In the early afternoon, our lead guide meets us at the Luang Prabang Airport for our transfer to our hotel. In the evening, we run through a brief orientation before riding by local tuk-tuk to a nearby restaurant to enjoy our first taste of Laotian cooking. Dinner included.
We spend the day in Luang Prabang, often referred to as the jewel of Indochina. Mounting our bicycles, we pedal through this UNESCO World Heritage Site to the former Royal Palace?now the national museum?to view artifacts belonging to numerous past rulers. We also explore some of Luang Prabang's amazing Wats (temples) including perhaps the most stunning, Wat Xieng Thong, built in 1560 and brightly decorated with gold and colored glass. A short hike up Mount Phousi in the center of the city offers great views of the surrounding temples. In early afternoon, we visit nearby Ban Xang Khok, a village specializing in the production of silk, cotton and natural paper products. Dedicated to weaving and breeding silkworms, the inhabitants have produced crafts for hundreds of years using the same colors and motifs. This is a genuine shopping opportunity as a wonderful array of high quality textiles, dresses, bags, scarves and tapestries are available for purchase. We have the remainder of the afternoon at leisure to explore on our own or to participate in a casual game of p�tanque before dinner. A relic from the French colonial past, p�tanque is a form of boules played everywhere, by anyone. It is Laos' national sport. We enjoy a traditional dance show and dinner this evening. All meals included.
Cycling: 5 miles.
Today is full of local experiences! The early risers among us will enjoy witnessing long lines of orange-robed monks leaving their pagodas to collect alms and food offerings from the faithful residents. After breakfast, we get the amazing opportunity to interact with and learn about Asian elephants at the MandaLao Elephant Conservation. MandaLao is dedicated to elephant education and welfare. We'll spend the morning feeding, observing, and walking with these remarkable animals. This afternoon we'll visit beautiful Kuang Si waterfalls. Swim in the cool, clear water at the base of the cascade, hike to the top of the waterfall, or visit Tat Kuang Si rescue center near the falls to learn about bear conservation in Laos. We'll finish the day off with a stop at Laos Buffalo Dairy where you can try buffalo milk or ice cream. The rest of the evening is yours to relax, shop, or sightsee. Breakfast and lunch included.
Walking: 2 to 3 miles?
After breakfast, we drive to the tranquil northern highlands near Pak Mong where we start our cycling for the day. We pedal through the picturesque countryside and eventually into the sleepy village of Nong Khiaw. Located on the banks of the Nam Ou River and surrounded by a range of dramatic limestone peaks, Nong Khiaw is an ideal base for further explorations. We will have time to stroll around the village and enjoy the scenic panoramas before dinner. Overnight in Nong Khiaw tonight. All meals included.
Driving: 2.5 hours; Cycling: 17 miles.
Today's hike provides a wonderful opportunity to gain an intimate perspective of rural Laotian village life. After a short longboat ride upstream on the Nam Ou River, our trek starts along the jungle-covered banks of the Lao Leum Village. Appreciating the serene setting, we observe the inhabitants as they carry out their daily tasks. Our guide will be happy to act as translator and facilitate interaction with the local people. Waving our goodbyes, we continue our hike into the mountains, passing terraced rice fields and climbing until we reach a refreshing waterfall. Here we?ll pause and enjoy a break before continuing another hour to the Lao-Khamu village of Sop Vanh, where we?ll learn about the history of Buddhism at a charming local temple. By longboat, we?ll depart back to Nong Khiew to enjoy the rest of the evening at leisure. Breakfast and lunch are included.
Boating: 45 minutes; Hiking: 4 hours on rural trails mostly flat with some incline.
We depart Nong Khiew after breakfast and drive along the river to the starting point of our kayaking journey. We kayak on the Nam Ou River to its confluence with the Mekong River and on to the entrance of the highly venerated Pak Ou caves, known for their magnificent assortment of Lao-style Buddha sculptures left over the centuries by pilgrims. Back in our kayaks, we continue our paddle down the Mekong to the village of Ban Xanghai. Ban Xanghai is well-known for the production of traditional lau-lao (Lao whiskey) and lau-hai (Lao wine). We have an opportunity to sample the finished product before making our way back to Luang Prabang. The remainder of the evening is at leisure. Don?t miss the night market in town for last minute souvenirs and tasty local fare. Breakfast and lunch are included.
Kayaking: 5 hours; Driving: 1.5 hours.
Enjoy a final morning in Luang Prabang before catching an afternoon flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia, in preparation for our exploration of the wondrous temples of Angkor and their environs. The name Siem Reap translates to "Siamese defeated" and refers to the Khmer Empire's 17th-century victory over an army from the Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya. Time permitting, upon arrival we?ll head directly into town to catch the last rays of sunshine illuminating the Angkor temple tops. After, we?ll check into our hotel and enjoy dinner together in Siem Reap. Breakfast and dinner included.
This morning, we?ll make our way to the Bayon Temple. This 12th-century masterpiece is a study in grandeur and is well known for its 54 towers of enigmatic faces representing the 54 provinces of the Great Khmer Empire. Next up, the enveloped Ta Prohm, whose parapets and reliefs have been left to perish in the visive grip of fig trees, vines and other jungle vegetation.
We?ll break for lunch before continuing on to Cambodia?s finest national heritage, the central city of Angkor Wat?considered to be the biggest religious structure in the world (originally Hindu, then Buddhist) and one of the best-preserved temples in the region. Built in the first half of the 12th century during the reign of Suryavarman II, Angkor Wat is renowned for its intricate carvings and beautiful bas-reliefs depicting various epic battles and religious events. Over the years, it has become a symbol of Cambodia and a source of great national pride. We have ample time to explore this unforgettable site and appreciate the interpretation by our temple guide before returning to our hotel for some leisure time. This evening we?ll dine on Khmer cuisine at a stylish restaurant sublimely set in a peaceful garden. All meals included.
Cycling: 18 miles on flat terrain of jungle paths and roadways.
This morning, get in the saddle again for a gentle cycling tour to Wat Tabeng, a traditional village that is among the most scenic in Cambodia, set amidst a sea of rice fields. We continue pedaling on to the famous pink temple of Banteay Srei via 11 miles of backroads. On the way, we?ll have the opportunity to visit with local communities, see how rice paper is produced and taste Palm Wine and Palm Sugar, which are a popular local product (seasonal). Before exploring the temple, we enjoy a picnic lunch in a relaxed setting at Banteay Srei Pagoda. The marvelous Banteay Srei ("Citadel of the Women") was constructed of reddish-pink sandstone and dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. It is considered to be a jewel of the Angkor temples due to its intricate carvings and distinct coloration. The temple is exceptionally well-preserved and is a must-see during any visit to Angkor. On our return to Siem Reap, we make a sobering visit to the Landmine Museum to learn of Cambodia?s tragic history during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. All meals included.
Cycling: 35 miles on mostly flat terrain of paved and dirt roadways; Driving; 1.5 hours.
Today we hit the trailhead outside of Wat Tabeng for an energetic hike through seemingly endless rice fields and friendly local villages to the top of Kulen Mountain. Kulen Mountain is an impressive sandstone plateau in this otherwise flat area and is considered a sacred place for the Khmer. At the top, we?ll discover stone carvings in a riverbed, a large reclining Buddha from the 16th century, several hidden pagodas, and an impressive waterfall (weather dependent). The afternoon is ours to enjoy swimming and relaxing near the cascading waters and interacting with locals who also frequent the refreshing waters of this mountain treasure. From here, we'll continue for just over a mile to our secluded campsite situated on the river's edge. This serene setting is ideal for dining and camping under the stars. All meals included.
Driving: 1 hour; Hiking: 4 hours through a mix of flat and hilly terrain.
We depart Phnom Kulen this morning and transfer by private vehicle to the UNESCO biosphere reserve of Tonl� Sap. This is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and one of the world's most productive inland fisheries. Once at the lake, we begin our exploration through Kompong Klean, the largest village in the area composed of 4,000 dwellings built on wooden stilts above the waterline. After exploring the village, we will boat through the nearby canals and observe the floating villages that rise and drop up to nine meters during the course of a year. At a village house we'll stop for a traditional Khmer lunch. Return to Siem Reap to relax at our hotel before our final farewell dinner together.
Boating: 2 hours.
Today we bid farewell to our guides and fellow travelers. A group transfer will take us to the Siem Reap airport for departure. Additional services or separate transfers may be arranged. Breakfast included.