The best of Laos from the non-touristy, off-the-beaten track south and northwest, to the crown jewel of Luang Prabang
Nestled between Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, Laos is a haven for a kind of simple, unhurried lifestyle that is hard to come by in the more developed nations of the Indochina Peninsula. Designed in conjunction with our guide, Sylvain Curtil, who speaks fluent Lao, this adventure focuses on the pristine, less traveled southern and northwestern corners of the country. In the south, you’ll visit the ruins of grand temples that predate those at Angkor in Cambodia. And in the northwest you’ll enjoy interactions with Khmu and Tái Deng hill tribes who maintain a traditional lifestyle largely unchanged for generations—on a trek where you’re unlikely to see any other westerners. With all this delightful country has to offer, it’s the perfect destination for those making their first trip to Southeast Asia, and for those seeking a new perspective on this exotic region.
11 days of moderate activity, including easy walking, moderate trekking, and easy kayaking.
- Trek beyond the usual tourist destination of Luang Prabang to witness the hill tribe cultures of Laos’ seldom-visited north
- Explore pre-Angkorian temples, like Vat Phou Champasak, which is older and far less touristed than Cambodia’s Angkor
- Search for the endangered Irawaddy dolphin in the Mekong River
- Immerse yourself in the world of Laos' fascinating hill tribes and learn about their culture
Duration: 11 days Start Location: Bangkok End Location: Luang PrabangDownload Detailed Itinerary
Day 1 : Bangkok - Pakse
Fly from Bangkok to Pakse (QV224 1:05 pm - 3:45 pm). Transfer to Ban Khiat Ngong. Rest of the day free.
Day 2 : Champasak - Don Khong
Cross the Mekong River by ferry and then drive 45 minutes and set out on a half-day trekking excursion around Phou Asa Mountain. The trail will take us inside the tropical forest that covers the surrounding area of this famous archeological site. We’ll then travel to the village of Ban Khiat Ngong and enjoy an elephant ride past wetlands and villages, slowly ascending to the top of Phou Asa Mountain. Explore the hilltop towers and enjoy the beautiful views over the surrounding countryside before returning to the village. Then return to Champasak. (Approximately 3 hours hiking; 1½–2 hours elephant ride).
Day 3 : Day Excursion to 4000 Islands
From Don Khong, we’ll travel by boat to the Islands Don Det and Don Khone. The islands are connected by a former railway bridge, which stopped operating in 1945. The larger island Don Det is famous throughout Laos for the cultivation of coconut, bamboo and kapok. On Don Khone visit Ban Khon Village, the island’s main village with several old French villas. Continue to Taat Somphamit (Li Phi Falls) to explore a raging set of rapids at the western end of Don Khone.
We’ll then boat along the Mekong River to see the Irrawaddy dolphins. These dolphins are an endangered species found in this southern Mekong region. Roughly one hundred of these dolphins are thought to survive and the best time of day to see them is early morning and late afternoon. Return northwards, crossing the Mekong by ferry from Tha Ban Hat to Tha Ban Na and continue by vehicle back to Don Khong. Then return to Champasak.
Day 4 : Vat Phou Champasak - Luang Prabang
Today we travel north along the east bank of the Mekong by vehicle to visit Vat Phou Museum and Vat Phou Champasak (“Mountain Temple”), one of the best preserved examples of major Khmer architecture, some 200 years older than Angkor Wat itself. The core monument of this site consists of a main temple on the upper terrace, six shrines on the middle terrace, two palaces and Nandin Hall on the lower terrace. After visiting Vat Phou Champasak continue by vehicle to Pakse. Then transfer to Pakse airport for your late afternoon flight to Luang Prabang (QV514 4:30 pm - 6:10 pm). Upon arrival in Luang Prabang, transfer to our hotel downtown for check-in.
Day 5 : Luang Prabang
Set between the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers, Luang Prabang is an enchanting town filled with historic temples and colonial style buildings. The entire town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. Start the day at the National Museum (Royal Palace), a modest but graceful building which combines traditional Lao and French beaux-arts motifs. This turn-of-the century royal residence has been preserved as it was when the royal family last lived here and provides unique insights into the history of Laos. Afterwards, visit Wat Mai and Wat Sene and Wat Xieng Thong.
In the afternoon, visit the Traditional Air and Ethnology Center. This center is dedicated to exploring the rich diversity of Laos' ethnic minorities. Traditional costumes, tools and artifacts are on display. Return to Wat Visoun. The oldest living temple in Luang Prabang, Wat Visoun dates back to 1513 and contains a collection of antique wooden Buddhas. Visit the nearby Wat Aham before climbing the hillside stairs to the small temples atop Mount Phou Si, the 100-meter hill which sits in the center of the town.
Day 6 : Luang Prabang
An early start gives you the fantastic opportunity to participate in the daily morning rituals of saffron-clad monks collecting alms from the faithful residents and tourists. This tradition is unique to Laos--the only Buddhist nation which still preserves the procession. Then we visit the morning Phosi Market where you will see such diverse offerings as dried buffalo skin, local tea and saltpeter among the chickens, vegetables and hill-tribe weavings. After breakfast, visit Ock Pop Tock, a non-profit organization that seeks to preserve traditional weaving techniques, a trade which was once an important source of income for many Lao families but is slowly fading out as modern technology has evolved. We will spend some time learning about the process of silk weaving from the initial stages of creating the dyes to the final process of loom weaving.
Transfer to Kuangsi Waterfalls, located 20 miles from Luang Prabang. These waterfalls cascade down a multilevel limestone formation creating a series of turquoise blue pools perfect to swim in on a hot day. The jungle and dense woods surrounding the falls are filled with wildlife and pleasant walks can be taken along the natural footpaths. On the way back to Luang Prabang stop at several villages including a Kamu village a Hmong village and Lao Loum Village, the majority ethnic group in Laos.
Day 7 : Luang Prabang - Muang La
Today we depart early for Muang La. The drive will take about 6 hours through beautiful rural scenery, mountains and local villages. We will stop along the way to take photos of the landscape and to visit small villages. The ethnic minorities of the region include the Lanten, Khamu and Hmong. Visiting these villages is a fantastic opportunity to observe the daily life and learn about the unique traditions and customs fo these people. At mid-day we reach Oudomxay. Oudomxay is located along the Nam Beng River and is dominated by the stupa-topped Mount Phou That. This road was built by the Chinese in the 1960's and links Laos and China. The town has a large Chinese community.
After Oudomxay, we travel a further 15 miles to Muang La along a picturesque mountain road with no traffic. After checking into Muang La Resort, there will be time to use the sauna and/or enjoy a massage or hot bath. Should you wish to go for a short walk, you can observe the daily life of the locals or see the nearby salt mine. Dinner tonight is at Muang La Resort, with some of the best food in Northern Laos.
Day 8 : Muang La - Phongsavanh
After breakfast, we leave the resort and follow the Nam Pak River before turning off on a small mountain road along the side of a hidden valley. It seems as if we are in the middle of nowhere as we start to trek along a narrow mountain trail, through the lush forest. We arrive in the Khamu village of Huay Ho where life flows at a relaxed pace. We learn about the lives of the villagers; their animist beliefs and ceremonies and the different tools they use in the fields around the village. We trek for 45 minutes to the Lao Loum village of Ban Phongsavan which sits at the heart of a beautiful little valley and then continue following the course of a mountain stream through rice fields to the top of the mountain where we will have a picnic.
After lunch, we follow a mountain trail overlooking the magnificent scenery and pass through farms in the heart of the local countryside. We will learn how the local people use the plants and herbs of the forest to feed themselves and sometimes heal themselves using the medicinal properties of the local flora. We visit the hidden temple of Wat Hoytinphabath which houses a 35 m long reclining statue of Buddha. Numerous effigies and symbols glorifying Buddha can be found in the central temple which also contains footprints of Buddha embedded in stone. The temple is completely in harmony with its surroundings and exudes an inspiring serenity. We leave the village, following a dirt road along the River Huay Ya back to the resort, arriving in the late afternoon for a well-deserved rest.
Day 9 : Muang La - Nongkhiaw
After the breakfast, transfer to Muang Khua in Phongsaly Province. Enjoy a short visit of the town and an old village to observe rural Lao life. Have lunch, then board a slow boat to cruise down the Nam Ou River to Nong Khiaw.
En route, stop off in Muang Ngoi, a quaint village nestled at the foothills of a giant limestone outcrop. The only way to reach Muang Ngoi is by boat and there is only one road in town and it leads nowhere. After visiting Muang Ngoi, return to your boat to continue the cruise down the Nam Ou to NongKhiaw. After checking in, you will have a short tour of the town and its surroundings.
Day 10 : Nongkhiaw - Luang Prabang
From Nong Khiaw, drive about 3 hours to Luang Prabang. After a few hours, the Nam Ou River joins with the Mekong River at a juncture known at Pak Ou. We stop here and board a boat to visit the Pak Ou Caves. These extraordinary caves are filled with Buddha images of every style and material imaginable. Continue to Ban Xang Hai, a local village famous for the production of lao-lao, the local rice wine whisky, before continuing by boat to Luang Prabang and checking into our beautiful hotel. Gather tonight for a farewell dinner together.
Day 11 : Departure
Transfer to the airport for your flight home or onwards.
DATES: Best time to go: January - February, November Departures: Nov 18 - 28, 2014 Jan 28, 2015 - Feb 7, 2015 Feb 11 - 21, 2015 Nov 30, 2015 - Dec 10, 2015
$4,595 (6-10 members)
$4,895 (4-5 members)
$470 internal airfare – Bangkok/Pakse/Luang Prabang
Properties shown are representative of the accommodations we use on this trip, may not be inclusive of all accommodations we use, and are subject to change.
Expert leadership is the key to an exciting, unforgettable experience. Our trips feature gifted leaders for whom leading trips is a true vocation. Besides showing you wonders you’d never find on your own, they make sure everything runs smoothly and safely without a hitch. They are knowledgeable about all aspects of your trip, and take great pleasure in sharing their insights with you. More than just guides, they positively elevate your experience by being teachers, companions, and the best of friends. You’ll be in good hands with them every step of the way.
Sylvain is a French national but lives in Thailand. He had his first contact with Asia at the age of 17, when the first refugees from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam arrived in France in 1976. Trying to teach them French, he was soon “adopted” by a Lao family, living with them during his studies at Lyon University, and ended up learning the language and customs. He has worked and led tours in South East Asia including Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia, but also in his favorite “Area”: India, and the Himalayan countries (Ladakh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet) where he has his dearest friends, and throughout the years enriched his self-taught knowledge of Aisa’s arts and customs, Hinduism and Buddhism. He has more than a liking for Buddhism and it’s pieces of Art. He lends his first hand experience of Asian art, history, Hinduism and Buddhism to all the groups he has the pleasure of leading.. He was one of the very first foreigners to visit the newly re-opened Laos from north to south. Sylvain speaks French, English, Thai, Lao, Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese.