Embark on an expedition along the Tea Caravan Trail, a timeless trade route from the Golden Triangle, following the Mekong between Thailand and Laos, and through rugged mountains to Yunnan, China.
“Uncover ancient civilizations and temples, experience life at ethnic villages, immerse yourself in pristine nature, and savor local food.”
Day 1: Chiang Rai
Launch your journey at Mae Fah Luang Cultural Park’s Lanna-era structures. Shift to Mae Sai’s border market and cross into Myanmar to peek at Bayinnaung Monument and meet ethnic Karen people. Return to Mae Sai’s Wat Phrathat Doi Wao, housing a hair of Buddha. Venture to the Golden Triangle and ponder the three-country junction from 1,300-year-old Wat Phrathat Phu Khao. Catch the Hall of Opium’s edu-tainment presentation about the history of opium in the area. Then cruise the Mekong to Chiang Saen.
Day 2: Chiang Saen
Scour Chiang Saen’s ancient religious sites, beginning inside the city walls at bell-shaped Wat Chedi Luang. Find tranquility at Wat Pa Sak Teak Forest and its 700-year-old square-tiered chedi. Hop into the ancient Yonok Kingdom at hilltop chedis: Wat Phrathat Chom Kitti, with Buddha relics, and Phrathat Pha Ngao built on a large boulder. Learn about silk production and weaving in Ban San That Sericulture Village, before navigating the Mekong to Chiang Khong and new bridge to Houei Xai, Laos.
Day 3: Houei Xai
Start a tour of hillside Houei Xai at teak-wood Vat Jom Khao Manilat. Examine colonial-era Fort Carnot and its barracks, watchtowers, and bastions – then visit 1,000-year-old Vat Phakham with eight golden Buddhas. Tackle the “Golden Triangle Circuit” beginning at the 1,000-year-old ruins of Souvanna Khomkham with its 7-meter-tall Buddha set in the midst of an ancient city. Stop at Ban Nam Keung for khao soi “sliced noodle” soup and visit Ethnobotanical Garden to watch locals produce herbal medicines, ginger candy, and banana liquor. Finish with a swim at Nam Nyon Waterfall.
Day 4: Laos’ Northwestern Mountains
Wind through Laos’ northwestern mountains, and explore roadside attractions along Route 3 on the 180-km journey to Luang Namtha Town. Shop for local handicrafts at the Bokeo Arts and Crafts Centre or see Lanten women making bamboo paper in Ban Nam Chang. Soak in Nam Phae’s panorama of forested mountains, and stroll through the Bor Kung Nature Park. Inspect Vat Mahaphot’s 13th-century temple ruins. Marvel at the limestone features Nam Eng or ‘Kaorao Cave”. Arrive in Luang Namtha and sample local food at the Night Market.
Day 5: Luang Namtha
Explore Luang Namtha Town’s environs. Start at Ban Nam Dee’s handicraft shop and nature trail to waterfalls and a nice picnic area. Experience a Tai Yuan baci ceremony, performances, and dining at Vieng Neua Cultural Village. Continue to That Phoum Pouk Stupa, built in 1628, crumbled by bombs in 1966, then rebuilt. Ban Nam Ngaen presents Tai Dam villagers producing Lao Lao rice alcohol, and their Tai Daeng neighbors hand-weaving textiles. For nature lovers, take a trek into the Nam Ha National Protected Area.
Day 6: Xishuangbanna (12,000 Rice Fields)
Step into China at Mengla in Yunnan Province, and explore historical Xishuangbanna, known for its terraced rice fields. Drop into Mengyuan Caves, and continue to Menglun’s Tropical Botanical Garden with a King Lotus that is sturdy enough to support a small child. Sidetrack through the lush Ganlan Basin to Menghan and cycle in the Dai Minority Park. Cross Sancha He Forest Park’s overhead walkway to peer at 5-km Yexiangu Wild Elephant Ravine. End the day with dinner at Jinghong’s riverside food stalls.
Day 7: Jinghong
Investigate Jinghong’s temples and nature. Wander around massive Mengle Temple on Nanlianshan Mountain. Check out Manting Park’s Orchid and Peacock Gardens, Buddhism Cultural Quarter, and Dai Cultural Teahouse. Spread your wings outside town with walks along the Mekong under a forested canopy. In Menghai, muse at 21-meter-tall Jingzhen Octagonal Pavilion, built by the Dai in 1701, and ponder 800-year-old Manfeilong White Buddhist Pagoda resembling a 17-meter-high cluster of bamboo.