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Burma & the Irrawaddy River: Bagan to Mandalay 2015

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Pre-trip: Vientiane & Luang Prabang, Laos

Discover another Indochinese gem in Laos, once known as the “land of a million elephants.” We begin in Vientiane—built as the country’s capital in the twelfth century—a timeless city that boasts ancient treasures like Wat Sisaket, with its 6,840 statues of the Buddha. Then continue to charming Luang Prabang, renowned for its more than 30 active temples and hundreds of architectural treasures that have earned it a place on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

It's Included:
Roundtrip airfare between Bangkok and Ventiane; Ventiane to Luang Prabang; and Luang Prabang and Bangkok
Accommodations: for 1 night in Bangkok at the Best Western Amaranth Hotel or similar, 2 nights in Vientiane at the Salana Boutique Hotel or similar, and 3 nights in Luang Prabang at the Le Palais Juliana Hotel or similar
12 meals: 6 breakfasts, 3 lunches, and 3 dinners (including 1 Home-Hosted Lunch)
Included tours: Vientiane, Luang Prabang
Exclusive services of an experienced Grand Circle Program Directors
All transfers
Now included for 2015:
Gratuities for local guides and motorcoach drivers on your extension and all optional tours
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    Fly overnight from the U.S. to Thailand, losing one day en route as you cross the International Date Line over the Pacific.

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    You arrive in Bangkok late in the evening. You will be met at the airport and escorted to your hotel.

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    This morning, you’ll have breakfast at your hotel before transferring to the airport for your flight to Vietniane, Laos. Upon arrival, you’ll set out on a tour of the city, starting with Haw Phra Kaew (House of the Emerald Buddha), which contains some of the best Buddhist sculptures in Laos. Nearby stands Wat Sisaket, the oldest monastery in Vientiane, featuring an impressive 6,840 Buddha statues in varying sizes and positions.

    After an included lunch, you’ll transfer to your hotel to check in, after which you’ll have the remainder of the day to make your own discoveries. Regroup at the hotel this evening for an orientation tour of the surrounding neighborhood before settling in for an included dinner with your fellow travelers.

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    You’ll have breakfast at your hotel, then set out for another day of discovery in Vientiane. You’ll start your tour with a visit to the Patuxay Victory Gate Monument, a uniquely Laotian version of the Arc de Triomphe, which is dedicated to the lives lost in Laos’ fight for independence from France. While you’re here, you’ll have the opportunity to climb to the top of the monument for a panoramic view of the city below.

    Next, visit the Great Sacred Stupa (Pha That Luang), an important symbol of Buddhist spirituality and Laotian sovereignty. The temple was originally constructed in 1566, and according to legend, was built around an ancient shrine containing a fragment of the Buddha’s breastbone. The myth is unconfirmed, but archaeologists have found evidence that the site contained a Khmer monastery from around the 12th century.

    After your tour, enjoy lunch at a local restaurant, followed by some free time to explore the city center. Return to your hotel this afternoon, where you have the rest of the day at leisure. Dinner is on your own tonight.

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    After breakfast at your hotel, depart for the airport for your flight to Luang Prabang, the ancient royal capital of Laos, located on a peninsula between the Mekong and Khan rivers with lush green mountains all around.

    After checking into your hotel and finding lunch on your own, you’ll have an orientation walk around the neighborhood. Then, travel by motor-rickshaw to Phousi Hill, in the center of the old town. Here you’ll climb the 328 steps and at the top, overlook most of Luang Prabang. You’ll take in views of the Khan and Mekong rivers, and if the weather obliges, enjoy a colorful sunset. Then continue on to Luang Prabang’s bustling night market and later enjoy dinner at a local restaurant.

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    This morning, you’ll rise very early to witness and participate in an ancient Buddhist tradition—alms-giving to local monks. The ceremony is as much for the benefit of the alms-giver as it is for the monks—in Buddhism, alms-giving serves as a means for lay Buddhists to show respect and commonality with the monks, as well as to humble themselves, one of the first steps on the path to enlightenment.

    Then begin your city tour of Luang Prabang, starting with a morning stroll through a local market to get a sense of daily life in modern Laos. Next, visit the Royal Palace Museum, which was built from 1904-1909 during the reign of King Sisavang Vong and served as his palace. You’ll continue to Wat Xieng Thong, the oldest temple in the city, where important traditions from Laos’ Buddhist, pre-Buddhist, and royal history took root.

    Afterward, head to the nearby Lao-Loum hill tribe village, where you’ll enjoy a walking tour, stopping to meet with resident families and the local shaman. Then, during a Home-Hosted Lunch, you’ll be invited into the home of a local family for a personal perspective on Laotian life. You’ll continue on to visit a nearby waterfall, and enjoy some time to relax amidst the rushing waters.
    You’ll return to the city late this afternoon, where you have the rest of the day to make your own discoveries. Dinner is on your own tonight.

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    Today is yours to spend as you please. Or, you can join an optional boating excursion that begins with a ride along one of the longest rivers in the world—the Mekong. The Mekong, meaning “mother of all rivers,” supports 90 million people who produce 54,000 square miles of rice every year. During your journey, you'll visit Whiskey Village, where you'll learn about the production of traditional Laotian rice whiskey, then return to the boat for lunch onboard. Next, you'll visit the Pak Ou Caves, which contain hundreds of small, wooden Buddha statues. After, stop at Ban Xang Khong Village, where you'll learn about the production of saa paper, also known as mulberry paper, a robust product used in many Laotian handicrafts.

    Tonight, rejoin your fellow travelers in Luang Prabang for a traditional baci, a spiritual ceremony conducted to honor a special event, like a wedding, festival or birth. During the ceremony, enjoy a performance of Lao classical dance before a Farewell Dinner.

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    • Meals included:

    After breakfast at the hotel, you’ll depart for the airport for your flight to Bangkok, where you’ll join travelers on Burma & the Irrawaddy River: Bagan to Mandalay.