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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 a 1-week exploration of some of the fabulous historical, cultural and scenic highlights of the northern region of this little-known country.  It includes the quaint Mekong-side, ancient capital and UNESCO World Heritage-listed,  Luang Prabang, where we’ll explore the beautiful old temples, French, colonial architecture and picturesque surrounding 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, with Lao’s central location in Indochina, it’s conveniently 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.

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 Mekong boat cruise

Arrival in Luang Prabang and time to relax before a 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 local specialities with a welcome dinner.

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

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Day 2 - 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, D, 

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Day 3 - 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, 

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Day 4 - Central Highlands - Luang Prabang to Phonsavan

Departure through the mountains 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. An atmospheric dusk trip to Jar Site 1 as well as a visit to the Mines Advisory Group to learn how they are dealing with the area’s huge unexploded ordnance problem complete our day.

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

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Day 5 - Plain of Jars - morning tour and transfer to Vientiane

Head out to the picturesque Jar Site 2, and begin our hike along the ridge to the impressive hill-top Jar Site 3, consisting of around 150 jars. 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 cafe?

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

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Day 6 - 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, 

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Day 7 - Vientiane and departure

Morning at leisure in Vientiane before departure.

Extra nights in Luang Prabang before your tour or in Vientiane afterwards 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, 

Print Itinerary

Details

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

Laos, Mekong sunset

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)

  • 22 November 20 1,725 GBP
  • 23 December 20 1,925 GBP
  • 25 January 21 1,725 GBP
  • 22 February 21 1,725 GBP
  • 15 April 21 1,700 GBP
  • 16 May 21 1,675 GBP
  • 18 June 21 1,675 GBP
  • 18 July 21 1,775 GBP
  • 16 August 21 1,700 GBP
  • 17 September 21 1,675 GBP
  • 17 October 21 1,700 GBP
  • 13 November 21 1,725 GBP
  • 19 December 21 1,925 GBP

Land Departures

  • 23 November 20 875 GBP
  • 24 December 20 875 GBP
  • 26 January 21 875 GBP
  • 23 February 21 875 GBP
  • 16 April 21 850 GBP
  • 17 May 21 825 GBP
  • 19 June 21 825 GBP
  • 19 July 21 825 GBP
  • 17 August 21 850 GBP
  • 18 September 21 825 GBP
  • 18 October 21 850 GBP
  • 14 November 21 875 GBP
  • 20 December 21 875 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...

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

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

*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.

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