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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 an 8-day exploration of some of the fabulous historical, cultural and scenic highlights of this little-known country. The itinerary includes a ride on the brand-new Lao-China Express train from Vientiane to Luang Prabang with an exploration of the ancient capital and UNESCO World Heritage town. Discover 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 central highlands, with stops at traditional villages and local markets, to the remote, fascinating, mysterious and now also UNESCO-listed, 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 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.

Includes: Flights: Phonsavan-Vientiane. Meals: B x 7, L x 5, D x 5

Note, further info, photos and descriptions of the tour can be found on the Northern Laos and the Golden Triangle page of our travel blog.

Laos

Itinerary

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

view over the mekong river

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, 

Laos, The Nam Ou

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, 

Laos, Luang Prabang night market

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, 

Kuang Si Falls, Luang Prabang

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, 

When's the best time to visit Laos

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, D, 

Laos, Northern Laos tour, Plain of Jars

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, 

best things to see and do in Vientiane

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, 

Thailand and Laos tour, Vientiane tuk-tuks

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, 

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) *From

  • 30 June 23 2,065 GBP
  • 27 July 24 2,070 GBP
  • 25 August 24 2,065 GBP
  • 22 September 24 2,065 GBP
  • 20 October 24 2,095 GBP
  • 17 November 24 2,095 GBP
  • 15 December 24 2,295 GBP
  • 12 January 25 2,145 GBP
  • 9 February 25 2,145 GBP

Land Departures

  • 1 July 24 1,165 GBP
  • 28 July 24 1,165 GBP
  • 26 August 24 1,165 GBP
  • 23 September 24 1,165 GBP
  • 21 October 24 1,195 GBP
  • 18 November 24 1,195 GBP
  • 16 December 24 1,195 GBP
  • 13 January 25 1,245 GBP
  • 10 February 25 1,245 GBP

Guaranteed Places Left Special Price Solo Traveller Closed

*As fares are fluctuating wildly at present all ‘with flight’ prices are approximate.

*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...

Laos, Chantapanya Hotel, Vientiane

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

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 and most land entry points. A passport photo is required along with $40. These are available for most nationalities except certain African and Middle Eastern countries. (You can check the list at this link.) Additionally, Lao e-visas are now available and will speed up arrival formalities.

Your entry and exit points for this tour are Wattay International Airport (Vientiane).

Passports Requirements are at least 6 months of passport validity, a minimum of 1 blank page and 2 passport-sized photos.

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 to 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 included in the itineary, including trekking, can be tailored for any fitness level or alternatives suggested.

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