Responsible Travel Guide: Thailand
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As well as the ‘must see’ towns of Luang Prabang & Vientiane, and let’s not forget the aptly named “Plain of Jars”, this tour also travels to less visited areas in Southern Laos where the fertile Bolaven Plateau is well known for its cooler climate, dramatic waterfalls, and high-grade tea & coffee plantations. The incredible temple complex at Wat Phu Champasak pre-dates Angkor Wat, and at Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands), we enjoy a boat tour of the islands in the lower Mekong River before it flows into Cambodia.
We will meet you on arrival at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi (BKK) airport, look out for the Wayfairer welcome sign, and transfer to your hotel for the night on a B&B basis. Depending on your arrival time, your local guide will meet you at the hotel tonight to brief you about your tour, take you around the city and recommend some great dining options. Your unforgettable journey starts here!
Starting early on this busy day, we set out to discover the wonderful contrasts of Bangkok. You will explore the glittering Grand Palace, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and Wat Pho with its spectacular 46-metre-long Reclining Buddha. After lunch, we go to the airport and fly to Chiang Rai in the north of Thailand, near the mysterious Golden Triangle, bordering Myanmar and Laos. This evening you can browse through the bustling Chiang Rai Night Bazaar, where hill tribe people and lowlanders gather to sell their handicrafts.
We start early today with a two-hour trip to the Thai border town of Chiang Khong. We then cross the border by boat to Huay Xai in Laos, where your guide can help you get your Laos entry visas on arrival. We board a private boat for a two-day personalised cruise down the river at a serene pace past beautiful jungle scenery and small traditional-style villages. We will stop at Pakbeng, a friendly town where the Mekong meets the Beng River. The town has regular tribal visitors and vendors along the street who sell local textiles and handicrafts designed to brighten up a house located anywhere in the world.
We continue cruising south along the Mekong River and stop to stretch our legs and explore the amazing Pak Ou Caves, which contain hundreds of Buddha statues, before arriving in Luang Prabang late afternoon. Luang Prabang has been claimed by UNESCO to be ‘the best-preserved city in Southeast Asia’ and it's the perfect place to wander the streets and back alleys and discover why so many people fall in love with this beautiful town with its gleaming temple roofs, fading French architecture and stunning mountain backdrop.
If you rise early, you will be rewarded with the age-old sight of locals making merit by giving alms to a parade of saffron-robed monks from the city’s temples. Mist-covered, with rays of the rising sun breaking through, you will feel as if you are in another world. After breakfast, you take a guided walking tour that takes in the stately Wat Xieng Thong with its sweeping roof and rare reclining Buddha. We also visit the hemispherical Wat Wisunalat, representing the earliest style of Laos architecture and Luang Prubang’s oldest operating temple. We then go to Phu Si Hill to take in panoramic views of the city and deep gulps of fresh Laos air. After lunch, we visit the lovely, multilevel Kuang Si Falls, where you can wash away the day’s exertions in a series of turquoise clear pools. In the evening, your guide will point you towards the street in Luang Prabang, which has a run of intimate, mostly French restaurants, with food and atmosphere which would not be out of place in the small rues of Paris.
Today we travel to Phonsavan in the remote Xieng Khuoang Province, an area dominated by pine forests and green hills that is peppered with craters from the massive bombing campaign during America’s secret war with Laos against the Red Hmong tribal people. You will see local villages consisting of colourful wooden houses and soon spot the neighbourhood cowboys raising their cattle in violently coloured cowboy hats. The weather is cool and fresh here due to its high altitude. You spend the night in a simple hotel in Phonsavan.
After breakfast, we make our way to the Plain of Jars, an ancient site where there are hundreds of large stone jars scattered across the plateau. Little is known about the age or purpose of these vessels, though they are estimated to be about 2,000 years old and were burial urns or possibly for distilling alcohol. Your imagination will run riot as you approach the clusters. In the afternoon, we fly to Vientiane. Probably the world’s sleepiest and unlikeliest capital city, Vientiane has grown considerably in the last couple of decades and is home to the country’s largest and most majestic temples. It is a very relaxed place populated by friendly and easy-going people, and your guide can point you to some great dining options in town or by the river.
Today we explore Vientiane, starting with the oldest remaining temple in the city, Wat Si Saket, built in the early 19th century. We then visit Haw Pha Kaew, the former royal temple of the Lao monarchy and home to some of the best examples of Buddhist sculptures to be found in Laos. We also visit Pha That Luang, the most important national monument in Laos and the symbol of both the Buddhist religion and Lao sovereignty.
The morning concludes with a visit to Patuxai Monument – Vientiane’s answer to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris – where you can ascend the stairs for a wonderful view of the city. In the afternoon, you are free to explore the Talat Sao Morning Market, which is confusingly open in the afternoon. Tonight why not try a lively, local music venue where tourists rub shoulders with locals, in a vibrant setting? Your guide will be happy to suggest some different venues depending on your personal taste.
This morning we transfer to Vientiane’s Wattay Airport for our flight to Pakse in southern Laos. On arrival, we transfer to the Bolaven Plateau and our eco-lodge accommodation at Tad Fane. The plateau is home to a variety of ethnic minority groups, spectacular scenery and coffee plantations and enjoys cool temperatures all year round, compared to the rest of the country. On arrival at our eco-lodge, we enjoy free time to relax and absorb this stunning location.
Today we take a trek around the surrounding area. With numerous trails to choose from, there are plenty of varied options available, depending on the season and also your level of fitness. Our resort is situated near the heavily forested area of Dong Hua Sao, one of 18 designated National Biodiversity Conservation Areas in Laos.
We leave behind our beautiful eco-lodge and head back to Pakse, where we board our private slow boat for a morning journey, cruising slowly down the mighty Mekong River. The tip is just to sit back and enjoy the ride as rural life in southern Laos passes you by. Our destination is Champasak, where we visit the ancient Khmer temple complex of Wat Phu Champasak. Walking around the ruins, we explore the hidden sanctuaries and admire the stone carvings. Dating back to the 5th century AD, this mystical site pre-dates the world-famous Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Afterwards, we continue our journey by road and are driven to Don Khong (Khong Island) - the largest of an estimated 4000 islands situated in the deep south of Laos. The name of this area, Si Phan Don, literally translates as 'Four Thousand Islands'.
Today we take a day tour through Four Thousand Islands. Our destination is Don Det, where we see the remnants of a French railway locomotive. The French had moved into Laos, hoping to open a trade route to China via the Mekong River. After surveying the river, they discovered a number of areas where the river was impassable due to waterfalls, including those in the Si Pan Don area. To get around the falls, the French built a railway to carry goods (including entire boats!) around the waterfalls. They later developed plans for a railway network to link southern China with Saigon and Phnom Penh; however, the railway on Don Det was the only one ever built in Laos. Following our visit to Don Det, we head back upriver to meet with our private minivans for the journey back to Pakse. En route, we will stop at Pha Paeng Falls, the largest waterfall in the Si Pan Don region and sometimes referred to as the 'Niagara of Southeast Asia'.
It is time to farewell to your guide, and we will transfer you to Pakse Airport (PKZ) after breakfast and in good time for your onward journey. Then organise your photos of the trip, knowing that when you return home, they will form the centrepiece of your memories about the land you will have come to love.