Northern Laos is topographically incredible! These higher elevations are inhabited by a variety of tribes who have never fully integrated into the modern Laos state. Flowing between these stunning mountains are wild rivers, including the iconic Mekong which at this point rushes through narrow rocky sections where Elephants occasionally can be seen on the shore. Despite the jagged mountain landscape, Northern Laos can be ridden by those who are not fond of hill climbing.

Overview

This tour offers a moderately challenging ride with rolling hills, but without any sustained, major climbs, so it is actually achievable for anyone who likes to be out riding for 5-6 hours a day. The boat days and free day also mean that this is not as grueling a ride as some of those where you are doing successive days of riding.

The boat trips on this itinerary suit those who are happy to spend some time gazing out at a beautiful landscape, reading a book and just having some quiet time. Your guide is always happy to be engaged in conversation, so the boats time is a good opportunity to really learn quite a lot about Laos from the guide. 

The standard of accommodation on this tour is also great overall, so it's well suited to those who want to get into the more adventurous and remote areas but really value a good night's sleep!

Brief itinerary

Day Highlights Distance Overnight
Day 1 Explore Luang Prabang 15-20 km  
Day 2 Bike & Hike to Kuang Sii Waterfall 55 km  
Day 3 Cruise up the Mekong River to Pak Beng (no cycling) -  
Day 4 Cycle to Oudom Xai 80 km  
Day 5 Cycle to Muang Khua 90 km  
Day 6 Boat to Nong Khiaw - Nong Khiaw
Day 7 Free Day in Nong Khiaw With Options - Nong Khiaw
Day 8 Cycle & Boat to Luang Prabang 50 km  
Day 9 Departure / Tour Conclusion    

Detailed itinerary

Day 1: Explore Luang Prabang - 15-20km

Arriving in the middle of the day is best so that you have time to explore the town.  A car will be waiting for you when you land in Luang Prabang and the drive to the hotel is only 20 minutes.

After fitting up the bikes, you can head out with the guide for an introductory ride of Luang Prabang. Starting at Wat Xiengthong, the most significant temple in the town, we zig-zag through the peninsula with its heritage buildings and atmospheric feel. A stop at a coffee shop helps keep us going and then the ride continues up out of town and along the banks of the Mekong River.  We visit a paper making village, a rice winery and then take a boat downstream to Ock Pop Tock, a silk weaving center where you can learn about the life of silk from the worm to the loom while sipping a cool drink. 

Back at the hotel for a sundowner, then head out for a delicious, authentic introduction to Lao cuisine.

Day 2: Bike & Hike to Kuang Sii Waterfall - 55km

For the first real ride of the trip, we make a day trip out to Kuang Sii Waterfall, one of the most significant waterfalls in the country with aqua blue water flowing over limestone through lush forest. The ride out to the falls is relatively easy, with just two sustained hills on a paved surface.

After leaving the town, the road takes you through teak plantations and lovely villages with the Mekong on your right. You'll reach the waterfall late morning and visit the Free the Bears enclosure where you can find a group of inquisitive Asiatic Black Bears. You'll have time for a swim in refreshing water, then lunch.

After some time to digest our meal, the hike starts. It's an enjoyable and relatively easy walk up through the lush forest surrounding the waterfall and then along a forested ridge. After two hours walking, we arrive in a Hmong Village. 

The Hmong people are the most populous minority group in Laos and generally live at the higher elevations, although these days they have been coaxed down into the lower level hills by the govt, and NGO's working in Laos. 

We hit the bikes again and take a great, mostly downhill ride back to Luang Prabang.

Day 3: Cruise up the Mekong River to Pak Beng (no cycling)

As the fog lifts off the hills and the monks make their rounds for the alms offerings, it will be time to finish off your breakfast and check out of the hotel. The long, covered, wooden boat with a comfortable interior, including lots of space to move around, is ready to sail. We lash the bikes to the roof, meet the family who makes up the crew and off we go.

This is a very beautiful stretch of river with hardly any development, save for a few tiny villages that house families who have lived on the river for generations. If we are lucky, we may see elephants down by the water's edge, either wild ones drinking or working ones carting cargo/logs.

Most of the day is spent on the boat, but it's a great way to relax. Read a book, like on a bamboo mat in the sun, or have a drink from the mini bar on the boat.

You can expect to arrive into the transit town of Pak Beng late afternoon. This is the halfway point between Luang Prabang and the Thai border crossing, so there is boat traffic in both directions.

The lodge-style accommodation is by the river on the steep hill leading away from it.

Day 4: Cycle to Oudom Xai - 80km

Pak Beng is a town that gets started early. Groups of travelers will be flocking down to the boats to continue their journey up or downstream. A small number though will be heading away from the river and that’s us. We enjoy breakfast overlooking the river, then get started on our ride for the day. We immediately encounter some hills that will help to get the blood moving and clear the head. Once we pass the first 7km or so, the road evens out into a continuing series of short ups and downs, where the momentum from one down helps you to get up the next hill.

The villages that we pass through on this day are quite typical of Northern Laos, where subsistence farming is the cornerstone of existence and in some cases, the farmers have been able to supplement income by weaving or building basic furniture, baskets etc. We can stop into one of the weaving homes to see this time-consuming process in full swing.

A vehicle transfer is needed in the afternoon to keep the distance manageable, so we can expect to arrive at our lovely eco-resort accommodation around 3-4 pm. This is a real treat of a location among the hills and the villages, but with a great pool and comfortable rooms among the many great amenities.

Day 5: Cycle to Muang Khua - 90km

Breakfast among the hills and overlooking the pool is a great way to start out on our 90km of riding. The scenery is again, very beautiful as we pass through various ethnic communities.

The road today is similar to yesterday in some ways, but because we follow a river downstream, we will enjoy a little more down than up. Actually, this can be quite a quick ride, although there are some good village stops along the way where we can see the family way of life in this relatively remote corner of Laos.

Muang Khua is another town on the way to somewhere else and that is Vietnam. It is just a village really with a collection of lodgings and eateries along the river. There are some nice, but quite steep walks up behind the village with some nice views.

Day 6: Boat to Nong Khiaw

There is often a fog sitting over the river here in Muang Khua. Once we’ve had breakfast, it is time for another boat ride. The river this time is the Nam Ou River, a smaller, fast flowing river. We use a smaller boat, so a bit less room to move than the Mekong Boat, but a shorter journey of about 4 hours. The scenery is stunning and the time will pass quickly.

Nong Khiaw is a beautiful location, just a village with a bridge over the river and sheer limestone cliffs on both sides to the northern end. When the river is low, there is a small river beach where you can swim and there are two nice, family owned restaurants nearby the hotel. The hotel is a small scale, bungalow development, built to blend in with Its surrounds.

Day 7: Free Day in Nong Khiaw With Options

Nong Khiaw is such a nice, peaceful place, that we thought you might like to spend another night there.

There are some optional activities available that include kayaking, rock climbing, and trekking out to some of the more remote villages, or you might like to just relax and enjoy your surrounds, maybe even have a massage.

Day 8: Cycle & Boat to Luang Prabang - 50km

The ride from Nong Khiaw to the next junction town is around 25km and is lovely riding on a very quiet road through villages with well-kept gardens and a rolling terrain with a little more up than down.

Arriving at the junction, there is a coffee on offer before we ride on with a busier road through still very enjoyable scenery to the next bridge crossing on the Nam Ou for lunch.

After lunch, a boat is waiting to take us over the confluence of the Nam Ou and the Mekong to the Pak Ou Caves. We enter the caves by a staircase and see the thousands of small Buddha statues stashed around them. Then one last boat ride with nibbles and drinks brings us into Luang Prabang at sunset.

Day 9: Departure / Tour Conclusion

If you are an early riser, you may like to participate in the alms offering rituals to the monks and novices. Otherwise, sleep in, enjoy a slow breakfast and when it is time to go to the airport, a car will be waiting for you.