A Southeast Asia adventure calls on this 15-day trip, packed with physical activities and a lot more in between. The itinerary provides a taste of local life as you immerse yourself in the diverse northern landscapes of Thailand and Vietnam. In Thailand, kayak Bangkok's waterways, hike on jungle-lined trails, and bike through a verdant National Park. Then, jet over to Vietnam to cycle among rice paddies, venture into a cave complex, and plunge into the emerald waters of Ha Long Bay.


  • Explore Bangkok by kayak and see traditional ways of life
  • Follow the Monk's Trail to a mountaintop temple in Chiang Mai
  • Cycle and kayak through the natural paradise of Sri Lanna National Park
  • Scramble through caves that are millions of years old in Vietnam
  • Kayak and swim on an overnight cruise around Ha Long Bay 

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Bangkok Bangkok
Day 2 Explore Bangkok by Public Transport Bangkok
Day 3 Bangkok Waterways by Kayak, Overnight Train to Chiang Mai Chiang Mai
Day 4 Hike the Monk's Trail in Chiang Mai Chiang Mai
Day 5 Cycle & Kayak in Sri Lanna National Park, Explore Chiang Mai by Night Chiang Mai
Day 6 Day Trip to Mae Kampong Village Chiang Mai
Day 7 Fly to Phong Nha Phong Nha
Day 8 Trek to Tu Lan Cave Complex Phong Nha
Day 9 Explore the Tu Lan Caves Phong Nha
Day 10 Fly to Pu Luong Nature Reserve via Hanoi Pu Luong 
Day 11 Trek to Kho Muong & Uoi Villages Pu Luong 
Day 12 Transfer to Hanoi Hanoi
Day 13 Explore Hanoi Like a Local Hanoi
Day 14 Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Kayak & Overnight Cruise  Ha Long Bay
Day 15 Cruise on Ha Long Bay, Transfer to Hanoi & Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Bangkok

Free Day in Bangkok
Free Day in Bangkok

Sa-wat dee! Welcome to Bangkok, one of Asia's most exciting cities. Thailand's capital is beloved for its chaotic energy, delicious street food, buzzing nightlife, and sacred Buddhist sights. You'll discover its charms today, perhaps starting with Chinatown's fragrant street food. If you like shopping, spend time at Siam Paragon, one of Bangkok's largest and most luxurious malls.

If you're visiting over the weekend, don't miss Chatuchak Market—with more than 15,000 stalls, it's one of the world's largest outdoor markets and sells everything from clothes and flowers, to food and antiques. For sports lovers, seek out a kickboxing fight, Thailand's signature sport. See a puppet show for some traditional culture or visit Warehouse 30 for modern art exhibitions.

In the evening, your driver will pick you up and transfer you to the Zoom Sky Bar and Restaurant for dinner. Located on the 40th floor at the JC Kevin Sathorn Bangkok Hotel, this place will give you a panoramic view of the Bangkok skyline in all directions. Enjoy the sunset view while sipping Zoom's signature cocktails and dining on innovative cuisine.

Day 2: Explore Bangkok by Public Transport

Explore Bangkok by Local Transport
See the Grand Palace on today's tour

Discover the local side of this bustling metropolis on a full-day tour using some of Bangkok's distinctive public transport. The day's adventure begins with a ride on the Skytrain, an electric train that glides above the traffic. Hop off near the Chao Phraya River and board a public boat, another popular option for commuting. As you cruise down the river, the scenery morphs from city highrises to houses balanced on stilts along the river's edge.

The boat stops near the iconic Wat Pho temple complex and the Grand Palace. You'll spend the rest of the morning exploring these two remarkable sites, learning about the country's regal history and the deep-rooted spiritual traditions of its people. After lunch, hop aboard a tuk-tuk, Thailand's famous three-wheeled vehicle. Zip through the quieter city streets of Soi Ban Batra. Visit a family-run workshop that produces bowls used by monks for receiving alms. Witness the artisans at work and learn about the daily lives of the Buddhist monks, who wake early to collect alms offerings from the city's residents.

The last leg is on a "bus boat" through the city's canals. Rarely used by tourists, this ride provides an up-close look at the local ways of life for those who live along the canals. Then it's a short walk to Jim Thompson House. Take an insightful tour of the compound's tranquil gardens and traditional buildings, which showcases the history of the mysterious American silk merchant. Afterward, stroll to the nearby modern shopping malls for some retail therapy before returning to the hotel via Skytrain.

Day 3: Bangkok Waterways by Kayak, Overnight Train to Chiang Mai

Explore Bangkok waterways by kayak
Explore Bangkok waterways by kayak

Get ready for your first physical activity of the trip—paddling through Bangkok by kayak. Launching from the west bank of the Chao Phraya River, you'll explore locals' traditional ways of living along hidden canals. The morning's route varies from a lotus pond to waterways temples and a 200-year-old community settlement. You'll disembark halfway to a Chinese shrine and meet a local shipwright (a carpenter specializing in boat building repair). Then, hop back into the kayaks, where your route will take you past tropical fruit orchards and some of Bangkok's oldest wooden houses, where modern materialism gives way to a simpler way of life.

Complete the trip at Bangrak Pier in Taling Chan. Freshen up and get changed before tucking into lunch at a local restaurant. You'll have free time until your driver meets you and escorts you to the train station, where you will take an overnight train north to Chiang Mai. After arriving at the train station, enjoy breakfast before heading to the hotel.

Day 4: Hike the Monk's Trail in Chiang Mai

Wat Phra That temple

Spend the morning hiking the Monk's Trail on Doi Suthep Mountain. This trail was once used exclusively by monks on their way to the summit's temple, Wat Phra That. You'll follow the uphill path, marked by strips of orange robes, for half an hour. 

The first temple you'll reach is Wat Pha Lat. Possibly one of Chiang Mai's least-visited sacred sites, it's hidden from tourists and only accessible via this trail. Stroll around the mysterious-looking statues and monuments, some overgrown with jungle. Then, you'll be transferred up to Wat Phra That on the summit, at an altitude of 5,499 feet (1,676 m). Take in the panorama over Chiang Mai as you learn about Thai religions from the guide.

After lunch, catch a songthaew (public pick-up truck) farther up the mountains to White Hmong village. The Hmong people are one of several hill tribes that populate the rural area around Chiang Mai. They welcome visitors, so you can sip on locally produced coffee as you learn about their culture and traditions.

Day 5: Cycle & Kayak in Sri Lanna National Park, Explore Chiang Mai by Night

The waterways of Sri Lanna National Park

Fuel up with a hearty breakfast, as a great adventure awaits! Set off for the one-hour drive from Chiang Mai on this day trip to Sri Lanna National Park. Upon reaching the park entrance, hike up the Sticky Waterfalls before hopping on a bike for a 12-mile (20 km) ride. Pedal along quiet rural roads through a vivid green landscape of rice paddies, orchards, and bamboo and fern groves.

At Mae Ngat Lake Reservoir, the cycling trail ends, and another activity begins. Climb into a long-tail boat and set off on the lake's placid waters with a backdrop of forested hills. Arrive at a floating bamboo raft house, where a delicious lunch awaits. Spend the remainder of the afternoon kayaking to explore the remote corners of the lake, take a swim, or relax on the floating raft house before taking the long tail boat back to the shore.

After refreshing at the hotel, head out with a guide to experience Chiang Mai's spiritual traditions by night. Watch the sunset from a temple and see monks gather for their evening prayers. Join local devotees in lighting incense and candles, which offer good luck and health. After dinner, cap off the evening with a trip to Warorot Market. It's a lively place to browse stalls of fresh food, flowers, crafts, and souvenirs. Sample a Thai dessert from a popular vendor for a sweet end to an enchanting evening.

Day 6: Day Trip to Mae Kampong Village

Flight of the Gibbon canopy experience

Spend a relaxed morning at the century-old Mae Kampong village, a secluded settlement of traditional wooden houses an hour's drive from Chiang Mai. The community of 370 inhabitants, in the middle of a tea-tree forest 3,281 feet (1000 m) above sea level, has become a model for ecotourism in Thailand.

After visiting the local market to pick up ingredients for your lunch, you'll walk through the forest, past tea and coffee fields, to a beautiful seven-tier waterfall. Return to the village and relax at a homestay, where your lunch will be prepared.

In the afternoon, you'll get an up-close look at the wildlife-rich jungle—in the treetops at the Flight of the Gibbon center. This adventure course of ropes and sky bridges features one of the longest single ziplines in Asia, at 2,625 feet (800 m). It's also the only zipline course where you can hear the distinctive call of endangered gibbons (and you might see them swinging through the forest canopy right beside you!). 

Day 7: Fly to Phong Nha

Phong Nha free time
Phong Nha 

Goodbye Thailand, hello Vietnam! Today you'll catch a flight from Chiang Mai and land at Dong Hoi Airport in the north-central coast area of Vietnam. A local guide will meet you and transfer you to Phong Nha to check into your hotel.

Plan your trip to Thailand
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
You'll have free time today to explore the neighborhood of Phong Nga, with its rice paddies surrounded by ridges. It's part of the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, a natural paradise and UNESCO World Heritage site that covers a surface area of 304,745 acres (123,326 ha). It sits in one of the largest areas of contiguous limestone in Asia, which has resulted in a mindblowing complex of caves. As exploration only began in 2009, most are yet to be mapped. Adventure lovers, this is your place!

Day 8: Trek to Tu Lan Cave Complex

Phong Nha - Trek to Tu Lan cave complex
Swimming at a cave lagoon

Soon you'll get to explore the hidden world of caves in the Tu Lan complex—but first, you need to trek there! You'll be picked up from Phong Nha and taken to the village of Tan Hoa, 43 miles (70 km) away. After a safety briefing and gear check, it's off and away for a memorable adventure.

Begin with a walk among peanut fields, towering corn stalks, and water buffalo to arrive at the Rao Nan River. Ascend a rocky hill to a small jungle opening, and take a break before hiking back down to the Hung Ton Valley. After a pit stop for a picnic lunch at the Hung Ton Cave opening, the action picks up again with some challenging trails from Hung Ton Valley to Mango Mountain. After dropping down to Tu Lan Valley, by mid-afternoon, you'll see Tu Lan Campsite on the horizon.

This afternoon, take a relaxing swim at a waterfall, or go swimming in the Ken Cave, next to the campsite. In the evening, return to camp for a barbecue dinner, surrounded by the sounds of nature. Sleep should come easy when you settle into the comfortable hammocks or tents among the trees.

Day 9: Explore the Tu Lan Caves

Gearing up to explore the cave complex

This morning, tuck into a hearty breakfast before exploring the maze-like Tu Lan cave system. Start with a brief swim across the river, then take a break to enjoy a blue lagoon before swimming another 591 feet (180 m) downstream to the cave's entrance. Explore the dry area of the cave—which may involve some climbing and squeezing—and soon after, the dry exit will be in sight.

Then, trek a short way through the valley into the dry entrance of Kim Cave. Stay a while to observe the natural window of light that illuminates this incredible space. Then, set off on another swim of 1,476 feet (450 m) and trek 1,640 feet (500 m) through Hang Kim to To Mo Valley.

Enjoy a picnic lunch next to a waterfall by the mouth of Hung Ton Cave. Then, follow a dry path into the cave before swimming out of another exit. After another dry passage, trek down into Hung Ton Valley. Finally, you'll arrive in Tan Hoa, where you'll pause to take in the scenery—with a well-deserved cold drink in hand. Showers are available if you'd like to refresh and change your clothing for the journey back. Departure to Phong Nha is at around 4 pm, with arrival in Phong Nha by 6:30 pm.

Day 10: Fly to Pu Luong Nature Reserve via Hanoi

Free time in Pu Luong
Relax in Pu Luong

Today, you'll fly from Phong Nha into Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. Upon arrival, a private driver will transfer you to Pu Luong Nature Reserve, a journey of around four hours. Pu Luong translates as "the highest peak of the village"—this sweep of mountains of valleys has a high point of 9,793 ft (2,985 m).

Pu Luong is one of the most spectacular places in Vietnam, with miles of limestone peaks and three-quarters of the reserve covered with primary tropical forest. It's also the home turf of ethnic Muong and Thai people, who you'll see working the rice paddies across the lowlands. With few foreign visitors, the villages have retained an authentic feel and tranquil atmosphere. The locals are friendly, too, so spend some time exploring the area at your own pace. Rent a bicycle and pedal between villages or hike among the rice fields.

Day 11: Trek to Kho Muong & Uoi Villages

Trekking to Kho Muong  and Uoi Villages
The valley of Kho Muong

Set off early from your Pu Luong Nature Reserve retreat for a full-day guided hike of 8 miles (13 km). Descend into the valley and its tumbling rice terraces. After following small paths shrouded in vegetation, the view will open up to a picturesque village at the base of a mountain. This is Kho Muong, a settlement of stilted houses in the central valley. You'll have the chance to engage with locals here and see their rural way of life. There'll be time to visit the Bat Cave, where the first ancestors of the Muong ethnic group once lived.

After lunch in one of the homes on stilts, trek 4 miles (7 km) through the jungle to explore the abundance of flora and fauna. The winding trail around lush mountains will take you to the village of Uoi, in the middle of the forest. Weave between farmland and villages, ponds and rivers, mountains and open pastures, savoring the ever-changing scenery. Then you will be transferred back to Pu Luong.

Day 12: Transfer to Hanoi

Hoàn Kiếm Lake, in the historical center of Hanoi

After relaxing at your resort, you'll transfer from Pu Luong Nature Reserve to Hanoi, a drive of four hours. Hanoi is Vietnam's high-energy capital and cultural heart. Settle in before exploring Hanoi's tree-lined avenues, which feature a mix of temples and French colonial buildings contrasting with modern, glassy malls and office buildings. 

This evening you have the option to take a mouth-watering food tour. Your guide will start with a trip to Thanh Ha Market, where you'll browse food stalls, try local delicacies, and learn about Vietnamese culinary culture. Head to Dong Xuan Market, famed for its noodle shops, and sample treats such as pho sot vang (noodle soup with pork and herbs) and bun dau (tofu served in soup with rice noodles and fermented shrimp paste). 

Next, move on to the Old Quarter to explore its network of labyrinthine lanes. Here, you'll learn about traditional celebrations, stop at ceremonial cake stalls, and taste a French-influenced dessert. Wander along Hang Cot Street, known for its preserved sugared or salted fruits. You'll end the tour at a café to sip slow-dripped hot coffee or a sweet iced drink, while watching Hanoi's street life unfold.

Day 13: Explore Hanoi Like a Local

Explore Hanoi Like a Local
The Temple of Literature

Leave the hotel at 8 am on a full-day guided tour to see Hanoi's historic landmarks and experience the city like a local. It starts with a ride to historic Ba Dinh Square, where president Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the independence of Vietnam in 1945. Then head over to Lenin Garden, a park presided over by a bronze statue of Vladimir Lenin. 

From there, your guide will lead you down Hanoi's alleyways, lined with family-owned shops that have been around for generations. Continue to the 11th-century Temple of Literature, an impressive architectural landmark that was Vietnam's first-ever national university. To this day, students still pray at its altars for academic success. Next is the Museum of Ethnology, which preserves the cultural heritage of the 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam. Afterward, stop for lunch at a local restaurant.

Now that you've refueled, continue to Nha Chung Street, an area with food stalls and vendors. Here, you'll visit a historic French colonial home for afternoon tea. Your host is a local who has lived in the neighborhood all his life, and has many stories about this remarkable city. End the day with one of Vietnam's more unique theatrical performances: a water puppet show. This cultural expression dates back over 1,000 years, originating in the Red River Delta rice fields. Afterward, return to your hotel.

Day 14: Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Kayak & Overnight Cruise 

Cruising & Kayaking in Ha Long Bay
Cruising on Ha Long Bay

Your private driver will meet you at your hotel and take you to Ha Long Bay in a comfortable car. Enjoy the views of rice paddies along the scenic route, which takes approximately three hours. Upon arrival, you'll board your ship for an overnight tour of UNESCO-listed Ha Long Bay. Sail across the paper-flat waters, taking in views of over 2,000 limestone karsts steeped in Vietnamese legend. A delicious seafood lunch onboard awaits, followed by plenty of time to sit on the sundeck as you sail to the most remote corners of the bay.

In the afternoon, stop at a secret cove, where you can swim and kayak to explore its beaches and grottoes. The ship's expert chef will lead a cooking masterclass, teaching you how to make specialties like nem (Vietnamese fried spring rolls) for dinner. Spend the evening relaxing or join the locals for a spot of night fishing to end the day.

Day 15: Cruise on Ha Long Bay, Transfer to Hanoi & Depart

Cruising Ha Long Bay
Depart Ha Long Bay and fly home

Wake up early and head to the deck to catch the sunrise. Then sit down and enjoy breakfast in the open air as you cruise around towering islets. The rest of the morning is yours to enjoy, so relax and take in the views or join an optional activity like kayaking around Ha Long's floating villages. Sit down for an early lunch before disembarking at the marina and catching a shuttle bus back to Hanoi, where you'll continue to the airport to catch your departing flight. Safe travels!

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Map of Active Thailand & Vietnam - 15 Days
Map of Active Thailand & Vietnam - 15 Days
Written by Hien Do, updated Feb 22, 2023