11 days from £3600 per person
Places Visited: Vientiane, Pakse, Vat Phou Cruise, Luang Prabang
It’s hard to think of any tour in Asia cramming so many exotic sights and wonderful experiences into such short a time as this 11-day tour of Laos. You’ll get to sample the laid-back colonial-era charms and beautiful gilded temples of the capital, Vientiane, and enjoy a fabulous cruise on the Mekong to one of the most magnificent, and remote, pre-Angkorian ruins in the region, Vat Phou. An excursion to the little-visited Bolaven Plateau and spectacular cataracts on the Mekong are other highlights encountered before you fly north to beautiful Luang Prabang, the cultural finale of a trip chock-full of wonder and fascination.
Cultural Holidays Cruising Holidays
Fly overnight from the UK to Vientiane.
On arrival in Vientiane, you’ll be met by your driver and guide and escorted to your hotel for a two-night stay. Spend the remainder of the day relaxing after your journey, perhaps venturing out in the evening to Chao Anouvong Park for a sundowner.
Dominated by a 6-metre bronze statue of King Chao Anouvong, this park facing the Mekong is the best place in the city to be a sunset time. 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’ – the ubiquitous local brand. To round the day off, head over to celebrate your arrival with a modern Lao meal at Makphet, one of our favourite restaurants in the city: the sesame and peanut-encrusted dumplings with hibiscus syrup are sublime.
Visit the temples, markets and museums of the capital on foot and by tuk-tuk or bicycle.
Compact enough to explore on foot or by bicycle, the historic heart of Vientiane retains a crop of vibrant Buddhist wats, including the resplendent Haw Pha Kaew, a former royal temple turned museum that now holds a world-class collection of bronze Buddhas and Khmer stone stelae. Further out of town, the gilded Pha That Luang is the pre-eminent national monument of Laos and symbol of Buddhist devotion. Before sunset, stroll through the grid of orderly, tree-lined boulevards and backstreets hugging the river, where the peeling stucco facades and weathered shutters of old colonial villas offer rich pickings for photographers.
Fly to Pakse, a colonial-era trade hub at the confluence of the Mekong and Se Dong Rivers, for a one-night stay. In the afternoon, visit the beautiful Bolaven Plateau.
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.
Vat Phou Cruise
Board the Vat Phou in the morning to begin your river cruise.
Named after the majestic Khmer temple that forms the pivotal sight on this river trip, the Vat Phou is a 34-metre former teak transporter that’s been converted into an elegant floating boutique hotel. A sprawling, stepped Khmer-Hindu temple at the foot of Mount Phou Kao, the ruined temple of Vat Phou retains some exquisite stone carvings of Lord Shiva and a shrine room in which the Shiva Linga is bathed by the waters of a natural spring. A flight of time-worn steps lead to the top of the adjacent sacred hill for a mesmerizing view over the temple and ancient reservoirs nearby.
Vat Phou Cruise
Today you’ll cruise through the Si Phon Don (‘4000 Islands’) region, pausing to experience rural life at Don Khone island and to visit Phapheng Falls.
One of the most formidable impediments to full navigation of the Mekong is the mighty Khone Phapheng Falls near the Cambodian border – the longest on the river and a jaw-dropping spectacle, especially during the rainy season. Beyond the cataracts, the river divides into a tangle of different channels, flowing for roughly 30-miles (50-km) around a constellation of islets and islands. The so-called Si Phan Don, or ‘Four-Thousand Islands’ region supports a population of rice resilient farmers, whose paddy fields form splashes of brilliant green against the dun-coloured river banks.
Disembark from the cruiser in the morning and return to Pakse by road for a one-night stay.
Pakse holds few sights of note but does boast a particularly lively covered market – Daoheuang – and pleasant waterfront promenade that’s ideal for an evening stroll. Those desiring a spot of more serious exercise may consider the climb up the hill on the opposite side of the river, which is crowned by a massive golden Buddha. The view over the Champasak region from the temple is magnificent.
Fly to Luang Prabang for a three-night stay.
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. After checking in to your hotel, climb the frangipani-lined steps leading to the hilltop pagoda of Wat Phu, from where the 360-degrees panorama extends to the surrounding mountains.
Sightseeing in and around the city.
Begin your tour of the city sights at the former Royal Palace – a graceful fusion of Lao and European styles housing a glittering throne room and exhibitions of heirlooms. Afterwards, relax in one of the many stylish cafés or restaurants occupying LP’s colonial-era mansions. In the afternoon, relax take a trip into the countryside around the city to experience the life of traditional Lao rice farming families. Try your hand at planting, harvesting or threshing – depending on the time of year – and visit local handicraft workshops to see bamboo weavers, blacksmiths, and sugar cane processors in action.
Excursion to Pak Ou Caves by boat; afternoon at leisure.
Rise early to watch a thousand barefoot monks and novices, dressed in luminescent saffron robes, make a circuit of the peninsula to collect alms from the town’s householders. Afterwards, take a river trip to the Pak Ou Caves, where a grotto next to the Mekong is crammed with gilded Buddhas. Spend the afternoon relaxing or browsing the wonderful souvenir boutiques around the old quarter, and in the evening, attend a recital by the Royal Ballet, whose dancers are dressed in vibrant brocaded silk, elaborate headdresses and masks, accompanied by live music from a traditional orchestra – a magical experience.
It’s time to bid farewell to Laos as you transfer to the airport for your return flight to the UK, via Bangkok.
11 days from £3600 per person
✓ International flights from UK in economy
✓ 9 nights accommodation, including a two-night river cruise
✓ Domestic flights in economy
✓ All road travel and transfers by private chauffeur-driven vehicles
✓ English-speaking guides
✓ Breakfast daily, full board on the cruise
✓ Entrance fees to sites and monuments listed in tour itinerary
Southeast Asia’s smallest capital, Vientiane, started life as a Khmer trading post on the Mekong and later expanded during the reign of the Lao Kings. Gallic influence, dating fro...
Pakse and Vat Phou
Dominated by the Mekong, the flat, riverine terrain of Laos’ southernmost region is prodigiously fertile, though seen by comparatively few foreigners until recently, when a cluste...
Lying between the Annamite Mountains and Mekong River in the far south of Laos, the Bolaven Plateau ranks among the most remote and beautiful corners of Indochina. A lush, fertile...
Si Phan Don
One of the most formidable impediments to full navigation of the Mekong is the mighty Khone Phapeng Falls near the Cambodian border – the largest in Southeast Asia, and a jaw-drop...
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