Lost Kingdoms Rediscovered: Art & Culture of Laos and Vietnam
January 9-25, 2018
The neighboring Buddhist countries, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia also share a wealth of ancient sites, lush locales abounding with tropical flora and fauna, national parks sheltering endangered species, stunning traditional and French Colonial architecture all packaged with Asian graciousness. In this unique blend of temples, touring, arts and crafts, you will have an experience few travelers have encountered.
Vietnam, a fascinating sliver of a nation enjoys a rich and varied history, stunning art and architecture, a justly famed cuisine and a wide-range of high-quality fabrics and crafts.Our trip is designed to expose you to the best of these elements in the comfort of elegantly designed boutique hotels and with a pace that is never harried.
Begin your trip in the bustling city of Hanoi–a hodgepodge of wide tree-lined boulevards, expansivelakes, remodeled French colonial palaces and villas, tranquil Buddhist temples and traditional Chinese inspired architecture. We will explore the Old Quarter of Hanoi with our local guide. Each street in this area is named after the are. You will visit streets where the artisans both sell and products, towels, fragrant herbs and flowers, lanterns, Buddhist statues and alters, and more. You will see a performance of the famed water puppets, visit all the most important sites and museums, and be informed by an esteemed local scholar. You will also experience the essence of Northern Vietnamese cuisine in lovely settings.
From Hanoi we travel to tranquil and placid HaLong Bay, and take off for 24 hours on the gorgeous bay of granite outcrops. We travel with one of the best quality boats on the Bay, a wooden vessel modeled on the old Vietnamese court sailing vessels. Your cozy cabin is equipped with private shower, twin beds, fans and air conditioning (which will not be needed). All our meals, usually based on fresh sea food are provided. You will motor around unbelievable land and seascapes, and hop into motor boats to see it up close. You dock for the night in a lagoon completely ringed by sheer mountains with trees eking out a living on hanker chief-sized ledges and explore wondrous caves. Magical!
Our next visit is the Imperial City of Hue, halfway down the country. Here we will visit the lavish Forbidden City of the last Emperor, visit the museum where the treasures from his palace are stored, and visit two imperial tombs from the 19th century–huge complexes with lakes, bridges, temples, sepulchers, theatres and living quarters. During our stay in Hue we will also visit some important Buddhist temples, including the monastery of the famed monk Tich Nach Han.
Our final destination is an easy drive made overland via Danang, to Hoi An in Central Vietnam,designated a World Heritage Site primarily because it somehow managed to preserve its charming old town, reminiscent of 100 years ago. A river trading post only 4 kilometers from the ocean, Hoi An was once a thriving port with a large Chinese and Japanese population. Their influences on the architecture are stunning. Most of the buildings are two-story, with wooden balconies on the second. The interiors are made with dark wood, Chinese inspired furniture, Japanese inspired interior architecture, and Vietnamese floor-plans. The latter usually means a courtyard in the center and rooms opening off, for the maximum indoor-outdoor living. There is an elegant Japanese bridge spanning a little tributary, but the Buddhist temples are the true hearts of the community and still look as they did when they were built. We will make this charming town our base for five nights, while we enjoy performances, take a cooking class, learn about local arts and crafts, and see all the most important sites in the outlying areas, with plenty of time to wander the old town, exploring the many houses, community centers and temples that are open to the public.
Laos, the sleepy little sister of Vietnam, is a landlocked country a quarter of the size of its neighbor, but sharingmuch of its history. Sparsely populated and heavily f orested, the northern, mountainous area hosts farming communities of hill tribes, who also maintain homes along the Mekong and Nam Than rivers. The south is flat and more industrial. A poor country who only recently opened to tourism, it has the dubious distinction of being the most heavily bombed country in the world, thanks to the US government policies during the Vietnam war. The capitol city of Vientiane, and the smaller town of Luang Prabang, host numerous beautiful old French colonial mansions and monuments, in the process of being restored. Luang Prabang, arguably the most beautiful town in SE Asia, has such an abundance of architectural treasures the entire town has been declared a world heritage site by UNESCO. A fitting locale
in which to end our journey. Luang Prabang sits in the mountains in the north. The town is framed by two rivers, and hosts thirty two temples. The number corresponds to the rather large monastic population. Every morning at 6:00 they begin a walk around town from their respective temples, alms bowls swinging open to receive sticky rice, money, and whatever the local women have cooked for them. The completely silent procession of saffron robes and women sitting on the sidewalk giving merit is breathtaking.
During our five-night stay in this unique locale, we will explore the stunning local architecture, visit th old palace and museums, tour the vast array of tranquil temples, visit artists and crafts people, and view performances of traditional dance and music. You will explore the countryside, enjoying a beautiful short trek to the gorgeous Kuangsi waterfall, visit local villages, and take an excursion by boat up the Nam Ou river to the Tamting cave, housing thousands of Buddha’s brought by devotees.
If shopping is your cup of tea, all our destinations are shoppers paradises, and in SE Asia, your money goes a long way. Hanoi is teeming with artists and galleries–an astonishing number of painters, as well as artisans and crafts people. Our time there will give you an overview of quality and what is available.
While visiting HaLong Bay you will have an opportunity to purchase and array of beautiful pearls farmed by the locals. Hoi An is known for its speedy tailors, with uncanny ability to copy photographs of the clothes you want and also produce some pretty amazing silk. There are also some cobblers who hand-make made-to-order neighborhood associations and workshops.
Itinerary January 9-25, 2018
Day 1 Tues. Jan. 9: (All meals) Depart the USA from New York, LA or San Francisco aboard Tai Pei-based Eva Airways. Cross International dateline and lose one day, which is made up on your return.
Day 2 Wed. Jan. 10: Arrival at Hanoi (D) Arriving at midday at Noi Bai airport in Hanoi, you’ll be met and driven to your hotel. You’ll have time to relax after your journey before a ‘Welcome Dinner” at a restaurant in a restored French colonial building. In the evening, you’ll have tickets for a performance of traditional Water Puppetry, an art form unique to northern Vietnam, and a good, lighthearted introduction to its rural culture. You’ll spend the night in Hanoi.
Day 3 Thur. Jan. 11: Hanoi (B) You’ll have the entire day to explore Vietnam’s capital city. You’ll begin our day with the visit to Ho Chi Minh’s impressive Mausoleum and the creative and adventurous museum next door which documents his life. After lunch you’ll also explore the excellent Ethnology Museum for an overview of Vietnam’s 54 distinct ethnic groups.
Day 4 Fri. Jan.12: Hanoi (B) The day begins with a visit to the Hanoi’s Fine Arts Museum. After lunch we tour the Old Town, visiting some traditional houses and cyclo’s through the old town to the Big Market. You’ll also visit the Temple of Literature, dating to the 11th century, and fine piece of architecture itself.
Day 5: Sat. Jan. 13 Hanoi (B) Today we will visit the home/studio of a respected lacquer artist to learn about her unique process. Then visit the Fielding Lecht Gallery, considered the top art gallery in Hanoi. Afternoon free to visit more galleries or enjoy the fantastic shopping possibilities in Hanoi.
Day 6 Sun. Jan. 14: Hanoi/Ha Long (B, L, D) After an early breakfast, you’ll leave for Ha Long Bay, one of the most spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Areas and the world’s largest marine limestone ‘karst’ landscape. There you’ll board your boat, a wooden junk built from the model of the old Vietnamese court vessels with sails, a wide transom and rectangular superstructure, that will take you first to the busy World Heritage area and then to some of the less well-known grottoes and a spectacular Sung Sot cave. Weather permitting, you’ll be able to swim, fish, climb a hill (not a mountain!) for an overview of the Bay’s remarkable seascape. All your meals will be provided on board, usually based on fresh seafood, and you’ll sleep in a twin cabin with an private toilet and shower.
Day 7 Mon. Jan. 15: Hue (B, L) You’ll spend the morning cruising Ha Long Bay, and venture into some of the sea level caves in a small sampan. Enjoy lunch just before docking around noon. On our return, we stop in a small, untouristed village for a visit and also a pottery factory before going to Hanoi Airport for our flight to Hue, where we are met by our local guide for central Vietnam, and check into our grand old hotel for the evening.
Day 8 Tues. Jan.16: Hue (B) After breakfast, an all day tour of Hue. First you’ll visit the Imperial Citadel of Hue, where we will enjoy a performance of dance, music and theatre followed by a visit to the nearby Antiquity Museum. In the afternoon we visit Thien Mu, a tranquil pagoda in the banks of the Perfume River Pagoda, and then visit Emperor Tu Duc’s elaborate Tomb and also Minh Mang (1841). Our final stop is a visit to the monastery of Vietnams most famous living icon, the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Han.
Day 9 Wed. Jan. 17: Hoi An (B, L) After breakfast, you’ll be met by our guide and driven to Hoi An via the Hai Van Pass. In Danang we stop for lunch, and also tour the Champa museum there, where statues from My Song are housed. After a stop at a local coffee shop for a taste of “Weasel Coffee,” travel on to Hoi An, a world Heritage site and An ancient trading port, once the largest in Indochina. Hoi An was a meeting point for many cultures that left their mark in the different architectural features of its wooden buildings.
The original traditional street pattern still exists, as does the quay that once welcomed ships from all over East Asia and beyond. Many remained there for months at a time, waiting for favorable trade winds to carry them home. You’ll have a guided walking tour of Old Hoi An, including homes, temples, market, neighborhood associations and workshops.
Day 10 Thur. Jan. 18: Hoi An (B, L) This morning you will enjoy a half-day gourmet cooking class, beginning with purchasing ingredients at the local market, culminating in a 5 course lunch. Late afternoon you have a class in making traditional silk lanternDay 11 Fri. Jan. 19: Hoi An (B) Early morning visit to the Ancient House for which our hotel is named, and the noodle production kitchen that supplies most of the towns kitchens. After breakfast, our day begins with a concert by the local dance and music company in Hoi An. Afternoon free to shop or continue to explore the ancient pagodas, temples and houses of Hoi An.
Day 12 Fri. Jan. 19 : Hoi An//My Son/Hoi An (B) Early morning departure to visit the World Heritage My Son Sanctuary, once the spiritual capital of the Cham Kingdom that dominated SE Asia for nearly a thousand years. Its remarkable brick towers were badly bombed, but are still impressive, as is its remote valley setting in a quiet, richly forested area, bisected by a clear stream. Onsite performance by Champa ethnic dancers. You’ll be free in the afternoon.
Day 13 Sat. Jan. 20: Hoi An/ Danang/Hanoi/Luang Prabang (B) Check out and proceed to the airport for our connecting flight to Luang Prabang, Laos, a beautiful French-Colonial style World Heritage town registered by UNESCO. Check into our hotel in the ancient capital of the Lao kingdom, beautifully situated between two rivers, and surrounded by forest enshrined hills. Here time appears to have stood still, giving the visitor an vision of the old Asia. Evening meal at one of Luang Prabang’s famed restaurant
Day 14 Sun. Jan. 21: (B) Luang Prabang Breakfast and then we scale the Phousi mountain, climbing 238 steps, and providing an overview of Luang Prabang town. On our decent, visit the the National Museum housed in the former Royal Palace next door. The collection of sovereign artifacts and treasures reflect the richness of the Lao throne from the early Kings to last sovereign. After lunch, we visit a silversmith, then travel a short distance to a ethnic Hunan village of weavers. Evening performance of dance and music at the Royal Palace.
Day 15 Mon. Jan. 22 : Luang Prabang (B) Morning we start early–a predawn walk in the temple district to participate in the daily ceremony to earn merit by giving rice to the monks who file down the street with their begging bowls. Return to the hotel for breakfast, followed by a visit to the morning market to discover what the locals are buying. Then a tour of the architectural charms of the Old Town with our guide to discover why this charming town has been declared a “living museum.” Then a visit to Wat Xieng Thong, built by the local king in 1560, and considered the most beautiful in Laos. Our tour concludes with lunch overlooking the Mekong River. Afternoon free to explore Luang Prabang.
Day 16 Tues. Jan. 23: Luang Prabang (B) Morning excursion by boat up the Nam Ou river, one of the most beautiful in Laos. At its juncture at the Mekong river we’ll visit the Tamting holy cave, housing thousands of Buddha’s brought by devotees. Following this, we continue on to Ban Shanghai distillation village, where they produce alcohol from sticky rice. Return to Luang Prabang for lunch by the Mekong River. In the afternoon, enjoy a class in your choice of Hmong batik, a natural dyes class or a weaving class.
Day 17 Wed. Jan. 24: Luang Prabang (B, D) Breakfast, followed by an excursion overland to a beautiful short trek to the stunning Kuangsi waterfall. We have lunch there, then perhaps enjoy swimming in the falls. On return we stop at Ban Sangkong, a village making paper from mulberry trees. Evening meal in the home of a local family, noted for their excellent cooking, and a traditional Baci ceremony to wish you luck and happiness in the coming year.
Day 18 Thur. Jan. 25: Transit (B) Depart Luang Prabang for our connecting flight to Bangkok and your home It is also possible to add on a 5 day, four night excursion to neighboring Cambodia to view the splendors of Angkor Wat.
- RT Air from LAX or SFO on Eva Air. Ground Only deduct $1400.00
- One way domestic flight tickets in Vietnam: Hanoi/ /Hue/Danang/
- Hanoi and OW International Air Hanoi/Luang Prabang/ Bangkok
- 1 night upscale Boat cruise on Ha Long Bay.
- Where necessary, entry fees for all visits as mentioned in the program.
- Private transportation by mini bus, long boat, taxis.
- Accommodation in twin share room, with full buffet breakfast at all 3,4 & 5 star hotels.
- 7 performances of music,dance and puppetry.
- All programs mentioned in the itineraries, and all entrance fees and village donations.
- Local English speaking guide in both Laos and Vietnam, with Made Surya and Judy Slattum supplementing
- Breakfast and other meals where mentioned.
- Pre-departure information
- Music workshop, cooking, lantern making, class fees
- Visa Fees for Vietnam and Laos
- Meals except as specified above.
- Drinks, gratuities and personal expenses.
Cost: $4999.00 based on two people sharing a twin or double-bedded room in three, four, & five star hotels. Single supplement $595. Final payments are due 60 days prior to departure. A rise in fuel costs may cause airfare price to increase.
Deposits/ Penalties: A $500.00 refundable deposit reserves trip space. A penalty fee of $275.00 will be charged for all cancellations received in writing. After tickets have been issued airline penalties will occur. 50% cancellation fee 60 days prior to departure. No refunds will be made for cancellations received one month before departure. Trip cancellation insurance is strongly recommended.
Judy Slattum MFA has been organizing and leading study tours to Bali, SE Asia, Italy and Greece for 3 decades. She has written extensively on Balinese culture. Her book, Masks of Bali: Spirits of an Ancient Drama, is the definitive work on this topic, was featured in Time magazine, and has sold over 17,000 copies and has recently been reprinted by Periplus Editions.
Airline Options: Participants may depart and return at any time. Participants are urged to sign up early and make plans regarding dates, as we are traveling during High Season. You may wish to opt. for an upgrade to Eva “Evergreen Class.” The cabin is small and quiet, situated in the nose of the plane. The seats have a long pitch and recline with footrest and private armrests. You get priority check-in, and a pass for the VIP lounge in Tai Pei and San Francisco/LAX. These seats are limited and should be reserved ASAP. Contact our travel agent, Linda Schwedlock at Pacific Harbor Travel, Santa Cruz (local calls: 427-5002, or 1-800 435-9463) for further details.
Terms and Conditions: In case of unexpected situations, the tour leader reserves the right to cancel or postpone any event. Festivals and special events will be incorporated into the itinerary as optional excursions. Any one who leaves the tour at any time FOR ANY REASON is on their own. There will be no refunds for missed tour activities and no substitutions.
Accommodations: are based on double occupancy. We stay in the best 3 and 4 star clean, comfortable locally-owned hotels with private baths, cable T-V, mini fridge, and large buffet breakfasts, some with swimming pools.
Additional Options: We are also offering a four night visit to Angkor Wat in neighboring Cambodia which can be enjoyed at the beginning or ending of this trip. Contact us for further information.
Referrals from previous trip members::
“I would absolutely recommend this trip.”
–Karen Embree, Seal Beach, CA
“This trip, my first time on the ground in Southeast Asia, was very thoughtfully planned and executed. It was a group tour, no doubt about it, with all that entails, but there were options and choices every day. The trip struck a good balance between ‘on the ground’ with locals and offering us enough amenities to ensure that we were comfortable. I’d call this a ‘cultural’ tour, very respectful of the people of our destination countries.”
–Joanie Rippe, Santa Cruz, CA
“If you want to have luxury, be cared for, learn about local culture, have the chance to participate in adventures (but not too extreme), in the company of a small group of like-minded people, then this is the trip for you. I loved the kindness of the people in Vietnam and Laos, watching early morning exercise on the Ha Noi streets, our guides’ honesty and openness, setting birds free in Luang Prabang, and the relaxing massages. A good balance of activities with a reasonable amount of time for each. This was a great way to see Southeast Asia.”
–Christine Holmstrom, Fair Oaks, CA
“This trip is for the seeker: someone who wants to discover more about themselves. It is not for the traveler who wants to experience only highlighted tourist attractions with all the comforts of home. Nor it for those who want their perceptions, values and opinions reinforced. “Judy has a wonderful sense of group members as individuals and looks out for their particular interests and pleasure.”
–Dorothy Wick, Cuernavaca, Mexico
“A great trip that gave us all the true gift of travel: perspective on our own lives and experience.”
–Sharon Charde, Lakeville, CT
“This trip gave me a new sense of adventure; it reminded me of what I’ve been missing for too many years.”
–Pamela Morgan, Felton, CA
“This well-organized trip provided a great chance to be with like-minded people. I loved experiencing the joy of the people of Vietnam and Laos, especially in light of the fact that they have much less material wealth compared to us.”
–Kevin Ellison, Casuarina, Australia
“I showed up with an open mind and heart. I was delighted by the synergy of the group, the people of Vietnam and Laos, and that the fact I was able to make some profound decisions about my life while on this trip.”
–Allison Summers, Casuarina, Australia
“I was delighted by the culture, the gentleness of the people, the art and the temples. I also found true friendship on this trip and that was a surprise.”
–William Yenner, Florence, MA
“I loved all of this trip: hectic, busy Hanoi, striking Ha Long Bay, the Avani resort, and Luang Prabang in Laos. I loved experiencing the cities and countries that had such a historical meaning for me because of the Vietnam War. My perspective on these countries has changed and are no longer tied into my memories of the War.”
–Cynthia Hauck, Palm Desert, CA
“I was surprised by the bonding of the group. I found the quiet, gentle nature of the people of Southeast Asia delightful. Also the delicious food–especially in Vietnam.”
–Dyana Basist, Santa Cruz, CA
“I loved Ha Long Bay–so beautiful. I loved seeing monkeys and riding on elephants–connecting with the wild up close. If you love adventure, writing and travel, and want to feel safe and not worry about all the details, then go!”
–Sydney Foran, Vancouver, Canada
Laos & Vietnam
Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hue, Hoi An, and Luang Prabang