Smiles of Laos & Cambodia


ITINERARY: Luang Prabang – Pakse – Champassak – “4,000 Islands” – Stung Treng – Kratie – Kampong Cham – Sambor Preikuk – 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.

Short orientation tour around Luang Prabang town and transfer to hotel.

Lunch at the restaurant of the hotel.

Check-in.

Then, short visit to Phou Sy 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, stop 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)

Breakfast at the hotel.

Half day city tour with essentials:

Start with The National Museum that used to be the former Royal Palace. Inside the complex of the National Museum, you will see the “Prabang” sacred golden statue, giving its name to the town.

Then visit Vat Mai, the former royal temple.

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.

Pedal to Ock Pop Tok weaving center, 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 – Full day elephant back riding and kayaking – Luang Prabang (B/L)

05h40 – At discretion: Head by Tuk-Tuk to the peninsula to witness and attend alms giving. 06h – 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.

Optional: French style breakfast at Café Vat Sene bakery. Indulge in a croissant, fruit juice, coffee or tea plus French toasts with butter and jam. Lao people have inherited the culture of eating bread from the French. It is not unusual for Laotians to have a sandwich for lunch or on the go when they are traveling. It is also highly regarded in wedding receptions, while saucing the juice of a meat ragout.

08:30 – 09:00 am. Departure from your Hotel.

Pick up and transfer to the site of elephant riding at the elephant Village. Enjoy the impressive experience of approx. 1 hour elephant back ride on the Howdah (Elephant seat). Boat trip on the Khan River. Take a return pirogue trip to the Tad Sae Waterfall and spend some time in the clear water. Possibility to swim in the falls, water levels permitting.

Lunch will be provided at the Elephant Village Restaurant (Buffet lunch served with drinking water).

Return by kayak to Luang Prabang. The Nam Khan River goes into the direction of Luang Prabang city and offers some soft rapids and a green and lush surrounding countryside. Arriving near town you will be picked up and brought back to your hotel. Depending on water levels, there are a lot of activities on the banks and on the water! Fishermen fishing, ladies collecting river weeds, children playing, buffaloes refreshing, gatherers of stones and sand and usual daily life occupations of villagers.

Around 19h00, head to Hive Bar and enjoy the Ethnic Fashion Show with snacks and soft drinks.

Accommodation in Luang Prabang.

Smiles of Laos & Cambodia

Day 4

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 “Un Petit Nid”. 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.

Day 5

Luang Prabang – Pakse – Champassak (B/L)

Enjoy your breakfast and free at leisure to enjoy hotel’s facilities until transfer to the airport for the flight to Pakse, Champassak province.

Check-out and personal clearance of expenses.

Transfer to the airport for your flight QV 513 to Pakse, departure at 1040 and arrival at 1220 (subject to change without prior notice from the airlines).

Upon arrival at Pakse domestic airport, welcome by your local guide. Drive to the colonial town of Champassak, the former capital of the eponymous kingdom.

Transfer to your resort and lunch there.

This afternoon, we explore southern Laos’ gem: the ancient temple of Vat Phou, the second UNESCO World Heritage site of the Lao PDR. Vat Phou is one of the best preserved examples of major Khmer architecture, some 200 years older than Angkor Wat in neighbor Cambodia. The core monument of this site consists of a main temple on the upper terrace, six shrines on the middle terrace and two palaces and Nandin Hall on the lower terrace. There are also other associated ruins surrounding the temple complex.

Then return to the resort and you may also enjoy with the swimming pool overlooking the Mekong River.

Accommodation in Champassak.

Day 6

Champassak - Xe Pian National Park (B/L)

Take the opportunity to stroll through the local surroundings 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.

After breakfast, we will head to Xe Pian National Park, where you will spend the night near the village of Ban Kiet Ngong at an eco-lodge ideally located in a preserved natural environment, surrounded by wild animals.

You will be offered a tour of about 90 minutes on an elephant through the lush surroundings of Ban Kiet Ngong (2 people per animal) to the summit of Mount Phou Asa that offers a wonderful view about the region and the remains of an ancient civilization still mysterious.

Lunch at local restaurant.

Free time at leisure at the lodge.

Accommodation in lodge.

Smiles of Laos & Cambodia

Day 7

Xe Pian National Park – “4,000 Islands” – Done Khone Island (B/L)

After breakfast, keeping going by road to Si Phan Don (or 4,000 Islands).

We cross the Mekong by ferry to explore the “4,000 Islands” area (Si Pan Done, in Lao), from Hat Say Khoun cruise to Done Khone. Here, the Mekong River is at its widest. During the rainy season it is up to 12 km across. When the waters recede, many small islands emerge. It is from this phenomenon that the region takes its name. By the river to Done Det & Done Khone islands. 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.

Accommodation in Done Khone.

Day 8

Done Khone Island – Dong Kalor - Stung Treng and Kratie area (B)

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 south to Kampi, one of the many deep pools where the rare river dolphins gather to feed. We board a local boat and cruise out into the mighty Mekong for a chance encounter with these gentle creatures. Viewing is commonplace, although it is easier to see the dolphins in the shallower waters of the dry season, than in the swollen river of the wet season. After enjoying an hour or more of dolphin viewing, we then continue to Kratie, a sleepy Mekong port which is our base for the night and take a ferry across to Koh Trong Island where our hotel for the night is located.

Accommodation in Koh Trong Island.

Day 9

Kratie, Koh Trong and onto Kampong Cham (B)

After breakfast, enjoy exploring Koh Trong. This is a beautiful island and we enjoy a leisurely ox cart ride around the island, stopping to meet the friendly locals, sampling the local produce especially the delicious pomelos, for which the island is famous. Exploring this island helps to support the Community Based Tourism program. This is seeing rural Cambodia at its best, and it’s easy to see why those that make the effort believe that the true highlight of this wonderful country is the people! This island is the perfect place to see how 80% of the population continue to make their living off the land. We can also visit a floating Vietnamese fishing village at the southern tip of the island. We then continue south to the bustling provincial city of Kompong Cham, nestled on the banks for the Mekong. We pass through Cambodia’s rubber country on the way, vast plantations that were originally established by the French and are once again being redeveloped. There may be the opportunity to stop along the way and learn about how the rubber is tapped. We arrive in Kompong Cham and check in to our hotel.

We leave the rest of the afternoon free to explore on foot or by bicycle, as this is a pretty town that is easy to navigate.

We stay overnight in a comfortable local hotel in Kampong Cham.

Smiles of Laos & Cambodia

Day 10

Kampong Cham to Siem Reap via Sambor Preikuk (B/L)

Breakfast at the hotel.

We leave Kompong Cham and travel northwest to the provincial capital of Kompong Thom. We’ll make a quick stop at Skoun, affectionately known as “Spiderville”, famous for its deep-fried tarantulas, a local delicacy. Then we continue our journey north stopping en route to visit the 11th century temple of Wat Guha Nokor.

Lunch is of the picnic variety at the impressive pre-Angkorian capital of Isanapura, known today as Sambor Prei Kuk. The first major temple city in South-East Asia, the brick temples of Sambor Prei Kuk are a peaceful contrast to their more illustrious relatives at Angkor. We explore the main temples here, including Prasat Tao with its elaborately coiffured lions and Prasat Sambor, with its crumbling sanctuaries.

We then continue on to Siem Reap.

Accommodation in Siem Reap.

Day 11

Roluos group, Floating village and Phare Circus (B)

Breakfast at the hotel.

We travel back in time to one of the earliest capitals in the Angkor area, Hariharilaya, now known as Roluos. We begin with a visit to the brick temple of Lolei, originally set on an island in the center of the Indratataka baray (reservoir). We continue to Preah Ko (Sacred Cow), named in honour of Shiva’s mount, Nandin. Originally coated in stucco and painted, there is still some of the ancient plaster visible on the rear towers. Finally, we encounter Bakong, the earliest of the temple mountains, which later became the signature of Khmer kings. It is a giant pyramid, its cardinal points marked by giant elephants.

Then, we travel to Kompong Pluk and board small wooden boats for the trip to visit Kompong Pluk. Cruising down a narrow waterway, we enter this medieval floating village, where the houses stand atop stilts as much as seven metres above the water. Everything lives on the water, pigs, dogs, crocodiles and people, all jockeying for space in this incredible floating town. We explore the local wat here, before boarding a bigger boat to take us through the flooded forest and across the Great Lake to Chong Kneas and the holy mountain of Phnom Krom. We climb Phnom Krom for a glorious sunset over the Tonle Sap before heading back to Siem Reap by road.

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

Phnom Kulen and Banteay Srei (B/L)

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.

Accommodation in Siem Reap.

Smiles of Laos & Cambodia

Day 13

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

Breakfast at the hotel.

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 treehouse 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.

Smiles of Laos & Cambodia

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

Smiles of Laos & Cambodia

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.