Best of Vietnam & Cambodia

Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi & Halong Bay plus Sapa Hill Tribes optional extension

This itinerary is for a past tour program.
Check out our new Best of Vietnam & Cambodia tour.

Discover Vietnam and Cambodia, among the most fascinating and stunningly beautiful natural settings on earth, where ancient civilizations, welcoming people and dramatic history await.Our 15-day fully escorted tour includes the lovely Cambodian capital city of Phnom Penh, the massive and amazing Angkor temple complex and Vietnam, where you'll experience the best this emerging and engaging country has to offer, south to north.

After your tour, take advantage of a truly exotic extension to fascinating Sapa, in the heart of Hill Tribe country, including a chance to explore the fantastic Bac Ha Sunday Market! Enjoy Superior First Class & Deluxe accommodations, fully escorted touring, lots of included meals and the very best in service, all at prices that are downright amazing!


Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Depart USA. Your exotic journey to Cambodia and Vietnam begins as you check in for your wide-body jet flight bound for Phnom Penh (via Taipei).

Monks in the Phnom Penh riverfront Day 2: En route. Cross the International Dateline and lose a day en route to Cambodia. You will recover this day on the return portion of your trip.

Day 3: Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Mid-morning arrival in Phnom Penh, the fascinating, bustling capital city of Cambodia on the banks of three rivers, the Mekong, the Tonle Sap and the Tonle Bassac. Meet your guide and transfer to your hotel to check in. This afternoon, enjoy time to relax from your flight, perhaps stroll the lovely streets around your centrally located hotel, or take a nap before dinner. If you aren't too tired and prefer to jump into sightseeing this afternoon, take advantage of an included bonus tour of Phnom Penh, beginning with an overview of the city from atop Wat Phnom.

Silver Pagoda Proceed to the incredible Silver Pagoda in the Royal Palace complex where you find a dazzling green-crystal Buddha and a life-size Buddha made of solid gold and encrusted with 9,500 diamonds, resting on a floor covered with 5,000 silver tiles. Continue to the the National Museum, which has a wonderful collection of Khmer art and sculpture. Time permitting, pay a respectful visit to Tuol Sleng Museum, a Khmer Rouge prison and torture chamber from which only seven out of more than 30,000 inmates survived. Return to your hotel and prepare to join your fellow travelers at a "Welcome to Cambodia" dinner. InterContinental Phnom Penh Hotel Dinner provided.

South Entrance, Angkor Thom, Cambodia
South Entrance, Angkor Thom
Day 4: Phnom Penh & Siem Reap. After an early breakfast, transfer to the airport to board your flight to Siem Reap to begin your exploration of one of the largest religious sites in the world: Angkor Thom. The temples of Angkor, built by the Khmer civilization between 802 and 1220 AD represent one of humankind's most astonishing and enduring architectural achievements. From Angkor the Khmer kings ruled over a vast domain that reached from Vietnam to China to the Bay of Bengal. The structures you see at Angkor today, more than 100 stone temples in all, are the surviving remains of a grand religious, social and administrative metropolis whose other buildings—palaces, public buildings, and houses—were built of wood and are long since decayed and gone.

Angkor native, Cambodia Begin your explorations at the mysterious royal walled city of Angkor Thom. Its 54-tower temple is an awesome sight that most visitors never forget, with each of its surreal towers topped with four giant, barely smiling faces that stare out in the directions of the four points of the compass. The faces are identical, depicting a Khmer royal ruler as a Buddhist deity, and the staggered height of the towers and the different viewpoint of each keeps the design from appearing repetitious. You are engulfed by the silent, heavy, enigmatic gaze of those faces, through half-closed eyes, staring out from a remote time in history.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia Other sites you'll visit in this complex include the Baphoun, Elephant Terrace, Leper King Terrace and Royal Palace area. Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant and the rest of the afternoon at leisure. Borei Angkor Breakfast & lunch provided.

Ta Prohm Day 5: Angkor Explorations. This morning you will continue your exploration of the incredible ruins of Angkor, which consists of more than 30 temples and ancient buildings. All of the spectacular, carved-stone buildings were built between AD 800—1400, the height of the Khmer empire. Among the ruins you'll visit is the beautiful Bantey Srei, small in scale but considered to be a jewel in Angkor's crown because of its well-preserved, highly detailed carvings. Continue to Ta Prohm, shrouded in jungle and left untouched among twisted banyan trees and stone pillars, it is has the most mysterious atmosphere of the temples in the greater Angkor area.

This afternoon, visit the intricately carved Khmer ruins at Angkor Wat, built during the early years of the 12th century to honor the Hindu god Vishnu. Consisting of an enormous temple symbolizing the mythic Mt. Meru, its rectangular walls and moats represent chains of mountains and the cosmic ocean. Hundreds of fine carvings and scenes from Hindu mythology can still be viewed here. Later on, enjoy a spectacular view of the sun setting at Angkor Wat. Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam Day 6: Tonle Sap & Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam. This morning, drive to the Tonle Sap Lake, actually a combined lake and river system of huge importance to Cambodia, supporting over 3 million people and providing about 75% of Cambodia's annual inland fish. An unusual seasonal occurrence is one of the reasons the region is so productive: The monsoon rains pour so much water into the Mekong River that it briefly forces the Tonle Sap River to flow backwards, swelling the Tonle Sap Lake in western Cambodia to more than five times its normal size. After a visit to the Floating Village, transfer to the airport for your flight to Ho Chi Minh City,Vietnam. Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel, located in the heart of the city within easy access to shopping, touring and dining. Enjoy the afternoon at leisure to experience for yourself the hustle and bustle of Vietnamese life. Saigon Equatorial Hotel. Breakfast & lunch provided.

Thien Hau Pagoda, Saigon Day 7: Ho Chi Minh City & Cu Chi Tunnels. After breakfast, drive to the Cu Chi Tunnels, begun by the Viet Minh in the 1940's. The incredible network of tunnels once stretched for 210 miles and contained extensive Viet Cong infrastructure including tactical quarters, storage rooms, kitchens, a school and even an underground hospital. Most entrances were so well disguised that only a small portion of the system was ever discovered during the war, despite the fact that some 125 mi/200 km ran under a U.S. military base. This afternoon, explore dynamic Ho Chi Minh City, still called Saigon by many locals, including the former Presidential Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral, Old Saigon Post Office and Thien Hau Pagoda in the city's bustling Chinatown. Join your fellow travelers tonight for dinner at a popular local restaurant. Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided. (Dinner on this day was previously scheduled for Day 6).

Day 8: Ho Chi Minh City, Danang & Hoi An. After breakfast, enjoy some free time for shopping, then transfer to the airport for your flight to Danang, a major port city in the South Central Coast of Vietnam, on the coast of the South China Sea. Upon arrival, board your touring coach and drive to Hoi An, on the banks of the Thu Bon River. The colorful market town of Hoi An is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a major Southeast Asian trading port from the 15th to the 19th centuries, with ships arriving from all over the world to obtain silk and other fabrics, sugar, tea and ceramics. Hoi An's traditional Vietnamese architecture has been preserved, and there are many historic temples and pagodas in the area.

Enjoy the rest of the day at leisure to explore on your own. You might want to take advantage of Hoi An's world-famous tailors during your stay here. Anything you might want to wear can be made for you in Hoi An, all at bargain prices and with expert workmanship. Hoi An Trails Resort. Breakfast & dinner provided.

Japanese Covered Bridge, Hoi An Day 9: Hoi An. This morning, set out on a walking tour of this World Heritage Site. Along the way visit the Japanese Covered Bridge which features a Buddhist pagoda attached to one side and the town's most famous landmark, a beautiful Chinese Assembly Hall built in 1740 as a meeting place for all Chinese residents of the town. The hall is lavishly decorated with murals and a replica of a Chinese ship, and Phuoc Kien Pagoda, also called Kim Son Pagoda, built in 1697 by Chinese Phuoc Kien merchants at Hoi An.

Outdoor Market, Vietnam Conclude your tour at the Central Market, where you will find everything from fruit and flowers to tailor-made clothes and silk lanterns, whose flexible bamboo frames are designed to collapse, so they're easily transported home as a souvenir. Enjoy lunch at a popular local restaurant, then spend the afternoon at leisure to explore further on your own. Time for a swim in the China Sea, shop for wood carvings from Kim Bong village for which Hoi An is famous.

Temple at My Son
A Sanctuary at My Son
Optional Tour to My Son, $35 per person: To further explore the area, you will have an opportunity to take an optional half day trip to visit the capital and religious center of the former Champa Kingdom, My Son ($35). Here, 40km southwest of Hoi An in a lush green valley, are dozens of red brick towers and sanctuaries dating from between the 7th and 13th centuries. On the way back to Hoi An stop to visit Tra Kieu, formerly known as Simhapura or the Lion Citadel, the capital of Champa between the 4th and 8th centuries. Some of the finest sculpture in Danang's Cham Museum originated from here. Hoi An Trails Resort. Breakfast & lunch provided.

China Beach  Photo by Donald Huxtable
China Beach   Photo by Donald Huxtable
Day 10: Hoi An, Danang & Hue. Board your touring coach this morning and drive to the coastal city of Danang, en route to Hue. Just south of Hue are the Marble Mountains, actually five marble hills, each said to represent one of the five elements of the universe—water, wood, fire, metal and earth. One of them, Thuy Son, is honeycombed with caves containing Cham, Buddhist, and Confucian relics, pagodas, and temples. En route stop at China Beach, a former U.S. recreation base, well known for its sparkling white-sand coast and excellent views of the nearby Marble Mountains, and the Cham Museum, containing the finest collection of Cham sculptures in the world. Drive over the Hai Van Pass with its spectacular views.  Arrive in Hue and check in at your hotel.

Hanoi Citadel
Hue Citadel
This afternoon, explore Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam. Visit the Imperial Citadel, the seat of the Nguyen Dynasty which ruled Vietnam between 1802 and 1945. The former imperial seat of government and Hue's prime attraction, this is a great sprawling complex of temples, pavilions, moats, walls, gates, shops, museums and galleries. A boat trip on the Perfume River takes you past Hue's best-known religious site, the Thien Mu Pagoda where, according to legend, an old woman appeared on a hill where the pagoda now sits and predicted that a great leader would one day build a pagoda in that spot in order to bring peace to the country. Lord Nguyen Hoang visited the area in 1601 and upon hearing of the legend, he ordered the pagoda built, naming it Chua Thien Mu, the Heavenly Lady Pagoda.

Photo by Marc Descollonges
Photo by Marc Descollonges
End the day with a visit to the popular Dong Ba Market, one of the must-see sites in Hue, where fruit, vegetables, fish, rice and other staples of the traditional Vietnamese diet are sold along with foods made from these ingredients. Join your fellow tour members at Y Thao Restaurant for dinner this evening. Morin Hotel Breakfast & dinner provided.

Day 11: Hue & Hanoi. Transfer to the airport this morning for the short flight to Hanoi. Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel for check in. Hanoi's rich history is closely tied to French colonialism as well as the Chinese era, both evident in the city's architecture, cuisine and culture. After lunch at a local restaurant, drive to visit the Maison Centrale (Hoa Lo Prison, also known as the Hanoi Hilton during the American War).

Water Puppets, Hanoi Later this afternoon, you'll enjoy a tour by cyclo, a chauffeur-pedaled tricycle, through the city's Old Quarter, also known as the 36 streets. This bustling area of narrow streets is home to literally thousands of small businesses and shopkeepers. It's a great place to explore, especially by cyclo, with plenty of photo opportunities all around you. Continue to the theater to enjoy a unique, ancient form of Vietnamese entertainment known as Mua Roi Nuoc, or Water Puppets, where puppeteers control their puppets using long bamboo rods and string mechanisms hidden beneath the water's surface. Nikko Hotel Hanoi (Passengers on departures January 2009 and beyond will stay at the Melia Hanoi). Breakfast & lunch provided.

Halong Bay Day 12: Hanoi, Ha Long Bay & Emeraude Cruise. After breakfast, drive from Hanoi to Halong where you'll board the deluxe rated Emeraude, a wonderful replica of one of the classic steamships of the colonial era of French Indochina. With 36 luxurious air-conditioned cabins, a restaurant, two bars and a sun deck this is the ultimate Halong Bay experience. Lunch is served on board at 1:00 PM. While cruising on the emerald green waters of the bay, try a traditional Vietnamese massage, an optional extra (prices vary). Then, join your fellow shipmates for a beautiful sunset on the sun deck followed by a delicious Vietnamese buffet dinner. Overnight on board the Emeraude Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

The Emeraude Day 13: Emeraude Cruise, Halong & Hanoi. Wake up to fresh coffee and a wholesome breakfast before cruising back to Tuan Chau quay. After disembarkation from your replicated French Colonial steamer board your touring coach and drive back to Hanoi. This afternoon is at leisure to shop, stroll and enjoy the city on your own. Nikko Hotel Hanoi (Melia Hanoi for January 2009 departures and beyond) Breakfast & lunch provided.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Hanoi Day 14: Hanoi. On this morning's sightseeing tour, you'll explore the highlights of Hanoi. Stop first for outside views of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and his "house on stilts" where he resided during the later years of his life, one of the most important and visited sites in Vietnam. Continue to the One Pillar Pagoda, built on stilts over a lake in 1049 by King Ly Thai Thong. A prayer here is said to bring fertility and good health.

School children playing in Hanoi
School children in Hanoi
Continue to the Temple of Literature, Vietnam's first university constructed in 1070 by King Ly Thanh Tong to pay tribute to education and to those of high academic achievement. Today, art students sit on the grass and try to reproduce the traditional Vietnamese architecture on paper while enjoying the beautiful and well-preserved gardens of this quiet retreat into Vietnamese educational history. The rest of the day is at leisure to shop for last-minute souvenirs or to simply enjoy a last stroll through Hanoi's fascinating streets. Tonight, join your fellow travelers for a farewell dinner at Au Lac Restaurant.

If your schedule permits, join us on a fabulous 3-night optional extension to Sapa, center of the H'Mong aand other Hill Tribe people. Departing by train after dinner this evening, this extension is a cultural experience not to be missed. Breakfast & dinner provided.

Day 15: Hanoi. Enjoy a leisurely breakfast. Later today, transfer to the airport to check in for your return flight to the USA. Breakfast provided.


Optional Tour to My Son, $35 per person

Join an optional half-day tour to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of My Son...

This is the capital and religious center of the former Champa Kingdom. View dozens of red brick towers and sanctuaries dating from between the 7th and 13th centuries. Also visit Tra Kieu, formerly known as Simhapura (Lion Citadel), the capital of Champa between the 4th and 8th centuries.


Sapa Hill Tribes Extension

Why not take advantage of your already-included international airfare and visit Sapa, an incredibly picturesque and authentic hill tribe area near the Chinese border in northwest Vietnam, where visitors can still appreciate the traditional culture of Vietnam's hill tribe people as they have lived for centuries. While some tours to Vietnam offer "Hill Tribe" options, they typically visit communities near Hanoi that were once considered hill tribe areas, but no longer are.  Friendly Planet , on our extension to Sapa, visits numerous hill tribes, all of different tribes with people who live in the traditional way, providing a unique and authentic opportunity to appreciate these remote people and their fascinating culture and lifestyle.

Tucked away in the mountains near the Chinese and Laotian borders, Sapa, a former French resort town, is a wonderful place to mix with some of the many hill tribe people who inhabit the country. On weekends, especially on Sundays, the tribes go into Sapa for the market, and the textiles, embroidery and other needlecrafts on sale there are superb. Discover this exotic and gorgeous part of Vietnam on our very special 3-night extension.

Day 14: Hanoi/Overnight Train. After dinner at the Au Lac Restaurant, transfer to the train station to board your first class sleeper to Sapa, known as the "Tonkinese Alps." The train features private sleeping compartments and all the amenities you'll need to travel in comfort. Fanxipan Train.

Local girls in Sapa Day 15: Lao Cai/Sapa. Arrive early this morning at Lao Cai. Disembark from the train and transfer to Sapa, where you'll enjoy breakfast at a local restaurant. Drive on to Bac Ha Sunday market, located in the mountainous area, where you'll enjoy exploring the fascinating and treasure-laden market and enjoy the chance to shop for wonderful (and inexpensive) souvenirs. Later, visit the ancient palace of a H'Mong King. Return to Sapa and check in at your hotel. Victoria Sapa Hotel Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Sapa panorama Day 16: Sapa/Hill Tribe Villages/Overnight Train. After breakfast, travel by jeep to Lao Chai village, home of the Black H'mong, one of the largest ethnic minorities in Vietnam. The name Hmong means "free people" and they are found in different regions throughout Vietnam. You can distinguish among the various subgroups of Hmong by looking at the colors of the clothing they wear. Hence, the Black Hmong, who typically wear black clothing. Next you'll visit the village of Ta Van, home of the Giay tribe, and where you'll enjoy a delicious lunch prepared by your guide in a local home.

Black hmong women of Sepa
Black hmong women of Sapa
After lunch visit Taphin, a village just outside Sapa, where Black Hmong and Red Dao minorities live according to their traditional beliefs and customs without changing each other. Unlike the Black Hmong women who wear black, the women of the Red Dao tribes shave their heads and eyebrows, wear bright red turbans and are known for their embroidery skills. Later, drive to Lao Cai and enjoy dinner at a local restaurant before boarding the overnight train for your return trip to Hanoi. Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Day 17: Hanoi/USA. Arrive in Hanoi this morning and transfer to your hotel for breakfast. Your rooms will be ready for you to freshen up, rest a little, and prepare for your return flight to the USA. Later, transfer to the airport to board your return flight, arriving later today.


Destination FAQs

For quick answers to Frequently Asked Questions about travel to Vietnam, click here.

For quick answers to Frequently Asked Questions about travel to Cambodia, click here.


Building a friendlier planet

Friendly Planet sponsored well in Cambodian village In Cambodia, like many developing countries, people often struggle to obtain even the most basic necessities of life, such as clean, potable water. It takes only $200 to dig a well and install a pump that provides clean water to several dozen families, but it may as well cost a million. In a country where the average income is less than a dollar a day and 40% of the population lives in poverty, many Cambodians in rural areas simply can't afford the cost, so they live with the hardship and illness that comes with dirty water.

As a sign of goodwill and a thank you for welcoming us into their country, Friendly Planet has funded the construction of two wells in Cambodian villages and plans to purchase more. Several of our passengers, seeing the difference such a small investment can make, have volunteered to do the same. How thrilling to realize that our $200 investment yields a healthier life for these people, who have so very little. We are touched that this well, dug with our funds, was decorated with our company logo.


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