Price is based on double or twin hotel room occupancy and includes accommodation, transfers, breakfasts and some lunches (on days 5, 6 and 7) or snacks while touring. Optional special activities will be quoted separately. Most personal expenses, including alcoholic beverages, spa treatments and gratuities can be paid on the spot while traveling. Prices may vary depending on season, choice of accommodation and other factors.
Start in the UNESCO Heritage City of Luang Prabang, encountering Kuang Si Falls, the rich tapestries of Lao textiles and the residents of MandaLao Elephant Sanctuary.
Next, drift down the river after dark on an intrepid night safari in Nam Et-Phou Louey National Park. The local community is financially rewarded for increases in animal numbers, which incentivizes conservation and provides an alternative income to poaching.
Finally, end your trip at the prehistoric Plain of Jars, noted as much for its ancient history as its turbulent modern story as one of the most bombed regions in one of the most bombed countries on Earth.
Arrive into Luang Prabang, where you’ll take a private road transfer to your hotel, the Luang Say Residence. Aside from being an excellent accommodation choice as a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, located within the UNESCO heritage city of Luang Prabang, Luang Say Residence is known for its philanthropic work supporting The Luang Prabang Orphanage School (LPOS).
Guests can also get involved with supporting LPOS through Luang Say Residence with Pack for a Purpose, an organization that connects travelers with projects within a destination, so visitors can bring and donate items such as basic school or medical supplies. Simply check the Pack for a Purpose website to see which supplies are currently needed at Luang Prabang Orphanage School, then use your spare luggage space to bring them along to donate, dropping them off at the hotel’s reception desk.
In the evening, you’ll enjoy a performance at the Garavek Theater, which provides a colorful introduction to Lao culture. Taking place in an intimate space with just a handful of seats, this interactive storytelling experience includes fables, riddles and music (including a khene - a handmade bamboo mouth organ) to educate guests on local history and folklore.
Rise before dawn to see the morning almsgiving ceremony and donate to the orange-robed monks who come into town in the early hours to collect alms. Then, explore the highlights of Luang Prabang with a biking tour of some of the city’s most significant temples (Wat Visoun, Wat Xieng Thong and Wat Mai), followed by a trip to the elfin Kuang Si Falls, with wildlife-focused stops along the way. Learn about rescued bear species at the Free the Bears center, many of the creatures here are victims of poachers who sadly cut off their paws to sell as holistic medicine ingredients. There's also the Buffalo Dairy Farm - a socially responsible, sustainable farm and social enterprise; each buffalo is rented from local farmers, providing them with an income and the dairy with a source of milk. Finally, Butterfly Park, a research center dedicated to the study of Laos' butterflies and host plants, which are in need of preservation because of environmental issues in the country.
In the evening, ascend Mount Phousi for sunset, or spend the dusky hours on a scenic river cruise (optional).
Today, you’ll learn more about enduring Lao traditions at Ock Pop Tok, where you’ll attend a Silk Road seminar, learn about the rich history of Lao textiles, meet the weavers and artisans keeping the craft alive, then have a go at making your own piece using natural dyes and generations-old spinning and weaving techniques.
In the afternoon, take a boat ride to Phad Tad Ke Botanical Gardens – here, the focus is on flora conservation and ethnobotany (the study of a people’s traditional knowledge of plants).
This evening, visit Big Brother Mouse, an organization that aims to improve literacy and language skills for local young people. Join a class to help students practice their English, while you learn about Laotian lives and culture. If you wish, you can also purchase books for local students.
This morning, as a guest of Luang Say Residence, you’ll visit The Luang Prabang Orphanage School (LPOS) to see where your Pack for a Purpose contributions are going.
Next, you’ll discover why Laos is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world with a trip to the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Center, followed by a half-day excursion to the MandaLao Elephant Sanctuary - home to gentle giants rescued from logging camps. Note that this is an ethical elephant sanctuary and there is no riding here; visitors are only able to interact with the animals in an unforced and natural way.
Today, you’ll leave Luang Prabang for Muang Hiam en route to Nam Et-Phou Louey National Park. The drive is long and you’ll overnight at a basic guesthouse. The name Muang Hiem was once a warning to visitors ("muang" means town or district, whereas "hiem" means "beware" in the local dialect), as tigers were once known to roam these parts. Today, the town is home to the Headquarters and Visitor Center for Nam Et-Phou Louey National Park, which is committed to protecting Laos' wildlife. NEPL is a significant habitat for rare species such as wild cats, bears and the northern white-cheeked gibbon. Muang Hiem is located on the Nam Khan River (which also flows through Luang Prabang and into the Mekong), there's a small hillside stupa, a local market, plus excellent trekking and hiking routes in the surrounding greenery, many of which lead to picturesque waterfalls.
Starting early, you’ll meet at the visitor center with your English-speaking guide, who will help translate from Lao, as well as Hmong and Khmu (the traditional languages spoken in this region). You’ll explore the village, learn about the ethnic groups that live here, as well as how the community of former poachers became wildlife conservationists. Now, it’s time to venture into the national park’s Total Protection Zone with an hour or two’s drift along the Nam Nern River, which offers birdwatching opportunities along the way. Arriving into camp, you’ll attend a short presentation on the national park from the rangers, then settle into your bamboo-hut bungalow accommodation.
Take a walk around the camp to learn about medicinal plants and the history of the camp, which was once a village. Then, board the boat again to journey deeper upriver for wildlife sightings, plus spot tracks or scat that indicate wildlife is nearby. You’ll take a campfire dinner on a sandy, flat bank, as you’re briefed on tonight’s night safari. When darkness hits, you’ll drift silently down the river with the engine switched off, communicating with the rangers using hand signals, so as not to disturb the nocturnal animals in their natural habitat. Species to spot here include sambar and barking deer, civets, spotted linsang, otters, slow loris, porcupines, owls, and (although rare) wild cats and bears.
Later, arriving back into camp, you’ll overnight in your jungle bungalow, though slow loris, civet and sambar deer can often be seen wandering around the camp.
Waking early, you’ll enjoy breakfast and a hot drink by the river – you might even be sharing your morning meal with sambar deer, which can often be seen drinking at the water’s edge opposite the camp. Returning to the village via boat, you’ll fill out a wildlife monitoring form. This is used to measure the abundance of wildlife in the area and incentivizes former poachers to prioritize conservation; the higher the number of animals seen, the greater the bonuses given to the village’s ecotourism development fund.
After that, you’ll travel to Xieng Khuang province and its capital, Phonsavanh, which takes around 3.5 hours by road. On the way, you’ll stop at Tham Phiew Cave, a significant site where nearly 400 civilians sheltering from bombs were killed in a wartime massacre. There is a memorial monument and also a small museum about the attack.
Arriving into Phonsavanh, you’ll check into the hillside retreat of Auberge de la Plain des Jarres.
Today, you’ll visit one of Laos’ most intriguing sights: the mysterious Plain of Jars. Hundreds-strong clusters of megalithic jars dating back to the Iron Age (500 BC to 500 AD) are spread over 90 different sites in Xieng Khuang province. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2019, the Plain of Jars is one of Southeast Asia’s most important prehistoric discoveries.
However, this area is also known for its UXO (unexploded ordnance) - the remnants of America’s Secret War on Laos. Take a trip to the UXO Information Center, run by MAG (Maines Advisory Group), which has been clearing UXO in this heavily-bombed region for over 25 years, to learn more about the history of UXO in Laos and how it still affects life in the country today.
End your day at Phou Keng Mountain, a steep hill with many stone jars that also contains secret tunnels and caves, which were used during the war.