Time and time again, Southeast Asia proves to be one of the best regions in the world for colourful, delicious cuisine, rich spirituality, diverse landscapes, and plenty of opportunities for relaxation. After India’s Golden Triangle, one of the best travelling routes you can experience in Asia is through the pathway of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. These neighbouring countries have a shared past, with common land boundaries and one of the world’s great rivers, the Mekong, running throughout all three.
While you’re in this glorious part of the world, it makes sense to tie all three marvellous countries into your wish-list holiday. And we’re here to tell you how you can accomplish all this in a little over two weeks. Here’s our 18-day guide to exploring the very best of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.
Day 1: stroll the maze-like streets of Hanoi
Welcome to Vietnam, the land of the Ascending Dragon. Hit the ground running (well don’t run in the Vietnamese heat, please… let’s take it slow) in Hanoi, a city famed for noodles, temples, markets, and lakes. Settle into your hotel, first of all, but once you’ve done that enjoy breakfast in the city, making sure to try some of the coffee for which the country is famous.
On a walking tour of Hanoi, take in the city’s past and its present. Stroll past the colonial architecture, the maze-like streets of the Old Quarter, and peaceful Hoan Kiem Lake – where locals walk their dogs, perform Tai Chi or simply gaze at the island’s beautiful Ngoc San Temple.
By night, take to one of the local eateries – perhaps Hong Hoai's Restaurant and Tung’s Kitchen – and try something new. You might like to opt for the old favourite, pho, but if you’re feeling adventurous, Vietnamese cuisine is extremely tasty and diverse. Check out our guide to our favourite Vietnamese dishes in another blog post.
Day 2: dive into Hanoi’s past
Continue getting to know the fascinating city. Perhaps you might like to explore Hoa La Prison, which is also regarded as the “Hanoi Hilton”. Here, captured American military personnel were incarcerated during the Vietnam War. What’s also worth checking out is the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the Imperial Citadel and the captivating and aesthetically pleasing Temple of Literature.
Be sure to stop off at Ba Dinh Square after a spot to eat. Here, Ho Chi Minh declared Independence in the mid 20th-century. If you still have a bit of energy left after your big day of exploring this dynamic Southeast Asian city, enjoy a traditional Water Puppet Show with your dinner.
Day 3: cruise the UNESCO-listed Halong Bay
Now, you can’t head to Northern Vietnam without heading up to the UNESCO-listed wonder that is Halong Bay. Made up of 1,600 islands and islets, the bay is world-famous for its characteristic limestone pillars, surging from the sea.
To see the best of this unique landscape, book yourself onto a traditional junk boat for an overnight cruise. During your journey, you will notice floating villages, paradise beaches, pearl fishermen, and more.
Day 4: see the delights of Hoi An
After you have enjoyed the classic Halong Bay sunrise, head back to Hanoi and board a flight to Da Nang, from there, you will transfer to Hoi An. Hoi An is another UNESCO-listed marvel. Spend the rest of the day relaxing and recuperating in Hoi An, and enjoy a Vietnamese feast in one of the city’s exquisite restaurants.
Day 5: Thu Bon river cruise
Hoi An simply has so much to offer the curious traveller. Wander the city’s ancient streets, marvelling at the Japanese Covered Bridge, the Chinese Assembly Halls and the historic Ong Hoi An pagoda. You can’t miss the colourful local street markets or the world-class tailors where you can get custom clothing at an affordable price.
In the afternoon, take a cruise on the Thu Bon River all the way to the quaint village of Tra Que. In this food bowl of central Vietnam, where there are rice paddies and rivers as far as the eye can see.
Day 6: a day in the mountains
Just a short drive out of Hoi An lies Son Tra Mountain, also known as Monkey Mountain. Here lies an incredible Lady Buddha statue, which is the tallest Buddhist statue in the entire country. Next up is the striking Âm Phủ cave, where there's a replica of the Buddhist idea of heaven and hell.
A little further and you will find the Ba Na Hills. You can journey up on the cable car and wander along the gigantic handles of the Golden Bridge (Cau Vang), while taking in all the incredible views. Spend the night in the beachside resort of Da Nang, taking a sunset swim if you fancy it.
Day 7: road trip to Hué
Take a drive to the awe-inspiring Hai Van Pass to see the restored tomb of Emperor Tu Duc. Then continue onto the imperial city of Hué, which used to be the nation’s capital. Hué is still home to a number of elegant pagodas, royal tombs, historic temples, and the restored Imperial City of the Nguyen Dynasty in the centre.
Day 8: fly to Ho Chi Minh
Take a short flight to Ho Chi Minh City, known previously as Saigon. The city is home to an eclectic French colonial past, meaning you can enjoy culinary delights such as banh mi and more. Save some time to check out the city’s General Post Office, the Reunification Hall, the Xa Loi Pagoda, the War Remnants Museum, and the Ben Thanh Market for as much Vietnamese street food as you can eat.
Day 9: Explore the Mekong Delta
There’s no doubt you are familiar with the Mekong River. Traversing through six countries for an impressive 2,703 miles, the Mekong is one of Asia’s natural wonders. And on day nine, you’ll get to see it up, close, and personal. Head on over the modern Rach Mieu Bridge to My Tho, and then board the boat that will take you to the relaxing delta town of Ben Tré, before you cruise even further along the river. On the way, there is plenty to see and do, including fruit farms and workshops in local crafts and cooking.
Day 10: get an aerial view of Ho Chi Minh
By day, enjoy some unparalleled views of the city from Bitexo Tower. This tower offers an incredible sky deck that towers 861 feet over the city, meaning you can take in the city below and also views of the river. By night, head to the elegant Saigon Opera House – one of the city’s iconic buildings – to see a range of performances, from opera to contemporary dance, to musical theatre.
Day 11: take to the Chu Chi Tunnels
You’ve been up to the tower that looms over the skyline… now it’s time to get a little lower. The Cu Chi tunnel complex is part of a fascinating underground labyrinth that was previously used by the Viet Cong. After exploring this historic site, take a journey west to Tay Ninh, where an intricate, stunning Great Temple awaits you. And that’s a wrap for Vietnam. Are you ready for the next country?
Day 12: explore the capital of Phnom Penh
Farewell Vietnam and head across the Cambodian border at Bavet to the Cambodian capital city of Phnom Penh. Settle into your lodgings before taking the afternoon to explore the city.
You can’t miss the Royal Palace, with its Silver Pagoda, the view from ancient Wat Phnom, and the Tuol Sleng Museum, which charts the cruelties and oppression of the Pol Pot dictatorship. Wrap up the sightseeing in time for a delightful and delicious dinner at the waterfront Foreign Correspondents’ Club.
Day 13: scenic drive to Siem Reap
It’s time to delve even deeper into the incredible country of Cambodia. Journey out into the Cambodian countryside and take in the fresh air. After a day of road tripping past incredible local sights like farming communities and small villages, you will arrive in Siem Reap, where you can rest and enjoy a bite to eat before a big day ahead.
Day 14: cruise the lake of Tonlé Sap
Journey to the village of Kampong Phluk and take to a wooden boat which will ferry you across the waters of Tonlé Sap. This incredible lake is home to a village that is constructed entirely on stilts! These fascinating floating communities are full of people who make their living from the waters below.
Back in Siem Reap, there is plenty to do, including exploring the Angkor National Museum, which gives important context to your temple visit to follow.
Day 15: marvel at the delights of Angkor Thom
See the sun rise over the five towers of Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious building. Aftert this, venture out to the “lost city” of Angkor Thom, the great jungle citadel of the Khmer Empire, which ruled close to half of Southeast Asia for almost six centuries. Other highlights include the Bayon Temple, with its strong carved faces, as well as the almost-concealed Ta Prohm Temple. By night, take to a traditional Khmer restaurant for a well-earned feast.
Day 16: fly to Luang Prabang, Laos
Another day, another country. Now that Cambodia has come to an end, take your flight from Siem Reap to the royal capital of Laos, Luang Prabang. Settle into your hotel, get some rest, and as the sun sets, get to know some of the city’s best French-influenced food at the restaurants and street food markets.
Day 17: get to know the city of Luang Prabang
Set off early to make the most of your time in this laidback, spiritual city. Pay a visit to the divine Wat Xieng Thong temple, the royal temple of Wat Mai and the former Royal Palace, which is now home to the National Museum. If you have time in the afternoon, head to the shrines on Phou Si hill and take in the views of the city below.
Day 18: adventure to the glorious Kuang Si Falls
It’s time to journey to Kuang Si Falls, a set of stunning cascades formed by a Mekong River tributary. This fast-flowing, triple-tiered natural wonder is a stunning shade of blue, so you might be tempted to take a dip in some of the designated swimming areas. On the way back to the city, you’ll get the chance to drive through a pastoral landscape of rice fields and charming local villages, as well as a vibrant butterfly farm.
Experience Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos all at once on an escorted tri-country tour with us.