World Rivers: Laos & Thailand

World Rivers: Laos & Thailand

The latest addition to the exciting World Rivers series explores the millennial archeology, vibrant rainforests, fascinating culture, and cool mountains of Laos and Thailand. Our adventure includes Buddhist temples and royal palaces, rural villages, three exciting rivers, and the fascinating old and new of the cities of Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang.

In just 12 adventurous days, we’ll enjoy six days on the waters of three different rivers in Laos and Thailand, explore all three of the great cities mentioned, visit spectacular waterfalls, immerse ourselves in Buddhist temples and ceremonies, explore the Four Thousand Island area of the Mekong and search by boat for its elusive river dolphins, visit country villages and French colonial remains, experience the cool coffee-growing highlands of the Bolaven Plateau, and much more.

The rivers are small and highly dependent on rainfall, so it is unpredictable as to when we will be able to paddle rafts and when we’ll navigate the small and rocky flows in inflatable or sit-on-top kayaks. What is predictable is days of truly beautiful river-running in rocky, forested gorges, stopping in riverside hamlets to stretch our legs and enjoy the cultural interactions.

We highly recommend a 2-day extension of your trip to see Angkor Wat, the City of Temples in Cambodia. It is the largest Hindu temple complex in the world, the finest example of Khmer monumental architecture, and is a must-see in the lifetime of every international traveler. With its statues, frescoes, and towering structures it’s truly a wonder of the world.


Day 1: Arrive Bangkok

Arrive in Bangkok any time this day and use the airport shuttle provided by our hotel. Check into your room and enjoy the rest of the day on your own. We will have our orientation meeting in the lobby of the hotel at 6 pm, then you’ll be free to head out for dinner on your own.

Bangkok airport hotel, no meals

Day 2: Bangkok

A day to see the best of this great city, starting with the unusual perspective of our motorized boat tour through its famous canals. This excursion takes us by Buddhist monasteries, modern buildings and traditional homes. We stop for a visit to the Royal Barge Museum. Here you can discover eight of the country’s most unique and stunning sights, the Royal Barges reserved for auspicious ceremonies and state occasions like the Royal Barge Procession. Each is carved from huge pieces of teak with prows carved into mythical creatures, gilded, and intricately decorated with tiny shimmering pieces of glass.

Our boat drops us near Wat Po, a lovely temple. It’s the largest temple in Bangkok and famed for
its huge and majestic reclining Buddha measuring 46 meters (152 ft) long and covered in gold leaf. The
Buddha’s feet are 3 meters (10ft) long and exquisitely decorated in mother-of-pearl illustrations of
auspicious laksanas (characteristics) of the Buddha. We may also visit such sites as the Royal Palace or another one of the lovely temples. After our touring, it’s time for a relaxing massage at the Wat Po Massage School, a great introduction to Thailand. We drive back to a different hotel close to the domestic airport to be ready for our flight the next morning. Dinner is on your own.

Amari Airport Hotel, BF & L

Day 3, Nam Wa Rafting

After breakfast at the hotel we drive to the local airport for the flight to Nan. The original Wa
people settled Nan over 700 years ago and are descendants of Laotions. Nowadays Nan is still
quiet and rural with few foreign tourists. The Nam Wa River was first run only about a few years ago and has become one of the main attractions in Nan.

We travel to our put in point in the village of Ban Sop Mang, a 2 hour drive. There, we pack up our dry bags, load the rafts and set off around noon. We paddle through the swiftly moving river and encounter an exciting mix of over 15 grade 2 & 3 rapids. After an enjoyable 1/2 day of paddling through beautiful jungle gorges, playing in waterfalls and checking out local wildlife that inhabits this area, we arrive at our riverside camp just before sunset to relax and enjoy the untouched surroundings of the tropical forest. We feast on a delicious Thai dinner prepared by our river staff, unwind by a campfire and fall happily asleep in our riverside tents.

Camping, all meals

Day 4, Nam Wa Rafting

We paddle 45-50 kilometers (about 30 miles) of Nam Wa whitewater after an early morning wake up, coffee or tea and a Thai/Western breakfast. Today we conquer over 90 rapids, from grade 2-4+. It’s our longest day. We pass many riverside waterfalls and amazing jungle scenery. Around 1pm we will pull over next to a beautiful stream and our river guides prepare our Thai style lunch. We set off for what
-seems like more endless grade 3 & 4 rapids. In high water, this challenging day ends with a drive back to Nan, where we stay in a pleasant local guesthouse and enjoy some good food.

If the water is too low, we spend a second night camping on the Nam Wa.

Niva Nan Guesthouse, all meals (or camping if water is low)

Day 5, Nan

Our short city tour of Nan includes visits to its famed temples, including Wat Phumin, built as if on the back of two giant snakes, with a magnificent interior. We then board our vans for a long but very beautiful drive through the verdant mountains to Chiang Mai, with a stop along the way to visit the wondrous Theraveda Buddhist temple of Wat Phrathat on top of Doi Suthep mountain. Lunch will be eaten at a restaurant along the way. In the late afternoon we check into our hotel in Chiang Mai. There are many fine restaurants in Chiang Mai to choose from for dinner on your own.

If the water is low and we have spent a second night on the Nam Wa, we enjoy another half-day of rafting including about twenty more Class II-IV rapids. We meet our van for the ride back to Nan, stopping for lunch en route. Check in at the hotel with some time to relax.

Dhevaraj Hotel, B & L (or Niva Nan Guesthouse with all meals if water is low)

Day 6, Chiang Mai-Luang Prabang

A free morning in Chiang Mai to explore temples and markets or to see one of its well-known attractions where you can interact with tigers or elephants. We provide the transport, you choose your own activity at your own expense. Lunch is in Chiang Mai before we drive to the airport to catch our flight to Laos. When we are through immigration in Luang Prabang we’ll head to our hotel. Relax in the Pumalin’s spacious rooms mixing traditional style with contemporary convenience and luxury. It’s located right along the Mekong river offer with easy access to the shopping and restaurant district, and within walking of the night market.

Luang Prabang is the old French administrative capitol of Laos, and has some excellent restaurants to choose from for your dinner.

If we have stayed the previous night in Nan instead of Chiang Mai due to low water, we drive from Nan to Chiang Mai. We have lunch and vist Wat Phrathat along the way, then head to the airport for the flight to Luang Prabang.

Villa Pumalin, B & L

Day 7, Luang Prabang

Early risers have the chance to join the locals giving alms to the monks before our breakfast is served. Later we take a tour through the special atmosphere of this lovely town. Luang Prabang was formerly the capital of a kingdom of the same name. Today it is still the spiritual capital of Laos. After pick up at your hotel we will first visit the Museum in the former Royal Palace. Here you get a sense of local history. We continue to the monastery Vat Xieng Thong, built in 1560. The tour then takes us to Wat Visoun the oldest operating temple in Luang Prabang. The next stop is at Wat Saen.

After lunch, transport is provided to the nearby traditional Tai Lue weaving village Ban Phanom. This village is famous for its intricately woven textiles and special weaving techniques. In former times it was the weaver colony for the Luang Prabang Royalty. The very scenic Tad Sae Waterfall can be reached on the Nam Khan from Ban Phanom by long-tail boat. Its numerous cascades and pools are an ideal place for bathing. On the way to the Tad Sae Waterfall lies the tomb of the 19th century French explorer Henri Mouhot, the first European to rediscover Angkor Wat and to visit the Royal Kingdom of Luang Prabang.

We drive 4 hours on to the village of Nong Khiaw on the Nam Xeng, a spectacular and remote limestone landscape. Here we check into the Nong Khiaw Riverside Resort, a collection of bungalows with spectacular views and a good level of comfort. The large bungalows are made very nicely of local materials and feature balconies with spectacular views, comfortable mosquito-netted beds, and private bathrooms.

Nong Khiaw Riverside Resort, B & L

Day 8, Rafting/Kayaking on the Nam Xeng

After some basic paddle instructions and practice, we start our kayaking or paddle rafting tour (depending on water levels). We spend 6-7 hours on the river today, including a Lao-style picnic lunch. The river is Class II-III. It flows through magnificent mountain scenery, past small villages and green fields, and into rock canyons.

The night is spent at the village of Khmu. We sleep simply in local houses, with bathroom facilities and meals prepared by the village families. This is a great experience of traditional Lao life, something you are unlikely to encounter on any other trip.

Home stay, all meals

Day 9, Nam Xeng

In the morning, we visit the village before paddling further down the Nam Xeng. The rapids pick up, a thrilling experience for all paddlers. The trip ends at Ban Hat Seng, where a pick-up awaits the group for 1 ½ hour transfer back to Luang Prabang. Dinner on your own.

Villa Pulamin, B & L

Day 10, Bolaven Plateau & Pakse

After breakfast transfer to the airport for your flight to Pakse. Arrival in Pakse around lunch time. Board our van for the drive to the Bolaven Plateau, located in an ancient volcano that erupted millions of years ago. The area spans 50 km (31 miles) of southern Laos’ most vegetated area. With altitudes from 800 to 1350 meters (2700-4500 ft), it is green all year round and cooler than the rest of Laos
and Thailand. Surrounding the plateau there are a number of protected national parks, dramatic
waterfalls, remote hill tribes, dense jungle and a taste of some of the world’s best coffee beans.
Lunch is served in a local restaurant.

About 12 km (7 miles) out of town we’ll visit the Lao coffee company Dao Huang before driving for
about 40 minutes to see a local tea and coffee plantation. Here we see how they make green tea and roast coffee. Taste the finished product. After that we drive to the 120-meter-high (400 ft) Tad Fan waterfall and the majestic Tad Yuang, where a view point at the top reveals a great panorama of the whole waterfall.

Dinner on your own back in Pakse.

Champassak Grand Hotel, B & L

Day 11, Paddling to Don Khone

We depart from Pakse toward the Four Thousand Islands or Si Pan Done, as they are called in Lao after breakfast at the hotel. We drive south, passing through massive rubber tree plantations until arriving at the small village of Ban Lak 11. Arriving at the village we take a short walk down hill through the forest to the river bank, where we get some instructions and a basic safety briefing before paddling downstream through jungle.

A fun day lies ahead of us as we pass through many sets of exciting class 2 to 3 rapids. Continuing on
through the rapids we pass an amazing waterfall which is located on the river’s edge. We carry on
downstream until stopping to enjoy a picnic lunch along river bank, opposite a towering waterfall
which comes out from the deep jungle. After enjoying our lunch and taking some time to relax we
continue onwards for a further two hours, along the way we pass through some beautiful scenery
and see the local people fishing. In the late afternoon we arrive in an area of jungle which serves as
the ending point of our trip, from here we shall return back to Pakse before continues on road no. 13
to Ban Nakasang (boat landing), from here we will take a motorboat to Don Khone, where we will
stay overnight.

Sala Don Khone, B & L

Day 12, Liphi Waterfall & the dolphins
After breakfast, we take a short morning walk to see colonial buildings on the island. The island has extensive rural walking options, and hosts quite a few reminders left behind by the French — several old colonial buildings, including the school, the French port and the hospital (now part of a resort) and the French embankment — a series of concrete barriers built on the eastern side of the island.
We continue to the Liphi Waterfall to view this gorgeous natural phenomenon. We can hear the spine chilling thunder from a fall that vexed the early French explorers. We enjoy lunch at Liphi before paddling downstream to Ban Hang Khone through more tranquil waters and through some of the many channels of the Mekong. Once we get to Ban Hang Khone, we take a boat for a ride to a special area in order to spot the rare Irrawaddy dolphins, the only site left in Laos for this highly endangered species. Our outfitter is working with local authorities to contribute to a dolphin conservation fund – to which a fixed percentage of all paddle tours in the area are being dedicated.
We get back in our vehicle and drive to the majestic Khone Phapheng waterfall on the Mekong before returning to Pakse. Dinner is on your own.
Champassak Grand Hotel, B & L

Day 13, Departure or on to Angkor Wat

Transfer to the airport for your flight out. If you’d like to join our extension to magnificent
Angkor Wat in Cambodia, there are direct flights there (extension info below). There are nonstop flights to Bangkok as well for those headed straight home.

B only


September – October


It’s a short flight from Pakse to Siem Reap, the airport for Angkor Wat, and there are plenty of flights from there to Bangkok. Why not add one of the world’s great travel destinations onto your itinerary as long as you are in the neighborhood? Wantok will try to gather a group interested in this after each departure of the Rivers of Southeast Asia to reduce costs for each participant.

Day 1 Angkor Wat

Fly in the morning to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Clear Immigration and Customs, then proceed to the arrival area to meet your guide and your private driver for the visit to Angkor Wat.

After we check in at our hotel, the whole afternoon is set aside for a visit to the main temple, Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is one of mankind’s greatest achievements, and the intricate carvings at the temple of Angkor Wat demonstrate the skill of the Khmer builders. It was built in the jungle in the early 12th century, then – two centuries later – was mysteriously abandoned by the Khmer civilization. The jungle soon overwhelmed Angkor Wat, hiding it for several centuries with thick tropical foliage. There was nothing left to see except an occasional protruding building stone. In 1861, a French naturalist accidentally came across the jungle-veiled ruins. Now Angkor Wat is the main reason tourists come to visit Cambodia.

Angkor is visually, architecturally and artistically breathtaking. Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia if not the world. Stretching over some 400 km2, including forested area, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. They include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its famous faces and countless sculptural decorations. UNESCO has set up a wide-ranging program to safeguard this symbolic site and its surroundings.

We start our visit at the South Gate of Angkor Thom and the temples of Bayon, Baphoun, Phimean Akas, The Royal Enclosure, Terrace of Elephants and Leper King.

Finish your day with the sunset on the top of Bakheng Hill, where you can see the view of the temple of Angkor Wat and whole site of Angkor Heritage

Frangipani Villa (Superior room), no meals

Day 2 Banteay Srei – Landmine Museum & Ta Phrom

Early morning visit Banteay Srei, which for many years was off limits due to its remote location and Khmer Rouge activity. Built in the late 10th century and dedicated to Shiva, Banteay Srei’s pink limestone walls contain the best bas-reliefs of any temple at Angkor.

If you are interested, you may choose instead to visit the Cambodian Landmine Museum, Prevention and Rehabilitation Center. It has estimated that there are more than 110 million land mines buried throughout the world, with the largest concentrations in Afghanistan, Angola, Iraq, Kuwait and Cambodia. In Cambodia, efforts at clearing mines around Angkor Wat and the major tourist sites have been successful. However, millions of mines remain buried and significantly affect the lives of the Cambodian people. Learn about the center’s efforts and work on this visit.

We visit Ta Phrom in the soft afternoon light when there are not too many visitors around. Built in 1186, Ta Phrom was dedicated to the mother of Jayavarman VII. Its atmospheric dark gray sandstone towers and courtyards exude an aura of reverence and mystery. Unlike the other temples of Angkor, Ta Phrom has been left to the elements and looks very much like the other temples must have looked when rediscovered by Henri Mouhot in the 1860s. Navigating through its narrow passages, immense kapok trees and its jungle-covered ruins is an unparalleled experience, one of the highlights of Angkor.

Frangipani Villa, BF only

Day 3 Poi Pet and departure

This morning, enjoy an excursion to Mechrey Village on Tonle Sap Lake, with a drive time of approximately an hour. En route stop at Ampil Peam stroll through this traditional village where locals live much as they have for centuries. Continue to Mechrey, a small community on Tonle Sap Lake. Board a local-style boat and explore the area. This interesting excursion includes a foray into the nearby-flooded forest. Your guide will explain the biodiversity in this area, and discuss the importance of the lake for the livelihood of thousands of locals. Tonle Sap, meaning “Great Lake” is in fact a combined lake and river system. Learn about how its flow changes direction twice a year, depending on
the season. It has been declared a UNESCO biosphere, recognizing its great importance to the surrounding eco-system.

Return to back to hotel, take shower and check out at 12:00 noon. Your private guide will transfer to airport for your flight to Bangkok.

BF only



• Wantok leadership on the trip and planning assistance before it
• accommodations in hotels or inns in cities and villages
• all arrangements in the field, including camp meals, cook staffs, group gear and rafting equipment
• meals as noted (7 dinners are on your own)
• airport transfers on group arrival and departure days
• sightseeing and activities as noted in the itinerary
• ground transportation
• monastery and monument entrance fees


• international airfare
• domestic flights within Asia as listed above
• insurance (see Insurance section below)
• optional tipping off-river and to leader, guides and river staff
• airport transfers if arriving earlier or later than trip dates
• excess baggage charges
• airport taxes
• any meals noted as “on your own” (seven dinners)
• personal items like drinks, laundry, souvenirs, etc.


For years travelers have been visiting the great ruins, monuments and cultural attractions of the world. Their more adventurous cousins have been going to the same countries to challenge the rapids of whitewater rivers. Why not combine the two, we thought? So now we have. In 2014 we are offering five trips that combine the tourist highlights of a country with rafting on its best rivers, spending most nights in hotels along the way: Peru, South Africa, Guatemala, Laos & Thailand, and Bosnia-Croatia-Montenegro.
This enticing collection of journeys will offer something for everyone who loves the thrills and beauty of a great river. Wantok’s encyclopedic knowledge of rivers and river outfitters in a hundred countries, compiled during a lifetime of travel and river exploration, has been applied to devise the very best itineraries with the top operators in these five areas. The trips vary from a gentle scenic immersion in the desert and mountain wildernesses of South Africa s to rollicking whitewater adventures on the Class IV waters of Peru, and offer choices of oar and paddle boats as well as inflatable kayaks.
Perhaps you’ll be lured by the caves (including some underground rafting) and Mayan temples of Guatemala. The waterfalls, royal palaces, millennial archaeology and backwater villages of Laos might catch your fancy, or the prospect of visits to Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca and a chance to watch the colorful Incan Festival of the Sun may prove irresistible. Maybe South Africa’s beautiful Cape area, the Drakensberg Mountains, the canyons of the Kalahari desert, or the famous wildlife will spark your imagination. The shocking blue of the limestone-laden waters of the Balkans are tempting too. We’re sure that one of these tempting treats will compel you to be among the first to experience this new way of seeing the rivers of the world.
We’ve chosen rivers that span the seasons as well as the world. You can spend the winter holidays in the southern warmth of South Africa, the summer solstice at an Incan sun temple or at the top of a rimstone pool waterfall in Croatia, the fall on the pristine waters of the Guatemalan mountains, or late summer in the rainforest and Buddhist monasteries of Southeast Asia. As the World Rivers program grows, we expect to offer at least one destination every month of the year, taking advantage of the seasons around the world. All of the trips take you out of the US for less than two weeks, and most nights are spent in picturesque hotels and inns as we seek to avoid the blandness of the international hotel chains in favor of small, family-run properties with local flavor and a personal feel.



Wantok, a word from the Tok Pisin language of Papua New Guinea, literally means “someone who speaks my language”, which by implication means someone from the same village or nearby, and by extension a friend or a mate.  We, a group of veteran international river runners, chose the name to celebrate the spirit of camaraderie that brought us together.

We are not a business in the traditional sense.  We cooperate to create and market exciting river trips.

Our goal is to bring you great whitewater at great values, maintaining the highest standards of professionalism and safety on the water while minimizing the tendency towards luxury of the large adventure companies.  We think trip participants are fully capable of being a bit more self-reliant, that 3-4 star hotels with lots of local flavor are preferable to the big chains, that a great meal in a lively local restaurant is more enjoyable than the same meal in a fancy tourist place, and that a sense of adventure should be part of every trip.

Our price structure is simple, omitting the many hundreds of dollars others add on to every booking to pay for their printing, their mailings, their offices, and their staff.  We devise the best and most cost-effective itineraries and negotiate the lowest fair price with the best local operators to offer you a terrific trip at a good price.  A local outfitter, our guides, and you—that’s all we need!


Neither the guides who are part of Wantok nor the entity itself, which is a loose association and not a formally structured business, carries liability, evacuation or other insurance for the participants.

We VERY STRONGLY recommend that you check what your current insurance will cover on a trip, and then purchase additional insurance for anything else you feel you need.  We particularly advise buying trip cancellation, medical and evacuation insurance in case of last minute changes in plans or a need for emergency medical treatment or evacuation while on the trip.  An excellent option is MedJet.  At a modest cost they will supply evacuation insurance from anywhere in the world to any hospital, promptly and without questions.

Two sources for trip insurance that we recommend are Travel Guard International at and Travelex Insurance at .

You will be required to sign a liability waiver acknowledging the insurance situation to participate in the trip.



A deposit of $800 per person will hold your seat on this trip.

If you’re ready to join the trip, please mail your check for $500 per person to Wantok at 1678 16th St, Ste B, Oakland CA 94607.  If you prefer to pay by credit card, you can do so via Paypal,, using our email address to identify us.

You will receive an email on receipt of your deposit with the detailed information on the trip, including a registration form, liability waiver, packing list, and travel details.



Final payment is due 90 days before trip departure.  Final payments using Paypal will be charged an additional 3% of the amount being paid to cover Paypal fees.   Checks should be mailed to Wantok, 1678 16th St, Ste B, Oakland CA 94607.

If you cancel your trip up to 90 days before departure, your deposit minus $250 penalty will be refunded.  The penalty rises to $500 for cancellations received 89-60 days before trip departure.

Cancellations between 59 and 30 days before trip departure incur a fee of 50% of trip land cost.

No refund will be made for cancellations within 29 days of departure date.  We strongly recommend purchase of trip cancellation insurance (see above).


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