Last Modified: 02 May 2014
Laos and Mekong Discovery
Trip code: TLKA
Validity: 01 Jan 2014 to 31 Dec 2014
Get ready for a fast-paced adventure through the best of Vietnam, Laos and northern Thailand. This is a region packed to the brim with rich cultures, fiery cuisines, unique customs and breathtaking countryside. And on this trip you’ll be sampling all of them. Whether you're slurping up a steaming bowl of pho at a street stall in Vinh, shopping for handicrafts in Vientiane, ambling through caves in Luang Prabang or gliding down the Mekong in a riverboat, you'll get a wonderful insight into Indochina during this incredible journey of discovery.
This trip is run by our experienced sister company Peregrine Adventures. Your group is therefore likely to be a mixture of Intrepid passengers and other like-minded international travellers.
Table of Contents
- Comfort is your style of travel if you want the whole grassroots experience with more inclusions, meals and creature comforts. While accommodation is predominantly tourist class (3-4 star), on some itineraries there is the opportunity to stay with a local family, spend the night on a train or camp out in exotic places (without putting up your own tent of course). Along the way, you'll really experience the destination up close. You'll mingle with locals, enjoy a taste of their way of life and gain special insights from your leader. This is not luxury travel, but real world experiences - just with a softer landing!
Day 1 Bangkok
Sa-wat dee! Welcome to Thailand.
An airport arrival transfer is included. This transfer is only valid if arriving on day 1 or if you have booked pre-trip accommodation through Intrepid. Please provide your flight details at the time of booking, or at a minimum 15 days prior to travel (note - we may not be able confirm request made within 15 days of travel). Once you have provided your details a transfer representative will be booked to meet you at the airport and transfer you to your hotel.
Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where it will take place. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader.
Thailand's bustling capital, Bangkok is famous for its tuk tuks, khlong boats and street vendors serving up delicious Thai food.
Loud, bright, chaotic and delightful, Bangkok is a city of modern excesses intermingled with simple traditions, all wrapped up in the famous smiles of the locals.
Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6:00pm on Day 1.
Nouvo City Hotel or similar (1 nt)
Day 2 Chiang Rai
Bangkok is more than just colourful city streets, khlongs (canals) weave their way through suburbs, forest parks green up the city and Buddhist temples help bring serenity.
Today we discover two of this city's most dynamic sites.
This morning explore the magnificent Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
Pay a visit to Wat Pho, home to the country's largest reclining Buddha and keeper of the magic behind Thai massage.
This afternoon we transfer to the airport for our flight up to the northern city of Chiang Rai.
- Bangkok - Wat Pho temple
- Bangkok - Grand Palace
Wiang Inn Hotel or similar (1 nt)
Day 3 Pakbeng
Today is a very early start as we need to leave Chiang Rai before dawn and travel approximately 2½ hours to Chiang Khong. After completing border formalities we take a small boat across the Mekong River to Huay Xai, our first stop in Laos.
For centuries Huay Xai was a disembarkation point for Yunnanese caravans led by the Chinese Muslims on their way to Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, in ancient Siam. Today it is a hustling ferry town on the banks of the Mekong River.
We transfer to the boat pier, where we board our slow boat for the trip down the Mekong River. The pace is very relaxed - a perfect way to observe the local lifestyle close up. We arrive in the evening in Pakbeng.
Pakbeng is a colourful village situated at the junction of the Mekong River and the smaller Beng River, hence the town’s name ‘Pak’ meaning ‘mouth’ in Lao. Hmong and tribal Thais are frequently seen on the main street of Pakbeng, and small vendors along the street sell local textiles and handicrafts.
We spend the night in a simple hostel. Please be warned that the accommodation standard is very basic, but also bear in mind that you are travelling in a remote area. Please have an open mind and come with an adventurous spirit!
Santisouk Guesthouse or similar (1 nt)
Days 4-5 Luang Prabang
We continue on our private slow boat on our journey down the Mekong River, gaining more insights into local rural life along the way.
The Mekong is a maze of flooded fields, floating neighbourhoods and is South-East Asia's tireless artery of life. For the millions whose survival is infinitely tied to its waters, the Mekong's tides have come to mirror the cycles of life itself. No journey to South-East Asia is complete without experiencing the cultures, cuisines and people that live along this unforgettable river.
Just before arriving at Luang Prabang we stop at Pak Ou
An important religious site overlooking the river at the junction of the Mekong and Ou Rivers, the revered Pak Ou Caves contain thousands of Buddha images placed there by pilgrims over hundreds of years.
We also stop at the village of Ban Sang Hai, where they make the potent local rice-wine. Our travel time will vary greatly, depending on the water levels, but we hope to arrive in Luang Prabang in the early evening.
Surrounded by water and coloured by the saffron robes of monks, Luang Prabang has been lovingly restored and retains an old-world charm.
Rise early to view the procession of monks on their daily outing collecting alms, a practice that dates back centuries. The people of the town wait out the front of their houses with food for the monks to collect and take back to the temple. It is done early as the monks cannot eat anything after midday. By giving food to a monk you ‘het bon’ or make merit, which should augur well for your next life!
Head out to the beautiful Kuang Si Falls, where pale turquoise waters cascade over limestone formations. The lovely pool at the base of the falls is perfect for a refreshing afternoon dip.
The evening in Luang Prabang is free to make further discoveries which might include a walk around the night bazaar. Another great optional activity is to sample a traditional Lao massage and herbal sauna.
- Luang Prabang - Pak Ou Cave
- Wat Visunnalat, Luang Prabang
- Luang Prabang - Wat Xieng Thong
- Luang Prabang - Kuang Si Waterfalls
New Daraphet Villa or similar (2 nts)
Day 6 Phonsavan
Travel on our private bus to remote Xieng Khuang Province. We visit the province’s old capital of Muang Khun that was largely destroyed in the bombing raids, as well as the nearby villages, home to the Hmong hill tribe who have an interesting local culture and a colourful history. The Hmong people wear distinctive costumes and live at high altitudes.
Phonsavanh is the capital of Xieng Khuang Province and home of the 'Plain of Jars', an area covered with huge jars made from sandstone, granite or calcified coral.
Spend the night in a basic hotel in the small town of Phonsavan, which is the province’s current capital.
Anoulack Khen Hotel or similar (1 nt)
Days 7-9 Vientiane
In the morning we transfer out to visit the Plain of Jars,
Plain of Jars is an archaeological site where hundreds of large stone jars are littered all over the plateau. It is said that these jars are over 2000 years old, but there is no reliable way of dating them and archaeologists are still mystified as to their original purpose (opinions vary from burial urns to rice whisky vats).
We are then transferred to the airport to catch our flight to Vientiane - the capital of Laos.
As the most relaxed capital in South-East Asia, Vientiane is a lovely mix of riverside calm, outstanding temples, fabulous food and charming locals.
We visit the imposing Patuxai monument (also known as the Anousavari, which translates as ‘Victory’ in Lao) which is Vientiane's version of the Arc de Triomphe and dominates the city's main thoroughfare.
Wat Si Saket is the oldest temple in the city, while the former royal temple of Wat Prakeo previously housed the famous Emerald Buddha image before it was taken by the Siamese in the late 18th Century. We visit both temples and the most famous structure in Laos, the That Luang stupa.
The tour ends after breakfast. A transfer to the airport is not included; however, your tour leader will be on hand to advise you as to the options available.
- Plain of Jar Site
- Mouang Khoun & That Foun
- Vientiane - Wat Sri Saket
- Pratu Xai Vientiane
- That Luang Vientiane
City Inn Vientiane or similar (2 nts)
Also available to purchase
For many of our trips we have other services or experiences that are also available to purchase to extend your trip or to make your holiday a little easier. Below is a list of other travel products you can purchase in conjunction with this trip.
- Laos and Mekong Discovery - Single Supplement (TLKA)
We also recommend
If this trip is not quite right for you, cast your eye over these alternatives:
Occasionally our itineraries are updated during the year to incorporate improvements stemming from past travellers' comments and our own research. The information given in this itinerary may be slightly different to that in the brochure. It's very important that you print and review a final copy of your Trip Notes a couple of days prior to travel, in case there have been changes that affect your plans. For the latest updated Trip Notes please visit our website: www.intrepidtravel.com
Please note that while we operate successful trips in this region throughout the year, some changes may occur in our itineraries due to inclement weather and common seasonal changes to timetables and transport routes. This can happen with little notice so please be prepared for modifications to the route.
Expect some culture shock. You'll be exposed to signs of poverty and access to services may be sporadic. The food will be quite different to home and English speakers harder to find. Respecting the local culture will make it easier to fit in and really experience the location.
Some easy physical activities included in your trip. No physical preparation is required to make the most of the journey.
Included activities are listed in the day-to-day itinerary, all other activities are optional and at your own expense. If you choose not to participate in the included activities on this itinerary, the cost will not be refunded.
A selection of optional activities are listed in the day-to-day itinerary. This isn't an exhaustive list and should be used as a guide only. Prices are approximate and are for entrance only and don’t include transport to and from the sites or local guides unless indicated. All activities are subject to availability and it may not be possible to do all the activities listed in the time available at each destination.
Where activities are considered medium or high risk, we work with operators whose safety and credentials we have sighted and assessed. This means that it is possible that you may find the same activity cheaper with another operator on the ground, however we cannot vouch for the safety or quality of that operator. Activities not listed above have not been assessed by us and as such our staff and leaders are unable to assist you with booking these activities. The decision to partake in any activity not listed is at your own discretion and risk.
The receipt of commissions or kickbacks in exchange for recommending particular shops or services is ingrained in the culture of the tourism industry. Rather than turning a blind eye to this unavoidable issue in some areas, Intrepid has established a centralised fund whereby contributions from recommended suppliers are collected and distributed back into the business. Intrepid aim to provide the best value trips in the market, and this fund assists in keeping operating costs and trip prices low to you.
A priority in establishing this fund is that the experience of our traveller - you - is not compromised in any way. Please let us know via the feedback form completed after your trip if we are successfully meeting this objective.
The official currency of Vietnam is Dong (VND).
Some establishments will accept US currency (USD), but usually only for large purchases and in some restaurants and hotels that cater to tourists. It's not possible to exchange Vietnamese Dong outside the country, so convert or spend all your Dong before leaving.
The official currency of Laos is the Kip (LAK) however, US$ are also widely used throughout Laos.
The official currency of Thailand is the Baht (THB).
The most convenient and cheapest way to obtain local currency in is via an Automated Teller Machine (ATM). ATMs are now available in most towns and visa cash advances are available in major banks. The use of credit cards is restricted, mainly to major hotels. Foreign currency notes that are old, torn or faded can be very difficult to exchange; clean bills in small denominations are most useful. Traveller's cheques can be difficult to change.
Every traveller is different and therefore spending money requirements will vary. Some travellers may drink more than others while other travellers like to purchase more souvenirs than most. Please consider your own spending habits when it comes to allowing for drinks, shopping, participating in optional activities, and tipping. Please also remember the following specific recommendations when planning your trip.
If you're happy with the services provided a tip - though not compulsory - is appropriate. While it may not be customary to you, it's of great significance to the people who will take care of you during your travels, inspires excellent service, and is an entrenched feature of the tourism industry across many Intrepid destinations. Although can be difficult to source we advise you to carry small notes of local currency each day to make tipping easier. Please note we recommend that any tips are given directly to the intended recipient by a member of your group as our group leaders are prohibited from collecting cash for tips.
The following amounts are per person suggestions based on local considerations and feedback from our past travellers:
Restaurants: Local markets and basic restaurants - round your bill up to the nearest US$1. More up-market restaurants we suggest 10% to 15% of your bill.
Local guides: Throughout your trip you may at times have a local guide in addition to your tour leader. We suggest US$2-US$3 per day for local guides.
Drivers: You may have a range of drivers on your trip. Some may be with you for a short journey while others may be with you for several days. We would suggest a higher tip for those more involved with the group, however we suggest US$1-US$2 per day for drivers.
Your Tour Leader: You may also consider tipping your tour leader for outstanding service throughout your trip. The amount is entirely a personal preference, however as a guideline US$2-US$4 per person, per day can be used. Of course you are free to tip more or less as you see fit, depending on your perception of service quality and the length of your trip. Remember, a tip is not compulsory and should only be given when you receive excellent service.
In total, we recommend you budget approx US$5-US$10 per day of your trip to cover tipping.
At your group meeting on Day 1, your tour leader will discuss with you the idea of running a group tipping kitty, whereby everybody contributes an equal amount and then your group leader pays the tips while keeping a running record of all monies spent (except restaurant tips). The record can be checked at any time and any money remaining at the end of the tour returned to group members. This is often the easiest way to avoid the hassles of needing small change and knowing when and what is an appropriate amount to tip.
Please don't tip with coins, very small denomination notes, or dirty and ripped notes. This is regarded culturally as an insult.
All departure taxes should be included in your international flight ticket.
Occasionally the road between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang may be closed due to road conditions in which case we will have to fly between Vientiane and Luang Prabang. This will be at your expense, but we will endeavour to notify you of the road situation as early as possible. In this situation we would spend an extra night in Vientiane or Luang Prabang.
FESTIVALS & PUBLIC HOLIDAYS:
During public holidays and festival periods in Cambodia and Laos many businesses may close, transport may be extremely busy and travel times may increase. During these times please be patient and consider these moments as an opportunity to interact with the locals. Particularly worth noting are Khmer/Laos New Year (3 days in mid April), Pchum Ben (3 days in mid October) and Water Festival (3 days in late November).
Please note you may find the hotels in smaller towns in Laos such as Pak Beng and Phonsavan to be a lower standard compared with other accommodation you experience in the region. Please note this is due to the basic infrastructure and limited choice of hotels in these areas. Despite this we hope you enjoy the laid back nature of these destinations, which add to the contrast of the places you experience on your journey.
Maximum of 16 travellers per group.
Your fellow travellers
Your group will be a mixture of Intrepid booked passengers and other international like-minded travellers from our sister company Peregrine Adventures.
Our group trips are designed for shared accommodation and don't involve a compulsory single supplement. Single travellers share with people of the same gender in accommodation ranging from twin to multishare. Some of our itineraries have accommodation booked on a mixed gender share basis and where applicable this will be specified in our Trip Notes. On a selection of our trips, you have the option to pay a single supplement to ensure that you have your own accommodation (where available). Please note that this only applies to accommodation during the tour - pre-trip and post-trip accommodation will be booked on a single room basis.
A single supplement is available on this trip, please ask your booking agent for more information.
Please note that on the following nights the single supplement is not available:
Day 3 Pakbeng
New Daraphet Villa or similar (2 nts), City Inn Vientiane or similar (2 nts), Nouvo City Hotel or similar (1 nt), Wiang Inn Hotel or similar (1 nt), Santisouk Guesthouse or similar (1 nt), Anoulack Khen Hotel or similar (1 nt)
OCCASIONAL ALTERNATIVE ACCOMMODATION
The style of accommodation indicated in the day-to-day itinerary is a guideline. On rare occasions, alternative arrangements may need to be made due to the lack of availability of rooms in our usual accommodation. A similar standard of accommodation will be used in these instances.
TWIN SHARE / MULTI SHARE BASIS
Accommodation on this trip is on a twin/multishare basis. Please note there may be times where facilities will be shared rather than ensuite and rare occasions when you share a room with passengers travelling on different Intrepid trips than your own.
Throughout the trip we request that our hotels prepare rooms in time for our arrival, especially if we're arriving prior to normal check-in time. However this isn't always possible which means we won't be able to check-in immediately on arrival at some hotels. Instead, we can store our luggage and explore our new destination.
PRE/POST TRIP ACCOMMODATION
If you've purchased pre-trip or post-trip accommodation (if available), you may be required to change rooms from your trip accommodation for these extra nights.
Some hotels in Vietnam have windowless rooms, or windows that don't necessarily have a view. This is often due to high population density in large cities, however local building standards also don't require rooms to have windows. We do request rooms with windows, however they aren't always available.
You may may find the hotels in smaller towns in Laos such as Pak Beng and Phonsavan to be a lower standard compared with other accommodation you experience on this trip. This is due to the basic infrastructure and limited choice of hotels in these areas. Despite this we hope you enjoy the laid back nature of these destinations.
While travelling with us you'll experience the vast array of wonderful food available in the world. Your group leader will be able to suggest restaurants to try during your trip. On our camping trips we often cook the region's specialities so you don't miss out. To give you the maximum flexibility in deciding where, what and with whom to eat, generally not all meals are included in the trip price. This also gives you more budgeting flexibility. As a rule our groups tend to eat together to enable you to taste a larger variety of dishes and enjoy each other's company. There's no obligation to do this though.
Budget for meals not included:
LONG TRAVEL DAYS
There are some long travel days and some of the transport can be quite cramped and without air-conditioning.
All Intrepid group trips are accompanied by one of our group leaders. The aim of the group leader is to take the hassle out of your travels and to help you have the best trip possible. Intrepid endeavours to provide the services of an experienced leader however, due to the seasonality of travel, rare situations may arise where your leader is new to a particular region or training other group leaders.
Your leader will provide information on the places you are travelling through, offer suggestions for things to do and see, recommend great local eating venues and introduce you to our local friends. While not being guides in the traditional sense you can expect them to have a broad general knowledge of the places visited on the trip, including historical, cultural, religious and social aspects. At Intrepid we aim to support local guides who have specialised knowledge of the regions we visit. If you were interested in delving deeper into the local culture at a specific site or location then your leader can recommend a local guide service in most of the main destinations of your trip.
Nouvo City Hotel
2 Samsen Road, Pranakorn, Banglamphu Bangkok 10200 THAILAND
Phone: +66 22827500
Joining point description
A modern 4 star centrally located hotel in the Bangamphu area which is also known as the Old Bangkok City. The hotel is only 15 minutes walk from Khao San Road. and walking distance to many Buddhist temples and the Grand Palace.
All rooms have free WiFi, air conditioning, hair dryer and a fridge.
Joining point instructions
Private arrival transfers are available at the time of booking. Please advise your flight arrival details at least 14 days prior to your departure. After exiting customs go outside and look for exit door 6 and our representative holding a sign with your name on it.
If you have any problems and cannot locate our representative please go to the ATTA Counter (Association of Thai Travel Agents) near exit door 6 and ask to call our transfer company on one of the following 24 hour numbers:
081 658 2727 or
081 566 9324
If you are making your own way to the hotel, metered taxi ranks are located outside the airport entrance on the 2nd floor. Go out of the customs hall and walk outside the airport where there is a table with a sign saying "metered taxis". The cost is the metered fare plus a THB50 surcharge. If the taxi uses the toll way it is up to an extra THB70. The total fare should be about US$12 (THB400). Non-metered taxis are also available, where you will be given a docket to pay the driver a set price of US$20 (THB700).
Normal check in time at the hotel is after 14:00.
We don't expect any problems (and nor should you) but if for any reason you are unable to commence your group trip as scheduled, please contact your starting point hotel, requesting that you speak to or leave a message for your group leader.
Please also make sure have a copy of the local operators Emergency phone numbers from our Emergency Contact section of these trip notes.
City Inn Vientiane
Finish point description
The City Inn Vientiane is located close to Namphou Circle, major temples and tourist sites, foreign embassies, business and shopping centres. It is also a close walk to the morning market.
Room facilities include Cable TV, IDD telephone,in-room free wireless internet access, coffee & tea making facilities, hair dryer, safe deposit boxes.
Finish point instructions
Wattay International Airport (VTE) is located 3 km from the city centre of Vientiane. The airport consists of an old and small domestic terminal and a new international terminal.
The cost of a taxi from the city to the airport is approximately US$6 ir 54,000 kip. The hotel reception will be able to assist with booking you a taxi to the airport.
Alternatively you can purchase a private departure transfer at time of booking.
Please also make sure you have access to an additional US$400, to be used when unforeseen incidents or circumstances outside our control (eg. a natural disaster, civil unrest or an outbreak of bird flu) necessitate a change to our planned route.
Visas are the responsibility of the individual traveller. The visa requirements for your trip vary depending on where you are from and where you are going. As a general rule most countries expect that you will have at least 6 months' validity on your passport. On arrival visitors may be asked to present return tickets and evidence of means to cover your intended stay.
We keep the following information up to date as much as possible, but rules do change - it's important that you check for yourself. Residents from other countries must consult the relevant embassies or your travel agent.
Australia: Yes - in advance
Belgium: Yes - in advance
Canada: Yes - in advance
Germany Yes - in advance
Ireland: Yes - in advance
Netherlands: Yes - in advance
New Zealand: Yes - in advance
South Africa: Yes - in advance
Switzerland: Yes - in advance
United Kingdom: Yes - in advance
USA: Yes - in advance
When obtaining your visa you should allow 3 weeks for processing, the cost is approximately US$60 to US$100. Check with your embassy or consulate for further details. Some nationalities are exempt from requiring a visa if their stay is less than 15 days, but if you are planning on staying in Vietnam for longer than 15 days you will need to obtain a visa extension in advance.
Keep the customs and immigration form you receive on arrival, as you need it to complete exit formalities on departure.
If your visa application asks for a point of contact, please write: Intrepid Vietnam 57A Nguyen Khac Hieu St, Hanoi, Vietnam Ph +84 4 3715 0996.
Australia:Yes - on arrival
Belgium: Yes - on arrival
Canada: Yes - on arrival
Germany Yes - on arrival
Ireland: Yes - on arrival
Netherlands: Yes - on arrival
New Zealand: Yes - on arrival
South Africa: Yes - on arrival
Switzerland: Yes - on arrival
United Kingdom: Yes - on arrival
USA: Yes - on arrival
We ask all our travellers to obtain their Laos visas at the border, and NOT in their home country. Your tour leader will assist you in obtaining a Laos visa, generally at the border, depending on the current state of affairs, as it can vary.
Please ensure that you have at least 1 passport photos and up to US$60 cash (this may vary too) to fulfil the requirements. There will also be an Immigration Fee of USD1. To assist us in processing your Laos visas, please provide your agent with accurate passport details prior to the departure of your trip as these details will be passed on to our leader.
When crossing the border you will most likely see a lesser entry fee than what you have paid. This is due to the leader having to use a local agent to process the visa which allows the group to cross the border as quickly as possible.
Australia: No - not required
Belgium: No - not required
Canada: No - not required
Germany No - not required
Ireland: No - not required
Netherlands: No - not required
New Zealand: No - not required
South Africa: No - not required
Switzerland: No - not required
United Kingdom: No - not required
USA: No - not required
If entering by air you will be granted a 30 day stay on arrival.
If entering by a land border, you will be granted a 15 day stay only (exceptions are citizens of the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Italy, Germany and Japan who are eligible for 30 day visa at land borders). A visa extension can be obtained in Thailand at an immigration office for approx. 2000THB or alternatively you can apply for a Thailand visa in advance from your embassy or consulate that will allow a 30 day stay when entering at an overland border.
If planning to enter Thailand via a land border multiple times during your travels, we recommend you pre-obtain a 60 day multiple entry visa from you embassy or consulate before you travel rather than attempting to obtain a visa at the border on multiple occasions which may result in being denied re-entry into the country.
Issues on your trip
While we always endeavour to provide the best possible holiday experience, due to the nature of travel and the areas we visit sometimes things can and do go wrong. Should any issue occur while you are on your trip, it is imperative that you discuss this with your group leader or our local representative straight away so that they can do their best to rectify the problem and save any potential negative impact on the rest of your trip.
We recognise that there may be times when your group leader/local partner may not be able to resolve a situation to your satisfaction - if this is the case, please ask the leader to speak to their direct manager.
You may also choose to provide details in your online feedback, which we ask you to complete within 30 days of the end of your trip. But we do ask you to be aware that it is very difficult for us to provide any practical help after the trip is complete.
What to take
What you need to bring will vary according to the trip style you have chosen, the countries you are visiting and when you are travelling. Generally speaking you should pack as lightly as possible. On the vast majority of our trips you are expected to carry your own luggage and although you won't be required to walk long distances with your luggage (max 30 minutes), we recommend keeping the weight under 10kg / 22lb.
Most travellers carry their luggage in a backpack, although an overnight bag with a shoulder strap would suffice if you travel lightly. Smaller bags or backpacks with wheels are convenient although we recommend your bag has carry straps. You'll also need a day pack/bag to carry water and a camera etc for day trips.
You can find Intrepid's Ultimate Packing List on our website. It should be used as a guide only and isn't intended to be a complete packing list.
CLIMATE & CLOTHING:
The average temperature in Hanoi and Northern Laos in January is just 16 degrees Celsius - so pretty cold for South-East Asia. Bring a winter weight sweater and trousers when travelling in the winter months (Nov to Feb), and a jacket too if you feel the cold. You will need warm clothes for the boat trip from Luang Prabang to Huay Xai.
Consider bringing your own water bottle to refill along the way. The sale of bottled water contributes to an enormous environmental problem around the world. In addition to the water in bottles, the production of a 1 litre plastic bottle takes 2 litres of water and 200ml of oil. A large proportion ends up in limited landfill or discarded in waterways and natural environments. Although it can be difficult to avoid bottled water when travelling, please consider water purification techniques such as iodine or micropur and use the water dispensers which are provided at some of our accommodation. When unable to avoid bottled water it is better to buy the largest available and distribute into your smaller bottle for the day
All Intrepid travellers need to be in good physical health in order to participate fully on this trip. When selecting your trip please make sure you have read through the itinerary carefully and assess your ability to cope with our style of travel. Please note that if, in the opinion of our group leader or local guide, any traveller is unable to complete the itinerary without undue risk to themselves and/or the rest of the group, Intrepid reserves the right to exclude them from all or part of a trip without refund.
You should consult your doctor for up-to-date medical travel information or for any necessary vaccinations and anti-malarial requirements before departure. We recommend that you carry a first aid kit as well as any personal medical requirements (including a spare pair of glasses) as they may not easily be obtained at the locations on this trip. For legal reasons our leaders and guides are prohibited from administering any type of drugs including headache tablets and antibiotics. Please ensure that you are adequately prepared.
Rare instances of dengue fever have been reported in this region. This virus is transmitted by mosquitoes. There is no vaccination against it, but there are preventative measures that you can take such as wearing long clothing and always using repellent. Please note that this mosquito is most active during daylight hours however care should be taken at all times.
Many national governments provide a regularly updated advice service on safety issues involved with international travel. We recommend that you check your government's advice for their latest travel information before departure. Please refer to our website's safety page for links to major travel advisories and updates on safety issues affecting our trip.
We strongly recommend the use of a neck wallet or money belt while travelling, for the safe-keeping of your passport, air tickets, cash and other valuable items. Leave your valuable jewellery at home - you won't need it while travelling. Many of our hotels have safety deposit boxes, which is the most secure way of storing your valuables. A lock is recommended for securing your luggage.
Your leader will accompany you on all included activities, however during your trip you'll have some free time to pursue your own interests, relax and take it easy or explore at your leisure. While your group leader will assist you with the available options in a given location, please note that any optional activities you undertake are not part of your Intrepid itinerary, and Intrepid makes no representations about the safety of the activity or the standard of the operators running them. Please use your own good judgement when selecting an activity in your free time. Please also note that your group leader has the authority to amend or cancel any part of the trip itinerary if it's deemed necessary due to safety concerns.
For more details on the type of conditions and safety standards you can expect on your trip, please refer to Intrepid's operational safety policy on our website. We recommend that you take a moment to read through this information before travelling, and would appreciate any feedback on how well it's being implemented in the field:
Please be aware that local laws governing tourism facilities in this region differ from those in your home country and not all the accommodation which we use has a fire exit, fire extinguishers or smoke alarms.
Some hotel balconies don't meet UK standards in terms of the width of the balcony fence being narrower than 10cm.
You may stay at hotels with unfenced pools and no life guard on duty.
TRAFFIC AND DRIVING ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROAD:
Depending on where you come from please note that drivers in this part of the world may drive on the opposite side of the road from what you are used to. Look both ways before crossing any road. Traffic can be a little more chaotic than you might be used to at home. Be aware!
Please be aware that local laws governing transportation safety may differ from those in the western world or from your home country and not all the transport which we use provides seat belts.
PETTY THEFT AND PERSONAL SAFETY:
While travelling there is always the risk of pick-pocketing and petty theft, particularly in the more touristy cities. We recommend that you exercise caution when walking alone at night and encourage you to walk together and only on main, well-lit thoroughfares. Be particularly vigilant on public transport. Simple measures like carrying your day pack on your front, not hanging your bag over the back of your chair and wearing a money belt will reduce any chance that your valuables should go missing.
While life jackets are generally available on water craft, there may be occasions where they are not provided and child size life jackets are not always readily available. If travelling with children and this safety issue concerns you we will be able to advise alternative methods of transport (where available) for you to travel to the next destination. You can choose to travel independently for this leg of the journey. This would be at your own expense.
Please note that helmets aren't provided for the sightseeing on bicycles. Please consider bringing a helmet from home if you want to wear a helmet on these activities.
Travel insurance is compulsory for all our trips. We require that, at a minimum, you are covered for medical expenses including emergency repatriation. We strongly recommend that the policy also covers personal liability, cancellation, curtailment and loss of luggage and personal effects.
When travelling on a group trip, you won't be permitted to join the group until evidence of travel insurance and the insurance company's 24 hour emergency contact number has been seen by your leader.
If you have credit card insurance your group leader will require details of the participating insurer/underwriter, the level of coverage, policy number and emergency contact number rather than the bank's name and credit card details. Please contact your bank for these details prior to arriving in-country.
Please go to our website for links to various travel insurance providers:
We believe strongly in low impact or rather positive impact tourism. Broadly speaking this means that we try to minimise the negative aspects of tourism on the local cultures and environments that we visit and highlight the positive aspects. Please visit our website for further details and suggestions on how you can be a responsible traveller:
ELEPHANT PERFORMANCES & ELEPHANT RIDING:
During your visit there may be opportunities to ride elephants and see them perform. While we believe it's important to give our travellers a choice and respect each individual's decision, we recommend that Intrepid travellers bypass this activity. Professional wildlife conservation and animal welfare organisations, including the World Animal Protection, advise that contrary to common belief, captive elephants remain wild animals and despite good intentions, unfortunately many venues are unable to provide the appropriate living conditions elephants require and this ultimately impacts their well-being. While there is some merit in the argument that the money that you pay for the activity goes towards keeping the elephants and their mahouts employed, we know that it also fuels demand for elephants to be captured in the wild or captive bred. We thank you for your support in improving the welfare of these majestic creatures. Further information is available on the below link:
When packing be aware that dress standards are conservative throughout Asia, especially outside major cities. To respect this and for your own comfort, we strongly recommend modest clothing. This means clothing that covers your shoulders and knees. Loose, lightweight, long clothing is both respectful and cool in the predominantly hot Asian climate. In many rural areas in Asia women will need to wear modest clothing even to swim. Singlets, tank tops and topless sun bathing are all unacceptable. When visiting religious sites men often need to wear long trousers and women a long skirt or sarong.
A couple of rules
Illegal drugs will not be tolerated on our trips. Possessing or using drugs not only contravenes the laws of the land, but also puts the rest of the group at risk. Smoking marijuana and opium is a part of local culture in some parts of the world but is not acceptable for Intrepid travellers. Intrepid's philosophy of travel is one of respect towards everyone we encounter and in particular, the local people who make our destinations such special places. The exploitation of prostitutes is completely contrary to this philosophy. Our group leader has the right to expel any member of the group if drugs are found in their possession or if they use prostitutes.
The Intrepid Foundation
Since Intrepid Travel commenced operating in 1989 we've been committed to giving something back to the communities we visit. One way has been through our support for local humanitarian, development and conservation projects. Many of our travellers want to contribute something too. Whilst it is often tempting to give hand-outs to those less fortunate, this has the potential to promote a culture of begging and dependency. Handouts are not a sustainable way for individuals or communities to live. That’s why we established The Intrepid Foundation – to make it easier for travellers wishing to give back to communities in an effective and meaningful way.
The Intrepid Foundation is a not-for-profit fund offering a selection of excellent grassroots organisations which you can contribute to. All donations to The Intrepid Foundation will be matched by Intrepid Travel dollar for dollar (up to AU$5,000 per donor and a total of AU$400,000 for all donors in each financial year). And every cent gets there as Intrepid Travel pays for all the administration costs. Donating is simple and secure. Please ask your group leader for information on the projects we support through The Intrepid Foundation or go to our website:
Responsible Travel projects
Organisations and projects currently supported by The Intrepid Foundation in Vietnam include:
* The Blue Dragon Children's Foundation works in northern and central Vietnam with the most vulnerable children: street kids, children with disabilities, the rural poor and victims of trafficking. Their main aim is to help kids go to school or receive vocational training in an effort to help them find their way out of poverty.
* Children's Hope in Action (CHIA) provides vital health and disability programs and educational services to vulnerable families in Hoi An and surrounding rural areas. CHIA’s holistic Special Education program facilitates the social, physical and intellectual development of children who have motor disabilities and little, or no intellectual impairment.
* Cuc Phuong National Park's conservation programs - we're currently supporting the Turtle Conservation Centre (TCC), which has specialised breeding and holding facilities for more than 600 turtles representing around 15 of Vietnam’s 23 native species. In addition to providing educational activities and raising public awareness, a major focus of the TCC’s work involves training of wildlife protection officers.
* The KOTO Saigon Training Centre provides training in life skills and hospitality to former street children. Trainees at the Saigon centre will go on to work at KOTO's restaurant in the city (to open in 2011). Travellers may also visit the KOTO restaurant in Hanoi, which also provides training opportunities for disadvantaged youth and great food.
Intrepid Travel also supports the following non-profit organisation:
* The Nguyen Nga Centre (in Quy Nhon City) offers education, training and work placement assistance for disadvantaged people and people with disabilities. Intrepid Vietnam purchases embroidered 'say no to plastic' cloth shopping bags for our travellers and the income to the centre helps to pay their rent.
Organisations and projects currently supported by The Intrepid Foundation in Laos include:
* COPE works throughout Laos providing essential services to people with disabilities, more than half of whom have been injured by UXO (unexploded ordnance). They are the only provider of prosthetic, orthotic and rehabilitation services in Laos.
* UXO Lao aims to reduce civilian casualties from land mines and increase the land available for food production and other uses. Intrepid's support for its Community Awareness program allows educational teams to visit villages disseminating safety messages.
* Peuan Mit Street Children Project works with up to 1400 children every month, helping them to reintegrate back into Lao society and to prevent more children from coming to the streets. They support the children to return to school, find employment and return to their families.
* Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre is a forested sanctuary that provides bears, rescued from the illegal wildlife trade, an opportunity to live out the rest of their lives, free from pain, suffering, fear and hunger. The centre also works to protect wildlife through strengthening legislation and improving enforcement.
Organisations and projects currently supported by The Intrepid Foundation in Thailand include:
* Friends of the Asian Elephant aims to protect and conserve the welfare of elephants - both domesticated and wild. FAE's elephant hospital provides free medical care and transportation, and is in the process of establishing a nursery in an effort to reduce the high infant mortality rate of domesticated working elephants.
* Baan Unrak (House of Happiness) is an orphanage and community relief centre for children and destitute women. Providing shelter, food, clothing, education, employment, love and support for those in need, Baan Unrak currently houses more than 60 children and continues to grow.
Carbon Offset C02-e 142.00 kgs per pax.
After your travels, we want to hear from you! We rely on your feedback. We read it carefully. Feedback helps us understand what we are doing well and what we could be doing better. It allows us to make improvements for future travellers.
Remember that once you’ve left your feedback you’ll automatically be entered into our monthly draw for a US$500 (or equivalent in your local currency) travel voucher.