Photo: Classic scenery surrounds Vang Vieng.

Laos forum

Decided to go to Laos! - Having a hard time with so little time.

Posted by marianaamc on 4/2/2014 at 13:03

I posted some time ago, that I was undecided on weather to go to Laos or Malaysia. After some researching I decided Laos appealed me the most but as I started to research I also started to worry about the time I've got.
I realized I was not counting some days, travel days to Bangkok and I've now booked my flights.
So i have 13 full days to go to Laos and I was thinking about doing it overland, just the northern part of the country, going to nong khai and from chiang mai via night trains. My problem is that with research, I found a lot of places I wish to go and now I'm having a hard time compromising.
So a route I would like to go would be something like:
Vientiane - Phonsavan - Luang Prabang - Nong Khiaw/Muang ngoi - Luang Namtha/Muang sing/Muang Long - Huai Xai - Chiang Mai

1 Night train to Nong khai
1 Vientiane
2 Phonsavan
3 Luang Prabang
2 Nong Khiaw/Muang Ngoi
2 Luang Namtha/ Muang sing/ Muang Long
1 Huai Xai
2 Chiang Mai
1 Night Train to Bangkok
= 15 days

This is just the best I can do without starting to cut some places, something I will have to do because traveling between places takes a lot of time. I'm hoping you could help me do this to get the most diverse itinerary. Thanks a lot!

#1 marianaamc has been a member since 30/10/2013. Posts: 62

Posted by MADMAC on 4/2/2014 at 13:21

Get out the scissors. Way too many places. Way too much time on the road. With the time you have - four locations tops. If it wee me, I'd do Vientiane, Phonsavan and Luang Prabang and fly back to Bangkok.

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


Posted by marianaamc on 4/2/2014 at 13:42

Well that doesn't sound very fun... I wish I could add a bit more of a rural/nature setting to my itinerary at least. VV or Nong Kiaw/Muang Ngoi... And I was trying to go by Chiang mai.

#3 marianaamc has been a member since 30/10/2013. Posts: 62

Posted by exacto on 4/2/2014 at 18:25

Hi Mariana,

You'll have more fun spending the extra time in just a few places. I think MADMAC has the right idea with cutting it down to just a few stops. You can still take the night train up to Nong Khai and then cross into Laos and enjoy a few days in Vientiane . People tend to shortchange Vientiane, rushing off to the next spot, but I like it there and think it is worth at least two nights.

From there you might look into flying to Phonsavan , if those flights are still available. An alternative could be to skip Phonsavan and take the bus from Vientiane to Vang Vieng for a few nights, and then continue by bus to Luang Prabang . I'd stay in Luang Prabang for at least three nights and really think four is more like it. From Luang Prabang, look into flights directly to Chiang Mai . You can hang out there in Chiang Mai until you are ready to take a quick flight or the night train back to Bangkok.

This is still a lot of moving around, but possible in the two weeks you have available. But don't make the mistake of trying to see everything in a short time, because then you'll wind up seeing next to nothing. Travel is slow in that part of the world, particularly in Laos, and the last thing you want to do is spend 10 of your 15 days getting from place to place.

Good luck! I hope you have a wonderful time. Cheers.

#4 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,606
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Posted by travellingsarah on 4/2/2014 at 22:14 TF writer

First, I'd say skip Phonsavan unless you can fly there - but I've not been (because we skipped it!) so may be shot down for saying that.

I don't know much about travel in northern Laos, but am assuming you have looked into the feasibility of going from Muang Ngoi to Luang Namtha and then onto Huai Xai in your timings? Remember that buses don't tend to run frequently and often only run in the mornings, so you may find it's slower going than you imagine and therefore need to build in an day just in case. I got stuck in northern Vietnam because of that and only escaped thanks to a friendly truck driver.

Overall I'd go with exacto's plan of Vientiene, VV and LP then fly to Chiang Mai. But if flying's not feasible maybe give the slow boat a go straight to Huai Xai: an experience and transport all rolled into one!

Or if you're fixed on northern Laos, at least check out flights from Vientiene to LP (the bus takes a day so that's wasting a lot of time).

#5 travellingsarah has been a member since 23/3/2010. Location: Vietnam. Posts: 679
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Posted by MADMAC on 4/2/2014 at 23:30

Work off of the assumption that every day in transit is a day pretty much shot. And the bus ride will not be fun. It will suck - either a little or a lot. More locations visited does not translate into seeing more or experiencing more.

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

Posted by travellingsarah on 5/2/2014 at 00:06 TF writer

Agreed, especially in Northern Laos! It will help you plan if you write out a more detailed schedule, including travel times as that will give you a more realistic start point and help you to prioritise. For example, based on your existing list:

DAY
1 Arrive Vientiane
2 Travel to Phonsavan
3 Phonsavan
4 Travel to LP
5 Luang Prabang
6 Luang Prabang
7 Travel to Nong Khiaw
8 Travel to Muang Ngoi
9 Travel to Muang Long
10 Travel to LN
11 Travel to HX
12 Travel to Chiang Mai
13 Chiang Mai
14 Chiang Mai and night train to Bangkok
15 Arrive Bangkok
= 15 days

If you want the adventure, then go for the northern Laos bit and cut something out elsewhere, but it's going to be hard going and you will spend more time on a bus than enjoying yourself!

Lunch break over...back to you.

#7 travellingsarah has been a member since 23/3/2010. Location: Vietnam. Posts: 679
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Posted by MADMAC on 5/2/2014 at 02:35

Man I wouldn't even do that on my motorcycle. Just looking at it makes my ass hurt. The thought of sitting on shitty ass Laos busses over and over and over is nauseating. Marianne, three places, tops. Fly back to Bangkok. You're all over the map with this itinerary from hell.

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

Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 5/2/2014 at 02:53

Seeing 58 towns isnt fun, nor is spending.half your trip.on boring buses.

If it was me id fly to LP and spend 5 nights there and.pick.1 or 2 other places.

Less places = more fun time.

#9 LeonardCohen1 has been a member since 24/7/2012. Posts: 2,148

Posted by marianaamc on 5/2/2014 at 05:58

Damn it. I guess I asked for it.
Maybe I will stick to Thailand... Maybe not. If not I will do the CM-LP-VV-VNT route.
I have 4 weeks, slipt 2+2 at the begining and end of my trip.
I was thinking in the last two weeks going to Siem Reap, somewhere in southern Thailand, and Bangkok.
Any places you would recommend me to go in Thailand in the rainy season? I won't want to ride motorcycles and stuff like that...
I know I ask a lot. At the end, the thing I want the most is to diversify. So, temples, beaches, city, nature, culture... A bit of everything so I can experience the most. Not so much partying but I might like a good nightlife, just not like FMP or travelling somewhere because of that, more like a good add-on. I guess I should change the title. I have not decided a thing.

#10 marianaamc has been a member since 30/10/2013. Posts: 62

Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 5/2/2014 at 06:23

What month?

#11 LeonardCohen1 has been a member since 24/7/2012. Posts: 2,148

Posted by marianaamc on 5/2/2014 at 07:41

July and August

#12 marianaamc has been a member since 30/10/2013. Posts: 62

Posted by MADMAC on 5/2/2014 at 11:01

On top of everything else you have to expect to encounter a fair amount of rain.

City / culture. Bangkok has those in spades.

Beach - I guess I'd recommend Trat / Koh Chang, because of direction of travel. Weather will be hit or miss though.

Then on to Siem Reap and PP.

Then fly back to Bangkok. Four weeks, that's what I'd do that checks all of your blocks.

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

Posted by marianaamc on 5/2/2014 at 12:32

I know you live in Thailand and you're close but would you really spend a week in each place? I mean... I know I was rushing a lot in Laos but I would never do that for my first trip to Asia. I could consider almost a week around maybe Bangkok but would not stay that much time in any of the rest of the places you mentioned. Please, keep in mind that I'm from Portugal and I've been saving for more than two years now since I'm a student. I'm still young and looking for adventure, I don't want to be stupid and try to see everything but not that little either. And about the weather, I've made peace with it. I know I'll encounter rain and that it will make ground transport longer and harder. But I don't want to plan too much according to it or else I just won't go...

#14 marianaamc has been a member since 30/10/2013. Posts: 62

Posted by chinarocks on 5/2/2014 at 13:03

Op - I understand your concerns and I agree that, when on holidays, one week is too much in all but the best or biggest cities. MADMAC likes to play chess with the locals whenever he travels, so that might help you understand where he's coming from.

IMO 4-5 days is a good rule of thumb for most places unless they have a special attraction for you.

#15 chinarocks has been a member since 17/6/2011. Posts: 740

Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 5/2/2014 at 19:16

August is the wettest month for much of Thailand. Samui, kpn and tao are drier that time of year so head there.

#16 LeonardCohen1 has been a member since 24/7/2012. Posts: 2,148

Posted by MADMAC on 6/2/2014 at 00:18

OK so what is wrong with playing chess and it's Thai variant? What is wrong with taking your time, getting to actually meet people and get to know them? Culture is people - it's about people and how their social networks work and what drives their behavior. It's about language. When you move fast, you are seeing things, but you are not absorbing squat concerning the human dynamic of the culture.

Yes Marianne, I would stay a week in each place. It's not a long time. This is SEA, which is way more about people and pace of life than it is about seeing things. You want to see a lot of "amazing things" then tour Europe. Europe has the best architecture in the world, great mountain vistas, beaches... But this place isn't about all of that (well minus the beaches which i don't care for anyway). There are things to see, but it's really not the point of coming here.

Bangkok and PP are easy places to spend an entire week (my first time to PP I spent 8 days and it wasn't enough). Trat and on to Koh Chang for a week at the beach chillin'. Siem Reap for a few days... that leaves a few days left over when you get return to Bangkok or, if you would prefer, maybe go to Ayuhdya or Kanchanaburi for a little bit tacked on to the end.

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

Posted by chinarocks on 6/2/2014 at 03:45

Nothing wrong with taking your time or playing chess, things I both enjoy doing and I would gladly spend a week in PP or wherever. However, when the OP has explicitly stated a preference for not doing this type of travel, I think it is pretty pointless trying to dogmatically impose your preferences on her.

Plus there is a happy medium - 4 or 5 days in a place isn't that different from spending a week there but this approach allows you to see 2 or 3 more places over the course of a month, something which could mean a lot to somebody who won't be back in the region for a while.

#18 chinarocks has been a member since 17/6/2011. Posts: 740

Posted by marianaamc on 6/2/2014 at 06:15

I'm not saying there's something wrong with staying one week each place. But please, stay in topic. Let me start by saying the things you say about getting to know other people it's better in theory, I don't speak the language and my mother language its not even English. I'm Portuguese and even though I'm ok writing, I'm not such a great speaker, and there's just so much people are willing to try. Its gets to a point its just too Hard for both parts. I know its a different sightseeing as is in Europe, but I don't think there's none. I mean, maybe less monuments and stuff like that, but as everything will be different, the cities, landscapes etc... It will be nice too. I don't think it Asia will be so far behind in that department. That's just my opinion, I mean mostly my idea because it will be my first time.
I could, maybe, do Siem reap PP and Luang prabang plus surroundings or Vientiane flying between places the first two weeks. And then keep it slow the last two in just Thailand, Bangkok mainly and maybe a beach? Does this sound bad?

#19 marianaamc has been a member since 30/10/2013. Posts: 62

Posted by chinarocks on 6/2/2014 at 06:39

OP - what you say makes perfect sense and sounds like a great plan. You absolutely do not need to learn Khmer or Thai to converse with the locals. It is simply not practical for most people and not necessary either (despite what some people on here constantly repeat in a dreary, monotonous fashion). A few words maybe but any more than that is not necessary. Broken English will be just fine and they will be glad to interact with you (your English sounds very good from what I can tell).

Have a great trip.

#20 chinarocks has been a member since 17/6/2011. Posts: 740

Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 6/2/2014 at 09:22

SEA is an easy place to work it out as you go. Just pay 2-3n for a room at a time and you can book some cheap flights a few days ahead.

#21 LeonardCohen1 has been a member since 24/7/2012. Posts: 2,148

Posted by marianaamc on 6/2/2014 at 10:17

I'm excited about this idea actually! Glad I got some positive feedback! I won't say it's set but it's an idea I will consider for sure!

IF I do make this itinerary:
I'm thinking about buying the BKK-PP via Airasia, it has good prices. Probably will take the bus between PP and SR since I wouldn't save a lot of time by flying. I can find at about 200 dollars SR-LP (don't know if there's taxes added to that price). Do you think I could get a better price if I booked while I was there?
I was saving to have 40$ per day (I'll be going with my boyfriend so 80$ for both). I might need to save some extra cash for flights. I don't want to take it off my daily budget because I don't want to be too cheap and not experience something for lack of money there...


Thanks a lot all for your help.

#22 marianaamc has been a member since 30/10/2013. Posts: 62

Posted by MADMAC on 6/2/2014 at 12:59

Ok, make a detour, come out to Mukdahan, and I'll show you what I'm talking about.

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

Posted by marianaamc on 10/2/2014 at 14:54

Thank you MACMAC. I'll let you know and will for sure consider!

#24 marianaamc has been a member since 30/10/2013. Posts: 62

Posted by Joey82 on 11/2/2014 at 08:34

I can't comment on most of Laos but I spent 7 days in Luang Prabang in 2012 and absolutely loved it. I would have been so disappointed if I had to move on after 1 day. I would definitely stay at least 3 days there if you can and like someone else said, pick one or two other locations as well. You will get much more out of it :) In some other parts of Asia I moved on after 1 day and it was just exhausting!

#25 Joey82 has been a member since 7/7/2011. Posts: 13

Posted by mooball on 15/2/2014 at 19:23 TF writer

So is Laos off the agenda now? Because I disagree with what most people here are saying about pace of travel as I usually do. :) I like slow travel as much as the next person, but I also know that some people want to visit as many places as possible in a limited amount of time. Meet people doing that all the time! It's not how I do it, but some people enjoy that. So with that in mind, try this.

1. Arrive in Vientiane in early morning and spend full day exploring.
2. Travel on earliest bus possible to Vang Vieng and arrive mid morning.
3. Vang Vieng for nature - caves, ricefields, small villages.
4. Travel to Phonsavan.
5. Hire a motorbike and check out the jars and perhaps even spin out to one of the outlying attractions.
6. Travel to Luang Prabang.
7. Luang Prabang.
8. Luang Prabang.
9. Travel to Nong Kiaow.
10. Nong Kiaow.
11. Nong Kiaow.
12. Travel to LNT.
13. LNT.
14. Travel to Chiang Mai.

That is such a doable journey. Yeah the bus journeys are long, but for me they are no big deal. Of course it's ideal to stay longer in each place, but if you can't, so be it. If you have your heart set on travelling quickly, you can definitely do it.

#26 mooball has been a member since 19/6/2010. Location: Australia. Posts: 429
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Posted by MADMAC on 16/2/2014 at 10:24

Mooball
I have to say I would never advise anyone who hasn't been here to do that. I'm sure there's the odd person who wants to spend half his / her vacation on a bus, but that is unusual. Most of them don't appreciate the suck factor until it's too late.

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

Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 16/2/2014 at 19:28

I can understand the desire to visit many places but if these places are same same then it's a lot of hassle and tiredness for not much. If you pick the best city and the best town/village area then you see the best and have more time to enjoy it rather than packing, checking in, checking out, waiting at bus stops, looking out bus windows.

If you are going to rush around it's best done via a car or motorbike so you arent wasting time. Buses are so much slower and there's always waiting time. A car/bike can save you 2-4 hrs of wasted time a day.

#28 LeonardCohen1 has been a member since 24/7/2012. Posts: 2,148

Posted by MADMAC on 16/2/2014 at 22:23

I agree Leonard. For me, when I ride, the journey is half the fun. But riding is a good time and you can stop whenever you feel like it or whenever you see something and you want to check it out more. Busses, on the other hand, suck in a major way. Long, boring, uncomfortable rides in which I am almost never seated next to a hot chick but instead some funky dufus.

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

Posted by chinarocks on 17/2/2014 at 11:42

"Busses, on the other hand, suck in a major way."

For some reason, I used to enjoy bus journeys in South America. Comfortable seats, a good movie on, reasonable food being served, lovely scenery and you were always on the way to some other cool location.

SEA not so much, a lot more dangerous and conditions nowhere near as good.

#30 chinarocks has been a member since 17/6/2011. Posts: 740

Posted by mooball on 17/2/2014 at 19:08 TF writer

I generally enjoy buses in southeast Asia. I love to sit and watch the scenery go by, watch the goings on on the bus itself...

#31 mooball has been a member since 19/6/2010. Location: Australia. Posts: 429
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Posted by MADMAC on 17/2/2014 at 23:05

Mooball, trust me when I tell you, you're an outlier man.

Let me tell you why I hate them:

1. If it's an overnight sleeper, the comfort factor will be way better, BUT, they will insist on waking you up at the halfway point (if you managed to fall asleep, which I do on a bus as well as on an airplane) for a break, so my sleep for the night has been pretty well shot. I get to the destination feeling like I got off the red eye flight - which is called the red eye flight for a reason.

2. If it's not an overnight sleeper, the comfort factor moves in. Often the AC is broken. The bus is a rattletrap in which there are almost never enough seats. Almost invariably someone, usually a kid, seems to puke on the bus, ensuring that the already hot environs and the odor of puke in the mix.

3. The drivers are insane. Accident rates are high and I've had rides where the driver is passing against oncoming traffic and just doesn't give a ****.

The upside is - there is no upside.

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

Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 17/2/2014 at 23:14

Puking is a bit extreme. Never had that. Buses arent that terrible but they arent fun and u lose freedom and waste a lot of time. They are a low class way of travelling and locals do it to save money.

#33 LeonardCohen1 has been a member since 24/7/2012. Posts: 2,148

Posted by MADMAC on 18/2/2014 at 01:59

Maybe I've had bad luck. I've had the puking on several occassions. Always from kids.

But I've had the drunk, hygenically challenged Thai guy on more than one occassion too. And he always wants to talk...

Buses, I hate them - A LOT.

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

Posted by Lewtravels on 9/6/2014 at 14:24

I joined to to respond to this (after reading Travelfish for years).
It's been my experience that the further from the big city one gets, the more fun is to be had and the better the fellow travelers are.
I've only been to Vientiane once (in 2007) and wasn't crazy about it, went to Vang Vieng for an overnight and a bit of tubing but places full of drunks are not my thing.
Loved Luang Prabang, then north to Luang Namtha and did a loop of the north alone for ~2.5 weeks, ending up in Vientiane and crossed to Thailand and took a train to BKK.

I'm going back from BKK flying to Chiang Mai to Huay Xai, then to Luang Namtha, Muang Sing and Nong Khiauw + places around there, ending up taking a boat down to LP and flying to BKK. Trekking biking, etc.

Actually like bus rides in SEA, like everything about the Lao and even like Beer Lao

#35 Lewtravels has been a member since 9/6/2014. Location: United States. Posts: 7
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Posted by MADMAC on 9/6/2014 at 23:38

"Actually like bus rides in SEA, like everything about the Lao and even like Beer Lao"

You must have been drinking beer laos before you got on the buses if you liked the bus rides!!!!

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

Posted by Lewtravels on 10/6/2014 at 09:00

I like adventure and meeting people; bus rides give you both.


I have a lot of pictures of Laos at this link- http://lewlortonphoto.com/f6771170

and a two part blog entry on Laos at adventures-on-the-road-in-northern-laos

#37 Lewtravels has been a member since 9/6/2014. Location: United States. Posts: 7
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Posted by MADMAC on 10/6/2014 at 11:32

I like adventure and meeting people - but I get that from motorcycles. I despise buses.

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


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