LAOS: KINGDOM OF A MILLION ELEPHANTS

September 2018

The former “Kingdom of a Million Elephants” is today known as Laos, a fascinating mixture of old and ancient and modern Asia. Long off the radar of visitors the country is now increasingly visited and those who come find it one of the most interesting and charming of all Southeast Asian nations. We begin this journey in Pakse, the largest city in southern Laos, and from where we visit the majestic pre-Angkorian ruins of Champasak, and the high altitude Bolaven Plateau, home to many waterfalls and coffee plantations.  We cruise the Mekong River for 2 nights aboard the atmospheric (and very comfortable) Vat Phou Champasak, a recreation of the type of boat that cruised the river in French colonial days. From Pakse we fly to the capital of Vientiane, and from Vientiane another flight brings us Phonsavan, site of the enigmatic Plain of Jars where enormous stone vessels, thought to be 2000 years old, are strewn across fields and forests. Archaeologists still puzzle over the jar’s original use and date of construction. Final stop is the UNESCO World Heritage city of Luang Prabang. The city is both charming and beautiful and has been named as one of the must-see sites in Asia. A holy city for centuries it contains many Buddhist temples and hundreds of monks, lovely French colonial architecture, and a multi-ethnic mix of people and cuisines. We’ll have ample time to explore the town and its equally beautiful surroundings. The journey ends with a return flight from Luang Prabang to Bangkok.

All of our accommodations are in small, comfortable and atmospheric boutique hotels. Travel from region to region in Laos is by air, due to the long distances traveled, though within a given area we will have private vehicle at our service.

waterfall-Laos

The trip is lead by Serd, a former Lao monk now with 16 years experience as tour guide and Champaca Journeys owner John Leupold who has made 19 visits to Laos in the past 7 years. Both of these men know and love Laos and will ensure that your trip is memorable.

Mekong Sunset monk resting, Laos Rice fields, Laos

Day-By-Day Itinerary

Depart Bangkok with Lao Airlines at 12:50 p.m. and arrive Pakse at 2:20 p.m. After clearing customs we drive 30-minutes to the town of Champasak and check into the River Resort. Welcome dinner at the River Resort tonight. 

Overnight at River Resort (Dinner)

Following breakfast, we depart by ferry boat to join Vat Phou Cruise. Get settled in your cabin, then enjoy lunch served on deck. The highlight of the afternoon is the Vat Phou ruins - the majestic pre-Angkorian 10th century temple complex and boat's namesake. Visit the museum and then walk to the temples.  As dusk falls, we transfer you back to the Vat Phou Cruise for a chance to enjoy the tropical sunset on the deck. Dinner is served on board, while the boat docks for the night alongside a remote Laotian village.

Overnight on Vat Phou Cruise (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)

Breakfast is on board as we set sail for the village of Huei Thamo. A short and picturesque walk brings us to the hidden forest temple of Oum Muong. Return to the boat for lunch as we cruise south, late afternoon we disembark to walk through Ban Deua Tia, a small Laotian Village where the traditional way of life has not changed in centuries. After dinner, the evening is yours to relax and enjoy.

Overnight on Vat Phou Cruise (B,L,D)

Leaving the boat after breakfast, we drive north to the River Resort. Afternoon free to relax, or explore the village of Champasak with guides.

Overnight at River Resort (B,L)

The high altitude Bolaven Plateau is little explored area of southern Laos. Known for its cooler temperatures which the French colonialists found ideal for the cultivation of coffee, and dubbed Bolaven coffee the champagne of coffee. We'll visit a coffee plantation where you can observe the plants under cultivation and hear about the process of growing fine coffee. We also visit the spectacular waterfalls that plunge off the heights of the plateau and visit 2 ethnic villages where the villagers demonstrate some of their traditional crafts. Late afternoon return to hotel.

Overnight at River Resort (B,L)

Morning free at hotel, then transfer to airport for 90 minute flight to Vientiane, capital of Laos. This city is still considered traditional Asian, with interesting blend of Lao, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, French and American influences. After getting settled in our hotel, we explore some of the nearby ancient temples for which the city is famous.

Overnight at Ansara Hotel (B)

After breakfast we begin our exploration of Vientiane, visiting the major sites, Wat Sisaket, the oldest temple with its thousands of miniature Buddha statues and the former royal temple of Wat Prakeo which formerly housed the emerald Buddha. Late afternoon visit to Patuxay Monument, known as Vientiane’s own Arc de Triomphe, from whose parapet one can obtain a bird’s eye view of the city.

Overnight at Ansara Hotel (B)

Breakfast in Vientiane, then transfer to airport for short flight to Xieng Khuang in central Laos where the famed Plain of Jars is located. The jars are immense stone vessels, each carved from a single boulder, and archaeologists still dispute their use and age. Hundreds of jars are strewn over a vast plain, and we’ll have ample time to wander across the area known as Site 1.

Overnight at Vansana Hotel (B,D)

Today we’ll explore the areas known as Site Two and Site Three at the Plain of Jars. These sites see fewer visitors yet have more beautiful locations with hilly terrain and remnant forest.

Overnight at Vansana Hotel (B, L)

Free time in morning on your own or with guides, then transfer to airport for early afternoon flight to Luang Prabang via Vientiane. An ancient holy city with many temples and resident monks. Luang Prabang has been chosen by many people and many publications as one of the most beautiful and atmospheric cities in Southeast Asia, and we have the next few days to uncover its charms. In the late afternoon we make the 10 minute climb to the temple of Phousi Hill to observe sunset, then explore the night market.

Overnight at Mekong Riverview Hotel (B)

After breakfast, we visit the national museum in the former Royal Palace, with its collection of artifacts reflecting the richness of Lao culture dating from the days of the early kings right through the last sovereign. Next we will climb up to the top of Phousi hill for the panoramic view of the city and Nam Khan and Mekong river city, as well as  sunset on a clear day. From there, we stroll along the hillside to Vat Tham before heading back to the hotel by Tuk Tuk. Afternoon is free on own.

Overnight at Mekong Riverview Hotel (B,L)

An early morning wake-up call permits us the opportunity to participate in the daily morning rituals of orange-clad monks collecting alms from the faithful residents. From there we will visit the morning market, and return to hotel for breakfast. We next embark on a cruise upstream on the Mekong River, which provides beautiful views of the tranquil countryside. Our destination is the mysterious Pak Ou Caves,
two linked caves crammed with thousands of gold lacquered Buddha statues of various shapes and sizes left by pilgrims. Returning to Luang Prabang we stop at the village of Ban Xanghai, to observe distilling of local rice wine.

Overnight at Mekong Riverview Hotel (B,L)

Morning we will visit the Traditional Art and Ethnology Centre, and then drive 40-minute through scenic countryside to Kuangsi Waterfalls. Unlike most any other falls, a series of naturally terraced limestone formations catch water that spills from pool to pool, all surrounded by lush rain forest. Great place to swim and we'll enjoy a picnic lunch at the edge of the falls. A nearby rescue center for black bears is both interesting and provides for close up views of these magnificent animals. Late afternoon return to Luang Prabang.

Overnight at Mekong Riverview Hotel (B,L)

Elephant tourism is seen as controversial as it often involves mistreatment of the animals. Not this sanctuary, Mandalao. The elephants here are former work elephants, now out of work as logging, the main activity for which they were used now banned. Unlike many venues that allow elephant rides, here you walk through the forest alongside the elephants, feed them, bath them (if you wish) and have a dedicated mahout (elephant handler) who will explain the history of the individual animals you encounter and the natural history of these intelligent creatures. Mid afternoon return to Luang Prabang.

Overnight at Mekong Riverview Hotel (B,L)

Late morning transfer to airport for flight to Bangkok at 12:20 p.m.

(B)

prices & registration information

(Inclusive of food and beverages where indicated; bottled water in vehicle; accommodations; ground transportation; entrance fees; services of licensed Lao guide and driver; services of USA-based trip leader.)

$5200. (Based on double occupancy)
$5700. (Based on single occupancy)

NOTE: Internal airfare, for 6 flights: Bangkok-Pakse-Vientiane-Xieng Khouang-Vientiane-Luang Prabang-Bangkok not included in above price. Price of $590 is subject to change.

NOTE: Gratuities, alcoholic beverages, meals not listed on itinerary, laundry, souvenirs, items of a personal nature, international and domestic airfare and travel insurance are NOT included.

General Information

This journey involves travel to the Asian gateway city of Bangkok, Thailand. There are many routes and prices for this trip from USA or point of origin and participants are required to book their tickets with enough time so as to arrive in Bangkok at least one day prior to commencement of Laos trip.

This 13-day Laos trip involves 2 international flights, from Bangkok, Thailand to Pakse, Laos and Luang Prabang, Laos to Bangkok, Thailand. (NOTE: it is possible to begin trip from other Asian countries, please inquire if interested). Additionally there are 4 flights within Laos. The cost for these 5 flights is currently $590 (additional to cost of land portion of trip), though this fare may fluctuate.