London – Bangkok – Luang Prabang
You fly out of Heathrow in the morning bound for Bangkok and then on to Luang Prabang, arriving in this fascinating city the following day. Then you’ll have two days to explore a fabled UNESCO World Heritage Site set on the mighty Mekong River.
You’ll think time has stood still for centuries as you tour around some of the 100 temples, the ancient monuments and shrines of this one-time religious capital – unmissable destinations like Vat Vishoun, set beside Vat Phou and Vat Aham; almost engulfed by living trees.
You’ll visit the city’s museums as well as witnessing the Tak Bath Ceremony, involving a procession of monks, and taking a boat ride to see Buddhist images in the Pak Ou cave sanctuaries, and secret Lao villages. A fitting beginning to your tour of Indochina.
Stay: Three nights in a deluxe room at Hotel 3 Nagas.
Today you fly to Hanoi in Vietnam where you’ll be able to appreciate the recent history of this involving country, with visits to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the botanical gardens surrounding the Presidential Palace and Uncle Ho’s humble house.
In the afternoon a trip to the grim ‘Hanoi Hilton’ prison provides a stark contrast to a bicycle ride through the charming 11th century Old Quarter of Hanoi with its famous 36 streets, culminating at the Ngoc Son Temple on the banks of the Lake of the Restored Sword.
Stay: Two nights at Hotel de l’Opera.
A road journey of over three hours gives you plenty of time to appreciate – and photograph – the beautiful countryside on the way to Halong Bay. Here you’ll board the Jasmine Junk for your cruise across the bay; scene of thousands of sculpted limestone peaks rising like green-cloaked ghosts from the placid waters.
A tender will take you to Tieng Org Cave – a vast cavern full of limestone stalactites and stalagmites dating back 700,000 years. After Tieng Org you’ll visit a traditional fishing village and enjoy an optional cookery class before mooring for the evening.
Stay: One night aboard the Halong Jasmine Junk.
In the morning you cruise on aboard the Jasmine back across the bay. You’ll then drive to Hanoi to catch a plane to Hue, once the Imperial Capital of the country. Today the city is a World Heritage Site featuring the superb Noon Gate leading to the Imperial Palace of the Emperor Gia Long.
On the north bank of the Perfume River stands the Imperial Citadel – similar in purpose to Peking’s Forbidden City – and the seven story octagonal tower of the Thien Mu Pagoda. Your visit is followed by a drive to Tu Duc and Khai Dinh, the most elaborate of the Nguyen dynasty tombs, and a browse around Dong Ba Market.
Stay: Two nights at Hotel Saigon Morin, Hue City.
Another stunning road trip takes you through the Hai Van Pass to Hoi An. This was once one of Indochina’s most prosperous trading ports and its eminent position shows in its well-preserved streets, wooden-fronted merchants’ homes, old Chinese houses, the Japanese Bridge, Chinese Temple and Phung Hung Trading House.
Hoi An also offers hectic markets selling souvenirs, silks, handicrafts, antiques and art, as well as a glorious beach famous for its warm sea and irresistible seafood stalls.
Stay: Two nights at Anantara, Hoi An.
After breakfast you’ll drive over to Danang Airport for your flight back to Saigon. The Old Post Office designed by Gustave Eiffel, the red brick cathedral, Dong Khoi Street and the Palace of Reunification form part of a city tour that will also reveal the Chinese district of Cholon and the Thien Hau Temple.
Stay: Two nights at Hotel Des Arts.
Now it’s time to experience one of the spiritual wonders of the world. Siem Reap is home to Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, a cornucopia of temples, huge statues, decorative carvings, soaring towers and enigmatic stone heads staring down from high above you. Stupendous places like the 12th century Bayon – a temple with 54 towers – the Baphou, the Elephant Terrace and Leper King Terrace greet you as you’re guided around the 10 sq km city complex.
Dream-like images abound, like the causeway flanked by statues of gods and devils, the man-made temple of Ta Prohm that seems to be locked in a struggle with the natural jungle – the all-powerful roots of massive trees inexorably pushing aside huge blocks of stone. Even more astonishing; if you rise early you can watch the sun rise over the world’s most impressive ruin.
On your final day in Siem Reap you’ll discover a different aspect of Cambodia with a trip to Kompong Khleang, a quiet village untouched by mass tourism. Here you can see traditional stilt houses, meet a family who breed crocodiles and take in jaw-dropping views of the floodplains, rice paddies and waterscapes.
Stay: Two nights at Anantara, Hoi An.
Siem Reap - Bangkok - London
You don’t fly out until the evening so you’ll have plenty of time to revisit the wonders of Siem Reap before flying back to Bangkok and onwards to London, arriving early the following morning.
Of your various competitors, Ayesha stood out a mile ahead with her advice, decisiveness and willingness to help- RW, India, 2014