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Laos forum

Vientiane or Savannakhet?

Posted by Splendidgirl on 29/6/2010 at 23:23

Hi all,
I am planning a 3 weeks to Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. I would like to fly from Bangkok to Laos and am wondering where shall I start my journey in Laos: in Vientiane or in Savannakhet, as I would like to get to Pakse by boat and fly to Siem Reap in order to see Ankor temples before heading to some nice islands in Thailand. I heard that there is not much to sea in Vientiane...
Thank you in advance!

#1 Splendidgirl has been a member since 29/6/2010. Posts: 2

Posted by MADMAC on 30/6/2010 at 01:02

Rufus can talk to you about Vientiane. He recommends it and I am inclined to agree with him given his experience there. I have spent a fair amount of time in Savankhet and it's a dusty backwater. Not much to see or do really. It's OK to hang out for a few days and relax along the river, but there isn't much nightlife there, there aren't any great sights to see, and it's not some sort of hidden away place for great bargains in the shopping domain either.

I hate to break the news to you, but you can forget about traveling to Paxse via boat - I am all but positive no can do. There are cataracts along the Mekong all along it's length with Laos and Thailand that make it non-navigable. I am reasonably certain there is no boat service from Savanakhet to Paxse (I live just across the river in Mukdahan), let alone from Vientiane. I think you'll have to go overland for that leg of the journey.

#2 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957


Posted by exacto on 30/6/2010 at 04:28

I agree that Vientiane is worthwhile and lots of fun. There is actually quite a bit to see and do there. I also agree that Savannakhet is a dusty backwater. Certainly there is good food and Beer Lao and river views in Savannakhet, but there's more and better in both Vientiane and Pakse .

It's a long way from Vientiane to Pakse by road (700+ km and likely over 12 hours by bus). I imagine you can fly from Vientiane to Pakse, assuming the Pakse airport is open, but you might also consider just starting your trip to Laos in Pakse. You can fly or take the overnight train from Bangkok to Ubon Ratchathani in Thailand, then catch the international bus from there to Pakse (3 hours and an interesting trip). Then you can either fly or bus it down to Siem Reap and Cambodia, perhaps with a stopover at the 4,000 islands along the way.

Three weeks seems like a lot of time, but you'll use up quite a bit of it getting from point A to point B. So unless you plan to fly all the time, you might want to slim down your itinerary so you can enjoy all the reasons you are headed to southeast Asia in the first place. Have fun. Cheers.

#3 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,626
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Posted by Captain_Bob on 30/6/2010 at 16:57

Flight-wise there's a direct Lao Airlines (QV223) Bangkok-Suvannakhet on Sun/Wed/Fri which connects to Pakse . I wouldn't count on going Savannakhet-Pakse by boat as there's no regular transport on this part of the river. So if flying you could consider to just arrive Pakse and give the region more time. It may still be possible to get a morning boat from there down to Champasak town and/or the 4000 Islands area (Don Det/Khone/Kong) and definitely some boat tours available there to get a Mekong fix. The Champasak/Bolaven area is easily worth a week or more.

#4 Captain_Bob has been a member since 27/5/2006. Location: Thailand. Posts: 1,871

Posted by exacto on 30/6/2010 at 22:54

As a follow up to Captain Bob's post, it is still possible to take a boat from Pakse to Champasak, or at least it was in January 2010 when I did it. There were at least two different boats making the run, but it was only if there were enough folks going and not on a regularly scheduled basis. The cost was in the 60,000 to 70,000 kip per person range. The trip took about two hours downstream, and was lovely. Check with the travel agents in Pakse town for the latest info.

On the return trip, however, the boat I was on crashed into the rocks during a rainstorm and we almost tipped over. It's pretty rocky and shallow and iffy along those parts of the river, just like MADMAC says. From Champasak, it is easy to continue on to 4,000 islands (by land) and into Cambodia. I agree the area is worth a week or more too. I really like Pakse, and would happily go back there soon. Regards.

#5 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,626
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Posted by Splendidgirl on 1/7/2010 at 21:29

Thank you all for your help and advice. I think that I am not quite prepared to take the slow boat sinking risk!
Then another question: maybe I should focus on either Northern Laos or Southern Laos only and fly in to Cambodia - I cannot stay more than a week unfortunately. I heard Luang Prabang is a nice base to explore the surroundings.... Or shall I go south to 4000 islands?

#6 Splendidgirl has been a member since 29/6/2010. Posts: 2

Posted by exacto on 1/7/2010 at 21:53

Luang Prabang is a nice base for exploring the surroundings, and a great spot to just hang out too. But it is also a long way from Cambodia. If you can afford to fly, then it is certainly a possibility, but southern Laos makes more sense in terms of logistics and timing. Maybe take a look at the listings on Travelfish for each place and decide which spots look best for you.

#7 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,626
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Posted by svendj on 1/7/2010 at 21:55

Luang Prabang and 4000 islands are both great places to go to, but if your heading to cambodia anyway I'd stay with Pakse and 4000 islands en go to cambodia from there on.

You'll probably have another holiday another time and then I'd suggest you go to luang prabang and discover the other part of laos and maybe the north of thailand.

All just depends on how long your trip is for and since you only have 3 weeks I'd cut down a bit on things you maybe want to do and defenitly do things you really want to do.

something I put in a lot of my posts: if you can take a longer holiday, just do it and you won't regret it.

#8 svendj has been a member since 30/4/2010. Location: Belgium. Posts: 196
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Posted by Rufus on 10/7/2010 at 16:25

Lots to see and do in Vientiane. By the way, I really like Savannakhet and can easily spend a couple of days there. If you have a decent bike or a car, there is an excellent day trip around the city which takes in the monkey forest as well as a wat which houses some of the oldest Pali manuscripts in the world. Don't forget to visit the dinosaur museum. There is also an excellent, and I really mean excellent, French restaurant near the old Catholic church.

#9 Rufus has been a member since 22/4/2007. Location: Laos. Posts: 973

Posted by MADMAC on 11/7/2010 at 03:12

Rufus, do you mean Dao Cafe? On the square? Or are you talking about another restaraunt by the Catholic church?

#10 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by Rufus on 13/7/2010 at 12:37

It wasn't Dao Cafe, Mac. I can't remeber the name but it is in a dishevelled looking colonial building near the church. The chef was the Head chef at one of the best restaurants in Vientiane until he came to Savannakhet. It is a little pricey, but well worth it.

#11 Rufus has been a member since 22/4/2007. Location: Laos. Posts: 973

Posted by MADMAC on 14/7/2010 at 11:09

Hmm, the only restaraunt I know there is Dao Cafe. There is a really horrible looking place very close to the church - but that can't be it...

#12 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by Rufus on 15/7/2010 at 08:10

From the Daosavahn Hotel, go up the road along the river. About three sois on the right you come to a square and you can even park on the area in the middle of the road. THe restaurant is on the lhs in an old run down looking colonial mansion. Is this the Dao Cafe? Maybe I have got the name wrong. They did a superb steak and a very good duck dish. Licenced but let us bring our own as well.

#13 Rufus has been a member since 22/4/2007. Location: Laos. Posts: 973

Posted by MADMAC on 15/7/2010 at 11:10

No, Dao Cafe is in a renovated colonial building on that same square. It is a first class place. You can't miss it as it's the only building on that square that's not an atrophying mess. The Church is at the head of the square, and the "park" in the middle is bricked over.

#14 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by Rufus on 15/7/2010 at 15:55

That actually does sound like it. I parked on the bricked over square. It was a while since I was there - Nov 2009 - so its quite likely I have forgotten the name. Agree that it is a first class place.

#15 Rufus has been a member since 22/4/2007. Location: Laos. Posts: 973

Posted by MADMAC on 17/7/2010 at 21:43

The owner is Lao / American. She's a dual citizen. An older lady, very refined and very nice to talk to. I like Dao cafe, although it was pricey. Carries French beer of all things.

#16 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957


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