Vietnam & Cambodia Explorer
22 days with Intrepid Travel Rating:
Day 1 Hanoi
Xin chao! Welcome to Vietnam. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm tonight. If you happen to arrive early, take the day at your own pace and wander the Old Quarter admiring the city’s French-colonial architecture and manicured parks, or simply enjoy some street food. Better yet, consider booking the Hanoi Highlights Urban Adventure with an expert local guide to introduce you to the city and its sites, including the Temple of Literature, the Hoa Lo Prison museum and Hoan Kiem Lake. Head to urbanadventures.com/destination/hanoi-tours for more information.
Day 2 Cat Ba Island
An early start is necessary to get the most out of your day. Take a 7.30 am bus ride and ferry transfer to the steep karsts and tiny beaches of Cat Ba Island, arriving before midday – you’ll have a quick stop to stretch your legs en route. The largest of all the islands in World Heritage-listed Halong Bay, charming Cat Ba will be your base for exploring the limestone cliffs and turquoise water that define this area. Get acquainted with this stunning spot with an afternoon cruise around the bay, enjoying lunch on the boat while floating past the karsts covered in emerald-green foliage. Later, get closer to the water and explore on a kayak, perhaps stopping at one of Cat Ba’s many beaches for a swim. Stay overnight on Cat Ba Island and enjoy the sunset with a cold beer.
Day 3 Hanoi – Overnight Train
Wake up in paradise and enjoy some free time lazing on the beach. Maybe go for a swim, kick back with a book or take a stroll along the sand. In the afternoon, head back to Hanoi. Hopefully you’ll have some time to grab dinner with the group before boarding an overnight train for a 12-hour journey to Hue later on. Although conditions are basic, overnight trains are the best way to travel long distances and brush shoulders with the locals. Most trains have a dining carriage which serves simple food, but some travellers like to take some fresh bread, cheese, fruit and other snacks for the journey.
Day 4 Hue
As the former imperial capital of Vietnam, Hue holds the treasures of Vietnam's royal past and is a curious mix of bustling streets and tranquil settings. Packed with historic monuments, Hue is also perfectly located to explore the surrounding countryside, which features stunning scenery, quaint villages and the peaceful Tam Giang Lagoon. The bustling Dong Ba Market offers a plethora of goods and foods to see and sample, and it's a good place to try some of the specialities that graced the Nguyen emperors' banquet tables, such as the banh khoai – a royal rice cake. You have a free day to explore, which you could easily spend exploring Hue’s massive walled citadel and the Forbidden Purple Palace enclosed within. Perhaps jump on board a dragon boat and enjoy a cruise up the Perfume River to visit the Thien Mu pagoda, or cycle out to one of the Royal tombs such as the tomb of Emperor Tu Duc. Otherwise, set off on an optional motorcycle tour of the sights in Hue and some surrounding villages.
Day 5 Hoi An
Continue on your journey and travel to the World Heritage-listed town of Hoi An, where on arrival, your leader will take you on an orientation walk around town. The city was a major trading port with the west from the 17th century onwards, and has various architectural influences from Europe, China and Vietnam. Today, the city is being restored and looks exactly like it did over a century ago. The rest of the day is free for you to do some optional activities or soak up the ambience of the place. You may like to wander Hoi An Market and the street stalls selling paintings, woodwork, ceramics, lanterns and much more. It’s also famous for its talented tailors who can make beautiful items to order within 24 hours, so be sure to check that out!
Day 6 Hoi An
Enjoy a free day to further explore Hoi An. Perhaps take a cruise up the Thu Bon River or learn the secrets of cooking delicious Vietnamese dishes. Visit some of the main art galleries or simply wander around the beautifully restored Chinese shop houses. There’s also the option of cycling around the surrounding countryside – a truly relaxing way to get off the beaten track and see rural Vietnam up close. Your leader will be able to suggest activities to help you get the most out of your time.
Day 7 Hoi An – Overnight Train
Make the most out of another free day in Hoi An. Perhaps do some of the activities you couldn’t fit into your schedule over the past couple of days, or go pick up your fresh threads from the tailors. There’s also Cua Dai Beach nearby – the perfect place to rest up before continuing on your way. This evening, board another overnight train bound for Phan Rang. Remember, it’s always a good idea to have some snacks and a book on hand.
Day 8 Phan Rang
Arrive in Phan Rang early this morning for two days of beachside bliss and relaxation. With arguably the best weather in Vietnam, Phan Rang is a low-key coastal city where swimming, snorkelling and seafood take priority. While you’re here, look out for banh can and banh xeo – egg, squid, shrimp and vegetables cooked into a pancake. Delicious!
Day 9 Phan Rang – Overnight Train
Take a break with another day in Phan-tastic Phan Rang. You could squeeze the sand between your toes and grab some rays on the beach, or take a quick ride out to Dinh Cape – one of the most picturesque bays and stretches of sand in the area. Otherwise, perhaps ask your leader where you can get a massage to really get your zen on. Keep in mind that there’s your overnight train journey waiting for you this evening, so get outside and enjoy all that Phang Rang has to see, and eat! Tonight’s overnight train journey will take approximately 7 hours and drop you right into bustling Ho Chi Minh City.
Day 10 Ho Chi Minh City
Arrive in Ho Chi Minh City very early this morning and transfer to your hotel. Today you’ll have plenty of free time to explore Vietnam’s largest city. Ho Chi Minh City has a busy atmosphere and many French influences. In your free time, it’s recommended to visit the Reunification Palace and the War Remnants Museum. There’s also the historic Dong Khoi Street, and the chaotic markets of Ben Thanh and Cholon (Chinatown). Ho Chi Minh City has a different style of cuisine to its northern counterpart Hanoi, so be sure get out for restaurant meals and street food with your travel crew. Your group leader has all the best people in the right places, so they’ll know of some delectable places to eat, for any budget.
Day 11 Ho Chi Minh City
Today you may be required to move to a different hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, for the next section of your trip. Your leader will let you know if this is the case, and will help with the transfer to the next hotel. Enjoy a free day today. Some of Intrepid's Urban Adventures available in in this city include Cu Chi Experience, Cyclos & Markets, and Saigon Street Food by Night. As this is a combination trip, your group leader and the composition of your group may change at this location. There will be a group meeting on the evening to discuss the next stage of your itinerary and you're welcome to attend, as this is a great chance to meet your new fellow travellers.
Day 12 Phnom Penh
Travel by public bus through rural Vietnam and Cambodia to Phnom Penh (approximately 10 hours including two border crossings and lunch). Cambodia's capital city is set on a major junction of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers and boasts some fine examples of French-inspired architecture. You may want to take a cyclo tour of the city's sights, including the central market, US Embassy, Wat Phnom, Mekong river front, independence monument and Royal Palace. If you're in the mood for shopping, stop in at the art deco Psar Thmei (Central Market) or travel out to Psar Tuol Tom Pong (the Russian Market) for the best range of local souvenirs.
Day 13 Phnom Penh
Take a day to explore the swirl and bustle of Phnom Penh. Included today is a visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S21) and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. These serve as sobering reminders of the violent rule of the Khmer Rouge. Here you can learn more about this confronting but important chapter in history – if you'd rather not visit these sites, simply let your leader know. Otherwise, the rest of the day is free for you to explore. You could visit Wat Phnom, a Buddhist temple shrouded in myth, or the National Museum and its excellent Khmer collection. Perhaps indulge in a traditional massage at Seeing Hands – a great social enterprise supporting visually impaired masseurs. A traditional Cambodian massage may be a little different than you are used to – it’s generally an oil-free, fully-clothed affair. In the evening, perhaps head up to the Foreign Correspondent’s Club bar with your group for a drink overlooking the Tonle Sap River.
Day 14 Chambok
Travel by private vehicle (approximately 3.5 hours) into rural Cambodia to the region of Kampong Speu and the village of Chambok. There's a lot of natural beauty to discover here, and the Chambok community is renowned for its ecotourism. A member of the Chambok community will take you on a village walk and be happy to chat about their community’s history, lifestyle and local ecotourism projects. Meet the families your group will spend the night with and settle into your homestay accommodation. In the afternoon, take a walk around the village and head to a nearby waterfall. If it's warm enough, you may even opt for a swim! In the evening, head to the community centre to enjoy a traditional Khmer dinner prepared by women from the community. You'll also be treated to a traditional dance performance – tonight is an experience that won’t be forgotten any time soon.
Day 15 Kampong Chhnang
Say goodbye to your homestay hosts and head in a private vehicle to Kampong Chhnang (approximately 4–5 hours). Kampong Chhnang is a central province of Cambodia and borders South East Asia’s largest freshwater lake, Tonle Sap. After you’ve arrived, head to a pottery workshop demonstration where you’ll see how the locals use this craft, plus try it out, if you want! Otherwise, you could book on a boat trip on Tonle Sap lake, passing by the floating villages and fishing boats. This evening, there is also an optional (but highly recommended) experience to have dinner in a local home – you’ll never get over that traditional Cambodian hospitality.
Day 16 Battambang
Onwards to Battambang. Take a private vehicle for about 4 hours towards the Thai border, and you’ll hit this town on the Sangkae River. This afternoon is free for you to do as you please. Perhaps head to Wat Banan – an Angkor-era temple perched high about the river overlooking the surrounding region. With around 300 stairs to climb to the temples, it’s worth the exercise, as the largely untouched temples are a sight to behold, and the 360-degree panoramic views over the province are stunning, especially on a sunny day. Otherwise, Battambang’s Killing Fields of Phnom Sampeau are also a sobering reminder of how the Khmer Rouge affected this area. At sunset, an extraordinary sight occurs with thousands of bats emerging and streaming out from the nearby caves, sometimes for over half an hour. If you do decide to go to Phnom Sampeau, be sure to time your visit for this.
Day 17 Battambang
With another free day in Battambang, consider one of the optional activities. If you’re feeling active, there’s a cycling tour which takes you around to visit local producers of traditional foods, plus you get a different look at the countryside, with the fresh air cooling you as you ride. Instead, there may be a chance to book into a cooking class in a local home, or head out in the evening for a street food tour – best to ask your group leader, as they know all the best people in the right places.
Day 18 Siem Reap
Take a public bus to Siem Reap (approximately 3.5 hours). The small but expanding town of Siem Reap is the gateway to the Angkor archaeological site. This is the most popular destination for travellers in all of Cambodia, perhaps even in South East Asia. The markets are a great place to shop or to try some cheap, delicious street food. Included today is a sustainable concept activity called Rehash Trash. Cambodia, as well as many South East Asian nations, finds themselves with a mounting problem – waste. This initiative is run by women to empower them with skills-based training, and by using some of this waste for good, you’ll make a treasure out of what may otherwise be considered waste. If your creation doesn’t turn out that great, don’t worry – they have an onsite shop with recycled products made by local women to buy as souvenirs.
Day 19 Siem Reap
Today you will visit the world-famous Angkor complex with your guide. These temples were built between the ninth and 13th centuries when the Khmer empire was the pre-eminent influence in South East Asia. The temples were believed to represent the cosmic world and were set in perfect balance, symmetry and composition. The intricately carved bas-reliefs and architectural designs are mind-blowing and there are spectacular photographic opportunities at any time of day – seeing them at sunrise or sunset is highly recommended. The ruins are scattered over an area of some 160 square kilometres, but the main cluster of temples is close to Siem Reap. You'll have plenty of time to fully appreciate the great archaeological sites of Angkor Wat, the Bayon and the jungle-covered Ta Prohm, among others.
Day 20 Siem Reap
Today there may be a chance (depending on the season) to visit Tonle Sap Lake for a look at local life. If you feel like some adventure, another option is to do the Angkor zip-line course, which gives you a birds-eye view of the beautiful rainforest and an adrenaline rush, of course. Otherwise you could visit the sobering Landmine Museum. It's located a little further field but is well worth the journey. You may also take the opportunity to spend a second day at the Angkor complex to explore parts of the site you may have missed yesterday. Please note that if you choose to return to Angkor, an extra day pass will be at your expense.
Day 21 Bangkok
It's a long drive from Siem Reap to Bangkok (approximately 10 hours in a private minibus including two border crossings and lunch), so strap in and have some car games at the ready. Once arrived, embrace Thailand's bustling capital by getting out amongst it – a world of tuk tuks, khlong (canal) boats and street vendors serving up delicious Thai food. Head out with your new crew for an optional group dinner and find out why this city never sleeps.
Day 22 Bangkok
With no activities planned for the final day, you are able to depart the accommodation at any time. That doesn’t mean your adventure has to end! Bangkok is a bustling hub of food, culture and chaos, so we recommend you spend at least another day here to explore. Better yet, book into one of the many Urban Adventure tours on offer – they take you around the best places with a knowledgeable local guide. Find out more at urbanadventures.com/destination/bangkok-tours. If you would like to spend more time in Bangkok, we’ll be happy to organise additional accommodation for you (subject to availability).
All This Included
Experience the very best of South East Asia on this awesome Lonely Planet Experience through Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, powered by Intrepid. Enjoy a steaming bowl of pho from a street stall in Ho Chi Minh City, relax on a beach in Phan Rang, admire the temples of Angkor and get some insight into everyday Khmer life at a rural homestay. With faded colonial elegance in Hanoi, the rustic charm of Kampong Chhnang and the urban buzz of Bangkok, there's a lot to dazzle your senses on this exploration through South East Asia.
Guesthouse (2 nights)
Homestay (1 night)
Hotel (15 nights)
Overnight sleeper train (3 nights)
Terms and Conditions
For Intrepid Travel terms and conditions, please click here.
* The prices shown are U.S. dollars per person, based on double occupancy, and subject to availability. Prices quoted for land/cruise arrangements are subject to increase without notice. Once we have received your deposit, land/cruise prices are guaranteed. Air prices quoted via phone or email are subject to increase and are guaranteed only from the time that full payment is received. Also, air prices or air promotions mentioned on this site or on the phone do not include baggage fees imposed by airlines.