. We visit the interesting Cai Be floating market and see some of the local industry taking place. Recently, Cai Be floating market is becoming less crowded and smaller as fruit trading is mostly now done by trucks due to the bridge being built. However, this is still a great opportunity to see a local market and the trade being conducted traditionally on a smaller scale. A short boat ride takes us from Vinh Long to our island homestay. The evening is tranquil as we have dinner at the homestay and enjoy some 'Delta' hospitality. We spend the night sleeping at a simple guesthouse built in the style of a local house. Bedding, a mosquito net and a small towel are provided. We will have the chance to try some local dishes cooked by our hosts for the night. Stay: Mekong Guest House Homestay or similar.
4 Journey to Chau Doc in the foothills of Sam Mountain
After breakfast at the homestay we transfer by boat back to Vinh Long then to Cai Rang floating market, one of the biggest in the delta; the colour and fragrance of the market is sure to be remembered! We then continue on to Chau Doc; close to Cambodia, it is an important trading town due to its border position. The town is in the foothills of the picturesque Sam Mountain. An optional trip to the mountain provides wonderful views of the Mekong Delta and Cambodia. Stay: Chau Pho Hotel or similar.
5 Cross border into Cambodia; overnight sleepy seaside town of Kep
After breakfast we leave Chau Doc for the Xa Xia / Ha Tien border where we see a change of pace as we cross into rural Cambodia. We travel along coastal roads lined with coconut palms until we arrive in the quiet seaside town of Kep in the early afternoon. (Approx. transfer time excluding immigration process is around 3- 3.5 hours.) Kep was a resort town for Cambodia's elite until the 1960s. The town still bears the scars of civil war with the ghost-like remains of old villas. A steep climb up Kep Mountain into the National Park provides a great location for watching the sunset. After some time to relax you might like to enjoy fresh seafood at the local crab market. Sit down on a mat at one of the sea-front shacks and take your pick of the day's catch. Stay: Kep Bay Hotel & Resort or similar.
6 Full day boat trip to tropical Koh Tonsai Island or relax on Kep beach
Today we jump on a local boat for the short trip to Koh Tonsai (Rabbit Island). Palm tree fringed with a small beach this is the perfect place to enjoy swimming in the warm water or relax on the sand. If the weather is not suitable for the boat trip we will venture out into the countryside surrounding Kep to see local rice fields, pepper plantations and the famous Phnom Chhnork caves. Alternatively, you may wish to spend the day relaxing on Kep beach. Stay: Kep Bay Hotel & Resort or similar.
7 Head to Phnom Penh; cyclo (rickshaw) tour of capital city; dinner at local restaurant
This morning, if we didn't do it yesterday, we will journey to the countryside surrounding Kep to see rural Cambodia. In the afternoon we travel from our seaside home to the Capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. To get our bearings in this interesting city on the confluence of the Mekong, Tonle Sap and Tonle Bassac Rivers we take a sunset cyclo (bicycle rickshaw) trip. We finish with dinner at a restaurant run by the Friends organisation that provides hospitality training and other programs to support former street children and youths (closed on school and public holidays). Stay: Ohana Hotel or similar.
8 Visit Royal Palace complex in Phnom Penh; free time or optionals include National Museum and the Killing Fields
This morning we visit the Royal Palace grounds and Silver Pagoda; named after the 5000 silver tiles weighing more than 1 kg each it is one of the most holy temples in Cambodia and is home to an impressive collection of gold, diamonds and other precious stones along with many traditional musical instruments. Afterwards the rest of the day is free for your family to explore. Some family friendly options are to visit the local markets or public gardens which your leader can provide details about. Close by is also the National Museum, which is set in a traditional Khmer building and displays a range of ancient artefacts as well as more modern pieces and where kids can feed the fish! Adults in the group may also want to confront Cambodia's recent tragic past with a visit to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former school which served as a Khmer Rouge torture centre but may not be suitable for the younger family members to visit. Your group leader will be available to make recommendations and assist you with your bookings and how best to spend your free time in the city. Stay: Ohana Hotel or similar.
9 Transfer to Siem Reap; pause to sample local delicacies; sunset viewing of Angkor temples
Travel by private air-conditioned bus (approx. 7 hours) to Siem Reap. A great opportunity to look at the real Cambodia, we'll make several stops at points of interest along the way. We also see the cottage industry at Santuk Silk Farm, a fair trade organisation, which is a valuable source of employment in a poor rural community (Santuk is closed on some important Khmer holidays). We'll also stop off at Sambor Prei Kuk, Cambodia's most impressive group of pre-Angkorian monuments with some of the oldest structures in the country. Afterwards, we will have a traditional Khmer lunch at a community restaurant before continuing our journey to Siem Reap. The small town of Siem Reap is the gateway to the World Heritage temples of Angkor. Get a sneak preview with sunset at the temples. Stay: Angkor Holiday Hotel or similar.
10 Cycle ride around Angkor temples; easy flat trails with option of opting out and taking moto-rickshaw
This morning we leave early and take a fun bike ride around the Angkorian ruins. It is an easy ride on flat trails and roads but for non-cyclists there is the option to jump on to a local remork - motor-rickshaw. The ride today is approximately 20 km in total. On the bicycle, we can avoid some of the crowds and get a unique perspective on this amazing site which is well known more recently from being featured in the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider film. We take the back roads along the river through local villages and into the Angkor park before cycling along the wall of the ancient city of Angkor Thom. With the moat on one side and thick jungle on the other we will rarely see another visitor. We might also like to stop to see the monkeys that gather on the temple ruins along the way. We finish our day with a visit to Angkor Wat one of the most architecturally and photographically impressive sites in the temple complex. Tonight we will visit the 'Phare' the Cambodian Circus. Coming from vulnerable households, the performers have gained international recognition through their art practice. Like a Cambodian Cirque Du Soleil, modern Khmer tales mix theatre, music, dance, acrobatics, juggling, aerial acts, and contortion appeal to all ages! Stay: Angkor Holiday Hotel or similar.
11 Free day in Siem Reap; choose to visit floating village of Tonle Sap, a conservation centre or zip-line over the jungle canopy
Today is a free day for exploration and your group leader will be able to make suggestions and can organise transport for activities. If you didn't manage to fit it in yesterday then you might like to visit the jungle temple of Ta Prohm where some of the filming for Tomb Raider took place (Angkor pass required). Another option would be to take a journey into the countryside. Around 1 hour out of town is the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB) which is housed at the base of Kbal Spien Moutain near the River of a Thousand Lingas. ACCB has a collection of animals that have been saved from trafficking. Creatures include gibbons, monkeys, anteaters, snakes, greater and lesser adjutant (Cambodia's version of big bird), eagles, prehistoric water monitors and turtles. Pass through rural villages on the way where you can enjoy sampling sugar palm candy as it is made. On the way back to town you might like to stop to visit the exquisite Banteay Srey (“Citadel of the women”) (Angkor pass required). The small temple displays some of the finest examples of classical Khmer art carved into the pinkish coloured sandstone. For those who would like a more active day there is the option of trying ziplining in the nearby canopy of Angkor Park. Flying through the jungle after climbing up from one of the canopy platforms is a real adrenaline rush! There is also the choice of visiting the floating village on nearby Tonle Sap Lake. Stay: Angkor Holiday Hotel or similar.
12 Drive to Bangkok; journey broken with stops at stone carving village and a garden restaurant for lunch
It's a long drive from Siem Reap to Bangkok (approx. 10 hours including stops for border crossing and lunch) but we break the journey many times along the way to stop at local points of interest. On the way we stop at the stone carving village where many of the inhabitants carve religious and decorative statues of all sizes from sandstone and marble. Ganesh the elephant-headed God of beginnings and wisdom as well as Buddhist and Angkorian-style statues line the road in this town. After the border crossing we take a break and have our first taste of Thai food at a local restaurant before continuing onto the capital of Bangkok. Famous for its tuk tuks, khlong boats and incredible street food, Bangkok is an assault on the senses and provides a real contrast to sleepy Cambodia. Stay: Rembrandt Hotel or similar.
13 Morning tour of Bangkok including the Grand Palace and Wat Pho
This morning a short walk from our hotel takes us to the Chao Phraya River where we meet a longtail boat to journey along the khlongs (canals) of old Bangkok. Please be advised there may be a possibility of larger groups being accommodated in a bigger boat. Afterwards we pay a visit to Wat Pho, home to the country's largest reclining Buddha and keeper of the magic behind Thai massage. In the afternoon we have free time to explore. Why not pay a visit to the magnificent Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, wander down to the tourist mecca of Khao San Road, take in some retail therapy, enjoy delicious street food or explore Bangkok's colourful Chinatown. Stay: Rembrandt Hotel or similar.
14 End Bangkok
For land only clients, the tour ends this morning in Bangkok after breakfast.