Northern Indochina - Laos to Vietnam

Until recently the north-east of Laos was pretty much inaccessible for all but the most resilient of travellers due to immigration problems, appalling roads and lack of accommodation. Things are slowly being improved and whilst you should still expect a bumpy ride at times, it's well worth the effort.

This 14 day tour of Laos and Vietnam starts in the magical city of Luang Prabang, where you will have plenty of time to explore. Travelling east, visit the mysterious Plain of Jars and the Vieng Xai Caves, a virtual city to 23,000 people during the 'Secret War'. Crossing the border into Vietnam at Na Maew, journey into the stunning Mai Chau Valley for some trekking and outdoor opportunities, as well as a visit to the ancient village of Ky Son, all before completing your journey in the culturally enticing city of Hanoi.

At a glance
  • Learn all about rice at a local community project
  • Wonder at the mysterious, UNESCO-listed Plain of Jars
  • Learn about Laos' struggle with unexploded ordnance
  • Immerse yourself in rural Vietnamese village culture
  • Cycle to beauty spots that cars can’t reach
  • Contrast ancient and modern in Hanoi
Itinerary
Price & Hotels

Luang Prabang - 4 nights

Luang Prabang - the ‘Jewel of Indochina’ - is regularly voted one of Asia's top destinations. This ancient, UNESCO-listed royal city at a junction of two rivers is surrounded by mountains, with Mount Phousi at its core rewarding climbers with panoramic views. It offers a definitive example of the fusion between traditional Laotian architecture and more recent colonial structures; its unique, remarkably well-preserved townscape illustrating a key stage in the blending of these two eras. Immerse yourself in the city’s vivid riverside culture, taste some of the country’s best food, and listen to atmospheric echoes in ancient temples.

Day 1 - Arrive Luang Prabang

On arrival in Laos, you'll be met by your private guide, who will accompany you to your hotel.

Welcome to Selective Asia! This level of personal service (such as private transfers, private tours etc) is what you can expect throughout your trip. A few services (eg boat cruises) will be shared, but we'll always make sure you're aware of these.

Day 2 - Tak Bat, Walking Tour, Weaving Villages

Includes:

Rise before dawn to witness tak bat (the giving of alms to the monks who leave their pagodas to receive offerings of food from local residents) in a respectful and culturally sensitive manner. Get an overview of the country’s history at the Royal Palace National Museum, take in the city’s iconic temples, and get a deeper insight into Laos culture at the excellent Arts and Ethnology Centre. See colourful woven textiles being made in the surrounding villages, then either opt to embark upon an energetic climb up Mount Phousi, visit Wat Prabath Tai for a more accessible sunset experience or head to Wat Aham’s colourful prayer hall in time for the daily chanting.

Day 3 - Explore independently

Includes:

Luang Prabang is one of the Selective Asia teams’ favourite Asian cities and it’s quite easy to while away a day exploring the UNESCO protected temples, visiting the renowned Pha Tad Ke Botanical Gardens and sampling the plentiful dining opportunities…you get the idea.

Day 4 - Living Lands Organic Farm, Picnic lunch at Kuang Si Falls

Includes:

After breakfast drive out of Luang Prabang to the Living Lands Organic Farm, a community enterprise, where you will meet the local farming guide for an informative, but fun morning. Rice is an important part of life in Laos: it’s eaten at every meal and there are over 500 types of rice grown in the country. During your time at the farm, you’ll learn about each step of the rice harvest and cultivation process, and try your hand at the traditional techniques (and basic tools) that have been used for centuries. The morning concludes with a rice tasting session, by which time you will have a much greater appreciation of the work and effort that goes into a simple bowl of rice!

On your way back to town stop for a picnic lunch overlooking Kuang Si Waterfalls and visit the nearby Bear Rescue Centre that does a great job in protecting and rehabilitating the rare Asiatic Black Bear.

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Phonsavan - 2 nights

Surrounded by fragrant pine forests and rolling hills, Phonsavan - the Capital of Xieng Khuang Province - is something of a hidden gem. The region’s cooler climate creates a fertile cornucopia for growing a variety of crops, including passionfruit, matsutake mushrooms, Asian pears and many medicinal herbs that are rare elsewhere in Laos. In the centre of Phonsavan itself, the UXO visitor centre provides education about and commemorates the casualties of the unimaginable amount of unexploded ordnance still left in Laos from American bombing runs during the Vietnam War. In strange contrast, just outside the town is one of Asia’s most enigmatic historic sites: the mysterious, UNESCO-listed Plain of Jars.

Day 5 - Drive to Phonsavan via village visits

Includes:

Morning departure by car for Phonsavan. It’s a long drive and the road follows a twisty mountain route, but you will pass through some stunning Lao mountain landscapes and the journey will be punctuated by stops en-route.

Day 6 - MAG, Plain of Jars, Lone Buffalo

Includes:

Your guide and driver will be with you all day as you explore Xieng Khouang Province. First stop is the MAG (Mine Advisory Group) Centre in Phonsavan to hear more about their crucial work clearing the country’s thousands of undetected mines and ordnance. Delve further back into the region’s past at the Xieng Khouang Provincial Museum, then travel on to the extraordinary ‘Plain of Jars’ - one of Asia’s most significant Iron Age sites and recently UNESCO-listed. Thousands of mysterious stone jars, many of which are thought to be over 2,500 years old, are scattered across the plateau, the biggest standing almost 10 ft high. Take your time to soak up the gravitas, then continue on to visit the Mulberry Farm co-operative, and the inspirational Lone Buffalo community education project, before watching the sun set from the Phou Xang viewpoint.

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Sam Neua - 2 nights

Head further into the mountains, to parts of Laos few visitors have even heard of, let alone seen, towards Sam Neua. Travelling at a leisurely (and careful!) pace along the winding roads, you won’t be able to take your eyes off the stunning scenery. Meet locals in traditional mountain communities along the way, and witness customs and ways of life that have been preserved for centuries; wonder at some of the archaeological oddities hidden deep in the hills; and discover more about the little-discussed ‘secret war’ and the Vieng Xai caves. Once in Sam Neua itself, the only large-ish town in the region, you can enjoy wandering leisurely between the local shops and markets.

Day 7 - Standing stones, village visit, drive to Sam Neua

Includes:

Today’s journey is long and parts of the route are windy and slow, but this allows you to really appreciate the mountainous landscape and break up the journey at small Hmong and Khmu villages and look-out points. Arrive in the village of Hintang after your morning drive, to discover the enigmatic menhirs or standing stones. No one is quite sure who built them or why, although one theory is that they mark ancient burial sites. Continue along the route, stopping at Ban Sa Levy, a Tai Phong weaving village, and arriving at Sam Neua in the early evening in time to check out some interesting markets and restaurants.

Day 8 - Vieng Xai Caves

Includes:

After an early start in Sam Neua (en route either visiting the weaving house to see the region’s highly regarded woven products, or walking along the river to visit the local produce market) you’ll go east to the Vieng Xai caves. These eerily atmospheric hollows are where an incredible 23,000 Laotians sheltered during nine years of aerial bombardment in the Vietnam War era. Some of the 480 caves have now been opened to visitors to help provide investment into what is one of the poorest regions in South-East Asia. Take time to wander around some of the little-visited caves and soak up the juxtaposingly beautiful limestone karst scenery, before returning to Sam Neua to enjoy the rest of your day at leisure.

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Mai Chau & Ky Son - 3 nights

This corner of rural Vietnam is still untroubled by mass tourism, and is a place where - give or take the occasional smartphone - life continues much as it has for hundreds of years. In the spectacular Mai Chau Valley, depending on the season, you’ll find the landscape awash with waves of vivid green rice paddies that turn to soft gold just before harvest. A couple of hours drive north (and 70km to the west of Hanoi) is the sleepy Ky Son Village. With its traditionally carved wooden houses dotted along dusty farm roads, between ponds of lotus blossom and peaceful rice fields, the village has been recognised as a National Cultural Historical Relic.

Day 9 - Cross into Vietnam, Cycling in the Mai Chau Valley

Includes:

Morning departure for the Vietnamese border. Having said goodbye to your Laos guide (and met your new Vietnamese guide) continue by road towards the picturesque Mai Chau Valley.

Upon arrival there will be time for lunch before exploring the countryside around Mai Chau on two wheels. Cycling is an excellent way to take in the rolling hills and traditional stilt-house villages dotted along the valley. Having worked up an appetite, return to the comfort of your lodge where, in the evening, you will enjoy dinner and some traditional dances performed by the local Thái tribe people.

Day 10 - Trekking & village visits

Includes:

Today can be as active or as laid-back as you choose, with the option of staying close to the lodge and enjoying some short walks in the rice paddies or simply relaxing on the terrace appealing to many.

For those that wish to make a little more of their day, there are several Thái minority villages within an hours' drive of Mai Chau. Or take a walking tour to the scenic Buoc village, where you will encounter local farmers working on the terraced rice paddies and women preparing and cooking meals. Just be sure to return to your lodge in time for dinner.

Day 11 - Drive to Ky Son, Overnight in a village homestay

Includes:

Depart Mai Chau for Ky Son Village, and arrive in time to enjoy a stroll around the village, soaking up the traditional North Vietnamese culture and lifestyle, before joining your host to help prepare lunch. In the afternoon take your pick of bike routes, ranging from 6-12 km along local trails, stopping to enjoy the impressive panoramas, pick herbs and vegetables, visit temples, chat with locals, and visit the village market. Return to the house in time for a relaxing herbal bath and a home cooked meal.

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Hanoi - 2 nights

Since becoming Vietnam’s first capital in 1010 AD, Hanoi has been infused with centuries of history which enrich its attractive surface. Now the capital once again, the city has flourished into a vibrant hub of modern Vietnamese culture.

Day 12 - Yi Jin Jing exercise, scenic cycle, Drive to Hanoi

Includes:

As soon as you’ve downed your first cuppa of the day, join in with some traditional Yi Jin Jing exercises to wake up body and mind, followed by morning worship. Take a bike ride along the network of local paths, visiting nearby villages, returning to the house in time for lunch. Bid farewell to your hosts and depart for Hanoi, arriving early afternoon. The remainder of your day will be at leisure.

Day 13 - 'Old & New' City Tour

Includes:

Start the day away from the city centre bustle with a cycle ride around the perimeter of West Lake. Spend time in the shade of Tran Quoc pagoda’s elegant tower, and watch the world go by from a lakeside cafe. As the sun reaches its highest, continue your journey into Hanoi’s past with a visit to the atmospheric halls of the Temple of Literature on the site of Vietnam’s first university, and tuck into fast food, Vietnam-style, with lunch on the famous Trang Tien Street. Enjoy anything from pho to sweet treats sitting on a tiny plastic stool among the locals, with the grand Opera House just around the corner. Explore Hanoi’s contemporary culture with a Vietnamese coffee at Manzi Art Cafe, before heading back in time with a stroll past workshops and pagodas in the narrow streets of the Old Quarter. Enjoy a beer and keep exploring, or head back to your hotel for a little downtime.

Day 14 - Depart Hanoi

Includes:

Transfer to the airport for your onward flight.

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We only provide privately guided holidays - meaning that you will not be expected to share guides or transport for the duration of your visit. You can also start on any day you choose.

Please click on the hotel category buttons below to view hotel details. These are recommended properties only - we have many alternative options for you to choose from if you would prefer. You can mix hotel categories throughout your holiday.

Hotel class Price per person (based on total # travelling)
2 persons 3-4 5-6
Standard £2,058US$2,695 £1,579US$2,068 £1,357US$1,778

Villa Chitdara

Brilliantly located on Khounsua Road - the quiet central street that slips between Luang Prabang's main night market and Mekong River Street - leafy Villa Chitdara is a small but charming guesthouse... See more

Vansana Plain of Jars Hotel

The Plain of Jars is one of the most intriguing sights in Laos, and the Vansana is a perfectly placed hotel for exploring the region, with astonishing views... See more

Xayphasouk Hotel

One of the most remote and ethnically diverse areas of Laos, Sam Neua is a convenient base to explore the nearby fascinating caves of Vieng Xai and experience some of the best mountain scenery of the country... See more

Mai Chau Eco Lodge

Mai Chau is a beautifully rural, tranquil valley just under a hundred miles from Hanoi, and its backdrop of paddy fields and emerald mountains offers total respite from urban bustle... See more

Moon Garden Homestay

Set in the ancient village of Ky Son, the Moon Garden Guesthouse sits somewhere between a traditional homestay and upmarket guesthouse in truth... See more

Essence Hotel

A firm favourite with the Selective Asia team (and past clients), The Essence Hotel enjoys a superb location in the centre of Hanoi's old quarter, just 10 minutes from serene Hoan Kiem Lake... See more
First Class £2,141US$2,805 £1,663US$2,178 £1,442US$1,889

Villa Maydou

Set in a pleasant garden in the very heart of the old town, the Villa Maydou consists of two wonderfully restored traditional Lao houses, both under the protection of the UNESCO world heritage programme... See more

Vansana Plain of Jars Hotel

The Plain of Jars is one of the most intriguing sights in Laos, and the Vansana is a perfectly placed hotel for exploring the region, with astonishing views... See more

Xayphasouk Hotel

One of the most remote and ethnically diverse areas of Laos, Sam Neua is a convenient base to explore the nearby fascinating caves of Vieng Xai and experience some of the best mountain scenery of the country... See more

Mai Chau Eco Lodge

Mai Chau is a beautifully rural, tranquil valley just under a hundred miles from Hanoi, and its backdrop of paddy fields and emerald mountains offers total respite from urban bustle... See more

Moon Garden Homestay

Set in the ancient village of Ky Son, the Moon Garden Guesthouse sits somewhere between a traditional homestay and upmarket guesthouse in truth... See more

La Siesta Classic Ma May

La Siesta Classic Ma May is a welcoming boutique property just a short stroll from Hoan Kiem Lake, within very easy reach of the many temptations of Old Quarter, and offers great facilities for a central Hanoi hotel...

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Superior £2,227US$2,917 £1,748US$2,290 £1,528US$2,001

Maison Dalabua

This charming boutique hotel is located a short walk from Luang Prabang's historical centre and surrounded by UNESCO classified lotus ponds... See more

Vansana Plain of Jars Hotel

The Plain of Jars is one of the most intriguing sights in Laos, and the Vansana is a perfectly placed hotel for exploring the region, with astonishing views... See more

Xayphasouk Hotel

One of the most remote and ethnically diverse areas of Laos, Sam Neua is a convenient base to explore the nearby fascinating caves of Vieng Xai and experience some of the best mountain scenery of the country... See more

Mai Chau Eco Lodge

Mai Chau is a beautifully rural, tranquil valley just under a hundred miles from Hanoi, and its backdrop of paddy fields and emerald mountains offers total respite from urban bustle... See more

Moon Garden Homestay

Set in the ancient village of Ky Son, the Moon Garden Guesthouse sits somewhere between a traditional homestay and upmarket guesthouse in truth... See more

Movenpick Hanoi

Previously known as the Gouman Hotel, the Movenpick Hanoi is not only the seriously new-and-improved version - it has undergone the most outstanding transformation... See more
Deluxe £2,719US$3,562 £2,241US$2,935 £2,019US$2,645

Satri House

Previously a residence of Prince Soupha- Nouvong, Satri House underwent extensive renovation in 2008. The result is magnificent and for our money the hotel instantly became a serious contender for Luang Prabang’s boutique hotel crown... See more

Vansana Plain of Jars Hotel

The Plain of Jars is one of the most intriguing sights in Laos, and the Vansana is a perfectly placed hotel for exploring the region, with astonishing views... See more

Xayphasouk Hotel

One of the most remote and ethnically diverse areas of Laos, Sam Neua is a convenient base to explore the nearby fascinating caves of Vieng Xai and experience some of the best mountain scenery of the country... See more

Mai Chau Eco Lodge

Mai Chau is a beautifully rural, tranquil valley just under a hundred miles from Hanoi, and its backdrop of paddy fields and emerald mountains offers total respite from urban bustle... See more

Moon Garden Homestay

Set in the ancient village of Ky Son, the Moon Garden Guesthouse sits somewhere between a traditional homestay and upmarket guesthouse in truth... See more

Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi

Opened in 1901 and once host to a roll-call of iconic 20th century guests, the Metropole Hanoi exudes historic charm like no other property in the city... See more

Solo travellers are always welcome - please contact us for a tailored quote.

These prices are shown in GBPUSD.
Selective Asia is a UK-registered company, but our client-base spans the globe, so we bank in both GBP and USD and can therefore provide a fixed price in either currency.
We also have payment facilities in Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the EU, and can typically offer better-than-bank exchange rates on the date of payment in these currencies (against a booking priced in GBP).

Itinerary additions

  • Those in need of further caving experiences should fly south to Dong Hoi and travel the 40km's to the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, close to the Laotian border. Home to one of the world's largest known karst regions, with over 300 caves and grottoes, the Phong Nha Caves were awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 2003 and have only been open to the public since 2011. Much of the network of caves remain unexplored, however the National Park contains what are believed to be the world’s largest and longest caves.
  • Stay an extra night and visit the magnificent Halong Bay, sailing its waters aboard a deluxe junk. The UNESCO protected bay is home to over 2,000 islands and a wealth of wildlife.
  • If you are looking to truly head ‘off the beaten track’ in Vietnam, consider Ha Giang, in the far north east. Accommodation may be basic, but visitor numbers are extremely low and the landscape is simply breathtaking!
At Selective Asia we specialise in creating unique, tailor-made experiences. The holiday itineraries provided on this website are intended to help you visualise what is achievable in your destinations of choice, over a given period of time and at an intended budget.
Whilst many clients are happy with of our recommended itineraries in the current form (and at the price quoted), there are those that wish to personalise their holiday in some way, whether it be a change of hotel, an additional destination or even start from scratch. This is when our tailor-made specialists come into their own; with many years of experience both living and working in the region they are ideally equipped to advise on alternatives and to facilitate any necessary changes.

The important stuff

Please note: During high season periods (such as Christmas and New Year) hotels often levy a surcharge and these are not included in the above prices. Your consultant will be happy to advise you of these.

Inclusive:

  • English speaking, local guide
  • All accommodation listed
  • Land transportation by private air-conditioned vehicles
  • Any domestic flights listed (unless marked otherwise)
  • All admission fees at attractions, temples and activities as mentioned in the itinerary
  • All meals listed
  • International flight reconfirmation.

Exclusive:

  • Flights to/from Asia. We are an ATOL bonded operator and can arrange flights for all our clients, regardless of whether you are departing from the UK or from almost any other worldwide destination.
  • Entry visas
  • International airport departure taxes
  • Any meals not listed in the itinerary
  • Drinks, other than water on activity days
  • Personal expenses (laundry, telephone, drinks, tip...)
  • Travel insurance
  • All other services not listed in 'inclusive'

Please note

All prices are correct at the time of publishing. They are liable to change and can only be confirmed upon submitting an enquiry.

 

Extras

Flights

We will arrange all internal flights used within our holiday itineraries. We can also arrange discounted flights from all UK airports to Asia and we are a fully bonded ATOL operator. If you would like a quote for your international flights then please complete the required section on the enquiry form.

Visa

You will require a visa to enter Laos and, possibly, Vietnam. Your consultant will be happy to advise you on visa requirements.

Passport

Please ensure that you have a valid passport with at least 6 months validity remaining after your return date. You will also need at least one blank page for each of the countries you are visiting.

Insurance

You will require a comprehensive travel insurance that covers you for medical costs associated with hospitalisation, emergency travel and repatriation back to your home country. We offer our customers a specially discounted insurance policy, ideally suited to the needs that a trip such as this creates. Tick the insurance box in the enquiry form and we will send you a quote to suit your needs.

Vaccinations and Malaria Prevention

You will undoubtedly require vaccinations for your visit to Asia. Please consult your doctor or a vaccination clinic for the most up-to-date advice. They will also be able to advise you of the most suitable anti-malarial medication if required. It is important that you do this well in advance of your departure date.

Booking Procedure

Only once you are completely happy with any holiday itinerary we create for you will we ask for a payment. In order that we can secure availability for your booking we would typically require a deposit of 20%.

Travelling Responsibly

We care about the places and the communities that you will travel through. It is important to us that we travel as responsibly as possible throughout Asia and that we are giving something back to the regions and the people that make these journeys so special. Full details on our approach to responsible travel can be found on a dedicated section of this website.

Make it yours!

Call us on 01273 670 001

Get in touch

Kate – Indochina tailor-made specialist

'A brilliant combination. This journey through north-eastern Laos and north Vietnam explores some of the less-visited regions of these contrasting countries.’

KateIndochina tailor-made specialist

Speak to Kate on 01273 670 001

Make it yours!

Call us on 01273 670 001

Get in touch

Our tailor-made service costs you no extra

This itinerary is designed to work straight off the peg, but we'll happily tailor it until it's a perfect fit for you, to ensure we’re making the absolute best of your time and funds. All you need to do is ask...

Your own private guides & drivers

You'll typically have your own private guides & drivers throughout your trip. When you will be sharing a service (eg a boat cruise) with others, we'll always let you know.

Book With Confidence

For peace of mind when booking your future holiday to Asia, we have introduced flexible booking conditions & full financial clarity.