We visited southeast Asia in September. This itinerary used Hong Kong as the gateway city with a series of one-way flights from Hong Kong to Hanoi to Luang Prabang to Siem Reap and then back to Hong Kong.
Day 1: Walking Around the Town
We arrived in Luang Prabang from Hanoi in early afternoon. Amantaka is centrally located in Luang Prabang, which matters because much of the experience is just walking around the town. If your hotel is in the countryside, you won’t have the flexibility to come and go. After getting settled, we were soon walking around and enjoying Luang Prabang’s many temples and markets.
When we got back to Amantaka, the hotel had arranged for a Baci ceremony, in which local elders bless a series of strings representing different parts of the human soul and then tie them one-by-one around our wrists.
Dinner is served on candlelit tables in the Amantaka courtyard, under the trees and stars. The food and ambiance were superb. We took most of our meals at Amantaka.
Day 2: City Tour, Mekong River Cruise, and Pak Ou Caves
Amantaka includes one activity each day in the price of the room. We started the day at 8:30 a.m. with Amantaka’s (complimentary) guided tour of Luang Prabang’s top sights, including several temples and a hike up a hilltop overlooking the town. The Amantaka guide was absolutely superb. He grew up in one of the monasteries and offered detailed explanations of each sight.
That afternoon, we opted for a private cruise on the Mekong River (which was an additional charge). Amantaka has its own boat, which takes guests on a spectacular journey north—toward the Chinese border.
The scenery includes mountains, elephants, and a parade of strange boats making their way up and down the Mekong. The ultimate destination for the trip are two famous caves on the Mekong River (Pak Ou Caves), which have been religious shrines for millennia. The boat docked, and we climbed the cliff side steps to the caves, which were filled with thousands of Buddha’s left as offerings.
Day 3: Hmong Village, Kuang Si Waterfall, and Elephant Sanctuary
Our morning tour (additional charge) was into the mountain towns of the Hmong people, where we visited the villages of BanPa Not and Ban Long Lao. Amantaka’s Hmong guide told us many stories of his people along the way. Our first stop was the elementary school, where we visited with students and passed out notebooks and pencils (which we had purchased at a store in Luang Prabang). While we were walking through the village, we came across a shaman conducting an exorcism. We watched through the doorway as he danced and sacrificed a pig. On the drive back to the hotel, we stopped at the Kuang Si waterfall and hiked alongside its terraced cascades.
After a quick lunch at the hotel, we headed to an elephant sanctuary, where Aman had arranged a private feeding, bathing, and elephant walk (additional charge). Elephants have quite an appetite so the first thing we had to do was prepare their food. This entailed cutting open bananas and stuffing them with salt. Once we each had two buckets full of bananas, we hiked down to the river to meet the elephants. After their feeding, we went into the river and helped them bathe. The visit ended with an hour-long walk through the forest, strolling alongside our new friends.
Day 4: Temple Offering and Flight to Cambodia
On our last morning in Luang Prabang, we made a ceremonial temple offering and shopped in Luang Prabang for souvenirs. The flight to Siem Reap departed at 2 p.m. and arrived at 4 p.m.