Placid Buddhist cultural relics, soaring temples and breathtaking natural wonders lie in the path of this wide-ranging itinerary that crosses the borders of three nations in Indochina.
The tour begins and ends in Viet Nam – its capital, Hanoi, recently celebrated its thousandth year, and two days hardly begins to reveal its beauty. You'll explore the cramped but lively Old Quarter by cyclo (pedaled rickshaw); visit ancient structures like the Temple of Literature and the One-Pillar Pagoda; take in the beauty of Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple in its midst; and walk down the city's tree-lined boulevards to gaze at French-built structures like the Hanoi Opera House, the former Governor's Palace, and the Hanoi Cathedral.
One Pillar Pagoda, Hanoi, Viet Nam. Image courtesy of HGH Travel.
Ha Long Bay is a few hours' drive from Hanoi. Drifting down the bay in a classic junk, you'll gaze at the sinuously-curving karst peaks rising from the water, as you sail from islet to islet. Bai Tu Long Bay, Blockhouse Islet, Sung Sot Cave, Luon Cave and Ho Dong Tien serve as key stops along the cruise, with meals of fresh local seafood at regular intervals.
Across the border to Laos, you'll take in the sacred sites around its capital Vientiane, beginning with Wat Sisaket and its thousands of miniature Buddha statues; the Ho Phrakeo Chapel, home of the Emerald Buddha; and the iconic structure of That Luang Stupa.
The city of Luang Prabang offers a restorative atmosphere unique to Laos, with beautiful sights that hearken back to its days as a royal capital: among them Wat Xiengthong, a 450-year-old temple that retains its age-old beauty to this day; the National Museum, formerly the city's Royal Palace; and the peaceful Wat Mai, the largest and most richly decorated of the temples in Luang Prabang. End your day up on Phousi Mountain to view your first Luang Prabang sunset.
Tak Bat ceremony in Luang Prabang, Laos. Image courtesy of HGH Travel
Sailing onto the Mekong River, you'll cruise to Pak Ou to visit the sacred caves of Tham Ting and Tham Phum, home to hundreds of Buddha Statues. You'll stop at craft villages manufacturing rice wine and paper before returning to Luang Prabang.
Across the border to Cambodia, you'll first visit Siem Reap, the former capital of the Khmer Kingdom – launchpad to the temples of Angkor, from the hilltop temple of Phnom Bakheng and its panoramic view of Angkor Wat at sunset; the jewel of Khmer art, Banteay Srei; to the famed Bayon Temple and its hundreds of smiling faces of Avalokiteshvara.
Cambodia's present day capital Phnom Penh has one foot each in the ancient and modern. You’ll see the Silver Pagoda in the Royal Palace, Wat Phnom, the National Museum, and Tuol Sleng, the genocide museum.
Circling back to Viet Nam, you'll stop at Ho Chi Minh City, where the rumble of motorbikes on the road clashes with the grandeur of its structures – the Notre Dame Cathedral, the War Museum, Reunification Palace, Thien Hau Temple and the markets of Ben Thanh and Binh Tay.
Beyond the city, you’ll stop at the charming small town of Cai Be in Vinh Long – visit the town’s famed floating market, An Binh Islet, bonsai gardens, fruit orchards, and some local homes; the grandiose Cao Dai Temple in Tay Ninh that combines symbols and rites from multiple faiths; and Cu Chi Tunnels, a labyrinth of tunnels built by Viet Cong guerillas.
Bayon, Cambodia. Image courtesy of HGH Travel.