Working with our travel partner, Collette, Reader’s Digest is offering an 18-day tour experiencing lands of surpassing natural beauty, epic historical architecture and enough culinary experiences to last a lifetime, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos are unmissable and unforgettable

As the name suggests, there is a fairy-tale, mystical quality to Indochina’s Three Kingdoms. This is a part of the world where the mythical and the earthly coexist in close proximity; a reverence for the spiritual and a desire to cherish the traditions of long-departed ancestors are combined with a very immediate sense of life, joy and optimism. The three countries of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos are steeped in their own distinct legends and customs, but each is united by a shared history which is at times tragic and often awe-inspiring.

The Three Kingdoms are places of great abundance in terms of natural wonders, culture, architecture and cuisine. Opportunities to explore the latter are particularly plentiful, and from humble street vendors to world-class restaurants, the food is consistently affordable and delicious, with many regional variations and delicacies available.

“small picture-book villages are scattered like grains of rice across a verdant, fertile landscape”

The countries also offer a feast for the eyes; when you travel across the region. Silhouettes of monumental ancient temples emerge from above forest treetops, mountain peaks loom sin a spectral manner from the mist and small picture-book villages are scattered like grains of rice across a verdant, fertile landscape of terraced fields and overflowing jungle. The temples of Angkor in Cambodia are among humankind’s most awesome achievements—their sheer scale and magnificence are matched only by natural features such as the Kuang Si Falls in Laos or the crystal waters and stunning rock formations of Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay.


Motorbikes and mopeds are the most popular form of transport in Vietnam—there are an estimated 37 million in the country, and that number is increasing

The clandestine tunnels formerly used by the Viet Con for the Set offensive have become an unlikely tourist attraction—visitors can crawl through and even sample a meal the soldiers would have eaten

Ho Chi Minh City has the largest GDP growth of all cities and regions in Vietnam and the city has several hi-tech parks, Vietnamese analogues of Silicon Valley. It contributes a largest part to the national budget of Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s most populous urban area and the perfect place to begin a tour of the region. It is vibrant and bustling—sometimes overwhelmingly so—and its buzzing energy provides an ideal introduction to this unique country. One of the best ways to explore a place is to get lost in it, and the winding streets and alleyways of Ho Chi Minh City offer plenty of opportunities for the traveller to become immersed in a colourful patchwork of sounds, sights, tastes and smells. It is a city of thriving street markets where a stunning variety of foods, fabrics and other finery burst forth in colourful profusion wherever the eye alights. It also boasts the graceful architecture of the colonial-style Post Office and Notre Dame Cathedral, the inspiring and moving spectacle of the Reunification Palace, and the soaring modern skyscrapers of the financial district.

“Using simple ingredients, even the most unassuming of street vendors is able to craft dishes of surpassing quality and delectability”

Ho Chi Minh City—and Vietnam as a whole—has a knack for combining opulence with humility, and nowhere shows this more obviously than in the cuisine. Using simple ingredients, even the most unassuming of street vendors is able to craft dishes of surpassing quality and delectability. Jon Kennedy, who paid a visit to the Three Kingdoms recently, says: “The street food was very delicious, particularly the pho bo, which is a clear noodle soup made with thinly sliced beef. In fact you could barely move for street vendors and small restaurants, which are definitely worth exploring.”

Beyond its cities, Vietnam is rightly celebrated for its astounding natural beauty. The Mekong Delta—a vast region of meandering waterways, sprawling rice paddies and picture-postcard islands—is a diverse and lively region that is crucial to Vietnam’s economy. The rivers and tributaries of the delta are crammed with junks, skiffs and other small water craft, used by fishermen to ply their trade and by the locals to simply navigate their way across this magical landscape.


The Angkor Wat temple appears on Cambodia’s flag, the only national flag to feature the image of a building

Angkor Wat translates to “City of Temples” or simply “City Temple.” New temples and ruins are being discovered nearly every year

Unusual for the time of construction, Angkor Wat was dedicated to Vishnu, a Hindu deity, rather than the current king.

Magic is not in short supply in Cambodia either; when visiting the village of Siem Reap, for example, the traveller is likely to feel that they are stepping foot into another world. Venture beyond its colonial architecture and chic modern amenities, and you will quickly discover that it is a portal to an ancient past. The Hindu temples of Angkor, just outside Siem Reap, are globally celebrated for their profound beauty and air of mystery. As Jon says of his visit to Angkor Wat, “That was an experience that has genuinely lived long in my mind. The most impressive architectural constructions I have ever seen. Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples really deserve a place in the wonders of the world. Yes, it is a very touristic place, but that really just reflects how amazing and unique it is there. But if you were really to dig deep into the place and visit some of the smaller ruins, you can escape the herds.”

“even the most sceptical of visitors are likely to feel a certain connection with the sacred when walking around these dizzyingly ornate historical sites”

Angkor Wat is probably the most famous attraction in the area, but no traveller should neglect the equally breath-taking temple of Angkor Thom, with its colossal carved stone faces, the Temple of Shiva or the Banteay Srei Temple, among many others. It is no accident that this whole area has been seen as a holy place for centuries—even the most sceptical of visitors are likely to feel a certain connection with the sacred when walking around these dizzyingly ornate historical sites. The fact that they are embedded deep within some of the planet’s most luscious and teeming jungle rainforest only adds to their romance and mystique.


The average Laotian eats more than 345 pounds of sticky rice per year—more than anywhere else in the world

Laos has been named the world’s most bombed country. Over two billion tons of bombs (ie more than all of the bombs dropped on Europe during World War II) were dropped in Laos by the USA during the Vietnam War

Laos is home to the best coffee is South East Asia. In fact, coffee is its biggest export. Try it served with condensed milk for the most authentic experience.

Across the border in Laos, yet more historical treasures and natural wonders await. Jon says:

“I remember being blown away upon entering Laos and taking a slow boat towards Luang Prabang. The whole place was just covered in undisturbed, pristine jungle.” One of the highlights of Luang Prabang is Wat Sen, or ‘Temple of 100,000 treasures’, a Buddhist site which, as its name suggests, contains a wealth of material and spiritual riches. Buddhism is also practised at the Pak Ou Caves, where the sight of hundreds of stone carvings of Buddha and modern-day saffron-robed monks demonstrates powerfully how strong the link between past and present here is.

The past is also alive and well in the work of the region’s artisans. The local rice whiskey ‘lao lao’, for example, has been prepared in Ban Xang Hai using the same methods for centuries, as has the handiwork of the jute paper craftsmen of Ban Xang Khong. (Incidentally, lao lao has the dubious distinction of being the world’s cheapest whiskey. Don’t let that put you off however—it has a mild, almost vanilla-like taste and is notably less likely to leave you with a hangover the next day than many of its far more expensive counterparts.)

“Every traveller’s experience of somewhere as huge, dynamic and dramatic as the Three Kingdoms is bound to be different—after all, this is a place of extremes, even though it is perfectly suited to self-reflection and spiritual awakening”

Back across the border in Vietnam, and not far from the capital Hanoi, is the heart-stoppingly beautiful Ha Long Bay. This UNESCO World Heritage site is an enchanting maze of charming grottoes, idyllic islands, gorgeous beaches and impressive limestone pillars that ascend from the azure-blue and emerald-green waters. It is probably about as close to paradise as it’s possible to get on earth, and a perfect place to conclude a visit to the country.

Every traveller’s experience of somewhere as huge, dynamic and dramatic as the Three Kingdoms is bound to be different – after all, this is a place of extremes, even though it is perfectly suited to self-reflection and spiritual awakening. But the underlying sense of peace, harmony and wonder that governs life here is tangible. It is no coincidence that many of those who have already been are counting down the days until their return.

Ho Chi Minh
DAY 1-3

Day 1

Your tour of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos begins in Ho Chi Minh City, a vibrant metropolis and an important cultural and commercial hub.

Day 2

Explore the Cu Chi Tunnels, a maze of underground passageways used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. After lunch at a local restaurant embark on a tour of Ho Chi Minh city, taking in the Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Reunification Palace and Binh Tay Market.

Day 3

Travel to the Mekong Delta and enjoy a cruise along the river. Following a visit to a local residence to learn about the traditional Vietnamese way of life, visit the Cao Dai Temple and explore the region’s rich architectural style.

Siem Reap
DAY 4-6

Day 4

Today we fly to Cambodia and visit Siem Reap, which brings together colonial and Chinese architecture. It is also home to chic hotels and a lively culinary scene.

Day 5

Head to the ancient ruins of Angkor Thom and the famous Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious building and the symbol of Cambodia.

Day 6

Today’s itinerary takes in the Temple of Shiva as well as the Banteay Srei and Banteay Samre temples. Then spend time at a local monastery, meet the monks and participate in a private blessing ceremony.

Luang Prabang
DAY 7-9

Day 7

Your day begins at the JWOC Community Center** where you’ll meet local school children. Then we fly to Luang Prabang, the spiritual capital of Laos.

Day 8

Head to Luang Prabang to visit the spectacular Wat Sen and Wat Visun temples. Then, after stopping by the stunning Kuang Si waterfalls, return to town and immerse yourself in the atmospheric Street Night Market.

Day 9

A traditional riverboat cruise down the Mekong River takes in a visit to the Wat Xieng Thong temple, the villages of Ban Xieng Maen and Ban Chan, Wat Long Khoun and the Pak Ou Caves. After lunch at a local restaurant, learn about locally made rice wine ‘lao lao’ and discover local artisan’s creations including jute paper.

DAY 10-12

Day 10

Witness the dawn offering of alms to hundreds of saffron-robed monks before flying to Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi.

Day 11

Take in Hanoi’s Ba Dinh Square, the lotus-shaped One Pillar Pagoda and the Temple of Literature, before setting out on a cyclo tour of Hanoi’s old quarter. The day ends with a traditional water puppet performance.

Day 12

Learn about rural life Ky Son Village, including local culinary traditions during a cookery demonstration, then head to Duong Lam village and visit to the Mia Pagoda. In the afternoon we return to Hanoi after a stop at the 8th- and 10th-century Ngo Quyen and Phung Hung temples.

Halong Bay
DAY 13-14

Day 13

At Halong Bay we set off on an overnight cruise on a luxury junk boat, taking in limestone islands, crystal-clear waters and limestone peaks rising out of the sea.

Day 14

The cruise continues through the waters of Halong Bay, then we head back to the harbour before returning Hanoi to board a flight to the historic Imperial city of Hue.

DAY 15-17

Day 15

We set off on the Perfume River on a cruise that takes in Thien Mu Pagoda and the sprawling Imperial Citadel. Then the tour continues through the countryside via the breathtaking Hai Van Pass on our way to Hoi An, an ancient merchant trading port and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Day 16

A cookery class begins with a visit to a local market to learn about traditional ingredients. After enjoying your culinary creations, visit a lantern workshop and try your hand at lantern-making, before setting off on a walking tour of Hoi An and embarking on a boat trip along the Thu Bon River.

Day 17

Today we visit the 4th-century My Son Sanctuary, a World Heritage site situated in a remote jungle valley. On the way to Tra Que Herb Village we stop to see 17th-century Japanese tombs, the only ones of their kind outside of Japan. Then, after sampling some local delicacies, we return to Hoi An and enjoy dinner in a local restaurant.

Hoi An
DAY 18-19

Day 18

We fly back to Ho Chi Minh City in the afternoon, then toast the end of the trip  with a farewell dinner.

Day 19

Return home with a wealth of incredible memories.


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