Explore Indochina: Thailand, Laos, Vietnam & Cambodia ~ April 15th - May 9th, 2023

Trip Leader: Jeff Koss

(click photo to see trip photo album)

Your club created a four-country journey through the Indochina regions of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia; an area steeped in tradition and rich in discoveries. Eighteen club members joined this trip to experience the wonders of this less traveled region. From the local markets and Grand Palace of Bangkok to life along the Upper Mekong River, the vibrant cultures of Vietnam, to the grandeur of Angkor Wat this was a spectacular travel opportunity. The travel program included tours to: Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Chiang Khong in Thailand; Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Vientiane in Laos; Hanoi, Ha Long Bay & Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam; Phnom Penh & Siem Reap for Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Temples, markets, palaces, historical sites, and short hikes were part of this adventure tour.

We were blessed with excellent guides throughout our journey. Our tour operator provided two full-time guides: TomTom and PuNa. They were with the group for the entire journey, all four countries and every tour, group meal & activity along the way. They made the land & air border crossings look easy, arranged moving the group from one place to another, and ensured everyone was informed, stayed safe and happy. They taught us pertinent words and phrases for each language in the four countries, made recommendations for meals, shopping, massages, ATMs, and we greatly enjoyed being with them. They knew the local guides well and at no time was the group left waiting for a tour, a guide, or transportation. TomTom and PuNa were each a memorable highlight of this travel adventure.

Besides our two full-time guides, our tour operator provided local guides in each country to introduce us to the new tour destination. Seven individual guides for Laos, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh battlefields and Mekong Delta area, Phnom Penh city & Killing Field tours and Siem Reap’s temples were all experts and clearly explained history and events at each locale. They provided guided city tours that showed us the city highlights and how to navigate around. The local guide’s knowledge of day and night markets, shops, temples, and interesting walks added to our travelers’ enjoyment of each destination.

So, what were some of the places we saw and activities the group enjoyed?

  • Guided canal tour of Bangkok’s klongs and a visit to Wat Po with the reclining Buddha.
  • Guided tour of Doi Suthep temple and the night market; A Northern Thai cooking class for some.
  • Our travelers could not resist the variety of massages offered in each country at great prices.
  • On the drive to Chiang Khong, visited Wat Rong Khun—the famous White Temple and art gallery.
  • 2-day journey down the Mekong River on a traditional longboat; a guided hike of Pak Ou caves.
  • Toured Lao Ock Pop Tok Living Crafts Centre; attended a Lao Blessing Ceremony with local lunch.
  • Enjoyed an afternoon hike and swim at the Kuang Si waterfalls. Kayaking in Vang Vieng for some.
  • Hanoi walking tour to Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum. Some visited museums or the Hoa Lo Prison.
  • Enjoyed an evening performance of traditional Vietnamese water puppets.
  • Ha Long Bay overnight cruise with a cave visit, rowboat tour and an island lookout hike.
  • Guided tour of the American War-era Cu Chi Tunnels near Ho Chi Minh City.
  • Riverboat tour and paddle boats to the islands of the Mekong Delta; toured a candy factory
  • Enjoyed an evening guided rickshaw cyclo-bike city tour through the streets of Phnom Penh
  • Toured Tuol Sleng Museum (S-21 Prison) and Choeung Ek (Killing Fields) of the Khmer Rouge era.
  • Watched the sun rise over the massive Angkor Wat temple complex with a guided tour.
  • Many group dinners with a farewell dinner in Siem Reap followed by the Phare Circus

So, what did our travelers have to say about the experience? Here are some of their comments:

I'd have to say the most memorable stops for me were Angkor Wat, Ha Long Bay, and the White Temple. I expected them to be my highlights of the trip, and I was not disappointed! And of course, the best memories come from the new and strengthened friendships with fellow travelers.

It was an amazing trip. It was so interesting to visit the 4 different countries in one trip. Each one was so unique. Of course, the food was delicious. I'm already missing it. It was a fun group to travel with. I feel like I have made some wonderful new friends.

A wonderful adventure containing various types of travel (planes, trains, boats, etc.) to various historical places (temples, areas of war, areas of life's atrocities, UNESCO World Heritage sites, etc.) all while enjoying interesting foods, cultural exhibits, and activities (water puppets, Phare circus, silk weaving, etc.) with a wonderful group of travelers.

I loved the overnight at Mekong Riverside Lodge with no AC and the fire excitement! The historical places (Vietnam/Cambodia) brought my high school history lessons to life. These were definite highlights for me, but I don’t think I can pick a favorite place or activity. They were all fabulous, beautiful and eye opening and I never dreamed of seeing this part of the world!

Other highlights were the Bamboo Forest fire that almost drove us from our hotel in Pakbeng, Laos; learning the Vietnamese perspective on the Hanoi Hilton country club; and laying low on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City during the celebration of the 48th anniversary of the fall of old Saigon.

A major positive as a solo traveler was traveling with a group. I felt relaxed and safe, which ensured I could enjoy the trip stress free.

I enjoyed the cyclo ride in Phnom Penh. Potentially dangerous? Sure, but exciting as I rode along in the chaotic traffic able to see the sights and experience their hectic city life at night.

I loved being taken around on the bike in Cambodia, also the ATV event and the New Hope dinner, the village visit in Laos and watching the children dance. Tom-Tom and Puna were fantastic! It was just all-around an incredibly wonderful experience as usual with SCSTC trips.

If I have to pick a specific experience during the trip that was the best for me, I would say it was Angkor Wat. Seeing it at dawn was truly spectacular.

Besides seeing incredible world sites like: Bangkok, Angkor Wat and Saigon, there were more modes of transportation used than any in club history. From jets to mini vans, buses, bicycle rickshaws, three or four types of tuk-tuk, canoes, kayaks, inner tubes, long shaft boats, long river boats and even an overnight junk, we had it all! And we walked!

The magnitude of the history, the beauty in the people and interesting food choices plus the Dynamic Duo of Tom Tom and PuNa made this a truly spectacular adventure.

The warmth and hospitality of the Asian peoples was seen everywhere as we traveled the four countries.

And that is our summary of this incredible travel experience.

Jeff Koss

SCSTC Trip Leader--Indochina

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