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Struggling with Northern Laos Itinerary

Posted by metsker on 27/8/2015 at 11:10

Greetings, all -

I am having a tough time pinning down an itinerary and would appreciate your suggestions. After several days in LP, I have two weeks before I have to be in Chiang Mai in November. I just learned through this wonderful forum that there is a bus directly from Luang Namtha to Chiang Rai , so was thinking a week in N Laos villages then on to Chiang Rai and some of the villages around there for a week.

I was thinking about pushing on from LP to Muang Sing because I am most interested in tribal village visits (note I have done this in Vietnam and Thailand, but never tire of it), perhaps with a stop in Nong Khiaw for a couple of nights to break it up, though I realize it is out of the way.

My problem is that everything sounds wonderful and intriguing with ops for tribal treks all over. I hear that Muang Sing is fantastic and more off the beaten path, worth the push to get there. I can flex on Chiang Rai and spend a few nights there vs a week if there is something way more fantastic in N Laos. I am really having a tough time putting the pieces together. Was going to spend no time in Luang Namtha as I'm not into the backpacker scene (middle aged woman here), but get mixed messages about the availability of some genuinely good treks.

Also, in mid November, is it necessary to book ahead? It is always my method to have a place book so it isn't a stressor, but was considering playing it by ear and seeing how it all plays out vs this night here and that night there and the pressure to keep moving vs staying where I like if I choose.

Sigh....

Your help is truly appreciated.

#1 metsker has been a member since 12/8/2015. Posts: 4

Posted by Kuduman1 on 27/8/2015 at 19:41

I am doing pretty much the same route as you in December. I have done Laos before, but only vientiane, vangviang to luang probang.
This year after luang, I will bus to nong Kwai, then boat up the river to mong ngoi, then play it by ear, muang sing, luang nam tha etc before going to Chang rai and Chang Mai.
I did chang Mai and rai last year and loved it.
I have done much research on Laos and understand that nong Kwai and mueang ngoi are very nice places.
Enjoy your trip.

#2 Kuduman1 has been a member since 23/7/2015. Posts: 6

Posted by Kuduman1 on 27/8/2015 at 20:24

Excuse me muang Kwai was the next stop after nong Kwai that I wold be making and not nong ngoi

#3 Kuduman1 has been a member since 23/7/2015. Posts: 6

Posted by SoManyMiles on 29/8/2015 at 08:26 TF writer

Hi metsker,

To clarify, you only have 1 week for northern Laos after Luang Prabang? If so, then Nong Kiaow would be a significant detour from the direction you want to be going in. If you only have a week, then I would go Luang Prabang-Luang Namtha (up to 12 hours by bus). If you wanted to break up the journey, you could stop in Udomxai and head up to Muang La for a night or two. Read our new update on Muang La and see if that appeals to you: https://www.travelfish.org/location/laos/northern_laos/udomxai/muang_la

The backpacking "scene" in Luang Nam Tha is modest but if you are truly interested in ethnic minorities and village visits, then definitely go to Muang Sing - we also updated Travelfish coverage this year. You could do a day self-guided or arrange for a trek. Muang Sing isn't high on the tourist radar though, so it is unlikely you will find others to join your trip. You will likely have to arrange for a private trip which will not be cheap but imagine how unique the experience is and how rare it is for foreigners to visit these villages. You can arrange trips through the tourism office or Phou Iu Guesthouse.

November is high tourist season for Laos. If you aren't picky about the type of accommodation then you won't have a problem finding somewhere to stay in Luang Nam Tha and Muang Sing. But if you do have preferences then it's not a bad idea to book one day in advance.

#4 SoManyMiles has been a member since 7/2/2014. Posts: 147

Posted by SoManyMiles on 29/8/2015 at 08:34 TF writer

Hi Kuduman1,

Sounds like your plans are more flexible and if you are playing by ear, something to consider: if you want a really interesting journey, you can take a boat upriver from Nong Kiaow past Muang Ngoi all the way to up Muang Khua - the boat journey up the river on the Nam Ou is spectacular and this journey will be gone soon as they are damming the river. From Muang Khua, you can either venture to Phongsali or down through Udomxai province -- stop in Muang La for a few days, then make your way to Luang Nam Tha via Udomxai. This suggestion is definitely a more exciting way to get to Luang Nam Tha and Muang Sing.

#5 SoManyMiles has been a member since 7/2/2014. Posts: 147

Posted by metsker on 29/8/2015 at 08:49

Thanks, SMM: I appreciate your input.

After toiling over the guide books some more, I've opted to pass on Nong Kiaow. On my last adventure, I really was over ambitious and spent way too much time in transport versus relaxing and enjoying.

So I will have 5 days in LP, a big ride to LN, perhaps a 2-3 day trek there, on to Muang Sing for several nights, then another long day to Chiang Rai. I like the off the beaten path sound of Muang Sing..

It is tough to give up some things but unless one has months to visit, so it goes.

#6 metsker has been a member since 12/8/2015. Posts: 4

Posted by Kuduman1 on 29/8/2015 at 10:39

To so many miles. : thank you muchly for the advice. This is EXACTlY what my plans are. I have been dong a lot of research and this is what my journey will be after luang probang. I arrive in Laos on dec 14 and fly out of Chang Mai on jan 5
I love to travel with little plans now. I leave bangkok on march 30 for a 4 month winter getaway total this year. Gotta get away from the Canadian winters.

#7 Kuduman1 has been a member since 23/7/2015. Posts: 6

Posted by SoManyMiles on 29/8/2015 at 20:00 TF writer

I hear you about the Canadian winters Kuduman1! It's part of the reason I'm in Asia. But keep in mind that Laos can be surprisingly cold in December, especially where you are planning in northern Laos -- nothing compared to Canada but at least in Canada there is indoor heating. Bring some warm layers.

#8 SoManyMiles has been a member since 7/2/2014. Posts: 147

Posted by sunshine25 on 25/9/2015 at 22:43

kuduman 1, i am thinking about doing the same itinary in Laos: Vientiane, vang viang and LP. After reading so many wonderful ideas/suggestions here, i still cannot decide what would be the best way to travel between these cities :( I don't like to fly small planes so I am thinking mini buses. Do they run regularly? I only have 7 days so i am concern I might be wasting too much time getting to places. Thank you in advance for your help/suggestions

#9 sunshine25 has been a member since 25/9/2015. Posts: 1

Posted by MADMAC on 26/9/2015 at 07:35

"I don't like to fly small planes so I am thinking mini buses."

After driving from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, small planes might start looking better all the time.

#10 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by SoManyMiles on 26/9/2015 at 09:58 TF writer

sunshine25, 7 days is a very short time. I'd definitely fly between Vientiane - Luang Prabang. In Laos, Road travel is definitely more hazardous than planes. It's an entire day of travel between Vientiane and Luang Prabang. You could save time by taking the overnight bus, but I'd pick a plane over the overnight bus. Lao Airlines uses modern ATR and air bus for this route.

#11 SoManyMiles has been a member since 7/2/2014. Posts: 147


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