Tailor-made Tour 17 days from £4925 per person
Places Visited: Chang Rai, Huay Palang, Pakbeng, Kop Aek, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, Vientiane, Champasak
Anouvong is Heritage Line’s first-ever vessel to cruise the majestic Mekong River in Laos, and its newest in the fleet, taking to the river in September 2020. Lesser-travelled than other sections of the Mekong, this journey takes you past peaceful riverscapes, charming villages and delightful temples.
Explore this part of Laos in true style for three nights aboard the Anouvong, a true boutique cruising experience, with a total of only 10 cabins. Disembark in Luang Prabang, long regarded as the country’s preeminent cultural and religious capital, before continuing south through the stunning karst landscapes of Vang Vieng, to the capital Vientiane, and onwards to the Mekong in the far south of Laos.
This varied trip covers the highlights of this unspoiled and most beautiful corner of Asia, utilising some of Laos finest boutique accommodation.
Laos Encompassed and Anouvong Cruise
New for 2020, cruise the lesser-travelled Upper Mekong River in Laos in the luxury of the Anouvong, a brand new vessel from Heritage Line. Combine with the highlights of Laos on our recently launched 17-day private tour.
Fly from the UK to Bangkok.
BANGKOK - CHIANG RAI
Fly from Bangkok to Chiang Rai. You will be met on arrival and your driver will take you to your hotel where you will enjoy a two-night stay. When you arrive at your hotel you will be able to spend the rest of your day relaxing.
In the far north of Thailand, Chiang Rai served briefly as the capital of the medieval Lan Na kingdom before the rise of Chiang Mai. Today, it’s known primarily as the gateway to the Golden Triangle region – “golden” because of the wealth that poured through on the back of the opium trade. A crackdown initiated by the Thai royal family, however, has reduced production of the drug to virtually zero in Thailand, opening up this fascinating corner of upland Asia to visitors once again.
Spend the day exploring the scenic Golden Triangle region. Marvel at the splendor of the mighty Mekong where it joins the Ruak to form the ‘triangle’ with Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand, visit Mae Sai, the northernmost point of Thailand, and an important trade hub.
Mae Sai is one of the few official land crossings between Thailand and Myanmar and is therefore an important trade hub. Many Burmese come over daily from Thakhilek to work or do business and hurry back before the sun sets. Burmese lacquer ware, gems, jade and other goods from Laos and Myanmar are sold in shops along the main street.
CHAING RAI – HUAY PALANG
Transfer to Chiang Khong, on the Laos border, where you will be met by the Heritage Line crew. They will assist you through immigration to Huay Xai pier, and onto your vessel, Anouvong. Start your journey downstream, to Huay Palang village, home of the Khmu minority. As the sun sets over the Mekong River, a Baci Ceremony will be held by the village elders, for a traditional Laotian welcome.
Huay Palang, consists of approximately 85 families, whose lifestyle depends fully on the Mekong as a means of transportation and a primary food source. Learn about the local art of weaving Bamboo mats, which you can try your hand at it if you like. Local households also produce their own alcohol by distilling rice to make the famous Lao whiskey.
PAKBENG – KOP AEK
For the early risers, begin your day on the terrace deck, taking part in a sunrise Tai Chi or Yoga class. This morning you will continue cruising down the Mekong to the small town of Pakbeng. Visit a local market, a hill-top temple with breath taking views and an elephant sanctuary. Back on board, enjoy the scenery as you journey on to the small village of Kop Aek. Enjoy a classical dance performed by the local people before a barbecue dinner is served on the terrace deck.
As you cruise along this morning, a local expert will host a lecture on Asian elephants, particularly the Laotian species, their cultural importance and the current threats which have brought them to the brink of extinction. The work being done to protect the elephants can be seen first-hand at the elephant sanctuary in Pakbeng, which strives to protect this threatened species.
As you continue downstream through the gently rolling hills, enjoy a Laotian cooking class, or a talk on Laotian culture and the diverse tribes living on the upper Mekong. Visit the village of Muang Keo, where you can observe local weavers before a short walk to the famous Pak Ou Caves. Later in the afternoon there is the option to take a kayak and explore the river from a different perspective. This evening meet Francis Engelmann, a writer and retired consultant to UNESCO, who will share his expertise on the country’s rich cultural heritage, the turbulent history, and the day-to-day life of Lao people.
Pak Ou Caves, located directly on the Mekong’s rocky shore and opposite the mouth of the Ou River, are made up of two spacious limestone grottoes housing approximately 4,000 sacred Buddhist statues and images ranging from mere centimetres up to two metres in height.
This morning you will arrive in Luang Prabang where it is time to bid farewell to Anouvong. You will be met and transferred to your hotel for a two-night stay. Take a walking tour of some of the highlights of Luang Prabang including the Royal Palace and collection of Luang Prabang’s famed temples. Finish by climbing up to the top of Mount Phousi to admire the panoramic views across the Mekong and Khan rivers.
Enfolded by low, wooded hills, Luang Prabang languishes on a peninsula in the Mekong. Long regarded as the country’s pre-eminent cultural and religious capital, the town served for 15 centuries as the abode of Lao royalty. Stucco French villas and wooden colonnaded houses, festooned with scarlet bougainvillea and the foliage of overhanging mango and jackfruit trees, line its quiet streets, along with a wealth of delicately gilded temples and monasteries.
Spend the day in the small village of Ban Nayang, home to the Tai Lu. Walk around the village and observe the daily activities. Learn about their efforts to preserve their traditional crafts before enjoying lunch in a local home.
The Tai Lu are an ethnic group who migrated from Yunan, China in the late 18th century, and have preserved much of their traditional way of life. Ban Nayang is home to about 500 Tai Lu people. Notice the distinctive stilt houses, many with two or three weaving looms underneath. Strolling around the village you will observe the women weaving and doing embroidery while the men grow wet rice using wooden equipment drawn by buffalo. Although shy by nature, the villagers are open to talking about their daily activities and life in the village.
Travel along the scenic winding roads to the riverside resort of Vang Vieng for a two-night stay. On arrival, explore the regions fascinating caves, including Tham Chang, notable for sheltering villagers during the Chinese Haw invasion in the 19th century, and again during Laos’ civil war. Visit the natural Blue Lagoon, possibly for a swim, and the ‘Golden Crab Cave’ named so for its crab-like rock formations.
Nestled on the banks of the Nam Song River against an awesome backdrop of lofty limestone ridges and peaks, Van Vieng is the adventure capital of Laos. The wooded slopes, karst caves and broad, green river provide spectacular terrain for a range of different outdoor activities, from trekking and kayaking to climbing, mountain biking and – most famously – ‘tubing’ (drifting downstream on inflated tractor inner tubes).
Spend the day exploring the superb karst landscape surrounding Vang Vieng. Explore some of caves to the north, including Tham Sang (Elephant Cave) and Tham Hoi (Snail Cave), and perhaps have a swim in Tham Nam (Water Cave). After a picnic lunch, walk to the Hmong village of Phathao, passing through picturesque rice paddies and vegetable gardens, before kayaking back to Vang Vieng along the Nam Song River.
For those looking for more sedate excursions, the many, deep and convoluted show caves in the area provide plenty of excitement. There is also always the option of enjoying the scenery from the poolside of your hotel whose superb location offers jaw-dropping panoramas. The scenery and quality accommodation make it the obvious stopover on the journey between Luang Prabang and Vientiane.
Travel by road to national capital, Vientiane, where you’ll spend two nights.
Chao Anouvong Park facing the Mekong is the best place in the city to get your bearings, and it’s a particularly pleasant spot in the evening. Join the strollers on the promenade enjoying the tropical colours swirling in the water, then settle at one of the cafés for a glass of cold Beerlao. To round the day off, head over to celebrate your arrival meal at Makphet, one of our favourite restaurants in the city: the sesame and peanut-encrusted dumplings with hibiscus syrup are sublime.
Spend the morning exploring Vientiane, visiting some of the city’s most notable temples, the Patuxai Victory Monument and That Luang, a large gold-covered Buddhist stupa in the centre of Vientiane, generally regarded as the most important national monument in Laos. In the afternoon travel just outside the city to Buddha Park, a sculpture garden containing more than 200 Buddhist and Hindu statues.
Transfer to the airport early this morning for your flight to Pakse, and continue south through rural countryside to Champasak, a small town set on the banks of the Mekong, where you will spend three nights. Explore the ancient ruins of the picturesque Wat Phou Temple, renowned for being an outstanding example of pre-Angkorian architecture.
Sleepy Champasak in southern Laos, near the borders with Thailand and Cambodia, serves as a springboard for visits to the UNESCO-listed Wat Phou temple and Si Phon Don area of the Mekong. Our preferred accommodation here is La Folie Lodge, a gorgeous hideaway on an island in the river, which guests reach by catamaran. From the jetty, you step into a flower-filled garden enfolding a dozen pretty stilted bungalows with polished wood floors and beautiful Lao silk bedspreads. The views from the pool deck to the nearby river beach and sacred peak beyond are spellbinding, particularly at sunset, when herds of water buffalo plod home across the sand.
Spend the day exploring the Bolaven Plateau, a lush, fertile upland filled with waterfalls, spice plantations, cardamom and coffee groves.
Lying between the Annamite Mountains and Mekong River in the far southeast of Laos, the Bolaven Plateau ranks among the most remote and beautiful corners of Indochina. A lush, fertile upland filled with waterfalls, spice plantations, cardamom and coffee groves, it was originally developed in the 1900s by the French, who appreciated the region’s temperate climate. Ethnic minority people make up the majority of its scattered population today. Dominant among these are the Laven (whence the plateau’s name), whose villages, along with a couple of spectacular waterfalls, provide the focus today’s excursion.
Explore the Si Phon Don (‘4,000 Islands’) region today by boat
In this part of southern Laos the Mekong broadens to a staggering 14km (9 miles), its widest stretch on the river’s course between Tibet and the South China Sea. An archipelago of rocky islets speckle the water, supporting a population of rice resilient farmers, whose paddy fields form splashes of brilliant green against the dun-coloured river banks. Upstream, one of the most formidable impediments to full navigation of the river is the mighty Khone Phapeng Falls near the Cambodian border – the longest on the river and a jaw-dropping spectacle, especially during the rainy season.
Transfer to Pakse airport for your return flight home via Bangkok
Arrive back in the UK
Tailor-made Tour 17 days from £4925 per person
- International flights from UK in economy
- Domestic flights in economy
- 14 nights accommodation
- All road travel and transfers by private chauffeur-driven vehicles
- English-speaking guides
- Breakfast daily
- Full board on Anouvong Cruise
- Entrance fees to sites and monuments listed in tour itinerary
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