Day 1: Day 1 in Hanoi
Xin chao! Welcome to Vietnam. This adventure kicks off with a group meeting at 6:00 pm. Look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where it will take place. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, maybe arrive a day early so you're able to attend. If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. At the meeting have your insurance details and next of kin information ready for collection. Because this trip doesn’t spend much time in Hanoi, why not arrive a day or two early to see the sights? Check out your reflection in beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake, wander along shaded boulevards or relax in a public park with some delicious street food (spring rolls inside rice paper rolls, anyone?). Museum-wise, why not visit the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh, drop into the serene Temple of Literature or get arty at the city's Fine Arts Museum. Tonight, maybe grab a streetside stool and a fresh bia hoi and watch the motorbikes zoom by with your new mates.
Day 2: Day 2 in Cat Ba Island
Travel by bus and ferry (approximately 3.5 hours) to Cat Ba Island, the largest island in the UNESCO-listed Halong Bay. With thousands of little limestone islands scattered around, this area is one of those quintessential Vietnamese scenes in which bright green water is dotted with traditional junk boats and limestone karsts. Take a cruise around Lan Ha Bay with lunch on the boat, then get up close and personal with this other-worldly landscape by kayak. Stay overnight on Cat Ba Island and enjoy a dip at one of the beaches and a cold beer.
Day 3: Day 3 in Hanoi - Overnight Train
Wake up to the purr-fect scenes of Cat Ba and the bay and enjoy some free time at the beach. Go for a swim, kick back with a book or take a long, romantic stroll along the sand which will probably be neither long (it's an island) nor romantic (it's morning and mornings are not romantic). In the afternoon, head back to Hanoi and jump on the overnight train to Hue (approximately 12 hours). This may be your first time on an overnight train in Asia and trust us, the first time is always special. It's an experience.
Day 4: Day 4 in Hue
Arrive in Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam. You have today free to explore. You could easily spend a couple of hours exploring Hue’s massive walled citadel and the Forbidden Purple Palace that's enclosed within it. Perhaps jump on board a Dragon Boat and enjoy a cruise up the Perfume River to visit the Thien Mu pagoda. You could also check out Dong Ba Market, which offers locally made goods, fresh produce and some tasty, tasty street food. This is a good place to try the grub that Emperor Nguyen used to feast on (banh khoai royal rice cake – can you taste the royalty?). If you like being on two wheels then maybe cycle out to one of the royal tombs such as the tomb of Emperor Tu Duc (one of the most excellent remaining examples of its kind), or set off on an optional motorcycle tour of the sights in Hue and some surrounding villages.
Day 5: Day 5 in Hoi An
Continue along the coast to Hoi An by private bus (approximately 3 hours). Once in Hoi An, your leader will take you on a walking tour of this unique town which has been influenced over the years by Europe, China, Vietnam and Japan. The town was a major trading port from the 17th century onwards, and its old-school flavour is written all over its architecture. For a small town, it's pretty lively in places. In others, it's chilled out. The tour will take you down the streets that are being restored and look a lot like they did 100 years ago or more. You'll check out a historic house (formerly home to a prominent trader), the Japanese Covered Bridge, a Chinese assembly hall and a museum.
Day 6: Day 6 in Hoi An
Enjoy a free day in Hoi An. Maybe wander to the Central Market and browse the paintings, woodwork, ceramics and lanterns. Hoi An is also famous for its talented tailors, so if you’ve been wearing the same shirt every day and it's starting to smell like coriander, why not hit one of the same-day tailors and get yourself something new? Or, if you're still feeling adventurous, hire a bicycle and tour the surrounding countryside (this is one of the best ways to experience rural Vietnam).
Day 7: Day 7 in Hoi An - Overnight Train
Lucky you – it's another free day in paradise. You could take a trip out to the My Son temples (World Heritage-listed beauties that reflect the rich cultural traditions of the Cham civilisation), hop on a cruise along the Thu Bon River and or get beachy with a trip to the nearby Cua Dai Beach. Afterwards, board your next overnight train. This one's to Phan Rang, a great beach town on the central coast (approximately 8 hours).
Day 8: Day 8 in Phan Rang
Arrive in Phan Rang early this morning for two full days of relaxation. With arguably the best weather in Vietnam, Phan Rang is a low-key coastal city where swimming, snorkelling and seafood take priority. It's vibe is more beach beers than beach bars, so slow down and take it easy because this is meant to be a holiday, isn't it?
Day 9: Day 9 in Phan Rang - Overnight Train
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Don't chill too much, there's one last overnight train to catch tonight. Swap the deck chair for a bunk bed and buckle up (metaphorically) for the seven-hour journey to Ho Chi Minh City.
Day 10: Day 10 in Ho Chi Minh City
Arrive in Ho Chi Minh City very early (approx. 4am) and transfer to your hotel. Then leave your gear in a day room at the hotel. Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is a whirl of sights and sounds. A blend of old and new, East and West, if you will. You can still see the French influence in the top-notch baguettes and coffee on offer. Compared to the north the food is spicier, sweeter and more varied. Much of city life happens on the streets, which are lined with shops, stalls and vendors whose wares are spread on the footpath – everything from soup to sophisticated electronics. Your leader will take you on a walk through the city to point out the best places and sites. Then you have some free time this afternoon. Well worth the visit are the Reunification Palace and War Remants Museum. Maybe join your newest and best travel buddies for a celebratory meal and drink tonight on Pham Ngu Lao Street.
Day 11: Day 11 in 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. 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 6:00 pm.
Day 12: Day 12 in Phnom Penh
Today, travel to Phnom Penh by public bus (approximately 10 hours), which includes two border crossings and a stop for your own lunch. Your guide will assist with formalities at both sides of the border. After your long bus ride to Phnom Penh, why not treat yourself to a traditional Khmer massage? Look no further than Seeing Hands, a great cause supporting visually impaired masseurs. If you're looking for a tasty beverage on arrival, head to the Foreign Correspondents' Club for a mojito on the rooftop, which overlooks the junction between the Tonle Sap, Bassac and Mekong rivers.
Day 13: Day 13 in Phnom Penh
Today, wake up and enjoy an authentic street food breakfast at one of the local markets. Afterwards, the group will head to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S21) and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek on an included visit – both very sobering but important and informative experiences in Cambodia. Afterwards, you may like to explore some other Phnom Penh sights in your own time, like the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, which both offer brighter aspects of Cambodia's past. You might also head for the National Museum or Wat Phnom – a Buddhist temple built in 1372. In the afternoon, head with your group to Futures Factory: a new hospitality concept from Friends International for at-risk youth, providing them with hospitality experience and equipping them with skills to be secure and supported in the workforce. You’ll have the chance to participate in this program and shake your own cocktails or mocktails (with some snacks too, of course). Later on, if your riels are burning a hole in your pocket, look no further than the Central or Russian markets, both great places to interact with the locals.
Day 14: Day 14 in Kampot
This morning, it’s time to head south. Take a private vehicle to the township of Kampot, approximately 3.5 hours from Phnom Penh. Once arrived and settle in, time to look around. Take a heritage walk with your group around the city, and discover the architecture of this quaint town, all from the French Colonial era. You’ll have the opportunity to learn a little of the history of Kampot, plus find some places you’d like to check out on your free day tomorrow! Afterwards, capture a spectacular sunset from the water as you embark on a cruise on the Kampot River. Keep your eyes peeled when the sun goes down, as fireflies may begin to swarm and flicker in the night sky – such a cool sight to see!
Day 15: Day 15 in Kampot
Good morning Kampot! Life is laidback here, and with your full day of freedom, you can do what you want. Kampot is far less overwhelming or touristy than the big cities of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, and has some great restaurants and bars along the river to chill out in during the day. It also acts as a good base for some of the best activities in southern Cambodia. There are several options available for you to take up, including a hike in the thickets of Kep National Park, followed by a visit to the veranda restaurant for panoramic scenery, and hopefully a colourful sunset! Otherwise, take a day trip to Rabbit Island for a snorkelling expedition, or head to a pepper plantation in Kep Province on the mainland. You’re living on Kampot time now, so take your time and see the Cambodia past all the temples.
Day 16: Day 16 in Chambok
Travel by private vehicle (approximately 3 hours) into countryside Cambodia to Chambok: a village in the region of Kampong Speu. Chambok is very close to the beautiful Kirirom National Park and the serenity and peace of the jungle is also felt in town. A homestay tonight is your chance to really immerse yourself in everyday life with the locals. You and your group will have the option to trek to an awesome 40-metre waterfall nearby. lt is a 60 to 90 minute trek and access is weather dependant. At night, feast on a traditional Khmer dinner, prepared by the talented women of the community, and enjoy a celebration of traditional dancing.
Day 17: Day 17 in Kampong Cham
Kampong Cham in a nutshell is frontier charm with French-colonial character. Take a private vehicle there (4.5–5 hours) and soak it all up. Included today is bicycle hire to explore the surrounds, and potentially ride across to the island of Koh Pen (weather permitting). Your group leader will also take you to the 11th-century Wat Nokor temple – one of the lesser-known ‘wats’ in Cambodia. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, a little further away are the twin mountain temples of Phnom Pros and Phnom Srei which, as well as being fascinating sites of religious, historic and spiritual significance, are more than worthy of a picture or two.
Day 18: Day 18 in Siem Reap
Take a public bus to Siem Reap (approximately 5 hours). Your leader will take you on an orientation walk to get your bearings of the town. Afterwards, you might want to hit the markets or head to a restaurant for some cheap and tasty street food, like some lort cha (frieg egg noodles) or chive cakes, then get some rest and relaxation before tomorrow's visit to the crowd favourite: Angkor Wat.
Day 19: Day 19 in Siem Reap/Angkor Wat
Get your camera ready, strap on your walking boots and get ready: it’s temple time. The Angkor complex is arguably South East Asia's biggest highlight. This area been made famous by films such as Tomb Raider, but more importantly has a deep history spanning six centuries from around AD800 as the site of different capitals of the Khmer Empire. The obvious attraction is the world-renowned Angkor Wat, which is every bit as amazing as everyone says it is, especially at sunrise and sunset. As a group, you'll have a guided tour of the whole site, and depending on the weather and the group’s desires, your leader can tailor the time of day and the parts of the complex you’ll see. There’s also plenty of time to visit the other monuments of this sprawling complex, like the giant carved faces of Bayon and the peculiar Ta Prohm – a temple being swallowed by the grip of tentacle-like tree roots.
Day 20: Day 20 in Siem Reap
Kick back in Siem Reap and wander around town, visiting its market, shops and restaurants. Depending on the season, you might like to visit Tonle Sap, the big freshwater lake, for a glimpse of local life. Adventure-seekers and adrenaline-junkies can do the Angkor zip-line course that will have you soaring like an eagle over the lush rainforest. For even more bragging material, you can learn the tricks of the trade in a Khmer cooking class. And if you just can't stay away from Angkor, longer passes than the standard one-day option are available. Ask your leader for more information as they can hook you up with a good deal. You’ll have some fun today with an included activity with your group, all in the name of responsible travel. The Rehash Trash recycling workshop is a women’s empowerment, skills-training, recycling and environmental clean-up initiative, and by the end of the workshop, you’ll have a souvenir or piece of jewellery to take away with you. This project is one of many in this region attempting to eliminate plastic waste in their community. If your creation didn’t come out as well as hoped, shop in their store for some other unique purchases!
Day 21: Day 21 in Bangkok
Goodbye Cambodia, hello Thailand. Drive from Siem Reap to Bangkok in a private minivan (approximately 10 hours, including a border crossing and lunch stop). Again, your leader will assist with the border crossing formalities. If you expect a soothing and charming day, think again – it's go, go, go in Thailand's frenetic capital, but that’s all part of the fun. The khlongs (canals) are a great way to escape from all the chaos – maybe take a boat to the popular Chinatown for a delicious street food dinner. A traditional Thai massage may also be a good option to relax into the evening. Bangkok has some great nightlife and rooftop bars, so be sure to stake out a place with your travel buddies and watch day turn to night.
Day 22: Day 22 in Bangkok
With no more activities planned, you're free to depart at any time. Bangkok is full of things to do, including the Grand Palace, Temple of the Emerald Buddha, or the very cool Jim Thompson museum. Better yet, why not check out one of the many Urban Adventures on offer? There’s a Tuk Tuk Experience, or you could get behind a bike and weave through all of the traffic. Visit urbanadventures.com/destination/bangkok-tours for more information. If you wish to spend more time in Bangkok, we’ll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability).