This 2 week itinerary combines a trip to northern Thailand with neighboring Laos. It’s a bit more adventurous than most of our other routes and you’ll sleep in a train, boat, and mountain cabin. Both countries have an incredible heritage and impressive architecture. Laos and Thailand also offer a combination of charming cities and natural landscapes. Learn about the people, history, and culture of Southeast Asia on this itinerary from Thailand to Laos and back.
1. Bangkok (1 night)
The ideal starting point for your itinerary is Bangkok, the largest city in Thailand, as well as its capital. If you are coming from outside South East Asia, you will almost certainly arrive at Suvarnabhumi Airport. If you find yourself jet-lagged when you arrive, this might be the perfect time to explore Bangkok’s nightlife. Khao San Road is a fun place to have a beer and mingle with locals and expats, while Patpong is the city’s most infamous nightlife hub.
A wonderful and affordable way to get from Thailand to Laos is by taking a sleeper train from Bangkok to Vientiane. The number 69 express train leaves Bangkok every day around 8:30 p.m. and arrives the next morning at the Nong Khai border station on the banks of the Mekong River. There you will go through immigration and then another train ride will take you to Laos via the Friendship Bridge. A bed can be reserved for the train to get a good night’s sleep on a trip to Laos, and train vendors also offer food and drink.
2. Vientiane (1 night)
As the capital of Laos, Vientiane is a remarkable city that should definitely be on your itinerary. The most popular tourist attraction in this city, also known as ‘the city of sandalwood’, is a Buddhist stupa, Pha That Luang, which dates back to 1586. Be sure to take the time to wander around in Buddha Park, just outside Home to the countless concrete sculptures of Hindu Gods and Buddhas, Vientiane and visit the Laos National Museum to learn more about the history of the country and its people.
3. Vang Vieng (2 nights)
The destination of Vang Vieng is only three hours from the Laotian capital, but it may seem like a whole different world. Long associated with nightlife and backpackers, Vang Vieng has built a solid reputation for outdoor adventures. Some of the activities that can be done in the area are tubing down the river, canoeing, riding rented off-road motorcycles on winding trails, rock climbing or even exploring caves. One of the best places to visit is the Blue Lagoon, or Tham Poukham, which is a spring-fed pool deep in a cave accessed by a bamboo ladder. For breathtaking scenery and a strong adrenaline rush, this is an incredible place in Laos.
4. Luang Prabang (3 nights)
Luang Prabang was once the capital of Laos, but today it is a city full of historical attractions and colonial architecture. There is so much to do in Luang Prabang that it is definitely worth spending three nights of your trip. Against the backdrop of green mountains, you can visit the ancient Haw Kham National Palace and Museum, visit the ancient monastery called Wat Xieng Toung or visit the Golden Temple of Vipassana. You can also participate or just be a spectator at the daily almsgiving ceremony, where local monks collect rice from residents and visitors in the middle of the street at dawn.
To return from Luang Prabang in Thailand, try the slow boat on the Mekong. These boats take around two days, allowing you to admire the beautiful scenery and take some impressive photos. The trip begins in Luang Prabang and takes you to the border town of Huay Xai. Along the way, many slow boats stop for the night in Pakbeng Town, where guesthouses are affordable and the food is phenomenal. On slow boats, you can eat and drink, and the seats can range from wooden benches to padded seats for extra comfort.
5. Chiang Khong (1 night)
After your slow boat trip, you will cross the border into Chiang Khong, Thailand. This destination is a popular stopover for travelers, offering plenty of accommodation and restaurants. Chiang Khong is also home to a large number of beautiful temples and interesting attractions. Some of the main temples to visit during your stay are Wat Sri Don Chai, Wat Hat Krai, Wat Prakeaw, and Wat Tung Duk, run exclusively by women.
6. Chiang Mai (3 nights)
Next, venture to Chiang Mai, a major hub in the heart of northern Thailand. Known as the Rose of the North, Chiang Mai is an excellent blend of ancient history, when it was the capital of Lanna, and outdoor beauty. The main attraction for history buffs will be Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, an incredible and iconic temple from the 14th century. Other popular pastimes in Chiang Mai are bargain hunting at the Night Bazaar, seeing elephants in the wild, witnessing Muay Thai boxing, and visiting local hill tribes on a guided tour.
Bangkok (1 night)
End your return trip in Bangkok, the Thai capital. If you haven’t had the chance to visit the city’s top attractions yet, aim for places like the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and Wat Arun. You can also explore Dusit Palace or visit museums such as the National Museum, Siam Museum, and King Prajadhipok Museum. To meet the locals and get a real feel for the culture, take a walk through Lumphini Park, then take a boat ride on the Chao Phraya River.
Day 1: Arrival in Bangkok, sleep in Bangkok
Day 2: Bangkok and night train to Vientiane via Nong Khai, sleep by train
Day 3: Explore Vientiane, sleep in Vientiane
Day 4: Towards Vang Vieng, sleep in Vang Vieng
Day 5: Explore Vang Vieng, sleep in Vang Vieng
Day 6: Towards Luang Prabang, sleep in Luang Prabang
Day 7: Explore Luang Prabang, sleep in Luang Prabang
Day 8: Explore Luang Prabang, sleep in Luang Prabang
Day 9: Slow boat to Huay Xai / Chiang Khong, sleep on the boat
Day 10: Continue with the slow boat on the Mekong, sleep in Chiang Khong
Day 11: Towards Chiang Mai, sleep in Chiang Mai
Day 12: Trekking through the hills, sleeping in a mountain lodge
Day 13: Trekking through the hills, sleeping in Chiang Mai
Day 14: Towards Bangkok, sleep in Bangkok
Day 15: Return home