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Travel the length and breadth of the least-visited but most charming country in South East Asia. Cruise on slowboats along the Mekong River, trek past rice paddies and dip in turquoise waterfalls.
Explore Tour Leader
2 nights comfortable bungalow
6 nights simple hotel
7 nights comfortable hotel
Trip maximum 16 Explore Average 11
Itineraries on some departure dates may differ, please select the itinerary that you wish to explore.
Located on the banks of the Mekong River, the Laos capital is a relaxed place that has a feel more similar to a provincial town than a capital city. Weathered French Colonial mansions give way to golden temples, and the languid pace of life here makes it an ideal place to explore by bicycle.
For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 6pm for the welcome meeting and for those that wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Vientiane at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Watty International Airport (VTE) which is 15 minutes from our hotel. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information by note left at the front desk.
If your flight arrives earlier in the day, you may choose to visit the COPE museum, a not-for-profit organisation set up to provide prosthetic limbs to the many victims that have fallen victim to the unexploded ordinance (UXO) left behind from the Vietnam war. The museum does an excellent job of giving some of the background to the bombing campaign, along with showcasing the important work the COPE foundation is doing. Most report it to be a sobering, emotive but rewarding experience that enhances one's understanding of this fascinating country.
New Rose Boutique Hotel (or similar)
This morning we explore some of the main sights including the Victory Gate, the That Luang stupa (said to contain a bone of Buddha) and Wat Sisaket which is packed with fine Buddha images. This afternoon we head out to Buddha Park, a curious green expanse just 30 minutes from the city that houses a beguiling selection of Buddhist and Hindu statues.
We make our way to the airport this morning, leaving the Lao capital behind on our short flight to Phonsavan. This region saw heavy and sustained aerial bombardment during the so-called 'Secret War', a campaign that left Laos as the highest bombed nation, per capita in the world.
After lunch we head out to the old capital, Muang Khong, passing mainly Hmong and Black Thai villages on the way. Lots of military paraphernalia cluster the villages such as old mine casings and bomb shells which have been turned into flower pots or cattle troughs. Xieng Khouang town was rebuilt in 1975, but we can still see the remains of temples, stupas and French colonial buildings.
Anoulack Khen Lao Hotel (or similar)
Today we will explore the 3 sites that make up the Plain Of Jars. Nobody knows how long the jars have actually been here or what they were used for; some speculate they are funeral urns dating back some 2000 years. Another theory says that they were probably made to contain and transport 'Lao Lao', a glutinous wet rice which is boiled with yeast and left to ferment in large jars. It is believed that they were prepared for a huge celebration, which, for some reason was disrupted whilst the jars were being transported, as other jars in smaller quantities can be found on two other sites close by. Despite being one of the most strategic battlegrounds of the Indochina War, most jars were unharmed and remain a complete mystery even today.
We spend time discovering the plain of undulating green fields where the 300 giant stones jars are scattered, the largest of them weighing six tons and measuring four metres high. Later in the afternoon we transfer back to Phonsavan, where the rest of the afternoon at leisure.
Today is set aside for the long drive west to Luang Prabang. We make our way along winding mountainous roads reaching an altitude of 1500 m at the highest point. We aim to break up the journey with short stops along the way at local villages. The total journey time will be approximately seven hours, depending on local conditions.
Davita Boutique Hotel (or similar)
All the main sights of interest are close together, so this morning we walk around the various wats including Wat Xieng Thong (the Golden Temple built in 1559) which is strikingly decorated in brilliant red and gold designs, with an imposing tiled roof and mosaic dragon motifs. We also include Wat Visoun site of the impressive Thad Makmo Stupa. The afternoon is free and you may like to climb to the small temple on top of Mount Phousi and enjoy the sunset and fine views over the town.
This morning we include a trip to the nearby beautiful Kuang Si waterfalls. This afternoon is left free to explore the local area - perhaps by tuk tuk to the nearby blacksmiths village of Ban Hat Hien or the papermaking village of San Khong. Alternatively the craft shops, lively market and eclectic bars and restaurants of Luang Prabang itself are more than enough to occupy those wishing to spend more time in this most popular of Lao destinations. A coffee in a riverside bar watching the world go by can be the ideal way to spend an afternoon.
Today we set off by road for the scenic town of Nong Khiaw. The condition of the roads in this part of the country is very much dependent on the weather and we should be prepared for some landslides and delays. The scenery however is spectacular - it's mostly forested with 'slash and burn' cultivation very much in evidence, along with the many hill tribe villages along the way. Slash and burn usually takes place in April and May, when rural fires can be witnessed and smoke can fill the air often drifting into nearby towns and creating a hazy sky. We plan to arrive in Nong Khiaw in the early afternoon where the rest of the day is free to spend at leisure in this sleepy river-side town.
Pha Xang Resort (or similar)
Nong Khiaw is a small settlement located upon the banks of the gentle Nam Ou River, overshowed on all sides by towering limestone karts and lush forested hills. This morning we take a longboat upriver to the remote village of Muang Ngoi Neu, where this we will be able to chat to the locals and learn a little about the traditional way of life in this rural part of Laos. We plan to have lunch beside a waterfall, where it's possible to take a refreshing dip in the natural pools there. After lunch we will take to the river again, but this time on kayaks as we paddle downstream back to Nong Khiaw. The total time kayaking will be approximately two hours, and those not wishing to kayak can return to Nong Khiaw by longboat.
This morning we board boats for our journey further down the Nam Ou River - south towards Luang Prabang. The river journey is stunning, passing many villages and forests, with the back drop of large rolling mountains. We must leave the boat at Dong Ngern in order to avoid the Nam Ou River dam, from here we continue by road to Luang Prabang. On arrival we board longtail boats on the Mekong River to visit the Pak Ou Caves, where we climb steps up the limestone cliffs to reach the sacred Buddhist shrine. Although now abandoned by the monks, there is an altar for incense burning, flower offerings and numerous rock shelves crammed with thousands of Buddha images of all shapes and sizes.
On arrival back in Luang Prabang we make our way to the train station to board the newly constructed Boten-Vientiane Railway for the short two hour journey to Vientiane. Opened in December 2021, this ambitious collaboration between Laos and China connects the Chinese Railway system at the northern border with the Thai Railway system across the Friendship Bridge in the South. The railway now connects a series of rural villages in Laos and will be a huge booster to trade, in a country that has a poorly connected road network through mountainous terrain. Using a fleet of modern trains that travel at speeds of up to 160 km/h, they have also opened up traveller networks in Laos and made previously challenging journeys much more comfortable.
Today we fly south to Pakse and then take a charter boat down the Mekong onto Champassak district and Don Daeng Island, where we aim to explore typical village life in this sleepy corner of Laos. This peaceful island is located inside the Champassak Cultural and Natural Heritage Landscape, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We then rejoin the mainland at Ban Muang where we change our transport to a charter bus to drive further south to Don Khong making a stop along the route at Oupmoung Temple.
Pons River Guesthouse (or similar)
Don Khong is the largest island in the Khong district which is known as the 'Four Thousand Islands' of Southern Laos. It is here, almost on the Cambodian border that the Mekong splits to create a maze of channels and also where the great river reaches its widest point. Exploring by boat and on foot through the watery landscape, we visit some traditional villages of the Lao Loum to witness the daily life of these people. We will also visit parts of the Old French Railway, built at the turn of the century to avoid the treacherous rapids caused by the many channels. Our explorations will include visiting Don Khon Island where we take small boats out onto the mighty Mekong. Later in the afternoon we head back to the mainland to visit a part of the Khong Phapheng Waterfalls which is supposedly the widest in South East Asia.
This morning we head north again, skirting the western edge of the Bolaven plateau. On the way we stop to visit Wat Phou temple, an impressive Khmer temple dating back to the 6th century and considered to be one of the archaeological wonders of Laos. Originally built at the base of a sacred mountain - a symbol of Shiva to Hindus - Wat Phu became a Buddhist shrine in later centuries. Every February pilgrims from all over Thailand and Laos travel here in their thousands to celebrate the full moon festival and participate in various local competitions. At this time Wat Phu becomes decorated by offerings left to appease the earth spirit of Champassak. From here we continue our journey east into the heart of the Bolaven Plateau. Here the soil is very fertile and so cultivation of Arabica & Robusta coffee and tea is the most important trade, which is complimented by small scale agriculture of fruit, vegetables, cardamom and rattan.
We plan to arrive at the hotel in the late afternoon, with some free time to relax or swim in the natural pools by the waterfall.
Sabaidee Valley (or similar)
We set off this morning for an easy walk through the lush forests and coffee plantations that the area is known for. As we walk we hope to get a glimspe of the coffee farmers at work and learn about the cultivation process used here. We'll pass a number of limestone formations before stopping for a picnic lunch with scenic views over the Bolaven plateau. We end our walk at the towering Tad Fane Waterfalls. With a drop of 120 metres, the twin falls of Tad Fane are the highest and Laos, and easily the most impressive. The total walking time today is around three hours and is graded as easy.
This evening we plan to visit a local homestay in a nearby village for our final group meal.
We leave Laos behind this morning, driving first to Pakse before catching a flight into Thailand's capital, Bangkok. The afternoon has been left free for exploring this frenetic city, or perhaps for some last minute shopping for souvenirs at one of the city's many markets.
W22 Hotel (or similar)
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Bangkok.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Bangkok at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK), which is 45 minutes from our hotel.
The area of Laos and Thailand is tropical 'cool' from November to February, (15 to 27 Degrees Centigrade); 'hot' from March to May (up to 38 Degrees); 'wet' from June to October (rainy, hot and muggy). Bangkok and lowland areas are sticky all year round, but the northern highlands (Luang Prabang) are more temperate with a drier heat. The so-called 'cool' season can get very cold in the uplands at night and in the morning, bring a fleece.
2 Pin Flat
Generally hot with high humidity. There is some rainfall from April to September with most days being hot (around 33 Degrees) and a light breeze on the islands. If it does rain, it will be more of a heavy tropical downpour that lasts a few hours. Additional information and climate charts can be accessed at http://www.explore.co.uk/weather.
2 Pin Round
Luang Prabang - Half day city tour (including the Royal Palace Museum and arts and Ethnology Centre) US$ 43
Lightweight rainwear is advisable all year. Bring a fleece to wear in the highlands as well as a hat and gloves in winter (Dec-Feb).
Walking shoes, trainers & sandals.
Should consist of a main piece of baggage and a daypack (suitcases are not recommended).
Bring a torch, insect repellent, a waterbottle, sun glasses, sun hat and high factor sun cream.
Bus, Boat, Flight
On this trip you will stay in a variety of accommodation from city guesthouses to country bungalows and rural resorts. We have graded 2 properties as 'simple', our guesthouses in Vientiane and Luang Prabang. This is not so much due to the lack of facilities, but more a reflection of accommodation standards in Laos that are not on the same level as other Southeast Asian countries. Both hotels offer twin-share accommodation with en-suite bathrooms and air-conditioning, but the service levels are not up to western standards and rooms are fairly basic. Breakfast options can also be limited. Both hotels are well-located however, and serve as great bases to explore their respective cities on foot.
Can you drink the water?
The water quality is poor and therefore it is recommended to avoid drinking tap water during your trip.
We strongly recommend that you check your government's travel advisory for up-to-date information and advice about your destination: safety and security, entry requirements, health, local laws and customs. For UK citizens, check the latest Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office advice.
Please refer to our COVID-19 entry requirements page for any country-specific conditions of entry. Whilst we strive to update this on a regular basis we recommend you also check the FCDO website for the latest advice on entry requirements in this fast-evolving situation. Information can change at any time.
Please note that some countries require proof of parental consent when travelling overseas with under 18s. Please check requirements with the relevant embassy or consular office well in advance of travel if this applies to your party.
Once your booking has been confirmed we guarantee the price will not increase, whatever the circumstances. However, please note that if you voluntarily make any changes to your booking including changing your trip or departure date, any additional costs or charges incurred will not be covered. Before booking please ensure you have read our important tour pricing information.Booking Conditions
Thailand: Visas are not required by UK, Australian, New Zealand, US and Canadian citizens for a stay of less than 30 days. All passports must have at least 6 months validity remaining on entry to Thailand. Other nationalities should consult their local embassy or consular office. Laos: A single visa is required by UK, New Zealand, Australian, US & Canadian citizens and can be obtained on arrival. The visa on arrival costs 30USD for New Zealand and Australian citizens, 35USD for UK & US citizens and 42USD for Canadian citizens. For other nationalities the price varies between US$30-42. One passport sized photo is required to arrange this.
If you do require assistance in obtaining a visa then you may be able to apply through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. See www.travcour.com to download the relevant visa application for your trip, if applicable (UK citizens only), along with details of how to apply for your visa through Travcour. The Team at Travcour will be happy to answer specific questions relating to visa applications, please call them directly on 0208 5431846.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of a full passport, with the correct validity for your chosen destination.
Before booking your Explore trip, please ensure that you read both our Essential Information and Booking Conditions.
Customers who have chosen to book on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements of our tour, please ensure that you have checked your tour specific ‘Joining Instructions’ prior to booking your own travel arrangements. Your joining instructions can be found below in the dates and prices information.
You may also be eligible for the Free Explore Transfer.
Customers booked on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements will receive a Free Transfer, provided you arrive and depart on the tour only itinerary start and end dates. The complimentary transfers will be arranged from the Explore designated airport or train station to your trips joining point, and then back from the ending point to the designated airport or train station. Generally the airport or station that Explore have selected will be the one that is closest to the town or city where the trip starts, or the one nearest to the joining point. It will be either an airport or train station but not both.
The exception to this rule is customers who are booked on a tour where the joining and ending point is at the designated airport or train station.
Free transfers are not available for Polar customers.
If you are not eligible for the Free Transfer then you will need to make your own way through to the joining and ending point. On a majority of our tours Explore will be able to provide a private transfer at an additional cost. Please ask for a quote at the time of booking.
For more information regarding the Explore Free Transfer click here
It is a condition of booking with Explore that you have adequate valid travel insurance. It is your responsibility to arrange appropriate travel insurance and ensure you have read and understood the full terms and conditions of your travel insurance policy to ensure that you are covered for all activities you intend to undertake whilst on the tour, including all optional activities. Your Insurance Policy must fully cover you for medical expenses and emergency repatriation to your home country. Please ensure your policy includes medical emergency helicopter evacuation in the event of illness or injury and covers the entire duration of your holiday. If you are trekking at altitude please ensure that there is no upper altitude limit which may limit or exclude cover for your trip. The cost of many of our Polar Voyages will exceed the capped amount covered by standard insurance premiums and you will be required to pay an additional premium to cover the full value of your trip. Please ensure that you are covered for the full amount of your holiday cost, as insufficient cover could invalidate a claim under the policy. Medical and repatriation insurance cover is not mandatory for UK residents who are travelling on trips within the United Kingdom.
Read more information about what travel insurance is required.
Explore offers a wide range of flexible flying options to make joining and leaving our trips easy. Read more about them here.
You are able to book this tour on a 'land only' basis or as a ‘flight inclusive’ package. Your flight inclusive package will be fully protected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) ATOL protection scheme.
We have a good selection of flights not only from London but from many regional airports around the UK allowing us to compare fares between scheduled carriers as well as low cost and charter airlines. Our dedicated flights team will match the best flight options to your arrival and departure airport.
On our website we display a UK flight inclusive package guide price which is generally based on a London departure. To avoid paying supplements or to secure your preferred flight option, we recommend booking as early as possible, especially for peak travel dates.
Nothing compulsory, but we recommend protection against malaria, typhoid, tetanus, diphtheria, polio and hepatitis A. Consult your travel clinic for latest advice on different prophylaxis available against malaria. Although not compulsory, travellers may wish to immunise themselves against Japanese encephalitis. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.
Nothing compulsory, we recommend protection against malaria, typhoid, tetanus, diphtheria, polio and infectious hepatitis. Although not compulsory, travellers may also wish to immunise themselves against Japanese encephalitis. Consult your travel clinic for latest advice on Dengue, Malaria and Zika Virus. Please take preventative measures to avoid mosquito bites - these include mosquito repellent as well as long trousers and long sleeve shirts to cover up when necessary. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.