Grand Laos Journey

15 days / 14 nights

An in-depth journey throughout the Kingdom of Laos that will take you beyond the highlights and under the skin of this beguiling country, beginning with the the Luang Say cruise along the Mekong River, via the Pak Ou Caves to the World Heritage recognized city of Luang Prabang. Home to 32 stupa-studded wats, it remains one of the most atmospheric destinations in all Asia. We take in the Royal Palace Museum, classic Wat Xieng Thong and enjoy a trek to the turquoise waters of the multi-tiered Kuang Si Falls. We then head to the Plain of Jars, a mysterious mountainside dotted with ancient burial jars from a forgotten civilisation for a brief adventure before we head to the capital city of Vientiane. Then we head south where no trip would be complete without a visit to the incredible Wat Phu and the 4,000 islands and waterfalls on the border with Cambodia.

In brief

  1. Day 1: Arrival in Chaing Rai.
  2. Day 2: Huay Xai to Pakbeng by boat.
  3. Day 3: Pakeng to Luang Prabang by boat.
  4. Day 4: Luang Prabang city tour.
  5. Day 5: Trekking to Kuang Si Falls.
  6. Day 6: Luang Prabang to Phonsavan.
  7. Day 7: Plain of Jars.
  8. Day 8: Phonsavan to Vang Vieng.
  9. Day 9: Vang Vieng to Vientiane.
  10. Day 10: Vientiane city tour.
  11. Day 11: Fly to Pakse and onto Tat Lo.
  12. Day 12: Tat Lo to Wat Phu and Don Khong.
  13. Day 13: Tour of 4,000 Islands.
  14. Day 14: Free day on Don Daeng.
  15. Day 15: Travel to Pakse. Departure.

In detail

Day 1: Arrival in Chaing Rai.

At leisure after arrival.

Day 2: Huay Xai to Pakbeng by boat.

We transfer early this morning to the border town of Huay Xay to catch our Luang Say Cruise boat for our cruise down the Mekong to Pakbeng. En route we stop to observe rural life amongst the minority ethnic groups; then enjoy a buffet lunch on board. We have our dinner on a terrace overlooking the river at our overnight accommodation.

Day 3: Pakeng to Luang Prabang by boat.

After breakfast, and an optional visit to the local ethnic minority market, we board the boat to continue our journey. We call in at a Hmong village and then visit the Pak Ou Caves, a sacred spot where thousands upon thousands of Buddhas were hidden for safekeeping. Pilgrims have since added their own offerings and the caves are literally overflowing with Buddhas. We arrive in the beautiful city of Luang Prabang before sunset.

Day 4: Luang Prabang city tour.

Today we explore the historic town of Luang Prabang. We walk along Sisavangvong St, the heart of the old quarter and explore the National Museum, set in the former Royal Palace. Built in 1904, the palace is a blend of Laotian and French influences and houses many royal treasures. The most important item is the solid gold Pha Bang Buddha, a gift from the Khmer King to his son-in-law, Fa Ngum, founder of the Lao Kingdom. We then continue into the centre of Luang Prabang, exploring the narrow alleys that criss-cross the town, stopping to enjoy some views over the mighty Mekong River. We wind up at the beautiful temple of Wat Saen, originally built in 1718 and under the guidance of Ajahn Khamjan, one of the most revered abbots in Laos. Our final visit of the day is the magnificent Wat Xiengthong, with its roofs sweeping low to the ground, representing the classical Luang Prabang style. There is the option of climbing Mt Phousi to explore the small temple here and enjoy sunset over this charming town.

Day 5: Trekking to Kuang Si Falls.

After breakfast, we visit the local market and the OckPopTock weaving centre before we head out to Ban Thinkeo, a Hmong village and begin a moderate trek with our village guide, who will introduce local customs and foodstuffs to you. We continue to Kuang Si Waterfall, where a picnic lunch awaits overlooking the beautiful multi-tiered falls. We return to Luang Prabang in time to catch the sun setting over the Mekong.

Day 6: Luang Prabang to Phonsavan.

An early start as we head to Phonsavan, the main base for the famous ‘Plain of Jars’. We make some stops en route, at Hou Hei for the views and at Ban Kiu Kam Pone, a Khmu village before lunch at Phou Khoun. We reach an altitude of 1500m above sea level, just after Phou Khoun. We call into a Hmong village at Ban Son Boom, and then we visit the hidden Buddha Cave, that served as an army hospital during the Vietnam war, before reaching Phonsavan.

Day 7: Plain of Jars.

We visit the offices of the Mines Action Group or MAG to learn about their work in clearing land mines and unexploded ordnance in the area. Then we head out to the picturesque Jar Site 2, and begin a one-hour trek along the ridge to the impressive Jar Site 3, consisting over around 150 jars located on top of a hill, offering great views over the surrounding countryside. In the afternoon we visit Jar Site 1, the largest site, containing over 300 jars, before returning to town. The biggest jar is known as Hai Jeuam and weighs around six tonnes.

Day 8: Phonsavan to Vang Vieng.

Another early start to visit the market and if time permits, the ancient former provincial capital of Muang Khoun, the site of a number of ruined pagodas. We then travel by road to Vang Vieng, stopping for a late lunch in Phou Khoun and including a few stops en route at ethnic villages and markets, as well as a scenery stop at Phatang Mountain view point.

Day 9: Vang Vieng to Vientiane.

This morning we visit the picturesque Tham Jang cave, that offers stunning views of over the Nam Song River and surrounding karst scenery. Then we head towards Vientiane, stopping a few times at places like Tha Heua, a small village that specializes in dried fish, and at Ban Keun, which is famous for its salt mine. In between we’ll take lunch at the Nam Ngum lake. Just outside of Vientiane, we make a final stop at the Don Makai market, an insect market of all places.

Day 10: Vientiane city tour.

We spend a part of our day on a city tour. We visit the historic temple of Wat Si Saket, the oldest surviving temple in Vientiane. Inside are 6840 Buddhas, surely a record for a Lao temple. We cross the road and enter Haw Pha Kaew, more a museum than temple today, there is some impressive Buddhist sculpture here. Then it’s time for us to view the striking golden stupa of Pha That Luang, the most sacred temple in the city. We continue to the 'Arc de Triomphe' of Vientiane, or Patuxai as it is known locally. A visit to the COPE exhibition centre is also recommended. You may wish to end your day with a stroll along the Mekong riverfront and take in the sunset over the Mother of all Rivers.

Day 11: Fly to Pakse and onto Tat Lo.

We take an early flight to Pakse and then head east into the Bolaven Plateau, known for its cooler temperatures. We take stops at Houey Ten, a Katu village specializing in knifemaking, a tea and coffee plantation, at Tat Fan Waterfall, a picturesque twin chute waterfall and a colourful ethnic market. Next we explore Ban Bong Neua, an Alak village that boasts a sacrificial altar before we arrive at the Tat Lo Waterfall, where you have the rest of the day at leisure.

Day 12: Tat Lo to Wat Phu and Don Khong.

After breakfast, we head out to stop at the Paxuam Waterfall before moving onto Champassak and the stunning Khmer temple of Wat Phu, set under the shadow of Lingaparvata Mountain, overlooking the Mekong River. Shrouded in mystery, the exact origins of this site are uncertain, but it is believed to have been sacred to early animist cultures. It is a magical place, rich in the spirituality of animism, Hinduism and Buddhism, the fusion religion which predominates in Laos today. We end the day by driving and ferry boat to Don Khong island.

Day 13: Tour of 4,000 Islands.

We take a long-tailed boat to Don Khone and explore the island by bicycle, admiring some of the old French Colonial buildings and the beautiful Liphi Waterfall. Then we head to the majestic Phakpeng Waterfall, “the Niagara of the East“, close to the Cambodian border. Later we take a boat to the island of Don Daeng, where you have the rest of the day at leisure.

Day 14: Free day on Don Daeng.

You have a free day at leisure to explore the island.

Day 15: Travel to Pakse. Departure.

You transfer back to Pakse in time for your departing flight.