Glimpse past and present on this in-depth encounter with the glittering cityscapes, youthful verve, and centuries-old culture, heritage and traditions of vibrant Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok. Your relaxing escape awaits on the tropical island of Phuket, but its true treasure lies in the effortless fusion of culture, history and cuisine that shaped Thailand's largest island over centuries.
ARRIVE HO CHI MINH CITY (4 NIGHTS)
The scents of jasmine and steady hoots from Ho Chi Minh's busy streets are never far as you embark on an intoxicating adventure incorporating two of South East Asia's most exciting cities. Upon arrival in Vietnam's largest city, formerly known as Saigon, transfer to your hotel and spend the rest of the day recovering from your journey, or get a small taste of what's in store on your own. Later this evening, meet your Travel Director and fellow travellers for a Welcome Reception with drinks and local appetisers.
HO CHI MINH CITY SIGHTSEEING
Ho Chi Minh's colonial past is revealed this morning during a leisurely walking tour through its grand boulevards. Admire the elegant French colonial-era buildings and high-end boutiques that dot Dong Khoi Street and see the splendidly restored exteriors of the Opera House. Your next stop is the former CIA residential block where helicopters frantically evacuated the remaining US citizens in 1975 as tanks fast approached the city. Continue your walk with views of Notre Dame Cathedral, a red brick edifice with twin spires constructed from materials imported from France. Then, head across the square to visit the 19th century Central Post Office, an elegant French colonial structure transporting you back to a time when the city was a key player in Indochina. Travel by coach to the Reunification Palace for a visit to the former headquarters of the Saigon Government and then on to the War Remnants Museum to gain a perspective of the war through the eyes of the Vietnamese. After a day of sightseeing, return to your hotel for an afternoon at leisure or consider joining an Optional Experience to delve into Saigon's art scene, learning from a museum curator and a local artist.
HO CHI MINH CITY
Start your day with a journey by speedboat along the Saigon River to the famous Cu Chi Tunnels. As you leave the city behind, glimpse the changing faces of Vietnam - from the glittering skyscrapers and busy commercial centres to the green paddy fields and tiny villages that skirt the river banks. Descend into an underground world of subterfuge and hardship, learning how the Vietcong guerrilla fighters used these impossibly narrow and dark tunnels as communication routes, storage facilities for food and weapon caches, as well as hospitals and living quarters throughout the war. 'Connect With Locals' next, visiting an organic farm to learn about the benefits of natural medicine made from the local organic vegetables, herbs, spices and mushrooms. Wander through the lush green fields before joining the family in their home for an exclusive 'Be My Guest' lunch. Over some of their favourite family dishes, exchange stories and gain insights into how their business is providing a livelihood for many local farmers. Next 'Make A Difference' with a visit to the HCMC Blind Centre where blind children gather together to learn how to play music and use the computer under the guidance of volunteers. The centre was founded by blind musician Mr. Dao Khanh Truong who spent most of his life caring for and teaching the children life skills and music. Later, return to Ho Chi Minh City for a free evening and perhaps choose to see an optional show, or maybe visit one of the rooftop bars for which the city is famous, gaining a bird's eye view of the pulsating streets below.
HO CHI MINH CITY
A leisurely start to your day could see you linger over a cup of smoky oolong tea or make an early start with an optional walking tour through the city's lively outdoor markets to feel what life is like for the residents of Ho Chi Minh City. This afternoon, you'll visit Chinatown and the beautiful Thien Hau Pagoda built by the Cantonese community in the early 19th century to honour the Goddess of the Sea. 'Dive Into Culture' and make a wish, writing your deepest desires on a small card and attaching it to one of the incense coils like the locals do. Visit Binh Tay Market, constructed by the French in the 1880s in the heart of Chinese community in Saigon, to rub shoulders with the locals who visit the market to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, spices, meat and seafood from regions across Vietnam. Continuing to FITO, the first museum of traditional medicine in Vietnam, you'll gain an insightful glimpse into the history and application of traditional medicine in everyday life. Afterwards, 'Dive Into Culture' during a walking tour of Chinatown with its many herbal medicine shops and learn how herbs are combined for traditional therapies. Later this evening, you'll join your Travel Director and fellow travellers for a memorable dinner of traditional Vietnamese specialties in a local restaurant.
HO CHI MINH CITY - BANGKOK (4 NIGHTS)
Leave Vietnam behind for the bustling City of Angels. After your short flight to Bangkok, meet your Thai Travel Director, who you'll join for dinner at a local restaurant featuring some of the city's favourite delicacies.
We start the day with a visit to Bangkok's iconic Grand Palace. Its gilded spires served as a magnificent backdrop for the official residence of the Kings of Thailand from the 18th to the mid-20th century. Our next stop is Wat Ratchanatdaram Worawihan, a UNESCO-listed royal temple renowned for its pyramid-like structure and stunning views of the main temple area of Bangkok and the Golden Mount. Stroll along the open-air walkway and admire the city skyline before joining your travel companions for lunch in a traditional Royal Thai Cuisine restaurant with classic Thai décor and views of the Democracy Monument. This afternoon, 'Dive Into Culture' during a visit to a local community which produces Thai silk for the famous Jim Thompson factory. As you stroll along a colourful canal through the community, you'll pass a tailor-made suit factory, open-air goldsmiths and man-made silver houses. Take a moment to observe how talented villagers colour and weave the delicate silk used to create beautiful garments and accessories. Learn how the American businessman helped revive the Thai silk industry in the 1950s by supplying fine Thai silk to overseas fashion houses. His silk company and the once-dying cottage industry continue to flourish today. Explore Jim Thompson House, tastefully decorated with Asian art and curios including Buddha images, ceramics and antique furniture. Then, return to the hotel for an evening at leisure or consider joining our recommended Optional Experience.
We leave the high-rises behind this morning and venture beyond the city buzz for a tranquil encounter with rural Thailand. Meet our 'Local Specialist'. Explore local Thai culture, joining them for a visit to a Buddhist Temple, then continue to a nearby market, located on the banks of Tha Chin River and renowned for its extensive variety of vegetables, fruit and Thai snacks. 'Dive Into Culture' as you shop together learning about the local produce as your Thai host introduces you to their preferred vendors in the market. Continue down river, sailing past local homes and lush vegetation as you make your way to your host's riverside home and restaurant. Here you'll learn about Thai herbs and spices as you watch a cooking demonstration in the open air. Try your hand at making your own Thai dishes using their favourite recipes and afterwards sample the dishes you have helped to prepare. After lunch, return to your hotel and spend the rest of the afternoon and evening at leisure.
An early start this morning sees us 'Dive Into Culture' during a scenic journey by train, past salt and rice paddies, right into the Mae Klong railway market. Colourful stalls are laid out on both sides of the railway tracks. When the train comes through, the tents and goods are moved from the rails at lightening speed and returned just as quickly once the train has sped past, leaving astounded visitors doubting whether there was ever a train in the first place. Disembark from the train and explore the market on your own before boarding a traditional Thai long-tail boat. Journey through small side canals, watching the locals go about their day-to-day, and into the Mae Klong River. On arrival at the famous Damnoen Saduak floating market, witness an astounding array of boats selling fresh produce, souvenirs and delicious Thai food. There's more to see when you visit a local open-air Khao Lam producer (sticky rice cooked in a bamboo tube) where you'll learn how this tasty Thai sweet dish is made. Enticed by the aroma of coconut and sugar, you may wish to purchase some for yourself as an afternoon treat later. Arrive back at the hotel and enjoy a final free afternoon in Bangkok, exploring the sights on your terms. As the sun begins to set over the enchanting Thai capital, head up river for a Farewell Dinner in an atmospheric Thai riverside restaurant with views of the magnificent Wat Arun.
BANGKOK - PHUKET (3 NIGHTS)
We leave Bangkok bound for Phuket, Thailand's largest island. On arrival, we'll check into our hotel and enjoy the rest of the day at leisure.
There's more to Phuket than its glorious beaches and dazzling nightlife. The island is a captivating fusion of Thai, Chinese, Indian, Arabic and even Portuguese influences, which you'll have an opportunity to encounter first-hand during your walking tour of Phuket Town with a 'Local Specialist'. Visit the early morning fresh food market, rubbing shoulders with the locals who stop by daily to shop and enjoy a quick breakfast. Continue to the amulet market and learn how these metal charms are worn to protect the wearer from harm or bring good luck. Discover the trading history of the island, admiring the beautifully restored shop-houses along your route. You'll visit the beautiful Sino-Portuguese-style colonial mansion of Baan Chinpracha and the Thai Hua Museum, which reveals the history of Phuket, before sampling some of the region's local snacks in a restored coffee house. The walking tour ends with lunch in one of Phuket Town's restaurants where you'll have the opportunity to sample local flavours after which you'll return to your hotel for a relaxing afternoon.
PHUKET FREE DAY
Enjoy a full day to indulge in whatever your heart delights. Take advantage of your tropical surroundings and spend the day relaxing at your beachfront hotel or consider joining one of our Optional Experiences. You could, for example, try your hand at making some classic Thai dishes during a cooking class on Koh Yao Noi island, with time afterwards relaxing on its beaches. Alternatively opt to take a cruise to Phang Nga Bay and spend the day on board a traditional junk style schooner boat sailing around the archipelago, swimming in crystal clear waters and enjoying the dramatic beauty of the islands as they pass you by.
Your captivating encounter with Thailand at its end, take a transfer to Phuket International Airport for your onward flight.