Best of the Emerald North: A Scenic Tour of Northern Laos

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Total Trip:

10 Days
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Countries Visited:

Laos
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Places Visited:

Chiang Rai, Laos, Luang Namtha, Muang La, Nong Khiaw, Luang Prabang, Kuang Si Falls, Pak Ou Caves, Huay Xai
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Departure Dates:

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.
Jungle trees shine like jade and rivers meander along the base of soaring mountains during your custom tailored Laos tour, immersing you in ineffable scenery. Children glide down mighty waters on shallow dugout canoes. Secluded villages add intricate embroideries to their colorful handmade textiles. Monks bathe in thermal springs situated near the base of their historical temple. Panoramas open to rice paddy fields and misty mountain summits. From caves filled with Buddha statues to flying through

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Day 1

Chiang Rai – Surrounded by Lush Jungle

Chiang Rai is considered the capital of Northern Thailand, situated between mystical mountains and the rushing current of the Mekong River. Its proud history began in the 13th century under the Lao-Thai Lanna Kingdom, featured in the jade Buddha adorning the Phra Kaew Temple, a glistening icon modeled after the emerald Buddha that once filled the ceremonial halls of the Temple of the Bamboo Grove. Your flight lands at Chiang Rai International Airport, where your private transfer greets you upon your arrival. The aroma of fresh noodles emanates from the Night Market. The aisles fill with locals enjoying a stroll amongst the vendors offering candles, fresh cuisine, and handicrafts made by the hill tribe communities. Your luxury hotel offers you the first sense of Southeast Asia’s northern landscape, offering views of the rolling mountains and dense exotic jungles.

Ruins of the Lanna Kingdom decorate the countryside on the outskirts of your accommodation bordering Chiang Rai. You return to the streets of the city with your guide for an introductory tour of the past and present splendors embodied in the various temples. The White Temple provides a glimpse into the new artistic movement meant to modernize the Lanna culture. The structure resembles an ice palace reflected in the stoic waters of the decorative pond. The décor fuses elements of orthodox Buddhist teachings with Westernized beliefs, such as the color white symbolizing purity and perfection. Ornate reliefs depict Buddhist legends and frame the glistening mirrors leading to the main chapel.

What's Included:

included

Transfer

included

Tour

included

Accommodation

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Day 2

Luang Namtha – Into the Emerald North

In the morning, you find the aroma of fresh coffee emanating from the cafes around the city. The marketplace fills with vendors showcasing lush spinach, crisp lettuce, and vibrant lychee. Your private transfer greets you at the hotel after breakfast and leads you over the Mekong River to reach the border of Laos. You enter the country at Huay Xai, where long riverboats glide down the waters of Southeast Asia’s largest river, extending from the Tibetan Plateau to the South China Sea. The cafes along the main road fill with the scent of cappuccinos and fresh-baked brioche, traditions carried over from the French colonial period. The façade of the French Fort Carnot continues to stand atop the hill overlooking the riverbanks and edges of town.

Two towers flank the gateway where the decorative tiles of the antique structure have flaked away. Ruins of the ancient city of Souvannakhomkham rise out of the river bend seasoned with Buddha statues scattered across the fields. Flame trees blossom around the former stupas, providing lavish fiery colors to contrast the vast greenery. Continue into the hills to travel along the remarkable fields leading to the mountain splendor of Luang Namtha. The hills become steep, and the jungles grow thicker as you venture closer to the town. The air is crisp and cool as you pass villages with locals waving to you. The unbroken forest blankets the rolling fog in the distance.

What's Included:

included

Transfer

included

Tour

included

Accommodation

included

Breakfast, Dinner

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Day 3

Luang Namtha – Finding Emerald Everywhere

Wake up surrounded by the lush tropical gardens of Laos’s northern territory. The small cafes in the “new” district of Luang Namtha brew fresh coffee with beans cultivated in the Laotian highlands. Lotus and frangipanis blossom in the garden near the burgeoning rice paddies spreading to the foothills in the near distance. Your guide greets you after breakfast, eager to lead you on a full day hike through the lush landscape of Luang Namtha National Park. After a short ride into the countryside, your guide leads you onto the trail forging deep into the Nam Ha National Protected Area. The aroma of the moist bark and rich soil drifts through the trees.

Thick ferns grow like fans from the earth and bamboo shades the underbrush from the sub-tropical sunlight. You can hear the twitter of the white-bellied redstart. Their temperate forest offers a perfect grazing and mating ground for the small bird. Your guide points to the royal blue bird resembling a nightingale, perched on a thin branch. In the cool temperature of the morning air, you have the best chance of finding traces of a clouded leopard, known for their dark gray fur with unique, blotch patterns. They can grow to nearly 45 inches long and prefer to rest in around strong tree limbs. Your guide points out various plants, explaining their traditional uses amongst local tribes for medicine or cooking, before finding a fresh elephant track in the soil.

What's Included:

included

Tour

included

Accommodation

included

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

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Day 4

Muang La – Scenic View of Hidden Laos

The waters of the Namtha River rush through the heart of the Nam Ha Protected Area. Cloud leopards and barking deer lap at the passing waters along the riverbanks. In Luang Namtha, the cafes offer hints of buttery croissants and frothy cappuccinos. Your private transfer greets you at the hotel after breakfast and escorts you to the scenic road to Muang La. Rice paddies radiate jade hues along an open plain. The iridescent forest canopy in the hills shimmers with dense greenery. Stop at a Black Tai village to meet with one of the 47 ethnic tribes living in the hills of Laos.

The homes are built on stilts above a clearing, protecting the wooden base from flooding in the wet months and offering shade to the animals in the dry months. Chickens peck at the soil and cluck amongst meandering goats. The women greet you while wearing brightly hand-woven textiles, along with black headdresses. The intricate detail of the textiles glows against the bamboo slats supporting the walls. The clearing opens to a view of the rice fields and the road. You continue to Muang La to find a village set beside the Nam Pak River. Serene farms spread across the landscape, leading to traditional Khmu villages bordered by the familiar sight of dramatic mountains.

What's Included:

included

Transfer

included

Accommodation

included

Breakfast, Dinner

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Day 5

Muang La – Countryside on Wheels

You can hear the tranquil waters of the Nam Pak River brushing against the soft grass of the riverbanks edging Muang La. Your luxurious resort-style accommodation offers views to the emerald fields and mountain ridges. A monk bangs the gong for the school day; the sound echoes through town with a mesmerizing peaceful quality. Farmers tend to their crops while wearing woven conical hats to protect their faces from the sun. Monks bathe in a pool fed by the river, redressing in their saffron robes that contrast the tan stones of the temple base.

You meet your guide after breakfast and mount your bicycle for a tour of the captivating countryside. The subtle breeze offers a cool respite from the blanketing sunlight. Palm trees rustle against the backdrop of the mountains. Stop at Wat Pha Singkham, a temple housing a 400-year-old Buddha. Legend states the statue grants the deepest wish of those making a pilgrimage to look at its gilded frame. The ride offers an invigorating panorama of the landscape and life in local villages. Take time to enjoy the herbaceous aroma drifting from the flourishing rice fields before returning to Muang La to enjoy a retreat at the local hot springs to soothe your muscles.

What's Included:

included

Tour

included

Accommodation

included

Breakfast, Dinner

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Day 6

Nong Khiaw – On Stilts

In the morning, the sweet aroma of fresh-pressed sugar cane emanates from the garden. Your resort utilizes nuts, tea, and coffee harvested directly from their own estate, along with luscious passion fruit and pineapple. You find a hint of spice emanating upwards from the papaya salad at breakfast, dressed with mint and lemon grass. Your private transfer meets you in the lobby after the meal and escorts you to the town of Nong Khiaw. Follow the bends of the river, passing limestone mountains to reach the colorful streets balancing traditional culture and luxury accommodations. Fishermen return to the shores on traditional long boats.

The town reaches across the banks of the Nam Ou River with boat landings offering a way for passing travelers to arrive in sight of the arching bridge. The limestone karsts rising out of the terrain shimmer with silver streaks. Pink water lilies blossom along the quiet edges of the river. Kids traverse waters on shallow canoes, using bamboo poles to propel themselves downstream. Dense jungle overtakes the mountaintops looming above the main street of town. Settle into the comforts of a luxury bungalow situated on stilts in the traditional style of riverside accommodations around the valley. The verdant jungle brush frames your view of the passing waters of the Ou River.

What's Included:

included

Transfer

included

Tour

included

Accommodation

included

Breakfast, Dinner

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Day 7

Nong Khiaw – Discovery in the Place of Relaxation

The serene ambiance of Nong Khiaw derives from the relaxed pace and soothing sound of the water brushing past the jungle foliage. In the morning, the aroma of fresh coffee made from locally sourced beans fills the dining room of your hotel. Fishermen return to their long boats and shallow canoes to set out on their daily expedition in search of a fresh catch. Farmers return to their fields to cultivate the rice thriving along the floodplains. For a vibrant exploration of the landscape, your guide meets you at the hotel and escorts you into the jungle brush for a half-day zip lining tour located less than 15 miles away from the heart of town.

Pass through the lush underbrush and into the primary rainforest. Limestone karsts frame your expedition beneath the canopy and along the bamboo trees. You journey into the treetops to travel along six lines reaching heights of nearly 215 feet above the forest floor. Your guide latches you to the line, and you soar through the jade leaves with the refreshing breeze brushing against your cheeks. You can hear birds chirping beneath the canopy as you sail deeper into the jungle. At lunch, you stop near the thunderous sounds of a waterfall to enjoy homemade Laotian cuisine.

What's Included:

included

Tour

included

Accommodation

included

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

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Day 8

Luang Prabang – Down the Mighty Mekong

In the morning, the dining room of your hotel fills with the aroma of freshly baked bread. You can hear the water rushing along the banks before you board a river cruise bound for the imperial city of Luang Prabang. The scenic route fills with images of gigantic limestone karsts and rustling palm trees. Children on shallow canoes wave as they sail past. The boat docks in a village known for distilling Lao Lao, the traditional whiskey of Laos. The main, unpaved road travels down houses topped with corrugated roofs. Ladders lead to the raised levels and frangipani offer sweet aromas amidst the framing jungle canopy.

Local vendors showcase their colorful textiles hand-woven inside their homes. A jeweler displays detailed silverwork before reaching the decorated temples and shrines at the heart of the village. You meet a local distiller to learn how the local rice wine is crafted. The craftsmen process sticky rice, using air filtration inside steamed bamboo basket. They have yeast and let the results ferment for up to four weeks. You return to the boat, waving bye to the children playing soccer near the dock, and drift downstream to reach the spiritual shrines of the Pak Ou Caves.

What's Included:

included

Transfer

included

Tour

included

Accommodation

included

Breakfast, Lunch

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Day 9

Luang Prabang – At the Spiritual Heart of the Emerald North

The view from your luxurious hotel overlooks the mountains and blossoming exotic flowers from within a 19th-century French colonial villa gilded with Belle Époque décor. In the morning, the scent of fresh coffee permeates the city, accompanied by the aromas of papaya, custard apple, and incense. You make your way onto the streets at dawn to partake in the morning alms procession. The monks parade down the street single-file, passing by kneeling locals who offer bags of rice or cookies. The monks collect the offerings as alms for their daily meal, passing by the drifting smoke of lit incense.

After breakfast, your guide leads you on a marvelous tour of the city’s 33 temples, which create an opulent gilded skyline. Mai Temple was erected in the 18th century with a five-tiered roof sloping until nearly touching the ground. The bas-relief flickers with golden hues and depicts epic scenes from the Ramayana. Once outside the city, your guide leads you to Kuang Si Falls. The sound of trickling water filters through the dense jungle. You follow the river to reach the lower tiers where the water flows over the protruding tiers. The upper falls reach a total height of 200 feet above the turquoise pool.

What's Included:

included

Tour

included

Accommodation

included

Breakfast

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Day 10

Luang Prabang – At the End of the Scenic Route

The open doors of a local popular cafe offer decadent aromas of coffee while overlooking the waters of the Mekong River. The traditional image of wooden houses frame the contemporary interior utilizing coffee beans sourced from the Bolaven Plateau. On the outskirts of town, farmers tend to their crops with water buffalo plowing the fields. Butterflies flutter their wings around the Kuang Si Butterfly Park. The Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Center protects and rehabilitates Asiatic black bears, allowing them a large space to roam free in their natural jungle habitat. After breakfast, your private transfer greets you at the hotel. You travel beneath the temple stupas and around the towering summit of Mount Phousi to reach Luang Prabang Airport for your flight home.

What's Included:

included

Transfer

included

Breakfast

expand/close
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Trip Highlights

  • Visit local villages across northern Laos to learn about historical culture and traditions passed down through the generations
  • Sample handcrafted Lao Lao, Laotian Whiskey, after a tour of a small distillery in what locals refer to as Whiskey Village
  • Learn about the medicinal use of plants around Nam Ha National Protected Area while searching for leopards, birds, and elephants
  • Relax in the turquoise pools fed by the gorgeous flowing waters of Kuang Si Falls outside of Luang Prabang
  • Relish a cycling tour around the countryside of Muang La to view historical temples, hot springs, and glowing rice paddy fields
  • Revel in the tranquil ambiance of your luxurious hotel embellished with the lush landscape and rushing waters of the Nam Ou River in Nong Khiaw
  • Enter the renowned shrines of the Pak Ou Caves, known for housing thousands of Buddha icons within the two natural caverns etched into a cliff
  • Glide across the forest canopy over the course of six lines while zip lining over northern Laos
  • View the traditional morning procession in Luang Prabang, where locals offer alms to the passing monks in an act of piety
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Detailed Description

Laos is a country that shines like a gemstone in the sun, casting a light over the lush jungle, verdant farmland, and silver karsts during your 10-day scenic tour. The journey begins with your arrival at Chiang Mai Airport in Thailand. Your private transfer greets you at baggage claim and escorts you to a luxurious hotel offering you a stunning, secluded view of the valleys, mountains, and exotic gardens. Enjoy a private tour of the city for an introduction into the culture of northern Thailand and the edges of the Golden Triangle, the point at which Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar converge. The next morning, your private transfer escorts you from your hotel in Chiang Mai to the border over the Mekong River.

Enter Laos through Huay Xai and briefly explore the town once known for its ties to the opium trade in the region, along with the remnants of ancient civilizations and French colonial architecture. Enjoy the scenic drive through the mountains to reach Luang Namtha. Next, your guide greets you inside the lobby of your luxury hotel eager to lead you on a full day trekking tour outside of the village. Discover ancient medicinal plants and follow fresh animal tracks in search of tigers, elephants, and barking deer before returning to town.

You have a private transfer through the countryside en route to Muang La. Visit the communities of ethnic minorities to learn about the distinctive histories and traditions continued in the village life. Once in Muang La, you can relax in the comforts of your luxury hotel overlooking the riverbanks. Mount a bicycle after breakfast for a private cycling tour around the countryside. Visit farmers, bask in hot springs, wander along temple complexes, and find unparalleled panoramas of the mountains and floodplains before returning to Muang La.

Make your way by private transfer to Nong Khiaw, following the bends of the Ou River before settling into a riverside bungalow, erected in the traditional Laotian style on stilts. Enjoy views of limestone karsts and blossoming lilies en route to town. Then, you have a spectacular full day tour around Non Khiaw and the surrounding landscape, finding the embodiment of exhilarating exploration in a full day zip line excursion. You cruise down the Mekong River towards Luang Prabang. Visit the famous Whiskey Village to learn about the distilling process and handmade textiles before visiting the marvelous shrines in the Pak Ou Caves.

Upon reaching Luang Prabang, you can trek up to the summit of Mount Phousi for a marvelous sunset view of the imperial city. The day is yours to discover the tranquil ambiance and fascinating history around Luang Prabang. Your guide leads you to the various temples and Kuang Si Falls to highlight the spiritual air in the manmade structures and natural wonders. On the final day, your private transfer greets you at the hotel after breakfast and escorts you to Luang Prabang Airport for your flight home. 

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Starting Price

$N/A per person (excluding international flights)

This trip is customizable for your private travel.
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What's Included

  • Accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Some or all guided tours and activities (dependent on season)
  • Expert trip planning
  • 24x7 support during your trip
The starting price is based on travel during the low season for a minimum of two travelers staying in shared 3-star accommodations. Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates.

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