See Northern Thailand and Laos, in a comprehensive trip for travellers who have two and a half weeks or more.
- Click here to see the itinerary!
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Whether it be our air-conditioned buses, boat, train, or even tuk-tuk - you can hop-on hop-off anywhere along the route.
Knowledgeable local guides to provide invaluable support and insider insights and to assist with booking accommodation and activities at every destination.
Have a bed reserved for you at every Stray overnight stop. Book through your Tour Leader and pay-as-you-go directly to the accommodation.
12 month travel pass
Your pass is valid for 12 months from the first day of travel.
There are some awesome activities and entrance fees included with your pass:
- White Temple entrance fee, Chiang Rai
- Pak Ou Caves entrance fee, near Luang Prabang
- Kong Lor National Park fee, Kong Lor
- Tad Ngeuang Waterfall, near Pakse
Not included: The cost of your accommodation and optional activities is not included in a hop-on, hop-off pass. You have the flexibility to choose what suits your budget and pay-as-you-go. These can be booked via your Tour Leader.
Is this trip right for you?
✓ Do you want to explore with a group of like-minded travellers?
✓ Do you want to explore 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, remote destinations?
✓ Do you want the flexibility to stay longer in certain places?
The Little Mekong Freestyle Pass is a great choice for you!
If you would prefer a tour with accommodation and more activities included, check out our Freestyle Tours!
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.
- 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.
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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 3pm to meet your Stray Guide and your new travel mates for a Welcome Meeting introduction. We’ll cover how Stray works and answer any questions you have before heading to the train station to board the overnight train to Chiang Mai. The overnight sleeper train is an experience within itself for those who have never been on one before, complete with lie flat beds and a restaurant carriage. It’s the most fun way to travel to Chiang Mai and get to know your new travel mates!
We arrive into Chiang Mai train station around midmorning. As the largest city in Northern Thailand, 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. Once a kingdom unto itself, there are over 300 Buddhist temples to discover and it is worth visiting the old walled city to see the Tapae Gate. In the evening, don’t miss browsing the famous night market to score a bargain or you can 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 tuk-tuk ride to the small town of Houay Xai, our stop for the night.
Leaving Houay Xai you’ll board our private slow boat to cruise down the Mekong River to the tiny 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, try the local whiskey, and explore the village. This is a true highlight of any trip to Southeast Asia and exclusive to Stray!
See More moment: Experience a traditional Baci Ceremony performed to bring visitors to the village good luck and good health. This ancient ritual is said to protect you as you travel and is a heart-warming chance to connect across cultures.
Do More moment: Your contribution to the village funds annual projects to improve infrastructure and make a difference in this community.
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.
Today is free for you to 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. Many people take a trip to the famous Kuang Si waterfalls, where the bright turquoise spring waters looks like it’s been Photoshopped, or you can get hands on by becoming an organic rice farmer for the day on the unforgettable Rice Experience. Alternatively, you can spend the day cycling or trekking, take a cooking class, or head to the night market for a hassle-free bargaining experience and some delicious cheap local food.
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. 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.
With its stunning natural scenery, Vang Vieng offers ample outdoor activities to choose from. We recommend hiring a bike to explore the town and visiting the Blue Lagoon, one of the best natural swimming holes in Laos. There are also great rock climbing and kayaking options. 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. On arrival in Vientiane your Stray Guide 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. Arriving in remote Kong Lor with the afternoon sun, you’ll feel a sense of peace as you drive through the sleepy rural villages lined with crop fields and rice paddies and surrounded by stunning limestone karst mountains. Relax after the drive by popping down to the river for an afternoon swim, swinging in a hammock at your accommodation or sampling a delicious Lao meal at one of the little restaurants in the village.
Take advantage of your free day with the chance to explore the underground river that winds its way through a mountain! The must do activity here is a guided boat trip that will take you deep into the abyss of the stunning 7km long Kong Lor Cave. Discover impressive columns, stalagmites and stalactites illuminated and protruding from the limestone rock as you travel by motorboat through this colossal cave system.This area is also a photographer’s paradise and a great place to get out and go trekking or just kick back to soak up the views over a cold Beer Lao.
See More moment: Stray are the only ones who’ll take you off the beaten track to experience Kong Lor Cave - one of the natural wonders of Laos.
We’ll break up the drive today by stopping in the small town of Thakhek, where there’s time to grab some lunch before we continue south. Before arriving in Savannakhet, we’ll stop to visit the Buddhist holy site Wat Ing Hang, reportedly built in the 16th century to honour Buddha’s visit to the area and housing one of Buddha’s bones. Set on the Mekong River as a border town with neighbouring Thailand, Savannakhet historically served as a key transit and trading post and is now the largest town in Southern Laos. The best things to do are wander along the waterfront and check out the fossil collection at the odd but intriguing Dinosaur Museum, then settle in a nice riverside restaurant for dinner.
Driving south this morning we head first for Pakse, then carry on to explore 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. Pakse sits where the mighty Mekong River and Se Don River meet, so take advantage of the many restaurants along the riverfront for a meal served up with unbeatable river views.
From Pakse, we’ll carry on south to the backpacker mecca of Si Phan Don, otherwise known as the 4000 Islands. Here you can experience the laidback lifestyle and impressive natural beauty of Laos’s landlocked islands. The island of Don Det serves as a great base to hire a kayak or tube for floating down the river, taking a boat trip to spot rare Irrawaddy dolphins, cycling across to the neighbouring Don Khone Island to discover the remnants of the only steam engine railway in Laos, and marvelling 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 back to Bangkok.
This sector is unguided. If you'd like more detailed information click here.
Your Stray journey officially finishes when you arrive back in Bangkok in the early morning. We hope you had a blast on your Stray adventure!
Starts: Bangkok - or anywhere on the travel loop and finish where you started! Just let us know upon booking.
Days: Tuesday or Saturday
Time: 3pm at the Stray Bangkok Travel Shop
Note: The timetable below is for the new season beginning 1 October 2019. Refer to our main Timetable page if you are travelling before then.
Timetables are subject to change but our team will email you if this happens whilst you are travelling.
|Bangkok - 162 Soi Rambutri, Tanao Road (Welcome Meeting)||15:00||15:00|
|Bangkok - 162 Soi Rambutri, Tanao Road (Depart)||18:10||18:10|
Arrive in Chiang Mai
|Chiang Mai (Arrive)||08:15||08:15|
|Chiang Mai (Free Day)||Free||Free|
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|
Houay Xai to Mekong River Homestay
|Houay Xai (Laos Border) - Oudomphone Hotel 2 (Depart)||08:00||08:00|
|Homestay Village (Arrive)||16:30||16:30|
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|
|Luang Prabang (Free Day)||Free||Free|
Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng
|Luang Prabang - Arham Corner Guesthouse & Sports B (Depart)||08:00||08:00|
|Vang Vieng (Arrive)||14:30||14:30|
|Vang Vieng (Free Day)||Free||Free|
Vang Vieng to Vientiane
|Vang Vieng - Seng Aloun Guesthouse (Depart)||09:00||09:00|
Vientiane to Kong Lor
|Vientiane - Mixay Paradise Guesthouse (Depart)||08:00||08:00|
|Kong Lor (Arrive)||15:00||15:00|
|Kong Lor (Free Day)||Free||Free|
Kong Lor to Savannakhet
|Kong Lor - Thong Dam Bungalow (Depart)||07:30||07:30|
Savannakhet to Pakse
|Savannakhet - Avalon Residence (Depart)||08:00||08:00|
Pakse to Don Det (4000 Islands)
|Pakse - Khamfong Sihavong Hotel (Depart)||08:00||08:00|
|Ban Nakasang - Pier (Depart)||11:00||11:00|
|Don Det (Arrive)||11:30||11:30|
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|
Arrival Day: Bangkok
|Bangkok (Arrival next morning)||06:00||06:00|
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 Pass 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.
- Minimum Days - You don't need to hop off if you're short on time - you can travel your pass in the "Minimum Days". 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 not included - we have preferred accommodation options at each overnight stop and you can book this through your Tour Leader, or you can opt to book your own. Stray's preferred accommodation is simple and budget friendly.
- Activities - Activities are not included - 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.