Active Expeditions

National Geographic Hilltribes & Ancient Cultures of Vietnam, Laos & Cambodia

  • Duration 14 Days
  • Group Size Max 16
  • From $8,040 AUD
Call 1300 966 237

Trip Overview

This exclusive active journey for National Geographic Expeditions takes you from northern Vietnam, to Luang Prabang and into Cambodia. It will appeal to the active traveller keen to appreciate the 'great sites', whilst also experiencing the underlying cultural fabric of this fascinating part of South East Asia and in the comfort of some beautifully appointed accommodation. We begin in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, before exploring the remote regions of Sapa while staying at Topas Lodge, one of National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World. We relax onboard a luxury traditional cruise boat in Halong Bay while exploring the stunning limestone islets of Halong Bay. In the World Heritage listed Luang Prabang, we explore on foot and by bike before flying to Siem Reap and spending 2 full days exploring the archaeological wonders of Angkor on foot and by bike. Dotted throughout with unique encounters, and staying in some of South East Asia's most iconic and beautifully appointed accommodation, this trip is not to be missed.

Trip Highlights

  • Exploring the World Heritage town of Luang Prabang by bike and on foot
  • Visiting the home of a traditional water puppet artist and learning about this unique craft
  • Sail the turquoise waters of Halong Bay on a traditional luxury junk
  • Explore the temples of Banteay Srei by bike
  • Learning about the temples of Angkor on a privately led tour with French researcher and independent scholar, Dr. Olivier Cunin
  • Village encounters and remote trails of Sapa
  • Monks Life encounter in Luang Prabang
  • Topas Eco Lodge, one of National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World

Itinerary - 14 Days

Day 1 Join Hanoi

Xin chao! Welcome to Hanoi, Vietnam. On arrival into Hanoi you will be met and transferred to your hotel where, depending on your arrival time, will rest for the afternoon. In the evening you will meet your Guide and the rest of your group and enjoy a welcome dinner at a local restaurant. Overnight at Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi
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Day 2 Sightseeing in Hanoi including Ethnology Museum with Dr Mark Rapoport and private Water Puppet experience

For the early riser you can walk to Hoan Kiem Lake for a chance to witness the early risers of Hanoi doing their morning Taichi by the lake. After breakfast at hotel we'll head out to Ba Dinh Square and start our day with The Presidential Palace (formerly Palace of the Governor-General of French Indochina), Ho Chi Minh’s house-on-stilt and nearby One Pillar Pagoda. Following is a visit to the Temple of Literature – the first university of Vietnam built in 11th century. Lunch will be at Ngon Restaurant. We'll then drive to visit the wonderful Vietnam Ethnology Museum - a valuable centre for the exhibition and the preservation of cultural heritages of the 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam - to understand about ethnic groups, their cultural diversity and the uniqueness of each group and region. You'll meet with Mr. Mark Rapoport who has great interest in cultural antiques and objects in Vietnam’s 54 people. Mark will share his knowledge and cultural insights along with the museum’s exhibits, as well as share interesting stories of the mountainous groups. Continue to the 54 Traditions Gallery which focuses on the antiques, artifacts and art of Vietnam's 53 minority groups and the Kinh majority people. Explore and chat with Mark on any topic you are interested in, such as traditions, textiles, differences between ethnic minorities, or whatever. Dr. Mark Rapoport was born and raised in and around New York City. As a medical student in 1969, he came to Vietnam for two months as a volunteer medical worker at the Vietnamese civilian hospital in Da Nang. While there, he acquired an abiding interest in the material culture/art of ethnic minority groups in Vietnam. Over time, his collection of material culture and art from the 54 ethnic minorities in Vietnam, with an emphasis on the groups residing in the mountains north of Hanoi and those in the Central Highlands area, has grown to impressive size. We'll then return to Hanoi's centre and explore the city's lively Old Quarter. This is a place you must see to experience Hanoi, where exciting shopping opportunities and vibrant cultural and historical sites share the same small area. This evening we'll visit the home of a water puppet artist, the descendant of a family of water puppet performers. This Vietnamese traditional performance art has roots dating back to the 10th century. You will have a chance to talk with the artist, participate in the process of making the puppets, and enjoy a private water puppet show. Overnight at Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi Hotel Note: Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum opens in the morning only and closes on Mondays & Fridays. Ho Chi Minh’s house-on-stilts is closed on Monday & Friday afternoon. Most of Hanoi’s museums also close on Mondays.
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Day 3 Drive to Sapa

We depart this morning for Sapa along the Hanoi – Lao Cai highway to the remote hilltop of Topas Ecolodge (5-6 hours). Sapa a picturesque town surrounded by majestic mountain landscapes and neatly terraced rice fields. The ecolodge is located deep in the Hoang Lien Mountains. The bungalows overlook the entire valley with the ethnic minority villages of Ban Ho and Thanh Phu, 400 altitude meters beneath. Upon arrival in the early afternoon you'll check in and enjoy view of the surrounding mountains and valleys from your private balcony. Overnight at Topas Ecolodge
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Day 4 Explore remote Sapa (walking approx 3-3.5 hours)

Enjoy a great breakfast and prepare for today´s walk. At around 9am you will transfer deeper into Hoang Lien National Park to the trek starting point near Sin Chai village. You are now “off the beaten track” enjoying beautiful views of high mountains, waterfalls and the deep valleys. The trails will soon lead you to the Red Dao village of Nam Nhiu, here you will meet the villagers, enjoy a cup of green tea in their house, and learn about their daily way of life. Leaving the village behind, you will turn into a small dirt trail and soon be inspired by the marvelous view of the rice valley dotted with bamboo huts, which used by local farmers as overnight lodge in harvesting days. Passing the rice terraces and a river you will walk on a quiet road for a while before arriving at Nam Cang village. Your lunch is served at Nam Cang Riverside Lodge. Nam Cang village is located in a remote area of Sapa. The Red Dao women wear some of the most colorful and diverse costumes of all Vietnam’s ethnic groups. Herbal bath, local medicine and embroidery are some of the things that the Red Dao are very skilled at. Accompanied by your guide, you will explore the village and learn how the local villagers make writing rice paper, jewellry and embroidery. You may also want to take a swim in the river. Around mid-afternoon, you will transfer back to Topas Ecolodge. Overnight at Topas Ecolodge
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Day 5 Colourful market visit and overnight train to Hanoi

After an early breakfast you will visit one of Sapa's local markets (which market will depend on the day). Each market opens only one certain day of the week and is a meeting point for different ethnic minority people who come from surrounding mountains for trade and socialising. - Bac Ha (or Muong Khuong or Muong Hum) market on Sunday - Can Cau market on Saturday - Lung Khau Nhin market on Thursday - Cao Son market on Wednesday - Coc Ly market on Tuesday In the afternoon, you will experience the daily life of a minority while having a visit to their village. You will then have a transfer to Lao Cai Railways Station for the overnight train back to Hanoi. Overnight at Victoria Express Train – 4-berth Soft Sleeper AC Cabin. Overnight on train.
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Day 6 Arrive Hanoi and transfer to Halong Bay

You'll arrive at Hanoi's train station in the early morning and will transfer to a 4-star hotel in Hanoi for breakfast and refreshments. You will then head out to Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In Ha Long you will board your Bhaya Classic and enjoy a delicious lunch of freshly caught fish and seafood before cruising toward South East Ha Long Bay passing Chicken Crock and Tiptop Island. You will also have a chance to do some kayaking or bamboo boating.top at Dark & Bright Lagoon for your kayaking or bamboo boating. In the early evening you can choose from several interesting activities on board: a cooking demonstration, an optional traditional massage, or a drink at the bar. We'll conclude our day with a spectacular set-menu gastronomic dinner Overnight Bhaya Classic or Bhaya Premium (depending on group size).
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Day 7 Halong Bay

Today we have a full day to explore Halong Bay. We'll head to Bai Tu Long Bay and visit Ho Ba Ham area for kayaking or traditional bamboo boating. You'll then explore one of the biggest caves in Ha Long – Surprise Cave. There will also be plenty of time for relaxing on board the boat. Overnight Bhaya Classic or Bhaya Premium (depending on group size)
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Day 8 Halong Bay. Drive to Hanoi and flight to Luang Prabang

Start the day with Tai Chi lesson and watch the sunrise over teh quiet beauty of the bay's landscape. We'll continue cruising toward the Titov Island where you can swim or hike at your leisure. You'll return to the dock where you will be met and transferred to the airport for your flight to Luang Prabang. Sabaidee, welcome to Luang Prabang, Laos. Upon arrival, you will be greeted by your guide and driver at the airport then transfer to the hotel for check-in. You'll experience the hospitality of Lao people through one of their most prominent customs, the Baci Ceremony. Overnight at Satri House, Luang Prabang.
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Day 9 Monks' Life Encounter and explore Luang Prabang by bike

Buddhism is the basis of Laos culture and temples play an important role in Laotian daily life. The daily alms-giving ritual is a must-see activity for any visitor to Luang Prabang, and 'Monks’ life encounter' offers you the opportunity to participate in this practice in an authentic manner at a local temple. You will experience how typical Laos dishes like Laap Laos, Olam soup and papaya salad are cooked. You can offer food to a local temple and receive a blessing where the monks chant for you as a part of this traditional ritual. Later, join an open talk on Buddhism in Laos with monks then enjoy lunch with the food you just cooked, according to your preference. We'll return to your hotel, grab our bikes and enjoy exploring Luang Prabang by bike. We'll visit the National Museum at the former Royal Palace, Wat Xieng Thong - the largest and most splendid temple of Luang Prabang royal city, you'll visit Ock Pop Tock Weaving Centre, an organization that is offering the weavers in the area the chance to earn a decent income through their weaving skills and then we continue to Ban Xang Khong village, a 4km cycle out of town where you will learn more about Saa paper. We return to our hotel and freshen up for dinner at Manda de Laos Restaurant. The remainder of the evening is at your leisure and we recommend visiting the Night Market which is a great place to wander, shop and people watch. Overnight at Satri House
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Day 10 Luang Prabang & trekking to Kuangsi Waterfall

We leave Luang Prabang behind, and head out by vehicle to Ban Long Lao, (Hmong minority village). Wandering around, we learn more about life in this rural lowland Lao and Hmong community. Our trek leads us first for about half an hour through paddy fields before entering dense mixed growth jungle with a remarkable diversity of tree species. After 3 hours of an up-and-down hike through the forest, you reach Kuangsi Fall. Close to the falls we stop by the Free the Bears Sanctuary, a rehabilitation centre for Asiatic Black bears -also known as Moon bears- confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade. Continue on through the forest to see the stunning Khuang Si Waterfall. A 60m cascade feeds into multi-tiered turquoise pools set in a beautiful lush forest setting. Enjoy a refreshing dip in the pools or choose to walk up the trails to the upper section. The Khuang Si Waterfalls, where water tumbles over multi-tiered limestone formations into cool and crystal clear pools, is ideal for anyone seeking an enjoyable escape when the heat becomes unbearable. Return to Luang Prabang in the late afternoon. One of the best traditional dances in Laos is Phralak Phralam dance, the Lao version of the sacred poem. Phralak Phralam shares the story of Ramayana through the lives of two brothers, unsurprisingly known as Phralak and Phralam. Phralam is associated with a previous life of Siddhartha Gautama and the plot focuses on religious knowledge, moral superiority, and finally, how lives are ruined by greed and desire. Overnight Satri House, Luang Prabang. Trekking Duration: 3 hours Trekking Distance: 13kms approx.
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Day 11 Luang Prabang – Siem Reap via 1350/1605

Morning at leisure before transferring to the airport (flight departs 1350) for your flight to Siem Reap. Upon arrival into Siem Reap at around 1405 you will be met and transferred to your hotel. This evening, enjoy a special treat with a performance from PHARE. The Cambodian Circus has long been famous for their performances, and this NGO teaching streetkids to become circus artists is a regular at international circus conventions worldwide. Enjoy their interpretations of modern life and issues in Cambodian society. Overnight at Viroth's Hotel, Siem Reap
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Day 12 Angkor highlights with Dr. Olivier Cunin & Private monk blessing

After a leisurely breakfast, you’ll have a full day to explore Angkor temples especially led by Dr. Olivier Cunin – a French researcher & independent scholar who has spent years studying temples throughout Cambodia. His work has been invaluable to our current understanding of the temple complex. Explore the amazing temple complex and spend most of the day in what this UNESCO World Heritage site. Visit the ancient city of Angkor Thom, surrounded by an 8m high wall. Angkor Thom was the last capital of the Great Khmer Empire under the reign of Jayavarman VII. Continue to Bayon Temple in the exact centre of the city. This 12th century masterpiece is a study in grandeur, its exterior gallery walls featuring extensive, superb bas-reliefs, particularly the East and South Galleries. You also visit the Ta Prohm Temple, unlike most other Angkor temples, has been left just it was when rediscovered: a photogenic and atmospheric maze of trees growing out of temple ruins amidst jungle surroundings, making it one of Angkor's most popular temples with visitors. In the afternoon you further explore Angkor Wat, easily the most famous and best-preserved of all temples within the Angkor complex. It is a massive three-tiered structure crowned by five lotus-like towers rising 65 meters from ground level. The centrepiece of any visit to the temples around Siem Reap, Angkor offers many iconic sights for amazing pictures. Overnight at Viroth's Hotel
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Day 13 Cycling Tour to Banteay Srey & Tonle Sap Lake

Today we'll get in the saddle for a gentle cycling tour. We'll drive out of Siem Reap to the village of Pradak and set off for a ride to Banteay Samre via Phnom Bok via backroads and villages. You will pass through places where few tourists visit. Take the chance to stop and interact with the local community and learn about their way of life. A support vehicle will follow if you need to take a break. Total distance is 26km and will take about 2½ hours. After continuing to see the “gem” of the Angkor area, the pretty temple of Banteay Srei. The so-called “Citadel of the Women” remains the best preserved temple in Cambodia. It displays some of the finest examples of classical Khmer art as this small temple is noted for its truly remarkable fine bas-reliefs. Banteay Srei is unique in that it is constructed of pink sandstone, which is seen nowhere else in Angkor. Stop at a local pagoda where Buddhist monks will celebrate a private blessing ceremony for you, wishing you health and a safe journey – a memorable experience! After an enjoyable drive through the countryside to reach Cambodia’s largest freshwater lake, you will visit Kampong Phluk, a cluster of three villages of stilt houses built within the floodplain of the Tonle Sap Lake about 16 km southeast of Siem Reap. The flooded mangrove forest surrounds the area and is home to a variety of wildlife including crab-eating macaques. (Note: Due to low water levels during the dry season, the boat trip is only possible from Aug/Sep to Mar. However an alternative floating village at Chong Kneas can be arranged instead). Tonight we will enjoy a farewell dinner tonight at one of the best restaurants in town. Overnight at Viroth's Hotel Cycling distance approx.: 35-40 km (1way by bike) Cycling duration approx.: 2.5-3 hours
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Day 14 Trip concludes in Siem Reap

Your tour concludes after breakfast today. You will be transferred to the airport for your onward arrangements
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National Geographic Hilltribes & Ancient Cultures of Vietnam, Laos & Cambodia

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