Laos & Cambodia’s heritage trial

ITINERARY: Luang Prabang – Xieng Khuang – Vientiane – Pakse – Champassak – Stung Treng – Preah Vihear – Siem Reap – Tonle Sap Lake – Phnom Penh

DURATION: 18 days and 17 nights on the spot

Day 1

Arrival in Luang Prabang (L)

Note: Upon your arrival at Luang Prabang International Airport, it is possible to obtain your visa on arrival (VOA). Simply bring 1 passport picture along with between USD 30 and 45 / person in cash, visa fees varying from one nationality to another. Make sure your passport is valid at least 6 months beyond your return departure date. Visa on Arrival forms are available before immigration counters.

Welcome by your Lao English-speaking tour guide in the arrival hall and transfer to your hotel for check-in.

The crown jewel of Laos, Luang Prabang, is perhaps the best–preserved traditional town in Southeast Asia. It is a sleepy town that has a long-standing reputation as a stronghold of Lao culture with splendid natural scenery and a sense of timelessness. Magical and charming Luang Prabang is a destination that every traveler has to see once in their lifetime. In 1995, Luang Prabang was voted by the UNESCO as a World Heritage town.

Lunch at local restaurant.

We then ascend Phou Si hill. The hill commands great views over the town, the Mekong and the Nam Khan rivers and the mountainous ranges. It takes you 328 steps to reach the top, and at sunset set, the changing colors of the sky are particularly spectacular. The light reflecting on the golden spire of the temple at the top is also beautiful. The stairs are lined up with flamboyant and frangipani trees providing a deserved shade as you walk up and down.

Once back to ground level, end your day by stopping at the awakening Hmong minority people Night Market. It is held daily in the streets around the National Museum. Villagers come here to sell their handicrafts.

Accommodation in Luang Prabang.

Day 2

Luang Prabang (B/L)

At 0540AM, head by Tuk-Tuk to the peninsula to witness and attend alms giving. Long lines of monks and novices stroll the street of the town center to collect their daily food subsistence from the worshippers. This ancient ritual is locally known as “Tak Bat.

Continue with a visit to the open-air food market that is held daily in the streets nearby the former Royal Palace. Lao people still like buying fresh food. While fridges are widely spread in households, people prefer going to local markets and returning home with fresh ingredients.

Return to the hotel for breakfast.

Half day city tour with essentials:

The National Museum that used to be the former Royal Palace where is presented the “Pra Bang” sacred golden statue, giving its name to the town.

Then visit Vat Mai, adjacent to the National Museum.

Vat Sene, one of the most beautiful temples in town, with its red walls and golden bas-reliefs.

TAEC, the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre. Depicts Laos ‘rich ethnic diversity with themed rotating exhibits. It is hosted in a former French colonial times judge’s mansion.

End with the Heritage House being a perfect example of Luang Prabang traditional building, made of wood on poles, at the back of Vat Xieng Muane.

Drive to Ock Pop Tok weaving centre, on the bank of the Mekong.

Enjoy lunch at “Silk Road Café”.

Ock Pop Tok dyeing session. The Natural Dyes Class is an introduction to silkworms and silk types. In this class, students have a hands-on experience with natural dye preparation and complete their own color dyes. At the end of class you will take home 3 dyed silk skeins. Many of the natural dyes used are grown in their garden. Just to name but a few colors are turquoise, ochre, golden, ivory, emerald green, etc.

Accommodation in Luang Prabang.

Day 3

Luang Prabang – Pak Ou Caves – Kuang Si Waterfall – Luang Prabang (B/L)

Breakfast at the hotel.

Enjoy a morning visit to the beautiful Vat Xieng Thong, one of the most emblematic temples in Laos. It is located at the top of the peninsula, where the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers meet.

Then, continue to the pier to board your long-boat for a highly scenic 2 ½ hour boat ride up the Mekong River to the mysterious 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.

Return to Luang Prabang.

Lunch at “Luang Prabang Kitchen”. This 1920’s restored mansion is an enjoyable place in a quiet part of town. The terrace with frangipani trees is pleasant.

Afternoon, depart to Kuang Si waterfall, 32 km south-west of Luang Prabang. En-route you will make stops to visit ethnic minority villages. Kuang Si is a good place to get more familiar with endemic and endangered Asian Black Bear at the Rescue Center.

It is also possible to hike to the top of the falls via a steep trail, and if the weather is good, you might enjoy a swim in the crystal clear water ponds at the foot of the falls.

Return to town and enjoy a game of Petanque with local residents. Another French legacy here. This balling game is extremely popular with Lao gentlemen. Civil servants and retired people are numerous to gather in the late afternoon and evening to share some happy moments together. Bottles of Beerlao are often around and chit-chat playing with friends is another opportunity to cheer on any occasion!

Accommodation in Luang Prabang.

Laos & Cambodia’s heritage trial

Day 4

Luang Prabang - Xieng Khuang - Plain of Jars Site 1 (B/L)

After your breakfast at hotel, early departure to Xieng Khuang Province. Its capital city is Phonsavan. Your drive will take around 5-6 hours up and down through the mountains with a beautiful landscape of Laos. Along the way, you will stop to visit some minority villages.

Lunch at local restaurant.

On arrival, continue to the Plain of Jar Site 1 to enjoy the sunset (18km). This is the most popular site and it counts 331 jars, including the largest single jar – said to have been the victory cup of the King Khun Jeuang. Jar site 1 was of military strategic importance during the Second Indochina War. Trenches and foxholes, anti-aircraft positions and a tank scrap can be found on the two raised areas and on top of the cave. Several bomb craters and damaged or displaced jars are a testimony to heavy fighting in this area making it an apt symbol for the ancient and modern history of Xieng Khuang in one place.

Then take a short visit to the MAG Visitor Information Centre that provides in-depth history into the intense bombing campaign, the legacy it left behind as the most densely bombed area per capita on earth, facts on the injuries and deaths UXOs continue to cause, diagrams of how cluster bombs work, and even a few diffused shells.

Return to Phonsavan and free at leisure.

Accommodation in Phonsavan.

Day 5

Xieng Khuang – Plain of Jars Site 2 & 3 (B/L)

After your breakfast, visit the Plain of Jars (sites 2 and 3), a large area extending around Phonsavan where several hundred huge jars of unknown origin are scattered about in over a dozen groupings. Several theories have been advanced as to the functions of the jars (burial urns, wine fermenters, rice storage), but there is no evidence confirming one theory over the other. However, in the 1930s, French archeologists found ashes, stone axes, bronze ornaments and ceramics, which may have been offerings to the dead. When the Plain of Jars is listed by the UNESCO and cleared from remaining UXOs, further archeological investigation may bring a clue to all the unanswered questions regarding the most enigmatic site in Laos. The jars weigh mostly from 600 kg to one ton but the biggest one weighs as much as six tons. The jars have been fashioned from solid stone, most from a tertiary conglomerate known as molasses, akin to sandstone, and a few from granite.

Lunch at local restaurant.

Then, transfer to Vat Phia Wat and the war-scarred Buddha statue once housed within this now-destroyed Laotian Buddhist temple, are only 30 kilometers from Phonsavan. On the way to Muang Khoune, you will pass by a Hmong village where you can observe the simple daily life so much in touch with nature and its elements. You are taken back in time as everywhere you look there is traditional activity: weaving, basket making, wood carving and the never ending chores of farming.

Return to Phonsavan.

Accommodation in Phonsavan.

Day 6

Xieng Khuang - Vientiane (B/L)

Breakfast at the hotel.

Transfer to the airport for your flight Lao Airlines QV 402 to Vientiane, departure at 1030 and arrival at 1100 (subject to change without prior notice from the airlines).

Upon arrival at Vientiane domestic airport, transfer to the hotel for your installation.

Lunch at Makphet Restaurant, a vocational restaurant that trains street children to hospitality & cooking jobs.

This afternoon sightseeing tour starts with Vat Sisaket, the only temple left intact after the Siamese invasion in 1828. It shelters hundreds of statues of Buddha in its walls and continue with Vat Phra Keo, now used as a religious museum where you can see Lao and Khmer works of art. It used to host the “Emerald Buddha” that is now on display at Bangkok’s Royal Palace. Then, visit to That Luang, the holiest place in Laos and object of an amazing pilgrimage in November. It is iconic and represented on all bank notes and official stamps. It is a golden stupa that crowns a small hill and conclude with Patuxai Monument, also called Anousavari, and enjoy a panoramic view over the city from the roof. It is Vientiane’s own Arc de Triomphe that is located at the top of Lan Xang Avenue, the Champs Elysees of the Lao capital. While returning to the hotel, you can enjoy some free time or take an optional visit to a well-known Textile Gallery, enjoy a Traditional Herbal Sauna or visit the COPE Centre to learn about the scourge of UXO in Laos.

At the day comes to the end you might choose to end of the day by walking along the Mekong riverfront, view the sunset and enjoy the night-market at Chao Anouvong Park where you can find the local foods with many stalls along the road and you can also browse there for souvenirs.

Accommodation in Vientiane.

Laos & Cambodia’s heritage trial

Day 7

Vientiane – Pakse – Vat Phou - Champassak (B/L)

Rise early, take your boxed-breakfast and transfer to the airport for your flight Lao Airlines QV 305 to Pakse, departure at 0615 and arrival at 0705 (subject to change without prior notice from the airlines).

Arrival in Pakse, welcome by your local guide and then we reach the colonial town of Champassak, the former capital of the eponymous kingdom.

Lunch at local restaurant.

Transfer for Vat Phou in Champassak, the second UNESCO World Heritage sites of the Lao PDR. Vat Phou was a part of the Khmer empire, center on Angkor to the southwest, at least as early as the reign of Yashovarman in the early 10th century.

Then, we reach your resort and lunch at there. You may also enjoy with the swimming pool overlooking the Mekong River.

Take the opportunity to stroll through the surrounding countryside by bike (provided free at the reception of the hotel). The village of Champassak is located only 2 km by this small country road that borders the Mekong.

Accommodation in Champassak.

Day 8

Champassak – “4,000 Islands” – Done Khone Island (B/L)

Breakfast at hotel.

Then, transfer to Ban Hat Xay Khum to cross the river to Don Det & Don Khone Island. Bicycling tour around the Islands, also see the old locomotive, railway and colonial bridge built by the French to avoid navigating on the rapids and waterfalls that abound on this section of the Mekong and visit Li Phi falls.

Lunch at a local restaurant in the “4,000 Islands” area.

If time permits, you may want to try spotting Irrawaddy freshwater dolphins. Ban Hang Khone is one of the rare places on earth to spot these endangered mammals. Expenses to be cleared on the spot, if you wish to opt in.

Accommodation on Done Khone Island.

Day 9

Done Khone – Khone Phapheng – Don Kalor (B/L)

Breakfast at the hotel.

Transfer from Done Khone further south, on to the border with Cambodia.

Cross to Nakasang and drive to visit Khone Phapheng waterfall, they are part of the most impressive waterfalls in this region of Asia.

We then drive to the Lao-Cambodian border in Don Kalor (Laos-Cambodia border).Clearance of immigration formalities out of Laos.

Drop off at the Cambodian immigration counter and welcome by your Cambodian English-speaking guide.

Drive south on National Highway 7, crossing the new bridge over the Mekong River into Stung Treng. We also make a short stop at the Mekong Blue weaving centre to learn about traditional silk production in northeast Cambodia. Originally established to help vulnerable women in the province, the Mekong Blue project is now the largest employer in Stung Treng.

We then enjoy lunch at a local restaurant before continuing across the bridge and northern Cambodia to the small village of Sraem for the night.

Accommodation in Sraem.

Laos & Cambodia’s heritage trial

Day 10

Preah Vihear, Anglong Veng, Siem Reap (B/L)

Breakfast at the hotel.

This morning we journey to the magnificent mountain temple of Preah Vihear. The snaking road up the mountain is very steep in places and we eventually emerge at the second enclosure of this king of the mountain temples. We explore the temple on foot and continue onwards to the final level, clinging to a cliff face in the Dangrek Mountains, towering hundreds of metres above lowland Cambodia below. The views from this most mountainous of temple mountains are breathtaking, the foundation stones of the temple stretching to the edge of the cliff as it plunges precipitously away to the plains of Preah Vihear province below.

We then continue to Anglong Veng, a former Khmer Rouge stronghold until the end of the civil war in 1998. Now a boomtown, there is also the option to visit the former house of military strongman Ta Mok or the grave of Pol Pot before stopping for a local lunch.

We then continue to Siem Reap where we overnight.

Day 11

Phnom Kulen and Banteay Srei (B)

Breakfast at the hotel.

This morning we travel to Phnom Kulen, the sacred mountain that was the birthplace of the Khmer empire. It was here that Jayavarman II proclaimed independence from Java in 802, setting the stage for the glories of the Angkor-era that was to follow. This mountain plateau was the capital of the Khmer empire before it relocated south to Hariharalaya, known today as Roluos. Wat Pre Ang Thom is a focus of pilgrimage for Khmers during religious festivals and the large reclining Buddha carved into a huge sandstone boulder here offers spectacular views across the lush jungle. Nearby are impressive riverbed rock carvings, including innumerable lingas and representations of Shiva and Vishnu. There is a classic waterfall further downstream which is the perfect place to cool off after exploring and nearby is a small, jungle-clad temple called Prasat Krau Romeas.

We enjoy a picnic lunch before descending from the plateau.

We then continue to Banteay Srei, Angkor’s ultimate art gallery. This petite pink temple is the jewel in the crown of Angkor-era sculpture. The elaborate carvings here are the finest found in Cambodia and the name translates as ‘Fortress of the Women’, thanks to the intricate detail here, considered too fine for the hands of a man. Later we visit the 12th century temple of Banteay Samre. Built by King Suryavarman II, the genius behind Angkor Wat, this temple has been extensively restored.

In the evening we head out to the home of the innovative circus performers from Phare Ponleu Selpak. Their regular modern circus show under the Big Top is proving very popular in Siem Reap and in each show they display a variety of disciplines including acrobatics, choreography, juggling, clowning, live music and much more.

Accommodation in Siem Reap.

Day 12

Beng Mealea and Kompong Khleang (B)

Breakfast at the hotel.

We travel to the lost temple of Beng Mealea, the titanic of temples, a slumbering giant lost for centuries in the forests of Cambodia. It is the most accessible of Angkor’s lost temples, a mirror image of Angkor Wat, but utterly consumed by the voracious appetite of nature. Constructed by Suryavarman II in the 12th century, the builder of Angkor Wat, the forest has run riot here and it is hard to get a sense of the monument’s shape amid the daunting ruins. Then, we travel southeast to one of the largest and least-visited villages on the Tonle Sap Lake, Kompong Khleang, about 55km from Siem Reap. It’s population of 10,000 all make a living from the fishing industry. We explore the canals (wet season) or streets (dry season) of this incredible town. In the wet season, the houses appear to be floating, as water laps at the verandas, but in the dry season towering stilts are revealed, the houses almost like wooden skyscrapers. We cruise into the open water of the great lake to see a small floating village and learn some more about this incredible natural flood barrier. Later we return to Siem Reap by road.

Accommodation in Siem Reap.

Laos & Cambodia’s heritage trial

Day 13

Ta Prohm at dawn and afternoon visit to the Walled City of Angkor Thom (B)

We rise early to travel to Ta Prohm in the dawn light. Ta Prohm has been abandoned to the elements, left as it was ‘discovered’ by French explorer Henri Mouhot in 1860, the tentacle-like tree roots here are slowly strangling the surviving stones. After soaking up the unique atmosphere of Ta Prohm, we continue to the giant pyramid of Takeo, one of the highest temples in the Angkor area. Built at the end of the 10th century, it was never completed.

We then enjoy the rest of the morning at leisure to relax.

In the afternoon, we visit the immense walled city of Angkor Thom that was the masterpiece of King Jayavarman VII. The scale is simply staggering and we are immediately overwhelmed by the audacity of Jayavarman on arrival at the city’s gates. We begin our visit at the Terrace of the Leper King, continue along the Terrace of Elephants, and visit the Baphuon, once of the most beautiful temples at Angkor, dating from the 11th century. It has undergone a massive renovation by the French and is now once again open for viewing. Our climax is the enigmatic and enchanting temple of the Bayon. Its 54 towers are each topped off with the four faces of Avalokiteshvara (Buddha of Compassion), which bear more than a passing resemblance to the king himself. We unravel the mysteries of the temple’s bas-reliefs, with their intricate scenes of ancient battles against the Chams and their snapshot of daily life during the Angkor period.

Accommodation in Siem Reap.

Day 14

Flight of the Gibbon and Sunset Quad Bikes (B)

Breakfast at the hotel.

A unique way to enjoy Angkor is by the latest adrenaline adventure of ziplining with “Flight of the Gibbon”. Family‐friendly and safe, flying through the air above the jungle canopy is an exhilarating experience along its 10 ziplines, including a ‘honeymoon’ tandem line, rope bridges, a tree house and a 15m abseil descent to navigate. They also have a nature trail and wild gibbons. We then return to Siem Reap for some relaxation.

This afternoon we enjoy exploring the countryside surrounding Siem Reap by Quad Bike. For those that have never experienced it, all-terrain quad-biking is a lot of fun and all trips include a short introductory lesson to bring riders up to speed. Rides around Siem Reap include a sunset option through the rice fields, whilst others include some quiet pagodas, an ancient temple and a series of backroads through the pretty countryside and rural villages around Siem Reap. The late afternoon sunset ride will take you into the ‘real’ Cambodia and will include a look across the rice fields to Phnom Krom as the sun sets on this beautiful rural scene. Helmets must be worn and ‘minders’ will be with you at all times to ensure your safety.

Accommodation in Siem Reap.

Day 15

Angkor Wat Sunrise and flight to Phnom Penh (B)

Breakfast at the hotel.

Rising at the crack of dawn, we journey out to the Mother of all temples, Angkor Wat. Believed to be the world’s largest religious building, this temple is the perfect fusion of symbolism and symmetry and a source of pride and strength to all Khmers. Built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II, this is most famous temple at Angkor.

We stay at Angkor Wat to enjoy a picnic breakfast.

As the crowds return to their hotels, we venture into Angkor Wat to enjoy its magnificence in peace and quiet, beginning at the bas-reliefs that tell of tales from Hindu mythology and of the glories of the Khmer empire. Return to the hotel to freshen up and then fly to Phnom Penh and transfer to your hotel.

Accommodation in Phnom Penh.

Laos & Cambodia’s heritage trial

Day 16

Tuol Sleng and Killing Fields tour with witness. Lunch at PSE and tour (B/L)

Breakfast at the hotel.

We come face to face with the horrific crimes of the Khmer Rouge with the help of one of its survivors. Tuol Sleng was a former high school that the Khmer Rouge turned into a centre for interrogation, torture and death. Today it is a museum of torture and serves to remind visitors of the terrible atrocities that came to pass in Cambodia. 17,000 people passed through the gates of this prison and only seven lived to tell the tale. The Khmer Rouge were meticulous in their record keeping, photographing all the prisoners and many of these haunting black and white images are on display in the cells. Tuol Sleng is a profoundly moving experience and not everyone will want to visit. However, it is key to understanding the hell into which Cambodia descended and how far it has come in the years since.

We then travel out of town to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. Prisoners from Tuol Sleng followed this same route to their fate. An old Chinese cemetery, Choeung Ek was turned into an extermination camp for political prisoners. The remains of 8985 people were exhumed from mass graves and are kept in a memorial stupa here. Despite the horrors of the past, it is a peaceful place to go and a tranquil spot to reflect on the tragic events that engulfed Cambodia and its people.

We have lunch in the capital at PSE (a French NGO supporting children from the garbage dump) where their Lotus Blanc restaurant serves excellent international and Asian cuisine. We then take a tour of the PSE facilities where both schooling and work/life skills are available to the children and youths as a way of escaping the poverty of their lives spent on the city’s main garbage dump.

Accommodation in Phnom Penh.

Day 17

Cyclo tour, National Museum and the Royal Palace (B)

Breakfast at the hotel.

We discover the streets of Phnom Penh with a cyclo tour of the city. A popular form of transport throughout Southeast Asia, the cyclo is still used in the Cambodian capital and is a comfortable way to see the sights. We use the Cyclo Centre, an NGO set up to support the drivers of these vehicles, Usually poor men from the provinces trying to support their families.

We start at your hotel and pass by Wat Phnom, symbol of the city, before heading west past the National Library and Hotel Le Royal. We continue past the Phnom Penh train station before winding our way down to Psar Thmei (Central Market), the leading market in the city. We then snake through some of the smaller back streets, including 178 St, brimming with art shops, and Bohemian 240 St with its cafes and boutiques. We then pass Independence Monument, modeled on the central tower of Angkor Wat and continue to the elegant riverfront. We pass the glittering Royal Palace compound and the stunning National Museum before winding up at the riverfront, where there are dozens of cafes, bars and eateries to enjoy some refreshments.

We then explore the stunning Royal Palace complex, home to the Cambodian royal family. We begin at the Throne Hall and Napoleon III Pavilion, a gift from the French emperor in the 19th century. We continue to the Silver Pagoda, named after the 5000 silver tiles covering the floor, each weighing 1kg. Inside is a delicate emerald Buddha made of baccarat crystal, which gives the temple its Khmer name of Wat Preah Keo (Temple of the Emerald Buddha). We leave and continue to the nearby National Museum, home to the world’s finest collection of sculpture from the Angkor period. The exquisite building was completed in 1920 and features collections from the pre-Angkor, Angkor and post-Angkor periods. We concentrate on the incredible sandstone sculpture from Angkor, as well as the intricate bronzes.

Accommodation in Phnom Penh.

Day 18

Phnom Penh - departure (B)

Breakfast at the hotel.

Free at leisure to enjoy shopping, exploring the capital on your own or enjoying the hotel’s facilities.

Check-out and transfer to Phnom Penh airport to catch your onward flight.

End of services

Laos & Cambodia’s heritage trial

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.