Cruising on the Upper Mekong

Our favourite Laos tours and excursions

If destinations and accommodation are the bread and butter of a great holiday, a hands-on cultural experience is the secret sauce that brings it all to life.

We know that not everyone likes the idea of organised fun. You don’t need your hand held – we get it. But we also know that we’d bet our bottom kip that even the most die-hard independent travellers will fall for our incredible guides, whose in-depth knowledge and personal stories make every experience special.

The reason we can be so confident is because we’re independent travellers ourselves, and we know there’s nothing worse than coughing up for a cultural class or guided tour only to find that it feels inauthentic and touristy. That’s why we only recommend experiences we’ve personally road-tested and absolutely loved no cookie-cutter day trips, no lacklustre guides, and no doing something just because everyone else is.

In Laos, that means trekking up 100 waterfalls to picnic off banana leaves against the backdrop of the Nam Ou River Valley. It means cycling around the islands of the Mekong, stopping to watch craftsmen weaving bamboo and eating dinner with a local family. It means swapping Luang Prabang’s World Heritage architecture for its rural fringes, exploring the minority villages and tumbledown temples that line the banks of the Mekong.

We can take you beyond the standard tourist sites, but it takes the knowledge of a local to bring those places to life and these experiences are the way to do it.

Our top picks

You won't want to miss out on these must-dos hand-picked by our expert team

Ancient streets of Luang Prabang

Architecture
Culture
History
Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang has seen numerous cultures come and go in its 1,500 years, but what makes it so special is the way it has fused those traditions together to create something completely new.

With a guide to point out the most interesting details, you’ll start to see them everywhere: plaited bamboo houses opposite elegant French-style balconies; Italian marble steps topped by three-headed elephants; traditional Lao motifs mingled with Beaux-Arts flourishes. This tour is all about understanding the complex web of historic influences that make Luang Prabang so dazzlingly unique.

The Plain of Jars

History
Phonsavan

We’re suckers for a mystery, and this is one of Asia’s best archaeological conundrums.

Scattered across hundreds of square kilometres on the Xieng Khouang Plateau, these giant stone jars might have been burial urns, rainwater butts, or rice wine kegs belonging to a race of giants – or none of the above. Debate your favourite theory with your expert guide or come up with your own. What we do know is that there are more than 2,500 of them, they’re over two millennia old, and they make a pretty majestic backdrop for playing Indiana Jones.

Insider Experience: Carol Cassidy's workshop

Culture
Insider
Vientiane

There are few people better placed to introduce you to traditional and contemporary Lao textile culture than Carol Cassidy.

Carol first came to Laos as a textile expert with the UN Development Programme in 1989, and she unwittingly stumbled upon what she describes as “a weaver’s paradise”. Years later, she's still here -- and she now works with 40 Lao artisans to produce woven wall hangings, scarves, shawls and fabric, all using traditional methods. Touring Carol’s workshop is a rare chance to meet a real insider, and you'll have plenty of time to ask her about her experiences over cocktails and canapés in the garden.

Bolaven Plateau by vintage Jeep

Active
Culture
Scenery
Pakse & Bolaven Plateau

Over a kilometre above sea level, the Bolaven Plateau is your chance to experience a totally different Laotian landscape – where cool temperatures, volcanic soil and plentiful rain conspire to create a wonderfully rich and fertile land perfect for growing coffee, cassava, bananas, tea and cardamom.

Where most tourists follow a well-worn circuit around the plateau’s edge, we like to plunge right through the middle – bouncing along rugged dirt roads in an open-top 4x4, stopping at Katu minority villages famed for their beaded, handwoven textiles, exploring hidden caves used during the Secret War, and cooling off with frequent dips under crashing waterfalls.

Trekking in Nong Khiaw

Active
Scenery
Nong Khiaw

There aren’t many trekking locations more impressive than Nong Khiaw, and this challenging route up the “100 waterfalls” is one of our favourites.

This multi-level cascade goes on for ten kilometres, with terrain varying from flat and gentle to near-vertical, with some wading, a little scrambling, and bamboo ladders fixed in place for the trickier sections. It’s sweaty work, but there are plenty of inviting pools in which to take a dip along the way, and you’ll be rewarded with a packed lunch served on banana leaves against a backdrop of spectacular views over the Nam Ou Valley.

Soft Adventure in Nong Khiaw

Active
Adventure
Scenery
Nong Khiaw

Imagine kayaking to remote villages of silk-weaving workshops, picnicking by the river on the fringes of the jungle, swimming in pools created by thundering waterfalls, and then returning to your guesthouse to watch the sun set over some of the most otherworldly scenery Asia has to offer.

That could be any old day in Nong Khiaw – which is why it’s one of our favourite places in the world to scratch that adventurous itch. Whether you’re more paddy field stroll or heart-pumping summit trek, we can arrange hiking, biking, caving, climbing, boating and kayaking until you drop.