Sample Itinerary Idea for Northern Thailand to Laos

Martina Rosado
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Bangkok (1 night)

Vientiane (1 night)

The capital of Laos, Vientiane has a fantastic scenic lake, picturesque temples and a lovely Old Town with lots of budget accommodation. This is a great place to base yourself and explore Southeast Asia.

Food: Street Food

It’s really cheap here, and travellers are bound to find something that they like. Try the fried spring rolls, the Lao noodle soup and sticky rice roasted on a fork!

Budget: The cheapest accommodation in town is ¥50-100. This will get you a shared room.

Vang Vieng (2 nights)

Drive for 3 hrs up to a collection of tourist shops and bungalows situated along the Mekong River. One of the most popular things to do here is to rent a longboat for a day and cruise down the river.

There is a wide variety of different boat tours, from private excursions to organized day trips that include lunch and some tubing. You can also go rafting, zip-lining, Burma Bridge, and trekking here.

This town is also known for great paddle-boarding, sandboarding and many caves to explore. In addition to the day trips, you can also explore the caves and jungle on foot.

If you are looking for a quiet getaway or a romantic weekend, this is a great place to come for all of the above and more.

The town itself is untouched by the typical tourist; it’s a very relaxed place to come and relax.

If you are looking to explore more than just Vang Vieng, watch out for some of the longer bus tours to places like Chiang Mai, Bangkok, or Chiang Rai that will stop here. They provide the best coverage in this area for travelers who want to see more than just Vang Vieng.

Luang Prabang (3 nights)

Luang Prabang is a city in northern Laos. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and the best place in Laos for temples. The city is a major trade center and visitor attraction. Many people come here to get away from the crowds of Cambodia. You can see monks in the local temples selling cloths, jewelry, and incense. I recommend visiting the Wat Nikhom Poy.

Volunteering

A lot of backpackers volunteer for the charity organization Free the Children, which helps in education.

Head to the Free the Children office at the Hi-Lumi Hostel, which can be reached by minibus outside of town.

Volunteer on a children’s farm. Two to three weeks of farm work will help you develop the experience and connections you need to find a job in the tourism industry. You can also help building houses and helping to construct the road in the area, which will make you even more appealing to the non-profits and organizations.

Choose how often you want to volunteer, and once you’re done you can focus on working on your own business.

Doing some volunteering at the same time you are looking for a job is a great investment. You get experience in how a non-profit organization works, learn some of the required skills you can use later to make money from your business, and get to know the community.

Chiang Khong (1 night)

Your morning drive is among the most scenic parts of the journey. After leaving Chiang Khong, you will travel along the northern edge of the limestone hills, passing through small villages and then turning west towards Laos. The road is typically smooth and passable in almost any car.

As you drive, for the first time you will see the Mekong River. The Lao and Thai banks are a few hundred meters apart. The river marks the border with Thailand and Laos; the road follows the river all the way to the border.

We will then make our way through a small market of local food and drinks. The local area is particularly beautiful and interesting, and it is a good place to stroll around during the day.

Later, we will pass by the village of Ban Sabai, which is a 10-minute drive down the road from the village of Ban Ta Kloy. Along this stretch of the road is a beautiful waterfall. Just before reaching the waterfall, we will stop for the local delicacy of a steamboat beverage.

Ban Sabai, as the village is known, offers some great views.

The waterfall is just another 10 minutes down the road. The waterfall is one of several beautiful natural features along the road. The waterfalls in the area have great year-around activity due to the water rushing down from the mountains to the Mekong River. Further down the road, you can see another waterfall.

Chiang Mai (3 nights)

Day 1: Chiang Mai City – Doi Suthep (1,764m) – Doi Pui National Park (NDB)

Drive about 90 minutes north of Chiang Mai to reach Doi Suthep (one of the three revered mountains of Thailand) for the full moon party. The Doi Suthep is the tallest mountain in Thailand and offers stunning views of Chiang Mai and the surrounding countryside.

Day 2: Doi Pui National Park – Doi Angkhang NPA (1,664m)

Continue driving north and after 1hr30 you will reach Doi Angkhang NPA. This area is a great destination for observing wildlife with lots of stunning waterfalls and natural scenery. This is a fantastic destination for those who are into bird watching.

Day 3: Doi Angkhang NPA – Lao border

Drive the final 30 minutes of the drive to the Lao border and enjoy the jumping elephant show on your way to Laos.

Top Tip: For those who are into photography there are lots of amazing photo opportunities along the way between Chiang Mai and Lao border.

Border formalities can take up to 6-12hrs so make sure you have all the right documents including your passport, visa and tourist visa. The Laos fees are levied per person and are around 800-1,000 baht.

Bangkok (1 night)

Summary

People who visit northern Thailand often make the mistake of visiting some of the lesser-known highlights such as Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai (Chiang Rai). Although they are worth a visit, if you are a nature lover, Northern Thailand has some of the best natural attractions in the country. Laos is also a worthy destination on a trip to Northern Thailand as it is similar to northern Thailand, though more rural and less developed.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Northern Thailand is the dry season from November to March. The dry season affects the weather, pricing, and the tourist and lodging scene.

Visiting from Bangkok

If you are visiting from Bangkok, you can take a train to Chiang Mai and then a bus to Chiang Rai.

When you get off the train in Chiang Mai, take a 30-40 minutes bus ride to Chiang Rai. From Chiang Rai, you will want to take a 15-20 minute minibus or taxi ride to Doi Inthanon National Park.

The bus company from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai is Chiang Mai Air.