NORTHERN LAOS TOUR
The Northern Laos Tour is an extraordinary journey to discover the natural wonders of the remote northern provinces, off the beaten track. The itinerary includes impressive caves, places of worship and remote villages in contact with the traditions and authenticity of these places. A completely unconventional itinerary enriched by the experience of the Nam Et Nature Park and the Night Safari.
Visit Luang Prabang, ‘City of the Golden Buddha‘, the legendary capital of the Lan Xang Kingdom, located on the peninsula at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam rivers, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995.
Admire the beauty of the Kuang Si waterfalls and cruise the Mekong River to discover the Pak Ou Caves, or the Thousand Buddha Caves, an important place of worship and pilgrimage for centuries.
Visit Phonsavan and the ‘Plain of Jars‘, the large archaeological site with hundreds of large jars scattered over the plateau, Vang Vieng, the town framed by a backdrop of karst mountains, lush forests and impressive caves, as well as Vientiane, the quiet capital of Laos on the banks of the Mekong River.
* Please bear in mind that on this trip you may not always be able to find high standard accommodation, hence it is essential to adapt to local comforts.
This sample itinerary starts and ends in Luang Prabang. It can be customised to suit your travel needs or combined with other trips in Laos, as well as an overland trip to Cambodia.
Length : 13D 12N
From : LUANG PRABANG
To : LUANG PRABANG
Destinations : Luang Prabang, Muang La, Muang Ngoy, Viengthong, Nam Et NPA, Xieng Khouang, Vang Vieng
01. ARRIVE IN LUANG PRABANG
Luang Prabang view
Welcome meeting by our staff upon arrival in Luang Prabang, the ancient capital of the Lan Xang Kingdom located on the peninsula at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam rivers, UNESCO World Heritage since 1995, whose origins date back to the ancient city Muang Sua built in 698. Transfer to the hotel and check-in.
Included : Private pick up from them airport, private transportation and hotel
02. PAK OU CAVE - KAMU LODGE
Buddha statues at Pak Ou caves
After breakfast we head to the pier and embark on a river cruise to Pak Ou Caves, also known as the Thousand Buddha Caves. Located at the confluence of the Mekong and Ou rivers, they are one of the must-see sights on a trip to Laos.
The sanctuary consists of two large limestone caves: Tham Ting, the lower cavity, which can be reached by climbing the 30-step staircase, and Tham Theung, the upper cavity, which can be reached by climbing the 70-step staircase.
The Pak Ou caves have been an important place of worship for many centuries for the faithful, who offer a Buddha image as a gift when they make a pilgrimage there. As a result of this tradition, today both cavities house thousands of statues of Buddha of different sizes, from a few centimeters to about 2 meters, in different styles and spiritual positions (mudras), from meditation to ascent to nirvana. During the cruise we admire the typical Laotian rural landscape and the local lifestyle.
Afterwards we continue by boat to ‘Kamu Lodge‘, the private ecolodge that contributes to the conservation of the local culture and traditions.
In the afternoon you can visit the Kamu village or take part in some rural activities such as planting and harvesting rice, traditional fishing, gold panning (scour gold – from January to June), practice archery.
Included : Kamu Lodge, breakfast, lunch, dinner, tour guide, boat, tickets and private transportation
03. LUANG PRABANG - 'BACI' SPIRITUAL CEREMONY
After breakfast we continue by boat Luang Prabang. On the way we stop at the local village of Ban Muangkeo, known for its traditional production of ‘rice wine’. We then continue our tour of the most important attractions.
We visit the National Museum: formerly the Royal Palace, it now houses an important collection of valuables including statues of Buddha and many other objects donated by visiting dignitaries to the court of Luang Prabang. We continue along the quiet streets lined with buildings from the French colonial period to admire their architecture and learn about their original function.
Next we visit the Wat Sene Souk Haram temple, or ‘Temple of 100,000 Treasures‘, built in 1718 using 100,000 stones extracted from the Mekong River, and Wat Xieng Thong, or ‘Monastery of the Golden City‘, founded in 1560, one of the most important in Luang Prabang, known for the grace and elegance of its architecture.
Afterwards, we visit Wat Visoun, built in 1513, Wat Aham, or ‘Monastery of the Blossoming Heart‘, built at the beginning of the 19th century as a place of meditation and a meeting place between animist and Buddhist cultures, and the Wat Mai, ‘New Monastery‘, built at the end of the 18th century, one of the most complex and picturesque temples in the city, richly decorated and easily distinguishable by its unique five-level roof.
In the late afternoon we visit a local house to participate in a special Laotian tradition called ‘Baci‘, a spiritual ceremony whose origins date back to the period before Buddhism was introduced into Laos.
According to animist beliefs still practised today, each person has 32 spirits that form the spiritual essence of the individual.
The ritual has the function of summoning and ‘synchronising’ the spirits, and thus their relative effects on 32 of the organs of the human body. It is believed that it also helps to balance the harmony of the individual and the community. As a matter of fact, it is practised as a good omen on many occasions, births, weddings, departures, returns, the beginning of the year, etc. At the ceremony, flowers and sweets are prepared and mantras are recited. At the end, participants receive blessings individually.
Included : Hotel, breakfast, tour guide, boat, tickets and private transportation
04. MUANG LA - TRIBAL VILLAGES
Hill tribe village
We start the part of the trip that takes us into the remote provinces of northern Laos, following paths that cross mountains and incredible landscapes inhabited by local ethnic groups.
We reach the Oudomxay province, home to 23 ethnic groups such as Hmong and Khmu. During the transfer we will make several stops to meet the locals and observe their ancient traditions.
In the afternoon we reach our destination: the rural village Muang La.
After checking in at the local house, there is plenty of time to walk around the village, meet the Khmu tribesmen and visit the sacred temples in the surrounding area.
Included : Guesthouse, breakfast, tour guide and private transportation
05. MUANG NGOY - TRIBAL VILLAGES
Remote areas of Laos
After breakfast we continue our journey into northern Laos to Muong Khoua village where we board a traditional boat for the transfer on the Nam Ou River to Muong Ngoy, the small village framed by an incredible landscape.
Accommodation in a local guesthouse.
Included : Guesthouse, breakfast, tour guide, boat and private transportation
06. THAM KAANG CAVE - TRIBAL VILLAGES
After breakfast we hike (approximately 30 minutes) to Tham Kaang cave, used as a shelter during the Second Indochina War (1962-1975), known in Laos as ‘The Secret War’.
During this difficult period thousands of civilians in rural areas were forced to seek refuge in caves. Despite being uncomfortable, they kept alive the hope of survival. To avoid air raids, farmers cultivated rice fields at night.
Tham Kaang Cave is one of those caves that were luckily not damaged by aerial bombardment, and is set in an extremely scenic context, with breath-taking scenery, green rice paddies and the enchanting image of the river flowing out of the cave entrance.
Only part of the cave (about 15 metres) can be explored, as far as the depth allows.
We then continue our hike to Ban Houay Boor village, inhabited by the Khmu and T’ai Deng ethnic groups (approx. 1h-1h30 – an easy walk through the rice fields).
After lunch at a local house, we continue to Ban Na village (approx. 1h – an easy walk through the rice fields), before heading back to Muong Ngoy for an overnight stay.
Included : Guesthouse, breakfast, lunch, tour guide, private transportation
NPA park Laos © www.namet.org
After breakfast we take a boat trip on the Nam Ou River (approx. 1h) towards Nong Khieu village. On arrival we visit the beautiful Tham Pha Thok cave.
We then continue by car along a scenic road through a landscape of karst formations that leads into Houaphanh Province in north-eastern Laos and into Viengthong, the town that is home to the Nam Et Phou Louey NPA (Protected National Park). During the transfer we make a few stops to visit mountain villages and observe the local daily lifestyle up close.
Once at the national park we check in at the ecolodge. Free time to explore the surrounding area and visit the natural hot springs.
* Only basic accommodation is available at the ecolodge.
Included : Guesthouse, breakfast, boat, tour guide and private transportation
08. TREKKING NAM ET NATIONAL PARK
Car transfer at 8:00 am (approx. 1h30′) to Ban Son Koua village inhabited by the Khmu tribe, along a road surrounded by beautiful mountains. Upon arrival we meet the tribal guide who is waiting to take us on a tour of the village, explaining the local animist traditions.
Next, aboard a local boat, we continue on the Nam Nern River for about 1h30′ through a landscape of fascinating rice paddies and lush forests. Upon arrival at the national park, we settle into a typical bamboo hut near the river.
After lunch, we attend a presentation by the park staff on the ongoing environmental conservation activities and protected species in the park.
In the mid-afternoon we embark again on a river excursion (about 45 minutes) and then continue on foot into the forest guided by the tribal guide who explains how to recognise animal tracks and helps us to spot any wildlife in the park.
We then travel up the river by boat to the designated point for a picnic dinner around the bonfire, with tales from local staff about the folkloric traditions of the Khmu tribe as well as useful information to help us get ready for the night safari.
After dinner we start our boat trip along the river. Guides, equipped only with torches, will help us spot wildlife. Animal species living in the park include sambar deer, otters, various species of owls, lorises and porcupines.
Expectations of sightings should not be too optimistic considering the small number of animals in the park and their natural mistrust of humans. Should the guides spot any animals, they will give us a clear signal to turn on our torches.
At the end of the excursion, we return to the ecolodge for an overnight stay.
Included : Ecolodge, breakfast, picnic dinner, tour guide, trekking permit, boats, and private transportation
09. XIENG KHOUANG
Before breakfast we take a walk in the forest with a tribal guide to learn about some special medicinal plants still used today by the local people.
After breakfast at the ecolodge we return to Ban Son Koua village by boat, guided by the tribal guide who will show us the wildlife along the way.
We then continue our journey in our private vehicle towards Xieng Khoang, the province heavily affected by American bombing during the Second Indochina War (Vietnam War).
The route is very charming and reflects the authenticity of Laos’ typical landscapes. Other tourists are not usually met in this area as it is still off the beaten track. The transfer is slightly long with a few stops to admire and take pictures of the landscape.
Included : Hotel, breakfast, barca, tour guide and private transportation
10. PLAN OF JARS - MUANG KHOUNE
Plain of Jars
After breakfast we visit the Plain of Jars, the large archaeological site with hundreds of large jars scattered over the plateau.
Archaeologists claim that the jars are around 2,000 years old, although no concrete explanation has yet been found as to what they were used for, whether they were burial urns or were merely used to store the popular rice wine.
Afterwards we carry on with a tour of the Muang Khoune archaeological site, capital of the Tai Muang Phoan autonomous principality in the 16th century, which was heavily damaged by the American bombardment.
We visit the ruins of Wat Phia Wat, the temple built in the 16th century, still a place of worship and pilgrimage. Next, we visit the ruins of Wat Tha Foune temple, built in the 14th century in ‘Ayutthaya style’ with its typical bell shape.
Included : Hotel, breakfast, tickets, tour guide and private transportation
11. VANG VIENG
Vang Vieng landscape
After breakfast we visit the colourful market of Phonsavan, where we meet locals from various tribal villages in the region.
Next, we move on to Vang Vieng. Rather than a town, Vang Vieng is a large village where the real highlight is the undeniable beauty of the karst landscape and the unexplored caves, some of which have names that recur in local mythology and are said to be inhabited by spirits.
During the transfer, the landscape is very interesting and gives us an insight into the daily lifestyle of the hill tribe
After the check-in at the hotel we cross the river and reach Ban Huai Ngai village to learn about the local lifestyle.
Included : Hotel, breakfast, tour guide, tickets and private transportation
12. THAM PHOU KHAM – LUANG PRABANG
After breakfast, an unconventional excursion on board a local tractor through rice fields awaits us to visit the famous Tham Phou Kham cave, one of the most beautiful in Laos.
Access to the cave is not the easiest. However, for those who don’t feel like venturing inside the cave, the visit is definitely worth it to enjoy the beautiful natural environment and take a refreshing dip in the natural pool at the entrance of the cave.
Afterwards, transfer to Luang Prabang and check-in at the hotel.
Included : Hotel, breakfast, tour guide, tickets and private transportation
13. LUANG PRABANG - DEPARTURE
Transfer to Luang Prabang airport in time for your departure flight.
Included : Breakfast, private transportation to airport
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