The Real Deal: Thirteen nights' accommodations; seven days of cycling; boat, bus, and train transportation; and sightseeing tours from $1,305 — including taxes and a 10 percent discount for early booking.
When: Depart on Jan. 21, Feb. 18, and Mar. 17, 2008. Additional travel dates are available, but do not qualify for the 10 percent discount.
The fine print: The 10 percent discount is reflected in the $1,305 price, which also includes a local payment of $250 in cash. Taxes and the services of an English-speaking guide are included. G.A.P recommends that you bring an emergency fund of at least $200. Participants must either bring their own mountain or hybrid bike with at least 21 gears or rent one through G.A.P for $100 per person. Travel insurance is mandatory. Prices are per person based on shared accommodations, and there is no single supplement. To book this trip, use the code ATCL and mention the "Best on Earth!" promotion to get the ten percent discount. (G.A.P lists the package price as $1,450, which does not include the discount.) U.S. passport holders do not need a visa to enter Thailand if they stay less than 30 days. Visas will be issued upon arrival in Laos for a fee of $35. Read these guidelines before you book any Real Deal.
Book by: Dec. 31, 2007; afterwards, the 10 percent discount is not longer valid and the price becomes $1,450 per person.
Contact: G.A.P Adventures, 800/708-7761, gapadventures.com.
Why it's a deal: By booking early, you'll save 10 percent off the regular price, or $145 per person. The $1,305 breaks down to about $100 a day, and it includes accommodations; guided cycling trips; sightseeing tours; transportation by train, bus, and boat; and the services of an English-speaking tour guide. Booking accommodations independently would cost you more than the discount group rates you get through G.A.P.
Trip details: The Cycle Laos package includes 12 nights' accommodations in modest hotels and guesthouses chosen by G.A.P and one night on an overnight train. You'll sleep in a large carriage on chairs that are converted into beds and separated by curtains. Carriages are locked after 10 p.m. for safety purposes.
Once you arrive in Bangkok, you'll spend the day exploring less-touristy backstreets of the city before boarding an overnight train to Chiang Mai. A minivan will then take you to Chiang Khong, on the banks of the Mekong River, for a one-night stay.
Next, you'll cross the border into Laos and spend two days cruising the Mekong River on a converted cargo boat; your base at night will be the cozy town of Pak Beng. During the cruise, you'll stop at the Buddhist caves at Pak Ou and at Luang Prabang, where French colonial architecture meets historic temples.
You'll spend about three days in the mountain-enclosed, riverside city of Luang Prabang, with visits to the Kuang Sii Waterfalls for a swim and picnic lunch and to villages specializing in handcrafts. Be ready to cycle up two steep hills as you leave Luang Prabang — it's the most physically challenging part of the trip.
Next on the itinerary is Kiew Ka Cham, a mountaintop village, where you'll stay overnight. Other stops include Kasi, Vang Vieng — surrounded by limestone peaks, as well as caves and rivers — Nam Ngum, and finally Vientiane. You'll spend a day in the capital, which retains a quiet, small-town feel, before returning home.
G.A.P has an option to spend more time in Bangkok before your cycling adventure begins; you'll spend $20 per person per night for a double room at the Trang Hotel or $30 for a single.
Bangkok and Vientiane are hot at this time of year, with average highs in the high 80s and low 90s. Before you go, check the weather forecast.
Getting there: According to a recent search on Kayak, the lowest multicity fares, arriving in Bangkok and departing from Vientiane in mid to late January are $1,170 from Los Angeles (multiple carriers), $1,346 from New York (multiple carriers), $1,512 from Chicago (multiple carriers) and $1,750 from Miami (multiple carriers).
Note that airport-hotel transfers are not included as part of this package, but you can add a car or shuttle-bus transfer from the airport for an additional $35 per person each way.