Early morning departure, following the Nam Ou River for around 2.5 hours to the village of Ban Hatya. Here you will meet your specialist kayak guide who will explain about the kayaks, the relevant equipment and safety procedures.
Climb into a kayak, slide out into the picturesque Nam Ou River and begin paddling downstream. The kayaking should not tax anyone with a reasonable level of fitness and the area is wonderfully scenic, making it perfect for a leisurely paddle with plenty of opportunity to soak up the scenery.
Upon reaching Pha An, where the Nam Ou meets the mighty Mekong River, stop for a picnic lunch on the riverbank overlooking the dramatic limestone karst scenery. Having eaten, cross the river and visit the sacred Pak Ou Caves. The caves 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.
Back in your kayak continue paddling along the Mekong River until you reach the small island of Donekhoun. Stop to enjoy a drink and snack and explore Wat Donekhoun - an ancient temple that was a favourite stop of the King when he travelled to Pak Ou Caves, but is now rarely visited.
Having stretched your legs, continue paddling downstream for around 20 minutes to the village of Ban Pakxeuang where you’ll leave the kayaks behind and transfer to Luang Prabang, arriving in the late afternoon.
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.
In the evening there are plenty of great restaurants to choose from - we also recommend the local river side stalls for some truly authentic Lao flavours, washed down with the excellent Beer Lao!
Overnight in Luang Prabang.
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 where you have three options to choose from. Either join the crowds by climbing up Mount Phousi, a sacred hill that offers spectacular sunset vista and a panoramic view over Luang Prabang and across the Mekong River. Alternatively if you'd prefer to avoid the steps, visit Wat Prabath Tai for a more accessible sunset experience. Your third option is to visit Wat Aham, where monks and novices come together in the colourful prayer hall for their daily rituals and chanting.
Overnight in Luang Prabang.
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!
Return to Luang Prabang where the remainder of your day is at leisure.
Overnight in Luang Prabang.
Additional ideas in Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang is one of the Selective Asia teams’ favourite Asian cities and it’s quite easy to while away several days exploring the UNESCO protected temples, visiting nearby caves and waterfalls, kayaking along the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers, sampling the plentiful dining opportunities…you get the idea. The experiences included in this itinerary are just a selection of what is possible. Below are a few more recommendations.
Back to school
Give a little back by teaching an English class in the remote village of Ban Tha Po, 60 km from Luang Prabang. An exciting project founded by the inspirational Mr Ken, a 19 year old resident of the cultural capital, is providing education for kids from Tha Po and the surrounding Kamu and Hmong villages.
You can spend a morning at the school and get involved in teaching English to a group of eager primary school children, as beneficial for the students as it is fun for you! The children would otherwise rarely have contact with foreigners, so your input will genuinely help improve their English skills & future employment prospects.
Mandalao Elephant Sanctuary
Spread over 40 acres of prime elephant habitat, Mandalao Elephant Sanctuary is home to seven elephants who have spent the majority of their lives working in the region’s logging industry. Spend a morning at the sanctuary and you will be encouraged to interact closely with the elephants, you will learn how to communicate with them, trek together through the forest and enjoy some ‘elephant down-time’ as they take a wash in the river, enabling you to come away with a natural and joyful experience of Asia’s most iconic animal.
Petanque with the locals
Petanque might not be the first sport that springs to mind when you think of Laos, so you may be surprised to learn that it’s a popular national pastime, and courts can be found in most towns throughout the country. For a typical night out, why not challenge your guide to a game? Petanque courts rarely attract foreign tourists so your presence will inevitably raise a curious look and a smile from the local players, but you will be made to feel welcome and may even be invited to join them for a Beer Lao.
Your day is at leisure until your transfer to the airport for your onward flight.