Expedition Overview

Expedition Overview

  • Explore the World Heritage site of Angkor with a local archaeologist, and go behind the scenes at the Angkor Conservation to view Khmer artifacts that are off limits to the public.
  • Meet a former Viet Cong soldier and hear gripping stories about the Vietnam War and life in the famed Cu Chi Tunnels.
  • Cruise among the floating markets and lush delta landscapes of Cai Be and Can Tho, and glide in sampans between the karst cliffs of Ninh Binh.
  • Encounter critically endangered species at Save Vietnam’s Wildlife rescue center in Cuc Phuong National Park, and hear from local conservationists about National Geographic-funded research into pangolin trafficking.

Itinerary

Itinerary

Delve into the treasures of Southeast Asia, where rural villages, ancient temples, and French colonial cities weave a cultural mosaic that is vibrant and timeless. Contrast Ho Chi Minh City’s neon-lit streets with charming, traditional Hanoi and its intoxicating Old Quarter; then set out into the Vietnamese countryside to discover the spectacular karst landscapes of Ha Long Bay and Ninh Binh. Hear about National Geographic Grantee projects working to conserve endangered wildlife in Vietnam and Laos, and join an archaeologist to explore the ancient, crumbling temples at mystical Angkor.

Day 1: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
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Arrive at Tan Son Nhat International Airport (SGN) in Ho Chi Minh City and transfer to our hotel.

Accommodations:Hôtel Des Art Saigon
Day 2: Ho Chi Minh City
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Spend the day exploring Ho Chi Minh City on a guided tour. Visit the War Remnants Museum; wander the stately Reunification Palace, once the seat of the South Vietnamese government; and spot the building from which U.S. citizens were evacuated by helicopter as Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese army. Admire the ornate French colonial architecture of the Central Post Office and City Hall, and delve into bustling Ben Thanh market, one of the oldest and largest in the country. Navigate stalls selling everything from electronics and handbags to fruits and spices, and replenish yourself with a tumbler of fresh sugarcane juice. Later, gather for a welcome reception and dinner.

Meals Included:Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Accommodations:Hôtel Des Art Saigon
Day 3: Cu Chi Tunnels
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Descend into the famous Cu Chi tunnels, a 155-mile (250 km) network of underground passageways used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. The tunnels connected schools, residents, and hospitals, creating an intricate subterranean city that played an instrumental role in the eventual victory of the North Vietnamese. After emerging from the bunkers, meet with a Viet Cong veteran, and hear extraordinary tales of the war.

Meals Included:Breakfast, Lunch
Accommodations:Hôtel Des Art Saigon
Day 4: Cai Be/Can Tho
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Travel to the market town of Cai Be on the Mekong Delta. Here, step aboard a sampan, a flat-bottomed wooden boat, and cruise to the island of Tan Phong, taking in views of life along the Mekong River. Go ashore for a short bike ride through the villages and fruit orchards of Tan Phong, stopping along the way to visit cottage industries where families produce a range of interesting goods, from roof panels made from coconut fronds to homeware crafted out of water hyacinths. Glide in small boats through narrow canals back to our sampan, and continue our voyage to the village of Phu An in the Mekong Delta. Disembark in time for lunch in an elegant colonial-style villa. After a short walk, travel to Can Tho and check in to our resort.

Meals Included:Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Accommodations:Azerai Can Tho Resort
Day 5: Can Tho/Hue
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Awaken early for a visit to Cai Rang, the most famous floating market of the Mekong Delta. As we float along the waterways in local boats, enjoy the beautiful scenery and the colorful bustle of the market, where hundreds of local farmers and merchants sell their fruits and other produce from wooden skiffs. Venture through narrow canals to a noodle shop to see how traditional rice noodles are produced. This afternoon, fly to the former imperial capital of Hue.

Meals Included:Breakfast, Dinner
Accommodations:Azerai La Residence Hue
Day 6: Hue
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Strategically located between North and South Vietnam, Hue was the seat of the powerful Nguyen family beginning in the 1500s and served as the cultural and political capital of unified Vietnam from 1802 until 1945. Set off down the evocative Perfume (Huong) River aboard a dragon boat, cruising past the imperial city to the sacred Thien Mu Pagoda. Visit this seven-story symbol of Vietnam, originally built in 1601, and then explore the lavish tombs of two Nguyen emperors: Tu Duc and Khai Dinh. Hear the intriguing histories of these two men, whose reigns coincided with France’s colonial rule, and note the fusion of Vietnamese and European design in Khai Dinh’s tomb. After lunch, venture into the Purple Forbidden City, constructed by Emperor Gia Long in the early 19th century. Located in the Citadel of Hue’s Imperial City, it was badly damaged during the Tet Offensive of 1968.

Meals Included:Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Accommodations:Azerai La Residence Hue
Day 7: Hanoi
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Fly to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. Stroll tree-lined boulevards past serene lakes and charming pagodas, as you acquaint yourself with this atmospheric city. See the final resting place of Ho Chi Minh on a visit to the imposing mausoleum erected in his honor. Soak up the lively Old Quarter, where vendors hawk all manner of trinkets and the sizzle of roadside woks mingles with the beeping of motorbikes whizzing by. Finish the afternoon with draft beers at a local makeshift street bar.

Meals Included:Breakfast, Dinner
Accommodations:Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi
Day 8: Hanoi
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Take a meditative walk around Ngoc Son Temple, set in the middle of an emerald-green lake. Sip on a Vietnamese iced coffee, and sample a mouthwatering banh mi—a spicy sandwich served in a split baguette. Continue your exploration of the eclectic Old Quarter, moving from the Gothic St. Joseph’s Cathedral to a colonial-era prison, known by American POWs as the Hanoi Hilton. Stop at the 11th-century Temple of Literature, which includes the Imperial Academy, Vietnam’s first university; and visit the sprawling Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, historic seat of the Vietnamese monarchy and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Meals Included:Breakfast, Lunch
Accommodations:Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi
Day 9: Ninh Binh
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Venture south from Hanoi to Ninh Binh, an unusual karst landscape of vertical green hills and dazzling rice fields in the Red River Delta. Here we’ll be joined by National Geographic grantee Le Khac Quyet, a leading Vietnamese wildlife biologist and avid photographer who will share updates on his latest research. Hop aboard a sampan, paddling past lush paddies and towering limestone cliffs. Later, explore the Van Long Nature Reserve by bamboo rowboat. Spot scores of bird species as you drift along the peaceful, grassy wetland, and search for the endangered Delacour’s langur in one the primate’s last wild refuges.

Meals Included:Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Accommodations:Emeralda Resort Ninh Binh
Day 10: Cuc Phuong National Park
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Spend the day in the misty, lush Cuc Phuong National Park, the oldest and largest natural reserve in Vietnam. Meet the director of the Endangered Primate Rescue Center for a behind-the-scenes tour. Visit the Save Vietnam’s Wildlife rescue center, where orphaned and injured pangolins, civets, mongooses, and other small carnivores are rehabilitated before being released back into the wild. Learn about a project to reduce the demand for pangolins, the world’s most trafficked animal, spearheaded by the center’s founder: National Geographic Explorer Thai Van Nguyen.

Meals Included:Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Accommodations:Emeralda Resort Ninh Binh
Day 11: Ninh Binh/Luang Prabang, Laos
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Begin the day with a morning cruise by sampan through the stunning landscapes of Tam Coc. Then explore the cave temples of Bich Dong pagoda and the serene 13th-century Thai Vi temple, surrounded by beautiful scenery. This afternoon, transfer to Noi Bai airport in Hanoi for our flight to Laos. Upon arrival, check in to our boutique hotel in Luang Prabang and enjoy the remainder of the evening at leisure.

Meals Included:Breakfast
Accommodations:The Luang Say Residence
Day 12: Luang Prabang
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Experience enchanting Luang Prabang, nestled into jungle-covered hills at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. Visit the area’s most revered Buddhist temple, and stop by the National Museum—formerly the Royal Palace—to see the golden Prabang Buddha statue for which the town is said to be named. Later, immerse yourself in a graceful baci ceremony at the home of a village chief. In this uniquely Laotian ritual, cotton cords are tied around the participants’ wrists to wish them good fortune, health, and prosperity.

Meals Included:Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Accommodations:The Luang Say Residence
Day 13: Luang Prabang
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Venture south of Luang Prabang for a glimpse of rural Laos. Hike to the ethereal Kuang Si Waterfall, where milky blue water gushes into tiered limestone pools. Enjoy a cookout lunch prepared by locals from fresh ingredients. Later, see endangered Asiatic black bears at the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre, and hear from a conservationist about National Geographic-funded studies on the threats faced by these gentle animals.

Meals Included:Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Accommodations:The Luang Say Residence
Day 14: Luang Prabang/Siem Reap, Cambodia
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Rise at dawn to witness the age-old Laotian tradition of Tak Bat, the daily almsgiving to Buddhist monks. Watch as hundreds of saffron-robed monks walk quietly through the streets collecting offerings of rice, fruit, and flowers from the smiling locals. Spend the rest of the day at leisure before flying to Siem Reap.

Meals Included:Breakfast, Dinner
Accommodations:Jaya House River Park
Day 15: Angkor
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Rise early to watch the sunrise over the spires of the mesmerizing Angkor Wat temple complex, originally dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu and now a sacred site of Cambodian Buddhism. Delve into the magnificent World Heritage Site of Angkor with an archaeologist as your guide. Built in the first half of the 12th century in the depths of the Cambodian jungle, the mysterious capital of the Khmer Empire is replete with massive towers, carved murals, and enchanting crumbled courtyards. At the walled city of Angkor Thom, wander the Bayon temple and the Terrace of the Elephants, or explore the haunting Ta Prohm, tangled in thick banyan roots. Tour Angkor Conservation and go behind the scenes with the center’s director to view thousands of priceless statues recovered from the archaeological site.

Meals Included:Breakfast, Lunch
Accommodations:Jaya House River Park
Day 16: Kampong Khleang/Banteay Srei
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Set out for the floating village of Kampong Khleang and drift down in a wooden boat to the great Tonle Sap lake, discovering a boisterous floating city complete with markets, clinics, schools, and even basketball courts and karaoke bars. Later, visit Banteay Srei, an exquisite 10th-century Hindu temple north of Angkor Wat, before heading to the Golden Silk Pheach Preservation Center, a Cambodian NGO working to preserve ancient Khmer silk production techniques. Gather for our farewell reception, and take in a traditional Cambodian dance and music performance over dinner.

Meals Included:Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Accommodations:Jaya House River Park
Day 17: Siem Reap

After breakfast, transfer to the Siem Reap International Airport (REP) and catch your flight home.

Meals Included:Breakfast