Thailand & Laos Explorer
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 well-rounded cultural journey combines some of the most magnificent scenery in Thailand and Laos with two of the top travellers’ towns in Southeast Asia.
Transport in detail
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.
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 two - three times a week, 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
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.
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
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.
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)
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
Logistics and journey times
Car transfer Chaing Mai Airport to hotel (10 minutes)
Car transfer Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai (4 hours)
Car transfer from Chiang Rai to Lao Border (2 hours)
River cruise from the Laos border to Pakbeng (6 hours)
River cruise from Pakbeng to Luang Prabang (6 hours)
Car transfer from Luang Prabang pier to hotel (10 minutes)
Car transfer from Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw (3 hours)
Car transfer from Nong Khiaw to Luang Prabang (3 hours)
Car transfer from hotel to Luang Prabang airport (10 minutes)
What's not included
- International flights
- Meals not mentioned
- Entrance fees to any sites not included in guided experiences
- Tips for guides & porters