Spend a whole day at the biggest (and one of the most awesome) monuments in the world at Angkor. Appreciate the work of Friends International at their Futures Factory, a dining and creative space, dedicated to training vulnerable Cambodian youth to work in the hospitality industry. Experience local life during homestays in Chambok and the Mekong Delta. Get to know local families, participate in their activities and enjoy a homestyle meal.. It’s taken 400 miliion years for Phong Nha to get this good looking, so you’d better take advantage – explore a spectacular scene of caves, underground rivers, and caverns big enough to cruise into
Come for Angkor Wat, stay for the pho/amok/rice paper rolls (we could go on). This trip has it all. Scramble over the mighty ruins of Angkor in Siem Reap, discover history in Phnom Penh, and slurp pho in Ho Chi Minh City on this wild, 23-day trip.
Sawasdee! Welcome to Thailand. Your adventure begins with an important welcome meeting at 6 pm. Bangkok has so much going on if you've got time to explore, so we recommend you arrive a day or two early to explore the sights and sounds of this South East Asian hub. Why not hit the canals for a riverboat trip to Chinatown? Visit the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha? Or indulge in some Thai massage? Whatever you do, be sure to sit down with a green curry or tom yum goong (spicy seafood soup) after your welcome meeting.
Rise 'n' shine, travellers! After breakfast, you'll depart Thailand and head into Cambodia – your leader will help you through the border-crossing procedures. From Bangkok to Banteay Chhmar it's an 8-hour trip, which includes time to get yourself some lunch, and the time at the border. Banteay Chhmar, which translates as Citadel of the Cat, is our destination for the evening. This charming little village is far off the tourist trail and is dotted with several temples around the area. Take a leader-led orientation walk around to get your bearings. Tonight, you'll experience traditional hospitality staying with a local family in a Khmer house set on wooden stilts. As the day comes to an end, sit down to a delicious Khmer dinner by torchlight in the grounds of the temple or at a local community centre, depending on the weather.
After a peaceful night in Banteay Chhmar, take a visit to the temple in the middle of town. Similar to many Khmer temples in Cambodia, they are surrounded by water which, most often, represents the ocean surrounding the Temple Mountain: an architectural representation of the Hindu god’s home, Mount Meru. The Temple Mountain design has influenced most Khmer temples in the Angkor period. The water also helps stabilise the building’s foundation, preventing groundwater from rising or falling too drastically. Afterwards, take a private vehicle to the city of Siem Reap (approximately 4 hours). Once you've arrived, perhaps spend some time looking around the central markets and pick up some of the delicious food on offer. Why not?
Siem Reap – Angkor Wat
Time to visit the mighty Angkor complex with your guide. Get that camera ready, because it's going to look good, whatever the time of day. Some of this complex is over a thousand years old, going back to the days when the Khmer Empire was top dog in South East Asia. These beauties were known to represent the cosmic world and were set in perfect balance, symmetry and composition. Let your mind be blown as you roam around the site with your leader, and make sure you don’t miss the temples at sunset. The ruins are scattered over an area of some 160 square kilometres, but the main cluster of temples is close to Siem Reap, so you'll have plenty of time to get to grips with the larger-than-life Angkor Wat, the grand Bayon and the jungle-covered Ta Prohm. Tonight, have a special experience as you enjoy a traditional meal in a local family's home.
This morning, take up an awesome street food breakfast in Siem Reap’s local market. Other than this, today is free for you to experience Siem Reap however you want. If you're all templed out, but still feel like something pretty out there, you can opt for an Angkor zip-line course, which will have you soaring like an eagle over the rainforest. There’s also a landmine museum, a workshop on recycling trash into treasure, or some pretty great Urban Adventure Tours that you could book yourself in to. You group leader will know the best things to do, so ask them if you’re stuck. If you couldn’t get enough of the Angkor site, no problems! Speak to your leader about the cheapest options, as multi-day passes are available.
Time to head to Cambodia’s capital. Take a public bus through the Cambodian countryside for around 6-7 hours until you reach the bustling city of Phnom Penh (this includes two stops). Phnom Penh sits at the junction of the Mekong, Bassac and Tonle Sap rivers, and used to be known as Krong Chaktomuk (‘City of Four Faces’), as this river junction forms an X crossing, which represents four geographic ‘faces’ of the city and surrounding area. The main centre of the city sits on the Western bank of the Tonle Sap/Mekong rivers. You’ll get the chance to take up a cocktail (or mocktail) making class as part of the Futures Factory project – an initiative begun by Friends International to give at-risk youth the opportunity to gain hospitality skills in a safe, welcoming environment. Don’t worry, you’ll get some snacks too!
Wake up in this bustling city and take a visit with your group to learn more about the country's history and the Khmer Rouge atrocities at the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek and the infamous Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S21). The rest of the day is free to explore the city. If you're in the mood for some shopping then check out the Psar Thmei (Central Market), located in an old French colonial building, for clothing or sarongs. Otherwise maybe stop by the temple of Wat Phnom, the National Museum, Royal Palace or the French Quarter.
Ho Chi Minh City
Travel by public bus from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City (approximately 10 hours including two border crossings and lunch). Your leader knows the drill, so they'll assist you with border crossing procedures. Arrive in Ho Chi Minh City and get your first taste of this fast-paced, fun city. Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is quite the hub of markets, stalls and Vietnamese history, and much of city life happens on the streets. You'll see it's a combo of all kinds of flavours, old and new, East and West. Try a French baguette, get your pho fix, and have a caffeine hit with some Vietnamese coffee, best shared with the locals.
Ho Chi Minh City
Today you may be required to move to a different hotel in Ho Chi Minh City for the next section of your trip. Your leader will let you know if this is the case and will help with the transfer to the next hotel. Today is a free day. You can shop for tiny ceramic tea sets at Ben Thanh Market while snacking on chao tom (barbecued shrimp paste on sticks of sugar cane). The Cu Chi Tunnels or Mekong Delta are an interesting day trip nearby – ask your leader to book you an Urban Adventure to visit.
As this is a combination trip, your group leader and the composition of your group will change at this location. There will be a group meeting to discuss the next stage of your itinerary and meet your new fellow travellers at 6pm.
Today, head down to the Mekong Delta and visit Ben Tre, where the humble coconut is everything and anything. The fertile delta is famous for its abundant harvests of tropical fruits and flowers as well as boating along the canals. On arrival, board a private boat and cruise along the maze of waterways to visit some local cottage industries, where you’ll have the chance to interact with locals of the area. In the evening, head to a guesthouse along the water and enjoy some time relaxing in the delta.
Mekong Delta - Overnight Train
Rising early to the sounds of the delta coming alive, enjoy a simple breakfast before boarding a boat and catching a bus back to Ho Chi Minh City. Enjoy some free time in Ho Chi Minh City to go check out a few more sites or some tasty street food snacks. Included for today is a local experience with uni students called Ca Phe Bet, which literally translates to ‘coffee on the flat ground’. Enjoy this city ritual of coffee and a snack in one of the many parks. Late this evening board an overnight train to Hoi An, a historical town on the central coast. Although conditions are basic, overnight trains are all part of the experience and the best way to travel long distances with the locals.
Arrive in Danang in the early afternoon and travel by minibus to Hoi An (approximately 1 hour). Recently declared a World Heritage site, Hoi An is being beautifully restored and preserved. Known as Faifo to early western traders, it was one of South East Asia's major international ports during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Today, parts of Hoi An look exactly as they did more than a century ago and it retains the feel of centuries past. It's also a shopping mecca, with much to browse and buy. Choose from original paintings, handcrafted woodwork, ceramics, embroidery, lanterns and more. Hoi An has also become famous for its tailoring, with a great variety of tailors and fabrics to choose from. Bring your favourite piece of clothing or even just a picture, and you'll be able to have it copied. Included today is a walking tour of the Old Town, which finishes with a delicious banh mi for lunch. Afterwards, you’re free to explore Hoi An at your own pace.