Laos Sonata: A Highlights Tour of Laos

A 10 day trip to Laos 
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Laos shimmers like a jewel with emerald rice fields, peaks that are draped in jade canopies, and glinting golden stupas. Your customizable highlights tour will encompass the best of the Land of a Million Elephants with roaring waterfalls and elegant French colonial villas, traditional dugout canoes and peaceful riverside villages on stilts. Indulge in exotic fruit, bamboo, and semi-sweet coffee aromas while you embrace the majestic ambiance of monks draped in saffron and black bears basking in forest shade. Discover a golden Buddha and incredible cuisine, ancient temples and endless eclecticism sprinkled across cobbled streets and dirt paths, mountaintop panoramas and vibrant night markets.

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General Information

Photos
Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Vientiane, Champasak, Pakse, Wat Phou, Don Khone, Luang Prabang, Si Phan Don, Ban Khon, Ban Phanom Village

Departure Dates 

Departure dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Vientiane – Arrive in the Charming Capital of Laos for a Walking Tour

The Laotian capital rises out of the banks of the Mekong River as shading trees line the pedestrian-friendly streets that are set against shimmering temples with Buddhist monks wrapped in burnt sage robes all around. Frangipanis blossom over walls and fences amongst the French colonial architecture peppered with fragrant tamarind. Your flight will land at Wattay International Airport, and your private transfer will meet you upon arrival. The tropical ambiance encircles the airport and overtakes the streets with views of verdant trees, lush grass, and the scenic peaks that roll across the horizon as you make your way into the city.

Your accommodation will transport you into the elegance of Old World charm on the grounds that were opened in the 1930s. The wood interior will glint in the natural light that pours through the windows. The scent of palm trees and bamboo leave fragrant hints in the air around your spacious suite. After you settle in, your guide will meet you in the lobby eager to introduce you to the relaxed atmosphere of the national capital on a private walking tour. Vientiane has stood as the capital of Laos since the mid-16th century and fell under the French protectorate from the 1940s to the 1970s. You will make your way to the Vientiane Cathedral to view the spiritual home of Laotian Catholicism within the 1920s French architecture.

What’s Included: accommodation, airport transfer, tour, dinner

Day 2: Champasak – Fly to Pakse and Enjoy a Scenic Drive to Wat Phou Temples

The aromas of fresh croissants and decadent coffee drift through the streets in the morning as the soft light of the street lamps fade with the rise of the morning along the cobblestones at the heart of the city. The sunlight will glint off of the gilded edges of the Great Stupa, a 16th-century temple complex that reaches a height of nearly 150 feet. After breakfast, your private transfer will escort you to the airport for your brief flight southeast to Pakse as the verdant landscape stretches to the horizon beneath the dramatic blue sky.

The mountains in the distance resemble silhouettes more than peaks as your private transfer will meet you at baggage claim and escort you on a scenic ride towards the ancient Khmer religious center of Wat Phou, which stands along the steep slopes of Phu Khai Mountain. The summit ascends to a height of nearly 4,600 feet above sea level and a temple in the complex dates back to the 5th century, with the majority of the structures built between the 11th and 13th centuries. The shading trees offer a mystical ambiance to the cobbled walkways.

You venture past the ceremonial pond. The waters reflect the surrounding verdant landscape, mountain peak, and floating lily pads. Terraces sweep up the hillside beneath the limestone cliffs and dangling emerald vines. Sandstone bricks shimmer with dark hues contrasting the surrounding bright grasses and trees. Many of the carvings adorning the temples relate to Indra, the Hindu deity connected to war, storms, and rainfall. The god rides a three-headed elephant, adding marvelous strength to the dramatic features decorating the historic sandstone.

What’s Included: accommodation, transfer, tour, breakfast

Day 3: Champasak – Delight in a Day of Exploration to Find Birds and Elephants

In the morning, the villagers of Ban Kiet Ngong venture to the wetlands in search of fish and birds. They board dugout canoes or stand along the marshy banks with long, thin sticks and aim to spear passing fish. Water buffalo graze in the plains as mats of floating reeds pass canoes. The scent of bamboo emanates from the vegetation encircling your eco-lodge, and from your private balcony, you have a stunning view of the emerald, turquoise, and indigo hues of the wetlands. In the dining room, mango, banana, and dragon fruit provide a riot of colors and exotic aromas. Western staples, such as omelets and fresh baked bread, accompany the sticky rice and sweet-and-spicy chili sauce.

The day will be yours to indulge in the splendors of the countryside and wildlife outside of the eco-lodge at your leisure. Take to the trails to search for the more than 330 birds endemic to the area, such as giant ibis and white-winged wood duck, or visit the Kiet Ngong Village to view the 150 households that overlook the Phou Asa rock formation while offering views to the semi-evergreen forests. For an unforgettable excursion, you can climb aboard an Asian elephant for a trek into the enchanting vegetation. The elephants are once again an important source of income for the local communities as they decrease hunting, and increase the historical connection between the majestic mammal and villagers.

You will have to use a ladder to climb atop the elephant as female elephants can reach a height of nearly seven and a half feet at the shoulder. You will sit in a comfortable basket around the back of the animal as your guide will sit at the shoulders as you lumber into the countryside. The aroma of hyacinth and mangosteen will fill the air as you pass the wetlands and venture into the towering trees of Pohu Asa as you travel along the miles of trails. The scent of pine will fill the air as the elephant pushes over trees and pulls roots out of the way, marking the path to find the way home. The sacred rock of Hin Houa Yak soars above the treetops and will provide a stunning view to the forest and wetlands beyond. 

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 4: Don Khone – See Khone Phapheng Waterfall en route to Don Khone Island

In the morning, the giant ibis takes to the banks of the wetlands and digs its long, thin beak into the soil in search of cicadas. When standing, the graceful birds reach a height of nearly 40 inches tall. After watching the birds for awhile over breakfast, your private transfer will meet you at your hotel and escort towards the great waters of the Mekong River, in which rises the celebrated archipelago known as the Four Thousand Islands. En route, you will stop at Khone Phapheng Falls, the largest waterfall in Southeast Asia.

You can hear the waters rushing along the rocks before you see the cascade as the whitewater trundles over the framing boulders and mists into the air. The scent of fresh water joins with the aroma of pine and wet soil as the Mekong River rushes over down the decline at 70 feet, causing a succession of rapids that spread across six miles. Catfish, said to be the largest freshwater fish in the world, graze in cool temperature of the rushing waters and can grow up to a length of 10 feet. The force of the water is inspiring and shapes the rocks that border the rocks and the trees.

Upstream, the water is calm against the greenery on the riverbanks. You will reach your accommodation on Don Khone, the largest island in the archipelago that reaches five miles at its widest point. Homes and guesthouses rise above the banks of the island on stilts and overlook the tranquil waters of the Mekong. Long-tail boats pass quietly by while rice farmers tend to their crops on the mainland. Sugar palms add a sweet aroma to the air as the river shines with turquoise hues against the emerald grasses that spread across the banks.

What’s Included: accommodation, transfer, tour, breakfast

Day 5: Don Khone – Visit Ban Khon Village and Si Phan Don a Dolphin Tour

The sunlight spreads across the turquoise waters of the Mekong and mountains frame the sugar palms and the emerald glowing rice paddies. Fishers trawl the river on long-tail boats and cast their nets into the current. After breakfast, you will begin your discovery of the breathtaking countryside and villages outside of the Mekong archipelago. A wooden suspension bridge crosses over the water to Don Po Soi Island as the roar of a waterfall echoes in the otherwise quiet air. The current pulls at the river, causing the water to brush against the island banks.

The hidden waterfall brings a serene ambiance amongst the soaring jade canopy and the powerful whitewater. You will continue onto a long-tail boat to traverse the Mekong River, passing villages and rice paddies, wooden homes on stilts and the grazing water buffalo. The dramatic, large figures of the buffalo look up from the grassland to watch as you glide past on the calm waters. Venture next into the village shores off of Ban Hong Khone in search of the freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins.

Although named a dolphin and retaining physical characteristics relatable to a beluga, the Irrawaddy are most closely connected to the killer whale. They have a short dorsal fin closer to the back and retain a light color that spreads across their body. They can grow to a length of seven and a half feet when fully matured, and the long-tail boat drifts with the current. A small pod of dolphins may emerge from the water and spout mist from their blowhole before sinking back below the surface.  

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 6: Vientiane – Return to Vientiane for a Guided Tour of Culture and History

At breakfast, you will enjoy the peaceful sound of the water as it brushes against the wooden stilts of the nearby homes and guesthouses. A refreshing breeze will blow through the open-air dining room, blending the scent of fresh water with the sweet aroma of Laotian bananas. After your meal, you will board a long-tail boat to reach the mainland shores for your short flight from Pakse to Vientiane. Your private transfer will greet you at the airport and escort you to the luxuries of your hotel in the capital city. After settling into the comforts of Vientiane, your guide will meet you at your hotel eager to lead you on an engaging tour of the city’s history and enchanting culture, beginning with Wat Si Saket, which was built in the 19th century and remains the oldest surviving complex in the city.

A set of damaged Buddha statues found along the western edges of the grounds offers insight into the lingering effects of the Siamese-Lao War, which took place nearly two centuries ago. Images within the temples date back to the 16th century and feature bronze, stone, and wood materials that add up to 6,800 Buddha icons. Tropical fruit trees shade the walkways and provide a sweet aroma that blends with the incense that is burning in the shrine. The main temple features an ornate five-tiered roof, and the library features a Burmese architectural roof beneath, while the ceiling in the Ordination Hall bursts with flowers. A Khmer-Buddha with scars from the Siamese-Lao War adorns the Ordination, sitting atop a coiled serpent deity.

What’s Included: accommodation, transfer, tour, breakfast

Day 7: Luang Prabang – Fly to Luang Prabang to Discover Laos’s Heritage Capital

The French influence has a lingering effect in the country’s capital. In the morning, the cafes will set tables and chairs along the cobblestone streets of the historical city center. Display cafes offer golden croissants and fresh pain au chocolat to accompany the creamy texture and the caramel aromas of the brewing coffee. After breakfast, your private transfer will escort you to the airport for your easy flight to Luang Prabang, Laos’s cultural capital. The ancient city was constructed along the confluence of the Mekong and Khan Rivers around the 7th century.

33 gilded temple spires glint in the spreading sunlight, peppered with the emerald greenery of the abundant alpine trees. The city stands at an altitude of more than 1,000 feet above sea level with a captivating combination of French villas with captivating temples that make for a tranquil village ambiance. You will make your way into the heart of the city to indulge in the comforts of your gorgeous hotel that offers views of the tropical gardens and exotic mountain summit. The hills and peaks encircle the cobbled city streets and provide an atmosphere of unique seclusion.

Your guide will meet you in the lobby to escort you through the fascinating history of the city and the culture of Laos while at Wat Xieng Thong temple. The edifice was erected in the 16th-century with a curved roof that spans three levels, with each successive tier overlapping the other like wings. You will discover the spectacular glass mosaic that depicts the Tree of Life on the western exterior wall. The piece tells the legend of the temple’s founding as two hermits situated the sanctuary beside a large flame tree. Wooden doors contain gilded embellishments that glint in the natural light as images of dancing spirits and deities adorn the central portal.

What’s Included: accommodation, transfer, tour, breakfast

Day 8: Luang Prabang – View the Monk Procession and Explore the Scenic Villages

At dawn, the sounds of a procession will fill the streets of Luang Prabang. Wake up early to make your way to the cobbled streets where locals kneel on mats or sit on wooden stools along the walkways. Monks and students draped in sage robes with yellow sashes parade down the paths with pouches dangling from their sides. The sun will rise above the mountain peaks as a layer of refreshing mist lingers in the air before burning away with the sunlight. Locals pass rice, fruit, and snacks such as cookies to the monks, which accounts for their one meal of the day. The tradition began in the 14th century when locals prepared food for the clergy and stood quietly on the roadside waiting to make alms.

Those seated on mats will take off their shoes and socks to tuck their feet beneath their bodies. They will wait in absolute silence for the procession to pass to pay respect to the tradition, the monks, and the spiritual ambiance. The scent of incense fills the air with the aroma drifting upwards from the lit sticks as positioned by waiting alms-givers. The series of orange robes will fade as you make your way back to the hotel for breakfast before setting out on a journey through the countryside to reach Ban Phanom Village.

Women continue the textile tradition within the village, using antique looms to weave garments often sold at night markets around the region. You will walk along the dirt path through the village center to see the wood huts that have sloped roofs and porches that frame the doorway. A woman works at a loom inside a studio to utilize techniques, colors, and patterns once employed to supply garments to the royal family. Cotton and silk offer a soft texture of the textiles. You enjoy a demonstration inside a workshop, watching the vintage patterns take shape.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 9: Luang Prabang – Relish a Day In and Around Luang Prabang at your Leisure

At breakfast, the scent of fresh exotic fruits such as mangosteen and papaya accompany the sweet aroma of Laotian coffee, a slow-drip brew blended with condensed milk. The gongs of the daily procession have faded but the day is yours to explore and experience the wonders in and around Luang Prabang at your preferred pace. Venture to Wat Long Khoun to view the majestic murals that embellish the grounds used as the meditation retreat for Laotian kings and then indulge in the flavors of Laos with a cooking class that offers the secrets the tasty staples of the cuisine.

Enjoy a morning excursion to the shores of Kuang Si Falls where the beautiful turquoise waters stream down the cliff and beneath the dangling emerald leaves. From a distance, you can see the top falls with narrow waters that funnel into the wide-tiered pools below as the trickling sounds of the water bring a captivating soundtrack to the morning. Enjoy an introduction to the mountain wildlife at Free the Bears, a wildlife enclosure that provides refuge to more than 20 Asian black moon bears rescued from the wildlife trade.

Free the Bears began in the 1995 and continues to protect wildlife around Southeast Asia, as well as educate local and international visitors about the importance of the environment. You will find bears resting underneath the canopy in numerous large enclosures as the Asian black bear can grow up to 75 inches in length and weigh up to 440 pounds. You will see playful cubs climbing the trees, rustling the leaves, and hiding from the adult bears too heavy to cling to the branches.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 10: Luang Prabang – Visit the National Museum before Departing for Home 

In the morning, the aroma of youtiao, referred to a “Chinese Donut,” emanates from the vendors of the morning market. The soft, fried dough accompanies rice porridge, and fervent fans dip the donut into the porridge. After breakfast, you will set out to visit the Royal Palace of Luang Prabang, which today holds the galleries of the National Museum. The building was erected at the turn of the 20th century to house King Sisavang Vong, and a statue of the king continues to adorn the exterior. You can follow the pathway that leads east along the palace exterior to find the new pavilion that houses the two millennia old Prabang Buddha, which stands more than 32 inches tall. The statue was crafted from solid gold and glints in the mixture of natural light and flickering candles. After touring the museum, you will collect your bags at your hotel and continue to Luang Prabang International Airport for your flight home.

What’s Included: breakfast, airport transfer