It doesn’t get more South East Asian than cruising down the Mekong River in a traditional-style boat, and you get two days of smooth sailin’ on this trip. Jump on an overnight train in Thailand, maybe the best form of transport ever – travelling like a local, making new mates, and waking up in a new place all rolled into one. Get seriously laid-back in Laos and find out why it’s one of the most chilled countries around. You know a place is special if the UNESCO guys stick it on their list, and exotic Luang Prabang is just that – French villas, Buddhist temples, the mighty Mekong and the tastiest bakeries and cafes
Holidays are hard to come by, so make the most of yours with this 18-day South East Asian extravaganza. See the best of the best in Bangkok, haggle and feast in Chiang Mai, chill on a private slow boat up the Mekong, fall in love with Luang Prabang, explore some rad caves, kayak and hang ten in Vang Vieng and Vientiane, rock and roll in Phnom Penh and explore the temples Tomb Raider-style in Siem Reap. What?! All in one trip? Yeah!
Breakfast Included: 5 Lunches Included: Dinner Included: 1
Arrive in Bangkok and get to grips with this awesome city. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where it will take place. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have these ready for your leader. If you arrive early perhaps take a riverboat to Chinatown and explore the crowded streets, or head to the magnificent Grand Palace. As one of the world’s largest marketplaces, Chatuchak Market is also a great place to visit.
Start the morning with a sightseeing walk led by your leader, checking out the local scene away from the normal tourist trail. Stop for some local snacks, see some cool street art and stroll through many back streets to see how many people live and work in these small suburbs of Bangkok. Finish in the Chinatown area and the rest of the day is yours to do what you like: shop and haggle for bargains or check out Chinatown. Head north to Chiang Mai in the evening on an overnight train (approximately 13 hours), sleeping in an air conditioned berth. Multi-share compartments are air conditioned and have bunk beds with sheets and a pillow provided. Your baggage travels in the carriage with you. There's also a food and drink service available on board (they don't let you go thirsty here).
Arrive in Chiang Mai in the morning. The day is yours – see how many activities you can pack into two days. There are over 120 temples in the city centre alone. You can set off on an excursion to the top of Doi Suthep. There's a few hundred steps to climb, but the views are well worth it. Maybe treat yourself to a traditional Thai massage, or even partake in a cooking class so you can impress your friends in the kitchen when you get home. The night bazaar is a great chance to practice those ever-important bargaining skills.
Another day, another chance to get your fill of awesome Chiang Mai. You might like to take part in one of our Urban Adventures, such as the 'Mind and Soul' or 'Mae Ping River Experience' day tours. To really get the blood pumping, head to the Jungle Flight and negotiate the zipline and canopy course within the treetops.
Take a public bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong via Chiang Rai (approx 6.5 hours). Explore this quiet town that sits on the Thai side of the Thai-Lao border. Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Luang are both well worth a visit while you are here. Perhaps rent a bicycle to explore the surrounding countryside and the banks of the Mekong. Your accommodation tonight is a basic guesthouse.
Mekong River - Pakbeng
This morning you will complete border formalities at Huay Xai before boarding a slow boat for a trip down the Mekong River (approximately 7 hours). This is where the real relaxation starts, as you ease into proper holiday mode. Read a book, play cards, swap travel stories or just watch the amazing scenery pass by. Arrive in Pakbeng late in the afternoon and have a wander around this colourful village. This place is at the junction of the Mekong and Beng rivers. Remember, 'nam' means 'river', so if you say 'Nam Beng River', you're saying 'river' too many times.
Continue on the private slow boat, stopping to stretch your legs and explore the Pak Ou Caves, which contain hundreds of Buddha statues. Arrive in Luang Prabang in the evening and wander the streets of ‘the best preserved city in South East Asia’ (it's the local government that started using this phrase, but it has caught on for a reason). Get a load of those French villas. And that sunset over the Mekong... damn.
Enjoy free time for optional activities today. There are many on offer. A trip to Kuang Si Falls is highly recommended if you feel like a swim in nature (and when you see these waterfalls, you probably will). Or visit a Buddhist temple. Afterwards, we think you deserve a rest. Find a herbal steamroom or maybe play some pentanque with the locals (it's a bit like bocce). Don’t expect them to go easy on you. Perhaps you want to see Laos gentle giants by visiting Mandalao Elephant Conservation. Here you can choose to do a variety of tours that get you close to these magnificent elephants. Your leader can help you to organise one of these special excursions.
Enjoy some free time. Whether it's cruising around town or heading to those waterfalls that even an Instagram filter couldn't make more pretty, this is another day in paradise. By now you may have discovered the delicious (and amazingly inexpensive) night market food, which is always a great excuse to mingle with locals and dine with other travellers. For lunch, before the market opens, you might want to try some delicious noodle soup at one of the top-notch French cafes along the main drag. If you feel like learning, drop in to the Traditional Arts & Ethnology Centre.
Transfer in a private minivan to the village of Vang Vieng (approximately 6–7 hours). This beautifully located adventure gateway lies on a bend in the Nam Song (that's a river, remember). Take in the views of mountains, rivers and big limestone cliffs that are so close you'll feel like you could reach out and touch them. Cross the river and explore the huge caves that line the West Bank. There will be plenty of time to make your own discoveries.
Spend your day checking out the caves, lagoons and forests as you please. There are more outdoor activities on offer here than you could poke a stick at, so just ask your leader for a recommendation. A solid option is Tham Jang. It's a short trip from town, and has a cool spot to swim if you're not game to enter the cave itself. If you are game, rent a torch and let the exploring begin (season depending).
Finish up in Laos’ classy capital of Vientiane by catching a public bus from Vang Vieng (about 5 hours). Swap your instant coffee for a latte and white rice for a baguette before snapping a few pics at Wat Sri Saket. Your tour leader will show you around this chic, French-influenced city. Say goodbye to your travel mates and swap details over an optional group dinner tonight.