The day is free to recover from the flight. Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), formerly known as Saigon an exciting and absorbing city where bicycles battle with lorries and temples stand defiantly alongside modern developments. Devastated by the Vietnam War, Saigon is now a bustling free market city where anything goes. The Ben Thanh Market and Notre Dame Cathedral are within easy walking distance from our hotel and are highly recommended.
This morning we leave the city behind us and head west to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels. Used by the Viet Cong during the war the network covers 3 levels and approximately 240 kms of tunnels. Traditionally these were very narrow but some areas have been widened to allow tourists to explore the system. Claustrophobes may prefer to stay outside in the sunshine! In the afternoon we return to Saigon for a tour to include visits to the Reunification Palace and War Remnants Museum where there is an interesting record of the Vietnam/American War. Some of the images are of a graphic nature.
We drive to Cai Be in the Mekong Delta via a Cao Dai temple used by devotees of this strange indigenous religion that fuses all the great religions of the east and west. The Mekong is locally known as the rice bowl of Vietnam and produces much of Vietnam's fruit, sugar cane and coconuts. En route we pass magnificent countryside and stop at some small cottage industries. We take a relaxing sampan cruise in the afternoon and arrive at our accommodation. The evening is tranquil as we have dinner on an Island and enjoy some 'Delta' hospitality. We spend the night sleeping at a simple guesthouse built in the style of a local house. Bedding, a mosquito net and a small towel are provided.
This morning we take a short walk around the surrounding village to uncover the daily lives of the people. We board our boats once again and cross the main channel to Vinh Long where we re-join our vehicle for the drive further into the Mekong Delta to the small border town of Chau Doc. After checking into the hotel we will enjoy a sunset visit to the top of the holy Sam Mountain with views stretching across into Cambodia. The evening is free to wander around this town, situated on the banks of the Mekong River.
After driving approximately 1 hour to the Tinh Bien/Phnom Den land border we will bid farewell to Vietnam and cross into Cambodia. Our drive takes us via the former French colonial town of Kampot to Sihanoukville, Cambodia's premier beach resort. Upon arrival you will have free time to relax, refresh with a swim, try a Khmer beach massage and sip cocktails as the sun sets. For those who like to cook, there's also an opportunity to join a half day traditional Khmer cooking class (optional).
Our hotel is located across the road from the white sands of Ochheuteal Beach and today you will have free time to relax on the beach or wander into town and get a feel for the place. A boat trip out to one of the deserted islands off the coast for fishing, snorkelling and swimming is recommended (optional). The more energetic can also rent bicycles to explore more of the Sihanoukville beaches and countryside.
This morning we drive around the peninsula past Sokha, Independence and Victory beaches before driving on to Phnom Penh. The afternoon is free to explore this city that still retains a frontier atmosphere. There is time to wander among the traditional buildings, or shop at either the impressive Central Market or the sprawling Russian Market, a souvenir hunter's paradise.
We will visit the beautiful Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda inside the Palace complex, so named for the solid silver tiles that make up the floor. Thankfully the complex escaped the worst excess of the Khmer Rouge. Similar in style and scale to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, the Royal Palace has significantly fewer visitors and there is plenty of time to wander amongst the traditional buildings. We will also visit Tuol Sleng museum or S21 (Museum of Genocide), which graphically displays the horrors of the 4 years when Pol Pot systematically ordered the murder of between 2 and 3 million Cambodians. Tuol Sleng was originally a school but was used as a torture and interrogation centre between 1975 and 1979. It is a sobering, but enlightening place to visit. We complete our day with a moving late afternoon visit to the 'killing fields' of Choeung Ek. A football-field-sized area surrounded by farmland, the killing fields contain mass graves for perhaps 20,000 Cambodians, many of whom were tortured before being killed. Phnom Penh is a city in transition and, despite its horrific recent history, it is now starting to find its feet. Some of its former French colonial buildings have been restored and there is a small but lively restaurant and bar scene developing along the riverfront.
This morning we take our bus along National Road 6 past the village of Skuon (where fried spiders are the local delicacy) before continuing on to Kompong Thom for a lunch stop, then on to Siem Reap.
A full day spent exploring the complex. We will visit the incredible Angkor Wat, the many temples inside the Royal City of Angkor Thom, including the magnificent Bayon, which comprises of 54 intricately carved towers in one single temple. The Bayon certainly left an impression on an early traveller in 1925 who stated 'we stand before it stunned. It is like nothing else in the land.' We will also see other less-visited outlying temples. Particularly impressive are Banteay Kdei and Ta Prohm, which is still covered in jungle as it was first found. Re-discovered in the 1870s and famously described as being 'grander than anything of Greece or Rome' by the French explorer Henri Mouchot, this world heritage site stands alongside Chichen Itza and Machu Picchu as one of the world's most spectacular archaeological sites. A truly magical experience and a photographer's paradise. One evening we will make our way to watch the sunset over this magnificent scene.
This morning we will continue our exploration of the Angkor complex with a visit to the small but charming Temple of Banteay Srei, which is noted for the intricacy of its carvings, 35km from Siem Reap town. Our route takes us past paddy fields, and through pretty villages. Banteay Srei was built in the 10th century and contains some of the finest examples of Khmer sculpture. Although much smaller than the later temples, here all of the buildings are covered in exquisite carvings. The afternoon is free for you to continue with further independent exploration of the temples or to wander around Siem Reap town or visit a floating fishing village and enjoy a boat trip on the Tonle Sap Lake (optional).
We transfer to the airport in Siem Reap for our short flight to Bangkok. This afternoon we take a short walk to the Chao Praya river where we board a long tail boat for a tour of the local canals. Bangkok was once known as the Venice of the East because of its intricate canal network. We get a glimpse of daily life as we pass locals selling their wares by the river. We will visit what to this day remains the home of the Thai Royal family at the Royal Palace complex followed by Wat Phra Kaew, home to the Emerald Buddha, one of Thailand's most venerated images. Another highlight is Wat Po, the largest temple in Bangkok, housing a 46m long, 15m high gold-plated reclining Buddha.
Today is free in Bangkok for shopping, sightseeing, relaxing or maybe to try a Thai massage! Your tour leader will be more than happy to advise you on how best to use your time.