Beyond the Mekong Trip Notes
Trip code: GTBM
Trip valid from: 21/01/2012
Trip valid until: 30/06/2013
Trip length: 16 days
Trip starts in: Bangkok
Trip ends in: Hanoi
Maximum group size: 16
- The Ethnic Tribes Of Pakbeng
- Huay Xai - Old Yunnanese Caravan Disembarkation Point
- Laotian Coffee
- Mekong Slow Boat Cruise
- The Monks Of UNESCO World Heritage-listed Luang Prabang
- Vang Vieng's River
- Songkran Festival, Chiang Mai
- Chiang Mai's Night Bazaar - Lanna Handicrafts And Traditional Wares Of The Hilltribes
- Muay Thai In Bangkok
After years of war, peace and tranquillity have come to Laos and Vietnam and these two countries are slowly opening their doors and providing a warm, friendly welcome to the adventurous traveller. We travel by a wide variety of local transport including bus, songthaew, tuk-tuk, Mekong riverboat, mini-van, train and pirogue (narrow canoe). Accommodation is in simple hotels and guesthouses.
From Bangkok we travel north to the mighty Mekong River and travel into Laos. Crossing the river is like stepping back in time to the old South East Asia. Following the river, we visit the beautiful town of Luang Prabang and then continue to Vang Vieng and the sleepy capital of Vientiane. Further eastward we come to Lak Sao, where we cross the border into Vietnam and catch the Reunification Express to the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi.
BangkokYour trip starts today with your arrival in Bangkok. No activities are planned until your evening group meeting, so you may arrive at any time. Please check the noticeboard in the hotel lobby, located on the ground floor, for a notice containing details of your tour. This will advise you of your tour guide’s name, telephone number and the time and location of your group meeting. Normally this meeting takes place around 6pm. Until your meeting we encourage you to get out and discover the delights that Bangkok has to offer, including Thailand’s famous cuisine. Make sure that you take a hotel business card so that you will be able to find your way back to the hotel.
BangkokBangkok is home to some of Asia’s most elaborately adorned temples - and the modern city’s sights and attractions are so numerous you won’t know where to begin. So we’ll give you a helping hand and introduce you to some of Bangkok’s most famous sights, including a visit to the impressive Grand Palace and Emerald Buddha. Near our hotel we jump on board a klong (or local canal) boat, before catching a public bus to Wat Po. This is a great way to introduce you to a couple of the more popular forms of local transport. The remainder of the day is free for us to further explore this vibrant city, and the new, elevated Skytrain service now makes it easier than ever to get around the city centre, by avoiding the nasty traffic snarls in the streets below. In the evening we board the overnight sleeper train to Chiang Mai (approximately 13 hours). (B)
Chiang MaiWe arrive in Chiang Mai early in the morning (as long as our train is on time!) and transfer to our centrally located guesthouse by local songthaew. The day is free to do as you wish, as there is much to see in this northern city, with over 120 temples in the centre alone. A visit to the Tribal Research Institute provides excellent background information on the cultures and customs of the various ethnic groups that inhabit the hill regions of northern and western Thailand and Laos. An excursion to the top of Doi Suthep offers fantastic views over the city and can be combined with a visit to the museum. It’s best to visit Doi Suthep in the morning or late in the afternoon, to avoid the heat of the day, as there are over 300 steps to climb! You may also wish to get a traditional Thai massage before your trek, or even partake in a cooking class, beware - you eat what you cook! Your tour guide will be able to offer other suggestions for things to see and do during your free time. This evening the Night Bazaar beckons, a shoppers paradise and a great place to practice your bargaining skills.
Huay XaiIn the morning, we travel by local bus through the picturesque countryside to Chiang Rai (approximately 3½ hours), where we stop for lunch before boarding our next local bus (fan-cooled) for Chiang Khong (approximately 2½ hours). After completing border formalities, we take a small boat across the Mekong River to Huay Xai, our first stop in Laos. For centuries Huay Xai was a disembarkation point for Yunnanese caravans, led by the Chinese Muslims on their way to Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, in ancient Siam. Today, Huay Xai is a hustling ferry town on the banks of the Mekong River. There’s time to wander around this small place and perhaps ascend the Naga stairs to Wat Jom Khao Manilat, a fascinating temple overlooking the river and town. There is also the opportunity in your free time to visit a nearby minority village, where they make rice whiskey, noodles and handicrafts.
PakbengAfter breakfast we transfer to the pier where we board our slow boat for the trip down the Mekong River. The pace is very relaxed - a perfect way to observe the local lifestyle close up. We arrive in the late afternoon at Pakbeng; a colourful village situated at the junction of the Mekong River and the smaller Beng River, hence the town’s name ‘Pak’ meaning ‘mouth’ in Lao. Hmong and tribal Thai's are frequently seen on the main street of Pakbeng, and small vendors along the street sell local textiles and handicrafts. We spend the night in a simple hostel. Please be warned that the accommodation standard is very basic, but also bear in mind that you are travelling in a remote area. Please have an open mind and come with an adventurous spirit!
Luang PrabangWe continue on our private slow boat and stop to stretch our legs and explore the amazing Pak Ou Caves, which contain hundreds of Buddha statues, before arriving in Luang Prabang in the evening. We have time here to wander the streets and discover this beautiful town, with its gleaming temple roofs, fading French architecture and stunning mountain backdrop. Luang Prabang has been claimed by UNESCO to be ‘the best preserved city in South East Asia’. A highlight of our three -night stay is a visit to the beautiful Kuang Si Falls. We will trek to the waterfalls (approximately 3 hours), this is a great opportunity to stretch the legs after our two day boat ride and gives us a chance to do some physical activity.
Vang ViengOn Sunday morning we transfer to a local bus (fan cooled) and make our way to the village of Vang Vieng, located on a beautiful bend in the Nam Song River (approximately 6-7 hours). During our stay we cross the river to explore the huge caves that line the West Bank. These caves are riddled with unexplored tunnels and caverns, and there is plenty of time to make our own discoveries or partake in a day-trip of kayaking (additional cost) along the Nam Song.
VientianeTravelling south by local fan cooled bus we continue to the Lao capital, located on the banks of the Mekong River (approximately 4 hours). Vientiane was originally one of the early Lao valley fiefdoms that were consolidated around the time that Europe was leaving the Dark Ages. Despite early prosperity, Vientiane lost its independence at various times during its history to Vietnamese, Burmese, Siamese and Khmers forces. When Laos became a French protectorate in the late 19th Century, Vientiane was named as its capital. It remains so today, under communist rule. The curious mix of Lao, Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, Soviet, French and US influences result in a somewhat exotic atmosphere. This small and laid-back capital is easily explored by bicycle or on foot. A walking orientation tour takes us to the oldest remaining temple in Vientiane, Wat Si Saket, which was constructed in 1818. During your free time, you can further explore Vientiane’s other historical sites, including Haw Pha Kaew, the former royal temple of the Lao monarchy and home to some of the best examples of Buddhist sculptures found in Laos.
Lak SaoWe experience stunning mountain scenery, as we travel by private bus to the town of Lak Sao, situated on the border with Vietnam. Be aware that today we will be travelling some of the most remote country you will see in Laos, where conditions will be basic, but the day will be richly rewarding with opportunities to stop and take in the spectacular scenery including a Stone Forest (drive approximately 6-7 hours).
VinhCrossing the border into Vietnam we head for the port city of Vinh, birthplace of Ho Chi Minh. Following the wars with the French and the Americans, the city was so heavily bombed it was left with only two buildings intact! It has since been rebuilt with the help of former Eastern Block nations and today boasts a population of 500,000 people. Here we board the Reunification Express sleeper train for the 300-kilometre train journey to Hanoi. Please be warned that this is a local train of a fairly basic standard.
HanoiAlthough there has been a permanent settlement here since the 3rd Century AD, the city of Hanoi can trace its origins back to 1010 BC, when Emperor Le Thai To moved his capital from Hoa Lu to this site. From the 1880s to World War II, Hanoi was developed as the colonial capital of French Indochina and many of the old structures in the city were razed to make way for new French buildings. Today the people of Hanoi take a lot of pride in their grand old colonial buildings which, together with the wide spacious boulevards and tree-lined lakes, help make Hanoi one of most graceful and charming cities in South East Asia. We enjoy a half-day city sightseeing tour, taking in the infamous Hanoi Hilton (Hoa Lo Prison), One Pillar Pagoda and the Temple of Literature. Afterwards there is time to explore some of the many temples, pagodas and museums, or perhaps just relax beside a lake and take a stroll along a shaded boulevard. You may like to organise a visit to Halong Bay while you are in Hanoi. Your tour guide will be able to help you arrange this tour. Our overland journey finishes on the morning of Day 16 after breakfast. If you require additional accommodation, this can be arranged. (B)
Itinerary VariationWhile the information presented here details our planned itinerary, including routes taken, activities included, accommodation and meeting times, please accept that unforseen changes may occur. We are constantly on the lookout to improve our program and further enhance your experience. Naturally, we will keep you up to date with any last minute amendments to your tour.
About The Imaginative Traveller
Our aim has always been to provide exceptional travel experiences. We believe that adventure travel should be stimulating, and that it should give you an authentic experience of a place. We want our travellers to relish the amazing diversity of countries and cultures the world has to offer. Our focus is on innovation, not imitation.
Obsessed with quality
One of our strengths has been our obsession with quality. We've always believed that our commitment to you doesn't end as soon as you've paid for your holiday. On the contrary, it is just beginning. Whilst most operators simply get a local company to handle the day to day operation of their tours, we do it all ourselves. We have managers for each of our key destinations around the world and all our small groups are escorted by our own leaders. Our local teams include guides, drivers, administration staff and contacts in the local community who help us ensure that our adventures are active and involving.
For comparability, all prices in this dossier are quoted in one currency. We use the US Dollar since that is familiar to most. However, once on tour you will need to pay for all goods and services in the local currency. See your Country Dossier for details of exchange rates.
Maybe you’re after a ramble through Morocco’s Dades Gorge, or a stroll in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands. Or perhaps something more energetic, a hike in South Africa’s spectacular Drakensberg Mountains or along a stretch of China’s Great Wall. Whatever you want, the same principles apply: keep it simple, and slow it down. Stretching the legs is a great way to discover somewhere, whether a city’s downtown or remote countryside. You quickly get into the feel for how life’s lived, the local rhythm of where you’re travelling. And there’s no better way of meeting locals – take a walk through African plains or South American valleys and you’ll soon be trying to hurdle language barriers with friendly villagers and farmers.
A reasonably good level of fitness is required for this holiday and you should be in good health. Any physical preparation will always be to your advantage. Anyone with respiratory or cardiac problems, or over the age of 60, should fully consult their medical adviser prior to booking and we may require full medical clearance.
• Gecko’s expert English-speaking local tour guide throughout the tour, and professional local site guides at some sites.
• Sightseeing (including entrance fees where relevant): Bangkok - Grand Palace, Emerald Buddha and Wat Po; hundreds of Buddha statues in Pak Ou Caves; Kuang Si Falls; Vang Vieng Caves; Vientiane including Wat Si Saket; Vinh - the birthplace of Ho Chi Minh; and Hanoi - Hanoi Hilton (Hoa Lo Prison), One Pillar Pagoda and the Temple of Literature.
• Slow boat cruise down the Mekong River to observe local life, with a night in a simple hostel in Pakbeng – home to the Hmong and tribal Thais.
• Travel by private bus though remote countryside in Laos to the Stone Forest and Lak Sao – on the border with Vietnam.
• Free time to explore Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Huay Xai, Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Hanoi.
• Overnight sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and ‘Reunification Express’ sleeper train from Vinh to Hanoi.
International flights, arrival and departure transfers, departure and airport taxes, visas, all other meals, all optional tours or activities during free time, transfers outside of the tour program, travel insurance, tips and items of a personal nature.
2 nights Sleeper train,11 nights Guesthouse,2 nights Hotel
Single room supplementMost of our travellers like the thought of travelling with a few like-minded souls. There are NO compulsory single supplements on most tours as we simply arrange twin shared accommodation for you and another tour member of the same sex. But don't worry if that doesn't appeal. We do understand there are times when you just want a bit of privacy and 'me' time so we are more than happy to arrange a private room upon request when you book.
Boat,Local bus,Mekong slow boat,Mini-van,Overnight train,Pirogue (narrow canoe),Private aircon bus,Songthaew,Taxi,Tuk-tuk
*prices below are guide onlyBangkok - Jim Thompson's House
- Jim Thompson’s House - US$3
- National Museum - US$2
- Royal Barges Museum - US$1.50
- Doi Suthep Temple - US$1.00 (THB 30)
- Tribal Museum - Depends on group size
- Vehicle to Tribal Museum and Doi Suthep Temple - US$55 (approx THB 1800)
- Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum - Free
- - US$1.30
- Taxi to Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum - US$5
- Taxi to Ho Chi Minh’s Museum - US$5
Bang Nam Chang Village visit – transport- US$5 - $7
Climb Mt Phu Si for sunset or sunrise- US$3
Herbal Sauna at Red Cross- US$3
National Museum Entrance Fee- US$4
Traditional Massage at Red Cross- US$5
Wat Xieng Thong – Entrance Fee- US$3
Full day Kayaking (including lunch)- US$10 – $15
National Lao Museum – Entrance Fee- US$2
Patuxai (Victory Monument) – Entrance Fee- US$1.50
Responsible Travel - Travellers' Guidelines
At Imaginative Traveller we love helping our clients experience the beauty and cultures of the destinations we visit. However, hand in hand with this we have always been aware that we have a responsibility to minimise any negative impacts that tourism can bring.
Responsible Travel is twofold. It’s about taking people to the places they want to go in a safe and responsible manner but also about respecting and maintaining the natural and often delicate balance of the destination. Economic gain from tourism is often fundamental to a country, but should never be at the expense of its culture or the environment.
- It is our aim to provide journeys that have minimal negative and maximum positive impact on the places we visit.
- We do not believe that, as visitors, we should impose our own cultures on others; rather that we should experience foreign cultures and appreciate them for what they are.
- Whilst it is our aim to show destinations and cultures in a positive light, we do not believe in papering over the cracks or shielding visitors from the realities of life. This does not mean, however, that we condone or endorse certain situations or regimes that may be in place.
Our guidelines are meant not as rigid instructions but rather as suggestions to make our holidays more enjoyable – for everybody. As cultural and environmental sensitivities vary from country to country more specific guidelines can be found in our individual country and trip dossiers.
Before you depart try to spend some time familiarising yourself with the destination you will be travelling to – their culture and customs. The country dossiers on our website offer detailed information about all the regions we visit. They also include some useful phrases in the local language for you to use on your trip! A few words of the local language can open up many more opportunities for you to interact with the people you will meet.
Although it is tempting to give out pens, sweets and money to people begging, and particularly tempting to give to children, we feel that this encourages a begging mentality and has a long-term negative impact on communities. If someone begging earns more than someone in the same community who works this can discourage local employment. If children regularly bring home money it may discourage their parents from sending them to school. It is of course your own personal choice but you could consider giving to registered charities or contributing to our Responsible Travel fund instead. Money donated through our fund to our worldwide projects is matched pound for pound by Imaginative Traveller and used to help local grassroots projects.
Always ask permission to photograph local people and respect their decision if they would prefer not to have their picture taken.
Respect local dress codes, especially at religious sites. Our tour leaders are always on hand to give you advice about this.
In many of the countries we visit you might see examples of animal cruelty (for example dancing bears, performing monkeys and snake charmers). Please do not take photographs of this or offer money as it encourages the activity.
Respect the environment you are in. It sounds obvious but do not throw litter, take it with you or use rubbish bins! You may see locals throwing rubbish on the street but do not follow their example!
When shopping in countries where haggling is the norm – enjoy it and only pay what you feel is a fair price for the goods you are purchasing. However, remember that the shopkeeper does have to make a living so do stop once you have reached a price you are happy with. Bargaining should be fun but always remember that a small amount can mean much more to the vendor than to you.
Endeavor to take home souvenirs made locally; the money you spend can be very important to the local communities. However, do use your common sense and don’t buy anything that you think might be made out of endangered animals or plants.
To help keep as much money as possible in the host country - try to eat in locally owned restaurants and order local drinks and produce rather than international brands.
In hotels do be conscious of how much water you are using. Many of the areas we visit regularly have shortages; try not to have hour long showers! Don’t leave lights, air conditioners or fans on when you leave the room – you wouldn’t at home!
Respect the environment you are in, especially when in national parks or reserves. Pay attention to rules about keeping on paths, keeping a distance from animals and not removing any of the natural habitat.
Relax and immerse yourself in the differences of the culture you are in – you’ll be back home in the familiar soon enough (and wishing you were still on holiday!). These cultural differences are part of what makes your experience special.
If you would like to offset the carbon dioxide that will be produced on your flights you can do this on our website (on our Responsible travel page). We work with climatecare, who will reduce the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide that you produce in another part of the World through their emission reduction projects. These projects are low carbon efficient technologies in developing countries and not only serve to reduce emissions but also help to spread the adoption of low carbon technologies and improve the quality of life for local communities. Details of climatecare’s projects can be found on their website.
If you would like to contribute to our Worldwide projects, helping communities all over the World, you can also do this on our website or with a sales consultant. Please refer to our responsible travel page on the website for details of our current projects. Any donation you make will be matched £ for £ by Imaginative Traveller (up to a maximum of £1000).
Have a great trip!
Please do let us know if you have any comments about responsible travel at email@example.comThe Imaginative Traveller & Gecko's Adventures This trip is operated by our partner company, Gecko's Adventures. Gecko's is an Australia based company with more than 10 years experience in adventure travel and they share our ethos for offering unique holiday adventures. As this is a code shared departure you can expect there to be both Imaginative Traveller and Gecko's travellers on your trip.
Last updated: 03/04/2012