21 October 2016
Laos is a country as yet untouched by the modern demands, stress and pace of life. Its beauty lies in the Lao people, century-old traditions and heritage, and its lush, pristine landscape. All this you will experience of this action packed 12 day tour which combines a visit to the beautiful 4,000 islands. This imaginative trip around the Land of a MIllion Elephants will give you a superb insight into this fascinating country and can be taken while enjoying a longer stay in neighbouring countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Burma or Cambodia or make a superb holiday in its own right
Your 12 day adventure begins when you arrive in Chiang Rai, the gateway to the Golden Triangle, where you will be met and transferred to your hotel. The Golden Triangle is the name given to the area where Thailand meets its neighbouring countries, Laos and Myanmar (Burma), and is home to some of Thailand’s most picturesque scenery and colourful hilltribes. Tonight meet your tour leader and the rest of the group for welcome drinks and a tour briefing.
This morning drive towards the border with Laos, the ‘Land of a Million Elephants.’ The drive to Chiang Khong will take you to of one of the great rivers of the world, the Mekong. Here at the border, the Mekong divides the more industrious and developed Thailand from laid back Laos, a sparsely populated country and home to a graceful and unaffected people. After visa and immigration formalities, board your boat for a cruise down the Mekong. Take in river life and picturesque scenery as you cruise for six to seven hours to the rarely visited town of Pakbeng where you stay the night in a lodge in this simple market town.
After breakfast, re-board the boat for a full day’s journey along the Mekong River towards Luang Prabang. Today’s boat trip will take you past precious verdant forest and sleepy riverside villages. You will stop at the Pak Ou Caves with their thousands of Buddha images. Here, in a tradition that has lasted for centuries, local people add annually to a repository of Buddha statues. You will glide into the Unesco World Heritage-listed town of Luang Prabang and after checking in to your hotel, venture out for either local or French cuisine at one of the many fine restaurants in this delightful town.
Surrounded by mountainous forest and situated at the confluence of the Khan and Mekong Rivers, Luang Prabang has a tranquil, old world charm. This fascinating town has a legacy of the European presence here - well preserved French architecture and careful street planning blends delightfully with more than 30 gilded Buddhist temples to create a town rich in atmosphere and history. Begin your day with short walk to the National Museum, formerly the Royal residence then visit the most exquisite temples, including serene Wat Xieng Thong and Wat Mai. Later interact with the locals by having a game of petanque before enjoying some refreshing juices and snacks as the sun fades behind the enchanted surrounding mountains and Mekong River.
Rise early this morning and see robed Buddhist monks collecting alms, following a centuries old ritual. After breakfast, travel to Kuang Si Falls, one of the many beautiful waterfalls near Luang Prabang stopping on the way at the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre and one of the larger local markets At the waterfalls you can to swim and relax before visiting a nearby sanctuary for Asiatic Black bears rescued from the illegal wildlife trade. Travel back to Luang Prabang in the afternoon to enjoy some time at leisure to soak up the ambience of one of Asia’s special towns. Later take a tuk-tuk to the garden setting of Tamarind cooking school, for a traditional cooking class, have fun learning about Lao ingredients and prepare your own dinner.
Today you will fly from Luang Prabang to Vientiane, where you will be met and transferred to your hotel. Touring today takes in the city’s intriguing main sights and monuments. Visit Wat Sisaket, the oldest temple then explore Haw Pha Kaew, the former royal temple which is now a museum. See Pha That Luang, the most important national monument and end the morning at the grand Patuxai Monument, reminiscent of the Arc de Triomphe. In the afternoon stop at the COPE centre, which is dedicated to providing prosthetic limbs to people who were victims of bombs left behind from the Vietnam and Indochina conflicts.
After breakfast, start to explore some of the main monuments of Vientiane followed by lunch a charming street cafe. A visit to the Lao National Museum will help you to learn something of the Laotian struggle for independence from France and the rise of the Pathet Lao communists. Finally, finish your afternoon with a “baci” ceremony in a local home, a traditional Lao blessing to welcome you to the country and wish you safe travels on your onward journey.
This morning you fly to Pakse, the major city in the south of Laos. From here you will set out for the Bolaven Plateau, the premier coffee-growing region of Laos. Travel by road through the plateau, passing ethnic minority villages, wild coffee and cardamom plantations and fruit groves. In colonial times the Bolaven Plateau was populated by French settlers, attracted to the cooler climate and fertile soils that made the coffee bush grow so well. You can learn more about the cultivation process of the Lao Arabica bean during a guided visit to a coffee farm - including the chance to roast beans and sample your creation! Then stop at two cascading waterfalls before driving to your bungalow-style accommodation to relax with the resident elephants.
After breakfast, drive to Kiet Ngong village, where you will set out for a short elephant trek. Until recently many of the elephants in Laos were used in the logging industry but the village you visit engages the elephants in a more environmentally-friendly activity and provides employment for the mahout trainers as part of a community tourism project. Later, set out by road and short boat trip to reach tranquil Khone Island in the ‘4000 islands’ stretch of the Mekong. Enjoy free time in the late afternoon, exploring the island and meeting its graceful inhabitants. Hire a bicycle from your hotel or go for a stroll along the simple yet charming waterfront area that skirts the perimeter of the island.
After breakfast, walk the short distance across the island to see Li Phi falls and the remains of the sole railway built by the French during their time as colonial occupiers of Laos. Later you visit Ban Done Date village and look out for the famous and elusive Irrawaddy freshwater dolphins. In the afternoon cross the Mekong and pick up your vehicle for the trip to Khonephapheng Falls, the largest falls in Southeast Asia in terms of water volume. The falls had a profound effect on the planned use of the Mekong River as a French trade route connecting Vietnam with China, and resulted in the building of the bypass railway joining Khone and Det islands. Return to your hotel and watch the sunset over Khone Island.
Drive to Champasak, a small riverside village with numerous old French mansions which was once the centre of a far-reaching empire. Until the 1860s Champasak was the major town of southern Laos. The nearby Wat Phou World Heritage temple site is all that remains of one of Southeast Asia’s most mysterious and least understood kingdoms. After lunch, visit the site of the Wat Phou ruins, the finest example of Khmer temple ruins outside Cambodia, which have changed little since French explorers discovered them in the late 1800s. Soak up the atmosphere with your guide, then travel to Pakse and check in to your hotel, enjoying its rooftop views while reflecting on your travels in this magical country.
Today your wonderful 12 day tour of Laos and the 4,000 islands comes to an end. Possibly time for some last minute sightseeing or shopping for souvenirs before you are picked up at your hotel and driven to the airport to catch an onward flight or begin your journey back home. This great tour makes a good add on to any longer holiday in South East Asia and ensures that you see all the highlights of this fascinating and mysterious country.
Classic fr £2249pp
Rates based on twinshare
International flights not included unless otherwise stated