Experience the magic of the Mekong River in Northern Thailand and Laos. Start with sacred spaces and Lanna cuisine in the emerald hills of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. Board your traditional riverboat for a cruise down the Mekong, visiting ethnic minority villages and pilgrimage sites. Explore the local neighborhoods of Luang Prabang and the cascading turquoise pools at Kuang Si Waterfall. Explore the morning markets in the vibrant capital of Vientiane.
Arrival - Chiang Mai
Welcome to Thailand! Arrive in Chiang Mai and transfer to your hotel.
Chiang Mai is considered the cultural capital of Northern Thailand. The city is a fusion of traditionalism and modernity, nestled against the highlands.
In the morning, visit a Lanna family home, enjoy a culinary journey of age-old family recipes, and be introduced to the traditional lifestyle of people who migrated here generations ago.
Step inside and engage with your hosts as they share their family history. Stroll through their orchard identifying the various fruits grown including banana, mango, and coconut before selecting fresh herbs to be used in the cooking later. Watch as they weave small bamboo baskets and take the opportunity to try your own hand at this craft.
Take your basket of herbs and other ingredients from the garden and delight in the opportunity to prepare authentic Northern Thai dishes using traditional cooking techniques and clay pots which impart an additional flavor element. Afterward, sit down to a mouthwatering meal prepared together having gained a personal connection to the descendants of the first people of Northern Thailand, the Lanna people.
Time at leisure. In the evening, start your exploration of the city by tuk-tuk. Driving around Chiang Mai in the evening is cooler and more peaceful than during the day and gives you a chance to see the city in a very different light. Ride around the old city walls and moat, making stops at Chiang Mai landmarks such as the Iron Bridge, the Three Kings Monument, and some of Chiang Mai's oldest temples. You can also sample traditional northern snacks at one of the local markets. At the end of the tour, return to your hotel or be transferred to another exciting destination - the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar.
After breakfast, visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Observe pilgrims present offerings at the holy shrines, admire the golden pagodas, and soak in the atmosphere at this most sacred Buddhist temple.
Head straight to Doi Suthep mountain and time permitting, join locals as they climb the 308 steps up the mythical Naga serpent staircase to the temple where you will be rewarded with views of the city below. Listen to the chant of the monks and immerse yourself in the spirituality of this revered temple complex. Mingle with the pilgrims from across Thailand and discover pagodas and statues devoted to Buddhism with Hindu influences. Learn about Buddhism and its impact on the culture and daily life of Thai people.
Afternoon at leisure and overnight.
Chiang Mai - Chiang Rai
After an early breakfast, meet your guide and transfer to Chiang Rai (3 hours). Visit Wat Rong Khun temple, a contemporary, unconventional, privately-owned structure that is often called the White Temple. It is owned by Chalermchai Kositpipat, a Thai visual artist and painter who designed, constructed, and opened it to visitors in 1997.
Continue to visit Wat Rong Suea Tean, also known as the Blue Temple - another unusual modern Buddhist temple distinguished by its vivid blue coloring and elaborate carvings.
Evening at leisure and overnight.
After breakfast, meet your guide and drive to Doi Tung Mountain. Visit the Mae Fah Luang botanical gardens and learn about the Royal Project on Doi Tung. The gardens are on the slopes below Doi Tung Royal Villa, the former resident of the Princess Mother Srinagarindra.
Continue to the Golden Triangle where the borders of Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar coverage. After a delicious Thai lunch, take a relaxing boat ride down the Mekong River to the small, quiet town of Chiang Sean. On the way back to Chiang Rai, stop that the Baan Dam Museum, a collection of wooden buildings featuring sculptures, paintings, and other artworks from Southeast Asia.
Evening at leisure and overnight.
Chiang Rai - Chiang Khong - Houy Xai - Pakbeng by Le Grand Cruise
In the morning, make your way to the pier for your overnight cruise. Our local guide will meet and assist you at Laos immigration and transfer you to the slow boat for a gentle cruise downstream to Pakbeng. The traditional boat features both covered and open areas with spaces for recreation and relaxation.
The scenery along this part of the Mekong is arguably at its most beautiful. As your journey downriver, visit Hmong, Yao, and Khmu ethnic minority villages and observe their traditional lifestyle. Lunch is served on board with cruising.
Arrive at Pakbeng in the late afternoon and transfer to the Le Grand bungalow. Enjoy a few drinks at the swimming pool terrace while watching the sunset over the mountains and the Mekong River.
Pakbeng - Pak Ou Cave - Luang Prabang by Le Grand Cruise
After breakfast, transfer from the resort to the boarding pier. Continue the second leg downstream as you pass areas of un-spoilt forest with quant villages along the riverbanks and perhaps the odd elephant or two with his mahout. You will visit a Hmong village and explore the local villages and temples. Lunch is served on board as you enjoy the slow-paced cruise.
We will pull over for a visit to Pak Ou Caves, an ancient pilgrimage site containing thousands of gold lacquered Buddha images left for hundreds of years. Arrive in Luang Prabang and disembark at Le Caleo pier around sunset.
Luang Prabang sits at the sacred confluence of the Nam Khan River and Mekong River. From hiking and river cruises to some of the best chefs in the region, the city features diverse experiences for savvy travelers.
Transfer to your hotel for an evening at leisure.
It's time to explore the city! Begin your journey at the most popular of temples - Wat Xieng Thong. The 500-year old temple is exquisite and the best examples of the classic Luang Prabang style. You will also visit nearby Wat Mai and Wat Sene.
From here, explore some local and interesting small side streets, along back alleys through temples - a city that could have been designed with slow travel in mind, a morning walking tour allows you to soak up the ambiance and appreciate the hidden charms of Luang Prabang.
Through your guide, feel free to ask the locals questions as they go about their daily lives. You can also climb the 328 steps for remarkable views of the area.
In the afternoon, travel south of town to the Kuang Si Waterfall. Stop along the way to visit the Living Crafts Center and meet the weavers who help to keep these traditions alive.
At the falls, crystal waters cascade into idyllic turquoise pools. Bring a bathing suit if you would like to swim! If interested, visit the nearby Sun-bear refuge to learn more about the poaching and rehabilitation of these endangered creatures.
Return to Luang Prabang and overnight.
Optional: At 5:30 am, the bells of the monasteries toll when golden lines of monks emerge to receive their morning rice from the townspeople. Wake up early and have some cookies and rice. After this, you will have the opportunity to respectfully witness this sacred ritual of old Lao - long lines of barefoot monks weaving through the streets on their alms rounds. This will be in a village out of town where rarely any tourists are seen. You will be supplied with alms you can traditionally give to the monks. We also encourage that if you must take photographs that it does not interfere with this highly revered ritual. Return to your hotel for breakfast.
After breakfast, learn more about Lao traditions with a wonderful cooking class held by one of the best chefs in Luang Prabang.
Transfer from your hotel to the restaurant by tuk-tuk, meet the chef, and then proceed to a local market. Your instructor will show you how to select the food and ingredients before returning to the restaurants to prepare lunch. Enjoy this time with a renowned culinary specialist.
In the late afternoon, meet your guide and drive to one of the temples for a private Baci ceremony, which can be held for several different occasions. After this, continue to a hidden temple that is rarely visited by foreign travelers. Here it is time for a special encounter with the monks who will teach you the fundamentals of meditation. After gaining insight, you will have the opportunity to join the monks in their daily chanting. Your guide will translate and questions you have for the monks, an exciting and educational experience.
Return to your hotel and overnight.
Luang Prabang - Vientiane
In the morning, transfer to the station for your high-speed train to Vientiane. Departs 11:40 / Arrives 13:50. Vientiane is the capital of Laos, a fusion of French-colonial architecture with Buddhist temples. The golden, 16th century Pha That Luang is a national symbol. Along broad boulevards and tree-lined streets are many notable shrines including Wat Si Saket, which features thousands of Buddha images, and Wat Si Muang, built atop a Hindu shrine.
In the evening, explore the Vientiane Night Market.
After breakfast, visit Wat Sisaket, the only structure to survive the Siamese invasion of 1828. Across the street sits Wat Ho Pha Kheo, reconstructed in the 1930s on the site of the original building. It housed the Emerald Buddha, which now lives in Bangkok, and is now the home to a line collection of Lao artistry. A short journey up Lane Xang Street offers a glimpse into the changing face of the city.
Amongst the more modern structures is Patouxai, the Lao Victory Monument. Also visit Wat That Luang with its central lotus-bud spire and 30 surrounding stupas - the most sacred structure in all of Laos. Wat Si Muang is a much more vibrant example of living Buddhism. This sacred temple is used by the Lao people for everything, from women trying to become pregnant, to new cars owners having monks bless their new purchases. Also pay a visit to the COPE Visitor Centre for a moving insight into the Secret War which left Laos as the most heavily bombed country in history.
In the afternoon, travel out of town to Xieng Khouan Budda Park. Here a renegade monk formed his own sect and began to mold magnificent, eerie statues out of concrete, based on Hindu, Buddhist, and Brahman iconography.
Evening at leisure and overnight.
Today, transfer to the airport for your onward flight.
11 nights of Hotel Accommodations
Overnight Cruise on Mekong River
Private air-conditioned vehicle with driver as per the itinerary
Family lunch in Chiang Mai
Comprehensive touring as listed in the itinerary, including a private English speaking guide
Culinary session in Luang Prabang
High speed train from Luang Prabang - Vientiane
Private airport and rail station transfers with representative
Road/interstate taxes, fuel surcharges, and parking fees