Picturesque Laos

Begin your picture perfect journey in Chiang Rai, Thailand before driving to Chiang Khong to board the boat which will be your river cruiser down the Mekong. Picturesque Laos is for those of you who want to take endless photos of those hard to get to places and don’t mind going out of your way to do so. Traveling down the Mekong gives you the unique opportunity to cruise past villages and glimpse river life. Explore the dense terrain and Pak Ou Caves. A visit to gilded Buddhist temples and the museum in Luang Prabang gives you insight into this region’s rich history. Explore Angkor Wat, an architectural masterpiece built in the 11th century using 455 cubic square yards of stone. Picturesque Laos offers you the chance to photograph some of the most unusual sites in Indochina creating memories which will last for a lifetime.

DAY 1 – Chiang Rai
Upon arrival in Chiang Rai, the gateway to the Golden Triangle, you will be met and transferred to your hotel. The Golden Triangle is the name given to the area where Thailand meets its neighboring countries, Laos and Myanmar, and is home to some of Thailand’s most picturesque scenery and colorful hill tribes.

DAY 2 – Chiang Rai/Pakbeng
This morning drive towards the border with Laos, the “Land of a Million Elephants”. The drive to Chiang Khong will take you to of one of the great rivers of the world, the Mekong. Here at the border, the Mekong divides the more industrious and developed Thailand from ‘laid back’ Laos, a sparsely populated country and home to a graceful and unaffected people. After visa and immigration formalities, board your boat for a cruise down the Mekong. Take in river life and picturesque scenery as you cruise (for six to seven hours) to the rarely visited town of Pakbeng. In the late afternoon disembark and ascend the steps to your lodge in Pakbeng village. A simple market town, Pakbeng is home to Hmong and Thai Lu people and is well known for its frontier atmosphere.

DAY 3 – Pakbeng/Luang Prabang
After breakfast, re-board the boat for a full day’s journey along the Mekong River towards Luang Prabang. Today’s boat trip will take you past precious verdant forest and sleepy riverside villages. You will stop at the Pak Ou Caves with their thousands of Buddha images. Here, in a tradition that has lasted for centuries, local people add annually to a repository of Buddha statues. You will glide into the UNESCO World Heritage-listed town of Luang Prabang and after checking in to your hotel, venture out for either local or French cuisine at one of the many fine restaurants in this delightful town.

DAY 4 – Luang Prabang
Surrounded by mountainous forest and situated at the confluence of the Khan and Mekong Rivers, Luang Prabang has a tranquil, old world charm. This fascinating town was the capital of the Lane Xang (million elephants) kingdom until the mid 16th century. In colonial times it served as a provincial headquarters of the north. The legacy of the European presence here – well preserved French architecture and careful street planning – has blended delightfully with more than thirty gilded Buddhist temples to create a town rich in atmosphere and history. Begin your day with short walk to the National Museum, formerly the Royal residence. This museum is full of fine examples of Lao art and furniture and set in a building which is testament to some of the amazing architectural styles which can be found in Luang Prabang. Continue your day’s exploration of this fabled city to sample some of Luang Prabang’s most exquisite temples, including serene Wat Xieng Thong and Wat Mai. This latter temple was spared sacking by the Chinese Black Haws in the late 19th century, supposedly because of its beauty and stunning design. You shall also have the opportunity to chat with a monk at the famous Wat Mai to gain a unique insight into the intriguing Buddhist faith.

In the afternoon, you’ll be dazzled by the architectural beauty of Luang Prabang’s temples with a visit to Wat Pha Bhat Tai on the banks of the mighty Mekong River. Prior to entering the temple you will get the chance to interact with the local people by having a game of petanque (similar to bocce), undoubtedly the most popular recreational activity amongst the Laotian people. Following your game, enter the wat to enjoy some refreshing local Lao juices and snack foods as the sun fades away behind the enchanted surrounding mountains.

DAY 5 – Luang Prabang/Kuang Si Falls/Luang Prabang
Rise early this morning and see robed Buddhist monks collecting alms, following a centuries old ritual. After breakfast, travel to Kuang Si Falls, one of the many beautiful waterfalls near Luang Prabang. On your way there, stop at the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre to gain a detailed insight in to the various ethnic minority groups which have been so central to the formation of present day Laos. En route to Kuang Si falls you shall also make a stop at one of the larger local markets in Luang Prabang where you can see many products produced by the various ethnic minorities and learn more about the diverse range of natural products on offer. On arrival at the waterfalls, you will have a chance to swim and relax, surrounded by beautiful turquoise waters and thick jungle vegetation. Travel back to Luang Prabang in the early afternoon to enjoy some time at leisure to soak up the ambience of one of Asia’s special towns. In the late afternoon, take part in a traditional Lao-style cooking class. Have fun while learning about typical Lao ingredients and prepare your own dinner.

DAY 6 – Luang Prabang/Siem Reap
Today you will fly from Luang Prabang to Siem Reap. Upon arrival in Siem Reap , after obtaining your Cambodian visa on arrival, you will be transferred to your hotel. In the afternoon visit the world’s largest sacred building and an architectural masterpiece, Angkor Wat. This monumental building took more than thirty years to build and represents Khmer civilization at its grandest until sunset. Return to your hotel.

DAY 7 – Angkor Wat
We begin with a pre-dawn departure from your hotel for sunrise over Angkor Wat. Enter the great temple in darkness (please bring a torch) from the little-visited eastern side, and creep along hoary cloistered corridors past the longest stretch of bas-relief carvings in the world. Soak up the atmosphere of dawn at Angkor, from the edge of one of the ancient library pools. We then explore the interior of the great temple, spending a thorough two hours discovering the corridors, central chambers and upper terraces of this truly great temple. Your expert local guide will decipher the myriad of stories behind the bas-relief carvings, and give you an insight into life during the height of the Khmer empire. We end our touring at Angkor with breakfast outside the temple and a short rest.

Continue the morning by driving through Angkor Thom city and visit the temple of Bayon before moving on to Preah Khan temple, a ruined but highly atmospheric mélange of tree roots and crumbling stone structures. Construction of this site was commissioned by the great ‘temple builder’ Jayavaraman VII (in honour of his father) and a visit to this smaller site makes for an interesting contrast with the more imposing Angkor Wat. Preah Khan is currently being restored by the World Monument Fund and in places is in remarkably good condition.

At the end of the morning return to your hotel for lunch and a swim, and in the afternoon drive to Banteay Kdei temple, a setting for the movie Lord Jim and currently under restoration by a Japanese university.

We end the afternoon with a visit to jungle-enveloped Ta Prohm, one of the most atmospheric of all temples in Angkor and sister site of Preah Khan. Once home to 2,740 monks, Ta Prohm today looks as it did in the early 1850s when French explorer Henri Mouhot rediscovered this crumbling site. At the end of the day, we catch a final sunset glimpse of Angkor Wat and then return to our hotel. Today is a long but fulfilling day which will leave you with lifetime memories of some of the most impressive monuments built by mankind.

DAY 8 – Depart Siem Reap
Transfer to the airport for your departure flight.

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