Take an overnight cruise on Halong Bay and discover this place of famed beauty while enjoying a candle-lit dinner on deck.. Discover a traditional art form of Vietnam with a traditional Hat Xam performance – known quite literally as ‘singing in the dark’.. Dine on delicious local cuisine at KOTO in Hanoi, and the Sala Bai Hotel School in Siem Reap, while supporting the cause of underprivileged hospitality students in training.. Enjoy two days of fully guided temple tours in Siem Reap, with in-depth insights into the history of these extraordinary structures and plenty of time at Angkor Wat.
Immerse yourself in the rich historic and cultural heritage of Vietnam and Cambodia. Equally as evocative comes the oriental influences of the historic Asian traders, settlers and indigenous people that have made this part of the world a cornerstone for empires and colonies. From navigating the various fusions of east and west in Hoi An, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, to cruising the natural UNESCO World Heritage listed wonderland of Halong Bay and exploring war time monuments, and experiencing one of the world’s great archaeological treasures at Angkor, this tour will immerse you in history, nature and tradition.
Welcome to Hanoi. You will be met on arrival and transferred to your hotel. There will be a welcome meeting at 6 pm where you’ll meet your group leader and fellow travellers. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time for this meeting, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We’ll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). Until this meeting we encourage you to head out and get your first taste of what Hanoi has to offer.
Today, you will leave Hanoi and drive north (approximately 4 hours) to the renowned Halong Bay. You can leave your luggage behind at your hotel in Hanoi and pack an overnight bag for staying on the boat. Halong Bay is listed as a World Heritage site and is one of Vietnam’s most spectacular natural wonders. The views of sailing junks navigating past thousands of limestone islands with rocky outcrops are nothing short of spectacular. You will travel to Tuan Chau Port (Halong City West) where you will board a boat for an exploration of the bay, enjoying a seafood lunch and dinner (non-seafood also available), as well as spending a night on board. We visit Surprise Cave, and, in the warmer months, you can enjoy a swim from Ti Top Island Beach or go on an optional kayak tour. Access to Surprise Cave is via staircases. Once inside the cave the pathways are a little uneven and slippery. A night on the boat under the stars is very special, but another highlight of this evening is a delicious candlelit dinner out on deck (weather permitting). This is the perfect way to enjoy the beautiful surroundings, dining on a seafood feast.
After breakfast at Halong Bay, return by bus to Hanoi (approximately 3.5 hours). Later this afternoon, you will enjoy a unique Peregrine experience when you sit down to a traditional Hat Xam performance. Hat Xam is an art form of Northern Vietnam dating back to the Tran Dynasty, and literally translates to ‘singing in darkness’. Originally, this was performed by blind performers, and was enjoyed by local working-class audiences, right up until the late 1950s, when a wave of communism deemed all art forms to be corrupting influences. Today, this style of performance occurs rarely, but you and your group will be taken to a private club house for an exclusive performance; one of the few places where such artists still perform acoustically. The performance takes around 90 minutes, and includes some story telling aspects, performances and possibly interaction with guests, so be ready to get involved!
This morning, take a half-day tour of Hanoi with your leader. Enchanting Hanoi stands in contrast to its southern counterpart in Ho Chi Minh City – it is relaxed rather than frantic, and full of lakes and parks to escape to. The tour will take in the major sites, including the Temple of Literature, One Pillar Pagoda, and the former residence of Vietnam’s most famous revolutionary, Ho Chi Minh. The tour will also include lunch at the KOTO café, an amazing project aimed at providing vocational training and experience in the hospitality industry for disadvantaged young people. In the afternoon, you will leave Hanoi and fly south to Danang (approximately 1 hour). You will have the chance to enjoy some spectacular scenery on the drive to Hoi An (approximately 1 hour). Arrive in Hoi An late this afternoon and check into your accommodation.
This morning you will take a tour of the unique town of Hoi An, influenced over the years by myriad traders from various cultures. Originally a busy Cham Port, the town also has Chinese influences scattered about, with pagodas and assembly halls found down the streets. For a small town it has a liveliness alongside its charm and serenity. The tour will take you down the streets of low tiled buildings, taking in a historic house (formerly home to a prominent trader), the Japanese Covered Bridge, a Chinese assembly hall and a museum. There is some free time this afternoon to further explore the Old Town or surrounds at your own pace.
Ho Chi Minh City
The morning is free for you to enjoy more of delightful Hoi An and the surrounding area. Perhaps browse the market for silk and other materials or collect any garments that you might have had crafted by the efficient tailors or hire a bicycle and ride along the lanes and out to a nice nearby beach. In the afternoon, transfer back to Danang and fly to Ho Chi Minh City. Check into your hotel and enjoy a free evening – perhaps spent exploring the bustling food stalls at Cho Ben Thanh market. Delicious!
Ho Chi Minh City
This morning, head out of the city to the nearby Cu Chi Tunnels. Cu Chi is the name of the district that covers the extensive network (approximately 200 kilometres) of underground tunnels dug by the Viet Minh and later expanded by the Viet Cong. The tunnels contained hospitals, accommodation and schools, and were used for refuge, storage and as a military base for the Viet Cong close to Ho Chi Minh City. A section of them has been widened to allow visitors to enter and get a feel for what the life underground must have been like. Please note that these tunnels will be hot, sweaty, and claustrophobic for some, and so, you can choose to participate in the tunnel walk or continue to explore the complex from above. Afterwards, return to Ho Chi Minh City for a tour of the city, where daily life plays out on the streets and the dynamic atmosphere is a fascinating blend of old and new. Your leader will take you to the Reunification Palace, formally the Presidential Palace and the site of South Vietnam’s surrender in 1975, before visiting the War Remnants Museum. In the evening, perhaps spend some time with your fellow travellers and have dinner at a local restaurant. Your leader will know of some great options.
Leave Vietnam behind today with a transfer to the airport and a short flight to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Please note that you are likely to be unescorted on this flight, but you will be met in the arrivals hall in the airport at Phnom Penh by a local representative and transferred to your hotel. Enjoy free time until gathering for a group meeting this evening. If you have free time in the afternoon, perhaps stroll the streets of Phnom Penh and explore the city, taking in the interesting French colonial architecture. The National Museum, with its collection of classic Khmer craftsmanship, is well worth a visit. After the important briefing tonight, enjoy a delicious meal at a restaurant run by the Friends organisation. You might decide to go for a drink at the Foreign Correspondents' Club afterwards – its rooftop has a great view of the confluence of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers.
Today a full city tour introduces you to the sights of Phnom Penh, a city that lies near the confluence of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers. The private quarters of the Royal Palace are home to King Sihamoni and are closed to the public. You will, however, be able to visit the Silver Pagoda that lies in the palace complex, which is the most sacred temple in the country. Phnom Penh remains a living relic of the country’s past struggles and successes. Your included visits to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek tell the story of the tragic legacy of the Khmer Rouge. There is an optional visit to Wat Phnom, the temple that gave rise to the foundation of the city in the 15th century. Later you head out of town to a working monastery to learn more about the life of a monk and Theravada Buddhism. Buddhism in Cambodia is a way of life that most people incorporate into their daily life. You will get to meet the monks, enjoy a sacred water blessing for good luck and prosperity, have a red band tied around your wrist to keep you safe in your travels and see the temple’s fascinating Pagoda art.
Note: The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S21) and Killing Fields of Choeung Ek are major parts of the experience here, but if you don't wish to visit them, please inform your leader.
Fly north to Siem Reap (approximately 40 minutes) where the great temples of Angkor await. After a relaxing morning at your hotel, travel into the countryside to a local farming community, walk through rice fields and learn about Cambodian stilt homes and life in a typical farming village. Hear about the myriad ways a non-government organisation called HUSK Cambodia works directly with this community to improve the lives of Cambodian families. End the day with a stop for a sunset drink at a scenic point overlooking the countryside.
Siem Reap – Angkor Wat
Spend a full day visiting the amazing temples of Angkor on a guided exploration. Angkor Wat is the largest and most complete structure, and the only one of Angkor's temples that has its entrance facing west – the others face east. Then there is Angkor Thom, the 'Great Royal City', a temple famous for its series of colossal human faces carved in stone. Of all the temples visited today, Bayon temple is the centrepiece, with over 200 smiling carved faces and more than 50 gothic towers. For lunch you'll visit the Sala Bai Hotel School where underprivileged local youths learn skills that enable them to find gainful employment in the hospitality industry. Here you can enjoy a meal prepared by students at the school. After lunch it’s off to the Ta Prohm temple, which has large trees embedded in the stone foundations of the structure – powerful symbols of nature.
Note: The Sala Bai Hotel School is closed on public and school holidays, so on these days an alternative restaurant will be used.
Siem Reap – Angkor Wat
Embrace a very early start today if you wish to experience a sunrise visit to the Angkor complex (this is optional). From here, continue onto Banteay Srei. You'll see it's not a huge temple, but thanks to its intricate stone carvings it is sometimes referred to as ‘the jewel in the crown of Angkorian art’. At this point you can either head back to your hotel or carry on exploring more temples, such as Preah Khan. This temple contains a maze of vaulted corridors and is another complex that has been largely reclaimed by the jungle. Your ticket for the Angkor ruins also lets you spend more time exploring this site. Otherwise you might like to take a free afternoon to explore the town. If you have time, perhaps indulge in a traditional Khmer massage. Tonight you will enjoy a final dinner at a great restaurant in town serving local cuisine.