Visit the popular areas of Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, and Vientiane while at the same time venturing outside of the city to go on remote treks, waterfall hikes and kayaks to get a taste of the countryside of Laos and nature. Explore the cities on walking tours, learn about the history, and work returning each night to the comfort of your hotel. A great introductory Laos tour for the active traveler.
Witness the lines of monks and ancient temples in Luang Prabang
Bike the banks of the Mekong River, meet locals and explore the countryside
Kayak the Nam Song river, an excursion for more experience paddlers
Hike the Orchid Trek, a community established trail with a local botinist
After breakfast meet your guide to being exploring this historic and charming World Heritage Town. Begin exploring one of the most popular of temples – Wat Xieng Thong. This 500 year old temple is exquisite and is the best example of the classic Luang Prabang style. Close by are other astounding temples, such as Wat Mai. Continue to wander up the peninsula, stopping at temples and other sites as you wish. Enjoy lunch hosted by a local family.
After lunch visit the National Museum, which is the former Royal Palace. Overlooking the palace is Phousi Mountain. It is said that those who do not climb the 328 steps up have not really made it to the city. Venture up the hill and be rewarded with remarkable views of the area. Last stop for today is the Living Crafts Centre, a place where you can learn about textiles and meet the weavers who help keep these traditions alive.
Return to your hotel in the late afternoon to rest and freshen up before being treated to the refined grace of a private Baci (calling the soul) ceremony at a small village called Ban Khomkhuang. The welcoming villagers led by their Nai Ban (village chief) offer visitors tidings of good fortune for their life and travels by gently tying cotton cords symbolizing luck, friendship and good health around your wrists. Time permitting, stop at a local Petanque arena where locals show their skills playing a game similar to bocce. Return to your hotel for the evening
Day 3: Buddhist Alms Ceremony | Kuang Si Waterfall Hike
Rise early this morning to the sound of the monastery bells at dawn. Rise early enough and witness the lines of monks emerging to receive their morning rice from the townspeople. Respectfully wander the streets to witness this sacred ritual as long lines of barefoot monks weave through the streets on their alms rounds. We request that you observe this from a respectful distance and discourage photographs that interfere with the ritual. Afterwards, visit the lively morning market and be immersed in local lifestyle, observing locals who are doing their grocery shopping and return to your hotel for breakfast.
After breakfast meet your guide and driver for a visit to the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre, a museum dedicated to the ethnic minorities of Laos. (Note: closed on Mondays) Then drive into the peaceful countryside, stopping to explore several villages along the way. You will see a Hmong, a Khmu, and a Lowland Lao village - compare their different lifestyles, traditions, and religions.
Once you arrive to Long Lao, a community of Hmong and Lao people, you will start your trek through various landscapes until you arrive to the top of the falls. Enjoy lunch at the falls and a chance to swim in the refreshing turquoise waters. Kuang Si is said by locals to be a rejuvenating source with medicinal properties.
Also, visit the Sunbear sanctuary located next to the falls which is currently rehabilitating 23 Asiatic Black Bears saved from poaching. The main threat to their survival is poaching for the use of their bile in Chinese medicine. Read about their habits and observe these playful creatures. Return to Luang Prabang mid-afternoon and enjoy the rest of the day free to explore on your own.
Hiking Time: 3.5 hours, approximately 5.5 miles/9 km flat terrain
Today head to the other side of the Mekong River for some off-road countryside cycling and discover a rarely visited area. Here you will encounter Kings' of Laos retreat temple, local villagers and pottery makers and their truly rural Laos lifestyle. Set out to the gear station to get fitted for your bikes and receive a briefing of the trip. Cycle towards the Royal boat pier and arrive to Ban Xieng Mene. Cycle from here along the Mekong on small village paths and rocky trails toward Vat Chom Phet. Climb the stairs here and see this unique temple used as a retreat for the King from the pressures of court. Continue on to temple Wat Long Khoun with amazing inner mural paintings and a facade that shows signs of the Tai Dam during their occupation in the region.
Set out on a dirt road shared with chickens, buffalo, and motorcycles as you ride through the countryside and paddy fields towards a Khmu village. Stop and meet some of the elders if they are available and learn more about their daily environment and lifestyle if you like. Say good-bye to your new acquaintances and continue to the hidden Hoy Khoua waterfall* to enjoy a picnic lunch and take time to cool off.
Take time to relax and rest before biking back toward the Mekong. Stop in Ban Pak Loung, a Hmong village, and board a private boat for a cruise upstream to Ban Chan. This village is well known for its pottery making. Watch how the potters work the clay into a small bowl and visit their underground kilns which can bake a 100 jars at a time. Cruise back up to Luang Prabang and arrive back by mid-afternoon. Transfer back to your hotel and enjoy the rest of the day.
Cycling Distance: approximately 16 miles/27km
*Due to agricultural uses, the waterfall may be dry at periods.
After breakfast set out for a drive to Vang Vieng (approx. 6 hours). Stop in the fruit growing region of Kasi along the way for a break and to enjoy some spectacular scenery. Continue on the curving mountain roads until you arrive to Ban Pha Xang, situated along the banks of the Nam Song River and with a beautiful limestone karst backdrop. Upon arrival stop in at a local restaurant for lunch and check in to your hotel.
Next transfer north to the ethnic Khmu village of Viengsamay, where you will put-in for your afternoon adventure on the beautiful Nam Song river. Receive a safety briefing before descending onto the rapids of the Nam Song in a hard shell kayak. Spend the next 3 hours paddling your way down the river back towards Vang Vieng, enjoying the scenery along the way. You will explore Tham None (Sleeping Cave), which is one of the biggest caves in Vang Vieng. During rainy season, we will swim through the entrance of the cave! The final leg of your journey is a gentle paddle ending your adventure back in Vang Vieng. Catch the sunset and settle in for a restful evening.
Kayaking Time: 2 hours, Caving Time: 1 hour Kayaking Level:Easy-Moderate. Some exciting activities with no high physical requirements while enjoying and relaxing in nature and experiencing daily life around you.
**For those wishing to switch this activity, the following excursion is available instead: This afternoon visit the most famous countryside cave of Vang Vieng by bike. Ride along Route 13 to Tham Xang cave area, said to have magical virtues. Enjoy a snack and swim here before cycling back to Vang Vieng.
Today drive a bit outside of town and across the Nam Song river with your guide for a hike to some of the most untouched areas surrounding Vang Vieng. We begin with climbing the steep mountains which lead us to spectacular panoramic views. The hike includes trekking along a 5000 ft (1500 m) high ridge and the the dense vegetation and spectacular caves are stunning. You will have some time to explore Tham Hok Cave, which contains some of the most impressive stalactites and stalagmites to be found in Vang Vieng. Trek back down the ridge and arrive to the place known as the "Secret Eden", where you can cool off with a swim in the pool's cool waters before returning back to town for the evening.
Hiking Time: 6 hours, approximately 4.6 miles / 7.5 km, Challenging.
This morning say goodbye to Vang Vieng and drive towards the Vientiane (approx. 3 hours), the commercial and political capital of Laos. Upon arrival, enjoy lunch at the Lao kitchen before driving to your hotel for check in. Set out this afternoon on a guided tour to discover the charms of Vientiane, whose name means the "city of sandalwood". One of the quietest capitals in the world, the city is quite unlike the hustle and bustle of other Asian capitals. Start with a visit to the Wat Sisaket, the only temple left intact after the Siamese invasion in 1828. One of the most beautiful, its breezy teak covered hallways are filled with thousands of mini Buddha statues. A short journey up Lane Xang street allows you a glimpse into the changing face of the city. Amongst the more modern structures is Patouxai, the Lao Victory Monument. Also visit Wat That Luang, the most sacred structure in all of Laos, with its central lotus-bud spire and 30 surrounding stupas.
Next visit COPE, an association working to help landmine victims. This center provides information about the history of the American/Vietnam war and the lasting impact of unexploded ordinances in the area and their efforts to clear them. Follow this with a visit to That Luang, the holiest site in Laos. The shiny golden temple was built by King Setthethirat in the 16th century. Lastly visit Patuxay monument, Laos' version of the Arc de Triomphe. Join the early evening public aerobics courses held here if you like, the locals love to participate in this community activity.
Enjoy dinner at your leisure this evening. The downtown area offers many restaurants to choose from and your guide can make recommendations to you earlier in the day.
Leave Vientiane early in the morning for an hour and half drive to the starting point of the trail in Ban Nam Yarm village. The trek leads you through Phou Khao Kway national park and terrain filled with rugged mountains, waterfalls, and gorgeous sandstone cliffs in search of wild orchids. A community based tourism project, the Orchid Trek, you are led by local guides from the village of Ban Hatkhai as well as Betrand, botanical specialist living in the city. The trek offers a tool to the locals to become stakeholders in orchid preservation and raising cultural awareness, as well as helps contribute towards the village and trail maintenance.
The full day trek allows ample opportunity for wildlife spotting and a beautiful hike through breathtaking scenery. The park is home to more than 50% of all wild orchid species in Laos as well as a diverse animal population including wild elephants. Your guides help you spot many of the orchid species during your trek and you will be amazed at the vibrant colors and shapes of these elusive flowers*. Enjoy a picnic lunch near a river bank and soak in the tranquility of the area. Continue your walk toward Tad Xay waterfall which is a great place for swimming at the end of your hike. End your hike in Ban Vang Hau where you return to Vientiane late afternoon.
Enjoy a farewell dinner out at Le Silapa, one of Vientiane's most popular chic restaurants.
Hiking Time: 5 hours, approximately 7.4 miles/12km
*Please note that wild orchids are rare plants. Most bloom only one time a year and often for only a few days. Various species bloom during different months from January through June. During other months this hike is still a great choice for viewing the flora and fauna of the region. During the rainy season, a boat ride may be used to get to the starting point.
Day 9: Return Home
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight onward to connect with your international flight home. A land transfer to the Thai border and Udonthani Airport can be arranged as well for an additional cost.
Everything was amazing! The planning with Adventure Life went smoothly. The actual trip was fantastic! One of the best trips I have experienced. The cruise staff members were knowledgeable and attentive. I will be writing more about this on the blog!