If you are interested in Buddhism in Laos, this is a great 7 – night itinerary for you. This itinerary can be extended to include other destinations in Laos or in nearby countries.
You will be met by your guide at the airport and driven to your hotel.
Rest of the day is at leisure.
After breakfast, visit some of the city’s highlights.
Start your visit with That Luang Stupa or “Great Stupa”, which is considered to be the most revered shrine in Laos with its golden stupa in a characteristic banana flower shape. It is the most important Buddhist monument in Laos.
Stop at Patuxay, which translates to “Victory Gate”. It is a massive concrete monument similar in style to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France. The impressive arch is located in the center of Vientiane at the end of Lane Xang Avenue, the road that leads to the Presidential Palace. The Patuxay was built in the 1960’s as a memorial for those who gave their lives serving their country in several wars.
Visit Wat Sisaket, the oldest monastery in Vientiane, that was built in 1818. Continue to nearby Ho Phrakeo, the former Royal temple which is now turned into a Museum of Buddhist Arts and Sculptures.
Lunch is in a city restaurant.
In the afternoon, visit Buddha Park. Built in 1958, Buddha Park contains a collection of Buddhist and Hindu sculptures scattered among gardens and trees. Built about 28 kilometers south of Vientiane at the edge of the Mekong River, the town of Nong Khai in neighboring Thailand can be seen on the opposite side.
Breakfast is at your hotel.
This morning your driver and guide will pick you up at your hotel and together you will drive to explore the Dane Soung plateau and walk in the footsteps of Buddha.
After driving 22 km on the road going to Luang Prabang, you will enter the village of Ban Houakhoua. From there you will take a dirt road that leads to your first stop, Ban Naxone. There you will see six fragments of a headstone remaining and a lingam, traditional representation of Shiva that is supposed to generate divine energy. Keep going until you arrive at the tourist area from where you will take a nice walk to Dane Soung Plateau, location of Wat Dane Soung (approx. 3 km). The story says that the temple was built during the first millennium by the Mon. It also houses a collection of Dvaravati style Buddha images carved into the rock. In ancient times, this place was supposed to be a spiritual epicenter which is why there are so many stone shrines scattered all over the plateau. If you are lucky you might encounter Soubane, a monk, who has been living there for several years.
Walk back to your car and drive to the Vang Xang Buddhas (about 1h30).
Lunch is at a local restaurant.
Hidden in the woods, you will see the Vang Xang Buddhas, a group of Buddha sculptures carved into the rocks. No one knows exactly when these carvings were made. Some people say that Vang Xang literally means “the elephant court” or even “elephant palace” referring to an old elephant cemetery. Take some time to look at all these amazing carvings and if you look even closer, you might also notice some sculptures almost completely hidden by the greenery.
Afterwards, head to Vang Vieng your last stop of the day two more hours driving time from Vang Xang.
Arrive in Vang Vieng and check into your hotel.
Breakfast is at your hotel.
Embark on a traditional boat and cruise on the Nam Song River until you reach Tham Chang Cave surrounded by impressive cliffs. Considered by many as Vang Vieng’s most important cave, Tham Chang (or Jung) became the home for migrating people, who settled near the town’s southern Meuang Xong Village. The locals stumbled into the cave during the civil war while seeking refuge deep in the forest. Because of its high location, there is a perfect view of Vang Vieng. The entire village moved there to sit out the war and named their haven, Tham Jung (“Hang Around Cave”). Years later during the colonial era, the locals returned to cultivate the nearby fields and would bathe in the cave’s basin where the water was so cold they said it could freeze your legs to a firm stiffness. Then they changed the cave’s name to Tham Jung, which means “unable to move”, leaving locals no choice but to hang around.
Lunch is at a local restaurant.
This afternoon head to Luang Prabang (4 hours by car) to learn more about Buddha in the ancient capital city. The UNESCO World Heritage city of Luang Prabang sits on the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Kham Rivers. This former royal capital is the spiritual heart of Laos and will captivate you with its rich cultural and historical heritage.
Before sunset, take a walk to Mount Phousi and climb the 300 steps leading to the top of the hill for a beautiful view of the city and its surroundings while the sun goes down. A small 200-year-old stupa, or temple, sits atop the summit.
Rise early to observe the solemn morning ritual of monks walking through the streets to collect alms. Tak Bat, or alms giving, is a must-see experience for travelers to Luang Prabang. After pickup from your hotel in Luang Prabang, transfer to a street where a single file line of silent, saffron clad Buddhist monks walk with their alms bowls each morning. Luang Prabang’s many monastic communities are sustained by the local Buddhists who place sticky rice in the monks’ bowls during the daily ritual. Take the opportunity to make a rice offering with the help of your guide, or simply watch in awe as dozens of monks emerge to stroll past lay people offering flowers and incense in reverence for this sacred observance. After the monks have passed through, visit a market that pops up each morning near Luang Prabang’s main thoroughfare. Brush elbows with the locals buying fruits, vegetables, meat and spices from vendors who display an enticing array of products. If you’d like, try regional snacks like dried buffalo skin and rice-flour chips.
Return to your hotel for breakfast.
You’ll be picked from your hotel’s lobby and start your day to delve into Luang Prabang’s rich culture and heritage with a Mekong River cruise to the sacred caves of Pak Ou Caves, a shrine to the river spirit and Lord Buddha which sits among the limestone cliffs where the Mekong and Nam Ou Rivers converge. The caves are spilt into Tham Ting and Tham Theung, both of which are filled with thousands of Buddha images and statues which have been deposited over the centuries by pilgrims. On the way, stop at a picturesque village and discover the secrets of Lao rice wine distillery at Ban Xang Hai. After your cave exploration, jump back on the boat and enjoy lunch at a local restaurant as you return to Luang Prabang.
After lunch, continue to visit the Buddhist archive of photography at Wat Khili. The archive contains 35.000 historical photographs taken and collected by the Buddhist monks. The exhibition shows the unique meditation traditions of Luang Prabang and preservation of the endangered cultural Buddhist documents like palm leaf manuscripts and through historic and contemporary photographs
Proceed to Wat Xiengthong, known as the Golden City Temple. This 16th century complex was built near the meeting of Luang Prabang’s two rivers at the end of the peninsula. Adorned in ornate colored glass, this temple is considered to be the most beautiful temple in Luang Prabang and is important as a religious and national symbol. It was here that Laotian kings were crowned. After spending time at the temple, you will be transferred back to your hotel and the rest of the time will be on your own.
You’ll be picked up from your hotel’s lobby by your local guide, a former novice from one of the temples in town. Start your tour with a walk to a nearby temple, the Wat Pa Phai, which means monastery of the bamboo forest and it is one of the oldest temples in Luang Prabang. Wat Pa Phai has a classic Tai–Lao fresco depicting everyday scenes of the late 19th century Lao life. When you arrive at the temple, your guide will explain to you the Buddhist culture, architecture, temple etiquette and the daily life of novices and monks. This is your opportunity to find out about Buddhism in Laos. You will continue to go inside the temple for meditation. This experience will give you the opportunity to learn and practice the same meditation techniques taught inside the temple. After meditating, the head monk will give you his blessings as a good wish physically and spiritually.
Lunch is at a local restaurant
After lunch, proceed to Wat Mai with its interior and exterior extensively adorned with black and red lacquer decoration and gold leaf. The temple, known as Wat Mai, meaning “new temple” was founded around 1780 by King Anurat of the Luang Prabang Kingdom. Then continue to visit TAEC museum, a museum dedicated to exploring the rich diversity of Laos’ ethnic minorities and the only independent resource center in Laos dedicated to the country’s many and diverse ethnic groups. The doors opened in July 2007 with professional exhibitions on the ethnic cultures of Laos and a museum shop promoting handicrafts from village artisans. About 50% of the proceeds go directly to the artisans making the products, providing a good source of income and preserving traditional skills.
Inside the museum, learn about TAEC’s exhibit called the Living between Worlds: Human and Spirit Interactions in Laos. This is a fascinating look at the diversity and complexity of spiritual interactions sacred to individuals, families and communities in today’s Laos. For most in the country, spirituality touches every moment of every day: alms-giving, baci ceremonies, offerings and healing rituals are steeped in rich deep cultural practices.
Breakfast is at your hotel.
You will be pick from your hotel’s lobby and transfer to the boat pier. This is a half day trip, which takes you to visit a smaller but very beautiful monastery and temple complexes outside Luang Prabang. Each of the monasteries have been chosen as they represent different aspects of Buddhism in Laos. Meditation novices are welcome. Wat Muang Kham, meaning Golden Mango, is an important temple in the time of the royal family, situated 25 minutes by boat from Luang Prabang. It is a very old temple made from daub. It represents the Garavek, a mythical bird from the old stories of Laos. This temple, though small is a temple worthy of preserving. Your visit to the monastery helps keep this small complex alive and thriving. Start with a small tour of the monastery before entering the temple. Inside the temple, you can see beautiful iconology and statues which highlight aspects of the Buddhist culture, Laos Buddhist culture and the indigenous aspects of Laos culture. After an introduction to the iconology, Buddhist culture in Lao and the history of spiritual belief and practice, there is a guided meditation from the meditation master, Michelle Luehman. Michelle is the first and only female, foreigner and non-member of the Buddhist Community which has the permission and endorsement of the Laos Buddhist Culture to teach meditation in the temples. Afterwards, transfer by boat to Luang Prabang and then to your hotel.
Breakfast is at your hotel.
Free at leisure until time to transfer to the airport for your flight to your next destination.