Where it all started: Lao historical trails

ITINERARY: Vientiane – Xieng Khuang and the Plain of Jars – Sam Neua – Vieng Xay – Nam Nern Night Safari – Nong Khiau – Luang Prabang

DURATION: 13 days and 12 nights on the spot

Day 1

Arrival in Vientiane (L)

Note: Upon your arrival at Wattay 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.

Lunch at a local restaurant.

This afternoon visit COPE center. A part of Laos history that is not very well unknown: the Secret War, which corresponds to the Vietnam War (also known as American War from a Vietnamese stand point). Laos is unfortunately the country which has received the most bombs per capita in the entire history. Still today, a good deal of those unexploded ordnance (UXOs) explode as people work their fields and children play in the countryside. Laos is actively fighting the use of these cluster bombs and the COPE centre will depict and inform visitors on these issues. And part of the complex is actually a medical center where disabled people get new hopes as they receive prosthesis and get new mobility after reeducation

As the day comes to an 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.

Day 2

Vientiane – Buddha Park - Vientiane (B/L)

After breakfast, start your half-day city tour of Vientiane with That Luang stupa, 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. 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.

You will then head to 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.

Lunch at Makphet restaurant. Makphet is a vocational restaurant that is run by an NGO, Friends International. It aims at providing disadvantaged street kids with kitchen, cooking, hygiene, sales and service skills to get a chance for a brighter future. The cuisine is tasty and a subtle mix of Lao traditional recipes with touches of modernism. The plate decorations are particularly eye-catching. Bon appétit!

After lunch, leave to Buddha Park. It is located around 30 minutes driving from town center. It is locally also called Vat Xieng Khuan. It contains numerous religious sculptures mixing up Hindu and Buddhist styles. It hosts over 200 unusual statues along the Mekong River bank.

Return to town and en-route stop visit at International Lao Disable Women’s Development Center that is an active advocate for the rights, recognition and equal opportunity of disabled women. The center achieves this not only through advocacy but also by training disabled women in a variety of fields and building their confidence and independence.

Accommodation in Vientiane.

Day 3

Vientiane - departure to Xieng Khuang (B/L)

Breakfast at the hotel.

Today, you will leave the Lao capital and drive to Xieng Khuang province via Paksan. In this northeastern region of Laos, you will learn more about the Unexploded Ordnance in Lao PDR that are the remnants of cluster bombs.

Lunch at local restaurant en-route.

Upon arrival in Xieng Khuang, 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. The highlight, a one-hour unbiased documentary detailing the bombing’s background, particularly appeals to an audience ranging from people born before the war, those who grew up during the era, and veterans who fought.

Accommodation in Phonsavan.

Where it all started: Lao historical trails

Day 4

Xieng Khuang – the Plain of Jars – Xieng Khuang (B/L)

Breakfast at the hotel.

This morning, explore the Plain of Jars site 1 a large area about 8 km from Phonsavan town where huge jars of unknown origin are scattered. The weight of the jars averages about 600 kg to one ton, but the biggest one weighs as much as 6 tons. The jars appear to have been fashioned from solid stone, but there is disagreement on this point.

Lunch at a local restaurant.

After lunch, drive to Muang Khoun, the former capital of Xieng Khuang including Vat Piawat. Muang Khoun once rivaled Luang Prabang in glory but today only a few ruins remain. En route, visit Lao Loum and Hmong villages. Before returning to Phonsavan, visit the local market where the ethnic minorities (Thai Dam, Hmong, and Phuan) from the surrounding villages gather every morning.

Return to the hotel.

Accommodation in Phonsavan.

Day 5

Xieng Khuang – Sam Neua (B/L)

After breakfast, overland transfer to Sam Neua. It takes approximately 4 hours. The road from Xieng Khuang to Sam Neua is asphalted and snakes the mountainous area between 1000 and 1200 meters of elevation.

On the way, visit Tham Piew cave. There is a small museum with old photos and a painting depicting the people massacred in the cave. The older gentleman who is the keeper of the museum and tour guide was one of the survivors from this village. There, you will also visit Hmong and Khmu minority villages and will stop for stunning panoramic views.

Lunch at a local restaurant.

Upon arrival in Sam Neua, transfer to the guesthouse for check-in and free time at leisure.

Accommodation in Sam Neua.

Day 6

Sam Neua – Vieng Xay – Sam Neua (B/L)

Breakfast at the guesthouse.

This morning, you will drive straight to Vieng Xay where there are over 100 limestone caves and many of which were used as hideouts and bunkers by revolutionary activists during the Indochina war between 1960 and 1975. Now there are about 5 large caves opened as tourist sites and all of these caves are located in and around Vieng Xay town. You may have to trek to connect some of these caves.

Lunch at local restaurant.

Then visit a Tai Neua weaving village located few kilometers next to Tham Mr Phoumy Vongvichit cave. If time permits, a late afternoon visit to a local market can be added.

Return to Sam Neua for overnight.

Accommodation in Sam Neua.

Where it all started: Lao historical trails

Day 7

Sam Neua – Vieng Thong (B/L)

After breakfast, drive through amazing landscapes and through some quite pristine forest area where tourists hardly ever venture.

Some hours later, we will have lunch in a small village along the way.

We continue driving and pass through many villages including ethnic Hmong, Khmu. Crossing in its width Namet Phou Loei Park which still houses today the last wild Lao tigers community.

We will reach our destination for today and surely with the small, quiet and remote place of Vieng Thong, Vieng Thong is home to the Night Safari project implemented by WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society), which aims to protect the last wild tigers of Southeast Asia experiencing a strong poaching. There’s also a dip in the hot springs that will heal a bit the aches that may appear after a drive on a rough road.

Accommodation in Vieng Thong.

Day 8

Vieng Thong - Nam Nern Night Safari (B/L/D)

Depart from Vieng Thong to Ban Son Koua, an ethnic Khmu Village. Local guides and boatmen will greet you and take you on a short tour of the village where you will learn about the animist tradition of appeasing the village spirit. You then embark on a 1.5‐ hour journey to the park substation on the Nam Nern River by long‐tail boat, along the way learning about upland rice cultivation and having opportunities to spot monitor lizards and bird life.

After arriving at the park substation, visitors will enjoy a lunch prepared by the cooking group. After lunch, the group will receive a briefing by park staff about the on‐the‐ground efforts in protecting tigers and their prey. At midafternoon, the group departs for the night safari.

Stopping near a salt lick, the group hikes into the forest. The local guide, a skilled tracker, explains how local people track deer and other wild ungulates. The guides point out evidence of wildlife, such a tracks or scat at the salt lick.

The boats continue upriver to the dinner site, a sandy, flat bank, where the group takes a picnic around a campfire. After dinner, the guides tell Khmu folktales and stories about dragons, wildlife, and ghosts. The guides educate tourists about the species of animals they may see during the spotlighting and explain the rules and expectations for spotlighting.

Depending on the amount of moonlight, the group departs for the night spotlighting 2‐3 hours after dark, floating down river with engines off. There is only one light per boat. Only guides use the light, to avoid scaring the animals.

The guides and boat drivers communicate via hand signals to avoid talking that might disturb the animals. The boat is very quiet so as not to disturb the animals. Animals that may be seen include Samba deer, otters, barking deer, various species of civets, slow lories, porcupine and owls.

At the end of the spotlighting, the boats arrive at the evening camp. Before going to bed, visitors will be able to check out a variety of insects attracted to the black light set up near the substation.

The Nam Nern Night Safari is designed to provide direct incentives to local people for protecting wildlife. For every rare animal that your group sees, a bonus is paid to the village development fund, which is split among 14 villages. If your group is lucky enough to see a tiger, an extremely rare occurrence, you will be asked to pay an additional fee of 2,100,000 LAK (around 300 US$) per group to encourage the conservation of tigers and fight against poaching and illegal trade.

Accommodation in lodge.

Day 9

Medicinal Plant Walk – Nong Khiau (B/L)

Before breakfast, local guides take guests on a walk around the jungle, teaching about the use of medicinal plants and explaining the history of the site, which was once a major settlement during the Secret War. After breakfast, the boats floats back through core zone at a relaxing pace with engines off, pointing out wildlife along the way.

Upon arrival at the village, guests are invited to try earthen jar rice wine (lao hai).

Before departing, the group will fill out a wildlife monitoring form that is used to monitor wildlife abundance and indicate the amount of bonuses put into the village development fund from the tour costs.

After that, we will drive to Nong Khiau overland (230 km). Lots of villages dot the mountainous road along the way.

Time permitting, possible stops en route to visit ethnic villages.

Lunch at a local restaurant en-route.

You will arrive in Nong Kiau in the late afternoon n straight to your hotel for check-in.

Free time at leisure.

Accommodation in Nong Kiau.

Where it all started: Lao historical trails

Day 10

Nong Khiau – Pak Ou – Luang Prabang (B/L)

Breakfast at the hotel.

This morning, visit to the historical caves of Phathok. Nong Khiau villagers used this caves as shelter during the “Secret War”. It is located about 30 minutes’ walk from Nong Khiau town and follows beautiful sceneries and great vistas in the surrounding tropical mountains.

Afterward, head to Pak Ou overland. It takes approximately 3 hours.

Lunch at a local restaurant.

Then, visit Pak Ou Caves, where 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.

After visiting the caves, sail in a covered motorized long slow boat down the Mekong to Luang Prabang.

Arrive in Luang Prabang in the late afternoon and transfer to the hotel for check-in.

Accommodation in Luang Prabang.

Day 11

Luang Prabang city Tour (B/L)

Breakfast at the hotel,

This morning tour begins to explore the historic town of Luang Prabang. We walk along Sisavangvong St, the heart of the old quarter and explore the National Museum, set in the former Royal Palace. Built in 1904, the palace is a blend of Laotian and French influences and houses many royal treasures. The most important item is the solid gold Pha Bang Buddha, a gift from the Khmer King to his son-in-law, Fa Ngum, founder of the Lao Kingdom. Visit Vat Mai, the former royal temple.

Vat Visoun where you will see the famous Watermelon Stupa, shaped like the fruit it takes its name from. This temple was destroyed in 1887 by the invading Black Flags from China, and was restored in 1930 by Buddhist monks and local people and Vat Aham.

Following by 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

Enjoy your lunch at Tamarind restaurant.

Afternoon, visit to Ock Pop Tok traditional weaving center, where you can see the cultural dying, the methods, the history and the cultural significances. Then take a break at Le Patio Café. After that, take a short visit to 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.

Then, 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, 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.

7pm – head to Hive Bar and enjoy the Ethnic Fashion Show with snacks and soft drinks.

Accommodation in Luang Prabang.

Day 12

Luang Prabang – Kuang Si waterfalls – Luang Prabang (B/L)

This morning, rise early and 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 hotel for breakfast.

After your breakfast, head to Kuang Si waterfalls, 32 km south-west of Luang Prabang. Kuang Si is a good place to get more familiar with endemic and 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.

Enjoy a picnic lunch there and enjoy the views.

En route to the falls, your guide will take you to some of the nearby ethnic minority villages for a look into Laotian rural life and a chance to interact with the locals. You will also have the opportunity to visit the Asian Black Bear Rescue Center.

Back to town, free time at leisure.

In the late afternoon, enjoy Petanque games with local residence. 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.

Where it all started: Lao historical trails

Day 13

Luang Prabang - Departure (B)

Breakfast at the hotel.

Check-out and personal clearance of expenses (if any) depending on flight time out, lunch on personal account.

Transfer to the airport for your onward flight.

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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.

For your enjoyment, we recommend you the following hotels during your tour of Laos: