Laid-back Laos: Where the echoes of French colonial empire linger in the unhurried east


Above: traditional teak wood boats on the Mekong in the UNESCO-designated city of Luang Prabang  


Discover the ancient kingdom that is Thailand's quieter, less-traveled cousin, an ancient land of serene temples, elephants, and French-style cafés and patisseries. A place where equanimity, graciousness and generosity remain the cornerstones of life. 


A young novice monk looks out the window of a Wat or temple, its walls decorated in the traditional Lao style, with tiled mosaics of colored glass illustrating scenes of daily life and worship.


FLY INTO LAOS, a destination on the cusp of being blessed or cursed—depending on how you look at it—by an excess of visitors; a place National Geographic calls “the world’s next great foodie destination.” This exploration of the gentle Southeast Asian country once nicknamed “the Land of a Million Elephants” begins in Luang Prabang (locally, Louangphabang), a UNESCO-heritage town situated on the banks of the mighty Mekong, cradled by the deeply forested mountains and limestone cliffs of the Phou Thou and Phou Nang mountains.

The old town center of Luang Prabang has a laid-back café culture, one of the legacies of the French.


The morning after your arrival, enjoy a relaxed breakfast on your own at one of the delightfully Gallic restaurants or cafés in town, followed by an easy stroll down the charming main street or a farther exploration of surrounding neighborhoods where handsome colonial mansions occasionally peek at you through bougainvillea leaves. That afternoon, embark on a guided (walking) tour of Luang Prabang’s most famous temples or Wats, meet a well-known local photographer and glean insights about the town, its history and its culture.

Gleaming wetly after a sudden rainy season thunderstorm, a golden pagoda shines through the densely forested landscape of Luang Prabang or Luoangphabang, "royal city" of Laos.


Added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1995, the city includes 16th-century Wat Xieng Thong, a temple with a shimmering golden exterior; the 100-metre (330-ft) Phousi, a hill from which there are extensive views of the city and the Mekong; colorful Talat, the bustling local market filled with local crafts, produce and—if you have an adventurous palate—the delicately flavored rice noodle soups and hearty Laotian meat and fish dishes that are gaining the attention of foodies intrigued by the piquant, vibrant and subtle flavors of Laos.

A young mother in Luang Prabang waits for Buddhist monks to begin their daily morning rounds of ritual alms-gathering so she can model Buddhist generosity for her young son and daughter with the help of their grandmother (far left).


Later, take a traditional teak boat up the Mekong to see the extraordinary Park Ou caves, filled with Buddhas of a myriad types. Other excursions include the Royal Palace, now the National Museum, the surprising multi-tiered pools of the Kuang Si falls which cascade into white limestone formations. Then, on your final day in Laos’ royal city, meet a Buddhist monk for an introduction to meditation. 

Declaring Laos "the world's next great foodie destination," a recent Nat Geo feature called the foods of Laos "Flavorful. Soulful. Beautiful." Laotian food and flavors are complex, diverse, and gaining popularity among international foodies, as evidenced by the brisk business at this local vendor at a night market. 


A short 45-minute flight brings you to the second half of this extension journey. For dinner this evening, splurge on an excellent French cuisine-inspired meal featuring local influences and ingredients at one of the city’s upmarket restaurants with a carafe of wine. Vientiane (pronounced “Wieng Chang” by locals), Laos’ capital, is where the French colonial influences in Laos are perhaps most strongly felt, owing in no small part to the city’s architecture. Many local residences, from small houses to large mansions, are built in the old French Colonial style.

The Patuxai or "Victory Arch" of Vientiane is modeled on the Arc de Triomphe of Paris. Ironically, it was built to commemorate those who lost their lives in the struggle for freedom from France.


Skirting the riverside along the older part of the city, called Quai Fa Ngum, walk the shaded boulevards of Lane Xang Avenue— the “Champs-Élysées” of Vientiane— where many examples of French colonial architecture, complete with shutters and red-tiled roofs, survive. In Patuxai, walk under a replica of Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, featuring a meeting of Laotian and French styles and motifs and, for an optional confrontation with the troubling legacy of America’s “secret war” in Laos, visit the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE), which plays an important role in rehabilitating disabled people, many of whom are injured by unexploded ordnance left from the war. 

Like this vintage auto from a bygone age in Luang Prabang, Laos seems caught in many ways in a time-warp evoking the elegance of an older and slower time even as it steps out into the rush of the 21st century.


Spend your final day in Laos at a cooking class learning to cook three traditional Laotian dishes and follow it up with an evening stroll along the banks of the Mekong, through a colorful night market before finishing the evening with a Laotian dinner and Beerlao or another elegant evening dining experience at one of the upscale French-inspired restaurants recommended by your guide. ™

The popular Laotian cooking class in Vientiane features traditional ingredients and cooking techniques taught in a friendly and fun atmosphere by a local chef. 



Fly from Bangkok to the ancient city of Luoangphabhang (Luang Prabang) | Take a walking tour of the city's Wats & meet a local resident and photographer | Take a traditional teak boat to the Pak Ou Caves | See the Royal Palace National Museum and Kuang Si (Limestone) Waterfalls and learn meditation from an ordained Buddhist monk | In Vientiane, take a walk along the old town center | Visit area (golden) stupas and monasteries | Take a Laotian cooking class | Stroll at day's end past the river bank to a colorful night market before flying back to Bangkok | Overnight in Bangkok before flying to Bhutan (if you choose a pre-trip extension) or prepare for your return flight home (if you choose a post-trip extension.) 


Like these ancient Buddha statues, the people and the landscape of Laos have weathered absolute monarchy, French occupation, American bombs, and Communist austerity.




Your journey into the landscape and culture of Laos through its two premier centers of Luang Prabang and Vientiane includes a walking tour of area Wats or temples, the fascinating Pak Ou caves and its myriad Buddhas, Talat Market, the Royal Palace, the Kuang Si falls, meditation with a Buddhist monk, a walking tour of Vientiane and a cooking class where you will learn to prepare three traditional Laotian dishes. In between, you will have some time to explore local restaurants and parts of both cities on your own. 


Gentle, friendly, and quick to smile, these women selling rice noodles to day-trippers visiting the famous limestone pools near Luang Prabang symbolize the timeless Laotian attitude of getting by. The people of Laos have emerged with their good humor intact despite an absolute monarchy dating to 1353, in spite of French Colonial occupation from 1893 to 1954 and, more recently, a severe period of communism that now seems to be pursuing poverty reduction and improved education, at least on paper.



We have picked a pair of properties that evoke the romance of French Indochina for this extension.  The hotels were selected for their comfort, location, and their charming blend of local culture and French colonial style.

*Please click on the gallery images of the featured lodges below for more on the main lodges on this itinerary.


Reminiscent of French Indochina, this lovely old hotel in Vientiane features a London taxi that can pick you up from the airport for the leisurely drive back to your hotel that can feel like taking a step back in time. 




Accommodation is subject to availability. If the listed properties are fully booked, alternatives will be offered. Occasionally guest numbers, the time or season of booking, renovations & repair and/or other unforeseen circumstances beyond our control may make them unavailable. In such circumstances, we always rebook our confirmed guests at resorts, hotels and lodges of equal or comparable value. Therefore, please take the Featured List of Lodges & Accommodations for your trip to mean either the establishments named in this document “or resorts, hotels or lodges of equal or comparable standard and/or value."






Laid-back Laos



9 days Round-trip from Bangkok, Thailand includes flights shown on itinerary)



Can be arranged before or after your Bhutan journey


US$3,535 per person, double occupancy


Includes: round-trip flights from Bangkok and any domestic flights or inter-country regional flights and transfers, all taxes, surcharges, accommodations, guides, transportation services, entrances and land costs*




Included Services
•    English-speaking guide.
•    Accommodation in hotels as mentioned above or equivalent.
•    Meals according to itinerary / Breakfast box in lieu of ABF when early morning flight
•    Flight ticket(s) as mentioned in the itinerary.
•    Flight from  Bangkok to Luang Prabang
•    Flight from  Luang Prabang to Vientiane
•    Flight from  Vientiane to Bangkok
•    Current fuel surcharges are included, however, these are subject to change prior to tour start date.
•    Boat ticket(s) according to the itinerary.
•    Ground transportation in private A/C vehicle.
•    1 complimentary bottle of drinking water and 1 cold towel per person per half day tour/ 2 bottles of water and 2 cold towels per person per full day tour.
•    Sightseeing incl. admission fees according to itinerary.
•    International and domestic airport taxes included in ticket.

Excluded Services

  • Visa fees, drinks, personal expenses.

Local visa costs, where applicable, are not covered and are the responsibility of the trip member; not all meals are included in order to let guests explore and try some local restaurants on their own - please consult your extension itinerary to see which meals are included and which ones are not.

Local visa costs, where applicable, are not covered and are the responsibility of the trip member; not all meals are included in order to let guests explore and try some local restaurants on their own - please consult your extension itinerary to see which meals are included and which ones are not.

Cancellation Policy

Please see our Trip Cancellation & Refund Policy in print copy (downloadable above) or ask for it by email.



Round-trip flights from Bangkok, Thailand, and any inter-country regional flights as well as domestic internal flights are included



Depart your home city for Bangkok, Thailand. Thai visas are automatically granted to US citizens and EU citizens on arrival for up to 15 days per entry.


For regional travel between Bangkok and our travel extension destinations all logistical arrangements, including round-trip flights from Bangkok, will covered under the trip cost. The flights and transfers and tour logistics in each country will be handled through our regional partners, and extension tour activities and highlights as described on our extension itineraries will be guided by experienced local guides who are licensed and government-approved in each country where our travel extensions are offered.

In some cases, you may have to prearrange your own visas to the countries listed on the extension journey (such as Myanmar).  Other countries like Laos and Cambodia will grant visas on arrival at all the major airports where you land, for a nominal fee ranging approximately between US$30 to US$50.

Bhutan Himalaya Expeditions is responsible for all your flights, hotels and other logistical arrangements for Bhutan. Please let us know at the time of booking your travel extension journey whether you would like to take the travel extension before or after your trip to Bhutan with us. Please note we do not require that you participate in our Travel Extensions in order to be eligible for our Bhutan journeys. Regional Travel Extensions and our featured journeys in Bhutan are priced separately.

Your Bhutan journey with us begins with your arrival in Paro and closes with your departure from the Paro Airport. Passports should be valid up to 6 months after the last date of your travel in the region. If you need to renew or request a new passport, please let us know in advance so we can send you the proper reminders and resource information.

The national airline, Druk Air, offers flights daily from Bangkok to Bhutan, and less frequently from major Indian cities Delhi and Kolkata (formerly Calcutta). Bhutan Himalaya staff will make your round trip flight arrangements to Bhutan from Bangkok, Thailand, or India.


Please note that while we design our travel extension itineraries with our regional partners to complement our Bhutan journeys, travel extensions are not operated or guided by Bhutan Himalaya Expeditions. All regional travel between Bangkok and our travel extension destinations, all logistical arrangements for the extensions, including round-trip flights from Bangkok, regional flights and domestic flights and transport, airport transfers as well as tour logistics in each country are handled by our regional partners. Travel extension tour activities and highlights as described on our extension itineraries are guided by experienced local guides who are licensed and government-approved in each country where our travel extensions are offered.

PROGRAM ACCURACY DISCLAIMER: While this is an accurate representation of this travel extension journey at the time of printing actual activities and arrangements during your journey may vary due to unexpected weather and/or changes in local conditions beyond our control. We may also change or modify the journey to best serve the needs of the journey and in response to space availability at our featured hotels and resorts, or the spaces available on regional flights. When modifications are made we will make our best efforts to distribute an updated itinerary prior to your arrival with all the changes. Please note, however, that this may not always be possible for a variety of reasons. In all instances we strive to always improve the quality of the featured journey through such changes if any are deemed necessary.


If you have any further questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to send us a message, or call us at 1.805.534.9224 during normal business hours. We look forward to sharing the happiness of the Bhutan Himalaya with you soon!