Great things never come from comfort zones
ITINERARY: Chiang Rai – Chiang Khong – Huay Xai – Luang Namtha (trek) – Oudomxay – Phongsaly (trek) – Ban Hatsa – Nam Ou River – Muang Khua – Nong Khiau – Pak Ou caves – Luang Prabang
DURATION: 16 days and 15 nights on the spot
Assuming an arrival in Chiang Rai on flight Thai Airways TG 2130 08h10-09h30 from Bangkok. You are met and greeted by your English-speaking guide who will transfer you to Lanjia Lodge (90 minutes drive). Night at the village of Ban Kiu Karn, the lodge in the heart of a Hmong village and Lisu.
Lunch at the restaurant of the lodge.
In the afternoon, feel free to walk around the village and go to meet the local shaman, weavers or women who make indigo batik.
Dinner and overnight at the Lodge.
Morning transfer (30 min – without guide) to the Thai 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 aside 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 who awaits you past the Lao immigration counters.
Short trip to the Golden Triangle, on the Lao side. Then meal in Houay Xay before your transfer to Luang Namtha (about 4 hours drive). We will mark a few stops to meet ethnic villages along the way.
Check-in at the lodge, free time and dinner on your own.
Overnight in Luang Namtha.
Breakfast, then go to your hotel at 8:30 am. Meet your English-speaking guide and local guides.
The tour starts at 9 am by a Tuk-Tuk ride that will take you to Ban Chaleurnsouk (Khmu village), where the local guide will join you. From there the Tuk-Tuk will continue for another 5 minutes to the starting point of the trek.
The trek will start with climbing gradually into the hills, through a variation of primary forest and deep into the Nam Ha protected area. During this part of the trek, the guides will give explanation on non-timber forest products, like edible, poisonous and medicinal plants, for example: wild cardamom, galangal, rattan, bamboo shoots and wild banana stalks. When you reach the top of the hill after about 2.5 hours, you will have a picnic lunch with your guides in the forest alongside the path. After lunch the trek continues for another 2.5 hours, until you reach the camping site where you will be given explanation about jungle cooking. After diner, we have a night animal watching activity.
Night at the Khmu Jungle Camp.
5-6 hours of walking in the day.
After breakfast, we start walking through the jungle of the Nam Ha Protected Area. We pass by a small waterfall (which will be bigger during rainy season), enjoying the beautiful views of the lush nature. Lunch in the forest. Next, around 3pm you will arrive at Ban Phouvanh where we stay overnight at an “Akha Homestay”. In the meantime you can bathe yourself and walk around the village, where you can watch the daily life of the locals, and enjoy beautiful views of the villagers’ farmland and the surrounding Nam Ha Protected Area. After dinner, you will receive a special Akha style massage that is traditionally given to guests that spend the night in the village.
Overnight in homestay.
4-5 hours of walk in the day.
In the early morning, if the weather is good and if you are not too tired, you can take another walk around the village, to witness the difference in how Ahka people get ready for their daily activities in the fields and to see the fog that covers the Nam Ha landscape.
At 9.30 am, the trek will start with a walk uphill through the mountain (1,520 meters from the sea level) from where you will see the viewpoint of Phouvanh villagers, enjoying a beautiful panoramic view of the Nam Ha Protected Area. The path gradually continues up and down, through primary and secondary forest.
After approximately 3 hours of trekking, you will make a stop to have a traditional Akha lunch in the forest together with your guides. After lunch you will continue walking to nice some primary forest where you may spot gibbons or wild pigs. The trek will end around 4pm at the Nam Ha Jungle Camp.
Overnight at the Nam Ha Jungle Camp.
5-6 hours of walk in the day.
After breakfast, continue trekking on the small path through the primary and secondary jungle forest. After approximately 3 hours, you will make a lunch stop in the forest together with your guides. After lunch, another 3 hours walk awaits along the Nam Ha Mountain and down-hill to Ban Nam Ha village.
In the afternoon, you will join & practice some activities provided by small group of community-based tourism projects such as: husking rice by feet or hand, Khmu traditional Baci-ceremony, Khmu sword dancing, meeting local people and talking with older people about the village history and stories.
Back to Luang Namtha in the late afternoon.
Overnight in Luang Namtha.
5-6 hours of walk in the day.
Early breakfast, then early transfer by road to Oudomxay, the commercial hub of the north where you will see the importance of Chinese influence in the region. If you wish, ascend to the top of Mount Phou That to enjoy the unique views over the area.
Continue to the far north of the country to Phongsaly (after eight hours’ drive) with various stops along the way for lunch at a restaurant and stops at ethnic minority people villages, depending on timing.
Casual lunch en-route to Phongsaly.
Phongsaly province remains today one of the richest provinces in its ethnic diversity with 28 recognized ethnic groups, 40 if we consider how these populations are identified. Many of these groups actually originate from neighboring China. In the town of Phongsaly, the two major ethnic groups are the Phou Noy and Hor who are descendants of ancient Chinese traders. The Akha are most numerous in terms of diversity with 14 sub-groups: Akha Eupa, Nuquie, Pala, etc.
Once in Phongsaly in the late afternoon, check-in to your guesthouse and dinner at own expenses.
Overnight in Phongsaly.
This trek will take you Akha hill villages nestled north of Phongsaly town. These villages are accessible on foot only. This trek is a great opportunity to venture in very little frequented areas famous for their endless mountains, the abundant forests and deep valleys sceneries.
Breakfast and departure for your trek in the region.
We start walking from Phongsaly town on dirt road. We head to Ban Khounsouknoy (Phou Noy tribe village), this village is famous for producing green Lao whisky (Lao-Lao). After that, we continue trekking along the “French Trail” that was made by French soldiers during the Vietnam War, down to the Nam Long River.
We will take a picnic lunch by the Nam Long River. After lunch, we trek past thick jungles, upland rice fields and then we reach Ban Changtern, an Akha tribe village. Today we spend a night with families at Ban Changtern.
Approximately 6-7 hours of trekking
Dinner at the village and basic accommodation.
After breakfast, we start trekking to Ban Sopngam and Ban Peryenxangmai. We pass by mountain ridges with picturesque landscapes. After passing by jungle and bamboo forests, we arrive at Ban Sopngam (Lao Seng Tribe village) that we visit. We continue trekking up to another mountainous area where we have lunch at the top of a higher hill. We continue trekking uphill to Ban Peryenxangmai, an Akha tribe village where we will spend the night with families.
Approximately 5 – 6 hours of trekking.
Dinner at the village, and overnight at homestay.
After breakfast, we start trekking to two Akha tribe villages: Ban Peryenxang (where we will have lunch) and Ban Chakhampa (where we will overnight). Today, the sceneries are slightly different with young forest and upland rice fields.
Approximately 3 to 4 hours of trekking.
Dinner and overnight at Ban Chakhampa
After breakfast, let’s explore the village and admire the wonderful endless mountainous ranges. Then, we start trekking along the trail down to the Nam Ou River from where we take a private pirogue downstream to Ban Hatsa. Casual lunch. Then, we return to Phongsaly town by public bus.
Once in Phongsaly, check into our rooms and free time to discover the old city with its unique charm, cobbled streets lined with houses and shops of Yunnanese architecture.
Approximately 2.5 to 3 hours trekking and 1.5 hour transfer by bus.
The rest of the day is free by yourself.
Overnight in Phongsaly.
Early breakfast, then a private transfer will take you about 45 minutes to Ban Hatsa where you will meet your boatman and your slow boat (long tail boat) to begin your descent of the Nam Ou River.
During your cruise on the Nam Ou River, considered one of the most beautiful Rivers in Laos, you can observe life along the stream taking place there and how this axis remains an important means of communication between villages, for many of them that are not accessible except on foot through forests and mountains or boat.
After about 90 minutes of cruising, we will stop at the village of Ban Hatsa Tai that produces rice alcohol products. Then we will continue south with another stop at the village of Ban Sopkêm which has several textile workshops.
Lunch will be taken in the form of a picnic on a sandbank.
Passage in Muang Khua, located on the banks of the Nam Ou and Nam Phak Muang Khua is the latest milestone on the road to Vietnam and Dien Bien Phu. This small town was a former French garrison until the fall of the French army at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. The region of Muang Khua is mainly home to Akha, Khmu and Tai Dam (Black Tai) people, but these ethnic groups are not very visible in town.
Continue downstream to the village of Nong Khiau where we spend the night. Nong Khiau region stretches from beautiful karst, which you can admire during the navigation.
Transfer to your hotel. Enjoy its unique setting, with its swimming pool overlooking the river. Spa and sauna available (at own expenses).
Dinner at your discretion in Nong Khiau and night.
After breakfast at the hotel, meet your guide who picks you up for your continuation to Luang Prabang by road.
Lunch at Ban Pak Ou. Cross the Mekong by slow boat to reach the cliff of Pak Ou caves. Visit the mythical caves where are crammed hundreds of Buddha statues are. The site remains a prime venue of pilgrimage for Laotians and particularly during the Lao New Year festivities, mid-April.
After visiting the caves, we keep cruising by slow boat downstream. We will go down the Mekong for about 1h30 to reach Luang Prabang in the second half of the afternoon.
Transfer to your hotel for installation.
Dinner at own expenses and overnight in Luang Prabang.
For those who wish to witness or attend the daily ritual of “Tak Bat” (alms giving), early wake-up call. Buddhist monks get out of their temples and stroll the streets in silence and bear feet around 6am to receive food offerings by the worshippers.
Breakfast at the hotel.
The day is dedicated to the visit of town by bicycle. We leave a part of improvisation in our program for more freedom. Your guide will advise you on sightseeing options that make the richness and character of Luang Prabang.
Vat Xieng Thong is inevitable; this is one of the most beautiful temples in the area. We 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 may want to discover Vat Xieng Mouane, very quiet, perfect for a little relaxation and meditation. With the Heritage House just at its back. While the Museum of Ethnology (TAEC) 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 ascend to the top of Mount Phou Si, where you will enjoy a breathtaking view of the city and its surroundings at time of sunset.
On the way down, do not miss the daily Hmong Night Market, a true local craft gem (you can also browse any 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 various ethnic groups of Northern Laos. (Soft drink or beer will be proposed / open Tuesday to Saturday).
Overnight at your hotel.
Today, drive to the beautiful Kuang Si Waterfalls, located 32km south west of the city. Beautiful sceneries of rice fields and vegetables gardens along the road. Falls are also the home of a small permanent exhibition on the preservation of endangered Asian Black Bears of Southeast Asia, a good opportunity to understand the threats hanging over them.
At the foot of the falls one can find natural pools of turquoise and crystal clear waters that can be the perfect cooling opportunity for a dip or a swim. Ladies will wear a sarong.
Picnic lunch at the falls.
In the afternoon, return to town. Once in Luang Prabang, cross by local pirogue to the opposite bank of the Mekong to discover the pottery village of Ban Chan. It takes an hour of easy walk to explore the villages following the Mekong and leading to Vat Chompet, located on top of a hill with a beautiful view over Luang Prabang’s peninsula. Our stroll will continue in the shade of the trees to Vat Longkun, a peaceful temple that was renovated thanks to French aid and allowed the site to be fully integrated into the protection zone covered by the UNESCO. This renovation also allowed a community of monks to return to settle there. If you are fortunate enough, it can be a good opportunity for you to discuss in the shade of mango trees with the monks and learn about Buddhism.
Cross back the Mekong by pirogue. 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, births …) or is simply celebrated in honor of a person or a family to wish safety, happiness and prosperity.
Overnight in Luang Prabang.
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.