Follow the Mekong River as it winds its way through Southeast Asia. Explore the cities that lay on the river’s edge and take in their highlights. But take a closer look and see what makes the Mekong River region so special: stunning landscapes and incredible traditional lifestyles.
Take three spectacular river cruises: from Thailand to Luang Prabang, Siem Reap to Phnom Penh and through Vietnam’s Mekong Delta.
Stay overnight in a Laos’ village and cruise through river islands in Cambodia for a closer look at traditional lifestyles.
Get an in-depth look at the Angkor temples and bike through Luang Prabang’s old town, two distinctive UNESCO Heritage Sites.
The Best of the Mekong - 16 Days / 15 Nights
Upon arrival to Chiang Rai, transfer to Lanjia Lodge where Herbal local juice will be served during the check-in.
Learn about the Hmong and Lahu tribes and local activities that affect the Mekong River and the people whose lives depend on the river.
Take a walk through Hmong and Lahu hill tribe villages, including a visit at the shaman’s house of the Hmong. Drink tea with the shaman and discover the rituals of the fireplace.
Lunch will be provided on the charming terrace that looks to the Mekong River and Laos.
Get firsthand experience on how to make Hmong batik handkerchief with Hmong ladies (about 45 minutes). Alternatively, you can learn how to make and set animal traps. Then you will help villagers to plant trees at the Herbal Plant Nursery Project. The project is dedicated to His Majesty the King to commemorate his 84th birthday on December 5, 2011. The main objective of the project is to improve the quality of life of local people by educating them on how to grow vegetables and the importance of the eco-system in their village.
Dinner and watch traditional Hmong performances.
Overnight at Lanjia Lodge
NB: Program can be adjusted subject to your arrival time.
After breakfast at the lodge, transfer out to Chiang Khong Border. Please arrive no later than 0800 at the border crossing point.
Upon reaching the Lao border of Houay Xay. Upon reaching the Lao border of Houay Xay, a representative from the Luang Say Cruises will be there to greet you and escort you to your shared cruise boat. The cruise takes three days to reach Luang Prabang, with overnight stops made in Pakbeng and at the Kamu Lodge.
En route a stop is made to visit and admire the authentic rural life of hill tribe settlements.
Enjoy a delicious buffet lunch onboard the boat as you continue your cruise along the scenic Mekong River.
Late in the afternoon, you will reach the town of Pakbeng. Halfway between Houay Xay and Luang Prabang, this small town is lined with wooden houses along a steep street on the hillside and is quite dynamic. Depending on the rivers current, you may reach Pakbeng in time to watch the sun set over the river from the balcony of your room.
Overnight in Pakbeng
This morning enjoy breakfast at the hotel before continuing the river cruise downstream to Kamu Lodge.
Arrive at Kamu Lodge for lunch time. The Kamu Lodge features 20 private canvas tents. Faithful to local style, each one is protected from the elements by a thatch roof. This allows the Lodges’ grounds to harmoniously blend with surrounding nature. The tents are decorated with bamboo and wooden furniture. They each feature private attached bathroom and toilet with solar powered hot water and electricity.
This afternoon you may choose to participate in a variety of different activities. You will be rewarded with a very original Lao experience:
Rice planting and harvesting in surrounding rice fields
Gold panning (January to June) in the Mekong. Anything you find is yours!
Traditional fishing techniques in the Mekong.
Local village visit and encounters
Dinner and overnight at Kamu Lodge
Enjoy breakfast in the cool morning air and spend your morning as you wish. You might like to relax or visit the nearby local village with your guide. (Check-out time: 10:30)
After lunch at the Lodge, the boat will depart around 1400 for the cruise down to Luang Prabang, arriving around 1700.
On the way to Luang Prabang two stops will be made.
The first stop is at the village of Ban Baw. Here you will be able to see the processing of traditional rice alcohol.
Continue downstream to the Pak Ou Caves. Locally referred to as Tam Ting, these two caves are carved out of towering limestone cliffs and contain thousands of gold lacquered Buddha statues. The Buddhas range in size from a few centimeters to the size of a human. The caves are as well a destination for local pilgrimages.
Luang Prabang is a further 2 hours downstream from Pak Ou.
Check in to your Hotel.
Just before sunset, meet with your guide for a walk to the top of Mt Phousi, 328 steps to enjoy the panoramic view of the city and the surrounding countryside. Descend to the Mekong side of the peninsula and find yourself in the evening hill tribe market. Here where you may find plenty of local souvenirs to buy such as handicrafts and textiles.
Enjoy dinner on the banks of the Mekong at a Sindat restaurant. Sindat is a Lao style barbeque which is very popular with the locals.
You will be transferred back to your hotel by 2100. If you prefer to stay out later then you can take a tuk-tuk.
Overnight in Luang Prabang
Your guide will pick you up at your hotel at 0900 with your adapted bikes.
After doing a fitting and adjusting your bike, you will start your tour by the former Royal Palace, now the National Museum, where you will explore the history of Laos. Continue to Wat Mai, a temple renowned for its golden bas-relief.
Visit Wat Visoun, the holiest temple in the city, which was entirely rebuilt in 1887 after being destroyed by the invading Black Flags from Southern China. In the courtyard of Wat Visoun stands the Watermelon Stupa shaped like the fruit from which it takes its name. Continue passed Wat Aham, which was first built in the 1500s, and on to Wat That where the ashes of King Sisavang Vong are kept inside the large central stupa.
Ride along the Nam Khan River to visit Wat Xieng Thong, the most revered temple in Luang Prabang. Located at the end of the peninsula, close to the Mekong, this temple was built in 1560 by King Setthathirat and is decorated with ornate carvings and mosaics.
Enjoy your evening at leisure wandering the historic streets of this charming riverside town.
Overnight Luang Prabang
Today is free at leisure or you can choose one of these full-day excursions:
Option1: Weaving & Textiles
After breakfast your guide and driver will collect you from your hotel for a private transfer to Ock Pop Tock’s Living Crafts Centre. This is located in a beautiful setting, slightly out of town on the banks of the Mekong River. Your guide will then leave you in the capable hands of the staff at the Living Crafts Centre, where the activities are shared with other visitors.
Textiles are very important to the Lao people as they are used in many aspects of daily life, from annual ceremonies to daily household uses. From Buddhist scarves and prayer flags to dowry gifts and long traditional skirts, textiles are deeply embedded in the Lao culture. Several villages throughout the country are known for their unique patterns and the women can be observed working under their stilted house on their looms.
The morning Natural Dyes Class introduces silkworms and the numerous types of silk. You will be taught the secrets of natural dye preparation and try mixing them yourself, with many of the ingredients coming from the surrounding gardens. By the end of the morning you will have 3 dyed silk skeins to take home as souvenirs.Enjoy a range of delicious Lao dishes for lunch in Ock Pop Tock’s Silk Road Café, taking in views of the mighty Mekong River.
The afternoon session focusses on weaving and you will be assigned your very own traditional loom! One of the expert weavers will be your personal tutor to help you master the impressive art of weaving. As a novice you will select just two colours and create a placemat with a Lao motif. You can witness the Lao ladies weaving incredibly intricate patterns and truly appreciate their skill having tried yourself!
After collecting your handmade souvenirs you may wish to also browse the excellent on site shop. Your guide and driver will return you to your hotel in the late afternoon
Maximum group size is 7 pax.
Option 2: Private Cooking Class at Kuang Si Falls
The morning you will begin at approximately 0800. You start with a visit to the local market, where the chefs can introduce you to the ingredients which you will be using today.
The transfer through the Luang Prabang countryside to Kuang Si Waterfalls (32km southwest of the city). Along the way, you will drive through beautiful landscapes of rice fields, hills, and small villages. There are also viewpoints overlooking the Mekong River.
All of the necessary equipment will be set up in a peaceful spot beside the crashing waterfalls and turquoise pools of Kuang Si. The expert chefs will first demonstrate how to prepare authentic Lao dishes. Then it’s your turn to try your hand at cooking local Lao cuisine. Slice and pound your way through the ingredients before cooking each dish in the traditional way. You will be given a recipe book and apron which you can take home to practice your newly learnt cooking skills and relive your time in Laos
After a few hours of concentration and smelling all of the wonderful flavours, you are sure to enjoy tucking in to your creations for a memorable lunch by the waterfall (one glass of wine/beer/soft drink is included).
You might wish to enjoy a refreshing swim (if so then please dress modestly). We also suggest a quick visit to the bear sanctuary which is next to the falls, run by Free The Bears Fund Inc. There are currently 23 Asiatic Black Bears living in the sanctuary, which has saved them from poaching. The main threat to these bears is poaching due to the use of their bile in Chinese medicine. You can read about their habits and observe their playful nature, whilst learning about the difficulties they are facing.
Transfer back to your hotel this afternoon, with the possibility of stopping to visit a local village on the way back to town.
You will be back at your hotel no later than 1500 after a truly memorable day.
- All staff and services on this tour are provided by Sofitel Luang Prabang on a private basis
- You do not need to be staying in Sofitel Luang Prabang to enjoy this tour
- Maximum group size is 8pax
Option 3: Bucket of Books
This morning you will be picked up from your hotel at 0900 and transferred in to the countryside surrounding Luang Prabang for a charitable adventure.
Your guide will present you with a Bucket of Books, which our local office has assembled for you. This will be yours to donate to the villagers who you will meet today. The contents and even the bucket itself have been carefully selected to be of maximum use to the community you will visit.
The idea behind this excursion is to help the local community without being invasive (for example we avoid distracting children from their schoolwork, which some other charitable excursions are guilty of). We have avoided any plastics (apart from toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste, as there is no alternative and dental hygiene is a significant issue). The books are sourced from excellent local charities; Big Brother Mouse and Pha Tak Ke.
Big Brother Mouse is a not-for-profit, Lao-owned project employing local staff who work with the goal of helping young Laotians develop new and beneficial skills, it is not an NGO. Started by a retired American publisher working with several bright and dedicated Laotian college students, Big Brother Mouse started publishing “books that make literacy fun!”. The books are written and illustrated by Lao writers for children to educate themselves through reading. The cost of 5 books is included in every Bucket of Books, with that money going directly to Big Brother Mouse.
Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden is due to open in 2015 and will be the first of its sort in Laos, located close to Luang Prabang and on an impressive scale. The primary objective of the project is education; teaching people the importance of preserving the natural world and how to go about it. The garden will also host international botanists for various research projects. Whilst the gardens are not ready yet, the team behind them are already actively educating the people of Laos, with a focus on rural communities and children especially. The team have already published five books which are aimed at children, but will be educational for all ages. The cost of 5 books is included in every Bucket of Books, with that money going directly to Pha Tad Ke.
The Bucket of Books contains:
1 x Metal bucket (used for carrying water from the well / stream and for washing)
5 x Books from Pha Tad Ke (5 different titles, suitable for all ages, each one explaining sustainable use of local flora, with proceeds going to the charity)
5 x Books from Big Brother Mouse (5 different titles, suitable for all ages but aimed at children, with proceeds going to the charity)
4 x Toothbrush
4 x Toothpaste
4 x Bar of soap (wrapped in cardboard)
When creating this option a major concern was that numerous clients would end up visiting the same communities and giving the same donations. To avoid or minimise this issue we have compiled a list of the 10 most suitable villages within a few hours of Luang Prabang. The destination which you will village will not be confirmed in advance so that we can manage our bookings effectively. Through these efforts we aim to ensure that the village you visit might have had a similar visit a few months before, but not a few days before.
A picnic lunch, catered by l’Elephant, is included for you to enjoy in the countryside.
You will return to your hotel in Luang Prabang in the mid-afternoon (timings will vary depending on which village you visit and how long you spend there).
Overnight in Luang Praban
Enjoy your morning at leisure for some last minute shopping before your afternoon flight to Siem Reap.
Depart Luang Prabang at 14:20 on QV931 (Lao Airlines), landing in Siem Reap at 16:20.
On arrival to Siem Reap, you will be met by your local Guide and transferred to your Hotel for check in.
After freshening up at the hotel, dinner tonight is at Marum, a training restaurant for young adults, working with street children and other marginalized young people since 2005. Marum gives disadvantaged youths and orphans vocational training in hospitality or cooking, teaching them the life skills and giving them the experience they need to support the transition from institution to the real world. Featuring a winning mix of creative local cuisine, Marum is named after the Moringa, or 'Tree of life' - very appropriate, as customers will be enjoying a fantastic dining experience that helps build a new life for the students in training there!
Finally, the night ends with an incredible performance of ‘Phare, the Cambodian Circus’. Starting at 8pm, professional artists of Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS) will perform an inspiring show suitable for people of all ages. Set up in Battambang in 1994 by young returnee Cambodians from the refugee camps who learned about using art as a means of coping with trauma, PPS has played an influential role in promoting and developing Khmer culture over the years after the Khmer Rouge genocide. The hour long show mixes traditional and modern theater, music, dance, acrobatics, juggling and contortion performed in a story about Cambodian lives and society. Student performances can still be seen twice weekly in Battambang but now the circus has arrived in Siem Reap!
Overnight Siem Reap
Start your tour to the most spectacular temples at the ancient city of Angkor Thom, the last capital of the Great Khmer Empire under the reign of Jayavarman VII. This city is surrounded by an 8 m high wall, drawing a perfect square. Enter the city through the ancient South Gate, an impressive stone gate carved with Elephants and four giant faces. On each side of the entrance path a row of 54 gods or demons is holding the sacred Naga snake.
From here, continue to Bayon Temple in the exact center of the city. This 12th century masterpiece is a study in grandeur and is well-known for its 54 towers with enigmatic faces representing the 54 provinces of the Great Khmer Empire. The Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King are also must-visits as they are both known for their intricate bas-reliefs.
Take a break for lunch (at own expense), before you continue to Ta Prohm. Ta Prohm is unique in that it has been left largely as it was found: overgrown by jungle trees and vines, with many parts of the temple crumbling to the ground. This makes the ‘Tomb Raider Temple’ one of the most picturesque and memorable of the Angkor temples.
Now you are ready for the highlight: The magnificent Angkor Wat. Built during the reign of King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century, Angkor Wat is constructed following the model of the temple mountain symbolizing Mount Meru, the home of the gods. Inside the temple, the walls are covered with stone carvings and bas-reliefs depicting Hindu mythology and the wars Suryavarman II fought during his reign. Angkor Wat is well known for the more than 2,000 Apsara dancers decorating the temple. Construction is thought to have taken around thirty years of intensive labor. Today, Angkor Wat is figured on Cambodia's national flag as the temple symbolizes the soul of the Khmer people.
You will be there during sunset time, when Angkor Wat is less visited and the Apsaras will shine in the most beautiful light. Return to Siem Reap.
Return to your hotel, evening at leisure. Wander the bars and restaurants of central Siem Reap and absorb the heady atmosphere of this interesting and diverse town.
Overnight Siem Reap
This morning you will depart your hotel and transfer to the meeting point in front of the FCC hotel. Here you will:
High Water (July-December)
Transfer to Phnom Krom, the pier of Siem Reap, and onwards by local boat to the Toum You or Tiou Tiou II for check in.
After lunch you will depart for a relaxing half day crossing of Tonle Sap Lake arriving at the floating village of Chnok Trou where it will drop anchor for the night.
Welcome drink and dinner on board this evening.
Low water (January – June)
You will have lunch at a local restaurant before embarking on a speed boat to cross Tonle Sap Lake arriving at the floating village of Chnok Trou where you will board the Toum You or Tiou Tiou II for check in.
Welcome drink and dinner on board this evening.
** From March it might not be possible to visit Floating village depending on the water level.
At the end of the low water period (around end of March to June), the water level may not allow the speedboat to cross the lake. In this case, passengers will be transferred by the cruise company from/to Siem Reap by land or river way. (~5-6 hour).
After breakfast, local boats come to the Toum Tiou II and pick passengers up for the visit of floating village. Almost totally overlooked by tourists because of its remoteness and difficult access, the village is completely self-sufficient. A floating school, factories to make ice for fish preservation, church, pagoda, service stations, pigsty, stores, boat or television repair shops, video club, karaoke bar, police station... everything is on the water. All trades are represented and everybody from children to grandparents goes by the boat through the network of canals that cross this little town.
Lunch on board as you continue to Kampong Chang. On arrival you will visit the village and its local environment. Located some 90 kilometers from Phnom Penh, the town of Kampong Chnang is one of the largest fishing ports on the Tonlé Sap. Fish farming is also widely practiced in the area. The area is famous for its pottery ware, unchanged in style for centuries, which is produced in sufficient quantities to supply the entire country. And not to be overlooked are the products of the Thnot tree (sugar palm – a real national symbol) that abounds in the area: a mellow tasting, caramel-colored sugar sold in large cakes and palm wine.
Embark back onto the cruise boat as it head for Kampong Tralach where it will drop anchor close to the village.
Dinner and overnight onboard.
Enjoy a hearty breakfast as we depart for Kampong Tralach to visit its wonderful Vihara. To reach this magnificent edifice, we cross Kampong Tralach Krom village along a small road perpendicular to the river, walk along some gorgeous stretches of emerald rice paddy as we leave the river behind.
Return to your cruise boat and have lunch while cruising to Koh Chen. We arrive at Kôh Chen, a small village of whose inhabitants specialize in silver and copper smiting. They produce ornamental items, including delicately engraved tropical fruit which are used in traditional ceremonies or at weddings. You will be able to catch a glimpse of the distant hills of Cambodia's ancient capital – Oudong – and its royal stupas when you are a few kilometers away from the ferry.
Return to boat and ocntinue onward to Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, arriving in the late afternoon.
Overnight in Phnom Penh
This morning, depart on a city tour of a different kind: Khmer Architecture tours will take you on an interesting journey where you will focus on Cambodian architecture of the late 1950s and 1960s, a vibrant time both culturally and politically. The then en vogue ‘New Khmer Architecture’ uniquely focused on integrating an international style with responsiveness to local tradition, materials and climate. Only now is it beginning to be recognized as an important artistic milestone in 20th century Cambodian culture. Discover the turbulent history of Cambodia from a different perspective as you view the city’s eclectic blend of buildings and structures.
Enjoy lunch at Van’s Restaurant, housed in the historic building of the Indochina Bank built in 1900 and former home of the Van Family. After a tour of the villa, enjoy an exquisite lunch of French delicacies. From here, explore the adjacent French Quarter by Cyclo, a traditional Phnom Penh means of transportation.
The Cyclos will bring you to the Phnom Penh Port, where you will embark on a boat trip along the Tonlé Sap and Mekong Rivers in the best evening light. You will have a wonderful view of the riverfront which is filled with interesting examples of Phnom Penh’s architectural periods. Examples of French colonial architecture stand next to contemporary structures and local pagodas as well as the glittering Royal Palace and the elegant National Museum.
The summary of the city’s architectural variety is best viewed on this tranquil boat trip with coconut tasting.
Return to the hotel to freshen before enjoying dinner the beautiful Bopha Phnom Penh, overlooking the river.
Overnight Phnom Penh
This morning, you will tour to the most remarkable sights of Phnom Penh and a fun way to explore this lively city. First, visit Wat Phnom, which is situated near the northern boundary of the city. The site contains some good examples of Khmer architecture and statues.
Continue along the lively riverfront to the Royal Palace. This palace dates back to 1866 and houses the Silver Pagoda, named for the over 5000 heavy silver tiles that cover its floors. Its original name is Wat Prakeo, meaning Temple of the Emerald Buddha. In this temple you will view a collection of Buddhas in gold, silver, crystal, and bronze.
Your next stop is the National Museum, built in traditional Khmer style. It houses the world's foremost collection of ancient Khmer artistic, archaeological, and religious artifacts from the 4th to the 13th centuries. Over 5,000 pieces are on display, constituting the repository of the Kingdom's cultural wealth. In addition, the roof space is home to a large bat colony!
This afternoon, visit to the remarkable Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, housed in the former school that was taken over by the Khmer Rouge and used as its main detention and torture center named ‘S-21’. A grim, but important visit that will allow you to dig below the surface and understand Cambodia better.
Late afternoon head to the riverside area of Phnom Penh, a pleasant French style promenade that is great for people viewing. In the early evening (and morning) various activities take place include exercise classes, Khmer dancing and plenty of snacking on local food. You can participate in a Khmer dance class which is a lot of fun for all!
Overnight in Phnom Penh.
This afternoon you will be transferred to the pier to board the Blue cruiser speedboat to Chau Doc (5 hours).
You board the Blue Cruiser boat for your trip down the Mekong River and across the border into Vietnam into the town of Chau Doc.
On arrival, you will meet your Vietnamese guide who will transfer you to the hotel.
Overnight in Chau Doc.
This morning, leave Chau Doc for the 2.5 hour drive to Can Tho. Board your boat cruise at Can Tho at Ninh Kieu pier for departure downstream of the Hau River and having lunch on board. Turning into Nicolai canal, towards the Mang Thit and Co Chien Rivers. Rest on the upper deck in a scenery of rice fields, sugar cane, woods on the near banks. The crew serves dinner while the Bassac is cruising Mang Thit river towards her anchorage point for the night.
Overnight on board your boat on the Mekong Delta.
Departure towards Cai Be. The passengers take their breakfast while enjoying the scenery on the banks. Arrival near Cai Be, check-out and transfer to a rowing boat for a quiet visit through a small canal. Start your journey by passing by Cai Be’s floating a more quiet market. Then, continue to a cottage factory market, once a busy place to trade fruits and vegetables and nowadays where ‘pop-rice’, rice paper and coconut candies are made. Return to the boat for the cruise to Dong Hoa Hiep Island; along the way admire the scenery and the daily life of the local villagers.
End of services by mid-morning on shore at Cái Bè where guide and driver welcome you to Ho Chi Minh city.
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