21 days from £5000 per person
Places Visited: Luang Prabang, Muang La, Nong Khiaw, Phonsavan, Vang Vieng, Vientiane, Champasak
If you’ve three weeks to devote to exploring Laos, this route starting in Luang Prabang and ending in the far southeast is without doubt the most varied and interesting. All of the country’s main sights are covered, from the enigmatic ‘Plain of Jars’ to the great cataracts of Mekong, plus you get to visit some truly remote villages – including Hmong settlements in the remote hills of the north and a coffee plantation on the little visited, but superbly scenic Bolaven Plateau. Some of our all-time favourite hideaways feature, providing luxurious springboards for trips into some of the most unspoilt and beautiful corners of Asia.
Cultural Holidays Active Holidays Landscape & Nature Holidays
Fly overnight from the UK to Luang Prabang.
On arrival in Luang Prabang, you’ll be met by your driver and guide and accompanied to your hotel. Spend the remainder of the day recovering from your flight, perhaps venturing out in evening to Wat Phu or the night market.
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 the old quarter’s colonial-era mansions. In the afternoon, take a trip into the countryside around the city to experience the life of traditional 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. Hollowed from a limestone escarpment, the caves at Pak Ou were formed by erosion from the river but embellished over the centuries by local people with hundreds of gilded Buddhas – among the area’s most striking spectacles. The caves are usually accessed by boat.
Spend the afternoon relaxing or browsing the wonderful souvenir boutiques back in Luang Prabang, 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.
Travel by road to the riverside lodge at Muang La for a three-night stay.
The post-card pretty riverside lodge at Muang La is optimally placed for a taste of life in the slow lane of northern Laos. With stilted tilted bungalows overlooking the water, the property is set amid well-tended gardens on a peaceful stretch of the Nam Pak River, where locals come to bathe, wash clothes and water their buffalo each morning. Cross the lodge’s rope and bamboo bridge to reach a secluded island where a 4-metre, open-side platform offers a perfect vantage point over the surrounding countryside – idyllic at sunset time when staff light candles and lanterns to enhance the tropical colours.
Spend the day exploring local Khamu villages and taking gentle backcountry cycle rides through the surrounding rice fields to hidden temples and beauty spots, with a picnic lunch in the rice fields.
After a day spent walking, cycling or taking Jeep rides through the forest to local minority settlements and Buddhist religious sites, enjoy an indulgent massage in the lodge’s top-notch spa, followed by a champagne sundowner in the signature spring-fed hot tub. Served on a stylish candle-lit terrace, the meals are Lao-French fusion dishes prepared from fresh local ingredients – a real highlight.
Venture further afield today to villages belong to the Hmong, Khamu and Ikhos, or simply stay back at the lodge to soak up the birdsong and laze in the hot tub.
Excursions to minority villages in the hills around Muang La can last from a half to a full day, and usually start with a drive in a Jeep up remote, twisting forest tracks, yielding superb views over the valleys through the trees, followed by a walk ranging between 20mins to an hour. The reward is a glimpse of life a world away from the bustle of the Lao cities. In this isolated district, local traditions, beliefs and costume are adhered to, which makes visiting these settlements feel like entering another world.
Travel by road and boat to Nong Khiaw for a two-night stay.
Sleepy Nong Khiaw straddles the languid Nam Ou River at the bottom of a deep, forested valley. Wonderful views of the surrounding peaks are to be had from the Chinese-built bridge that connects the two sides of the village, but you’ll get a more vivid feel of the landscape by taking a guided trek along the river.
Trek to nearby villages or tackle the famous ‘100 Waterfalls’ trek route.
Taking you up a series of low cascades via bamboo ladders and fixed ropes, the ‘100 Waterfalls’ route is a trail used for centuries by locals to travel between the scattered settlements in the Nam Ou Valley. To reach the start of it, you first drift for 10km downstream in a long-tail boat, then walk a couple of miles across level paddy fields before beginning to ascend through thick forest by means of a route winding through streams and up waterfalls. The full trek takes half a day.Kayaking trips are also on offer.
Return to Luang Prabang for a one-night stay.
Take the opportunity of your final evening in Luang Prabang to shop for souvenirs in the atmospheric night market, which runs along Sisavangvong Road from Wat Mai. Starting around 5pm and winding up by 11pm, it is staffed mostly by local Hmong minority people, who descend from the surrounding hills to sell handicrafts such as ceramics, screen-printed ‘Beerlao’ t-shirts, silk scarves, hand-woven blankets and opium pipes.
A long drive today takes you from Luang Prabang east to Phonsavan, springboard for visits to the ‘Plan of Jars’.
You’ll arrive in Phonsavan early enough to explore the local market, where you’ll come across stalls and small shops specializing in Hmong Embroidery, mulberry paper parasols made in the nearby village of Ban Mixay, and wooden spoons and other trinkets fashioned from war scrap. Open until 8pm, the Navang Craft Centre is a family business producing woodcrafts made from scented Long Leng timber (Fujian Cypress).
Excursion to the Plain of Jars.
The country’s most famous archaeological site, the so-called ‘Plain of Jars’, comprises around 100 different locations, dispersed over the Xieng Khouang Plateau, a wide area of grassy uplands and low hills to the east of Phonsavan. Literally thousands of the famous carved stone jars have been discovered, grouped into clusters of up to 400 pieces ranging in size from 18” to 9 ft (50cm to 3m). These enigmatic objects are thought to have served as funerary urns. Viewed in the hour before sunset, when the surrounding grasslands glow orange, the jars form a mesmerizing spectacle.
Travel by road to the riverside resort of Vang Vieng for a two-night stay.
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 around the town.
Visits to the many, deep and convoluted show caves in the area provide targets for excursions from this popular town on the Nam Song. Numerous adventure sports are also on offer for those in need of an adrenaline fix!
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.
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 and travel onwards by car and boat to Champasak for a two-night stay.
Sleepy Champasak in southern Laos, near the borders with Thailand and Cambodia, serves as a springboard for visits to the UNSCO-listed Vat 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.
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.
Visit the Vat Phou temple in the morning and Bolaven Plateau in the afternoon.
A sprawling, stepped Khmer-Hindu temple at the foot of Mount Phou Kao, the Vat Phou complex ranks among the finest and most evocative pre-Angkorian sites in Southeast Asia. The ruins retain exquisite stone carvings of Lord Shiva and a shrine room in which the Lingam is bathed by the waters of a natural spring.
After lunch, drive up to the the Bolaven Plateau, a lush, fertile upland filled with waterfalls, spice plantations, cardamom and coffee groves. Ethnic minority people make up the majority of its scattered population today and their villages, along with a couple of spectacular waterfalls, provide the focus of the afternoon’s excursion.
Ubon Ratchathani, Bangkok
Travel by road to the airport at Ubon Ratchathani, where you’ll board your flight to Bangkok to pick up your onward connection to the UK.
Arrive back in the UK.
21 days from £5000 per person
✓ International flights from UK in economy
✓ 18 nights accommodation
✓ Domestic flights in economy
✓ All road travel and transfers by private chauffeur-driven vehicles
✓ English-speaking guides
✓ Breakfast daily
✓ Entrance fees to sites and monuments listed in tour itinerary
Enfolded by low, wooded hills, Luang Prabang languishes amid a gauzy tranquillity on a peninsula in the Mekong. Long regarded as the country’s preeminent cultural and religious ca...
For a taste of life in the slow lane of northern Laos, Muang La, in the Nong Khiaw Valley, is hard to beat. Situated in one of the most scenic corners of the region, this sleepy r...
Sleepy Nong Khiaw, 78 miles (126km) north-east of Luang Prabang, straddles the languid Nam Ou River at the bottom of a deep, forested valley. Wonderful views of the surrounding pe...
The Plain of Jars
The country’s most famous archaeological site, the so-called ‘Plain of Jars’, comprises around 100 different locations, dispersed over the Xieng Khouang Plateau, a wide area of gr...
Nestled on the banks of the Nam Song River, against an awesome backdrop of lofty limestone ridges and peaks, this small town 90 miles (150km) north of Vientiane, is the adventure ...
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...
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