Three ‘Stans Textile and Craft Tour

THREE ‘STANS TEXTILE & CRAFT TOUR
September 25 – October 12, 2022
Depart for home October 13.

18-night all-new textile tour of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan!

Rikki Quintana from HoonArts Fair Trade and Cynthia Samaké, textile expert with Behind the Scenes Adventures, have created an authentic and fascinating experience for you! We’ll visit three of the famous Central Asian ‘Stan countries: Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and finally Kyrgyzstan.  Check another fabulous adventure off your bucket list!

Strip of handwoven silk warp ikat, Margilan.

The trip begins in the exciting city of Tashkent, Uzbekistan, crosses an interesting corner of Tajikistan and ends in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. 

Suzanis and suzani-style hand-embroidered pillows for sale; Tashkent.

The ancient trade passage called the Silk Route, linked the western Mediterranean to China. This legendary route traversed Central Asia from Bukhara and Samarkand in the west, through Margilan and then to Osh in Kyrgyzstan, before crossing into China. Our “Three ‘Stans” adventure follows this section of the Silk Route. The countries we have chosen for this adventure exhibit a variety of unusual textiles and skillful crafts s well as stunning architecture. Artisans create hand-embroidered suzanis, hand-dyed, handwoven ikat textiles; thick and cozy felted rugs and slippers, fine wood carving, and cobalt-blue ceramics and tile work.

Local textile experts will accompany our small group during the trip to be sure we meet the most talented artisans and enjoy several hands-on workshops. Along the whole route, we’ll see stunning turquoise-domed buildings, bustling handicraft bazaars and superb mountain scenery. True to our name, we’ll go ‘Behind the Scenes’ to meet silk ikat dyers and weavers, embroidery and ceramic masters, wood block printers, and more. We’ll also see four UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Tiled arch and niches with the traditional glaze.Trip Highlights

  • We’ll meet you at the airport in beautiful Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
  • Turkish Airlines is usually the best way to arrive.
  • Meet the premier ikat weaving master and watch him tie, dye and weave jewel-toned ikat fabrics.
  • Create your own felted silk scarf with your choice of traditional patterns!
  • Jump on a fast train for the ancient town of Bukhara with its amazing mosques, galleries and museums.
  • Marvel at UNESCO-designated Samarkand and the blue-tiled Registan plaza.
  • Meet suzani embroiderers and contemporary felt designers; purchase their original work.
  • Spend a cozy night in an authentic felted yurt and learn about the nomadic lifestyle.
  • Watch the masters create colorful rugs and take one home if you wish!
  • Day trip to observe a potter making beautiful blue traditional ceramics.
  • Visit a silk carpet factory and the Museum of Decorative Applied Arts.
  • See four UNESCO World Heritage sites.
  • Relax in comfortable hotels and eat delicious local cuisine.

Hand-painted intricate designs on ceramic bowls.

Three ‘Stans: Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan

Each country has something different to offer! The three countries we will experience were part of the Soviet Union until its dissolution, and we shall see remnants of this in the Soviet-style architecture. But in 1990, each republic declared sovereignty and became independent. Officially the countries are named the Republic of Uzbekistan, the Republic of Tajikistan and the Kyrgyz Republic. We’ll learn more about the very complex history of the region from our guides, but most of our time will be spent admiring the arts, crafts and architecture, meeting the artisans, marveling at the mountains and lakes, and enjoying the delicious fresh foods!

Our route goes from Tashkent west to Samarkand and Bukhara, then back east into Tajikistan. Then we’ll swing back into Uzbekistan to the Ferghana Valley, and on into Kyrgyzstan. We’ll fly home from the Kyrgyz city of Bishkek. Once you sign up for the trip, we’ll send details for flights, visas, what to take, etc.

School children at the mausoleum of Timur’s family. Bukhara.

First stop: Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Hi-speed and comfortable train.

In Tashkent (as in many Uzbek cities) the cerulean domes of historical buildings such as the 16th Barak-Khan Madrasa complex form one of the exciting photo opportunities and attractions. We’ll also shop at a famous crafts bazaar, as well as visit a woodblock print studio, an embroidery workshop and the Applied Arts Museum. The State Museum of Applied Arts showcases some of the best historical artistic examples of the embroideries and ceramics of Uzbekistan. Long ago, the Imperial Russian diplomat and visionary Alexander Polovtsev built a mansion to display his extensive collections of unique national handicrafts; it is now open as a museum with collections that include traditional ikat garments.

Samarkand

Next we‘ll board the air-conditioned fast train to Samarkand. This interesting city lies right on the ancient Silk Road and its historical center is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Seasoned travelers consider Samarkand as one of the most beautiful cities in the world and we shall see why. Today it’s the third largest city in Uzbekistan. Modern Samarkand is a unique city: it combines the spirit of modernity and old historical grace. Once the capital, and an important trade stop along the Silk Road, Samarkand sits at the center of the country. Prominent and iconic landmarks include the Registan, a plaza bordered by three ornate, tile-covered madrasas dating to the 15th and 17th centuries. We’ll see the towering tomb of Timur (Tamerlane), founder of the Timurid Empire. The western part of the city is more modern, with architecture reflecting 19th and 20th c. European design and style, influenced by the Russian aesthetic. The city is often referred as a crossroad of cultures.

Hand-embroidered Suzani from Uzbekistan.

Next stop, Bukhara

The ancient city of Bukhara (also a UNESCO site) remains an exciting place to explore the architecture and textiles of Uzbekistan. This city has overflowing textile bazaars and an active art scene! Blue-tiled mosques and museums also abound in this fabulous historical city. The age-old caravansarai and madrasas have often been converted into artists’ studios and workshops. And several ancient, domed bazaars here offer carpets, suzanis (embroidered panels) and jewelry. We’ll explore these, as well as an artisan center where we can learn how some typical crafts are made.

While in Bukhara, we must see the Emir’s summer palace, Sitorai Mohi Hosa. It’s an ‘over-the-top Russian/Central Asian confection built in 1911.’  The palace also houses the excellent Bukhara Museum of Decorative Arts where the suzani collection will enthrall the embroidery lovers among us. We’ll visit architectural wonders such as the 9th century Ismael Samani Mausoleum, made of baked bricks in basket weave pattern, below.

The ‘perfect cube’ – Mausoleum of sun-baked bricks.

Into Tajikistan

After a few days in Samarkand and Bukhara, we’ll cross the border at Panjakent and enter Tajikistan. We’ll check into our hotel then walk around town to get our bearings. One morning we’ll take in the bustling Panjakent Bazaar, in an unusual round arched building.

Panjakent has many crafts centers and Armughon will be our first visit. They make unique felted Tajik crafts such as pillows and ornaments. Next we head for Madm to see the carpet making, which has a long tradition of many generations in some families.

Later we’ll drop by to see the woodcarvers. They are called kandakori. With chisels, rasps and mallets, craftsmen make bookstands, latticework, pencil cases, molding for traditional tables and more. The most ambitious application of the craft is when large logs are shaped into finely worked columns and beams for mosques and the homes of the wealthy.

Young Tajik woodcarver designs box decoration.

Famous Ferghana Valley, Ikat Heaven!

Next we’ll head for the Ferghana Valley, home of superb and glowing ikat resist-warp dyed fabrics, the most renowned of Uzbek textiles. Our route to the Ferghana Valley leads us via the low Kamchik pass at around 7400 feet. After 4 hours drive, we’ll stop in Kokand, to visit the incredible Khudayarkhan Palace and the Juma (Friday) mosque with carved wooden pillars. Taste the delicious homemade honey halva sold in the mosque courtyard! We’ll have lunch and continue to Margilan.

In Margilan, an ancient Fergana Valley city, we’ll meet ikat dyers and weavers who are the most skilled in Central Asia.  Margilan was already well-known in antiquity for the superb quality of silk created here. A highlight will be the Kumtepa Bazaar, one of the best places to buy ikat fabrics (with resist-dyed warp) which are the most renowned textiles of Uzbekistan. It’s a great local market with an extensive area devoted to local textile crafts. Here you can buy ikat yardage to make robes, quilts or pillows, and other textile treasures.

Ikat yardage at the market, Margilan.

Over the course of three days there, we’ll visit many ikat weavers and artisans to see how they weave, tie and dye. We’ll learn to make some typical dishes in a cooking class, pore over the textile bazaar and visit a silk factory. Later we’ll visit the training center of the most renowned ikat weaver, whose workshop did custom work for Oscar de la Renta. We’ll visit the Yodgorlik Margilan silk factory, established in 1972. Today about 450 people, mostly women, work there, and the visit is fascinating. Every month the factory produces about 6500 yards of fabric including natural silk and silk blend fabric. Over the course of our four days  in the Ferghana Valley, we’ll visit many artisans, and the textile bazaar. At a silk factory, we’ll witness the entire process from silkworm’s cocoon to the finished ikat. There is also an excellent shop where we can purchase reasonably-priced ikat jackets, coats, purses, and other items.

On to Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan is a beautiful country with exquisite mountain scenery, often called the Switzerland of Central Asia, and makes a marvelous contrast to the landscapes of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
We’ll get to know some of Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, before delving into the crafts traditions. Bishkek is a green city – it has 20 parks and a huge Botanical Garden.

Typical Kyrgyzstan landscape with hand-felted yurt.

The botanical garden is the pride of Bishkek and one of the most beautiful places in the city, so we will stroll though a corner of it one morning. Established in 1938, the Botanical Garden is one of the largest and most diverse in Central Asia.

Laying fleece on base to make felted rug.

The Garden is named after a famous Kyrgyz biologist, Gareev, and it’s now part of the National Academy of Sciences. There are 2,500 species of trees and shrubs, 3,500 species of flowers and greenhouse species, and over 8,000 species of fruit plants in the Botanical Garden. In autumn the leaves of many trees turn yellow and red, creating a bright color palette.

Visit Tumar Studiio, a modern Kyrgyz felt boutique shop, which produces all manner of felt items from ethnographic horse trappings to simple, contemporary slippers. The goal of Tumar studio was to create livelihoods for women in the wake of the Soviet disintegration in 1991. Then we’ll travel to Kochkor village, 260 kms from Bishkek. This is where we’ll visit the Altyn Kol Women’s Handicraft Co-operative and other renowned felt artists. At one Felt Master’s we will learn how nomadic Kyrgyz women made felt rugs called Shyrdak, Ala-Kiyiz- a floor covering made by pressing felt of various naturally dyed colors. You will see a show of the process of felt carpet making. This is different than the modern art felt we have seen before.

Tea and desserts served on typical Cotton Blossom patterned porcelain.

Lunch will be served at Felt Master Mariam’s  house in Kochkor.  Kochkor is a famous province for farmers and woolen felt makers. Used to be one of the billionaire soviet kolkhoz (collective farms). It is also a birthplace of Extra VIP Usubaliev Turdakun (the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Soviet Kyrgyzstan).
Afternoon visit Karasuu village to explore local felt makers’ and embroiderers’ home workshops. Back to Kochkor village for dinner and overnight.

Then we drive to Tash-Rabat Caravanserai on the Great Silk Road. This is a carefully restored stone building that once housed an inn on the Great Silk Road. Its date of origin is unknown – but there is archaeological evidence to suggest that the site was occupied in the 10th century. It lies up a small, beautiful valley in the foothills of the Tian Shan in the At-Bashy Mountain Range, 100 km before Kyrgyz-Chinese border, Torugart.

Man taking bread out of oven.Upon arrival, time to explore Tash-Rabat canyon with similar to Mongolian landscapes. We’ll have a traditional dinner in the yurt and spend a warm and cozy night with thick blankets at altitude of 9000 feet. Later, we will drive to Kyrgyz’s pride: Djety-Oguz Gorge, a lush valley with striking red sandstone rock formations – the ‘Seven Bulls’ from which the valley takes its name. Later drive to Karakol town, one the first Russian military outpost founded in 1869. Here we’ll walk around town to see the houses with blue framed windows – “gingerbread” style.

Next day, drive back to Bishkek for flights home. You can fly directly back to Istanbul internationally and connect to home, from Bishkek, so no need to go back to Tashkent.

Sacred Bread

We’ll eat delicious food everywhere and learn about the local cuisine in our cooking class. The diet includes skewered vegetables, salads and dishes such as pilaf or plov, with beef or lamb. Skewers of grilled chicken or ground beef are also popular and delicious. Vegetarians will have no trouble at all; many cheeses and fresh (and safe) salads such as grated carrots or beets with walnuts, or tomato and cucumber are popular and found in most restaurants. Delicious and refreshing cold yogurt soup with fresh dill and parsley is a common starter. Bread is divine and plentiful!

Bread is considered sacred by Central Asian peoples. The traditional round and flat bread, called non or lepeshka,  and is baked in a tandyr/tandoor (clay oven), after which it comes out toasted and crispy. Bread of each region has own particular method of leavening, its own baking techniques and its own inimitable taste. For instance, delicious flaky bread – katlama non, layered with butter or sour cream – typifies the Fergana Valley version. Some lepeshkas are prepared with onion or meat baked inside the dough.

Traditionally Uzbek dinner guests never cut bread with a knife. At the start of the meal, they break the bread into pieces by hand and place it on the table near each place setting. And they take care not to act disrespectful by setting the bread upside down on the table (with its flat side up). We will learn about the cuisine as well as as the polite Uzbek way of dining. Two evening meals will be on your own, to lounge at the hotel with a picnic of freshly baked bread, cheese and fruit, or to find an interesting place to try.

At the end of our adventure, after seeing a million gorgeous suzanis and stunning ikats, we’ll drive to the Bishkek airport for flights home.

Until time to depart for the airport, you are free to explore on your own — to see something you missed the first time, visit more museums. Or just relax at the hotel and pack up all your exquisite textiles for the trip home. Lunch on your own. Pack up bags tonight, before our Farewell Dinner.

Flights home the next day.
Once you sign up and pay the deposit, we’ll send you the detailed itinerary and other information about the countries and the tour.

Map of routh through the 3 Stans countries.

Map of our route, beginning in Tashkent, UZB, crossing Tajikistan (TJK) and ending in Bishkek, KGZ.

PRICE  $6495
Single Supplement $700

Two vaccinations against COVID are mandatory to join this trip. We will need proof of vaccinations and proof of your travel insurance.

  The 18-night tour cost includes:

  • 18 nights accommodation in double rooms with private bathrooms.
  • Single supplement available for a single room (except in yurt).
  • Expert English-speaking textile specialty local guides.
  • Rikki Quintana of HoonArts, trip coordinator will accompany the trip.
  • Cynthia Samake, textile expert will also join the tour.
  • All breakfasts in the hotels.
  • All Lunches and Dinners ( except 3 meals on your own)
  • Transportation by air-conditioned Minibus.
  • Entrance fees to all sites and monuments.
  • Flight from Urgench-Tashkent
  • All Tashkent and Bishkek airport transfers
  • Train travel between Tashkent and Samarkand, Samarkand
    and Bukhara
  • All train station transfers – Samarkand, Bukhara, etc.
  • 1 liter of bottled water per person per day.
  • Cooking master class, felt scarf workshop
  • Wood Block printing lesson
  • Ikat textile weaving demonstration/lesson

Not included:

  •  International flights to and from Uzbekistan
  •  Visas and passport fees
  •  Several meals as indicated on itinerary (buy fruit and cheese to eat at the hotel, or go out)
  •  Tips for guide and driver; suggested amounts will be included on the trip info.
  •  Mandatory travel insurance (more about this later)
Blue tiled building  by Kathleen Walsh.
Bread stamps by Dreamstime © 45304376. Antonella 865
Baker: DT © Mariusz Prusaczyk
Photo #11 Bread Sellers DT © Evgeniy Fesenko
Photo #12  DT ©Sergey Dzyuba
Map: ©Ontheworldmap.com
D-time.Tashkent Top photo: UZBEKISTAN.Evgeniy-Agarkov.57387916

Laos, Cambodia & Thailand

Textiles, Temples and Festivals

July 1 – 19, 2022

Salad prepared in Tigre de Papier oooking class, Cambodia.

Yummy and beautiful Green Papaya Salad, Siem Reap cooking class.

Join us on this exciting SE Asian Textile and Culture Tour! We’ll all meet on July 1 at the airport in Luang Prabang (Laos), probably connecting in Bangkok. Scroll down for flight info and trip price.

HIGHLIGHTS

Go Behind-the-Scenes to see fabulous hand-woven silk and cotton ikat textiles and an amazing traditional festival in little-known north-eastern Thailand! You’ll see the fabulous wax candle festival called Khao Phansa. We’ll also see the carved and painted masks and the costumed dance typical of the Phi Ta Khon festival. The two festivals happen on different dates in two different towns, about a month apart, so we have chosen to attend the most spectacular one. But Neeraha, the friend who owns our hotel, and I are arranging a special mask and dance evening at the hotel, so you can experience the best masks and costumes from Phi Ta Khon, as well as the wax candle procession and candle carving competition. Both these festivals showcase some of the best traditional artists in Thailand. We’ll also see the superb UNESCO site of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and the golden Buddhist temples of Luang Prabang, Laos.

Cynthia with a talented indigo ikat weaver.

Besides festivals and temples, we’ll see plenty of stunning textiles! We’ll watch weavers at work, and learn how they create ikat-patterned and supplementary weft (khit) fabric in both silk and cotton. We travel in a big loop, seeing the best of all three countries — the most interesting textiles, architecture, archeology and culture — including three UNESCO World Heritage sites.

TRIP DETAILS:

We first fly into Luang Prabang and check into one of my favorite, comfortable tropical hotels. Next day, with a local licensed guide, we’ll explore the ancient royal capital, now designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. We will visit important Buddhist temples and learn about the Lao version of Buddhist practices. You’ll also be able to explore this laid-back, safe and friendly town on your own. Time to soak up the tranquil, tropical ambiance!

One day we will spend the afternoon at the textile center of Ock Pop Tok where we’ll chop wood and extract seeds from prickly achiote pods to make natural dyes. Then we’ll dye our silk scarves. We’ll be able to watch talented silk weavers and have a gourmet lunch at the Ock Pop Tok restaurant by the Mekong River. Food is delicious in Laos. At dinners, see if you are brave enough to try the spicy, fermented water buffalo skin condiment! However, the crispy-fried river moss is really delicious.

Dramatic Phi Ta Khon masks in the parade.

The local market is interesting, and nearby there is an excellent new textile museum and shop. You can try shopping at the Night Market with all its handicrafts and art. Although it is getting rather commercialized, there are still some interesting things to be found. Along with the magnificently decorated golden temples, a significant part of the old town’s appeal is the many French provincial style houses, the riverside location, and the tropical ambiance. Luang Prabang is a delightful place to relax for our introduction into Lao culture.

Then we fly south to the pleasant riverside capital of Laos, the city of Vientiane. There we’ll meet the driver and van that will be with us for much of the trip. I love to visit the enormous Salat Tao, the daily market for locals, with many stalls of exquisite examples of silk weaving. Then we’ll go with a Laotian textile collector friend, to meet the weavers in a nearby weaving village. We’ll also tour the innovative silk weaving studio called Lao Textiles, started by American fabric designer Carol Cassidy who revived Lao handwoven silk weaving. She has lived in Vientiane for over 30 years, creating an international market and reputation for fine Lao silk fabrics. Vientiane also has fabulous wats (Buddhist temple complexes) that we will visit, such as Wat Si Saket with its 10,000 Buddhas.

INTO THAILAND

Example of cotton indigo dyeing in Thailand.Leaving Laos, we’ll drive across the Friendship Bridge, over the Mekong River and get our passports stamped at the Thailand border (no visas required). We’ll continue by private van to the village with the important Phi Ta Khon festival traditions.

Working within typical age-old and innovative styles, the mask painters and the wax carvers create stunning festival art. Phi Ta Khon costumes relate to celebrations asking for rain and fertility (thus plenty of phalluses as dance batons!); the name means Ghosts Following People and we’ll learn the whole significance.

The participants receive blessings from Buddha and the local abbot. We’ll go through the small Phi Ta Khon museum that shows the history of the event and some older masks. Our hotel in the festival town (as mentioned) is owned by a friend Neeracha. The place is especially beautiful, with its water buffalo theme (and real creatures too!) and large infinity pool. (Be sure to bring a bathing suit.) Townspeople that she knows, who participated in the June event, will bring masks and demonstrate the dances and the traditions Phi Ta Khon.

After the “Ghost Festival” demonstration, we’ll drive east into the region called Isaan, the local name for the northeast. Lonely Planet describes Isaan: “Here is part of Thailand with all of the acclaimed Thai hospitality, culture, and food but none of the backpackers! Just south of the border with Laos, lies this entire region that has been little-visited  by outsiders. The area is rural Thailand at its best: farmland meets sleepy villages [and lots of textiles!]. It’s proof that Thailand isn’t completely trodden with tourists.”

BAN CHIANG ARCHEOLOGICAL SITE

Typical Ban Chiang pottery, the real stuff. Good reproductions sold in nearby village.

One day, we will take a day trip out to the UNESCO archeological site at Ban Chiang, to learn about the fascinating culture being excavated here. We’ll also go through the museum, full of unique cream-colored  ceramics with rust swirls and spirals. Ban Chiang is considered the most important prehistoric settlement so far discovered in South-East Asia. Metalworking technology here has proven to be among the earliest discovered in Asia. Preliminary excavations began in 1967 but in 2003, Ban Chiang gained international attention when the United States Department of Justice prosecuted smugglers and museums for trafficking in Ban Chiang antiquities.

The Ban Chiang Archaeological Site consists of a large, previously undisturbed earthen mound which, when excavated, was found to cover a prehistoric habitation site of some of Southeast Asia’s earliest farmers. The site, which had been abandoned and buried underground for at least two millennia, has now been partially excavated by Thai and international archaeologists. However only a small percentage has been uncovered thus far.

Excavations have revealed an unbroken stratigraphy of human habitation, use, and burial over two thousand years, covering the period when prehistoric humans in this part of the world first settled in villages, took up agriculture and began the production of metal tools. Ban Chiang, along with other surrounding villages in northeast Thailand, contains many bronze artifacts that demonstrate that metallurgy had been practiced in small, village settings nearly four thousand years ago.

Blue handwoven cloth with varying weft patterns, in Thailand.

Advances in the fields of agriculture, animal domestication, ceramic and metal technology are all evident in the archaeological record of the site. Also evident is an increasing economic prosperity and social complexity of the successive communities at Ban Chiang, made possible by their developing cultural practices, as revealed through the many burials, rich in ceramic and metal grave goods, uncovered at the site.  The Ban Chiang Archaeological Site is also the richest in Southeast Asia in the number and variety of artifacts recovered from the site. [UNESCO]

INDIGO DYEING IN THAILAND

Indigo dyeing villages are our next destination. There we’ll visit some friends who dye cotton threads with natural indigo.  These Master dyers of cotton ikat, above, will show us their indigo pots and their tying and dyeing methods, as well as the actual weaving process. The weaver above makes her own indigo by fermenting the leaves and later adding overripe star fruits. She has many pots of dye going at once, in different stages of fermentation and readiness. In our mini-workshop, you can make a cotton indigo-patterned scarf with your choice of design!

The weavers love to show off their skills and these visits are fascinating. The weaver in red displays her stunning fabric that shows her ingenious method of varying the patterns on their yardage. She has bound and dyed the weft threads in changing patterns so that the fabric pattern changes every yard or two. Her continual warp is unbound, plain navy blue cotton threads.

WAX CANDLE FESTIVAL

Next stop is the riverside town of Ubon Ratchathani, known for the fabulous Wax Candle Festival. The Thais call it Khao Phansa, the start of the Buddhist Rains Retreat.

Another name for Khao Phansa is “the Rains Retreat” because it occurs at the beginning of Thai rainy season; Buddhist monks take this opportunity to retreat inside their temples for a three-month period of study and meditation. This tradition of a “rainy season retreat” predates Buddhism, but it was followed by Buddha during his lifetime, which encourages many to emulate him today.

Many monks enter monastic life on Khao Phansa Day, staying in monasteries and temples until the rainy season ends on Wan Ok Phansa Day, 79 days later.

We’ll arrive a day early to visit friends who will show us the incredible wax floats they are finishing up for the event. Both monks and lay people spend hours working on the wax float decorations. Each intricate wax motif is rolled out then trimmed, as if you were making cookies…see below. You can even make Buddhist merit by cutting around some of the wax shapes to decorate the floats! The embellished life-sized wax figures arranged on the floats represent stories and legends from the life of Buddha.

We’ll spend a few days in Ubon, seeing festival preparations and watching the parade. Alternating with the wax floats are groups of elegant and beautiful Thai dancers carrying flowers  Each wat around town enters a float (that they have worked on for many months). There is a contest for the best float creation, and there are beauty queens chosen also.

Stack of wax decorations ready to adorn float figures for Wax Candle Festival.

As with all festivals, there are food booths with traditional dishes, desserts and soft drinks. Bring a small umbrella or a good sun hat; the sun can be very hot during Khao Phansa. But the fabulous festival only takes place in July! We’ll also head out of the center of town to see some of Ubon’s amazing architectural design in the form of innovative wats and temples that the town is famous for.

AMAZING ANGKOR!

From Ubon Ratchathani, we’ll head into Cambodia, to Siem Reap, to see the fabulous carved stone temples of Angkor Wat! A UNESCO Heritage site, Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples form a world-class temple complex, with sophisticated wall carvings. We always hear about just Angkor Wat but there are hundreds of temples to visit. Tuk-tuks will take us through the park to see some of the most stunning sites. A professional guide will explain the history of each temple. Just the renovation processes, or the lack thereof, are fascinating. The temple at right has been designated NOT to be touched, and to let the forest continue its encroachment. Other temples are being re-built, using ancient stone blocks when available.

UNESCO site info notes that “Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. Stretching over some 400 km2, including the surrounding forested area, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. They include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations. UNESCO has set up a wide-ranging program to safeguard this symbolic site and its surroundings.”

SIEM REAP TOWN

Siem Reap is a very pleasant place and we can walk almost everywhere. While visiting Angkor Wat temples and the surrounding sights, we’ll stay 4 nights in this lovely hotel (below) in Siem Reap. It boasts modern rooms, a refreshing pool and a super restaurant. One morning, we’ll learn the subtleties of delicious Cambodian cuisine (similar to Thai) in an optional hands-on cooking class in a popular local restaurant. First we’ll visit the produce market to learn about some of the more unusual ingredients. Then we each choose a few appealing menu items, and we chop, slice and sauté our way to a delicious lunch! The recipes will be available for us afterwards. And in the market, you can buy some typical spices to make Cambodian dishes at home, or for your foodie friends. We’ll also tour the sobering but important Landmine Museum.

Cambodia also has some of the most intricate silk ikat weaving anywhere in the world. We’ll go into the countryside near Siem Reap to visit the premier silkworm breeding and silk reeling facility. Here we’ll watch the weavers to see how different their ikat techniques are from the Thai and Lao silk ‘mat-mi’ or ikat artisans. We’ll also visit a weaving project near the hotel in town; you’ll see that conditions are very different at the two workshops. Our ‘Farewell to Cambodia’ Dinner will be followed by a performance of Phare, the renowned Cambodian youth circus – no animals – but great acrobatics by young people!

On the day after the Phare Circus performance, July 20, we’ll fly back to Bangkok to connect with homeward flights.

******************************************************************************************************************
This is a 19-night trip. July 19 is the last included night of hotel. On July 20 after breakfast, we’ll fly from Siem Reap to Bangkok (flight included) and then connect to homeward flights.
If necessary, it’s possible to spend the night at a hotel at or near the BKK airport.

MORE about flights later; please don’t buy plane tickets until further notice, when we confirm the flight schedules into BKK and LPQ. We’ll give suggested flights later. Cathay Pacific and Eva have the best deals sometimes.

TOUR COST: $4995   (19 nights in double/twin accommodations)
Single Supplement: $750
Minimum 8, maximum 12 travelers.

Delicious Pumpkin Curry with Tofu; Thailand

Cambodian Cooking class in Siem Reap – Fun!

Includes:

  • Tour begins in Luang Prabang on July 1 and ends in Bangkok on July 20 after breakfast and flight from Siem Reap.
  • 19 nights in comfortable A/C hotels in double/twin rooms (2-3 hotels have pools)
  • All meals except three lunches and two dinners on days when the group is scattered (we will suggest possible places to eat)
  • All soft drinks and bottled water with meals
  • Group Flights: Luang Prabang to Vientiane, Laos – and flight from Siem Reap to Bangkok.
  • All land travel by private van with professional driver
  • Three days of entrance tickets at Angkor Wat
  • Transportation in the Angkor Wat Park and licensed guide for 2 days.
  • (Another day w/ guide is optional on your own; you’ll have tickets to enter for 3 days)
  • Tips for Luang Prabang and Angkor guides
  • Entrances to temples, archaeological and museum sites on the itinerary,
  • Cambodian cooking class at an excellent restaurant in Siem Reap
  • Phare Acrobatic show and dinner (https://pharecircus.org)
  • An 8″ x 11″ photo book documenting your trip!
  • A generous tip per person for the Luang Prabang and Angkor guides for 3 days has already been added to the trip cost, so you don’t have to worry about tipping guides.
Indigo dyeing in Luang Prabang, Laos.

Pat dyes with natural Indigo; Ock Pop Tok, Luang Prabang, Laos.

Not included:

International airfare, driver tip (count on about $35-40 per person), visas upon arrival [Laos USD $35 and Cambodia USD $40] at the airport or at the border when we enter, airport departure transportation, alcoholic beverages, several meals as indicated on itinerary, and between-meal snacks and drinks. We will have bottled water in the van for day trips.

Thailand doesn’t require a visa, just a stamp in your passport and a filled-out simple form that they hand us at the border when we drive in from Vientiane, Laos.

Anyone who helps transport your bag should be tipped the local equivalent of about $US 1 per bag.