After breakfast, we visit the ancient city of Ayutthaya, located about 50 miles north of Bangkok. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was home to 33 kings from many different dynasties. The capital of Siam from 1353 to 1767, the city was once a place of such fabulous wealth that early travelers described its “2,000 spires clad in gold.” A coach ride brings us to Wat Yai Chai Mongkol (wat is Thai for temple), flanked by a row of saffron-draped Buddha statues. Although its stones were laid centuries ago in 1357, the site still functions as a meditation center today. We also explore the ruins at Wat Phra Sri Sanphet, a temple complex situated within the former Royal Palace grounds which served as a model for Bangkok's Temple of the Emerald Buddha. After lunch at a local restaurant, we'll then board a motorized long-tail boat—so named for its long, thin design—for an afternoon cruise, with a stop a Muslim village to learn about their lives. As we coast, we'll see villagers going about their daily routines at temples, schools, markets, and even churches and mosques near the river banks. We return to Bangkok by late-afternoon. We'll have dinner at a local restaurant this evening.
Enjoy a day in Bangkok for independent discoveries or join our optional Floating Market & Mangrove Adventure excursion, which begins in Ratchaburi at the colorful Damnoen Saduak floating market, where we enjoy a paddle-boat ride along the canal and a walking tour of the floating market. Then, we stop at a palm sugar workshop and coconut farm, followed by lunch at a local restaurant. After lunch, we journey by bus to Khlong Khon district of Samutsongkram province, where we board a fisherman's boat to explore the mangrove forest area, feed the wild monkeys, and visit a local fisherman’s home. We return to Bangkok by bus in the late afternoon. Dinner is on your own this evening.
After breakfast at our hotel, we depart for the airport for our flight to Luang Prabang, Laos. The ancient, royal capital of Laos, Luang Prabang is located on a peninsula between the Mekong and Khan rivers with green mountains all around. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this is one of the quaintest towns in Southeast Asia. Upon arrival in Luang Prabang, we'll take a short bus ride and since large coaches aren't allowed in the inner city, we'll then use tuk-tuks, the local mode of transport, and enjoy an included lunch along the peaceful banks of the Khan River. After lunch, we'll check into our hotel and have an orientation walk around the neighborhood. Set in spectacular scenery, Luang Prabang is famous for the more than 30 active temples and hundreds of architectural treasures that reside here. It will be like a journey into the distant past as we mingle with monks and local people heading to market and going about their daily business. Notice the many 19th-century French Colonial villas mixed in with the more traditional Lao-style homes. Next, we'll hop aboard local transport to visit the royal temple Wat Xieng Thong, the oldest in the city. Originally built of wood in 1560, it was reconstructed in brick and stucco following a fire in the late 19th century. Then we head to Phousi Hill, in the center of the old town. Here you may wish to climb the 328 steps and at the top, overlook most of Luang Prabang. You'll enjoy views of the Khan and Mekong rivers, and if the weather obliges, enjoy a colorful sunset. We'll continue on to a night market, and then we'll have dinner at a local restaurant.
Get a window into the lives of members of a Hmong community in their village. Today we rise very early to participate in an ancient Buddhist tradition: alms-giving to local monks. In the quiet of early morning (around 6am), we watch as hundreds of monks parade solemnly and single-file through the streets of Luang Prabang, collecting food offerings from the citizens who, in turn, receive prayers for their families and friends. Dressed in traditional Lao orange robes, the monks provide a sense of calm and solemnity to the inhabitants of the city each morning. We'll walk to a nearby temple with the monks and have a few minutes to ask them about their way of life before they sit down to their breakfast. Next, we'll visit a nearby market where we'll have typical Laotian breakfast foods for our own morning meal. We'll also purchase ingredients to bring to our Home- Hosted Lunch. Then we set out to experience A Day in the Life of a local village, where we'll get to meet young students at a local elementary school, supported in part by Grand Circle Foundation—part of the World Classroom initiative. We'll then walk to a nearby village of the Hmong hill tribe, an indigenous people of Laos' northern highlands. Here, we'll be welcomed inside the home of a local shaman. After a lively discussion with village leaders, we' ll enjoy a Home-Hosted Lunch which we help to prepare. We return to Luang Prabang for some free time to explore, and dinner is on your own.
We spend our final morning in Luang Prabang exploring the Royal Palace Museum, which was built from 1904-1909 during the reign of King Sisavang Vong and served as his palace. Today it is a museum where you can see the royal throne and other artifacts. The building itself is a fine example of the French beaux-arts style and traditional Lao artwork. The ground floor of the museum is divided into several halls and rooms displaying gifts from other countries to the Lao kings and collections of swords and Buddha images. Then enjoy lunch on your own before we take a short flight to Vientiane, Laos' easy-going capital. Despite its growing population, the city still retains a small-town feel: Laundry dries in the sun on French-style balconies, and street vendors spread out their wares on blankets and banana leaves. When we arrive in the capital this afternoon, we'll take a brief orientation walk, perhaps witnessing group aerobics at King Anouvong Park. We'll experience life in Vientiane this evening as the guests of a local family for a Home-Hosted Dinner.
After breakfast at the hotel, we head to the airport for our flight to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. After lunch on our own, we'll visit the Royal Palace, home of the present King Norodom Sihamoni. The palace was opened in 1870 and now contains the Royal Residence, the Throne Hall, and the Silver Pagoda (Wat Preah Keo Morokat), which draws its name from the more than 5,000 silver tiles that cover its floor. We check in to our hotel afterwards. Later this evening, we'll have dinner at a local restaurant.
We rise before daybreak for an early morning flight back to the Dhaka Or, fly to Bangkok to begin our post-trip extension to Undiscovered Thailand: The River Kwai, Chiang Rai & Chiang Mai.
Thailand is a wondrous kingdom, featuring Buddhist temples, exotic
wildlife, and spectacular islands. Along with a fascinating history and a
unique culture that includes delectable Thai food and massage, Thailand
features a modern capital city, and friendly people who epitomize
Thailand’s “land of smiles” reputation.
Vietnam occupies the eastern and southern part of the Indochinese
peninsula in Southeast Asia, with the South China Sea along its entire
coast. China is to the north and Laos and Cambodia are to the west. Long
and narrow on a north-south axis, Vietnam is about twice the size of
Arizona. The Mekong River delta lies in the south.