See Northern Thailand and Laos. Think spectacular rainforest (and ziplining through it!), turquoise blue waterfalls, staying in a remote village with the locals and relaxing in the 4000 Islands. Click here to see the route!
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Whether it be our private air-conditioned buses, boat, train, or even tuk-tuk - you'll get the full Southeast Asia experience!
Knowledgeable local guides to provide invaluable support and insider insights and to assist with booking accommodation and activities at every destination.
17 nights’ accommodation in a variety of comfortable hotels, hostels, guesthouses, homestays and on an overnight sleeper train!
3 breakfasts, 1 lunch and 1 dinner.
From temples, to waterfalls, to nature encounters there are heaps of awesome activity inclusions in this tour:
- Half-day bicycle or boat tour of Ayutthaya
- Ayutthaya temples entrance fees
- White Temple entrance fee, Chiang Rai
- Mekong River 2 Day Slow Boat Cruise
- Mekong River Homestay experience - includes meals, activities and donation
- Pak Ou Caves entrance fee, near Luang Prabang
- Half day Rice Experience, Luang Prabang
- Half day Kuang Si Waterfall Tour and visit to Free the Bears rescue centre, Luang Prabang
- Tham Jang Cave entrance fee, near Vang Vieng
- Kong Lor guided boat trip
- Kong Lor National Park fee
- Wat Prabat Phonsone entrance fee
- Old Wat Taleow
- Hotay Pitok Library, Xe Champhone
- Monkey Forest, Xe Champhone
- Tad Ngeuang Waterfall, near Pakse
- Wat Phou Temple entrance fee, near Pakse
Flexibility and 12 months to travel
You don't have to complete the Little Mekong Tour in 18 days, take your time and go with the flow! Freestyle Tours are flexible. You can hop-off at any destination along the route and spend more time there, then hop back on the tour with the next group that is coming through. It's really easy to manage your trip online using the Stray Mate Trip Manager. Your tour is valid for up to 12 months from first day of travel so you can hop, hop hop, as much as you like!
Not included: Accommodation if you choose to hop off the bus, extra meals and optional activities are not included in the price.
Is this trip right for you?
✓ Do you want to explore with a group of like-minded travellers?
✓ Do you want to focus on Northern Thailand and Laos at your own pace?
✓ Do you want to immerse yourself in local culture?
✓ Do you want to visit some of those harder to reach, off the beaten track destinations?
The Little Mekong Freestyle Tour is a great choice for you!
Our mission is to get you off the beaten track amongst authentic local culture and our experienced crew has chosen some incredible destinations so you can see more and do more! 'Strademark' Places are the places you're less likely to find in the guide book but the ones you'll be talking about long after the adventure has ended.
- Only Stray visits a tiny, remote Lao village on the banks of the Mekong River. Experience traditional village life. Hang out with locals in their backyard, swim or play football with the kids. A very special part of the visit to this village is your opportunity to participate in a Baci (welcoming) ceremony.
- Zip through the 7km long Kong Lor Cave on an underground river! Considered a highlight of Laos, Kong Lor is not easy to get to on your own.
- Xe Champhone wetlands is that remote that sometimes our Stray buses can’t even access it and we have to jump on-board an off road truck just to get there. It’s one of the best places to see wildlife in their natural environment. Visit the Monkey Forest and meet the Rhesus Macaque monkeys.
- Don Det is an iconic Stray stop at the southernmost part of Laos. These landlocked islands (otherwise known as 4000 Islands) provides the perfect spot to kick back during the day and then party the night away.
Get inspired and start planning your trip!
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Starts: Bangkok - or anywhere on the travel loop and finish where you started! Just let us know upon booking.
Start Days: Monday or Friday (View the full timetable)
Time: 6pm Welcome Night at the Stray Bangkok Travel Shop
Please note: Given the spontaneous nature of our trips, what we do each day might occasionally vary.
Sawadee, Sabaidee (hello) and welcome to Stray! Your adventure kicks off in the buzzing Asian metropolis of Bangkok, Thailand. If you arrive early in the day feel free to check out the vibrant markets and ancient temples that make up only a small side of this multifaceted city. Be at our Stray Shop at 6pm to meet your Tour Leader and your new travel mates for a Welcome Night introduction. We’ll cover how Stray works, answer any questions you have and make sure everyone is ready for tomorrow morning’s departure. Afterwards, make the most of your first night by getting to know each other over a delicious Thai dinner and a few cold beverages on Khao San Road.
Meet your Stray Tour Leader back at the Stray Bangkok Shop in the morning to depart for the UNESCO World Heritage site of Ayutthaya. We arrive mid-morning, allowing you plenty of time to explore the ‘Venice of the East’ by bike or boat. Ayutthaya is the former capital of the Siamese empire and was once a grandiose city, but many of the ancient monuments were ruined when it was attacked by an invading army. Nevertheless, it is still a fascinating historical park that offers a glimpse of bygone splendour. This afternoon we board our overnight train and head for the city of Chiang Mai.
We arrive into Chiang Mai train station between 8am – 11am. Chiang Mai is a popular place to hop off for many travellers and an amazing city full of endless activity options, such as Thai cooking classes, bike tours or Muay Thai kickboxing. There are over 300 Buddhist temples to discover, you can visit the old walled-city, see the Tapae Gate or pick up a bargain at the famous night market and check out the lively music scene.
Today is free for you to explore this historically rich city or venture outside the city to discover the natural beauty of Northern Thailand. Chiang Mai is the perfect base for some of Thailand's best guided hikes and treks, as well as the top spot for adventure activities like mountain biking, abseiling and whitewater rafting. This evening you can enjoy dinner at one of the many great restaurants then browse the night market, take in a ladyboy show or the Muay Thai boxing or head out for a few drinks with friends.
This morning we depart Chiang Mai to head for the Thailand-Laos border. We’ll make a stop near Chiang Rai to check out the famous and intriguing White Temple (Wat Rong Khun). Wat Rong is a unique modern Buddhist temple that features some curious statues and murals that include images from Star Wars and The Matrix, Freddie Kruger’s head hanging in the trees and a giant Predator emerging from the garden. We stop here long enough to grab a snack, stretch our legs and take a few photos before we continue on to cross the border into Laos. Once in Laos we take a short tuktuk ride into the chilled out town of Houay Xai, our stop for the night.
Leaving Houay Xai you’ll board our private slow boat up the Mekong River to the secluded village that will host you for an overnight homestay experience. Sit back and soak up this incredible journey as you wind your way through lush farmland, thriving jungle and rugged mountain scenery, drifting past water buffalo, locals fishing, and kids splashing in the shallows. We arrive in the village in the late afternoon. Here you will get a taste of traditional Lao village life by staying with a family in their home. Experience a special Baci (welcoming) Ceremony, swim in the river, visit the school and help the kids with an English lesson. Play a game of football with the kids, explore the local temple, go fishing and don’t forget to try the local whiskey.
We wave goodbye to the village and jump back aboard our private boat to head downriver to the famous limestone Pak Ou Caves. Pak Ou is an important pilgrimage site for Lao people, and here you will see thousands of Buddhist images that have been placed throughout the caves over hundreds of years. Back on board our boat a short trip takes us to the UNESCO World Heritage town, Luang Prabang. Luang Prabang has an old world feel that gives you the sense you’ve stepped back in time into a picturesque postcard setting. The fusion of French Colonial architecture with traditional Lao design set against a backdrop of misty mountains and lush green jungle makes this a truly majestic place.
Enjoy all this UNESCO World Heritage town has to offer. Luang Prabang is home to the National Palace Museum, Wat Xieng Thong (the oldest monastery in town) and plenty of other ancient Buddhist temples and sacred sites to explore. It’s a great place to spend a few days exploring, with options to discover rural villages by cycling or trekking the area, take a traditional Lao cooking class, kayak the Mekong River, shop at the night market or, for culture buffs, visit one of the many beautiful temples. So you get the most out of your stay in Luang Prabang, your itinerary includes the unforgettable half-day ‘Rice Experience’ and a trip to the beautiful Kuang Si Waterfalls with entrance to the Free the Bears centre.
It’s an early start as we head south through mountainous terrain on one of the most scenic journeys you’ll experience on the Laos travel route. Travel past hill-tribe villages, vast green valleys and rolling hills; we’ll make a special stop at the ‘loo with a view’. Our journey today takes us to the little riverside town Vang Vieng, formerly known as the best place to take tubing trips down the Nam Song River to visit riverside bars and indulge in cheap booze. These days you can still go tubing, but now you get to enjoy the beauty of Vang Vieng's landscape without the sound of pounding bass in the background. Upon arrival into Vang Vieng there is plenty of time to go tubing, start partying or kick back and watch re-runs of old TV shows playing at the bars around town.
With its stunning natural scenery, adventurous outdoor activities and reputation for a party scene, it’s no surprise that Vang Vieng is a popular spot for travellers. The tubing experience is more sedate now than in days past, but it’s still a real highlight to float down the river soaking up the beautiful mountain surrounds. Aside from tubing, Vang Vieng offers great rock climbing and kayaking options. We also recommend visiting the Blue Lagoon, one of the best natural swimming holes in Laos. The fun doesn’t stop after an adventure filled day either! This evening, check out one of several international restaurants for a taste of home or head to one of the bars to really get the party started.
Today we cruise through to the capital of Laos, stopping at the impressive Tham Jang Cave that was once used as a bunker during a Chinese invasion in the 19th century. On arrival in Vientiane your Tour Leader will point out the city’s main attractions including Putaxai, Pha That Luang, That Dam, the Presidential Palace, and the COPE centre – a non-profit organisation that educates visitors and raises awareness for victims of UXO (Unexploded Ordinance) and the Secret War. After check-in at our centrally located accommodation, you are free to explore the city, get a massage, go shopping or people watch at one of the local restaurants by the river.
An early escape this morning takes us away from the crowds and south to Kong Lor in the Phu Hin Bun National Park. About an hour into the journey we visit Wat Prabat Phonsone, the ‘Buddha’s Footprint,’ a popular and important pilgrimage site for local communities. Tonight you stay in the very rural and very remote Kong Lor village, surrounded by rice paddies, stunning limestone karst mountains and tobacco fields (Tham Kong Lor to the locals). Enjoy your chance to venture deep into the 7km abyss by riding in a motorised canoe on an underground river through the mountain.
Today is a short travel day as we head for the small town of Thakek on the banks of the Mekong River. Thakek is a major trading point and border town between Thailand and Laos. It has a strong French Colonial influence and is a great base for hopping off to explore the Lao jungle, limestone cliffs, pristine rivers, lakes and hidden waterfalls in the nearby Phu Hin Bun National Park.
This is what Stray is all about: getting totally off the beaten track! We head into the Xe Champhone wetlands - an area so remote that occasionally our Stray buses can't access it, so we have to jump on board an off-road truck. Today we’ll stop at Old Wat Taleow, a beautiful temple that was bombed during the Secret War and somehow the golden Buddha inside remained undamaged. Next stop is the 200-year-old Hotay Pidok Buddhist library, a fascinating stilt structure that’s home to thousands of Sanskrit scriptures and bamboo tablets. Before heading for our guesthouse in the small village of Ban Keng Kok, we stop at the aptly named Monkey Forest to get up close with curious and friendly wild rhesus macaque monkeys. Don’t forget to grab some bananas!
Driving south this morning we head for the bright lights of Pakse. From here, you can check out the refreshingly cool climate of the Bolaven Plateau. The Plateau features a lush green landscape, fertile coffee and tea plantations, and many spectacular waterfalls, including the stunning Tad Ngeuang Waterfall where you can go for a swim. For those who want a little adventure, Pakse is a great place to hop off the bus and experience the unforgettable Tree Top Explorer adventure. This amazing experience includes a trek through the jungle, tree house accommodation, wildlife spotting, thundering waterfalls, and a zip-line system that will have you flying through the tree-tops.
An early start takes us to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Wat Phou, an ancient Khmer temple and the former capital of the Khmer empire before the Angkor Wat. We allow time to explore the site and climb up to the mountain top temple for some spectacular views over the man-made reservoir. We’ll then head south to the backpacker mecca of Si Phan Don, otherwise known as the 4000 Islands. Here you can experience the laidback lifestyle and natural beauty of Laos’ landlocked islands with a leisurely tubing trip down the Mekong River, floating past locals fishing and people lounging on their bamboo riverside verandas. It’s also a great place to take a boat trip to spot rare Irrawaddy dolphins, or cycle across to the neighbouring Don Khone Island to discover the remaining remnants of the only steam engine railway in Laos and marvel at the thunderous Li Phi waterfall.
Say goodbye to Laos – it’s an early start when we leave Don Det by local mini-van towards Pakse and then carry on to the Thai border and Ubon Ratchathani, where you board the overnight bus.
Your Stray Journey officially comes to an end when you arrive in Bangkok early in the morning.
Timetables are subject to change but our team will email you if this happens whilst you are travelling.
Tour: Arrival in Bangkok
|Welcome Night (Arrive)||18:00||18:00|
Tour: Bangkok to Chiang Mai (via Ayutthaya)
|Stray Shop Bangkok - 162 Soi Rambutri, Tanao Road (Arrive)||09:30||09:30|
|Stray Shop Bangkok - 162 Soi Rambutri, Tanao Road (Depart)||10:00||10:00|
|Ayutthaya - Good Luck Guesthouse (Depart)||17:00||17:00|
|Ayutthaya Train Station (Depart - Overnight Train)||19:45||19:45|
Tour: Arrival in Chiang Mai
|Chiang Mai (Arrive)||08:15||08:15|
Tour: Chiang Mai
|Chiang Mai (Free Day)||Free||Free|
Tour: Chiang Mai to Houay Xai
|Chiang Mai - Hugnur Hostel (Depart)||09:00||09:00|
|Chiang Rai - Bus Terminal 2 (Phaholayotin Rd) (Depart)||12:15||12:15|
|Thai Border (Depart)||14:30||14:30|
|Houay Xai (Laos Border) (Arrive)||16:00||16:00|
Tour: Houay Xai to Mekong River Homestay
|Houay Xai (Laos Border) - Oudomphone Hotel 2 (Depart)||08:00||08:00|
|Ban Pak Nguey (Homestay Village) (Arrive)||15:30||15:30|
Tour: Mekong River Homestay to Luang Prabang
|Homestay Village - Boat Landing (Depart)||08:00||08:00|
|Pak Ou Caves (Depart)||14:00||14:00|
|Luang Prabang (Arrive)||16:00||16:00|
Tour: Luang Prabang
|Luang Prabang (Free Day)||Free||Free|
Tour: Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng
|Luang Prabang - Arham Corner Guesthouse and Sport (Depart)||07:00||07:00|
|Vang Vieng (Arrive)||13:30||13:30|
Tour: Vang Vieng
|Vang Vieng (Free Day)||Free||Free|
Tour: Vang Vieng to Vientiane
|Vang Vieng - Seng Aloun Guesthouse (Depart)||10:00||10:00|
Tour: Vientiane to Kong Lor (7km Cave)
|Vientiane - Mixay Paradise Guesthouse (Depart)||08:00||08:00|
|Kong Lor (Arrive)||15:00||15:00|
Tour: Kong Lor (7km Cave) to Thakek
|Kong Lor - Spring River Resort (Depart)||11:00||11:00|
Tour: Thakek to Xe Champhone
|Thakhek - Mekong Hotel (Depart)||07:30||07:30|
|Ban Lak 35 (Depart)||09:00||09:00|
|Xe Champhone (Arrive)||17:30||17:30|
Tour: Xe Champhone to Pakse
|Xe Champhone - Phonethavy Guesthouse (Depart)||08:00||08:00|
|Ban Khongxedon (Depart)||11:30||11:30|
Tour: Pakse to Don Det (4000 Islands)
|Pakse - Khamfong Sihavong Hotel (Depart)||07:30||07:30|
|Champasak - Wat Phou (Depart)||10:30||10:30|
|Ban Nakasang - Pier (Depart)||14:00||14:00|
|Don Det (Arrive)||14:30||14:30|
Tour: Don Det to Bangkok (Express Day)
|Don Det - Boat Landing (Depart)||08:30||08:30|
|Ban Nakasong (Pier) (Depart)||08:45||08:45|
|Laos - Thai Border (Depart)||17:30||17:30|
|Ubon Ratchathani (Depart)||20:00||20:00|
Tour: Finish in Bangkok
Need to Know
Some key details...
- Transport - All transport is included - you'll travel by bus (mostly private, air-conditioned buses with 24 seats), minivans, trains (Thailand only), boats (Laos only) and tuk-tuks.
- Guides - Stray employs local Tour Leaders to ensure you get more out of your trip. Hear the local stories, try their food recommendations, get insider tips and advice. Tour Leaders change from country to country so you'll have several different Tour Leaders throughout your journey if you're traveling multiple countries and if you hop on and off the bus - they're all absolute legends!
- Validity - This Freestyle Tour is valid for 12 months from your first day of travel and can be travelled once.
- Hopping on/off - Hop on and off as much as you like along the travel route. The buses run twice a week so the minimum amount of time you can hop off for is 3 days.
- Travelling without hopping off - You don't need to hop off if you're short on time - you can travel your tour in the number of days in the itinerary. There are non-travel days throughout the route so you will not be travelling everyday however we recommend allowing extra time to hop off.
- Departures - Buses run twice a week. Use the timetable to plan your trip.
- Booking Buses - Use Stray Mate (trip manager website) to book buses - you'll receive log in details in your Booking Confirmation email. If you're on a short timeframe, we recommend booking all your buses in advance.
- Accommodation - Accommodation is included for all nights of the itinerary. We stay in a mix of simple family operated guesthouses, hostels, basic hotels and village homestays. If you choose to hop off, you'll need to arrange, and pay for, your own accommodation. Accommodation is twin-share (unless you upgrade to a single room). We do not match travellers who are not travelling together, so please only book the twin-share option if you are travelling with a companion. Please note: At the homestays in Laos and Cambodia, we stay with a local family in their home. As part of this experience private (twin-share and single) rooms are not available.
- Activities - Top-rated activities are included and if you want to opt for extra activities, your Tour Leader can provide recommendations and assist with booking.
- Visas - You are responsible for obtaining any visas you require for the countries you are travelling in. Visa requirements vary depending on where you’re coming from and where you going, so we recommend that you contact the appropriate embassy in your country of origin.
- Travel Insurance - You must have a travel insurance policy to cover you for the entire time you are travelling with Stray. You will be asked for your policy details prior to starting travel.
- Stray Travellers - Our travellers are from all over the world, are energetic, adventurous and mainly aged between 20-35. You'll have people who have booked Freestyle Passes and Tours in your group, as the route is exactly the same, it's just the inclusions that are different.
- Group Size - Max 18, Average 9
- Unguided sectors - Some trips may include one or two unguided sectors as our Local Tour Leaders stay in their country of origin and bid you farewell to continue your journey with a new Tour Leader in the next country you're travelling to. Crossing the borders can be a bit of an adventure but your Tour Leader will tell you what to expect. In Stray Mate Trip Manager you can read the itinerary for each of these days to ensure your unguided sectors go smoothly.