Photo: Love shacks in village near Luang Nam Tha.

Three weeks in northern 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.

Itinerary map



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.

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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.

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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)

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Save some time

One day: fly from Phonsavan to Luang Prabang

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Take a side trip

Two days: Strike north from Muang Ngoi to Phongsali.

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Combine trip plans

This trip links in easily with the Northern Thailand Explorer.

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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
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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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.