Welcome to Laos! Your journey begins in the capital city, where you will get a feel for the pace of life and history of Laos before heading north.
The perfect adventure for students seeking meaningful service work and cultural immersion in Laos. Stay in a homestay in a rural village where you will work on construction projects at the school. Then, explore more of the country as you take a road trip to the beautiful town of Luang Prabang and visit the awe-inspiring Kuangsi Waterfalls. With our local staff you’ll get to know more of Laos than most tourists ever see!
Relax and prepare for an adventure to Southeast Asia. Before traveling you will receive your pre-departure packet, which includes your Rustic T-shirts, luggage tags, country books, flight details, and important contact information.
Once you arrive at your international departure city, our Airport Coordinator will help you check-in for your flight. Here you’ll meet your Flight Leader who will escort you all the way to Thailand! Rustic Pathways’ Flight Leaders are most often schoolteachers or good friends of our organization who happily fill this role for us each year. Once you’re checked in, feel free to relax and get acquainted with your new friends before boarding your flight to Thailand!
Today is lost as you cross the international dateline. Fear not – you will get this time back on your way home.
Sawat dee and welcome to Thailand! All of our programs in Laos connect through Bangkok, Thailand, where Rustic Pathways Program Leaders eagerly await your arrival. From Bangkok, you will fly to Udon Thani, Thailand, hop into Rustic Pathways vans and cross the “Friendship Bridge” on the Thai-Laos border to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. Spend the night at a local guesthouse to freshen up after your journey and enjoy dinner with your new friends and program leaders.
For breakfast, sample some French pastries and coffee at Joma café before visiting COPE visitor center. Watch a film and explore exhibits powerfully highlighting the impacts of the Vietnam War. Finally, you will travel up to the top of Victory Gate monument, styled after France’s Arc du Triomphe, before starting your journey north. Tonight you will sleep in a comfortable guesthouse on the shores of Lake Ngam Ngum. Swim in the pool and get to know your group this evening as the sun sets over the water.
After an early breakfast you will board a private boat and spend the morning exploring Ngam Ngum reservoir. Stop along the way at little islands, jump into the cool blue water, and enjoy a hearty Lao-style lunch complete with (of course) sticky rice. If you are feeling musical, grab the microphone and show off your karaoke skills as you float along! This afternoon, you will continue the journey north. When you arrive in the town of Vang Vieng, the vans will cross a bamboo bridge and ascend through rice fields and between limestone mountains into the village of Na Som. This will be your home for the next few days, and you will spend the afternoon getting to know this new community.
Wake up to see clouds hovering just below the majestic mountaintops. After breakfast, sit down with the head of the village to discuss local politics, village history, and what you can expect for the next few days. Then it will be time to get your hands dirty working on our service projects. These projects will vary from week to week depending on the needs of the village. In the past we have re-built classrooms, built a bathroom, and repaved roads that washed away in major floods from storms. In the afternoon the village children will gather in sweet excitement to meet and interact with you, and you will help them improve their English skills, play volleyball or soccer with them, or swim together in the nearby river. Be ready for a big meal at the end of the day as the sun sinks over the mountains.
Dive right in for two full days of service, working hard as a team with the help of some locals who want to be a part of the project. One one late afternoon, enjoy a fun trip to a nearby blue lagoon, where you can soar on a rope swing, swim in milky blue water, and explore limestone caverns. Tonight after dinner you can relax with your new friends, play games, and start collecting your memories in a journal.
This is your last full day working on this service project and you will begin to see all of your efforts paying off. The unfamiliar faces in the village by now will have become faces of friends and you will feel quite at home in Na Som. If the farming season allows, take a break from the work site to head out into the fields to learn how to plant rice and till the land with water buffaloes.
As the evening approaches you will have another chance to sit down with the villagers to learn more about their culture. Witness a mock ceremony led by the village shaman! The villagers are always excited to be able to practice English with you, so you will have a lesson in the late afternoon.
Today is full of adventure as you explore the surrounding countryside. Hike to a nearby viewpoint and catch a breathtaking panoramic view from a bamboo hut. The group will enjoy a delicious lunch at an organic farm in Vang Vieng, where you will have the chance to learn about how sustainable agricultural practices are slowly being adopted in Laos. Coasting along on a kayak, you will learn that life in Laos revolves around riverbanks. You will be sure to see local children swimming, women doing laundry by hand, and men fishing in small boats along the way. Return to the village in the evening for a big goodbye feast and celebration. The villagers will perform a traditional string ceremony in thanks, and the local girls will perform Hmong dances, before teaching you a few moves, too!
This will be your last morning in Na Som. Say goodbye to your new friends and the beautiful place that has been your home for the past week. Make your way to the airport in Vientiane for a short, one-hour flight to Luang Prabang, a beautiful UNESCO World Heritage town nestled in the limestone mountains of northern Laos. Settle in for the night at the Rustic Pathways base house on the Mekong River. Our base is a collection of traditional Lao-style houses, so you will continue to live village-style (with western amenities) just outside of town. Tonight you will head into town for dinner and start to explore Luang Prabang.
Today is action-packed! After breakfast, you will climb aboard a slow-boat down the Mekong River to explore the Pak Ou cave system. Set in the side of a limestone crag, these caves hold thousands of Buddha statues that pilgrims have left over the years. After lunch in town, venture to Kuangsi Waterfall, a gorgeous seven-tiered waterfall complete with beautiful views, a swimming area, and bear preserve. Tonight you will have the chance to explore Luang Prabang’s night market. As you wander through the tented stalls, practice your bargaining skills and marvel at the detail on hand-woven textiles and woodcarvings.
After breakfast, you will meet a new service partner called Big Brother Mouse. This non-profit center is run by Laos people with aims of improving literacy across Laos. They host free optional conversation times where you can serve as an English conversation partner, helping local teenagers and university students improve their fluency while learning about local culture and daily life.
In the afternoon, explore more of the charming streets and intriguing locations of Luang Prabang such as art centers, intricate temples and riverside cafes.
These days will be focused on service with partners in the Luang Prabang region. Continue to serve as an English conversation partner, and if schedules allow, assist local teams to raise awareness about landmine safety for children in local villages.
In the evenings your group will decide together on fun activities such as exploring the night market, bowling, or attending a storytelling performance of Laos folktales. Spend the night at the Rustic Pathways Mekong Base
Wake up early to participate in morning alms as you donate food and basic supplies for 300 monks that stroll through the streets. After morning alms, visit a local morning fresh market and eat breakfast at a local cafe. After relaxing at the base, take a bike tour of the city, stopping at temples along the way and even sitting down with a friendly monk to chat about Buddhism.
After a farewell lunch, your group will head to the airport to say goodbye to idyllic Luang Prabang and fly back to Thailand. All Laos programs finish with a night in Bangkok, complete with a dinner with your group, sharing memories and photos on your last night together.
Laos programs connect easily with all other Southeast Asia programs, so consider staying a week or longer to explore more of this incredible part of the world!
Heading home? Transfer to Bangkok airport to begin your international journey. Enjoy a final Thai snack and soak up your final moments with your new best friends.
Whatever is next for you, we hope that you always keep the warm memories of Laos with you!
Rustic Pathways reserves the right to change, alter, or amend the daily itinerary for this trip at any time. Changes can be made for various reasons including changes in flight or program schedules, changes in the schedules of various external tours incorporated in our trips, the addition of new activities into a trip, or the substitution of an old activity for a new activity.
The itinerary shown here provides a good outline of the anticipated daily schedule for this program. As with any travel program, some changes may occur.
“Optional Activities” are fully included in the cost of your program, but you can choose to not do these activities.
“Add-On Activities” are not included in the cost of your program and must be paid for separately. Add-on activities are rare, but include things like skydiving, bungee jumping, or weekend side-trips. Not every program has add-on activities.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org
This program visits Vientiane, Vang Vieng, Na Som, Nam Ngum, Luang Prabang, Nong Khiaw, Mong Ngoi and small villages in northern Laos.
All flights departing from and returning to the United States will have flight leaders. In the event a student is connecting from another country, they may or may not have a flight leader. In such instances, we generally have coordinated with the airlines to escort the students from check-in through customs, and delivered to a verified Rustic Pathways staff member.
Students will fly from Bangkok to Udon Thani, Thailand, before crossing the border by land into Laos. The program ends in Luang Prabang, where students will fly back to Bangkok or another city in the region to connect to a different program.
Each program will have leaders who are certified in First Aid and CPR. Some of our program leaders are also certified as Wilderness First Responders, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), Wilderness EMTs, or Life Guards.
Students will have access to clean, safe drinking water (pronounced nam) on this trip at all times. Water in faucets can be used to brush your teeth but is not for drinking. Don’t forget to bring your reusable water bottle so you can stay hydrated!
When you join us on this incredible journey we want you to have an as immersive experience as possible and soak it all in. To do that you are encouraged to take a break from technology and engage with the life on the ground in Laos. Leave the lands of social media behind and focus on being present in the moment—don’t worry, it will still be there when you return—we promise!
You will have access to internet in Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang, but throughout the rest of the trip, internet access will be sporadic.
Families will be given the phone number to our 24/7 emergency line which is kept open for true emergencies only. One of our awesome staff members in the U.S. will be in charge of this line, and they will pass any necessary information to us on the ground in Laos.
If you need an adapter, look for a universal adapter that will accept almost any plug and plug into almost any style of outlet. They cost around twenty dollars and are available at office and travel supply stores.
It is rainy season in Southeast Asia, so be prepared for hot, humid days and cooler nights in the mountains. Daily downpours are short and give way to sunny skies. We recommend bringing synthetic fiber clothes because they dry fast much faster than cotton can.
Students should expect to get into the groove of village life in basic accommodation in the homestays. This includes sleeping under mosquito nets on mats, and cold/warm water showers. In Luang Prabang, students will be staying in a well-outfitted guesthouse with western amenities.
We will be eating a mix of traditional Laos food in Na Som and the northern village home stay, including sticky rice, laarb, fresh fruits, fried rice, and curries. We will most definitely sample local delicacies at the market in Luang Prabang and eat at small restaurants, noodle shops, and cafes along the way.
Rustic Pathways is fortunate enough that three of our Laos staff members originate from Na Som village, where we have a long-standing relationship with the community and work together with locals on service projects. The group will stay together in one house in Na Som. In Nong Khiaw, the families host at least two students at a time, separated by gender, and are also used to having our students stay with them over the years.
Students should expect more basic facilities in Na Som and in the smaller villages in northern Laos, with limited access to hot water and a mix of western and squat toilets. While in Luang Prabang, you can expect western toilets and hot showers in the guesthouse.
Cleanliness is a big part of Asian culture so we keep as clean as we can while traveling. Laundry will be available ONCE A WEEK, approximately $5 per small load. Feel free to buy some laundry soap at the local market and learn how to wash your clothes by hand like many Laotians do during your time in the village!
Riding elephants, hiking to breathtaking viewpoints, and swimming in waterfalls will be just a few of the activities that will occur during this trip. Nothing is too strenuous, but you should feel comfortable and confident participating in these types of activities.
International SOS provides the most up to date recommendations for health in Laos. Since we do not know your child’s medical history, we recommend you reference International SOS’ website at: https://rusticpathways.com/international-sos/ or the CDC website at: http://www.cdc.gov for more information. We also suggest consulting with your local travel doctor prior to your travels for further information.
Hospitals and clinics are located in Vientiane, Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. Students will almost always be within one hour of medical treatment.
Unfortunately, our Laos programs cannot handle seafood or nut allergies. However, vegetarians and gluten-free students are welcome!
Malaria is present throughout Laos. Mosquitos tend to pop up whenever the rain starts, and at night. Please bring 2 bottles of mosquito repellant with the proper amount of DEET (at least 30% DEET is recommended). Packing a lightweight long sleeve shirt and pants to wear at night for extra protections is also a great idea! Students will be provided mosquito nets when completing their homestays. Be sure to consult with a travel doctor or your family physician regarding additional precautions to take.
Part of traveling internationally is learning how to be responsible for your belongings. All students are responsible for carrying their own personal spending money on programs. On average, most students require a minimum of $100-$150 USD per week for incidental expenses (including laundry, any extra snacks, souvenirs, etc.). The night market in Luang Prabang has an amazing variety of crafts, clothing, and unbelievable miscellaneous trinkets. Shopping there is a real treat, so budget more if you’re a big time shopper.
ATMs are available throughout Laos, and students are encouraged to bring ATM cards to limit the risk of theft as they travel. We suggest bringing $200 USD in cash and then using an ATM if additional money is needed. Don’t forget to call your financial institution beforehand to let them know you’ll be traveling out of the country and ask about any additional fees!
Rustic Pathways works with local community leaders and organizations to identify and prioritize the needs of each community. Service on this trip includes working in local schools to help students practice and learn English, as well as infrastructure-based projects which in the past have included constructing a new classroom, toilets, and water tanks. Students can earn up to 45 hours of service on this trip.
Believe us when we say that you are not going to be ready to go home after two weeks! Time will fly and you’ll feel like your journey is just beginning as you board the plane home. The long flight over to Southeast Asia is the hardest part; once you’re here, why not make the most of it and build an incredible summer?
This trip connects seamlessly with other programs throughout Southeast Asia. Connecting is a great idea if your travel plans allow for it!
Packing the right gear (and the right amounts) is the first step to an incredible travel experience. Follow these tips to pack like a pro:
Travel light. Pack only the essentials. You’ll need less than you think!
Bring the right clothes. Pack clothes that are culturally appropriate for your destination and acceptable for service projects. This means bringing long shorts (think Bermuda and basketball shorts), t-shirts with sleeves to cover shoulders, and appropriate footwear.
Leave your valuables behind. While traveling, it’s easier for things to get lost, stolen, or damaged. Keep any prized possessions safe at home.
Check with TSA. Make sure your luggage complies with TSA regulations, especially your carry-on. Useful tip: Pack an empty water bottle and fill it up after security.
Extra paperwork? If you need additional forms filled out to get credit for your service hours, no problem! Bring these forms with you so they can be completed in-country.
A school backpack is ideal as it will be used for day trips.
A 50-70 Liter duffel bag or backpack is ideal.
(Travel size bottles in Ziploc bags)
Welcome to Laos! Your journey begins in the capital city, where you will get a feel for the pace of life and history of Laos before heading north.
Cruise along this pristine reservoir in a private boat.
Beautiful karst mountains and blue lagoons await in this tiny town in central Laos.
This UNESCO World Heritage town is an enchanting mix of French-colonial influence and traditional Buddhist life.
A northern outpost renowned for stunning caves and adventure activities, Nong Khiaw will be the jumping off point for your second village homestay.