Laos Cambodia Journey
18 Days / 17 Nights
Day 1: Fly to Luang Prabang. Afternoon National Museum and Temples.
We flight to Luang Prabang and transfer to our accommodation. In the afternoon, we begin to explore the historic town of Luang Prabang. We walk along Sisavangvong St, the heart of the old quarter and explore the National Museum, set in the former Royal Palace. Built in 1904, the palace is a blend of Laotian and French influences and houses many royal treasures. The most important item is the solid gold Pha Bang Buddha, a gift from the Khmer King to his son-in-law, Fa Ngum, founder of the Lao Kingdom.
We then continue into the centre of Luang Prabang, exploring the narrow alleys that criss-cross the town, stopping to enjoy some views over the mighty Mekong River. We wind up at the beautiful temple of Wat Saen, originally built in 1718 and under the guidance of Ajahn Khamjan, one of the most revered abbots in Laos. There is the option of climbing Mt Phousi to explore the small temple here and enjoy sunset over this charming town.
Day 2: Wat Xieng Thong and Pak Ou Caves.
This morning, we travel to Wat Xieng Thong, one of the most celebrated temples in Laos. A magnificent structure, this is the quintessential Luang Prabang temple with a graceful sweeping roof that reaches almost to the floor. One of the only temples not to have been destroyed by successive invaders, this was originally constructed in 1560. In the afternoon, we take a boat up the Mekong River, passing abandoned riverside temples and isolated villages. Our destination is the Pak Ou Caves, a sacred spot where thousands upon thousands of Buddhas were hidden for safekeeping during earlier invasions. Pilgrims have since added their own offerings and the caves are literally overflowing with Buddhas. We then return to our hotel.
Day 3: Kuang Si Falls.
After breakfast, the destination is Ban Long Lao, a small Hmong village. Laos is one of Southeast Asia’s most ethnically diverse countries with literally dozens of ethnic groups each with their own language and customs. The Hmong is one of these many ethnic groups. From here you will walk through open farmland and forest trails to the Kuang Si Waterfall, which, while not very high, is striking in its lush jungle setting. Upon arrival there are plenty of opportunities to swim in the refreshing pools and enjoy a boxed picnic lunch (ordered from Luang Prabang). We’ll take some more time for relaxation and swimming before heading back to Luang Prabang by late afternoo. There is also the option to visit Ban Phonesay, a village well known for its silk weavings once been published on the New York Time Magazine. Back to your hotel for a free & easy evening.
Day 4: Drive to Vang Vieng.
Today, we leave the historic town of Luang Prabang and travel south to the beautiful area of Vang Vieng, where the landscape is dotted with limestone karst hills. We pass through Kasi, set in a fertile valley and blanketed in emerald green rice fields. The scenery is spectacular, huge mountains looming large and jungle spilling down to the roadside. We arrive in Vang Vieng and check into our hotel for the night.
Day 5: Trekking or cultural visit around Vang Vieng.
Today we spend the morning exploring the most important caves around Vang Vieng. Tham Jang is the most famous cave in the Vang Vieng area and offers fine views over the Nam Song river valley and there is a spring connecting the cave to the river. We also visit Tham Phu Kham, which contains a bronze reclining Buddha. After lunch, we try tubing down the river, a relaxing way to take in the striking scenery of this area. We start near the organic farm, which we may visit first, and then float down the river towards Vang Vieng. For those that want to try something a little more traditional, it is also possible to kayak this section of the river.
Day 6: Drive to Vientiane. Afternoon Sightseeing.
We arrive in Vientiane and check into our hotel for the night. After lunch, we visit the historic temple of Wat Si Saket, the oldest surviving temple in Vientiane. Then its time to visit the striking golden stupa of Pha That Luang, the most sacred monument in the city. We continue to the 'Arc de Triomphe' of Vientiane, or Patuxai as it is known locally. We ascend the monument for some refreshing breezes and great views over this low-rise garden city. We finish with a stroll along the Mekong riverfront where there are lots of local snack and drink stalls by night. We can sit down and take in sunset over the Mother of all Rivers and may get the chance to meet some locals relaxing over a drink.
Day 7: Buddha Park and Free Time.
Today we step outside the city boundaries and visit the incredible Buddha Park, a kitsch riverside garden brimming with garish religious statues. We see a famous reclining Buddha and can clamber inside some of the bigger sculptures to discover strange scenes from heaven and hell. There is a local café here where we can enjoy a local lunch with views over the Mekong. In the afternoon, we return to Vientiane and can enjoy some free time or take an optional visit to a well-known Textile Gallery, enjoy a Traditional Herbal Sauna or visit the COPE Centre to learn about the scourge of UXO in Laos.
Day 8: Fly to Pakse and join the Wat Phu Cruise.
An early morning flight takes us to the Southern city of Pakse. We depart Pakse by riverboat for the pretty town of Champasak where we enjoy a local lunch on the banks of the Mekong. We then visit the stunning Khmer temple of Wat Phu, set under the shadow of Lingaparvata Mountain, overlooking the Mekong River. Shrouded in mystery, the exact origins of this site are uncertain, but it is believed to have been sacred to early animist cultures. It is a magical place, rich in the spirituality of animism, Hinduism and Buddhism, the fusion religion which predominates in Laos today. As dusk falls, we board the Wat Phu for a relaxing cruise down-river, enjoying the tropical sunset from the deck. The boat docks for the night near a remote Laotian village.
Overnight onboard the cruiser.
Day 9: Day trip around Si Phan Done to visit Don Khon and Phakpheng.
Journeying by boat down the mighty Mekong River, we travel into the heart of Si Phan Done to visit the island of Don Khone and the spectacular Li Phi Falls. We walk across the island on foot, passing through an active monastery and learning about the agriculture of the island. Later we continue to the Phakpheng Falls, the Niagara of the Mekong. This is the most spectacular event to happen along the mother river and the dramatic falls play host to a drama of their own, as fishermen scale bamboo ladders to catch fish from the unrelenting spray. We return to our island home of Don Khong by road and ferry.
Day 10: Transfer to Pakse and fly to Siem Reap. Visit Floating Village.
We transfer to Pakse and fly to Siem Reap. In the afternoon we travel out to the mighty Tonle Sap Lake to visit the floating village of Chong Kneas, Nestled under the hill of Phnom Krom, this floating community moves location with the waters of the lake. Everything floats on water in this living fishing community. There are floating schools, floating shops, floating petrol stations, even floating karaoke bars. Many of the houses are floating fish farms with large pens of fish underneath.
Day 11: Roluos Group, Preah Khan and Remote Temples.
We travel back in time to one of the earliest capitals in the Angkor area, Hariharilaya, now known as Roluos. We begin with a visit to the brick temple of Lolei, originally set on an island in the centre of the Indratataka baray (reservoir). We continue to Preah Ko and finally onto Bakong, the earliest of the temple mountains. In the afternoon, We travel to the mighty temple of Preah Khan or 'Sacred Sword'. This is one of the few temples originally dedicated to Buddhism and Hinduism. We then continue on to the elegant curves of Neak Poan. Our day ends with a sunset over the rice fields from the royal crematorium of Pre Rup, a classic view of the Cambodian countryside.
Day 12: Ta Prohm at Dawn. Banteay Srei and Banteay Samre.
We rise early to travel to Ta Prohm in the dawn light. Ta Prohm has been abandoned to the elements, a reminder that while empires rise and fall, the riotous power of nature marches on, oblivious to the dramas of human history. Left as it was ‘discovered’ by French explorer Henri Mouhot in 1860. We continue to the giant pyramid of Takeo, one of the highest temples in the Angkor area. In the afternoon, we head to Banteay Srei, Angkor’s ultimate art gallery. This petite pink temple is the jewel in the crown of Angkor-era sculpture. The elaborate carvings here are the finest found in Cambodia. Later we visit the 12th century temple of Banteay Samre. Built by King Suryavarman II, the genius behind Angkor Wat.
Day 13: Angkor Wat sunrise. Afternoon at Walled City of Angkor Thom.
Rising at the crack of dawn, we journey out to the Mother of all temples, Angkor Wat. Believed this temple is the perfect fusion of symbolism and symmetry and a source of pride and strength to all Khmers. Built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II, this is most famous temple at Angkor. In the afternoon, we visit the immense walled city of Angkor Thom that was the masterpiece of King Jayavarman VII. We begin our visit at the Terrace of the Leper King and continue to the Terrace of Elephants, originally used as a viewing gallery for the king to preside over parades, performances and traditional sports. Our climax is the enigmatic and enchanting temple of the Bayon.
Day 14: Fly to Phnom Penh Visit National Museum and Royal Palace.
Having arrived in Phnom Penh we visit the stunning Royal Palace complex, home to the Cambodian royal family and a symbol of the nation. We continue to the Silver Pagoda, named after the 5000 silver tiles covering the floor, each weighing 1kg. Inside are some of the country's most cherished treasures, including a life-size gold Buddha studded with 9584 diamonds, the largest weighing 25 carats. We leave the Royal Palace and continue to the nearby National Museum, home to the world's finest collection of sculpture from the Angkor period. The exquisite building was completed between 1917 and 1920 and features a lush courtyard garden surrounded by collections from the pre-Angkor, Angkor and post-Angkor periods.
Day 15: Tuol Sleng and Killing Fields. Free Afternoon.
We come face to face with the horrific crimes of the Khmer Rouge. Tuol Sleng was a former high school that the Khmer Rouge turned into a centre for interrogation, torture and death. Today it is a museum of torture and serves to remind visitors of the terrible atrocities that came to pass in Cambodia. 17,000 people passed through the gates of this prison and only seven lived to tell the tale. We then travel out of town to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. Prisoners from Tuol Sleng followed this same route to their fate. An old Chinese cemetery, Choeung Ek was turned into an extermination camp for political prisoners. The remains of 8985 people were exhumed from mass graves and are kept in a memorial stupa here.
Day 16: Travel to Kep via Phnom Da.
Leaving Phnom Penh we travel south towards the coast. We stop at Tonle Bati to visit the beautiful 12th century temple of Ta Prohm. We continue to Takeo where we enjoy a local lunch overlooking the water. We then travel by speedboat along an ancient canal to Phnom Da, a beautiful 8th century temple atop a small mount. An island in the wet season, when this area is inundated with water, it is surrounded by a sea of green rice fields in the dry season. We explore the brick temple on top of the hill and take in the magnificent views.
Later we return by speedboat to Takeo and transfer to our vehicle for our onward journey to the old French-era seaside resort of Kep. We check into a comfortable hotel for the night.
Day 17: Rabbit Island trip.
We travel to the boat pier to board a local boat for the journey to Koh Tonsay or Rabbit Island. We journey across calm waters to this beautiful palm-fringed island, home to a small community of fisherfolk and farmers. We leave some time free to enjoy the white-sand beaches that ring the island. After a lunch of fresh seafood, there is more time to enjoy the sun, sea and sand before we travel back to Kep by boat.
Day 18: Transfer to Phnom Penh for onward flight.
We leave behind the beaches of Kep and head north towards the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. The road passes through some beautiful rural areas and there may be some good photo opportunities. We check into our hotel and leave the rest of the day free to soak up the atmosphere of this attractive city, after transfer to airport for onward flight.