Myanmar Laos Uncovered

15 days / 14 nights

This trip combines the best of Myanmar and Laos in an adventurous two-week trip through two of the most enigmatic and unexplored countries in the region. Yangon is our starting point to uncover the essential elements of Myanmar, followed by the ancient Burmese capital of Bagan, with over 4,000 stupas satisfying your temple desires amidst dramatic scenery. Mandalay and the dazzling floating gardens of Inle Lake await us before we return to Yangon. The beautiful World Heritage city of Luang Prabang has much to offer as we explore its myriad wats and museums, Pak Ou Caves 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 Yangon. City tour.
  2. Day 2: Fly to Bagan. Ananda Temple and sunset.
  3. Day 3: Markets, school visit, village life and crafts.
  4. Day 4: Fly to Mandalay. City tour.
  5. Day 5: Ancient capitals of Amarapura, Ava and Sagaing.
  6. Day 6: Fly to Heho and onto Inle Lake. Phaung Daw U Pagoda.
  7. Day 7: Inle Lake and Indein Pagoda. Fly to Yangon.
  8. Day 8: Fly to Luang Prabang. Visit Pak Ou Caves.
  9. Day 9: City Tour including Wat Xieng Thong, museum and temples.
  10. Day 10: Kuang Si Falls
  11. Day 11: Fly to Vientiane. Sightseeing.
  12. Day 12: Buddha Park and Free Time.
  13. Day 13: Fly to Pakse and join the Wat Phu Cruise.
  14. Day 14: Wat Phu cruise to 4000 Islands.
  15. Day 15: Wat Phu cruise to 4000 Islands.

In detail

Day 1: Arrive Yangon. City tour.

After arrival In Yangon, our first stop will be at the Kyaukhtatgyi Pagoda to see a 70 meter long reclining Buddha statue before we head into the city center and visit the Sule Pagoda and Bogyoke Market. Then it’s onto the legendary Shwedagon Pagoda. Witness the colors transform on the 100-meter chedi which is literally enclosed in over 40 tons of gold leaf. Shwedagon is largely considered to be the most important religious site for the Burmese. 

Day 2: Fly to Bagan. Ananda Temple and sunset.

After breakfast we take a domestic flight to Bagan, the center of Myanmar from the 11th to 13th centuries and home to 4,000 evocative stupas and pagodas on the shores of the Irrawaddy River. We start at the golden stupa of Shwezigon Pagoda for a closer look at Bagan’s affluent past. Continue to Wetkyi-In, Gubyaukgyi, a cave temple with beautiful wall paintings and the stylish Htilominlo Temple.

This afternoon will begin with a visit to a traditional lacquer workshop followed by Ananda Temple, certainly one of Bagan’s most beautiful temples, housing two distinctive Buddha images. Their expressions transform, according to your viewing point. By horse cart we visit Thatbyinnyu, the tallest temple in Bagan, Dhammayangyi Temple noted for its remarkable brickwork, and Sulamani Temple. We watch the extraordinary sunset over the plains from the higher verandas of one of these 3 temples. 

Day 3: Markets, school visit, village life and crafts.

We start the day at the Nyaung U market, followed by a drive to Ngat Pyit Taung Monastery and the chance to explore the temple’s caves, with a visit to the Monastic Primary School where you can observe the children in their classrooms. NOTE ( School visits are not possible on Saturdays and Sundays). *An optional tour could be a memorable hot air balloon ride over Bagan (only available Oct-March).

This afternoon we begin with a walk through Myinkaba village where you’ll have the chance to see local craftsmen at their lacquer workshop. We carry on to Manuha Temple (constructed in 1059) and investigate the Nanbaya Temple, a distinctive sandstone shrine, which according to myth, was the bastion of King Manuha. Then it’s off to Bupaya Pagoda or Mingala Zedi Stupa to catch the sunset over the celebrated Ayeyarwaddy River.

Day 4: Fly to Mandalay. City tour.

We take a domestic flight to Mandalay, the second largest city of Myanmar, and begin with a visit to Mahamuni Pagoda. This pagoda houses one of the country’s most honored Buddha images, completely covered in gold leaves. We carry onto Kuthodaw Pagoda (where the 729 marble stone slabs of Buddhist scriptures are called the ‘World’s Biggest Book’). Then it’s off to Shwenandaw Monastery, before we reach summit of Mandalay Hill to catch the stunning sunset views. 

Day 5: Ancient capitals of Amarapura, Ava and Sagaing.

We begin with an expedition to investigate the previous capitals of Amarapura, Ava and Sagaing, starting at Amarapura’s Mahagandayon, home to more than a thousand monks, and a busy alms collection. Then it’s on to Ava which was the standing capital from the 14th through the 18th centuries. By horse and carriage, we visit Bagaya Monastery renowned for its extraordinarily elaborate woodcarvings and the Nanmyint Watch Tower - also called “the leaning tower of Ava“ – the remnants of the ancient palace, and Maha Aungmye Bonzan Monastery.

After lunch we cross the Irrawaddy River to Sagaing, with Sagaing Hill known as the spiritual hub of Myanmar and which claims residence to around 3,000 monks and nearly 100 meditation shrines. We stroll along the legendary U Bein Bridge which at 1.2 kms is said to be the longest teakwood bridge worldwide, before we return to Mandalay.

Day 6: Fly to Heho and onto Inle Lake. Phaung Daw U Pagoda.

After breakfast we take a domestic flight to Heho. After an hour’s drive we reach Nyaung Shwe, gateway village to Inle Lake. En route, we’ll stop at the teak monastery of Shweyanpyay to witness the intricate wood carving artwork. We take a boat out onto Inle Lake, one of Myanmar’s most spectacular sights. We’ll pass several stilted Intha villages built over the lake, and observe the local leg-rowing fishermen and see their ‘floating gardens’.

We’ll check into the hotel and then visit Nga Hpe Chaung Monastery, which houses many early Shan Buddha Images. It’s also famous for its unique ‘jumping cats.’ We continue onto Phaung Daw U Pagoda, the lake’s main haven, which contains five sacred images of Buddha decorated in gold leaf. A stop at the weaving village of Inpawkhone and a cheroot factory, where traditional Burmese cigars are handmade, will close the day.

Day 7: Inle Lake and Indein Pagoda. Fly to Yangon.

After breakfast we visit the lake’s morning market, the location of which changes every day.A 1-hour boat ride will take you to the Pa-Oh village of Indein, on the western shore of Inle Lake. We ascend the moss-covered stairway to the top of a hill, and the Indein Pagoda complex with its iconic Buddha image which sits enshrined among hundreds of stupa ruins and overgrown shrubbery. We return to Heho Airport for a short flight back to Yangon, with the rest of the day at leisure. 

Day 8: Fly to Luang Prabang. Visit Pak Ou Caves.

We leave Yangon and fly to Luang Prabang, the beautiful Unesco world heritage jewel in the crown of Laos. This afternoon we head to Pak Ou Caves, a sacred spot 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. After exploring the caves, we return by boat to Luang Prabang.

Day 9: City Tour including Wat Xieng Thong, museum and temples.

This morning, we travel to Wat Xieng Thong, one of the most celebrated temples in Laos and continue our exploration of the historic town of Luang Prabang throughout the rest of the day. 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. We also take the option to climb Mt Phousi to explore the small temple here and enjoy sunset over this charming town.

Day 10: Kuang Si Falls

After breakfast, the destination is Ban Long Lao, a small Hmong village. 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. There is also a Bear Rescue Centre where captured bears have been taken from poachers and rehabilitated and cared for. We’ll take some more time for relaxation and swimming before heading back to Luang Prabang by late afternoon. 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 & easy evening.

Day 11: Fly to Vientiane. Sightseeing.

We fly into Vientiane and check into our hotel. 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 12: 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 13: 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 14: 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 15: 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.