Saigon to Bangkok - Mekong Explorer    *alt*

14 days, from £1295
KE Adventure Travel
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Description

A journey of discovery across South East Asia
Tour type: Discovery

Highlights
* Explore Vietnam`s Mekong Delta from friendly riverside homestays
* Sunrise to sunset at Cambodia`s Angkor Wat with 2 days to explore
* Relax on the paradise island of Koh Chang, Thailand
* Modern Saigon, historic Phnom Penh and lively Bangkok

Take an action packed, cultural journey across Indochina from the ancient pagodas and modern skyscrapers of Saigon to bustling Bangkok with its temples and buddhas on this 2-week discovery holiday. We begin in Saigon, with its evocative mix of historic sites, street food vendors, ramshackle streets and contemporary buildings. We have a walking tour of the city and also visit the Viet Cong's infamous Cu Chi Tunnels, before driving to the exotic Mekong Delta, where we explore the atmospheric backwaters from our riverside homestay and take a boat trip to the colourful floating market of Phong Dien. An exciting speedboat ride then takes us from Vietnam into Cambodia, where our exploration includes the temples and palaces of downtown Phnom Penh, as well as the tragic Killing Fields.
Continuing on to to Siem Reap, we have 2 full days, on foot and on bicycle, to discover the magic of the iconic Angkor Wat temple complex and we will enjoy some unforgettable sunsets before heading on to Battambang, where we get a taste of rural life in the largest rice producing province in the whole of Cambodia - including a ride on the bamboo train! Leaving Cambodia behind us we cross the border into Thailand, where we take a boat out to the idylic island of Koh Chang, for 2 nights well deserved R&R at a comfortable beach side hotel. A free evening in the bustling city of Bangkok brings this wide-ranging holiday to a suitably exotic conclusion.

Is this holiday for you?
This is primarily a discovery adventure holiday, which covers the highlights of the Mekong Delta Region of South East Asia, Angkor Wat & Phnom Penh in Cambodia and a short stay in Bangkok and on the Thai island of Koh Chang. To be able to include all these highlights in the itinerary involves a considerable amount of overland travel, by private bus. There is also a lot of river travel, some of it in private "long tail" boats on the Mekong River and its tributaries and by public ferry in Thailand. Boat trips can be on vessels of varying size and style. Road conditions can be variable and there are 2 border crossings - between Vietnam and Cambodia, and between Cambodia and Thailand. At all times you should be prepared for adventurous travel and occasional delays - patience is a virtue! Our sightseeing excursions (eg in Saigon and Phnom Penh) will be a mix of walking and gentle cycling tours so you must be ready and prepared to explore on foot or by bike when required. Please note that it is not always possible to provide cycling helmets and we would recommend that you bring your own cycling helmet along with you.

Itinerary


 Day 1 Meet at the group hotel in Saigon. A single airport transfer is provided. Afternoon sightseeing.

The group will rendezvous at the group hotel in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) where we will meet with our local guide. A single group transfer is provided timed to the arrival of the preferred group flights. KE Land Only package services begin in the evening with a group briefing in the hotel lobby at 6pm. The afternoon is free for catching up on sleep following the long flight or for independent sightseeing. Saigon, a vibrant and modern city, is the economic powerhouse of Vietnam. It is a city on the upswing, quite literally as the number of skyscrapers grow every year, along with modern shopping malls and stylish restaurants. Despite all the energy, and a future-facing population, parts of the city remain timeless and hidden in amongst the skyscrapers you can still find colourful ancient pagodas and traditional markets bustling with trade; a beautiful juxtaposition of ancient and modern.
Accommodation Hotel


 Day 2 Visit the Cu Chi Tunnels and other Saigon city sights. Transfer to the Mekong Delta.

After breakfast we leave the city to visit the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels. The tunnels were used by Viet Cong fighters as hiding spots during the Vietnam War, and were the base for the Viet Cong in the 1968 Tet Offensive. At its peak the Cu Chi tunnel network covered 250kms - from the Cambodian border in the west to the outskirts of Saigon. Construction actually began in 1948 during the war of independence from French colonial rule, and the network was later greatly enlarged during the Vietnam war to include kitchens, arms stores, hospitals, bomb shelters and even theatres to stage politically-motivating plays! Nevertheless, conditions in the tunnels were unpleasant, and a visit highlights the hardship that the Viet Cong had to endure to fight off their American adversaries. We return to the city in time for lunch before taking a walking tour of the main sights, including the National Assembly, the Hotel de Ville, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Reunification Hall and the War Crimes Museum. In the late afternoon we transfer to Cho Lach on the Mekong Delta, where we will stay at a village homestay as guests of a local family. This is an excellent way to experience rural life on the backwaters of the Mekong Delta. Tonight we can try our hand at making rice pancakes, before sitting down to join our hosts for a delicious homemade dinner. Approx 4hrs walking, drive time 4hrs.
Accommodation Homestay
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 Day 3 Bicycle tour of Cho Lach. Transfer to Can Tho on the banks of the Mekong.

The Mekong Delta is an extremely fertile region, often referred to as the 'rice bowl of Vietnam', The Delta is formed by a network of nine major arms and hundreds of smaller branches of the Mekong River, which rises in Tibet and flows through South East Asia to the South China Sea. The Delta is prone to flooding and many of the villages are built on stilts. Aside from rice, the area produces lots of fruit and it is these goods that are on sale in the area's famous floating markets. After breakfast we have the opportunity to take a short bicycle tour around Cho Lach, before returning to our homestay to collect our belongings. Leaving Cho Lach behind, we transfer by bus to Can Tho, where we stay in another riverside homestay. Can Tho is a large city, with a riverfront promenade and good places to eat and drink, in the afternoon we will head into town where we will have some free time to explore its verdant gardens and narrow back streets. Overnight homestay, Can Tho. Drive time 1.5hrs.
Accommodation Homestay
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 Day 4 Visit Phong Dien floating market. Transfer by boat to Chau Doc close to the Cambodian border.

Following an early breakfast, we leave the hotel and board our private boat to visit Phong Dien floating market, where local people exchange their produce of fruit, maize, sugar cane and rice from boat to boat. Sellers traditionally hang samples of what they have to sell from the top of a long pole so buyers can see what's on offer from a distance! This is an amazing and colourful sight with literally hundreds of boats gathered together at the confluence of river branches. During the trip we'll moor the boat to visit a village where rice noodles are made. Heading further up the Bassac River the boat will drop us off at our overnight accommodation close to Chau Doc, near Cambodian border, where we will have a chance to drop off our bags before we continue our exploration. Chau Doc has sizeable Chinese, Cham and Khmer communities, which is apparent from the mixture of mosques, temples and churches in the area. In the afternoon we'll take a boat trip on the Bassac River to visit a Muslim Cham village on a nearby island. The Cham people are one of South East Asia's ethnic minority groups. Originally from Borneo, they now live mainly in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand and the Vietnamese Cham mix faith in Islam with their traditionally animist beliefs. The trip will take us through the many floating villages in the area, before we return to Chao Doc where we should have time to explore the town on foot and visit some of the temples. Tonight will be our last night in Vietnam.
Accommodation Hotel
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 Day 5 Speed boat journey up the Mekong River to Phnom Penh. Sightseeing in the Cambodian capital.

We drive to the jetty in Chau Doc where we board a speed boat for the exciting journey up the Mekong to Cambodia's capital city, Phnom Penh. We'll clear immigration en route at Vinh Xuong (Vietnam) / Kaam Samnor (Cambodia). The journey will take around 5 hours. On arriving in this busy metropolis we will take a tuk tuk ride (the best way to see the city!) to Wat Phnom, positioned high on a hill above the city. This Buddhist temple was built in 1373 and, at 27 metres high, it is still the tallest religious structure in the capital. Our next stop will be the Royal Palace, home to His Majesty Preah Bat Samdech Preah Norodom Sihamoni, King of Cambodia. Within the palace compound are the coronation hall, an open-air theatre for the Royal Dance Troupe and a balcony for Royal appearances. Close by is the Silver Pagoda, so named for the 5,000 silver tiles on the floor, a place of worship for the King. The pagoda contains many gifts received by the royal family over the years (including many impressive Buddha images), although many were stolen during the Khmer Rouge years. The palace and pagoda buildings are traditional in style, with golden roofs and the distinctive South East Asia spires. We round off the day with a visit to the National Museum, which houses a large collection of Khmer Art in buildings inspired by Khmer temple architecture. We return to our hotel. This evening is free and we may wish to explore the city by night.
Accommodation Hotel
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 Day 6 A sobering visit to Toul Slen Genocide museum and the Killiing Fields. On to Kompong Thom.

After taking breakfast at our hotel we head to Toul Slen Genocide Museum, where we'll learn about Cambodia's troubled recent past. Toul Slen was the notorious Khmer Rouge prison known as S-21. S-21 was also an interrogation centre for the educated, and up to 20,000 people, mostly doctors, teachers, military personnel and civil servants, were imprisoned here. A visit to this place is very emotive, particularly the sight of the thousands of black and white photographs of the victims. A section of the museum is dedicated to the ongoing criminal tribunals against the surviving Khmer Rouge leaders. Our next visit will be out of town to Choeung Ek, where prisoners from Toul Sleng were brought for execution, one of the infamous 'Killing Fields' portrayed in the film of that name. The Choeung Ek Memorial commemorates the dead; it is estimated that over 17,000 people may have been executed here. After this sobering experience, we leave the bustle of Phnom Penh behind us as we drive 4hrs west to the provincial capital of Kompong Thom, midway between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. En route we will stop at 'Spiderville', where anyone feeling brave enough can sample the local delicacy of deep fried tarantula! Overnight in a hotel, Kompong Thom. Drive time 4hrs.
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 Day 7 Visit Sambor Prei Kuk temples. Transfer to Siem Reap via Lake Tonle Sap.

This morning we visit the impressive temple complex at Sambor Prei Kuk, once known as Isanapura. With more than 100 ancient temples scattered throughout the forest, this is the most impressive group of pre Angkorian monuments in the whole of Cambodia. Heading back to our vehicles we begin our 3hr journey to Siem Reap, stopping en route at Spean Praptos to see the Kampong Kdei Bridge, once the longest corbelled stone arch bridge in the world, and Lake Tonle Sap, the largest fresh water lake in the whole of South East Asia and one of the world's richest resources of fresh water fish; where we will visit one of the floating villages. Tonle Sap was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1997 and one area of the lake is a sanctuary for rare water birds, including spot-billed pelicans and greater adjutant storks. We will reach Siem Reap in the late afternoon where we have some free time to explore this characterful city. Drive time 3hrs.
Accommodation Hotel
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 Day 8 Cycle tour of outlying Angkor Wat Temples. Visit Angkor Thom and see the sunset from Phnom Bakheng.

Starting early to take advantage of the cooler air and softer morning light we take a short tuk tuk journey to the bus station where we will collect our bicycles. We take ride past paddy fields and through small rural villages towards Bakong Temple, this is a fantastic way to explore at this time of day. Upon arrival at Bakong we take some time to look around the temple, the largest of the Roluos Group; which are considered the earliest permanent temples built by the Khmer. Next, we visit the nearby Prasat Preah Ko, with its carved statues of oxen and elaborate Sanskrit inscriptions, and the four brick towers at Lolei. Continuing on we cycle to the traditional market town of Psar Bakong, where we have a chance to look around before taking a tuk tuk back to Siem Reap. In the afternoon we head out to explore the great city of Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom is a walled city covering an area of three square kms. It was built by King Jayavarman VII in the 12th century and the city includes some of the most famous temples, including the Bayon. The city is surrounded by a moat (originally said to be populated by vicious crocodiles) and an 8 metre high wall. The Bayon is one of the famous and recognizable of the Angkor temples as it is built of a mass of 37 towers of faces. Some say the face is that of the King himself, Jayarvarman, others that they represent the Bodhisattva, Lokesvara. The Khmer Kings had converted to Therevada Buddhism in the 13th century when the Bayon was constructed. Nearby is the Terrace of Elephants, a famous bas-relief depicting almost life-sized elephants lining the pathway to the Bayon for 300m. Close by is the Terrace of the Leper Kings, believed to be the site of royal cremations. The 2 walls of terracing show bas relief sculptures of gods, goddesses and nagas, the multi-headed serpent gods of Khmer legend. The Phimeanakas temple is reached by a short walk through the jungle. This three tiered laterite pyramid is said to be home to a spirit who was a powerful naga by day, but a beautiful woman by night, visited each evening by the Khmer Kings. There is much to explore today and we will travel by minibus to the temple sites, but much of the exploration will be done on foot. Late in the afternoon we head to Phnom Bakheng, 400m south of Angkor Thom. It is a 10 min climb up wooden steps to the top hill to make sure we have the best view as the sun sets; a magnificent sight. Afterwards we head back our hotel in Siem Reap.
Accommodation Hotel
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 Day 9 Sunrise to sunset at Angkor Wat. A full day to explore the main temple site.

A full day to explore Angkor Wat, one of the world's most iconic sights, and the surrounding monuments, temples and carvings. The full temple complex covers a vast area of 400 square kilometres between Tonle Sap and the Kulen Mountains and the earliest temples date from the 9th century. The site was originally occupied by the Khmer King Jayavarman II, who declared himself ruler and established his capital in the area close to the rich waters of Tonle Sap. Later Cambodian kings added their own palaces and temples, so the site now showcases a history of art and culture unrivalled in South East Asia. The Angkorian Kings were at times Buddhist or Hindu and iconography from both religions can be found adorning the temple structures. We begin our exploration with a sunrise visit Ta Prohm, the 'Tombraider' temple, where the jungle trees and roots grow through terraces and walls. The temple itself is partially collapsed, but this does not detract from the atmosphere of nature recapturing civilisation. From here we head into Angkor Wat itself, the most famous and iconic of all the temples around Siem Reap. Dominated by 5 majestic towers it was built in the 12th century. Dedicated to the God Vishnu, it is the largest Hindu temple in the world. Constructed with a series of enclosures on a grand scale, the detail and intricacy of the bas relief carving is as stunning as the grandeur of the temple itself. Afterwards we head to Kbal Spean, or the 'River of a Thousand Lingas', where we have the option to take a 1.5km hike up through the jungle to this spectacularly carved riverbed, the walk will take up to an hour to reach the carvings. The path winds through knotted vines and big boulder formations and you may have to do a little scrambling, a real jungle experience! Reaching an impressive carving of Vishnu, we then follow the river down stream we pass more interesting carvings before we reach a small waterfall, where we can take a dip to cool down. Returning to our vehicles we next drive to the Centre for the Conservation of Biodiverstiy (ACCB) where we can learn about animal conservation in the area. We then visit Banteay Srei, a temple dedicated to Shiva, which is home to the finest stone carvings in the entire complex. To end the day in style, we'll watch the sunset from Pre Rup, climbing the steep staircases to reach the top of this pyramidal temple from where there are fine views across to Angkor Wat in the west. Afterwards we return to our hotel in Siem Reap. In the evening those with enough energy may want to take in some evening entertainment courtesy of the Phare Cambodian Circus (not included in trip cost). This circus was established with the primary goal of providing gainful employment to Cambodia youth from difficult social and economic backgrounds.
Accommodation Hotel
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 Day 10 Transfer to Battambang. Explore the area by cycle and take a ride on the Bamboo Train.

This morning we drive from Siem Reap to Battambang province, the foremost rice-producing province in Cambodia. On arrival in Battambang City, we have the opportunity to take a half-day cycling tour of the area. Our 30km route will take us on a relaxed tour along shaded roads and through the countryside, where we will have the opportunity to meet local families and learn about their traditional livelihoods, unchanged for generations. We may get to try our hands at making rice paper, rice wine or even Battambang's famous rice cakes. Next, we make the short drive to Wat Koh, where we visit a local village and learn about rural life, rice harvest, sugar palm and fruit farming. A most unusual form of transport will take us back to Battambang as we take a ride on a traditional Bamboo Train or 'norry'! These are small bamboo platforms, which use the train tracks and are powered by motorbike engines. As well as people, they are used to transport cargo, livestock, motorcycles - you name it! In the afternoon we make the scenic drive to the hill top temple of Wat Banan. Our route follows the Sangker River, past traditional wooden homes. Wat Banan, with its five distinctive towers, is somewhat reminiscent of Angkor Wat. As we ascend to the summit we are rewarded with striking views of the surrounding plains. Later, we continue on to the atmospheric Wat Ek Phnom, from where we can enjoy another classic Cambodian sunset; a memorable way to end our last full day in this beautiful country - tomorrow we head to Thailand! We return to Battambang where we overnight in a hotel.
Accommodation Hotel
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 Day 11 Drive into Thailand at Pailin. Transfer south to Trat and take the short ferry to Koh Chang island.

Leaving Cambodia today, we drive west and over the border into Thailand via the Pailin border crossing. From here we board our Thai transport and drive south to Trat, from where we take the short ferry ride to the idyllic Thai island of Koh Chang in the Gulf of Thailand. There will be a considerable amount of driving today (approximately 8 hours), so everyone will be ready to enjoy some rest and relaxation on the beach. Overnight at our resort style hotel.
Accommodation Hotel
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 Day 12 A free day to relax or explore on Koh Chang, beautifully situated in a marine national park.

Koh Chang is a tropical marine national park, with virgin rainforest inland and idyllic coastal beaches. Today is a day of leisure, but for those who do not wish to relax, there are many options for excursions (at additional cost) including sea kayaking, snorkeling and local truck drives to explore the hinterland of the island.
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 Day 13 Take the ferry to Trat and drive north to Bangkok arriving late afternoon.

After a free morning to enjoy some relaxation at the beach, we will board the ferry to Trat and then drive north to Bangkok. Drive time will be around 4 - 5 hours and we should arrive in Bangkok in the late afternoon. Your time is now free to explore the most modern and vibrant of South East Asia's cities.
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 Day 14 Departure day. A single transfer to Bangkok Airport is provided in the afternoon.

KE Land Only group package services end after breakfast. There will be a single-timed transfer to Bangkok Airport in the afternoon. If you would like to extend your stay in Bangkok, please contact our office for further details.
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