“My first trip to Indochina was in 1997 as a teenager, and I have returned many times. The region has come a long way and so have the experiences our guests can enjoy. Myanmar in particular is at a crossroads and anyone visiting now has a front row seat to change that will rewrite the history books. The one thing that has stayed true since my first visit is the innocence and warmth of the people. They may not be the most polished, however, their hearts and intentions are the best I have ever seen.”
Day By Day Itinerary
Day 1: Hanoi, Vietnam
Welcome to bustling Hanoi. On arrival you are me and transferred to your hotel. Although it is the modern-day capital of Vietnam, Hanoi still retains the mystery and charm of past centuries. Narrow lanes and traditional shop houses invite exploration by cyclo, while its many beautiful public spaces - lakes, parks, tree-lined boulevards and monuments - give the city an air of elegance and a harmony with nature unique among Asian capitals. And everywhere there are motorcycles, some of which seem to carry whole families or impossibly huge bundles of goods. Sofitel Legend Metropole – Premium Room Opera Wing
Day 2: Hanoi
Today is at leisure for you to enjoy Hanoi at your own pace that allows you time to decompress from your long flight. Relax, shop or just take a stroll around the city. Sofitel Legend Metropole – Premium Room Opera Wing (B)
Day 3: Hanoi / Mai Chau
Depart this morning overland to the town of Mai Chau, and the authentic Montagnard villages of Poom Coong and Lac. Most of the people in the area are White Thai ethnic, and distantly related to tribes in Thailand, Laos and China. Take a walk around Poom Coong and Lac villages to savor the daily life of these traditional people. Mai Chau district is in the center of Mai Chau valley where the community of Thai people were established thousands of years ago. Mai Chau Lodge – Junior Suite (B)
Day 4: Mai Chau
In the morning, visit Van village to learn more about the culture of Thai ethnic people here, before driving to Pa Co village, the home of Green Hmong. Located about 1,000 meters/3,281 above sea level, with cool weather all year around, Pa Co is an ideal place for plum, peach and persimmon trees. Its Sunday market is the only chance for villagers from Xa Linh, Pa Co and Hang Kia to get together, buy and sell their products.
Return to your lodge this afternoon where the remainder of the afternoon is at leisure for you to enjoy the natural setting. Mai Chau Lodge – Junior Suite (B)
Day 5: Mai Chau / Hanoi
Today you are driven back from Mai Chau to Hanoi. The balance of the day is at leisure. Sofitel Legend Metropole – Premium Room Opera Wing (B)
Day 6: Hanoi
Begin this day with a glimpse of Hanoi that few visitors see through the street foods and markets. Meet up with noted chef and author Daniel Hoyer who will be your guide for this special tour. Drive to the Cho Hom Market or Chau Long Market to learn about and sample ingredients used in the local cuisine and to watch the buying and selling rituals of a Vietnamese market. Daniel will introduce you to some of the vendors, talk about uses of some of the ingredients for sale, and even assist with purchasing items to take home, should you wish. Enjoy a Vietnamese coffee or tea at Daniel's favorite, Café Tho or Café MT, among the many sidewalk cafes in the historic French Quarter. Daniel will offer you an overview of the Vietnamese food scene, particularly in Hanoi. Drive to Truc Bach Lake or Ngu Xa Street for a snack of Pho Cuon, a grilled beef and rice noodle roll. Then, enjoy a short visit of a smaller neighborhood market street vendor area for a deeper understanding of food buying and selling methods in Hanoi. Have lunch with Daniel at one of Hanoi's best Bun Cha establishments. Bun Cha Chanh, open only a few hours in the afternoon, is a restaurant run by a sister duo, who use wood for cooking where they still fan the fire by hand instead of the ubiquitous electric fans you see everywhere. You will walk down a narrow to join a crowd of regulars on tiny stools at low plastic tables to enjoy traditional grilled pork and rice vermicelli noodles with fresh herbs and greens. Return to your hotel following your tour for an afternoon break. This evening, you explore the old quarter’s narrow lanes from the back of a Vespa. Some lanes are not even wide enough for an ox cart. As you drive through the maze of bustling streets of the Old Quarter, stop to experience one of the most popular local drinks made of lemon-tea and sunflower seeds. Continue past the Opera House, along a road that has an impressive ceramic wall running aside. Stop for a Hanoi specialty – Pho Cuon, steamed rice noodle rolls. Hanoi’s West Lake is where you find and experience a rock music performance at Cowboy Bar. The party continues along with young Hanoi locals at another local bar with live trendy music, where you opt to take the stage yourself and perform! Or, just listen to local musicians perform both in Vietnamese and English. Sofitel Legend Metropole – Premium Room Opera Wing (B/L)
Note: The experience street foods and market visit with Daniel Hoyer operates Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Day 7: Hanoi
Explore Hanoi has tree-lined boulevards and colonial buildings, and its crowded blocks of tiny old houses and narrow lanes brimming with the colorful activities of daily life as they have in centuries past. A half-hour electric car ride takes you to the Old Quarter’s famous 36 streets of the craftsmen. See well-known landmarks, including Hoan Kiem Lake, Quan Su Pagoda, Silk Road, Hanoi Railway Station, Hoa Lo Prison and Hanoi Opera House. Enjoy a brief guided walk through the Old Quarter. Your day includes a visit to a Communal House that dates back to the 13th century. Set up by the guilds in each area, these are like small temples to honor a local god. These little courtyard areas are usually protected from the street and often have hidden entrances or just humble low roofs out front that give way to elaborate interior courtyards and temple buildings. Dinner tonight is very special and will be at Nineteen 11, the only restaurant located within the grounds of the famous Opera House. Sofitel Legend Metropole – Premium Room Opera (B,D)
Day 8: Hanoi / Halong Bay
Today you set out on a drive to stunning Halong Bay, where you will board your boat for an overnight cruise. You cruise through this magnificent bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The tranquil bay is filled with islands and islets such as the Mat Quy and Am Islets that you cruise past as you savor a buffet lunch. Visit the Tien Ong Cave before continuing to the Cua Van Fishing Village, the oldest and biggest fishing village in the bay. The village is reached via smaller, four-person boats. After returning to the boat in the late afternoon, you can watch and participate in a traditional Vietnamese cooking demonstration conducted by the energetic chef. As the boat cruises slowly to its mooring points, you can opt for a relaxing massage or a sunset drink on the terrace deck. Enjoy a talk about Halong Bay before dinner. Halong Violet Junk Boat – Suite Cabin (B,L,D)
Day 9: Halong Bay / Hanoi / Luang Prabang, Laos
For early risers, complimentary tea, coffee and pastries are served in the restaurant, and there is also the option of joining an early Tai Chi class on the open deck. You board a smaller boat to go to a natural white sandy stretch of beach with crystal clear water. Climb to a hill top for a last view over Halong Bay before returning to the boat for the slow cruise back to Halong City. Sail past scenic areas including Ti Top Island, the Tam Cung Cave and Poem Mountain. Disembark via a smaller boat at Tuan Chau Pier at around late morning and transfer directly to the Hanoi airport for your flight to Luang Prabang. On arrival in Luang Prabang, you clear customs and proceed to the exit where you are met by the Big Five representative and escorted to your hotel. 3 Nagas Hotel – Executive Suite (B)
Day 10: Luang Prabang / Lao Jungle
Early morning, you are picked and transferred by minibus to the "Shangri-Lao Explorer Camp" which is about 15 km/9.3 mi outside Luang Prabang. (This is a shared group experience with a guide from the camp).
The end of the 19th century was a time when the region of Indochina was explored by several expeditions. In September 1882, a Frenchman, Dr. P. Neis, was requested by the Minister of Public Education of France, to complete a scientific mission to survey the ‘Moi Tribes,’ who lived in one of France’s first colonies named Cochinchina. Upon arrival in Singapore, Dr. Neis received a letter from the governor of Cochinchina stating that there was a greater, more politically vital interest in finding out what was happening in the territories between Luang Prabang and Tonkin. Problems had erupted between French soldiers and Chinese Haw bandits. Dr. Neis, therefore, sailed up the Mekong on December 23, 1882, from Kratie near Phnom Phen, Cambodia. Dr. Neis stayed eight months in Luang Prabang and explored the area around the town including the Nam Khan River up to the village of Xieng Ngeun, some 24 km/15 mi. to the south. The Shangri-Lao Classic Explorer Camp is located just 3 km/1.9 mi. downstream from Xieng Lom Village, believed to be the same that Dr. Neis chose for his own camp in 1883.
Arrive at the Shangri-Lao Explorer Camp, and begin by talking to the veterinarian. You feed the elephants and relax by the riverside. Take an elephant ride traveling for over an hour through forests and over hills to a hidden valley and waterfall where a luxury lunch with traditional Lao food and wine awaits. Then continue on foot, trekking for about half an hour across bamboo bridges and past waterfalls with blue pools. Where the trail leaves the valley, horses from the hill tribes wait to carry the bags through the fields and forest. On arrival at the Nam Khan River, float downstream on a luxury bamboo raft, and observe the traditional village life of farmers and fishermen along the river. You can stop at the Tad Sae Waterfall if desired. Return to the camp and check in to your tent. A barbeque dinner will be served under the night sky. Shangri Lao Explorer Camp (B/L/D)
Please Note: The experience at Shangri Lao Explorer is shared with other guests at the camp. The camp is very basic in style. The camp suggest that you bring a swimsuit, small towel, long trousers, comfortable walking shoes/sandals and personal items such as medications, sunscreen, insect repellent, etc. Since you are staying overnight, the tents are equipped with mosquito nets.
Day 11: Lao Jungle / Luang Prabang
Rise early to savor a magical sunrise atmosphere and trek to the jungle to reunite with the elephants. Together with the Mahouts, you walk back down to the river for their daily morning bath. After a short Mahout lesson, you will ride bareback on the elephant's neck, wash it, and guide it through the river to the camp – an amazing experience to share with these gentle giants. Take a rest to refresh and enjoy breakfast at the riverside while the sun slowly rises over the mountains. The remote villages are stirring into life and you’ll see locals rowing small boats to their fields, taking their children to school and washing clothes in the river.
After breakfast, the elephants will lead you to the Mahout Camp. This is where you learn how to train and guide the elephants. With hands-on experience, you practice how to take off the Howdah seat, climb on the elephant and control it riding bareback on its neck. The guide will teach more about the relationship between Mahouts and elephants. Feed the elephants to say thank you and good bye before returning to the camp. In the afternoon, take stroll through the nearby villages with the camp guide. Experience the local lifestyle in a remote village and learn about the ethnic groups of Laos. After a busy day, late this afternoon you will transfer back to your hotel. 3 Nagas Hotel – Executive Suite (B/L)
Day 12: Luang Prabang / Bangkok / Yangon, Myanmar
Today you are transferred to the airport with brief sightseeing en route, if time permits. Fly from Luang Prabang to Bangkok, where you will connect your onward flight to Yangon, Myanmar. On arrival in Yangon you are met and transferred to your hotel where the rest of the evening is at leisure. The Governor’s Residence – Junior Suite (B)
Day 13: Yangon
Yangon lies in the fertile delta of southern Myanmar, on the wide Yangon River. The city is filled with tree-shaded boulevards, with shimmering stupas peeking above the treetops. The city became the capital only in 1885, when the British completed the conquest of Upper Myanmar and Mandalay's brief period as capital of the last Burmese kingdom ended. The city offers a wealth of sights to explore. Botataung Pagoda, for example, was named after the 1000 military leaders who escorted relics of the Buddha that originally were brought from India over 2000 years ago. This ancient monument was completely destroyed during WWII. It was then rebuilt in a very similar style to its predecessor, but the zedi is hollow and one can walk through it. Ngadatkyi Paya in the Ashay Tawya monastery contains the huge seated five-story Buddha image. The national museum hosts several interesting exhibits, especially the eight-meter/26-foot tall Sihasana Lion Throne, used by the last Burmese king, King Thibaw Min. It was returned to Burma from England in 1908 by Lord Mountbatten. The main floor of the museum contains jewelry, vintage black and white photographs of Mandalay Palace and Yangon, royal relics, Hintha opium weights and inscribed tablets.
The Buddhist Art Museum is housed in a 1952 Art Deco-style building. The dominant lotus window depicts all the attitudes of the Buddha. The museum exhibits begging bowls, palm leaf scriptures and wooden Buddha images dating from the 18th to 20th centuries. Maha Wizaya Pagoda was built by General Ne Win in the 1980s. The pagoda is hollow with a ceiling depicting Burmese constellations and a permanent display of pagoda styles through the ages. Sule Pagoda has a 48-meter/157-foot high golden dome used by the British as the nucleus of their grid pattern for the city when they rebuilt it in the 1880s. The pagoda's peculiarity is its octagonal-shaped stupa. Your day ends with a sunset visit to the famed Shwedagon Pagoda that dates back about 2,500 years and was built to house eight sacred hairs of the Buddha. Its original shape has changed beyond all recognition over the centuries. Its bell-shaped superstructure, resting on a terraced base, is covered in about 60 tons of gold-leaf, which is continuously replenished. The Governor’s Residence – Junior Suite (B)
Day 14: Yangon / Heho / Inle Lake
Today you are transferred to the Yangon airport for your flight to Heho. On arrival, you are welcomed and driven to Inle Lake. Once you arrive at the lake, you enjoy a boat ride on this calm lake with colorful patches of floating vegetation and slow moving fishing canoes. Rolling high hills hug the lake on all sides. Along the shoreline and the lake’s islands are some 17 villages on stilts, mostly inhabited by the Intha people. Enjoy the awe-inspiring scenery and meditate on the one of a kind skill of the local fishermen who make use of their legs in a unique rowing technique to glide themselves gracefully around the lake. Visit the enchanting floating gardens, a teeming market and an Intha village around the lake. The day also includes a visit to the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, Inn Paw Khon Village (Lotus and silk weaving villages) and the Nga Phe Kyaung Monastery.
Next visit Ywar Ma village (Padaung Long Neck Women), which is the largest village on Inle Lake, followed by a visit to the goldsmith workshops, silk weaving cottage industries, and observe the sculpture and umbrella industries. Shan bags, gold and silver wares are the main products of these villages. Inle Princess Resort Inle Lake – Princess Chalet (B)
Day 15: Inle Lake
In addition to the lake, the mountain villages that surround it offer fascinating insights into life here. Much of the produce for the local Five Day Market comes from these villages. This morning, you travel from Inle Lake to In Dein village on a small canal on the south end of the lake. A short walk around the village takes you past a school and up a covered stairway to the beautiful Alaung Sitthou area, where ancient stupas are partially hidden in the vegetation. The views of the lake are stunning. Later, return to your resort. Inle Princess Resort Inle Lake – Princess Chalet (B)
Day 16: Inle Lake
Take a boat over to Sagar on the far south of the lake in an area that was only opened to travelers in 2003. Mountains form a backdrop to the small fishing villages. You see some of the 108 'sunken' stupas dating from the 16th and 17th centuries that are partially underwater for a few months a year. Continue to the village of Thaya Gone, home to Pa-O, Shan and Intha people, and where you can sample locally-produced rice wine. In Sae Khaung Pottery Village, you watch artisans craft oil and water pots that are baked in the natural, underground kilns. After lunch, continue to Tar Kaung on the western shores to see more than 200 stupas. During the boat trip back in the afternoon, you’ll pass scenes of noodles drying in the sun, women hanging spun cotton out to dry and children returning from school. Inle Princess Resort Inle Lake – Princess Chalet (B,L)
Day 17: Inle Lake
This morning, you explore the Five Day Market, a rotating market that changes locations every five days. Here, locals come to buy and sell their goods. Items range from hand-made crafts to produce grown on the floating gardens. Take notice and enjoy the colorful clothes worn by the different hill tribes as they barter in this lively setting. Continue on through the artisan village visiting the Ann silk lotus weavers, the gold and silversmith, the Nampan floating gardens, and a unique umbrella workshop. Inle Princess Resort Inle Lake – Princess Chalet (B)
Day 18: Inle Lake / Heho / Bagan
Today you are transferred from your resort to the Heho airport for your flight to Bagan. On arrival in Bagan, you are met and transferred to your hotel. Explore the town through its cafes. Burmese people enjoy their tea shops in Myanmar. Visit a local tea shop to experience the authentic taste of Myanmar tea and its tea culture, explore daily lives of locals, discussing current issues. Here, to, you also try some local foods at the tea shop such as La Phat Thote, pickled tea leaf salad, Mohingha and Somosas. Discover the artisan villages around Bagan, known for their lacquerware workshops. Aureum Palace Hotel Bagan – Orchid Villa (B)
Day 19: Bagan
This morning, you are in for an extraordinary experience – a hot air balloon ride over Bagan! Drifting over the plains and temples of this ancient city offers you views that no ancient king or mystic could have imagined. Upon landing, enjoy some refreshments, before continuing on to Mount Popa, which rises 737 meters/2,418 feet from the flat surrounding Myingyan Plain. It is an extinct volcano last active 250,000 years ago. It is also the site of many temples, and is considered the abode of Myanmar's most powerful nats (spirits) and, as such, is the most important nat worship center in the country. You continue to experience the fascinating lore and history of the area. This afternoon, explore Bagan on a privately guided bicycle tour. A vehicle is close by should you wish to explore part of the way by vehicle. Bagan is a spectacular plain stretching away from the Ayeyarwaddy River, dotted with thousands of 800-year old temple ruins. Although human habitation at Bagan dates back almost to the beginning of the Christian era, Bagan only entered its Golden era with the conquest of Thaton in 1057 AD. You will explore several temples such as Shwegugyi, built in 1311, an elegant example of the Middle Period, which represents a transition in architectural style from dark and cloistered to airy and light.
Thatbyinnyu Pahto is an 'Omniscient' temple, one of the tallest in Bagan, rising to 61 meters/200 feet and dates from around the mid-12th century. Following the sacking of Thaton, King Anawrahta carted off some 30 elephant-loads of Buddhist scriptures. He had Pitaka Taik built as a library to house them in 1058. The design follows the basic Early Bagan Gu plan, perfect for the preservation of light-sensitive, palm-leaf scriptures. Nathlaung Kyaung is Bagan's only Hindu Vaishnavite temple, probably built in the 10th century to serve Bagan's Indian community of merchants and craftsmen. Pahtothamya Temple was probably built during the reign of Kyanzittha (1084-1113), but it may have been one of five temples built by King Taunghthugyi (931-964). Painting remnants along the interior passages may rank as the earliest surviving murals in Bagan. Gawdawpalin Pahto is one of the largest and most imposing of the Bagan temples. Bupaya on the bank of the Ayeyarwady is a cylindrical Pyu-style stupa and said to be the oldest in Bagan. Local residents claim it dates to the 3rd century. The distinctively shaped bulbous stupa stands above rows of crenelated terraces. Aureum Palace Hotel Bagan – Orchid Villa (B)
Day 20: Bagan / Mandalay
Today you fly to Mandalay, where you are welcomed and transferred to your hotel. Today you explore Burmese cuisine through a hands-on cooking class at Green Elephant Restaurant. Following the demonstration, enjoy the results of your cooking at lunch. Then, relax in a traditional hut before you set out on a short afternoon bicycle tour of a Burmese village and countryside. Later, visit historic Yan Kin Hill to enjoy sunset before returning to your hotel. Sedona Hotel Mandalay – Club Room (B/L)
Day 21: Mandalay / Bangkok
Depart very early this morning from your hotel to discover Mahagandayon Monastery in Amarapura. You will find few other visitors at this early hour and the reward is authentic interactions with the monks, learning the deep beliefs and how they follow the path to enlightenment. There are over 1,500 monks here and some may join you for tea before sunrise. Then head over to U Bein Bridge around sunrise. This afternoon, transfer to the airport for your flight to Bangkok, where you are assisted to your airport hotel.
Novotel Bangkok Airport – Deluxe Room (B)
Day 22: Bangkok / Depart
Today you transfer to the airport for your international flight to your onward destination (B)
Included In The Tour Cost:
- Accommodations as indicated in the itinerary, (Double room) including taxes and service charges
- Meals as indicated (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner)
- Private airport / hotel transfers as indicated on itinerary by private AC car / van
- All tours with private guide including entrance and parking fees
- Internal flights in Vietnam, Laos & Myanmar as mentioned in the itinerary in coach class including the flights Hanoi / Luang Prabang / Bangkok / Yangon / Heho / Bagan / Mandalay Bangkok
- Comprehensive assortment of pre-tour amenities and materials
- Big Five’s 24-hour White Glove Service® guest assistance
- Complimentary one year membership to One More Generation, including adoption of an endangered species
Not Included In The Tour Cost:
Any international airfares; airport taxes; passport and visa fees; travel insurance (which is strongly recommended); excess baggage charges; fuel surcharges; any meals not specifically mentioned above; items of a personal nature such as gratuities for guides/game rangers, telephone calls and laundry.
Notes: A visa is required for Vietnam, Laos & Myanmar, you need to process your Vietnam and Myanmar visa before you depart the US.
Price are for land only, double occupancy.
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