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Southeast Asia Spiritual Path

Discover a land that is inherently spiritual and deeply traditional. Visit Southeast Asia’s religious centres, from Chiang Mai to Yangon, Luang Prabang to Siem Reap. Participate in time-honoured traditions, wander through enigmatic temples weathered by time and delve into the beliefs that shape the region’s culture.

HIGHLIGHTS

Various activities on sites

  • Cycling tour to explore the town of Luang Prabang with plenty of historic and spiritual sites
  • Cruise tour in Luang Prabang, Tam Coc, and Ha Long bay and admiring the beautiful surrounding
  • City tour of the vibrant cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh and learn about its unique culture and history
  • Visiting various local markets and small villages to interact with local people

Unforgettable moments

  • Delving into the spiritual atmosphere of the ancient Luang Prabang joining the Baci Ceremony and morning alms giving
  • Immersing into the sea of temples in the ancient cities of Bagan and its surrounding area
  • Admiring the amazing Angkor Wat and learning about its turbulent history
  • Admiring the panoramic view from the top of Golden Rock whilst the sun is setting over the horizon
  • Admiring the sunset and sunrise over the horizon whilst cruising along Ha Long Bay

Nature exploration

  • Enjoying the fresh air whilst cruising along the mighty Mekong River to Pak Ou Cave
  • Visiting the countryside of Chiang Mai and enjoying the fresh air of northern Thailand
  • Enjoying the countryside atmosphere of southern Myanmar on the way to the Golden Rock
  • The amazing nature of northern Vietnam whilst cruising through the countryside of Tam Coc
  • The nature of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Ha Long and its surrounding area

Culture experience

  • Immersing into the never fading culture of Luang Prabang whilst joining the Baci Ceremony and watching the morning alms giving
  • Visiting various sacred temples in 4 countries and learning about the significance of Buddhism on their culture
  • Visiting various authentic villages along the way and learn about its local tradition and culture
  • Experiencing the bustling culture of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city with the effect from western culture wave

Map

Detailed schedule

Day 1 - Welcome to Luang Prabang

Arrival in Luang Prabang. Welcome to the spiritual capital of Laos.

Your private car and driver will meet you and transfer you to your hotel for check-in.

At the end of the day, climb the 328 steps to the top of Mount Phousi to enjoy a panoramic view of the city and the surrounding countryside and get back to your hotel by the evening hilltribe market where you may find plenty of local souvenirs to buy such as handicrafts and textiles.

Overnight in Luang Prabang

Notes

Luang Prabang Airport – Luang Prabang (4 km): 15 min

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Day 2 - Luang Prabang - Cycling Tour - Baci Ceremony

Your guide will pick you up at your hotel in Luang Prabang at 08:30 with your adapted bikes.

After doing a fitting and adjusting your bike, you will start your tour by the former Royal Palace, now the National Museum, where you will explore the history of Laos. Continue to Wat Mai, a temple renowned for its golden bas-relief.

Visit Wat Visoun, the holiest temple in the city, which was entirely rebuilt in 1887 after being destroyed by the invading Black Flags from Southern China. In the courtyard of Wat Visoun stands the Watermelon Stupa shaped like the fruit from which it takes its name. Continue passed Wat Aham, which was first built in the 1500s, and on to Wat That where the ashes of King Sisavang Vong are kept inside the large central stupa.

Ride along the Nam Khan River to visit Wat Xieng Thong, the most revered temple in Luang Prabang. Located at the end of the peninsula, close to the Mekong, this temple was built in 1560 by King Setthathirat and is decorated with ornate carvings and mosaics.

Lunch at Tamarind for some of the best local food in Luang Prabang (Lao set menu included).

This afternoon you will leave the town behind and ride to the Phosy Market, where you can join the locals and support vendors by buying fresh products or fruit. Your guide will be here to encourage you to taste some of the exotic flavors of the local fruits, helping to identify new items not found in your grocery store back home!

Continue your ride to Ock Pop Tock. This non-profit organization seeks to preserve traditional weaving techniques, a trade which was once an important source of income for many Lao families but is slowly fading out as modern technology has evolved. A short tour introduces the process of silk weaving from the initial stages of creating the dyes to the final process of loom weaving.

Ride along the Mekong back into town for your final stop of the day. The Traditional Arts & Ethnology Centre is dedicated to exploring the rich diversity of Laos’ ethnic minorities. Traditional costumes, tools, and artifacts are on display alongside in-depth descriptions and written histories. It is a great opportunity to gain insight into the Lao people (note: closed on Mondays).

As the day comes to an end, you will have the unique opportunity to experience one of Laos’ oldest traditions, The Baci.  The purpose of the Baci, which is a mix of Animist and Buddhist beliefs, is to call back escaped spirits to the body. This is something that is very important before major events such as weddings, births, travel, welcoming friends and farewells.

Overnight in Luang Prabang

Notes

Approximate cycling distance: 20Km

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Day 3 - Mekong Cruise to Pak Ou Cave

For early risers, there is a very special dawn visit to watch the monks collecting the alms.  As the sun begins to rise, long lines of orange-robed monks leave their pagodas and walk barefoot down the streets collecting offerings from Luang Prabang residents. It is a beautiful, serene ceremony that highlights the spiritualism of the Laos people. Return to the hotel for breakfast.

Around 10:00, embark on a leisure cruise upstream on the Mekong River, which also gives us a breathtaking view of the tranquil countryside, before reaching the mysterious Pak Ou Caves, two linked caves crammed with thousands of gold lacquered Buddha statues of various shapes and sizes left by pilgrims.  
Along the way, we stop at the village of Ban Xanghai, where they make the local rice wine. 

If time permits, we will drive out of the city to visit Ban Xangkhong, the Thai Lue village, which is famous for its arts and crafts. We also visit the nearby village of Ban Xienglek specializing in making the traditional Saa paper. 

You can either get to the nearby village and join a petanque game with the local team.

Then transfer back to your hotel.

Overnight in Luang Prabang

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Day 4 - Luang Prabang // Chiang Mai

After your breakfast, your private car and driver will meet you at your hotel and transfer you to the airport for your departure flight.

Suggested flight:

Depart Luang Prabang at 13:15 on QV635 (Lao Airlines), landing in Chiang Mai at 14:15.

Upon arrival at Chiang Mai Airport, you will be met and greeted by our Sonasia Holiday guide for transfer to your hotel.

In the evening, enjoy typical Thai cuisine at a charming restaurant nestled on the bank of the Ping River.

Overnight in Chiang Mai.

Notes

Luang Prabang – Luang Prabang Airport (4 km): 15 min // Chiang Mai Airport – Banthai Village (5.6 km): 13 min // Chiang Mai Airport – Tamarind Village (4.5 km): 10 min // Chiang Mai Airport – Ratilanna Riverside (5 km): 8 min

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Day 5 - Chiang Mai - Exploration

Travel thirty minutes by vehicle north of Chiang Mai city to a long-tail dock, where you will take a leisurely stroll around the grounds with herbal garden. Then board a long-tail boat and enjoy a 30-minute cruise on the rural Mae Ping River. Along the river banks, you will see traditional wooden houses and luxury modern residences.

Arrive at the boat landing and walk to Waroros fresh food market, where you can experience the local Northern Thai way of life. From the market, you take a trishaw ride along Tapae Road, past the city walls and along Ratchadamnern Road to Wat Phra Singh, release fish or turtle for your special merit making.

To see the best of Chiang Mai, one should not only know where to go, but also when. On our signature city and temples tour, you will first explore ancient Chiang Mai, including its old city walls, gates, moat and markets. After visiting Wat Suan Dok, where the ashes of Chiang Mai’s royal family are interred, you continue to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, the temple on the mountain, and the most sacred in Northern Thailand.

Your experienced guide will explain the story of the temple, the white elephant and lead you around its impressive chedi and show its beautiful murals. In the late afternoon, the tourist masses have already left the temple grounds and dusk will give a very special atmosphere. After your private blessing ceremony, witness the magical evening chanting of the monks. The tour ends with the spectacularly romantic evening view over Chiang Mai with its millions of glittering lights.

Overnight in Chiang Mai.

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Day 6 - Chiang Mai - Countryside Experience

After breakfast at the hotel, embark on a full-day tour to Mae Kampong village, where villagers produce local tea and coffee. The day starts with a drive through the picturesque countryside, stopping along the way at a local market to buy some fresh ingredients for lunch. Arriving at Mae Kampong, guests will be met by villagers who will then accompany them on a guided stroll through the community forest and tea and coffee plantations.

Returning to the village, guests will enjoy a simple lunch prepared by their local host. After lunch, enjoy a traditional Thai massage and take a walk around the village to see the process the fermenting tea leaves and other traditional local practices. Return to Chiang Mai in the late afternoon.

Overnight in Chiang Mai.

Notes

Chiang Mai town – Mae Kampong (59.9 km): 1.15 hr

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Day 7 - Chiang Mai // Yangon

After breakfast at the hotel, check out and transfer to Chiang Mai Airport for flight to Yangon.

Upon arrival at airport, you will be greeted by your Guide who will accompany you as you transfer to the hotel.

Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon, is a relatively quiet and charming city. Its impressive colonial and spiritual heritage makes it one of the most fascinating cities in Southeast Asia.

After lunch (client’s account), we’ll visit Kyaukhtatgyi Pagoda, home to a 70-meter long reclining Buddha. A visit to Kyaukhtatgyi provides a great overview of Buddhism with murals depicting the life of Buddha. The feet of the statue are carved with traditional symbols and often many locals gathering to pay homage and pray.

Next your guided tour goes to Kandawgyi Park, one of central Yangon’s greenest spots. Here you will see the glittering Karaweik barge, a replica of the royal barge, with the vast lake and views of Shwedagon in the background. Depending on the day of your visit, Kandawgyi may be busy with local families who come here on the weekend to relax in the fresh air.

Then visit to Shwedagon Pagoda the most revered Buddhist temple in Myanmar. Although the origins of the pagoda are unclear, the local legend states that the original structure was built 2500 years ago then renovated several times until taking its current shape in the 15th century. The 8-sided central stupa is 99 meters tall and gilded with gold leaf and is surrounded by 64 smaller stupas and your guide will show you around the massive complex, explaining why this temple is so revered. Enjoy breathtaking views of the golden stupa from this vantage point.

Continue to your hotel for check in.

Overnight in Yangon

Notes

Banthai Village – Chiang Mai Airport (5.6 km): 13 min // Tamarind Village – Chiang Mai Airport (4.5 km): 10 min // Ratilanna Riverside – Chiang Mai Airport (5 km): 8 min // Yangon Airport to Yangon city centre (20 km): 30 – 60 mins

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Day 8 - Yangon - Golden Rock

Today the journey continues at 08:00.

Depart Yangon early in the morning for a journey by road to Kyaikhtiyo and the Golden Rock. The drive to Kyaikhtiyo Base Camp takes around 5 hours.

Upon arrival, head to a local restaurant for lunch.

Then, travel by local, open-air truck along a winding road (45 minutes) and be dropped off at the top, just a few minutes away from the Golden Rock. This huge boulder is covered by gold-leaf and delicately balanced on the edge of a cliff and considered to be one of Myanmar's most holy pilgrimage sites. The pagoda here is said to hold a hair of the Buddha, and Buddhists from across the country come to pay homage to it. 

Overnight near Golden Rock.

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Day 9 - Golden Rock - Bago - Yangon

This morning the tour starts at 08:00.

After breakfast, return to the basecamp by open-air truck and begin the return journey back to Yangon. En route, stop to explore the mysterious 16th-century capital of the Mon-Kingdom.

First, visit Shwethalyaung Temple for a look at the beautiful 55-meter long reclining Buddha. Then, visit a nearby Mon neighbourhood to experience the unique and quiet charm of rural Myanmar.

Continue to the Mon-style Shwemawdaw Pagoda, one of the most venerated religious structures in Myanmar. Its 114-meter tall spire is even taller than the one at Shwedagon Pagoda. From here, take a 15-minute walk to nearby Hinthar Gone Pagoda. The walk passes by many monasteries and nunneries, providing a great opportunity to see the simple, peaceful lives of monks and nuns in this area.

At Hinthar Gone Pagoda there is an extravagant nat shrine with dozens of statues and offerings. Depending on the day, it may also be possible to witness a traditional nat dance.

Note: Schedule depends upon donor offering; can only be confirmed one day before arrival

Next, visit Bago’s strangest, and some would say creepiest, sight. Nearby Kanbawzathadi Palace, the Snake Monastery is an important pilgrimage site where visitors come to see the 9-meter long, and reportedly century old, Burmese Python.  The monastery is devoted to a Buddhist abbot who is believed to have been reborn as a python.

On the way back to Yangon, if time allows, stop at the Allied War Cemetery near Htaukkyan. This beautiful, peaceful cemetery is the final resting place for over 27,000 Allied soldiers.

Overnight in Yangon.

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Day 10 - Yangon // Bagan

After early breakfast at the hotel, transfer to the airport for the flight to Bagan.

Upon arrival, discover one of Bagan’s most famous legends as you follow in the tracks of King Anawrahta and his precious white elephant. The tale states that the King was given a replica of Lord Buddha’s tooth and he placed this on the sacred elephant’s back and set him free. The elephant stopped at four places around Bagan and later the King built stupas at each of these locations. Thus the local Burmese believe that by visiting all four of these places in one day your wish will be fulfilled.

Your Legendary Tour begins with a stop at Shwezigon Pagoda. Although this is one of Bagan’s most famous sites, few people realize the legend behind its creation. The centre piece of Shwezigon is its large golden bell-shaped pagoda situated upon three terraces. The lower-most terrace once featured wood carvings of nat spirits but these are now housed in a small hall within the temple grounds.

Continue on to Tu Yin Taung, a hilltop stupa in the eastern part of the main Archeological Park. As you approach the temple you will be greeted by 500 monk statues which line the road. The stupa’s elevated location offers fabulous views of the surrounding plains, a unique perspective of Bagan and its surroundings.
The next stop is Lawka Nandar which is in New Bagan next to the Irrawaddy River. Lawka Nandar is a bulbous stupa with a cylindrical bell and three octagonal terraces as a base. The temple still functions as a place of everyday worship as it is home to a Buddha relic. We’ll make a stop at Local Restaurant for lunch before continuing on our Legendary Tour.

This afternoon we drive to the jetty where a private boat is waiting to transfer us across the river to Tant Kyi Taung, the last temple on our tour. From the boat, as you cruise across the Irrawaddy, you can see views of the temples in the distance. We travel by local pickup truck (approximately 15 minutes) through the countryside to Tant Kyi Taung. This temple is unique in Bagan as it is thought that many centuries ago, Buddha stopped on the hill where the temple now stands. On the return drive to the jetty we can stop in Tant Kyi village for a short walk around.

Then it is time to return to Bagan, first crossing the river by boat and then continuing to an elevated viewpoint to watch the sun set over the plans.

Return to your hotel for an evening at leisure.

Overnight in Bagan.

Notes

Nyaung U Airport to Old Bagan (9 km): 20 mins Nyaung U Airport to New Bagan (12 km): 20 mins

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Day 11 - Bagan - Exploration

This morning the tour begins at 08:00.

Meet with the Sonasia guide and driver at the hotel, or at the airport, and set off on a full day of exploration in Bagan. This program includes a range of sites, providing a great overview of Bagan’s unique history, culture and local lifestyles.

The journey begins with a visit to Thagyar Pone Temple, a temple with spectacular views over the surrounding plains. This is the perfect introduction to the grandeur and scope of Bagan’s architecture. Next, continue to Ananda Temple, one of the most venerated temples in Bagan, enjoy it in the quiet of morning before all the tour buses arrive.

Afterwards, we head to Myinkaba Village and visit Gubyaukgyi Temple, noted for the beautiful mural paintings on its inner walls and well-preserved plaster carvings on its exterior. Nearby is Manuha Temple and Nan Paya Temple, two smaller temples with nice Buddha statues and stone work that we will check out.

Then, learn more about local culture with a visit to two workshops producing Bagan’s most famous products: lacquerware and woodcrafts. Watch as the skilled craftsmen use techniques passed down through generations to create beautiful handicrafts.

Take a break with lunch at a local restaurant and then return to the hotel for a short rest and escape the extreme heat of the midday sun.

Later in the afternoon, take a relaxing horse cart ride through the temple area, winding along tiny roads past dozens of monuments. Stop at will to take photos or explore temples. Continue to an elevated viewpoint to watch an unforgettable sunset over the plains before returning to the hotel.

Overnight in Bagan.

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Day 12 - Bagan - Blissful Experience

Today start the tour at 05:00.

Get a bird’s-eye perspective of the famous temples with this balloon tour over Bagan. Take a sunrise hot air balloon flight, an unforgettable way to see Myanmar’s famed archaeological site.

Enjoy a cup of tea or coffee and a light snack while watching the crew inflate the balloons. Once ready, the pilot will give a detailed safety briefing and introduction to the ballooning experience. Climb aboard and take off! Rise slowly above the tree line and see the pagodas come into view. Be enchanted by the site of the temples being illuminated by the sun’s early morning rays.

The duration and balloon path are dependent on the wind conditions, but generally the balloon tour over Bagan lasts about 45 minutes to one hour. Descend to ground level where the crew will be waiting. Raise a glass of sparkling wine to celebrate the flight and enjoy a light breakfast while the balloon is packed up. Then transfer back to the hotel.

After breakfast at the hotel, aboard the ‘Elephant Coach’ with an archaeology expert for a half day exploration of the Bagan archaeological zone. The old Chevrolet bus was once used to transport dignitaries during the war and has since been painstakingly restored into a luxurious coach with elegant wood and hand-woven fabrics decorating the interior. Set off in the morning to make the most of the day, examining the main sites and many hidden gems.  

To grasp the sheer scale of Bagan’s archaeological wonders, start with a visit to an elevated point for sweeping views over the plains. Be awestruck by the sight of thousands of monuments rising majestically from the flat, arid landscape.

Then get an up-close look at Ananda Temple, one of the most revered temples in Bagan. The earlier in the morning the fewer tour buses that are here, providing the opportunity to appreciate the architecture and towering Buddha statues without the crowds. Continue to the nearby Tharabar Gate which marks the entrance to the former city of Bagan. Hear how the town was relocated south to avoid damage to the archaeological sites. Explore some of these sites that are less well-known but extremely impressive.

After midday, take a break from touring and enjoy lunch at Sanon restaurant, a vocational training restaurant training and employing young people from disadvantaged communities, and serving delicious Burmese-Western fusion cuisine.

Then head to a local spa based on the expert guide’s recommendation for a 1-hourfoot massage to relax and escape the afternoon heat.

Afterwards, travel by luxury horse cart for a tour passing some of Bagan’s most iconic landmarks. These could include Thatbyinnyu, the highest temple in Bagan, Dhammayangyi Temple, noted for its remarkable brickwork, or Sulamani Temple.

During the late afternoon transfer to a jetty on the Irrawaddy River by the same luxury horse cart.  After arriving at the jetty embark on a short boat ride across the river to a sandbank, otherwise known as a river island, on the western shore.  Enjoy an unforgettable sunset experience including champagne and snacks while watching a group of local people play Chinlone, Myanmar’s national sport involving players kicking a ball made of handwoven rattan.

After this full day luxury sightseeing tour, return to the hotel.

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Day 13 - Bagan // Yangon

**OPTIONAL ACTIVITY: Transfer to the Taungbi Monastery where you will participate in a special traditional Buddhist ceremony. Around 10.30 you will partake in an alms procession where, alongside locals, you will donate offerings of food to the monks. Afterwards you will receive a special blessing from the monks to ensure good luck and happiness. USD 350 donation fee.

After breakfast, visit three lesser-known temples that reflect the diversity of influence in Burmese architecture and religion. Pebinyaung Pagoda, which contains relics in its bell-shaped structure, was built after King Anawratha sent a group of monks to Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka) to help regenerate Theravada Buddhism in that country. The conical stupa construction reflects the influence of Ceylon’s architecture on this site. 

Continue to nearby Bupaya Pagoda, a bulbous structure on the banks of the Irrawaddy which is similar in style to the Tibetan chorte. At its base is an alter to Mondaing, the nat of storms. 

Finally continue to Nathlaung Kyaung, Bagan’s greatest Hindu temple. The structure stands as testament to the religious tolerance that prevailed during Bagan’s heyday.

In the afternoon, transfer to the Nyaung U Airport for the flight to Yangon. Upon arrival be greeted by the guide and transfer to the hotel for check-in.

After freshening up, venture downtown to explore the city centre and its fabulous mix of architecture and sites. The streets are filled with historical buildings many of which have a faded colonial charm not seen elsewhere in Asia. Start at the post office – a lovely historic building- and walk to Sule Paya in the middle of downtown, passing by Strand Hotel, Mahabandoola Garden and Independence Monument along the way. 

Then transfer back to your hotel.

Overnight in Yangon

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Day 14 - Yangon // Phnom Penh

This morning transfer the airport for your international flight to Phnom Penh.

Arriving in Phnom Penh this afternoon, you will be welcomed by your local English-speaking guide who will assist you with your transfer and check in to your hotel. 
Phnom Penh was once considered one of the most beautiful cities in the Orient, and despite its turbulent history and recent development, it still retains much colonial charm. Cambodia’s capital is a bustling city majestically located at the confluence of the mighty rivers of the Mekong and the Tonlé Sap. Wide tree-lined boulevards and many colonial-era buildings reflect the glorious days and add to the charm of the city where Asian traditions meet Western customs in a fascinating way.

This evening you will have a welcome dinner at Bopha Phnom Penh Titanic, the kitchen serves tasty Khmer (and Western) cuisine on the terrace of a breezy terrace restaurant with sweeping river views. Apsara dancing is performed nightly between 7-9pm.

After the dinner, you can either be dropped back at your hotel or at the night market on the riverfront.

Overnight in Phnom Penh.

Notes

Phnom Penh Airport - Phnom Penh (11 km): 20 mins

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Day 15 - Phnom Penh // Siem Reap

After breakfast at the hotel, depart on a city tour in a typical cyclo. First, visit Wat Phnom, which is situated near the northern boundary of the city. The original temple was built in 1372 by a rich Khmer lady named Penh, who found a collection of statues of the Buddha washed up on the riverbank and decided to house them on a nearby hill (“Phnom”). The site contains some good examples of Khmer architecture and statues.

Next, you will head to the National Museum which was designed by George Groslier and the Ecole des Arts Cambodgiens. The museum was built in traditional Khmer style in 1917 and was inaugurated in 1920 by King Sisowath. It houses the world's foremost collection of ancient Khmer archaeological, religious, and artistic artefacts from the 4th to the 13th centuries. Over 5,000 pieces are on display, constituting the repository of the Kingdom's cultural wealth.

Continue on foot to the Royal Palace. This palace dates back to 1866 and was the last palace built during the French colonial period. The same complex houses the Silver Pagoda, named for the over 5000 heavy silver tiles that cover its floors. Its original name is Wat Prakeo, meaning Temple of the Emerald Buddha. In this temple you will view a collection of Buddhas in gold, silver, crystal, and bronze.

After transfer to the airport for your afternoon flight to Siem Reap (45 min). On arrival you will be met by your local guide and transferred to the hotel.

You will have dinner at Marum restaurant set in a delightful wooden house with a spacious garden, and featuring a winning mix of creative local cuisine, Marum is named after the Moringa, or 'Tree of life'. Your visit not only gives you an incredible dining experience, but also helps build a new life for the students in training there! Part of the Tree Alliance group of training restaurants, they provide vocations into the hospitality industry for local street kids and disadvantaged youths.

Overnight in Siem Reap.

Notes

Siem Reap Airport - Siem Reap (8 km): 15 mins

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Day 16 - Siem Reap

This morning, visit Ta Prohm, the temple made famous by the Angelina Jolie film Tomb Raider, which is otherwise best known for the trees and vines growing atop the temple walls. The temple is a perfect example of how nature has crept in and reclaimed its land after the fall of the Angkorian empire. Enter from the east, just as the temple opens (07:30), to avoid the crowds.

Breakfast will be served in front of Angkor Wat at Angkor Café before continuing to visit this incredible temple. Built during the reign of King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century, Angkor Wat is constructed following the model of the temple mountain symbolizing the Mount Meru, home of the gods. Inside the temple, the walls are covered with stone carvings and bas-reliefs depicting Hindu mythology and the wars Suryavarman II fought during his reign. Today, Angkor Wat is figured on Cambodia's national flag as the temple symbolizes the soul of the Khmer people.

From here it is not far to the ancient city of Angkor Thom, the last capital of the Great Khmer Empire under the reign of Jayavarman VII. This city is surrounded by an 8 m high wall, drawing a perfect square. Enter the city through the ancient Southern Gate, an impressive stone gate carved with three-headed elephants and capped by four giant faces.

Continue to Bayon Temple in the center of the city. This 12th century masterpiece is a study in grandeur and is well-known for its mural carvings depicting life at Angkor and the 52 towers featuring faces of the Buddha, looking out over the vast provinces of the Great Khmer Empire. The nearyby Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King are also worth visiting as they are both known for their intricate relief carvings.

Return to Siem Reap for lunch before departing on an adventure for your senses. Pamper yourself over 3 hours with a deeply relaxing spa treatment at Bodia Spa where the wonderfully calming experience is perfect for anyone suffering from a long journey or a hard day’s activity. First a body massage will relax your mind, then an aromatic salt scrub will revitalize your skin and finally a vitamin facial treatment will ensure you are looking and feeling good.

In the late afternoon, enjoy a relaxing cruise in a gondola paddle boat at the moat of Angkor Thom compound while watching a spectacular sunset at Prasat Chroung temple. Cocktails, champagne, canapés and a soft drink will be available on the boat, as your boat paddles slowly along the ancient moat.

Overnight in Siem Reap.

Notes

Siem Reap – Temples (06 km): 10 mins

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Day 17 - Siem Reap

Start your day today at Preak Ang Chek and Preak Angchom, a Buddhist shrine in the center of Siem Reap. This is an interesting spiritual place that is frequented by worshippers at all times. You will see Khmer people arriving with alms, lotus flowers, jasmine bracelets, and incense sticks that are used for their prayers, while Cambodian musicians perform live Khmer music. The shrine is surrounded by stories of power and indestructibility, and you are welcome to make offerings and embrace the powerful spiritual scenery. Preak Ang Chek and Preak Angchom have also come to fame because of the fortune teller at the shrine. You will have a chance to visit him and have your palms read and learn what the future holds for you!

Continue on to see the “gem” of the Angkor area, the pretty temple of Banteay Srey. 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 Srey is unique in that it is constructed of pink sandstone, which is seen nowhere else in Angkor.

Continue to visit the Golden Silk Pheach Farm, a local NGO which helps to revive the ancient Khmer know-how in silk activities and provides job opportunities to more than 100 local staff. The farm area, mulberry trees and weaving ateliers can be seen as part of the guided tour. Golden Silk products are ecologically produced from the yellow silkworm which is unique to Cambodia. Some of the silk products are months, or even years, in the making and each one is unique. This is one for the connoisseurs of high quality craftwork.

Return back to the temple park this afternoon to visit Preah Khan, originally known as “the city of victorious royal fortune,” and now named after The Sacred Sword that some believe may have once been housed here. Built in the late-12th century in honor of the great King Jayavarman VII’s father, this massive temple complex originally had a population of 97,840 in its service. Less frequently visited than its counterpart Ta Prohm (which was built for the king’s mother), Preah Khan is similar in design but is larger and more complex, and features numerous unique structures and carvings. Enter from the east with the early morning light to your back and enjoy the sounds of exotic wildlife that now make the forested compound their home. Venture into the crumbling corridors of the labyrinthian complex in search of hidden features: while Ta Prohm was once the setting of the Angelina Jolie film, Preah Khan offers more of a “Tomb Raider” experience for those willing to explore.

If you’re interested in a few last temples, you may also visit Srah Srang, also known as the “pool of ablutions”, and Banteay Kdei, an impressive Buddhist monastery from the late 12th Century.

Overnight in Siem Reap.

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Day 18 - Siem Reap

Today experience an incredible tour to learn about life in a typical Cambodian village, meet friendly locals and discover traditional village customs and cultures.
Guests will be picked up from their hotel early morning by the local guide and driven to Ta Brak village, 25 minutes out of town. A western packed breakfast from the hotel will be taken and on arrival will meet and sit down with a local family and share this breakfast with them and to learn about local village life early in the morning when generally it is at its most active.

From here a 30 minute ox cart ride through the village will take you to a local market where a short walk through this bustling center will introduce you to Cambodian vegetables, herbs, fruits and other local produce. Continue 1km by foot through the picturesque countryside village, stopping off to meet the local community along the way to observe whatever seasonal activity is happening at that time, such as rice planting, weaving thatch roofs, planting or harvesting vegetable crops, making fish traps etc. Each tour will be different and the activities will depend on the time of the year, the family, and the needs of the local village. The surrounding countryside with its paddy fields and sugar palm trees is very typical for Cambodia.

End the morning at the local pagoda where a special water blessing by Buddhist monks await.

From here make a stop at the 9th Century Bakong Temple, part of the Roluos group and a site of an ancient center of Khmer civilization known as Hariharalaya, before continuing on an interesting boat trip on the Tonlé Sap Lake, where you will have the opportunity to learn about life on the lake. The Tonlé Sap Lake is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and officially designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, covering an area of roughly 2,500 km2, swelling to about 4 times it size in during the wet season: 10,000 km2!

Drive past expansive rice fields and through local villages where rice and fish can frequently be spotted drying alongside the road. Next, board a private wooden vessel for a boat trip along a canal that leads to the Tonle Sap Lake.

Cruise along the canal with houses on either side: depending on the time of your visit, the houses will either have immediate access to the water or stand perched on stilts high above the ground, a phenomena caused by the annual rising and receding waters of the Tonle Sap Lake, Southeast Asia’s largest lake. Pass by the boats and nets used by local fishermen, some of whom you may spot fishing in the waters through which the boat passes. As you near the lake, you will see floating houses that move location with the annual ebb and flow of the lake’s waters.

Along the way, gain a better understanding of the local lifestyle with lunch in a family house. This is a unique opportunity to gain first-hand experience of the way of life of the local people- sitting inside a stilted house while watching the boats pass outside. (Note: Due to fluctuating water levels on the lake and the canals, the village visited will depend on the date and water levels at that time).

Optional: Phare Ponleu Selpak in Siem Reap – (evening)

This evening attend a performance of ‘Phare, the Cambodian Circus’. Starting at 8pm, professional artists of Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS) will perform an inspiring show suitable for people of all ages. Set up in Battambang in 1994 by young returnee Cambodians from the refugee camps who learned about using art as a means of coping with trauma, PPS has played an influential role in promoting and developing Khmer culture over the years after the Khmer Rouge genocide. The hour long show mixes traditional and modern theater, music, dance, acrobatics, juggling and contortion performed in a story about Cambodian lives and society. Student performances can still be seen twice weekly in Battambang but now the circus has arrived in Siem Reap!

Overnight in Siem Reap.

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Day 19 - Siem Reap // Ho Chi Minh City

We will take the morning flight to Ho Chi Minh city, which is still called Saigon by the locals. Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel.

After refreshing up, transfer to a buzzing local market for the start of this insightful Ho Chi Minh city walking tour. Delve right into local life while browsing the stalls, watching the vendors peddle their wares and shoppers bargain for the freshest goods. The cacophony of noises, colours and smells is invigorating!

Walk onwards, stepping into the narrow alleys of the city where tourists rarely enter. See family-run businesses lining the street, learning how the city’s residents live - using their ground floors as shops or food stalls and residing upstairs. See vendors cooking up fresh morning treats and locals queuing up to buy their breakfast.

Continue into a small temple honouring Vietnam’s five ‘mother goddesses’ and hear more about this unique belief.

Following this insight to the city’s spiritual side, wander onto wide streets lined with charming French-era villas and ancient leafy trees. Then step back onto the main boulevards to soak up the city’s contrasts of old and new before returning to the hotel.

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Day 20 - Ho Chi Minh - Cao Dai Temple - Cu Chi Tunnel

It is an early start today on this day trip from Ho Chi Minh City, departing by 07:30 to make the most of this adventure in the countryside. Relax on the drive to Tay Ninh, watching the landscapes change from concrete buildings to rice paddies and villages dotted with wooden houses.

At Tay Ninh visit the Cao Dai Great Temple, with architecture that could have come straight from a Walt Disney fantasy. Admire the whimsical statues and colourful paintings covering this remote temple building. Learn about the origins and beliefs of this unusual religion, which blends the world’s major faiths into a unique mosaic.

Following a lunch break, drive further through the countryside to the Cu Chi Tunnels. Spend the afternoon exploring this incredible network of 200 km underground tunnels. Learn how the Vietnamese resistance fighters constructed the tunnels during the French and American wars. Crawl underground and get a better sense for what life was like living and fighting in the labyrinth of caves and tunnels. Hear remarkable stories of the residents’ resilience and see relics of the wartime weapons.

This insightful day in the countryside concludes in the late afternoon with a drive back to the city.

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Day 21 - Ho Chi Minh // Da Nang - Hoi An

You are free to explore the city of Ho Chi Minh or enjoy the swimming pool of the hotel.

Our driver and guide will come on time to transfer you to Tan Son Nhat Airport for a 40 min flight to Danang. On arrival be welcome and go on a 30-minute drive to Hoi An.

Freshen up at the hotel before going on a walking tour to discover the ancient port town of Hoi An. Despite the passing of 200 years and the ravages of weather and war, the centre of Hoi An remains much the same as it was in its heyday. A walking tour is the best way to see this marvelous town.

After the walking tour, enjoy dinner at Mango Rooms, one of Hoi An’s best restaurants which serves original and creative cuisine that can only be described as Vietnam-Latin American-Japanese fusion. With a combination of refreshing flavours, beautiful presentations and a relaxing atmosphere this eatery has won the hearts of many loyal and happy customers.

Immerse in the romantic atmosphere by the bank in the old town lit up by thousands of lanterns at night. Enjoy the rest of the night at leisure.

Overnight in Hoi An.

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Day 22 - Hoi An - Countryside Cycling Tour

Today’s tour will begin at 07:45. Set off on a Hoi An countryside bicycle tour. Take a short warm-up ride to Hoi An’s main boat pier, board a local ferry boat, and cross the Thu Bon River.

Back on dry land, pedal into the countryside. Pass through picturesque villages where life moves at a slower pace. Pedal across rice paddies and coconut groves, criss-crossing small waterways. Stop often to take photos of the beautiful landscapes.

Along the way there are also plenty of chances to see traditional handicrafts. Visit a wood carving workshop making everything from furniture to statues. See a boat building yard where river boats and other vessels are

created using traditional methods handed down from generation to generation. There may also be a chance to see the production of ‘basket boats’, small woven baskets that can be paddled by one person as a sort of raft. These visits provide a great opportunity to see the remarkable innovation and skills of the Vietnamese people.

Having worked up an appetite, take a break for lunch. A selection of traditional Vietnamese dishes will be served near a family house in a quiet, scenic location. Then it’s time to return to Hoi An. Board a wooden river boat for a relaxing 45-minute cruise back to town, arriving in the mid-afternoon.

Hoi An is a destination with two faces – the charming, old-world trading port of narrow streets and traditional houses, and the beach with its new resorts and a long stretch of clean white sand. In keeping with Hoi An’s heritage as a trading port, the town’s tiny shop houses now host a range of craft shops and artisans including some of Asia’s best bespoke tailors. Despite the passing of 200 years and the ravages of weather and war, the center of Hoi An remains much the same as it was in its heyday. 

Hoi An was a major Asian trading port in the 17th and 18thcenturies and its architecture and relaxed lifestyle have changed little over the years. 

In the afternoon, you will join a lantern making tour.

Our local master lanterns maker will teach you about lanterns during this 3 hour about Lanterns Making Class in Hoi An. During the class, You will learn all the steps of making a lanterns and learn about Hoian lanterns history.

You will also enjoy a short walk around the old town and learn about lantern history 

Then transfer back to your hotel.

Overnight in Hoi An

Notes

If you visit Hoi An on the full-moon day, especially the first full-moon day of the year (around February), do not miss the chance to join the Lantern Festival in Hoi An

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Day 23 - Hoi An - My Son Sanctuary - Hue

08:00AM: Pick up at your hotel in Hoi An then starting the trip to visit My Son Sanctuary, which is cluster of abandoned and partially ruined Hindu temple constructed between 4th and 14th century by the Kings of Cham. The My Son temple complex is one of the foremost temple complexes of Hinduism in South East Asia and is the foremost heritage site of this nature in Vietnam. 

It is often compared with other historical temple complexes in Southeast Asia such as Java in Indonesia, Angkor Wat of Cambodia and Bagan of Myanmar. Even it was ruined partially by time and war, the gorgeous scenery still worth a trip.

Continue to drive to Hue, you will be surprised by Hai Van Pass, the harmonious and splendid beauty of the clouds, mountains, sea, wind and rocks. On the top of the pass, there are the vestiges of long ago, fortified gateway. The American and French bunkers in Hai Van pass provide broaden views for the city without any steep climb. 

Arrive in Hue around late afternoon, check in your hotel.

Located in the central region, used to be capital city of Viet Nam from 17th to 19th century, Hue went through tough times of Vietnam’s war, but many monuments are still preserved. And the royal lifestyle and custom still influence the characteristics of Hue people. Life here is peaceful both day and night without the hustle and bustle.

Overnight in Hue

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Day 24 - Hue - Exploration

Today’s tour will begin at 8:30. Kick off the Hue city day tour at the UNESCO-Heritage Imperial Citadel. Roam the expansive grounds, hearing stories of the majestic buildings and the intriguing former emperors. Take a look at areas damaged by ancient and modern conflicts and learn of Hue’s role in Vietnam’s military history.

Continue by cyclo to discover the tranquil gardens and traditional buildings of the region, before arriving at Tran Dinh Son private museum with a collection of everyday items that past Kings have used. Learn how royal descendants are keeping the family’s traditions alive today.

The next stop is Thien Mu Pagoda, one of Hue’s iconic landmarks. Discover the many unique spiritual and architectural elements of Thien Mu while touring the compound with the guide. Listen to fascinating stories about the pagoda’s 400-year history and enjoy views over the nearby Perfume River before heading to a local restaurant for lunch.

This afternoon, leave the city centre and travel through Hue’s beautiful countryside. Visit the tomb of Emperor Minh Mang, a Nguyen Dynasty ruler well known for his opposition to any French involvement in Vietnam. Explore his remarkable tomb, admiring the imposing architecture and gorgeous forest setting while learning more about this historic leader. Continue to Khai Dinh’s tomb for a tour of this equally remarkable complex. Admire the blend of traditional Vietnamese design with European touches, which makes it unique from the other tombs in Hue.

Continue the trip with a visit to An Dinh Palace, the private residence of Khai Dinh, Vietnam’s last emperor who ruled until 1955. It was built in 1917 with French architectural styles. After the war, the building was seriously damaged and it was recently restored as part of a German Government aid project. Get a chance to get an overview of life of a Royal family through the bedroom, entertainment rooms and library.

Before heading back to the hotel, take time to browse the stalls at Dong Ba Market. The market is teeming with colour and a great place to catch a glimpse of everyday life in modern Hue. 

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Day 25 - Hue // Hanoi

We will take the morning flight to Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam.

Upon arrival, visit the One Pillar Pagoda, founded by King Ly Thai To in 1049, next. This structure is one of Vietnam’s most iconic temples. Close by is the mausoleum of the historic father figure of modern Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, and the former presidents house on stilts where he lived from 1958 to 1969. His former home illustrates the modesty of this Vietnamese revolutionary.  (Viewed from outside; closed Mon and Fri and from Jun - Aug)

At the end of the afternoon visit Hanoi’s Old Quarter also known as the ‘36 streets’. Take a walking tour through charming Hang Be Market and around Hoan Kiem Lake. This bustling area of narrow streets and alleys is home to literally thousands of small businesses and shopkeepers. It's a great place to explore with plenty of photo opportunities.

Finish the day with a Water Puppet show. This is a uniquely northern Vietnamese art form depicting scenes from rural life and episodes of national history.  

Overnight in Hanoi.

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Day 26 - Hanoi - Hoa Lu - Tam Coc - Ninh Binh

This program takes one to the beautiful ancient capital of Vietnam, Hoa Lu; to Tam Coc, for a sampan cruise through picturesque landscapes; and to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Halong Bay, with its stunning limestone outcrops scattered in an emerald sea.

Depart from the hotel early morning for the 2-hour drive through rural northern Vietnam to the site of Vietnam's first capital, Hoa Lu. Visit the temples dedicated to Emperor Dinh Tien Hoang of the Dinh Dynasty (968-80), and Emperor Le Dai Hanh of the Le Dynasty (980-1009). The ancient Hoa Lu Citadel, most of which has since been destroyed, once covered an area of three square kilometers.

Afterwards, if time permits, take a half-hour walk up one of the surrounding limestone karst hills. The climb is rewarding with spectacular views.

Next, travel to Tam Coc, for a Vietnamese lunch.  Stop en route to take photographs of local villages and the stunning landscape.

After lunch board a private sampan* (see options for Tam Coc sampan trip below). As the boat gently slices through the water, notice the enormous limestone karsts jutting out from the green rice fields giving rise to this area’s other name, 'Halong on Land'.

For the adventurous, climb up to Bich Dong Pagoda on nearby Ngu Nhac Mountain.  This pagoda is comprised of three structures dating to 1428: Ha, Trung, and Thuong Pagodas, in ascending order.

*Option 1: Trang An

Situated near Tam Coc, Trang An is a nature reserve similar to Tam Coc however less visited. Limestone hills surround a peaceful river which passes through a series of caves (one which takes 15-minutes to pass through in darkness). An ‘eco-tourism’ area, the only interruptions here are the sound of birds and the gentle paddle of the oar upon the crystal clear river.

*Option 2: Thung Nang

Similar to Tam Coc though not as spectacular, Thung Nang is off the tourist trail and a pleasant alternative. Pass through a cave, fields of lotus (in summer) and reach a quaint pagoda before returning on the same route.

Note: Please be aware that some women on boats may try to sell local products to tourists. Guests should refer to their guide if this situation makes them uncomfortable.

Spend the rest of the day at leisure.

Overnight in Ninh Binh.

Notes

Hanoi to Ninh Binh (110km): 2hrs

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Day 27 - Ninh Binh - Ha Long Bay

This early morning be transferred by road from Ninh Binh to Halong Bay.

Arrive at the pier in Halong Bay towards noon and proceed with check-in formalities for the overnight cruise. 

After boarding the boat you will start a relaxing and wonderful cruise through World Nature Heritage Halong Bay, passing bizarre rock formations, such as the Dinh Huong (the Incense Urn), Cho Da (the Stone Dog), islands with sandy beaches and Ga Choi (the Fighting Roosters) islets. 

You will discover Halong Bay, listed as a World Heritage of outstanding natural beauty, known in Vietnamese as “Dragon descending to the sea“. The picturesque Halong Bay has more than 3,000 limestone islets rising from the clear emerald water, many of them containing beautiful grottoes. 

You will visit Thien Cung grotto situated on the south-west side of the bay, 4 km from the wharf outside of Halong City. The way to Thien Cung grotto is covered on both sides by thick forest. After entering a narrow gate, the grotto’s 130-meter-long girth opens up. 

Getting in you will be more astonished in front of the very animated and splendid beauty which is made from the stalactites. On the east wall of the grotto, there is a grandiose and imposing picture with characters of tales. 

Going out of the Thien Cung grotto, you will have a sensation of just watching a unique, meticulous, interesting fine-art museum which is made by nature. This grotto is one of the most beautiful ones in Halong Bay. During the boat trip fresh seafood fingertips will be served for your delights 

Notes
  • From your hotel in Ninh Binh to Halong Bay (160km): approx. 4hrs
  • Please let us know if you do not eat seafood).
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Day 28 - Ha Long Bay - Hanoi

Enjoy a fresh morning in the middle of the bay, the sun rises on Halong in the morning and breakfast is served (brunch on some boats) while the vessels cruises slowly through the magnificent rock formations and back towards port. Disembark and transfer back to Hanoi

Free for the rest of the day for the last-minute shopping.

Overnight in Hanoi

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Day 29 - Hanoi - Departure

Free to stroll around the town for your own exploration before taking the departure flight

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LATEST BLOG ARTICLES

In Vietnam, the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as Full Moon Festival or Tết Trung Thu, is an occasion for a children’s night out and family reunions. Children enjoy art performances like singing, plays and lion dances, light up the night with colorful lanterns and enjoy mooncakes. 

A long-standing traditional festival that showcases Vietnam’s undeniable charm takes place when nature is at its breathtaking best.

For thousands of years, the Mid-Autumn Festival has been an occasion for family reunions and a children’s night out. It dates back to the Wet Rice Civilization of the Red River Delta over 4,000 years ago.

Back then, rice was harvested before the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. The festival falls on the full moon night of Lunar August, the most beautiful night of the year, when the moon is perfectly round and bright, and shines a magical golden hue.

The event takes place in the middle of the eighth lunar month. In 2022, the festival falls on 10th October. For the upcoming year, please find below in the article. Now, let's see more detail and prepare for it.

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On the lunar full moon, the townsfolk will celebrate Hoi An's bygone days, reenacting cultural activities and honouring ancestors with offerings to shrines and burning incense. The old quarter is pedestrianized (no bicycles or motorized vehicles until 10pm) and fluorescent lights are banned, adding to the old-world charm.)

This is a truly special night where you can wander the old town while it is lit up with lanterns and watch traditional performances, hear musical renditions, poetry recitals or watch as some of the older townsmen play a game of traditional Chinese chess.

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Fresh herbs, hearty soups and powerful, funky fish flavors are just a few of the hallmarks of Laotian food, a cuisine that isn’t widely represented in the world but is showcased at a number of excellent restaurants in some big cities like NYC, Seattle, London, Sydney, or Melbourne.

Papaya salad, beef jerky, sticky rice and laap, or larb, are examples of typical Laotian dishes - there’s a commonality with Northern Thai food that frequently causes the two cuisines to be lumped together. Lao food, though, has unique characteristics that give it a flavor all its own.

Below is our recommended list of restaurants in Laos & some big cities where you can really enjoy the authentic Laos food.

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Ah, while we are learning about Laos traditional dishes, why don't we take a break and take a bite of Laos food history and culture.

In case you want to move directly to the dishes that you prefer, just navigate via the below table of content.

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Sticky rice is the staple food of any Laotian meal. It is called “khao niew” and made from glutinous rice. It contains a higher sugar level than normal rice, which gives it its stickiness.

Despite the name (glutinous rice), Laotian sticky rice is gluten free and therefore great for people with celiac. Sticky rice is steamed and traditionally served in small cute bamboo baskets in Laos called “lao aep khao”.

Sticky rice is a traditional Lao and Thai base dish that is served and paired another delicious main meal. You typically do not eat sticky rice on its own unless it’s been transformed into a dessert that is doused in coconut milk or sugar (if you’ve had Lao food, what I’m referring to here is purple rice). 

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Larb! Larb! Larb!

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Like other dishes in Southeast Asian cooking, the dish combines savory flavors with fresh ones - fresh herbs like cilantro, scallions, and mint, and fresh lime juice. The addition of toasted ground rice also adds texture and nuttiness to the final dish.

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