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Halong Bay, VietnamAngkor Wat, Siem Reap, CambodiaNam Ming River, LaosMekong River, CambodiaMekong River, CambodiaHalong Bay, VietnamLuang Prabang, LaosBayon Temple, Siem Reap, CambodiaLuang Prabang, LaosWat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang, LaosHalong Bay, VietnamTa Prohm Temple, Siem Reap, CambodiaHalong Bay, Vietnam
 
 
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Paddling the Pearls of Indochina

From Ha Long Bay to the Mekong River, Discover Vietnam, Laos & Cambodia by Kayak
Day 1: Hanoi, Vietnam
Arrive in Hanoi and transfer to our hotel. There may be time to enjoy a rickshaw ride on your own through the old city before we gather for a buffet welcome dinner of Vietnamese specialties and a trip briefing with our Expedition Leader.

Day 2: Hanoi / Ha Long Bay
On a tour of Hanoi we see Ho Chi Minh’s residence and the first university in Vietnam, the Temple of Literature, built in the 11th century. Drive through the rich farmlands of the Red River Delta to Ha Long Bay where we board our private boat, a classic sailing junk that we sleep aboard for the next two nights. We'll enjoy lunch while cruising a more remote section of the bay among the hundreds of sculpted limestone pinnacles that rise from the turquoise water. This afternoon we have our first opportunity for kayaking: a paddle through Luon Cave, a natural tunnel that leads to a romantic lagoon ringed by jungle-draped mountains. Return to our boat for a dinner of fresh local seafood, followed by an optional night paddle.

Day 3: Kayaking Ha Long Bay
We spend the day exploring hidden lagoons and grottos on the periphery of the bay where tourists rarely travel. We'll paddle around intriguing islets and pass the traditional fishing village of Cua Van. As we reach the more exposed waters on the edge of Ha Long Bay, we'll have magnificent views over the South China Sea. Three Tunnels Lake, which is actually a deep grotto with three inland "lakes" accessible only at low tide, is a highlight. 

Day 4: Ha Long Bay / Hanoi / Luang Prabang, Laos
After waking early to experience sunrise over the bay, we enjoy a final morning of paddling on Ha Long Bay. Lunch is served as we cruise back to Ha Long City where a shuttle awaits to return us to the airport in Hanoi to rendezvous with our early evening flight to Luang Prabang. This intriguing city was the former royal capital of the Kingdom of Laos until the Communist takeover in 1975. Tucked into an elbow of the Mekong River in remote and mountainous northern Laos, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is packed with cultural treasures, from golden-roofed Buddhist temples and French colonial villas to the traditional Lao wooden houses that line its peaceable streets.

Day 5: Luang Prabang / Pak Ou Caves
This morning we cruise the Mekong River to the Pak Ou Caves, an amazing Buddhist shrine about two hours upriver by boat. For 500 years, pilgrims and kings have come to this sacred spot, leaving carved wooden Buddha statues behind. Today some 4,000 sculptures are crammed into the main caves, accessible via steps up the cliffside from the river. Back in Luang Prabang, there’s time this afternoon for shopping in the exceptional textile and handicraft markets. This evening we discover the savory flavors of Northern Laos as we enjoy a traditional meal in the colorful night market. 

Day 6: Kayaking Luang Prabang Mountains
Today our focus is on the natural beauty of northern Laos as we head into the scenic mountains of Luang Prabang province to explore two very different mountain rivers by kayak. The small jungle-shrouded Nam Ming includes some mild rapids before it merges in the open mountain valleys with the larger Nam Khan. After dinner, there's time to return to the lively night market for some shopping.

Day 7: Luang Prabang / Tad Kuangsi Waterfall
Still the spiritual center of Laos, Luang Prabang thrums with the activity of its many monks, carrying umbrellas to shade themselves from the sun. We rise early to feed them: according to tradition, lay people feed the monks in this life so that in the next, people will do the same for them, opening the path to enlightenment. Later this morning we drive to the stunning waterfall at Tad Kuangsi, pouring from turquoise-blue mineral springs renowned for their health qualities. We may also have a chance to visit a nearby Asiatic black bear rescue center. This afternoon we explore the historical treasures of Luang Prabang. The Royal Palace, with its mosaics of glittering cut glass, is magnificent. Our city tour also visits the 16th-century royal temple complex of Wat Xieng Thong and the 18th-century Wat Mai monastery, one of the largest and most architecturally impressive in Laos.

Day 8: Pakse / Xe Pian Wetlands
This morning we fly to the far southern part of Laos, where we’ll drive to the village of Ban Khiat Ngong. This afternoon we'll ride elephants to an ancient monastery overlooking the Xe Pian Wetlands to experience firsthand the tranquility of this beautiful but threatened environment. Once known as the land of a million elephants, Laos is still home to more animals than people—some 1,200 wildlife species, in fact. Laos has Asia’s lowest population density, and traditional village life remains refreshingly simple. We overnight at an atmospheric eco-lodge in harmony with our natural surroundings. 

Day 9: Xe Pian Wetlands / Mekong Paddling 4,000 Islands
We bid farewell to the local villagers, then drive to our put-in spot on the Mekong River. For the next four days we'll paddle a little-visited section of the storied river, passing traditional scenes of rural life on the banks. Our first paddle is a two-hour journey downstream to Don Khon, where we stop for lunch near a thundering set of rapids called Liphi, or “Jumping Spirits.” As we continue kayaking this afternoon, we’ll hope to glimpse the rare and endangered Irrawaddy dolphins native to the Mekong. We spend the next three nights camping in tents in near traditional villages, where we'll enjoy the hospitality of local residents as we take our meals with them.  

Days 10 & 11: Mekong Flooded Forest
As the Mekong current slows, we enter a unique seasonal wetland habitat of flooded old-growth forest, which provides a natural sanctuary for diverse birds that flock here to nest. Few foreigners visit these parts, and our presence is sure to be a novelty for the villagers we meet, assuring us of unique and genuine cultural encounters. Continuing downstream through several sections of flooded forest, we try to identify as many bird species as possible. Such large areas of inundated woodlands, so far upstream from the river’s mouth, are rare; the Amazon is one of the few comparable areas on earth. 

Day 12: Mekong / Tbeang Meanchey
Our last day on the river concludes as we arrive at the remote northern Khmer capital of Stung Treng, then travel along the Mekong to the ancient center of Tbeang Meanchey, where we will overnight.

Day 13: Siem Reap / Temples of Angkor
Our morning drive brings us to Siem Reap, heart of the old Khmer empire. The city’s colonial and Chinese-style architecture is evident in the Old French Quarter and around the Old Market, but it is as the gateway to Angkor Wat for which Siem Reap is best known. We check in to our hotel, tucked amid lush gardens, before visiting the ancient Roluos collection of temples that date to the beginning of the Angkor period and provide a point of comparison with the later architectural styles.

Day 14: Angkor Wat & Temple Complex
Today we are immersed in the wonders of Angkor. Few historic sites on earth can compete with the grandeur and scale of this storied archaeological wonder. This maze of ancient temples and palaces dating from the 9th-15th centuries is almost overwhelming in its scale and detail. More than 1,000 stone temples lie among the forest and rice fields, many of them half-buried beneath a tangle of jungle vines. Among the temples we'll visit are Bayon, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm. This evening we enjoy a farewell dinner together.

Day 15: Hanoi / Home
Fly back to Hanoi today to connect with homeward flights.

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