This 2-week itinerary combines a trip to Northern Thailand with neighboring country Laos. It’s a bit more adventurous than most of our other itineraries and you’ll be sleeping in a train, boat and mountain lodge. Both countries boast an incredible heritage as well as breathtaking architecture. Laos and Thailand also both offer a combination of charming villages and natural scenery. Get to know the people, the history and the culture of Southeast Asia through this itinerary from Thailand to Laos and back.
The ideal starting point for your itinerary is in Bangkok, the largest city in Thailand as well as its capital. If you’re coming from outside of Southeast Asia, you’ll almost certainly arrive at the Suvarnabhumi Airport. If you’re dealing with jet lag when you arrive, then it might be the perfect time to explore the nightlife in Bangkok. Khao San Road is a fun place to sip a beer and mix with locals and expats alike, while Patpong is the more infamous nightlife center of the city.
A wonderful and affordable way to get from Thailand to Laos is by taking a sleeper train from Bangkok to Vientiane. The express #69 train leaves daily from Bangkok at about 8:30 each night, and it arrives the next morning at the border station of Nong Khai, on the banks of the Mekong River. You’ll go through immigration there, and then another train ride will take you to Laos via the Friendship Bridge. You can book a sleeper for the train to get a great night’s sleep while traveling all the way to Laos, and food and drinks are readily available from vendors on the train as well.
As the capital of Laos, Vientiane is a remarkable city that definitely needs to be on your itinerary. The most popular tourist attraction in this city, also known as “the city of sandalwood,” is a Buddhist stupa, Pha That Luang, which dates back to 1586. Definitely make time to stroll through Buddha Park, just outside Vientiane which is home to countless concrete sculptures of Hindu gods and Buddhas, and check out the Lao National Museum to learn more about the country’s history and its people.
The destination of Vang Vieng is just three hours away from the Lao capital, but it can feel like a whole different world. Long associated with nightlife and backpackers, Vang Vieng has earned a solid reputation for outdoor adventure. Just some of the things you can do in the region include tubing along the river, kayaking, riding rented dirt bikes on twisting trails, rock climbing or even exploring caves. A top spot to visit is Blue Lagoon, or Tham Poukham, which is a spring-fed pool at the bottom of a cave accessible by a bamboo ladder. For breathtaking scenery and plenty of adrenaline, this is an amazing place to be in Laos.
Luang Prabang was once the capital of Laos, but today it is a city packed with historic attractions and colonial architecture. There is so much to do in Luang Prabang that it is absolutely worth three nights of your trip. Against a backdrop of verdant mountains, you can tour the former palace and national museum of Haw Kham, tour the old monastery called Vat Xieng Toung or tour the golden Vipassana Temple. You can also participate in or just spectate the daily alms ceremony, where local monks collect rice from locals as well as visitors from right on the streets at sunrise.
To travel back from Luang Prabang to Thailand try out the slow boat along the Mekong River. These boats take about 2 days, creating the perfect opportunity for you to admire the beautiful scenery and take stunning photographs. The journey begins in Luang Prabang and takes you to the border town of Huay Xai. Along the way, many slow boats stop for the night in the town of Pakbeng, where guesthouses are affordable and the food is phenomenal. On the slow boat, food and drinks are available, and seating can range from wooden benches to cushioned seats for maximum comfort.
After your slow boat journey, you’ll cross the border to Chiang Khong in Thailand. Since the destination is a popular stopover for travelers, it offers plenty of accommodation and restaurants. Chiang Khong is also home to a number of beautiful temples and interesting attractions. Some of the top temples to check out during your stay will include the Wat Sri Don Chai, Wat Hat Krai, Wat Prakeaw and the Wat Tung Duk, which is run exclusively by women.
Next, venture over to Chiang Mai, a major hub in the heart of Northern Thailand. Known as the Rose of the North, Chiang Mai is an excellent blend of ancient history, when it served as the Lanna capital, and outdoor beauty. The main attraction for history enthusiasts will be the Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, an incredible and iconic 14th century temple. Additional popular pastimes in Chiang Mai include bargain hunting at the Night Bazaar, seeing elephants in their natural habitats, watching Muay Thai boxing and visiting with the local hilltribes on a guided tour.
Round out your trip back in Bangkok, the Thai capital. If you didn’t yet have the chance to visit the big attractions in the city, then aim to visit places like the Grand Palace, Wat Pho and Wat Arun. You could also explore the Dusit Palace or explore museums like the National Museum, the Museum of Siam and the King Prajadhipok Museum. To get to know the locals and get a true feel for culture, take a stroll through Lumphini Park, and then follow it up with a boat ride along the Chao Phraya River.
Day 1: Arrive in Bangkok, sleep in Bangkok
Day 2: Bangkok & overnight train to Vientiane via Nong Khai, sleep in train
Day 3: Explore Vientiane, sleep in Vientiane
Day 5: Explore Vang Vieng, sleep in Vang Vieng
Day 7: Explore Luang Prabang, sleep in Luang Prabang
Day 8: Explore Luang Prabang, sleep in Luang Prabang
Day 9: Slow boat to Huay Xai/Chiang Khong, sleep on boat
Day 10: Continue slow boat on Mekong, sleep in Chiang Khong
Day 12: Hilltribe trekking, sleep in a mountain lodge
Day 13: Hilltribe trekking, sleep in Chiang Mai
Day 14: To Bangkok, sleep in Bangkok
Day 15: Fly home