Want to experience the life of explorers from yesteryear? Take their expeditions to the next level on the rivers and lakes of Laos. Waterways cut through mountains, squeeze through jungles, flow past remote villages, and rest at lakes, and they all lead to the Might Mekong. Along the way, the rivers and lakes present plenty of chances to experience nature and culture…and just plain fun.
Northern Laos River & Lake Activities
Bokeo: Stop in Houay Xay for untapped Mekong activities before cruising to Luang Prabang or crossing into Thailand. Rent a kayak in town and paddle along the pristine shoreline. You’ll encounter kids swimming and folks fishing. Take a scenic drive up the Mekong River Road on the “Golden Triangle Circuit”. You can hop on a ferry to Don Sao Island and its market. Check out the remains of 1,000-year-old Souvannakhomkham City. For a great river adventure, drive to Ton Paeng and catch a local boat to the Golden Triangle and Ban Mom across from Myanmar. To discover more about Bokeo’s River & Lake Activities, click here.
Houaphanh: Head to Xam Neua’s steel suspension bridge for a stroll along the Nam Xam River Promenade. You’ll find vendors selling clothes, fresh food, and other items. Embark the award-winning Nam Nern Night Safari for an evening cruise up the Nam Nern River and a quiet float back down. Along the way, try and catch a glimpse of rare animals including tigers. The hot springs in Viengthong attract locals for its medicinal qualities. The Nam Muang Hot Springs just south of Xam Neua surface in a serene valley, and make for a relaxing stop. To discover more about Houaphanh’s River & Lake Activities, click here.
Luang Namtha: Get your feet wet about 6-km north of Luang Namtha Town at Ban Nam Dee. A 5-minute walk along a river trail reaches a rocky waterfall, picnic pavilion, and a pair of pools for a dip in nature. Kayakers hit heaven on the Nam Tha River. Paddle down the river, tackle Tiger Leaping Rapids, and stop at the Khmu village of Ban Sop Sim. Or, mount a small wooden riverboat for the 5-hour voyage. A longer journey lands at Nalae Town, and continues between mountains covered with old-growth forest. The captain manoeuvers over scattered rapids to reach Ban Khone Kham, a Tai Lue weaving village and homestay-hit among adventurers going further to Houay Xay.
In Muang Sing, take off on a multi-day program to the isolated Xieng Khaeng Region along the Mekong. You can take a boat ride to visit ethnic communities established more than 500 years ago. South in Xieng Kok, you can cruise up the Long River or bike along the Mekong to ethnic villages and homestays. True explorers can bargain for boat rides downriver to the Golden Triangle and on to Houay Xay. In Vieng Phoukha, follow a short nature trail to freshwater Bor Kung (Shrimp Stream) with fish, crabs and prawns, and Bor Kang (Stewpot Spring) with cool springs. Both empty into stone bathing pools for refreshing dips. To discover more about Luang Namtha’s River & Lake Activities, click here.
Luang Prabang: Looking for a lazy river cruise? You’ll find plenty of options on the Mekong. The Pak Ou Cave voyage is on everyone’s Luang Prabang bucket list, but which boat? A commercial, no-frills water bus? A decked-out, full-service passenger boat? A small, personal vessel with a menu? Take your pick. You can finish off the day with a sunset cruise, with some offering cultural shows. The town even harbours a 5-star charter with a restaurant and bar that accommodates 15 people. North in Nong Khiew, you can take a Nam Ou riverboat to a trail to Tad Mork Waterfall and swimming hole.
Explore Luang Prabang by kayak, whether you’re a beginner or veteran. Paddle down the Nam Khan River between lush mountains and farming valleys, over easy raids, and past fishing villages to Tad Sae Waterfalls. A full-day Nam Khan kayak trip takes you to the tomb of 19th-century French explorer, Henri Mahout, and Ban Hat Hian (Blacksmith Village). A Nam Ou River adventure faces mild rapids through a limestone canyon to a village homestay, and a Mekong finale at Whisky Village. Tackle tougher rapids on a Xeuang River kayaking journey, with a Khmu village homestay and cliff jumping into the waters.
Take a break from your day with a cool freshwater dip in nature. Swim at popular 3-tier Kuang Si Waterfalls. Soak in springs near the Hmong village of Phuluang Tai on a trek in Chomphet. A short guided hike from Ban Som leads to a swim at a hidden waterfall near Tham Nang Anh Cave. To discover more about Luang Prabang’s River & Lake Activities, click here.
Oudomxay: Take a trip to the Nam Kat Nature Park and Waterfall, where you can swim and zip line across the river. Stop at Namhaeng Waterfall hidden in a lush green landscape near Ban Katangya Village, and swim in the pool at its base. The falls are a popular picnic area among locals. To discover more about Oudomxay’s River & Lake Activities, click here.
Phongsaly: Navigate the Nam Ou River, Laos’s second longest under the Mekong, as it cuts its way through the Phou Den Din Protected Area on the way to Luang Prabang and beyond. You can trek from Muang Khua to an ethnic Khmu village, and board a Nam Ou riverboat for the cruise back. A drive to Ban Hatsa launches a half-day boat cruise on the Nam Ou and Nam Khang Rivers. Multi-day treks complete the trail with a private boat ride down the Nam Ou to Ban Hatsa. Trekkers can also stop at Na Taen Village, where ethnic Tai Yang guides lead you to hot springs. To discover more about Phongsaly’s River & Lake Activities, click here.
Sayabouly: Adventurers can follow plenty of riverside trails in Sayabouly, but loads of boats offer cruises. Take an extra step from Khamsane Waterfall to Tha Xouang Pier for a Mekong boat ride to Ban Kaengeng and a taste of Khmu rice wine. Slow boats to Luang Prabang also depart from Tha Xouang around noon. The Houay Namsai Herbal Spa Centre offers a boat transfer on a Nam Houng riverboat from Sayabouly Town. Their 2-day package continues by boat to sand dunes at the Nam Poui–Mekong River confluence. Then it’s up the Nam Poui to explore the Tham Namlod cave tunnel.
The Namtiene Reservoir near Sayabouly Town offers a floating restaurant, and boat ride to the Elephant Conservation Centre with tourist programmes, bungalows, and a restaurant. If you’re exploring the Wind Cave, continue to the Tham Kok Ma Hot Springs and soak in its 30º C waters. To discover more about Sayabouly’s River & Lake Activities, click here.
Xieng Khouang: Enjoy a sunset view about 3 km from Phonsavanh at the Lake Jao Supanouvong retreat. Drive west to Nong Tang Lake, and spend the night at lakeside accommodation surrounded by limestone cliffs before inspecting the area’s 15th-century Buddhist shrines. Those on the Hmong-led Ban Phakeo Trek will stop at Thad Kha Waterfall for a dip in one of the cascades’ rocky pools. If you visit Ban Xang, venture over a bamboo bridge spanning the Nam Mak to Baw Noi’s Hot Springs where locals use the warm waters for bathing and washing clothes. Further east, the Baw Yai Hot Springs is being developed into a bungalow resort with hot indoor baths. To discover more about Xieng Khouang’s River & Lake Activities, click here.
Central Laos River & Lake Activities
Bolikhamxay: You can experience an exciting mix of boat rides from the Phou Khao Kwai (PKK) National Protected Area near Vientiane to the border with Vietnam. Stay in the Ban Yang Kheua lodge in PKK, where villagers walk you along the Yong River rapids to a waterfall for a swim and boat ride back. In Pakxan, the provincial capital, stay or dine around Houay Siat Lake, where you can rent a paddle boat. A drive north on Route 10 arrives at Ban Nam Pa and a boat ride from the sandy beach up the Pa River to the Tad Nam Pa’s waterfalls and rapids. Further south on Route 13, hop on a Nam Kading longboat and cruise up the lazy river until it vanishes into a rocky canyon. The torrent then turns rough, before the Tad Vang Fong Falls completely blocks the way.
When travelling on the “Karst Corridor” (Route 8) towards Vietnam, stop for a boat ride from Ban Thabak to Tad Kai Waterfall. From here, take a trail for a swim at a small, tree-lined lagoon fed by a cold spring. Head to Ban Khan and the Nam Yeung Dam’s Reservoir to see fishing vessels made from wartime jet fuel tanks. Hop on a boat for a ride on the waters with islands that were once mountaintops. An hour boat ride down the Nam Theun delivers you to the Kaeng Luang Rapids and a short trek along the banks. To ease your aches from a tough travel day, pause just east of Lak Xao at the Hot Springs Retreat, and relax in a bath houses fed by hot springs. To discover more about Bolikhamxay’s River & Lake Activities, click here.
Khammouane: “The Loop” present loads of water activities, and most include boats and caves. Tha Falang on the Nam Don offers an isolated swimming hole near Thakaek. Then it’s time to travel along “Cave Alley” and its boats. Under Buddha Cave, a boat awaits at a lagoon that leads into a rocky crevice. A 400-metre shady trail from here, lands at Nong Tao (Turtle) Lake for a swim or to go fishing. Further along, you can enter Pla Xerm Cave on a kayak. To reach Xieng Liab Cave, take a short boat ride up the Houei Xieng Liab Creek. During Green Season, you can continue by boat into the cave. Cruise up the Nam Don underground tributary in the fluorescent-lit Tham Nang Aen Cave. Those walking along the Nam Don River to its resurgence cave can swim at the opening in a lagoon under a 300-metre-high cliff.
As The Loop turns to the Nakai Plateau, you’ll follow the cobblestone banks of the Nam Theun River to its dam and visitor centre. Here, you can learn how a dam can blend into the surroundings while benefiting locals. The lake created by the dam starts near Nakai Town, where you can view a two-level wooden vessel used for meetings and functions. At Tha Long, where the wetlands come to life, a guesthouse offers Loop travellers bungalow lodging and a range of activities including boating in “bomb boats” and fishing. The Loop’s final stretch takes you to the popular 7.5-km long-tail boat ride through Konglor Cave. Then comes Kuhn Kong Leng (Blue Lagoon) for a swim in its limestone-filtered waters.
Beyond The Loop, hard core adventurers can head to the Ho Chi Minh Trail and Xebangfai Cave, where your riverboat disappears into the 9.5-km mountain tunnel. Not far away, check out the rocky Khone Keo Rapids, before the river flows to calmer pools, ideal for swimming or fishing with the locals. You can also cross the Nam Kong Leng River on a bamboo bridge to a path along the banks. Follow it 100 metres upstream to a deep pool, great for a dip. To discover more about Khammouane’s River & Lake Activities, click here.
Savannakhet: Explore another side of water on the Savannakhet Historic Trail. A 3-km path near That Ing Hang leads to Phonsim Turtle Lake, originally constructed to irrigate rice paddies. You can see lotus blooms, buffaloes bathing, and migratory birds, but unfortunately the turtles have vanished. But a drive to plain ole Turtle Lake unveils the real deal. Local kids with food lure turtles of different sizes and ages from the depths. Stop at Soui Lake and its stepped irrigation dam and small islands, where villagers catch and cook fish and snails during the dry season. Try some.
You can easily reach legendary Nong Lom Lake with a short ride from town and a 3-km nature trail. Champone’s Bungva Lake presents shoreline gazebos with views of the surrounding rice fields. On the Ho Chi Minh Trail, check out the rocky Sammateak Rapids, an ideal area for swimming, rafting, and kayaking. To discover more about Savannakhet’s River & Lake Activities, click here.
Vientiane Capital: Downtown’s main attraction is the Mekong River and Chao Anouvong Park, with a majestic statue of the Lane Xang Kingdom’s great leader. The Mekong Riverfront turns into a hive of activity every evening as the Night Market comes to life. Locals and tourists descend to the riverbank to shop for trinkets, Lao food, clothes, and all kinds of goods. The new river road is perfect for an early morning or sunset jog or bike ride, and you can pull up a chair on a Mekong dinner cruise. Head upriver to the new Walking Street for a bite to eat and look in shops. To discover more about Vientiane Capital’s River & Lake Activities, click here.
Vientiane: Hop in a big rubber tube and tackle Vang Vieng’s Nam Song River. Kick back drifting through nature, though the ride gets quick, rough, and rocky in spots. You can also enjoy Vang Vieng’s scenery while kayaking your way through Nam Song’s rapids. Gather a group and go rafting down the river, and lazily drift past towering cliffs, but be prepared for light rapids. Perfect for families or a bunch of friends. Several local registered operators offer safe Nam Song adventures, and make plenty of stops along the way.
For fun in the water, go where the locals go...Nam Ngum Lake. Resorts are sprinkled along the shore, and launch action on the lake. Friends and families can have a blast on a banana boat. Couples can take off on a two-seat jet ski. For extreme excitement, mount a “Superjet”, a power-packed water rocket for one. You can water ski across the smooth surface among the islands, or try wake boarding behind a jet ski. For a relaxing water experience, kayak around the islands and shore at your own pace. As the sun goes down, board a paddle boat, and take your time checking out the quiet shoreline. You can enjoy a fresh fish lunch at a shoreline restaurant or on a boat during a cruise of the lake. To discover more about Vientiane’s River & Lake Activities, click here.
Southern Laos River & Lake Activities
Attapeu: Become a true explorer on a boat ride through remote jungles. Cruise on the Xe Pian River in a national protected area and discover a pair of hidden waterfalls - Tad Saepha and Tad Samongphak. A 5-hour boat ride up the Xe Xou River reaches Tad Phapong Waterfall. Boat excursions ply the Xe Kong with the voyage beginning in the mountains near Vietnam and running along the Cambodian border. The adventurous can reach far-flung Nong Fa Volcanic Lake and its clear waters surrounded by jagged mountain peaks. For a more relaxing moment, have a picnic on Nong Lom Lake near Attapeu Town. To discover more about Attapeu’s River & Lake Activities, click here.
Champasak: Jump into the action on the Mekong’s 4,000 Islands. On your Vat Phou visit, cycle around Don Daeng Island on a mapped biking route. Take a lap of Don Khong Island to experience the local’s laidback riverside lifestyle, and explore Khmer ruins and Palm Sugar Village. Pedal around Don Khone and Don Det to examine the innovative infrastructure created by colonial France to overcome the Mekong’s fiercest rapids. You’ll see a wall that funnelled teak over a waterfall, and a pulley system that hoisted steam locomotives onto the islands’ railway. Retrace the train’s route and examine the remains of 100-year-old locomotive engines. View Li Phi Waterfalls’ twisted maze of rocky channels.
Explore less-visited Mekong islands by boat, and catch a glimpse of the endangered Irrawaddy River dolphins. You can cruise up the Sanian Rapids to the quiet, rock-lined Tham Ee Daeng Canyon, and on to the Grand Rapids. Hop on a boat to tackle the rough water leading to villages on Don Kassoum and Don Khone Yuak Islands. For a more leisurely experience, board a luxury vessel in Pakse and cruise the 4,000 islands in style.
Heading to the Bolaven Plateau? Climb into a kayak at the bottom of Tad Fane and take on the fast-flowing Houay Bang Lieng River. Battle rough rapids and paddle through the jungle on your way through Dong Hua Sao and on to the Mekong. As the waters get calmer, you’ll see local fishermen on long wooden boats hauling in the day’s catch. At Ban Kiet Nong in the Xe Pian Protected Area, you can walk around wetlands to spot birds. To discover more about Champasak’s River & Lake Activities, click here.