Discover the heady rush of Bangkok before travelling north through the lush farmland, quirky cities and ancient temple ruins of Northern Thailand towards Laos. Laos will blow you away with its mountains and vibrant cultures, amazing wilderness and wildlife. You’ll follow narrow mountain roads to scenic rivers and waterfalls, discover underground rivers and caves, visit UNESCO World Heritage sites and experience rural village life with a unique homestay experience. In Cambodia you’ll visit the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat, uncover Cambodia’s gruesome history at the Killing Fields and S21 Prison, try the local cuisine and chill out on the beautiful beaches in the south. Cycle or trek the Bokor National Parks and get to know the locals in a remote village homestay, before returning to Bangkok or travelling on to your next destination.
Arrival in Bangkok
Sawadee, Sabaidee (hello) and welcome! Your adventure kicks off in the buzzing Asian metropolis of Bangkok, Thailand. If you arrive early in the day feel free to check out the vibrant markets and ancient temples that make up only a small side of this multifaceted city. Be at our Stray Shop on Khao San Road at 6pm to meet your Tour Leader and your new travel mates for a Welcome Night introduction. We’ll cover how Stray works, answer any questions you have and make sure everyone is ready for tomorrow morning’s departure. Afterwards, make the most of your first night by getting to know each other over a delicious Thai dinner and a few cold beverages on Khao San Road.
Bangkok to Chiang Mai (via Ayutthaya)
Meet your Tour Leader back at the Stray Bangkok Shop in the morning to depart for the UNESCO World Heritage site of Ayutthaya. We arrive mid-morning, allowing you plenty of time to explore the ‘Venice of the East’ by bike or boat. Ayutthaya is the former capital of the Siamese empire and was once a grandiose city, but many of the ancient monuments were ruined when it was attacked by an invading army. Nevertheless, it is still a fascinating historical park that offers a glimpse of bygone splendour. This afternoon we board our overnight train and head for the city of Chiang Mai.
Arrival in Chiang Mai
We arrive into Chiang Mai train station between 8am - 11am. Chiang Mai is a popular place to hop off for many travellers and an amazing city full of endless activity options, such as Thai cooking classes, bike tours or Muay Thai kickboxing. There are over 300 Buddhist temples to discover, you can visit the old walled-city, see the Tapae Gate or pick up a bargain at the famous night market and check out the lively music scene.
Today you get to experience one of our favourite adventure activities, the Flight of the Gibbon zip-line tour. After the swinging good adrenaline rush of the zip-line, you are free to enjoy dinner at one of the many great restaurants in Chiang Mai, then browse the night market, take in a ladyboy show or the Muay Thai boxing or head out for a few drinks with friends.
Chiang Mai to Houay Xai
This morning we depart Chiang Mai to head for the Thailand-Laos border. We’ll make a stop near Chiang Rai to check out the famous and intriguing White Temple (Wat Rong Khun). Wat Rong is a unique modern Buddhist temple that features some curious statues and murals that include images from Star Wars and The Matrix, Freddie Kruger’s head hanging in the trees and a giant Predator emerging from the garden. We stop here long enough to grab a snack, stretch our legs and take a few photos before we continue on to cross the border into Laos. Once in Laos we take a short tuk-tuk ride into the chilled out town of Houay Xai, our stop for the night.
Houay Xai to Ban Pak Nguey
Leaving Houay Xai you’ll board our private slow boat up the Mekong River to the secluded village of Ban Pak Nguey. Sit back and soak up this incredible journey as you wind your way through lush farmland, thriving jungle and rugged mountain scenery, drifting past water buffalo, locals fishing, and kids splashing in the shallows. We arrive in Ban Pak Nguey in the late afternoon. Here you will get a taste of traditional Lao village life by staying with a family in their home. Experience a special Baci (welcoming) Ceremony, swim in the river, visit the school and help the kids with an English lesson. Play a game of football with the kids, explore the local temple, go fishing and don’t forget to try the local whiskey.
Ban Pak Nguey (Homestay) to Luang Prabang
We wave goodbye to the village and jump back aboard our private boat to head downriver to the famous limestone Pak Ou Caves. Pak Ou is an important pilgrimage site for Lao people, and here you will see thousands of Buddhist images that have been placed throughout the caves over hundreds of years. Back on board our boat a short trip takes us to the UNESCO World Heritage town, Luang Prabang. Luang Prabang has an old world feel that gives you the sense you’ve stepped back in time into a picturesque postcard setting. The fusion of French Colonial architecture with traditional Lao design set against a backdrop of misty mountains and lush green jungle makes this a truly majestic place.
Enjoy all this UNESCO World Heritage town has to offer. Luang Prabang is home to the National Palace Museum, Wat Xieng Thong (the oldest monastery in town) and plenty of other ancient Buddhist temples and sacred sites to explore. It’s a great place to spend a few days exploring, with options to discover rural villages by cycling or trekking the area, take a traditional Lao cooking class, kayak the Mekong River, shop at the night market or, for culture buffs, visit one of the many beautiful temples. So you get the most out of your stay in Luang Prabang, your itinerary includes the unforgettable half-day ‘Rice Experience’ and a trip to the beautiful Kuang Si Waterfalls with entrance to the Free the Bears centre.
Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng
It’s an early start as we head south through mountainous terrain on one of the most scenic journeys you’ll experience on the Laos travel route. Travel past hill-tribe villages, vast green valleys and rolling hills; we’ll make a special stop at the ‘loo with a view’. Our journey today takes us to the little riverside town Vang Vieng, formerly known as the best place to take tubing trips down the Nam Song River to visit riverside bars and indulge in cheap booze. These days you can still go tubing, but now you get to enjoy the beauty of Vang Vieng`s landscape without the sound of pounding bass in the background. Upon arrival into Vang Vieng there is plenty of time to go tubing, start partying or kick back and watch re-runs of old TV shows playing at the bars around town.
Vang Vieng to Vientiane
Today we cruise through to the capital of Laos, stopping at the impressive Tham Jang Cave that was once used as a bunker during a Chinese invasion in the 19th century. On arrival in Vientiane your Tour Leader will point out the city’s main attractions including Putaxai, Pha That Luang, That Dam, the Presidential Palace, and the COPE centre - a non-profit organisation that educates visitors and raises awareness for victims of UXO (Unexploded Ordinance) and the Secret War. After check-in at our centrally located accommodation, you are free to explore the city, get a massage, go shopping or people watch at one of the local restaurants by the river.
Vientiane to Kong Lor (7km Cave)
An early escape this morning takes us away from the crowds and south to Kong Lor in the Phu Hin Bun National Park. About an hour into the journey we visit Wat Prabat Phonsone, the ‘Buddha’s Footprint,’ a popular and important pilgrimage site for local communities. Tonight you stay in the very rural and very remote Kong Lor village, surrounded by rice paddies, stunning limestone karst mountains and tobacco fields. This is a photographer’s paradise, the gateway to the famous Kong Lor Cave and a great place to get out and go trekking or relax with a cold Beer Lao.
Kong Lor (7km Cave)
This morning you will head down to the cave (Tham Kong Lor to the locals) and venture deep into the 7km abyss! A ride in a traditional motorised canoe is included so you can take in the amazing rock formations and swim in the cool waters at the cave entrance. There may also be the option to travel to Ban Tabak village, to take a ride in a `bomb boat’ made from the metal fuel casings of B52 bombers, dumped on Laos during the Secret War (this is subject to availability on the day).
Kong Lor (7km Cave) to Thakek
Today is a short travel day as we head for the small town of Thakek on the banks of the Mekong River. Thakek is a major trading point and border town between Thailand and Laos. It has a strong French Colonial influence and is a great base for hopping off to explore the Lao jungle, limestone cliffs, pristine rivers, lakes and hidden waterfalls in the nearby Phu Hin Bun National Park.
Thakek to Xe Champhone
This is what Stray is all about: getting totally off the beaten track! We head into the Xe Champhone wetlands - an area so remote that occasionally our Stray buses can`t access it, so we have to jump on board an off-road truck. Today we’ll stop at Old Wat Taleow, a beautiful temple that was bombed during the Secret War and somehow the golden Buddha inside remained undamaged. Then it’s on to Turtle Lake where you might spot and possibly get to feed the sacred soft-shell turtles. Next stop is the 200-year-old Hotay Pidok Buddhist library, a fascinating stilt structure that’s home to thousands of Sanskrit scriptures and bamboo tablets. Before heading for our guesthouse in the small village of Ban Keng Kok, we stop at the aptly named Monkey Forest to get up close with curious and friendly wild rhesus macaque monkeys. Don’t forget to grab some bananas!
Xe Champhone to Pakse
Driving south this morning we head for the bright lights of Pakse. From here, you can check out the refreshingly cool climate of the Bolaven Plateau. The Plateau features a lush green landscape, fertile coffee and tea plantations, and many spectacular waterfalls, including the stunning Tad Ngeuang Waterfall where you can go for a swim. For those who want a little adventure, Pakse is a great place to hop off the bus and experience the unforgettable Tree Top Explorer adventure. This amazing experience includes a trek through the jungle, tree house accommodation, wildlife spotting, thundering waterfalls, and a zip-line system that will have you flying through the tree-tops.
Pakse to Don Det
An early start takes us to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Wat Phou, an ancient Khmer temple and the former capital of the Khmer empire before the Angkor Wat. We allow time to explore the site and climb up to the mountain top temple for some spectacular views over the man-made reservoir. We’ll then head south to the backpacker mecca of Si Phan Don, otherwise known as the 4000 Islands. Here you can experience the laidback lifestyle and natural beauty of Laos’ landlocked islands with a leisurely tubing trip down the Mekong River, floating past locals fishing and people lounging on their bamboo riverside verandas. It’s also a great place to take a boat trip to spot rare Irrawaddy dolphins, or cycle across to the neighbouring Don Khone Island to discover the remaining remnants of the only steam engine railway in Laos and marvel at the thunderous Li Phi waterfall.
Don Det to Siem Reap
Say goodbye to Laos - it’s an early start to join the Stray bus for the journey into Cambodia. A short drive will bring you to the Don Kralor Border where you will complete the immigration process and continue into Cambodia. Today your destination is the small, but vibrant city of Siem Reap, best known as home to the UNESCO World Heritage listed Angkor Temple complex. Arriving in Siem Reap in the late evening there will be time to freshen up before dinner and drinks with your group along the iconic Pub Street.
Today you get to experience two of Siem Reap’s highlight activities. First you’ll explore the UNESCO World Heritage Angkor temples, a crucial part of the Cambodian national identity. Then finish the day with the unforgettably unique Phare Circus, , a locally run non-profit troupe that provides disadvantaged young people from the community with a place to learn the skills needed to earn their livings as professional performing artists.
Siem Reap to Battambang
Today you depart Siem Reap early enough to arrive in Battambang for a late lunch. After lunch we’ll take a ride on the Bamboo Train, a rail system that was built by the French and destroyed by the Khmer Rouge, but the locals still use it as simple form of transport. Then we make our way to tonight’s village stay, where you’ll stay in a Cambodian family’s home to experience rural community life first-hand. Many people consider this to be one of the highlights of their Cambodia trip and you’ll soon see why after meeting your hosts, sharing a meal with them and wandering through the village and nearby rice paddies.
Battambang to Sihanoukville
A full day of travel takes us from the countryside to the popular seaside town of Sihanoukville on the Cambodian coast. En-route we pass through the bustling riverside Khmer town Kompong Chhnang (pronounced ‘kom–pong–ch–nang’), with its busy market and floating village. Arriving in Sihanoukville by late afternoon, settle in at your guesthouse and then you are free to wander down to the beach for a refreshing dip or kick back at one of the many beachfront restaurants and bars. Tonight join one of the beach parties or have seafood BBQ on beach.
Today is yours to relax in Cambodia’s premier beach location. Catch some rays on the beach and go for a swim, or do one of the many water sports including diving, fishing, snorkelling, kayaking or hire a jet ski. Learn to cook Khmer classics like Fish Amok or deep fried bananas at the traditional Khmer cooking school, take a trip out to the surrounding islands, or hire a bicycle and explore the nearby beaches. Tonight you can head to Ochheuteal Beach for some partying with the rest of the backpacker crowd, or watch the sun go down at one of the beachfront restaurants. This is a popular spot to hop off for those wanting time to check out beautiful Koh Rong and the other nearby islands.
Sihanoukville to Kampot
A three hour drive brings us to the little riverside town of Kampot where you will have a free afternoon to visit the fascinating salt and pepper farms, go cycling or trek in the Bokor National Park. Your itinerary includes a relaxing sunset boat cruise on the Kampot River. Tonight we recommend sampling the exceptional regional seafood dishes at one of the many restaurants on the riverfront –the fried shrimp with green pepper corns is an absolute must try!
Kampot to Koh Tunsay
We don’t have too far to go this morning as a short drive brings us to the old French resort town of Kep where we board a traditional Khmer wooden fishing boat and travel to our overnight sanctuary, Koh Tunsay Island. Once on shore embrace the relaxed island way of life. You are free to explore the mountainous terrain, chill out on the beach, swim in the warm sea waters and watch another gorgeous sunset.
Koh Tunsay to Phnom Penh
Tearing ourselves away from the beach we take the boat back to the mainland. From here we head for the bustling Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, stopping for lunch before we take an afternoon tour of the infamous Khmer Rouge S21 Prison and Killing Fields. While it is a very sobering experience to learn more about Cambodia’s harsh recent history, it is one of the most recommended things to do in Phnom Penh. This evening you are free to walk around and discover the many sights of this energetic city or get out mingling with the locals while watching the sun set over the Mekong River.
Phnom Penh to Siem Reap
This morning we leave lively Phnom Penh and make an express return with your Tour Leader to Siem Reap on a public bus. After you arrive in the afternoon, make the most of your final evening in Siem Reap by shopping for souvenirs at the market or having one last memorable night out on Pub Street with your Stray group.
It’s time to say good-bye to Cambodia - the trip from Siem Reap to Bangkok is an unguided public bus connection which your Tour Leader will organise for you. To return to Bangkok you will be driven to the border town of Poipet to process through Thai immigration before the last drive on to Bangkok. Expect to arrive at the bus station in the evening. We hope you had a blast on your Stray adventure!
- 22 nights’ accommodation as per itinerary (includes ensuite and air conditioned where possible)
- 1 overnight sleeping train/bus
- 2 Stray homestays, includes meals, activities and donation
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Trip Name: Mekong Flexible Tour
Duration: 26 Days
From Price: 2250
Supplier Tour ID/Link Tour Code: BKKMEK/158905
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