Trip Highlights

Trip Highlights

  • Explore the ancient, tree-tangled city of Angkor by bike and photograph its mystical temple ruins.
  • Explore Vietnam’s mountainous north and observe the age-old customs of the area’s hill tribes.
  • Cruise the Mekong River to a Buddhist shrine, taking photos of timeless fishing villages along the way.
  • Spend a night aboard a traditional sailing vessel in Ha Long Bay, and go swimming and kayaking among spectacular limestone islands.
Southeast Asia is home to stunning landscapes and a rich cultural heritage. It’s the first part of the world I explored outside of North America, and I will always be pulled back.
Natasha Daly, National Geographic Expert

Itinerary

Itinerary

Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam share a history that dates back thousands of years, from ancient Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms to French colonization and communist revolutions. On a journey to these three fascinating countries, explore mystical jungle ruins and glimmering temples, experience daily life in colorful markets and bustling city streets, and meet with conservationists working to protect the region’s precious wildlife. On hiking and biking excursions into the countryside, discover remote villages seemingly forgotten by time.

Days 1-4: Siem Reap, Cambodia

Our adventure begins in Siem Reap, gateway to Angkor—the 12th-century capital of the Khmer Empire. Make your way through the jungle to this mystical stone city, and photograph larger-than-life sculptures and intricate doorways tangled in banyan roots; then train your lens on the spires of Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument ever built. Later, hop into a wooden boat to explore the floating villages of Tonle Sap lake, Southeast Asia’s largest lake. Learn about how ethnic Vietnamese families—displaced by the Vietnam War and related conflicts—took refuge on the lake, building their homes on boats and rafts. Float among these watery settlements—complete with schools, clinics, shops, and churches—and discuss the importance of maintaining the lake’s ecosystem, a critical wildlife habitat and vital source of food for much of the country.

Back on land, spend time learning about Cambodia’s tragic 20th-century history. Visit sites and exhibits that commemorate the “killing fields” of the Khmer Rouge, a brutal regime that held power during the 1970s. Analyze the ways in which these historical events continue to affect life in modern Cambodia.

Days 5-9: Luang Prabang, Laos

Our next stop is Luang Prabang, nestled at the meeting point of the great Mekong River and its tributary, the Nam Khan. Wander the sleepy streets of this enchanting city, snapping photos of elegant Buddhist temples and exquisitely preserved French colonial architecture. Venture outside the city on a trek to the mountain villages of the Khmu ethnic group, and spend two nights in a traditional stilted hut. Get to know local youth, and discuss the ways in which daily life in these remote villages contrasts with your own routine back home. Cool off with a swim in one of the area’s magical waterfalls, and observe sun bears and other wildlife at an animal rescue center. Cap off your Laos experience with a cruise along the Mekong River, and explore a Buddhist shrine set deep in a cave.

Days 10-18: Hanoi, Sa Pa, and Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Take a short flight to vibrant Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city. Stroll the narrow streets of the bustling Old Quarter, where the sizzle of street food mingles with the beeping of motorbikes; and sample authentic pho, Vietnam’s signature meat and noodle soup. Then discuss how the country’s struggles for independence—including the “American war” and conflicts with French and Chinese occupiers—have shaped its culture and national identity.

Leaving the city behind, take a trip to the scenic town of Sa Pa. Hike and bike in the crisp mountain air, and capture rippling rice paddies and mist-laden peaks through your lens. Chat with the area’s friendly locals, talking about ways to mitigate human-wildlife conflict in the region. Cap off the expedition with an overnight cruise in Ha Long Bay, where we’ll sleep aboard a junk boat—a traditional Chinese sailing vessel. Reflect on all you have seen and learned during your trip while swimming and kayaking in the bay’s turquoise waters, and present your On Assignment project before flying home from Hanoi.