A spectacular walking journey through the highlights of Laos and Cambodia
Tour type: Trek
* Jungle trekking and river cruising in northern Laos
* Discover Luang Prabang, the Jewel of Indochina
* Meet the colourful people of the Laotian Highlands
* 3 days uncovering the secrets of Angkor Wat
The neighbouring countries of Laos and Cambodia offer a glimpse of SE Asia at its most traditional and intriguing; during the course of this 2 week holiday, through a combination of day walks, jungle treks, river journeys and sightseeing, we'll uncover all the secrets of this tranquil corner of the world. We begin in northern Thailand from where we'll cross the mighty Mekong River and enter Laos. Here we'll enjoy 3 days of walking in the Laotian Highlands. Firstly at Luang Namtha, the homeland of a number of colourful hilltribes, where we will have the chance to meet and experience the distinctive cultures of these fascinating ethnic minorities. At Nam Yat Kola Pa we'll spend a day exploring through immaculate jungle, in search of pristine waterfalls. Next we'll take a traditional long boat journey down river, to our riverside bungalow accommodation at Muang Gnoi, nestled amongst striking limestone outcrops and rice fields. Then it's back to civilisation in Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Luang Prabang is one of most attractive towns in the whole of Laos, mainly due to its interesting blend of buddhist temples, traditional Indochinese and French colonial buildings. Flying south to Siem Reap in Cambodia, the final 3 days of our holiday are spent exploring on foot around the astounding, 1000 year old, temples of Angkor Wat. We will visit all the iconic temples, as well as some of its hidden jewels. A simply unforgettable way to round off our holiday.
Is this holiday for you?
This holiday mixes sightseeing and river journeys with three days of jungle trekking, plus we will also have extensive walking sightseeing tours, and 2 full days exploring on foot around Angkor Wat. We will be covering large distances, so there will also be a reasonable amount of driving involved. During our jungle treks we will generally be following good paths, however it will be quite hot and humid in the tropical forest and this will have an effect on our walking! We can also expect some river crossings and some clambering over tree roots; this is jungle trekking after all! You will need to ensure you are physically prepared for the walking element of the holiday and you should be comfortable with walking for 4 - 7 hours in a day (with several rests), including extended uphill sections.
➕ Day 1 Meet at Chiang Mai Airport, Thailand. A single timed transfer to the group hotel in Chiang Rai is provided.
The group will meet at Chiang Mai Airport, Thailand, before boarding our transport to begin our drive to the delightful small city of Chiang Rai. Chiang Rai is situated in the northernmost province in Thailand and has been inhabited since the 7th century. In 1262 King Meng Rai established it as the first capital of the Lanna Kingdom. Our journey will take around 3hrs and we'll break our journey with a coffee and snack stop before arriving into Chiang Rai in the afternoon. On arrival we will check into our hotel with time to rest and freshen up before taking dinner at the hotel. After a long journey we will most likely want to head to our rooms early to ensure a good night's sleep.
➕ Day 2 Cross into Laos. Transfer to Luang Nam Tha and afternoon tour of the valley and local villages.
After an early breakfast at our hotel we take a 2 hour transfer to Chiang Khong where we will cross into Laos via a bridge over the mighty Mekong River. Arriving on the Laos side of the bridge, we will be met by our local Laos guide who will be waiting to take us to Luang Nam Tha. The fascinating 3 hour drive will pass through local countryside and there will be plenty to see. After arriving in the late morning we'll check into the group hotel before heading out for lunch at a local restaurant. In the afternoon we'll explore the Luang Namtha Valley with its expansive rice paddies and stunning mountain views. The valley is home to a multitude of colourful hill tribes and amongst the ethnic groups living in the valley are the Black Thai, who are known for their silk products. Along the way we'll stop off in some of the traditional villages to meet the friendly tribal people, plus have the opportunity to see some traditional silk production including weaving and fabric dyeing. After the silk production we'll visit a local distillery. On our way back to town we will have the opportunity to stop off at a traditional floating market as well at the Buddhist Stupa at That Phoum Pouk Stupa, originally built in the 17th-century and reconstructed in 2003 after suffering bomb damage during the Vietnam War. We return to our hotel in Luang Nam Tha in time to freshen up before taking dinner in a local restaurant. Drive Time: 3hrs.
➕ Day 3 A charming day of trekking around the area and villages of Luang Nam Tha.
Today is the first chance to stretch our legs. We begin with a short transfer (30min) to the Lanten Village of Ban Nam Dee. We'll have the opportunity to take a look around the village before heading up into the surrounding hills. Our trail leads us up through forests, fields, across streams and beside terraced rice paddies. We will stop to enjoy our picnic lunch amongst the rice fields, or perhaps we may be welcomed in by one of the villagers to eat our lunch inside their home. In the afternoon we will continue our walk to Ban Sida village, where we will learn about the day to day life of this tiny ethnic minority group, and listen to some of the fascinating stories and traditional folk tales that the villagers have to tell. Depending on how we feel we can return back the way we came or we can take the more challenging option, which takes us up above the village and along a ridge; the reward will be some breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains before we descend back into the forest again and back to Ban Nam Dee. We will have some time time to relax by the village waterfall and you may be tempted to venture in and enjoy a refreshing 'natural shower' - remember to bring your swimwear and travel towel along with you today! After this superb day we return back to our guesthouse. Laung Namtha has an excellent selection of restaurants. Dinner is not included tonight which leaves us free to choose the budget and portion size!
Time 6 hours walking
➕ Day 4 Drive from Luang Nam Tha to Nam Kat Yola Pa in the Oudomxay Province.
After breakfast we depart Luang Nam Tha and begin our drive (4 hrs) through the Laotian highlands to Outdomxay. The roads are quiet and we will enjoy some lovely views across the countryside as we drive through photogenic villages populated by a variety of different ethnic groups and thick forest. We will arrive in Oudomxay in time to take lunch and check into our jungle resort accommodation. This afternoon is free to relax or join the guide to discover the Wat Phu That temple for a panoramic view of Udomxay. Alternatively, from the centre of town we can climb up onto the hillside for some spectacular panoramic views. Tonight we will take dinner at the restort.
➕ Day 5 A spectacular day of jungle trekking in the protected forest around Nam Kat Yola Pa.
After breakfast we will drive the short distance to the Nam Kat Yola protected forestry area where we will enjoy a day of trekking through the lush vegetation, bamboo forests and thick jungle, some of the most beautiful jungle in the whole of South East Asia. We'll have some streams to cross too as we negotiate the jungle paths which may be over grown with tree roots. We will also be on the look out for signs of wild animals as we head towards the Nam Kat waterfall. A series of high bridges, strung in the tree canopies, allow us to get a completely different perspective of the dense jungle around us as we look down on the vegetation below. After lunch we will have a chance to learn more about the protected forestry area of Nam Kay Yola Pa, where guiding is now providing a sustainable alternative source of revenue to poaching, and also about life in the village communities. Anyone keen to have a go at rice planting can also have a chance to try their hand at working in the rice fields, a real insight into daily life in the Laotian highlands. After an afternoon of rice planting we'll head back to our accommodation in the late afternoon in time to freshen up before dinner.
Time 5 hours walking
➕ Day 6 Drive to Muang Khua. Afternoon cruise on a traditional long tail boat along the famed Nam Ou river.
This morning we drive to Muang Khua, a small town on the banks of the Nam Ou River. Here we will board our private long tail boat for a 4 hour cruise down one of the most scenic stretches of river in the whole of Laos. The Nam Ou, which literally translates as 'rice bowl river', is one of the most important rivers in the whole of Laos. We will enjoy our picnic lunch as we cruise along the river, flanked by tall limestone out crops and thick green jungle. In the late afternoon we will reach Muang Gnoi, a remote village surrounded by dramatic karst mountains, which has only recently become accessible by 4x4. Tonight's accommodation is in bungalows, right on the banks of the river; one of the prettiest riverside locations imaginable. We'll have some free time to relax here and we won't want to miss the sunset over the river, which we can watch from the leisure of our balconies!
➕ Day 7 Long boat ride to Nong Khiew and hike to Pho Pha Deng Mountain. Afternoon drive to Luang Prabang.
We board our long boat once more for a short 45 minute cruise down the Nam Ou river to Nong Khiew. Upon arrival, we head with our guide to the Phou Pha Deng Mountain as we begin our hike to the top! The climb through the jungle to the summit of the mountain will take around 2 hrs, but we will be rewarded by the bountiful lunch that awaits us at the top and, of course the stunning panoramic view. The descent back down will take just over an hour and we will soon be in our vehicles for our transfer (3 hours) towards the UNESCO listed town of Luang Prabang, located at the confluence of the Mekong and the Nam Kahn rivers. We will check in at our hotel before heading out for dinner in one of the best restaurants in town, where we can enjoy some delicious fusion cuisine in beautiful colonial inspired surroundings. We may also have the chance to pay a visit to the bustling night market before we head back to the hotel. Drive time: 3hrs.
Time 4 hours walking
➕ Day 8 Walking tour and day to explore the UNESCO gem of Luang Prabang.
Exploring by foot is the best way to take in the tranquil ambiance of the town and today we will start early! After an early wake up call and breakfast we will head out amongst pathways and alleys of the town, which are so atmospheric in the early dawn; it will almost feel as if we've stepped back in time. First we must brave the 365 steps of the Phousi Mountain to enjoy a panoramic view at sunrise, a time when this popular site is still calm with the town shrouded in morning mist. After watching the sun come up, we'll head back down into town and begin our guided walking tour. We'll aim to see as many of the architectural and historical wonders of this UNESCO-protected town as we can. We'll begin at the former Royal Palace (now the National Museum - closed Mondays) where we can learn about the history of Laos. We will continue on to Wat Mai, a temple renowned for its golden bas-relief, and Wat Sene with its golden stencil prints of mythological animals. Next stop is the Wat Xieng Thong, the most revered temple in Luang Prabang. Located at the end of the peninsula, close to the Mekong, this temple was built in 1560 by King Setthathirat and is decorated with ornate carvings and mosaics. We'll stop for lunch at a traditional noodle soup shop. The Khao Soy soup, a local favourite, comes highly recommended! After lunch we squeeze in a visit to Wat Visoun, the holiest temple in the city, which was entirely rebuilt in 1887 having been destroyed by the invading Black Flags from Southern China. In the courtyard here we'll find the unusual Watermelon Stupa, so called because of its distinctive shape. Our last Wat of the day will be Wat That, here the ashes of King Sisavang Vong are kept inside the large central stupa. We'll end our tour at the Traditional Arts & Ethnology Centre, a museum dedicated to exploring the rich diversity of Laos' ethnic minorities. Traditional costumes, tools, and artifacts are all on display alongside in-depth descriptions and written histories. (note: closed on Monday). The guide will see us back to our hotel. With so many restaurants to choose from, this evening is free for us to make our own plans. Howver we can visit the Storytelling Theatre, close to the hotel where between 5 to 6pm, we can witness a unique show by the Garavek Company, who aim to preserve local traditional folkstories, myths and legends.
Time 5 hours walking
➕ Day 9 Fly to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Temples visit at Banteay Samre and the mountain temple of Phnom Bok.
The early morning is free for any last minute exploring or souvenir shopping before we are transferred to the airport for our flight to Siem Reap (a small snack lunch will be provided on the flight). At the airport we will say goodbye to our Laos guide and after arriving in Siem Reap in the afternoon we will be met by our Cambodian guide. This section of our adventure begins with visits to some of the satellite temples around the main Angkor complex. Our first stop will be the small temple at Banteay Damre, named after the Samre, an ancient tribe of Indochina. A short drive from Banteay Samre, we'll find the mountain of Phnom Bok, standing alone on the plain. Get your legs in gear, as it's a twenty minute climb to the mountain top temple, via a newly installed staircase. We will be rewarded with a stunning view out across the Cambodian countryside to Phnom Kulen in the north and the plains of Angkor to the south. These atmospheric ruins are relatively rarely visited, so this is a chance to discover a hidden Khmer treasure and to enjoy it without any crowds. We'll take a moment to enjoy the tranquil surroundings and wander amongst the toppled stone structures, before descending the stairs before the light fades and returning to Siem Reap for dinner. To make use of the daylight hours we will check into the hotel after the sightseeing.
Time 1 hour walking
➕ Day 10 A full day to explore the Angkor complex.
It is only a short transfer from our hotel to the temple complex, and we will set out straight after breakfast to make the most of the day. We'll be discovering the sites on foot today, like the first explorers, as we visit some of the most iconic and famous of the temples of Angkor. We begin with Ta Prohm, the old Brahma temple, used as a film location for the Tomb Raider films. Afterward we will continue on to the temple of Preah Kahn, to the north. Though less crowded than some of the other sites, Preah Kahn is nonetheless impressive. Walking from temple to temple through the dense jungle is a unique way to see these magnificent ruins; as glimpses of small temples can be spotted amongst the foliage and tree roots and stone towers appear looming overhead; the sheer number of ruins along the way is just staggering. We'll stop for lunch at a simple local restaurant before heading into the forest once more in search of the ancient city of Angkor Thom, the last capital of the Great Khmer Empire under the reign of Jayavarman VII. This perfectly square city is surrounded by an 8m high wall. We'll visit the Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King, both known for their intricate bas-relief. Another must-see is the Bayon Temple, the centre point of the city. This 12th century masterpiece is a study in grandeur and is well-known for its 54 towers with enigmatic faces representing the 54 provinces of the Great Khmer Empire. As the afternoon begins to wane, it's time to visit the main event; Angkor Wat itself. Angkor Wat is one of the largest religious sites in the world and was built during the reign of King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century. Inside the temple, the walls are covered with stone carvings and bas-reliefs depicting Hindu mythology and the battles Suryavarman II fought during his reign. The Wat is also known for the 2,000 plus Apsara dancers carved into the stone. Construction of the site is thought to have taken around thirty years of intensive labor and it is not hard to see why. Once we've had a chance to have a good look around we'll head back to the hotel in time for dinner.
Time 6 hours walking
➕ Day 11 Hike to Phnom Kulen and Beng Mealea.
This morning, after breakfast, we drive through the rice fields and friendly local villages to Phnom Kulen, an impressive sandstone plateau in this otherwise flat area. This mountain is considered the birthplace of the Khmer empire and a sacred place for the Khmer. We will be exploring on foot again today, beginning with the 1km walk to the top of Phnom Kulen, along the way we'll find a carved stone riverbed, a large reclining Buddha from the 16th century and several hidden pagodas. There is also a waterfall to bathe under if anyone wants to cool off. From here we trek east through the countryside of Siem Reap Province. As we walk through the pristine jungle we'll be on the look out for wildlife and also for the lychee trees that Kulen is famous for. We'll carry a picnic lunch today which we can stop and eat along the way. Our trek continues down and around the side of the Kulen Mountain to the town of Svay Leu. Here, our transportation will be waiting for us to take us to nearby Beng Mealea. Undiscovered and untouched for centuries, Beng Mealea has only recently been made accessible and remains unrestored. This is one of the few temples where you can really get in amongst the ruins, so we will want to take some time to explore here, before we head back to Siem Reap.
Time 6 hours walking
➕ Day 12 Departure Day. A single timed transfer from the hotel to the airport in Siem Reap will be provided.
Flight times allow some free time this morning for sightseeing around Siem Reap (time permitting). A single timed transfer from the hotel to the airport in Siem Reap will be provided.