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. The rest of the day will be spent at leisure.
3 nights My Dream Boutique or similar
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. Following Tak Bat, you will visit the local fresh market to see how the locals shop, before returning to your hotel for breakfast.
After breakfast, enjoy a short-guided tour exploring the city’s temple of Wat Xiengthong with its roofs sweeping low to the ground, which represents classical Laotian architecture. You will also visit the Royal Palace Museum, 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. We then return to Luang Prabang by boat, stopping at the weaving and textile villages of Ban Xangkhong and Ban Nongxai. We arrive back in Luang Prabang and visit Wat Visoun, known as ‘The Water Melon Stupa’ due to its shape.
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. (B)
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.
Your final stop for the day is the Laos Buffalo dairy, a social enterprise which helps underprivileged farmers to develop new sources of income by producing artisanal cheese from buffalo milk. You will meet one of the managers for a guided tour around the farm and learn about the challenges, achievements and future plans of this important local program. Get up close to the friendly buffalos and even help the caretaker with washing and to feeding the calves. You will finish the afternoon sampling the products of the program, enjoying a tasting platter of different Buffalo-milk cheeses, coffee, and delicious homemade ice-cream at the café. (B, L)
This morning you will be transferred to the airport for your flight to Pakse. On arrival at Pakse, you will be met and taken by road west into 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.
Your first stop is the picturesque Tadlo Waterfall, where you can refresh with a swim. Continuing further onto the Plateau you will spend the afternoon exploring the fascinating small villages of Ban Bong Neua, an Alak village that boasts a sacrificial altar, and Ban Kokphung, a Katu village where the residents keep coffins under their houses.
You arrive at Sabaidee Valley late in the afternoon for an evening at leisure. (B)
Overnight Paksong at Sabaidee Valley or similar
You continue your journey through the Paksong and Bolaven Plateau with an essential stop in Paksong to visit the Jhai Coffee House. Here you have the opportunity to learn about this social enterprise, where this coffee roaster buys straight from the source and reinvests all profit back into the region. Meet the roasters; learn about coffee and more about how this social enterprise has helped the local communities.
Continuing the drive to Champsak you will make a stop at the stunning Tad Fan waterfall. The scenery around Tad Fan waterfall is spectacular with these 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. You continue your journey to the historic town of Champasak. (B)
2 nights Riviera Hotel or similar
Rise early if you would like to see sunrise at the fascinating pre-Angkorian ruins of Wat Phu temple, one of Southeast Asia’s most dramatically situated temples. The Wat Phou Temple Complex is the oldest ancient Khmer religious temple in Laos and even outdates its big brother Angkor Wat in neighbouring Cambodia.
Wat Phou offers a remarkably well-preserved complex of monuments and other structures over an extensive area giving a detailed insight into how this complex would have functioned during its’ peak. Explore the grounds and temples before climbing up the stairs which lead to the main sanctuary, located on a terrace at the foot of a cliff where a sacred spring flows and where you will be rewarded with stunning views over the surrounding land and Mekong River. With plenty of time to explore these monuments, your guide will tell you all about the rich history and you will be awed by the magnificent workmanship in this outstanding complex.
In the afternoon, you set out to explore the historical town of Champasak and surrounding small villages located on the west bank of the Mekong River. Starting with a stroll along the main road, learn from your guide about the rich history of this World Heritage Listed town. Observe the traditional architecture of The Royal House, admire traditional wooden structures, as well as the colonial buildings inspired by the French.
Stop in at the potter’s workshop along the way to observe traditional pottery skills applied in a contemporary way to ceramics. Visit the Sisumang Buddha, a huge sitting image of the Buddha, located on the remains of a Pre-Angkorian temple.
Following the quiet shaded path along the Mekong River, your leisurely walk will take you past Ancient and Modern temples, and an old French-colonial era Catholic Church. Meet the friendly local villagers and observe how they make traditional rice baskets and fish traps from bamboo. At the temple of Vat Kuang Kang, you meet the group vehicle for a short drive back to the hotel, arriving in the late afternoon. (B)
After an early breakfast, you head South to the biggest island of the Si Phan Don (4000 Islands archipelago); Don Khong. Don Khong island is the capital of Khong District and is the starting point for travel to the rest of the islands in the 4000 Islands archipelago. The island boasts 99 mountain tops, a rich heritage of temples, and French colonial buildings.
At Don Khong you continue today’s journey by mountain bike. Cycle down winding dirt roads, until you pass the temple Wat Phou Din where a ferry that will take you to the quiet island of Don Phou Man. Explore this quintessential Lao fishing island as you make your way by bike to another ferry on to the island of Don Saang Fai where you will visit its ancient wooden Buddhist temple and learn about the importance of religion and beliefs in local culture.
Another ferry will brings you to the island of Don Loppadi, where the villagers specialize in weaving both bamboo baskets and the much-used fishing nets in the region. You wind your way across the island, cycling the dirt roads, leading to a quaint village where a friendly family has prepared a home-cooked lunch of local specialties.
After exploring the village, you have one last boat trip to the island of Don Khone arriving mid-afternoon with the rest of the day at leisure. (B,L)
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In the morning after breakfast, head south by tuk tuk to Don Khone. Here you begin by re-tracing the French colonial-past at Ban Khone, where some old colonial houses still stand and glimpse the remains of 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.
You then return to your hotel to enjoy the rest of the day at leisure. You may choose to relax by the pool, try out some of the local cuisine, or go for a walk to explore the stunning natural scenery surrounding your island accommodation. (B)
Overnight Sala Baan Khone or similar
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. Depending on the season and the river height, you may need to walk up a stretch of beach and then take a local bike to your destination. The island is famous for growing the citrus fruit, pomelo, (supposedly some of the best in Cambodia), rice and other agricultural products. You will be staying in a Khmer home for the evening and enjoying a family meal with the local family. Living quarters are simple however it is a fantastic way to meet local villagers and have an insight into the Cambodian way of life. The family provide us with a mattress, mosquito net, and pillow. Generally the shared bathroom facilities have a squat toilet, and shower is cold water only. (B,D)
Overnight Koh Trong Homestay or similar
You have an early start with a breakfast at the homestay complimented by a riverside view. Take a cart back to the ferry departure point and catch a local boat across the Mekong. You are then a transferred by private vehicle to Kompong Cham (approximately 4 hours).
This peaceful town was once an important trading hub and a visit here is now a great opportunity to experience life in small-town Cambodia.
While here, you 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, 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.
Your hotel for the evening is simple, however the best on offer in this rural town. (B)
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Today you have a long journey to Phnom Penh, the nation’s capital. En route, pass through 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!
Phnom Penh has many attractions including Wat Phnom, the National Museum, and the Central Market in its fabulous art deco building. You could also take a stroll along the famous Sisowath Quay and enjoy a coffee or cocktail at one of the many cafes while observing the bustling river traffic.
For dinner, you will be eating for a cause at Eleven One Kitchen, 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)
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Today starts by learning about Cambodia’s tragic past. You will take a guided tour of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former school that served as a Khmer Rouge torture centre. Then, head out of the city to Choueng Ek Memorial, where a pagoda made up of some 8,000 human skulls marks the site of one of Cambodia’s infamous Killing Fields. In the afternoon share in more uplifting times as we wander through the serene Royal Palace grounds with its spectacular Silver Pagoda. (B,L)
There is time for an optional activity as well.
• Phsar Thmei (Central Market)
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)
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Wake early to take advantage of the cooler morning. When the roosters begin to crow you will be at the most important religious monument in the country, looking at the triple towers of Angkor Wat across a reflection pool. After the sun rises behind the towers, the crowd will thin out as most people return to their hotel for breakfast.
Set out to explore the mysterious temples of Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat temple was built during the reign of King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century, following the model of the temple mountain symbolizing Mount Meru, the home of the gods. Inside the temple, the walls are covered with stone carvings and bas-reliefs depicting Hindu mythology and the wars Suryavarman II fought during his reign. Angkor Wat is well known for the more than 2,000 Apsara dancers decorating the temple. Construction is thought to have taken around thirty years of intensive labour. Today, Angkor Wat is figured on Cambodia’s national flag as the temple symbolises the soul of the Khmer people.
Next move on to Angkor Thom city. Visit Bayon with its 54 towers decorated with more than 200 enigmatic smiling faces, Phimeanakas, Baphoun, Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King. Finish the morning with a stop at the very photogenic South Gate of Angkor Thom City where gods and demons line the road leading to the gate struggling in a cosmic tug-of-war. The Gate itself is crowned with four large faces facing in the cardinal directions.
Continue to visit beautiful Ta Prohm (Tomb Raider) temple which was made famous by Angelina Jolie. Feel like one of the early explorers as you visit this temple which has been left to be reclaimed by the jungle. If time permits finish the day climbing one of the oldest buildings in the Angkor complex, the brick temple of Pre Rup. (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)
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)
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.