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Laos and Vietnam, Mountains and Hill-tribes

A 2-week tour through the remote and spectacular mountains of northern Laos and Vietnam travelling overland from Luang Prabang to the Plain of Jars and on to Vietnam's capital Hanoi

Laos and Vietnam Overland Tour

Mountains and Hill-tribes – a fascinating and varied 2-week Northern Laos and Vietnam tour. This superb voyage through some of Southeast Asia’s most remote, least-known but spectacular regions begins in the ancient Lao capital and UNESCO World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang, Discover its well-preserved French period architecture, colourful markets, riverside cafes and fabulous ancient temple before travelling overland through the dramatic mountains, forests and myriad rice terraces of Northern Lao and Vietnam.

We’ll meet some of the kaleidoscope of traditional hill-tribe peoples who inhabit these mountains; explore the remote and enigmatic Plain of Jars – recently added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list – visit the spectacular limestone landscapes of Sam Neua including the famous ‘Hidden City‘ of Vieng Xai, hike through the unspoilt landscapes of Pu Luong National Park and explore the celebrated rice terraces of Mu Cang Chai. From here we continue to our final destination, Vietnam’s bustling, fun capital and also UNESCO-listed, Hanoi.

A wealth of varied and spectacular sites and range of superb landscapes plus of course, as is usual in Southeast Asia, plenty of friendly locals to meet and sumptuous local cuisine to sample.

A 2-day Halong extension also allows you to include the fabulous, and gain World Heritage, scenery of Vietnam’s Halong Bay while, for those with a few more days to spare we offer a comprehensive 3-week version of this Laos and Vietnam tour – ‘Unexplored – the Far North‘ – beginning in Thailand’s Chiang Mai and travelling by road and river through the Golden Triangle region and scenic yet rarely-visited northwestern Laos before arriving in Luang Prabang.

Also note, again for those with a bit more time to spare and looking for a few days quality ‘R and R’ time, we propose beach and island extensions to either Mui Ne or Phu Quoc either of which can be easily reached by domestic flight from Hanoi Airport.

Laos

Itinerary

Here's an idea of what you can expect to do and see day-to-day.

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Day 1 - Luang Prabang - arrival and walking tour

Arrival in Luang Prabang and check-in to a charming hotel situated in a converted French period villa with an afternoon walking tour of the town’s fabulous temples, lanes and colonial architecture with a chance to check out one of the enticing riverside cafes before a local-style welcome dinner.

Overnight: Luang Prabang Transport: Walk,  Meals: D, 

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Day 2 - Luang Prabang - into the surrounding hills

Journey into the picturesque surrounding hills to visit the spectacular Kuang Si Waterfalls and excellent Free the Bears Rescue Centre plus halts en-route to discover the fascinating and still very traditional village life of some of the area’s inhabitants.

Overnight: Luang Prabang Transport: Minibus, Walk,  Meals: B, 

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Day 3 - Central Highlands - overland to Phonsavan

Departure across scenic mountains to Phonsavan in Xieng Khouang Province – location of the enigmatic Plain of Jars. Stops on the way include Khmu and Hmong villages as well as a visit to a hidden cave temple that served as an army hospital during the Indochina war. Arrival in Phonsavan and atmospheric dusk visit to one of the famous jar sites followed by the Mines Action Group to learn about the work they do in clearing the area’s unexploded bombs.

Overnight: Phonsavan Transport: Minibus,  Meals: B, L, 

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Day 4 - Plain of Jars - day tour and the ruins of Muang Khuon

Morning visit to hill-top Jar Site 2 followed by a short hike to the picturesque forest setting of Site 3, consisting of over around 150 of the giant carved jars. Afternoon visit to the evocative ruins of the nearby ancient city of Xieng Khouang, now known as Muang Khoun.

Overnight: Phonsavan Transport: Minibus, Walk,  Meals: B, L, 

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Day 5 - On the road - heading northeast to Sam Neua

Departure for the remote town of Sam Neua in the far northeast of Laos. Stops en-route include Hmong and Khmu settlements, a Tai Phong weaving village, plus photo stops for the breathtaking scenery. We’ll also visit the mysterious Hintang Menhirs, Laos’s very own ‘mini-Stonehenge’.

Overnight: Sam Neua Transport: Minibus,  Meals: B, L, D, 

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Day 6 - Sam Neua - the 'Hidden City' and karst scenery

Our short tour of Sam Neua Town includes a walk along the river to the local market, before setting off to Vieng Xai. This extensive cave system, where the Pathet Lao leaders lived during the Indochina War, has become known as the ‘Hidden City’. In the afternoon a leisurely hike brings us to some of the lesser-visited cave sites plus an opportunity to view more of the area’s beautiful, limestone karst scenery.

Overnight: Sam Neua Transport: Minibus, Walk,  Meals: B, L, D, 

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Day 7 - Pu Luong - into Vietnam

Morning drive through more spectacular countryside and past traditional Black Tai villages to the nearby border crossing at Nam Meo and into the stunning scenery of Vietnam’s Pu Luong National Park. In the afternoon we’ll check-in to our accommodation at a charming and well-appointed eco-resort and stretch our legs with a short orientation hike of the area.

Overnight: Pu Luong eco-lodge Transport: Minibus, Walk,  Meals: B, D, 

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Day 8 - Pu Luong National Park - hiking and rafting

Our day’s exploration of this unspoilt region includes hikes through some of the varying ecosystems of the park; rice terraces, bamboo groves and forest trails as well as a visit to one of the local villages of the Tai hill-tribe minority. Bamboo rafting – water levels permitting – is also included.

Overnight: Pu Luong eco-lodge Transport: Boat, Walk,  Meals: B, L, 

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Day 9 - Moc Chau - hiking trails and Hmong cookery

Departure from Pu Luong towards the small town of Moc Chau, set upon a 1,000-metre plateau, famous for tea plantations and inhabited mainly by people of the Hmong ethnic group. Afternoon activities include a hike along the pine tree trail or joining in a Hmong cooking workshop. Overnight in traditional-style chalets at a friendly homestay in tiny Hua Tat village.

Overnight: Hua Tat Transport: Walk,  Meals: B, D, 

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Day 10 - Mu Cang Chai

Head north to picturesque Mu Cang Chai district – a rugged, mountainous and sparsely inhabited region of northern Vietnam where most of the local people you will see are from either the various Tai or Hmong minorities. We’ll spend the afternoon exploring the area’s spectacular and world-famous rice terraces before continuing over the Khau Pha Pass to Tu Le for a stay at the superb Le Champ Resort.

Overnight: Tu Le Transport: Minibus, Walk,  Meals: B, L, D, 

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Day 11 - Tu Le - traditional villages and hot springs

Tu Le; another highly picturesque region, inhabited by a kaleidoscope of Black Tai, Muong, Dzao and Hmong groups. We’ll spend the morning discovering the stunning scenery and traditional villages with an afternoon at leisure to perhaps roam the area by bicycle or sit back and enjoy the resort’s very own natural hot spring baths and mountain vista infinity pool!

Overnight: Tu Le Transport: Bike, Walk,  Meals: B, 

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Day 12 - Through the mountains to Hanoi

Time perhaps for a last dip before heading off mid-morning, southeast through the mountains, to Vietnam’s capital Hanoi where we’ll stay in a comfortable hotel in the bustling but fun Old Town district. Evening farewell dinner.

Overnight: Hanoi Transport: Minibus, Walk,  Meals: B, L, D, 

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Day 13 - Hanoi

Morning at leisure and departure at your convenience. Airport transfers are included if you purchase the ‘with flights’ package. If you purchased your own flights, airport transfers can be arranged on request.

For those with a couple more days to spare an extension to Halong Bay, staying overnight on a traditional style junk is available.

Extra nights in Luang Prabang and Hanoi, before or after your tour are available on request.

Overnight: Departure Transport: Walk,  Meals: B, 

Print Itinerary

Details

The nitty-gritty, the things you need to know, the answers to your burning questions.

Vietnam, Bai Tu Long Bay sunset

Just a few of the many highlights

Rugged mountain scenery, remote valleys inhabited by myriad hill-tribe people, spectacular rice terraces and traditional villages on this fantastic trip through the mountains of Indochina

  • Explore the ancient temples, colonial architecture, narrow lanes and bustling markets of World Heritage Luang Prabang
  • Visit the picturesque and enigmatic 'Plain of Jars' archeological site in northeastern Laos
  • Explore Hanoi; its historic old town, Hoan Kiem Lake, museums, markets, cafes and fascinating street-life
  • Hike through the magnificent karst landscapes of Pu Luong and the myriad spectacular rice terraces of Mu Cang Chai
  • Journey through some of Southeast Asia's most dramatic mountain scenery in northern Vietnam's Tonkinese Alps
  • Discover the delicious and contrasting cuisines of Laos and Vietnam in restaurants, local cafes, street markets

Air Departures (UK)

  • 24 December 20 2,970 GBP
  • 26 January 21 2,730 GBP
  • 23 February 21 2,730 GBP
  • 22 March 21 2,690 GBP
  • 17 April 21 2,690 GBP
  • 17 May 21 2,690 GBP
  • 19 June 21 2,690 GBP
  • 19 July 21 2,790 GBP
  • 17 August 21 2,690 GBP
  • 18 September 21 2,690 GBP
  • 18 October 21 2,690 GBP
  • 14 November 21 2,730 GBP
  • 20 December 21 2,970 GBP

Land Departures

  • 25 December 20 1,970 GBP
  • 27 January 21 1,930 GBP
  • 24 February 21 1,930 GBP
  • 23 March 21 1,890 GBP
  • 18 April 21 1,890 GBP
  • 18 May 21 1,890 GBP
  • 20 June 21 1,890 GBP
  • 20 July 21 1,890 GBP
  • 18 August 21 1,890 GBP
  • 19 September 21 1,890 GBP
  • 19 October 21 1,890 GBP
  • 15 November 21 1,930 GBP
  • 21 December 21 1,970 GBP

Guaranteed Places Left Special Price Solo Traveller Closed

*Air departures are from the UK. Land departures start from Luang Prabang

*Land departure dates correspond to the FIRST day of the itinerary.

We choose our hotels based on a combination of location, comfort and convenience. Here is a *selection of the types of hotel/rooms you can expect to stay at on this tour...

Pu Luong Eco Garden view

  • Stunning setting on the edge of Pu Luong National Park
  • Chalet-style rooms, garden setting and stream-fed pool
  • Genuine eco credentials, not just a PR gimmick!

Villa Chitdara Luang Prabang view

  • 'French colonial' chic at Luang Prabang's Villa Chitdara
  • Friendly staff, a relaxed atmosphere and central location
  • Great spot for exploring the old World Heritage town

Pu Luong Eco Garden view

  • Well-appointed and beautifully-located eco lodge
  • Delightful garden setting and stream fed infinity pool
  • Convenient setting on the edge of Pu Luong National Park

Sunny Mountain Hotel Sapa view

  • Our choice in the old French hill-station of Sapa
  • Hmong chic at our favourite Sapa hotel, the Sunny Mountain.
  • Friendly staff, comfy rooms, great views make a fine spot

MK Premier Boutique Hotel Hanoi view

  • Located right in the heart of Hanoi's picturesque old town
  • Great staff, coffee shop, rooftop bar and cracking breakfast
  • Handy for exploring or just relax in their street-side cafe

*This list should be considered a guide only, hotels/rooms may change (without notice) depending on availability.

Visa Info & Notes

Visas: 
Laos: 30-day tourist visas are issued at the visa on arrival counters at international airports as well as any land entry point. These are available for most nationalities with the exception of certain African and Middle Eastern countries. (You can check the list at this link.) For some reason, Swiss, Luxembourgeois and Russian passport holders are exempt from visas while any nationalities not included in the visa on arrival list will need to apply at a Lao embassy or consulate beforehand.

Requirements are at least 6 months passport validity, a minimum of 1 blank page and 2 passport-sized photos. Application forms are available at immigration counters though if arriving by flight they are usually handed out by cabin crew while for land crossings our guides are on hand with forms and assistance.

The fees are only payable in $US except for Thai/Lao land crossings where baht are accepted and this is where things do get slightly complicated as pricing does vary from country to country. Most European passport holders plus South African, Australian and NZ are charged $30 with the exception of Swedish who pay $1 more and British who pay an extra $5.  US citizens are also charged $35 while, for reasons we can’t fathom, Canadians pay $41. (Note a $1 overtime fee is charged for public holidays and outside of standard Lao office hours.)

A Lao tourist visa is a 1-page stick on type and you’ll receive additional, regular-sized,  entry and exit stamps.

Vietnam: Visas are no longer required for citizens of some countries including France, Spain, Italy, Germany and the UK for single-entry visits of up to 15 days. For longer visits, and for visitors from some countries, a visa MUST be obtained in advance from your embassy. Your entry point is Na Meo, Thanh Hoa Province. You are arriving by road on day 7. Your point of exit will be Hanoi Airport. The address during your visit is c/o Golden Tortoise Travel, Hoang Hoa Tham St, Allee 465, no 13, Hanoi.

VISA INFORMATION FOR UK & US CITIZENS ONLY – ALL other nationalities will need to consult the relevant embassies in their countries. Any visa/immigration costs are not included in the price of the tours – you will need to pay for these in addition, as indicated.

Tipping: we recommend a kitty system for the smaller, daily tips such as hotel/restaurant staff and local guides and drivers. Amounts inevitably vary with group size but would generally be in the region of $3-4 per person, per day. With regards guides accompanying you for longer periods we’d recommend a separate tip of approximately $5 per person, per day though of course, this is always discretionary and performance-related. (Local currency or USD are fine.) 

Meals: Breakfasts are generally hotel buffets with lunch and dinners based on local food. Your tour-leader will usually order a selection of dishes, local-style, while a number of meals are not included, which allows you to ‘do your own thing’ or take a break if you’re feeling ‘riced out’.

Although you may assume Lao cuisine is little-known outside of Laos the fact that it’s hugely popular in neighbouring Thailand is a good reference and indeed many well-known Thai dishes such as the famous green papaya salad (som tam) and spicy minced pork salad (laap) are of Lao origin. Certain dishes can be pretty firey – though your tour-leader can, of course, ask for them to be toned down – while the more Chinese and Vietnamese influenced dishes, which will be more familiar to foreign travellers, being generally mild.

Both vegan and vegetarian diets are easily catered to.

Accommodation: while all choices generally fall into the comfortable 3* range – en-suite and air-conditioned – certain of these destinations are seriously off the beaten track so please don’t expect anything too fancy! We have posted a selection of sample accommodation on the lefthand hotel tab but please note that as we try and avoid the larger hotels, availability, in high season particularly, means we use several options in each destination. Please note that since many establishments are on the small size, swimming pools are not a common feature.

Activities: note that no activities are compulsory and that all, including trekking, can be tailored for any fitness level or alternatives suggested.

Further info: more details and photos of our ‘Mountains and Hill-tribes‘ tour or check our Lao reading and viewing list here.

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