Ten Southeast Asian trips for 2008

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First published 2nd January, 2008

If you had all the time in the world to spend travelling in Southeast Asia, where, and how would you spend it? Here's our short list of ten trips we'd love to fit into 2008. Starting in Hanoi, this route takes us through northern Vietnam to Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam then back to Cambodia, another peak into Laos before finally returning to Vietnam -- now all we need is an extra six months in the year to fit them all in -- and an extra passport for all those pesky visas!


Dien Bien Phu to Phongsali
The opening of the Sop Hun / Tay Trang border crossing was an eagerly awaited event on the Southeast Asia travelling circuit and in early 2007 it finally opened to international travellers. So, leaving from Hanoi, head into the northwest with overnight stays in Mai Chau and Son La before reaching Dien Bien Phu. From there catch the bus over the border to Muang Khua in Laos from then get the boat south to Muang Ngoi, Nong Kiaow and onwards to Luang Prabang.
Travelfish on: Northwest Vietnam, Phongsali


Dien Bien Phu to Phongsali

Get to know Sainyabuli
Once finished in Luang Prabang, set aside a week to get to know Sainyabuli. It's a remote, little-visited Lao province and, by all accounts, it's a typical low-key-Laos style destination -- little in the way of traditional sights to see, but awash in traditional hospitality, interesting villages and riverside scenery.

Nan to Loei the back way
Now in a perfect world the Laos to Thailand border crossing at Ban Huay Kon would be open to all and sundry in 2008, but, as far as we know, it's still "locals only". If it were to open, then head from Sainyabuli through one of our favourite Thai provinces, Nan, then continue south then south east reaching the Mekong again at Chiang Khan in Loei province. While it's best done by motorbike (or bicycle if you've the energy), you can do it all by public transport -- it just takes longer! From Ban Huay Kon, opt for the breathtaking Route 1081 south and cut through Doi Phu Kha National Park before continuing south to Nan. Onwards, it's a patchwork quilt of roads and towns you'll have never heard of -- Wiang Sa, Ban Khok, Na Heao, Tha Li -- finishing off at the lovely Chiang Kham in Loei province. Once you're in Chiang Kham you can follow the Mekong's swirling brown waters all the way to Nong Khai -- or Ubon Ratchathani for that matter.
Travelfish on: Nan


Nan to Loei the back way

Umphang to Sangkhlaburi
Staying in Thailand, and staying in the "not currently possible" basket, head southwest from Loei across to Tak province, then take the spectacular 165km long mountain-top road to Umphang. From there, one was once able to trek south to Sangkhlaburi. We've only met one person who has done it -- some 15 years ago -- but he still waxes lyrical about it. The gruelling ten-day walk involved considerable time trekking through Karen State in Burma and rafting down incredible stretches of river. One for the future -- almost certainly not 2008.
Travelfish on: Umphang, Sangkhlaburi


Umphang to Sangkhlaburi

Ko Chang to Phu Quoc
There's borders opening all over the place, and with the confirmed opening of the Cambodia to Vietnam border at Prek Chak / Xa Xia, Vietnam is just a twenty minute motorbike ride from Kep. That being the case, start off with a couple of weeks messing around in the Ko Chang archipelago in Thailand, then get a songtheaw down to the Thai Cambodian border at Hat Lek and cross over to Ko Kong in Cambodia. From there, catch the "Vomit Comit" down the Cambodian coast to Ko S'dach for a night or two, then continue on to Sihanoukville. Spend some time exploring Ream National Park and fit in a few slow nights on Ko Russei, but don't forget to make time for Ko Rong -- an "up and coming" island destination reached by boat from Sihanoukville. There's no boat from "Sanooky" to Kep, so overland to the new border, cross over to Ha Tinh and then catch the bus to Rach Gia from where there's daily boats to Phu Quoc Island.
Travelfish on: Ko Chang, Ko S'dach, Phu Quoc Island


Ko Chang to Phu Quoc

A fortnight in the Delta
After that long on the beach it's time for something a bit different -- and what better place to be beached out than the Mekong Delta. While the vast majority of travellers see only as much of the Delta as a two or three night tour allows, you really need a solid fortnight to get a good feel for it. Two weeks in the Delta you ask? Why not we say! You've got over a dozen Vietnamese provinces to explore -- admittedly most see far more mosquitos than tourists -- but there's all sorts of oddities -- including a vampire pig -- down there worth checking out.
Travelfish on: Mekong Delta


A fortnight in the Delta

The Death Highway
When you come up for air from a month in the Delta, head back to Cambodia via the Tay Ninh crossing. But rather then heading all the way to Phnom Penh, veer north, then east, passing by the turn-off to Kratie and continue on to Sen Monorom. From there, strike north on the Death Highway -- the wild goat-track of a road that strikes north to the capital of Rattanakiri. Last time we did it, the guide we went with said how he wanted to run the trip with camping overnight half way up -- that would be a trip you'd remember -- and you'd finish up in Rattanakiri -- one of Cambodia's least visited, but most interesting provinces.
Travelfish on: Death Highway


The Death Highway

Nong Fa
From Rattanakiri, try for that two day boat-trip west to Stung Treng we mentioned a week or so back and head north again back into Laos. Fit a bit of R&R in Si Phan Don, then strike north to Pakse for the loop road around to Attapeu. From there head far into Attapeu's eastern boonies to find the crater lake better known as Nong Fa. We've only read one account of a trip out to there and the photos were amazing. Surrounded by pine forests, it's supposedly the largest crater lake in Laos, and what better place to camp on the bank of? Once Nong Fa is done and dusted, head back to the main road and strike east to the new Bo Y border crossing -- yes, back into Vietnam!
Travelfish on: Attapeu

Down and dirty in Kon Tum
The Bo Y border conveniently leads to Kon Tum province where first order of the day is to track down Nguyen Do Huynh, AKA Mr Huynh -- the man when it comes to trekking in Kon Tum. Mr Huynh can organise up to seven night expeditions into the remotest reaches of Kon Tum and the trips involve a lot of tough trekking and a fair degree of sleeping rough -- who wants to walk for five days to find a Coke vending machine?!
Travelfish on: Kon Tum


Down and dirty in Kon Tum

Not a banana pancake in sight: Cam Ranh Bay
After a week of walking around in Kon Tum, head to Vietnam's Cam Ranh Bay to wash the dust off. Combine loads of fine swimming with a good dose of exploration at this amazingly little-visited destination. Grab a motorbike in Nha Trang, set up base in Cam Ranh and each day ride out to find a new beach -- every day swim where no speedo has swum before -- what better way to finish all the above!
Travelfish on: Cam Ranh


Not a banana pancake in sight: Cam Ranh Bay

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About the author:
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton and he spends most of his time in Bali, Indonesia.


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