Northern Laos holiday
Description of Northern Laos holiday
Laos, a landlocked country and the smallest of the three former French Indochina states, is a friendly, spiritual country with a more laidback pace than the rest of South East Asia. This 11-day Northern Laos holiday ofers plenty of time to explore the highlights of the heritage city of Luang Prabang and get off the beaten track to discover rural tribes and remote villages.
Starting in northern Thailand with a brief exploration of the Golden Triangle area, travel south along the Mekong to discover life in riverside villages and the chance to enjoy local activities such as rice planting and traditional fishing techniques. Discover the Pak Ou Caves, which are crammed full of Buddha statues of many shapes and sizes, before enjoying a unique eco electric bike tour of the city of Luang Prabang to visit Wat Sisoun, Wat Xieng Thong and the Arts and Ethnology Centre. The city has a wealth of culture and history to experience including the chance to witness the morning procession of monks receiving alms from local residents, an important ritual in Laos which is a privilege to see.
From Luang Prabang drive north to the remote province of Oudamxay to explore this largely unexplored rural district. Take a 4WD to visit the isolated villages of Ikhos and Ban Tauser with its stunning panoramic viewpoint. Explore the scenic Nam Ou River via longtail boat to see the limestone mountains running along the riverbank and enjoy a stunning riverside sunset. This is a Laos holiday which seeks out remote cultures and traditions to give visitors a more in-depth experience of this often little-known country.
|Day 1||Depart the UK on an overnight flight to Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand.|
|Day 2||Land Chiang Rai. Meet your guide and visit Wat Rong Khun, or the White Temple, constructed with mirrored glass mosaics. Overnight in your hotel.|
|Day 3||Depart Thailand this morning and, after clearing immigration formalities at the Thai/Laos border, board the Luangsay Cruise boat and head down the Mekong. Enjoy a riverside stop to explore a Laos village and learn a little about their way of life. Enjoy a buffet lunch onboard while continuing down to Pakbeng where you will spend the night at the Luangsay Lodge. (B,L,D)|
|Day 4||This morning you will leave the lodge and head further south to the Kamu Lodge, a small, quirky eco-lodge on the banks of the Mekong. Activities available here include rice planting, gold panning (keep anything you find!) and traditional fishing. Dinner and overnight in the lodge. (B,L,D)|
|Day 5||Depart Kamu Lodge and continue towards Luang Prabang. Stop at a small village to see the distilling of rice alcohol and visit the Pak Ou Caves which are crammed with Buddhas of all shapes and sizes. Arrive into Luang Prabang in time for lunch and transfer to your hotel. (B,L)|
|Day 6||Today enjoy a unique electric bike city tour, a fun and emissions-free way to explore the city and surroundings. Visit Wat Visoun, Wat Xieng Thong and enjoy lunch in a local restaurant. Visit a not-for-profit organisation called Ock Pop Tock which is working to preserve traditional weaving techniques. Follow this with a visit to the interesting Arts and Ethnology Centre and enjoy the evening at leisure. (B,L)|
|Day 7||Rise early today to head out and experience the morning alms procession, an important ritual whereby the locals give offerings of food to the monks of the city. Return for breakfast and depart to visit the Khuang Si Waterfalls to enjoy a cooling dip in the pools. If you wish you can also visit the interesting Free the Bears Foundation on the return to Luang Prabang and end the day with a climb to the top of Mount Phousi and a panoramic view of the city. (B)|
|Day 8||Head north this morning to the remote province of Oudamxay and check-into the Muang La Resort. Enjoy a picnic lunch on the drive. This afternoon is free at leisure to relax before dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)|
|Day 9||Take a 4WD vehicle out today to discover the ethnic tribes of the region. The locals here receive very few visitors and can often be very interested in your home life. Visit an Ikhos tribe made up primarily of people from Yunnan and Tibet, enjoy a picnic lunch and visit a Hmong village which offers a stunning panoramic viewpoint. Return to the resort for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)|
|Day 10||This morning drive to the Nam Ou River and take a longtail boat down the most scenic stretch of river. Enjoy a picnic lunch and end at Nong Khiaw which has some stunning limestone mountains. Check into the Nong Kiau Riverside Lodge and enjoy sunset over the river. (B,L)|
|Day 11||Return to Luang Prabang today and enjoy time in the city at leisure until you return to the airport for the flight back to the UK. (B)|
PlanetOur local Laos agent has been operating socially and environmentally responsible trips to the country for many years and has a wealth of experience and expertise in the region. They have a strong responsible travel ethos and a realisation that tourism can change local lives for better and for worse. With this in mind our agents have established a responsible travel ethos creating authentic travel experiences which mutually benefit locals and visitors.
The Free the Bears Fund (FTB) is an Australian, not-for-profit organisation established with the sole purpose of helping to protect, preserve and enrich the lives of bears. In Laos, FTB works with the Luang Prabang Provincial Agriculture and Forestry Office and the Provincial Tourism Office to create a safe home for rescued bears that were illegally captured from the wild as young cubs. They are also lobbying against bear bile farms which are still legal in Laos. Visitors to Laos can visit the FTB education centre and the bear sanctuary while also visiting the Kuang Si Waterfalls.
Kamu Lodge is located on the banks of the Mekong River, upstream from Luang Prabang and offers low-impact travel with an emphasis on ethnic interaction. Only accessible by boat, the lodge offers 20 safari tents each powered by solar panels providing interior electricity and hot water. The lodge recycles waste where possible and has a traditional filtration system to clean waste water.
Luang Say Lodge, located on the banks of the Mekong River, operates various sustainable practices including glass, aluminium and plastic recycling as well as an organic garden and composting system for garden waste to avoid the use of artificial pesticides. The lodge has installed their own sewerage system to avoid waste being dumped into the Mekong which has historically been the case and it also sources freshwater from mountain streams making it available to villagers aswell. The lodge has also applied for permission to plant indigenous teak trees on a section of riverbank denuded by logging practices and staff have helped build a small school and supplied it with books for the local schoolchildren.
PeopleOn this trip you will stay in the Luangsay Lodge. Food served at the lodge is sourced locally and the lodge is staffed by mostly local villagers paying a significantly higher wage than is normal for the village. Staff are also offered regular training and English lessons. Lungsay Cruise stops at various small, local villages along the Mekong allowing guests to purchase handicrafts made by villagers. Donations are also made to the village temple and Lungsay cruise staff help clear the village of litter.
On this trip you will also stay in the Muang La Resort located in the far north of Laos near the very small village of Muang La. Lodge management approached the villagers and the village chief who consented for the lodge to be built in the area. Before this could be done certain development projects needed to be paid for and completed by the lodge including reinforcement of the riverbank to avoid flooding, maintenance of village roads and the construction of a public bath and bridge. These activities required the purchase of materials from the local village and the employment of villagers which helped inject funds into the community and of course the work itself was of great help to the villagers.
The resort employs over 30 people from the village in a variety of different roles and is committed to working with the village of Muang La on an on-going basis and on a number of different levels. They have developed one of the thermal springs near the resort so that they can use the water to fill the hot-water spas and at the same time give the villagers access to the hot water for bathing and washing their clothes. The resort has developed all of the activities that are offered to guests through consultation with the local village elders and have agreements in place with them: for example, they never take more than 8 people to a village so as to respect the integrity of the village and will not take guests if ceremonies or celebrations are taking place. The resort also works with the villages to provide support where they can, for example, they are working with two local villages to help build a school for the local children.
The Kamu Lodge is staffed almost entirely by local villagers who are fully trained in the field of customer services which will help them in future roles. The lodge covers healthcare for all staff and local villagers and their current project, in conjunction with local authorities, is to create a fully-equipped dispensary: Kamu lodge will build it and the authorities will provide a full-time nurse to treat patients and manage it.
For every guest who stays at the Kamu Lodge US$1 is contributed to the Village Development Fund, used as a rotating micro-credit service for the village. From these contributions, the school was recently renovated, US$2,000 coming from Kamu Lodge guest stays. In 2011, over US$52,000 was contributed to the village fund, 70% of which came from Kamu Lodge donations.
Fair salaries are paid to all employees and regular training is provided to support future career development. Only local guides who are aware of local customs and cultures are employed which not only keeps the funds paid to staff within the local community but also helps avoid any potential cultural clashes between visitors and locals. All guides are also required to sign an agreement with our ground agents agreeing not to take visitors in their charge to unplanned sites such as schools, orphanages etc or to ask for donations or tips. Guides are required to turn off vehicles when idling to minimise unnecessary emissions and where possible, eco-friendly modes of transport are opted for such as their collection of electric bikes used for Luang Prabang city tours.
Our ground agents support many local charities in Laos including the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre (TAEC) in Luang Prabang which is visited on this trip. The centre is dedicated to the collection, preservation and interpretation of the traditional arts and lifestyles of the country’s many and diverse ethnic groups to help safeguard the regions heritage for future generations. The centre has a permanent collection of ethnic artifacts from 30 ethnic groups and offers a fair-trade scheme for local artisans: on average 50% of the fair-trade shop income goes directly to the artists and provides over 500 families from ethnic groups in 12 separate provinces with an extra income.
Other charities financially supported in Laos by our local agents include MAG, the Mines Advisory Group. Laos has the unenviable record of being the most bombed country in the world per capita with at least 30% of bombs dropped remaining unexploded and thus still a huge threat to the lives of local people. MAG works hard to clear land of unexploded ordnance making it safe for use and opening it up to residents as farming land.
Alongside MAG, our local agents also support COPE, the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise located in Vientiane. This is a locally run, not-for-profit organisation founded to help victims of unexploded ordnance with rehabilitation and the provision of orthotic and prosthetic devices.