|October 23 2019||16 nights
|Yes||$7100 pp||add $1600|
The tantalising notion of floating down a remote part of the Mekong River in upper Laos by slow boat was a lure which was hard to resist. In our business, people chat, and this journey was on everyone's lips back in 1998 when I first did the research. To reach the river you must pass through northern Thailand and the Golden Triangle where opium once grew - now there are rice fields and prosperous towns.
Our first Land of a Million Elephants journey was in 1999 sailing down the Mekong to the pristine town of Luang Prabang, then driving further east to the mysterious Plain of Jars. We continue to Vientiane and rest by the river once again. It seemed right to combine Laos with its southern neighbour of Cambodia, a country torn by conflict but rich in world history. In Phnom Penh, the French colonialists established themselves with fine villas and made sure the King was well looked after, until it all came tumbling down with war and the madness of Pol Pot. Further west we discover the unrivalled Angkor temples built from the 7th to 13th century by a truly remarkable civilisation that flourished then died.
This trip offers a taste of northern Thailand, Laos and Cambodia and is sure to have you coming back for more.
Three hours to the north is the old town of Chiang Rai. Once the capital of the Mangrai dynasty (1262), the town was regularly occupied by the Burmese until 1933 when Chiang Rai was named a province of Thailand. We hold up here for the night and prepare for our journey on the Mekong River from Thailand to Laos.
The Mekong River begins high on the Tibetan plateau and runs through six countries on its 4700 kilometre journey to the delta in Vietnam. Our journey begins in the sleepy Lao river port of Huoeisay where we board our private longboat; our destination is the ancient Lao capital of Luang Prabang, some 450 kilometres downstream. The river is brown and wide and soon any reminder of urbanisation is left behind as the river twists and bends past rocky outcrops and shifting sandbanks. Our boat meanders, low to the water, the green of jungle on either side punctuated by the odd village of Khmu or Hmong people. We stop and share a lifestyle that has changed little in the last 1000 years. We overnight ashore in the comfortable surrounds of the Pakbeng Lodge then continue to Luang Prabang. The morning mist soon burns from the river valley. The day is spent quietly aboard, late in the afternoon the stupas of Luang Prabang appear.
You can hear the drums and gongs of Luang Prabang starting their rhythm around 5am every morning. The city is the spiritual home of Laos. At dawn, monks take the first of their two daily meals by calling for alms; their bowls tucked under their arms they Indian-file past the town’s inhabitants accepting offerings of sticky rice, vegetables and meat. We will take a walking tour of the old city and visit the highlights. By lunchtime we have seen the best parts. The following two days are free to explore this beautiful town at your own pace.
We take the winding road journey across limestone mountains through hill tribe villages where slash and burn is still practised. We stop to chat with the curious locals who will encourage you to share homemade whisky or sticky rice cakes. The Plain of Jars is a remote plateau in upper Lao that has secrets from 2000 years before. Here we see giant stone jars arranged across hilltops, their function unclear but most probably funerary. During the American War 3 million tonnes of ordnance was dropped in this area in what became known as the secret war, an undeclared campaign to sever the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The legacy remains.
The locals call Vientiane the ‘city of the moon’. Located on the Mekong River, Vientiane became the capital in 1563 and was regularly ransacked by either Burmese or Siam invaders. The French colonisation after 1890 was almost welcome, giving the Lao people some security. Along with the construction of colonial style buildings, the French also restored many stupas and temples to their former glory allowing us to step back into Lao history.
We take the short flight to Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, and the start of our five day adventure in this beautiful country. Most of us remember Phnom Penh from the Pol Pot time when the city was evacuated by the rampaging Khmer Rouge, and its inhabitants sent to the countryside to suffer unbearably from forced labour and starvation. Before this time Phnom Penh was known as the ‘pearl of Asia’, considered one of the most stylish French built cities in South-East Asia. We will visit the Royal Palace and the National Museum where many artefacts from the Angkor period are on display.
Despite recent history, Khmer people are some of the friendliest and most gentle souls you will ever meet. We take the 300 kilometre drive via Kampong Thom on the northern side of the Tonle Sap Lake, to see daily life and the remains of the Khmer Way constructed by the Angkorian Kings in the 11th century. We will make several stops to taste local fruit and see early Khmer architecture (from the 8th century).
The temples of Angkor are simply inspiring. It was a remarkable period of construction and enterprise that began in the 8th century before falling into decline in the late 13th century. I have carefully balanced our sightseeing program to highlight the very best of the temple ruins, hoping to draw an insight into the luxurious life of this highly developed society along with the toils and wars that eventfully led to its downfall.
On a Goddard & Howse small world journey our hotels are more than just a place to stay. We look for great locations as well as character, service and comfort.
Our partner hotels have been delivering expectation since we began our small world journeys in China and Southeast Asia 20 years ago. And most importantly, our hotels are an enticing place to come home to after a day of discovery.
During the American War in Vietnam it is estimated that more bombs were dropped on northern Vietnam than in the whole of the Second World War. What is less well known is that in northern Laos, in Zieng Khoung province (also known as the Plain of Jars), there was a bomb dropped every six minutes for two years from 1968 to 1970 in a vain attempt to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It became known as the 'Secret War' and this is the story of one of its survivors, Mr Pet, our guide at the Plain of Jars.
Mr Pet has our attention and tells us his story of growing up in Zieng Khuong; he is 39 years old now. more
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