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Old Temple View of Mahabalipuram, India

2018 Soul of India: The Colorful South

Travel Style: You will have solid amounts of both free time and structured time with some activities and meals included. Mixed
Physical Level: Some walking over short or flat distances. Some trips may include cycling options. Some are wheelchair friendly (check for individual trips). Some cruises. Easy
Lodging Level: Mid-range budget with accommodations ranging from comfortable lodges, guesthouses, and homestays to three star hotels. Value - 3 star
8 days
From: $ 3,795 $ 474 / day
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Overview

Highlights

  • Explore Chennai, a bustling hub of commerce
  • Visit Mylapore, a vibrant neighborhood that came into existence long before Chennai
  • Discover stone-carving village of Mahabalipuram
  • See the stunning Arjuna's Penance, often called the “Descent of the Ganges
  • Visit to Thanjavur which is now a bustling Indian town, it was once a dazzling Chola capita
  • Visit Brihadishwara Temple,  Discover Thanjavur artisans
  • See Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, Visit plantation

Short Description

Brimming with natural splendor and cultural diversity, South India is a mystical land of rock-hewn temples, palm-fringed shores, and fragrant spices. Fall under the spell of this captivating region as you journey from multicultural Chennai to the enchanting backwaters of Kerala, stopping to unveil the architectural wonders of Mahabalipuram, discover the mighty temples of Thanjavur, and explore the lush jungles of Periyar. With its endless exoticism, indescribable colors, and otherworldly magic, we welcome you to discover the other side of India.

Groups are between 25-60 people, typically ~30-40. Usually there will be many opportunities to split off and enjoy meals and excursions in smaller groups. This is the most economical way to travel, saving up to 40% versus booking the same itinerary yourself.
Trip Type Group Tour
Off the beaten track trips will stretch your comfort zone. They don't always feature tourist highlights, but dive deeper into local life and culture.
Itinerary Focus Off the Beaten Path
Mid-range budget with accommodations ranging from comfortable lodges, guesthouses, and homestays to three star hotels.
Lodging Level Value - 3 star
Flights & Transport Only ground transport
Start City N/A
End City N/A

Trip Includes

  • International airfare, airport transfers, government taxes, fees, and airline fuel surcharges unless you choose to make your own air arrangements
  • All land transportation
  • Accommodations for 16 nights
  • 34 meals—daily breakfast, 9 lunches, and 10 dinners (including 1 Home-Hosted Dinner)
  • 14 small group activities
  • Services of a local O.A.T. Trip Leader
  • Gratuities for local guides, drivers, and luggage porters
  • 5% Frequent Traveler Credit toward your next adventure—an average of $315

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Itinerary

Day 1: depart u.s.

Today, you’ll depart the U.S. for your flight to Chennai, India, via Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Day 2: Arrive Dubai, United Arab Emirates • Fly to Chennai

Accommodations: Grand Chennai Hotel or similar

Today you’ll arrive in Dubai, where you’ll meet your connecting flight to Chennai, India. Depending on your flight schedule, you’ll arrive late on Day 2 or very early on Day 3. Travelers who took our pre-trip to Sri Lanka: The Resplendent Island will arrive in Chennai this afternoon.

Day 3: Chennai

Meals included: B L Accommodations: Grand Chennai Hotel or similar

This morning, we'll have time to sleep in and enjoy a leisurely breakfast before we join our Trip Leader for a Welcome Briefing. Afterward, we'll have lunch together at the Writer's Cafe, a bakery that employs burn victims. This afternoon, we'll go on an orientation walk around our hotel, then you'll have the rest of the day to spend at your leisure, with dinner on your own. Your Trip Leader may suggest some ways to spend your free time in Chennai.

Day 4: Chennai

Meals included: B D Accommodations: Grand Chennai Hotel or similar

After breakfast, we'll set out to explore Chennai, a bustling hub of commerce from its inception in 1639 by the British East India Company. This area has been an important economic and cultural center for nearly 2,000 years, thanks to its perfect position at the nexus of three rivers and the Bay of Bengal. Our discoveries this morning include learning about a unique and ancient ritual of Tamil Nadu, during which the bus for our upcoming journey will be blessed. Lunch will be on your own, but your trip leader may have recommendations for where to experience your first taste of the local flavors.

Following a walk in Georgetown where vendors offer vegetables, flowers, and clothing in a scene of buzzing activity, the remainder of the afternoon may be spent at your leisure. Chennai is famous for its confluence of cultures, and is one of the few places on Earth with national celebrations for almost all major religious holidays. Make your own discoveries around the lively city, then we'll gather for a Welcome Dinner together at a local restaurant.

Day 5: Overland to Mahabalipuram

Meals included: B L Accommodations: Radisson Resort Temple Bay or similar

After breakfast, we’ll visit Mylapore, a vibrant neighborhood that came into existence long before Chennai itself. In fact, Greek geographer Ptolemy wrote of the thriving port of Mylapore in the second century AD.

Later this morning, we'll depart Chennai and travel south along the coast to the stone-carving village of Mahabalipuram (also called Mamallapuram), with a stop for lunch along the way. Believed by many historians to have been the site of a training school for sculptors, Mahabalipuram is situated between a shimmering lagoon and a silver, sandy beach with rocky outcroppings. With its remarkable rock temples overlooking the shining Bay of Bengal and graceful casuarina trees swaying in the tropical breeze, this open-air museum is truly a sight to behold.

After checking into our hotel, we’ll explore the rock sculptures of Mahabalipuram, beginning with the stunning Arjuna's Penance, often called the “Descent of the Ganges.” This bas-relief is renowned as the ultimate example of Mahabalipuram’s breathtaking stonework—as well as a crowning jewel of ancient Indian art. On this massive bolder, we’ll see images of Hindu mythology, local animals, and everyday life, as well as a natural cleft that was meant to represent the holy River Ganges.

This evening, we’ll return to our hotel. Dinner is on your own.

Day 6: Mahabalipuram • Optional Kanchipuram tour  OPTIONAL TOUR

Meals included: B D Accommodations: Radisson Resort Temple Bay or similar

Today, continue your discoveries of Mahabalipuram on your own, or join us for an optional excursion to Kanchipuram, "City of 1,000 Temples." Kanchipuram was the capital of the Pallava Dynasty from the sixth to eighth centuries and is now hailed as one of India’s seven holy cities. We’ll begin our discoveries at Kanchipuram's temples. After an included lunch at a local restaurant as part of the optional tour, we’ll return to our hotel. You’ll have some time at leisure before we all gather for dinner at a local restaurant to begin to understand the variety of vegetarian options available in South India.

Day 7: Mahabalipuram • A Day in the Life of an Indian farming village

Meals included: B L Accommodations: Radisson Resort Temple Bay or similar

Today, we’ll dive deeper into the vibrant culture of South India when we experience A Day in the Life of an Indian farming village. After breakfast, we’ll drive to Vadakadambadi, a small village near Mahabalipuram. We’ll arrive to a local welcome of pounding drums, as well as admire and get hands-on with kolam, a traditional form of drawing that involves creating patterns with colored powders. Next, we’ll interact with local women about their experiences living in the village before taking a bullock cart ride to the Shaman’s house for a cleansing ritual.

Later this morning, we'll glimpse into the future of Vadakadambadi by visiting an elementary school, where we’ll interact with the young students (when school is in session). After playing common games with the children, we will join the Village Chief for a community lunch made just as they would cook for themselves.

This afternoon, we’ll return to our hotel, where you’ll have the rest of the day to make your own discoveries in Mahabalipuram. Dinner tonight is on your own.

Day 8: Overland to Thanjavur

Meals included: B D Accommodations: Hotel Sangam Thanjavur or similar

 

This morning, we’ll embark on a drive to Thanjavur (also called Tanjore). While Thanjavur is now a bustling Indian town, it was once a dazzling Chola capital under the leadership of Rajaraja I—often considered the Chola Empire’s greatest leader for his role in spreading Hinduism to Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and Java. We’ll arrive in Thanjavur this afternoon, where you can have lunch on your own and enjoy some time at leisure. We'll also enjoy a heritage walk, exploring the modern city that was raised on 16th-century ruins before dinner together at our hotel.

Day 9: Visit Brihadishwara Temple • Discover Thanjavur artisans • Home-Hosted Dinner

Meals included: B L D Accommodations: Hotel Sangam Thanjavur or similar

After breakfast this morning, we visit Thanjavur’s most renowned landmark (and one of India’s crowning architectural jewels): the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Brihadishwara Temple, built between 1003 and 1010 AD to reflect the power of Chola king Rajaraja I and honor the Hindu god Shiva. In its prime, the temple worshipped the god by employing as many as 400 female dancers and a total of 200 dance teachers, musicians, astrologers, accountants, tailors, laundrymen, and other ritual attendants—the names and addresses of whom were diligently inscribed on the temple wall.

After an included lunch, you’ll have time to explore Thanjavur on your own. We’ll regroup tonight as we meet a local family for a Home-Hosted Dinner.

Day 10: Transfer to Madurai

Meals included: B L Accommodations: The Gateway Hotel Pasumalai Madurai or similar

This morning we continue to Madurai, the second-largest city in the state of Tamil Nadu. An important Hindu pilgrimage site, Madurai is a temple city that draws streams of worshippers making puja (prayer ceremonies) every day. This cultural hub dates back more than 2,500 years, making it one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the entire subcontinent—and also one of the most culturally diverse. You'll feel the pulse of these ancient grounds in the bustling marketplaces and streets that merge concentrically like lotus petals around Sri Meenakshi Temple, the glorious fortress-like temple in the center of the city. Sri Meenakshi's labyrinthine grounds are dedicated to the Hindu Lord Shiva who, as legend has it, descended on Madurai to bless the city during its first days and showered divine nectar down from his locks, giving Madurai its original name, Madhurapuri, the “City of Divine Nectar.”

When we arrive in Madurai, we'll enjoy lunch at a local restaurant and then check into our hotel. Later, we'll embark on an auto-rickshaw ride to explore the ancient city by night. Dinner is on your own this evening.

Day 11: Visit Sri Meenakshi Temple • Explore Thirumalai Naicker Palace

Meals included: B L D Accommodations: The Gateway Hotel Pasumalai Madurai or similar

This morning after breakfast, visit Sri Meenakshi Temple for a daylight viewing of its tall and fascinating gopurams. These pyramid-shaped structures often function as gateways to the temple complex, but at Sri Meenakshi they rise above mere gateways due to the riotous and highly colored tiers of sculptures culminating in shell-like finials. With over 1500 figures, the Southern Tower is tallest and most impressive. Next, we'll visit Thirumalai Naicker Palace, a stunning fusion of diverse architectural influences, including Italian, Dravidian, and Islamic.

After an included lunch, enjoy time at leisure this afternoon. Tonight, we enjoy dinner together.

Day 12: Transfer to Periyar

Meals included: B D Accommodations: Abad Green Forest Resort or similar

After breakfast at our hotel, we'll embark on a scenic transfer overland to Periyar in Thekkady, set high in the rugged mountains in the state of Kerala. Kerala is another timeless region thought to have been inhabited since Neolithic times.

On the way, we'll make a few stops: one at a local brick-making factory, and one for lunch on your own. We’ll arrive in Periyar in the afternoon and check in to our hotel. We'll have the afternoon free to explore before we have dinner together at our hotel tonight.

Day 13: Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary • Visit plantation

Meals included: B D Accommodations: Abad Green Forest Resort or similar

South India is home to an extraordinary variety of flora and fauna, and many of its most exotic species are native to the region. We’ll learn more about the area’s rich biodiversity today when we visit Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary—one of South India's most renowned national parks, set high in the Cardamom Hills. This interpretive activity is an opportunity to have a close encounter with nature’s landscape. The trails often pass through stunning scenery that includes evergreen and moist, deciduous forests interspersed with marshy grasslands. One can feel nature, hear her whispers, and smell her flowers while guided by a trained tribal.

This afternoon, you'll have lunch on your own. Then we’ll visit a local spice plantation, where we’ll learn about the many spices that grow in Thekkady, including pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves.

Day 14: Transfer to Nedumudi • Kerala backwater cruise

Meals included: B L D Accommodations: Houseboat

This morning, we’ll travel west to India’s sun-soaked coast, breaking up our drive with a stop at a rubber plantation. In the afternoon, we’ll arrive in the small Kerala village of Nedumudi, where we’ll board a Kettuvellam (houseboat)—our home for two nights. Originally designed as rice barges, these distinctive boats were later used by royalty when touring.

Once aboard our Kettuvellam, we’ll enjoy lunch and begin our cruise of Kerala’s scenic “backwaters”—a system of interconnected lagoons, lakes, and canals that stretches along the western edge of Southern India. Like Louisiana's bayou country, the waterways are a unique ecosystem, lushly overgrown and labyrinthine, but now scattered with communities ranging from large towns to small enclaves.  Today, we’ll drift through the backwaters of Alleppey, known as “God's own country” for its serene natural beauty.

 

Day 15: Cruise Kerala’s backwaters • Visit backwater villages

Meals included: B L D Accommodations: Houseboat

Today we’ll continue our discoveries of Kerala’s palm-fringed canals as we float past small villages and backwater communities. We’ll have lunch aboard our houseboat before continuing our exploration of the canals.

This evening, we'll walk through a typical village on the backwaters and learn about life there. We’ll then enjoy dinner on our houseboat.

Day 16: Overland to Cochin • Kathakali performance

Meals included: B D Accommodations: The Killians Boutique or similar

After breakfast, we’ll depart for Cochin (Kochi), the cosmopolitan “Queen of the Arabian Sea,” with its fine natural harbor—where mariners from Arabia, China, Holland, and elsewhere have left their mark among inimitable South Indian tradition and style. Our morning wraps up as we explore the Jewish Quarter. Jews were once granted protection by the local king, and we’ll see the Paradesi Synogogue which was established here.

We’ll have lunch on our own, then check in at our hotel. Tonight, enjoy an exclusive Kathakali performance, an Indian tradition of storytelling through dance and music. You don’t need to worry about speaking the language because Kathakali dramas have no dialogue; instead, the drama unfolds through the actors’ dancing and gestures, called mudras. The dancers’ elaborate movements and painstakingly crafted costumes and makeup come together to create a truly unforgettable visual performance.

This evening raise a glass of sula wine as we celebrate our journey over a festive Farewell Dinner.

Day 17: Cochin

Meals included: B L Accommodations: The Killians Boutique or similar

This morning, we will first explore two of the multiple cultures for which Cochin is famous. By motorbike, we’ll visit the Muslim neighborhood, including the local market with a slaughterhouse, an orphanage, and have tea with local youth. These “Youth of Cochin” will take you through their city and show you the neighborhood where they have lived all these years through their eyes.

Then explore Fort Cochin and the Portuguese Mattancherry Palace, with its mural-covered walls.

After an included lunch, we return to the hotel. The afternoon is free for discoveries at your leisure and to start packing. Enjoy a cool evening boat ride through the islands of Cochin before dinner on your own.

Day 18 Return to U.S.

Very early this morning, you’ll transfer to the airport for your return flight to the U.S. via Dubai. Travelers taking our Dubai’s Timeless Desert & Modern Wonders post-trip will remain in Dubai and begin Day 1 of their extension. Travelers who are joining our post-trip to Rajasthan: Udaipur & Jodhpur will transfer to the airport this morning for their flight to Delhi.

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Price From $ 3,795
Price Per Day: $ 474 per day
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Prices may vary due to local taxes and trip seasonality. Click "Request Info" to inquire directly with the tour operator for the final trip price.

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Stride Featured in

Stride Feature In

38 Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T. Tours) Travel Reviews & Ratings

97%
4.8 out of 5 (100+ reviews)
Excellent 35
Great 2
Average 0
Disappointing 0
Terrible 1
Value
4.8
Guide
4.9
Activities
4.8
Lodging
4.8
Transportation
4.8
Meals
4.8

2018 Soul of India: The Colorful South

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Fabulous scenery; fascinating people

5.0
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Value5.0
Guide5.0
Activities5.0
Lodging5.0
Transportation5.0
Meals5.0
LIKED the pre-trip in Copenhagen (could have been a day longer), Oslo (another day would have been nice there, too), travel from Oslo to Bergen and accommodations on the Hurtigruten ship for the fjord cruise. LOVED the scenery in the fjords, the small towns where the ship made quick stops to pick-up and drop-off cargo (very scenic), the people we encountered - especially the Sami reindeer herders - the guides and especially our Trip Leader Melissa. HATED the ferry from Copenhagen to Oslo; cabins are obnoxiously small, public spaces are limited and often uncomfortable and the food was, to be kind, ordinary. Fly instead!
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We had a wonderful time

5.0
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Meals5.0
We had a wonderful time and found the whole crew to be delightful. They had a way of making us feel appreciated and special. We were very impressed. My only recommendation would be to serve a free sweet white wine as one of your wine selections as not everyone is a fan of pinot or chardonnay.
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Excellent options

5.0
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We have been on Oat trips before and found this trip exceptionally good. Our leader, Declan, was extremely professional, knowledgeable, and able to deal with unexpected changes due to weather by providing excellent options. He had a good sense of humor and was extremely patience with everyone and diplomatic. The trip to Ireland was informative regarding history and the "troubles" and the terrain was very beautiful. The Irish people were friendly and the food was excellent and reasonable. The music presentations, home and farm visits, and national sites were all worth connecting with. Declan gave us a balanced view of the Irish "troubles" which we appreciated
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Ultimate Africa was Awesome

5.0
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Meals5.0
The accommodations were the best. It’s hard to believe we were in camps. I was amazed how good the food was, and how frequently we ate. It was one of the best experiences I have had. The game drives were exciting, and we saw so many animals, including the big five. It was the trip of a lifetime, and I may be going back in the future.
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Absolutely the most wonderful trip

5.0
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Absolutely the most wonderful trip, my 20th trip with GCT , nothing like the others. ‘‘Tis one was so special, starting with my guide Ombeni , an amazing man! He knew everything about the animals, the culture, the wonderful people,, and he took special care of us
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Best trip

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Raul was the best program director I ever had. The trip Was amazing. Perfect pace. Raul paid attention to everyone and always let us know it was our choice with what we did.
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Details

Trip Photos

Flights & Transport

Only ground transport

Group Size:

Standard Group - 25 + people

Accomodations

Radisson Blu Hotel Chennai City Centre

Chennai, India

Situated in the heart of Chennai, the Radisson Blu offers on-site amenities like restaurants, a coffee shop, a fitness center, an outdoor pool, and a spa. All of the hotel’s rooms feature an LCD TV, complimentary wireless Internet, coffee- and tea-making facilities, an electronic safe, a minibar, and a private bath.

Radisson Resort Temple Bay

Mahabalipuram, India

Located on the shores of the Bay of Bengal, the Radisson Resort Temple Bay is spread over 44 acres of tropical paradise. Within easy access of the area temples, this is a relaxing place to unwind after a day of sightseeing. The resort features a pool, spa services, and each of its 144 rooms has a patio or balcony. In addition, amenities include LCD TV with cable, private bath, hair dryer, and coffee- and tea-making facilities.

Hotel Sangam Thanjavur

Tanjore, India

The welcoming Hotel Sangam in Thanjavur is well-situated close to the area temples. In fact, the magnificent Brihadishwara Temple is less than a mile from the hotel. After a long day of sightseeing, unwind in the meandering, peaceful swimming pool. The hotel also offers modern fitness facilities and a restaurant serving multi-ethnic cuisine. Each of the 54 rooms features large windows, TV, minibar, and private bath.

The Gateway Hotel Pasumalai Madurai

Madurai, India

Perched atop Pasumalai Hill, The Gateway Hotel Pasumalai Madurai offers 62 acres of landscaped gardens, two restaurants, and an outdoor pool. All of the hotel’s rooms feature a satellite TV, minibar, coffee- and tea-making facilities, a safe, wireless Internet access, and a private bath with a hair dryer.

Carmelia Haven

Thekkady, India

Set on a mountainside near Thekkady, the Carmelia Haven eco-resort offers an onsite restaurant, outdoor pool, cottages, and villas set on lush, manicured grounds. Each of the 25 guestrooms includes ceiling fans, en suite bathroom, coffee and tea-making facilities, and a sitting area.

Houseboat

Cochin, India

Discover the peaceful backwaters of Cochin aboard a wooden houseboat, featuring a lounge, sun deck, and dining area. Each of the traditionally decorated cabins has a picture window, air-conditioning, and a private bath with shower.

Casino Hotel

Cochin, India

Located on Cochin’s Willingdon Island—the largest man-made island in India—Casino Hotel offers an on-site pool, tennis court, fitness center, spa, and restaurant. Each of its 65 guest rooms has a private bath.

Cancellation Policy:

Cancellations:

a) If you must cancel your trip, you may do so by calling 1-800-221-0814, by selecting the “contact us” link on our website www.oattravel.com,, or by letter. Send letters of cancellation to: Overseas Adventure Travel, 347 Congress St, Boston, MA 02210. Cancellation charges will be calculated as of the date we receive your cancellation. Cancellation charges and refunds shall be calculated in accordance with the terms of this Passenger Agreement. If you are due a refund, you first must return your air tickets and, if applicable, cruise tickets to Operator. Any applicable refunds will be returned to you in the manner in which payment was made, and processed within 30 days of receipt of your cancellation.

b) Processing Fee: All cancellations made later than twenty-one days after booking are subject to a non-refundable fee of $300 and additional cancellation charges per the schedule below. Cancellations made within 21 days after booking will be subject to the same fee, unless the reason for canceling given at the time of cancellation is your rejection of these Terms and Conditions prior to acceptance. This $300 fee reflects only Operator's costs of administering a reservation.

c) Cancellation Charges Generally: Unless otherwise stated next to the program’s rate chart, you will receive a refund equal to your Trip Price (which excludes the cost of the non-refundable Travel Protection Plan) less the following per-person charges. Charges shown include the $300 administrative fee.

Additional Information:

Physical Requirements:

Pacing

  • 7 locations in 16 days
  • We make 4 long overland drives of approximately 3-5.5 hours each

Physical requirements

  • Not appropriate for travelers using wheelchairs or other mobility aids
  • Must be able to walk 3 miles unassisted each day and participate in 3-5 hours of daily physical activities, including scaling several steep steps without handrails
  • We reserve the right for Trip Leaders to restrict participation, or in some circumstances send travelers home, if their limitations impact the group’s experience

Climate 

  • Daytime temperatures range from 90-100°F
  • South India has a tropical climate; the rainy season occurs from June to October

Terrain

  • Travel over some rugged paths, as well as bumpy, unpaved, dusty roads, both by bus and on foot

Transportation

  • Travel via bus (no heat or toilet on board), rickshaw, Jeep, and game-viewing vehicle; our vehicles are locally made and are the best available in the region

Accommodations & Facilities

  • All accommodations are hotel-standard, with a variety of amenities, as well as private baths with Western-style toilet facilities. Asian squat-style toilets must be used in some villages without other facilities

Cuisine

  • Meals will be based on the local cuisine; Western food is limited

Cultural insight

  • We may see people living in poverty, which could be distressing for some travelers

Trip ID#:

SouIndOve

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