London - In flight
Titan’s VIP door-to-door travel service collects you from home, for your journey to London Heathrow Airport for a scheduled Singapore Airlines flight to Chiang Mai via Singapore.
Singapore - Chiang Mai
On arrival we transfer to the Empress Chiang Mai Hotel (4T) or Suriwongse Hotel (3T+), our base for two nights. The remainder of the day is at leisure in Thailand’s attractive and laid-back northern capital.
A morning sightseeing tour takes in the Thai Elephant Care Centre, a fascinating and poignant sanctuary for elderly elephants, and two of Chiang Mai’s finest temples - the atmospheric 15th century Wat Chedi Luang, and gleaming Wat Suan Dok Temple, with its gold and white stupas. After lunch at a local restaurant, there is time to relax or make your own explorations this afternoon.
Chiang Mai - Golden Triangle, Chiang Rai
Neighbouring Chiang Rai, more peaceful still, is set in a region of exceptional natural beauty. We take some time to get to know the small city, with visits to the White Temple (truly breathtaking on a clear sunny day, its pinnacle roofs and embellishments reflected in still waters), the splendid Baan Dam (‘black house’) and Wat Phra Kaew, the temple of the emerald Buddha, set in lush surroundings. After an included lunch in a local restaurant, we make an excursion to two enthralling hill-tribe villages - those of the Yao and the Akha, the latter renowned for their exotic and beautiful costumes. Our hotel in the Golden Triangle, Chiang Rai is the Imperial Golden Triangle Resort (3T).
The ‘Golden Triangle’ region actually owes its romantic-sounding moniker to the CIA, which historically monitored its opium production. Today we visit Chiang Rai’s Hall of Opium Museum to find out more about this mysterious substance and its 5,000-year history, which included wars for trading supremacy fought between Britain and China. Then, after lunch, we enjoy a pleasure boat trip on the Mekong and discover the temples of Chiang Saen, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Golden Triangle, Chiang Rai - Chiang Khong - Mekong cruise - Pakbeng
This morning, we transfer to the frontier town of Chiang Khong, where a bridge spanning the Mekong links Thailand and Laos. Here we embark on a scenic Mekong cruise, making leisurely stops at various hill-tribe settlements. We take an overnight bag (leaving heavy luggage on the boat) to the Luang Say Lodge (3T) tonight, set in idyllic and tranquil riverside surroundings.
Pakbeng - Mekong cruise - Luang Prabang
Early risers can join an optional trip to a characterful local market, then our cruise continues to Luang Prabang by way of Ban Baw, a hill-tribe village renowned for its silks, cottons and Lao whisky, and the spectacular Pak Ou Caves, carved out by the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Ou rivers and now home to over 4,000 Buddha icons. Our hotel in Luang Prabang is Villa Santi Resort (4T) or Sanctuary Luang Prabang (4T).
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most entrancing places in Asia, Luang Prabang features on many a traveller’s ‘must see’ list. Here, where the Mekong and Khan rivers meet, may be found 33 gilded wats (temples) adorned with colourful mosaics and frescoes, attended by Buddhist monks in traditional saffron robes. And there are echoes too of French colonialism, in the faded grandeur of the city’s villas and boulevards. Our city tour takes in the former Royal Palace, now the National Museum, and three magnificent wats - Wat Mai, renowned for its golden bas reliefs; Wat Sensoukarahm, boasting a dazzlingly beautiful golden façade; and 16th century Wat Xieng Thong, the city’s most revered temple, decorated with ornate carvings and mosaics. In the afternoon, admire scenic views en route to pretty Kuang Si Falls and a neighbouring bear sanctuary, where 23 Asiatic black bears are protected from poaching. In the evening, there is the opportunity to participate in the unique Baci ceremony, traditionally performed in celebration of weddings, births or the arrival of important guests. The Lao believe that the essence of each person consists of 32 spirits, and the Baci ritual, involving special flower trays and food, calls back any that may have escaped.
Early risers can join an optional dawn walk to watch those saffron-clad, barefoot monks collect alms in a serene ceremony so evocative of the spirituality of this nation and its people. After breakfast, we head back out to a morning produce market, packed with exotic foodstuffs used in Lao cuisine, and the riverside Ock Pop Tok Living Crafts Centre, which specialises in colourful local textiles from Buddhist scarves to prayer flags and dowry gifts. Take the time to relax this afternoon, or enjoy an optional Storytelling Theatre excursion, where the history and legends of Luang Prabang are recounted in the most engaging style.
Luang Prabang - Siem Reap
We transfer mid-morning to the airport for a Lao Airlines flight to Siem Reap. Upon arrival, we transfer to Le Meridien Angkor (4T+). Dinner is included at the hotel this evening.
Siem Reap (Angkor)
Though breathtaking Angkor Wat justifiably takes the plaudits, Angkor is not just one temple, but the architecture of an entire civilisation, the Khmer Empire, now lost to history. Monumental buildings are scattered across an area of some 400 square miles of jungle, yet this was once a single megacity - the biggest settlement in the pre-industrial world. The entire expanse is now protected and recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We visit sprawling Angkor Thom, with the temple of Bayon at its heart, noted for its Gothic towers adorned with 216 gargantuan faces; haunting Ta Phrom, where trees and vines are intertwined with the ancient stones so seamlessly as to appear part of the design; and, of course, Angkor Wat, the height of Khmer genius, a temple complex of extraordinary artistic skill and perfect harmony. The sun sets over its lotus towers as we conclude our explorations.
Discover life in a traditional Cambodian village this morning, as we join a local family in their house, for breakfast. We then visit the serene Bakong Temple, the core of the first Angkorian capital, and a traditional water blessing by Buddhist monks at a local pagoda. The afternoon is at leisure to reflect on a wonderful tour, then we gather once more for a delicious farewell dinner.
Siem Reap - In flight
After a final visit to a local market and the Artisans d’Angkor organisation, dedicated to the preservation of Khmer arts, we transfer to the airport for a scheduled Singapore Airlines flight to London Heathrow via Singapore.