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Laos & Cambodia
A Journey Through the Heart of Indochina
Begin your journey in Laos, where the general pace of life still echoes a time gone past. The UNESCO World Heritage city of Luang Prabang provides a prefect introduction to the region, with its palm-lined streets filled with Buddhist monks from the many area temples. Visits to a number of surrounding villages introduces you to the different ethnic groups that inhabit the area, while also showcasing the country’s natural beauty. A bicycle tour through the capitol city of Vientiane is a great way to experience the city’s sights alongside local daily life. A visit to an elephant park for protection of the animals is a highlight.
Traveling onward to Cambodia, you’ll first encounter the capitol city of Phnom Penh by taste, in a hands-on Khmer cooking class. Later explore the city by traditional cycle. Moving north to Kampong Thom, enjoy the lesser-known ruins of Sambor Prei Kuk and experience an unforgettable homestay in the traditional village of Isanborei, where community-based tourism helps preserve both the local way of life as well as the historic ruins. Of course, no trip to Cambodia would be complete without a visit to the amazing ruins of Angkor Wat.
ARRIVE LUANG PRABANG, LAOS
Arrive in Luang Prabang. Arrival times vary based on individual flights. Meet your guide and driver, transfer to your hotel.
LUANG PRABANG EXPLORATION
The bells of the town's monasteries toll at dawn when golden lines of monks emerge to receive their morning rice from the townspeople. If you rise early, you will have the opportunity to respectfully witness this sacred ritual typical of old Laos-long lines of barefoot monks weaving through the streets on their alms rounds.
In keeping with our respectful stance regarding local cultures, please observe this sacred ritual from a respectful distance. We also encourage that if you must take photographs that it does not interfere with this highly revered ritual.
Afterwards, visit the Morning Market and see an array of meats, vegetables and spices the locals use in their cooking. Return to your hotel for breakfast.
Meet your guide at your hotel and explore this historic and charming World Heritage Town. Transfer to begin your journey at the most popular of temples – Wat Xieng Thong. This 500 year old temple is exquisite and is the best example of the classic Luang Prabang style.
From here, explore small side streets, along back alleys and through temples – a city that could have been designed with slow travel in mind, a morning walking tour allows you to soak up the ambiance and appreciate the hidden charms of Luang Prabang. Through your guide, feel free to ask the locals questions as they go about their daily lives.
Continue wandering up the peninsula, stopping at temples and other sites as you wish. Visit the National Museum, which is the former Royal Palace. Relics from Laos’ royalist past remain here. Overlooking the palace is Phousi Mountain. It is said that those who do not climb the 328 steps up have not really made it to the city. Venture up the hill and be rewarded with remarkable views of the area.
In the afternoon, depart through Laos' scenic countryside to the Pak Ou Caves, a mystical pilgrimage site perched high above the Mekong River 27 miles outside of Luang Prabang. On arrival in Ban Pak Ou, a boat will ferry you across the river to reach the Pak Ou caves.
Peering into dark corners, your eyes gradually adjust to reveal the serene faces and figures of more than 3,000 Buddha images, some inlaid with semi-precious stones. That these remain undisturbed in this remote site in one of the world's poorest countries is a testament to the devotion of the people. Return by boat to Luang Prabang, cruising along the Mekong. On the way back, enjoy the lush river life along the Mekong while sipping a drink and tasting some Lao snacks.
Stop at two riverside villages along the way. In Ban Xang Khong, the weaving of prized Lao textiles still takes place on ancient wooden looms. Some villagers are also engaged in mulberry paper production. The villagers of Ban Xang Hai produce Lao Lao, a rice whisky. Try a swig of this potent drink – if you dare!
TRADITIONS AND PEOPLE OF LAOS
After breakfast meet your guide and driver start the day with a visit to the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre, a museum dedicated to the ethnic minorities of Laos. (Note: closed on Mondays)
Then drive into the peaceful countryside, stopping to explore several villages along the way. We will see a Hmong, a Khmu, and a Lowland Lao village and can compare their different life styles, traditions and religions.
The Lowland Lao of Ban Sa-aat live on the banks of the Mekong and its tributaries and in the cities. They speak Lao, which is closely related to the Thai spoken in Thailand.
Ban Pano is home to Khmu people, who were the original inhabitants of Northern Laos. They are animists and speak a language belonging to the Austro-Asiatic group of languages.
In Ban Long Lao, you will see Hmong and Khmu people live peaceful side by side. The Hmong settlers were the most recent to come to Laos. They built their villages on the mountain tops and practice shifting cultivation of corn and other crops.
In Ban Pano and Ban Long Lao, local guides from these villages will show you around. You will have the chance to get to see houses from inside, traditional dresses and explanations about different craft productions or other common work routines. The villagers are grateful for this additional income and they are proud to welcome visitors from far away!
Continue on to the Kuang Si Waterfall. At the falls, crystal water cascades into idyllic turquoise pools. Bring a bathing suit if you would like to swim! Also take time to visit the nearby Sunbear Refuge to learn more about the poaching of these endangered creatures.
In the afternoon, you will be transferred to your hotel to freshen up before being treated to the refined grace of a private baci ceremony at a small village called Ban Khomkhuang. These gentle villagers led by their Nai Ban (village chief) offer visitors tidings of good luck and fortune for their life and travels by gently tying cotton cords symbolizing luck, friendship and good health around your wrists. The baci ceremony will be held at a private family home.
ARTS AND CRAFTS OF LAOS
After breakfast, your guide will take you out for a ‘Rice Experience’. Learn how rice is traditionally grown and produced in 13 very interactive steps! All the steps are explained and demonstrated by the charming local employees and your active involvement will make for a fun and educational experience – the most spectacular of which involves plowing the paddy field with a buffalo named Susan!
After learning so much about this Lao staple, the last part of the experience of course has to be a tasting! Sticky rice accompanied by a traditional dipping sauce, rice crackers and a couple of other local products made from the grain.
There are also other activities going on around you – traditional trades plied outside of the rice season. A blacksmith forges blades for reaping the harvest, and storage baskets are woven from natural materials. A stroll around the organic vegetable gardens is a pleasant way to finish off.
Then transfer to the Living Crafts Centre for a delicious Lao lunch. Spend the afternoon in a stunning Mekong riverside garden. Prepare natural dyes and dye your own silk scarves. The workshop looks at silkworms, natural dyes and weaving techniques. The afternoon’s program is interactive and full of fascinating information; a unique and entertaining opportunity to learn about silk weaving. Meet the silkworms with an introduction to the types of silk they produce. After preparing the dye sources, dye white scarves in your chosen colors. Try weaving and spinning on the demonstration looms. Then stroll around the garden, nibble on some tasty fried silkworms and enjoy a cocktail as the sun dips behind the mountains on the Mekong.
LUANG PRABANG - VIENTIANE
Although historically known as the "Land of a Million Elephants," Laos is gradually losing its biggest and most regal animals to human development. The Elephant Village is investing in community eco-programs in Luang Prabang to give Lao elephants a new home. As forests disappear, the elephants used to log them can become neglected. The aim of the project is to give these elephants a brighter future. So far five elephants have been freed from logging work and given a new home in the park. Experienced mahouts (trainers and care-givers) and veterinarians help the elephants adapt to their new environment.
This morning, tour the elephant project and enjoy an hour long ride on the back of one of these wonderful creatures. Venturing into the beautiful Lao countryside, stop at the cascade falls of Tad Sae before returning to the camp and back to town.
Relax on your own until time to check out and fly to Vientiane.
On arrival in Vientiane, meet your guide and transfer to your hotel. Evening free time to explore and enjoy one of the many wonderful local restaurants.
EXPLORING VIENTIANE BY BICYCLE
After breakfast, transfer to the starting point for a day of cycling. Next to the city center, Vientiane’s charming open heart, the capital has many more faces. We will follow the Mekong River, Vientiane’s lifeline and artery. Dreamy dirt roads will bring through scenic villages with pile dwellings lined with palm- and wild banana trees. En route we will face heaps of twinkling temples and we will come across many Buddhist monasteries. In the right season we also will see the Mekong sandbanks on which fishermen dwell with their bamboo-supported nets.
In the center we bike along the sleepy residences of the former colonial rulers and dive into alleyways rarely visited by foreigners. It’s not the biking itself we are after, it’s the various forms and scenes of Lao life we will come across in markets and on schoolyards, the laughing faces and the daily business in its full and simple glory. But we also will experience the other side: the decadent lifestyle in gated communities. We'll pass by some touristic highlights as That Dam, Wat Si Saket, Wat Phra Keauw, the Presidential Palace, the Morning Market, Wat Sok Pa Luang temple, a Catholic church and will visit actually the Laotian Arc de Triomphe (Patouxay) and the That Luang Stupa. At the Arc de Triomphe we will climb up the seven flights of stairs to view the whole of the city. The That Luang Stupa is considered the most significant stupa in Laos. Besides the sightseeing, touring Vientiane on a bike is fantastic, as you never know what you will encounter!
VIENTIANE - PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA
Relax on your own until time to transfer to the airport for your flight to Phnom Penh.
Welcome to Cambodia! Upon arrival in Phnom Penh, obtain your Cambodian visa. Clear Immigration and Customs and proceed into the arrival area.
Upon arrival, you will be met by your personal, English-speaking guide and transferred to your hotel for check-in.
Spend the evening free at your leisure. We recommend visiting Phnom Penh’s charming riverside, which is buzzing with activity and has many good restaurants.
KHMER COOKING CLASS & CYCLO TOUR
This morning you will start your day at 08:30 am, where you will be collected from your hotel and taken to Frizz Cambodian Cooking School for a half-day Khmer cooking experience. Frizz was established by a Dutch expat with a passion for traditional Khmer cooking. The cooking class was the first Khmer cooking school for travelers in Phnom Penh, the approach is fun, relaxed and interactive and you can work together or individually.
You will start the day with a tour around the local market where you can choose the local ingredients for the two dishes you will create from scratch. The bustling markets in Phnom Penh are especially interesting in the morning, when all of the local Cambodian people are doing their morning shopping. At the market you will have the opportunity to choose fresh local ingredients - Cambodian vegetables, herbs, spices and other ingredients for your morning’s cooking experience.
While you are cooking, the teacher will be there to guide and take you through step by step so that you are guaranteed to enjoy eating all the food that you have prepared. The course will finish at 13:00 pm, and then you can take your time to enjoy the food that you have made at the school –which is situated on a breezy rooftop terrace.
In the afternoon, depart on a traditional cyclo tour through the heart of Phnom Penh. You will be cycled to the holy site of Wat Phnom where a 14th century stupa and a small pagoda stand. Continue along the riverside promenade, stopping at the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda. Although some 60% of the pagoda’s contents were destroyed under Pol Pot’s regime, what remains is spectacular. This is one of the best places in all of Cambodia where objects embodying the brilliance of the Khmer civilization can still be viewed; continue to visit the National Museum with its huge collection of Khmer sculpture and artifacts recovered from Angkor. We end this afternoon with a visit to Tuol Sleng Prison, housed in a high school, to glimpse the devastating horrors that prevailed during Cambodia's ultra-radical Marxist movement. This excursion may prove distressing for some. It is however an important piece of Cambodia’s recent past.
PHNOM PENH - KAMPONG THOM
This morning you will be picked up for your drive to Kampong Thom. Along the way, stop briefly at Skuon where the local specialty is fried spiders sold on the roadside. You will also visit Sambor Prei Kuk. Sambor Prei Kuk was the capital of the Chenla Kingdom, which predates Angkor by several centuries. The ruins are spread out over a vast distance and Sambor Prei Kuk gets very few visitors. You will visit the three main temples complexes Prasat Sambor, Prasat Tor and Prasat Yeah Puon on foot, enjoy the beautiful ruins in peace and quiet. After your wonderful tour you will have a traditional Khmer picnic lunch in front of the temples.
After lunch, you will arrive at the Isanborei community - this project was set up by Khiri Reach in collaboration with GIZ with the purpose to generate more income for the local people and improve their standard of living as well as to conserve nature, culture and the ancient temple ruins.
You will visit the rural village, the handicraft village and the noodle village. This is your chance to get closer to local people and learn about their daily life. You will make visits around the community and at the end of the day you can help cook dinner with your host family. Accommodation at the home stay will have a very local feel to it. (Mosquito netting and bedding provided.) The overnight homestay provides a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in traditional Cambodian village life.
KAMPONG THOM - SIEM REAP
This morning, continue our trip towards Siem Reap. Along the way we will stopover in Kompong Kdei to see one of the ancient Angkor bridges that were built to span the rivers. Spean Praptos has more than 20 arches and is a spectacular sight. We will take a visit to Beng Mealea, another seldom visited ruin. Beng Mealea is a spectacular jungle temple, located about 40 km north of Siem Reap. Lunch will be at a local restaurant.
Continue on to Siem Reap to check in to the hotel, you will arrive in the late afternoon. Enjoy the evening to relax at your own leisure.
After breakfast, your private guide and set a site to visit to Angkor. Angkor is visually, architecturally and artistically breathtaking -- it is one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia, if not the world. Stretching over some 400 km2, including forested area, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. They include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its famous faces and countless sculptural decorations. UNESCO has set up a wide-ranging program to safeguard this symbolic site and its surroundings.
You will start to visit to the South Gate of Angkor Thom and the temples of Bayon, Baphoun, Phimean Akas, The Royal Enclosure, Terrace of Elephants and Leper King. Lunch will be at Nest Angkor Restaurant. The whole afternoon is set aside for a visit to the main temple, Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is one of humankind’s greatest achievements, and the intricate carvings at the temple of Angkor Wat demonstrate the skill of the Khmer builders. It was constructed in the jungle in the early 12th century, then - two centuries later - was mysteriously abandoned by the Khmer civilization. The jungle soon overwhelmed Angkor Wat, hiding it for several centuries with thick tropical foliage. There was little left to see except an occasional protruding building stone. In 1861, a French naturalist accidentally came across the jungle-veiled ruins. Now Angkor Wat is the main reason tourists come to visit Cambodia.
Finish your day with the sunset on the top of Bakheng Hill , where you can see the view of the temple of Angkor Wat and whole site of Angkor Heritage.
BANTREY SREI AND TONLE SAP
Early morning visit Bantrey Srei, which for many years was off limits due to its remote location and Khmer Rouge activity. Built in the late 10th century and dedicated to Shiva, Bantrey Srei's pink limestone walls contain the best bas reliefs of any temple at Angkor.
If you are interested, you may choose to visit the Cambodian Landmine Museum, Prevention and Rehabilitation Center. It is estimated that more than 110 million land mines are buried throughout the world. Buried within Afghanistan, Angola, Iraq, Kuwait and Cambodia are the largest concentrations of land mines. In Cambodia, efforts at clearing mines around Angkor Wat and the major tourist sites have been successful. However, millions of mines remain buried and significantly impact the lives of the Cambodian people. Learn about the center's efforts and work on this visit. Enjoy your lunch at Viroth’s Restaurant.
This afternoon enjoy an excursion to Mechrey Village on Tonle Sap Lake, with a drive time of approximately one hour. En route stop at Ampil Peam to stroll through this traditional village where locals live much as they have for centuries. Continue to Mechrey, a small community on Tonle Sap Lake. Board a local-style boat and explore the area. This interesting excursion includes a foray into the nearby flooded forest. Your guide will explain the biodiversity in this area, and discuss the importance of the lake for the livelihood of thousands of locals. Tonle Sap, meaning “Great Lake” is in fact a combined lake and river system. Learn about how its flow changes direction twice a year, depending on the season. It has been declared a UNESCO biosphere, recognizing its great importance to the surrounding eco-system.
Return to Siem Reap early today and spend the rest of the day at your leisure.
Today your private driver will transfer you to airport onward your flight time. Hotel check out is 12:00pm.
13D / 12N
Custom departures available year-round
Luang Prabang - Vientiane - Phnom Penh - Kampong Thom - Siem Reap - Angkor Wat - Tonle Sap - Siem Reap
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