To get you ready for the Laotian lifestyle, make your way through northern Thailand and through charming Chiang Mai – the true temple city.. Laos equals laidback. This is one of the most chilled-out countries going around, and you’ll have heaps of free time to explore at your own pace.. Two days of cruising down the Mekong River in a traditional-style boat is one Southeast Asia’s classic trips, with more photo-ops than you can shake a bamboo cane at.. The UNESCO-listed city of Luang Prabang is a serious slice of history. Between the French villas and the blazing sunsets over the Mekong, you won’t know which way to look.
This 14-day exploration of the South East Asian countryside is sure to keep you guessing at every turn. Kick off in old Bangkok, wind through northern Thailand with some fun times Chiang Mai, then cross the border into Laos where you’ll be able to see the authentic side to this landlocked country. Cruise on the mighty Mekong, laze in Laos’ beauty queen Luang Prabang, love on nature in Vang Vieng and finish up in sleepy Vientiane. You know they’re a welcoming bunch when you cross something called the Friendship Bridge. Take a leaf out of the Laotians book and make a few new friends in this part of the world.
Breakfast Included: 11 Lunches Included: 1 Dinner Included: 1
Sawasdee! Welcome to Bangkok. Arrive in this bustling hub and get to grips with this awesome city. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm. If you arrive early perhaps take a walk around 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 practise your haggling and pick up some bargains.
Bangkok - Overnight Train
Today, explore some of Bangkok's oldest neighbourhoods on a walking tour with your leader. Begin after breakfast and head to Wat Tri Mit temple – the site of the world’s largest solid gold seated Buddha from the Sukhothai era, measuring nearly 5 metres tall and weighing 5.5 tonnes. Here you will learn about the history behind the Buddha, as well as visit the Chinatown Heritage Museum. Along the way, you’ll be able to stop by some food stalls on Sukorn Alley for some snacks. Onto the Odien Circle intersection and the Chinese Temple and finishing with a walk through the bustling daytime Sampeng wholesales market. You’ll have an included lunch at the famous Labour Egg Noodle (or similar), so tuck into some Fish Ball Noodles or Tom Yam Pork Noodles – they’re to die for. 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.
Arrive in Chiang Mai in the morning. The day is yours – see how many (or how little) activities you want to pack into your stay. You will be staying in a centrally located Hostel in Chiang Mai so you will be close to all the action. There are over 120 temples in the city centre alone. You can set off on an excursion to the top of Doi Suthep. There are 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. Your group leader will also be available to take you and the gang on a bar hopping adventure around town. The Nimman area is where it’s at – a trendy neighbourhood full of jazz bars and lounges to relax in and grab a few drinks.
Another day, another chance to get your fill of Chiang Mai. In the morning, you’ll have the chance to learn one of the legendary martial arts, Muay Thai (Thai Boxing). Spend around 2 hours exercising and learning the basics with professional trainers. You’ll be shown how to adapt yourself to be the ‘weapon’ and to guard. Seriously cool. Then, the rest of the afternoon is yours. To really get the blood pumping, perhaps head to the Jungle Flight and negotiate the zipline and canopy course within the treetops.
Have you realised how thai-riffic Chiang Mai is? Well, you’ve got another day to explore. 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. For more info, go and visit urbanadventures.com/destination/chiang-mai-tours. You could also visit a great elephant sanctuary at Elephant Nature Park, where you can learn all about these gentle giants. Otherwise, go visit one of the temples you haven’t made it to yet, or head into town and grab a bowl of khao soi (crunchy and soft noodles in a creamy coconut curry broth). If you want some more ideas, go ahead and ask your group leader – they know the best spots to go.
Take a public bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong via Chiang Rai (approximately 6.5 hours). Explore this quiet town that sits on the Thai side of the Thailand-Laos border. Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Luang are both beautifully ornate temples well worth a visit while you are here. Perhaps rent a bicycle to explore the surrounding countryside and Hmong villages along the banks of the Mekong. Live like the locals with accommodation tonight being a basic guesthouse with all the creature comforts you’ll need.
Mekong River - Pakbeng
This morning you will complete border formalities at Huay Xai before boarding a slow boat for a calming trip down the Mekong River (approximately 7 hours). This is where the real relaxation starts, as you ease into Laos. 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. Quick note: 'nam' means river, so if you say 'Nam Beng River', you're saying river too many times (just like we have).
Get back on your private 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. Tonight, something special is planned for you. Think Korean BBQ, but Laotian style. ‘Sindad’ is the art of grilling meat on a hot pan, a type of traditional BBQ set on a charcoal stove and has a surrounding rim full of boiling water for blanching vegetables. Veggies on the outside, meat cooking in the middle. It’s a hands-on experience, barbecuing all different types of meat cut into bite-sized pieces, and dunking them in some seriously addictive spicy, salty and sweet dipping sauces. Your group leader will take you to one of the best all-you-can-eat places in Luang Prabang, where you may be treated to some live music or a show while you’re cooking.
It’s worth getting up early morning to view the procession of saffron-robed monks on their daily outing collecting alms, a practice that dates back centuries. The people of the town wait out the front of their houses with food for the monks to collect and take back to the temple. It is done early, as the monks cannot eat anything after midday. By giving food to a monk you ‘het bon’ or make merit, which should augur well for your next life. Your leader will guide you through the do’s and don’ts and help you to take part in this alms giving tradition. Next take tuk tuks to visit Wat Xieng Thong. This temple was built in the 16th century under the patronage of the royal family, and the Laotian kings were crowned here. The main viharn (assembly hall) and buildings have carved gilded wooden doors depicting scenes from Buddha's life. Afterwards, enjoy some free time for optional activities! 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). Otherwise, take a rest. Find a herbal steam room or maybe play some pentanque with the locals (it's a bit like bocce). Don’t expect them to go easy on you.
Today you can do whatever you choose. 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 the middle of Laos. 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 into 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.
This morning, take a leader-led walking tour around Vang Vieng on your way to Tham Jung and the caves. It’s about 147 steps to the upper caves system (yes, we’ve counted). Spend your morning checking out the caves and maybe stop by the crystal-clear lagoon for a swim! Up top, you can see a great view of Vang Vieng, and there’s also a lot of Buddha iconography around to take a look at. Take some free time in the afternoon to spend as you wish – there’s some beautiful countryside around, so maybe hire a bike or kayak down the Mekong River to take it all in.