The name means “Mother of Waters” and this states clearly the importance of the river in the life and culture of the people living around it. The Mekong, shortly after crossing the Golden Triangle, arrives already broad and imposing on the borders between Thailand and Laos. It derives from the last water sources of the Himalayan foothills to travel across the plain that opens onto Cambodia and the Vietnamese delta. In following it you enter a fabulous concentration of Asian life showing beautiful landscapes, rice fields, villages, pagodas, ancient and modern capitals, archaeological sites, colonial ruins and a population whose smile and kindness are forever famous. Now a classic tour, increasingly popular and appreciated for the wealth of discoveries and encounters: an experience that never fails to excite.
Arrival at Chiang Rai airport, continue onto Chiang Khong (80 km, 1h30) and booking into a small resort bordering the Mekong. Rest of the day is free to relax and to enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
Optional : visit Chiang Rai (depending on time available).
Now in Laos along the Mekong itself crossing by bridge over the Mekong River between Thailand and Laos. Immigration formalities. Continuing on by tuk-tuk or by minibus to Houeisay dock, starting at 09:00 am to descend the Mekong river to Pakbeng, aboard a luxury 34meter barge built especially for this cruise, an elegant replica of travelling on these waters. On the way, a stop to observe rural life along the Mekong river and to see the minorities living there. You will arrive at Pakbeng before sunset and book into your room at the lodge.
Buffet lunch on board and dinner on the terrace of the lodge overlooking the Mekong River.
Boarding at 8:30, for the second part of the cruise. A stop in a river village to look at some traditional local activities especially the process for making rice wine. Then a visit to the Pak Ou Caves. For over three centuries, the faithful come on pilgrimage here and leave statues of the Buddha as an offering or thanks for a favor: there are now more than 4,000, of all shapes, sizes and materials, stored in a lower cave. There are shallower caves at the heart of a spectacular setting in the middle of a cliff. It is reached by steps cut into the stone. If the first was mainly of religious interest, the second, higher up, reveals some beautiful limestone formations. Arriving in Luang Prabang by late afternoon and booking into the hotel.
Buffet lunch on board.
Optional : visit Pakbeng market before breakfast.
The whole day is left to visit the city (by minibus, tuk-tuk, bicycle or on foot), and in particular the peninsula, home to the main temples. A morning walk and visit to a small market and the Museum of Traditional Arts and Ethnology(WAD), which displays objects of daily use, tribal clothing and crafts from the tribes of northern Laos.
Discover the main temples: Wat Visounnarat, a replica of the original temple built in 1519, the oldest in the city; Wat Aham, the first residence of the Buddhist patriarch in Laos; Wat May, former seat of the head of the Buddhist church in Laos; Wat Sene, built in 1718, the first temple in Luang Prabang inThai style with a yellow and red roof; Wat Sop, one of the rare temples still visible in a Xieng Khouang style.
Finally, Wat Xieng Thong, one of the crown jewels, decisively placed at the entrance to the city and amongst the sites classified as World Heritage by UNESCO, and was private property belonging to the royal family up to 1975. Along the way you will discover many colonial buildings, vestiges of the French presence, and the laboratory of the grand-son of the royal goldsmith, who continues the family tradition and still produces silver coins of very good quality. Visit the National Museum, in the former Royal Palace.
The building itself is not very attractive, however the collection of donations to the crown is quite interesting.
Optional : early call for those who wish to attend the offerings to the monks that takes place every morning between 5h30-6h00 in the streets of the city. Then back to the hotel for breakfast through the morning market. For Laotians it is a genuine religious ritual called tak bat and is imbued with sincere spirituality: therefore visitors are asked to respect the service, by keeping their distance from the monks (who parade without stopping) and from the faithful.
By late afternoon, possibility to attend an ethnic fashion show featuring over 90 minority costumes.
Free day to enjoy the ambiance and the very special atmosphere of Luang Prabang: a mix between the spirituality of the monks, the paradisical scene of the two rivers and the green mountains that surround it and, above all, the natural simplicity and spontaneous smile of the local people that is so welcoming and relaxed. By late afternoon take a Lao Airlines flight to Vientiane. Booking in.
Optional: Trip to the Khouang Sy waterfalls, ride an elephant, cooking classes, visit a traditional weaving center, a pottery village and a temple on the opposite bank of the Mekong, or trek to a Khammou village with meeting and lunch with the locals. By late afternoon you can participate in a “Baci” ceremony, intended to drive away evil spirits, bring luck and wish you a safe onward journey home.
A large town of 600,000 inhabitants on the banks of the Mekong, Vientiane reflects, through its quiet air of insouciance, the serene and bon viveur character of its inhabitants.
Here, gardens and dirt roads go well together with some modern buildings, along with many temples and Buddhist monasteries. The City tour begins with the Thatluang: A gigantic stupa covered in gold leaf and is the symbol of the country and contains within it, according to a legend, Buddha’s real hair.
Then the Victory Monument, called Patouxai in the Lao language: this curious monument is strangely reminiscent of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. From its roof, we admire the panorama with breathtaking views of the entire City of Vientiane. A stroll through a local market selling fresh produce, before visiting a village in the heart of some fruit tree plantations, where in addition to local products, you can taste the koalam, the classic meal for rice farmers based on rice and coconut milk cooked on the grill and encased in bamboo. Back in town by early afternoon and the remainder of the day is free.
You can stroll through the streets of the centre, at the Talat Sao (“Morning Market”, touristy but interesting for the purchase of souvenirs and typical local crafts: embroidered fabrics in silk or cotton, silver jewelry, wood carvings , tea, coffee, etc.), or even looking for the main temples.
Typical lunch Laotian boat.
Lao Airlines departure by scheduled flight to Pakse. Leave for the Bolaven Plateau, famous for its waterfalls, fertile land that offers the best teas and coffees- even more so than the other countries in the Indochinese peninsula. You will not miss many tastings by following your guide’s advice … the richness of the Plateau was recognized by the first French settlers, who planted the first farms, including coffee. Today the plateau incorporates numerous ethnic minorities. A visit to the Tad Lo water falls, some ethnic villages, and an organic mulberry farm. Your resort, which is in the heart of these plantations, will seduce you with its exceptional natural setting.
Lunch during the excursion restaurant.
Visit the beautiful waterfalls of Tad Fane, at the base of a valley in the shape of a horseshoe. When the water level is at its highest, they split into two twin waterfalls. Southbound departure for Champassak province (150 km, about 3 hours), and then a boat trip to explore the area called the “4,000 Islands”.
Landing at Done Det, located at the North Terminal of the old railway line, built by the French to go around the falls that at one time made it impossible to cross the Mekong.
In a field, the remains of an old locomotive is all that is left of this colonial era that gave Laos, once upon a time, its first railway. Continuing onto visit the Li Phi rapids and the resort facility. Rest of the day is free to relax and enjoy the exceptional environment, walk at one’s own pace, observe local life and their activities.
Visit Pha Pheng Falls, the largest in Southeast Asia and among the largest in the world. Continue by road to Wat Phou Khmer site. Much older than Angkor Wat, the complex stands on a hillside overlooking the Mekong, with from its summit a beautiful river view. Of mysterious origin, this complex was always revered by the kings of Angkor, who sent gifts and offerings right up to the last days of their empire. Return to Pakse with a visit to a village, depending on the time available.
Amarita Note: the list of visits is subject to change depending on season and location of the selected hotels. The boat ride can be replaced by a road drive, depending on the level of the Mekong waters.
Transfer to the airport or to the Thai border
End of services
Optional : several activities are possible during your stay in Siem Reap, such as visiting temples by tuk-tuk or bicycle (day or half day), amble among rice paddies and villages in a quad bike or by horse back, or an elephant ride around a temple, or a scenic helicopter flight around the temple complex, or view a sunrise at Angkor Wat. Detailed information and prices on request.
A visit to Champassak province and the region of 4,000 islands can also be done by cruise ship and in colonial style. The “Vat Phou”, a 34 meter steel hull, was launched in Vientiane in 1993 with support from the World Bank. Each of its 12 comfortable and elegant air-conditioned cabins offers two single berths and a private bathroom in western style. Three departures are scheduled each week between October and April, with descent and ascent of the river. Below is an example of a standard route.
Departure at 9:30 am from Pakse in an elongated boat to join the “Vat Phou” anchored in Champassak province (2h30). Once aboard the Vat Phou start zigzagging through the small rapids and sandbars.
Arrival in Champassak just in time for lunch by the river, followed by a guided tour of the mysterious pre-Angkorian temple of the tenth century called Vat Phou, namesake of the ship.
Continue the cruise at dusk, enjoying the beautiful scenery and the tropical sunset on the deck before the boat docks for the night near a remote village in Laos.
Lunch and dinner on board.
Sailing towards the Huey Thamo village, just a few minutes walk from the beautiful remains of the Oum Moung temple, hidden in the forest. The cruise continues to the south to visit the wild paradise known as the “4,000 islands”. Arriving in the afternoon on Khong Island and then a visit to a traditional Lao village where lifestyles have not changed for centuries.
Lunch and dinner on board.
Early morning sail to the small village of Ban Veuthong, where we embark on a long tail boat to Khone Island. Here discover surprising traces of the French colonial past on this Mekong island, that once played a fundamental role at the time of Indochina: colonial houses, the former customs and post buildings, docks, bridge, railroad and even an old locomotive … After the tour, returning by long tail boat back onto the banks of the Mekong for lunch. Transfer by road to the beautiful and stunning waterfalls at Pha Pheng, the “Niagara of the East”, close to the Cambodian border. Back to Pakse by road (about 2 hours), arriving during the afternoon.
Lunch and dinner on board.