Beginning in Chiang Rai in northern Thailand with its ancient temples and its remarkable tribal culture we drive through the remote and once notorious Golden Triangle to set sail across the Thai / Lao border on a pioneering cruise on board the RV Laos Pandaw.
With only 10 cabins this vessel is the first of its kind to travel this fascinating stretch of river through the breath-taking scenery of Laos, a land of mountains, rapids, gorges, jungle and un-spoiled riverside villages. We stop for three nights at Luang Prabang, the former capital and the jewel of Laos with its dazzling wood carved monasteries and ancient Buddhist traditions. We explore this enchanting sleepy city before continuing our cruise downstream and disembarking in the old French capital of Vientiane.
There is also an optional post-tour extension offering the chance to explore Asia’s most magnificent archeological remains – the Khmer Temples of Angkor in Cambodia – built between the 7th and 11th centuries comprising some 70 ruins and covering an area of 200 square miles.
LONDON / BANGKOK
Depart London Heathrow on a Thai Airways overnight flight to Bangkok.
BANGKOK / CHIANG RAI
On arrival in Bangkok connect to an onward Thai Airways flight to Chiang Rai. On arrival transfer to the five star Le Méridien Chiang Rai Resort where one night is spent.
Lunch under own arrangements. Afternoon orientation tour of Chiang Rai visiting the Wat Rongkun, known as the ‘White Temple’. This quirky masterpiece is the work of local artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat. Its design is richly symbolic of Buddhist teachings and contains many beautiful statues. Also visit Wat Phra Kaew, the original home of the translucent green Buddha which graces the Emerald Buddha Temple in Bangkok. Return to the hotel for dinner.
CHIANG RAI / GOLDEN TRIANGLE / CHIANG SAEN
This morning transfer to Chiang Saen. En route visit the Golden Triangle, the point where Northern Thailand converges with Laos and Burma and where the Ruak and mighty Mekong rivers join. While its peaceful, untouched landscape has more recently become a draw for visitors, the Golden Triangle – a term coined by the CIA – gained notoriety in the 1920s as one of the world’s most prolific opium producers. Visit the House of Opium museum, where the exhibits include a display of tools and objects used to plant, harvest and trade opium, such as pipes, scales, weights, knives and scrapers.
Lunch at a local restaurant. Continue to Chiang Saen and board the RV Laos Pandaw for a 10-night cruise. Set sail with a welcome dinner on board.
THAI / LAOS BORDER
Enjoy a scenic cruise to the border between Thailand and Laos. Pass through immigration formalities and re-join the ship. Set sail downstream into Laos.
Lunch on board. This afternoon enjoy a presentation on the history of Laos and, if time allows visit a traditional Laotian jungle village. Dinner on board.
Morning walk in a Khamo village in the Ban Pak Sip area, full of life and charm. The village is home to members of the Khamo (or Khmu) tribe, the largest minority group in Laos comprising of 11% of the total population. Sail downstream on the beautiful Mekong.
Lunch on board. Enjoy a cooking demonstration on the upper deck to learn more about the Laotian cuisine. Evening cocktails on a sandbank. Dinner on board.
PAK OU CAVES / LUANG PRABANG
Morning sightseeing by local boat exploring the unique Pak Ou Caves, one of the most respected holy sites in Laos dating back thousands of years. The two caves are a Buddhist sanctuary and contain over 4,000 Buddha icons. The lower cave is called Tham Ting and the upper cave Tham Theung, and both boast miniature Buddhist figures that are mostly made from wood. Positioned around 50 feet above the river the caves provide you with views of the spectacular limestone cliff faces. Visit Pak Ou Cave Elephant Camp for retired working elephants.
Lunch on board. Continue sailing downstream to Luang Prabang where the ship will moor for three nights. There there is a buzzing night market to explore and many delightful cafés and restaurants. There will be an option to visit Mount Phousi a 100 m high hill in the centre of the old town at sunset. Dinner on board.
Morning tour by tuk tuk of the ancient city of Luang Prabang, Laos’ cultural capital, a well-preserved World Heritage Site with many Buddhist temples and an interesting former royal palace. Visit Wat Xieng Thong Temple and Ock Pop Tock weaving village.
Lunch on board. An afternoon at leisure to explore the beauty of Luang Prabang with the opportunity to visit the local project, Big Brother Mouse, a non-profit Lao-owned project which helps young Laotians develop new skills such as literacy, as they build the foundations to become a self-sufficient Lao publishing house. Their aim is to supply their published books to readers who typically have never had books before. Dinner at Elephant Restaurant.
Morning tour in Luang Prabang to visit the National Museum and Wat Mai Temple.
Lunch at 3 Nagas Restaurant. Afternoon at leisure with late afternoon traditional Laos dancing display on the upper deck. Dinner on board.
LUANG PRABANG & KUANG SI WATERFALL
Early morning walking tour to see alms-giving to monks in Luang Prabang. Return to the ship and set sail.
Lunch on board. Disembark in Ban Mouang Khai and transfer by mini-bus to the nearby Kuang Si Waterfall, before continuing to visit a nearby butterfly garden. Return to the ship and continue cruising downstream. Dinner on board.
Pass through the Mekong water control lock at Xayaburi Hydro Electric Power Plant (itself an interesting and perhaps controversial tourist attraction).
Lunch on board. Late afternoon walking tour of a local village at Ban Park Bor where two local minority groups live together, the Lao Low Land and the Khamo peoples. Evening cocktails on a sandbank. Dinner on board.
Morning visit to Ban Pha Leab with its beautiful limestone mountain and visit the French administrative town of Pak Lai with its many colonial buildings and a bustling local market.
Lunch on board. Continue to Pak Houng on the Lao / Thai border for an excursion to a plantation village and meet the local people. Dinner on board.
Pass through a dramatic landscape of jungle and mountain where the river flows fast and wild and amazing rock formations straddle the river banks. Enter the cultivated plains of Vientiane province.
Lunch on board. Cooking demonstration on the upper deck. Arrive mid-afternoon in Vientiane to moor overnight. Opportunity for independent exploration of this delightful, French influenced city. Farewell cocktails and dinner on board.
VIENTIANE / BANGKOK
Disembark in Vientiane and take morning tour of the delightful French city, including visits to Sisaket Temple, the only ancient temple remaining intact after the defeat of the Siamese in 1828. It is located in the centre of the old city, where it was built in 1818 by King Anouvong. Also visit the President’s Hall and Wat Prakeo Temple. Those who are joining the optional post-tour extension will depart for the airport. Transfer to the Lao Plaza Hotel where day-use rooms will be provided.
Lunch under own arrangements. Afternoon at leisure. Transfer to Vientiane Airport to take a Thai Airways evening flight to Bangkok. Dinner under own arrangements at the airport.
BANGKOK / LONDON
Just after midnight take a Thai Airways flight from Bangkok to London Heathrow arriving early this morning.
SIEM REAP/ ANGKOR WAT EXTENSION
DAY 13: VIENTIANE / BANGKOK / SIEM REAP
After disembarkation and a city tour of Vientiane with the main group, transfer to Vientiane Airport.Lunch under own arrangements. Afternoon Thai Airways flight to Siem Reap via Bangkok. On arrival in Siem Reap transfer to the five star Victoria Angkor Resort & Spa where three nights are spent. The hotel’s design is inspired by 1930’s colonial architecture. Located in the city centre in front of the ‘Royal Park’, here you are ideally placed to explore Siem Reap and visit the temples of Angkor Wat. Dinner at the hotel.
DAY 14: SIEM REAP
Early morning walking tour of the beautiful and haunting Ta Prohm, built by King Jayavarman VII in 1186, as a shrine for his Queen Mother. Ta Prohm’s primary function was as a monastery, housing more than 2,000 monks. The temple complex is overgrown with gigantic fig trees and is considered the best example of how Angkor may have looked when it was discovered. Continue to Sala Kdei, a traditional Cambodian house, for refreshments. Visit Banteay Kdei, or ‘citadel of the cells’, which was used as a Buddhist monastic complex until the mid-20th century. Walk to Banteay Kdei, which was used as a Buddhist monastic complex until the mid-20th century and continue to Preah Rup, a temple mound rising through three levels to a central shrine, surrounded by four smaller towers; the vast cloistered Preah Khan, surrounded by a 3km wall.Return to the hotel for lunch under own arrangements. Visit the Angkor Panorama Museum. The newly built museum houses historical panoramic paintings and films as well as scale models of the local temple complexes and historical sites offering a fantastic insight to Siem Reap’s rich and fascinating cultural history. See a performance at the Phare Circus. Dinner at the hotel.
DAY 15: ANGKOR WAT
At sunrise visit Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world whose famous silhouette never fails to impress. The god-king Suryavarman II ordered its construction in the 12th century and dedicated the temple to the Hindu deity with which he identified – Vishnu. Continue to the fortified royal city and former Khmer capital of Angkor Thom which has five monumental decorated gates, with the Bayon located in the middle. Other important sights within the complex are the pyramidal Baphuon, the Terrace of the Leper Kings and the Terrace of Elephants. Supported by sculpted stone elephants, the terrace served as a giant viewing platform for royal ceremonies. Return to the hotel for breakfast. Remainder of the morning at leisure.Lunch under own arrangements. Option to re-visit Angkor Wat for additional exploration in the afternoon. Private drinks reception at the home-atelier of the Cambodian artist and designer Lim Muy Theam. Spend time in the tropical garden admiring a unique private art collection alongside works conceived and created on site. Farewell dinner at a local restaurant.
DAY 16: SIEM REAP / BANGKOK
Breakfast at the hotel. This morning there will be a visit to nearby Tonle Sap Lake with its floating villages. Lunch under own arrangements. Opportunity to visit the Artisan d’Angkor and the markets. Remainder of the day at leisure. Following a late check out from the hotel, transfer to the airport to take a Thai Airways evening flight to Bangkok. Dinner under own arrangements at the airport.
DAY 17: BANGKOK / LONDON
Just after midnight take a Thai Airways flight from Bangkok to London Heathrow arriving early this morning.