A slow boat down the Mekong River is one of South East Asia’s most classic journeys. You’ll spend a day meandering down the river to Luang Prabang – a relaxing way to discover the region’s natural splendour.. Participate in workshops run by local artisans, including an indigo dyeing demonstration in Baan Thung Hong Village, and an ancient pottery class in Bo Suak Cultural Place.. Lan Ha Bay is a paradisiacal enclave of green waters and strange rock formations. Explore them by boat and kayak, then spend the night on Cat Ba Island.. Enjoy the guidance of a local expert as you temple-hop at the dazzling Angkor complex, one of South East Asia’s most stunning sights.
Take an epic 35-day Lonely Planet Experience that hits the best of the best in South East Asia. From the majestic Angkor ruins and the beaches of Phan Rang to the frenetic pace of Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok, past the relaxed vibes of Hoi An, Chiang Mai and to the riverside of Luang Prabang, you’ll learn the history, meet friendly and welcoming people, eat delicious food and stay with local communities along the way. If you want to capture the true essence of this region, this all-encompassing itinerary is for you. See what all the fuss is about in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia – four shining gems in South East Asia.
Breakfast Included: 11 Lunches Included: 2 Dinner Included: 1
Sa-wat dee! Welcome to Thailand. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm. Bangkok has much to offer those with time to explore, so we recommend you arrive a day or two earlier to see its wondrous sights. You can sample some world-class street food, visit the Grand Palace, wander down the bustling tourist mecca of Khao San Road or indulge in a Thai massage. If you would like to spend more time in Bangkok, we’ll be happy to organise additional accommodation (subject to availability). After your group meeting, why not get some of the crew together and head to one of Bangkok’s renowned street food markets for some delicious food. Sitting on a roadside plastic stool never felt so good when you’re eating a curry or khao soi (chicken noodle soup).
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. See the mixture of cultures with Buddhist temples and Catholic churches as you stroll around. Away from the usual 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 some free time in the afternoon for optional activities. This evening, board your overnight train to Chiang Mai (approximately 13 hours). You will travel by 2nd class and your carriage will be air-conditioned.
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 riverfront and excellent shopping. Hiring a bike to get around town is a great activity or venturing to the Doi Suthep temple is a great choice too. There is so much to do in Chiang Mai and you’ll have two full free days to do as much or little as you like.
Adventure seekers, ask your leader about white-water rafting or flying like a bird with Jungle Flight ziplining. Today is a free day and there are many optional activities your leader can help you organise. You could also participate in a Thai cooking course or see those amazing Asian Elephants in an ethical way with a visit to the Elephant Nature Park. It’s totally up to you, and your group leader knows all the best people in the right places, so ask them for their recommendations.
Take a private minivan to Nan (approximately 5 hours, not including stops). On the way, stop by the town of Phrae, which is very well-known for their production of indigo fabrics – some of the best in Asia. Head straight to the Baan Thung Hong Village, where you’ll get shown the ‘hom’ (indigo) plantation and participate in a traditional workshop. You’ll get a small handkerchief and will be able to try the dying process yourself. Have lunch nearby at a local restaurant, then continue on to Nan. Once arrived, your leader will take you on an orientation walk of the town, then you’ll have the rest of the evening to do as you please.
Make tracks for Chiang Klang today with a couple of stops along the way. Just outside of Nan is Ban Cha Manut Ancient Kiln and Huan Ban Suak Saen Chuen Museum, where you’ll learn about the ancient art of pottery in the region. The Ban Cha Manut kiln has been used in this house for over 800 years; you’ll feel like you’ve taken a step back in time. Take a visit to the nearby museum, and afterwards, head to the Bo Suak Cultural Place for a pottery workshop and get a chance to whip up a creation of your own. Enjoy lunch with your group at an open-air community restaurant with expansive views over the surrounding countryside. Relax with an included meal and be sure to have your camera handy. You may also have time to visit the Nan Art Gallery, set beside the river, showcasing work from modern Thai artists. Onwards to Chang Klang – it's approximately a 2.5-hour journey between towns, and upon arrival, freshen up and join your group leader on a visit to the local food markets, where you may like to taste some regional specialties. Enjoy a dinner with your leader and the group.
Thailand/Laos Border Crossing – Pakbeng
Leave your accommodation after breakfast and make your way to the Thailand–Laos border. Your group leader will help you complete immigration and border formalities, and then you’ll continue on to the Laos town of Pakbeng. If there is no holdup at the border, you will reach Pakbeng just in time for lunch, so tuck into some good food, and have a chilled-out afternoon. Perhaps rent a bicycle to explore the surrounding countryside and the banks of the Mekong. Your accommodation tonight is a basic guesthouse.
Mekong River – Luang Prabang
Get on the water this morning and cruise downriver at a nice leisurely pace on your way to Luang Prabang (6–7 hours). This way of ‘slow travel’ is popular among travellers to the region, as you’ll wind down the Mekong River, passing riverside villages and lush forests on the banks. 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 Phra Mahathat. 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 being done to rescue bears from poachers and captivity, 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. Today is all yours to choose your own adventure.
Take a private minibus 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. Please note that the standard of accommodation in Vang Vieng tonight and tomorrow is a little more basic than in some of our destinations.
Vang Vieng is known as an adventure town, thanks to its unique and varied surrounding countryside. 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).