Mysteries are unearthed at the Angkor temples and in old city quarters while spirituality is found in Thai monasteries and local connections. Journeys range from rice paddies to thick jungle, cruising through limestone karst, and drifting through a city. Welcome to the grand highlights of Southeast Asia, a two-week tour of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. Fly between the iconic destinations to explore with passionate local guides in one of the world’s great travel regions.
Hanoi – First Impressions of Vietnam
Hanoi is an intoxicating city, and it is quick to pull you into its rhythm. Food sizzles on small street barbecues alongside the faded grandeur of a colonial townhouse. Traders sell conical-shaped hats down narrow back streets as pagodas creep up above the mazy Old Quarter, moss covering their frames. Arrive in Vietnam and head out with a guide to wrap your senses around all of the new impressions. With 24 hours in the city, you can take it slowly in the Old Quarter, allowing some of the sounds and smells to sink in. You will be greeted at the airport and have a hotel within the Old Quarter, and your guide will then tailor a walking route based on your energy levels.
Halong Bay – More of the Old Quarter and a Seaplane to the Karst
Begin the day with more of the Old Quarter to sip Vietnamese coffee at a small cafe, wander past the bowls of bubbling pho, traverse the narrow lanes and end up at Hoan Kiem Lake, where the Temple of the Jade Mountain provides a few moments of calm.
After lunch, you will fly to Halong Bay on a seaplane. The journey reduces travel time from three to four hours down to just 30 minutes, plus the views are incredible. City backstreets extend beneath the wingtips before you cross endlessly green rice paddies towards the coast. Sweep over some of the limestone karst and land at a small harbor, where you transfer straight onto a luxurious junk. Junk is the colloquial term for traditional wooden boats that ply Halong Bay. Yours has just four cabins, and soon you are deep into the worlds seven wonders of nature.
Halong Bay – A Relaxed Day Cruising the World Wonder
Trees rise at improbable angles and surge from deserted island cliffs. Islets stand like a mystery, and you pass hundreds of them. Some of the karsts are just a slither of vertical cliff and forest, others hide strange caves, and still, more are dotted with natural tunnels and golden beaches. Relax into the fairytale of this landscape as you sail on the wind, past grottos, jagged peaks, and parts of Halong Bay missed by day trips. You can take a rowing boat or kayak to get closer to some of the islets. You can also indulge on board with spa services and live cooking demonstrations at dusk.
Hoi An – The Elegance of Centuries Past
Wake up to the mystery of your surroundings as the early-morning mist is common here, and as it clears, you will be greeted by limestone karst islets in the heart of Halong Bay. Spend the morning cruising with lunch on board before you disembark and fly back to Hanoi on the seaplane. Touch down and switch planes, traveling south to Hoi An, where the sense of tranquility continues in Vietnam’s most enchanting old city, wonderfully preserved and so easy on the eye. The guide takes you on an orientation tour, which leads to an authentic Vietnamese meal in a place known mostly just to locals.
Hoi An – Markets, Energy and a Cauldron of History
Sit at an old French cafe and watch the streets as locals walk past in ao dai's traditional dress. A Japanese bridge can be seen in the distance while Chinese temples peek above the Old Quarter. Locals bicycle past, traders carry their wares on bamboo poles and the smells of coffee and lemongrass mingle. Hoi An is a slow city, so take it easy this morning before the guide takes you into the sights, the highlight being the juxtaposition of styles that includes Chinese, Japanese, French, Vietnamese, and a few little surprises. This is also a great city to meet the locals, and you spend half the afternoon in a kitchen, learning some classic Hoi An recipes. Discuss past and future with the chef, and then eat on a terrace with views into the Old Quarter lanes.
Ho Chi Minh City – Into the Cu Chi Tunnels
It will be worth getting up early to watch the Old Quarter one final time, the city coming to life, and the traders going about their day. Fly to Ho Chi Minh City after breakfast and head straight to the Cu Chi Tunnels, a maze built under the jungle north of the city. Crawl through the secretive opening, and an entire city expands, with kitchens, schools, hospitals, places to sleep, and more. These tunnels provide a good opportunity to witness other elements of the war and hear the Vietnamese stories. Then the heart of the old Saigon provides an atmospheric place to spend the evening. Like each day, your hotel is centrally located within walking distance of cafes, restaurants, and most of the major sights. This is a great city for foodies and the guide will provide suggestions for today and tomorrow, whether local, international, traditional, and contemporary.
Ho Chi Minh City – The Old and New of What Was Saigon
In the Old Quarter, you can live the history like so much of this city is in a delicate and highly evocative state of ruin. It all still stands, but you can sense the age at structures like the neoclassical Central Post Office, the Opera House, the old US Consulate building, and the Romanesque Notre Dame. Around the French colonial buildings, you will find an atmosphere of bustling, everyday Vietnam with locals going to market and traders plying the streets. Follow these locals to Ben Thang Market and sink your senses into the trading space, from the aromatic spice stalls to the chatter of locals slurping their pho. A few more steps and you will have left Saigon to be in Ho Chi Minh City, the modern economic hub, full of sleek business buildings and a sense of future.
Siem Reap – An Afternoon Around the Ancient City
Fly to Siem Reap this morning, and after some time relaxing at the hotel, you will go in search of the ancient Khmer kingdom. It will not hard to find, and soon you will be surrounded by temples and pagodas. Some of them have been restored, but many lay in their natural state slowly eroded and overtaken by jungle. Banteay Srei provides a great introduction to Angkorian art, a temple of dramatic carvings cut from pink stone. Ta Phrom is a classic experience, tree roots surging through the ruins, wrapping the temple in a stoic embrace. After these two famous temples, you travel past Angkor in a Khmer boat, canapes and cocktails served on the boat as the ancient city of Angkor Thom provide a backdrop.
Siem Reap – The Famous Jungle-Shrouded Temples of Angkor
Wake to continue with more Angkor temples today as you begin with a couple of lesser-known sights where the jungle is working its magic, and the ruins are slowly losing their way to trees. Then move to Angkor Wat, the grandest temple of them all, where entire walls depict mythological stories, and there is a spirituality to every gallery. Traveling into Angkor Thom, you can explore a ruined city that was once home to a million people, a fortified complex of stunning bas-reliefs, mysterious temples, smiling stone faces, and many architectural masterpieces. You can never see all of Angkor on a single trip. With three days, you will come to understand this vast complex and enjoy three spectacular sunsets over the temples.
Siem Reap – More Beautiful Temples and More of Cambodia
There are still more temples this morning, these a little different as humans have carved stories into nature beneath the gushing waterfalls. You may prefer to focus your time in Tonle Sap. Houses stand on stilts here, rising above the lake. Stop for lunch in a waterside village and spend the afternoon discovering more of Cambodia, perhaps visiting a floating community or one of the artisanal villages outside of Siem Reap, and then get back to Angkor for a final golden sunset.
Chiang Mai – Thai Culture and Jungle Life
Fly north to Chiang Mai and spend the day in rural northern Thailand. Rice paddies stretch out and terraces of color for getting your feet muddy. Join a farmer and walk through the plantation, getting a glimpse into life in this rural corner of the world. The jungle is only a few miles away, and you step into a world of gibbons and monkeys, a glimpse of what remains in this part of the world. Move back to Chiang Mai to glimpse the spiritual world, spending sunset at Wat Doi Suthep, where Thailand’s most sacred temple is perched high above the city. Spin the prayer wheels, admire the Buddha relic, and join the monks in marveling at sunset over Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai – Meeting Monks and Exploring North Thailand Culture
Chiang Mai’s fortified old quarter is dotted with stupas and temples, remnants to a time when the city was completely cut off. One of these temples is Wat Suan Dok, holding the ashes of Chiang Mai’s royal family and some of Buddha’s relics. You can feel its importance the moment you enter. Two monks greet you, introducing you to the sanctified space. They speak freely, teaching you about life in a Thai temple and Buddhism in the country. It’s an intimate experience that might help you explain the calm that is felt in Thailand. The afternoon is left free, but you might want to head back after dusk, a tuk-tuk tour showing you the old city in its illuminated state.
Bangkok – Cruising the Chao Phraya
Bangkok is your final destination and the world’s most visited city. Yes, it’s busy and crowded in places, but such a big city has its charms and secrets, especially once you leave its center. Meet your guide and transfer to a hotel on the Chao Phraya River, where the swimming pool terrace is several floors above the street noise. Then travel out to narrow canals, essentially the backstreets of local Bangkok, where life continues as it always has done. On a wooden craft, you cruise unobtrusively through local neighborhoods, before joining the Chao Phraya and traveling back into the heart of Bangkok. This is another wonderful city for foodies, and the choice of restaurants is one of its highlights.
Bangkok – Highlights of Bangkok and Its Surroundings
This is a relaxed day, giving plenty of time for you to take it easy before the journey home. A lot has happened over the last two weeks, and you can start to reflect on your experiences, piecing together what you have encountered across three very different countries. Your guide will tailor a program to your interests, so you can also visit some of the famous sights such as Wat Pho, the Grand Palace, and a Buddha that is over 150 feet long. Also around Bangkok, you will find famous floating markets, night markets, and all the street food you can imagine. Today is about what you want to see and do before leaving Southeast Asia tomorrow.
Bangkok – Departure
After breakfast, you take a last glance at Bangkok before transferring to the airport for your outbound flight.
- Discover the ancient world of Angkor, where vast Khmer temples lay shrouded in jungle
- Drift through the karst of Halong Bay for a relaxed experience to start your vacation
- Meet with monks in a hilltop Thai monastery and visit Cambodian villages
- Crawl into the Cu Chi Tunnels and learn to cook local-style in Hoi An
- Take a journey along Chao Phraya River and uncover the grand old highlights of Bangkok
- Immerse yourself in the old quarters of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, with so many stories to find down the atmospheric lanes
- Explore the landscapes, spend time in the jungle, on the coast, amid pedestrianized cities, and around rice paddies
- Be led by passionate local guides that illustrate how Southeast Asia is all about the people you meet
Southeast Asia evokes emotions, whether it be the deep serenity felt when cruising through Halong Bay, or during the exploration of a hilltop monastery. You will feel excitement as you uncover the mysteries, such as at the temples of Angkor, and then warmth and enthusiasm when you spend time with local people. A sense of wonder will come every day on this signature tour to the region as you visit three countries in two weeks, hopping between a superb diversity of destinations and experiences. When you depart, you will feel privileged to have witnessed so much in such a relatively short amount of time.
Southeast Asia offers so many experiences and became so popular two or three decades ago. Back then, it took months to get around the region, but this has changed dramatically as domestic and international flights have made travel quick and straightforward. So in just two weeks, you can connect the complete variety of experiences and take in the best of Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. By minimizing travel time, you will stay energized and get to see so much more. With passionate local guides leading the way, you will uncover more than just the famous stories.
Spend one week in Vietnam, three nights in Cambodia, then four nights in Thailand as the route is designed around flight connections. Spend 24 hours in Hanoi before a seaplane flight to Halong Bay where a landscape of karst makes for a relaxed two days of cruising. Fly onwards to Hoi An, Vietnam’s most intact and enchanting old city. After that cauldron of history, you travel to Ho Chi Minh City, where the old and new of Saigon creates many experiences in just two days.
Your Cambodian experience is spent in Siem Reap, just a few steps from the temples of Angkor. With three days, you can hop in and out of the vast archaeological complex, visiting famous Angkor Wat and the jungle-shrouded temples popularized in Tomb Raider, but also other less-known treasures. You can visit smaller, unknown temples and floating villages for a deeper understanding of what Cambodia is all about. From there, move next to Thailand with a flight to Chiang Mai, where intimate local experiences are found in the country’s cultural capital. And then end in Bangkok, cruising the Chao Phraya River and getting involved with some bustling city experiences. Consider reading some of our travelers’ tour reviews for more ideas to perfect your dream Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand vacation.
$2,890 per person (excluding international flights)
Your Zicasso trip is fully customizable, and this sample itinerary is a starting place for your travel plans. Actual costs are dynamic, and your selection of accommodations and activities, your season of travel, and other such variables will bring this budget guideline up or down. Throughout your planning experience with your Zicasso specialist, your itinerary is designed around your budget. You can book your trip when you are satisfied with every detail. Planning your trip with a Zicasso travel specialist is a free service.
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Your final trip cost will vary based on your selected accommodations, activities, meals, and other trip elements that you opt to include.
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