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zVisions of Vietnam + Laos + Cambodia + Thailand

16 days

Never more than 16 guests OR Travel Privately

Our Distinctive A+R Style

  • With the most evocative hotels, our uniquely intimate adventure delves into the cuisines, cultures and landscapes of these diverse lands.
  • Thrill to the majesty of Ha Long Bay from your balcony stateroom on our overnight cruise aboard the Paradise Elegance.
  • Discover the historic must-see port of Hoi An which so many other visitors miss.
  • Watch a water puppet master at work and enjoy a private performance of this ancient art form.
  • Savor Hanoi’s culinary scene on an evening tour through streets alive with food vendors and city residents.
  • Learn how to select the finest produce and spices for your cooking class in Hoi An.
  • Join Laotian farmers for a genuine hands-on experience, maybe even plow with a water buffalo or plant some rice!
  • With 14 nights luxury hotel + overnight Ha Long Bay cruise; 40 meals with beer and wine at dinner; comprehensive sightseeing; all transfers; all 5 internal flights; port charges; and all gratuities except Trip Leaders.
c Visit 4 UNESCO World Heritage sites

Show all itinerary details


A VIP Welcome to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam

Park Hyatt - Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

On arrival, our VIP Fast Track Immigration Service expedites your arrival formalities. Before you know it, you’ll be on your way to the Park Hyatt. Ideally situated on Lam Son Square in the heart of the city, our luxury hotel is the best in town.


This morning we take you outside of the city to visit the infamous Cu Chi tunnels, the incredible underground network that was built by guerilla fighters beginning in 1940 and expanded throughout the Vietnam War. Marvel at secret trapdoors, underground kitchens, living quarters and even conference rooms. You’ll have ample opportunity to view the excavated areas from above; the more adventurous can explore the deeper second and even third-level tunnels.

After lunch in a local restaurant, return to the city for sightseeing - starting with Reunification Hall. Formerly known as the Presidential Palace, it was towards this modern building that Communist tanks rolled on the morning of April 30, 1975 as Saigon fell. Nearby, the War Remnants Museum offers a penetrating look into the ravages of the war as seen through the eyes of the Vietnamese people. Continue to Notre Dame Cathedral and the Hotel de Ville, two iconic city landmarks. Strolling along Le Cong Kieu Street, you’ll discover colorful shops offering Colonial memorabilia, old coins, art, fine antiques and moderately priced souvenirs. This evening, you’ll dine at Hoa Tuc, famed for its fine presentation of traditional Vietnamese cuisine.  Meals B+L+D


Excursion into the Mekong Delta

Park Hyatt - Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

This morning’s journey takes you to the rural district of Cai Be where you’ll board the Cai Be Princess, a traditional Vietnamese riverboat made from native hardwoods and bamboo. Enjoy a refreshing beverage as you venture onto the timeless waterways of the Mekong Delta. Take in the bustling river traffic, witness timeless scenes of daily life along the shores and waterways and enjoy the beautiful scenery as the attentive crew serves tea and fruits to you and your fellow passengers.

Visit a finely-preserved, 19th-century home to learn more about the Delta’s history, and then continue your cruise - visiting a number of small communities to learn about some of the cottage industries that sustain many Delta families. For lunch, we’ve made reservations at Le Longanier, an inviting restaurant set in a Colonial-style villa surrounded by riverside gardens and fruit trees. Enjoy a post-luncheon stroll with your guide along a quiet Mekong canal before returning to your hotel in Ho Chi Minh City.  Meals B+L+D


Travel to Hoi An

You’ll be escorted to the airport this morning for your included flight to central Vietnam. On arrival in Danang, a scenic drive takes you past the five towering marble outcrops known as the Marble Mountains and Danang Beach; during the Vietnam War, Americans used the name China Beach to refer to this beautiful coastal stretch where they would come on R&R leave from bases all over the country.

This afternoon you’ll enjoy a guided tour of Hoi An c. Known as Faifo to early western traders, this was one of the region’s major trading ports during the 17th to 19th centuries. Today, this historic town is still graced with finely-preserved homes built by Japanese, Indian, Dutch and Portuguese merchants of old. As you explore through the charming cobblestone streets of this ancient port, it’s easy to imagine yourself a sailor of the 18th century when it was one of the busiest and wealthiest ports in all of Asia. Your guided sightseeing also showcases ancient Chinese temples, art galleries and colorful local markets. You’ll also have time to explore a bit at your own pace or just relax before this evening’s dinner. Enjoy two nights here at the luxurious Alegro Hoi An Luxury Hotel and Spa, where A+R guests enjoy Jr suites.  Meals B+L+D


Get to Know Hoi An

After breakfast, our in-the-know guide will take you to Hoi An’s bustling central market, where residents come to shop for fresh seafood, herbs, produce and other daily staples. Learn about Vietnam’s culinary traditions and some of the exotic produce for sale as you browse in the market and sample regional specialties. A short cruise brings you to our modern kitchen for a hands-on cooking class with an engaging local chef. Then sit down to lunch featuring some of the dishes you and your fellow classmates have prepared! Enjoy a free afternoon to relax at the resort or take the time to explore more of ancient Hoi An at your own pace. This evening, you’ll dine at Brother’s Café, an inviting riverside restaurant set amidst lush tropical gardens.  Meals B+L+D


Fly to Hanoi + Enjoy a Taste of the City

Sofitel Legend Metropole - Hanoi, Vietnam

After breakfast, your scenic return transfer takes you to the airport in Danang for your included flight to Hanoi. On arrival, you’ll be met and escorted to the Sofitel Legend Metropole, the finest luxury hotel in the city.
This evening, our in-the-know native guide will take you our exclusive culinary adventure to experience the city’s vibrant food scene. Bustling by day, Hanoi’s Old Quarter is equally lively come nightfall as city residents head out to enjoy the many food vendors and cafes that line these historic streets and alleyways. Begin with a bowl of Pho, Vietnam’s famed beef noodle soup, and then take in the street life as you refresh with some locally brewed draft beer. Continuing along the quarter’s colorful streets, you guide will answer questions and share insight into the exotic foods being offered. Take in the tempting aromas arising from the sizzling woks and steaming pots and decide which dishes you’d like to sample – grilled meats, vegetable skewers, and classic banh mi sandwiches are just some of the many options. End the night with a traditional Vietnamese dessert – fresh tropical fruits served over shaved ice and drizzled with sweetened condense milk. After this exclusive culinary adventure, your guide will take you back to your hotel.  Meals B+L+D

After breakfast, your full-day sightseeing begins at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, an impressive monument constructed of marble, granite and precious woods. Nearby, you’ll see the unusual One Pillar Pagoda and the Presidential Palace, an elegant ocher-hued landmark built at the beginning of the 20th century. A tour of the Hoa Lo Prison Museum, ironically nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton by American POW’s during the war, offers a thought-provoking and sobering look into history. End your morning at the home of a water puppet artist, the descendent of a long-line of performers. Gain insight into his craft, learn how these unusual puppets are made – and enjoy a private performance of this ancient art form.

After lunch, you’ll visit the Temple of Literature, founded nearly 1,000 years ago and dedicated to the famous Chinese scholar and philosopher Confucius. At Ngoc Son Temple, built in the 18th century on a tiny island in picturesque Hoan Kiem Lake, you’ll hear a colorful legend about an emperor, a magic sword and a giant turtle! End your day with a Cyclo adventure through Hanoi’s colorful Old Quarter, where ancient byways like Tin Street and Bamboo Street are named for the goods that have long been sold there.  Meals B+L+D

This morning’s drive from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay takes just a few hours, but the amazing scenery that greet you on arrival will feel worlds away from the city… Ha Long Bay is filled with thousands of limestone islands, forested peaks, hidden coves, mysterious caves and emerald green waters that stretch forth as far as you can see. Traditional sailing junks and local fishing boats ply these waters and here awaits our deluxe Paradise Cruise vessel.

Enjoy a welcome drink and lunch onboard as you navigate through these breathtaking landscapes with their pristine beaches, tiny fishing villages and uninhabited islands. An afternoon cooking demonstration with our onboard chef is a chance to learn more about traditional Vietnamese cuisine. As water and weather conditions permit, there may be a chance to go swimming in a sheltered bay. Delight in a beautiful sunset before sitting down to a congenial meal accompanied by complimentary Vietnamese beer and house wines.  Meals B+L+D


Disembark + Fly to Laos

Sofitel Luang Prabang - Laos

Arise to the majestic beauty of Ha Long Bay! If you wish, you can join a Tai Chi class on deck before this morning’s delicious buffet breakfast. Step off at Ti Top Beach and ascend to the top of a nearby peak for breathtaking panoramic views before sailing back to the Paradise Cruise pier on Tuan Chau Island.
Upon disembarkation, we’ll take you back to Hanoi where you’ll have a late lunch. Then transfer to the airport for your included evening flight to Laos. Upon arrival in Luang Prabang, you’ll be met and escorted to the elegant Sofitel Luang Prabang Hotel.  Meals B+L+D


A Temple, Palace + The Living Lands Farm

Sofitel Luang Prabang - Laos

Your exploration of Luang Prabang begins this morning at Wat Xieng Thong, a splendid Buddhist temple with intricate carvings, rare Buddhist deities and the revered Tree of Life mosaic. Next is a tour of the Royal Palace, built in the early 1900’s in classic French Beaux-Arts style with traditional Laotian motifs. Today, it’s one of the city’s finest museums with extensive exhibits including the nation’s crown jewels, ancient art and artifacts and even several royal apartments that have been preserved to show the mid-20th century life of the king and his family. Then take in the views from atop Mt. Phousi before sitting down to lunch.
In the afternoon, you’ll spend time at the Living Lands Farm, a community project designed to develop sustainable farming techniques. Joining Laotian farmers for an authentic hands-on experience in the labor-intensive process of rice cultivation, you’ll learn how to plant rice and even try your hand at guiding a water buffalo to plow the field. If all that sounds a bit too adventurous, you might help with the harvesting of other organic vegetables and herbs or learn how to husk rice. There’s also an expansive verandah if you just prefer to sit back and watch. Faced with other destructive farming methods that persist elsewhere in Laos and the rest of Asia, Living Lands has successfully demonstrated the potential of sustainable organic farming methods.  Meals B+L+D


Laotian Culture + Tribal Traditions

Sofitel Luang Prabang - Laos

Arise early this morning to the sound of reverberating temple gongs.  As hundreds of saffron-robed monks walk silently through the streets, you’ll join local residents for their daily alms ritual. Collecting sticky rice and other foods in their bronze bowls is a way for the monks to demonstrate their humility; and giving alms is an important religious action, one that is respectfully carried out by Buddhists here in Laos and across Southeast Asia.
After breakfast at the hotel, you’ll embark on a fascinating excursion into the mountains. Take in the spectacular views and visit a family farm to learn about some of their local crops and daily life here in the Laotian countryside. At a Hmong village, you’ll gain insight into tribal culture and traditions. Be sure to bring a swimsuit today as you’ll also visit Kuang Si Waterfall; with tranquil terraced pools and beautiful cascades, this is the perfect place to take a break from sightseeing. End your morning at a local conservation center where you’ll learn about their work rescuing sun bears from the illegal wildlife trade.
After lunch, return to the city to spend time at Ock Pop Tok – the East Meets West Living Crafts Center. Founded to empower local women and to preserve traditional Laotian handicrafts, especially weaving, this unique community project is set in charming house on the banks of the Mekong. You’ll have ample time to engage with the women and to watch as they work their looms, creating fine textiles with both traditional and modern designs. You can hand-dye a scarf and even try your hand at spinning and weaving. From silk cultivation to finished product, you’ll gain insight into one of Laos’ most venerated arts. Before returning to your hotel for a free evening, you can enjoy a sunset cocktail in the pleasant garden café of the Living Crafts Center.  Meals B+L+D


Fly from Laos to Cambodia

Park Hyatt - Siem Reap, Cambodia

After breakfast, you’ll be escorted to the airport for your included flight to Cambodia. Arriving in Siem Reap, our VIP Fast Track Immigration Service expedites your arrival formalities. Ahead of other airline passengers, you’ll soon be on your way to the luxurious Park Hyatt.  Meals B+D


Your full-day guided tour of the sprawling Angkor complex begins this morning with the impressive South Gate of Angkor Thom, where ancient statues of the Gods of Good and Evil line the entrance. Nearby, Bayon Temple* is renowned for its magnificent carvings – hundreds of smiling faces that adorn its ancient towers and detailed bas reliefs that tell stories of daily life during the Khmer Empire and the battles they waged. From the top of Phimeanakas, you’ll have impressive views of two ancient pools that were once used for religious rituals. This morning, you’ll also visit the Terrace of the Elephants and Ta Prohm; dedicated in 1186, this last temple complex has been largely left in its natural state – surrounded by the massive roots and limbs of the encroaching jungle.
After lunch, you’ll explore the imposing majesty of Angkor Wat - the largest temple in the world with a volume of stone equaling that of the Cheops Pyramid in Egypt. Inspired by 12th-century Hinduism, it took an estimated 30 years to build Angkor Wat, including the intricate bas-relief carvings which adorn all four sides of the temple. Late in the day, your guide will lead you to a prime vantage point to witness the sun set over Angkor, a magnificent and unforgettable spectacle.  Meals B+L+D

*Bayon Temple will undergo extensive restoration work beginning in early 2020. Access to the upper levels will be limited and scaffolding may cover portions of the structure for several years.


Tonle Sap Lake + Fly to Bangkok, Thailand

Anantara Riverside Resort & Spa - Bangkok, Thailand

Check out after breakfast and travel to the shores of Tonle Sap Lake, an impressive body of water that dominates the landscape in this timeless part of the country. A morning excursion aboard a shaded boat transports you across the tranquil lake waters to see traditional floating villages and small fish farms. It’s a fascinating up-close look at the enduring traditions and daily rhythms of life in rural Cambodia. End today’s sightseeing at Banteay Srei; also known as the Citadel of Women, this delicately carved, pink sandstone temple is hailed by many one of the finest of all the temples in the sprawling Angkor Complex.
Then continue to the airport in Siem Reap for your included flight to Thailand. Upon arrival in Bangkok, you’ll be met and transferred to the deluxe Anantara Riverside Resort, our inviting hotel along the fabled Chao Phraya River.  Meals B

Join your expert guide this morning to tour the spectacular Grand Palace. Built in 1782, this was the fabulous royal residence for the powerful Kings of Siam for more than 150 years. Today, it’s a major historical landmark filled with more than 100 royal halls, pavilions and buildings – many of them graced with golden spires and glittering mosaics that attest to the artistry and skill that thrived in the ancient Kingdom of Siam. Your guided sightseeing continues with the city’s most significant temples including Wat Phra Kaew. Popularly known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, this revered site houses a 2-foot tall image of the Buddha that sits atop a golden alter. Often adorned in a seasonal costume, this culturally priceless statue of the Buddha is made of green jasper or jadeite – and not emerald. After sightseeing, the rest of your afternoon is at leisure to enjoy as you wish. This evening, we’ll gather for a farewell dinner.  Meals B+L+D


Depart Bangkok

We’ll take you to the airport today for your onward flight.  Meals B

Private Tour Add-Ons

Hong Kong Insider

Enhance your travels through China and Asia with our signature Hong Kong Insider. We include your choice of deluxe or luxury hotel, chauffeured transfers when you come and go, and our exclusive Hong Kong Insider sightseeing tour.


Trip Type

Family + Friends

Travel is one of  life's most rewarding experiences, perhaps even more so when it's shared with those you love! Take advantage of our Family & Friends offer and Save $100 per person anytime you book 4 or more people on the same A+R program.


Save $600 per couple + $300 solo on all of our Small Group, Small Ship and Private Journeys when you book and pay-in-full within 7 days of booking and prior to the final payment date listed in our published terms and conditions.

Get a Taste of our Sweeping Southeast Asian Journey

These videos, articles and podcasts will illuminate some of the experiences that await you on our in-depth journey through these exotic lands. Drawn from respected independent sources, we’ve curated this multi-media collection to inspire your imagination. Captivating as they are now on your screen, the things you see, read and hear will truly come to life when you travel with our engaging native-born guides.

Our A+R Library

About Your Journey… Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos + Thailand

The colorful kaleidoscope of southeast Asia is brilliantly presented on our sweeping journey through four exotic and distinctive nations. This is a once-in-a-lifetime trip filled with a remarkable variety of travel experiences, from the long-ago maritime history of Hoi An and the ancient glory of the Angkor temples to Hanoi’s thriving culinary scene and the enduring tribal traditions of Laos. Along the way, our resident guides will be there to take you deeper inside the history, culture, cuisine and stories of their native lands – through quiet villages, around sophisticated cities and across a rich tapestry of beautiful landscapes.

You’ll walk along bustling city streets, explore timeless waterways by sampan, take part in a Vietnamese cooking class and venture into the jungle to explore centuries-old temples. You can guide a water buffalo through a rice paddy and then refresh in the cascading spray of a waterfall. You’ll arise early to offer alms to Buddhist monks and explore the evening markets of Hanoi. In short, this is a trip filled with a wide variety of enlightening experiences and adventurous fun. So come with an open mind and your spirit of adventure, and be ready to switch gears during your travels as we show you these remarkable lands and their friendly people.

Southeastern Asia has a tropical monsoon climate. In southern Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand the dry season lasts from December to late April while the rainy season generally lasts from May through November. Daytime temperatures in the south rarely go below 75°F. The hottest months are March, April and May. The climate in the highlands generally tends to be a bit cooler, especially at night.

Money Matters
The local Vietnamese currency is the Dong. US dollars can be exchanged at banks and at your hotel, though hotels often offer a lower rate or charge a small commission. Be sure to bring new US bills as torn bills will not be accepted, and do not accept torn Dong bills in exchange, as some merchants will not accept them. You cannot exchange Dong back to US dollars outside of Vietnam, so you may want to exchange the money as you need it so that you don’t have too much leftover at the end of your trip. If you do, be sure to make the exchange in Vietnam.

The local currency in Cambodia is the Riel, although the US dollar is widely regarded as the common currency and is accepted at most Cambodian shops and markets. If you wish to use cash, it’s advisable to bring newer bills and smaller denominations. Torn or worn bills may not be accepted.  

The official unit of currency in Laos is the kip (pronounced ‘keep’), but US dollars are widely accepted, as are Thai baht, especially close to the border. You can exchange US traveler’s checks at banks in the major cities, but not necessarily at your hotel or other vendors. It’s wise to have US cash, Thai baht or Lao kip when traveling beyond the major metropolitan centers.

The Thai currency is the Baht. Older coins have Thai numerals only, while newer coins have Thai and Arabic numerals. Exchange rates of course can vary widely but one US dollar roughly equals about 33 Baht (THB).

ATMs on both the Cirrus and Plus networks are available in the major cities. We recommend that before you travel you inform both your bank and your credit card company which countries you will be visiting. It is also a good idea to inquire about fees for transactions abroad. Major credit cards are accepted in hotels, in some larger shops, and in restaurants and other locations frequented by international visitors. If you do not see your credit card’s logo on the establishment’s door, then be sure to ask if credit cards are accepted! At many smaller shops and at the markets, you will need cash to make your purchase. It’s always a good idea to carry some cash, especially small bills for tips and small purchases.

Is the Water Safe to Drink?
We recommend that you do not drink the tap water in southeast Asia and avoid ice cubes. Bottled water is readily available.

Meal Time!
The key ingredients used in Vietnamese cooking (among them fish sauce, sugar and rice) are very similar to its closest neighbors Thailand and Cambodia, yet Vietnamese cooking has a distinct style all of its own. It tends to be less spicy, lighter, fragrant and fresh.  A typical meal may include a soup, rice, grilled or steamed meats, a vegetable dish, fresh fruit and salad, all placed on the table at once.  

Cambodian cuisine draws from the great civilizations of China and India, as well as neighboring Vietnam and Thailand. There are also traces of French inspiration from the time when Cambodia was part of French Indochina. Baguettes, for instance, have come to be Cambodia’s national bread, and it is common to find sandwiches made from baguettes in Cambodia. The Chinese left the legacy of stir-frying, while curry dishes that employ dried spices such as star anise, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and fennel were borrowed from the Indians and given a distinctive Cambodian twist with the addition of local ingredients like lemongrass, garlic, kaffir lime leaves, shallots and galangal. When blended together, the resulting paste is called a kroeung and is used widely in Cambodian cooking. Just as in Laos, fish forms the main source of protein for the Cambodians. Rice is the staple diet in Cambodia and, as with all the Southeast Asian cuisines, a Cambodian meal is best enjoyed when shared with others.

Thai cuisine is extremely varied and some of it is heavily infused with herbs and chili peppers. Look for soups flavored with chili and lemongrass. For entrees, sample Thai curry, often flavored with coconut milk. Delicious noodle dishes can be ordered vegetarian or with meat or seafood. Thais like their food spicy—phet. As a foreigner, you won’t be expected to eat some of the food that Thai people do. Don’t be afraid to ask for something ‘mai phet’ (‘not spicy’) or ‘phet nit nawy’ (‘a little bit spicy’).

The entire area is a street food paradise. That’s probably because locals are snacking morning, afternoon and well into the night. You will encounter street side stalls and pushcarts, where vendors prepare and serve tempting aromatic dishes. Approach these with great caution. If you must succumb to temptation, make sure that what you eat is steaming hot and freshly prepared. It’s always best to follow the crowd — if locals are avoiding a particular vendor, it’s best that you do, too. Check how and where the vendor is cleaning the utensils, and how and where the food is covered. If the vendor is cooking in oil, have a peek to check it’s clean. If the pots or surfaces are dirty, there are food scraps about or too many buzzing flies, don’t be shy to make a hasty retreat. If you have doubts, stick to the major restaurants, especially those in the better hotels.

A word of caution: since the local tap water is not potable to the American digestion system, please be sure that you ask that any fresh fruits or vegetables are washed with filtered water before you eat.  We suggest that you stick to trusted food sources and to eat only fruits that can be peeled.  Some people find yogurts and other sources of probiotics helpful when acclimating to the local bacteria.

Know the Customs + Traditions
Many customs and practices in Southeast Asia are related to Theravada Buddhism. So, extra attention should be paid when visiting religious sites. When entering a temple, for example, remove your shoes and step over the raised threshold, not on it. If you join the locals to sit on the floor, do not sit with your feet outstretched toward the altar, and do not touch or lean against religious objects.

It is very impolite to use your feet to move or touch anything. For example, if your hands are full of luggage and packages, do not try to be polite by holding open a door with your foot. Also, do not point the soles of your feet toward somebody. Thus, it is best not to sit with your legs crossed, ankle on knee. Avoid patting anyone on the head, even children. Women should not touch a monk or directly hand something to him.

When visiting religious sites, please be mindful of your attire and always dress appropriately. Do not wear shorts or flip-flops, and be sure that your shoulders and upper arms are covered. Despite the heat, men should wear long slacks and a short-sleeved shirt, preferably a button-down shirt with collar. Women should avoid “short” shorts and may feel more comfortable in a skirt that covers their knees or dress. If travelers forget to wear appropriate clothing, they may be required to rent a “sarong” to enter the complex. When visiting the temples you will also be required to remove your shoes. Loafers will keep you from having to repeatedly tie and untie your shoes. When visiting temples, remove your shoes and step over the raised threshold, not on it. If you join the locals to sit on the floor, do not sit with your feet outstretched toward the altar.

Always place chopsticks on the table when you’re finished eating.  Leaving a pair of chopsticks sitting vertically in a rice bowl looks very much like the incense sticks that are burned for the dead. This is a powerful sign and is not appreciated anywhere in Asia.

As in most Asian countries, complaining, raising your voice, loudly criticizing, and getting angry are frowned upon. If you have a complaint to make, it is best to do so in a manner that will not be taken as threatening or insulting.

Famous Asian Shopping Markets
Larger stores and hotel boutiques tend to offer fixed prices, but in the markets and smaller shops, bargaining is very much the norm.

Laotian women wear the traditional phaa sin – a long wraparound skirt, colorful with beautifully woven or embroidered patterns. This rich heritage offers visitors a wonderful opportunity to purchase unique, hand-woven textiles. Many are one-of-a-kind or produced and sold only locally, so if you see something you like, buy it – you may not see it again anywhere else. Beautifully-wrought silver and gold, carvings and statuary are other handcrafts that will entice you.

Thailand’s markets are legendary, not simply because they are places to find cheap gifts for people back home, but because they are also a slice of the real Thailand. Markets are not just there for the tourists, they are focal points for the various communities that make up the country. The night markets and street vendors throughout Thailand specialize in “knock-off” items and other inexpensive goods. The Cartier watches, Louis Vuitton bags and Hugo Boss dress shirts you might find in such places are mostly counterfeit. The Bangkok weekend market, Chatuchak, has to be seen to be believed.  Chatuchak contains between 9,000 and 15,000 stalls and can attract 200,000 visitors per day. The best buys are Thai handicrafts and antiques, but beware of crowds on humid days.

By all means, enjoy your shopping! But we do recommend that you avoid objects that appear to be ancient artifacts. Many so-called artifacts are anything but old. In addition, the export of genuine ancient relics is strictly controlled so that cultural treasures do not leave the country. Animal skins, things made with tropical bird feathers, and similar items should also be avoided. Some could be made from endangered species and their export (and import into the US) is illegal. Buying only from reputable shops will help you to avoid problems.  Should you purchase a larger item which the seller agrees to ship, we recommend that you take a picture of the item and make sure you have all the bills as well as the seller’s address and phone number should the need arise for you to contact the shop upon your return home.

What Are Business Hours?
The local time in Vietnam and Cambodia is 7 hours ahead of London and 10 hours ahead of New York. Laos and Thailand are 12 hours ahead of New York.

Banks are open weekdays from 8:00AM to 3:00PM. Many markets open at 6:00AM and close at 5:00PM daily. Shops are typically open 8:00AM to 8:00PM daily. Most Vietnamese get up very early and it is not unusual to see people out and about as early as 5:30AM.

Out + About
The following pages provide a broad overview of the countries that refers to many destinations, including places that may not be on your program. But they could be! If anything, here entices you to explore more of southeast Asia, our travel experts can work with you and your travel agent to plan an extension to your program if your itinerary and schedule allow a longer stay.

About Hanoi
With a thousand years of history, myriad lakes, tranquil neighborhoods and marvelously preserved architecture, the modern capital of Vietnam is one of the most fascinating and attractive cities in Asia. Although the city has nearly 6 million residents, it is smaller and perhaps less cosmopolitan than Ho Chi Minh City. Nevertheless, visitors to Hanoi are charmed by the city’s beauty, ambience and warm vibrant residents. The capital is also the cultural heart of the country, with numerous art galleries and plenty of opportunities for puppetry, music and dance performances. Hanoi is also a convenient gateway to Ha Long Bay and the old hill station retreats of the north.

A great place to begin your exploration of Hanoi is the Old Quarter, where the ancient winding lanes are named for the individual trades and guilds that occupied this district as long ago as the 13th century. Even today, you will find that each street tends to be dominated by a particular trade such as silk, silver or antiques. Nearby, Hoan Kiem Lake is considered the center of the city and an early morning or evening walk is a great time to join city residents along the scenic shores as they stroll, play chess or do Tai Chi among the graceful willow trees.

Also in the vicinity of the Old Quarter is the Hanoi Opera House, a beautiful Art Nouveau structure built at the turn of the century. Not far away is the infamous Hanoi Hilton – the Hoa Lo Prison – constructed by the French in 1896. During the war, from 1964 to 1973, it was a major POW detention facility where Senator John McCain and Ambassador Pete Peterson were among the inmates. The former prison is open to visitors Tuesday to Sunday from 8:00AM to 4:30PM; there is a nominal admission charge.

Exploring beyond central Hanoi, the Temple of Literature is one of the highlights. Established in the 11th century, it is the oldest educational institution in the country. For more than 700 years, it was the center for the teaching of Confucian doctrine. This splendid example of classic Vietnamese-influenced Chinese architecture includes four graceful courtyards and 82 stone carvings dating back more than three centuries, bearing the names of more than 1,300 doctoral laureates who attended the university here. There is a modest entry fee. Open daily from 8:00AM to 5:00PM.

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is an impressive granite and concrete structure modeled after Lenin’s tomb where you may view Ho Chi Minh as he lies in state, embalmed and dressed in a khaki suit. Please note that shorts and sleeveless shirts are not allowed. The Mausoleum is usually closed from September to November. At other times, it is open every morning from 8:00AM to 11:00AM except Mondays and Fridays.

The One-Pillar Pagoda was built in 1049 by a King who dreamt of Bodhisattva, the Goddess of Mercy, presenting him with a Lotus flower. The graceful wooden pagoda that you see today sits on stilts over a pond; it is a miniature reproduction of the original which was said to represent a Lotus blossom emerging from the water. Many city residents come here to pray for fertility and good health, and visitors should not wear shorts.

About Ha Long Bay
Just a 4-hour drive from the city streets of Hanoi is lovely Ha Long Bay, designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. While it’s certainly possible to visit here on a full-day excursion from the capital, the breathtaking scenery is best appreciated on an overnight cruise, sailing across the emerald-green waters to explore the thousands of islands, towering limestone peaks, hidden caves and tranquil coves.

About Da Nang and Hoi An
Along the Central Coast, Da Nang — the fourth largest city in Vietnam – was the landing site of the first American troops. Today, many travelers come here to visit the Cham Museum, renowned for its outstanding collection of sandstone carvings and temple decorations, many from the Hindu culture that flourished in central Vietnam from the 4th to 14th centuries. In a unique outdoor setting, you’ll find extraordinary depictions of the god Shiva; Garuda, the mythical bird; and the elephant-headed son of Shiva, Ganesha. Nearby, the picturesque Marble Mountains are a series of five imposing marble and limestone formations that dominate the scenery. The hills are filled with caves, some of which contain significant Buddhist sites such as the Ling Ong Pagoda, a shrine within one of these natural caverns. Nearby, China Beach is a name many recognize from the Vietnam War when this lovely stretch of sandy beach was a recreation base for the United States Army.

Just south of Da Nang, the picturesque town of Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This cultural and historic treasure was one of the most important trading ports of all Southeast Asia in the 16th to 19th centuries. Known to western sea traders as Faifo, it was home to wealthy merchants from China, Japan, India and Portugal. Today, visitors marvel at the collection of original Chinese temples, homes and structures built by these wealthy families of earlier times; more than 800 of them are protected historical landmarks.

About Hue
This former Imperial city was the capital of Vietnam during the Nguyen Dynasty from 1802 to 1945. Set along the banks of the tranquil Perfume River on the sea coast north of Da Nang, Hue offers the charm and relaxed ambience of a seaside resort. Although much of the town was heavily damaged during the Vietnam War, the Citadel and Imperial City is still impressive. Built at the beginning of the 19th century by Emperor Gia Lang, this Imperial complex – like the more famous Forbidden City in Beijing – was the private and exclusive residence of the Emperor, his family and household staff. This impressive site is comprised of three distinct enclosures. The Citadel, surrounded by imposing defensive walls, is the outermost enclosure. Within that is the Yellow Enclosure – which was the Royal City during the Nguyen Dynasty. Finally, at the very heart of the complex, the Forbidden Purple City was the actual residence of the Emperor and his concubines. Within the complex, are a number of Imperial burial sites, including the opulent Tomb of Khai Dinh, an over-the-top architectural fantasy built in 1931 with a blend of Gothic, Baroque, Hindu and Chinese flourishes. At the top of 127 steep stairs, visitors marvel at the tomb’s interior – completely covered with intricate glass and ceramic mosaics reflecting both Art Deco and Tiffany design influences.

Another royal tomb worth visiting is the much more restrained Tomb of Emperor Minh Mang, one of the most popular Nguyen rulers. Built as a classically-styled temple at the confluence of two rivers that flow into the Perfume River, this lovely setting is complemented by landscaped grounds, the Lake of Tranquility, stone sculptures and a long walkway lined with plantings. Along the banks of the Perfume River, the Thien Mu Pagoda has become a symbol of Hue. Built in the early 17th century, it is one of the oldest surviving religious sites in Vietnam. The impressive 7-tiered Phuoc Dien Tower at the front of the pagoda, was built in 1864. Within the front gates, you can marvel at 12 enormous wooden figures, fearsome temple guardians adorned with real facial hair. Strolling the pagoda grounds through a complex of monastic buildings offers a glimpse into the daily life of the monks.

About Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Ho Chi Minh City – or Saigon as many once again now call it – is the largest city in Vietnam, the country’s commercial hub with a population of approximately 8 million. Founded in the 1700s, this thriving, teeming metropolis today offers an interesting contrast of decidedly modern, 21st-century glass-and-steel towers complemented by the grand avenues and pristine Colonial-era buildings of “Old Saigon”.

The city is divided into Districts, with many of the major hotels located in District 1, along with a concentration of shopping, dining and entertainment venues. Here you’ll find the bustling Ben Thanh Market, with its clock tower that has become a symbol of Saigon. Dating back nearly 100 years, it’s still a thriving commercial center with narrow aisles crammed with vendors offering inexpensive goods from T-shirts and silks to bamboo and lacquer ware. The wet market – with an amazing variety of fish, meat, produce and flowers – offers a fascinating look at everyday city life.

District 1 is also home to many of the city’s historic highlights, including the General Post Office, an impressive old Colonial building, and the neo-Romanesque Notre Dame Cathedral, built in the late 1800s using bricks and stained-glass windows from France. The Reunification Palace, built as the Presidential Palace in 1966, is recognized by many American visitors for its highly-visible role in the fall of Saigon. It was through these Palace gates that Communist tanks rolled on the morning of April 30, 1975. Inside, visitors can see private living areas, dining rooms, lounges and the President’s office much as they were in the early 1970s. The Palace is open from 7:30AM to 11:30AM and from 1:00PM to 4:00PM.

Also in District 1 are two well-known museums. The Ho Chi Minh Museum, formerly the Revolutionary Museum, is housed in a grand building constructed by the French in 1890. Its collection spans nearly the entire history of the city, from its founding in the 17th century to the rise of communism and the fall of Saigon. The museum is open daily from 8:30AM to 5:00PM; there is a small admission charge. Not far, the Vietnam History Museum includes a nice collection of sculpture from the Cham Empire which endured in central Vietnam from the 4th through 14th centuries. You can also admire an impressive grouping of ancient ceramics and weaponry from the 14th century to modern times. The History Museum is open Tuesday-Sunday from 8:30AM to 11:30AM and from 1:30PM to 4:30PM (closed Monday). There is a modest entry fee.

District 5, also known as Cholon, is Saigon’s Chinese neighborhood, a sprawling area that is possibly the largest Chinatown in the world! Cholon’s main shopping area, the Binh Tay Market, is even more crowded than the central Ben Thanh. In this crowded and bustling emporium, you find many of the same goods along with Chinese medicines, spices and cookware. Cholon is also home to several interesting temples, including Thien Hau Pagoda, dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea.

Exploring outside of Ho Chi Minh City, you can visit the Cu Chi Tunnels, just 40 miles to the northwest. This vast underground complex was built by guerilla fighters and used extensively throughout the war. At its peak, it stretched nearly to the Cambodian border and included meeting rooms, kitchens and areas to treat wounded fighters.

About the Mekong Delta
Just to the south of Saigon is one of Vietnam’s most interesting regions, the Mekong Delta. This is a vast area, more than 37,000 square miles, home to more than 17 million people, many making their livelihood from farming and fishing. It’s a captivating land of rice paddies, orchards and sugarcane fields, interlaced with canals and waterways bustling with boat traffic and fish farms.

Can Tho is the largest city in the Mekong Delta, with a lively riverfront, good hotel options and excellent dining – especially fresh seafood. It’s also a good base for exploring the countryside. Traveling along the canals by boat, you can see traditional Delta life as it’s endured for generations: homes built on stilts, little villages of houseboats and bustling floating markets.

About Siem Reap and the temple ruins of Angkor
Surrounded by rice paddies along a peaceful stretch of river, the small town of Siem Reap is the gateway to one of the world’s great wonders, the millennium-old temple ruins of Angkor. For centuries, the wealthy and powerful Khmer Empire dominated this region, encompassing at its apogee lands that are now in modern-day Thailand and Vietnam. Angkor was the glorious capital of the kingdom for more than five centuries, from 900 until 1432 when the capital shifted to Phnom Penh.

The breathtaking temple ruins of the Angkor Archaeological Park extend across 400 square kilometers including forested areas, tranquil waterways and vast temple complexes. A minimum of two days is recommended to visit the very best sites of the Park. The centerpiece of your visit is likely to be the splendid ruins of the oft-photographed Angkor Wat, built in the 12th century and considered by many to be the pinnacle of Khmer architecture. Encircled by a moat and walls that are richly carved, the temple itself is a massive three-tiered structure crowned with stone towers that soar hundreds of feet above the tropical plain. The famous bas-relief wall carvings that surround Angkor Wat depict legends and characters of Hindu mythology and the military conquests of Suryavarman II who reigned during the construction of this magnificent complex.

Angkor Thom, a royal city built by the great Khmer King Jayavarman in the 12th century is another must-see site within the Archaeological Park. Covering a vast area of nearly four square miles, the city is surrounded by a nearly-perfectly square wall that is more than 20 feet high and stretches more than 7 miles. Facing in each direction, four huge gates – each tall enough to accommodate an elephant and rider – welcomed visitors into this thriving city, estimated to have had a population of more than 50,000. At the very center of the complex is the great Bayon Temple, distinguished by the magnificence of its stone carvings and bas-reliefs. Most impressive, perhaps, are the imposing towers adorned with huge carved-stone faces, smiling and gazing outward toward each of the four compass points.

The ruins of Ta Prohm are also most impressive – though for different reasons. Here, the ancient stone ruins have not been ‘reclaimed’ from the jungle, and gigantic tree roots of fig, banyan and kapok – some as large as tree trunks – grow through and amongst the temple walls and ramparts.

About Tonle Sap Lake
Less than 10 miles from Siem Reap is this vast lake, perhaps the most prominent geographical feature when you first study a map of Cambodia. During the wet season, when the Mekong River is swollen and turbulent, one of its tributaries – the Tonle Sap River – actually reverses direction, its waters forced back upriver into the lake, expanding Tonle Sap Lake to nearly five times its “dry season” size and inundating the surrounding forested floodplain. Within this most unusual eco-system are more than 100 species of water birds, hundreds of fish varieties and numerous crocodiles, turtles, macaques and otters. As wildlife has adapted to this seasonal rise and fall of the waters, residents of the region have also taken measures to cope. Many of the villages around the lake are floating communities during the flood season, and residents and visitors travel almost exclusively by boat. When the lake shrinks to its smallest size, many of these homes, schools, and markets sit on stilts above the now-dry floodplain. Regardless of the season, it’s a very unique setting and a visit here is quite extraordinary.

About Luang Prabang
The ‘Jewel of Indochina,’ recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, is truly a magical place, the proverbial step back in time. Indeed, you may awake early on your first morning here in this ancient royal city to the faint sound of bells, gongs and temples – a somewhat mystical sound that heralds the start of a daily ritual. Hundreds of monks, garbed in their sweeping saffron robes, begin their morning walk through the city, barefoot and carrying handmade wooden alms bowls. City residents line the streets – women kneeling on woven mats and men standing – waiting to present the monks with sticky rice and other foods that comprise their two daily meals. Although this daily offering, which is meant to bring karmic merit to the people, is practiced in other Buddhist cities – even in bustling Bangkok – it is particularly striking here in Luang Prabang. The extraordinary preservation of the city’s many ancient temples and monasteries, the fading grandeur of the French colonial architecture, and a certain enchanting atmosphere that still prevails combine to make this simple morning ritual one of the most memorable moments in many travelers’ experiences. It truly is a glimpse into the timeless rhythms of Old Asia.

Part of the Luang Prabang’s magic comes from its perfect setting – nestled on a peninsula formed by the Mekong and Khan Rivers, surrounded by mountain peaks and graced with palm trees and lush tropical foliage. With stunningly preserved architecture, UNESCO has cited 33 original temples and more than 100 historic Lao-French Colonial buildings for their specific preservation. In short, a visit to Luang Prabang definitely is a step back in time.

Touring in Luang Prabang
A great place to begin your exploration is atop Mount Phousi, the rocky outcrop that rises dramatically in the center of town. Dotted with temples and Buddhist stupas, you can ascend the forested slopes in a few minutes. Once at the top, you’ll be rewarded with marvelous views of the entire town – its monastery roofs and golden spires giving way to the Mekong and Khan Rivers and the mountains beyond.

Back in the heart of town, you can continue your exploration at Wat Visoun, constructed in the 16th century and home to an impressive golden Buddha more than 20 feet tall. The most spectacular temple is undoubtedly Wat Xieng Thong, one of the oldest original temple structures in Laos, its walls adorned with shimmering gold leaf and intricate glass mosaics. On the temple grounds, the diminutive ‘Red Chapel’ houses the Reclining Buddha statue. This rare treasure dates back to the temple’s construction in 1560 and was exhibited at the Paris World’s Fair in 1931. You can also see the elaborately carved funereal chariot of King Sisavang Vong. Wat Visoun is open from 8:00AM to 5:00PM; Wat Xieng Thong is open until 6:00PM.

Outside of the city, a visit to the renowned Pak Ou Caves makes for a delightful day trip. The journey begins with a fascinating boat ride up the Mekong River – a marvelous opportunity to enjoy the countryside and timeless scenes of river life. The caves are set in a particularly scenic stretch of the river, with towering cliffs and lush vegetation. Inside the cave, you’ll find an impressive collection of Buddhist statuary. The Pak Ou Caves are about 16 miles from Luang Prabang.

About Bangkok
The vibrant capital of Thailand is home to 12 million residents. One’s first impression is usually of a frenetic, contemporary urban city, full of people on the go, bustling restaurants, non-stop shopping in boutiques and city malls and endless traffic congestion. But the ancient heart and quiet spirit of this Buddhist nation are alive and well here in Bangkok – in the warmth of its residents, its Buddhist traditions and resplendent temples. Getting around the city can seem daunting at first, but the last two decades have seen great improvements in public transportation and some progress with street congestion. The Skytrain (BTS) opened in 1999 and the subway (MRT) was inaugurated in 2004. Both are quite accessible and easy to navigate and along with boat taxis on the Chao Phraya – and plenty of walking – most visitors find getting around Bangkok to be quite efficient.

Bangkok has several districts, and most visitors will find themselves visiting a number of these. Thonburi is on the western bank of the Chao Phraya River and is home to the Temple of Dawn and several popular hotels. The Grand Palace is in the Old City, just across the river from Thonburi. To the north of the Old City is the Dusit neighborhood and to the east is Chinatown. It’s difficult to identify a central core of the city, but the area traditionally recognized as downtown Bangkok is to the east of Chinatown and incorporates several adjacent neighborhoods including Pratunam, Silom and Sukhumvit. The expansive Lumpini Park offers a refreshing (and popular) open space in the heart of downtown.

The Grand Palace – This venerated complex is one of the most visited sites in all of Thailand. Although the expansive grounds are often full of awed tourists, the Grand Palace is a functioning royal site and the buildings (closed to visitors) are still used for state occasions and royal ceremonies. This walled city was founded by King Rama I in 1782, and succeeding Thai monarchs have added their own additions and embellishments. The result is a breathtaking collection of ornate palaces, temples, audience halls and pavilions. The Grand Palace, located on Sana Chai Road in the Old City, is open daily from 8:30AM to 3:30PM.

Wat Phra Keo – Temple of the Emerald Buddha is perhaps the single most important structure within the Grand Palace. Embellished with glittering gold that gleams under the tropical sun, the ornate architecture of this sacred temple is most impressive. Passing through the grand entrance, flanked by 20-foot tall statues of mythical creatures in battle garb, the interior is a cool sanctuary decorated with colorful murals depicting Thai epics. The Emerald Buddha, the most revered image of Buddha in all of Thailand, rests high above the altar. Carved hundreds of years ago from a single piece of green jade-like stone, the statue sits 31 inches tall. The Grand Palace, located on Sana Chai Road in the Old City, is open daily from 8:30AM to 3:30PM.

Wat Po – Temple of the Reclining Buddha is the largest temple in the city. The 150-foot long sculpture of Buddha, covered entirely in gold, fills nearly the entire temple hall. Its enormous feet are inlaid in mother-of-pearl with the 108 auspicious signs of Buddha. On the grounds of Wat Po, a charming tiered temple houses 394 images of Buddha seated and also includes carved panels rescued from Ayuthaya, the former capital of Thailand. Wat Po is in the Old City on Sanam Chai Road. It is open daily from 8:00AM to 6:30PM.

Wat Arun – Temple of Dawn sits on the western bank of the Chao Phraya River, facing the Old City of Bangkok on the opposite shore. It features a spacious square courtyard with five towers built in Khmer style. The central tower is nearly 300 feet tall, and visitors who venture up the steep and narrow steps are afforded with marvelous views over the river to the city beyond. All five of the temple towers are ornately decorated with mosaics made from broken pieces of porcelain. Wat Arun is on Arun Amarin Road in the Thonburi District. It is open daily from 8:30AM to 5:30PM.  Please note that due to ongoing renovation construction certain areas of Wat Arun may be unavailable to access.

The Royal Barge Museum is also in Thonburi on the western bank of the Chao Phraya. Here visitors can see the beautiful ceremonial river barges carved nearly 200 years ago and still used today on special occasions. Most impressive is the King’s opulent red and gold vessel, carved to resemble a golden swan. The museum is in the Thonburi District on Khlong Bangkok Noi. It is open daily from 9:00AM to 5:00PM.

Wat Benjamabophit – Marble Temple was built in 1899 with an open, airy design using a beautiful pale marble that appears luminescent in the bright Bangkok sun. The beautiful interior is adorned with gold and lacquer beams, and the courtyard is lined with carved images of Buddha. The temple monastery is renowned in Thailand as a center of intellectual and spiritual learning, and the present King of Thailand spent time here as a monk prior to his coronation. The temple is in the Dusit District in the northern side of the city on Nakhon Pathom Road, a short cab ride from the Phaya Thai BTS Skytrain Station. It is open daily from 8:00AM to 5:30PM.

Wat Traimit – Temple of the Golden Buddha is in Chinatown just to the east of the Old City. Although not as architecturally compelling as other, more visited temples, Wat Traimit is home to the world’s largest solid-gold Buddha. Nearly 10 feet tall and weighing more than 5 tons, this impressive statue was cast almost a thousand years ago, and its history is most compelling. In order to protect it from the invading Burmese army more than two centuries ago, it was covered in plaster by monks in Ayuthaya, the ancient capital. In the 1950s – still covered in plaster and not thought to be worth very much – it was brought to Bangkok. During the move, it dropped from a crane and was left by the workers in a field of mud. The next day, a temple monk was led by a dream to the statue, and through a crack in the plaster, he caught a shiny glint and soon discovered that it was made of solid gold. Wat Traimit is on Tri Mit Road, close to the Hua Lamphong Subway Station. It is open daily from 9:00AM to 5:00PM.

Jim Thompson’s House is actually a compound of six traditional Thai homes, a tranquil oasis in the heart of bustling downtown Bangkok. Mr. Thompson, a New York architect who came to Thailand at the end of the World War II, is credited with revitalizing the Thai silk industry. Although he disappeared mysteriously in the highlands of Malaysia in 1967, his legacy lives on here at the museum. The compound includes Thai homes – some nearly 150 years old – that Thompson moved here from the countryside. They are wonderfully preserved – nearly intact to their original design and construction – and have been furnished with stunning Asian art and antiques. It is located on Soi Kasemsong 2 in the Pratunam neighborhood of downtown Bangkok near the National Stadium Skytrain Station, and open daily from 9:00AM to 6:00PM.

Excursions from Bangkok
The countryside provinces outside of the bustling capital offer a number of fascinating excursions. Some can be incorporated into an upcountry itinerary; others can be visited as part of a full-day sightseeing program:

Muang Boran lies about 15 miles southeast of Bangkok, and offers the opportunity to “see” all of Thailand in an afternoon. Spread over 320 acres in a park shaped like the country itself, visitors can marvel at more than 100 replicas of the country’s most significant monuments, situated within the site in their correct, relative geographic location. It’s best to explore the park by car, but rental bicycles are available. Muang Boran is located in Samut Prakan and is open daily from 8:00AM to 7:00PM.

Damnoen Saduak is located about 65 miles southwest of the city. The town is renowned for its colorful floating market. A generation ago in this waterway-laced region of Thailand, there were numerous floating markets, but modern roads and shopping centers have greatly reduced the prevalence of this canal-based way of life. Although Damnoen Saduak has become very popular as a tourist destination, there is still authentic commerce. In the early mornings especially, you can purchase fresh produce, tropical fruits and even freshly-cooked meals from these hand-paddled boats.

Kanchanaburi is a lush jungle province just 90 miles from Bangkok. It’s a region of cave temples, tribal villages and waterfalls, with opportunities for adventure activities like jungle trekking, elephant riding and rafting. It is best known for the Bridge on the River Kwai. Immortalized in the 1957 film of the same name, the bridge was built during World War II by Japanese forces using 16,000 prisoners of war and more than 50,000 civilian slave laborers from Southeast Asia. The bombed central section of the bridge was rebuilt after the war, but much of the remaining arched portions are original. Nearby, the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery contains nearly 7,000 graves of Australian, British and Dutch prisoners of war. Also in the area, the JEATH War Museum (an acronym for Japan, England, America, Australia, Thailand and Holland) and the World War II Museum offer displays and memorabilia of the war period and the history of the famous bridge. The JEATH museum is located by Wat Chaichumpol Temple and is open daily from 8:30AM to 6:30PM. The World War II Museum, on River Kwai Road close to the bridge, is open daily from 7:00AM to 6:00PM.

Ayuthaya was an ancient capital of the Kingdom of Siam, a once-prosperous city that rivaled the grandeur of any world capital of the time. Located less than 50 miles from the present-day capital, this UNESCO World Heritage Site offers a marvelous insight into Thailand’s long and majestic history. The city was founded in 1350 on this site, carefully selected for its strategic position on a sharp bend in the Chao Phraya River, but the capital soon gained much more than military importance, growing into a center for arts, learning, culture and international trade. But 400 years later, this glorious city was reduced to virtual ruin by invading Burmese armies. Today, the site has been carefully preserved and offers a fascinating glimpse into ancient Siam. The Ayuthaya Historical Study Center is a great place to begin a visit, with models and audiovisual presentations about the city’s history. Exploration of the ransacked ruins themselves will include a number of once-spectacular temples and complexes. At Wat Phra Mahathat, squat ruins and beheaded Buddha statues are all that remain of this once-revered temple which included an impressive 140-foot tall brick pagoda.  Nearby, the 14th century Wat Phra Sanphet was once the largest temple in Ayuthaya, and some surviving structures bear testament to the splendid architecture of the ancient capital. The opening hours of the different temple ruins vary, but most sites are open by 8:00AM and close between 4:30PM and 6:30PM.

North of Ayuthaya
Traveling farther north, visitors discover beautiful countryside and charming towns that have thrived since ancient times. In these provinces more than 100 miles from Bangkok, one encounters far fewer tourists, and day trips from Bangkok are no longer practical. However, the region is well worth exploring, and it can be visited in conjunction with in-depth tours that travel onward to the Golden Triangle.

Lopburi, one of Thailand’s oldest cities, has been inhabited for over 15 centuries. During its lengthy history, it has played a significant role in several kingdoms and cultures: under Dvaravati rulers in medieval times; as part of the Khmer Empire from the 10th through 13th centuries; and as a “second Thai capital” in the 17th century under King Narai, who used the city to escape the heat and humidity of Ayuthaya. Lopburi’s most famous site is Phra Prang Sam Yot, often called Three Spires Pagoda. Dating back to the Khmer Empire, this shrine was converted into a Buddhist temple by King Narai. Its famed three prangs (pagoda-like spires) symbolize the sacred triad of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.

After the Khmers were driven out from this region by the Thai Kingdom in the 13th century and following the decline of the Sukhothai Dynasty, Phitsanulok was the kingdom’s capital until the ascendancy of Ayuthaya. Although this period lasted only a few decades in the 14th century, there are a number of significant monuments that bear witness to its former glory. Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat is perhaps the most famous in the region. Commonly called Wat Yai, this temple complex was built in the mid-14th century and developed over the centuries into a major monastery. Large wooden doors were inlaid with gleaming mother-of-pearl in the 1700s and an elegant 100-foot prang contains sacred Buddha relics. Within Wat Yai is what might be the most beautiful image of Buddha in the world: cast in the 14th century during the late Sukhothai period, this gold-leafed statue with an expression of supreme tranquility has a mesmerizing effect and draws thousands of pilgrims each year.