Explore two former French colonies and uncover some of the unforgettable places in South East Asia.
From exquisite golden temples, to refreshing turquoise waterfalls. Follow a different path as you travel through lands of raw beauty and a slower, more traditional way of life. Continuing into Cambodia, explore lesser known temples and come face to face with the countries harrowing past. On this journey you will eat like a local, live with the locals in their homes and support local community projects. A wonderful hands on way to understand two diverse lands through culturally immersive experiences.
Saibadee! Welcome to Laos. Upon arrival, you will be met by your local guide and transfer to your hotel. The UNESCO World Heritage small city of Luang Prabang is a favourite for many travellers. Nestled in the hills of northern Laos between the Mekong and Khan Rivers it is a wonderful place to explore by foot or jump onto a Jumbo (local transport) to experience a local’s perspective on the town. Tonight, you will experience a Laos feast. Served family style, you will have the opportunity to taste many special local flavours and foods from chunky bamboo soup, to sausages and dips accompanied by sticky rice, herbed fished in banana leaf, lemongrass stuffed chicken, pumpkin with kaffir lime and ginger and a selection of sweet Laos confections. (D)
3 nights Kiridara Luang Prabang or similar
After breakfast, enjoy a short-guided tour exploring the city’s oldest temple of Wat Sene and the magnificent Wat Xiengthong with its roof sweeping low to the ground, which represents classical Laotian architecture. You will also visit the National Museum (former Royal Palace), which hosts a range of interesting artefacts and the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre to learn about Laos’ many ethnic minorities.
You then board a cruise upstream on the Mekong River, which provides you with a panoramic view of the tranquil countryside as well as an interesting visit to the mysterious Pak Ou Caves. Two linked caves are crammed with thousands of gold lacquered Buddha statues of various shapes and sizes left by pilgrims. You might want to climb up to the top of Mount Phousi where you can explore the sacred, gilded stupa as well as take in sweeping views of the city and the Mekong River at sunset. Finish the day visiting the famous Night Market, where you can find a fascinating selection of handmade textiles made by local and hill tribe people surrounding Luang Prabang. (B)
For those who are early risers and are keen to experience the mystical aura of Luang Prabang, there is an optional early start giving you the opportunity to participate in the daily morning rituals of saffron-clad monks collecting offerings of Alms, (often in the form of sticky rice), from the faithful residents.
After breakfast, you head out to the outskirts of town where it is time to get to work with the locals on a working community farm. You will learn all about the rice growing process, and have an opportunity to participate in seasonal farm activities such as identifying viable rice seeds, ploughing with a buffalo, hand planting, weeding and harvesting rice and threshing rice seed. You may be picking vegetables from the organic garden or catching fish to cook for your all natural, organic lunch where there will be a variety of local rice products for you to sample.
Afterwards, you drive to the beautiful Kuang Si Waterfall where you can splash around in the turquoise pools or walk along the forest paths. On the way, you will visit villages of various minorities Laotian (Ban Quay, Ban Ou). There’s also an opportunity to visit the bear sanctuary nearby the waterfall which is run by Free The Bears Fund Inc. This sanctuary protects and rehabilitates the endangered Asiatic Black Bear.
You finish the day with a visit to Ock Pop Tok. This Laos based social enterprise works primarily in the field of textiles, handicrafts and design. Meaning ‘east meets west’, Ock Pop Tok brings the fascinating world of traditional Lao handicrafts alive for visitors. The Living Crafts Centre overlooking the Mekong is the heart of Ock Pop Tok and a fascinating place to visit. Enjoy a drink at Ock Pop Tok Silk Road Café and amazing views over the Mekong here. (B, L)
Driving distance: approx. 30km/way (50 minutes to Kuang Si Waterfall)
This morning you will be transferred to the airport for your flight to Pakse. On arrival at Pakse, you will be met and transferred to Champasak, the former capital of the Kingdom of Champasak (1713–1946). Champasak is now a small town set on the banks of the Mekong. The highlight of this one-street town is the picturesque pre-Angkorian Wat Phou Temple. Built between the 6th and 13th centuries, the temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, inscribed for being an outstanding example of the integration of symbolic landscape of great spiritual significance to its natural surroundings. Depart Pakse and drive 35km (22mi) south through pleasant rural scenery of hills and local villages to Champasak, and explore Wat Phou. Notice how the temple is divided into two parts: the lower section consisting of two ruined palace buildings at the edge of a pond and the upper section, which is the temple sanctuary itself. You have the option to climb the old staircase adorned with nagas (mythical snakes) to admire the surrounding scenery. Stay overnight at a hotel on the river bank in Champasak. (B)
Overnight The River Resort or similar
Driving distance: Approx 40km (1 hour)
Depart Champask for approx. 1.5-2 hours drive to the Bolaven Plateau. The Bolaven Plateau is known for its cooler temperature being located high above the Mekong Valley. Rivers run off this high plateau in all directions and then plunge out to lush forests along in a series of spectacular surging waterfalls. The coffee and tea grown in these areas are said to be some of the best in the world. The hill tribe people are unfailingly friendly; welcoming you with waving hands and smiling faces. These ethnic minorities still retain their age old cultural traditions and are recognisably distinct from each other by their dress. Continue your journey through the Paksong and Bolaven Plateau. The scenery around Tad Fane waterfall is spectacular with twin waterfalls plummeting into a deep gorge surrounded by flourishing vegetation. Today you see the cultivation of rich coffee, tea, cardamom, bananas, and other crops that are grown in the area. (B)
Overnight Sabaidee Valley or similar
Driving distance: approx. 70km (1.5 hours)
Enjoy cool fresh air in the morning of Bolaven plateau before continue your journey with approx. 1.5 hours drive to Kingfisher Ecolodge, sitting on the boundaries of Xe Pian NPA and the Kiat Ngong village.
Enjoy an afternoon trek to Phou Asa Mountain featuring stunning views over large areas of southern Laos, intriguing ruins and dense semi-evergreen forests. Walk along forest trails accompanied by a village guide to explore this archaeological site while learning about the forest including its many medicinal plants and non-timber forest products. The guides will also point out signs of wildlife (tracks, scat and habits) and other features of the forest. Atop the mountain you will see an ancient stone structure called Vat Phou Asa, which is believed to be a temple. Return to Kingfisher Ecolodge for dinner & overnight.(B,D)
2 nights Kingfisher Ecolodge or similar
Trekking duration: approx. 3.5 hours
Driving distance: approx. 70km (1.5 hours)
Depart the lodge early with your guide. Before dawn, you will trek along the edge of the Ramsar protected Ban Kiet Ngong Wetlands, one of the largest and least altered wetlands in the region. Hike through swamps, lakes and marshes at the foot of Phou Asa, a large rock outcrop renowned for its intriguing ruins and superb views of the dense semi-evergreen forests below.
Once you arrive at your hide, you will have the pleasure of enjoying the bird activity in the days early light when birds are most active. The Ban Kiet Ngong wetland is considered to be one of the most important areas in Indochina for water birds.
Here you find the rare Giant Ibis, the White-winged Wood-Duck, the Sarus Crane, the Lesser Adjutant and the White-shouldered Ibis. With over 320 species of birds present on the wetlands it is certainly one of the best places in Laos to view such a wide variety of wetland dwelling birds. Return to the lodge and the rest of the day is free at leisure at the lodge or wander around the nearby village with your guide. (B)
Today you continue your journey by road to Ban Nakasang pier where you will take a local boat to Don Khone and explore the surroundings of the 4000 islands. The Si Phan Don (meaning 4000 Islands) is a riverine archipelago located in the Mekong River, Champasak Province in southern Laos. Si Phan Don is characterised by numerous islands, half of which are submerged when the Mekong River is in flood.
Here you begin re–tracing the French colonial–past at Ban Khone by bike or tuktuk, where some old colonial houses still stand and glimpse the first Lao railway with its own locomotive. Continue your exploration of the area of the 4000 islands by boat and visit the beautiful Liphi waterfall, also known as the Samphamith, which forms a natural border between Lao and Cambodia. Enjoy the sunset by the immersive Mekong river. (B)
Overnight Sala Baan Khone or similar
Driving distance: approx. 105km (2 hours)
After breakfast, you board a boat to Ban Nakasung and take a short drive to the Lao – Cambodia border, en route visit the breathtaking Khone Phapheng waterfall, South East Asia’s biggest waterfall, known as the ‘Niagara of the East’.
A short walk takes you across the Lao border into Cambodia (Voeun Kham / Dom Kralor border crossing) and meet your Cambodian guide. Visa on arrival is available at the Cambodian border for $30USD. Immigration officials may request a small processing fee. You will need one passport photo.
Travel from the border crossing to Stueng Treng province and on to Kratie (approx. 4hrs), a picturesque town on the banks of the Mekong. Until recently Kratie was a strategic trading port on the river between Phnom Penh and Stung Treng. Both the French and Khmer Rouge found the town useful and there are a number of French colonial buildings that remain.
After a chance to buy essentials at the local market, board a local boat from Kratie waterfront to Koh Trong for your stay – approximately 280 families call this 6-kilometre island home. Almost totally removed from time and modernity, Koh Trong is a haven of peace and times gone by. Without roads, cars or modern facilities, the locals live a simple yet full life, within the beauty and serenity of this island. Its long stretching waters, almost peninsula like, sit between the Mekong and create a truly ethereal feel.
Depending on the season and the river height, you may need to walk up a stretch of beach and then boarding a Tuk Tuk, the only one of its kind, we will make the exciting journey to Soriyabori Villas Resort, a hotel hidden from view nestled into the countryside. Passing by locals, friendly and waving, you will see everyday life from the local shop in a wooden house, to the small school & town hall and past the many Pomelo trees which this island is famous for.
Later in the afternoon, cycle ride around the Island from Rajabouri Villas Hotel and visit the Pagoda and its interesting statues. See real local life and enjoy the dual aspect view of the Mekong. This island is very easy and safe to navigate alone or with your guide/ horse and cart driver. Sample local snacks at leisure, in the little wooden house shops dotted along the paths. (B,D)
Overnight Soriyabori Villas Resort or similar
Driving distance: approx. 213 km (4 hours excluding immigration process)
Awaken early and refreshed for an early breakfast, before you take a cart back to the ferry terminal and catch a local boat across the Mekong to the mainland. Continue with approx. 40 minutes drive and a boat ride to the vast waters where you can find the rare Irrawaddy dolphins of the Mekong play and jump. There are thought to be around 60 dolphins located in this area, and your guide will help to suggest the best spot to witness these elegant mammals. A majestically quiet stretch of water, you may also glimpse rare birds and see the locals casting their fishing nets. You will see locals playing on the football pitch, or selling their wares at the strategically placed market. You will be able to make a stop to view the goods and your guide will assist in the negation of any purchases.
After disembarking, you will then journey around the small town of Kratie, a former colonial town with almost a seaside feel, with its long French style promenade and colonial buildings. You will walk through the local market and small bar/ pub street area having lunch at leisure.
You are then transferred (approximately 3 hours) by private vehicle to Hanchey Bamboo Resort located north of Kompong Cham, a peaceful town was once an important trading hub and a visit here is now a great opportunity to experience life in small–town Cambodia.
The rest of the day is free at leisure. (B)
Overnight Hanchey Bamboo Resort or similar
Driving distance: approx. 100 km (2.5 hours)
This morning, drive to the centre of Kampong Cham where you will visit the twin ‘mountain temple’ of Phnom Pros and Phnom Srei. Afterwards, grab some local bikes (no helmets) to explore the rural island of Koh Paen, which is linked to Kompong Cham by an elaborate bamboo bridge, (it is passable only in the dry season – we take a ferry in the wet). The locals here make their living fishing, growing tobacco and sesame so it is a good place to go for closer look at some of Cambodia’s cottage industries.
Later, drive approx. 3 hours to Phnom Penh capital city via Skuon (a small town famous for its tasty spiders), where it’s possible to sample an eight–legged snack. It is recommended that you eat these furry arachnids as you would a crab, by cracking the body open and pulling the legs off one by one – delicious!
For dinner, you will be eating for a cause at Romdeng, a lovely charity restaurant where former street children are taught the principles of hospitality. The restaurant is located in a restored colonial building with an atmospheric garden right in the city centre. (B,D)
2 nights at the Aquarius Hotel and Urban Resort or similar
Driving distance: approx. 140 km (3 hours)
Home to about 1.5 million people, Phnom Penh, has been Cambodia’s capital since French colonisation of the country. Located on the banks of the Tonle Sap and Mekong River, Phnom Penh was once known as the “Pearl of Asia”, one of the loveliest French-built cities in Indochina. Spend a full day exploring this charming city which boasts a rich blend of Khmer and colonial architecture. In the morning, explore Wat Phnom and discover the legend of Lady Penh, the founder of the city, the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, two of the most striking buildings in the capital and considered as some of the finest examples of Khmer architecture. Also visit the National Museum, designed in Khmer style by a French archaeologist and painter in 1917. The museum houses Khmer art and sculptures from different periods of Cambodian history. Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant.
In the afternoon, learn more about the turbulent Khmer Rouge years with visits to Tuol Sleng, a high school turned interrogation prison known as S-21 during the Khmer Rouge era and now a genocide museum; and Cheung Ek, a large memorial commemorating the 17,000 victims who died there under the reign of Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot, made famous by the movie “The Killing Fields”. Here you will see a pagoda made up of some 8,000 human skulls marks the site of one of Cambodia’s infamous Killing Fields. While sombre reminders of the cruelty of the Khmer Rouge regime, these visits will also provide an appreciation of the struggle that Cambodian people have faced and their tremendous courage to move on and rebuild their nation.
You may also like to take a stroll along the famous Sisowath Quay and enjoy a coffee or cocktail at one of the many cafes (own expense) while observing the bustling river traffic. Return to your hotel. (B,L)
Travel by private vehicle to Siem Reap (approx. 6.5 hrs travel time plus stops). Along the way, you will make several stops to see some of rural Cambodia. Visit the peaceful temple site of Sambor Prei Kuk, built in the 6th and 7th century.
You arrive in Siem Reap in the evening. Siem Reap is only a few kilometres from the largest religious site in the world – Angkor Wat. However, the town itself is well worth exploring. A visit to the old market is a must, even if you’re not looking for souvenirs; wandering through the stalls and surrounding shops, the silks, cottons, sarongs, silver and statues is a feast for the eyes and nose! There’s also a long tradition of shadow puppetry in the region, and if you’re lucky you might catch a show at one of the local restaurants in the evening, perhaps while you’re eating the speciality cuisine of Cambodia – amok, the name given to curry steam-cooked in banana leaves. (B,L)
3 nights Navutu Dreams Resort or similar
Driving distance: approx. 320 km (6-6.5 hours)
Wake up early and transfer by private vehicle to the West Gate of Angkor Wat from where the sunrise can be best observed. Enter the temple complex. Angkor Wat (early 12th century), is surrounded by a 190 metre wide moat 1.5 kilometres by 1.3 kilometres and is claimed to be the largest religious building in the world. It is certainly one of the wonders of the ancient world. You will be amazed by the sheer size of the temple, which took 30 years to construct and used the labours of up to 300,000 workers. Angkor Wat was built as the earthly representation of the universe with its’ central tower symbolising Mt Meru which, Hindus believe, is at the centre of the universe.
Return to the West Gate where you can enjoy breakfast just outside of the Angkor complex at a local restaurant.
Drive to visit Banteay Kdei built between the 12th and 13th centuries. The ruined condition of the temple in no way detracts from the grandeur of this walled temple. Banteay means fortified monastery and refers to the double wall surrounding it. Continue to Ta Prohm, this beautiful temple, built in 1186 as a Buddhist temple dedicated to the mother of Jayavarman VII, is one of Angkor’s jewels and is overgrown with fig trees, giving a haunting yet exotic atmosphere. The magnificent roots of the trees have merged over the centuries with the temple’s huge stone blocks, creating a ‘forgotten city’ feeling. Pause at Ta Keo, which would have been the finest temple in Angkor had it been completed. A short distance further, are the twin temples of Chau Say Tevoda and Thommanon.
Return to town for a rest and relaxation at your hotel mid afternoon.
Drive to Angkor Thom, not a temple, but an entire walled city of 9 sq km which served as the ancient royal Capital of the Khmer Empire from approx. 1181. With a probable population of 1 million, it was far bigger and grander than any city in Europe at the time. Your guide will take you to the Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King. The centre piece of Jayavarman VII’s capital is the Bayon temple and, as you approach, you will notice the 216 giant, enigmatic, smiling faces looking into every direction. Return to the South gate where you will board a small, private boat out to Prasat Chrung Temple to watch the amazing sunset. (B)
After breakfast, you will transfer to the outskirts of town to visit one of the more remote jungle temples – Beng Mealea. Feel like an explorer when you discover the overgrown temple. Undiscovered for centuries, Beng Mealea has fairly recently been made accessible and remains largely unrestored. It is one of the very few temples that adventurers can climb through.
Afterwards, travel back to see some other early examples of Cambodia’s historic temples – the Roluos Group. Roluos is the site of an ancient centre of Khmer civilisation known as Hariharalaya. It was the first town built by the Angkorian kings in the 8th and 9th century and consists of three main temples:
Bakong, Lolei and Preah Ko. The surrounding countryside with its rice paddy fields and sugar palm trees are very typically Cambodian.
From there, continue to the shores of the Tonle Sap Lake, where you will have the opportunity to learn about life on the lake. The Tonlé Sap is South East Asia’s largest freshwater lake with its size varying greatly depending on the season. Board a local boat and visit Kompong Pluk, a village where you will
see houses on stilts that are submerged when Tonlé Sap Lake extends. On the way, you will pass floating houses and impressive flooded forests.
(NOTE: Due to low water levels during the dry season, the boat trip is only possible from approximately June to March. In the dry season it may be possible to arrange an overland visit to Kompong Pluk to walk among the stilted houses).
Tonight at your final dinner, you will be experiencing Khmer cuisine from award winning Master Chef Luu Meng at his restaurant Malis. The restaurant was born out of the desire to restore Cambodian cuisine to its former glory and put the country back on the culinary map after the terrible Khmer Rouge regime and civil war. Renowned for its fresh seasonal produce, delicate flavours and generous hospitality Luu Meng and his team are reviving long forgotten countryside dishes. (B,D)
Siem Rap – Bang Mealea: approx. 57 km (1-1.5 hours)
Bang Mealea – Kampong Phluk: approx. 59 km (1.5 hours)
Kampong Phluk – Siem Reap: approx. 32 km (1 hour)
This morning, travel to Banteay Srei via backroads and villages. On the way, you will have the possibility to stop at local communities. Seize the opportunity to taste palm juice and palm sugar, which are a popular local produce (seasonal).
Arrive at the ‘gem’ of the Angkor area, the pretty temple of Banteay Srei. The small and charming ‘Citadel of the Women’ remains one of the best-preserved temples in Cambodia. It displays some of the finest examples of classical Khmer art and is noted for its truly remarkable fine bas-reliefs. Banteay Srei is unique in that it is constructed of pink sandstone, which is seen nowhere else in Angkor.
This afternoon transfer to the airport for your onward flight. (B)
Driving distance: Siem Rap – Bang Mealea: approx. 35 km/way (1 hour)
Download this tour’s PDF brochure and start your planning offline!
**Please note that this tour can be organised on request for private departures.
* Pricing is subject to change at anytime until full payment has been received.
* A minimum of 2 adults is required to guarantee this departure.
A non-refundable deposit of $1000 AUD per person is required to secure your place. Final payment is due no later than 60 days prior to departure. Travel insurance is mandatory for travelling with Crooked Compass. For full terms and conditions, please click here.
This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.