Istanbul To Singapore (24 Weeks)

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(£11595)


Istanbul To Singapore (24 Weeks) Trans Asia (Cais24)
Istanbul, Baku, Singapore
From: £8995

An epic overland adventure across 16 countries, starting in Istanbul on the edge of Europe, along the ancient Silk Road to China and then through the tropics of South East Asia, ending in in the ultra-modern metropolis of Singapore. Experience diverse cultures, discover unknown and often-turbulent history, explore varied landscapes and surroundings from wide verdant grasslands and barren deserts to towering snow-capped mountains and dense rainforest, and get lost in some of the world's most vibrant and chaotic cities.

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Itinerary

DAY 1: ISTANBUL

Our trip starts in Istanbul. Today a modern metropolis and one of the world's liveliest cities, it is a place full of history and rich in culture. Our first day is free, which you can choose to spend visiting one of the many famous sights such as the iconic Hagia Sophia and stunning Blue Mosque, or strolling around the Grand Bazaar on the lookout for some bargains. During the evening be sure to try some of the wonderful local cuisine, such as authentic kebabs, baklava or any of the many other treats on offer.

Many of our travellers starting their trips in Istanbul choose to arrive early to make the most out of the city. Please note that if your trip takes you further across Asia you may need to arrive in time to pick up some visas. If you are thinking of doing this be aware that consulates are closed at weekends.

DAY 2-12: ISTANBUL TO BLACK SEA

Leaving Istanbul, we embark on a half day drive through olive groves and rural settlements to Gallipoli and the Straits of the Dardanelles. In World War I, on this blustery and exposed peninsula, ANZAC and British Forces struggled unsuccessfully for nine horrendous months to dislodge Turkish troops from the hills above the beaches. It is a moving experience to visit the war graves and battlegrounds where so much suffering and unnecessary loss of life took place.

We then drive to Ephesus. Built by the Greeks a thousand years before Christ and then rebuilt by the Romans, this immense ancient city boasts an amphitheatre that can seat 24000 and a harbour with no water - still in good condition after all these years. Reaching Selcuk we then drive inland towards Pamukkale where you can swim in warm, mineral-rich waters.

Our next stop is Cappadoccia, where we stay for a few nights. Here, over the centuries, houses, churches, fortresses and even underground cities have been carved into this eerily eroded volcanic rock. The Goreme Valley provides us with an astonishing setting in which to spend a few days investigating the region. Why not take in the scenery from the skies in a Hot Air Balloon flight (optional). We will take you to one of the underground cities where you can explore alone or with a guide this ancient and mysterious area!

After a busy few days in Goreme we again hit the road to cover some more miles as we travel towards Georgia. Crossing rural Turkey, we head towards the Black Sea before following the coast east. This captures the essence of an overland adventure expedition, as we stop for bush camps in the evening and are able to watch as the stunning and varied scenery of this rarely-vested part of the country rolls past, stopping off to meet locals and buy food and drinks as we go.

DAY 13-18: BLACK SEA TO TBILISI

Our first destination in Georgia is the port city of Batumi. Here we spend some time to check out the city with its modern and often bizarre architecture and enjoy our first taste of Georgia's famous warm hospitality. A walk along the waterfront promenade is always popular, especially at night when the buildings are lit up in bright neon colours.

We spend the next two days exploring the Svaneti region. This mountainous area is beautiful and untamed, and offer fantastic hiking options with the mighty Caucasus mountain range as a stunning backdrop. Using our overland truck as our base we will bush camp and spend some time travelling around, including a visit to Mestia, a pretty small town that forms the centre of the region. Weather and climate can be unpredictable so this part of the trip is kept quite loose to allow for itinerary changes, depending on what is our best option at the time, but with the truck carrying all of our camping and cooking gear we are free to travel almost anywhere!

Returning to civilisaton following our time in rural Georgia we visit Kutaisi¸ the country's second largest city and home to a buzzing fruit and vegetable market where you can barter for goods with the local traders. Kutaisi offers a glimpse of what modern day life in urban Georgia is like, and the real joy of the city is found in simply wandering the streets and observing the locals go about their routine.

We then travel east towards the capital to Georgia, Tbilisi. On the way we visit Gori the birthplace of Georgia's most infamous son, Josef Stalin and we have time to visit the museum dedicated to him which is built alongside the house where he was born, which still stands today. Here you will find many items from Stalin's reign, and also his bullet-proof train carriage, in which he travelled across the Soviet Union. There may also be the chance to stop at Uplistsikhe, an ancient cave city built into the mountains not far from Tbilisi. Dating from the early Iron Age, this historic site says much about Georgia's long and often turbulent past at the crossroads of a number of might empires throughout the centuries.

We arrive in Tbilisi where we spend a couple of days, and there is no shortage of things to do. There are countless bars and restaurants offering tasty local dishes and Georgian wine, and exploring the Old Town you are rewarded with a huge range of bohemian-style buildings housing anything from private homes through to art galleries. There is a famous flea market, which sells items as diverse as household furniture to Soviet-era memorabilia, and a number of different museums to check out.

DAY 19-20: TBILISI

The Old Town of Tbilisi has much to offer. Here you can take a stroll along narrow cobbled streets, past traditional old houses with carved wooden balconies, relax in the warm waters of the historic sulphur baths and visit some of the city’s key historical sites; Metekhi Church, Narikala Fortress, Sioni Cathedral and Anchiskhati Church.

DAY 21-23: TBILISI TO TELAVI

Upon leaving Tbilisi is Telavi, the principal town of the Kakheti region, famous for its vineyards and wineries. Wine has been produced in Georgia since 4000BC and the industry has played a small but significant role in the country's history ever since, as winemaking (and its consumption) has enjoyed an important role in Georgian culture and society. Here we have the option of taking a wine tour to find out more about the history of the area, why wine production has been so important, and of course to try some ourselves!

Telavi itself is a fascinating and relaxing place to spend a couple of nights with many good restaurants and cafes, and not far from the town there are other sites well worth a visit, such as the monastery of Akhali Shuamta, and the small village of Ikalta and its Church of the Transfiguration which dates from the 8th Century BC.

DAY 24-28: TELAVI TO YEREVAN

We depart Telavi embark on a border crossing to Armenia and on to the ancient town of Dilijan, famous for its hiking, food and arts.

From Dilijan we will head down to high altitude Lake Sevan with the possibility to visit the Hayravank Monastery that overlooks the lake. Leaving the Lake Sevan area, we make our way via the Geghard Monastery and Garni Temple to one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world that is Yerevan where we will be based for the next couple of days and where there is plenty to see and do.

DAY 29-31: YEREVAN TO AZERBAIJAN

From Yerevan we head south to Tatev, and at 5.7km long, the longest cable tramway in the world the "Wings of Tatev" that whisks you up into the mountains where there are lots of additional activities to take part in. From Tatev we head north, and cross the border into our new destination of Azerbaijan!

DAY 32-36: AZERBAIJAN - SHEKI TO BAKU

On arrival in Azerbaijan we get to visit the 18th Century UNESCO town of Sheki and continue on to the the picturesque ancient village of Lahich with its copper beaters and ancient crafts.

Heading south we visit the mud volcanoes of Qobustan before arriving in the capital of Azerbaijan, Baku.

Baku has an amazing blend of the old city and the ultra-modern and I am sure it will be fascinating and enjoyable addition to the itinerary.

DAY 37-42: BAKU TO ASHGABAT

From Baku, we take the ferry across the Caspian Sea to our next country, Turkmenistan.

On arrival in Turkmenbashi, we will be collected by off road jeeps and head off for our desert adventure. This will be a truly unique experience as we get to visit the Yangikala Canyons via the Balkan Mountains, then on past the white cliffs of Koymat, and along the banks of the dried up Uzboy River before reaching the desert settlement of Melegoch. We will pass several traditional villages on the way before setting up camp near the dunes of Melegoch. Much of this trip will be off road, and totally remote and will truly be a new experience.

Finally, we head towards Ashgabat and arrive at our hotel for a city tour and a well-earned rest!

DAY 43: ASHGABAT

We have some free time and enjoy a city tour of Ashgabat. Turkmenistan’s capital, founded in the 1880s by the Russian Tsarist government, sits between the foothills of the Koptedag mountains to the south, and the vast Karakum Desert to the north. The city was almost entirely destroyed following an earthquake in 1948 and rebuilt in the Soviet style. Following independence in 1991 the city has been transformed into a futuristic, and in many ways bizarre collection of unique structures and wide streets lined with marble. For many travellers, Ashgabat is one of the most mystifying and unusual cities they will ever experience.

On the city tour we visit Independence Park, the Ertogrul Gazi Mozque, the Arch of Neutrality, the Turkmenbashi Mosque Mauasoleum and many other sites throughout the city. There are plenty of fantastic photo opportunities, and we will have the chance to explore some of the markets and meet the locals.

DAY 44-45: ASHGABAT TO KUNYE URGENCH

From Ashgabat there is a gruelling desert crossing as we drive north through the harsh Kara-Kum Desert, a sparsely-populated and remote expanse. We veer off the highway and do some serious off-roading as we cross the dunes to the Darwaza Gas Crater. Also known as the ‘Door to Hell’ or ‘Gates of Hell’, this remarkable sight is the result of a Soviet-era gas exploration accident, when the ground beneath a drilling rig gave way and to prevent poisonous gas leaking out it was decided to burn it off. Originally engineers believed it would all be burned in a few days, but that was in 1971 and the field is still burning to this day. The result is a sight quite like no other as we are able to peer down into the crater and see the fire, and feel the intense heat coming from the flames. Conditions permitting we will get to the crater in the truck and bush camp nearby in the remote desert.

Rising early the next morning we leave Darwaza and return to the highway as we continue north to Kunye Urgench, an ancient Silk Road town that was abandoned in the early 1700s and has been left largely untouched since. The old ruins of the town are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the most striking sight is undoubtedly the 60-metre high minaret, that dates from the 11th Century. It is said that when Genghis Khan’s Mongol army invaded this area that the infamous warlord was so impressed by the minaret he ordered for it to not be destroyed!

DAY 46-50: KUNYE URGENCH TO BUKHARA

We cross the border to Uzbekistan. Road conditions permitting, we will drive to the edge of where the Aral Sea used to lie. In the 1960s the Soviet Union began an intense irrigation project to boost cotton growth in the region using the then vast sea as its source. The project has led to the sea now shrinking to just 10% of its original size and today as we reach where its edge formerly was, we can see ships sitting incongruously in the middle of what is now a huge desert where we camp for the night.

Continuing further into Uzbekistan, we find well preserved relics from the time when Asia was a centre of empire, learning, and trade along the famous Silk Road. Some of its cities have abundant old architecture, mosques and minarets cloaked with the mystery of the orient dating back thousands of years.

Our first city stop is in Khiva, one of the most noteworthy of the cities and towns of Central Asia. It is a unique monument town, completely preserved in the cultural style of the region, and is a World Heritage Site for its historical significance. It has more minarets than any other place in Asia, and the Juma Mosque, which has an amazing 218 ornate carved wooden columns, is another of the main attractions. We will spend at least a couple of nights here to explore the ancient medressas, medinas, mausoleums and museums and soak up the unique atmosphere.

Continuing south, we bush camp out in the desert before reaching another town with much historical influence that was also on the great Silk Road.

DAY 51-54: BUKHARA TO SAMARKAND

The name Bukhara is synonymous with the Silk Road, and its name conjures up images of Marco Polo, trading caravans and exploration. The British explorer Alexander Burnes, one of the iconic figures of the Victorian-era ‘Great Game’ was nicknamed ‘Burnes of Bukhara’.

The city is situated on a sacred hill and was founded in the 13th century BC; a centre of learning throughout much of its history, it is home to over 350 mosques and some 100 Islamic colleges. It is an attractive city with narrow streets, green parks and gardens that are a pleasure to wander around and there will be the opportunity for a bout of good-humoured haggling in the bazaar.

The Kyzylkum Desert is about 300,000 sq km and lies between the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya rivers. This is a vast arid plain with a number of isolated bare mountains rising to 900 metres and we journey across it on our way to Samarkand. Scheduled permitting, we may opt to take the local train and rejoin the truck on arrival.

Samarkand itself is the second largest city in Uzbekistan. It dates back 2,500 years, making it as old as Babylon or Rome. Here we have a couple of days to explore the splendid architecture such as the 15th century Bibi-Khanum Mosque which when it was built was considered to have the largest dome in the Muslim world. Today it stands next a noisy and colourful Oriental market. No trip here is complete without a wander around the three edifices of the Registan, once Medieval Samarkand's commercial plaza and today quite possibly the most awesome sight in Central Asia.

DAY 55-56: SAMARKAND TO DUSHANBE

From here we drive southwards towards Tajikistan. Time allowing en-route we will make a short stop in the Unesco Town of Shahrisabz. Here still standing since 1380 are parts of the original 65mtr gate towers to Timur’s Summer (Ak Saray) Palace.

Dushanbe is Tajikistan’s largest city, and aptly its name means “Money” in Tajik language. It’s a big showy entry to the country, in stark contrast to the East. You’ll pass a lovely day strolling through parks, admiring the fountains and the wide boulevards punctuated with grand buildings. Visit “Flag Pole Park” or the bazaar, or make the most of being in a city with restaurants specialising in various different cuisines!

DAY 57-61: DUSHANBE TO BISHKEK

We drive north in to the Fann Mountains, one of Tajikistan's great ranges (the other being the Pamirs). Peaks of over 5000 mtrs slip by as we head to Iskanderkul Lake at 2200 mtrs. It is said to be the resting place of Alexander the Greats horse, Bucephalus. The glacial lake is a stunning spot for a hike and we aim to visit Tajikistan's highest waterfall (40 mtrs).

Continuing north we arrive in to Khujand - although today the city is not one of the most picturesque, it has had an important role in the history of the Silk Road and was one of the furthest points reached by Alexander the Great. It is said in this area that he wept, saying he had no further territory to conquer. We have time to visit the Fortress and Panjshanbe Market (one of the largest covered markets in Central Asia).

We re-enter Uzbekistan and arrive in the Fergana Valley, known for its silk production and the area that gave the name to one of the greatest routes in history.

Crossing in to Kyrgyzstan our first stop is Osh, the second biggest and the country's oldest, city. Make sure you visit the bazaar, which has occupied the same spot for over 2000 years and used to be a major stop along the ancient Silk Road.

We drive north through stunning mountain views and past the turquoise waters of Toktogul Reservoir, before arriving in the capital city of Bishkek.

DAY 62-63: BISHKEK

Kyrgyzstan's leafy, relaxed capital is a largely Soviet-built city, softened somewhat by its many boulevards and tree lined streets. We take a few days here in a comfortable, friendly hostel to recharge our batteries. We can enjoy the cafés and restaurants dotted around the city, there is no shortage of bars and nightclubs, and for those so inclined there are also a few cinemas and shopping districts.

Bishkek is also home to a number of museums, including the Kyrgyz State Historical Museum and Zoological Museum, which have exhibits that explain more about Kyrgyzstan political and natural history, and there are a number of parks and other public areas worth visiting to watch local life pass you by, the main one being Ala-Too Square, which once was dominated by a large statue of Lenin (this has now been moved to a smaller square in the city).

DAY 64-72: BISHKEK TO SEMENOVSKRE GORGE

We head north east to Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest metropolis and capital until 1997. Almaty is the largest and most ethnically and culturally diverse city in Kazakhstan. Set in the foothills of the Trans Lli Alatau mountains, the area has a ski resort (Shymbulak) at an elevation of 2,200 mtrs and enjoys a great amount of snow from November through to May. The city has many sights and attractions, including Ascension Cathedral in Panfilov Park; Abay Opera House; Golden Warrior Monument in the Republic Square and the giant Almaty Tower. Or for adrenaline lovers, why not ride the ‘Fast Coaster’ roller coaster, that is located on the side of a mountain and reaches speeds of 45 km per hour.

We continue east looking for amazing camping areas to explore, before crossing back in to Kygyzstan and the area of Lake Issyk-Kul, a mountain lake in the northern Tien Shan Mountains, once used by the Soviets to test their submarine torpedoes!

The area of Altyn Arashan and its surrounds offer the outdoor lover many hiking and horse riding opportunities and we spend a few days here to take in the amazing scenery.

We visit the vast red stone cliffs in Jeti-Oguz and visit the town of Karakol with its attractive houses and tree-lined streets. Behind it are the Terskay Ala-Too Mountains, an unspoilt wilderness populated only by nomadic shepherds.

Continuing around the lake to Semenovskre Gorge the adventurous can hike through lush terrain, following the rivers that wind through the national reserve.

As we travel around Kyrgyzstan we camp, but we also may have the opportunity to use some family homestays, where we are welcomed into a local home for the night. These are subject to availability, but if we can arrange them they offer a fantastic experience, allowing us to feel part of the family for a night and make some new friends!

DAY 73-76: SEMENOVSKRE GORGE TO TASH RABAT

Travelling south and leaving behind Lake Issyk-Kul, we make our way to the isolated and breathtaking Lake Song Kol, where we stay in traditional felt Yurts. There will be opportunity to either hike or horse back ride and explore the surrounding area. If we are lucky we may even see a game of Ulak Tartysh - a Kyrgyz version of polo.

We spend a couple of days driving south through the mountains towards the border with China. On the way we cross vast high plains where Kyrgyz nomads, living in their traditional yurts, practice a lifestyle which has changed little over the centuries. We will stop off at Tash Rabat, an ancient Caravanserai on the old Silk Route.

DAY 77: TASH RABAT TO KASHGAR

The border is crossed via the Torugat Pass in the Tien Shan Mountains which at 3,752 m is one of the highest passes in the world. From here we leave the truck behind and change over to a private transfer to the border, where our Chinese Guide and new Oasis Leader will be waiting, before driving down the pass to Kashgar.

DAY 78: KASHGAR

Using the public buses around Kashgar, we have a full day guided tour. Kashgar is home to one of the last remaining statues of Chairman Mao, still standing in a watchful gaze across the People's Square. Other highlights we hope to see are Apak Hoja Tomb, a beautiful example of Uyghur Islamic Architecture; Id Kah Mosque, the largest Mosque in the whole of China; Handicraft Street where we can view pots being made, traditional musical instrument workshops and wood craftsmen at work. If we are lucky enough to be in Kashgar on a weekend, we will endeavour to visit the Sunday Livestock Market.

DAY 79-83: KASHGAR TO LHASA

We take the overnight train to Jiayuguan and get our first glimpse of the Great Wall of China! We have time to explore in the afternoon and we will overnight here.

Our next train journey takes us to Dunhuang, a city on the edge of the Gobi desert which is situated at a point of vital strategic and logistical importance, on a crossroads of 2 major trade routes on the old Silk Road. We visit the famed Mogao Grottoes (also known as the Qianfodong - the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas). This honeycomb of caves was constructed from the 4th to the 14th centuries, and has an astonishing collection of 492 caves, which are one of the world's richest treasure houses of Buddhist sutras, murals and sculptures.

We also take a trip to the edge of the oasis to Ming Sha Hill and the Crescent Moon Pool. Spring water trickles up into a depression between huge sand dunes, forming a crescent-shaped pond. Here we will be able to scramble up and slide down one of the giant dunes and there is the opportunity to ride on a Bactrian camel (the two humped variety) over the sand dunes.

Boarding our night train, we travel further East to Lanzhou, where we change trains and journey on to Lhasa.

DAY 84-88: LHASA TO SHIGATSE

Tibet, once home to the Dalai Lama. At 3,490 metres, Lhasa is one of the highest cities in the world. We will have time in the afternoon to relax and acclimatise to the altitude.

We have a full day to explore this interesting city, with our Tibetan guide. Must see sights are the Jokhang Temple, Barkhor Square and the stunning Potala Palace. We hope to also visit the Sera Monastery, where from mid afternoon monks still debate with the aid of flamboyant arm movements!

Boarding our private bus, we cross the mighty Gampala Pass (4790 metres) and we get our first glimpse of Yamdrok Tso Lake. The lake is surrounded by many snow capped peaks and in the distance, and on a clear day, you can see Holy Mount Nyenchen Khangsar, (7191m).

On arrival in Shigatse we visit the home of Panchan Lama - Tashilunpo Monastery. Financed by local nobles, the Monastery was founded in 1447 by the 1st Dalai Lama. We overnight in Shigatse.

DAY 89-91: SHIGATSE TO GYANTSE

Continuing on our bus journey we arrive at Rongbuk Monastery, which is situated at 4980 metres and is claimed to be the highest Monastery in the world.

Our accommodation tonight will be very basic, but (weather allowing) the views of Mount Everest will more than make up for any discomfort.

We visit Mount Everest Base Camp hoping for a glimpse of the peak, before driving to Tingri, a stopping point on the Friendship Highway, for our overnight stay.

We continue on the Friendship Highway to Gyantse, where there is the option to visit Pelkor Chode Monastery and Kumbum Stupa. The Kumbum, which was built in 1497, is particularly interesting as the structure contains some 76 chapels through 9 levels. We overnight in Gyantse.

DAY 92-94: GYANTSE TO XI'AN

Once again we cross the mighty Gampala Pass, with time to visit Yamdrok Tso Lake, before heading back in to Lhasa to catch the high altitude train to Chengdu.

This is one of the world’s classic train routes and will take us almost 2 days to complete! It was said a track could never be built at such high altitude or across such a landscape, but the Chinese have managed to achieve it! We will see snowcapped peaks, turquoise plateau lakes and grazing yaks from our window.

We arrive in Chengdu in the early morning and transfer to our hotel, where we will be based for 2 nights.

Our next stop will be the Panda Sanctuary where we can see these gentle giants. The Sanctuary was created in the 1980’s to house six sick Panda’s and has become one of the most important centres for Panda breeding research in the world.

We take the fast train to Xi’an and have an afternoon to explore the city. Xi'an is well known for its food and nightlife and there are some attractive restaurant districts to wander around in the evening.

DAY 95-96: XI'AN

Xi'an is home to numerous cultural and historical sites, highlights you may wish to see are the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, the Bell and Drum Towers or maybe check out the well preserved City Walls, dating back to the Ming Dynasty.

Of these, the Museum of Terracotta Warriors and Horses is probably the most famous. These are the most significant archaeological excavations of the 20th century and work is ongoing at this site. Upon ascending the throne at the age of 13 in 246 BC, Qin Shi Huang began work on his mausoleum - before becoming the first Emperor of China. It took 11 years to finish and it is believed he built this vast terracotta army to accompany him into the afterlife. The museum covers over 16,000 sq metres - with armies of soldiers and their horses arranged in lines under a giant aircraft hanger type roof. There are over 7,000 figures and it really is a remarkable sight. Other sites in Xi'an include the City Wall dating back to the Ming Dynasty as well as fine Buddhist pagoda - the Famen Temple.

DAY 97-102: XIAN TO LUANG NAMTHA

We leave Xi'an and head to Chengdu, where we have a full free day and overnight stop in this fascinating city, where the main highlight is the Giant Panda Sanctuary.

We board the bullet train to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the ‘Spring City’, and sat nearly 2000m above sea-level, Kunming enjoys a milder climate than we have so far been used to in China, and walking its tree-lined boulevards makes for a pleasant change of pace, although we are still in China so don’t expect it to be slow or boring! You can check out the Tang Dynasty-era Pagodas or the Yuatong Temple, some 1200 years old and contrasting with the rapid pace of modern China that is changing the city.

Passing through Mengla, we then continue to the border with Laos and bid farewell to China as our journey move on to our next destination.

DAY 103-110: LUANG NAMTHA TO VANG VIENG

We enter Laos, known in antiquity as ‘The Land of a Million Elephants’, a country of verdant tropical landscapes dotted with thick, forested hills and sleepy towns and cities. Its rich history and varied culture make it a fantastic country to explore. Our first stop is Luang Namtha, with surrounding jungle and hills offering hikes, rafting and overnight village stays.

After a couple of nights in Luang Namtha we head to the former royal capital of Luang Prabang. In Luang Prabang, our base for the next four nights,we rejoin the Mekong River, and have the opportunity to explore its many temples, experience a wide range of colourful and varied cuisine and fully embrace South East Asia’s bustling backpacker scene. But for all its tourist appeal, the city has still retained its authenticity, partly due to its status as a UNESCO World Heritage site, but also because of the reverence paid to the city stemming from its role as a royal and religious centre through the region’s history. Here it is possible to hire a bicycle and explore the streets by yourself, visit the Pak Ou Caves take a cooking course, or just take a seat in one of the many bars or cafes and watch as Buddhist Monks, local traders and bewildered backpackers struggling with the heat and all other life unfolds in front of you. This is also where we will obtain our visas for Vietnam, which by now will be fast approaching.

Next stop, the riverside town of Vang Vieng, known for it's stunning natural scenery and outdoor activities you can spend the day, exploring many caves throughout the area, like Phu Kham or Tham Chang cave and enjoy swimming in the lagoons located within, there are opportunities for mountain biking, trekking, kayaking, rock climbing, inner tubing and much more.

DAY 111-115: VANG VIENG TO SAVANNAKET

Leaving Vang Vieng we continue south to Vientiane, an unusually chilled-out capital city by South East Asian standards! There are many sights of interest, most notably the majestic Pha That Luang. Vientiane’s slow pace and subtle French character, a gentle reminder of its colonial past, make it well worth stopping for a couple of nights. This is also where we will obtain our visas for Vietnam, which by now will be fast approaching.

We leave the city behind us and return to the wilds of Laos as we reach Phu Hin Bun National Park where we take a longtail boat up the river into some spectacular caves and stay in a rustic bush lodge overlooking the river. We continue to follow the river south to Savannaket, a decent-sized town with a sense of faded colonial splendour as crumbling French buildings slowly give way to modern Laos. We have one last chance to enjoy a ‘Beer Lao’ before an early start the next morning to head east into Vietnam.

DAY 116-123: SAVANNAKET TO NHA TRANG

Hue, one of Vietnam’s cultural and religious centres is set on the banks of the Song Huong (Perfume River) and close to the coast. The Citadel(Kinh Thanh) and the opulent tombs of the Nguyen Emperors are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and for those interested in more recent history there is an optional day trip to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) from the Vietnam War.

After three nights in Hue we head south to Hoi An, known for its Old Town, criss-crossed by canals and multicultural history as a key trading port throughout Vietnam’s history. There are nearby white sandy beaches and also local cooking courses are available, but the city is perhaps best-known for its many tailors, so this is the place to get a bargain as you plan ahead to the cosmopolitan and modern cities that await us later in our trip! For those less sartorially-minded, there are plenty of water-based activities and adventure activities in the surrounding area, as well as good diving on offer.

We continue to beach hop along the popular backpacker route to the coastal resort city, Nha Trang known for its beaches, diving sites and offshore islands.

DAY 124-126: NHA TRANG TO HO CHI MINH CITY

Feeling fully relaxed and recharged, we reach Vietnam’s frenetic economic centre of Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), also known as Saigon. This city pulsates 24/7, as countless motorbikes swarm through its crowded streets and there is plenty to keep us occupied for a couple of days. We will visit the War Remnants Museum and you will have time to see Reunification Palace, or take a day trip to the nearby Cu Chi Tunnels, where the Vietcong dug out an underground network of supply lines during the war. Also, not far from HCMC you can visit the Cao Dai Temple, a unique religious sect that fuses many different elements with colourful and memorable services that visitors are welcome to observe. There are also day trips available to the Mekong Delta, to see where this mighty river finally ends its long journey into the sea.

DAY 127-131: HO CHI MINH CITY TO BATTAMBANG

HCMC is often a tiring and relentless experience with so much to do and its unremitting pace, so it’s a good thing that next up we have the more laid-back feel of Cambodia. A country with a tragic past, as the horrors of the Khmer Rouge are still within living memory, most visitors are amazed and inspired at the positivism and endeavour of the people who live in this stunning country, which is also home to one of the greatest ancient wonders to be found anywhere in the world: Angkor Wat.

First off though, we spend three nights in Phnom Penh, a city on the rise. Along with the splendour of Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, there are more sombre reminders of Pol Pot’s brutal regime at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former high school that was turned into a prison that has now been preserved and now serves as a chilling monument to a dark period, and also a respectful memorial to those who lost their lives. On the edge of town it is also possible to visit the Killing Fields, a similarly harrowing but valuable experience.

But this is in the past, and the local people in Phnom Penh have put it all behind them and live life at a frantic pace. With neon signs mixed in with many tastefully restored French Colonial buildings, it’s a great city to just wander around and enjoy fine cuisine and buzzing nightlife.

From Phnom Penh we stop for a couple of nights in Battambang, a city on the bank of the Sangkae River. This city has some more great temples and Buddhist shrines to explore, and the infamous ‘Bamboo Railway’, a truly unique and hair-raising experience!

DAY 132-135: BATTAMBANG TO SIEM REAP

We leave Battambang by boat, cruising along the Tonle Sap lake upriver to Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor Wat. This iconic abandoned temple, which adorns the national flag of Cambodia, is said to be the world’s largest religious monument. But there is far more to the whole site, known collectively as the Temples of Angkor, and away from the most famous site there are countless ruins to explore, many of which have been slowly reclaimed by the surrounding jungle and it doesn’t take too much effort to find yourself completely away from the crowds. We include entry for one day to the whole site, which can be explored either by tuk-tuk with a hired driver/guide for the day, or by yourself on bicycle, as it is only a short distance from Siem Reap itself.

The fact that Angkor Wat is so nearby gives Siem Reap the feel of a busy tourist town. This has obvious pitfalls, but also means it is a great place to enjoy a night out and bump into travellers from all over the world going in each and every direction.

DAY 136-141: SIEM REAP TO SURIT THANI

A full day’s drive and border crossing brings us to Bangkok, the vast and steamy capital of Thailand, known as the ‘Land of a Thousand Smiles’. Bangkok has plenty to keep us occupied, from glitzy shopping malls full of western brands to ancient palaces and monuments to the revered royal family. We include entry into the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. We spend three nights here so there is time explore the many canals on a Khlong Tour, visit one of the weekend Floating Markets, or take a stroll down the world famous Khao San Road, the start and end point to many travellers’ journeys through South East Asia.You also have the option to visit the small town of Kanchanaburi, which is known for the Bridge on the River Kwai. Built by Allied prisoners of war during the Second World War the bridge was immortalised in the film of the same name. It is possible to view and cross the bridge, and the nearby Thailand-Burma Railway Centre and the war cemeteries are also well worth visiting.After our time in Bangkok we head to Surit Thani, from where we begin our beach week on one of Thailand’s famous tropical islands!

DAY 142-147: SURIT THANI TO BEACH WEEK

From Surit Thani we board one of the many ferries to take the short trip across to either Ko Pha-ngan or Ko Samui. These islands are famous, or perhaps infamous, for their Full Moon Parties and lively backpacker scene, but they are also home to some world-class scuba diving, quiet and idyllic white beaches with warm, inviting turquoise waters and it is easy to escape the crowds for some serious downtime!

The Thailand beach week is not included in the trip price, and you are free to make your own arrangements for your accommodation for this time, choosing where you’d like to stay and what you want to do! Return boats to and from the islands are included.

DAY 148-150: BEACH WEEK TO PENANG

After some time out we all meet up again for the return trip to Surit Thani with an overnight stop in Hat Yai before entering Malaysia. This former British colony has an exotic blend of Malay, Indian, Chinese and European influences, which are reflected in the people, architecture and, perhaps most of all, its food! Our first stop is Penang, where we spend a couple of nights and will have free time to explore.

DAY 151-154: PENANG TO PULAU SAMOSIR

Leaving Malaysia we take a short flight to Medan, just across the Strait of Melacca on Sumatra, in Indonesia where you can explore the Grand Mosque or palace, or just sit back and soak in the city’s coruscating atmosphere (flights are not included and can be booked during the trip).

It is Sumatra’s lush jungles, one of the richest ecosystems in the world, steaming and at times rumbling volcanoes and blue crater lakes which make this part of the world fascinating and so different from everything else experienced on the expedition to date.

As we head into the interior of the world’s sixth largest island our destination is Lake Danau Toba, home of the Batak people. The lake covers an area of 1707 sq km and we head for the island in the middle of the lake called Pulau Samosir which is almost the same size as Singapore. The island offers many different options but the best way to experience it is to head off on a bike or motorbikes and explore the countryside, from swimming to trekking, to trying your hand at Indonesian cooking in one of the culinary schools and just enjoying the stunning scenery. The cool air, highland setting, with steep, pine-covered slopes, descending into the lake's deep blue water is great place to kick back and relax. The island's unique and fascinating Batak heritage, is evident in the clusters of sopo (tribal houses) with roofs that curve upwards, like buffalo horns, white-washed churches that dot the landscape, and ancient stones and monuments

For a bit of local flavour, visit a toddy shop and try a glass of 'tuak' (palm wine). The Batak people are known throughout Indonesia for their love of singing and playing music, and tuak is just the thing to get you fired up to join the singalong!

DAY 155-156: PULAU SAMOSIR TO BUKIT LAWANG

The wildlife in all this area is abundant but our next destination’s big attraction is the orangutan feeding station at Bukit Lawang. Deep in the Sumatran jungle, these feeding stations have been created to support the indigenous orangutans as much of the normal habitat has been removed for agriculture or palm oil plantations. By creating these feeding stations, the orangutans do not have to compete with the locals by raiding their fields. We visit the feeding station and there is also the opportunity to trek through the jungle and hope to spot these incredible creatures in their natural environment.

The Gunung Leuser National Park and surrounding area has plenty else to offer, from exploring the ‘bat cave’, day or overnight guided hikes in the national park on the search for wild orangutans and the many other primates and larger mammals in the park. The chance to float back down to the starting point on an inner tube is a great way to finish your trek!

DAY 157-165: BUKIT LAWANG TO MELAKA

Returning from Indonesia to Malaysia, we have time to explore the town of Georgetown on the island of Penang. Formerly the Malayan base for the historic East India Company, it’s a great spot to take a wander amongst the crumbling colonial buildings and check out the impressive street art. The other great thing is the food: Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand all had their fantastic cuisine to offer, and Malaysia offers another different twist with influences from India strongly evident in Georgetown.

Departing Penang we cross the Malaysian peninsula to another tropical paradise, this time the famous island of Pulau Perhenthian; one of Malaysia’s showpiece islands, it is refreshingly undeveloped and is a prime spot for snorkelling or diving. Imagine going for a snorkel just off the shore and seeing turtles and sharks! Getting to the islands is also an exciting speed boat road across the bay.

After three nights of relaxed tropical bliss, we drag ourselves off the beach and it’s time to head to the big city again as we reach Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia and one of South East Asia’s most important economic centres. This sprawling city is typical of Malaysia, with a variety of neighbourhoods and districts, each representing the many cultures that have given Malaysia its distinctive character while also giving a nod to the direction of this emerging country. There is the colonial area around Merdeka Square, the chaos of Little India or Chinatown with its famous Jalan Petaling, where you can barter for all kinds of varied goods and trinkets, or the modern and dynamic area around the Golden Triangle, home to the iconic Petronas Towers (best viewed at night when they are lit up). For the best views of the city, KL Tower is only a short walk away.

After two nights in Kuala Lumpur we continue south to Melaka, our penultimate stop on the trip. This city’s history as a strategic trading post lends it a unique blend of Malay, Portuguese, Dutch and British flavours and influences. Take a boat trip on the Malacca River, explore the museums, temples and churches, climb the hill to St John’s Fort or take a trip out to the Melaka Zoo, considered to be the best in all of Malaysia.

DAY 166-167: SINGAPORE

And so, in a flash, you will be arriving into Singapore, our final stop on this epic journey. The city has plenty to offer, from a world-class zoo, to endless shopping malls, and a national passion for food that is hard to match! Known as the ‘Lion City’ it is one of Asia's most affluent and vibrant, and a great place to spend a couple of days exploring. It’s also a great place to celebrate the end of our epic journey across Asia, and so in the spirit of overlanding this epic route we head to the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel and raise a toast with a Singapore Sling and relive all the experiences that you have shared since your trip began.

Experience

Discover dwellings carved from the eerily eroded landscape in Cappadoccia
Visit the bubbling and sometimes explosive mud volcanoes found in Azerbaijan
Experience the desert proper on a 4X4 safari in Turkmenistan
Feel the intense heat coming from the Darwaza Gas Crater
Explore the ancient medressas, mausoleums and mosques of Bukhara and Samarkand
Take in the incredible landscapes with forever changing colours as the sun moves through Tajikistan
Enjoy the stunning mountain scenery and alpine lakes throughout Kyrgyzstan
Our first taste of the Great Wall of China near Jiayuguan

Included

  • Accommodation - approx. 25% camping & 75% simple hotels/hostels/homestay (except 'Beach Week' in Thailand)
  • Gallipoli Tour
  • Caspian Ferry
  • Turkmenistan Letter of Invitation support and fees
  • 4X4 Desert Safari in Turkmenistan
  • Ashgabat city tour
  • Darvaza Gas Craters
  • Yurt Stay at Lake Song Kol
  • Tash Rabat Caravanserai
  • Local English speaking Chinese guide for our time in China
  • China Letter of Invitation support and fees
  • Guided tour of the Mogao Caves
  • Tour around Potala Palace & Jokhang Temple (entry not included)
  • Visit to Mt Everest base camp
  • Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding & Research Centre
  • Terracotta Army warriors
  • Longtail boat trip in Phu Hin Bun National Park
  • Great Sacred Stupa (Pha That Luang), Vientiane - entrance fee
  • Walled citadel, Hue - entrance fee
  • War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City - entrance fee
  • Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Phnom Penh - entrance fee and guided tour
  • Killing Fields, Phnom Penh - entrance fee and guided tour
  • Angkor Wat, Siem Reap (1 Day Pass) - entrance fee and guided tour
  • Boat trip from Battambang to Siem Reap including Tonle Sap Lake
  • Wat Phra Kaew & Grand Palace, Bangkok - entrance fee
  • Jungle trek including visit to orangutan feeding station and inner tube river trip, Sumatra
  • Perhentian Islands - entrance fee and speed boat trip
  • Singapore Sling at Raffles
  • Meals - approx. 30%
  • All Transport on Oasis Expedition Truck (Istanbul to Tash Rabat)
  • Transfer from Tash Rabat across the China border to Kashgar
  • All local transport including the Classic High Altitude train from Lhasa to Chengdu (China to Singapore) (excluding Penang-Medan return flights)
  • Services of Oasis Crew

Not included

  • Visas
  • Local Payment (see tour notes & options)
  • Accommodation during the 'Beach Week' in Thailand
  • Penang - Medan Return Flights
  • Optional Excursions as listed in the Pre-Departure Information
  • Flights
  • Airport Taxes & Transfers
  • Travel Insurance
  • Meals - approx. 70%
  • Drinks
  • Tips
Istanbul To Singapore (24 Weeks) Trans Asia (Cais24)
Next Booking: April 17, 2024
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