“Discovering the undiscovered is our challenge. Exploring Asia’s history never stops. We cannot stop after we explore the ultimate pagoda or set out on the ultimate Mekong River experience. Everything we already know leads us to search for all that we still need to see.”
Cambodia & Laos
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Day 1: Yangon, Myanmar
On arrival in Yangon International Airport, you meet your guide and driver for a private transfer to your hotel in Yangon. Downtown Yangon is unique with much of its colonial-era architecture still standing. The city is a union of English, Burmese, Chinese and Indian influences, and is known for its colonial architecture. You find one of Asia’s most impressive collections of late 19th and early 20th century buildings, religious and secular. Set out on a walking tour through downtown Yangon, focusing on its colonial buildings. Walk through the back streets at a relaxed pace with your guide, who explains the history the area and the vintage buildings, some empty, others being restored. After the tour, you have time to enjoy a drink at Gekko, a cozy restaurant on Merchant Street in a historic building. Strand Hotel – Deluxe Suite
Day 2: Yangon
This morning, enjoy breakfast at the hotel before joining your guide to begin a half-day tour of the spiritual Shwedagon Pagoda. This intriguing tour starts from the bottom of the hill, passing the workshops, markets and monasteries. Explore the full history of the pagoda, the daily life of people living in the immediate surroundings of the pagoda and gain insight in the Buddhist religion and how the spiritual belief is mixed with the belief in Nats – Myanmar spirits. The experience includes traditional offerings to monks and the pagoda, and a visit to a fortune teller.
Enjoy a delightful lunch at Taing Yin Thar Restaurant and return to the hotel for the opportunity to meet with noted Burmese writer and artist Ma Thanegi. During this time, you learn about Myanmar culture, food and traditions. Originally an artist, she offers first-hand insights into Myanmar’s recent history including the uprising of 1988 as she was closely associated to the opposition movement at that time. Strand Hotel – Deluxe Suite (B,L)
Day 3: Yangon / Mandalay / Yandabo
This morning, enjoy breakfast at the hotel before your transfer to airport for a flight to Mandalay. Upon arrival in Mandalay, meet with the guide at the airport and travel at the Minzontaung Wildlife Sanctuary. Here, you encounter the Burmese star tortoise, a critically endangered species originally from the dry zone in Myanmar. The species have radiating star-shaped patterns on a strongly domed carapace. They have bumps on their shells that look like stars. The sanctuary has been breeding tortoises to return to the wild. Spend about an hour or so at this simple but unique project and walk with the rangers through the forest with a tracking device to locate some tortoises in the wild. Visit the breeding center to see more of the tortoise. The simple visitor center set up by Khiri Reach, gives you more information about this endangered reptile. After your visit, continue for lunch at a nearby restaurant. Then continue to the Yandabo village, about a two-hour drive. Upon arrival, check in to the hotel and the rest of the day is at your leisure. Yandabo Home – Standard Room (B,L)
Day 4: Yandabo
After enjoying your breakfast at the hotel, walk around Yandabo on foot. It was historically recognized for the signing of the Yandabo Treaty, which took place under a tree on the riverbank in 1826, between the British and Royal Burmese House of Ava. Yandabo sits along the Ayarwaddy River in central Myanmar. It is also well known for pottery making by its habitants. See pots made out of the riverbank clay. For Yandabo villagers, pottery making is fundamental to store water and food supplies. Continue by local ferry to Pan Nyo village, a unique village that can be reached in about 15 minutes by jetty boat. What makes this village special are an estimated 1,000 buffaloes that each morning at sunrise are walked by their farmers to the fields where they cultivate the greatest variety of vegetables. Return to your accommodation. Yandabo Home – Standard Room (B)
Day 5: Yandabo / Pakkoku / Bagan
Relax this morning and enjoy a leisurely breakfast at the hotel. This afternoon, travel by private car about two-to-three hours to Pakkoku. Visit a local slipper factory and a market. Pakokku is a tobacco trading town in addition to its famous checked blankets made from cotton and thanakha, the outer bark of the Linoria acidissima tree. A private boat takes you for a leisurely trip while lunch is served on board. You then visit Kyauk Gu Ohnmin Cave Temple which is rarely seen by outsiders. Its unique architecture consists of three receding terraces built of stone and brick against the precipitous side of a deep ravine. Continue cruising to Bagan, arriving in late afternoon. The lodge features a spa, fitness center, restaurant and pool. Bagan Lodge – Villa (B,L)
Day 6: Bagan
Start your day with breakfast at the hotel, then begin a full-day tour by car with your experienced guide through Bagan to explore some of the best-known temples of the area. Climb a pagoda for impressive view over the area. Tour some of the other amazing temples that have survived here for centuries. Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant. Later this afternoon, take a horse cart to Pyathagyi Pagoda for sunset and drinks. Bagan Lodge – Villa (B,L)
Day 7: Bagan
Meet your guide after breakfast and travel by private car to Minnanthu village in a beautifully peaceful part of Bagan where the temple ruins are often completely deserted. On arrival, your guide lays out a picnic lunch, home-cooked by a local family. Savor the magnificent surroundings of these ancient ruins and discover several of these sites.
In the afternoon, you see the Khiri Reach water well project and talk with some villagers to learn about the challenges of living in an area of year-round drought. You learn about the water project and engage with villagers and a member of the village committee who manages the project. Bagan Lodge – Villa (B,L)
Day 8: Bagan / Heho / Inle Lake
After breakfast at the hotel, your guide transfers you to the airport for your flight to Heho. On arrival in Heho, your guide welcomes you and transfers to Inle Lake. This half-day tour begins with a visit to Indein Pagoda, a temple with an impressive collection of stupas in the village of Indein southwest of Inle Lake. Surrounded by wild terrain, hills and mountains, the site seems almost to have grown out of the landscape. Take a walk around Inle Lake, enjoy the fantastic views of this large expanse of water and the rural countryside and farms around. For lunch, enjoy a delicious home-cooked meal served at the house of an ethnic Intha family. People have been living on the lake for centuries in wooden houses built on stilts. After lunch, continue toward Nam Pan village for a unique boat trip on the lake in a traditional canoe, paddled by the canoe’s owner. Then, return by motorboat to your hotel. Villa Inle Boutique Resort – Lake Front Single Villa (B,L)
Day 9: Inle Lake
After breakfast at the hotel, get ready for a fascinating day on the lake, located in southern Shan State. This vast natural lake surrounded by traditional Shan villages. The Intha people have been living for many centuries in village built entirely on stilts on the lake. Take a private motorboat around the lake to discover the natural beauty of the lake and visit floating gardens, vegetable beds made from woven reeds and pegged to the lakebed with stakes. Watch the famous leg-rowing fishermen, who guide their boats standing up using their feet. The technique is a tradition that’s believed to date back to the 12th century and is said that standing up in the boat enables the fishermen to see the fish more clearly. Enjoy tea at a local family’s house. On and around the lake traditional markets are held in the villages according to a five-day rotating schedule. Stop at a colorful market frequented by Shan and PaO people living nearby. Learn how Burmese cigars are made and see Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda. Lunch is served on a rice carrier boat in the middle of Inle Lake. The boat has been transformed into an ephemeral restaurant fully equipped. An exclusive experience catered by a service boat and a kitchen boat from Viewpoint restaurant. Villa Inle Boutique Resort – Lake Front Single Villa (B,L)
Day 10: Inle Lake / Heho / Tachileik / Mae Sai, Thailand / Chiang Saen
Enjoy breakfast at the hotel before your transfer to airport for your flight to Tachileik, where you clear immigration and drive across the Thai border to Mae Sai, a major border crossing between Thailand and Myanmar. You are met by your new guide and driver, who takes you by private transfer to your hotel which is perched on a ridge in northern Thailand overlooking the border with Myanmar and Laos. The remainder of the day is at leisure. Your room sports teak floors, hill tribe fabrics and traditional artwork that creates a sense of place with high-tech comforts that ensure your jungle adventure is luxurious. Laze on your cantilevered Thai daybed and gaze at grazing elephants below. Soak in a deep terrazzo tub with partition slid open to take in the view. Anantara Golden Triangle- Deluxe Three Country View (B,L)
Day 11: Chiang Saen
Today you are free to relax at your hotel or enjoy an optional activity such exploring by traditional tuk-tuk and longtail boats. You have the opportunity to visit an award-winning Asian elephant camp to connect with these amazing animals and their mahouts. Setting a benchmark for animal welfare, this camp is home to elephants that have been rescued from illegal logging camps, the streets and elephant shows. Observe, connect and even play with the elephants in their natural environment. *Please note that Big Five does not endorse or participate in elephant-back activities.
Learn about Thailand’s vibrant culinary culture with the chef, visiting the local market to buy fresh produce, stopping for a coffee with the locals and visiting a farm to enjoy a gourmet breakfast picnic. Return to the resort, stopping at the herb and vegetable garden to pick fresh ingredients. Entering the kitchen classroom, learn to make your selected dishes with step-by-step instructions before enjoying your creations for lunch. Then retreat to the spa after an active day or opt for private yoga and Pilates sessions. One adventure is included with your hotel stay, additional activities are optional. Anantara Golden Triangle- Deluxe Three Country View (B,L,D)
Day 12: Chiang Saen / Houay Xay, Laos / Pakbeng
This morning your guide transfers to Chiang Khong border, where you board a cruise to Luang Prabang. Upon arrival, obtain your Laos visa on arrival if you have not previously obtained one. Then clear Immigration and Customs and proceed into the arrival area to meet your guide and driver, who then transfer to the boat pier. Cruise the Mekong River to Pakbeng. En route, you make a stop to encounter rural life along the Mekong. A buffet lunch is served on board. Arrive in Pakbeng before sunset and check in at your lodge. Enjoy dinner on the terrace overlooking the Mekong River. Luang Say Lodge Pakbeng (B,L,D)
Day 13: Pakbeng / Udam Xai / Muang La
This morning you will be picked up from your hotel by your private guide for a five-hour drive to Muang La. Muang La Lodge – Deluxe Garden View Room (B,D)
Day 14: Muang La
You set off after breakfast for your first stop of the day at a nearby small Khamu market. Follow a picturesque route to the first Khamu village, Ban Poung Hieng, before you reach Ban Houay Chang, entry point to the national park at Phouhiphi. Continue passing Khamu and Hmong villages in the heart of the mountainous countryside of northern Laos. These isolated villages are seldom visited so you gain an authentic glimpse at everyday life of villagers working in their fields. The last Khamu-Hmong village is Ban Houa Nam Bak, a large village of around 1,600 inhabitants that is close to the waterfall at Nam Poung, where you get stunning views across the mountainous countryside. The falls are only accessible on foot and require an hour-and-a-half trek that crosses fields around the village before you climb the path to reach the waterfall. As you climb, you will see amazing rock formations and a strong rope helps you climb to the top of one of the formations and enjoy the breathtaking views. Return to your lodge. Muang La Lodge – Deluxe Garden View Room. (B,L,D)
Day 15: Muang La
After breakfast, enjoy a half-hour walk along the bank of the River Nam Pak to the Khamu village of Wang Wanh, where the villagers make sacks using fibers from local plants. You are welcomed by a local family in their rice fields surrounded by hills. Learn about the different stages of cultivating rice and see something of their traditional way of life. Accompanied by your local guide, you gain an understanding of the lies of these villagers in their fields with their buffalo. From choosing the right seeds, planting the seeds, transplanting cuttings to the crucial stage of harvesting the crops – you discover the life of the local farmers. Lunch is in the farm “Sala” giving a 360° panorama of the wonderful countryside in the valley. You will have the time to relax and watch the daily life of the village go by.
After lunch, cross the River Nam Pak on a bamboo raft to go to the Khamu village of Vieng Kham. The villagers are well-known for their weaving skills creating wonderful silks and sarongs. In the village of Muang La, visit the local school and the temple of Vat Pha Chao Sing Kham, a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists that houses a sacred Buddha. Return to the lodge in the middle of the afternoon. The remainder of the day is at leisure. Muang La Lodge – Deluxe Garden View Room (B,L,D)
Day 16: Muang La / Udom Xai / Luang Prabang
Early this morning you set out on a five-hour drive to Luang Prabang. Later this afternoon, you meet your guide at your hotel, who drives you to a local home of a family who welcomes you for a private Baci ceremony, which can be held for a number of different occasions such as a wedding, welcoming or farewell. Then continue to a hidden temple that is rarely visited by travelers. You experience a special encounter with monks who will teach you the fundamentals of meditation. Then you have a unique opportunity to join the monks in their daily chanting. Your guide will be able to translate any questions you may have for the monks. At the end of the day, return to your hotel. Amantake – Pool Suite (B)
Day 17: Luang Prabang
This morning, you meet your guide at the hotel lobby to start exploring this historic and charming heritage town by bike. Get your bike from your hotel and ride to the Vat Xieng Thong, an exquisite 500-year-old temple offering the best example of the classic Luang Prabang style. You will also visit nearby Wat Mai and Wat Sene.
From here, explore local side streets, back alleys and temples. This is a city that could have been designed with slow travel in mind. Stroll through the temple complexes between bike rides and soak up the ambiance and appreciate the hidden charms of Luang Prabang. Continue wandering up the peninsula, stopping at temples and other sites as you wish. Visit the national museum, the former Royal Palace to see relics from Laos’ royalist past. Overlooking the palace is Phousi Mountain. It is said that those who do not climb the 328 steps up have not really made it to the city. Venture up the hill and be rewarded with remarkable views of the area.
After your visit of Luang Prabang, travel south of town to the Kuang Si Waterfall by a van. Here you will enjoy a private picnic lunch by a natural pool. At the falls, crystal waters cascade into idyllic turquoise pools, perfect for swimming. Also, take time to visit the nearby Sun Bear Refuge to learn more about the poaching of these endangered creatures. Asiatic black bears rescued from poachers and illegal wildlife trade live in an enclosure with lots of trees. The center is supported by the Free the Bears Fund, a charity working to protect bears in several Asian countries and to save them from the bear bile farms where they are milked for bear bile used in traditional Chinese medicine.
On the way back to the town, you will stop to visit the Buffalo Dairy, known for its sustainable approach to local farming, and take a guided tour to learn how they work with the local community as well as see buffalo feeding and bathing, a milking demonstration and other chores. Relax in the café and sample the ‘cake of the day’ served with ice cream and tea or coffee before heading back to your hotel. Amantaka – Pool Suite (B,L)
Day 18: Luang Prabang / Depart
This morning, you are be picked up from your hotel and transferred to the airport to connect your onward flight home. (B)
Land price, per person, double occupancy: Price from US$650 per person per day.