Hanoi has a faded colonial charm where baguettes and good coffee are sold from doorways of grand buildings of a past era, with broad tree-lined avenues dating from the French period. The day is free to prepare bikes, recuperate from the flight or begin exploring this fascinating city. Those not flying with the group from London will join us at the hotel for a welcome briefing this evening followed by dinner at a local restaurant.
Before breakfast we have an early morning warm up ride through the charming streets of the Old Quarter in Hanoi and out to the picturesque West lake area. In the afternoon a city tour includes visits to the Temple of Literature, the site of the oldest university in Vietnam with over 2000 graduates; Hoa Lo Prison & the Old Quarter of the city with its '36 Streets' where each street is home to shops selling particular products - e.g. 'silk street', 'gold street', 'paper street' and 'naff souvenir street. In the evening there is the option to enjoy a performance of Hanoi's famous water puppets. (distance c. 25 km)
We depart Hanoi by bus and travel a couple of hours south into the provinces before cycling to Tam Coc, known as 'Halong Bay on land'. En route, we ride through the beautiful limestone karst landscapes and some typical Vietnamese villages and rural scenery. On arrival in Tam Coc, we take a paddle boat out onto the lake ringed by limestone mountains before taking some free time to explore further by bike or to relax in this peaceful village (time permitting). (c.50 km)
After a short transfer we cycle to Cuc Phuong Park. The park was Vietnam's first national park and is currently the country's largest nature reserve. The cycling is on quiet paved roads and overall is flat terrain. We will stop for a picnic lunch in the lush surrounds of the park. This afternoon we visit the Primate Rescue Centre which is a sanctuary for langurs and various gibbon species amongst others. (c.50 km)
An early start as we have a long drive today. Crossing from Vietnam to Laos, life takes on a different pace. The drive takes us through some spectacular scenery and into a remote area of Laos rarely visited by tourists. This evening our accommodation in Vieng Xai is basic, reflecting the fact that you are well off the beaten track. (No cycling today)
This morning we visit the caves in the surrounding area by bike. The leadership of the Pathet Lao lived in these underground hideouts throughout the Indochina conflict. The caves visited include those occupied by Prince Souphanouvong better known as the 'Red Prince' who was later to become the first President of the Lao People's Democratic Republic, and Kaysone Phomivihane who was the leader of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party from 1955 and served as the first Prime Minister of the Lao PDR. In their caves we see their underground bedrooms, offices and meeting rooms along with an 'emergency room' which could be sealed from the outside world protecting anyone inside even from chemical attacks. After lunch we ride to Sam Neua where we overnight. The ride has some challenging hillclimbs and descents with spectacular views throughout. (c. 35 km)
Today is a full day's drive through some extreme terrain; the drive will take approximately 9 hours depending on weather and road conditions. Near the township of Muang Kham we visit Tam Piu, infamous because of a tragic incident during the Indochina conflict. Approximately 350 civilians had moved into the cave for protection from the never-ending bombing: tragically the cave was rocketed by a Royal Lao Airforce aircraft on 23 November 1969, bringing down the roof of the cave on all those inside. You are able to climb to the mouth of the cave approximately 100 metres off the valley floor, which is predominantly made up of rice fields. We continue on for another 2 hours to Phonsavanh, the capital of Xieng Khuang Province and home of the 'Plain of Jars'. (No cycling today)
We cycle out to the Plain of Jars and visit sites 1 and 3. The Plain of Jars is an area of more than 60 sites covered with huge jars made from sandstone, granite or sometimes calcified coral. The jars vary in size and some weigh as much as 13 tons. They lay in clusters but are said to be in a linear path running from south Thailand to northern India. Their exact purpose is unknown but theories range from funeral urns to food storage and legends claim that an ancient king used them to brew Lao Lao rice wine!. We then cycle out to Muang Khoun, the former capital of Xieng Khuang before its total destruction during the conflict: there are only 2 surviving buildings in the town, a temple (Wat) and a hospital built by the French early last century. The ride to Muang Khoun takes us through peaceful country surrounded by rolling hills, rice paddies and minority villages. Depending on your preference you can cycle back to Phonsavanh or ride in the support vehicle. (c. 50 km)
This morning we cycle west from Phonsavanh along National Road 7 to Ban Chomesy. On the way we pass through Muang Sui - where a former US military base was established during the Indochina War (known as Lima Site L108). The relatively flat terrain cycling today takes us initially through a pine forest area then past H'mong villages and small lakes and across the Nam Yen (Yen River) and Nam Ngum (Ngum River). The scenery in this part of the country is rather different from elsewhere in Laos in that instead of jungle and rice paddies we pass through more rolling grass-covered hills where you can almost picture cows and sheep grazing. The weather at this altitude is often cooler and as a result, the scenery, flora and fauna can at times contrast with that seen during the rest of the tour. At Ban Chomesy we board our vehicle for the long drive (about 8 hours) to the enchanting town of Luang Prabang, nestled in a narrow valley cut by the Mekong and Khan Rivers. This beautiful town was designated a world heritage site in 1995 and appears to be a place that time has passed by. (c. 50 km)
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. (c. 50 km)
We ride to the village of Ban Pak Ou. From here we get a boat across the river to visit the Pak Ou caves, filled with thousands of Buddha images brought by the surrounding villagers as a sign of their devotion. Most of our return journey to Luang Prabang is by boat, an experience of the mighty 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. We cycle the last few kilometres, visiting a weaving village along the way. This evening is free for your own exploration of the town, an option being to walk to the top of Mount Phousii in the middle of Luang Prabang for spectacular views of the surrounding area as the sun sets. (c. 40 km)
Today we drive south from Luang Prabang to Phou Khoun through more mountainous terrain (approx 4 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 2 hours) is on the support bus and we end up in Vang Vieng, a popular town with plenty of bars and restaurants to enjoy. (c. 60 km)
A free day in Vang Vieng for your own private exploration. You may choose to take your bike for a ride around the limestone karsts or to have a break and try some different activities. These include kayaking down the Song river, rock climbing or trekking to some of the surrounding caves. This evening is a perfect opportunity to relax on the banks of the river with a cold drink and take in the view.
This morning we drive 85 km from Vang Vieng to Phonhong. Here we turn off Highway 13 and follow the road towards Nam Ngum dam. Near the dam we jump on the bikes to take a backroad route to the capital, Vientiane. The cycling is mainly on quiet, paved country roads and gives you an interesting insight into the local way of life. The last 15 km approaching Vientiane has some traffic but it is surprisingly quiet for a capital city. We will conclude the ride at the Patuxai monument: based on the Arc de Triomphe, it is also referred to as the 'Vertical Runway' following the Lao governments use of concrete supplied by US Aid for the completion of the airport in the 1960s to construct the monument. This evening you may want to head to the bank of the Mekong river for your last Lao sunset. (c. 60 km)
This morning is free to shop or explore Vientiane. We then 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. (c. 30 km)
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 Po, 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 personal exploration.