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Northern Soul

Laos is stunning from every angle, but in Selective Asia’s humble opinion, the far north is one of the most scenic regions, not just in the country, but in the whole of South-East Asia. This northern region is a somewhat mysterious land of fast-flowing rivers, forested hills, karst-limestone crags, towering mountains and remote communities.

Other than the leading light that is Luang Prabang, this region is still often overlooked in favour of its somewhat flashier neighbours, but you can drink in equally arresting panoramas here with far fewer crowds. Why not nip over the border from northern Thailand and take a leisurely cruise down the Mekong to Pakbeng?

Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang festival
Luang Prabang food cart
Muang La Lodge
Views from Muang La
Nam Ou River
Northern Laos
Phongsali
trekking in north Laos

Watch stunning karst limestone scenery drift by, then abandon ship to drive through imposing mountains and winding valleys, peppered with traditional communities, to the riverside bungalows of the Muang La Resort - a hidden gem. Take to the river once again, this time drifting down a particularly picturesque stretch of the Nam Ou towards Nong Khiaw, a remote village-town set right on the banks. Lastly, explore, eat and relax in the intoxicating confluence of culture that is Luang Prabang, a city still worthy of every one of the accolades thrown its way.

Take the Chiang Rai road...

There’s nothing wrong with beginning and ending your adventure entirely within Laos itself, but we think that starting in the region known as the Golden Triangle, where Thailand-meets-Laos-meets-Myanmar, offers something extra special. Start your journey with glimpses of rice fields, jungle, waterfalls, mountains and the area's famous hill tribe communities, and save the Indochinese jewel of Luang Prabang for a glorious finale. Consider at least a couple of nights, either in the small laid-back city of Chiang Rai, with its intriguing temples and popular night market, or amidst the lush hills of the Golden Triangle, before taking an early morning drive to the border town of Chiang Khong, onto the Friendship Bridge, over the Mekong, and into Laos.

The mighty Mekong

Visiting Asia without spending time on, or beside, the Mekong is almost impossible. This mighty river begins high in the Himalayas before passing through a mind-blowing seven countries, and this route travels along a particularly scenic section. On a leisurely cruise downriver, banks covered in dense jungle make way for the occasional village of archetypal stilt houses, as the backdrop evolves from low forested hills to dramatic karst limestone mountains. Relaxing onboard a long, narrow, traditionally-styled boat is the perfect way to live and breathe life on the river. Sit back on deck and let the best of the scenery come to you. After a day on the water, disembark in the appealing local hub of Pakbeng. Wander the dusty streets in the early evening, then enjoy dinner overlooking the rushing river as the fireflies flit past.

Mountain scenery, hidden villages & magnificent Muang La!

From Pakbeng, take a long but captivatingly picturesque journey to the village of Pak La and the gorgeous Muang La Resort. This is one of our favourite places to stay in Laos (and perhaps in the whole of Asia!), surrounded by some frankly epic mountain scenery. Complete with sweeping vistas and sleepy remote villages, this is the kind of experience that epitomises laid-back Laos; an opportunity to step out of modern life for a couple of days and appreciate some rare peace and tranquility. Although we understand the temptation not to leave the lodge, don’t miss out on the unique opportunity to head into the surrounding farmlands, forests and hills on foot, by bicycle, jeep or even motorbike, and meet members of the local minority tribal communities who make their homes in this remote region.

The nonchalant Nam Ou

Time to head back out on to another of Laos’ lifelines, cruising from ramshackle Muang Khua down a particularly beautiful and sparsely inhabited stretch of the Nam Ou River. Your progress is only briefly (though rather jarringly) interrupted by the modern and somewhat controversial hydropower dam. Otherwise unimpeded, the Nam Ou winds leisurely through the landscape between stunning limestone outcrops, such as the one that overshadows the remote fishing settlement of Muang Ngoi (an area only accessible by boat) along to the riverside village of Nong Khiaw. Remote, and flanked by more magnificent scenery, Nong Khiaw is a highlight, even in a country overflowing with spectacular natural sights. This area is made for exploring on foot, by boat, or by kayak downstream, stopping en route for a riverbank picnic before continuing to Luang Prabang.

Cultural & community confluence

Having quite rightly shot to fame over the last few years, we’re still confident that you’ll find lovely Luang Prabang to be everything that you’d expect. The streets are well-trodden by orange-robed monks early each morning, during the traditional and iconic ritual of tak bat (the giving of alms). The architecture is a blend of traditional local and Colonial styles, reflected in this royal city’s UNESCO heritage status. The well-known sights of the former Royal Palace, the golden bas-reliefs at Wat Mai and the watermelon-shaped stupa of Wat Visoun are well worth a visit. We’d recommend taking a couple of days to view all of the above, then adding at least a couple more to explore the city’s surroundings. Dip into the cascading Kuang Si waterfalls, spend a morning with local farmer Mr Laut Lee, or visit some of Laos’ most innovative and interesting community projects, such as the area’s first buffalo dairy, or the ethical elephant sanctuary Mandalao.

A note on cost…

The guide price of £2,490US$2,990 is a per person price (not including international flights) staying 1 night in Pakbeng, 2 nights in Muang La, 1 night in Nong Khiaw and 5 nights in Luang Prabang ; all in our favourite mid-range hotels. How yours looks is up to you, our tailor-made specialists work with you to create your perfect journey.

What's included in your Selective Asia holiday

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