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Start Chiang Mai.
Start Chiang Mai, 'The Rose of the North', known for its temples, markets and the many colourful hill tribes that live in the area. Chiang Mai is a former religious and cultural centre; twice coming under the control of the Burmese, there is a strong Burmese influence reflected in the architecture of the city. In the evening we can visit the night market where many of the hilltribe's handicrafts can be seen.
Warm-up ride around Chiang Mai old town and visit Doi Suthep hilltop temple
After our bike fitting we start to explore Chiang Mai on two wheels. We will visit the old town, the temple of Vieng Kum Kam and numerous cultural highlights in the morning. We will stop for lunch before driving up to the hilltop temple of Doi Suthep, the most revered Buddhist shrine in the Chiang Mai region. On a clear day the temple affords an excellent view over Chiang Mai and its striking temple landscape. There will be the opportunity to listen to the monks chanting before returning to the city for a chance to try northern Thai cuisine group at an optional group meal. .
Transfer to Chiang Rai; cycle along the Thai/Burma border into the heart of the Golden Triangle.
Leaving our hotel early we set off by bus to the Chiang Rai Province, the northern most province in Thailand (approx. 2.5 hours transfer). We visit the revered Wat Rong Khun (The White Temple) before cycling to Mae Sai. We journey (cycle and 1 hour transfer) into the heart of the Golden Triangle, the compact region where Thailand, Laos and Burma meet offering a heady mix of cultures and landscapes.
Journey to border town of Ban Sew for boat ride on the mighty Mekong, cycle into Laos.
The Opium Museum is our first stop today (after a 30min transfer) which highlights the history of opium from its natural properties to its illegal uses, and gives historical information on the Opium Wars that led to the fall of the Manchu Dynasty. The Golden Triangle was previously one of the most extensive producers of Opium until Afghanistan became the world’s largest producer. We'll next board a boat down the mighty Mekong glimpsing local villages and industries before starting cycling at Ban Sew following a quiet route to the border for our crossing into Laos. The cycling today is mostly flat with a few rolling hills passing through tobacco and corn plantations.
Cycle to Luang Nam Tha to the hill tribe village Tai Dang.
Today is our first foray into rural Laos. The Luang Nam Tha region is a land of 39 ethnic tribal groups. The Nam Tha river weaves itself through the countryside and has many ethnic tribal villages dotted along its length on one side and dense jungle of the national protected area on the other. We will transfer to the village of Vieng Phu Ka before cycling through quiet jungle-lined roads marvelling at the mountainous landscape. There is a night market not too far from the hotel which provides the opportunity to feast on the local speciality of bamboo and green papaya salad or slow cooked Laotian pork belly. There will be a 2 hours transfer at the beginning of the day.
Rural cycle to the Udomxai province.
We start the day with a ride from Luang Nam Tha to Udomxai. The town is formed by many small villages and is home to a wide variety of ethnic groups; Hmong, Tai Dam, Akha, Tai Lue and Yao. Men and women in traditional dress are a common sight. The cycling today will pass through rice paddies and rolling valleys with a few hill climbs before transferring to the town at the end of the day.
Continue through Udomxai province to Pak Beng.
We cycle direct from the hotel today journeying towards Pak Beng. The area is an important intersection between China and Vietnam and has a unique multicultural atmosphere. Located in the Nam Ko River basin and surrounded by scenic mountains the area is famed for its Chinese produce. We will stop for a late lunch before transferring (approx. 2 hours) to Pak Beng town for our overnight spot on the side of the Mekong.
Board slow boat on the Mekong to Luang Prabang visiting Buddha Caves en route.
Today we journey to Luang Prabang by boat, cruising along the Mekong River which starts its journey high in the Tibetan Plateau, eventually emptying itself into the sea in the south of Vietnam. Its journey takes it through 7 different countries in Asia. Travelling slowly allows us to absorb the pace of the riverside settlements and marvel at the mist covered mountains towering above us. En route to Luang Prabang we will visit the famous Tam Ting Caves, cut out of the limestone banks which line the river at Pak Ou. These caves are filled with thousands of Buddha images brought by the surrounding villagers as a sign of their devotion. Upon arrival we hop back on our bikes for a flat 10km cycle to our hotel for the next 2 nights.
Cycle to beautiful Kwang Si Waterfalls. Chance to see monks receiving alms at dawn.
Approximately 25 km from Luang Prabang are the beautiful Kwang Si Waterfalls. We ride from our hotel, leaving Luang Prabang passing through a rural landscape of rice paddies and Lao Lum villages. Once at Kwang Si Falls we have a picnic lunch and there is a chance for a refreshing dip. In the afternoon we cycle back to Luang Prabang. The rest of the afternoon is free for individual sightseeing or shopping, or there is an orientation bike ride of the town (any entrance fees are not included). This evening there is a chance to visit the night market in town with beautiful traditional Lao and hilltribe textiles on sale.For those up at dawn there is chance to witness the daily parade of saffron-robed monks receiving alms.
Cycle from Luang Prabang to picturesque Vang Vieng through stunning mountainous terrain.
Today we drive south from Luang Prabang to Phou Khoun through more mountainous terrain (approx 3 hours), passing through numerous Hmong villages. Once in Phou Khoun we pull out the bikes and start riding. The ride includes a superb winding descent with magnificent views of limestone karsts which gives the impression of entering into 'Lord of the Rings' territory'. This is followed by shorter climbs and easy riding through rice paddies and villages as we approach Kasi. The rest of the journey (about 1.5 hours) is on the support bus and we end up in Vang Vieng, a popular town with plenty of bars and restaurants to enjoy.
Scenic drive south through striking karst landscape; cycle to sedate capital Vientiane.
We set off from Vang Vieng early this morning. Passing through local rubber plantations and small villages we pause for a rest at a local roadside market – it’s specialty is the local delicacy of dried fish which you may well smell before you see it! We stop for lunch before hopping on the bus for a final two hours drive to Vientiene, the sleepy capital of Laos. In the evening the perfect option is to retire for a refreshing beverage and watch the sunset over the Mekong River.
Free morning to explore then cross over the Friendship Bridge into Thailand; board overnight train to Bangkok.
This morning is free to shop or explore Vientiane. We take an orientation tour of the city, visiting the Thatluang Stupa, Wat Si Saket, the oldest temple in the city, and Haw Phra Kaew, a temple which originally housed the Emerald Bhudda now on display in Thailand which we will see tomorrow. After this we ride out of the city and over the Mekong into Thailand across the Friendship Bridge. After completing border formalities we ride (on the left in Thailand!) to Nong Khai railway station. Here we say good-bye to our Lao guide. We can relax for a couple of hours in a local hotel (with pool) before returning to the train station for our overnight train journey to Bangkok.
Bangkok city tour; free afternoon.
On arrival in Bangkok we transfer to our hotel. Later in the morning we take a short walk to the Chao Praya river where we board a long tail boat for a tour of the local canals. Bangkok was once known as the Venice of the East because of its intricate canal network. We get a glimpse of daily life as we pass locals selling their wares by the river. We will visit what to this day remains the home of the Thai Royal family at the Royal Palace complex followed by Wat Phra Kaew, home to the Emerald Buddha, one of Thailand's most venerated images. Another highlight is Wat Pho, the largest temple in Bangkok, housing a 46m long, 15m high gold-plated reclining Buddha. We then head back to our hotel by ferry. This afternoon is free for further exploration of this exciting city.