– English

EXPLORE NORTHERN LAOS PROGRAM – October/November December 2014.

Price: starts at € 1100-  USD 1500:   19 days from departure Europe to return.

Description: Fully organized trip through Northern Laos.  Explore 3 Provinces with private transportation and support of a local English/Lao speaking guide and Flemish/French/German/English speaking tour leader.  You will stay in stylish accommodation and experience the cultural highlights, events and make contact with local people, often ethnic minorities ( Akha, Hmong, Yao). You can participate in local festivities and travel through spectacular scenery, meeting each time a welcoming and friendly population. For sports enthusiasts, there is the possibility to join jungle trekking at Nong Khiaw.

Itinerary:

Part 1 North West Laos to Northern Laos

From Chiang Rai – Houayxai private chartered slow boat down the Mekong to Luang Prabang, 2 full days in Luang Prabang. From Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw: stay in remote village of Muang Ngoi and supplemented with optional canoeing and trekking and visit to mountain villages.

Part 2: From Northern Laos to North East Laos

From Nong Khiaw to the border with Vietnam: Sam Neua ViengXai and back west to Phonsavan to visit the Plain of Jars.

Part 3: North-Eastern Laos to Central Northern Laos.

From Phonsavan to Vang Vieng, 3 days to have fun and relax in Vang Vieng and finish the trip in Vientiane, the most relaxed capital of South East Asia.

Description per day:

Day 1:

Flight European airport – Bangkok. (12 to 18 hours)

Day 2:

Arrival Bangkok – Chiang Rai

Arrival Bangkok (morning until the early afternoon).  You will be met by your tour leader. We make the transfer from the International Airport to the Domestic Airport for a domestic flight to Chiang Rai.

Chang Rai; Overnight stay in hotel.  Time to get some sleep after the long flight.  If time permits we visit the Wat Rong Khun, the incredible modern art design, “White Wat”. 

Day 3:

Into Laos

At 8:00 am you will be picked up at your hotel in Chiang Rai for the private bus ride to Chiang Khong.  A boat will take you to the other side and you set foot in North West Laos (Houayxai), where the immigration station is situated and Visas are formalised.  You meet your local Lao guide, Vone, who will stay with us for the rest of our time in Laos.

A so called ‘Slow Boat’, which is specially chartered, will be waiting for us, so you do not have to share luggage with locals, backpackers, chickens, etc. The trip goes down the Mekong River with spectacular views of the colourful vegetation on the river banks. You’ll see the locals at work on the fields and in their fishing boats. You may want to put on your zoom lens here!  Occasionally there will be stops and in a village along the route you get your first taste of the delicious Laotian cuisine.  Meanwhile, you also have the time to take a nap and digest your jet lag (usually the worst on Day 3) and you can talk with the tour guides. You will also get better acquainted with your travelling companions.

The overnight rest halfway in Pakbeng brings you up to your best condition, which is excellent because tomorrow afternoon, Luang Prabang is waiting for you with its beautifully preserved streets and alleys in French colonial style and temples from the heyday of Buddhism (15th -17th centuries) .

Day 4:

Arrival in Luang Prabang

Just before we dock in Luang Prabang, we visit the caves of Pak Ou Buddha and we enjoy a late lunch at one of the floating restaurants at the junction of the Mekong and the Nam Ou river. (‘Nam’ is Lao for ‘river’). We also stop in the ‘Whisky’ village, where almost every woman is sitting behind a loom and the men are warming the ‘Lambic’ to make Lao Lao (rice whisky). You can buy varieties with snakes and scorpions as visible taste-makers…

In Luang Prabang, a lovely guest house waits us in the old part of this UNESCO world heritage town.  You sleep close to the most beautiful temples and as the day’s journey went smoothly, you can eat at the night market near the National Museum (former palace) or you can always still go to one of the many restaurants along the banks of the Mekong. In Luang Prabang, you will find a very wide range of all kinds of cuisines.  You can dine ‘posh like’ in more expensive French restaurants or just do a buffet around the many stalls as at the night market. Everywhere you will find French baguettes that are not inferior to the original and sip coffees like espressos, cappuccinos, that have exquisite taste.  A recent project transformed the Hmong in the area near Luang Prabang into exquisite coffee growers (Saffron Coffee).

Day 5: 

‘The Royal City’

The Lao live according to the rise and dawn of the sun (although they will welcome evening parties at any occasion .. )  So you had better get up early to observe the daily procession of monks around the central temples.  The monks get their daily servings of rice from the many women kneeling along the route to fill their baskets with ‘Sticky Rice’ .If you give 50,000 kip (€ 5), you can take over from them. It builds up a good Karma …

Vone will then lead a guided tour of the major sights of Luang Prabang.  When you have your bearings, you can then explore on your own.

In the evening you can continue your culinary research. Your guides can give you interesting tips where to dine best. For those who like to alternate with the (albeit delicious) Beer Lao, there is a Belgian café in the centre, where the owner, Robin, serves various Trappist beers and Hoegaarden.

A 75cl bottle of ‘Beer Lao’ will cost you between 9,000 and 15,000 Kip ( €0.90 to € 1.5 ) and it passes the test with of our best lager, but if you want to drink a glass of Chimay Trappist here, you will be looking to spend 70,000 kip ( € 7 ) …

The night market, occupying the main street for a full mile, from 6 am to midnight, is also very cosy. I t might look very ‘touristy’ to do so, but the market really does offer authentic quality for little money, virtually everything is really handmade, the ideal place to stack up on souvenirs and presents.

But Luang Prabang offers much more then magnificent temples (Wats). You will find in the in-between lanes, numerous specialised businesses, health massages, herbal shops, manufacturers that will sell you “Lao paper”’, retreats, where you can practice yoga. You should be guided by your instincts and you will quickly realise that you need weeks to find out everything the city has to offer …

 

Day 6 :

Luang Prabang Waterfall.

Today we will visit the Kuang Si waterfalls.  We are now, for the first time, using our own private Mini Bus (with AC) and private driver.  This afternoon you can do your own thing, alone, or in groups, visiting the many ‘Wat’s’ is a must-do and to get around quickly, you can rent a bicycle. Those who lwould like to do a trip by minibus to the Elephant Village can do so, in agreement with the Lao guide / driver.  In the evening you can share the discoveries of the day at a dinner. Do not hesitate to dine well, because tomorrow we will ride on the road towards the north, and here begins serious travel ..

Day 7 :

Up to the North of Laos.

Early breakfast and departure at 6.30am, in our private minibus, we follow ‘the Main Road 13’ and the Nam Ou to Nong Khiaw and we continue by boat to the remote village of Muang Ngoi, where we will spend the night.  This time you will get acquainted with the road situation in Laos.  Arrival times are always difficult to predict and, if the comfort in the private air-conditioned minibus strolling along the winding roads might still make you wish for better, just consider yourself happy that you do not find yourself stuffed inside an over-packed Public bus or even high seated in a ‘VIP ‘ roller-coasting along the curves, throwing you from left to right.  Public buses tend to be overloaded by the time they ‘really’ depart, as many ‘backpackers’ have experienced.

We will reach, as planned, in the late afternoon, via a short scenic boat passage from Nong Khiaw, a quiet secluded village, called Muang Ngoi,

DAY 8:

Muang Ngoi

We have arranged a relaxing day with several options.  You can do a kayak tour through beautiful mountain countryside, or those who want can make a mini trek through the jungle and end the day in some Hmong villages.  Exploring caves is also available.

Muang Ngoi is one of the places where you could chill out and enjoy the beautiful nature and peace for a few days.  It only recently got electricity and the rough road is so bad that boat is the normal access.  As a result there’s practically no cars or motorbikes, here!) . But we must now continue towards the border with Vietnam. It will be a long ride tomorrow!

Day 9:

To Sam Neua

We drive East and cross a first mountain ridge to reach the Phu Loei Conservation territory.  These protected zones are established in Laos to protect wildlife and bio-diversity, and cover about 12% of the total surface.  Only tribal people are allowed to live here and the areas are protected from logging and mining.

The landscape changes into a more hillside plateau until we reach the Sam Neua area with again spectacular mountain views, a steep Karst massif, eroded by elements and hiding thousands of caves.  This was home to the Pathet Lao nationalist movement during the 2nd Indochina wars.

Day 10:

Pathet Lao caves

We visit the caves where the Pathet Lao had organised a complete underground city structure, including schools, hospitals and Auditoria.  After the victory in 1975 the government administration first moved to Vieng Xai, a newly founded city, only to abandon it for the comforts of Vientiane a few years later.  The caves later served as re-education camps for former royalist supporters, to be instructed in the teachings of Marxist socialism.

Note that the best woven textiles in Laos are found in and around Sam Neua.

 

Day 11:

Towards Plain of Jars

We now follow a secondary road, south West, towards Phonsavan. On our way we visit the Muang Kham area, where we visit the hot springs of Baw Noi.   After a lunch stop in Muang Kham, we first pass through Hmong villages, and we will see tribal Kmu in the village of Daen Thong.  The Kmu are considered by some to be the tribe that built the funerary urns, the so-called ‘Jars’ .  We proceed to Phonsavan to visit more of these interesting sites the next day.

 

Day 12:

The Plain of Jars Tour.

We start the day with a visit to the MAG museum.  Here we get audio-visual information on the war and insights on the continuous bombings to the region that happened during the 2nd Indochina war. The magnitude of the so-called ‘Secret War’ only became clear at the end of the 80’s.  Laos still has large zones where unexploded devices (UXO’s) make it unsafe to walk. 

We then visit several sites where we find the famous, mysterious urns, called ‘Jars’.  We can still notice the bomb craters in a pockmarked landscape.  We visit the village of Muang Khoun, where there is a field with Urns, but also a 15th century Buddhist stupa.

Day 13:

The ‘Royal Route’

We leave the Plain of Jars and take a mountainous route to Vang Vieng.  On our way up we will pass through various Hmong villages.  We make a stop at Wat Piawat and the Tham Pa Cave and we climb to about 1800m to the road crossing of Phu Khun, where we turn south towards Vang Vieng.  On our left hand site we see the Phu Miang top that reaches 2441m.  The landscape is wild, covered with often impenetrable jungle, still full of wildlife. 

Day 14:

VANG VIENG.Time to relax, chill out

We have a full day of caving, gentle downstream kayaking and tubing down the Nam Song River. In the morning you’ll travel by truck, going 15km to a village north of Vang Vieng, where you visit a typical local Lao village and the mystical Elephant Cave. In this cave, you will find the large “Elephant Stone” – after which the cave is named- along with many Buddha statues dating back centuries.  From here we walk to another cave.  This 200m long Water Cave, gives an opportunity to swim inside while’ tubing’.  We are offered a delicious lunch of BBQ and fresh fruits. For the rest of the afternoon we’ll take a leisurely kayak down the Nam Song River and catch the sunset. Vang Vieng features, over a hundred restaurants, offering Chinese, Thai, Korean, European and luscious Lao food. Overnight in Vang Vieng.

Day 15:

VANG VIENG.

We will make a short visit to the local Vang Vieng market to see the local produce. Next stop is ‘The Organic Farm’ to see community business by a Lao promoting organic farming and teaching of English to the locals.  Enjoy a mulberry shake whilst here!  We next travel by truck 7km to the famed Blue Lagoon to visit the ‘Buddha’ cave, swim, relax and lunch. In the afternoon, guests have a choice to do mountain bike up to the Kaeng Nyui waterfall, or chill out in town with some drinks or have a traditional massage near a swimming pool.  Overnight Vang Vieng.

Day 16:

A Day at the Lake

Today, we travel a short(er) way to Nam Ngum Lake, a huge 250km² reservoir, created in 1971 to produce Hydro-Electric power.  The lake has become an important source of fish for the Lao people.  We visit the Blue Lagoon Resort, where you can take lunch, swim, wander and relax.  We take a ride on a motorised raft and see ethnic village life with pigs wallowing in mud, charcoal being made and some wild monkeys.  During the day, petrol-heads can rent jet-skis or go on a guided trail-bike tour.  The charming Welsh motorbike instructor teaches absolute beginners how to ride safely along some stunning tracks with incredible lake, jungle and village scenery.   Mid afternoon, a 2 hour drive will bring us to Vientiane, the capital of Laos.  Shower and wander around the night markets and enjoy a meal at one of many great restaurants.  Vientiane also has a great bar and night-life scene. 

 

Day 17:

Vientiane

After breakfast, Vone will guide you around the major sights of the Lao Capital .  We will visit the ‘PhatLuang’ Golden Stupa, the Patouxia monument, the very attractive museum of art and antiquities, Wat Simuang and the various markets. 

Vientiane has a large tourist district near the river where it is interesting to watch the night market on the river bank, get some last minute souvenirs.  Vientiane has a large group of Western Expats, ‘Falangs’ that have made it their home.  Recently another Belgian café opened on the river side.  In the evening we enjoy our farewell traditional Lao dinner with Lao music and dancing. 

Day 18:

We leave the hotel by public coach to cross the ‘’Friendship Bridge’ into Thailand and after Visa clearance we move on to the Thai city of Udonthani, where we take the flight to BKK.

Day 19

( may be day 18,  if evening flight). Return to Europe ( or other continent)

 

 

Post a comment

Translate »