Laos is stunning from every angle, but the far north is one of the most scenic parts of the country. In fact, it’s one of the most beautiful landscapes in the whole of South-East Asia; a land of fast-flowing rivers, forested hills, karst-limestone crags, towering mountains and remote communities.
Take to the river to watch the karst limestone scenery go by, then drive through imposing mountains and winding valleys peppered with traditional communities. Drift 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 accolade thrown its way.
Other than the leading light that is Luang Prabang, this region is 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?
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.
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.
From Pakbeng, take a long and captivatingly picturesque journey further north to surround yourself with Oudomxay’s forest landscape. This is one of our favourite experiences in Laos - staying a cosy lodge surrounded by some frankly epic scenery. Complete with sweeping vistas and sleepy remote villages, this 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 to stay hunkered down enjoying the serenity, you mustn’t miss the opportunity to head into the surrounding farmlands, forests and hills on foot, by bicycle, jeep or even motorbike, and meet members of the local communities who make their homes in this remote region.
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.
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.
The guide price of £2,490US$2,790 is a per person price (not including international flights) staying 1 night in Pakbeng, 2 nights in Oudomxay, 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.
A two-week journey through Laos’ laid-back cities and rural landscapes, exploring the country’s rich cultural heritage, meeting the friendly locals and going on an adventure or two.