Our Destination Specialists are experts at tailoring bespoke itineraries just for you, but what would their own perfect holiday look like? We asked Laos Specialist Lionel what he’d include in his own ideal trip, and the result is Lionel's Laos, which contrasts the country’s ancient and modern history, takes you on adventures off the beaten track, and finishes with some proper R&R.
At a glance
- Sample street food flavours in Vientiane
- Learn about the country’s struggle with unexploded ordnance
- Soak up the mysterious atmosphere of the Plain of Jars
- Cruise along the waterways of Nam Et National Park to spot unusual wildlife
- Take sunset-infused photos from Nong Khiaw Mountain View Point
- Bask in inland beachside bliss on Si Phan Don’s serene sands
Vientiane - 2 nights
On the banks of the mighty Mekong River, the Laotian capital of Vientiane can feel overshadowed by Luang Prabang’s superstar status. But this distinctive ‘village city’ has a character all its own, and although a little busier than the rest of the country, its population is less than a million, and it’s actually fairly sedate when compared to many of Asia’s mega-busy capital cities! There’s a heady blend of historic and cultural influences: French colonial architecture sits side-by-side with gilded temples, bicycles weave down winding streets, and you get to enjoy it all without large tourist crowds.
Day 1 - Arrive Vientiane
You’ll meet your local guide on arrival and, having transferred to your hotel, enjoy the remainder of your day at leisure.
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.
Once evening falls, the lights of the night market twinkle along the riverbank, drawing you in to explore. There are some excellent local food stalls on Chao Anou Road, and plenty of restaurants nearby where you can taste Vientiane’s unique fusion of flavours.
Day 2 - City Tour, Tuk Tuk Night Safari
Spend the morning seeking out the best of the capital, starting with a visit to Wat Sisaket - arguably the most beautiful temple in Vientiane - which houses thousands of miniature Buddha statues. Continue to Wat Phra Keo, former location of the famed Emerald Buddha statue which now sits in the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Climb up on the roof of the Patuxai monument for fantastic panoramic views, then make a stop at the golden stupa of That Luang, the holiest place in Laos. Complete your morning at the excellent COPE exhibition centre, highlighting the country’s day-to-day struggle with unexploded ordnance left over from the Vietnam War era. As evening draws in and the city’s street markets come to life, take a tuk tuk with your guide to the night market near That Luang, which doesn’t see many tourists but is a favourite amongst the locals. Pick out a selection of dishes to sample and save room for the main event: a communal, Lao-style on-table BBQ, known as a Sin Dat.
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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 3 - Buddha Park, fly to Phonsavan
Spend a last morning in Vientiane at leisure, perhaps making a visit to the quirky Buddha Park, an enchanting collection of Buddhist and Hindu sculptures on a riverside meadow just outside the city centre. Fly to Phonsavan and enjoy the rest of your day at leisure exploring the town’s sprinkling of cafes and restaurants catering to those intrepid travellers who make it here.
Day 4 - MAG, Plain of Jars, Lone Buffalo
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 5 - Standing stones, village visit, drive to Sam Neua
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 6 - Vieng Xai caves
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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Nam Et National Park - 1 night
The Nam Et-Phou Louey Protected Area is a region of high biodiversity, home to clouded leopards, golden cats, gibbons, many reptile species, an array of birdlife and a notable population of tigers. Once at the national park headquarters, a local team will brief you on the conservation and management work of the park, you’ll meet your local Khmu guide at your jungle camp - traditional Lao style huts in the forest - and then set out on safari deep into the jungle. Head to the salt lick to spot various creatures, before you enjoy a barbeque around the campfire, and float down river, engines off, to track nocturnal wildlife before returning to camp to fall asleep to a jungle soundscape.
Day 7 - Nam Nern River cruise, jungle trek & night safari
Drive to a local village where you’ll hop aboard a long tailed boat for a 1.5 hour cruise around the Nam Nern River, arriving at the Nam Et-Phou Louey National Park headquarters in time for lunch with the villagers. Settle into your jungle camp before your initial jungle exploration with a skilled local Khmu guide and tracker. After a BBQ dinner, once it’s totally dark, board the long tail boat again 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 as you use a spotlight to search out nocturnal creatures. Head back around midnight to your traditional Lao style hut in the forest, surrounded by the sights, sounds and scents of the jungle.
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Nong Khiaw - 2 nights
Nong Khiaw is a remote village town situated on the banks of the Nam Ou River. Flanked on either side by stunning limestone outcrops, with the river winding leisurely through the landscape, this is one of Laos’ most beautiful spots. Though pretty far off the usual trail, the area boasts several guest houses and restaurants that bring a little extra buzz to the sleepy town. Hike to the high viewpoint for panoramic photos, stroll along the river bank or wander to nearby villages before settling back with a Beer Lao to wait for the spectacular sunset.
Day 8 - Jungle trek, drive to Nong Khiaw
Rise early to explore the Nam-Et Phou jungle with your local guide, who’ll highlight various medicinal plants that grow wild in the region, and tell you more of the area’s history. Back at headquarters, board a long-tail boat for a river journey to Ban Son Koua village, stopping at one of the area’s best birdwatching vantage points, and staying eagle-eyed for wildlife along the banks. Back on the road, passing through Vieng Thong, you’ll arrive at Nong Khiaw in the late afternoon.
Day 9 - Nam Ou River cruise, Muang Ngoi
Embark at Nong Khiaw jetty to cruise up a stunning stretch of the Nam Ou River, past a sprinkling of outlying villages, including Ban Sop Khing and Ban Sob Jaem that can only be accessed by boat. Linger in both villages and enjoy lunch in the small fishing settlement of Muang Ngoi, taking time out from the urgency of modern tech to experience Laos’ rural communities, before returning by river to Nong Khiaw in the mid-afternoon. If you wish, you can make the steep hike to Nong Khiaw Mountain View Point which offers stunning views over the town and surrounding area.
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Luang Prabang - 3 nights
Luang Prabang - the ‘Jewel of Indochina’ - is regularly voted one of Asia's top destinations. This ancient, UNESCO-listed royal city, at the junction of two rivers, is surrounded by mountains, with Mount Phousi at its core rewarding climbers with panoramic views. Each street juxtaposes traditional Lao architecture with more recent colonial buildings; its well-preserved townscape illustrates a key stage in the blending of these two distinct cultural traditions. Take time to absorb the essence of the city, from the quiet daily rituals of monastic life to the rowdy joy of live music and a beer Lao by the river.
Day 10 - Drive to Luang Prabang, via Pak Ou Caves
Take the scenic route towards Luang Prabang, passing through rolling hills and rice paddies, catching glimpses of the Nam Ou River as it winds across the landscape. Stop en route to visit the Pak Ou caves, home to thousands of Buddha statues - ranging from just a couple of inches tall to the size of a person - left there in times gone by. Arrive into Luang Prabang around lunchtime, after which the remainder of your day will be at leisure to start exploring the city.
Day 11 - Tak Bat, walking tour & weaving villages
Rise before dawn to witness the iconic tak bat (the giving of alms to the city’s monks), before beginning a full day’s tour of the city. Begin at the former Royal Palace, now the National Museum, for an overview of the country’s history, then take in some of the city’s temples, including the golden bas-reliefs at Wat Mai, the much-photographed Wat Xieng Thong, and the watermelon shaped stupa of Wat Visoun. Get further insight into Laos’ cultural profile at the Arts and Ethnology Centre before heading out to visit the weaving and textile villages of Ban Xangkhong and Ban Xienglek. Join the crowds climbing Mount Phousi, for spectacular sunset views across the Mekong or, if you'd prefer to avoid the steps, visit Wat Prabath Tai for a more accessible sunset experience and see the monks and novices go about their daily rituals in Wat Aham’s colourful prayer hall.
Day 12 - Relax and explore
Take a day at leisure to relax or continue your exploration of Luang Prabang.
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4000 Islands & Bolaven Plateau - 3 nights
Si Phan Don, or the 4,000 Islands, are dotted through the lush Mekong Delta on the Laos-Cambodian border. Those too small to be inhabited are microhabitats for birds and wildlife, while the larger islands are home to remote rural hamlets with - unexpectedly, for a land-locked country - sandy beaches! Just a day trip away, the Bolaven Plateau is a picturesque bubble of intersecting rivers, steep waterfalls and tumbling hills, covered with rich soil that’s ideal for growing coffee, tea and cardamom. High above the surrounding Champasak landscape, you can feel the cool breeze on your face, and take a little time off the road.
Day 13 - Fly to Pakse, Champasak walking tour
Meet your guide in Pakse, and head south towards Si Phan Don. Stop en route to explore Champasak’s colonial history, see a local potter’s workshop, and wonder at the Sisumang Buddha - a huge image of the Buddha seated on the remains of a Pre-Angkorian temple. At the temple of Vat Pa Non, follow the riverside path past ancient temples, and see how traditional rice baskets and fish traps are made, then cross by boat to the stunning Done Daeng, just too far north to be officially one of the ‘4000’, but one of the most picturesque islands in this laid-back region. The rest of the day is yours to explore the island by foot or bicycle, or just simply relax into the Si Phan Don pace of life!
Day 14 - Wat Phou, Si Phan Don R&R
Take a boat to the opposite side of the Mekong River to the evocative, pre-Angkorian ruins of Wat Phou, one of South-East Asia's most dramatically situated temple sites with superb views across the water. This UNESCO-listed site dates back to the 5th century, predating the famous Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and though much of the origin of Wat Phou is unclear, it is believed that the original temple was built by the Khmer Hindus who eventually made Angkor Wat their capital. After a rich morning of history and culture, enjoy a relaxing afternoon of r&r on the sands.
Day 15 - Bolaven Plateau jeep tour
Make an early journey east across the Bolaven Plateau, passing coffee, tea and spice plantations along the way. Any visit to the plateau is a refreshing break from the heat of the day, and the area is famous for its stunning waterfalls. Stop at the most beautiful of these, Tad Fan, which, during high waters, provides a spectacular display of twin falls plummeting into the deep gorge. Next, meet a specialist local guide in the village of Ban Beng for a unique experience: exploring the Bolaven Plateau away from the well-trodden tourist route in a 1960’s-era Army jeep! Pause at Tad Moan waterfall, for a swim if you wish, then head on to a coffee farm to learn about the whole process, from bean to cup, and share a home-cooked lunch with locals, before continuing on your jeep adventure as far as Paksong. Rejoin your Selective Asia driver and travel by road back to Done Daeng.
Day 16 - At leisure until flying out of Pakse
Indulge in a last morning in Si Phan Don serenity, before heading to Pakse 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|
Ansara HotelAnsara is a new boutique hotel located in the heart of Vientiane, just a short walk from the Mekong River and yet close to many of the city's main restaurants and places of interest… See more
Vansana Plain of Jars HotelThe 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 HotelOne 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
Nam Nern Eco Lodge
The Nam Nern Ecolodge is the only place to stay within the Nam Et National Park, and is located near the park headquarters, overlooking the Nam Nern River from the forest edge. Accommodation comprises of basic, traditional Lao style huts, built and managed by the community. Please note, bathrooms have cold water only.
Nong Khiaw RiversideWonderfully rustic accommodation on the banks of the Nam Ou River, the Nong Khiaw Riverside is a gem of a property… See more
Villa MaydouSet 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
La FolieLocated on Done Daeng Island, on the banks of the Mekong River, you would be forgiven for thinking you had just pitched up on a Thai island not a land-locked country... 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).
The important stuffPlease 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.
- 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.
- 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 noteAll prices are correct at the time of publishing. They are liable to change and can only be confirmed upon submitting an enquiry.
FlightsWe 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.
VisaYou will require a visa to enter Laos. Your consultant will be happy to advise you on visa requirements.
PassportPlease 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.
InsuranceYou 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 PreventionYou 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 ProcedureOnly 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 ResponsiblyWe 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.
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.