White Temple, Chiang Rai

Thailand & Laos Explorer

Trip code

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 traveling via Luang Prabang to Vientiane, this well-rounded cultural journey combines some of the most magnificent scenery in Thailand and Laos with two of the top travelers’ towns in Southeast Asia.


Price based on 4* accommodation
Price based on 5* accommodation
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Key facts

13 days / 12 nights
Relax on a four-day cruise on the Mekong River, including visits to out-of-the-way villages and the Buddha-filled grottoes at Pak Ou Caves
Soak up some of Southeast Asia's most impressive scenery whilst visiting a buffalo dairy and breakfasting at Kuang Si Falls
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

Transport in detail

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

What's great

Traveling 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 twice a month, with no departures in May or June, which may affect when you choose to travel

Though you'll get to explore some more rural and remote areas on your cruise, the main destinations on this trip are popular and fairly well-trodden

In a couple of destinations on the route, four-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 neighborhoods to get a sense of daily life in this endlessly beguiling town.

Girl in Chiang Mai - Dani Alaez for Unsplash


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. Traveling 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


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; three during the Mekong cruise; one at the elephant camp; a traditional Sin Dat barbecue.
  • Three dinners onboard the cruise
  • Two full-day experiences: sightseeing in Luang Prabang; full-day tour of Vientiane
  • Six 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
  • One evening experience: petanque and a Sin Dat barbecue
  • Four-day, three-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 Luang Prabang (4 days)

Day 8
Car transfer from Luang Prabang pier to hotel (10 minutes)

Day 11
Car transfer from hotel to Luang Prabang station (30 minutes)

Train from Luang Prabang to Vientiane (2 hours)

Car transfer from Vientiane train station to hotel (30 minutes)

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

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