Northern Laos: A relaxed 18 day travel guide and itinerary

Sunset over the Nam Ou river, Nong Khiaw, Laos

Planning a trip to Laos but not sure where to start? Find my 18 day Northern Laos travel guide and itinerary below. It’s an incredible country – I promise you won’t regret your visit!

Laos, a landlocked country, is somewhat less travelled than its neighbours. That being said, the slow-paced nation offers a vast wilderness, dotted with quiet and laid-back rural villages and scenic towns. We travelled to Northern Laos for 18 days in December 2018 and stayed in 4 places. This provided the ideal amount of time for the relaxed Christmas break we were after, but you could easily shorten this itinerary to 2 weeks, or add extra places like Luang Namtha and the Plain of Jars in Phonsavan if you had 3 weeks to play with.

The main issue with Laos is getting around – its infrastructure is apparently improving, but as yet, the only options to travel between places is via long, bumpy roads. These long trips (4+ hours between most of the main calling points) make it difficult to pack a lot in, but the scenery you’ll see on your journeys is beautiful, and a slower pace of life is always good if you have the time!

Day 1: Arrive in Luang Prabang and drive to rural Nong Khiaw

Buying your visa at Luang Prabang airport is easy and quick. You can also pick up a SIM card here if you need to. We booked a private driver to take us direct from the airport to our Nong Khiaw hotel, which took around 3 and a half hours. Alternatively, if timings work out, there are minibuses operated by tour companies and public buses that go from Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw, though these may take longer.

Days 2-6: Based in Nong Khiaw

Nong Khiaw is a sleepy village north of Luang Prabang. Though small, it is becoming more touristy, and there are several guesthouses and tour operators set up here. It’s for good reason too – the scenery is incredible, and there are several day trips from Nong Khiaw, including kayaking, trekking, tubing and ziplining. Read more about our stay in Nong Khiaw here.

Stay at the Viewpoint Resort (if you can cope with a steep climb from the village) for amazing views and waking up in the clouds.

Day 7: Transfer to Luang Prabang

Speak to any of the tour operators in Nong Khiaw about getting a bus back to Luang Prabang. It will cost around 35,000kip (£3.50). They run around 3 times per day. It’s a bumpy journey, be warned!

Days 8-12: Based in Luang Prabang

Head to Mandalao Elephant Conservation Centre to spend the day trekking with these beautiful animals in a sustainable and animal-oriented environment. Wander through the night market, eat and drink overlooking the Mekong and take the short journey to the beautiful Kuang Si waterfall. 

Day 13: Transfer to Vang Vieng

This one is less bumpy, but has far more bends. 

Days 14-15: Based in Vang Vieng

Known as a place to party or tube… neither of which we actually did. Watch the sunrise from a hot air balloon and enjoy wandering along the river. 

Day 16: Transfer to Vientiane

This supposedly takes around 3 hours. It took us about 6. Be warned: Laos moves at its own pace.

Days 17-18: Based in Vientiane

Wander from cafe to restaurant to bar. Enjoy more Mekong river views. A great shout for New Years Eve (when we were there), but you don’t need long in the city. 

I recommend The Lao Poet for good service and a lovely rooftop pool. Their veggie options are limited, unfortunately, but they are within walking distance of a number of cool restaurants offering a range of cuisines.

Have you been to Laos? What did you think to it? Do you have any more recommendations to share?

See more travel guides and itineraries here.

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