Small Group Tours and Holidays in Laos and Cambodia


Laos and Cambodia A Journey to the Land of Forever Mountain

Style: TravellerCultural discovery away from the crowds
Duration: 16 days
Type: GroupSmall group tours with a maximum of 12 travellers

Dossier

A unique tour to South East Asia’s best kept secret, Laos, where we get well beyond the tourist trail, before ending our journey in neighbouring Cambodia and the must see site of Angkor Wat.

We start our trip in Vientiane, Laos’ delightfully friendly capital, studded with crumbling French mansions, bougainvillea­-blooming streets and steaming noodle stalls. We then head to one of the country’s most enigmatic sites the Plain of Jars, more than three hundred enormous stone jars, their origins long forgotten and their original use and significance still unclear. We’ll have time to visit a local English teaching project where you can join in a lesson. Next we travel to one of the highlights of this unique tour, the Phou Louey National Protected Area, located in the country’s remote north east. We spend a couple of days exploring the park. We search for wildlife, including deer, otters and porcupine, in the foothills of Phou Louey Mountain (“Forever Mountain”). We visit a local village and learn about the animist tradition of appeasing the village spirit. After a night safari by boat we continue our journey to Luang Prabang, which captivates even the most jaded travellers with its brew of gleaming temple roofs, crumbling French provincial architecture and multi-ethnic inhabitants.

We end our trip with a few days in neighbouring Cambodia. Of course no visit would be complete without a chance to marvel at Angkor Wat and its overwhelming collection of temples. Scattered throughout a huge area of forest, they comprise one of the world’s greatest man-made wonders.


Tour Rating

Fitness ●●●○○ | Off the Beaten Track ●●●●○ | Culture ●●●●○ | History ●●●●○ | Wildlife ●●●○○

Tour Pace

Busy

Tour Highlights

  • The delightfully friendly city of Vientiane. Enjoy sunset overlooking the Mekong
  • Explore the site of the mysterious Plain of Jars
  • Travel through remote hill tribe country in North Laos, largely devoid of tourists
  • Take an adventurous trip by boat into pristine jungle up the Nam Nern River looking for wildlife
  • Experience the incredible caves at Vieng Xai where the Pathet Lao hid in the Indochina war
  • The gleaming temples and magical atmosphere of Luang Prabang
  • See Angkor Way by bike and stay with locals in the Cambodian countryside

Tour Essentials

Accommodation: Mix of Comfortable hotels and guesthouses. 1 night spent in basic jungle Eco-Lodge and 1 night spent in a local homestay with shared facilities
Included Meals: Daily breakfast (B), plus lunches (L) and dinners (D) as shown in the itinerary
Group Size: Maximum 12
Start Point: Vientiane
End Point: Phnom Penh
Transport: Minivan, boat, internal flights
Countries: Laos & Cambodia

Tour Itinerary Notes

While our intention is to adhere to the day-by-day itinerary as printed below, a degree of flexibility is built in. Overnight stops may vary from those suggested and on occasions alternative accommodation, of a similar standard to that named below, will be used.

Tour Guide

Our guides are a key strength, chosen for their knowledge of and passion for the areas in which they work. All of our guides are carefully hand-picked, and are not just passing through these countries, but are usually locally born. Unlike some companies it should be noted we do not send a guide or tour leader from Undiscovered Destinations in the UK as we have every confidence in our locally appointed representative who is responsible for operating the tour on our behalf. Where possible you will have the same guide throughout your trip but on occasions it may be necessary to change the guide at one or more points during the tour, especially where more than one country is involved.

Day 1 - Vientiane

Arrival in Vientiane. Meet your guide and driver and transfer to your hotel. Time permitting, visit some important sites of Vientiane's past and present. Visit Wat Sisaket, which is the only structure to survive the Siamese invasion of 1828 intact. Across the street, sits Ho Pha Keo, reconstructed in the 1930’s on the site of the original building. It housed the Emerald Buddha which now lives in Bangkok and is now the home to a fine collection of Lao artistry. A short journey up Lane Xang Street allows you a glimpse into the changing face of the city. Amongst the more modern structures is Patouxai, the Lao Victory Monument. Also visit Wat That Luang with its central lotus-bud spire and 30 surrounding stupas - the most sacred structure in all of Laos. Wat Si Muang is a much more vibrant example of living Buddhism. This sacred temple is used by the Lao people for everything, from women trying to become pregnant, to new car owners having monks bless their new purchases. Also pay a visit to the COPE Visitor Centre for a moving insight into the Secret War which left Laos as the most heavily bombed country in history. Overnight Vayakorn Inn or similar.

Vientiane

This delightfully friendly capital, studded with crumbling French mansions, bougainvillea­-blooming streets and steaming noodle stalls, is somewhere between a big town and a diminutive city; the kind of place you might find a Graham Greene protagonist. Its conveniently compact travellers’ enclave is based around Nam Phu, the Mekong riverside and Setthariat and Samsenthai streets. Full of things to see, from Buddha Park to the morning market and an impossibly rich selection of international cuisine – most pointedly French – you’ll find yourself slowly won over by the easy charms of this evolving backwater. The city may reveal its beauty less readily than Luang Prabang, but spend a few days visiting its unusual sights, sampling its excellent food and enjoying a Beer Lao at sunset by the river, and you’ll soon feel at home.

Day 2 - Xieng Khouang

Today we fly north east to Xieng Khouang. On arrival enjoy lunch in a local restaurant. Then travel to the Plain of Jars, an impressive archaeological site where hundreds of large stone jars are littered all over the plateau. Visit several of the jar sites. No one really knows who carved these impressive artefacts or how they got here. We visit a village where locals use scrap metal from exploded bombs to make items such as spoons and bracelets to sell.  Later visit The Lone Buffalo Foundation, a special project offering young people free English courses, taught by a native speaker. Meeting foreigners (with different accents!) to practice English is a special event for students and helps to overcome their shyness of speaking in public. Lone Buffalo Foundation uses a unique combination of teaching techniques, and they will be happy to put together a small program which can include you into the lesson. It could be a game – in any case, you do not have to prepare for it beforehand!  You will get to have fun with the kids, learn about Lao culture and hear more about the Lone Buffalo project. LBF encourages some of their students to study for careers in tourism, so this gives them the perfect chance to chat with you and start to develop their tour guiding skills!  Overnight Anoulack Khenlao or similar. (BL)

Please note that the itinerary on this day may be slightly different depending on local flight times.  

Day 3 - Sam Neua

After breakfast, visit the Mulberries project, working to improve sericulture and support women by training them in creating high-quality silk handicrafts and giving them a steady income. We then journey to Sam Neua (about 8 hour’s total). Visit Thampiu Cave, the scene of a tragic loss of a huge number of lives during the Indochina War. Continue on to the mysterious menhirs (standing stones) at Hintang. (Subject to road conditions at the time of travel). No one is quite sure who built them or why, perhaps burial sites or markers of some sort. The stones were first inconclusively studied by the archaeologist Madame Colani and her expedition in the 1930’s. This evening we arrive in Sam Neua. Overnight Xayphasouk Hotel or similar. (B)

Day 4 - Viengsay – Viengthong

Take a walk through the morning market along the Xam River and view the interesting produce available.  We then travel to Viengsay. Marvel at the amazing karst landscape in the middle of town. Visit the information centre near the guesthouse to learn more about the interesting historical significance of the area during the Indochina War. With the help of a local guide and an audio tour, travel to some of the nearby caves to see how the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party lived during the war through relentless bombing campaigns. This afternoon we travel to Viengthong, our jumping off point for an expedition into nature. Overnight at a local guesthouse. (BLD)

Day 5 - Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area

An early start for a two day/one night expedition in Nam Et/Phou Louey NPA (National Protected Area). We drive 1.5 hours along a winding road through lovely forested, mountainous landscape before we arrive in Son Koua Village; an ethnic Khmu village were we will be welcomed by the village guide and boatmen. They will take you on a short tour of the village where you will learn about the animist tradition of appeasing the village spirit. We take lunch in the village. We then embark on a 1.5-hour journey to the park substation on the Nam Nern River by long-tail boat, along the way learning about upland rice cultivation and hopefully having opportunities to spot monitor lizards and an abundance of bird life. After arriving at the park substation, you will receive a briefing by park staff about the on-the-ground efforts in protecting tigers and their prey.  Later we take an exhilarating night safari. The local guide, a skilled hunter and tracker, explains how local people track deer and other wild ungulates. Our boats continue upriver to the dinner site, a sandy, flat bank, where you will enjoy a picnic around a campfire. After dinner listen as the guides regale Khmu folktales and stories about dragons, wildlife, and ghosts. Depending on the amount of moonlight available, you will depart after dinner for some night spotlighting 2-3 hours after dark, floating down river with the engines off in order not to disturb wildlife. We may see Sambar deer, otters, barking deer, various species of civets, slow loris, porcupine and owls. At the end of the spotlighting the boats arrive at the evening camp.  Overnight local Ecolodge. (BLD)

Please note that facilities at the ecolodge are basic. You will sleep in a bamboo style bed with a mosquito net. The toilet facilities are outside from your sleeping area and will be shared.

Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area

Nam Et – Phou Louey National Protected Area is located in the north east of Laos and covers 7 districts and three provinces. The area has primary forest, a high level of biodiversity, and a number of species including gaur, clouded leopard, Asian golden cat and white-cheeked gibbon, turtles, frogs and lizards. Significantly, the area has the most important populations of Indochinese tigers (Panthera Tigris corbetti) in the world. It is estimated that there are 7 - 23 tigers in the area. Tigers represent the overall health of the ecosystem, as only the healthiest ecosystem can support enough prey to support this spectacular but vulnerable carnivore.

Day 6 - Nong Khiew

This morning take an early walk in the jungle learning about the use of medicinal plants and the history of the area, which was once a major settlement during the Indochina War. After breakfast return to Son Koua village by boat again looking for any wildlife and birdlife. Upon arrival in the village, you are invited to try earthen jar rice wine (Lao hai). Continue by road on to Nong Khiew, arriving in the late afternoon.  Overnight Nong Khiew Riverside or similar. (BL) 

Day 7 - Nong Khiew

Leave Nong Khiew and cruise up the river on a traditional long boat. We stop to visit several different ethnic villages. The village of Ban Sop Jam is famous for its traditional Lao silk and cotton weaving. After spending some time in the village we turn around and return back downstream to Muang Ngoi. Upon arrival we take a small trek of around 2 hours which takes us through some gorgeous scenery consisting of limestone cliffs, mountains and rice paddy fields. We visit a historical cave which was used as bomb shelter by locals during the second Indochina war. Return to Nong Khiew by boat hopefully enjoying a nice sunset and arriving back just before dark. Overnight Nong Khiew Riverside or similar. (BL)

Day 8 - Luang Prabang

Today we drive south towards Luang Prabang. We stop at Pak Ou Village and cross the river by boat to the Pak Ou Caves, a mystical pilgrimage site perched high above the Mekong River 27 miles outside of Luang Prabang. Peering into dark corners, your eyes gradually adjust to reveal the serene faces and figures of more than 3,000 Buddha images, some inlaid with semi-precious stones. That these remain undisturbed in this remote site in one of the world's poorest countries is a testament to the devotion of the people. Continue by boat to Luang Prabang, cruising along the Mekong. Enjoy the lush river life along the Mekong while sipping a drink and tasting some Lao snacks. We stop at two riverside villages including Ban Xang Khong where weaving of prized Lao textiles still takes place on ancient wooden looms. The villagers of Ban Xang Hai produce Lao Lao, a rice whisky. Try a swig of this potent drink – if you dare! Arrive in Luang Prabang. The town has a lively night market which is just a short walk from your hotel, well worth a stroll through before retiring for the evening.  Overnight My Lao Home or similar. (B)

Luang Prabang

Colour is the first of Luang Prabang’s virtues to greet travellers. Pearly frangipanis with their heady perfume, banks of overgrown trees peppered with scarlet flowers, the burnt sienna robes of hundreds of monks and their novices, and resplendent gold and claret wats. The scent of fresh coffee, river activity, produce markets and spicy food soon follows. And then the broader aesthetics begin to unfold. Encircled by mountains, and set 700m above sea level at the confluence of the Nam Khan (Khan River) and the Mekong River, Luang Prabang is Laos’ foremost showpiece. The brew of gleaming temple roofs, crumbling French provincial architecture and multi-ethnic inhabitants captivates even the most jaded travellers, and the quiet benevolence of the city’s residents lulls them into somnambulant bliss.

Day 9 - Luang Prabang

Today enjoy a ‘Rice Experience’. Learn how rice is traditionally grown and produced in 13 very interactive steps!  All the steps are explained and demonstrated by the charming local employees and your active involvement will make for a fun and educational experience – the most spectacular of which involves ploughing the paddy field with a buffalo named Susan! After learning so much about this Lao staple, the last part of the experience of course has to be a tasting!  Sticky rice accompanied by a traditional dipping sauce, rice crackers and a couple of other local products made from the grain. A stroll around the pleasant vegetable gardens is a pleasant way to finish off. Later explore Luang Prabang including Wat Xieng Thong. This 500-year-old temple is exquisite and is the best example of the classic Luang Prabang style. From here, explore small side streets, along back alleys and through temples – a city that could have been designed with slow travel in mind.  Visit the National Museum, which is the former Royal Palace. Relics from Laos’ royalist past remain here. Overlooking the palace is Phousi Mountain. It is said that those who do not climb the 328 steps up have not really made it to the city. Venture up the hill and be rewarded with remarkable views of the area.  Overnight My Lao Home or similar. (B)

Day 10 - Luang Prabang

A full day at leisure in Luang Prabang.  No activities or sightseeing have been arranged for today and you are free to explore the city at your own pace.  Overnight My Lao Home or similar. (B)

Day 11 – Cambodia – Siem Reap

Say farewell to the charms of Laos and transfer to the airport for your flight onward to Cambodia. Upon arrival in Siem Reap transfer to the hotel. The remainder of the day is at leisure. Overnight La Residence Watbo Hotel or similar (B)

Day 12 - Angkor Wat by optional bike

An early start where you will be picked up at the hotel by Tuk Tuk to the start of the bike trip. Today you will cycle about 30km on flat tracks and small roads. Please let us know in advance if you would rather not do the bike ride and alternative transport can be arranged by tuk tuk. Start with a ride out towards the main temple area on a small road following the river. Stop to pay a visit to Angkor Wat, then cycle the main circuit road and just as we enter Angkor Thom, we leave the road and spend the rest of the day on charming, quiet trails through these majestic structures. We visit The Bayon, famous for its serene faces and The Elephant Terrace while our lunch is prepared. Lunch is taken in front of Angkor Wat. After lunch we visit Ta Phrom, known commonly as the jungle temple, with tree roots attempting to reclaim the ruins. From here we ride a red dirt road and then some great small tracks back to town. We will arrive back in the early afternoon.  Overnight La Residence Watbo Hotel or similar (BL)

Angkor Wat

Prepare for divine inspiration! The temples of Angkor, capital of Cambodia's ancient Khmer empire, are a perfect fusion of creative ambition and spiritual devotion. The Cambodian god-kings of old each strove to top their ancestors in size, scale and symmetry, culminating in the world's largest religious building, Angkor Wat, and one of its weirdest, the Bayon. The hundreds of temples surviving today are the sacred skeleton of the vast political, religious and social centre of an empire that stretched from Burma to Vietnam and which, at its zenith, boasted a population of one million. The temples of Angkor are the heart and soul of the Kingdom of Cambodia, a source of inspiration and national pride to all Khmers as they struggle to rebuild their lives after years of terror and trauma. Today, they are a point of pilgrimage for all Cambodians, and no traveller to the region will want to miss their extravagant beauty.

Day 13 - Banteay Srey

Today explore an area in the remote Cambodian countryside seen by few travellers. Experience a special day of interaction with local children who participate in projects sponsored by the Cambodian-Dutch Organization (CDO), a not for profit venture that works on community development projects. You will visit a primary school built by the foundation, as well as a health centre. The instructor will introduce you to the class, and you will have an opportunity to do a “show and tell” about your life back home. Enjoy a Cambodian lunch with staff of the CDO. Later take a scenic drive to Banteay Srei, loosely translated as "Citadel of Women."  It houses some of the finest and best-preserved examples of classical Khmer bas-relief. The walls are densely covered with some of the most beautiful and intricate carvings of any Angkorian temple. The temple's relatively small size, pink sandstone construction and ornate design give it a fairyland ambiance. Visit Preah Khan, with its labyrinth of grey decaying stone courtyards that are slowly being reclaimed by the jungle. Large kapok trees extend limbs and roots throughout the carved stone work; while raucous parrots screech and monkeys keep watch to complete a surreal picture. Overnight La Residence Watbo Hotel or similar (BL)

Day 14 - Beng Mealea - Kampong Thom – Sambor Prei Kuk

An early start to Kampong Thom province.  We will stop at several places along the way including Beng Mealea, another seldom visited ruin. Beng Mealea is a spectacular jungle temple, located about 40 km north of Siem Reap and constructed during the reign of King Jayarvaman VII and surpasses even the famous Ta Prohm for atmosphere.  Continue to the village of Kompong Kdei and Spean Praptos, a stone bridge from the Angkor area. Spean Praptos is over 180-feet long and a marvel of ancient engineering and construction. Continue through really beautiful and unspoilt countryside. After arrival in Sambor Prei Kuk we will be welcomed by our hosts and transferred to the home stay. Later we learn about a local project set up with the purpose to generate more income for the community and improve their standard of living as well as to conserve nature, culture and the ancient temple ruins. You will be introduced to the community guides and coordinators. After a short introduction you can explore the village on your own. You will also have the opportunity to learn some of the Cambodian language and test your skills with children or villagers!  Overnight local home stay. (BLD)

Day 15 - Phnom Penh

Head out to the ruins of Sambor Prei Kuk by bike. Please let us know in advance if you would rather not do the bike ride and alternative transport can be arranged by tuk tuk. You will visit the three main temple complexes Prasat Sambor, Prasat Tor and Prasat Yeah Puon on foot. Later we cycle through the forest to some of the outlying ruins. Stop along the way to meet the friendly local people before we return to the temple for lunch and then head back to the home-stay. Say good bye to your hosts and continue to Phnom Penh. En route we will have a short stop at the village of Skuon where the local specialty is deep-fried spiders. This afternoon visit Choeng Ek, the location of the infamous Killing Fields. Continue to Tuol Sleng prison, the notorious Khmer prison where thousands of Cambodians perished in the darkest hours of Cambodian history. Overnight Rambutan Resort or similar. (BL)

Phnom Penh

The name of this city cannot help but conjure up an image of the exotic. The glimmering spires of the Royal Palace, the fluttering saffron of the monks’ robes and the luscious location on the banks of the mighty Mekong – this is the Asia many dreamed of when first imagining their adventures overseas. Cambodia’s capital can be an assault on the senses. Motorbikes whiz through laneways without a thought for pedestrians; markets exude pungent scents; and all the while the sounds of life, of commerce, of survival, reverberate through the streets. But this is all part of the attraction. Once the ‘Pearl of Asia’, Phnom Penh’s shine was tarnished by the impact of war and revolution. But the city has since risen from the ashes to take its place among the hip capitals of the region, with an alluring cafe culture, bustling bars and a world-class food scene.

Day 16 - Phnom Penh

Today we take a city tour. We start with a visit to the Royal Palace, built in 1866 under King Norodom. Adjacent is the Silver Pagoda, which is named after its floor which is covered with 5000 silver tiles. Later visit the National Museum, which houses an important collection of Angkorian artefacts. Lunch will be taken at the Friends Restaurant, which provides under privileged street children with the opportunity to gain first-hand experience of the hospitality business. All profits are reinvested into the Training Centre activities. This afternoon transfer to the airport for your onward flight. (BL)

Inclusions:
Arrival and departure transfers
All accommodation
Services of English speaking guide / tour leader (please note local ‘station guides’ will be used for each location when the group size is less than 4 travellers. The same guide/tour leader will be used throughout when the group is 4 or more travellers)
Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
Transport, including travel by minivan, river and domestic flight
Flight from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap
Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary

Excluded:
International flights (except from Luang Prabang to Siem Reap)
Any airport taxes (included for flights within the itinerary)
Travel Insurance
Visas
Drinks


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