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12 days BKK to Laos, northern Laos Itinerary help (LP and points north)

  • jaxphoto

    Joined Travelfish
    8th February, 2011
    Posts: 4

    This forum in fantastic, I'm hoping to lightly nail down my plans and I need help to know if this is feasible in 12 days. I am interested in delving into the culture of Laos and getting to know the people who live there (not so much other tourists). I'm a photographer and am looking to take quite a few pictures but would like to avoid cheasy tourist traps or fake photo opps.

    I arrive into Bangkok Feb 26 (really midnight Feb 25th) and have a March 9th departure from Bangkok back home.

    Fly into Bangkok, spend one day to recover from flight from US, then fly a budget airline one way -> Luang Prabang

    Luang Prabang bus to -> Phonsavan (plain of jars) [Phonsavan is a side trip, worth doing? Does the bus definitely take 9 hours? any other way to get here?]
    Phonsavan bus back to Luang Prabang

    Luang Prabang via boat ideally -> Muang Ngoi

    ok here is where it gets muddy in my mind:
    Muang Ngoi -> Udomxai
    Udomxai -> Luang Nam Tha
    Luang Nam Tha -> Muang Sing
    Muang Sing -> Xieng Kok
    Xieng Kok -> Huay Xai
    Huay Xai -> Chaing Rai/Chaing Mai
    Chaing Mai overnight train back to -> Bangkok

    Of this list of place here are the ones that most interest me, but I don't know if I can get to them directly skipping the midpoints:
    Luang Prabang, Muang Ngoi, Luang Nam Tha, Muang Sing, Chaing Mai/Chaing Rai

    If it's possible to get from Luang Nam Tha back to Huay Xai to cross into Thailand that might give me a looser travel schedule (cancelling out the Muang Sing -> Xieng Kok -> Huay Xai) portion. or would not hitting those be a mistake?

    I also read a few things about Nhong Kai in Thailand, would it be a wiser option to cross back into Thailand here, spend a day and then catch the overnight train back to Bangkok?

    thanks for any help or advice - it's my first trip to SE Asia and I'm traveling solo, very excited but also getting very nervous!

    #1 Posted: 17/2/2011 - 10:42

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  • caseyprich

    Joined Travelfish
    3rd March, 2010
    Location China
    Posts: 1234
    Total reviews: 53
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    At least 48

    Wow, that is a lot to do in a short time. My personal opinion is that you'll have plenty to photograph around Luang Prabang and Nong Kiaow - Muang Ngoi and with so little time you'll get to know the places more by staying in a smaller area. You could easily spend 3-5 days in and around (with home-stay) Luang Prabang and then I'd recommend 2 nights in Nong Kiaow on the way up to Muang Ngoi, if you like taking pictures then you'll want to photograph around that bridge in several different lights - give yourself a whole day, and though there are plenty of guest houses in NK, I found that the very little touristy about the place. Muang Ngoi was turning into a party/spa spot when I was there 3 years ago, but if you hike into the area around there you'll have plenty to see.

    If you're interested in Phonsovan (historically) I think you should go, I really like the confluence of ancient and modern history that has taken place their with the Plain of Jars and the American bombings. It is a full 9 hour bus ride to Phonsovan so imagine you'll need minimum 2 nights for that trip.

    All that would not give you enough time to go up into the Northwest of Laos. If you skip Phonsovan you could make it up to Luang Nam Tha - but I'd recommend either way just booking a round trip ticket BKK-LP so that you can save time on your return to BKK.

    #2 Posted: 17/2/2011 - 11:27

  • wanderingcat

    Joined Travelfish
    21st October, 2006
    Posts: 730
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    agree with #1. less can be more. ground transport in Laos is slow. covering too many places in limited time = spend most of your time photographing the insides of buses :P

    Fly into Bangkok, spend one day to recover from flight from US, then fly a budget airline one way ->
    Luang Prabang

    no budget airlines serving any Thai-Lao route.

    Luang Prabang bus to -> Phonsavan (plain of jars) [Phonsavan is a side trip, worth doing? Does the bus definitely take 9 hours? any other way to get here?]

    yes ~9h. no other direct way (no longer any direct flights).

    If it's possible to get from Luang Nam Tha back to Huay Xai to cross into Thailand that might give me a looser travel schedule (cancelling out the Muang Sing -> Xieng Kok -> Huay Xai) portion.

    LNT > Huay Xai = ~3.5h bus.
    Muang Sing can be done as a side trip from LNT (2h by songthaew one way).

    if your reason for travelling Huay Xai > Chiangrai > Chiangmai is just to catch a train to BKK, consider direct overnight VIP bus from Chiang Khong to BKK. such VIP buses also connect Chiangmai, Chiangrai & Nong Khai with BKK.

    #3 Posted: 17/2/2011 - 11:43

  • jaxphoto

    Joined Travelfish
    8th February, 2011
    Posts: 4

    Thanks so much to you both!

    I have revised my route, let me know if this makes more sense. I have a specific destination in Phonsavan so definitely need to stop through it:

    BKK, fly to Luang Prabang
    Luang Prabang, bus to Phonsavan (no flights from LP, right wanderingcat?)
    Phonsavan, bus back up to LP
    Luang Prabang to Nong Kiaow - Muang Ngoi (spend 7 days exploring those three areas)
    back to LPP for flight back to bangkok.

    Seems two days spent on buses but perhaps the journey is the best part? except for the vomiting I keep reading about!

    Alternatively, there are flights from Ventienne to Phonsavan, so I might do this instead:
    BKK sleeper train to border near Ventienne
    Ventienne flight to Phonsavan
    Phonsavan bus to Luang Prabang
    Luang Prabang to Nong Kiaow - Muang Ngoi (spend 7 days exploring those three areas)
    back to LP for flight back to bangkok.

    smarter route?

    Thanks so much!

    #4 Posted: 19/2/2011 - 01:58

  • caseyprich

    Joined Travelfish
    3rd March, 2010
    Location China
    Posts: 1234
    Total reviews: 53
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    At least 48

    I didn't know there were still any flights to Phonsavan, but I like that second option. I've always enjoyed train rides and it gives you a night in Vientiane - plus you don't have to back track your bus ride from Phonsavan.

    #5 Posted: 19/2/2011 - 11:09

  • orlavanh

    Joined Travelfish
    15th February, 2011
    Posts: 6

    hey guys sorry for get in late....

    jaxphoto, i think you plan is sooo excited and i'm sure that you will get a lot of nice pictures from Laos....but for my personal, i think your time is too short to discover this green land....for now i think the don't have the flight to Phonsavanh....plus plublic transportation in Laos is tooo limited in some part of the country....my suggestion is why don't you start from Vientiane and then hire a car from vientiane to phonsavanh, nong khiew, and laung prabang, and then just leave your car at laungprabang => take flight to Cheing mai.....from this you can have more chance to take your picture, wherever you want to take,just stop and take it!!!

    enjoy man!

    #6 Posted: 19/2/2011 - 11:27

  • orlavanh

    Joined Travelfish
    15th February, 2011
    Posts: 6

    hey guys sorry for get in late....

    jaxphoto, i think you plan is sooo excited and i'm sure that you will get a lot of nice pictures from Laos....but for my personal, i think your time is too short to discover this green land....for now i think the don't have the flight to Phonsavanh....plus plublic transportation in Laos is tooo limited in some part of the country....my suggestion is why don't you start from Vientiane and then hire a car from vientiane to phonsavanh, nong khiew, and laung prabang, and then just leave your car at laungprabang => take flight to Cheing mai.....from this you can have more chance to take your picture, wherever you want to take,just stop and take it!!!

    enjoy man!

    #7 Posted: 19/2/2011 - 11:28

  • wanderingcat

    Joined Travelfish
    21st October, 2006
    Posts: 730
    Total reviews: 4
    Places visited:
    At least 67

    BKK sleeper train to border near Ventienne
    Ventienne flight to Phonsavan
    Phonsavan bus to Luang Prabang
    Luang Prabang to Nong Kiaow - Muang Ngoi (spend 7 days exploring those three areas)
    back to LP for flight back to bangkok.

    this is better. & there are flights between VTE & Phonsavan (Xieng Khouang). go look at hobomaps.com - plenty of places to explore around LPB, Phonsavan, etc.

    #8 Posted: 19/2/2011 - 12:57

  • jaxphoto

    Joined Travelfish
    8th February, 2011
    Posts: 4

    Thanks so much everybody! I'll update how it goes! Much appreciated.

    and wow, hobomaps.com is incredible, thanks for the tip wanderingcat.

    #9 Posted: 21/2/2011 - 12:45

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