Laos and Vietnam
Laos and Vietnam – Treasures of the North Tour – a 16 day Small Group Tour.
Laos and Vietnam are a natural combination. It would almost seem more difficult to visit one and not the other. Comparisons are inevitable, and while both are Communist states differences in interpretation become very obvious very soon.
Experiences of anti-colonial struggle against the French preceded carpet bombing by the US. The Vietnam War wasn’t limited to Vietnam, the ‘Secret War’ saw two million tons of ordnance dropped on Laos. There were no winners and Lao farmers continue to pay a price in lives and lost limbs to this day.
However, though this tour explores violent modern history it also informs on rich ancient civilisation, contemporary ethnic diversity, diverse ecosystems and breath-taking natural beauty, in the process re-inventing and refreshing the southeast Asian experience.
Join Undiscovered Destinations on a unique tour to South East Asia’s best kept secret, Laos. We will 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.
Nam Et – Phou Louey National Protected Area is located in the north east of Laos and covers seven 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 between seven to twenty tigers in the area.
We continue our adventure by exploring the amazing former Indochina war caves of Viengsay before we cross the broder into Vietnam and have a chance to experiencing the rich culture of the Northern region and are honoured to stay with local families before ending our journey in Hanoi.
Day 1 – Arrive Luang Prabang
Arrive in Luang Prabang and transfer to hotel accommodation. If you arrive during the day there’s time to take a walk down to the riverside, soak up the atmosphere with a cold drink and maybe later visit the town’s night market. Overnight Le Sen Boutique Hotel or similar
Day 2 – Villages around Luang Prabang
The day starts with a visit to the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre for an insight into some of the ethnic groups encountered on the journey ahead. Afterwards we drive into the countryside to explore several small villages where community guides explain how local people live and work. There’s a chance to see village houses from the inside, learn about traditional dress and cultural practices. Continuing to Kuang Si Waterfall, there’s time for a dip where crystal water cascades into turquoise pools. Later we visit the nearby Sun Bear Refuge Centre to discover the impact of poaching, and ongoing conservation effort on these endangered creatures. Overnight Le Sen Boutique Hotel or similar. (BL)
Day 3 – Luang Prabang
Today is dedicated to an appreciation of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang. Early risers may witness townsfolk offering rice to the monks on their ritual alms’ rounds. Afterwards we walk to the nearby early morning market to see the vast array of produce on sale before returning to the hotel for breakfast. Later, we explore the town’s other sights, including the 500-year-old temple of Wat Xieng Thong, a classic example of Luang Prabang-style. From here, we explore side streets and back alleys – it’s a city that designed with slow travel in mind. At the National Museum, a former palace, relics from Laos’s royalist past are on display. Overlooking the palace is Phousi Mountain. It’s said those who do not climb the 328 steps have not really made it to the city. Venture up the hill for remarkable views over the town and surrounding area. Overnight Le Sen Boutique Hotel or similar. (B)
Day 4 – Luang Prabang - Nong Khiew
(Approximate journey times: Luang Prabang – Ban Pak Ou by boat: two hours, Ban Pak Ou – Nong Khiew – three hours)
This morning we journey up the Mekong river, calling in at a local village on the way. At Pak Ou Caves, a mystical pilgrimage site perched high up above the Mekong, we peer into the cavern’s dark corners to see more than 3,000 Buddha images, some inlaid with semi-precious stones. That these remain undisturbed in a 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 by boat to picturesque Nong Khiew. Overnight Nong Khiew Riverside or similar. (B)
Day 5 - Nong Khiew
(Approximate journey time: three-and-a-half-hours)
Leaving Nong Khiew we cruise upriver by long-tail boat, stopping at several different ethnic villages. The village of Ban Sop Jam is famous for its Lao silk and cotton weaving. After spending some time in the village, we turn around and return downstream to Muang Ngoi. Upon arrival we take a short trek of around two hours through landscape of limestone cliffs, mountains and rice paddy fields. We visit an historic cave used by villagers as a bomb shelter during the Vietnam War. We return to Nong Khiew by boat, enjoying sunset views on the river, arriving back just before dark. Overnight Nong Khiew Riverside or similar. (BL)
Day 6 – Nong Khiew – Nam Nern
(Approximate driving time: five to six hours)
This morning we walk alongside the Nam Ou River and visit a local produce market before travelling to Nam Nern, the jumping off point for our expedition into a wilder side of Laos. On arrival, we take a walk around the town before checking-in to the guesthouse. Overnight local guesthouse. (BLD)
Day 7 - Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area
Today sees an early start for our two-day expedition in Nam Et – Phou Louey National Protected Area, Laos’s first and largest national park. We drive one-and-a-half-hours along a winding road through a mountainous, forested landscape before arriving at Son Koua Village. This is an ethnic Khmu village community where we will be welcomed by the village guide and boatmen. After a look around we’ll learn about the animist tradition of appeasing the village spirit. After lunch we board a long-tail boat for a one-and-a-half-hour journey to the park office on the Nam Nern River. Along the way we learn about upland rice cultivation and hopefully spot monitor lizards and abundant birdlife. Arriving at the park office there’s a briefing by rangers about their efforts to protect the park’s tigers, one of six big cat species present. Later we embark upon a night safari. Stopping near a salt lick, we hike into the forest accompanied by a local guide, a skilled hunter and tracker, who explains how to track deer and other game species. Our boat continues upriver to a sandy, flat bank where we’ll enjoy dinner around a campfire. Afterwards we listen as the guides regale us with Khmu folktales and stories about dragons, wildlife, and ghosts. Depending on the amount of moonlight, we’ll try for some game viewing by spotlight, floating down river with the engines cut in order not to disturb wildlife. We may see sambar and barking deer, otter, civet, slow loris primates, porcupine and various owls. In the end, the boat arrives at our evening camp and we disembark. Overnight local Eco lodge. (BLD)
Please note: The Eco-Lodge has basic facilities. Beds are under cover and have mosquito nets. There are no private bathroom facilities.
Day 8 – Nam Et Phou Louey NPA – Sam Neua
(Approximate driving time: four to five hours)
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
(Approximate driving times: Sam Neua – Na Meo Border – three hours, Na Meo – Pu Luong – five to six hours)
Today we visit the information centre near the guesthouse to learn more about the historical significance of the area during the Indochina War. With the help of a local guide and an audio tour, we explore nearby caves to see how fighters of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party lived during the war. We take lunch in a local restaurant before crossing the border into Vietnam and continuing towards Pu Luong Nature Reserve. Overnight Pu Luong Retreat or similar. (BLD)
Please note: A valid Vietnamese visa is required. No visa on arrival facility is available at the Na Meo border crossing.
Day 10 – Pu Luong Nature Reserve - Mai Chau
(Approximate driving time: two hours)
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
(Approximate journey time: Mai Chau – Son La – Dien Bien Phu: seven to eight hours)
This morning we drive to Son La, calling in at Blue H’Mong village in Nong Luong, and stopping for coffee at Moc Chau on the largest plateau in Vietnam. After crossing Moc Chau’s questionable glass-bottomed suspension bridge we visit a village of the Tai Dam (Black Tai) ethnic group and then continue to Son La prison. Built by French colonialists and used to incarcerate revolutionaries the buildings were heavily bombed during the Vietnam War, more recently rebuilt. After looking around the nearby ethnological museum we 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 we visit Dien Bien Phu’s museum, and its historic battlefield. The decisive battle in 1954 between Vietminh troops and French forces during the First Indochina War is considered one of the most important events in Vietnamese history. Later, we visit nearby ethnic villages before returning to the hotel. Overnight at Muong Thanh Hotel or similar. (B)
Day 13 – Dien Bien Phu - Mu Cang Chai
(Approximate driving time: Dien Bien Phu – Mu Cang Chai: six to seven hours)
After an early breakfast we leave for Mu Cang Chai Ecolodge, our accommodation for tonight. Depending on time of arrival, we’ll take lunch at the ecolodge or en-route. In the afternoon two trekking options are available, dependant on weather conditions:
Option 1 – Start walking from the small H’mong village of Hang Co Vua. Follow terraced fields and pine forest looking out for wild orchids, wildlife and birds along the way. After approximately two hours arrive at a village of the Hua Khat ethnic minority. The people lead extremely simple lives but are extremely friendly and welcoming, normally inviting us to visit their village and their homes. We return through terraced fields to the ecolodge.
Option 2 – Drive to Cai Dong and La Khat villages to see the simple lifestyle of the H’mong people and enjoy the landscapes around Mu Cang Chai.
Overnight at Mu Cang Chai Ecolodge or similar. (BLD)
Day 14 – Mu Cang Chai – Sapa
(Approximate journey time: Mu Cang Chai – Sapa: four to five hours)
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)
Day 15 – Sapa – Ma Tra Village – Hanoi
(Approximate driving time: Sapa – Ma Tra – Hanoi: five to six hours)
The day starts with a short walk through the town of Sapa, exploring beautiful gardens and pine forests. We pass through the isolated Black H’Mong ethnic minority village of Ma Tra, continue through paddy fields and spectacular scenery, perhaps visiting a school, and calling in at the church of Ta Phin, before driving back to Sapa. We then embark on the long 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
Please note that a flight to arrive in Pakse is not included and needs to be purchased before travel. Contact us for a quote and times.
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 we drive to Paksong and visit a local market where tribal people trade their produce. Learn about the coffee roasting process during a visit to the cooperative Jhai Coffee House, ‘the world’s first philanthropic coffee roaster and café’. We continue to Ban Phuong Cook, inhabited by the Katou ethnic group, the indigenous Mon-Khmer population. Other ethnic groups such as Khmu, Ngae, Kalung, Lavane, Lavere and Katung also live in the area. Later we drive to the impressive Pha Suam waterfall and nearby a national ethno-cultural open-air museum. After lunch in a local restaurant we leave for the Bolaven Plateau and drive to Champasak. Overnight at The River Resort. (BL)
Day 3 - Wat Phou
After breakfast we make our way to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Wat Phou, a ruined Khmer temple complex more than a thousand-years-old. The ruins are situated at the foot of Mount Phou Kao, about six kilometres from the banks of the Mekong river. The oldest temples dates from the 5th century but the best-preserved structures are from the 11th to 15th century. Afterwards we travel south, close to the Cambodian border, and visit the famous Khone Phapheng waterfalls, encompassing the Mekong’s entire flow, the largest by volume in southeast Asia. Later we continue to Ban Nakasang, a riverside village from where we take a long tail boat through the 4,000 Islands to Don Khone and tonight’s accommodation. Overnight Sala Don Khone, Floating Studio. (B)
Day 4 - 4000 Islands
Today we cycle to Li Phi Falls, a major obstacle that thwarted the French in their efforts to open the Mekong river to navigation. The river here is home to some 50 to 100 Irrawaddy river dolphins, and with luck you may spot some of them. There’s time to see the narrow-gauge railway and Colonial Bridge built by the French in an effort to circumnavigate the falls. An old French locomotive is testament to this failed attempt. Late in the afternoon we take a sunset cruise on the Mekong, visiting the islands of Done Xang, Done Pueay and stopping at Don Som to see its temple. From here we walk a short distance and observe how local people spend their day, returning to the boat and floating down the Mekong into the sunset. If you have not tasted your drink yet, this is the right time to do so. Overnight at Sala Don Khone, Floating Studio. (B)
Day 5 - 4000 Islands via Pakse to Luang Prabang
This morning is free to relax before checking-out and driving to Pakse for onward flights. Fly Pakse to Luang Prabang on Lao Airlines QV 514, departing 16:20, arriving 18:00 and transfer to hotel accommodation as per Day 1 of the main tour.
Dates & Price.
Minimum Group Size
This group tour operates subject to a minimum group size of 3 travellers.
Single supplement from £275.
Return flights into Luang Prabang and back from Hanoi start from £700 per person although prices fluctuate subject to availability and time of year. Please contact us if you would like us to arrange flights for you
Airport transfers are included if you are booking pre and/or post tour accommodation at the hotel mentioned in our tour dossier.
4000 Islands 5 day Pre-Tour Extension
4000 Islands 5 day Pre-Tour Extension from £945 per person. Your flight will need to arrive in Pakse and depart from Hanoi. Call us for a flight quote and times.
Please note that other extensions can be arranged in both Laos and Vietnam. Please contact us should you require a quote for extra arrangements.
Laos/Vietnam Private tour
If you do not wish to be part of a group tour then you can do the same tour on a private basis. Please contact us for prices.
Kindly note that we can also tailor a similar or totally different itinerary to meet your requirements. Please get in touch with Rhia or Mark so we can tailor your perfect tour.
Want to see details of your itinerary on a map?
Download the full tour dossier for this trip here.
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+44(0) 191 296 2674 from THE UK
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- 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
- International flights (except from Luang Prabang to Siem Reap)
- Any airport taxes (included for flights within the itinerary)
- Travel Insurance
- Items of a personal nature