Undoubtedly one of the most scenic regions in South-East Asia, northern Laos boasts towering mountain ranges and winding valleys peppered with remote communities where traditions hold strong. On our Northern Soul itinerary you’ll explore this landscape on foot and by boat, meeting local villagers and learning about rural Laotian life, before immersing yourself in Luang Prabang’s intoxicating confluence of culture.
At a glance
- Be inspired by local community projects in Luang Prabang
- Cruise the backwaters of the Mekong and Nam Ou rivers
- Connect with tribal communities in remote rural regions
- Soak in thermal hot springs surrounded by limestone hills
- Swim in waterfall pool deep in the northern forests
- Kayak along the mighty Mekong
Luang Prabang - 3 nights
Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is regularly voted one of Asia's most striking destinations. An ancient, royal city a junction of the Mekong and Khan Rivers, sheltered by mountains on all sides, with Mount Phousi at its heart, rewarding those who conquer its 328 steps with stunning views over the surrounding temples and hills. A city where time has stood still in places and jumped forward in others, Luang Prabang uniquely fuses traditional Lao architecture with recent colonial buildings. Its unique, remarkably well-preserved townscape illustrates the picturesque blend of these two distinct cultural traditions.
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
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 - from a respectful distance. 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 textiles being woven in the surrounding villages and join the crowds climbing Mount Phousi for spectacular sunset views across the Mekong. If you'd prefer to avoid the steps, visit Wat Prabath Tai for an accessible sunset experience and see the monks and novices go about their daily rituals in Wat Aham’s colourful prayer hall.
Day 3 - Community enterprise visits
Spend the day outside Luang Prabang visiting two inspiring community enterprises. Your morning is spent in the company of local farmer Mr Laut Lee who will guide you around his farm, explaining the various crops he’s growing and the traditional farming techniques used. He’ll also give you a hands-on lesson on making Lao rice noodles, which you can of course then sample. After a picnic lunch at Kuang Si Waterfalls, continue onto a unique social enterprise: the first buffalo dairy in Laos! This unusual project helps underprivileged local farmers by renting their buffalo during milking season, offering them regular income from their buffalos which are being used less on the farm. From humble beginnings the dairy now employs 30 people and works with around 150 local farmers. Currently, the dairy produces yogurt, mozzarella, ricotta, ice-cream and cheese cake, which is distributed to local hotels, restaurants and supermarkets. After a tour of the dairy enjoy a tasting platter.
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Pakbeng - 1 night
Cruise upstream along the Mekong River today from Luang Prabang towards Pakbeng, near the Thai border. Enjoy the stunning karst scenery as your relax on board, and 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. Continue on to Pakbeng where you can take an early evening wander through the streets of this interesting town, the central hub of a region that’s home to many H’mong and minority tribal groups, and enjoy dinner in your lodge overlooking the Mekong River.
Day 4 - Mekong River cruise
Early morning transfer to the Mekong River banks where you will board the Shompoo Cruise and begin your leisurely journey upstream along the Mekong River. It’s a stunning section of this mighty river that begins high in the Himalaya and passes through seven countries before exiting through its sprawling delta in Southern Vietnam. Relax and soak up the scenic landscape before arriving into Pakbeng early evening. Disembark and take a stroll through the streets before dinner in your lodge.
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Muang La - 2 nights
The sweeping mountain scenery around Muang La conceals remote villages where the welcoming locals will show you a gentler pace of life. Water buffalo bathe in the wide Nam Pak River, and local children play along the banks as it weaves through the landscape. Step out of time for a couple of days to absorb the region’s rare peace and quiet, exploring the mountain trails on foot or by bike. Pass through farmland, forest and rice paddies, stopping at small villages along the way, getting beneath the surface of this sleepy region.
Day 5 - Scenic drive to Muang La
The route to Muang La is captivatingly picturesque, and there will be several opportunities to stop en route to soak it all in. Spend time in traditional H'mong villages, before continuing to Pak La Village and the gorgeous Muang La Resort. Famous for its geothermal springs, this is an oasis within the raw countryside where travellers can combine the area’s natural serenity with a blissful soak in the hot spring baths. The remainder of your day will be at leisure to enjoy the resort’s stylish warmth.
Day 6 - 4x4 Adventure & Ban Phavie Trek
Set out for a day in the hills, visiting minority tribal communities and learning about their cultural traditions. Today’s journey takes you to regions few travellers ever get to see, throwing in some stunning mountain scenery along the way. Drive towards Pak Khai, looking across the Nam Pak River at the rice paddies and small villages dotted along the banks. Trek, cycle, or even motorbike, along mountain trails, encountering local farmers as they work on the land, perhaps stopping at a farmers market or secluded temple. Take on the steep trek to the hilltop Khamu village of Ban Phavie, with the reward of superb views over the surrounding area, picnic on the hillside, and take a refreshing dip in a nearby waterfall before returning to Muang La in the late afternoon.
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Phongsali - 2 nights
Phongsali, close to the Chinese border, is unquestionably one of Laos’ most intriguing towns, and definitely its least accessible. Even further off the traveller’s trail than other parts of northern Laos, the town has the distinctive air of being on the border, with a fluid population mostly made up of traders and local minority ethnic groups such as the Phou Noy and Chinese Ho. In a twist of history, it’s partly due to the relatively recent French occupation that Phongsali is not part of China, and the lines between the different cultures begin to blur and blend.
Day 7 - Village visits en-route to Phongsali
Break up the six-hour journey to the remote northern province of Phongsali with visits to a selection of tribal villages, where you can meet members of the community and see life from their rural perspective. Break for lunch at Boun Tai, a popular stopping point en route to Phongsali and base for several non-Governmental Organisations (NGO’s) working in the region. Continue north, stopping in Ban Kong, where members of the Buddhist Thai Lue tribe live under beautifully tiled roofs, which cool their houses in the hot months, making a final stop at Boun Nua before arriving at Phongsali in the late afternoon.
Day 8 - Explore Phongsali & Tea Plantations
Drive 45 minutes out of Phongsali town to the 400-year old tea plantations set on the surrounding hillsides, host to some of the oldest tea trees in the world. Wander through the plantations to Luang Ching village, home to the tea pickers, where you’ll be warmly welcomed and invited to try the local brew. Return to Phongsali to peruse the Museum of Ethnic Minorities, dedicated to documenting the history of local tribal communities, village life and traditional customs. Walk through the narrow streets of the old French and Chinese quarters, with your guide on hand to help you to chat with the locals; wander around the central lake, between the water’s edge and the community herb and vegetable gardens; enjoy a laid back drink in a waterside cafe; and trek up the forested hillside of Phou Fa Mountain for a sunset view across the town.
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Muang Khua & Nong Khiaw - 3 nights
Only 37 miles from the Vietnamese border on the banks of the Nam Ou River, Muang Khua has a ramshackle feel, with rickety, wooden buildings, a floating bridge, and tiny, winding streets. Members of the minority tribal communities that live in the surrounding countryside come to buy or sell their produce in the morning market, creating a gentle bustle. Further along the riverside, you’ll find Nong Khiaw: a remote village flanked by stunning mountains, where narrow paths snake tantalisingly into the surrounding jungle and emerge on limestone cliffs with panoramic views. Your final day in Nong Khiaw will be at leisure.
Day 9 - Nam Ou River cruise to Muang Khua
Hop aboard a private boat to cruise down an uninhabited, and particularly picturesque, stretch of the beautiful Nam Ou River towards Muang Khua. Pause your journey at a Chinese hydropower dam - a striking sign of modernity within an otherwise timeless landscape - which you’ll pass by truck, before boarding your second boat and continuing down the river. Picnic at Ban Huay Soy, a rarely visited Khmu village, and arrive into Muang Khua in the early evening.
Day 10 - Nam Ou River cruise to Nong Khiaw via Muang Ngoi
Take a slow boat down the Nam Ou River, past unspoilt scenery and remote villages, some of which, such as Muang Ngoi, are only accessible by boat. Take a break in Muang Ngoi village, nestling at the foothill of a giant limestone outcrop, which has carved itself a place an ideal stopover for travellers coasting up and down the Nam Ou. Meet a local village guide who will lead you on a short trek through the rice fields to a nearby cave, visiting a Thai Daeng village en route. Return to Muang Ngoi, where you can join the locals for a cooling bathe in the river, before continuing to Nong Khiaw.
Day 11 - Relax & explore
Your day will be at leisure to relax and explore your scenic surrounds. If you're feeling active, trek up to the Mountain View Point which offers stunning views over Nong Khiaw.
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Luang Prabang - 1 night
Day 12 - Nam Ou River kayaking, drive to Luang Prabang
Follow the Nam Ou River for around 2.5 hours to Ban Hatya village, where you’ll meet your specialist guide, climb into a kayak, slide out into the picturesque Nam Ou River and begin paddling downstream. Picnic on the riverbank at Pha An, where the Nam Ou meets the mighty Mekong, overlooking dramatic limestone karst scenery. Kayak further along the Mekong to the small island of Donekhoun, where you’ll stop for refreshments and explore Wat Donekhoun - an ancient temple that was a favourite the King when he travelled to Pak Ou Caves, but is now rarely visited. Continue downstream to Ban Pakxeuang to leave the kayaks behind and transfer to Luang Prabang.
Day 13 - Depart Luang Prabang
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)|
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
Sanctuary Pakbeng LodgeSet on the banks of the Mekong River close to the centre of the atmospheric town of Pakbeng, the Sanctuary Pakbeng Lodge provides comfortable accommodation for those breaking the journey between border town... See more
Muang La Resort'Totally unexpected but extremely welcome' is how a recent client described the Muang La Resort. The town of Oudomxay is perhaps not the most inspiring location, but lies within one of South-East Asia’s most striking regions... See more
Viphaphone HotelLocated in the eastern part of town, the three-storey Viphaphone is immediately notable due to its faded yellow exterior. Rooms are large and simply furnished but perfectly comfortable for a short stay.
Phongpadith GuesthousePhongpadith Guesthouse offers simple, yet comfortable accommodation in Muang Khua, a short stroll from the Nam Ou River.
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
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).
- Your journey starts just over the border from Laos in Chiang Khong, Thailand. A few nights in Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai (or both) is well advised. Not only does it afford you the opportunity to adjust to a new time zone and pace of life, it also means that you get to explore more of the golden triangle region.
- If you have time, complete your Laos experience by extending your trip south, visiting the 4000 islands and the nearby Bolaven Plateau.
- Just because Laos is landlocked doesn't mean that you can't spend a few days on the beach. In most instances you will fly to Laos via Bangkok, ensuring easy access to many of Thailand's world famous beach resorts without the need to pay for extra flights.
Whilst many clients are happy with one 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 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.