Cruise the Mekong to laidback Lao delights

Explore the best sights, sounds, cuisine and local communities in Thailand and Laos on a 14-day Lonely Planet Experience, powered by Intrepid. In Thailand, see ancient and modern collide in chaotic Bangkok and be charmed by the highland haven of Chiang Mai. In Laos, revel in the simple traditions that are alive in small cottage industries and villages, and where the leisurely pace of life is contagious. Explore, relax and absorb the distinct atmosphere of these two fascinating countries that sit either side of the mighty Mekong River. With a local leader on hand to show you behind the hotspots, take a journey through these gems in the South East Asian crown.

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Terms & Conditions

Start
Bangkok, Thailand
Finish
Vientiane, Laos
Destinations
Laos, Thailand
Style
Basix
Theme
Lonely Planet Experience
Code
TLRC
Physical rating
Ages
Min 15
Group size
Min 1, Max 16

A powerful partnership

Lonely Planet and Intrepid Travel share the same philosophy: we help curious people explore the world.

Why you'll love this trip

  • Experience a good taste of Thailand with stops in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Nan and Chiang Klang. The South East Asian neighbours work hand in hand, so discover the regional food specialties and the local hospitality.

  • This is a no-fuss, no-hurry holiday. Laos is a very relaxed country, and the pace of this trip is the same, with plenty of free time to choose your own options in each destination.

  • A slow boat down the Mekong River is one of South East Asia's most classic journeys. You’ll spend a day meandering down the river to Luang Prabang – a relaxing way to discover the region’s natural splendour.

  • Participate in workshops run by local artisans, including an indigo dyeing demonstration in Baan Thung Hong Village, and an ancient pottery class in Bo Suak Cultural Place.

  • Explore what may be Asia’s most laidback capital, Vientiane, and visit the community organisation COPE – dedicated to supporting victims of the unexploded ordnance scattered across the countryside.

Is this trip right for you?

  • This is a Lonely Planet Experience powered by Intrepid, made for travellers who value their independence but also want the benefit of a local leader and a group of like-minded travellers. The itinerary has a mix of included activities and free time when your leader will offer suggestions. Please budget spending money for optional activities you want to partake in.

  • Lots of time allocated for optional activities means freedom and flexibility, but it does require a level of independence. Only are few meals are included, so mostly you'll find your own (with plenty of suggestions from your leader of course). This is a great way to mingle with locals and discover unexpected delights! It's hard to give a guide on how much you will need, as everyone is different. But even if you are on a tight budget, there are plenty of free or inexpensive activities, such as temple visits, tuk-tuk transport, river and countryside walks and local markets to explore.

  • The unhurried pace of Laos can be frustrating to travellers used to more urgency. It can also mean things don't always go to plan or aren't in a rush to get done! Buses can break down, journeys can take longer than expected, and guesthouse rooms are sometimes not ready on arrival. The key to enjoying Lao's laid-back atmosphere is plenty of patience and going with the flow.

  • It can get colder than you might expect in northern Laos in January, with an average temperature of 16° C, so you'll need some warm clothes if travelling at that time.

  • The roads between Vientiane, Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang offer breathtaking views, but the catch is that there are a lot of twists and turns. Past travellers recommend those prone to motion sickness to bring some medication with them from home.

Itinerary

Sa-wat dee! Welcome to Thailand. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm. Bangkok has much to offer those with time to explore, so we recommend you arrive a day or two earlier to see its wondrous sights. You can sample some world-class street food, visit the Grand Palace, wander down the bustling tourist mecca of Khao San Road or indulge in a Thai massage. If you would like to spend more time in Bangkok, we’ll be happy to organise additional accommodation (subject to availability). After your group meeting, why not get some of the crew together and head to one of Bangkok’s renowned street food markets for some delicious food. Sitting on a roadside plastic stool never felt so good when you’re eating a curry or khao soi (chicken noodle soup).
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Bangkok - Bangkok Tuk Tuk Experience Urban Adventure - THB2175
  • Bangkok - Bangkok Temple & River of Kings Urban Adventure - THB2465
  • Bangkok - Bangkok by Bike Urban Adventure - THB1980
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
It’s very important that you attend the welcome meeting as we will be collecting insurance details and next of kin information at this time. If you are going to be late please let your travel agent or hotel reception know. Ask reception or look for a note in the lobby for more information on where the meeting will take place.

A visa for Laos is required for this trip and must be obtained prior to arrival. Please see the 'Visa' section of the Essential Trip Information for more details.
Start the morning by jumping on a public ferry to Wat Kalayanamit and enjoy an included walking tour around the fascinating Thonburi area. See the mixture of cultures with Buddhist temples and Catholic churches as you stroll around. Away from the usual tourist trail, you will experience untouched local villages living by the waterways and visit quaint local markets that have plenty of interesting snacks waiting for you to try. Finish the walking tour at Amulet market and be lured into a shopping frenzy. Enjoy some free time in the afternoon for optional activities. This evening, board your overnight train to Chiang Mai (approximately 13 hours). You will travel by 2nd class and your carriage will be air-conditioned.
Accommodation
  • Overnight train (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Bangkok - Thonburi tour
Optional Activities
  • Bangkok - Thai Massage - THB250
  • Bangkok - Jim Thompson's House - THB150
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Special Information

Wake up on the train and glimpse the northern scenery as you arrive in Chiang Mai, then transfer to your hotel. Get out and explore this 'Rose of the North', which boasts spectacular temples, delicious food, an enormous night market, a picturesque riverfront and excellent shopping. Hiring a bike to get around town is a great activity or venturing to the Doi Suthep temple is a great choice too. There is so much to do in Chiang Mai and you’ll have two full free days to do as much or little as you like.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Chiang Mai - Bicycle tour - THB990
  • Chiang Mai - Doi Suthep temple complex - THB50
  • Chiang Mai - Doi Suthep transport (minivan for group) - THB1100
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Adventure seekers, ask your leader about white-water rafting or flying like a bird with Jungle Flight ziplining. Today is a free day and there are many optional activities your leader can help you organise. You could also participate in a Thai cooking course or see those amazing Asian Elephants in an ethical way with a visit to the Elephant Nature Park. It’s totally up to you, and your group leader knows all the best people in the right places, so ask them for their recommendations.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Chiang Mai - Thai cooking course - THB800
  • Chiang Mai - Whitewater rafting - THB1500
  • Chiang Mai - Zipline Course - THB3599
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Take a private minivan to Nan (approximately 5 hours, not including stops). On the way, stop by the town of Phrae, which is very well-known for their production of indigo fabrics – some of the best in Asia. Head straight to the Baan Thung Hong Village, where you’ll get shown the ‘hom’ (indigo) plantation and participate in a traditional workshop. You’ll get a small handkerchief and will be able to try the dying process yourself. Have lunch nearby at a local restaurant, then continue on to Nan. Once arrived, your leader will take you on an orientation walk of the town, then you’ll have the rest of the evening to do as you please.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Phrae Province - Organics Indigo Dyeing Center
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Make tracks for Chiang Klang today with a couple of stops along the way. Just outside of Nan is Ban Cha Manut Ancient Kiln and Huan Ban Suak Saen Chuen Museum, where you’ll learn about the ancient art of pottery in the region. The Ban Cha Manut kiln has been used in this house for over 800 years; you’ll feel like you’ve taken a step back in time. Take a visit to the nearby museum, and afterwards, head to the Bo Suak Cultural Place for a pottery workshop and get a chance to whip up a creation of your own. Enjoy lunch with your group at an open-air community restaurant with expansive views over the surrounding countryside. Relax with an included meal and be sure to have your camera handy. You may also have time to visit the Nan Art Gallery, set beside the river, showcasing work from modern Thai artists. Onwards to Chang Klang – it's approximately a 2.5-hour journey between towns, and upon arrival, freshen up and join your group leader on a visit to the local food markets, where you may like to taste some regional specialties. Enjoy a dinner with your leader and the group.
Accommodation
  • Resort (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Nan Province - Ban Cha Manut Ancient Kiln & Huan Ban Suak Saen Chuen Museum
  • Nan Province - Bo Suak Cultural Place (Pottery Workshop)
  • Nan Province - Nan Art Gallery
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
Special Information
Prior to the boat's departure, ask your leader for help purchasing food and drinks for the journey if you need some. It can also be quite cold between November and February, so make sure you have some warm gear packed. Due to dam construction upstream, water levels are not as reliable as in previous years. When the river is at its lowest (February to April), groups may need to take a bus to Pak Beng instead of the boat. This is due to safety reasons and is advised by our local operators.
Leave your accommodation after breakfast and make your way to the Thailand–Laos border. Your group leader will help you complete immigration and border formalities, and then you’ll continue on to the Laos town of Pakbeng. If there is no holdup at the border, you will reach Pakbeng just in time for lunch, so tuck into some good food, and have a chilled-out afternoon. Perhaps rent a bicycle to explore the surrounding countryside and the banks of the Mekong. Your accommodation tonight is a basic guesthouse.
Accommodation
  • Guesthouse (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Special Information
A visa for Laos is required for this trip and must be obtained prior to arrival. Please see the 'Visa' section of the Essential Trip Information for more details.
Get on the water this morning and cruise downriver at a nice leisurely pace on your way to Luang Prabang (6–7 hours). This way of ‘slow travel’ is popular among travellers to the region, as you’ll wind down the Mekong River, passing riverside villages and lush forests on the banks. Arriving late afternoon, you'll have time to hit the highly recommended night market food stalls, a great place to mingle with the locals and enjoy a meal with fellow travellers. With temples and French colonial villas lining the Mekong under blazing orange skies, you can see why this city has a reputation for exotic beauty.
Accommodation
  • Guesthouse (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Luang Prabang - Pak Ou Caves
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Special Information
Prior to the boat's departure, ask your leader for help purchasing food and drinks for the journey if you need some. It can also be quite cold between November and February, so make sure you have some warm gear packed. Due to dam construction upstream, water levels are not as reliable as in previous years. When the river is at its lowest (February to April), groups may need to take a bus to Pakbeng instead of the boat. This is due to safety reasons and is advised by our local operators.
Join your guide for a walk around the local area, learning more about Lao culture at the temple of Wat Phra Mahathat. Today and tomorrow are then yours to spend as you please. Take the time to explore the local market by day, where the textiles made by local women will amaze. You can also make the steep climb up Mount Phousi, the spiritual and geographical heart of the city and a prime location to see the sunset over the Mekong.
Accommodation
  • Guesthouse (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Luang Prabang - Walking tour
Optional Activities
  • Luang Prabang - National Museum - USD4
  • Luang Prabang - Wat Xieng Thong - USD2
  • Luang Prabang - Royal Theatre - USD20
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Your leader can help you organise many optional activities today. Kuang Si Falls, a spectacular spot to swim, is well worth a visit. Also, at the gate entrance to the waterfalls you will have the chance to stop by the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre where you can see the wonderful work being done to rescue bears from poachers and captivity, and provide them with a home. If you want to learn more about the local cuisine you can enjoy a cooking demonstration in the heart of town. Today is all yours to choose your own adventure.
Accommodation
  • Guesthouse (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Luang Prabang - Kuang Si Waterfalls - USD2
  • Luang Prabang - Cooking demonstration - USD30
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Take a private minibus through dusty villages and winding mountain roads to Vang Vieng (approximately 7 hours). The mountain scenery en route is as impressive as that of your destination. Situated on the Nam Song River, Vang Vieng is surrounded by towering limestone karsts. Please note that the standard of accommodation in Vang Vieng tonight and tomorrow is a little more basic than in some of our destinations.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Vang Vieng is known as an adventure town, thanks to its unique and varied surrounding countryside. Its many local caves are easily accessible and make for great day trips or half-day trips. Notably, Tham Chang, with its beautiful cavern fed by a natural spring, is an interesting swimming hole. Those looking to relax or perhaps learn more about local niche industry can visit the organic mulberry farm just outside town and enjoy a meal there (guided tours of the farm are available).
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Vang Vieng - Bicycle hire - USD2
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Take a beautiful local bus ride through small villages to Vientiane (approximately 4 hours). Enjoy the slow pace of what is possibly Asia's most laid-back capital city. On a guided walk you will visit the key Buddhist sites Wat Si Saket and Haw Phra Kaew and continue on to Patuxai (Victory Gate) for sweeping views over the city. You will also visit COPE, an organisation dedicated to assisting those who have been injured by the multitude of unexploded ordnance across the country.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Vientiane - COPE visit
  • Vientiane - Walking tour
Optional Activities
  • Vientiane - Tuk Tuk to Buddha Park - USD25
  • Vientiane - Vientiane temples - USD1
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
With no activities included for today, you are free to leave the accommodation at any time, provided you adhere to the hotel’s internal check-out times. If you would like to spend more time in Vientiane, we’ll be happy to organise additional accommodation (subject to availability).
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
This trip is a Lonely Planet Experience
Our Lonely Planet Experiences include plenty of free time so you can do the things that suit your budget and interests. Between your Intrepid Travel leader’s local knowledge and Lonely Planet’s trusted travel tips and recommendations, your trip will be more epic than ever.

Meals

10 breakfasts, 1 lunch

Transport

Taxi, Minivan, Overnight Train, Songthaew, Boat, tuk tuk, Private Bus, Public bus

Accommodation

Guesthouse (4 nights), Hotel (7 nights), overnight train (1 night), resort (1 night)

Included activities

  • Bangkok - Thonburi tour
  • Phrae Province - Organics Indigo Dyeing Center
  • Nan Province - Ban Cha Manut Ancient Kiln & Huan Ban Suak Saen Chuen Museum
  • Nan Province - Bo Suak Cultural Place (Pottery Workshop)
  • Nan Province - Nan Art Gallery
  • Luang Prabang - Pak Ou Caves
  • Luang Prabang - Walking tour
  • Vientiane - COPE visit
  • Vientiane - Walking tour

Lonely Planet extras

  • Free access to the Lonely Planet mobile app for one year
  • 25% discount on all items in the Lonely Planet Shop

Dates & availability

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Important notes

1. A Single Supplement to have your own room is available on this trip excluding Day 2 (overnight train) and Day 7 Pakbeng.
2. A visa for Laos is required for this trip and must be obtained prior to arrival. Please see Visa section of the Essential Trip Information for more details.

Essential trip information

Want an in-depth insight into this trip? Essential Trip Information provides a detailed itinerary, visa info, how to get to your hotel, what's included - pretty much everything you need to know about this adventure and more.

View Essential Trip Information

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