Photo: Shopfronts in Savannakhet, Southern Laos.

Northern Laos is by far the most popular part of the country, and with good reason. Stunning mountain scenery, lots of little hidden-away villages, ample opportunities for river trips, and while the going can be a little slow, the trips are often very pretty.

This trip can be done in either direction -- if you start in Vientiane, the speedboat trip south from Xieng Kok to Huay Xai will be faster. This takes you through the popular tourist towns of Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang, but also gives you ample time to see some of lesser-visited Laos.

The north is also developing a small trekking industry -- both Luang Nam Tha and Muang Xing are increasingly popular destinations for trekking.

One advantage of using a trip like this as a base, is that there's lots of potential for sidetrips, and that two-week stay can easily stretch out into a month.

Suggest trip length

The suggested minimum time for a trip like this is two weeks, though four weeks will be a far more comfortable pace.

Sample plan

1) Vientiane -> Vang Vieng (stunning scenery, backpacker scene)
2) Vang Vieng -> Phonsavan (Plain of Jars)
3) Phonsavan -> Luang Prabang (stunning scenery, temples, riverside town)
4)Luang Prabang -> Muang Ngoi (small town, riverside setting, backpacker scene)
5) Muang Ngoi -> Udomxai (temple, waterfalls)
6) Udomxai -> Luang Nam Tha (trekking, eco-tourism)
7) Luang Nam Tha -> Muang Sing (trekking, backpacker scene)
8) Muang Sing -> Xieng Kok (small village, riverside setting)
9) Xieng Kok -> Huay Xai (Riverside town)

Save some time

One day: fly from Phonsavan to Luang Prabang

Take a side trip

Two days: Strike north from Muang Ngoi to Phongsali.

Combine trip plans

This trip links in easily with the Northern Thailand Explorer.

Map


View Three weeks in Northern Laos in a larger map

Sample Trip Times (in hours)

To help you work out how you'll get around, we've listed the trip durations for the various forms of transport available. Note that with the exception of flight times, these are average trip times, so no hate mail if you take the slow train.

LAOS: Northern explorer -- head for the hills
FromToAirBusTrainBoat
Vientiane Vang Vieng - 4:00 - -
Vang Vieng Phonsavan - 6:00 - -
Phonsavan Luang Prabang 0:30 9:00 - -
Luang Prabang Muang Ngoi - 4:00 - -
Muang Ngoi Udomxai - 3:00 - -
Udomxai Luang Nam Tha - 4:00 - -
Udomxai Phongsali - 7:00 - -
Luang Nam Tha Muang Sing - 2:00 - -
Muang Sing Xieng Kok - 6:00 - -
Xieng Kok Huay Xai - - - 4:00
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More itineraries

Where to go, how long to stay there, where to go next, east or west, north or south? How long have you got? How long do you need? Itinerary planning can be almost as maddening as it is fun and here are some outlines to help you get started. Remember, don't over plan!


Burma

Burma lends itself to a short fast trip with frequent flights thrown in or a longer, slower trip where you don't leave the ground. There isn't much of a middle ground. Ground transport remains relatively slow, so be wary about trying to fit too much in.


Cambodia

Roughly apple-shaped, you'd think Cambodia would be ideal for circular routes, but the road network isn't really laid out that way. This means you'll most likely find yourself through some towns more than once, so work them into your plans.


Indonesia

How long have you got? That's not long enough. Really. You'd need a few lifetimes to do this sprawling archipelago justice. Be wary of trying to cover too much ground - the going in Indonesia can be slow.


Laos

North or south or both? Laos is relatively small and transport is getting better and better. Those visiting multiple countries can pass through here a few times making for some interesting trips.


Malaysia

The peninsula is easy, with affordable buses, trains and planes and relatively short distances. Sabah and Sarawak are also relatively easy to get around.The vast majority of visitors stick to the peninsula but Borneo is well worth the time and money to reach.


Thailand

So much to see, so much to do. Thailand boasts some of the better public transport in the region so getting around can be fast and affordable. If time is limited, stick to one part of the country.


Vietnam

Long and thin, Vietnam looks straightforward, but the going is slow and the distances getting from A to B can really bite into a tight trip plan. If you're not on an open-ended trip, plan carefully.


The region

This is where itinerary planning really becomes fun. Be sure to check up on our visa, border crossing and visa sections to make sure you're not trying to do the impossible. Also, remember you're planning a holiday -- not a military expedition.