DAYS 7 – 20: LAOS
You will cross the border from China into Laos, known in antiquity as ‘The Land of a Million Elephants’. Laos is a country of verdant tropical landscapes dotted with thick, forested hills and sleepy towns and cities. Its rich history and varied culture make it a fantastic country to explore. Your first stop is Luang Namtha, with surrounding jungle and hills offering hikes, rafting and overnight village stays.
After a couple of nights in Luang Namtha you head to the former royal capital of Luang Prabang, stopping en route in the small town of Nong Khiaw, located on a bend in the Nam Ou river and set among imposing limestone cliffs with nearby caves and Hmong villages. This is a perfect place to chill out as we have a busy few days ahead.
In Luang Prabang, where you will be based for four nights, you will rejoin the Mekong River, and have the opportunity to explore its many temples, experience a wide range of colourful and varied cuisine and fully embrace South East Asia’s bustling backpacker scene. But for all its tourist appeal, the city has still retained its authenticity, partly due to its status as a UNESCO World Heritage site, but also because of the reverence paid to the city stemming from its role as a royal and religious centre through the region’s history.
Here it is possible to hire a bicycle and explore the streets by yourself, visit the Pak Ou Caves take a cooking course, or just take a seat in one of the many bars or cafes and watch as Buddhist Monks, local traders and bewildered backpackers struggling with the heat and all other life unfolds in front of you.
Leaving Luang Prabang you continue south to Vientiane, an unusually chilled-out capital city by South East Asian standards! There are many sights of interest, most notably the majestic Pha That Luang. Vientiane’s slow pace and subtle French character, a gentle reminder of its colonial past, make it well worth stopping for a couple of nights. This is also where you will obtain our visas for Vietnam, which by now will be fast approaching.
With your Vietnamese visas in your passports, you will leave the city behind you and return to the wilds of Laos as you reach Phu Hin Bun National Park where you will take a longtail boat up the river into some spectacular caves and stay in a rustic bush lodge overlooking the river.
Continuing to follow the river south you will reach Savannaket, a decent-sized town with a sense of faded colonial splendour as crumbling French buildings slowly give way to modern Laos. You will have one last chance to enjoy a ‘Beer Lao’ before an early start the next morning to head east into Vietnam.