One of the great rivers of the world, The Mekong, winds its way down from the Tibetan Plateau through to the South China Sea. The incredible journey takes in deep gorges in China, immense waterfalls in Laos, freshwater dolphins in Cambodia and the amazing delta in the south, a waterworld where boats, houses and markets float upon endless canals that give life to this region.
Travelling in the Mekong region is as much about the journey as it is a destination, not always smooth, but different. Take the slow boat in Laos to Luang Prabang, ride on the bamboo train in Battambang or explore the back streets of old Asia from a cyclo. Experiencing some rough with the smooth is the way to experience the soul of the Mekong. The people are delightful, the stories unique to every individual traveller and the memories unforgetable.
The itinerary below is just a taste of what is possible, there are so many places to visit that you would need weeks away! Travel a classic route south and save Vietnam for another holiday.
‘At-a-Glance’ Illustrative Itinerary
DAY 1: Upon arrival at Luang Prabang airport you will be welcomed to Laos by your guide, and transferred to your hotel in a private chauffeur driven car. Once checked in you have the rest of the day at leisure to relax after your flight.
DAY 2: Visit the UNESCO protected city centre to appreciate its unspoiled Laotian-colonial fusion architecture, exploring the impressive stupa of Wat Visoun, Wat Khili and Wat Mai. Later, visit the former Royal Palace,
In the afternoon enjoy a Mekong Cruise to Pak Ou Caves. Meander up the Mekong to the junction with the Nam Ou river, and the site of the Pak Ou caves. Explore these shrines carved into the cliff face before returning by road and visiting typical Lao villages at Ban Xangkhong and Ban Xienglek.
DAY 3: After breakfast, drive to the beautiful waterfalls of Tat Khouangsi. Below the 90m drop of the main cascade are a series of pools, connected by smaller falls and cascades. At low water levels the water is an unbelievable turquoise, and swimming in the lower pools is a great way to cool off.
After lunch the route back to town gives the opportunity to stop at the villages of some of the (over 100) different Lao ethnic groups at Ban Ou, Ban Ouay and Ban Thapene.
DAY 4: In the morning you are invited to a Private Coffee Cupping and Roastery Tour of Saffron Coffee. Smell the aroma of Saffron Coffee being roasted fresh before your eyes, and taste some Saffron Coffee selections as a part of the presentation.
Following lunch you will transfer to Luang Prabang airport for your flight to Siem Reap. The rest of the day is at leisure.
DAY 5: Siem Reap is famous for its temples but there is an 'less crowded' way in which to visit them and htereby get much more pleasure from the tours. This morning will see you go to the Temples of the Forest by road, firstly to Srah Srang and then Ta Prohm (11km), taking time to walk around. Then into Ta Prohm and temple of Ta Nei. There is a reasonable chance of having this beautiful Angkor temple to yourself to explore.
You will be back in time for the afternoon exploration of Angkor Wat and then enjoy sunset drinks with a leisurely boat ride on the moat of Angkor Thom relaxing with G & T in hand and accompanied by the sound of bird song
DAY 6: Your morning exploration is of Angkor Thom – the world’s largest city in the 12th Century. Your guide will point out the most interesting of the detailed bas reliefs illustrating everyday life in the Angkorian era as you slowly walk through the complex with its shaded parklands, temples and lakes to finally reach Jayavarman’s state temple of Bayon at the centre of the city.
Beyond the temples lies a rural landscape which is often little changed since the days of Jayavarman VII. To depart Siem Reap having seen only the temple ruins is to miss contemporary Khmer culture. We would recommend that you journey through the rural landscape to reach villages, hidden between rice paddies, on foot, by ox-cart and boat to experience the very best of the countryside.
DAY 7: Today, venture out past Angkor Wat and the temple area and explore the real countryside by quad. A fun way to take in the sights sounds and smells of the countryside, and ride through the villages, rice paddies, wetland area – don’t wear your best clothes though!
After lunch, your guide and driver will collect you from Preah Dak village and drive across ancient reservoirs (long since devoid of water), through pretty villages and rice paddies to the picturesque temple, Banteay Srei, small pink sandstone temple with the most exquisite, deep and complex carvings - considered a ‘jewel of Khmer art’.
From here you will transfer to the airport for your flight to Phnom Penh
DAY 8: Weave through Phnom Penh’s colourful city streets by cyclo and enjoy the gentler pace amongst to view and admire the different elements of this city. No tour would be complete without exploring the delightful Royal Palace alongside the French colonial buildings, the old Chinese shop-houses and the new Khmer architecture.
DAY 9: Cambodia's greatest treasure are its people. They have been to hell and back. Today you get a chance to visit the haunting museums that show the history and genocide of the Cambodian people by the Khmer Rouge. The country is now at peace and in the process of recovery.
DAY 10: Transfer to the airport for your flight to Ho Chi Ming city and onto the Mekong Delta.
On arrival at Tan Son Airport you will be meet and then transferred to the Mekong Delta town of Cai Be, about 2.5hours. Here you will board a private boat for the first glimpse of the Mekong and take a short cruise to the hotel. the rest of the day is at leisure for you to enjoy the river views.
DAY 11: This morning you leave the resort by boat for a day exploration of the Mekong Delta. Visit local gardens and houses to see orchards, rice production, fruit farms and small cottage industries . Cruise along the river and canals of An Binh island to see the peaceful and tranquil life of local villagers, admiring the marvelous natural setting of the Mekong Delta region. Enjoy a traditional home-cooked lunch at a family house on An Binh Island.
Continue cruising through the delightful scenery and around 3 pm, the boat will arrive at Vinh Long, to explore the land market, before the 1 hour drive to Can Tho for the night.
DAY 12: A visit to Cai Rang floating market on a small boat from Can Tho is a definite Mekong Delta highlight.
Cai Rang market is best visited very early so you will leave depart at around 6am to arrive at the market around 7am when things will be in full swing with hundreds small boats converging to buy and sell. Stopping by Le Binh market on the way back to Can Tho is recommended. It's a superbly chaotic local market with plenty of the delta's fish bounty on display alongside fruits and vegetables.
Mid-morning you'll drive back to Saigon, for an evening experience of Saigon the local way! on the back of the xe-om (motorbike). Enjoy a night out visiting local Vietnamese Street food vendors on the pavement or in small local Vietnamese style restaurants.
DAY 13: A final full day touring by taking a speedboat up the river to see the Cu Chi Tunnels, an elaborate underground community made up of 250 km of tunnels and chambers below the city to provide refuge and a defensive advantage during the Vietnam War in the 1960’s. This unique way of arriving is timed to take advantage of being able to see the tunnels, before the big bus groups arrive.
In the afternoon there is a walking tour of Old and Wartime Saigon with an evening visit to Ben Thanh Market, busy for street food and a great place for some final souvenir shopping before leaving for your flight home.
DAY 14: Departure day. This morning you will be transferred back to the airport for your international flights.
Photos courtesy of Bamboo Travel