Highlights of Northern Laos
Explore the World Heritage sites of Luang Prabang - the charming ancient capital - and the enigmatic Plain of Jars before finishing in the present-day riverside capital, Vientiane
Luang Prabang and the Plain of Jars
Our popular Northern Laos tour, Luang Prabang and the Plain of Jars, is an 8-day exploration of some of the fabulous historical, cultural and scenic highlights of this little-known country. The itinerary includes a scenic ride on the brand new Lao-China express train from Vientiane to Luang Prabang and an exploration of the ancient capital and UNESCO World Heritage-listed town with the beautiful old temples, French colonial architecture and picturesque landscapes of what is acknowledged to be the best-preserved city in Southeast Asia.
From there we’ll travel through the scenic central highlands, with stops at traditional villages and local markets, to the remote, fascinating, mysterious and now also UNESCO site, the Plain of Jars. Our tour of the site also includes a sobering yet fascinating visit to MAG, (the Mines Advisory Group), to see how they are tackling the problem of unexploded ordnance left over from the extensive US bombing of Laos during the Indochina war.
From here a short domestic flight takes us down to the laid-back, present-day capital of Vientiane with its scenic location, bustling markets and gilded temples aside the Mekong River.
This 1-week Northern Laos tour is designed as a stand-alone itinerary but, for those with more time to spare, (and to get the most out of your flights), it can also be easily extended into rarely visited parts of central and southern Laos on our Mekong Adventure. Alternatively, Lao’s central location in Indochina means it can conveniently be combined with neighbouring destinations, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. Continue overland, across the remote mountains of northeastern Laos and Vietnam’s Tonkinese Alps, to Hanoi on our Mountains and Hill-tribes tour, or head south with a flight from Vientiane to Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh for our 2-week Indochina Adventure.
Note also that a 1-hour flight from Vientiane to Bangkok makes various Thai island extensions easily accessible for those looking for some post-tour, quality beach time.
Since airfares are fluctuating wildly at present, as well as varying considerably from period to period, our ‘with flight’ prices, below, are approximate only.
Here's an idea of what you can expect to do and see day-to-day.
Day 1 - Arrival in Vientiane
Arrival in the Lao capital of Vientiane, on the banks of the Mekong River, and check in to a centrally located hotel. Time to stretch your legs with an orientation walking tour before riverbank sundowners and a local-style welcome dinner at one of the town’s lively night markets.
Overnight: Vientiane Transport: Walk, Meals: D,
Day 2 - Lao-China train ride and Mekong boat cruise
Departure by train, (Lao’s recently constructed, first-ever rail line), through the spectacular central highlands to the ancient capital Luang Prabang. Mid-morning arrival and some time to relax before an afternoon boat trip up the picturesque Mekong to visit the mysterious Pak Ou Caves, filled with thousands of Buddha statues of various shapes and sizes left by pilgrims. Return to Luang Prabang for sunset and a chance to sample some of the region’s local specialities.
Overnight: Luang Prabang Transport: Train, Boat, Walk, Meals: B, D,
Day 3 - Luang Prabang - city walking tour
Nestled in the mountains, long isolated from the outside world, discover UNESCO-listed Luang Prabang’s fabulous temples, French period architecture and taste Lao delicacies (and the famous Lao beer!) in riverside cafes. A walking tour of the town includes the former king’s palace, now National Museum, Wat Xiengthong and Phu Si Temple. Afternoon at leisure to explore the picturesque lanes and famous hill-tribe handicraft market.
Overnight: Luang Prabang Transport: Walk, Meals: B, L,
Day 4 - Luang Prabang - into the surrounding countryside
Day trip through the surrounding hills to visit the spectacular turquoise Kuang Si Waterfalls. We’ll also visit the nearby Free the Bears site while stops en-route offer the opportunity to discover the rural landscapes and traditional village life of some of the locals.
Overnight: Luang Prabang Transport: Minibus, Walk, Meals: B, L,
Day 5 - Central Highlands - Luang Prabang to Phonsavan
Early departure for a drive along scenic mountain roads to Phonsavan in Xieng Khouang province – location of the famous and mysterious Plain of Jars. Stops on the way include Khmu and Hmong villages and a hidden cave temple that served as an army hospital during the Vietnam War. Late afternoon arrival and an atmospheric dusk visit to one of the famous jar sites.
Overnight: Phonsavan Transport: Minibus, Walk, Meals: B, L,
Day 6 - Plain of Jars - morning tour and transfer to Vientiane
Morning visit to the Mines Action Group, (MAG), office to learn about the work they do in clearing land mines and unexploded ordnance in the area. We then travel out to the picturesque Jar Site 2, and begin our 1-hour trek along the ridge to the impressive Jar Site 3, consisting of over around 150 jars located on top of a hill and offering great views over the surrounding countryside. Lunch in Phonsavan before a flight to the Lao capital of Vientiane and time perhaps to stretch our legs with a stroll along the Mekong waterfront for sundowners in a riverside café.
Overnight: Vientiane Transport: Plane, Walk, Meals: B, L, D,
Day 7 - Vientiane - tour of some of the City's sights
Tour of some of the city’s varied sites including Si Saket Temple with its 1,000 Buddha images, the bustling morning market, Vientiane’s most famous monument, That Luang Stupa, as well as the surreal Buddha Park. Less cheerful, but we feel important and highly informative, is a stop at the excellent COPE visitors centre, established to highlight the major issues locals face in the form of leftover bombs from the Vietnam War.
Overnight: Vientiane Transport: Minibus, Walk, Meals: B, L, D,
Day 8 - Vientiane and departure
Morning at leisure in Vientiane before departure.
Extra nights in Vientiane before or after your tour are available on request.
Note that airport transfers are included if you purchase the 'with flights' package. If you obtained your own flights, airport transfers can be arranged if necessary.
Overnight: Departure Transport: Walk, Meals: B,
The nitty-gritty, the things you need to know, the answers to your burning questions.
Visa Info & Notes
Just a few of the many highlights
Discover ancient Luang Prabang, nestled in the hills of northern Laos overlooking the Mekong and the remote archeological site of the Plain of Jars before travelling south to the present-day capital, Vientiane
- Travel by boat to the spectacular, ancient cave temples at scenic Pak Ou on the banks of the Mekong River
- Discover the serene landscapes, traditional villages and picturesque Kuang Si Falls near Luang Prabang
- Explore the ancient temples, colonial architecture, narrow lanes and bustling markets of UNESCO World Heritage Luang Prabang
- Tour the modern, riverside capital of Laos, Vientiane, with it's colourful markets, picturesque temples and waterside cafes
- The Plain of Jars; visit the enigmatic and now UNESCO-listed archaeological site in remote Northeastern Laos
- Last but not least, sample the justifiably renowned local Lao cuisine in restaurants, street stalls and local markets
Air Departures (UK) *From
- 24 June 23 2,065 GBP
- 24 July 23 2,165 GBP
- 21 August 23 2,065 GBP
- 25 September 23 2,065 GBP
- 23 October 23 2,065 GBP
- 20 November 23 2,095 GBP
- 29 November 23 2,095 GBP
- 16 December 23 2,095 GBP
- 12 January 24 2,095 GBP
- 9 February 24 2,095 GBP
- 9 March 24 2,095 GBP
- 25 June 23 1,165 GBP
- 25 July 23 1,165 GBP
- 22 August 23 1,165 GBP
- 26 September 23 1,165 GBP
- 24 October 23 1,165 GBP
- 21 November 23 1,195 GBP
- 30 November 23 1,195 GBP
- 17 December 23 1,195 GBP
- 13 January 24 1,195 GBP
- 10 February 24 1,195 GBP
- 10 March 24 1,195 GBP
Guaranteed Places Left Special Price Solo Traveller Closed
*Air departures are from the UK. Land departures start from Vientiane
*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...
Chanthapanya Hotel Vientiane view
- Well-appointed rooms with pool, restaurant, bar and gym
- Great location, a short walk from town centre and riverside
- Centrally located yet quiet position
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
*This list should be considered a guide only, hotels/rooms may change (without notice) depending on availability.
Visa Info & Notes
Visas: 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.
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 then 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: all choices fall into the comfortable 3* range and are en-suite and air-conditioned. 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 – with the exception of the 4,000 Island resorts – are not a common feature.
Activities: note that no activities are compulsory and that any offered, including trekking, can be tailored for any fitness level or alternatives suggested.
Further info: detailed descriptions and photos can be found on the corresponding page of our travel blog.
Holidays should never end, stay a little longer. These extensions go well with this tour...
Here is what out guest have to say about their experience on this tour...
Anne and Mike O'Brien
" Thank you and everyone concerned for a great holiday which exceeded our expectations, we could not fault any part of it. It started as a holiday but quickly became an adventure. Everyone involved; guides, local guides and drivers were all superb. There were so many highlights of this holiday including visiting the hill tribe villages and interacting with the local people. These memories will last a long time. We now appreciate the expertise of your company. "