There are very few places that truly give you the feeling of being somewhere that’s ‘one of a kind’, and you might not expect to find one in a remote corner of northern Laos. Nevertheless, on the outskirts of the small village of Muang La, close to a quiet tributary of the Nam Pak River, those who put in a little extra time and effort will discover a special sanctuary: the French-Lao owned hideaway of Muang La Lodge. Small but stylish, elegant yet understated, more luxurious than you’d expect given the location yet by no means out of place, we urge you to stay as many nights as time and budget will allow. This is one case where we insist you take it slow!
The lodge itself offers a lot worth lingering over (we love the island infinity pool, natural hot spring baths and delicious five course tasting menus), but the Muang La experience is so much more. The area is home to an intricate mosaic of different minority communities, known locally as the ‘people of heaven’ due to their often vertiginous mountain homes. Accompanied by one of the lodge’s experienced guides, make respectful visits to Khamu, Ikhos and Hmong villages. Whether you are keen to walk, hike, or let a 4x4 take the strain, the focus is on appreciating the region’s truly unique cultures, with opportunities to take dips in isolated waterfalls and picnic at mountain viewpoints along the way.
Our Destination Specialists are ready to discuss how to fit Muang La Lodge into your tailor-made itinerary, and in the meantime here are some ideas to get you thinking about the rest of your trip…
Arguably, no other destination epitomises the appeal of slow travel quite like Laos, and few cities lend themselves to this ideal as well as the capital, Vientiane. Not all visitors pause in this ‘village city’, often deciding on a few more nights in Luang Prabang instead, but for anyone set on seeing the highlights of the north, Vientiane is a must.
There are so many reasons to begin in Vientiane. Its blend of gently faded architecture and traditional temples sits alongside exhibitions highlighting the challenges faced by Laos from unexploded Vietnam War-era ordnance. It's the perfect place to get acquainted with the country’s delicious cuisine, and your guide will be happy to whiz you round the night market by tuk tuk to get you started. Even leaving the capital is a moment in itself, riding the elegant high-speed train through the Oudomxay countryside towards the gorgeous Muang La.
A stay at Muang La is one of the major highlights of visiting northern Laos, but by no means the only one. We know how hard it is to tear yourself away, but for those who do, the rewards are yet more natural beauty in a country full of superlative-inducing scenery. Borne by boat down the wide Nam Ou River, you’ll have nothing to do but sit back and watch as each curve and bend brings the stunning landscape closer. Pass forested hills, limestone crags and tiny villages, with a brief pause to disembark and navigate the hydropower dam - a rather jarring interruption to an otherwise timeless landscape.
Having arrived in the town of Nong Khiaw, resist the urge to schedule every moment. Instead, leave plenty of time for impromptu riverbank strolls, wanders through nearby villages, paths that emerge on limestone cliffs with panoramic views, and pauses to watch spectacular sunsets.
Having made your way to the jewel of Luang Prabang, you’ll want to spend time taking it all in. Observe the daily ritual of tak bat (the giving of alms to the city’s monks) from a respectful distance, stroll through the still relatively peaceful streets, with their gentle blend of traditional and Colonial architecture, and appreciate the spiritual atmosphere of the many Wats, or Buddhist temples. Allow yourself to absorb the essence of the city.
Luang Prabang is a great place to pursue your own passions, and the possibilities are pretty much endless. Foodies can learn about traditional farming techniques, and how to make rice noodles, under the friendly eye of local farmer, Mr Laut Lee. Visit Laos’ first buffalo dairy, which makes delicious mozzarella and ice-cream, and enjoy afternoon tea at the luxurious Amantaka hotel. Conservationists can take in the Bear Rescue Centre, which does a great job of protecting and rehabilitating the rare Asiatic Black Bear, and visit the Mandalao Elephant Sanctuary, dedicated to caring for elephants who previously spent much of their lives working in the logging industry.
Although Luang Prabang would be a great place to finish your Laotian exploration, a flight south to Pakse will put you within reach of Si Phan Don, otherwise known as the 4,000 Islands, for a truly laid-back last leg. Avoid too much extra moving around by basing yourself in sleepy Champasak or on Done Daeng, too far north to be officially one of the ‘4,000’ but still one of the most picturesque islands in the region and the location of the peaceful La Folie Lodge.
Once you’re settled, enjoy expansive river views and unexpectedly sandy beaches, take one of the complimentary bicycles for a spin, or enjoy a leisurely excursion to UNESCO-listed Wat Phou, a historic site stunningly situated overlooking the water. Navigate the hills, waterfalls and rivers that make up the nearby Bolaven Plateau and visit a coffee farm to learn about the whole process from bean to cup, or just relax into the gentle Si Phan Don pace of life.
We suggest that you compliment your 2 night stay at the Muang La Lodge perfectly with 2 nights in Vientiane at the Ansara Hôtel, 1 night at the Nong Khiaw Riverside Resort, 5 nights in Luang Prabang staying at the Villa Maydou and 5 nights at La Folie Lodge whilst exploring the 4000 Islands. This trip would typically cost £3,590US$4,390 per person (not including international flights).
How yours looks is up to you, our tailor-made specialists work with you to create your perfect journey.
16 days to see the very best of Laos.