GLORIOUS NORTHERN LAOS
PRICE PER PERSON
All prices quoted are per person and refer to a shared double or twin occupancy. Peak season surcharges and/or compulsory meals may apply during Christmas and New Year periods. Changes to the itinerary may also need to be arranged during these times.
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DAY 1: HUAY XAI ARRIVAL – LUANG NAM THA
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Your guide will meet you at the border with Thailand and assist you with the formalities to enter Laos. You will then take a private vehicle to drive on the road 3 to reach Luang Nam Tha (about 4 hours). Enjoy a very nice scenery during the journey passing through the mountains. On the way, your guide will give you some essential information about each ethnic minority living in a different area, which is quite unique from one to another (especially in Vieng Phoukha, where you may enjoy the presence of Khamu people). Lunch en route at a local restaurant (not included). This afternoon arrive in Luang Nam Tha, transfer to your hotel and free time at leisure. Luang Nam Tha is a quiet, peaceful town that serves as the gateway to the Nam Ha Protected Area. Nam Ha is a famous destination for biking and trekking tours, so many travellers stay in Luang Nam Tha pre or post trip. The town, surrounded by ethnic villages and rice fields, reveals plenty of hidden charms between the tribal museum, the market and the pagodas. Your overnight stay is at The Boatlanding, a nice eco-lodge set upon the banks of the Nam Tha River. In addition to its tranquil setting and friendly staff, The Boatlanding is well known for its restaurant- a great place to experience the delights of Northern Lao cuisine and to discover the tastes and flavours of the locals. Dinner and overnight in Laung Nam Tha.
DAY 2: LAUNG NAM THA – MUANG SING – BAN LAO KHAO
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This morning transfer along a sealed road to Muang Sing (about 1 hour) for the start of your 3 day/2 night trek amongst the Akha villages. The Akha Experience is a genuine and authentic ecotourism trek in northern Laos. This tour is sponsored by the villagers of 8 Akha villages and aims to improve their well-being, as well as to increase their incomes. For each tour, 75% of the money goes to the villagers and the village development fund. Additionally, part of the funds goes toward maintenance of the trails and the forest. You will be guided by local guides. The trek starts from That Xieng Tueng and follows an old French road to Nam Keo Noi Water Fall. After 3 hours trekking through primary and secondary forest, stop at Nam Keo Noi Waterfall. Here, the villagers of Lao Khao will prepare lunch in the traditional Akha way using local products, forest vegetables and ancient techniques. After lunch, carry on together with the villagers to the old village site and walk through pine forest and old growth forest. Along the way, take part in forest activities such as birds watching, collecting bamboo shoots or medicinal plants. Towards the end of the day, descend into Ban Lao Khao village. While waiting for dinner, visit the village with your local hosts. Walk around the village; listen to traditional musical instruments, stories, legends while watching the preparation of the evening meal. Learn about traditional Akha architecture and houses. After dinner, enjoy a massage provided by the young women of the village before going off to listen to the courting songs of the youth at the courting grounds. Overnight at the Ban Lao Khao Lodge.
DAY 3: AKHA EXPERIENCE
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After breakfast, start walking through secondary forest to the village of Ban Phou Yae. Here you will join the villagers in activities such as cotton spinning, making and playing with children’s toys or pounding rice. Walk a bit further to Ban Houeinagang for lunch with a local family. This afternoon, continue on to Ban Eu La. Along the way enjoy agricultural activity like planting rice, riding water buffalos, or gathering vegetables. Stop for another snack break and visit Eu La village (it is an Akha custom for visitors to stop in the village and chat before passing on through). Finally, arrive at Ban Tamee. Enjoy the company of the locals of Ban Tamee, learning about their culture and traditions before feasting on a fantastic local dinner. Overnight at the Ban Tamee Lodge.
DAY 4: BAN TAMEE – MUANG SING
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After breakfast, join the locals in their morning activities such as cotton spinning, pounding rice or feeding the pigs. The locals appreciate your attention and willingness to learn about the Akha daily life, as well as the friendly children, who love to learn new games or have you learn theirs! Set off for our last day of trekking, passing by fields where you can observe the agricultural activity with the villagers. Take a break in Ban Nam Hoo before continuing onwards. Along the way, you will catch glimpses of Muang Sing and stop at the village of Ban Mona or Ban Piyer for lunch. This afternoon, visit the village handicraft shop in Ban Piyer and, if you wish, make a contribution to the village by purchasing some of the locally-made handicrafts. By doing so, you will support the local economy and have a beautiful souvenir or present from the Akha Experience. Here, your van is waiting to transfer you back to Muang Sing. Located in a fertile valley in the mountainous north, Muang Sing is a very charming town that served as a garrison during the French colonial era. You will have a chance to walk around Muang Sing, enjoying the local architecture consisting of traditional Thai Lü, Thai Neua and Yunnanese styles as well as the informative tribal museum. Dinner at Tai Lu Restaurant. Tai Lu restaurant is a very good address to discover the food of Muang Sing such as jeows - dipping sauces made from pounding local ingredients and eaten with sticky rice. This is a very traditional Northern Lao dish, eaten daily by the locals. Overnight in Muang Sing.
DAY 5: MUANG SING – OUDOMXAY – MUANG LA
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Optional: this morning, wake up early (6:00am) to visit the local market. This is a great opportunity to meet with the local ethnic tribes who come to the market to buy and sell their fresh produce and handicrafts. After breakfast, depart from Muang Sing to Muang La (about 5 hours). The road passes through mountainous terrain and along the way stop to visit one of the ethnic villages. Stop for lunch in Oudomxai and climb up to the summit of Phou That. Then, continue the drive to Muang La along a very nice mountainous road with very little traffic. Arrive this afternoon at the Muang La Resort. After checking in, take a short walk (about 2 hours) in the area surrounding town to observe the local rural daily life and see the salt mines. Back at the resort, you may wish to use the sauna and/or enjoy a massage (at guest’s expense) and hot bath (hot bath is open from 6:00pm). The natural hot bath is located in the Resort’s gardens and is the perfect place to relax in the silence of the countryside with the stars glowing overhead. Dinner tonight is at the Resort, one of the best tables in this corner of Northern Laos. Your meal will feature a wide variety of tastes to please the palate. Overnight in Muang La.
DAY 6: MUANG LA
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Muang La is a great place to meet ethnic groups such as Lanten, Iko and Mien. Travel by bike for a half-day excursion along the Pak Nam river banks where the Khamu people have established villages. Pedal through beautiful and bucolic landscapes, meeting locals along the way who are likely to be harvesting vegetables on the banks of the river. Stop for a walk through a village for a better look at the local daily life of the Khamu, who continue to live a traditional lifestyle deeply influenced by their cultural values. After a total of 11km cycling, you reach the traditional village of Tad Muan where you will have the pleasure of observing small traditional houses and different ways of hunting. Return by bike to the resort. Spend the rest of the day at your leisure, relaxing before dinner at the resort. Overnight in Muang La.
DAY 7: MUANG LA – MUANG NOI – NONG KHIAW
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This morning drive to Muang Khua. This is a small town settled on the confluence of the Nam Ou and Nam Phak rivers, just 55 km from the border with Vietnam and its Dien Bien Phu province. The town contains a former French garrison and is surrounded by mountains. The view from the town’s suspended bridge is amazing. From Nong Khiaw, board a slow boat for a trip down the Nam Ou River. Travel down the tranquil river, which is flanked by mountains and small villages. Enjoy a picnic lunch on board. En route, stop at Muang Ngoi, a quaint village nestled in the foothills of giant limestone karsts. The town is only accessible by boat and has only one main street that remains unpaved. Visit the village and walk to nearby caves, Tham Kang and Tham Pakeo, before continuing the cruise downstream to Nong Khiaw. Overnight in Nong Khiaw.
DAY 8: NONG KHIAW – LUANG PRABANG
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After breakfast, continue your cruise down the Nam Ou River. Lunch will be served on board. Laos’ waterways play an important role in the lives of the local people as they are not only as an important source of food, but they are also the transportation links between towns. Taking a local boat cruise is one of the most rewarding ways to discover life along the rivers and to observe the daily activities of the fishermen. Stop en route at Pak Ou Caves, locally called Tam Ting, where thousands of gold lacquered Buddha statues are crammed into two caves carved out of a towering limestone cliff. The statues range in size from a few centimetres tall to the size of a human, and the view from the mouth of the cave provides sweeping views of the Mekong and Nam Ou rivers. The caves are as well a destination for local pilgrimages, especially during the Lao New Year period of Pii Mai. After the visit, continue your cruise down the Mekong to reach Luang Prabang. After checking in at your hotel, enjoy a delicious dinner at L’Elephant, a long-standing favourite specializing in fine French and western cuisine. Not only is the food great, but the atmosphere is fantastic as the restaurant is situated on a side street in a traditional villa with large, airy balconies. Overnight in Luang Prabang.
DAY 9: LUANG PRABANG
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This morning, take a guided tour of Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Start at the former Royal Palace, now the National Museum, where you will explore the history of Laos. Continue on foot to Wat Mai, a temple renowned for its golden bas-relief, and Wat Sensoukarahm, which features a beautiful dazzling golden façade. Finish this morning’s tour at Wat Xieng Thong, the most revered temple in Luang Prabang. Located at the end of the peninsula, close to the Mekong, this temple was built in 1560 by King Setthathirat and is decorated with ornate carvings and mosaics. Lunch at Couleur Café, one of our favorite Luang Prabang restaurants. Following lunch, continue your tour of enchanting Luang Prabang. Visit Wat Visoun, the holiest temple of the city, which was entirely rebuilt in 1887 after being destroyed by the invading Black Flags from Southern China. In the courtyard of Wat Visoun stands the Watermelon Stupa shaped like the fruit from which it takes its name. Continue past Wat Aham, which was first built in the 1500s, and on to Wat That where the ashes of King Sisavang Vong are kept inside the large central stupa. Continue to the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre, a museum dedicated to exploring the rich diversity of Laos’ ethnic minorities. Traditional costumes, tools, and artifacts are on display alongside in-depth descriptions and written histories. It is a great opportunity to gain insight in to the Lao people (note: closed on Monday). As the day comes to a close, cross the Mekong to the opposite riverside and climb to Wat Chompet for a sun set view of the city. Should you wish, a sunset drink may be arranged. Overnight in Luang Prabang.
DAY 10: LUANG PRABANG – KUANG SI – LUANG PRABANG
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For early risers, there is a very special dawn visit to watch the monks collecting the alms. As the sun begins to rise, long lines of orange-robed monks leave their pagodas and walk barefoot down the streets collecting offerings from Luang Prabang residents. It is a beautiful, serene ceremony that highlights the spiritualism of the Laos people. Return to the hotel for breakfast. After breakfast, transfer to Tum Tum Cheng Restaurant to enjoy a Lao Cooking Class (closed on Sunday, another supplier may provide a similar service without the market tour). After an introduction from the chef, you will visit the market, to learn about the local ingredients and fresh produce grown in the area. Return to the restaurant to begin cooking - learn how to cut and prepare the different ingredients, spices and vegetables. Learn how to create spring rolls and the traditional technique of wrapping meat in banana leaves and prepare sticky and steamed rice. The chef will also teach you history of Lao cooking and its influence from the neighbouring countries. Then feast on a delicious lunch of the dishes that you have prepared together. This afternoon, visit the refreshing waters of the Kuang Si Waterfalls, located at 32 km from Luang Prabang. These waterfalls cascade down a multilevel limestone formation creating a series of turquoise blue pools perfect for swimming on a hot day. The jungle and dense woods surrounding the falls are filled with wildlife and pleasant walks can be taken along the natural footpaths (Note: when bathing, please wear a sarong, no bare bodies). On the way back to town, stop at some villages inhabited by the area’s ethnic minorities. This evening, climb the stairs of Mount Phousi and watch the sun set over the city and surrounding hills. Transfer back your hotel, stopping along the way at the hill tribe evening market for some shopping. Overnight in Luang Prabang.
DAY 11: LUANG PRABANG – XIENG KHOUANG
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Depart early this morning for the drive to Xieng Khouang. The scenic journey takes around 6 hours, during which time the landscape varies from mountains to soft hills and grasslands. En route, you will pass through several ethnic villages perched on the side of steep hills. Stop for a picnic lunch provided by Tamarind, a restaurant established to promote greater understanding of Laos by serving the country’s unique cuisine. Tamarind only uses locally-sourced ingredients, supporting the area’s local suppliers. The result are delicious, fresh and organic products that support sustainable incomes for local farmers. Along the way, observe the various modes of local transportation used in Laos, each one being a unique way to travel around and view the scenery. In and around villages, locals rely on bicycles and motorbikes as well as ‘tuk tuks’. These vehicles are a motorbike with a covered trailer on the back that can carry a couple of people, but are more often seen hauling goods to and from the markets. In more remote areas, or for transport between two towns, the locals prefer to use ‘songthaew’. These small trucks feature an open-air cabin in the back with two long benches for seating and the play an important role in linking villages in the remote areas. Every inch of space is used inside and on top of these vehicles as the drivers fill them with goods to transport from town to town! This afternoon, reach Xieng Khouang, locally referred to as Phonsavan. The town is the closest to the mysterious Plain of Jars. During the American bombings of the 1970s, Xieng Khouang was almost entirely destroyed and, subsequently, had to be completely rebuilt in a location 30km away. After checking in at your hotel, travel out to the Plain of Jars. The Plain of Jars, situated in the Xieng Khouang province, takes its name from the area’s large plains that are covered by scores of mysterious stone jars. The jars are estimated to be 2000 years old, although their origin remains a mystery. Many theories suggest that they were used as funerary urns, but despite years of extensive research, no conclusive evidence can be found. The jars are made of sedimentary rock and range from 70 cm to 3 meters in size and their haphazard positioning add to the enigmatic feel of the plains. On the way back visit Laos Mine Advisory Group (LMAG), an organization that is working to clear the landmines and other unexploded ordinances in the area. Laos is the most heavily bombed country in the world and the United States dropped more tonnage of bombs during the 70s on Laos than were dropped in all of World War II. The affects of this tragic period are still felt today and the LMAG staff is working fervently to clear the area. A visit to their centre provides deeper insight in to the lingering effects of wars. Overnight in Xieng Khouang.
DAY 12: XIENG KHOUANG – MUANG KHOUN – VIENTIANE
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After breakfast, set off for Muang Khoun, the former provincial capital. The area was so heavily bombed during the war that the capital had to be moved. The drive to Muang Khuoun passes through a scenic valley filled with rice fields. Muang Khoun is home to a unique seating giant Buddha and as well of some old, crumbling pagodas. Visit Wat Pia Wat, an ancient temple whose pillars are the only remaining feature still standing and rise from the surroundings in an eerie manner. Nearby is an old 30m stupa constructed during the Lan Xang/Lanna period. Return to Xieng Khouang for lunch before heading to the airport for your 2:30pm flight to Vientiane (subject to change without prior notice from the airlines: on Monday, Wednesday & Friday). Upon arrival in Vientiane at approximately 3:10pm transfer to your hotel. The rest of the afternoon is at your leisure. Overnight in Vientiane.
DAY 13: VIENTIANE
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Today enjoy a guided tour to discover the hidden charms of Vientiane, whose name means ‘the city of sandal wood’. Vientiane is one of the quietest capitals in the world, far away from the bustle and hustle of other Asian capitals and far from the real-estate frenzy of the regional megalopolis. You can choose to travel by car or the eco-friendly way, by local bicycle! Your tour begins at the serene Wat Sisaket, the only temple left intact after the Siamese (Thai) invasion in 1828. It is one of the most beautiful temples in the capital, and its breezy teak covered hallways are filled with thousands of miniature Buddha statues. Continue on to the nearby Wat Phra Keo. Used as a religious museum, Wat Phra Keo displays a collection of both Lao and Khmer works of art. Also nearby is the Presidential Palace. Although you are not allowed to visit inside, it is a good glimpse in to the town’s colonial past as this building formerly served as the French governor’s palace. As you return to the centre of town, stop by That Dam. Also known as the “black stupa”, this crumbling structure was once covered with a layer of gold that was stolen by the Siamese during their invasion in 1828. From this stupa you get easily to Pangkham Street, known for its many tailor shops, and on to Nam Phou Fountain where you can still see buildings representing the former styles of Laos’s architecture. At midday, enjoy a delicious Lao-style lunch at Makphet Restaurant. Established by Friends International (www.friends-international.org), Makphet is a charity-run restaurant aiming to train the area’s street children in the hospitality industry. Professional chefs from around the world have volunteered their time in developing the menus and training the staff. The food is excellent, and the staffs excel in bringing true Lao-hospitality in to their service. This afternoon, head to Patuxay monument, Laos’ own version of the Arc de Triomphe, where you can climb the stairs to the roof for sweeping panoramic views of the city. Next, your tour takes you to That Luang, the holiest site in Laos. Constructed by King Setthethirat in the 16th century, the temple is resplendent as the sun shines upon its towering golden spire. Then, you will discover another speciality of Laos: coffee. Laos produces one of the most famous coffees in the world, which grows in the Boloven Plateau in Southern Laos. Enjoy a tour with an experienced roaster who will teach you about the growing, roasting and blending process. Finish the tour with a ‘cupping’ session to sample the fine flavours. End your tour along the banks of the Mekong River as the sun begins to set. Have a stroll along the river, stop to enjoy a cold drink, or sample a snack from one of the many local food stalls. Dinner will be hold at Phatoke Laoderm. Located into an old movie theatre, you will enjoy traditional Laotian performances while eating local food. Overnight in Vientiane.
DAY 14: VIENTIANE – PHOU KHAO KWAY – VIENTIANE
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The Orchids Trek is a genuine and authentic ecotourism trek that runs near Vientiane. This tour is lead by the villagers of Ban Hatkhai village and aims to improve their well-being. For each tour, a part of the money goes directly to the villagers and the village development fund. Additionally, part of the money helps maintain the walking trails and forest cleanliness. You will be guided by local guides with an orchid expert accompanying the group. Depart from Vientiane early in the morning for a 1.5 hour drive to your starting point. The Orchids Trek will lead you through Phou Khao Kway national park, one of the closest National Parks to Vientiane. The area is filled with waterfalls, rugged mountains, gorges and sandstone cliffs. The park is home to more than 50% of the wild orchid species of Laos and a variety of different plants. Likewise, Phou Khao Kway is home to a diverse animal population, including wild elephants. Start walking from Pha Xay where you will enjoy a beautiful view on the waterfalls. Trek through the varied landscape of bamboo forests, evergreen forests, rainforest and open-air fields immersing yourself in the park’s natural beauty. Of course along your way you may observe some orchids and spot some indigenous wildlife. Your guide will know the best spots for wild orchid growth and if you are fortunate enough to spot many plants, you will be amazed at the vibrant colours and shapes of these elusive flowers. Stop for a picnic lunch alongside a river bank. Soak in the tranquillity of the area and keep an eye out for the beautiful butterfly species that flutter about. Resume your walk, continue toward Tad Xay waterfall. The water cascades down seven levels and is a great place for swimming or a rest before to end your trek, past more orchids and back to Vientiane. Return to Vientiane around 5:30pm and freshen up before dinner. Tonight enjoy a farewell dinner at Le Nadao restaurant, one of Vientiane’s finest, featuring innovative French and Lao cuisines. Overnight in Vientiane.
DAY 15: VIENTIANE DEPARTURE
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This morning is at your leisure for your last minute shopping or sightseeing before transferring to the airport for your onward flight.
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