Trails of the Monks
Grab your suitcase and head to the airport where you'll catch your flight to the glorious Thai capital city of Bangkok, famous the world over for its vibrant street food, beautiful Buddhist temples floating markets and great nightlife.
You'll be staying at the Riva Surya, on the banks of the Chao Phraya river. You may be able to catch a glimpse of the Grand Palace's dazzling golden turrets from here. If you can't wait to get your taste buds around some of that mouth-watering street food, head to Chinatown which has a great selection of stalls. Prepare to have your ears deafened and all your senses assailed in this hustling, bustling area - but you'll rarely have felt more alive too. Barbecued prawns, stir-fried crispy noodles - there's no knowing what you'll sample but what's certain is it'll be hot, spicy and delicious. If you're not too tired after your flight stick around comes nightfall and check out some of the city's legendary bars - the Silom area is a good place to try.
You'll be up bright and early the following morning, ready for an unforgettable tour of the city which starts by stepping aboard an authentic long-tail boat where you'll wend your way away from the city's high rises, venturing into the quiet canals on which the city was first built. Catch a glimpse of times past when you pass by charming neighborhoods built right up to the water's edge.
Then you'll make your way to the wide expanse of the city's main waterway: the Chao Phraya River, along the banks of which lie many of its most spectacular spiritual buildings. First, you'll visit Wat Arun, or The Temple of The Dawn, a riverside pagoda dating back to the 17th century. Wander amongst its "prangs", or spires, the largest of which is built to resemble Mount Meru from Hindu mythology. Admire its incredible decoration with ceramic tiles depicting figures of Chinese soldiers and animals.
Then you'll cross the river and take a short walk to the Grand Palace. Visit the royal throne halls and enter the Wat Phra Kaew temple where you'll peer through the gloom at the remarkable Emerald Buddha, which will be "dressed" according to the season: a gold crown in the summer; a gold-beaded dressing gown in winter, and a jeweled head-dress in the rainy months.
Take a break at midday for lunch in a riverside restaurant, enjoying delicious Thai food with fabulous views. Then continue onwards to Wat Saket, a tranquil temple in the city center. Take a short walk up the temple’s golden hill, listening to the chimes of its bells. You'll end your day's tour at Wat Benchamabophit, also known as ‘Marble Temple’, whose unique appearance blends Thai style with European architecture, coupled with the fact it's built entirely of Italian marble. Learn about the history of the monument and get a glimpse into the daily lives of Thai monks while exploring the vast site.
Your head buzzing with all you've seen, wander back to your hotel for a well-earned lie-down and perhaps a dip in the outdoor pool. It's right by the river, so a great place to sit with a book and enjoy watching the city's boats roll by.
Now it's time to depart Bangkok and catch a plane to Laos, where you'll start your visit to this stunning country with a few days in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang. This is a place to come and relax as you breathe in the laid-back atmosphere and old French architecture of this ex-colonial city, cradled protectively by mountains and sparkling waterfalls.
On arrival, your first day in Luang Prabang is yours to do with as you please. Check into the comfortable elegance of the Villa Maly hotel, something of a destination in itself being a former Royal residence with a tropical garden and spa. Stay there and relax or wander into Luang Prabang itself where you could pay a visit to the Wat Xieng Thong temple, with its stunning exterior mosaic and sweeping pointed roof.
The following day you'll escape the city and explore the beautiful countryside around Luang Prabang. Get an insight into the unique traditions of Laos's hill tribe people and swim in the sensationally turquoise waters of Kuang Si waterfalls before stopping for an alfresco lunch in what must be one of the world's most perfect picnic locations. After your lunch at the waterfalls, you'll pay a trip to the adorable furry inmates at a local bear sanctuary.
After a good night's sleep, wake up refreshed and spend your last day in this earthly paradise sight-seeing at your leisure. Perhaps you might take a gentle hike up Mount Phousi, where you'll get a wonderful view of the city spread below you. It's a particularly special sight either at sunrise or sunset and there will be temples to stop at on the way. For the chance to take some pretty souvenirs home with you, don't miss a visit to the handicraft market which happens every evening.
Today you'll leave the delights of Luang Prabang and fly to Laos's capital city, Vientiane, a place of great charm. Head to the Salana Boutique Hotel where you can either relax for a while after dropping off your bags or you may prefer to head straight out into the city. Like Luang Prabang, Vientiane also boasts distinct remnants of its Gallic past with some elegant buildings and a selection of fine French restaurants and bakeries. It's all infused with exotic Laos bright colors and smells, wandering robed-monks and shining temples. The Pha That Luang is an important Buddhist "stupa" - a golden monument - in the city, while a serious, but important stop-off, has to be the COPE Visitor Centre. The acronym stands for Co-operative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise, and it's where most people get the prosthetic limbs they need due to the area's well-documented unexploded mines.
The following day you'll get more of a chance to explore this delightful city with a tour giving you a closer look at its rich history and authentic culture. Visit elegant temples, unique monuments, and French colonial buildings to find out what gives Vientiane its laid back charm, which belies the vibrancy of the Laos capital.
You'll be heading back to Bangkok today but first, something special. Peel back the skin of Laos when you go beyond the usual sites to discover a more authentic side of Vientiane with a half-day at a Buddha Park. This park provides a deeper insight into Laos’ local lifestyles and traditions - browse for traditional handicrafts at a workshop supporting disabled women, while you are surrounded eccentric sculptures built by a Lao shaman. In the evening you'll get back on the plane to Bangkok for your last night in the stunning, surprising south-east Asia, with its fairy-tale architecture, out-of-this-world scenery, and charming people. Board your plane back home, your head and camera brimming full of images from your spectacular holiday.