Mekong Explorer

10 days / 9 nights

Our 10-day journey along the mighty Mekong, one of the world’s great rivers, allows us to see the authentic and untouched Laos. We begin with a brief introduction to the Golden Triangle in Northern Thailand before we cruise the Mother River from Huay Say to the royal city of Luang Prabang visiting hill-tribe villages and the Pak Ou Caves en route. This beautiful World Heritage city has much to offer as we explore its myriad wats and museums,and take a dip in the Kuang Si falls before heading south to Vientiane. The bizarre Buddha Park offers an alternative experience to the more mainstream temples in the city. Later, we fly the southern region of Champasak to experience our second Mekong River cruise to discover the awe-inspiring ruins of the mountain temple of Vat Phu and the magical 4,000 islands of sleepy Si Phan Don. The tour ends in Southern Laos with the option to continue into Cambodia by land, return to Pakse or travel by land into neighbouring Thailand.

In brief

  1. Day 1: Arrive Chiang Rai and Transfer to Golden Triangle.
  2. Day 2: Travel to Laos and Board the Luangsay Boat. Cruise to Pakbeng.
  3. Day 3: Continue Cruising to Luang Prabang, Via Pak Ou Caves.
  4. Day 4: Luang Prabang sights, including Wat Xieng Thong and National Museum.
  5. Day 5: Visit Kuang Si Falls.
  6. Day 6: Fly to Vientiane. Afternoon Sightseeing.
  7. Day 7: Buddha Park and Free Time.
  8. Day 8: Fly to Pakse and join the Wat Phu Cruise.
  9. Day 9: Wat Phu cruise to 4000 Islands.
  10. Day 10: Wat Phu cruise to 4000 Islands.

In detail

Day 1: Arrive Chiang Rai and Transfer to Golden Triangle.

Upon arrival in Chiang Rai International Airport, we are transferred to our resort in the fabled Golden Triangle, where Burma, Laos and Thailand meet. Once famous as the heartland of the heroin trade in Southeast Asia, it has reinvented itself as an ecotourism destination for trekking, cycling and elephant encounters. A beautiful area, we have time to relax and recover from the flight. There is the option of an elephant experience, including a leisurely ride around the Golden Triangle area and the chance to help bathe the elephants in the river, or a visit to the Hall of Opium, a state of the art museum funded by the Thai royal family introducing visitors to the turbulent history of the opium trade in this region.Overnight in the Golden Triangle.

Day 2: Travel to Laos and Board the Luangsay Boat. Cruise to Pakbeng.

We leave the Golden Triangle region of northern Thailand and enter Laos at the small but bustling town of Huay Say. We join the lovely Luangsay boat and begin our cruise down one of the world’s great rivers … the mighty Mekong River. This comfortable cruiser includes a full galley where local food is prepared, it also has a well-stocked bar and is the perfect vessel to soak up the river views in comfort! We stop at one or two local villages along the way to encounter the tribal people of northern Laos. Our journey takes us around 150km Southeast to Pakbeng, our base for the night. We stay in the atmospheric Luangsay Lodge. We enjoy dinner from the elegant terrace restaurant here before retiring to our private bungalow for the night.

Day 3: Continue Cruising to Luang Prabang, Via Pak Ou Caves.

After an early breakfast at the lodge, we continue to cruise down the Mekong River. The mornings are often cool and misty and the scenery becomes more and more spectacular, immense mountains looming over the water and thick jungle tumbling down to the river's edge. We visit the village of an ethnic minority where they brew Lao Lao or rice wine, the local firewater. After lunch, we continue to the Pak Ou Caves or the Caves of a Thousand Buddhas. This sacred spot is where thousands upon thousands of Buddhas were hidden for safekeeping during earlier invasions. Pilgrims have since added their own offerings and the caves are literally overflowing with Buddhas. We then continue to lovely Luang Prabang and check into our hotel.

Day 4: Luang Prabang sights, including Wat Xieng Thong and National Museum.

In this morning, we begin to 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 follow the river until we reach Wat Xieng Thong, one of the most celebrated temples in Laos. A magnificent structure, this is the quintessential Luang Prabang temple with a graceful sweeping roof that reaches almost to the floor. We then make our way to the beautiful temple of Wat Saen, originally built in 1718. There is the option of climbing Mt Phousi to explore the small temple here and enjoy sunset over this charming town. We then return to our hotel.

Day 5: Visit Kuang Si Falls.

After breakfast, the destination is Ban Long Lao, a small Hmong village. Laos is one of Southeast Asia’s most ethnically diverse countries with literally dozens of ethnic groups each with their own language and customs. The Hmong is one of these many ethnic groups. From here you will walk through open farmland and forest trails to the Kuang Si Waterfall, which, while not very high, is striking in its lush jungle setting. Upon arrival there are plenty of opportunities to swim in the refreshing pools and enjoy a boxed picnic lunch (ordered from Luang Prabang). We’ll take some more time for relaxation and swimming before heading back to Luang Prabang by late afternoo. There is also the option to visit Ban Phonesay, a village well known for its silk weavings once been published on the New York Time Magazine. Back to your hotel for a free and easy evening.

Day 6: Fly to Vientiane. Afternoon Sightseeing.

We arrive in Vientiane and check into our hotel for the night. After lunch, we visit the historic temple of Wat Si Saket, the oldest surviving temple in Vientiane. Then its time to visit the striking golden stupa of Pha That Luang, the most sacred monument in the city. We continue to the 'Arc de Triomphe' of Vientiane, or Patuxai as it is known locally. Built in the 1960s, the US-supplied cement was originally earmarked for a runway extension at the airport, but the Laotians found a much more creative use for it. We ascend the monument for some refreshing breezes and great views over this low-rise garden city. We finish with a stroll along the Mekong riverfront. 

Day 7: Buddha Park and Free Time.

Today we step outside the city boundaries and visit the incredible Buddha Park, a kitsch riverside garden brimming with garish religious statues. We see a famous reclining Buddha and can clamber inside some of the bigger sculptures to discover strange scenes from heaven and hell. There is a local café here where we can enjoy a local lunch with views over the Mekong. In the afternoon, we return to Vientiane and can enjoy some free time or take an optional visit to a well-known Textile Gallery, enjoy a Traditional Herbal Sauna or visit the COPE Centre to learn about the scourge of UXO in Laos.

Day 8: Fly to Pakse and join the Wat Phu Cruise.

An early morning flight takes us to the Southern city of Pakse. We depart Pakse by riverboat for the pretty town of Champasak where we enjoy a local lunch on the banks of the Mekong. We then visit 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. As dusk falls, we board the Wat Phu for a relaxing cruise down-river, enjoying the tropical sunset from the deck. The boat docks for the night near a remote Laotian village. Overnight onboard the cruiser.

Day 9: Wat Phu cruise to 4000 Islands.

After breakfast, we set sail for the village of Huei Thamo, only a few minutes walk away from the spectacular hidden forest temple of Oum Moung. After exploring the ruins of this old Khmer sanctuary, we rejoin the boat for a cruise southwards to Si Phan Done or 4000 Islands is where the Mekong splits into tiny tributaries creating hundreds, the name suggests thousands, of small islands where the pace of life is unhurried and the people unconcerned by the changing world beyond. We visit the traditional Laotian Village of Ban Dua Tae where the traditional way of life has not changed in centuries. We return to our boat for a quiet dinner under the stars.

Day 10: Wat Phu cruise to 4000 Islands.

After breakfast on board, we cruise to the small village of Ban Veuthong where we board a small long-tail boat to Don Khone Island. We explore this charming island, free from traffic and learn about the local way of life. We take a long tail boat back to the mainland for lunch amid the by-gone splendour of another age, where there are colourful French colonial houses and an old customs post, alongside a stone quay. We continue south to Phakpeng Waterfall, “the Niagara of the East“, close to the Cambodian border. After the cruise finishes, we offer the option of a stay on Don Khong or Don Khon, an onward transfer to Cambodia or a return to Champasak or Pakse.