Laos and Vietnam - Treasures of the North


Laos and Vietnam - Treasures of the North

Style: TravellerCultural discovery away from the crowds
Duration: 16 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 up North exploring hill tribe villages and taking an unforgettable river journey into Phou Louey National Protected Area to look for flora and fauna. After exploring the amazing former Indochina war caves of Viengsay we cross into Vietnam experiencing the rich culture of the North and staying with local families before ending our journey in Hanoi.


Tour Rating

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

Tour Pace

Busy

Tour Highlights 

  • A tour with high local interaction
  • Meet the different ethnic tribes of northern Laos and Vietnam
  • Visit Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area, home to a population of Indochinese tigers

Tour Essentials

Accommodation: Mix of Comfortable hotels and an eco-lodge
Included Meals: Daily breakfast (B), plus lunches (L) and dinners (D) as shown in the itinerary
Group Size: Maximum of 12
Start Point: Luang Prabang
End Point: Hanoi
Transport: Minivan or bus, boat
Countries: Laos & Vietnam
Optional Extension: Pre-tour extension to 4000 Islands

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.

Day 1 – Arrive Luang Prabang

Arrive in Luang Prabang and transfer to the hotel. If you arrive during the day, take a walk down to the riverside and soak up the atmosphere with a cold drink and later visit the atmospheric night market. Overnight Le Sen Boutique Hotel or similar

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 2 – Villages around Luang Prabang

We start the day with a visit to the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre to give an insight into some of the ethnic minorities of Laos which you will come across on the journey ahead. We then drive into the peaceful countryside to explore several small villages where you will be shown how local people live and work by local guides. You will get the chance to see their houses from the inside, traditional dress and explanations of traditional cultural practices. Continue on to the Kuang Si Waterfall, where crystal water cascades into idyllic turquoise pools. Bring a bathing suit if you would like to swim. Also take some time to visit the nearby Sunbear Refuge Centre to learn more about the poaching of these endangered creatures. Overnight Le Sen Boutique Hotel or similar (BL)

Day 3 – Luang Prabang

A full day to experience the delights of Luang Prabang. For early risers witness the sacred ritual of townsfolk offering rice to the monks on their alms rounds. Afterwards walk to the nearby morning market to see an array of produce on sale. Return to the hotel for breakfast. 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 Le Sen Boutique Hotel or similar (B)

Day 4 – Luang Prabang - Nong Khiew

(approx. journey times: Luang Prabang – Ban Pak Ou by boat – 2hrs, Ban Pak Ou – Nong Khiew – 3hrs)

This morning we journey up the Mekong River stopping at a local village on the way. We then stop at Pak Ou Caves, a mystical pilgrimage site perched high up above the Mekong. 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. After visiting the caves we continue the journey to picturesque Nong Khiew. Overnight Nong Khiew Riverside or similar (B)

Day 5 - Nong Khiew

(approx. journey times: 3.5hrs boating, 2hrs walking/sightseeing, 30mins caving)

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 6 – Nong Khiew – Nam Nern

(approx. journey times: Nong Khiew – Nam Nern – 250km, 5-6hrs)

This morning we take a walk along the Nam Ou River to visit a local market before travelling to Nam Nern, our jumping off point for an expedition into nature. On arrival in Nam Nern we take a walk around the town before settling into the guesthouse. Overnight local guesthouse (BLD)

Day 7 - Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area

(approx. journey time: Nam Nern – Nam Et-Hou Luey NPA – 25mins)

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 where 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. After that 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 take a night safari. Stopping near a salt lick, we hike into the forest. 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 Eco lodge. (BLD)

Please note that the Eco-Lodge has basic facilities. You will sleep in a bed under cover with a mosquito net. No private bathroom facilities.

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 8 – Nam Et Phou Louey NPA – Sam Neua

(approx. journey times: Nam Nern – Sam Neua – 220km, 4-5hrs)

Rise early to the sound of the forest and 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. Before returning to Son Koua village by boat you will be able to record your wildlife sightings in the camp educational facility. We then continue through the mountains affording wonderful views to arrive in Sam Neua by late afternoon. Overnight at Phetmeuangsam Hotel or similar (BLD)

Day 9 – Sam Neua - Na Meo – Pu Luong Nature Reserve

(approx. journey times: Sam Neua – Na Meo Border – 88km, 3hrs, Na Meo – Pu Luong – 200km, 5-6hrs)

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. This is an incredible experience. Enjoy lunch in a local restaurant. We continue across the border into Vietnam towards Pu Luong Nature Reserve. Overnight Pu Luong Retreat or similar (BLD)

Please note you must have a valid Vietnamese visa in your passport to use this border crossing. No visa on arrival facility is available for clients entering Na Meo border.

Day 10 – Pu Luong Nature Reserve - Mai Chau

(approx. journey times: Pu Luong – Mai Chau – 60km, 2hrs)

Pu Luong Nature Reserve is an area of outstanding beauty, cultural interest and great biodiversity, with a rich forest, limestone panoramas, rice terraces and breath-taking scenery. This morning after breakfast trek to Kho Muong village where we have a local lunch. After lunch trek to Hang village and then continue to Mai Chau. Overnight Mai Chau Sunrise or similar (BLD)

Day 11- Mai Chau – Son La – Dien Bien Phu

(approx. journey times: Mai Chau – Spm La – Dien Bien Phu – 350km, 7-8hrs)

This morning travel to Son La. On the way visit Blue H’Mong village in Nong Luong, and stop for a coffee break in Moc Chau, the biggest plateau in Vietnam. After crossing the suspension bridge visit a Black Thai village and then continue on to Son La. Later in the afternoon visit Son La prison and the museum of Ethnology. Continue to Dien Bien Phu via the spectacular Pha Din Pass. Overnight at Muong Thanh Hotel or similar (B)

Day 12 – Dien Bien Phu

This morning visit Dien Bien Phu’s local museum and the former battlefield, the scene of the decisive battle between the Vietminh troops and French forces during the First Indochina War, which is considered to be one of the most important events in Vietnamese history. Visit some of the small ethnic villages. Overnight at Muong Thanh Hotel or similar (B)

Day 13 – Dien Bien Phu - Mu Cang Chai

(approx. journey times: Dien Bien Phu – Mu Cag Chai – 250km, 6-7hrs)

After an early breakfast depart to Mu Cang Chai Ecolodge which is our base for the night. Depending on time of arrival, you will have lunch at the ecolodge or en-route. This afternoon there are 2 options for trekking, dependant on weather conditions:

Option 1 – Start walking from the small village of H’mong, named Hang Co Vua, then follow the terrace fields and pine forest. When in the forest you have the opportunity to look at the orchids, see the birdlife and wildlife within. After an approximate 2 hour walk we arrive at local villages where people of the Hua Khat ethnic minority live. These local people lead extremely simple lives, and although they cannot communicate with us due to language barriers, they are extremely friendly and welcoming, inviting us to visit their village and their home. We leave the village into terraced fields and return back to the ecolodge.

Option 2 – Travel to Cai Dong and La Khat village and enjoy the picturesque scenery of Mu Cang Chai. You will see the beautiful yet simple life of the Hmong people

Overnight at Mu Cang Chai Ecolodge or similar (BLD)

Day 14 – Mu Cang Chai – Sapa

(approx. journey times: Mu Cang Chai – Sapa – 180km, 4-5hrs)

This morning drive from the ecolodge to Sang Village where the Hmong live where we will take a walk of approximately 2 hours. The trail is on the border between the two provinces of Yen Bai and Son La. From the trail you will see the spectacular terraced fields in Ngoc Chien valley. Continue through pine forest and down into the valley and discover the life of the Thai minority and have a local lunch in the village. Wander through the village before heading back to the ecolodge where you will drive to Sapa, arriving around 1700hrs. Overnight at Eden Boutique Hotel or similar (BL)

Sapa

Sapa, formerly known as Cha Pa, is at the foot of the Fanispan Mountain, the highest mountain of Vietnam. The majority of inhabitants of the Lao Cai province are ethnic minorities, such as Hmong, Thai, Giay, Nung, Tay, As Pho, Lolo, Xa Mang and Phu La.

Day 15 – Sapa – Ma Tra Village – Hanoi

(approx. journey times: Sapa – Ma Tra – Hanoi – 321km, 5-6hrs)

Start your day with a short walk through the town of Sapa, through beautiful gardens and pine forests. Pass through the Black H’Mong ethnic minority village of Ma Tra, a very small village away from civilization. Continue walking through paddy fields and spectacular scenery, and you may also get the chance to visit a local school. Head to the church of Ta Phin where you will be transferred back to Sapa. We then drive to Hanoi. Overnight at Hanoi Boutique 1 Hotel or similar (B)

Day 16 – Hanoi

Transfer to the airport for your departure/onward flight (B)

Optional Pre-Tour Extension – 4000 Islands
(Flight need to arrive in Pakse – not included)

Day 1 - Arrival Pakse and the Bolaven Plateau
On arrival in Pakse, meet your guide and driver who will accompany you to the Bolaven Plateau, an area known for its waterfalls, ethnic minorities and also the home to Lao coffee and tea production. Your first stop on the way up the Bolaven Plateau is the impressive Tad Fane, twin waterfalls that plunge 200 meters down a gorge. Also stop at the Tad Yeaung waterfall, another very scenic waterfall. Continue to your resort. Overnight at Sinouk Coffee Resort (B)

Day 2 - Bolaven Plateau and Champassak
This morning drive to Paksong, and visit a local Market, where local tribal people come to trade their produce. Learn all about the coffee roasting process during a visit to the Jhai Coffee House, the world’s first philanthropic coffee roaster. The tour continues to Ban Phuong Cook, an area were the Katou people live. These are of the indigenous Mon-Khmer population. Other ethnic groups such as Khmu, ALT, Ngae, Kalung, Lavane, Lavere and Katung also live in the area. Continuing the drive onwards to visit the waterfall Phasuam and a national ethno-cultural open-air museum. Lunch is served in a local restaurant. Then it is time to leave the Bolaven Plateau and drive to Champasak. Overnight at The River Resort (BL)

Day 3 - Wat Phou
After breakfast make your way to Wat Phou, a ruined Khmer temple complex in southern Laos and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The ruin is situated at the foot of Mount Phou Kao, about 6 km from the Mekong River. The oldest temple dates from the 5th century, but the best-preserved parts are from the 11th to 13th century. Then travel south, near the Cambodian border, and visit the famous Khone Phapeng Waterfalls, Southeast Asia’s biggest waterfalls. Continue to Ban Nakasang a riverside village where you will take a long tail boat through the 4000 islands area to Don Khone. Check in your hotel and enjoy the rest of the afternoon. Overnight at Sala Don Khone, Floating Studio (B)

Day 4 - 4000 Islands
Today enjoy a cycling trip to the Li Phi Falls, which were major obstacles that thwarted the French in their efforts to open the Mekong River to navigation. Here also live some 50-100 Irrawaddy (freshwater) dolphins. If lucky, you'll have the chance to see them. See the small gauge railway and Colonial Bridge built by the French to circumnavigate the falls. An old French locomotive is still seen as a silent witness of this failed attempt. At 4:00 pm depart from the hotel with a guide and boat driver to experience a Mekong Sunset cruise. Visit Done Xang, Done Pueay and stop at Don Som where you visit the temple of the same name. From here walk a short distance and observe how local people spend their day. Return to your boat and float down the Mekong River into the sunset. If you have not tasted your drink yet, well this is the right time to do so as we return to Khone Island. Overnight at Sala Don Khone, Floating Studio (B)

Day 5 - 4000 Islands via Pakse to Luang Prabang
Enjoy a free morning at the hotel before check out and transfer to Pakse (around 3 ½ hour’s drive) for your departure flight onward. Fly Pakse to Luang Prabang on Lao Airlines QV 514, departing 16:20, arriving 18:00 and transfer to your hotel as per Day 1 of the main tour.

Inclusions:
Arrival and departure transfers
All accommodation
Services of English speaking guide/tour leader (please note we use different guides in Laos and Vietnam)
Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
All ground transport, including travel by minivan, river and local bus
Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary

Excluded:
International flights
Any airport taxes (included for flights within the itinerary)
Travel insurance
Visas if applicable
Drinks
Items of a personal nature
Tips (Discretionary)


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