Travel on the Indochina Explorer tour and experience the stunning scenery as well as the modern and ancient history of these three unique countries.
This comprehensive and engaging itinerary from specialist tour operator Emperor Tours will take you to:
• Hanoi – French colonial boulevards and outstanding attractions including memorials to former founder of Vietnam Ho Chi Minh. Learn about the country’s ethnic origins at the Museum of Ethnology and explore the Old Quarter with its labyrinth of ancient streets.
• Sapa – deluxe 5hr coach trip through the beautiful landscapes of Northern Vietnam to Sapa. Spend the afternoon wondering around the town and getting acquainted with the ethnic hill tribe.
• Short drive to Lao Chai – hike through rice terraces and wonder at the splendor of the canyon. Visit family homes and learn about local culture and lifestyle. Visit the colourful hill tribe market at Lao Chi.
• Halong Bay – change of pace and a day and overnight stay on a luxurious junk taking in the beautiful scenery of Vietnam’s most spectacular natural wonder.
• Hoi An –explore this wonderfully preserved old merchant town with it’s Japanese, Vietnamese and European influences.
• Siem Reap – Iconic temples of Angkor Thom, Bayon and Ta Prohm. Spend a morning at the magnificent world-famous Angkor Wat, then on to sample remote village life in Pour Krom and a cruise on the vast Tonle Sap lake.
• Phnom Penh – capital of Cambodia, French colonial inspired architecture and historical sites including the opulent Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda. Watch the sunset and riverside life on Sisowath Quay.
• Bangkok – explore the old kingdom of Siam and visit the Grand Palace. Travel outside the city to Damnoen Saduak – the biggest floating market in Thailand. Take a train ride on the Death Railway Train and visit the famous Bridge over the River Kwai.
• Chiang Mai – visit the Wat Doi Suthep monastery and the Meo Tribe village. Experience the sights and sounds of the night market in Chiang Mai.
• Visit Chiang Rai – Doi Saket – one of the most scenic routes in Northern Thailand. The Mae Sai border with Myanmar and the Gold Triangle where Laos, Myanmar and Thailand converge and there are stunning panoramic views of all three countries.
• Spend a memorable last day at the Patara Elephant Camp learning all about these magnificent creatures and even take them to the river for a bath!
Today we begin our private tour of Indochina by departing London Heathrow for our international economy flight to Hanoi.
We can also arrange departures from your local airport at no extra cost.
On arrival you will meet your guide and take private transfer to your hotel, centrally located in this amazing city, for check-in.
If time permits, we’ll take an orientation tour and a chance to acclimatise ourselves.
A welcome dinner awaits us tonight.
Today we’ll be touring the most outstanding attractions of Hanoi. First, we pay a visit to the complex of memorials to Ho Chi Minh to understand the amazing life of the founder of modern Vietnam. We then continue to the Temple of Literature to gain an understanding of one of the driving forces in Vietnam culture.
Our next stop is the Museum of Ethnology which exhibits a large collection of artefacts about the 54 ethnic groups in the country.
This afternoon enjoy a rickshaw ride through the lively Old Quarter, a series of 36 ancient streets where peddlers still trade the way they have done for centuries. The rickshaw tour ends up at an old house on Ma May Street, an example of dwellings in the 19th century.
To complete our first day enjoy a performance of water puppetry, the famed traditional art form created by village farmers around the Red River Delta region – unique but widely known.
After an early breakfast we’ll be transferred to Victoria Lounge to take the deluxe Victoria coach for a 5-hour journey to Sapa. The journey affords English-speaking host, individual tablets with headphones, bottled drinking water, free WIFI on board, and beautiful sights of Northern Vietnam’s hilly and mountainous landscapes.
Once arrived in Sapa, we settle in to the hotel and relax.
Late afternoon, we take a walk around the little town to get acquainted with the different ethnic hill tribes such as the H’mong, Red Zao, Zay, and others.
This morning we enjoy a short drive to Lao Chai where we start a hike through rice terraces on the side of forested mountain ranges to feel the peace and splendour of this canyon. Visit some family homes in Lao Chai and Ta Van villages and learn about the culture and lifestyle of Dzao and Day people.
Enjoy lunch then trek from the town down to Cat Cat village of the Black H’mong. Along the way, we will be passing by traditional houses and seeing locals doing their daily work such as weaving, embroidering, logging, herding buffalo or tilling the field… The return to the town will be by vehicle.
Today we’ll be visiting one of the colourful hill tribe markets in the region, where we’ll see people ethnic minority groups gather for not only trading but also drinking local whiskey and socialisation.
Later, visit some more villages nearby.
Mid-afternoon, we transfer to Lao Cai and tour the gate to China before we board the night train back to Hanoi.
Back in Hanoi early this morning, we’ll be met and transferred to a hotel for 03-hour use including bed & breakfast. Following a well-earned rest, we journey east through the Red River Delta to Halong Bay, the greatest natural wonder of Vietnam.
On arrival, we board a beautiful junk (ancient Chinese ship) and set sail for a cruise deep into the protected area of Halong. Bask in the tranquillity and beauty of the unique seascape made up by magnificent rock formations out of the emerald waters. We’ll have the opportunity to challenge ourselves with swimming and kayaking and even fishing.
Spend the night on our luxurious boat and enjoy a wonderful seafood dinner prepared by our onboard chef.
Rise early this morning to catch the sublimating sunrise with the backdrop of Halong Bay’s mountainous landscape and partake in a Taichi class.
After some morning activities and a wholesome brunch, the boat takes us back ashore. We’ll drive straight to Hanoi airport for a short flight to Danang in Middle Vietnam.
Upon arrival, we’ll be met by our guide and driver and escorted to the quaint town of Hoian, just 30 km away, for the night.
This morning we’ll be on foot exploring the ancient quarter of Hoian, recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage site because of its historic role in international trade, unusually well-preserved ancient streets and homes. We’ll focus on the famous Japanese Covered Bridge, the Pottery Museum, the 200-year-old Tam Ky House, the Ong Pagoda and the vibrant Central Market.
The balance of the day will be for independent exploration. The town has so much to offer: sandy beaches, peaceful countryside, numerous restaurants and bars and massage saloons, souvenir shops, and especially tailors’.
Enjoy some free time before our driver collects us from the hotel to transfer us to the airport for a flight to Siem Reap, the land of Angkor temples!
We will meet up with our local guide at Siem Reap airport and drive to the hotel, located in the centre of this fascinating city.
Rest of day is free at leisure, exploration of the Pub Street is highly recommended!
Today we start exploring the wonders left by a highly complex civilization that controlled the greater part of Southeast Asia for four centuries. First, visit Angkor Thom – the last capital of the great Khmer Empire, taking in the sprawling Terraces of Elephant and the Leper King and the enchanting Bayon. This 12th century masterpiece lies at the very centre of Angkor Thom and is an archaeological wonder of symmetry and grandeur.
Afternoon, we continue with the fascinating jungle-clad temple of Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdei as the Citadel of Chambers, the mountain temple of Takeo, the elegant Hindu temple of Thommanon, the badly ruined temple of Chau Say Thevoda, and the Royal Bath of Sras Srang.
This evening, sit back and relax as we enjoy dinner with entertainment from Apsara dancers.
We break the temple tour today with a visit to Kompong Khleang, one of the largest settlements on the Tonle Sap Lake. Over 20,000 people live in high stilt houses which tower up to 10 meters over the water. It is a spectacular place which only gets a small number of visitors. There is a small island at the centre of the village which has a bustling market.
We take a boat tour to see life on the waters of the Great Lake of Tonle Sap and get a taste for life ruled by monsoonal rains and water-based agriculture. One of the world’s most productive bodies of fresh water, Tonle Sap was classified as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1997.
We return to the hotel for a noon break. This afternoon, we’ll be exploring Angkor Wat, a vast rambling complex of diverse temple structures dating from the 9th to the 13th centuries. Many are adorned with exquisite carvings and bas-reliefs; some are so entwined with trees and vines that they almost returned to the jungle. Angkor Wat is the apogee of classical Khmer architecture and has become a symbol of Cambodia, appearing on the national flag, and stands on par with such other monumental achievements as Machu Picchu and the Great Pyramid.
Today we depart Siem Reap for Phnom Penh, a friendly riverside city with loads of Khmer charm and faded French-colonial style.
Meet up with our local guide at Phnom Penh airport and pay a visit to the infamous Cheoung Ek Killing Fields en-route to the hotel.
At the end of the day, we stroll along the Sisowath Boulevard to see the busy river life and stalls selling local culinary delights including spiders and crickets, and so on.
After breakfast we set out to further explore the capital of Cambodia Kingdom. Wander throughout the serene Royal Palace to admire its beautiful garden and opulent buildings, especially the dazzling Silver Pagoda. Delve deeper into Khmer history at the National Museum.
In the afternoon, we confront the tragic history of Cambodia on a visit to the Tuol Sleng Museum. Tour the hilltop temple Wat Phnom then immerse in the vibrant local life at the Central Market housed in a distinctive domed Art Deco building, a labyrinth of stalls selling everything from CDs and DVDs to silks, crafts, jewellery and more.
Today we leave Phnom Penh for Bangkok, Thailand, on a morning flight.
Upon arrival, meet up with our local guide and drive to the hotel in the centre of Thailand’s busy capital.
This afternoon, we’ll visit Wat Po – one of the oldest temples in Bangkok and home of the famous 45-meter reclining Buddha as well as the original school of traditional Thai massage, and Wat Trimit, home to the Golden Buddha. Immerse in a world of exotic aromas and colours at the Flower Market of Pak Klong Talad and then explore the Chinatown – one of the most dynamic and vibrant commercial districts of Bangkok.
After breakfast we step back into the Old Kingdom of Siam through the Grand Palace, 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. The focal point of the palace is the Emerald Buddha carved out of jade and adorned with gold.
The rest of the day will be free to explore on your own.
We depart the hotel by 7:30 and drive southwards 110 km (for approximately 02 hours) to Rachaburi. On arrival, get on a boat and weave our way through hundreds of other boats to explore Damnoen Saduak. Being the biggest floating market in Thailand, Damnoen Saduak is great for photographing, local food tasting, and recalling a bygone way of life.
Next, we head to Kanchanaburi province. After lunch we try a ride on the Death Railway Train through the lush forest, and visit JEATH War Museum as well as the famous Bridge over River Kwai.
At the end of the day, we return to Bangkok for the night.
This morning we take a short flight to Chiang Mai, the second largest commercialised city of Thailand. Upon arrival, we will be met by our local guide and transferred to the hotel.
In the afternoon we will visit Wat Doi Suthep, which is tucked away in the mountains at an elevation of 1,056m, reachable via a 290 step staircase. The monastery at the top houses relics of the Lord Buddha.
Afterwards we drive a little further to see Meo Tribe village at Doi Pui nearby.
Free time in the evening provides opportunities to reveal the colours of the night market that Chiang Mai is famous for.
After breakfast we travel to Chiang Rai via Doi Saket, one of the most scenic routes in Northern Thailand. In Chiang Rai, we visit Wat Rong Khun or the “White Temple”, a unique Buddhist Temple created by Chalermchai Kositpipat.
After that, we travel on to Mae Sai on the border with Myanmar (1 hr drive from Chiang Rai town). We will visit Mae Sai market to see vibrant local commerce and seek for shopping opportunities.
After lunch we head to the Golden Triangle where borders of Thailand, Myanmar (Burma) and Laos meet. Enjoy the panoramic view over the three countries from a hillside viewpoint and learn about the violent opium trade in the area in the old day. On the way back to Chiang Mai, we’ll visit a Karen village if time permits.
This morning we drive out to Patara Elephant Camp where we will befriend with elephants for a whole day.
On arrival we register and get the training outfit and have a class on the farm management, the breeding program, finding elephants in the forest, approaching them safely, reading elephant temperament, and an introduction to the elephants at the farm. Our mahout will teach us how to take care of our elephant and how to communicate with it through different spoken commands. Having mastered the necessary commands, we will walk our elephants to the river for a bath.
Next, we set off on an uphill trip through the jungle. Enjoy lunch en route and bathe our elephants one more time in a waterfall. At the end of the day we bid farewell to our giant friends and return to Chiang Mai.
Sadly we have come to the end of our fascinating journey through Indochina.
Our driver will collect us from the hotel and transfer us to the airport for departure on economy international flight to the UK.
Hanoi – 5* Sheraton Hotel (for information click here)
Sapa – 5* Victoria Sapa Resort & Spa (for more information click here)
Train – Chapa Express – private deluxe cabin (for more information click here)
Halong Bay – 5* Alisa Cruise (for more information click here)
Hoian – 5* Sunrise Premium Resort Hoi An (for more information click here)
Siem Reap – 5* Angkor Palace Resort & Spa (for more information click here)
Phnom Penh – 5* Sokha Angkor Hotel (for more information click here)
Bangkok – 5* Amari Watergate (for more information click here)
Chiang Mai – 5* DusitD2 Chiang Mai (for more information click here)
Hanoi – 4* O’Gallery Premier Hotel (for information click here)
Sapa – 4* BB Hotel (for more information click here)
Train – Chapa Express – private deluxe cabin (for more information click here)
Halong Bay – 4* Flamingo Cruise (for more information click here)
Hoian – 4* La Residencia Boutique Hotel & Spa (for more information click here)
Siem Reap – 4* Empress Angkor Resort & Spa (for more information click here)
Phnom Penh – 4* Frangipani Royal Palace Hotel (for more information click here)
Bangkok – 4* Century Park Hotel (for more information click here)
Chiang Mai – 4* Rimping Village (for more information click here)
Tour Prices include:
Tour Prices exclude:
FLIGHT TIMES: 12.50 hours direct from London Heathrow to Hanoi (Vietnam Airlines Sun-Tue-Thu-Fri only). Other airlines fly indirect every day of the week. There are no direct flights from Chiang Mai to the UK.
TIME DIFFERENCE: +6 hours in summer time / +7 hours in winter time (BST).
CURRENCY: Vietnamese dong £1 = approx. 31,000 VND / Cambodian riel £1 = approx. 5,480 riels / Thai Baht £1 = approx. 43 THB
MONEY: Almost all goods and services are calculated and paid for in US dollars. Credit cards are accepted only at major hotels, restaurants owned by foreigners and souvenir shops. Travellers cheques and currencies other than US Dollars are accepted only by major banks. We recommend changing a small amount into local currency on arrival, for drinks and gifts etc.
TIPPING: If you are happy with the services of the driver and guide in each city then tipping is an accepted way of showing your gratitude. We recommend anything from $10 upwards for each, usually more for the guide. We advise placing any tips in separate envelopes and handing to the guide and driver at the end of their service in a particular city.
VISA: No visa is required for UK passport holders if stay is 15 days or less in Vietnam, and 30 days or less in Thailand. A visa is required for Cambodia and can be obtained on arrival at entry airport/port or in advance through the embassy website.
LANGUAGE: The official language spoken in Vietnam is Vietnamese. The official language spoken in Cambodia is Khmer. The official language spoken in Thailand is Thai.
BEST TIMES TO VISIT: From October to April are the best times to visit Indochina combined. March to April will experience least rainfall and more pleasant temperatures too.
FESTIVALS: Here are the main Indochina festivals and what you will expect to see and experience during these festivities…
Vietnamese New Year ‘Tet’ – mid to late February
Vietnamese people gather with their families to exchange best wishes and pray for prosperity over the coming year. In big cities, the streets are adorned with beautiful flower decorations. It’s a great time to see the preparations and immerse in the festive atmosphere before Tet, but travel during the festival is not recommendable.
Mid Autumn Festival (Vietnam) – 15th day of the 8th lunar month in the Chinese lunar calendar
Marked with fanciful lanterns, the festival is a favourite with children, as the occasion calls for more toys, candies, fruit, and entertainment than any other time of the year. Mid-Autumn parties serve cakes, traditional and modified. Lion dances are commonly performed by travelling troupers who go from house to house to perform for tipping.
Reunification Day (Vietnam) – 30th April yearly
Also known as Victory Day or Liberation Day, this national holiday marks the fall of the Saigon government on 30 April 1975. The communist troops captured Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) and brought the Vietnam war to an end. This began the process of reuniting the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the north and the Republic of Vietnam in the south
National Independence Day (Vietnam) – 2nd September yearly
This day commemorates Vietnam’s declaration of independence from France in 1945. On that day, President Ho Chi Minh, read out the Declaration of Independence. Nowadays, national red flags are raised high everywhere. People are entitled to one day off. Public and official celebrations can be found in all cities.
Victory Day (Cambodia) – 7th January yearly
This day marks the end of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979. During the four years of the regime, it is estimated that two million Cambodians died (almost a quarter of the population). Remembrance services are carried out to honor those who lost their lives.
Chaul Chnam Thmey (Khmer New Year – Cambodia) – 13th to 15th April yearly
It marks the end of the harvest before the beginning of the rainy season. Cambodia grinds to a halt during New Year, drawing families together from all across the country into a celebration that turns wet and wild on the third day.
On the first day, people give thanks to Buddha by lighting candles and incense sticks. The second day is for charity where people donate or offer help to the poor and needy. On the third day, people wash statues of Buddha with scented water, which is symbolic of washing away sins of the past.
Pchum Ben (Ancestors’ Day – Cambodia) – celebrated on the 15th day of the 10th month of the Khmer lunar calendar
It is actually the culmination of a fifteen-day observance called Dak Ben, throughout which Khmers are encouraged to visit at least seven pagodas to make offerings to dead ancestors and light candles to guide the spirits of the dead to these offerings.
Observant Khmers will also throw a rice-sesame seed mixture onto temple grounds. This observance helps feed the spirits of the ancestors who roam the world on Pchum Ben and are consequently hungry from not having eaten all year.
National Independence Day (Cambodia) – 9th November yearly
This day marks the anniversary of Cambodia’s independence from France in 1953. The celebrations are centered around the Independence Monument at the center of Phnom Penh, where the King lights a victory fire in the presence of the country’s politicians, generals, and diplomats.
The celebrations also include cultural activities, parades down Norodom Boulevard, and fireworks in the evening.
New Years Day (Thailand) – 01 January
A lot of Thai people celebrate New Years Day with countdown events, fireworks and concerts across the country. They will also visit their local temple.
Magha Puja (Thailand) – full moon of the 3rd Thai Lunar Month (February)
The second most important Buddhist festival where thousands of Buddhists gather at temples to hold processions, make offerings and light candles.
Chakri Memorial Day (Thailand) – 6th April
To commemorate the Chakri dynasty from which the current royal family hails. The people of Thailand perform praiseworthy acts for the great kings of the ruling dynasty.
Songkran Festival (Thai New Year) – 13-15 April
The Thai traditional New Year where water is used as a means of expression. This can be in the form of sprinkling on Buddha images or friendly water fights using clean or scented water.
FOOD & DRINK: Light, subtle in flavour and astonishing in their variety, Vietnamese dishes are boiled or steamed rather than stir-fried, and a huge emphasis is placed on herbs and seasoning. In the south, Indian and Thai influences add curries and spices to the menu, while other regions have evolved their own array of specialities.
Buddhism introduced a vegetarian tradition to Vietnam, while much later the French brought with them bread, dairy products, pastries and the whole café culture. The quality and variety of food is generally better in the main towns than off the beaten track, where restaurants of any sort are few and far between.
Freshwater fish is the most commonly used meat in the Cambodian diet, with pork and chicken also being popular.
Thai cuisine places emphasis on lightly prepared dishes with strong aromatic components and spicy edge.
SOCIAL ETIQUETTE: People throughout Indochina are very kind and easy going. People are very relaxed with foreigners and their different habits.
Showing anger is seen as a weakness.
Respect and care should be shown when visiting temples and shoes should always be removed before entering.
HEALTH ADVICE: Although no vaccinations are officially required for entry to Indochina, they are highly encouraged. Visitors are advised to check with their GP or travel immunisation clinic regarding protection against malaria, typhoid, tetanus, hepatitis A & B. Any essential medications should be brought with you as there is no guarantee they will be available in the areas you will be visiting.
If travelling in Summer months, please bring sunscreen, mosquito repellent etc.
It is not safe to drink tap water in Indochina – please drink boiled water or bottled water only.