White Temple, Chiang Rai

Thailand & Laos Explorer

Trip code
TLE001

Did you know that, until the 18th century, northeastern Thailand was part of the Lao kingdom of Lan Xang? Or that even today, a third of the region speaks not Thai, but a dialect of Lao?

Modern political borders often ignore cultural and historical connections, but you don’t have to. Beginning in Chiang Mai and travelling via Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw, this journey combines some of the most magnificent scenery in Thailand and Laos with two of the top travellers’ towns in Southeast Asia.

Pricing

Price based on 3* accommodation
From
2,400
pp
Price based on 4* accommodation
From
2,500
pp

Key facts

13 days / 12 nights
Relax on a two-day cruise on the Mekong River, including a visit to the Pak Ou Caves
Soak up the scenery with visits to beautiful Kuang Si Falls and the caves of Nong Khiaw
Explore Laos’s mountains and jungles as you go trekking and kayaking in Nong Khiaw
Compare Thai and Lao cuisines with a Lanna cookery class in Chiang Mai and a sindat barbecue in Luang Prabang
Meet rescued elephants at the MandaLao sanctuary outside Luang Prabang
Get a sense of daily life with walking tours of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and Luang Prabang
Meet members of the White Hmong on a visit to an ethnic minority village outside of Chiang Mai
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DAY 12-14 MEKONG DELTA DAY 9-11 HO CHI MINH CITY DAY 7-8 HUE DAY 5-6 HOI AN DAY 3-4 LAN HA BAY DAY 1-2 HANOI DAY 5 PAKBENG DAY 1-3 CHIANG MAI DAY 4 CHIANG RAI DAY 10-11 NONG KHIAW DAY 6-9, 12-13 LUANG PRABANG
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DAY 5 PAKBENG DAY 1-3 CHIANG MAI DAY 4 CHIANG RAI DAY 10-11 NONG KHIAW DAY 6-9, 12-13 LUANG PRABANG

All transport will be by private car (maximum journey time four hours), with the exception of a two-day cruise on the Mekong, from the Lao border to Luang Prabang.

What's great

Travelling by road and river, you’ll get to see some of the most beautiful scenery in Thailand and Laos

A great mix of experiences means you’ll get a well-rounded introduction to the culture, history and nature of the region

This trip is easily extended into Thailand, Laos or beyond

Things to consider

The Mekong river cruise operates three times a week (except in June) which may affect when you choose to travel

With the exception of Nong Khiaw, the destinations on this trip are popular and fairly well-trodden

In a couple of destinations on the route, two-to-three star accommodation is the best available

The experience

Want to see more of Thailand or Laos? Or perhaps a different country combo tickles your fancy? This itinerary is just a starting point. Bring us your ideas and let's design the perfect trip together.

Day 1-3

Chiang Mai

In chilled-out Chiang Mai, street-food shacks live side-by-side with gourmet coffee shops, and you’re as likely to find yourself in a trendy contemporary arts space as a traditional open-air bazaar. You’ll be exploring the town by train, bike, songtaew truck and saleng scooter — stopping in at its most sacred temples, bouncing along dirt roads to coffee plantations, visiting ethnic minority villages in the hills, and even getting a Thai massage from an inmate at the Women’s Correctional Institute! In-between classic sights, you’ll dip into daily markets, duck down hidden alleys, and explore residential neighbourhoods to get a sense of daily life in this endlessly beguiling town.

Girl in Chiang Mai - Dani Alaez for Unsplash

Highlights

Visit Wat Umong, a temple known for its maze of passageways and grottoes built in the 14th century for the “mad monk” Therachan

Visit a Hmong village for lunch and learn about this unique minority, known for their brilliantly elaborate traditional fabrics

Take a walking tour of Chiang Mai’s classic sights, including the city walls, its oldest temple, and the Lanna Folklife Museum

Head into the countryside for a Lanna cooking class at an organic farm

Wat Phra Singh temple, Chiang Mai

Day 4

Chiang Rai

From its wedding cake-esque White Temple to its bone-encrusted Black House, Chiang Rai is Thailand’s unofficial capital of offbeat travel. In case you need any proof, you’ll start your visit at “Cabbages and Condoms” — a restaurant which uses profits to promote family planning — before proceeding to explore a few of the town’s more traditional attractions. Travelling by three-wheeled rickshaw, you’ll snack on barbecued kebabs and fried grasshoppers at a local market, visit the beautiful brass-and-copper Buddha at Wat Phra Kaew, pay homage to King Mengrai as you pass by his monument, and finish off by learning about the region’s minority cultures at the Hilltribe Museum.

Temple in Chiang Rai - Peter Borter for Unsplash

Highlights

Slurp spicy prawn soup and pad thai at a restaurant with an important social mission

See the spectacular White Temple, which combines Buddhist themes with pop culture references in a riot of icing-sugar kitsch

Tour Chiang Rai’s historical highlights by samlor (three-wheeled rickshaw)

White Temple in Chiang Rai - Peter Borter for Unsplash

The finer detail

  • Breakfast every day
  • Eight lunches: one in a Hmong village; one during a Lanna cookery class; one at a community development restaurant; two during the Mekong cruise; one in the Luang Prabang botanical gardens; one at the elephant camp; a traditional Sin Dat barbecue.
  • One dinner: at the Pakbeng hotel
  • Two full-day experiences: sightseeing in Luang Prabang with a visit to the botanical gardens; trek & kayak in Nong Khiaw
  • Seven half-day experiences; Chiang Mai’s temples & minority villages; walking tour of Chiang Mai; Lanna cookery class; tour of Chiang Rai; elephants at MandaLao; Kuang Si Falls and the buffalo dairy farm; walk to historical Phathok cave
  • One evening experience: petanque and a Sin Dat barbecue
  • Two-day, one-night cruise from The Thai border to Luang Prabang
  • All entrance fees to sites included in guided experiences
  • All internal transport & accommodation

Day 1
Car transfer Chaing Mai Airport to hotel (10 minutes)

Day 4
Car transfer Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai (4 hours)

Day 5
Car transfer from Chiang Rai to Lao Border (2 hours)
River cruise from the Laos border to Pakbeng (6 hours)

Day 6
River cruise from Pakbeng to Luang Prabang (6 hours)
Car transfer from Luang Prabang pier to hotel (10 minutes)

Day 10
Car transfer from Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw (3 hours)

Day 12
Car transfer from Nong Khiaw to Luang Prabang (3 hours)

Day 13
Car transfer from hotel to Luang Prabang airport (10 minutes)

  • International flights
  • Meals not mentioned
  • Entrance fees to any sites not included in guided experiences
  • Tips for guides & porters