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Northern Laos and the Golden Triangle

Overland from Thailand's Chiang Mai through the remote mountains of the infamous Golden Triangle to UNESCO World Heritage Luang Prabang

2-week Thailand and Laos Tour

Our 2-week Thailand and Laos tour, Northern Laos & the Golden Triangle, makes for a superb introduction to the spectacular scenery, traditional cultures and history of this truly fascinating, yet still relatively little known, region.

We’ll begin the tour in Thailand’s northern capital – the delightful and historic city of Chiang Mai – before heading north through spectacular mountain scenery to Chiang Rai and the infamous Golden Triangle. Until recently, a remote lawless area of opium trafficking and warlords, today we can discover its bucolic scenery, ancient cities, fabulous temples, vibrant markets and tranquil riverside towns.

From here, we’ll cross the Mekong into northern Laos. Travelling by road and by boat through rugged mountain landscapes populated by myriad hill-tribe groups, we’ll arrive at the stunning ancient capital, and now UNESCO World Heritage Site, of Luang Prabang. Time to explore the beautiful temples, colonial architecture and surrounding villages of what is acknowledged to be the best preserved town in Southeast Asia, with of course ample opportunity to relax in riverside cafes and check-out the town’s unique cuisine.

From Luang Prabang, a scenic drive through the dramatic central highlands takes us to the fascinating and mysterious Plain of Jars. Our last stop is the laid back, present-day capital, Vientiane with its scenic Mekong side location.

For those with more time, there’s the option of continuing south from Vientiane into the surreal limestone landscapes of Khammouane Province on our Mekong Adventure while a variety of extensions and/or extra nights can be arranged in Chiang Mai prior to your tour.

Laos

Itinerary

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

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Day 1 - Chiang Mai - arrival and time to explore

Arrival in Chiang Mai, the cultural and historic capital of Northern Thailand. Free time to explore this charming, friendly city or just recover from jet-lag by the pool, before an evening walking tour of the town’s famous night bazaar.

Airport transfers are included if you purchase the 'with flights' package.

Overnight: Chiang Mai Transport: Walk,  Meals: D, 

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Day 2 - Chiang Rai - travel north through the mountains

Morning departure for a scenic drive through the mountains to neighbouring Chiang Rai, formerly the main commercial centre for the infamous Golden Triangle region – so-called because of its previous notoriety for warlords and opium cultivation. Stops on the way include some hot springs as well as the spectacular ‘White Temple’.

Overnight: Chiang Rai Transport: Minibus,  Meals: B, L, D, 

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Day 3 - Chiang Rai - Golden Triangle tour

Day tour of some of the sites of this northern region. From the magnificent mountain-top botanical gardens of Mae Fah Luang, travel to Sob Ruak where Burma, Laos and Thailand meet, and visit the unusual Opium Museum, before following the Mekong River via the historic ruined city of Chiang Saen to our day’s destination, the scenic riverside town of Chiang Khong.

Overnight: Chiang Khong Transport: Minibus, Walk,  Meals: B, L, D, 

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Day 4 - Luang Nam Tha - cross the Mekong to Laos

Time to cross the Mekong into Laos where we’ll begin with a drive through mountains and jungle to the remote town of Luang Nam Tha near the Chinese border. Stops on the way to visit the scenic, and only recently discovered, Kao Rao limestone cave system, as well as some of the area’s traditional minority villages. Accommodation at a beautifully situated eco-lodge on the banks of the Tha River.

Overnight: Luang Nam Tha Transport: Minibus,  Meals: B, L, D, 

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Day 5 - Nam Ha National Park - day trek

Day trip into the surrounding Nam Ha National Protected Area to hike through some of the spectacular scenery. Visit some of the local hill-tribe villages to discover the traditional way of life of the area’s ethnic Akha people. Guides will show you some of the various forest plants used by the hill-tribe peoples as medicine or food, as well as cooking you a traditional Akha jungle lunch.

Maximum hiking 5-6 hours, but hikes can be tailored to suit all abilities

Overnight: Luang Nam Tha Transport: Walk,  Meals: B, L, 

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Day 6 - Nong Khiaw - scenic mountain drive

Continue across the mountains of Oudom Xai Province to the picturesque village of Nong Khiaw on the banks of the Ou River. Stopping to visit a Hmong village and hill-tribe market on the way, and staying overnight in traditional Lao style wooden chalets set spectacularly on the banks overlooking the river.

Overnight: Nong Khiaw Transport: Minibus,  Meals: B, L, D, 

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Day 7 - Nong Khiaw - boat trip up the Ou

Boat trip up the scenic Nam Ou. The section north of Nong Khiaw is the most spectacular stretch of the river, winding through dramatic limestone escarpments. We’ll stop at a Khmu/Hmong village only accessible by boat.. Return to Nong Khiaw in the afternoon with some time to relax in this superb mountain setting. Discover the area on foot or bicycle, or just sit back on your balcony and admire the mountains and river below.

Overnight: Nong Khiaw Transport: Boat, Walk,  Meals: B, L, 

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Day 8 - Luang Prabang - Pak Ou Caves and on to Luang Prabang

Morning drive south through the Ou River Valley, to the famous cave temples near Pak Ou. Lunch in a riverside café, followed by a visit to a local village, with an afternoon boat journey down the Mekong to the ancient Lao capital of Luang Prabang.

Overnight: Luang Prabang Transport: Minibus, Boat,  Meals: B, L, D, 

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Day 9 - Luang Prabang - morning walking tour and afternoon at leisure

Nestled in the mountains, long isolated from the outside world, discover World Heritage Luang Prabang’s fabulous temples, French colonial architecture and taste Lao delicacies (and the famous Lao beer!) in riverside cafes. A walking tour includes the old king’s palace, Wat Xiengthong, Phu Si Hill Temple and the Fine Arts School. An afternoon at leisure allows you to wander the quiet, picturesque lanes or check out the hill-tribe market?

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

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Day 10 - Luang Prabang - into the surrounding countryside

Day trip through the surrounding scenic hills where we’ll visit the spectacular Kuang Si Falls and adjacent Free the Bears project. Stops on the way offer the opportunity to discover the fascinating traditional village life of some of the local villagers as well as take in the bucolic landscapes.

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

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Day 11 - Central Highlands - overland to Phonsavan

Early departure for a drive along scenic mountain roads to Phonsavan in remote Xieng Khouang Province – location of the famous and mysterious Plain of Jars. Stops include Khmu and Hmong villages and a hidden cave temple that served as an army hospital during the Vietnam War. Late afternoon arrival in Phonsavan with an atmospheric dusk visit to one of the famous jar sites.

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

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Day 12 - Plain of Jars - morning tour and transfer to Vientiane

After a visit the Mines Advisory Group to learn about the work they do in clearing landmines and unexploded ordnance in the area, we will drive out to the picturesque Jar Site 2, where we’ll begin a short our trek along the ridge to the impressive hill-top Jar Site 3. Afternoon flight to the Lao capital of Vientiane with time perhaps to stretch our legs with a stroll along the Mekong waterfront for sundowners in a riverbank cafe?

Overnight: Vientiane Transport: Plane, Walk,  Meals: B, L, D, 

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Day 13 - Vientiane - in and around the capital

Our tour of some of the city’s sites includes picturesque Si Saket Temple with its 1,000 Buddhas, the colourful morning market, Vientiane’s famous That Luang Stupa, plus the highly unusual Buddha Park. Less cheerful, but we feel important and very informative, is a stop at the COPE Visitors Centre, established to highlight a problem the local people face daily in the form of unexploded war ordnance.

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

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Day 14 - Vientiane - morning at leisure and departure

Morning at leisure in Vientiane and departure at your convenience.

Extra nights in Vientiane after your tour or in Chiang Mai beforehand are available on request.

Airport transfers are included if you purchase the 'with flights' package. If you purchased your own flights, airport transfers can be arranged.

Overnight: Departure Transport: Walk,  Meals: B, 

Print Itinerary

Details

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

Thailand and Laos tour, Mekong rainbow

Just a few of the many highlights

Through the glorious mountain landscapes of Thailand's once infamous Golden Triangle Region to the beautifully preserved UNESCO site and ancient Lao capital of Luang Prabang

  • Discover the ancient temples, bustling markets and quiet lanes of Thailand's charming northern capital and historic town Chiang Mai
  • Our Luang Nam Tha stay includes accommodation at the excellent Boat Landing eco-lodge and a trek into the Nam Ha National Park
  • A 2-night stay in picturesque northern Laos' Nong Khiaw village on the banks of the Ou River
  • A tour of the infamous Golden Triangle region - border markets, scenic landscapes, ancient cities and of course the famous opium museum
  • Explore the ancient temples, colonial architecture, narrow lanes and bustling markets of UNESCO World Heritage Luang Prabang
  • And last but not least sample the reknowned Lao & Thai cuisines in restaurants, street stalls and markets

Air Departures (UK)

  • 14 December 18 2,950 GBP
  • 8 January 19 2,750 GBP
  • 4 February 19 2,750 GBP
  • 3 March 19 2,750 GBP
  • 30 March 19 2,750 GBP
  • 26 April 19 2,750 GBP
  • 23 May 19 2,750 GBP
  • 19 June 19 2,750 GBP
  • 16 July 19 2,850 GBP
  • 4 August 19 2,850 GBP
  • 24 August 19 2,750 GBP
  • 1 October 19 2,750 GBP
  • 24 October 19 2,750 GBP
  • 16 November 19 2,750 GBP
  • 14 December 19 2,950 GBP

Land Departures

  • 15 December 18 1,950 GBP
  • 9 January 19 1,950 GBP
  • 5 February 19 1,950 GBP
  • 4 March 19 1,950 GBP
  • 31 March 19 1,950 GBP
  • 27 April 19 1,950 GBP
  • 24 May 19 1,950 GBP
  • 20 June 19 1,950 GBP
  • 17 July 19 1,950 GBP
  • 5 August 19 1,950 GBP
  • 25 August 19 1,950 GBP
  • 2 October 19 1,950 GBP
  • 25 October 19 1,950 GBP
  • 17 November 19 1,950 GBP
  • 15 December 19 1,950 GBP

Guaranteed Places Left Special Price Solo Traveller Closed

*Air departures are from the UK. Land departures start from Chiang Mai

*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...

20 Lodge, Chiang Mai view

  • Delightful lush garden setting & pool
  • Quiet location in the Old City
  • Small, friendly and a welcoming family style

Laluna Resort, Chiang Rai view

  • Comfortable individual chalets in a stunning tropical garden
  • 5 minute tuk-tuk ride from the town's lively night bazaar
  • Pool, spa, massage and excellent in-house restaurant

Namkong Riverside Hotel, Chiang Khong

  • Namkong Riverside in the small border town of Chiang Khong
  • Perfect location overlooking the Mekong River and Laos
  • Comfy well-appointed rooms and friendly service

The Boat Landing, Luang Namtha view

  • The charming Boat Landing, a family run eco-lodge
  • Traditional style accommodation in a riverside setting
  • Wonderful, authentic local food in the in-house restaurant

Mandala Ou Resort, Nong Khiaw view

  • Fantastic riverside location close to Nong Khiaw Village
  • Individual chalets in a garden setting
  • Pool, herbal sauna, riverside bar and yoga sala available

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

Sengtawan Riverside Hotel, Vientiane view

  • Central but quiet location in Vientiane
  • Scenic riverside setting overlooking the Mekong
  • Great rooftop bar and restaurant

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

Visa Info & Notes

Thailand: No visa in advance is required. A free 30-day visa for Thailand is issued on arrival at an international airport.

Laos: No visa in advance is required. A 30-day visa will be obtained for you upon your arrival in Chiang Mai or at the Lao border, (Approx. $35).

Further info: click here for more details and photos of our Northern Laos and the Golden Triangle tour, or here for our suggested Lao reading and viewing list.

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