The ultimate three-week holiday in Vietnam, Cambodia + Laos
It is difficult to pinpoint the ‘ultimate’ holiday in these three amazing Southeast Asian countries, given that there is so much to do and every client is different. All of our trips are totally tailor-made and meticulously handcrafted to suit individual travellers, but we have designed the following epic journey as an example of the kind of extraordinary adventure that we can arrange in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos:
Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon), Vietnam
You will begin in Vietnam, one of Southeast Asia's most interesting countries, with two nights staying at Park Hyatt Saigon in Ho Chi Minh. There is plenty to do in this fast-paced, modern metropolis and we suggest getting under the skin of the city with one of our local guides. Every day is wholly flexible; but he or she can take you to the Ho Thi Ky Flower Market, Cholon (the Chinatown district), the former colonial quarter (which boasts Notre Dame Cathedral and Gustave Eiffel’s Central Post Office) or off the beaten track to sip some of the Saigon’s famous iced coffee. In addition, a stopover at the History Museum or War Remnants Museum is moving but fascinating.
We would recommend going to the Củ Chi Tunnels, north-west of the city, which were dug in 1948 so that the guerillas could shelter from French attacks. The complex was also used as a communication route, a hiding place for food and weapons, and medical and military living quarters in the 1955-1975 American war.
Hội An, Vietnam
After two nights in Ho Chi Minh, you will fly to Da Nang International Airport, near the historic port city of Hội An, where you will enjoy three nights at the idyllic Fusion Maia. This chic beachfront hotel, half an hour from the town itself, has villas with private pools and sunken baths, and all-inclusive spa treatments.
Although it might be tempting to spend your days here relaxing on the beach, you must experience Hội An itself. With Portuguese, Chinese, French and Japanese influences, this delightful place is atmospheric. Take the hotel’s shuttle bus into town – we feel there’s no need for a guide here, unless you would like one – and pass by the Assembly Hall of the Chaozhou Chinese Congregation, the 400-year-old Japanese Covered Bridge and the market stalls overflowing with fabrics, which tailors can turn into clothing in a day or two.
We can organise everything from cooking classes to cycling trips – but a highlight, in our opinion, is a private street food morning with our local friend on the ground, Summer. Originally a blogger, she will lead you along tiny, cobbled backstreets, away from the crowds, and you will sample a variety of Vietnamese dishes at some of the best local eateries.
After three nights in Hội An, fly to Hanoi, the vibrant Vietnamese capital in the north. Your home for two nights will be the French colonial-style Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel, and a private guide will show you what Hanoi has to offer. Our favourite sites are the Temple of Literature, the Presidential Palace, the One Pillar Pagoda and Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt House.
For craft lovers, we can set up a guided walk along Hanoi’s railway, dropping into the Zó Project en route for an introduction to the paper found in Vietnamese folk paintings; for foodies, a culinary afternoon trying the tastiest dishes in the characterful Old Quarter and access to the factory that produces noodles for most of northern Vietnam; and for shopaholics, a stroll around Silver Street to observe the smiths hard at work. For history and art enthusiasts, we can coordinate a specialist morning, looking at the major shifts in Vietnam’s modern history through the eyes of its artists. You will uncover a selection of Hanoi’s top contemporary art spaces and be introduced to some of the country’s emerging young talents.
Hoang Lien National Park, Vietnam
You will be driven in a luxury 4WD to Topas Ecolodge, perched on a ridge in the mountains of Hoang Lien National Park. The 33 bungalows have private balconies overlooking the surrounding peaks and rice-terraced valleys dotted with villages. There is a gorgeous infinity pool, from where you can admire the spectacular vistas, and a spa specialising in Red Dao herbal baths.
We would suggest exploring the area on foot or bicycle, and there are scenic treks for all fitness levels. The region is home to five ethnic-minority tribes, each with its own language, dress and values, and we would highly recommend an authentic (and unobtrusive) visit to a remote village, so you can experience the local culture.
After three nights at Topas, you will say goodbye to Vietnam and fly from Hanoi to Luang Prabang in Laos.
Luang Prabang, Laos
Laos, one of Southeast Asia's most culturally diverse countries, is home to more than a hundred tribal and ethnic groups. In the historic town of Luang Prabang, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, French colonial style combines with old-fashioned timber architecture. As the ancient capital of the Lanna Kingdom, there are many old Buddhist temples and it is still a centre for religious learning today.
Your abode here will be the enchanting Amantaka, just south of Phousi Mountain and a short walk from the boutiques, bakeries, restaurants, night market and the picturesque banks of the mighty Mekong. One of our favourite things to arrange is a wonderful private cruise along the river to the Pak Ou Caves, during which you will enjoy a scrumptious picnic lunch. Your Destination Expert will have ensured your favourite drink of choice is on board.
The pinnacle of any stay in Luang Prabang is to experience the dawn alms giving. You will need to meet your guide at sunrise but it is worth it to watch hundreds of monks processing through the streets receiving food offerings from local residents. We also suggest stopping by Ock Pop Tock silk weaving centre, which supports women in the community, helping them to preserve traditional techniques and earn an income.
We often introduce certain clients to Francis Engelmann, a former UNESCO expert living in Luang Prabang, whose specialty is the town’s lesser-known heritage buildings. He will give you an intriguing insight into the architecture of the Old Town and how it relates to Laotian culture and history.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Just a short flight from Luang Prabang, Cambodia is most famous for the temples of Angkor, built between the 9th and 11th centuries. Siem Reap is a good base for visiting these breathtaking monuments, and the town also has a busy local market, an Old French Quarter, good restaurants and some lovely hotels, our favourite being Phum Baitang. We recommend staying here for four nights; with its Cambodian-stilted villas dotting the paddy-field-landscaped grounds, it is a tranquil contrast to the options in bustling Siem Reap.
With good reason, the ruins of Angkor pull in the crowds, but we provide our clients with the most knowledgeable guides who will take you to the most awe-inspiring temples at the best times. We suggest travelling between them by bicycle or tuk-tuk – a fun and novel experience – and we can even organise a private helicopter so you can get an aerial view of this jaw-dropping site in its entirety.
In general, our advice would be to leave the hotel at 6.30am to avoid the masses. At Angkor Thom, a good way to begin the day is to receive a water blessing ceremony from the monks at Wat Tang Tok and wander around Preah Palilay, Phimeanakas and Bayon. In the past, we have set up a boat trip on the moat here to view the hidden ancient Khmer water systems at sunset, which is incredibly beautiful.
The Temples of the Forest are particularly mysterious and magical, including Srah Srang, Ta Prohm and the little-visited temple of Ta Nei. We suggest accessing the vast and magnificent Angkor Wat, with its intricate bas reliefs, by the less-frequented eastern causeway towards the end of the morning when it’s quieter.
Away from the ruins, we like to arrange a private expedition onboard our wooden boat, Ella, to the floating village of Mechrey on Tonlé Sap Lake, Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake. The water rises and falls annually due to the backflow from the Mekong River during the monsoon, so local communities have adapted by constructing their homes on bamboo rafts or tall stilts. Exploring the waterways and remote villages is enthralling.
To make your last night in Siem Reap truly memorable, we will set up a rustic but delicious private dinner in a traditional Khmer village house at Amansara.
Koh Rong Archipelago, Cambodia
Your final chapter in Southeast Asia will be at Song Saa Private Island, a Robinson Crusoe tropical escape in the Koh Rong Archipelago off Cambodia’s south-west coast. To get there, it is a 45-minute flight from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville, from where it’s a short drive to the port and a 45-minute boat ride to Song Saa. We suggest spending four nights here, so you can really unwind.
This ethical retreat has a pristine private beach and spacious wooden villas, built with local materials and decorated with upcycled furnishings, such as driftwood tables and oil-drum lamps. There is also a spa, made up of little ‘sanctuaries’ dotted around the island, that does many soothing treatments.
Song Saa is encircled by carefully preserved reefs, home to colourful corals and marine life – such as parrotfish, damselfish, sea horses, spotted rays and even sea turtles – which you may spot diving or snorkelling. Sea kayaking, sunset cruises, rainforest walks, morning yoga and afternoon meditation are also on the agenda, although perhaps the best thing to do here is nothing at all.
The food is delectable and based on locally sourced, seasonal ingredients, such as cashew nuts, coconuts and kampot peppers. For couples, we like to set up a romantic private dinner on the terrace of our clients’ villa – an unforgettable experience.
Looking for an extra adventure?
If you have more time, we suggest a visit to Shinta Mani Wild. Set along 1.5km of rushing river and waterfalls in a wild, rainforest-covered private nature sanctuary, this exciting new luxury camp is a novel experience in Cambodia and we have had great feedback from clients who have stayed there recently. We would be delighted to share with you what makes this remote spot so special.
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