Enjoy a once in a lifetime journey from Hanoi, Vietnam to Luang Prabang, Laos and along the way, get really off the beaten path! This trip will take you to remote locations in Vietnam and Laos and mix in local culture and even a night safari on a meandering river in Laos! This is a wonderful trip for those interested in textiles and villages as traditional today as they were ages ago.
Day to Day Itinerary:
Day 1: Hanoi/Mai Chau/Pu Luong (Hang village) (B, L, D, G)
After breakfast you’ll drive to Mai Chau passing through mountainous landscape on the way. When you arrive, you’ll have lunch in a Thai ethnic minority group’s stilt house in Lac village. After your meal, a wander around the houses provides an overview of the community’s daily life. The village operates as a community co-operative, set up by the people themselves. The villagers specialize in weaving brocade products and are always keen to show visitors their skills. Later, a 15km drive takes you to board a motorboat along the Ma River, pausing en-route to visit some of the nearby ethnic minority villages. After docking, you’ll hike to Hang village where you’ll spend the night in a stilt house.
Day 2: Pu Luong (hiking through minority villages in the Nature Reserve area) (B, L, D, G)
After breakfast, you’ll stroll around Hang Village, a small Thai minority community where you can visit local families in their stilt houses, and drink green tea. You’ll then hike through pristine scenery will take you to Eo Ken village, well off the beaten track high on a slope of a mountain. It’s a stiff hike, but the effort is worth it. Lunch will be prepared by a local family, after which a short hike takes to meet a waiting land-cruiser for a one-hour drive. When you step down, a stroll downhill will take you to Kho Muong village where you’ll spend the night with a family in a traditional stilt house complete with a natural stream for your bathroom!.
Day 3: Pu Luong (another day of hiking)/Thanh Hoa/Na Meo (B, L, G)
After breakfast, you’ll continue your route to trek through the forest and villages with a picnic lunch en-route prepared by tour guide or at still house Nua village. There are some steep climbs and yet more stream crossings. The route becomes more remote yet one is never far from a villager tending fields, passing steep limestone mountain, rain forest inside the Pu Luong Nature Reserve to Nua village.
From there, you’ll drive to Na Meo border via Thanh Hoa, visiting the remarkable water wheels of the Muong people en-route. You will arrive in Na Meo in the late afternoon.
Note: from Pu Luong - Na Meo border gate is about 4 hours driving
Day 4: Na Meo – Xiang - Xam Tai/ 77km paved road
After crossing the border (approximately by mid afternoon), your Laotian guide and driver meet you on Lao side. You then travel to Xamtai driving through Nam Xan National Park, one of the most beautiful roads in Laos, twisting through the Annamite Mountains. There are weaving villages along the road where you may want to stop. Xam Tai is a remote town of some size with a large market area. Overnight in Xamtai
Day 5: Xam Tai – Boat trip to Vietnamese border and local villages
After breakfast, you will be transferred to Ban Thao, about 20km south of Xam Tai. From here, you embark a long tail boat to cruise along Nam Xam River. The boat take you to various local villages where women are still weaving in traditional way, men are fishing on the river (You will most likely buy fish from the villager for a lunch on the river bank!). The boat trip continues all the way to Vietnamese border and it takes about 2 hours. Remoteness, beautiful scenery, isolated villages are highlights of the trip. You then return by boat to Ban Thao, where you have transfer back to Xam Tai for the night
Sam Tai Textiles: If there is a heart and soul to Lao weaving it’s Sam Tai, yet unbelievably there is very little information available on Sam Tai, on the Internet or in books. Even in guidebooks like Lonely Planet’s, Sam Tai is all but ignored. Maybe it’s because there’s no four or five star hotels (or two or three star!). Or maybe because there are no restaurants serving up western cuisine. Or maybe it’s because it’s a little off the beaten path and not always easily accessible in the rainy season. But for the textile aficionado, adventurer or photographer, Sam Tai should be at the top of your list of where to visit in Laos. In Xam Tai there are a market and several very informal textile galleries. There is a lot of weaving happening in Sam Tai and you’ll find that the weavers, if they know a tourist is staying at the guest house, will come to you, and possibly take you to one of their homes where a small group of women, will display textiles for sale. It’s fun, but without an interpreter/guide, negotiating around Sam Tai and with the weavers will be difficult. Be aware though, that there are different “cooperatives” and you should take your time to walk the streets and show an interest in any textiles or weaving you see and you’ll be surprised at the variety of textiles being woven and for sale.
Day 6: Xamtai – Xiang - Vieng Xay Cave – Sam Nua/ 144km paved road (B/-/-)
This morning, you visit some local villages in the area Ban Xamnuea of Lao Lum ethnic, Ban Xamtai of Tai Leuang ethnic and Ban Na Nongbua of Lao Sung ethnic where where traditional silk weaving are being done.
You back track through Xiang and from there continue to Vieng Xay Caves. In the early afternoon, you have a guided tour of the ‘Secret Pathet Lao Caves’. We first visit Khayson Cave, the office and residence of the Pathet Lao chief with its various rooms inside. We continue to Souphanouvong Cave also called Red Prince Cave, the office and residence of royalty and Prince Souphanouvong. Our last visit before lunch is Nouhak Cave, named for Nouhak Phoumsavang who served as Lao PDR president from 1992 to 1998. We continue to visit Soldier Cave and Hospital Cave. The Hospital Cave is one of the deepest caves, which was used for hospital facilities. If time permits, we can visit other caves which housed weaving mills, printing press and other facilities needed by the Pathet lao to remain self-sufficient. Vieng Xai is in a stunning setting, similar to Ha Long Bay Vietnam, Guilin China and Vang Vieng, Laos. Opportunities for taking photos of the landscape are many today and stops are at your request! After visiting the caves, you travel to Xam Nua and visit the Xam Nua market. There are numbers of handicraft shops in the market and around the market. Overnight in Sam Nua
Note - the cave itinerary may alter slightly as the audio tour route changes with no notification. Cave tour are scheduled, twice in the morning (9am and 11am) and twice in the afternoon (1pm and 3pm)
Day 7: Sam Nua - Son Koua Village - River trip to Nam Nern Substation - Wildlife spotting/150 km paved road (B/L/D) This 2 days 1 night trip takes you deep into the Nam Et Pouy National Protected Area, home of the most Tigers in Laos! Very few tourists have done this journey and it will remain a low number tour for quite some time.
07:30 am – Depart Xam Nua and drive to Son Koua Village.
11:00/12:00 pm – Arrive in Son Koua Village. Upon arrival at Ban Son Koua, an ethnic Khmu Village, village guides and boatmen greet guests and take them on a short tour of the village where they will learn about the animist tradition of appeasing the village spirit. After that, guests will have lunch in the village.
13:30 - Guests then embark on a 1.5-hour journey to the park substation on the Nam Nern River by long-tail boat, along the way learning about upland rice cultivation and having opportunities to spot monitor lizards and bird life.
15:30 - After arriving at the park substation, the group will receive a briefing by park staff about the on-the-ground efforts in protecting tigers and their prey.
16:00 - At mid-afternoon, the group departs for the night safari. Stopping near a salt lick, the group hikes into the forest. The local guide, a skilled hunter and tracker, explains how local people track deer and other wild ungulates. The guides point out evidence of wildlife, such a tracks or scat at the salt lick.
18:00 - The boats continue upriver to the dinner site, a sandy, flat bank, where the group takes a picnic around a campfire. After dinner, the guides tell Khmu folktales and stories about dragons, wildlife, and ghosts. The guides explain about the species of animals they may see during the spotlighting and the rules and expectations for spotlighting.
20:00 - Depending on the amount of moonlight, the group departs for the night spotlighting 2-3 hours after dark, floating down river with engines off. There is only one light per boat. Only guides use the light, to avoid scaring the animals. The guides and boat drivers communicate via hand signals to avoid talking that might disturb the animals. The boat is very quiet so as not to disturb the animals. Animals that may be seen include Sambar deer, otters, barking deer, and various species of civets, slow loris, porcupine and owls.
23:00 - At the end of the spotlighting, the boats arrive at the evening camp. Before going to bed visitors, you will be able to check out a variety of insects attracted to the black light set up near the substation.
Day 8: Nam Nern Substation - Morning Walk - Son Koua village – Phonsavan/ 195 km paved road (B/L/-)
5:30 - Before breakfast, local guides take tourists on a walk around the jungle, teaching about the use of medicinal plants and explaining the history of the site, which was once a major settlement during the Secret War.
7:00 – Breakfast
7:30 – Return to Son Koua Village by boat.
9:00 - Upon arrival in the village, guests are invited to try earthen jar rice wine (lao hai). Before departing, the group will fill out a wildlife monitoring form that is used to monitor wildlife abundance and indicate the amount of bonuses put into the village development fund from the tour costs.
From Son Koua, you travel to Phonsavan. On the way, you stop at Tham Piew – a bomb shelter during the Indochina War II. After arriving in Phonsavan, you check in and drive to Plain of Jars before sunset. You spend time visiting Site 1 and 2. Before diner, you take time to visit the MAG (Mine Advisory Group) offices to view a short movie about unexploded ordinance clearing in Laos.
Day 9: Phonsavan – Phoukhun – Luang Prabang (B/L/-)
After breakfast, you continue travel by car to Luang Prabang. The road twists while offering fantastic Mountain View. Stops at local villages and view points are upon request. You arrive in Luang Prabang by mid afternoon.
• Breakfast and accommodation sharing a twin or double room.
• Pick-ups and transfers by private air-conditioned vehicle (Please note: pick-ups will be by a guide and driver or, where a guide is not necessary, a driver only. All unaccompanied drivers will be briefed in advance, and will carry a mobile phone to ensure smooth transfer)
• Travel in an appropriate private air-conditioned vehicle with an experienced safe driver.
• The services of experienced English-speaking guides as indicated in the itinerary (please note: guides will be on hand from pick-up until guests’ return to their hotel or reaching their destination). Free days or part days will not include the services of a guide unless requested and included in the final itinerary.
• Where necessary, entry fees for all visits as mentioned in the program.
• Lunches and dinners (as specified in the itinerary) in the best local restaurants
• VAT and other taxe
Our Price Does Not Include:
• International flight tickets and airport tax.
• Accommodation in Hanoi and early check-in on Day 09
• Dinners, except as specified above.
• Drinks, gratuities and personal expenses.