Despite its mix of ancient Buddhist temples, pristine jungles, and beautifully-preserved French colonial architecture, Laos still feels like a secret. Travel + Leisure has partnered with luxury travel experts Black Tomato on this trip to explore our New World Wonder, Luang Prabang (and stay in the new Rosewood Hotel) and tour historical sites like Wat Visoun, the oldest temple in the city, built in 1512; meet Lao ethnic groups including the Hmong and Khamu people; and trek through the rice fields and small villages along the banks of the Nam Ma River.
Day 1: Luang Prabang
Arrive in Luang Prabang and head to your hotel, the Rosewood. Hidden in lush jungle, with ancient Buddhist temples as neighbors, it sits in a flower-filled valley with a river running through it. In the afternoon, settle into the Silk Road Café, located on the banks of the Mekong River. It’s located on the grounds of the Ock Pop Tok Living Crafts Centre, a well-known textile gallery and weaving center just outside of central Luang Prabang. Sip on a refreshing cocktail as the sun goes down and enjoy a private discussion with Mr. Francis Engelmann, writer and consultant to UNESCO on heritage preservation projects since 1994. Born in Paris in 1947, Mr. Engelmann has lived in Laos for over 20 years. Listen as he shares some of his expertise in the cultural heritage of the country as well as an understanding of Lao history and people.
Day 2: Luang Prabang
Wake up before dawn to witness and participate in offering alms to a procession of hundreds of saffron-robed monks in the early morning light. After the almsgiving, watch the town come to life during a visit to the bustling morning market. The market lines a few quiet streets near the Royal Palace, and vendors display and sell their produce like rice, fresh vegetables, tofu, steamed fish, frogs, chickens, and other ingredients locals might need for their meals of the day. Stop at the food stalls and sample some regional snacks.
In the afternoon, take a tour of the city that stops at the National Museum (the former Royal Palace). It houses a collection that includes the famous Prabang Buddha. Then, stop into the magnificent stupa of Wat Visoun, Wat That Luang, and Wat Mai before going on a short hike to the top of Mount Phousi. Located in the center of town, the views of the city and surrounding countryside from here are sweeping. Afterwards, depart for an hour drive south to one of Luang Prabang’s most picturesque sights, the Kuang Si waterfall. On arrival, have a late lunch in the tranquil surroundings of the park at the French restaurant Carpe Diem, before taking a leisurely walk through the national park towards the Kuang Si waterfall. For the more adventurous, continue to the top of the main waterfall.
Day 3: Luang Prabang
Explore the Luang Prabang countryside with a boat tour visiting the caves, villages and a museum. See the rugged limestone formations along the banks of the Mekong, as well as the abundance of forest and fishing villages on the way. Explore the Tham Ting and Tham Phoum Caves, better known as the Pak Ou Caves, home to thousands of miniature Buddha images. Continue to the nearby fishing village of Ban Muang Keo, before returning to Luang Prabang either by boat or by private car.
Back in town, enjoy lunch at Le Elephant Restaurant and then pay a visit to the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre dedicated to the preservation and celebration of the many ethnic groups existing in Laos. After the museum visit, enjoy a guided shopping trip to some of the town’s most unique shops including. On offer: antiques in an impressive former colonial mansion, Akha-style bracelets and Hmong necklaces, hand-woven silks by local weavers and indigenous Lao wood handcrafts by master carvers and turners.
Day 4: Muang La
Perched on the Nam Pak River in northern Laos, the Muang-La Lodge’s remote location makes for a serene experience thanks to its location in a deep valley. Spend the day by the infinity pool, sipping herbal tea in the peaceful gardens, or stroll through postcard-worthy rice fields. Don’t miss a traditional “nam ma,” an essential oil massage treatment.
Day 5: Muang La
Set off to visit villages of the Ikho, Hmong and Khamu people, three of the many ethnic groups in Laos. Your route climbs to 4,200 feet above sea level and offers some magnificent views of the mountain scenery. Your first visit is a Khamu village followed by an isolated Hmong village. This ethnic group originates from the high steppes of Tibet and you will learn about their way of life, including the importance of their livestock and the care that they give to their animals. From the Hmong village, you can choose to take a short walk of 30 minutes which will bring you to the first Ikho village. You’ll learn about the daily life of the village and how the villagers still follow customs passed down through the centuries.
Day 6: Pak Huay Khai and Ban Phavie
Drive to Pak Huay Khai and trek along a mountain stream that meanders through lush vegetation. You’ll have the chance to meet the local farmers working in their rice fields and learn how they cultivate their land, and hunt for small game and fish in the mountain stream. Then, move on to the village of Ban Phavie, a beautiful Khamu village which sits on the top of a hill. After eating lunch in the village, continue on to some nearby waterfalls. You can relax in the cool, clear waters, lulled by the gentle breeze and tranquility of the falls before walking back down to the starting point of your hike and returning to the lodge.
Day 7: Vientiane
Transfer to Vientiane and spend half a day visiting some of Vientiane’s most significant landmarks and enjoy the capital’s quiet and pleasant aura. Stop by Wat Sisaket, the only temple left intact after the Siamese invasion of 1828, famous for its cloister wall housing thousands of tiny Buddha images. There’s also the Arc de Triomphe-like Patuxai Victory Monument, a war monument dedicated to those who fought in the struggle for independence from France. Notice the typically Laotian elements including the half-woman, half-bird mythological creatures which adorn its walls. End the tour with a visit to That Luang, a large, gold-covered Buddhist stupa in the center of Vientiane, generally regarded as the most important national shrines in Laos.
Day 8: Bolaven Plateau
After transferring to the Bolaven Plateau via Pakse, explore this rich cultural region, home to several of the country’s ethnic minorities. It’s also the main growing area for coffee and tea in Laos. Of the numerous waterfalls in the area, Tad Fane, the highest twin waterfall in the country, is the most spectacular.
Day 9: Champasak
In the morning, visit Champasak, the former royal capital and Wat Phou temple, one of the oldest sanctuaries of the Khmer and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Day 10: Land of 4,000 Islands
Take a boat trip on the Mekong River and explore the myriad of small islands, in between which fishermen use traditional methods to deploy their baskets and nets. With a little luck, you can see the nearly extinct freshwater dolphins which sometimes show themselves near Ban Hang Khone. On Don Khone Island you’ll find the remains of an old colonial railway.
From $7,500 per person for ten days. To enquire about this trip with Black Tomato, click below.