Laos, the Mekong & Thailand

Thailand, Laos and the Mekong

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Our fascinating Thailand and Laos tour combines one of Asia’s best-loved destinations with its least well known neighbour with immediate contrasts both apparent and intriguing. After the bright lights of Bangkok, it’s Luang Prabang in Laos - little more than a village by comparison, with quaint French colonial buildings and a charmingly slow pace of life. The beauty of the countryside along the banks of the mighty Mekong has to be seen to be believed as we learn about the many ethnic communities in this remote part of Indochina. We also explore some of the lesser known corners of Thailand - the scenic far north-east (the Golden Triangle) and the haunting remains of the Burma-Thailand railway in the south. And that’s all before spending some wonderfully relaxing days on the beaches of the Gulf of Thailand.  Bangkok is without doubt one of Asia’s most vibrant cities. Outwardly it’s ultra-modern, with soaring glass skyscrapers and luxurious shopping malls. Yet at heart it’s just a traditional Buddhist society, full of hushed street corner shrines and neighbourhoods of village houses nestling around the communal courtyards lining the banks of the bustling Chao Phraya River which bisects the city. We visit all the major sights including the extensive Grand Palace complex, home of the revered Royal Family, site of the amazing Emerald Buddha, as well as discovering the city’s more intimate riverside life.  After Bangkok it’s Luang Prabang, the cultural capital of Laos and one of the few counties in the world which can be called ‘undiscovered’. Utterly charming, after decades of isolation under communist rule, it has gradually opened up to the outside world and is wonderfully devoid of mass tourism. However, unlike nearby Vietnam, the Lao people prefer a slower pace so you’ll truly be stepping back in time. Walk along sleepy streets almost completely free of traffic and you’ll find another stunning, intricately carved golden temple around almost every corner. And you’ll delight in the long-held and thriving traditional customs – such as orange-robed Buddhist monks collecting alms from the faithful. Dusk falls and the main street metamorphoses into a charming open-air market attracting the many minority tribes from the surrounding hills. Take a walk along ‘food street’ – a long narrow lane full of sizzling barbequed Mekong fish, multi-coloured salads, noodles and vegetables, all freshly prepared in vibrant kaleidoscope of colour, rushed activity and mouth-watering aromas. Prepare for a real culinary adventure. For a remarkable two days we travel by boat along the upper reaches of the amazing river Mekong absorbing sights of a wonderfully traditional riverside life, flora and fauna. You are way off the beaten track here and the river is much narrower than downstream in Cambodia and Vietnam. The surrounding thickly forested and sparsely populated hills almost to melt into a hazy distance. Our boat is long, narrow and open-sided to the warm tropical air. With plenty of comfortable seats and tables it’s the perfect way to experience this little known but quite extraordinary country. Crossing back into Thailand we spend a few days at the luxury Le Meridien Resort in Chiang Rai, bordering Burma and Laos and located in Thailand’s beautiful ‘Golden Triangle’. Once the centre of extensive illicit drug production, today the region’s ethnic communities have successfully changed their way of life – mainly through the efforts of the present King’s mother. We visit her villa, set high on a mountain ridge. A keen gardener, she supervised the creation of a beautifully landscaped garden that’s arguably Thailand’s finest. The cooler temperate climate is perfect for a huge range of highland flora including rare orchids.  Then there is the poignant site of the bridge over the River Kwai. This was just one of many bridges, viaducts, cuttings and embankments built under horrific conditions by thousands of Commonwealth POWs and local labourers. The 415 mile ‘Death Railway’ between Thailand and Burma claimed the lives of over 12,000 POWs and many more civilian workers. You’ll cross the bridge itself and visit the Hellfire Pass Memorial – a simple but excellent small museum full of fascinating first-hand testimonials. A walk along the line and through the huge railway cutting itself is a haunting and moving experience that will stay with you forever. Then we drive to the Gulf of Thailand for three relaxing days on the tropical beaches of Cha Am – free to reflect on the countless remarkable sights we’ve experienced. One of the real highlights of any visit to Asia is of course its cuisine. You’ll have plenty of chances to sample some typically Thai and Lao dishes, both in hotels and at the bustling food stalls at night markets in Chiang Rai, Bangkok or Luang Prabang. A speciality of northeast Thailand is khao soi, a tasty mixture of both boiled and crispy egg noodles with curried coconut soup. In Laos you can try some grilled fish with minced garlic, coriander and soy sauce together with the local staple - sticky rice eaten by hand. It’s no surprise that Thailand is known as the land of smiles – the people are genuinely friendly, polite and welcoming. In Laos service may still come with a smile, but it’s a little more laid back. So come with us and explore the cultures, scenery, cuisine and people of these two amazing and very different countries.

Highlights

  • · A superb tour combining two of Asia’s most enchanting countries, with amazing scenery, wonderful cultural legacies and some of the world’s most engaging people
  • · Explore the upper reaches of the Mekong in Laos visiting ethnic communities on a fascinating two-day boat cruise
  • · Return scheduled flights from London Heathrow, Manchester and Edinburgh.
  • · Stay in four and five-star hotels, including a charming riverside eco-lodge
  • · Stay and tour Luang Prabang, the incredible UNESCO World Heritage Site in Laos, acknowledged as south east Asia’s best preserved traditional town
  • · Visit the poignant WWII memorial at Hellfire Pass on Burma’s ‘Death Railway’ travelling by train over the infamous ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’
  • · Travel through Thailand’s famed scenic and unspoilt Golden Triangle close to the Burmese border
  • · Spend three nights at Chiang Rai’s renowned four-star superior Dusit Island Resort
  • · Stay in vibrant Bangkok visiting the Grand Palace and stunning golden Wat Pho temple
  • · Spend three days relaxing on the tropical shores of the Gulf of Thailand at the excellent five-star Hyatt Regency Resort in Hua Hin
  • · Daily breakfast and eight meals included
  • · Escorted by our experienced tour manager

Inclusions

  • Return direct scheduled flights from London Heathrow
  • Stay in hand-picked four and five-star hotels, including a charming riverside eco-lodge
  • Daily breakfast and eight meals included

Itinerary

Day 1

You should arrive at the airport for your overnight flight to Bangkok.

Day 2

After an afternoon arrival, you transfer to the excellent four-star superior Eastin Grand Hotel for two nights with breakfast. 

Day 3

Bangkok is an amazing city with ‘must-see’s’ being its spectacular Grand Palace, plus the most important of all Thai Buddhist monuments, Wat Phra Kaew - the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The Palace is Bangkok’s most famous landmark - for 150 years the Siamese Kings’ home and seat of government. Adjacent is Bangkok’s largest temple, the astonishing Wat Pho, famed for its huge 46-metre long reclining Buddha, staggeringly covered with gold leaf and also home to the original Thai massage school. You will discover Bangkok’s delightful klongs (canals), explored by small boat, which lead to an enchanting countryside full of orchards, palm trees and paddyfields. 

Day 4

Today you fly to Chiang Rai, Thailand’s most northerly town, staying for three nights in the four-star superior Dusit Island Resort with breakfast. The afternoon is at leisure to enjoy the extensive facilities of your hotel, which include a huge pool, three restaurants and a spa.

Day 5

Today we explore the rainforest-covered hills deep in Chiang Rai province where the present King’s mother spent many years overseeing numerous projects developing new crops, thus enabling villagers to eradicate opium cultivation. We visit her Royal Villa with its museum and delightful gardens.   Thailand’s most northerly point is the small market town of Mae Sai and with Burma just across a small river, its streets are crammed with remarkably priced Burmese sarongs, cheroots, puppets and intricate embroidery. This afternoon we explore the nearby Golden Triangle where the Mekong and the Ruak rivers meet, as do the borders of Thailand, Laos and Burma, with a huge glistening Golden Buddha on the riverside. Just downstream is the ancient city of Chiang Saen, a fascinating juxtaposition of centuries-old ruined city walls and temples, sitting ‘cheek by jowl’ with modern day villagers’ homes.

Day 6

In the morning we see the original Wat Phra Kheow, once housing Thailand’s most sacred Buddha image, the Emerald Buddha which you saw in Bangkok. The work of one of the province’s most famous sons and now one of Thailand’s foremost artists, Chalermchai Kositpipat, can be seen throughout this small town, his tour de force is the stunning and remarkable White Temple, undoubtedly Thailand’s most unusual – mostly white and silver with just one room of another colour – the public toilet, which is gold! Started in 1995, it is scheduled for completion in 2070! The afternoon is at leisure.

Day 7

Today we have an experience the memories of which will last many years – a fascinating two-day boat journey through Laos along the river Mekong. Accommodating 40 passengers, our boat is very comfortable with a bar and kitchen, and with its open sides you can truly experience river life just as it has always been, plus see some staggeringly beautiful countryside. Meals, snacks, tea/coffee and bottled water are included. Around each sweeping bend is another staggering assault on the senses and as the sun sets in an explosion of colour we stay in the riverside village of Pak Beng at the Pakbeng Lodge. Dinner is served on the open-air terrace beautifully overlooking the river.

Day 8

We are way off the beaten track here – waking up this morning you will feel relaxed, privileged and wonderfully distant from home. Continuing our cruise of discovery, we observe traditional village life before arriving at the Pak Ou Caves, filled with hundreds of Buddha statues of all shapes and sizes. After our on-board buffet lunch we arrive in Luang Prabang in the afternoon, staying two nights at the three-star superior Villa Santi Resort with breakfast. As dusk falls the enterprising zeal so typical of the emerging world can be seen to be alive and well in the noise and sizzling open-air restaurants of the atmospheric night market.

Day 9

Next it’s the magnificent Wat Xiengthong, with its roof sweeping towards the ground, in the classic Luang Prabang style. Next we explore Luang Prabang’s stunning hinterland. Our destination is the beautiful Kuangsi waterfall, where you can cool off with a refreshing swim in the turquoise pool or walk along the forest trails. We enjoy a delicious picnic lunch under the shade of the lush tropical forest surrounded by its unique sights and sounds. Just adjacent is the Bear Rescue Centre whose worthy mission is protecting the rare Asiatic Black Bear. We return to Luang Prabang by late afternoon so you can explore as you wish.

Day 10

We catch the morning flight back to Bangkok, driving on to Kanchanaburi province and the River Kwai, immortalised by David Lean’s iconic film. Constructing that bridge was just one of many tasks set for the thousands of allied POWs as they laboured to build the infamous ‘Death Railway’ under the most terrible of conditions. We visit the Chong Kai War Cemetery, on the site of a hospital and prisoner of war camp. We then continue to the excellent riverside four-star superior Dhevi Mantra Hotel for two nights with breakfast.

Accommodation

Eastin Grand Hotel

Located close to Bangkok’s Chao Praya River. It is the only hotel in the city with its own direct walkway to a Bangkok Skytrain station. The outdoor pool on the 14th floor offers some unique and...

Grand Luang Prabang

Located a 10-minute drive out of town in a quiet spot overlooking the Mekong. The spacious, well-tended grounds include a pool and a riverside restaurant and bar – perfect for watching the...

Pakbeng Lodge

Pakbeng  – the Pakbeng Lodge (www.pakbenglodge.com/contentENG/PBL-PakBeng-ENG.html) is located just outside the small village of Pakbeng, surrounded by forest-covered hills and overlooking...

Dusit Island Resort

Chiang Rai  – the four-star Dusit Island Resort (www.dusit.com/dusitthani/islandresortchiangrai/default-en.html) is located in a quiet position on its own island on the Mae Kok river, a...

Dhevi Mantra Resort

Located right next to the River Kwai, set around beautiful gardens and a large pool with a swim-up bar. The impressive colonial-themed lobby leads on to the main restaurant, whilst there is also a...

Hyatt Regency

Hua Hin – the five-star Hyatt Regency (http://huahin.regency.hyatt.com/en/hotel/home.html) is located on the beach about a 5-minute drive south from the centre of Hua Hin. The hotel is known for...

Extra Information

The price of this holiday is per person, based on two people sharing a twin room; scheduled return flights to Bangkok; thirteen nights accommodation in four & five star hotels and an eco-lodge; daily breakfast, 7 lunches, 1 dinner; guided tours of Bangkok, Luang Prabang, Chiang Rai, the Golden Triangle and the River Kwai; two-day boat trip on the Mekong; all transport as indicated; porterage of one item of luggage per person; services of a Riviera tour manager Itinerary is subject to change depending on Mekong water levels and flights between Thailand and Laos. Not Included: Laos visa.

  Cost per person: €0pp
  Number of nights:

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  Call:  01 905 6300