- Kayak the peaceful waters of the Ou River and picnic on the riverbanks
- Trek to the summit of a towering mountain for views over the Laotian jungle
- Cycle past rice paddies and bamboo forests on the trails around Nong Khiaw
- Wander the quaint side streets of Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Welcome to Northern Laos. There's so much to experience in this natural wonderland of lush rivers, limestone peaks, and thick jungles that you can't possibly do it all - but this four-day itinerary, which includes cultural sightseeing in Luang Prabang and outdoor adventures on bicycle and kayak, offers an excellent overview of the area. Combine the trip with a larger tour around Laos and Northern Vietnam, or embrace this quick but action-packed plan as a standalone trip. Either way, it's an unforgettable journey, especially for outdoorsy travelers interested in history, architecture, and nature.
|Day 1||Explore Luang Prabang||Luang Prabang|
|Day 2||Bicycle tour around Nong Khiaw||Homestay with local family|
|Day 3||Kayaking on the Ou River||Private bungalow at mountain resort|
|Day 4||Mountain hike; return to Luang Prabang|
Day 1: Arrive in Luang Prabang
The trip begins in a sacred place: Luang Prabang, the heart of Laotian culture. It's a small town surrounded by mountains and strategically located at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers. With its gilded Buddhist monasteries, quaint side streets, and grand villas, it's no surprise to learn it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Today, you'll go on a guided walking tour of the city's historic center. Note the range of architectural styles on view, from traditional Laotian styles to the French colonial buildings dating from the early 20th century.
After dinner, some travelers opt to rest up for the outdoor activities of the next few days. If you're up for it, however, Luang Prabang's colorful night market is a treat for the senses.
Day 2: Go mountain biking around Nong Khiaw
You'll be up early for breakfast today: it's a scenic three-hour drive from Luang Prabang to the far-flung mountain town of Nong Khiaw, located on the banks of the Ou River and surrounded by striking limestone formations.
Upon arrival in Nong Khiaw, you'll have a riverside picnic lunch before setting off on a guided bicycle tour. Most of the activity involves pedaling on flat dirt trails, though there are a few small hills to navigate — some travelers choose to climb those on foot instead of cycling. The journey takes you past rice paddies and forests of towering bamboo before reaching the village of Sop Khan.
Here, in the village, you'll have a once-in-a-lifetime lodging experience. Instead of sleeping in a hotel, you'll have a homestay with a local family — it's a quick way to have an immersive experience in the rural Laotian lifestyle.
Day 3: Paddling on the Nam Ou River
Customize your trip with help from a local travel specialist.
You'll spend today on the water, floating past gorgeous mountain scenery on a kayak journey down the Ou River. For lunch, the group will stop along the shore to have another riverside picnic. Later in the day, you'll return to Nong Khiaw, where you'll check into a resort with great views of the river.
Enjoy a restful evening at the resort, lingering over dinner and relaxing in your private bungalow. Sit on your patio after dark: you'll hear the sounds of water and birds chirping in the surrounding forest.
Day 4: Hiking in the mountains near Nong Khiaw
Make sure you have plenty to eat for breakfast at the resort. The last day of this short itinerary begins with a trek to the summit of the second-highest mountain in the region. The trail leads you almost straight uphill on the short but challenging 40- to 60-minute hike. At the top, of course, you'll be rewarded with panoramic views of the thick jungle below.
You'll have lunch back at the resort, and some time to shower and pack your bags before the three-hour drive back to Luang Prabang. Whether you're continuing your journey in Laos or catching a flight back home, you're sure to rest well after so much fresh air and exercise on this brief but dynamic introduction to northern Laos.