Welcome to my first blog post!! I’m so excited to share this experience with you guys and thank you so much for taking the time to read my stuff 🙂 This review is divided into two parts: 1. an overview with pros and cons (for quick reference) & 2. a detailed itinerary of the tour and things to see.
To cut to the chase, I recommend this tour. It’s great and you get to see many things. The tour leaders know so much about every city that you can never run out of things to do! HOWEVER, I recommend taking a bit more time off and booking the full tour : “Indochina Discovery”. Let me explain…
The tour starts in Hanoi, Vietnam and you stay there for only one night. Turns out, the rest of your tour group has been travelling together for the past 2 weeks! We thought we were starting a tour with a brand new group but they had all known each other for about 2 weeks which is fine but you sort of feel a bit left out since they’ve shared memories and gotten to know each other all that time. So if you have the option of taking more time off, book the whole tour, the Indochina tour (about a month long).
Good accommodations, good transportation, great tour leader (very friendly and knowledgeable), great organisation (schedule)
This tour is great honestly. If you are short on time, a group tour is the way to go. You don’t have to worry about transportation and accommodations; it’s done for you. The tour leader is very knowledgeable and is from the region which is fantastic. The hotels/guest houses were nice (the one in Vientiane was like meh.. but other than that good). The transportation was good but all busses didn’t have toilets so we would stop for pee breaks.
Feels too rushed, 2-day Mekong River too long, join a tour mid-way
The downsides are that you don’t get a lot of time to see everything. You leave early in the morning for most places which means you can’t really do much the night before unless you want to be a hungover, exhausted mess during the 4-5 hour bus ride the next morning. Many places you only get less than 48 hours to visit which is nothing. The Mekong River house boat thing for 2 days is too long. There’s nothing to do on the boat so you have to entertain yourself. Lastly, like I said above, if you’re going to do a tour do the longer one instead of this to build friendships earlier and to see more countries/cities.
So Hanoi passes by way too fast since you’re only there one night with the group. I would recommend flying in a few days before so you can spend more time in this lively city. The group also arrives in Hanoi 1-2 days before too so you could probably message the tour leader and let them know you’ll be there earlier so you can get tips on the city and meet everyone earlier 🙂 Honestly, the tour leader knows SO MUCH about every city. Don’t be shy to ask them anything! If you need recommendations for restaurants, bars, shopping, attractions, anything, they know where you can go. Check out my overview of Hanoi 🙂
Afterwards, you fly to Vientiane; the capital of Laos. Now before you get to Laos please understand that the people here are quite conservative and traditional. When you walk around or go swimming, you should cover up with a t-shirt – it’s pretty frowned upon to expose yourself in a bikini.
Vientiane is full of temples – SO MANY temples. It’s incredible though they’re all spectacular. Make sure to visit Pha That Luang where you can find a really big leaning Buddha and beautiful temples. Also visit the Patuxai Monument which is ginormous! You can actually pay a small amount and climb up all the way to the top to get a nice view of the city. There are many coffee shops and restaurants all around and make sure to visit the night market (which we didn’t have time to do 😦 ). Check out my overview of Vientiane 🙂
Early in the morning you leave for a 4 hour drive to Vang Vieng. The tour organises the transportation so you get a ride in a personal bus for just your tour. Unfortunately there’s no toilet on the bus so we have to make a pit stop on the way. I found all transportation to be quite comfortable to be honest. Vang Vieng is absolutely breathtaking. The mountains are surreal! It’s a very small town though so there’s not many people.
The two “big” things to do in Vang Vieng are river tubing and blue lagoon. River tubing is exactly what it sounds like – you rent a tube and float down the river. There’s a twist though, as you go down the river you get pulled into 2 different bars where you can play drinking games and party! There used to be more bars but they were shut down because people would get too drunk and dive into the shallow water and, well, die 😦 Drink responsibly!! The second is taking a short 30 minute tuktuk ride to the Blue Lagoon. It’s a beautiful freshwater park where local people like to visit. As I mentioned above, try to cove up unless you want to be stared at the entire time. There’s also a massive cave there. You have to trek up an intense amount of rocks to get there (it does get scary not going to lie) but it’s worth it. Check out my overview on Vang Vieng 🙂
Early in the morning (again), you leave for a 4 hour drive to Luang Prabang. The rest stop for this route is actually amazing. It’s a restaurant at the hilltop and it’s an absolute incredible view. Oh and even if you don’t have to use the washroom, go check them out anyways. While you’re sitting on the toilet (or squatting) you have an incredible view of the mountains it’s amazing!! Anyways, Luang Prabang is a beautiful city. Many restaurants and bars which range from expensive cuisine to cheap street food. We went to this bar called “Bar 525” and had the most amazing cocktails. It was the same price as a North American cocktail but it was worth it. Sometimes you gotta treat yourself! There’s also a night market every night which is amazing – it has everything, food, clothing, souvenirs, anything you can think of.
Now the highlight of Luang Prabang are definitely the Kuang Si waterfalls. These are some of the most beautiful waterfalls you will witness. Icy blue water and incredible landscape. It’s about a 20-30 minute tuktuk ride away and it’s well worth it. You have to pay to visit the falls so bring some cash. I would also recommend staying there for a minimum 4 hours. You can trek all the way up the waterfall which I highly recommend. You get an incredible view of the jungle and you feel quite accomplished after getting all the way up there! Also, on your way down, there will be a wooden barricade that says “do not pass” – PASS IT!! It will lead you to a secluded part of the waterfall where you can swim and take awesome shots. YOLO right? Check out my overview of Luang Prabang 🙂
Now I won’t lie, this is the one part of the tour that I did not fully enjoy. In my opinion they should probably change this. Early in the morning you leave to head to the Mekong River where you will board a “house boat” and cruise down for 2 full days until you reach Thailand. Basically, you’re on a boat doing nothing for 2 days. You stay in a very poor village with barely any electricity for the night. I felt very out of place and uncomfortable – these North American and European visitors walking around with huge jugs of water, expensive cameras, etc. in a village that is so poor.. I felt horrible and guilty more than anything. I believe G-Adventures should cut this down to one day on the Mekong.. They should get a quicker boat that can get us to Thailand within the day instead of 2 full days of boating. Bring some earplugs and a flash light by the way. If you are like me and need to use the bathroom at night, it is pitch dark. So dark you can’t even see your hand in front of your face! Oh and the earplugs because you’re in the jungle and all these creepy noises happen and it can be scary if you’re a chicken (like me).
Once you get to Thailand, you stay one night in Chiang Khong (where you enter Thailand). Honestly there’s not much to see around and not much time so enjoy the time you have in the hotel 🙂 It has a nice pool so you can just hang around until the morning.
You then head out for a 5-6 hour drive toward Chiang Mai. On the way, the bus stops by Chiang Rai to visit Wat Rong Khun (aka the White Temple). It’s beautiful! The amount of detail is surreal honestly. You stop here for about 1 hour so you have time to visit the temple and grab a bite to eat before you head out again.
Chiang Mai was my favourite city to visit. It’s so lively and there are so many things to see and do! The must do’s are definitiely: Wat Chedi Luang, Saturday night market, cabaret show (ladyboys), and elephants. The hotel (Chiang Mai Gate Hotel) is great and has a daily breakfast. Grab a map from the front desk too it was super helpful to get around. There’s also a laundry shop right in front of the hotel if you need to get clothes washed, this is the time to do it!
This city is filled with temples, just walk around and you will find many temples to visit. We planned a walking route to try and see as many temples as possible that day using the hotel’s map. It just so happened we were there on a Saturday night so we got to experience the night market which was unreal. Don’t eat dinner this night, go test out a bunch of different street food and you’ll be full! Go see a cabaret show it’s so much fun! Also, do some research for elephants. There are several elephant sanctuary, some more humane than others. Make the right choice! Check out my overview on Chiang Mai 🙂
After two nights in Chiang Mai, you head out to the train station in the early evening toward Bangkok. This is a sleeper train and I loved it! They’re quite comfortable and it’s great being able to sleep through the travelling, wake up, and arrive at your destinations. I’ll definitely be taking more sleeper trains in the future. I suggest keeping your valuables in the bed with you (you have a little curtain that closes) just to be safe 🙂
Then to end it all you arrive in Bangkok! The hotel we stayed at was directly across the train station so we walked for like 5 minutes and arrived. Our rooms weren’t ready yet so prepare to bring a small bag with you for the day (or at least for the morning) until your room is ready.
And that’s it! The tour is over after the first night in Bangkok. Luckily, you would have made friends on this tour and many of the people are continuing their travel journeys afterwards which is nice because you can tag along with some new friends and visit other places!
If you have any questions at all about this tour please feel free to ask and I’ll be more than happy to help ! 😀
G-Adventure’s “Laos on a Shoestring” tour
G-Adventure’s “Indochina Discovery” tour