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Highlights of Laos & Cambodia
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Bangkok - Chiang Rai
Today, you'll enjoy a city tour of Bangkok. Visit the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), a must for first-time travellers to Bangkok. You will also visit Wat Pho, home of the famous Reclining Buddha. (When visiting temples and palaces in Thailand, please dress conservatively in order to respect the local culture).
You will then transfer to the airport and fly up to the northern city of Chiang Rai.
It's an early start today, as you leave Chiang Rai before dawn to travel to Chiang Khong.
After completing border formalities you will take a small boat across the Mekong River to Huay Xai, your first stop in Laos.
For centuries Huay Xai was a disembarkation point for Yunnanese caravans led by the Chinese Muslims on their way to Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, in ancient Siam. Today it is a hustling ferry town on the banks of the Mekong River.
Transfer to the boat pier, where you will board a slow boat for the trip down the Mekong River. The pace is very relaxed - a perfect way to observe the local lifestyle close up. You will arrive in the evening in Pakbeng; a colourful village situated at the junction of the Mekong River and the smaller Beng River, hence the town’s name ‘Pak’ meaning ‘mouth’ in Lao.
Hmong and tribal Thais are frequently seen on the main street of Pakbeng, and small vendors along the street sell local textiles and handicrafts. You will spend the night in a simple hotel.
Please be warned that the accommodation standard is very basic, but also bear in mind that you are travelling in a remote area. Please have an open mind and come with an adventurous spirit!
Continue your private slow boat journey down the Mekong River, gaining more insights into local rural life along the way.
Just before arriving at Luang Prabang you will stop at Pak Ou (meaning ‘mouth of the Ou River’), where the famous Tam Ting Cave houses thousands of Buddha images of various shapes and sizes, all brought there by devoted villagers. You will also stop at the village of Ban Sang Hai, where they make the potent local rice-wine.
Your travel time will vary greatly, depending on the water levels, but you will hopefully arrive in Luang Prabang in the early evening. This beautiful town, with its gleaming temple roofs, fading French architecture and stunning mountain backdrop, has been claimed by UNESCO to be ‘the best preserved city in South East Asia’.
In the morning on day five you will have the option to rise early to view the procession of monks on their daily outing collecting alms, a practice that dates back centuries. The people of the town wait out the front of their houses with food for the monks to collect and take back to the temple. It is done early, as the monks cannot eat anything after midday. By giving food to a monk you ‘het bon’ or make merit, which should augur well for your next life.
Following breakfast you will visit the major temples, including the magnificent Wat Xieng Thong, which nestles at the meeting of the Mekong and the Nam Khan Rivers, and Wat Wisunalat, which is the oldest temple in the city.
After the tour you will have the chance to walk around the local shops, which are known for hand weaving and other interesting artifacts. You will have the chance to try your hand at bargaining here.
Visit the National Museum at the former Royal Palace next, an interesting structure that dates from the early years of the 20th Century and combines traditional Lao architecture with French colonial influence. The collection of treasures and artifacts reflects the richness of Lao culture, dating from the days of the early kings right through to the last sovereign, who was deposed in 1975. In the afternoon you will embark on another highlight of the stay - a 29-kilometre journey south of town to visit the beautiful Kuang Si Waterfalls.
In the evening back in Luang Prabang you will be free to make further discoveries including walking around the popular Night Bazaar. Another great optional activity is to sample a traditional Lao massage and herbal sauna.
In the morning, will visit the Plain of Jars, an archaeological site where hundreds of large stone jars are littered all over the plateau. It is said that these jars are over 2000 years old, but there is no reliable way of dating them and archaeologists are still mystified as to their original purpose (opinions vary from burial urns to rice whisky vats).
You will then be transferred to the airport to catch a flight to Vientiane - the capital of Laos, where a city tour will acquaint you with the major sights of the capital. Visit the imposing Patuxai monument (also known as the Anousavari, which translates as ‘Victory’ in Lao), which is Vientiane's version of the Arc de Triomphe and dominates the city's main thoroughfare.
It was also nicknamed the ‘Vertical Runway’, which refers to the fact that it was built in the 1960s with funds that the US Government had given to the Lao Government for the expressed purpose of extending the runway at the airport!
Wat Si Saket is the oldest temple in the city, and Wat Prakeo, the former royal temple, previously housed the famous Emerald Buddha image before the Siamese took it in the late 18th Century. You will visit both temples and the most famous structure in Laos, the That Luang stupa.
A drink in a riverside bar watching the glorious sunset over the Mekong River is the perfect way to finish the day.
You will be transferred to the airport, where you will say goodbye to your Lao tour leader and fly to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
There is nothing planned until this meeting, so we recommend you take to the streets of Phnom Penh and explore the city.
After a pre-trip briefing, you will adjourn for dinner in the restaurant run by the Friends organisation (closed on public and school holidays when you will dine at an alternative restaurant).
During your free time after dinner, you might even choose to have a relaxing drink at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, a great way to spend your evening.
A full city tour will introduce you to the sights of Phnom Penh on Day 10, a city that lies near the confluence of the Mekong and the Tonle Sap Rivers. The private quarters of the Royal Palace are home to King Sihamoni and are therefore closed to the public; however, you will be able to visit the Silver Pagoda that lies in the palace complex, which is the most sacred temple in the country and was previously spared from destruction by the Khmer Rouge. You can make an optional visit to Wat Phnom, the temple that gave rise to the foundation of the city in the 15th century.
The bloody rule of the Khmer Rouge is a painful, but unavoidable, part of Cambodia's recent history and visits to the Tuol Sleng Prison Museum and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek tell the story of this tragic legacy. (Note: These sites are a major part of sightseeing in Phnom Penh; however, if you do not wish to visit either of them, please inform your tour leader.)
An ideal way to spend your evening to relax in a cafe by the riverfront.
Siem Reap & Angkor Wat
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