|Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam|
One of our biggest and best. Log out, switch off and unplug because the only project you’ll be working on for the next few weeks is your tan.
Bangkok will blow your mind without blowing your budget. Shop, be massaged, eat and drink. Bet $50 you come back with change in your pocket, which you'll then give to us because we won the bet. Damn we're good.
Angkor Wat is the obvious highlight but you’ll get a real kick out of counting the faces of Bayon and the jungle of Ta Prohm. There’s a bit of temple overload here, so take some free time to haggle for souvenirs at the market or get a pedicure from thousands of tiny fish.
Kampong Cham. Frontier charm, French-colonial character, etc. Hire a bike and pedal to Koh Paen island, if you want, or visit nearby mountain temples.
Phnom Penh is somewhere you should go at least once in your life, which is good, because you're going there today. Visit the Killing Fields and Choeung Ek Museum. Cambodia puts hardship and horror into perspective so you don't have to.
Join a bus to visit a reminder of the Khmer Rouge atrocities, the Choeung Ek Museum and the Killing Fields
Visit the Central Market, located in an old French colonial building - a good place to look for clothing or sarongs
Enjoy the rest of the day exploring Phnom Penh city Perhaps stop by the Silver Pagoda, the temple of Wat Phnom, the National Museum and the French Quarter
Meals included: 1 dinner
Meet and stay overnight with a local family, who will have you feeling welcome, humbled and lucky all at once. Tuck into a home-cooked Khmer meal. It's ace. Travel by private bus to rural Cambodia (approx 3 hrs)
Witness everyday Cambodian life and enjoy a traditional-style dinner
Facilities are basic and multishare with mattresses, bedding and mosquito nets provided
Meals included: 2 breakfasts
Visit the quiet beaches of Sihanoukville or scoot out to the nearby islands on a boat tour. You can even go on a tropical safari in Ream National Park. Take a private bus to Sihanoukville (approx 3 hrs) - named for the Cambodian royal family
Sihanoukville is a beach town with warm, welcoming people
Take a boat to one of the nearby islands, perhaps enjoy a barbecue lunch and relax on the beach
Make a trip out to the Ream National Park - home to a variety of animal and bird species
Meals included: 1 breakfast
Shake the sand off your 'nads and jump on a bus back to the capital. Soak up more reminders of the country's horrific past in Tuol Sleng Museum, or visit Seeing Hands for a massage.
Take a local bus to Phnom Penh (approx 4 hrs)
Perhaps visit the infamous Tuol Sleng Prison or indulge in a traditional massage at the Seeing Hands Massage parlour. An initiative set up to support the visually impaired masseurs, who also some of the best in the city
Take a bus to Ho Chi Minh City and submerge yourself in an ocean of motorbikes and madness. Wander around, smile at the locals and count yourself lucky for being in such an awesome place.
Take a local bus to Ho Chi Minh City (approx 6-7 hrs) - a fascinating blend of old and new, East and West
Spend free time visiting all the city’s restaurants, bars, nightclubs and most interesting sights - Reunification Palace, the War Remnants Museum, Ben Thanh Market, Notre Dame Cathedral and the adjacent Gustav Eiffel designed Central Post Office are all within walking distance of each other
Consider hiring a ‘cyclo’ (bicycle rickshaw) for touring the city sights
Meals included: 1 breakfast, 1 lunch, 1 dinner
Take a boat down the Mekong River. It's an experience that will fill you with joy, as will staying with a local family in the evening. Head down to the Mekong Delta and visit Ben Tre. On arrival, board a private boat and cruise along the waterways to visit local cottage industries.
Head to our overnight homestay along the water. Sleep on simple camp beds in dorm-style rooms. Bedding and mosquito nets are provided.
Shared toilet and bathroom facilities are basic.
Rise early and enjoy a simple breakfast before boarding the boat, and catching a bus back to Ho Chi Minh City. Board an overnight train to Nha Trang - conditions are basic, but this is the best way to travel long distances in Vietnam
The berths sleep 4-6 and you may be sharing with locals and different genders
Top up your criminally bad tan lines on the beaches of Nha Trang, take a boat to some islands or go for a mud bath (it's like a regular bath, but in wet dirt). You'll be chowing down on a seafood feast this evening.
Enjoy plenty of time to worship the sun during two full days in Nha Trang
A great optional excursion (at additional cost) is a day to cruise around the islands where you spend stacks of time swimming and snorkelling and indulging in a lunchtime feast of freshly caught seafood
Board an overnight train to Danang
Words like "untouched", "enthralling" and "atmospheric" get thrown at Hoi An all the time. They're not wrong, but we reckon "one of the best places you'll ever visit for reasons that are too complex and at the same time too perfectly simple to summarise in a tiny box of text such as this", is a much more accurate description. Enjoy free time - there’s such a broad choice of things to see and do, and they can all be experienced without difficulty
Perhaps join an optional cooking class
Perhaps rent bicycles and set off to explore the surrounding countryside, take a boat trip on the river, relax on the nearby beach, enjoy the cuisine on offer at some of the town’s numerous cheap cafes or have some clothes made up
Why not venture further afield to Vietnam’s world famous ‘China Beach’ (known locally as My Khe Beach) and the adjacent Marble Mountains An optional visit to the Kingdom of Champa, the ancient ruins at My Son, can be completed in half a day
Time for Hue. See ancient imperial ruins. Eat degustation-style Vietnamese cuisine. Take a cyclo tour. Sleep well. Repeat.
Travel across Hai Van Pass to the fishing village of Lang Co. After a quick stop, continue on to Hue (approx 5 hrs including stops)
Enjoy some free time, perhaps visit the Dong Ba market Check out the Forbidden Purple Palace and some royal tombs Take a ‘Dragon Boat' cruise up the Perfume River to visit the Thien Mu pagoda Perhaps cycle out to one of the Royal tombs such as the tomb of Emperor Tu Duc, one of the best remaining examples of its kind
Board overnight train to Hanoi
Take an orientation walk through Hanoi's Old Quarter. Then go shopping (we recommend the Pho Hang Gai or Don Xuan Market). A water puppet show is a must for those who have an aversion to land, but a fondness for puppetry.
Take a walking tour of the Old Quarter
Visit the Dong Xuan market, and stroll through the ancient '36 streets'
Catch a water puppet show if time allows
Meals included: 1 lunch
Visit an initiative that supports local people with disabilities, head out to the limestone karsts of Halong Bay, sleep on the jungle-clad Cat Ba Island (with a massive smile on your face).
Drive through the Red River Delta to Halong Bay (approx 4 hrs), stop on the way for refreshments at a handicraft workshop run by disabled people Halong Bay is a breathtaking secluded harbour with 2,000 limestone islands rising from the water
Board a boat and cruise the bay with its limestone karsts rising from the clear emerald waters
Enjoy a seafood lunch on board, explore some of the limestone caves in the area and go swimming during the warmer months
Stay on Cat Ba Island
The foreshore is a great place to have a drink and watch the sunset
Travel by ferry to Tuan Chau, then take the bus back to Hanoi.
Head back to Hanoi and spend time doing whatever the hell you want, unless it's illegal. Doing illegal things here can get you in the kind of trouble you'd rather avoid. Eat, shop, drink and relax. What more could you possibly want to do anyway!?
Enjoy some free time, wander around town and check out the lifestyles of Hanoi’s people
Perhaps visit One Pillar Pagoda near the Soviet-inspired mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh Or walk to the Temple of Literature - Vietnam’s first educational institute
Spend a night in the border town of Vinh before heading into Laos. Put what you've learnt so far (if anything) into practice and grab some local produce to rustle up your own Vietnamese feast.
Enjoy some last-minute shopping or sightseeing before leaving Hanoi
Board our private bus bound for Vinh, through beautiful countryside (approx 7 hrs)
The bustling port town of Vinh is famous as the birth place of Ho Chi Minh
Meals included: 1 breakfast
Visit sleepy Vientiane, the Laotian capital, and navigate the market while making friends with local kids, dogs and chickens. Grab some tucker on a stilt-restaurant above the Mekong while taking in the views. They're wow-worthy.
Take a private minibus on the Ho Chi Minh trail into Laos and on to the capital, Vientiane, it's a long day (approx. 12 hours)
Follow dusty tracks to villages full of friendly children, dogs and chickens
Vientiane's colourful morning market is full of local treasures
Finish the day enjoying a spectacular sunset over the Mekong Walk
Walk to Wat Si Saket, perhaps the oldest temple in Laos Visit the former royal temple of the Laos monarchy, Haw Pha Kaew, once home to the 'Emerald Buddha' Head to a symbol for Vientiane, Patuxai, or Victory Gate, climb to the top for an unsurpassed view of the city
Visit COPE, an organisation dedicated to assisting those who have been injured by the unexploded ordinance across the country
Vang Vieng is surrounded by limestone karst mountains. It's actually off its head. Sip on a cold beverage in a quiet bar or take a dip to cool down.
Take a local bus ride through roadside villages to Vang Vieng (approx 4 hrs)
Vang Vieng has limestone karst scenery, local markets and riverside walks
Vang Vieng is renowned for its many caves, easily accessible from the town Perhaps the most famous is the cave is Tham Chang, fed by a natural spring making it a perfect for a swim
Perhaps hire bicycles and explore further afield, or a tour an Organic Mulberry Farm
It's unfair how good Luang Prabang is. It's got temples for days, more French colonial architecture than you can shake a baguette at and crazy sunset views from Phu Si.
Take the bus through dusty villages and mountain roads to Luang Prabang (approx 7 hrs) - a World Heritage-listed city studded with ornate temples and French colonial architecture
Join our local guide on a walk of the local area, visit Wat Pha Mahathat and explore the local market Head out to the Kuang Si Falls, where pale turquoise waters cascade over limestone formation. Go for a refreshing afternoon dip
Perhaps venture to the Royal Palace or one of the many temples in the city
You might climb up Mount Phousi, the spiritual and geographical heart of the city, and watch the sunset over the Mekong
Back on the Mekong. Board a private boat for the two-day journey down the Mekong River - experience the slow pace of village life and great scenery along the river
Dock including a visit to the sacred caves of Pak Ou (approx. 8 hrs)
Dock at the trading port of Pakbeng to spend the night
You will stay in a very basic guesthouse
The following morning, reboard the boat and cruise leisurely upriver to Huay Xai (approx 8 hrs)
It can be quite cold from November to February so pack some warm gear
Due to dam construction upstream water levels are not as reliable as in previous years
When the river is at its lowest (Feb-Apr), groups may need to take a bus to Pak Beng instead of the boat
Cross the Thai border further down the Mekong and spend a night in Chiang Khong, a market town that's rather famous and important.
Reboard the boat and cruise further before crossing the border into Thailand (approx. 8hrs)
Stay overnight in Chiang Khong - an important market town for the surrounding hill tribes and trade with Laos
Chiang Mai has over 300 temples and a night market that is so large you could actually fit a number of other night markets inside. Get a massage, have a cooking lesson or perhaps do some kickboxing. Gulp.
Take a private minibus to Chiang Mai (approx 6 hrs) - home to many famous temples and an interesting old city area
Wander the spectacular temples, try delicious food, visit the night market, picturesque river-front or enjoy fantastic shopping
Join your leader on a walk through the old city, or choose from the optional activities available
Hire a bicycle, climb to Doi Suthep temple, sign up for a Thai cooking class, or have a traditional Thai massage
Board an overnight train for Bangkok (approx 13 hrs)
Bangkok is as crazy as you expect it to be. It's a South East Asian gem, so make the most of everything on offer here. If you don't return home absolutely exhausted and overwhelmed, you did it wrong. Go back and try again.
Arrive early in the morning, and head to the hotel in Banglamphu
Perhaps indulge in a Thai massage, or travel by longtail boat down the Chao Phraya River to explore the famous 'khlongs' (canals)
The trip will end in the morning on Day 40
There are no activities planned for the final day and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time
• Gecko’s expert English-speaking local tour guides throughout the tour.
• Free time to explore Chiang Mai, Huay Xai, Luang Prabang, Vientiane, Hanoi, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville, Siem Reap, the temples of Angkor and Bangkok.
• Local homestay experience in Cambodia.
• Slow boat trip down the Mekong River with a night in a hostel in Pakbeng and a visit to the Buddha statues at Pak Ou Caves.
• Trek to Kuang Si Falls and exploration of Vang Vieng caves.
• Bike ride around Hue and boat cruise up the Perfume River.
• Reunification Express sleeper train from Ho Chi Minh City to Nha Trang, Nha Trang to Hoi An and Hue to Hanoi.
• Overnight sleeper trains from Chiang Mai to Bangkok.
International flights, arrival and departure transfers, departure and airport taxes, visas, all other meals, all optional tours or activities during free time, transfers outside of the tour program, travel insurance, tips and items of a personal nature.
When you are taking a tour that covers 3 different countries, you will be tempted at times to draw comparisons between them. However, you will get the most of your travel experience if you try to understand and respect each culture and the people living there, regardless of whether you preferred the destination you were in previously.
There are some cultural elements that do cross over between countries in South East Asia:
· Patting someone on their head is considered extremely rude and insulting.
· Public displays of affection are not acceptable, especially kissing.
· Losing your temper or showing anger and shouting or yelling will lose respect immediately,
to remain cool, calm and collected at all times is an admired quality
· When visiting temples ensure your shoulders and knees are covered. They are places of
worship please treat them as such.
· The monarchy is held in high esteem in Thailand & Cambodia, please treat them with respect
At some of the tourist sites and in the cities it is possible you will come across beggars. This can prove an uncomfortable encounter especially for inexperienced travellers. There are many genuine beggars, however there are also those who find the lifestyle easier than working and these people often see tourists as easy prey. As a general rule, if you feel the impulse to give, you should be discreet in the giving. Never make a show of it, as you will attract a crowd, which brings with it its own set of problems. There are often charities that take care of the needy and it may be wise to give to them rather than to individuals begging.
In places you should dress conservatively to avoid attracting unwanted attention and so as not to offend the local population. This is especially applicable to women travellers. Dress rules also apply at many of the religious sites.
Local Tour Guides
By employing and training local site guides to lead our group holidays, there is a two-fold benefit. Firstly, we provide employment opportunities for the local community. Just as importantly is the benefit to you, the traveller. Your tour guide’s friendship, humour, passion and intimate knowledge of the region will be key factors in making your holiday a success.
Tet Holiday Period
Please note that Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam are developing countries whose infrastructure may differ from what you expect in your homeland. Expect poor road conditions and be prepared for some inconveniences due to such things as restaurants or tourist sites being closed and our regular transport services not always being available, especially so during the Tet holiday period (Vietnamese New Year) and Chinese New Year.
Tet (Vietnamese New Year) Is a time where most businesses will be closed as Vietnamese people usually spend this period returning to their homes and celebrating with their families. This will involve a major burden on all forms of transport, and despite booking in advance, tickets for planes and trains especially are extremely difficult to obtain. Even if bookings are obtained, transport services during this period will be overcrowded and heavy delays are to be expected, so you will need to make sure that you pack your sense of humour. In order to facilitate your travels during the Tet period, we may need to substitute your train/plane journey with a private bus trip, if required. Please check with your booking agent when Tet is this year.
Some side notes to keep in mind
This is an 'adventure' trip and we hope to expose you to all aspects of the local cultures. Please be open-minded.
For some departures the overnight train will either depart late in the afternoon or arrive into cities very early in the morning. On these occasions we will have the opportunity to store our luggage and freshen up in multi-share day rooms before either we depart for the early evening overnight train journey or checking into our evening accommodation later in the day respectively. Please note if you have booked a single supplement whilst on tour, it will not apply to these day rooms.
Update on Bangkok Protests (between 12th-19th January 2014)
Due to an increase in political protests scheduled for the week of 12-19 January, taxi drivers may not want to drive from the airport to your downtown hotel. If the public taxis will not take you please go back inside the airport and you can arrange a private vehicle transfer with the Airports of Thailand transfer services. These cost about 1200THB per car to the downtown hotels.
Local Emergency Contacts
In the case of a genuine crisis or emergency, the Gecko's Cambodia office can be reached on Tel: +855 92 555 969, Gecko's Vietnam office can be reached on Tel: +84 903 117 770, Gecko's Thailand Office can be reached on Tel: +66 898 103 722.
The information provided here is given in good faith and has been compiled with all reasonable care. However, things change and some of the information may become out of date. Please ensure that you have the most up-to-date information for your trip. We recommend that you check the trip notes for your tour around one month before departure. If you have any queries, please contact your travel agent or our staff in Australia. We are here to help you!
26 March 2014