While Southeast Asia is slowly becoming one of the world’s more popular travel destinations, there is still much to be seen and experienced off the beaten path. Our Trailblazing tours have been organized to offer travelers off-piste experiences that enable them to see what life is truly like in our wonderful countries. Trailblazing Laos is the perfect example of discovering just how much more there is to experience beyond the usual tourist-friendly stops. The journey begins in northern Laos near Luang Prabang, where the countryside and lesser-known parts of the region are highlighted… not just the beauty of Luang Prabang proper. The perfect chance to see and experience a different part of Laos, this itinerary is for the true adventurer at heart. Afriad you’re going to miss out on some more classic visits? Don’t worry. We’ve kept a handful of the most popular stops in the itinerary so you can soak up all parts of the region. Highlights of this tour include experiencing the Champasak area, where stunning Buddhist caves, hill tribe villages, unique wildlife and lesser-known national parks are the daily menu. In the Phonsavan area you can get up close and personal with the mysterious Plain of Jars, and further east you can encounter Vieng Xai, where caves from the war stand frozen in time commemorating a more difficult time in Laos’ history. The Nam Et National Park puts some of Laos’ wildlife on display and an unforgettable river cruise sends you back to the beauty of Luang Prabang.
|Day 1||arrive Pakse - Champasak||First day of adaptation / Relax||B|
|Day 2||Champasak||Visit of temples across Mekong River - Wat Phou Sunrise||B|
|Day 3||Champasak, Savannakhet, Thakek||Visit of these cities||B|
|Day 4||Thakek - Ban Nakhang Xang||Transport - Visit of forest and Buddha Cave||B|
|Day 5||Thakek - Kong Lor - Ban Hin Boun||Relax across mountainous region - Kong Lor Caves||B|
|Day 6||Ban Hin Boun, Muang Khoun, Phonsavan||Bomb Boat village - Tai Lu and Hmong village||B|
|Day 7||Phonsavan||MAG, Plain of Jars, Lone Buffalo||B|
|Day 8||Phonsavan, Hintang, Sam Neua||Visit of these cities||B|
|Day 9||Sam Neua||Vieng Xai Caves||B|
|Day 10||Sam Neua - Ban Son Koua - Nam Et-Phou Lo...||Night Safari||B|
|Day 11||Nam Et-Phou Louey National Park, Nong Kh...||Explore the jungle||B|
|Day 12||Nong Khiaw, Nam Ou Cruise, Muang Ngoi||Exploration of villages||B|
|Day 13||Nong Khiaw - Luang Prabang||Pak Ou Caves||B|
|Day 14||Luang Prabang - Tak Bat||Walking Tour, Weaving Villages||B|
|Day 15||Luang Prabang||Relax||B|
|Day 16||Luang Prabang||Relax & departure||B|
First day of adaptation / Relax
Upon arrival at Pakse Airport you will be met by your guide for the short drive south to Champasak, a delightful Colonial riverside town with a relaxed vibe.
Visit of temples across Mekong River - Wat Phou Sunrise
Make an early morning visit to the fascinating pre-Angkorian ruins of Wat Phou that are located near to the town and are one of South-East Asia's most dramatically situated temple sites offering superb views across the Mekong River.
Designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2001, the site dates back to the 5th century, predating the famous Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Whilst much of the origins of Wat Phou are unclear, it is believed that the original temple was built by the Khmer Hindus who eventually made Angkor Wat their capital.
This impressive temple offers a stunning sunrise view, and at this time in the morning it will be deserted. Return to your hotel by around 8am for breakfast.
The rest of your day is at leisure.
Visit of these cities
Early this morning depart Champasak, heading north towards Thakek. En route make a stop at Don Khor, a village specialising in the intricate Buddha carvings you will have admired in temples throughout Laos.
Continue driving north, arriving into Savannakhet in time for lunch.
After lunch there is time to admire the old French Quarter of Savannakhet as well as the sacred That Inhang stupa, before heading out of the town to visit the nearby Soundra Salt Factory for an interesting tour on local salt production methods.
Continue on to Thakek, arriving by late afternoon and the remainder of your day is at leisure. Once settled in to your hotel, we recommend a stroll along the waterfront to soak up the ambiance of this often overlooked laid back, French Colonial town. Position yourself in one of the riverside restaurants to enjoy a Mekong sunset and some fine Laotian fayre.
Transport - Visit of forest and Buddha Cave
Depart Thakek early this morning and follow the old French railway track that was destined for Vietnam but was never finished. Continuing through impressive scenery, you arrive in the village of Ban Nakhang Xang for a quick exploration and here you meet the village guide who will escort you on your trek.
As you walk through secondary forest your guide will point out forest products that form an important part of local people's food resources. Passing through a cave, you enter a striking valley with towering cliffs and forest. The trail then follows the shoreline of Nong Thao Lake where you can watch the local fishermen at work. On arrival at Tham Nong Paseum Cave more adventurous swimmers can explore this 400 metre long cave and its impressive stalactites and stalagmites.
Back in daylight, continue onto Khammouane's famous Buddha cave where you will enjoy a traditional Lao lunch of Mekong fish, sticky rice and spicy papaya salad.
After lunch visit Tham Pa Fa or Buddha cave. Rediscovered in April 2004, the cave contains 229 bronze Buddhas that are believed to be over 300 years old. The cave is incredibly picturesque, set high up in a limestone cliff, with great views from the top. After exploring the cave your guide will escort you back to the village following a different route through the forest, and you will return to Thakek in time to enjoy sunset over the Mekong River.
Relax across mountainous region - Kong Lor Caves
Morning departure for the Phu Hin Boun region, stopping en route at the Khoun Kham view point to enjoy breath-taking views out across the mountainous Khammouane region.
Arriving at Kong Lor village, break for a picnic lunch before joining a local guide for a walk through the protected forest area as far as the impressive Kong Lor Caves. Board a local boat and cruise the 7.5km through the cave and into the valley beyond. The cave is still used by locals to access neighbouring villages and en route you can stop to observe stalactites and other limestone formations as well as a spectacular cavern that is over 100m high.
Reaching daylight once again at the far side of the cave, explore further by foot, passing a number of huts used for tobacco production and the remote village of Ban Pon Ngam. Return back through the cave and transfer directly to Ban Hin Boun where the remainder of your day is at leisure.
Bomb Boat village - Tai Lu and Hmong village
Early morning departure in the direction of Phonsavan, high up in Laos’ central highlands, using a series of back roads, many only recently opened. It’s a long drive, however there are a number of interesting stops to make along the way including a stop at the village of Ban Thabuk - known as ‘bomb boat village’ due to the use of old Vietnam War bomb casings as boats. Enterprising Laotian villagers have used scrap metal remnants from the war in extraordinarily productive ways ranging from house foundations to furniture. In Ban Thabuk, discarded aluminium fuel tanks made for light, streamlined boats which are still used today. Continue through rolling countryside, stopping to admire the Nam Mouan River before arriving at Ban Thasi for lunch.
In the afternoon, you will start to ascend into the mountains, stopping at several minority villages, including a Tai Lu weaving village and a Hmong village. In the late afternoon, arrive at the ancient town of Muang Khoun, the former provincial capital, where there will be time to explore the ruins of a number of ancient pagodas built in the traditional Lanna style, and the huge sitting Buddha at the ruined temple of Wat Phiawat.
Arrive in Phonsavan in the early evening, and check in at your hotel. There is a handful of cafes and restaurants in town, catering for the intrepid travellers who make it here to explore the mysterious jars in the surrounding plains.
MAG, Plain of Jars, Lone Buffalo
Your guide and driver are at your disposal all day to explore Xieng Khuang Province. First stop is the MAG (Mine Advisory Group) Centre in Phonsavan to learn about the valuable work undertaken to clear the region of the thousands of mines and UXO lying undetected. Selective Asia has supported MAG for a number of years and consider it to be amongst the most important NGO charitable organisations working out of Indochina today. Their vital work prevents literally thousands of unnecessary deaths every year.
The remainder of the morning is dedicated to exploring the mysterious ‘Plain of Jars’. The impressive archaeological sites are covered with hundreds of mysterious jars, scattered across the surrounding plateau. The biggest jar measures over three meters in height and many are believed to be more than 2500 years old. There will be plenty of time to explore the three main sites and, due to its remoteness the crowds are likely to be a little thin on the ground!
Late afternoon you have the option of visiting Lone Buffalo - an inspirational community project based in Phonsavan (north-eastern Laos) dedicated to improving opportunities for young people from rural backgrounds through their free English tuition, sport and creative skills programmes. Besides the excellent work done in the classroom, LB also operate an acclaimed football coaching programme and have branched out into film-making, offering students fun, diverse opportunities to develop. Have a chat, or play a language game while learning more about the project.
Afterwards, transfer to the Phou Xang viewpoint, to enjoy the panoramic sceneries and (hopefully) a beautiful sunset.
Visit of these cities
Today’s drive is long and in parts the roads are windy and slow. However the mountainous landscape is breathtaking and there are plenty of opportunities to break the journey at small Hmong and Khmu villages and look-out points.
In the afternoon stop at the village of Hintang where you will discover mysterious menhirs or standing stones. No one is quite sure who built them or why, one theory is that they mark burial sites. There is also an opportunity to stop at Ban Sa Levy, a Tai Phong weaving village.
Arriving into Sam Neua in the early evening, the remainder of your day is at leisure. Sam Neua is compact enough to wander around in an hour or so, and there are some interesting markets and restaurants to check out.
Vieng Xai Caves
Begin the day with a short walk around Sam Neua town, making a visit to a weaving house showroom (the region is highly regarded for its weaving products, particularly the traditional Lao skirt or ‘Sin’). You can also walk along the river to visit the local wet market.
Transfer out of town in an easterly direction to Vieng Xai, famous for the caves that provided shelter for up to 23,000 Laotians during nine years of aerial bombardment during the ‘secret war’. The caves were also the Pathet Laos' HQ during this time. Some of the 480 caves have been made accessible to visitors to help bring much needed investment into one of the poorest regions in all South-East Asia.
An audio tour is provided and includes visits to the Kaysone Phomvihane (the leader of the Lao communist movement) Cave, and the Prince Soupanouvong (the ‘Red Prince’) Cave. You will also visit Artillery Cave with its commanding views across the surrounding countryside.
Having had plenty of time to explore the caves, relax and enjoy refreshments and delicious North-East Laotian delicacies by the picturesque lake in the centre of the small town. Return to Sam Neua where the remainder of your day is at leisure.
After breakfast, depart Sam Neua for the village of Ban Son Koua, approximately three hours by car. Upon arrival board a long tail boat and cruise for around 1.5 hours on the Nam Nern River as far as the Nam Et-Phou Louey National Park headquarters, arriving in time for lunch prepared by the villagers. The local team will brief you on the conservation and management work of the park and the project's plans for the protected area. Your guides and village hosts will be the local Khmu people.
The Nam Et-Phou Louey Protected Area is extremely important, with a large biodiversity and species including clouded leopard, golden cat, gibbons, many species of reptiles, an incredible array of birdlife and most importantly a population of tigers. The area was once used by locals as a hunting ground; however villagers are now encouraged to protect the wildlife with revenue generated for the community from tourist's wildlife sightings.
There is time to relax and settle into your jungle camp before setting off on safari, heading deep into the jungle, accompanied by a local guide who is a skilled hunter and tracker. After floating upriver for just under one hour, disembark the long tail boat and hike into the forest to visit a salt lick, where your guide will be able to point out evidence of wildlife and identify various animal tracks.
As the sun sets, continue upriver to a flat sandy bank, which is the setting for a BBQ dinner around the campfire.
After dinner, once it’s totally dark, get back in the long tail boat and float down river with the engines off searching by spotlight for the wildlife that make this biodiverse area their home. Your guide and boat driver will communicate using hand signals to avoid disturbing the animals.
Return to park headquarters at around midnight. Your accommodation for the night is a basic, traditional Lao style hut in the forest. Surrounded by jungle noises, an amazing night is guaranteed!
Explore the jungle
Rising early, explore the jungle with your local guide who will teach you about the various medicinal plants that grow wild in the region and explain the history of the area.
Having returned to the headquarters for breakfast, board a long-tail boat for the river journey back to the village of Ban Son Koua, making a stop at a prime spot for bird watching. Upon arrival you will be asked to complete a wildlife monitoring form (no extra points for a tiger spot!).
Continue by road to Vieng Thong, before continuing on to Nong Khiaw, arriving in the late afternoon.
Nong Khiaw is a remote village situated on the banks of the Nam Ou River and flanked on either side by stunning mountainous back-drops. The remainder of your day is at leisure so why not take a stroll along the river bank, wander through local villages, or just settle back with a Beer Lao and wait for the spectacular sunset.
Exploration of villages
After breakfast you will be collected from Nong Khiaw’s jetty for a cruise upstream on the Nam Ou River. This particular stretch of river promises stunning scenery and a sprinkling of remote villages, including Ban Sop Khing and Ban Sob Jaem, minority tribe villages that can only be accessed by boat. Stop to visit both villages as well as the fishing village of Muang Ngoi where there will be a break for lunch.
After a wander around Muang Ngoi, return by river to Nong Khiaw, arriving by mid-afternoon. The remainder of your day is at leisure.
Pak Ou Caves
Morning departure by car for Luang Prabang, taking the scenic route that passes amongst rolling hills and rice paddies enjoying intermittent views of the Nam Ou River.
Stop en route to visit the Pak Ou caves, which house literally thousands of Buddha statues, hidden from the looting Chinese Haw in times gone by. The statues range from a few centimetres to the size of a human.
Arrive into Luang Prabang around lunchtime and having checked in to your hotel, the remainder of your day is at leisure.
Luang Prabang, the ‘Jewel of Indochina’, is a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site and regularly voted as one of Asia's premier travel destinations. The ancient royal city is surrounded by mountains and is situated at a junction of the Mekong and Khan rivers. In the centre of the city is Mount Phousi, rewarding climbers of its 328 steps with stunning views of the surrounding temples and hills.
A city where time has seemingly stood still, Luang Prabang is also an outstanding example of the fusion of traditional Lao architecture with structures built by the Colonial authorities in more recent times. Its unique, remarkably well-preserved townscape illustrates a key stage in the blending of these two distinct cultural traditions.
Walking Tour, Weaving Villages
An option for early-risers is to rise before dawn to witness tak bat, or the giving of alms, to the lines of orange-robed monks leaving their pagodas to receive offerings of food from the residents of Luang Prabang. It’s an iconic sight and for many one of the highlights of their stay in Luang Prabang, and can be arranged on any early morning during your stay.
However, we are concerned that the volume of tourists all vying for space to witness, photograph and at times actually participate in this ceremony is detracting from what is a centuries old, important religious rite. We appreciate that observing tak bat is high on the list of most visitors to Laos, and would suggest speaking with your guide about how best to enjoy this experience in a respectful and culturally sensitive manner, which can involve watching from a less congested spot.
Your city circuit begins after breakfast at the former Royal Palace, now the National Museum, which gives a good overview of the local history. The next section of the tour takes in some of the city’s temples, beginning with Wat Mai, a temple renowned for its golden bas-reliefs, before continuing on to Wat Xieng Thong, perhaps the most photographed temple in Luang Prabang, and the unique Wat Visoun, known as ‘The Water Melon Stupa’ due to its shape. Your last visit of the morning is the excellent Arts and Ethnology Centre which will give you further insight into the ethnic mix and culture of Laos.
In the afternoon visit the weaving and textile villages of Ban Xangkhong and Ban Xienglek before returning to town to finish the day by climbing Mount Phousi, to enjoy the stunning views across Luang Prabang and the Mekong River as the sun sets.
Your day is at leisure.
Relax & departure
Your day is at leisure until your transfer to the airport for your onward flight.
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