Laos & Thailand on a Shoestring
Day 1 Hanoi
Welcome to bustling Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. Today is arrival day so there are no activities planned. Please arrive at our start point hotel before 6pm for an important group meeting. At this meeting you CEO will ask to sight your travel insurance, check that you have a visas for Vietnam and complete some other paper work. Please note that you MUST arrive on tour with your Vietnam visa. Please refer to the visa information section of these trip notes for more information on obtaining your Vietnamese visa. Enjoy one of two street food crawls with the group and CEO while in Hanoi. Bring your appetites and your wallets, and the CEO will bring you to the best spots and teach you a bit about the local street food. Spend your day relaxing or exploring the city & adjust to the frantic pace and humid heat of Hanoi. Why not take the chance to visit Tran Quoc Pagoda, the Temple of Literature (Van Mieu) or Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and Museum. The Mausoleum houses the remains of Ho Chi Minh, the founding father of unified Vietnam (closed October-November). Don't miss taking a walk through Hanoi's Old Quarter – a maze of streets, each one traditionally devoted to a different product or industry, and the nearby Hoan Kiem Lake. After your meeting, you may choose to head out for an optional dinner to further get to know your CEO and fellow group members Our hotel in Hanoi is located in the Old Quarter some 20 minutes walk to the Hoan Kiem Lake (the sacred and historic center of Hanoi). Make sure you grab a map and hotel card before you leave the hotel to ensure you can get back. All hotel rooms are double or twin share with air conditioning and en suite bathroom. Free wifi are available.
Day 2 Vientiane (1B)
Explore a bit of Hanoi in the morning before an afternoon flight to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. There is a wealth of cultural delights to discover - on foot, by bicycle or, for the less energetic, by tuk-tuk. Visit Laos' most important national monument, Phat That Luang, or meander down the dusty riverside tracks to find villages full of friendly children, dogs and chickens. A visit to Vientiane's vibrant, colorful morning market (which incidentally is open all day!) is worthwhile, to find plenty of local treasures. A great way to round off the day is to enjoy a spectacular sunset over the Mekong. Our hotel is centrally located within walking distance of all the town’s main sights. All hotel rooms are double or twin share with air conditioning, safe deposit box, and en suite bathrooms. Approx travel time: Transfer hotel to Hanoi airport: 45 min Flight Hanoi to Vientiane: 1.25 hrs Transfer airport to Vientiane hotel: 15 min.
Day 3-4 Vang Vieng (2B)
A picturesque drive north takes us to beautiful Vang Vieng. This quiet town is set along the Nam Song river amidst rice fields and limestone karsts. On Day 4 why not explore some of the caves by bicycle or take an invigorating walk. In the evening, soak in the natural beauty of Vang Vieng as the sun sets over the river. Our hotel is centrally located. As the town itself is small, it is convenient to explore on foot. All hotel rooms are double or twin share with air conditioning and en suite bathrooms. Free wifi is available. Approx travel time: Private bus Vientiane to Vang Vieng: 3-4 hrs
Day 5-6 Luang Prabang (2B)
This morning we travel from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang. Luang Prabang has a magical feel about it. Nestled in the hills of northern Laos on the confluence of the Mekong and Khan Rivers, it is studded with ornate temples and French colonial architecture. A visit the Royal Palace Museum, which has remained untouched since the royal family departed in 1975, is sure to impress. Traditional Laotian culture is to give daily alms to monks. Monks are only allowed to eat food which has been donated to them before noon. On one of your mornings here, you may decide to rise with the sun, and watch one of the most important religious ceremonies in Laos. This is simply an unforgettable South East Asian experience. Our hotel tonight is centrally located and convenient for exploring most of the tourist attractions in town by foot. All hotel rooms are double or twin share with air conditioning and en suite bathroom. Wifi are available. Approx travel time: Private bus from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang: 7 hours The road crosses mountains on a winding road. The spectacular views make this overland trip well worth it.
Day 7 Mekong River (1B,1D)
We board our boat for the two day journey up the mighty Mekong River making our way to Chiang Khong. The journey is relaxed, as we experience the slow pace of village life and the breathtaking scenery along the river. Our private boat is reasonably comfortable and spacious. A toilet is available on board. Fruit, tea and coffee are provided free of charge for you to enjoy and other drinks, such as water and soft drinks might be available for purchase on the boat. It can also be quite cold from November to February so make sure you have some warm gear packed. Tonight we will stay in a basic village homestay along the Mekong including dinner. Typically the group is divided into two or more houses (depending on group size) in close proximity to each other. When it comes time to sleep, mattresses are placed across the floor in central living area. Each mattress comes with a blanket, a pillow and a mosquito net. Bathroom facilities are shared. The evening meal is eaten together in one of the houses with the food provided being very simple - giving you the chance to experience typical Laotian cuisine. A vegetarian option is always served and the second option is typically a pork stirfry. Your local guide will take time to explain the local life of the people in this village. You have the option of swimming in the Mekong. Evenings can get cold, so bring a long sleeved top. Approx Travel Time: 8-10 hours depending on river conditions.
Day 8 Chiang Kong (1B,1L)
This morning we re-board our boat and continue our leisurely cruise up the river before arriving at the Laos/Thai border and crossing to Chiang Khong in the late afternoon. Our hotel in Chiang Khong is located right on the riverfront of the Mekong river. All hotel rooms are double or twin share with en suite bathroom. Free wifi is available. Approx travel time: River to Chiang Khong: 8-10 hours depending on river conditions Immigration to hotel: 10 min
Day 9-10 Chiang Mai
Departing Chiang Khong after breakfast, we drive to Chiang Mai where you have the afternoon free to explore this fascinating city, once the capital of the Kingdom of Lan. Surrounded by rolling hills, Chiang Mai offers both pretty scenery and architecture. Enclosed by a moat and crumbling walls, the old city features great cafes, shops and accommodations. An important Buddhist centre since the 14th century, Chiang Mai is home to more than 300 temples. Many visitors come here to attend meditation retreats, massage classes or yoga lessons. It is also a centre of handicraft production, with a long history of silver work, woodcarving, pottery-making and weaving. Not to be missed is the Night Bazaar, a series of covered markets, shops and stalls that offer the best selection of handicrafts in Thailand. Approx travel time: Private transport Chiang Kong to Chiang Mai: 5 hours
Day 11 Bangkok
Today, why not try your hand at local cuisine with a Thai cooking class, visit the magnificent temple of Doi Suthep standing watch over the city from the hills above, take a bicycle ride in the countryside or Embrace the Bizarre and get a massage from the training school at the local woman's prison! Tonight we catch our final overnight train to Bangkok Tonight's accommodation is an overnight sleeper train. Bunks are dormitory style, with bunks on two layers along the side of the train carriage. There are curtains along each bunk for privacy. Your luggage is stored beside you. The train has air-conditioning and clean bedding is provided for each bunk. There are both western style and asian style toilets at the end of each carriage, with wash basins. Food and drinks are available on the train, but you may choose to bring your own snacks from the shop and restaurants around the train station. Please note: Due to disruptions of Thai trains in the north during the monsoon season, trips running July through October may be upgraded to a flight and extra hotel night in Chiang Mai. Approx travel time: Overnight train Chiang Mai to Bangkok: 12-13 hours
Day 12 Bangkok
We'll arrive early in the morning to Bangkok, Thailand's capital city. The day is free to explore the many sights of Bangkok. The Grand Palace, Wat Po, National Museum, and Jim Thompson's House are just a few suggestions. A trip along the Chao Praya river and through the canals (or klongs) gives you a different perspective of daily life in this busy city. In the evening we'll say good bye and enjoy a Thai meal and perhaps a beer together to celebrate the end of an amazing journey. We spend this evening in Bangkok. Our hotel is located in China Town, next to the central train station and MRT (Subway), and is only a short USD2 taxi ride from Khao San road and the central shopping area of Siam Square, MBK, Siam Paragon, etc. All rooms are double or twin share with air conditioning and en suite bathroom. The hotel has a small pool and wifi is available at extra cost.