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I am totally captivated by Asia. Having lived in Singapore, Nepal, South Korea, and Hong Kong, travelled extensively across all of our destinations in Asia, and worked in luxury travel for many years, curating exceptional trips comes naturally to me.
- from £3,650 PP
- 9 Nights
- Oct - Feb
- 12hrs from London / 20hrs from NYC
Cruises on the upper Mekong invite you to truly disengage with the hustle and bustle of the modern world. Life on either side of the river is as magical and meandering as the waterway itself. Shore excursions take you to a series of tiny, totally unspoiled riverside villages where time has stood still for decades: discovering a world in which locals hold tight to their minority ethnic traditions and live subsistence lifestyles totally in tune with the world around them. Much of the remaining time is spent relaxing on board, watching the scenery of lush forests and karst peaks slip by, all the time enjoying your luxurious balcony cabin and a wide range of facilities. Highlights of this itinerary include a full two days in the former royal capital of Laos, a true jewel of Southeast Asia, the UNESCO World Heritage city of Luang Prabang; a visit to the country’s most sustainably-minded elephant sanctuary; and a series of on-board lectures educating you on Laotian history, economy, and tribal culture.
Below is the full-length 9-night upstream itinerary. The same route traveling downstream is also available as a 7-night option. A short 4-night offering runs between the Thai border at Huay Xai and Luang Prabang. Feel free to discuss these options and how they can fit into a wider tailor-made itinerary with your consultant.
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At a Glance
- 9-night cruise through the magical Laotian Upper Mekong
- Facilities on-board include a spacious lounge, terrace deck, spa, and bar
- Friendly and enthusiastic crew looking after you throughout
- Two full days’ exploring former royal capital Luang Prabang
- Visits to authentic riverside villages with lots of opportunities for cultural immersion
- All excursions led by experienced local guides
- Lectures on-board covering all aspects of modern and historic Laos
- Three courses of high-end dining served every day
- Gala BBQ dinner near Pak Ou caves
- Speak to our consultants to discuss private transfers and pre/post arrangements
- Adding tailor-made nights pre/post cruise in Thailand and the wider region highly recommended
Day by Day Itinerary
Day 1 Vientiane: Embarkation in the Laos capital
The cruise begins in Vientiane, the charming capital of Laos. Vientiane is best accessed via regional hub cities Bangkok, Singapore, or Hanoi. Please speak to your consultant to discuss stopovers in these cities or any other pre-cruise arrangements.
Embark on the cruise this morning in Vientiane. The crew will welcome you on board and help you settle into your cabin, after which the ship will slip away from the shore and out into the upper Mekong proper. An alfresco brunch is then served on the terrace deck (or in your cabin should you prefer). Today is a full sailing day, so kick back and enjoy the lush scenery drift past, or arrange a treatment in the onboard spa. In the afternoon an expert local guide will provide an intriguing lecture on the former Lao royalty, and later in the evening, after dinner, there will be a film screening on the upper deck.
Day 2 Cruising the Upper Mekong: visit a chopstick factory & sandbank dining
Early risers are invited to join in a tai chi or yoga session on the terrace deck as the sun rises above the Mekong. In the mid-morning, you’ll come ashore to visit a tiny riverside hamlet close to the border with Thailand. Transfer to a fleet of tuk-tuks to explore a nearby chopstick factory – a fascinating visit for anyone with a passing interest in Asian cuisine – and then later return to the ship for lunch. The afternoon is spent on board as you watch the captain skillfully navigate a particularly calm and shallow section of the river, with the option of getting out in the water yourselves by kayak. This evening you’ll moor on a sandbank mid-stream, with dinner set up on a long table right on the sands – an unforgettable dining experience!
Day 3 Cruising the Upper Mekong: Pak Lay & Khao Cave
This morning is spent cruising gently upstream, passing by the town of Pak Lay – the last sizeable town for another 200km! Watch the scenery slip past until the mid-afternoon, when we stop to visit the village of Don Saynhan. Another fleet of tuk-tuks awaits for a visit to nearby Khao Cave, home to a sizeable bat population (providing a vital source of fertilizer for local farmers) as well as an impressive backdrop of stalagmites and stalactites. Continue cruising into the evening, mooring up in a quiet section of the river to enjoy dinner onboard.
Day 4 Cruising the Upper Mekong: the Xayaburi Dam
Later today you will cruise through one of Laos’ major hydroelectric dams – a startlingly modern addition to the scenery – to in preparation this morning this an on-board lecture covering this vital, but highly controversial, chapter in the life of the Lao Mekong that has seen Laos become known as ‘Southeast Asia’s battery’. After lunch there is a choice of two excursions:
- An exploratory long-tail boat ride up the tributary Nam Fuang river, deeper into the Laotian jungle
- A walking tour through a tiny Akha minority village, which commands stunning riverside views, where local life revolves around rice cultivation.
Back onboard, the late afternoon will see you arrive at and pass through the enormous Xayaburi Hydroelectric Dam. As you pass through the twin locks the ship will be raised by around 30 meters! As this is taking place you will be able to disembark for a short guided tour of the dam.
Day 5 Cruising the Mekong: Buffalo Dairy & Kuang Si
This morning is again spent cruising onboard as you move northwards towards Luang Prabang. The early afternoon sees you draw close to Luang Prabang, stopping to explore two excellent sites to the south of the city. First, visit the unique Laos Buffalo Dairy. This social enterprise provides struggling local farmers with a new source of income: producing artisanal cheese (a concept previously unknown in Laos!) from the milk of native buffalo. Continue to photogenic Kuang Si waterfalls, which spill out of the lush jungle and down through a series of pools and terraces. Walk the forest trails which surround, or bring your swimwear for a refreshing dip! Back onboard you’ll glide up to the ancient city of Luang Prabang, arriving early evening. We recommend exploring the city this evening, taking in its bustling night market and a multitude of inviting restaurants and bars.
Day 6 Luang Prabang: discover the ancient city
The ship remains moored in Luang Prabang today as you enjoy a complete exploration of this magical city. In the morning a walking tour will take you through its charming, UNESCO-protected streets, with their distinct architecture lined with overhanging banyan and mango trees and dotted with temples and monasteries. Today’s visits will include the elegant former Royal Palace (now functioning as the National Museum) and the ‘Lamarche’, erstwhile noble home, and once official ice-cream supplier to the royal family! You will also enjoy ample time to potter yourselves, taking time to explore the many charming boutiques, cafes, and eateries. Dinner this evening will be taken in one of the city’s excellent restaurants.
Day 7 Luang Prabang: Tak Bat & Pak Ou
An optional early start can be made to witness the beautiful ‘tak bat’ ceremony, in which novice Buddhist monks parade the city streets, lined by eager locals making donations of food. Their saffron robes set against the tropical city streets and the golden morning light make for one of Southeast Asia’s greatest photography opportunities. After breakfast on-board a lecture will be given by Mr. Francis Engelmann, a former UNESCO expert who has resided in Laos for over 20 years, educating you on the country’s rich cultural heritage and fascinating history.
Slip away from Luang Prabang in the late morning, heading towards the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Ou rivers, with adventurous guests given the opportunity of an optional kayaking tour. Arrive at the famous Pak Ou twin caves, carved straight out of the limestone cliff, crammed to the brim with Buddha images of all shapes and sizes. You’ll be joined here by a local ‘medicine man’ who will then guide you on a short hike through the forest to his village, educating you on local nature, traditional weaving practices, and whiskey distillation! Back onboard a mouthwatering BBQ dinner is served accompanied by authentic dance and music.
Day 8 Cruising the Mekong: explore minority villages
This morning another lecture is given onboard offering insights into the diverse tribal culture that takes place on either side of the river. You’ll then put your learning into practice as you disembark at charming Khmu village, where you’ll explore the few streets lined with bamboo houses and visit a tiny elementary school. Lunch is taken back onboard and then in the afternoon, you’ll visit a second visit, this one shared by Lao, Khmu, and Hmong tribes. The villages will show you their lovingly-created organic vegetable garden and offer you a sample of local specialty kai paen: freshwater seaweed topped with sesame and vegetables!
Day 9 Cruising the Mekong: visit an elephant sanctuary at Pak Beng
En route to Pak Beng this morning you’ll enjoy another talk on the cultural significance of elephants in Laos, and their current predicament which sees them brought to near extinction. This is in preparation for your visit to Laos’ most sustainably-managed elephant sanctuary, where you’ll spend the afternoon assisting in their care of retired logging elephants. The sanctuary is located on the edge of Pak Beng, the midway point between Luang Prabang and Huay Xai, and after your visit, you’ll have a walk around the town with its attractive hill-top temple and majestic river views. A final dinner is served onboard this evening.
Day 10 Disembark in Huay Xai
Enjoy a final sunrise onboard and then settle into a long, relaxed brunch as you cruise towards the Thai-Lao border. Mid-morning you’ll pass the confluence with the Nam Tha – known as ‘Green River’, which rises all the way up to the border with China – and later enjoy a Lao cooking class. Arrive at your disembarkation point in Huay Xai around 3pm and bid farewell to your crew and fellow passengers. The crew will assist with your luggage and with the formalities of crossing the border into Thailand.
Disembark the ship at Huay Xai, on the border with Chiang Khong in Northwestern Thailand. Here are some recommendations to continue your adventures:
-Transfer to the bustling, historic city of Chiang Mai – Thailand’s northern capital
-Book into a luxurious elephant camp in the pristine jungles of nearby Chiang Saen
-Delve deeper into regional minority culture at a remote hill lodge
-Leave the rural scenes behind and fly down to buzzing Bangkok
-Fly further south for your pick of mesmerizing beaches and islands in Thailand’s south
Please speak to our consultants to discuss any of these options
- 9 nights on-board a deluxe river cruiser with balcony cabin
- Full-board meals throughout including gala BBQ dinner
- Fresh coffee, tea, and purified water available 24/7
- Complimentary Wifi (subject to cellular signal)
- All activities and excursions mentioned and all entrance fees
- Professional English-speaking local guides
- Guest lectures from local experts
- Shared transfers to and from the ship in Vientiane and Huay Xai
What's not Included
- As we have clients from all over the world. Our itineraries do not include flights. If you would like us to include flights in your trip, we are happy to do so. Please speak to your travel specialist at the planning stage to include them
- We strongly advise all guests to purchase comprehensive travel insurance
- Gratuities for local guides
- Visas if required
Let’s get started making this itinerary yours.
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