Day 1: Arrival. Upon arrival at Chiang Mai's Airport, our English–speaking guide will greet you in the arrival hall and bring you, by air conditioned car, to your hotel to refresh and relax. Overnight in Chiang Mai.
Day 2: Explore Chiang Mai. After breakfast, our guide arrives at the hotel for today's activities. Stroll to the Mae Ping riverbank and on to Waroros Market to meander its colourful stalls. Then, climb onboard your rickshaw for a ride down Tapae Street — Chiang Mai's main thoroughfare.
Explore ancient Chiang Mai, starting from its eastern gate. See the Monument of Three Kings (which established Chiang Mai as the capital of the Lanna Thai Kingdom) and on to see the city's important temples: Wat Chedi Luang (where the famous Emerald Buddha was once enshrined) and Wat Phra Singh (home to an ancient and sacred Buddha image). Then whisk away into a world of verdant tranquility. An indulgent, two-hour Lanna Style Package at an area spa, warms your body with a Thai traditional massage, an herbal hot compress on your stomach and back, followed by an aromatic full body oil massage. An exotic feeling of beauty, serenity and pleasure awaits! Overnight in Chiang Mai.
Day 3: Chiang Mai Sightseeing. Your car arrives after breakfast for a 15 minute drive to our morning's activity. We will enjoy a unique cooking class in a traditional teak–style house surrounded with pretty gardens. This family–run school presents a wide variety of classic and specialized northern Thai dishes. Begin with a visit to a market to shop and learn about the fresh foods and spices that you will use in your cooking class. Under the watchful eye of the experienced chef, you will learn how to cook inspiring and delicious Thai dishes and enjoy lunch — to eat what you have cooked!
Explore more of ancient Chiang Mai — with its old city walls, gates, moat and markets. After visiting Wat Suan Dok (where ashes of Chiang Mai's royal family are interred) and the historic Jed Yot Temple, continue to Wat Prathat Doi Suthep Temple, the most sacred in all of North Thailand. Our experienced guide will speak about the temple and the famed white elephant as we stroll past beautiful murals. By late afternoon, most visitors have departed and twilight creates a special atmosphere. After a private blessing ceremony, witness the magical chanting of the monks. The blissful evening ends with an unforgettable view over Chiang Mai with its glittering lights.
Day 4: A Chaing Rai jungle lodge. Our guide arrives at the hotel for the air–conditioned drive bound for a special lodge near Chiang Rai. A local herbal juice will be a refreshing welcome while we check–in. Beautiful views of the surrounding hills and a warm, welcoming staff make for a delightful experience. Dinner, traditional Hmong performances and overnight at the lodge.
Day 5: At the lodge. After breakfast, a presentation begins discussing the Hmong and Lahu hill tribes, the Golden Triangle and the giant catfish (Pla Buek, the world's biggest fresh water fish) found in the Mekong River. Learn about the activities and people whose lives always depend on the river.
Tour the Hmong and Lahu tribal village, including a visit to the shaman's house. Share tea with the shaman, discover the significance of the fireplace and learn why they bury the placenta and umbilical cord of newborn babies. Lunch is served on a terrace overlooking the Mekong River towards Laos. The Herbal Plant Nursery Project was dedicated on December 5, 2011 to His Majesty the King, commemorating his 84th birthday. The nursery improves many lives by teaching the importance of the village ecosystem and to grow their own vegetables. Dinner and a pleasant night at the lodge are yours.
Day 6: To Chaing Khong, Huay Xai and Pakbeng. Our guide will arrive at the lodge to bring us, by air–conditioned vehicle, to the border at Chiang Khong/Huay Xai. At this point your Thai guide will say farewell.
The Luang Say cruise departs from Huay Xai. After transiting immigration, you'll see the Luang Say cruise office for check-in. Climb aboard with a welcome from our boat's guide and begin our voyage down the Mekong River to Pak Beng. Stop along the way to observe the life of a typical hill tribe settlement. When you return, enjoy a buffet lunch served onboard. Arrival in Pakbeng is planned to savor the changing hues of sunset over the river, right from our rooms. About halfway between Huay Xai and Luang Prabang, Pakbeng Village is a must see! The town's wooden houses are perched along a steep hillside. Your dinner is served on the terrace overlooking the Mekong River. Overnight at Pakbeng.
Day 7: Pakbeng, Pak, Ou, Luang Prabang. Planning for a quick, early breakfast, make time to enjoy an (optional) visit to Pak Beng Market — very popular for villagers and hill tribes to buy and exchange goods. By 8:30 AM sharp, our boat departs. After a brief stop at Ban Baw to appreciate the making of traditional rice liquor, our buffet lunch is served onboard.
This afternoon visit Pak Ou Caves, two hours upstream from Luang Prabang. Pak Ou (or Tam Ting) Caves contain a huge array of gold–lacquered Buddhas in two chambers, carved out from a towering limestone cliff. Statues range from only a few centimeters up to the size of a human. The caves are a popular pilgrimage destination. Arrival in Luang Prabang (UNESCO World Heritage City) is planned before sunset. Here we meet our land guide and driver at the pier and head to our hotel for check–in. Overnight in Luang Prabang. (Breakfast, Lunch)
Day 8: Luang Prabang. At dawn today, there is a special opportunity for you to witness Luang Prabang's monks collecting their alms. As the sun begins to rise, long lines of orange–robed monks withdraw from their pagodas to walk the streets barefoot while collecting offerings. It is a beautiful, serene ceremony that highlights the spiritualism of Laos. A short ride brings us to historical, central Luang Prabang. We visit the local fresh market to meander past stalls, examine goods and regard the locals, shopping each day for vegetables, fruits and exotic specialties. Return to the hotel for breakfast.
After breakfast begin a city tour at the former Royal Palace, now the National Museum. The palace was built in 1904 (in the French colonial era) for King Sisavang Vong but is now home to exhibits of art and jewels. Visit Wat Mai with its unique five–tiered roof and golden bas reliefs. During Pimai (the Lao New Year) the small Buddha statue (Pra Bang, housed in the palace) is put on display. Visit Wat Sene and its beautiful golden facade. Complete your morning journey at the most photographed temple in Luang Prabang, Wat Xieng Thong.
After lunch, we'll weave our way to the weaving village of Ban Phanom. Populated by Thai Lue (a tribe with origins in southern China), this village, is renown for cotton and silk hand weaving. Visit Henri Mahoit's grave before return to Luang Prabang. Climb the 328 steps to the top of Mount Phousi to enjoy a twilight panoramic view of the city and the surrounding countryside. Overnight in Luang Prabang.
Day 9: Kuangsi Waterfall. After breakfast, visit colorful Wat Visoun Temple, the famous Watermelon Stupa, shaped just like the fruit! This temple was destroyed in 1887 by invading Black Flag troops from China, but was restored in 1930 by Buddhist monks and locals. Visit Wat Aham village and the brilliance of its "altar of the two geniuses of Luang Prabang."
Revitalize at the refreshing Kuangsi Waterfalls, located 20 miles from Luang Prabang. The falls cascade down a tiered limestone formation to form several turquoise pools, perfect for a hot day swim. The jungle and the undergrowth surrounding the falls team with wildlife. Indulge with a picnic lunch at cooling Kuangsi Waterfall. Returning to Luang Prabang, we scout villages of several ethnic groups. In Ban Tha Pan Village, learn about the Kamu people and stop at Ban Ou, a Lao Loum (majority group) village. A final stop is at Ban Na Ouane, a Humong village. Humongs came from the mountains of Southern China and maintain an oral folk tradition with no written records. Hmong history passes its legends and rituals verbally between each generation. In the 1960s and 1970s, many Hmong were secretly recruited by the U. S. Army and CIA to fight against communism. Overnight in Luang Prabang.
Day 10: Elephant Village. Right after breakfast, we meet in the lobby. This morning's excursion carries us to a half-day program at Elephant Village.
We will be welcomed by the camp's manager for a short area introduction before it's time to hoist up to the Howdah (elephant seat, behind the trunk) for a wild, one-hour elephant ride followed by a serene boat cruise to Tad Sae Waterfall. A buffet lunch awaits at Elephant Village's restaurant (includes coffee, tea and drinking water). Return to our hotel in Luang Prabang in the early afternoon. The rest of today is free to relax or to explore the city. Overnight in Luang Prabang.
Day 11: Free day in Luang Prabang. This day is free to explore as you wish! Overnight in Luang Prabang.
Day 12: Luang Prabang to Siem Reap. After breakfast, it's time to check–out of the hotel. Our guide and private vehicle will arrive for a farewell airport transfer for our flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia. On arrival, outside the secured area, we will be welcomed by our Cambodian guide. Siem Reap is the hub to explore the fabled Angkor temples, in the ancient capital of the Khmer Empire.
Visit famous Angkor Wat. Built during the reign of King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century, Angkor Wat's temple mimic Mount Meru, the home of the gods. The inner walls are covered by stone carvings and bas–reliefs depicting both Hindu mythology and wars fought during Suryavarman's reign. Angkor Wat is known for over 2,000 Apsara dancers that decorate the temple. Its construction is said to have taken thirty years of intensive labor. Angkor Wat is depicted on Cambodia's national flag as the temple which symbolizes the soul of the Khmer people. We visit at sunset, when Angkor Wat is quieter and the Apsaras will shimmer in the dwindling twilight. Overnight at our hotel in Siem Reap.
Day 13: Exploring Siem Reap. This morning, see the radiant gem of Angkor — the temple of Banteay Srey (best seen in the morning light). Built during the 11th to 13th centuries, the "Citadel of the Women" remains the best preserved Cambodian temple with fine examples of classical Khmer art and some remarkably fine bas–reliefs, depicting the Hindu god, Shiva. Banteay Srey is uniquely constructed from pink sandstone, seen nowhere else in Angkor. Returning to Siem Reap, stop at the profound Land Mine Museum, promoting land mine awareness and education. Mr. Aki Ra, the museum founder, was a child soldier during the Khmer Rouge regime and today acts as a humanitarian de–miner. The museum also serves as a rescue center for amputee children Aki Ra has brought from the streets of Phnom Penh and nearby impoverished rural communities.
It is possible to stop at some villages along the way and our guide can help connect with villagers to learn their way of life — observe rice paper being made, taste palm wine and palm sugar, all popular local products. This afternoon we visit the ancient site of Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom was the last capital of the Khmer Empire, under the reign of Jayavarman VII. This city is bound by a wall, eight meter high and four kilometers long, drawing a perfect square. Enter through the ancient South Gate, a stone portal carved with elephants and four giant faces. To each side of the gate's path, a row of 54 gods or demons hold the sacred Naga snake. Continue to Bayon Temple in the exact center of the city. The temple holds four faces and 54 towers representing the 54 provinces of the Khmer Empire. The Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King are important spots, known for their intricate reliefs. Overnight at our Siem Reap hotel.
Day 14: Exploring Siem Reap. This morning, visit some early Angkor–era temples of the Roluos Group, found just outside of Siem Reap. Roluos is the ancient center of Khmer civilization known as Hariharalaya — the first town built by Angkorian kings in the 8th and 9th centuries with three main temples: Bakong, Loleiand and Preah Ko. Arriving at a small contemporary pagoda, Buddhist monks conduct a private blessing ceremony for us, wishing good health, a safe journey and a very special experience! In the afternoon, explore the temples of the Small Circuit. The most illustrious is Ta Prohm, built in the mid 12th to early 13th centuries.
Ta Prohm is unique as it has been left as it was found — reclaimed by the jungle with many parts crumbled to the ground. Nicknamed the "Tomb Raider Temple," it is one of the most memorable of the Angkor group. See Banteay Kdei, a Buddhist monastery from the late 12th Century, and Srah Srang, known as the "pool of ablutions." In the late afternoon visit Pre Rub temple, just as the sun sets over the teeming jungle. Overnight at our hotel in Siem Reap.
Day 15: Departing Siem Reap. After breakfast, our guide brings us to the airport to depart Siem Reap, Cambodia and marking the conclusion of this Southeast Asian odyssey!
A detailed itinerary is available on request.
Next Small-Group Scheduled Departure: February 5 – 19, 2017
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