Enjoy plenty of time in Laos rather than just travelling through as part of a longer Indochina trip. This is a no-fuss, no-hurry holiday. Laos is one of the most relaxed countries around, and the pace of this trip is the same, with plenty of free time to choose your own options in each destination. There are many chances to do good while you travel, from the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre to social enterprise restaurants like Friends International and Makphet. Make one of Southeast Asia’s classic journeys – a slow-boat trip down the Mekong River
In Thailand discover a country where ancient and modern collide to create the glorious chaos of Bangkok and the cultural heritage of Chiang Mai. In Laos you’ll find a land that holds to the simple traditions that have slipped away elsewhere and where the languid pace of life is eternally contagious. Explore, relax and absorb the distinct atmosphere of these two fascinating countries that sit either side of the massive Mekong River. Food, history, culture, stunning landscapes and endlessly friendly locals await on this journey through two gems of South East Asia.
Breakfast Included: 6 Lunches Included: Dinner Included:
Sa-wat dee! Welcome to Thailand. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm on Day 1. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where it will take place. Bangkok has much to offer those with time to explore. You can take a riverboat to Chinatown to sample some world-class street food, visit the Grand Palace, wander down the bustling mecca of Khao San Road or indulge in a Thai massage.
Bangkok / Overnight Train
Start the morning by jumping on a public ferry to Wat Kalayanamit and enjoy an included walking tour around the fascinating Thonburi area of Bangkok. See the mixture of cultures with Buddhist temples and Catholic Churches as you stroll around the Portuguese influenced Thonburi area. Often a spot away from the tourist trail you will experience untouched local villages living by the waterways and visit quaint local markets that have plenty of interesting snacks waiting for you to try. Finish the walking tour at Amulet market and be lured into a shopping frenzy. Enjoy free time in the afternoon for optional activities, you may want to relax with a Thai massage or visit the mysterious Jim Thompsons House. Board your overnight train this evening to Chiang Mai (approximately 13 hours). You will travel by 2nd class and your carriage is air-conditioned. Before you go, perhaps take a longtail boat trip down the Chao Phraya River to explore the famous 'khlongs' (canals) of Bangkok. Life along these canals seems a world away from the busy streets of the capital.
Wake up on the train and glimpse the northern scenery as you arrive in Chiang Mai, then transfer to your hotel. Get out and explore this 'Rose of the North', which boasts spectacular temples, delicious food, an enormous night market, a picturesque river-front and excellent shopping. Hiring a bike to get around town is a great activity, or venturing to the Doi Suthep temple 15 km out of town. There is so much to do in Chiang Mai and you have 2 full free days to do as much or little as you like.
Adventure seekers, ask your leader about white-water rafting or fly like a bird via the Flight of the Gibbon zipline. Today is a free day and there is many optional activities your leader can help you organise. You could participate in a Thai cooking course or see those amazing Asian Elephants in a visit to the Elephant Nature Park.
Take a private minivan to Chiang Khong (approximately 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 / Pak Beng
This morning you will complete border formalities at Huay Xai before boarding a private boat with your group to begin your two-day journey down the Mekong River (6–7 hours today). While the boat is basic, the journey is relaxed, a lovely way to experience the slow pace of village life and gorgeous scenery along the river. Dock at the small trading port of Pak Beng in the late afternoon and spend the night in a basic guesthouse.
Notes: Prior to the boat's departure, ask your leader for help purchasing food and drinks for the journey if you need some. It can also be quite cold between November and February, so make sure you have some warm gear packed. Due to dam construction upstream, water levels are not as reliable as in previous years. When the river is at its lowest (February to April), groups may need to take a bus to Pak Beng instead of the boat. This is due to safety reasons and is advised by our local operators.
Mekong River / Luang Prabang
Board the boat again and cruise downriver at a leisurely pace to Luang Prabang (6–7 hours). Arriving late afternoon, you'll have time to hit the highly recommended night market food stalls, a great place to mingle with the locals and enjoy a meal with fellow travellers. With temples and French colonial villas lining the Mekong under blazing orange skies, you can see why this city has a reputation for exotic beauty.
Join your guide for a walk around the local area, learning more about Lao culture at the temple of Wat Pha Mahathat. Today and tomorrow are then yours to spend as you please. Today and tomorrow are then yours to spend as you please. Take the time to explore the local market by day, where the textiles made by local women will amaze. You can also make the steep climb up Mount Phousi, the spiritual and geographical heart of the city and a prime location to see the sunset over the Mekong.
Your leader can help you organise many optional activities today. Kuang Si Falls, a spectacular spot to swim, is well worth a visit. Also at the gate entrance to the waterfalls you will have the chance to stop by the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre where you can see the wonderful work this center is doing to rescue bears from poachers and provide them with a home. If you want to learn more about the local cuisine you can enjoy a cooking demonstration in the heart of town.
Take a private mini bus through dusty villages and winding mountain roads to Vang Vieng (approximately 7 hours). The mountain scenery en route is as impressive as that of your destination. Situated on the Nam Song River, Vang Vieng is surrounded by towering limestone karsts. The standard of accommodation in Vang Vieng is basic but comfortable.
Vang Vieng is known as an adventure town, thanks to its unique and varied surrounding country. Its many local caves are easily accessible and make for great day trips or half-day trips. Notably, Tham Chang, with its beautiful cavern fed by a natural spring, is an interesting swimming hole. Those looking to relax or perhaps learn more about local niche industry can visit the organic mulberry farm just outside town and enjoy a meal there (guided tours of the farm are available).
Take a beautiful local bus ride through roadside villages to Vientiane (approximately 4 hours). Enjoy the slow pace of what is possibly Asia's most laid-back capital city. On a guided walk you will visit the key Buddhist sites Wat Si Saket and Haw Phra Kaew, and continue on to Patuxai (Victory Gate) for unsurpassed views over the city. You will also visit COPE, an Intrepid Foundation-sponsored organisation dedicated to assisting those who have been injured by the multitude of unexploded ordnance across the country.