l Northern Laos Travel Guide - by Bonzer tour

Northern Laos Travel Guide

Cập nhật: 01-01-1970 12:00:00 | Blogs about Laos | Lượt xem: 1325

Being a large part of Laos, Northern Laos is a wonderful land with many lesser-known gems waiting for visitors to uncover. With spanning rice fields, layered lush green mountains, majestic waterfalls, valleys wrapped in fog, and dozens of charming rivers and streams sneaking through the region, this northern half of the country is truly stunning.

For explorers at heart who look for authentic natural experience, planning a Northern Laos itinerary is undoubtedly a right decision. Pristine yet splendid sights are almost everywhere here, which will catch your eye in a heartbeat; and the peaceful village atmosphere will bring you to what feels like a different time.

Northerns Laos shares the borders with China in the north, Vietnam in the east, Myanmar in the west and Thailand in the south-west. Since it is contiguous to mentioned countries, the region becomes a hub for overland business and has economic and cultural growth. While Southern Laos has just four provinces, Northerns Laos includes eight provinces, offering visitors various options for their trips.

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A very brief glance at history of Northern Laos 

Going back a little bit to history, Northern Laos underwent many historic events to become the present-day part. In 1707, as the result of the separation of the Kingdom of Lan Xang (known as “land of the million elephants”) found in 1353, Northern Laos was called Kingdom of Luang Prabang with the capital named Luang Prabang. Over the years, the kingdom was forced to become a vassal to the Siamese and the Burmese monarchies. In 1885, France and Siam signed a treaty recognizing that the Siamese took control over Luang Prabang and neighboring Lao Kingdoms.

After France and Siam went to war in 1893, the French Protectorate of Laos was established officially, and the administrative capital moved from Luang Prabang to Vientiane. In 1896, France and the United Kingdom signed an accord acknowledging the border between British Burma and French Laos. With the protection of France, the Kingdom of Luang Prabang became the principal kingdom of French Laos. In 1947, the Kingdom of Luang Prabang and the other two kingdoms at that time were reorganized into the Kingdom of Laos, which totally gained independence from France in 1954. 

Under all the occupation and destruction, it remains remnants of French colonial architecture in Northern Laos until the present time.

Ways to get to Northern Laos 

Northern Laos is accessible by plane, by train, and by bus.

Internationally, you can fly to Luang Prabang International Airport, which serves scheduled flights from Thailand (Bangkok and Chiang Mai), Vietnam (Hanoi), Cambodia (Siem Reap), and domestically from Vientiane Wattay Airport in Vientiane capital. There are also flights from Vientiane to Luang Namtha Airport.

If you go by train, Laos-China Railway offers ticket booking for 6 stations in Laos, which includes Luang Prabang, Muang Xay, and Luang Namtha in Northern Laos. There are two fast electric trains per day stopping at the following stations: Boten, Natuey, Namor, Muang Xai, Muong Nga, and Luang Prabang. The online ticket booking for Laos-China Railway is not available, so passengers have to purchase the tickets directly at the railway station, two days before departure.

Another way to get to Northern Laos is by taking buses along National Highway 13, which connects the region through Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng and Vientiane. However, it must be said beforehand that it’s not very comfortable as the journey between Vientiena to Luang Prabang may take 12 hours.

When to visit Northern Laos

The weather of Laos is kind of comfortable around the year, but it is best to consider each time of year when visiting Northern Laos so that your trip will be as perfect as possible.

Northern Laos, like the rest of the country, has two main seasons: dry season (from November to May) and wet season (from May to October). March to June are the hottest months when the temperature is around 33°C, but something may make you feel it is hotter than that. May to October, especially July and August, are months that bring you a lot of rain, even downpours each day. So the best time to visit Northern Laos is from December to February, when you can expect cool days and low rainfall.

Where to visit in Northern Laos

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Luang Prabang

Your Northerns Laos tours should not miss Luang Prabang as it is a must-go destination for travelers digging into Northern Laos. Luang Prabang is one of the focal point cities in Laos, and is one of the most beautiful places in Northern Laos. This place witnessed countless changes back to the past, so the local people are really proud of their crucial role in Lao history. In 1995, Luang Prabang was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its historical value and unique mix of traditional Lao architecture and colonial buildings. It's advisable to make a trip of 4 days in Luang Prabang to see the heritage town and take excursions to nearby region.

This destination sits between the meet-up of the Mekong River and the Khan River, offering some poetic natural scenery surrounded by rolling clouds. The city remains tranquil without modern industries; numerous Wats gilded with golden paint, especially at dusk, may make you feel like you are stepping into a mysterious world. Some famous spots such as Wat Xiengthong, Mount Phousi, Pak Ou Cave, Kuangsi Waterfall, Luang Prabang Market are unmissable places that will definitely not disappoint you. If your days are limited, you should visit the old city where each area has its own personality. Despite the fact that you can check out all the attractions here quite quickly, it is better to slow down a bit to enjoy the exploration of all charming monasteries and temples.

Don’t forget to visit Nong Khiaw, a small pastoral town located on the Nam Ou River’s bank, to enjoy the striking view of imposing mountains, feel the charm of the river, and explore the magnificent surrounding landscape. From Luang Prabang, you can take a daily bus around 9 or 11 a.m to get to Nong Khiaw. It costs about 70,000 KIP ($4.2) for a 4-hour trip.

Luang Namtha

It is the most touristy town of Northern Laos, and a hidden gem for those who love outdoor and adventurous activities. If you plan on having Northern Laos trekking, Nam Ha National Protected Area of Luang Namtha is undeniably an ideal place for your trek. It is home to a large variety of flora and fauna, which bring you realistic feelings of nature and some good chances to see a few rare resident species.

Along with trekking, you can join other fascinating activities, such as kayaking along Nam Ha and Nam Tha rivers, cycling around the Luang Namtha Valley, making textiles by yourself at Phieng Ngan Handicraft Center. Luang Namtha is inhabited by numerous ethnic groups in Northern Laos. Therefore, visiting some of their villages is a great way to experience village lifestyles and learn more about the diversity of cultures, customs, and traditions. The place offers you many attractions such as The Golden Stupa, Nam Dee Waterfall, Kao Rao Cave, Luang Namtha Museum, etc., do not hesitate to check them out.

Located about 60 km northwest of Luang Namtha is Muang Sing, a small town that offers tourists trekking opportunities in the surrounding valley. Come to this town, then you can explore the glimpse of local life, admire natural scenery, and visit the Muang Sing market, which is the heart of town and allures people to buy fresh foods and products imported from China. From Luang Namtha, you can travel to Muang Sing by motorbike, which will take around 2 hours, or take an almost 2-hour bus trip that costs 80,000 KIP ($4.7).

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Xieng Khouang

Xieng Khouang in Lao language means “Horizontal City”, is a highlight of Laos cultural trip. This mountainous province is located in the Xieng Khouang Plateau, one of the most heavily bombed places in the world. For its verdant hills and valleys along with plenty of pretty sights, the province entices tourists by its beauty in not only landscape, but also in culture and history. Like many other parts of Northern Laos, Xiengkhuang offers you a joyful trip, where you can experience different cultures, admire magnificent scenery and make other interesting explorations.

When it comes to Xieng Khouang, it is impossible not to mention the Plain of Jars, located in Phonsavan. It is the most distinctive landmark of the region that you should visit, even if you are interested in archaeology or not. True to its name, the Plain of Jars consists of thousands of stone jars scattered ordered around the central plain of the Xieng Khouang Plateau. There are more than 90 jar sites found in Xieng Khouang province, and each has hundreds of stone jars with various sizes. People who created these jars and the stories behind them have remained mysterious theories.

The highly recommended site is Thong Hai Hin, also known as Site 1, since it is one of the largest sites of the plain. And Ban Phakeo, also called Site 52, is a great place to discover as well. Besides the jars, Ban Phakeo includes natural landscapes that fit in with a trekking.

In 2019, the Plain of Jars was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It opens from 9am to 5pm, and the entrance fee is 10,000 KIP ($0.59) per visitor.

Oudomxay

It is also known as Muang Xai and is considered as the largest city in the northern part of Laos. Being an economic corridor between China, Vietnam, and Thailand, Oudomxay continues to develop. The city has little attraction to visitors, but the whole province offers some fascinating experiences and provides rewarding journeys through pretty sights. 

Chom Ong Cave, That Phou Xay Stupa, Oudomxay Museum, Khamtan Buddha Cave are worth a visit. Of all attractions of the town, Nam Kat Waterfall is a must for both adventure and nature lovers. Located in Ban Faen Village, surrounded by pristine forests, Nam Kat Waterfall used to be underrated as just an usual waterfall. But now it is an important attraction that makes many visitors put Oudomxay on their itinerary. 

You also can make a scenic motorbike trip from Nam Kat Waterfall to Muang La as a simple day trip. Muang La is a small town nestled beside the Nam Pak River, so it has a charming beauty. There might not be anything very special to do here, but strolling through the Khmu village, driving through rice paddies and rolling hills will definitely bring a comfortable and pleasant feeling to your soul. When reaching here, you can visit Wat Pha Singkham, a temple revering the sacred 400-year-old Buddha statue, one of the most important statues in Laos. Admission fee to go towards the maintenance of the temple is 10,000 KIP ($0.59).

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Phongsaly

It is a remote province in the extreme North of Laos, and getting to Phongsaly will take quite a lot of time and effort to handle meandering mountain roads. But it does not mean that it is not worth visiting. In contrast, Phongsaly will bring a dream trip to nature and mountain lovers with its thick forests, winding rivers, and many undiscovered species. The place is home to many different minorities with their own identity, and you will be welcomed by many wholehearted people here.

The weather in Phongsaly is quite pleasant, so it is suitable for hill tribe trekking or other physical activities. If you want to have an unforgettable Laos hike, you should hike to the top of Mount Phu Fa (“Sky Mountain”), where you can stand amongst the clouds and have spectacular views of the town and surrounding mountains. 

While traveling to this part of Laos, do not forget to check out 400-year old Tea Plantation, Wat Luang Ou-Neua Temple, That Phou Xay Stupa, and The Wat Ou-Tai Temple. They are all key landmarks steeped in history and attract tourists from all around the province.

Boat riding from Luang Prabang to Huay Xai via PakBeng

The last but not least thing to do in northern Laos is a boat trip from Luang Prabang to Huay Xai. This is an incredible boat ride on the Mekong River’s part of Laos, showing a serene countryside landscape. The boat excursion from Luang Prabang to Huay Xai takes 2 days. Besides, travelers can add-on stops at charming destinations while taking this boat ride such as Namkat Yorla Pa; Kamu Lodge, etc.

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