- Explore ethnic villages of Laos, and learn about distinct minority cultures
- Meet Asian black bears at the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre
- Cycle the "4000 Islands" of the Mekong River, including ferry rides between isles
- Roam the temples of Angkor by "remork"
|Day 1||Arrive in Luang Prabang, At Leisure||Luang Prabang|
|Day 2||Cultural Highlights City Tour & Ethnic Villages||Luang Prabang|
|Day 3||Nam Ou River Cruise, Pak Ou Caves & Wat Done Khoun Temple & Monastery||Luang Prabang|
|Day 4||Local Farm Visit & Cooking Class, Waterfall & Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre||Luang Prabang|
|Day 5||Fly to Pakse, Tad Fan Waterfall & Coffee Plantation in Paksong||Paksong|
|Day 6||Ethnic Minority Villages, Tad Lo & Tad Paxuam Waterfalls, To Champasak||Champasak|
|Day 7||Wat Phou UNESCO World Heritage Site, Don Khong Island & Free Afternoon||Don Khong|
|Day 8||Bike & Ferry Tour of "4000 Islands" (Full Day)||Don Khong|
|Day 9||Khone Phapheng Falls, Transfer to Sra'aem, Cambodia & Preah Vihear Temple||Sra'aem|
|Day 10||Transfer to Siem Reap via Anlong Veng & Choam||Siem Reap|
|Day 11||Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom & Ta Phrom Temples by Remork||Siem Reap|
|Day 12||Floating Village Boat Tour, Bird Sanctuary & Phare, The Cambodian Circus||Siem Reap|
|Day 13||Countryside Cycling: Pagodas, Villages & Dine with the Locals Cooking Class||Siem Reap|
|Day 14||Depart Siem Reap|
Day 1: Arrive in Luang Prabang, At Leisure
Upon arrival at Luang Prabang airport, you'll be met by your driver and guide for a short transfer to your hotel. Now relax and enjoy the rest of the day at leisure beside your hotel pool, or set out to stroll this former royal capital and seat of government of the Kingdom of Laos. Located in the north of the country, in the heart of a mountainous region, the peaceful city, and a UNESCO World Heritage Centre, is built atop a narrow peninsula between the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers.
Each river is lined with restaurants and bars and makes for a pleasant evening stroll, as does the Night Market and nearby Night Food Stalls, which set up at sunset.
Day 2: Cultural Highlights City Tour & Ethnic Villages
After breakfast, head to the quaint Royal Palace Museum for an overview of the culture and history of this ancient city. Then stroll the quiet back lanes to Huan Chuan Heritage House, a traditional stilt-legged longhouse, for a refreshing iced tea in the lush gardens; and, at the tip of the peninsula, the enchanting Wat Xiengthong temple with its graceful sweeping roof. Before a typical Laotian lunch at a local restaurant, you'll also explore the nearby Wat Khili temple, housing a historical photo exhibition of Buddhist heritage.
Then, the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre provides a fascinating insight into the nation's rich and diverse ethnic and cultural mosaic. Next, get a taste of this firsthand as you head out of town to Ban Xang Khong and Ban Xienglek—Leu ethnic villages known for textile weaving. Heading back into Luang Prabang, you'll visit 15th-century Wat Visoun, known as "The Water Melon Stupa" for its shape. Finally, take time at leisure to relax or to see some of Luang Prabang's other intriguing temples, such as Wat Aham (where you can meet novice monks who gather daily at the prayer hall for meditative chants).
Day 3: Nam Ou River Cruise, Pak Ou Caves & Wat Done Khoun Temple & Monastery
This morning, depart Luang Prabang and drive north for around 90 minutes to the village of Ban Pha Theung, where you'll board a private boat for a cruise down the serene Nam Ou River through a landscape of dramatic limestone karst scenery. Stop en route at Ban Had Kham village to learn about the local craft industry—making lau khao, or famously potent rice whiskey—and for a delicious picnic lunch atop the banks of the river.
Continue downriver to the confluence of the Mekong River, where a zigzagging staircase leads up to the craggy and sacred Pak Ou Caves, crammed with thousands of Buddha effigies and made more magnificent by the many dripstone formations. Then continue downstream for a short visit to Wat Done Khoun temple and monastery, on the west bank of the Mekong, opposite Luang Prabang. Arriving back at your hotel in the late afternoon, you can enjoy the balance of the day and evening at your own pace.
Day 4: Local Farm Visit & Cooking Class, Waterfall & Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre
This morning you'll head out of town and meet a friendly farmer, Lautlee, who will delight in guiding you around his simple family farm. Here, you'll learn about the production of typical Laotian crops, including the opportunity to help Lautlee at work in his organic vegetable garden and the chance to taste your efforts by sampling some of the local produce that may be new to you. You might even learn how to process sticky rice into typical Lao noodles called kapoen.
You'll then continue to Kuang Si waterfall to enjoy a picnic lunch overlooking the beautiful triple-tiered cascades with natural jade-colored pools. Nearby, you'll get to meet endangered Asiatic black bears close up at the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre. Bears and other rare animals (such as leopard cats, civets, pangolins, and red pandas) rescued from smugglers are cared for and, if possible, rehabilitated for release back to the wild. You'll then return to Luang Prabang for another evening at leisure.
Day 5: Fly to Pakse, Tad Fan Waterfall & Coffee Plantation in Paksong
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Today you'll transfer to Luang Prabang airport for a short flight to Pakse, where you'll be met by your driver and guide and head east into the heights of the Bolaven Plateau, high above the Mekong Valley. Bolaven is Laos' central coffee-growing region and is laced with waterfalls. Your first visit will be to Tad Fan waterfall, a picturesque twin-chute cascade, followed by visits to local tea and coffee plantations to learn about their tea and coffee production and where you can sample fresh local brews.
You'll continue to Paksong, where you'll call in at Jhai Coffee House—a philanthropic coffee roaster that buys from the source and reinvests all profit into the region. You'll meet the roasters and learn about their social enterprise and the importance of coffee in the local economy. Finally, continue to your lovely resort hotel, arriving in the late afternoon. The balance of your day is at leisure to relax by the hotel pool and enjoy the evening twinkling of fireflies.
Day 6: Ethnic Minority Villages, Tad Lo & Tad Paxuam Waterfalls, To Champasak
This morning, head out to explore a couple of ethnic minority villages, beginning with Ban Bong Neua, where the Alka women still wear colorful traditional dress, take charge of their matriarchal communities, and bury their dead beneath their houses. You'll then head to Ban Kokphung village, where families of minority Katu people live communally in long rectangular houses. Continue to the nearby Tad Lo waterfalls—three beautiful cascades where you can cool off by swimming after your short hike.
Following lunch, you'll leave the Bolaven Plateau behind after a final stop at the picturesque Tad Paxuam waterfall. Your destination this afternoon is Champasak, a somnolent town spread along the banks of the Mekong River and lined with wood-shuttered Chinese shophouses and decaying colonial mansions. After checking in to your hotel, the balance of your day is at leisure.
Day 7: Wat Phou UNESCO World Heritage Site, Don Khong Island & Free Afternoon
After breakfast, you'll make a short 10-minute drive to the ruins of Wat Phou temple, a Khmer Hindu religious complex dating back to the 5th century. This well-preserved UNESCO World Heritage Site comprises a tiered geometric complex of temples, shrines, and waterways extending some 6 miles (10 km) from the mountaintop down to the Mekong River.
Then take the ferry to the east side of the Mekong and continue south, paralleling the river, to arrive in the early afternoon at Don Khong, the largest of the thousands of islands that dot this section of the Mekong River. After checking in to your hotel, spend the afternoon relaxing in a hammock, or opt to explore the island, with its iconic rural lifestyle of fishers, rice farmers, and village weavers.
Day 8: Bike & Ferry Tour of "4000 Islands" (Full Day)
Hop aboard a mountain bike today for a full-day adventure excursion cycling the dirt roads of three smaller, lesser-visited isles among the Si Phan Don Islands—colloquially called "4000 Islands"—that form a complex mosaic along this braided stretch of the Mekong River. You'll reach these tiny isles by small local ferries, beginning with Don Phouman—a quintessentially Laotian island of fishing hamlets and ancient rice fields. You'll then island-hop to Don Saang Phai, where you'll visit its ancient wooden Buddhist temple and learn about the importance of religion and beliefs in the local culture.
The next stop is the long, slender island of Don Loppadi, where many villagers specialize in weaving fishing nets and bamboo baskets. Here, you'll enjoy a local family home-cooked lunch of fresh-caught fish, papaya salad, sticky rice, and home-brewed rice wine. Finally, you'll return to Don Khong by boat, passing a galaxy of tiny uninhabited islands before settling back at your hotel for an evening of well-earned rest.
Day 9: Khone Phapheng Falls, Transfer to Sra'aem, Cambodia & Preah Vihear Temple
This morning you'll head first to Khone Phapheng Falls, considered the largest and perhaps most spectacular waterfall in Southeast Asia, transforming the Mekong into a fractured complex of foaming waterways tumbling down over jagged bedrock. Then, it's a short distance to the Cambodian border, where you'll be met by your English-speaking guide and transferred via the countryside of northern Cambodia to the village of Sra'aem.
Here, you'll transfer to a specially-fitted 4WD truck for the steep climb up to the 9th-century Preah Vihear Temple, dedicated to Shiva. This UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts a spectacular location atop a plateau offering sweeping views over the plains of Cambodia, with Sra'aem a mere speck below. The complex is laid out along a processional axis with five cruciform temple pavilions separated by esplanades and decorated with exquisite carvings. You'll then check into your hotel, where the balance of the afternoon and evening are at leisure.
Day 10: Transfer to Siem Reap via Anlong Veng & Choam
You'll journey south this morning to reach Siem Reap, passing through northern Cambodia's last stronghold of the Khmer Rouge. You'll stop briefly to visit Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot's cremation site, at Choam, on the Thailand border, and the house of Khmer Rouge military head Ta Mok—"The Butcher"—in Anlong Veng.
Continue to Siem Reap and check into your hotel, then enjoy an evening relaxing at leisure, or choose to explore this charming gateway town to the Angkor temples. Perhaps head to the teeming Psar Chaa (Old Market), whose alleyways are packed with locals haggling over everything from household goods to fresh produce. Or you might enjoy a rejuvenating spa treatment at one of Siem Reap's pampering professional spa centers, like a fish pedicure (where you stick your feet in an aquarium and fish flock to nibble away the dead skin). Then when hunger strikes, head to the restaurants and bars of Pub Street.
Day 11: Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom & Ta Phrom Temples by Remork
Embark from Siem Reap this morning by remork (a Cambodian tuk-tuk) for a full day exploring the great temple complex at Angkor. Begin with magnificent, early 12th-century Angkor Wat, the largest religious building in the world and adorned throughout by bas-relief carvings of more than 3,000 apsaras (mythical heavenly maidens). Then head to the adjacent ancient city of Angkor Thom, enclosed by massive ramparts totaling 7.5 miles (12 km) in length. Begin here with the central, pyramidal Bayon Temple, with its 54 spires adorned with giant and enigmatically smiling stone faces.
You'll also explore the Terrace of the Leper King and Terrace of the Elephants before exiting Angkor Thom through the extraordinary Victory Gate for a traditional Khmer lunch beside the Royal Bathing Pool of Srah Srang. Then head to the iconic and photogenic, root-riddled Ta Prohm—colloquially nicknamed the "Tomb Raider" temple for having featured in the eponymous 2001 Angelina Jolie movie. After roaming its overgrown temple courtyards and corridors, return to your hotel in Siem Reap, where the evening is yours to enjoy at leisure.
Day 12: Floating Village Boat Tour, Bird Sanctuary & Phare, The Cambodian Circus
Today head to Tonlé Sap, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. You'll board a traditional wooden boat to visit Mechrey "floating village," a Cham Vietnamese-Cambodian community whose homes rise and fall with seasonal water levels. You'll gain insights into the daily life before continuing up the Sangker River to the Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary, which draws millions of waterbirds, from pelicans to fish eagles (also look for crocodiles). In the community of Saray, you'll witness how locals weave floor mats, baskets, and hammocks from water hyacinths; plus, you'll enjoy lunch at a floating restaurant.
Then, return to your hotel for a free afternoon—a chance to relax by the pool or perhaps savor a professional spa treatment. End the day after dinner with modern Khmer theatre performed by Phare, The Cambodian Circus. Founded in refugee camps as an outlet for traumatized young Cambodians to express themselves using art, Cambodia's homegrown version of Cirque du Soleil tells uniquely Cambodian stories using music, dance, and classic circus acts.
Day 13: Countryside Cycling: Pagodas, Villages & Dine with the Locals Cooking Class
This morning, set out on a bicycle for a guided tour of the beautiful countryside surrounding Siem Reap. You'll pedal past pagodas rising over the rice fields and gain first-hand insights into the local rural Khmer life and culture. A highlight will be a culinary adventure with a local family through the Dine with the Locals organization. You'll learn to cook traditional Khmer dishes as you prepare and enjoy lunch together with your host family.
After lunch, return to your hotel. The rest of your final day in Cambodia is at your leisure.
Day 14: Depart Siem Reap
Your day is at leisure before transferring to the airport for your departure.
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