Visiting: Burma, Laos, Thailand
On this expedition trip we cross from Thailand into Burma (Myanmar) at the famous Golden Triangle and spend a week exploring a rarely-visited corner of this mysterious land. Hidden away - yet close to the Lao, Chinese and Thai borders - the area around Kengtung (Kyaingetong) has numerous ethnic minority groups living traditional lifestyles side by side. In a series of day treks we explore many of these remote and inaccessible hill tribe villages before experiencing the tranquil old British colonial settlement of Loi Mwe, a little-known former hill station.
With our time in Burma coming to a close, we look east across the Mekong River to neighbouring Laos. Our plan is to cross back into Thailand and then on to Laos, where we spend a night in Huay Xai.
Burma Hill Tribes & the Golden Triangle
Flexibility will be the key as the border situation can change at short notice! Regardless, we make our way to Luang Namtha and visit Lao minority villages on a day trek. Our exploration of this off the beaten track area continues at Nong Khiaw, a beautiful little town surrounded by limestone karsts. Here we find our boat driver ready to navigate us down the Nam Ou (Ou River) to Luang Prabang. There is no better place to relax for a day or so and reflect on our amazing journey. This lovely town is a firm favourite with both newcomers and seasoned travellers in Asia. Finally we fly back to Bangkok and our expedition is complete, with three weeks of incredible adventures behind us.
Arrive in Bangkok where you are transferred to your comfortable and centrally located hotel. A pre-trip briefing is held in the evening, to meet the other members of your group and discuss the trip itinerary. This meeting will be conducted by your Peregrine tour escort. Please check for a notice on the Peregrine noticeboard located near the hotel lifts, which will state the exact time and location of this meeting. Until this meeting we encourage you to get out and discover the delights that Bangkok has to offer, including trying some of Thailands famous cuisine. After the group meeting in the evening we may adjourn to a nearby restaurant and enjoy a meal together (this is optional and at your own expense). The rest of the evening is free - perhaps a quiet drink or a visit to the bustling night markets of Bangkok.
The Golden Triangle - Chiang Rai
After breakfast we depart early and travel to the airport for our flight to Chiang Rai. The flight departs around 9am and will take about one hour and twenty minutes (please note that flight schedules can always change at the last minute). On arrival we are met by our local leader for Thailand. Todays agenda is a day tour to the Golden Triangle, the meeting point of Burma, Laos and Thailand at the conflux of the Ruak and Mekong (Maekhong in Thai) rivers. This infamous point is the area in which powerful warlords have fought for control over the opium trade. This evening we have time to visit the Night Market, which is rich with the colour and crafts of the hill tribe people. (B)
Tachileik - Kengtung (Kyaingetong)
Today we make our way to the Thai-Burmese border at the town of Mai Sae. After completing border formalities we cross into Burma and head to the township of Tachileik, a typical border town selling all sorts of goods from neighbouring countries. We visit the famous Tarlaw Market, which is renowned for its vast array of stalls that sells local Shan handicrafts, amongst other things. We then continue our journey and travel 164 kilometres north to Kengtung (also spelt 'Kyaingetong') - the base for most of our time in Burma including our next six nights. The road is in fairly good condition and our journey will take between 3-4 hours. Kengtung is a quiet historic town located in the heart of eastern Shan State and was set up by the grandson of King Mengrai - the ruler that founded the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai. Originally constructed as a walled fortress and a part of the independent Khun Kingdom, it later became an important British outpost during the Raj. It now surrounds a small lake and is known for its 30 or so Thai-style temples, the best known being Wat Jong Kham with its gold leaf and silver inlays, and evocatively dilapidated colonial-style buildings. Only recently opened to outsiders, the region is also known for its interesting tribal mix that includes Khun, Palaung, La Hu Shi, Shan, An and Akha people; many them living in and around the town. While Kengtungs lively central market is a colourful blend of tribes, the nearby water buffalo paddock is also well worth a visit, largely to watch buyers and sellers haggle over prospective purchases much as we might do with a used car! (B, L)
Kengtung (Kyaingetong) - day trek to Pintauk area
Over the next three days we explore the colourful and mountainous region around the town by embarking on a series of short treks and visiting the region's ethnic hill tribes. In the morning we visit an enchanting market - a meeting point for many hill tribe people who congregate, resplendent in their colourful costumes, to deal in local antique and old coins. Quirky as it may seem, many of these hill tribes still use old colonial British coins as their only form of hard currency. We then travel for two hours in a basic vehicle, similar to a Thai songthaew, into the Pintauk area, en route enjoying views of rice fields on the plains that resemble a huge green patchwork blanket. We get off our vehicle and walk for about four hours to visit ethnic Akha and Enn villages in the area. Some of these tribes have converted to Christianity, but the majority are still animists. The Enn tribe, distinguishable by their blackened teeth, live on the higher slopes and possess distinctively different costumes and beliefs from the other tribes. We walk back to our vehicle and drive back to Kengtung. Stopping for a break at Pintauk Waterfall (B, L)
Kengtung (Kyaingetong) - day trek to Hochin (Ho Kyin) area
We depart by songthaew and drive for approximately one hour to Pan Kwai village, where we leave our vehicle and hike to Hochin (Ho Kyin) Akha village (approx 1½ hours). We then continue to Na Phi Phank village (approx 30 minutes), where Lahu and Akha people side by side. We could embark on an optional visit to Phata and Tang Ma Phai Akha villages before returning to our vehicle at the road junction at Pan Kwai village. On our drive back to Kengtung, we stop at Mong Zine Khun village to observe a traditional Lahu blacksmith at work. (B, L)
Kengtung (Kyaingetong) - day trek to Mong Kwan area
Today we drive to the Mong Kwan area. As usual we leave our vehicle before trekking to a hilltop to visit Hwe Kwi and Sham Gim Tai Loi tribe. We continue on to Wan Kwan village where we encounter the colourfully-dressed Lisu tribe who live in mud houses. (B, L)
Kengtung (Kyaingetong) - day trip to Loi Mwe
We travel by vehicle for approximately 40 minutes to an Akha village, situated nine kilometres northeast of Kengtung. The costumes of the ladies in this village are simple - a wide-sleeved, short black jacket over a sarong of horizontal red stripes on a black background. We then proceed to Loi Mwe (33 km - approximately two-hour drive), which is situated over 1600 metres above sea level. Here we enjoy magnificent views of the surrounding area and also relief with its temperate climate. Loi Mwe was once a hill station for the British and has many colonial buildings as well as a Catholic church. On the way to Loi Mwe we stop to visit various villages belonging to different ethnic groups. These include the Wanlun Shan villages, Holup Akha village, Nangcho Wa village and Panwai Lahu village. (B, L)
Kengtung (Kyaingetong) - trek to Lahu Shi village
We get up for an early start and drive a short distance to Pan Pak village, from where we walk about five hours to reach a community of the remote Lahu Shi tribe. These people have a Tibeto-Burman ethnic background and their language is very different to those of other neighbouring tribes in the Shan hills. (B, L)
Kyaingetong(Kengtung) - trek to Wan Seng/Wan Nyet Loi tribal villages
Leaving Kyaingetong we continue by road towards the Chinese border town of Mong La. After about two hour on the road we get off the road and visit Wan Nyet Loi tribe who prefer to live in communal homes, or longhouses, similar to those found in the jungles of Borneo. We visit the Wan Nyet Monastery with its stunning intricate wooden carvings. We take a short trek (approximately one hour) through some magnificent scenery to the Loi village of Wanseng. We visit the Wan Nyet Monastery with its stunning intricate wooden carvings before trekking to another Loi village of Wanseng. We spend some time visiting local houses and a local school, before returning to our vehicle and drive back to Kyaingetong. (B, L)
Kyaingetong(kengtung) - trek to Gabaaye Palaung villages
We travel on our vehicle for approximately one hour to Kabaaye area. We visit Akhu with Enn tribe to observe their daily life. On our way we observe Kabaaye Buddhist temple which said to be 600 year old. Local people say the Kabaaye Pagoda in Yangon is just replica of the one here. We return in the afternoon and visit inner Kyaingtong with its hidden attraction. (B, L)
Kengtung (Kyaingetong) - visit to Wanpauk Palaung village
We travel on our vehicle for approximately one hour to Wanpauk, home of the red-clothed Silver Palaung tribe. We wander around the village and get a taste of their way of life before hiking for approximately three hours to some Kunpe Lahu Shi villages. Here we meet the Lahu people who can be seen wearing their distinctive black and red clothing, before returning to Kyaingetong. (B, L)
Tachileik - Huay Xai
We have two border crossings today as we cross back into Thailand and then continue on to Laos. At first we drive 3-4 hours back to Tachileik and the Burmese-Thai border. After saying goodbye to our Burmese local tour leader and farewelling Burma, we cross back into Thailand. We are met by our Thai representative at Mae Sai and transferred to the Thai-Lao border at Chiang Khong, where we meet our Lao tour leader. After completing border formalities, we take a small boat across the Mekong River to Huay Xai, our first stop in Laos. For centuries Huay Xai was a disembarkation point for Yunnanese caravans, led by the Chinese Muslims on their way to Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, in ancient Siam. Today, Huay Xai is a hustling ferry town on the banks of the Mekong River. Theres time to wander around this small place and perhaps ascend the Naga stairs to Wat Jom Khao Manilat, a fascinating temple overlooking the river and town. (B)
This morning we drive from Huay Xai to the dusty outpost town of Luang Namtha, which is home to numerous colourful hill tribes including Akha, Yao and Lao Theung. There is also a significant Chinese population and a lot of trade goes on between Laos, Thailand and China. Laos remoteness has meant that, like Burma, local communities have preserved much of their traditional lifestyle and culture. Overall the region surrounding Luang Namtha is home to no less than 39 minority groups - the largest in Laos. While here we take the opportunity to embark on a day trek (approximately 4-5 hours of walking) in the area to local villages to truly appreciate the huge diversity of ethnic groups in the region. (2B, L)
Nong Khiaw (Nong Khiew)
From Luang Namtha we travel for four-and-a-half hours on a bumpy road, passing teak plantations and small villages nestled in between stunning limestone karsts outcrops, to Nong Khiaw (also spelt 'Nong Khiew'), a beautiful town on the Nam Ou River. This small village is also known as Muang Ngoi, as is another small village nearby! They are over 150 years old and have survived on fishing and farming. Limestone mountain outcrops surround the area, and it is possible to explore the various caves beneath these formations. There is also a temple in the area and with it many monks in saffron robes. After a long days journey the perfect option is to laze back with a cold beverage and take in the peace and quiet that surrounds you - not to mention the breath-taking scenery. (B)
Pak Ou Caves - Luang Prabang
From Nong Khiew we catch a slowboat for our trip down the Nam Ou (Nam River) to Luang Prabang - a mixture of leisurely cruising with more excitement to be experienced at some stretches of the river, when we encounter fast-flowing water. Just before arriving in Luang Prabang we stop to stretch our legs and explore the amazing Pak Ou Caves, which contain hundreds of Buddha statues. Time permitting we may also stop at the village of Bang Sang Hai, where they make the potent 'lao lao' (Lao rice wine). From here we continue down the mighty Mekong River to Luang Prabang. On arrival we are transferred to our hotel in town. (B)
We have the next few days here to wander the streets and discover this beautiful town, with its gleaming temple roofs, fading French architecture, and stunning mountain backdrop. Luang Prabang has been claimed by UNESCO to be the best preserved city in South East Asia. We embark on an evening climb to the top of Phu Si Hill for a beautiful sunset view of the city and the Mekong River. There are 329 steps, which zigzag their way past various temples to the sacred, gilded stupa (That Chomsi) at the summit. Rising before dawn we watch the monks on their early morning alms-collecting rounds. A city tour enables us to visit the major temples, including the magnificent Wat Xieng Thong, which nestles at the meeting of the Mekong and the Nam Khan Rivers, and Wat Wisunalat, which is the oldest temple in the city. We also visit the National Museum at the former Royal Palace, an interesting structure that dates from the early years of the 20th Century and combines traditional Lao architecture with French colonial influence. The collection of treasures and artefacts reflects the richness of Lao culture dating from the days of the early kings right through to the last sovereign, who was deposed in 1975. Another highlight of our stay here is a visit to the beautiful Kuang Si waterfalls. There is also free time to enjoy your own exploration of this historic place, where a great optional activity is to sample a traditional Lao massage and herbal sauna. (2B)
Today we farewell our Lao tour leader and fly back to Bangkok. On arrival we are transferred back to our hotel in the city. Tonight we have a chance to go out for a final dinner together (optional) and reflect on our experiences of the past few weeks that have taken us to places that few travellers have yet ventured to. (B)
The tour ends after breakfast. A transfer to the airport is not included; however, the hotel staff will be on hand to advise you as to the options available. (B)
While the information presented here details our planned itinerary, including routes taken, activities included, accommodation and meeting times, please accept that unforseen changes may occur. We are constantly on the lookout to improve our program and further enhance your experience. Naturally, we will keep you up to date with any last minute amendments to your tour.
Key: (B) = Breakfast, (L) = Lunch, (D) = Dinner