Self-guided Thailand and Laos Tour
The mountains of the Golden Triangle and a Mekong River cruise
Overland and down river from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang
Our exciting 11-day self-guided Thailand and Laos tour takes you overland through the mountains of the Golden Triangle and by boat down the Mekong River to the ancient Lao capital, now UNESCO World Heritage site, Luang Prabang.
After some time to explore Thailand’s charming and laid-back northern capital Chiang Mai, you’ll travel through picturesque teak-covered hills and rice-paddy-filled valleys to historic Chiang Rai Town. Comfortable boutique-style accommodation is provided at both points along with a wide range of suggested activities and visits that you can either pre-book or organize yourself on the ground.
From here you’ll head east to the small riverside town of Chiang Khong on the Thai-Lao border and your departure point for an exciting 2-day boat cruise down the Mekong River. You’ll travel in a lovingly converted and well-equipped old rice barge and stay overnight in a riverbank lodge at the half-way point of Pak Beng village. Your accommodation in Luang Prabang is at a centrally located, French-period villa, now small hotel – perfect for exploring the ancient temples, bustling markets and colonial architecture of what is considered one of Southeast Asia’s most beautifully preserved towns.
Our tour includes 10 nights bed and breakfast in boutique-style hotels, overland transfers by private vehicle and the 2-day Mekong River cruise to Luang Prabang. As well as accommodation and transport reservations you’ll also receive a professionally compiled PDF mini-guide containing details and info on our recommendations for additional, optional activities as well as suggestions for local cafes, restaurants, bars etc.
This self-guided Thailand and Laos tour is perfect for couples, families or smaller groups. Departure dates are up to you and itinerary details are fully flexible.
Finally, also note that the tour is offered as a ‘land only’ version – from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang = or inclusive of return flights from the UK.
Here's an idea of what you can expect to do and see day-to-day.
Day 1 - Arrival in Chiang Mai
Arrival in Chiang Mai and midday check-in to your hotel in the heart of the Old Town district. Stretch your legs with an afternoon walk to explore the area before a meeting with our local All Points East guide. A brief briefing and any questions before a local-style welcome dinner in one of the town’s bustling street markets.
Overnight: Chiang Mai Meals: D,
Day 2 - Chiang Mai - the old town and local markets
We’d suggest a morning walking tour of the lanes, ancient temples and local markets of Chiang Mai’s Old Town and vibrant Chinatown area. Maybe avoid the midday heat by the pool or in one of the City’s air-con culture and history museum with perhaps an afternoon visit to Doi Suthep – a forested mountain and national park overlooking the town centre.
Overnight: Chiang Mai Meals: B,
Day 3 - Chiang Mai
For those interested in the area’s flora and fauna try our optional morning tour to the Doi Suthep Nature and Wildlife Centre for a forest trail and opportunity to spot some of the rehabilitated wild cattle and rare deer species being reintroduced into the national park. Otherwise there’s plenty more to do in town with spas, Michelin-listed street food or even a half-day Thai cookery class and time to check out one of the evening street handicraft markets.
Overnight: Chiang Mai Meals: B,
Day 4 - The 'White Temple' and over the mountains to Chiang Rai
Transfer over the mountains to Chiang Rai with stops on the way at some hot springs as well as the iconic ‘White Temple’, Wat Rong Khun. Our recommended accommodation is chalet-style rooms set in a lush garden. Depending upon the day of the week you can check out one of the weekend street markets or the daily Night Bazaar – also a great spot for a local dinner.
Overnight: Chiang Rai Transport: Minibus, Meals: B,
Day 5 - Chiang Rai - walking tour of the town
Day at leisure in Chiang Rai. Loads to see and do: spectacular temples, a great municipal market, a quirky museum and some delightful riverbank cafes; some you can walk to – others hop in a tuk-tuk. In the afternoon you could grab a taxi to the unusual but fascinating ‘Baan Dam‘ – a kind of sculpture park-gardens-museum-arts centre.
Overnight: Chiang Rai Meals: B,
Day 6 - East to the Mekong
Leisurely departure for the small Mekong-side town of Chiang Khong. An optional detour could see you in Sob Ruak – a small town (with its famous Opium Museum, marking the point where Myanmar, Laos and Thailand meet – and/or a couple of hours exploring the nearby, historic walled city of Chiang Saen. Otherwise, cute Chiang Khong itself is a splendid spot for an afternoon riverside stroll and sundowner.
Overnight: Chiang Khong Transport: Minibus, Meals: B,
Day 7 - Departure from Huay Xai and Mekong River cruise
In the morning you’ll be transferred to the nearby Lao border crossing on the “Friendship Bridge’ where a crew member will meet you to arrange boarding. The rest of the day is spent cruising down the Mekong on your spacious, well-appointed wooden barge with late afternoon docking in Pak Beng Village and overnight in a riverside lodge.
Overnight: Pak Beng Transport: Boat, Meals: B, L,
Day 8 - Pak Ou Caves and arrival in Luang Prabang
Morning departure downstream with a stop at the spectacular Pak Ou Cave Temples and late afternoon arrival in Luang Prabang. You’ll be transferred to a delightful converted French-period villa, now boutique hotel, and the evening is free to explore the riverbank cafes and sample some of the local specialities.
Overnight: Luang Prabang Meals: B, L,
Day 9 - Luang Prabang
A day in World Heritage Luang Prabang. The picturesque town does have a bewildering number of ancient temples, museums and markets but we’ll provide a suggested walking tour itinerary taking in what we’d say are the key sites as well as some of the lesser-known ones.
Overnight: Luang Prabang Meals: B,
Day 10 - Luang Prabang
We’d recommend booking an early taxi or tuk-tuk for the scenic Kuang Si Falls, (it can get busy). Including the adjacent, excellent Save the Bears project centre, you’d need to count at least half a day. For the afternoon you could stick a couple of bicycles on one of the cross-river pirogues and spend some time exploring the quiet villages and riverbank views overlooking Luang Prabang.
Overnight: Luang Prabang Meals: B,
The nitty-gritty, the things you need to know, the answers to your burning questions.
Just a few of the many highlights
Discover the glittering temples and colourful street markets of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, explore the narrow lanes and riverside cafes of World Heritage Luang Prabang and take a 2-day boat cruise down the Mekong River
- 10 nights Thai and Lao accommodation in comfortable, boutique-style hotels
- Explore the lanes, ancient temples and colourful markets of Chiang Mai's Old Town
- Discover the ancient Lao capital, now UNESCO World Heritage-listed, Luang Prabang
- Recommended optional activities that you can book in advance or on the ground
- 2-day Mekong River cruise on a converted wooden rice barge
- Sample some of Southeast Asia's best cuisine in local cafes, markets and street stalls
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...
Sugar Cane Chiang Mai view
- Small, family-run, boutique style accommodation
- Well-appointed with pool, garden, bar and restaurant
- Excellent quiet yet central location
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 view
- 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
Mekong Riverside Lodge view
- Traditional-style wooden and bamboo chalets
- Scenic location overlooking the river and boat jetty
- Garden setting and in-house bar and restaurant
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
Thailand: No visa in advance is required. A free 30-day visa for Thailand is issued on arrival at an international airport.
Laos: 30-day tourist visas are issued to most nationalities at the visa on arrival counters at international airports as well as any land entry point. (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.
Meals:Although 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 actually Lao. Certain dishes can be pretty firey while the more Chinese and Vietnamese influenced dishes, which will be more familiar to foreign travellers, are generally mild.
Both vegan and vegetarian diets are easily catered to.
Accommodation: all choices fall into the comfortable boutique-style 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 are not a guaranteed 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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