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14 days - Laos and Siem Reap

  • thegrailer

    Joined Travelfish
    5th May, 2008
    Posts: 12

    First off, I’d am thrilled to find such a great site.
    We are planning to Visit Siem Reap and as much of Laos as possible in 14 days on the ground. Preferably we would spend a month but I only wish for that much time off. I’ve researched and reviewed books, blogs and this site but think we still need some outside advice.

    Here’s our plan for the 2nd half of July:
    Arrive BKK from JFK and fly on to Vientiane the same night. Spend ~2 days in VTE. Fly from VTE to Luang Prabang and spend 7+ days in and around LP. We are hoping to use LP as a base to visit some of the surrounding areas – Pak Ou caves and nearby waterfalls. Hopefully we will be able to do a ~3 days trek in this time too. Is the Gibbon Experience worth the time and cost? Is there something taking about the same time that we could do in a loop stopping at 2-3 places along the way – boat ride to Nong Khiaw and on from there? From LP we fly to Siem Reap for Angkor Wat. How many days do we need in Siem Reap? Did we plan in the right direction – maybe start in SR and go the other way?

    Is this a doable trip in the amount of time we have? Are we missing something – Plain of Jars? Something in the south like Wat Phou? Si Phan Don? I’ve read that VTE is a one night town but can’t verify – is it? Should it be skipped for more time elsewhere – possibly a day or two in Phnom Penh or BKK on either end of the trip?

    Also – any practical advice would be great. I’ve read that we should never leave anything in our hotel/motel/guest house while we explore during the day – is this true? What about cameras – I have a cheap point and shoot but was looking a digital SLR. Is that something to bring to Laos in the rainy season? Would I have to guard it 24/7 (I keep reading about bag snatching). Any tips on day to day stuff would be great.

    Thanks in advance

    Cheers

    #1 Posted: 5/5/2008 - 11:16

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  • somtam2000

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    Hi thegrailer,

    Glad you like the site!

    OK, your main issue will be time -- 14 days doesn't stretch far in Laos and Cambodia -- especially if you're giving one week to Luang Prabang.

    Realisticly, if you want to go to GibbonX, you'd need to drop either Siem Reap or cut back your time in Luang Prabang. It will take you at best two days to reach GibbonX from Luang Prabang, then two nights there, then two days to get out and get somewhere else -- where'd that week go!

    So, here's a couple of suggestions:
    1) Look into the Discovery Airpass offered by Bangkok Airways. it's a coupon-like deal and covers Siem Reap Airways and Lao Airlines -- it's perfect for the type of trip you're planning. BUT it cannot be purchased in Asia, so you'll need to talk to a travel agent in the States to source it.

    2) If you're open to rearranging your trip a bit, you could go:
    a) Bkk fly to Siem Reap, see Angkor (say 2 nights)
    b) fly to Luang Prabang, hang out there, Pak Ou etc (say 4 nights)
    c) upriver to Muang Ngoi/Nong Khiaw (2 nights)
    d) overland to Luang Nam Tha (1 night)
    e) GibbonX (2 nights)
    f) Exit to Thailand, Chiang Mai, fly back to Bangkok.

    Even with that, it's a tight fit -- unfortunately travelling anywhere in Laos is a time-consuming process, so I think ideas of adding things like Plain of Jars or Phnom Penh are just non starters -- unless you don't mind travelling every other day, or you were willing to forego GibbonX and Muang Ngoi etc...

    Security wise, most half reasonable places will have some kind of security box you can avail yourself of -- do so. You'll most likely be carrying your camera with you most of the time, so prob not leaving that at guesthouse anyways. Betweena point and shoot and a digital SLR - it's a personal choice. I wouldn't let rainy season make up your mind as it won't be raining all the time.

    Bag snatching is more a problem in Cambodia than elsewhere - especially in Phnom Penh -- but the majority of people (not including my wife!) have no problems!

    #2 Posted: 5/5/2008 - 12:45

  • thegrailer

    Joined Travelfish
    5th May, 2008
    Posts: 12

    Hello –
    Thanks for the reply – I hope you don’t mind that I have more questions

    I was reading your suggestions and came up with this

    a) BKK fly to Siem Reap, see Angkor – is two days enough time?
    b) fly to VTE for (1-2 nights)
    c) fly to HuayXai and GibbonX (3 nights)
    d) overland to Luang Nam Tha (1 night)
    e) down river to Muang Ngoi /Nong Khiaw (2 nights)
    f) Luang Prabang, hang out there, Pak Ou etc (say 3-4 nights)
    g) fly back to Bangkok on our last day since we leave BKK late

    How does this look – doable?

    I’ve spoken to our travel agent about the Discovery Airpass (actually the agent for the company I work for) and she is waiting for me to determine how many legs I need to book and what the first leg will be. Since the first leg looks to be BKK to SR, can you tell me about connecting from a Thai Air flight with a Bangkok air flight - we arrive in BKK on a Sunday at 4:10 PM, can we make a connection to Siem Reap on Bangkok Air at 6:20 PM? Lastly, do you know if we purchase a day pass to the Thai Air lounge in BKK? Our flight leaves at 12:40 AM and we’d like to clean up a bit before the 17 hour flight back to the U.S.

    Another practical question – how does one carry enough cash to last for 2 weeks? I’ve read that now there are some atms but I live in a plastic world and trying to figure out how much and how to carry kips, bahts and dollars is a bit worrisome (I’d hate to run out in the middle of nowhere)

    Thanks again

    #3 Posted: 10/5/2008 - 21:48

  • somtam2000

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    Yes it looks doable to me. few points:

    a) two full days is enough for most people at Angkor.

    c) I'd check flight frequency from VTE to Huay Xai - I'm not sure if that flight goes every day.

    e) Luang Nam Tha to Muang Ngoi is by land not boat, but from there you can boat down to Luang Nam Tha. You can boat from Luang Nam Tha to Pak Tha then down to Pakbeng, Luang Prabang, but I don't think you'll have time for that route.

    Re BKK Air connection from Bangkok, all Bangkok Airways flights operate from Bangkok's new airport which is also where just about all international flights come in. I'd say two hours is a minimum amount of time considering you'll be on a long-haul inbound flight, though see if you can check your bags through to SR as you may not need to clear customs in Bangkok (I'm not sure about that though). If you need to clear customs, then I'd say two hours is insufficient, otherwise it's doable.

    Can't help on the Thai Air Lounge question - sorry!

    ATMS are available in Bangkok, Siem Reap and Luang Prabang, so it shouldn't be too much of an issue as you'll not need to be carrying all that much cash to the other places. If concerned, get a few travellers cheques to tide you over.

    Cheers

    #4 Posted: 11/5/2008 - 08:17

  • thegrailer

    Joined Travelfish
    5th May, 2008
    Posts: 12

    Thanks again -
    Do you have suggestions for a route from GibbonX through Luang Nam Tha > Muang Ngoi > etc..

    We have some info from the Gibbon X folks about being dropped off in Ban Donchai (never heard of this place?) if we were traveling from Laung Nam Tha - can we assume that there a buses going the other way? And since we are more interested in the country rather than the city, we can chop days off our LP stay if there are more sites to see on the way to Muang Ngoi

    Thanks

    #5 Posted: 12/5/2008 - 18:10

  • rewein

    Joined Travelfish
    23rd March, 2008
    Posts: 5

    We are planning a somewhat similar trip in July and was looking for some advice as well, 15 days on the ground.

    I want to get to see Chiang Mai, Luang Prabang,Siem Reap/Angkor, and Bangkok.

    If we do BKK 2 days, Chiang Mai 4, Lang Prabang 4, Siem Reap 2, do you think it would be worth trying to see the beach (Samui?) for another 2 days? I don't want to spend my whole trip in the airport (2 hours before the intl flights), but I want to see as much as possible. Also, some of the flights are only mid-day, ruining the whole day.

    Let me know what you think.

    We will be flying between and I'm looking into the Discovery Airpass, but the 866-BANGKOK number hasn't been working in the States.

    #6 Posted: 18/5/2008 - 04:31

  • packtoofull

    Joined Travelfish
    16th May, 2007
    Location Indonesia
    Posts: 39

    thegrailer - Somtam's ona break, so here's my two cents. Likewise I've not heard of Ban Donchai. I assume it's on the maindrag from Luang Nam Tha to Huay Xai, in which case all transport would be passing through there.

    The only spot between Luang Prabang and Muang Ngoi that people tend to stop at is Nong Khiaow -- it's well worth a look, so if you wanted some downtime elsewhere, this would be a good spot. From Muang Ngoi to LNT, I'd say it's slimmer pickings. One great spot is Muang La -- but it's a little out of the way.

    Rewein,
    I'd lean towards saving Samui for another trip. As it stands, of your 15 days, you've got at least four that are going to be "getting from A to B" days. Add Samui to the mix and you've got another two days of transport to add...

    Definetely look into the Discovery Airpass -- your trip is exactly the type of trip it is designed for.

    #7 Posted: 18/5/2008 - 06:55

  • thegrailer

    Joined Travelfish
    5th May, 2008
    Posts: 12

    Rewein -
    we had plans to fly and tour, fly and tour, fly and tour but realized that even though we enjoy really enjoy the traveling part, there way no way we could do it. Additionally, trying to plan around Lao Airlines
    schedule is a pain with the limited schedule to some of the places we wanted to go see
    Check Lao Airlines time tables here (if you haven't already)
    International
    http://www.laoairlines.com/timetable_new_i.html
    Domestic
    http://www.laoairlines.com/timetable_new_d.html

    Maybe you could go overland from Chang Mai to HuayXai
    (is there a "correct" transliteration?) and fly HOE to LPQ (Thurs and Sat only)?

    Packtoofull
    We have from Fri after GibbonX until Thurs of the next week when we catch a flight from LP to Siem Reap - Can we go LNT > Muang La > Muang Ngoi/Nong Khiaow > LP? Alternatively, we keep reading about about multiple day treks out of LPN - would these be more interesting than the small towns?

    I guess what we don't want to do is miss something that won't be there if we ever get back to Laos (e.g., Laos made the NY Times travel section today "36 Hours in Luang Prabang" http://travel.nytimes.com/2008/05/18/travel/18hours-1.html)

    Suggestions?

    Thanks

    #8 Posted: 19/5/2008 - 00:12

  • wanderingcat

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 730
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    Can we go LNT > Muang La > Muang Ngoi/Nong Khiaow > LP
    _____________________________________

    LNT-Udomxai: ~4h bus, a few per day.
    Udomxai-Muang La: ~2h or less (can't recall) bus

    Udomxai tourism office runs treks around Muang La & other areas - hunt around on www.ecotourismlaos.com. Samlaan Cycling also has some activities in that area.

    Udomxai-Pak Mong-Nong Khiaw (aka. Muang Ngoi): ~3h(? can't recall) songthaew, one per day in morning. after that only to Pak Mong, where you hafta find a connection on to Nong Khiaw.

    Nong Khiaw-Muang Ngoi Neua: ~1h slowboat upriver

    Or, from Muang La, can catch a passing bus to Muang Khua, & next morning find a boat downriver to Muang Ngoi Neua, then continue downriver to Nong Khiaw i.e. no backtracking to Udomxai.

    Nong Khiaw-LPB: 1 day slowboat or ~4h bus/songthaew ~8AM & ~10AM (Muang Khua-Nong Khiaw supposedly most scenic part of river, so if you've done it & are pressed for time can do this bit by bus).
    _________________________________

    I guess what we don't want to do is miss something that won't be there if we ever get back to Laos (e.g., Laos made the NY Times travel section today "36 Hours in Luang Prabang"
    _________________________________

    IMHO, stuff like Pak Ou caves & Kwangsi falls & temples protected by World Heritage status will always be there unless they collapse from an earthquake or something...i'd go see those rivers that will be dammed up & forests that will be turned into plantations in the not-so-distant future first ;)

    Ban Donchai is on this map: http://www.gibbonx.org/gibbon_bokeo_map_animal.html
    It's along the section of HWY 3 between Huayxai & Vieng Phoukha, near the boundary of Bokeo & LNT provinces in top left corner of this huge map:
    http://www.ecotourismlaos.com/images/map/laos/laos_bg.jpg

    #9 Posted: 19/5/2008 - 01:30

  • thegrailer

    Joined Travelfish
    5th May, 2008
    Posts: 12

    IMHO, stuff like Pak Ou caves & Kwangsi falls & temples protected by World Heritage status will always be there unless they collapse from an earthquake or something...i'd go see those rivers that will be dammed up & forests that will be turned into plantations in the not-so-distant future first ;)
    __________________________

    I agree and we hope to see more of the out of the way places (itinerary adjust here we come)

    after GibbonX and on to Udomxai - can this be done without spending a night in LNT?

    #10 Posted: 22/5/2008 - 19:30

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  • wanderingcat

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 730
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    after GibbonX and on to Udomxai - can this be done without spending a night in LNT?
    _______________________________

    Depends whether you can:
    1. make your way to LNT in time to catch the last Udomxai-bound bus, or
    2. catch & squeeze onto the Huayxai-Vientiane bus as it passes through Ban Donchai

    Don't know what the up-to-date bus timetables are & hard to predict actual times buses will pass through any place...Laos can't be rushed ;) LNT is a nice place & has trekking too.

    #11 Posted: 23/5/2008 - 00:01

  • thegrailer

    Joined Travelfish
    5th May, 2008
    Posts: 12

    Everyone's advice has been fantastic - again what a great find this site has been.

    One of our planning problems is that we still want to do everything :) but can't :( in 2 weeks.

    Still have to figure out how we are going to spend 3+ days between GibbonX and LPQ (more days to explore if we cut out time in LPQ

    The updated trip (based on being able to check our bags through on the international flights JFK-BKK-REP and advice from experienced BKK airport travelers)
    2 days in REP
    1 day REP to LPQ
    2 days upriver to HOE
    2 days GibbonX
    3+ days explore on our way back to LPQ
    2-3 days LPQ
    1 day LPQ to BKK
    long flight back to JFK

    Cheers

    #12 Posted: 23/5/2008 - 08:44

  • wanderingcat

    Joined Travelfish
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    don't know if you might take longer than expected getting out of GibbonX to LNT esp if rains heavily (do you hafta trek out?). & does GibbonX provide transport to LNT?

    #13 Posted: 24/5/2008 - 07:20

  • thegrailer

    Joined Travelfish
    5th May, 2008
    Posts: 12

    A trek out of GibbonX was a hope - possibly something out of LNT or Udomxai? We are still working on the route to LPQ - suggestions

    I don't think GibbonX provides transport to LNT but it seems that we can catch a bus on the road between LNT and HOE

    #14 Posted: 24/5/2008 - 22:14

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