Small Group Tours and Holidays in Laos


Laos The Secret Heart of Asia

Style: TravellerCultural discovery away from the crowds
Duration: 15 days
Type: GroupTravel with a small group of other travellers

Dossier

A unique tour to South East Asia’s best kept secret, Laos, where we get well beyond the tourist trail. We start this cultural odyssey in Vientiane, Laos’ delightfully friendly capital, studded with crumbling French mansions, bougainvillea­-blooming streets and steaming noodle stalls. Next up is the little visited North of Laos to experience the ethnic diversity of the many hill tribes in the region of Luang Namtha and observe local customs and traditions. A 2 day journey down the mighty Mekong River then awaits culminating in an arrival in Luang Prabang, which captivates even the most jaded travellers with its brew of gleaming temple roofs, crumbling French provincial architecture and multi-ethnic inhabitants. Next we head south to the spectacular lush jungle of the Bolaven Plateau and immerse ourselves in authentic coffee culture and visit some of the most alluring scenery in Asia, the landscape scattered with volcanos and sparkling waterfalls. The conclusion of this off the beaten track adventure takes us to the enchanting 4000 islands, an area where time stands still, to revel in the joy of leisurely exploring villages by bicycle or tuk tuk and even try your hand at fishing. Join us to experience the hidden charms of Laos.


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
  • Observe the cultural diversity of the tribes in the area of Luang Namtha
  • Many opportunities to observe village life, traditional customs and practices and interact with locals
  • Take a spectacular 2 day journey cruising down the mighty Mekong River
  • The gleaming temples and magical atmosphere of wonderful Luang Prabang
  • UNESCO world heritage listed Wat Phou, pre-dating Angkor Wat
  • Authentic coffee culture and the spectacular waterfalls of the Bolaven Plateau
  • Kick back in the laid back and enchanting 4000 islands and try your hand at fishing

Tour Essentials

Accommodation: Mix of Comfortable hotels and guesthouses.

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: Pakse
Transport: Minivan, boat, internal flights
Countries: Laos

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

Arrive in Vientiane and transfer to the hotel where the rest of the day will be at leisure. Overnight Khamvongsa Hotel or similar. No meals.

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 – Vientiane

After breakfast, visit some of the important sites of Vientiane‘s past and present including Wat Sisaket, Wat Ho Pha Kheo,  Patouxai, the Lao Victory Monument and Wat That Luang - the most sacred structure in all of Laos and if time allows Wat Si Muang where we can observe local people making their wishes. Visit the COPE Visitor Centre for a moving insight into the Secret War which left Laos as the most heavily bombed country in history. This afternoon is all about food where we stroll through the market and taste traditional Lao coffee and other local snacks. We shall also see how traditional Kao Piak (noodle soup) and papaya salad are made, staple dishes in Laos. Finally today we take a drive alongside the fabled Mekong River and enjoy a cold Beer-Lao as the sun sets.  Overnight at Khamvongsa Hotel or similar (BL)

Day 3: Vientiane – Luang Namtha

Enjoy a little leisure time this morning before taking an internal flight to Luang Namtha, the most ethnically diverse region in Laos. The rest of the day involves experiencing the cultural diversity of the region, visiting villages of tribes such as the Akha, Hmong, Khmu and Lanten people. During the day, interact and obverse their traditional customs and practices. After sunset as the distant mountain ridges form layered silhouettes, enjoy a visit to the exotic night market. Overnight at Boathouse Landing or similar (B)

Day 4: Luang Namtha and the Lanten people

This morning, take a short drive out to a Lanten village in the jungle (approx.15 minutes). Take an easy grade jungle walk (approx. 2 hours) deeper into the forest and on the way it may be possible to observe some of the colourful tropical forest birds and if lucky perhaps also some wildlife. During the walk, the guide will share his experience to explain traditional medicine, animal tracks, edible leaves and other things of interest. A Lao style picnic lunch will be served at Nam Dee Waterfall before visiting a traditional Lanten home in Nam Dee village to observe local people practising activities such as traditional waving and bamboo paper making. Overnight Boathouse Landing or similar (BL)

Day 5: Luang Namtha – Huay Xai

This morning transfer to a local village known for their traditional weaving and handicrafts. Enjoy a demonstration in this ancient Lao trade and try your own hand at it!  After lunch in town, travel to Huay Xa (approx. 4.5 hour drive) located on the banks of the Mekong River. Drive through the Nam Ha National Park, one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in Laos. Stop along the way to experience the sights and sounds of the jungle. Upon arrival in Huay Xai the rest of the day is at leisure. Overnight at Phonevichit Guesthouse or similar (BL)

Day 6: Luang Say Cruise

After breakfast, transfer to the local pier and commence cruising around 09:30am down the mighty Mekong River to Pakbeng (approx. 6.5 hours cruising time in total). After around an hour on the river, we stop at a traditional riverside village to take a chance to observe rural life alongside the Mekong.  A Lao buffet lunch is served on board before a leisurely afternoon awaits, enjoying the magnificent scenery and nature of the Mekong as you cruise along. Disembark before sunset to the lodge near Pakbeng and this evening enjoy local Lao cuisine on the open-air terrace overlooking the Mekong. Overnight at the Luang Say Lodge or similar (BLD)

Day 7: Luang Say Cruise – Luang Prabang

Enjoy the stunning panorama of surrounding mountains, often shrouded in mist in the early morning while breakfast is served on the expansive terrace. The cruise then continues along the legendary Mekong. A stop will be taken at the hill tribe village of Baw, and observe the interesting process of making Lao whiskey. Lunch is once again served on board. Later, opposite the mouth of the Nam Ou River, near Pak Ou village, the cruise stops to visit the Tam Thing cave. Translated as Rock Cave, it is famous for housing over 2,500 Buddha statues of all sizes and for being an important place of pilgrimage for locals. Finally we arrive in surely one of the most atmospheric towns in all of Asia, Luang Prabang. This evening we enjoy a delicious dinner in the renowned Mande De Laos. Overnight Maison Dalabua or similar (BLD)

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 8: Luang Prabang

This morning, travel the short distance to the impressive falls of Kuang Si (approx. 45 minute drive). Relax around the cascades and idyllic pools and feel free to take a refreshing dip if you wish. A picnic lunch will be served close to the falls. Later visit the nearby Sunbear Refuge to learn more about the poaching annd efforts to protect these endangered creatures. On the way back to the town, visit the Buffalo Dairy Farm, known for their sustainable approach to local farming.  Overnight at Maison Dalabua or similar (BL)

Day 9: Luang Prabang

Today is all about immersing in the wonderful world of Lao food. Start by visiting a local fresh food market where our local guide will explain the local produce on show. Continue by boat across the Mekong to the family home of our local guide where you will be greeted by friendly villages and go on to experience a simple private cooking lesson in the family home with local specialities. After lunch, cruise back down river to Luang Prabang enjoy the views of river life whilst sipping on a refreshing drink or two. Later this afternoon, experience a private Baci ceremony at the small village of Ban Mano. These gentle villagers led by their Nai Ban (village chief) offer visitors tidings of good luck and fortune for their life and travels by gently tying cotton cords symbolizing luck, friendship and good health around your wrists. The Baci ceremony will be held at a private family home. Afterwards, continue to a hidden temple rarely visited by foreign travellers and have a special encounter with the monks who will teach you the fundamentals of meditation. Overnight at Maison Dalabua or similar (BL)

Day 10: Luang Prabang – Pakse – Wat Phou – Champasak

For early risers, witness the sacred ritual of monks on their alms rounds, known locally as Sai Bath. Long lines of barefoot monks go through the streets to receive their morning rice from the local villagers. After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your direct flight to Pakse. On arrival, visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Wat Phou by car (approx. 1 hour drive). Continue to Champasak Town, cross the Mekong by private boat to Don Deang Island where your hotel is located and catch the sunset over the mystical mountains surrounding Wat Phou from your terrace. Overnight at La Folie Lodge, or similar (BL)

Wat Phou

Recorded on the UNESCO World Heritage List, Wat Phou with its atmosphere is a pre-angkorian temples built upon three levels. When the temple has been erected, it was the most important economic and political centre in the region. The lower level is focused on the baray (water reservoir) and the promenade to join the second level with the galleries and the quadrangular pavilions. The upper level is the sanctuary itself.

Note - In keeping with our respectful stance regarding local cultures, please observe this sacred ritual from a respectful distance. If you take photographs, do not use a flash and try not to let this interfere with this highly revered ritual.

Day 11:  Champasak – Bolaven Plateau

Make an early start today at around 8am and transfer to the Bolaven Plateau (approx. 2 hours). On arrival in Paksong, enjoy a cup of local coffee at Jhai Café, the world’s first completely philanthropic coffee roaster & café, located at source. We then continue by jeep on an exciting journey through the back roads of the Bolaven and marvel at the spectacular highland scenery formed from an ancient super volcano. After a short (and bumpy) ride you will arrive at Mystic Mountain Coffee and meet Mr. Khamsone (just Kham is fine also) – for a masterclass on Bolaven coffee. Kham has been running his coffee plantation for 17 years. Enjoy a tour of the plantation followed by a coffee roasting demonstration. Continue to the secluded Tad Moun waterfall where you can take a dip in the crystal-clear water and enjoy a picnic lunch of authentic Laotian food close to the falls. Overnight at Falls View Resort or similar (BL)

Day 12: Champasak – Bolaven Plateau

This morning take an easy trek to the inactive volcano of Dan Xinxay, one of many volcanoes on the plateau. After the trek, continue to Tad Champee waterfall and enjoy the opportunity to relax or swim and enjoy a picnic lunch of Lao specialities. After lunch, continue to Tad Fan waterfall which plunges impressively more than 100 metres into a jungle gorge. The final stop today is the more intimate falls of Tad Yueng. Overnight Falls View Resort or similar (BL)

Note – for those that do not wish to do the morning trek, then you can just visit the Tad Fan and Tad Yueng falls in the afternoon and spend the morning at leisure.

Day 13: Bolaven Plateau – 4000 Islands

After breakfast, travel to the mystical 4000 Islands (approx. 3.5 hours), a one-of-a-kind river Archipelago where the Mekong River spreads out over a width of 14km. Take a short boat ride through these enchanting islands and feel the sense of tranquillity that makes this place so special. Arrive at Don Khone Island and the rest of the day will be at leisure to relax by the pool and immerse in the peaceful atmosphere. Overnight at Senghaloune Resort or similar (BL)

Day 14: 4000 Islands

This morning you have the choice of some gentle cycling passing by the rice fields and friendly villages of the islands or to explore the islands by Tuk Tuk. This afternoon, join one of the local fishermen to experience the 4000 Islands from the local perspective. Board one of the wooden boats and head out to the fishing-grounds, equipped with nets which you can try throwing out into the water in hope of a catch. At dusk, continue to a secluded spot where we enjoy the idyllic scene and enjoy a delicious BBQ and listen to local myths from your guide. Overnight at Senghaloune Resort or similar (BD)

Day 15: 4000 Islands – Pakse Airport for Departure

After breakfast, take a short boat ride through the 4000 Islands to Nakasong Pier and continue to Pakse, en route visiting Kon Phapheng Waterfall, the largest waterfall by volume in Asia where the entire Mekong River descends downwards making for a truly amazing spectacle. Finally a drive of around 3 hours will end at Pakse International Airport to catch your flight on to your next destination (B)

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 3 travellers. The same guide/tour leader will be used throughout when the group is 3 or more travellers)
Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
Transport, including travel by minivan, river and domestic flight
Internal flights
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
Items of a personal nature 


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