Day 1 - Sunday, February 02: To Hong Kong
Just after midnight depart from Toronto for Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific Airlines, one of Asia’s and probably the world’s best airlines. You will enjoy excellent service as you cross the Pacific on your way to China!
Day 2 - Monday, February 03: Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC)
Arrival in Hong Kong in the early morning, with connecting flight to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), formerly known as Saigon. Arrival in HCMC and transfer to the deluxe (five-star) Hotel Sofitel Plaza )https://www.accorhotels.com/gb/hotel-2077-sofitel-saigon-plaza/index.shtml). Check in and free time to settle in. Welcome dinner with traditional Vietnamese entertainment in a nearby restaurant. (D)
Day 3 - Tuesday, February 04: HCMC
Full-day sightseeing tour of HCMC, with as highlights Notre Dame Cathedral, the grand Municipal Post Office, City Hall, the Municipal Theatre, the former “South Vietnamese” Presidential Palace, the former US Embassy, and the War Remnants Museum. We will also visit some workshops where artisans fabricate typical products such as silks, fine lacquer ware, jewelry, and all sorts of traditional handicrafts. Dinner in a floating restaurant on the Saigon River! (Asian menu) (B, D)
Day 4 - Wednesday, February 05: HCMC and Environs
Morning excursion into the countryside and visit to the amazing network of tunnels dug by the Vietcong guerrilla fighters during the Vietnam War, known here as the American war. Short stop en-route at a rubber tree plantation and possibly participate in a rice paper demonstration. Returning to HCMC in the afternoon, we visit the bustling Chinatown with its markets and temples. This evening, dinner and show inspired by the theme of a traditional Vietnamese wedding, in Binh Quoi Village Restaurant. (B, D)
Day 5 - Thursday, February 06: Mekong Delta
Departure from HCMC after breakfast. We motor to the town of My Tho, gateway to the lush Mekong Delta, the food basket of Vietnam, which produces an abundance of rice, vegetables, and all sorts of fruits. In My Tho we board a river boat and enjoy a leisurely cruise through the delta, disembarking occasionally to visit villages, orchards and farms. We also get to taste local products such as coconut candy, dragon fruit, leechees, and honey. Return to HCMC early evening with dinner in a local restaurant. (B, D)
The Mekong is one of the world's major rivers. It is the 10th-longest river in the world, and the 10th-largest by volume (discharging 475 km³ of water annually). Its estimated length is 4,023 km. From Tibet it runs through China's Yunnan province, Myanmar,Thailand, Laos,Cambodia and Vietnam. The Mekong Delta is the region in southwestern Vietnam where the Mekong River approaches and empties into the South China Sea.
Day 6 - Friday, February 07: Phnom Penh and "The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek"
After a leisurely breakfast, we transfer to the airport for the short flight to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia where on arrival we meet our local guide and transfer by private coach to “The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek”. Here rising above the mass graves is a blinding white stupa containing Buddha relics that serve as a memorial to the 17,000 men women and children who were executed here by the Khmer Rouge between mid 1975 and December 1978. Encased inside the stupa are almost 9000 human skulls found during excavations here in 1980. Return to Phnom Penh, where after lunch we visit the “Genocide Museum”, the Khmer Rouge’s notorious Tuol Sleng Prison. Prior to 1975 it was a high school but under the Khmer Rouge was turned into a torture facility and is preserved as the KR left it. Late afternoon we transfer to our hotel with dinner at a local restaurant. Overnight in Phnom Penh.(B, D)
Day 7 - Saturday, February 08: Phnom Penh
After breakfast, we meet our guide for a panoramic city tour, with buildings and villas of the French colonial era, the Independence Monument including visits to the Royal Palace compound with the beautiful Silver Pagoda, and to the 1930’s Restored Art Deco Central Market before returning to our hotel. The afternoon is free for shopping or just to relax. Dinner tonight in the hotel. (B, D)
Day 8 - Sunday, February 09: Siem Reap - Angkor Wat
After an early breakfast, departure by private coach for the town of Siem Reap, cradle of the Angkor Civilization and home of the world-famous ruins of Angkor Wat. We travel through a beautiful landscape featuring vast rice fields, ponds with lotus blossoms, and palm trees, following the general direction of the Mekong River and passing by Lake Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia, an ecological marvel that was designated as a UNESCO biosphere (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tonle_sap). In this area we will stop for a group lunch. Afternoon arrival, and transfer to the 4-star Somadevi Angkor Hotel and Spa or similar. No group dinner this evening but the town of Siem Reap has many restaurants with international cuisine. Overnight in Siem Reap.(B, L)
Day 9 - Monday, February 10: Siem Reap
Amazing discoveries await us in a vast jungle-covered complex of more than 100 magnificent temples, and monuments dating back to the Khmer Dynasty of the 9th-13thcenturies. We will visit Angkor Wat itself, plus other famous “Angkorian” temples and sites such as the Bayon and the pyramidal Baphuonwhich along with Angkor Wat are structural representations of mythical Mount Meru. We examine the Terrasse of Elephants used as a giant reviewing stand for public ceremonies and served as a base for the king’s grand audience. Beside it is the Terrace of the Leper King a platform 7m high on the top of which stands an enigmatic nude statue. In the heart of Angkor Thom we reach the area of the former Royal Palace and the Phimean Akas meaning “Celestial Palace”, a venue for Hindu ceremonial rites. Dinner at Angkor Village Aspara Theatre with a traditional Aspara Dancing Show. Overnight in Siem Reap.
Day 10 - Tuesday, February 11: Siem Reap – Champey Cooking Class
After breakfast, we enrich our culinary knowledge with a Champey Cooking Class offering authentic Khmer cooking. A fully-trained team guides you through the process of creating a delicious Cambodian meal in a modern cooking space with international hygiene standards. You’ll visit the local market, and learn about the produce soon to become your food. The clean, professional facility is centrally located nearby the Old Market in a traditional style Cambodian house with beautiful gardens in which we enjoy dining once our meal is made. After our Champeyan lunch, we’ll be presented with our gift pack which includes a box of spices, a certificate to say you’ve passed the Champey Cooking Class, and a recipe book to take home with you.
In the afternoon we venture east beyond the Victory Gate of Angkor Thom to a more intimate pair of temple enclosures the Thommanonand the Chaosay Tevodabuilt, in the Angkorian style, during varying kingdoms from the 9-14th C. Other structures in this complex include Banteay Kdei, Srash Srong, Kravan & especiallyTa Phrom Temple, a monastery built by Jayavarman VII as a residence for his mother now embraced by the serpentine roots of a gigantic Tetrameles nudifloratree. Dinner at local restaurant. Overnight in Siem Reap. (B, L, D)
Day 11 - Wednesday, February 12: Siem Reap
This morning we venture out to the 10th C. jewel of Khmer art, built not by a Khmer monarch, but by his courtiers about 20km. from Angkor Wat. The captivating charm of Banteay Srei temple, dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, lies in its compact size, remarkable state of preservation, and the excellence of its elaborate decorative features. Afternoon at leisure. Dinner at local restaurant.
Overnight in Siem Reap. (B, D)
Day 12 - Thursday, February 13: Luang Prabang
Today we make our way tothe floating village of the Chong Khneas, located 10 kilometers south of Siem Reap where we board a traditional wooden boat for a ride on Tonle Sap, the "Great Lake" of Cambodia and the largest in Asia. Its extraordinary bio-diversity and hydrology make it an ecological wonder of the world, while offering visitors an insight into the old tradition of riparian life and natural splendour of Cambodia.We’ll take some time to enjoy interacting with the local vendors plying a wide range of products in theOld Market and colonial quarter beforetransferring to the airport for our flight to Luang Prabang in Laos, the landlocked, mountainous, and isolated little country known as the “land of a million elephants”, where the traditional lifestyle of Southeast Asia is best preserved. Luang Prabang, the ancient capital of the Lao Kingdom, situated on the Mekong River, is the country’s paramount tourist attraction. This treasure trove of temples and monuments as well as French colonial buildings has been a UNESCOWorld Heritage Sitesince 1995. Dinner and overnight in the traditional 4-star Grand Hotel Luang Prabang (http://grandluangprabang.com). (B, D)
Day 13 - Friday, February 14: Luang Prabang
Full-day sightseeing tour of Luang Prabang, with the National Museum in the former Royal Palace and a number of the city’s famous royal temples, such as Wat Mai, Phousi Temple, Wat Visoun, and Wat Aham, former residence of the supreme patriarch of Lao Buddhism. There will also be time to explore the market and shopping district. This evening before or after dinner in a typical restaurant, we visit the local night bazaar! (B, D)
Day 14 - Saturday, February 15: Luang Prabang (& Environs)
Today’s adventures take us into the tropical terrain around this world heritage city. Sightseeing along the way, we board a motorboat to cruise along the Namkhan River to Tad Sae waterfalls. Lunch at Tad Sae restaurant before reaching an Elephant Camp and Sanctuary where we can enjoy interaction programs, riding, washing and feeding the elephants. Return to Luang Prabang in time for some shopping and dinner in a typical restaurant. (B, L, D)
Day 15 - Sunday, February 16: Vientiane
After breakfast, transfer to the airport and flight to Vientiane, the Laotian capital. Arrival in early afternoon, and introductory city tour, with focus on Pha That Luang, symbol of both the Buddhist religion and Lao independence, with its tall stupa, and Patuxai, an impressive war memorial resembling the Arc de Triomphe. Accommodation in the 4-star Crown Plaza or similar, and dinner accompanied by a demonstration of traditional Lao dances. in Kalao Restaurant (or similar). (B, D)
Day 16 - Monday, February 17: Vientiane - Halong Bay
Additional sightseeing in Vientiane in the morning, including the superb temple complex of Wat Si Saket, featuring niches with thousands of Buddha images, and, just across the street, Haw Pha Kaew, a royal temple associated with the famous Emerald Buddha. Also side trip to Xien Khuan for a visit to “Buddha Park”, a quixotic outdoor collection of enormous Buddhist and Hindu sculptures. Transfer to the airport around noon, and afternoon flight to Hanoi. Arrival in the Vietnamese capital, and immediate transfer through the Red River delta with its rice fields to Halong Bay, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, situated on the shores of the South China Sea just north of the harbour of Haiphong. Dinner and overnight in the new and very impressive first-class (but virtually deluxe!) Hotel Novotel, overlooking the bay (www.novotelhalongbay.com).(B, D)
Day 17 - Tuesday, February 18: Halong Bay
Full day to enjoy the splendour of Halong Bay. A 4-5 hour cruise on a traditional wooden junk will allow us to explore this amazing archipelago of 3,000 small rocky limestone islands that are scattered in the bay. We stop at one of these islands to explore a limestone cave and, conditions permitting, to sunbathe on the beach and/or swim in the calm blue waters of the South China Sea. A fine seafood lunch will be served on board! Return to the mainland in early afternoon, and rest of the day at leisure. No group dinner this evening, but there are many restaurants (including Japanese and Italian!) in the vicinity of our hotel.(B, L)
Day 18 - Wednesday, February 19: Hanoi
After breakfast we motor inland to Hanoi. Afternoon city tourwith sights such as the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, One-Pillar Pagoda, Ba Dinh National Square, Quan Thanh Temple on a little island in West Lake, the garden of Hoan Kiem Lake, and the Confucian Temple of Literature. Dinner in Minh Anh Restaurant, and accommodation in the centrally-located 5-star/deluxe Pan Pacific (formerly Sofitel).(B, D)
Day 19 - Thursday, February 20: Hanoi
More sightseeing in the Vietnamese capital, with visits to the Vietnam History Museum and the Fine Arts Museum, as well as a pedicab tour of the old quarter and free time for shopping at Dong Xuan Market. We also attend a performance of a traditional water puppet theatre. This evening, superb “au revoir”- buffet dinner of Vietnamese culinary specialties.(B, D)