Ethnic smiles of Northern Thailand and Laos

ITINERARY: Chiang Mai – Mae Hong Son – Chiang Mai – Chiang Rai – Golden Triangle – Houay Xai – Luang Namtha (trek) – Oudomxay – Pakbeng – Luang Prabang

DURATION: 16 days and 15 nights on the spot

Day 1

Arrival in Chiang Mai (L)

Assuming an arrival at Chiang Mai airport in the morning, meet your local Thai English-speaking guide and transfer to the hotel.

Lunch will be served at your hotel.

Rest of the day, free time at leisure to relax and chill out to recover from the jet lag.

Dinner on your own and overnight in Chiang Mai

Day 2

Chiang Mai (B/L)

We will start off this trip with a full day of sightseeing and discovering Northern Thailand. Our English-speaking guide will guide this trip and we will us an air-conditioned vehicle to transport around.

We will start this discovery tour in the historical center of Chiang Mai. You will visit its most important Buddhist temples, some built in the thirteenth century! We will also explore what is left from the ancient city since it is well preserved.

End the morning with a walk over the colorful “Warorot” Market. Here thousands of good are sold like traditional costumers of northern tribes, spices, foods and flowers.

Lunch in a local restaurant.

In the afternoon we will pursue the discovery trip at Mount Suthep and its temple, a jewel in the northern religious architecture heritage. This temple contains relics of the true Buddha and its architecture is unique. Because the temple is located on top of the mountain it provides breathtaking views over the city and surroundings. To get there you can choose to climb the monumental decorated stairs of use the funicular. On the foot of the stairs there is also a little craft market that embraces the pilgrimage atmosphere of the site.

In the late afternoon you will be visiting the Wat Suan Dok (Garden of birds temple) which offers education about Buddhism to visitors. It is possible to chat with the monks and even to attend their evening prayers.

The evening and dinner are free and you will spend the night in Chiang Mai.

Day 3

Chiang Mai - Mae Hong Son (B/L)

Another day of sightseeing with you guide and air-conditioned vehicle.

You will meet your guide after breakfast and depart to the Mae Hong Son province. It is a long way but as soon as you leave the valley and approach the mountains the views will become amazing. You will even get a glimpse of the Doi Inthanon National Park.

Continue and take the road to Mae Jem, a small, authentic rarely visited town in the middle of nowhere. Visit the Vat Pa Daet temple that includes a chapel that stand in the middle of an ornamental pond.

Lunch will be served in a local restaurant at the village.

With only a few stops to stretch legs and take pictures we continue to Mae Hong Son. Here, you can visit its Burmese temples like Vat Jongklang and Vat Jongkan near the edge of a pond in the center of the town.

You will spend the night at Mae Hong Son. Diner on your own.

Ethnic smiles of Northern Thailand and Laos

Day 4

Mae Hong Son – Pai (B/L)

Breakfast at hotel.

Early morning depart hotel to visit fresh morning market. Return to hotel for breakfast.

After breakfast take motorized boat trip along Pai River to visit a Padaung community (Karen hilltribes). Visit of the village in the early morning before heading back to your hotel and continuing the trip to Pai in the afternoon.

Lunch at local restaurant.

On the way, we will stop at the nice Tham Lod caves which has some huge cavities, an “indoor” river. Rrival in Pai at the end of the day.

Dinner on your own and overnight in Pai

Day 5

Pai – Chiang Rai (B/L)

Breakfast at hotel before a short boating excursion on the Pai River. Then, we will head towards Chiang Rai through beautiful landscapes.

Lunch will be served in a local restaurant.

Along our way, we will stop close by a hot spring where locals are used to boil their quail’s eggs. Once in Chiang Rai, we will start to visit the famous white temple of Vat Rong Khun. Build by a local architect, this temple does not have yet any name. No monks are living in this temple which is more like a museum for open minded people. Always under construction, it became a must for art-oriented people.

Check in at your hotel and free time at leisure for the rest of the day.

Overnight in Chiang Rai.

Day 6

Chiang Rai & vicinity (B/L)

Breakfast before beginning our visit of the city of Chiang Rai. Besides the main sightseeing, we will enjoy a visit to the local market. If before it was attended by ethnic groups, nowadays, do not expect to meet those wearing traditional clothes, but it could be a nice opportunity to discover some products from Northern Thailand.

We will pay a visit to Vat Phra Kaew. It is a must see for everyone. It was built in the 12th century during the Lanna Empire. The Emerald Buddha was discovered and later moved to Bangkok. A Replica was made and placed in the same spot where it was found. The next step will be the Black House which is home of a famous well known Thai artist: Thawan Duchanee.

Lunch in a local restaurant before heading towards the Golden Triangle and Chiang Saen.

Chiang Saen is a small town located right in The Golden Triangle, build by the nephew of the King Mengrai, founder of Chiang Mai. The town has been destroyed by the Siamese in order to avoid it becomes Burmese. At date, the department of fine arts from Bangkok is currently working to renovate the remnants of its glorious past.

15km upstream of the town is located the junction point between the three countries that are Laos, Myanmar & Thailand. We will do a short stop where the countries met and where a headstone has been erected.

Few kilometers from the point, we will go to the “Hall of Opium”, locally called “Ho Fin”. This interactive museum, through several documents, maps, artefacts aims to explain more about the History of Opium in the region, the role of the Europeans in the Boxer’s war and the fall of the “Middle Kingdom” but as well about the impact of this illegal trade on societies.

Back to Chiang Rai and rest of the day, free at leisure

Overnight in Chiang Rai.

Ethnic smiles of Northern Thailand and Laos

Day 7

Chiang Saen – Chiang Khong – Houay Xai – Luang Namtha (B/L)

Breakfast at hotel.

Morning transfer (1 hour) to the immigration office in Chiang Khong. Crossing of the Mekong by the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge, recently opened. You will take by yourselves the public shuttle that will take you across to Laos, and you will have to carry your luggage during this short transfer. Allow 30 THB per person (about 1 USD) for the shuttle. Once in Laos, entry requirements in the country and welcome by your Lao English-speaking guide.

Shorts trip to the Golden Triangle, Laos side. Then meal in Houay Xay before your transfer to Luang Namtha (about 4 hours drive). Time permitting, we will mark a few stops to meet ethnic villages en-route.

Check-in at your hotel and dinner at your convenience.

Accommodation in Luang Namtha.

Day 8

Luang Namtha - Ban Chalernsouk - Ban Nalan. Approx. 4-5 hours (B/L/D)

Breakfast, then go to your hotel at 8:30 am. Meet your English-speaking guide and local guides.

The trail begins at Ban Chalernsouk, a Khmu village approximately 20 km from Luang Namtha. From here, the trail ascends through 10-20 years old secondary forest until emerging into the upland rice fields. The path offers great views as it levels out along a ridge until re-entering forest. The trees here are much older having long been a major part of the natural history of the area you are trekking through.

A tasty Lao-style picnic lunch is enjoyed in the cool upland forest or in the shade of a thatched farmer’s hut.

Early afternoon, will find the trekkers in the Ban Nalan community forest. As the trail begins its descent down to the village, you pass a small clearing which served as a gunnery emplacement in the early 1960s during the civil war when Pathet Lao revolutionaries and Royalist Lao forces struggled for supremacy.

But down by the calm Nam Ha River you overnight, dining on local food after a refreshing shower and rest, ready to settle in for a well-deserved sleep.

Day 9

Ban Nalan - Deep Jungle Forest Camp. Approx. 5-6 hours (B/L/D)

The second morning is a pleasant walk following the Nam Ha River. After breakfast the local guide from Ban Nalan will join your tour, before climbing up the mountain for a couple of hours. This is the most challenging section of the trail, but also the most beautiful, as it passes through stands of ancient trees, some five hundred years old, that create a high dense canopy, rich in birdlife.

We need only pause quietly to hear the forest come alive with a mixed chorus of birds and insects. Now you will be in the center of Nam Ha NPA, to enjoy a traditional lunch on the trail, in a pristine forest surrounding you are unlikely to forget. After lunch, the trek continues for 3 hours until we arrive at our forest camp.

You can help your guide prepare and cook evening’s meal, or just absorb the ambience deep inside this beautiful jungle.

Ethnic smiles of Northern Thailand and Laos

Day 10

Deep Jungle Forest Camp - Ban Nam Ha - Luang Namtha. Approx. 5-6 hours (B/L)

In the early morning, you are likely to hear many kinds of animals communicating such as bear, monkey, barking dear, gibbon, wild pigs and jungle fowl from the higher mountain tops or if you are especially fortunate you may see them moving through the forest.

Before breakfast, early risers are free to take a walk around the camp. After a breakfast prepared by our Khmu guide, you cross the Nam Ha River and hike uphill through forest. Lunch will be prepared in the traditional way along the forest path. The guides can boil water and make soup in bamboo cooking vessels. They will encourage you to take part in the preparation of the meal, showing you how to construct simple spoons and chopsticks from bamboo and leaves. They will also brew a medicinal tea from wild plants collected along the way.

After lunch, you will have a good two hour hike down the mountain until you cross the Nam Ha River and arrive at Ban Nam Ha. Here the trek concludes and a driver will be waiting to transport you back to Luang Namtha.

Accommodation in Luang Namtha.

Day 11

Luang Namtha - Oudomxay - Pakbeng (B/L/D)

Early breakfast, then transfer by road to Oudomxay, the commercial hub of the north, and you will see the importance of Chinese influence in the region. You ascend to the top of Mount Phou That to enjoy the unique view of the surroundings.

After lunch, we will keep driving to Pakbeng with some stops along our way.

After three hours’ drive, you will arrive at Pakbeng before sunset. Various stops along the way are possible to visit some villages depending on the timing.

Check-in and dinner at the hotel.

Accommodation in Pakbeng.

Day 12

Pakbeng (B/L/D)

Breakfast at the restaurant of the hotel.

Today we will be in touch with the biggest animals in southern Asia: as you have guessed, elephants. During the elephant trek, which winds through the surrounding forest over paths connecting various different villages, guests will be offered the chance to guide elephants along the paths, to take them down to the river, to bathe them, to feed them and also to help find them in the morning! The trek also initiates guests into basic mahout techniques.

The morning starts with the bath of the elephants which lasts about 30 minutes. The camp’s pool is designed to allow all 8 elephants to bathe at the same time, Spectators can view the elephant bath from a platform overlooking the pool. After the elephant bath, visitors are helped on to the backs of the elephants for the trek. The trek starts off with a ride down a river bed surrounded by bamboo foliage. The trek continues into the forest. Then the view opens out to give a beautiful view over the surrounding countryside, along the way visitors can catch a glimpse of the Mekong in the valley below. And the elephants then pass through a Hmong village and the elephants also pass by another group of elephants during the trek and then we return to the Mekong Elephant.

Dinner and overnight at the hotel in Pakbeng.

Ethnic smiles of Northern Thailand and Laos

Day 13

Pakbeng - Pak Ou - Luang Prabang (B/L)

Eventually, before breakfast, opportunity to go to the local market to meet local people and experience the life of a market in a small Lao town.

After breakfast at the hotel, re-embark on your boat and continue your cruise down to Luang Prabang.

Enjoy the scenery along the Mekong River until you reach to the mysterious of Pak Ou Caves. In Pak Ou, thousands of gold lacquered Buddha statues are crowded into the two caves carved out of a towering limestone cliff. They range in size from a few centimeters to the size of a human.

Continue to Luang Prabang and stop at Ban Xang Hai, a village famous for its rice liquor locally called “Lao-Lao”. Villagers distillate rice in a very old fashion way. The bravest will dare sampling the local specialties!

You will arrive at Luang Prabang’s pier before sunset. Pick-up and transfer to the hotel for check-in.

Overnight in Luang Prabang.

Day 14

Luang Prabang (B/L)

Day dedicated to the visit by bicycle around the historic quarter of the town and former royal capital. We leave a part of improvisation in our programs for more freedom. Your guide will advise you on basic tours that make the richness of Luang Prabang.

Vat Xieng Thong seems inevitable, this is one of the most beautiful temples in the area. You will certainly also visit the National Museum and Vat Mai just next to the Royal Palace.

After lunch at Atsalin restaurant, a simple table frequented by the locals, you can discover the Vat Xieng Mouane, very quiet, perfect for a little relaxation and meditation, the Heritage House and the Museum of Ethnology which allows better understanding of the ethnic diversity of Laos and its cultural richness (closed on Mondays).

In the late afternoon we will propose you to the top of Mount Phou Si, where you will enjoy a breathtaking view of the city and its surroundings at the time of sunset.

On the way down, do not miss the Night Market, a true local craft gem (you can also browse the other night, at your convenience).

Then move to Hive Bar at 7pm to attend an Ethnic Fashion Show displaying 95 unique pieces of clothing worn by the ethnic groups of Northern Laos (soft drink or beer will be proposed / open Tuesday to Saturday).

Day 15

Luang Prabang / Kuang Si / opposite shore of the Mekong (B/L/D)

For those who wish to attend or witness the offerings to the monks that takes part every morning around 6am, early morning wake up call. Walk to some less frequented streets of Luang Prabang to soak in the spirit of this ancient ritual. Then back to the hotel for breakfast through the morning fresh food market.

Today, drive to the beautiful Kuang Si Waterfalls, located 32km from the city. Beautiful scenery of rice fields venues. Falls are also the home of a small permanent exhibition on the preservation of black bears Southeast Asia, a good opportunity to understand the threats hanging over them.

Furthermore waterfalls, natural pools of turquoise and crystal clear waters invite you to swim.

Picnic lunch at the falls.

This afternoon, return to Luang Prabang and then we will go on the opposite bank of the Mekong to discover the pottery village of Ban Chan as we explore and a small easy walk of about an hour along the Mekong lead us to Vat Chompet located on top of a hill with a beautiful view of Luang Prabang. Our stroll will continue in the shade of the trees to the Vat Longkoun, a peaceful place that was renovated by France and allowed the site to be fully integrated into the protection zone covered by UNESCO. This renovation also allowed a community of monks to return to settle there. Also a good opportunity for you to discuss in the shade of mango trees with the monks and learn about Buddhism.

Tonight you will attend, in your honor, a traditional farewell Baci ceremony. A beautiful evening in perspective made of genuine encounters.

The Baci offers you an authentic approach to local customs. This is an opportunity to share a dinner with your hosts. The Baci honors happy life events (meetings, weddings …) or is simply celebrated in honor of a person or a family to wish safety, happiness and prosperity.

Overnight in Luang Prabang.

Ethnic smiles of Northern Thailand and Laos

Day 16

Luang Prabang – Departure (B)

Breakfast and last moments at leisure before transfer out to the airport for onward flight.

End of services

Each program is absolutely customizable in terms of duration, itinerary, stops, types of accommodation, inclusions and activities. Anything actually! In line with your wishes and budget constraints.