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Southeast Asia forum

Thailand/Laos/Cambodia 6 week itinerary

Posted by pascal1980 on 31/12/2011 at 11:57

Hi there!

On January 12 I will fly to Bangkok for my 6 weeks trip to Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. I am looking for a great and diverse trip and so far this is my rough plan:

Thailand (6)

Bangkok (3 days)
Chiang Mai (2)
Chiang Kong (1)

Laos (17)

Luang Prabang (4)
Nong Khiaw (2)
Vang Vieng (2)
Vientiane (1)
Pakse / Tad Lo / Bolaven (4)
Champasak (1)
4000 Islands / Don Dhet (3)

Cambodia (13)

Kampong Cham (1)
Siem Reap (4)
Phnom Penh (2)
Kampot (2)
Sihanoukville / Koh Rong (4)

Thailand (6)

Koh Chang (4)
Bangkok (2)

Does this look doable for 6 weeks without rushing to much? Some other questions / uncertainties I have are:

1) Not made my mind up if I want to do Gibbon Experience, maybe I take the 1 night experience so it doesn't eat up to much time and still be able to have the experience. If I want to do the GE should I stay in Huay Xai ?

2) Also not decided if I will take the slow boat from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang. I think it is nice, especially for meeting people but 2 days on a boat is a lot. I am thinking about going via Luang Namtha to Nong Khiaw over land and then from Nong Khiaw to Luang Prabang by boat (over Nam Ou river) which I heard is really nice. That way I still have my boat experience with great scenery. Only minor thing would be that I might be meeting less people and the travel between Luang Namtha and Nong Khiaw can be long and uncomfortable (anybody knows how long this takes on average?).

3) If I want to do a short trekking in North Laos, where should I do that? Any advice for a good place that is on my route?

4) Anybody advice on a great elephant experience?

5) I would like to ride the Bolaven Plateau short loop on a motorbike, should I stay in Pakse for that or is another place more advisable (Paksong, Tad Lo?).

6) Are there places on my route that it would be wise to book in advance?

7) What places can be skipped or are there places I should probably stay longer or less days? Any really worthwhile places that I a missing and should consider?

8. Not sure if I should end on Koh Chang or maybe consider Koh Phangan / Koh Tao. My feel is that these are a bit more worthwhile, but on the other hand it is a bit outside of my route. So would you advice to stick with Koh Chang or end my trip on another island?

Sorry for all my questions, just want to make the most out of my trip! Hope for some good advice, thanks in advance!

#1 pascal1980 has been a member since 9/12/2011. Posts: 4

Posted by exacto on 1/1/2012 at 20:13

no doubt about it. you'll be rushing around a bit. but at least you've plotted a logical route. i wouldn't be looking to add any more to this itinerary, however, as this looks busy enough as it is.

how do you plan to get from vientiane to pakse? there is an overnight bus, and i think you can fly too, but it would be more than one day's travel by regular bus.

have you considered flying directly from chiang mai to luang prabang? that might free up some time so you won't be as rushed for at least that leg of the journey. cheers.

#2 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,657
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Posted by busylizzy on 1/1/2012 at 21:11

I'm with exacto on this one. It looks like a nice trip, but a bit rushed. Don't underestimate the distances and time it takes to get around SEA. And you have allowed little time for some R&R along the way. Each day you move on, you will more or less lose a day. As exacto suggested, save up a bit more $$ and treat yourselves to a couple of flights, especially on the longer legs. The extra money is not that much in the big scheme of things, and you will get more quality time in the places you are visiting.

WIth regards to the Bolevan Plateau, if you only want to do a short trip, I would suggest staying the first night in Pakse and getting your bike from Lankham's Hotel. (Have breakfast there too before you had out - you get an excellent Lao-style soup and coffee, dirt cheap - very popular with the locals). Head to Tad Lo and stay one or two nights there (to explore local waterfalls, etc) before heading to Paksong. I didn't think much of Paksong, but to be fair, this was influenced by the absolute crap weather we were getting on the motobikes, and rather than staying as planned, we just pushed on through the pouring rain to get back to Pakse! Maybe stay one night in Pakse, one night in Tad Lo and one night in Paksong before heading back to Pakse.

The only other thing that struck me about your itinerary is perhaps cutting out northern Thailand. You are hardly in the area long enough to see much, and it's a long trip trip to get there. This would give you a few more days for some R&R along the way or in Bkk at the end. If you are intent on seeing Laos, maybe consider flying straight through from Bkk to Luang Prabang, then overland it back to Vietiane.

#3 busylizzy has been a member since 31/12/2007. Location: New Zealand. Posts: 2,155
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Posted by caseyprich on 1/1/2012 at 21:26

The plan looks a little rushed - but I think you can do it, you've got an extra day in Luang Prabang and Siem Reap that you could play around with somewhere else and maybe cut a night out of your coastal stay in Cambodia as you'll also be staying four nights in Ko Chang (I recommend checking out Paradise on Ko Wai if you want to get away for a little bit - or the solitude of Long Beach in Salakphet Bay). No reason to fret over Ko Chang vs. the western islands, as I think travel wise they are just a bit out of the way for your route, and Jan/Feb is a good time to go to Ko Chang, the weather is nice. It is a big island so you may want to explore all the different possible locations there and ask questions later.

If you want to do a Northern Laos hike, Luang Nam Tha and Muang Sing are the usual hits - also can rent a motorbike around the area. If you are coming in through Huay Xia you may just overland to Luang Nam Tha and cut out Nong Kiaow (its a pretty destination, but you may have to cut something somewhere to fit in a trek). When I was in Nong Kiaow/Muang Ngoi there were no organized treks in the area. One of the best treks I've ever done was through Pooh Eco Travel (http://www.pooh-ecotrekking.com/) in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Very rewarding, if a little expensive - went on a two night trek though . . . so you'd have to add a little time there.

As for the slow boat/meeting people. I met people taking the busses as well - and on the short boat trip to Muang Ngoi. I don't think you need to make the decision based on that. Rather, make your decision based on if you want to go to Luang Nam Tha or Nong Kiaow.

For your Southern Laos stay - I'd recommend staying outside of Pakse as that is the joy of the renting the bike to do the short loop. There are some feature articles about this that you may have looked up already (https://www.travelfish.org/feature/83). After your arrival from Vientiane you'd probably want to rest a night - I recommend Sedong River Guesthouse for their nice patio. Then you can take the bike out to Tad Lo for one night. If you are in a hurry, get up really early and you'll get there by lunch and have the time to take your bike around and see the waterfalls. The next day you could get up early and take off to Paksong - have plenty of time for some side tracks on your way there. Then just one night in Paksong. The next morning get up and you can stop at a few of the waterfalls on the way back to Pakse.

You could then rest another night in Pakse and/or keep the bike and use it to get down to Champasak -my recommendation. I think Champasak can use two nights or a fast one. The first day you arrive just soak up the atmosphere, the next day wake up early and use your motorbike to beat all the cyclists to the Wat. Then if you want you could head back to Pakse that afternoon or spend a second night in lovely Champasak drinking coffee by the river (Anouxsa Guesthouse was really nice but not as social as some in the center of the town). So you can take it pretty quickly or slow it down a little.

As for booking in advance . . . I found that Luang Prabang and Pakse can get filled up pretty fast, and if you're a late day arrival you may end up taking whatever bed you can get. Recommend setting up a room in advance for those locations from my experience. Tad Lo had a few people wandering around as well (February - busy season) but I don't know if you can book ahead most places there. Same would go for Don Dhet and Don Khon. There I recommend heading quickly to the west side of the island to try and get a sunset location before they fill up, right when you land. I had trouble quickly finding rooms in Pakse, Champasak, Don Dhet, and Tad Lo when we were there . . . but each time we got a pretty good room at a decent price.

Enjoy the trip.

#4 caseyprich has been a member since 3/3/2010. Location: China. Posts: 1,281
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Posted by caseyprich on 1/1/2012 at 21:30

Lizzy - do you think Northern Laos should be cut or some of the islands at the end? I see a lot of time on the beach in Cambodia followed by a few days on islands in Thailand. Having never been to the Cambodian coast I'm not sure, but I'd recommend losing a day or two there and extending the stay in Northern Thailand to get in some trekking. I think seeing both the islands and the north of thailand gives you a much bigger picture of the place.

#5 caseyprich has been a member since 3/3/2010. Location: China. Posts: 1,281
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Posted by busylizzy on 2/1/2012 at 15:41

That's a hard one for me to answer, Casey. I really enjoyed my time in northern Laos (VTE, Phonsavan, LP, Nong Kiaow and Muang Ngoi). Really enjoyed it. Southern Laos unfortunately didn't go so well, and we cut it short by a week, missing out on the islands in the end. This was primarily due to the unforgiving rain making the time spent on a motorbike less than ideal - and I didn't really want to have my R&R in the Don Khong area ruined as well, so we bailed on Laos). So I guess, if you are going to spend the time in Laos, I'm in favour of recommending more time in Northern Laos, based on my experiences.

I have been to the Cambodian coast although due to a 'medical situation' that arose, we didn't make it to Koh Rong so can't comment on it. But I do regret not making it though! Loved Kampot, didn't like S'ville, and was enjoying Otres until our mishap!


I also spent some time in Koh Chang and Koh Mak a few years ago, and whilst I thought the were OK, they weren't the most idyllic islands out of all of Thailand's islands. I would tend to suggest getting to Koh Tao/Phangan or the Andaman side instead. And the original posters timeline doesn't really allow for that.. so maybe aim to cut Koh Chang and add those days on to Laos somewhere. THen fly from Phnom Penh to Bkk to save a bundle of travel time!


OK - not sure if I've helped here at all, or just muddied the waters for you!

#6 busylizzy has been a member since 31/12/2007. Location: New Zealand. Posts: 2,155
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Posted by pascal1980 on 2/1/2012 at 18:14

Thanks everybody for your advice, greatly appreciated! So general consensus is that my itinerary is doable although it would be wise to slow down a bit. That means I need to make some choices that save me some time. Options I can think of (and according to your recommendations):

a. Skip Chiang Mai (and take nighttrain / bus directly to Chiang Kong / Huay Xai)
b. Skip Chiang Mai (and take direct flight to Luang Prabang , about 170 euro)
c. Fly from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang (about 140 euro)
d. Fly from Vientiane to Pakse (about 100 euro)
e. Take days from Luang Prabang and/or Siem Reap (save 1 or 2 days)
f. Take days from beaches SV, KR, KC (save 1 or 2 days)

Will give these options a thought and see if I can tweak my itinerary a bit so I would be travelling at a more comfortable pace. Of course also curious what you guys would choose if you were standing in my shoes ;-)

@exacto: from Vientiane to Pakse I was planning to take the overnight bus, although I can take a flight there. How long does the bus ride take? Is the ride comfortable? Will I be able to get some sleep on it?

@lizzy: Thanks for the elaborate advice about Bolaven, Nong Khiaw and the islands. It is really helpful! And will consider to skip Northern Thailand to have some more quality time in Laos! Or taking one or two domestic flights.

@casey: Many thanks for all the usefull information and ideas. Definately will check out Champasak and probably Koh Wai (if I go to Koh Chang). For trekking I tend to stick with Nong Khiaw (and surroundings), just hear a lot of good things about it and it seems that there are definately some trekkings you can do there, for instance with Tiger Trails (http://www.laos-adventures.com/). Of course I don't know how they are compared to Luang Namtha. I also tend to Nong Khiaw because of the possibility if scenic boat trips on the Nam Ou and the caves around there.

So really appreciate all the help, at least I have something to think about ;-) If any other good ideas come up to make my trip even more worthwhile don't hesitate to share!

#7 pascal1980 has been a member since 9/12/2011. Posts: 4

Posted by exacto on 2/1/2012 at 18:30

its about a 750 km bus trip from vientiane to pakse. i don't know exactly how long the bus takes, but i'd guess more than 12 hours. i'd call it more of an adventure than a comfortable trip, but it is a good option for covering that distance without using up too much time or cash. how much sleep you gets depends on you i think. it should be a bit better than how you do sleeping on the flight, if that makes sense. at least it will be a bed rather than just a seat. cheers.

#8 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,657
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Posted by pascal1980 on 7/1/2012 at 18:49

Hi all!

I changed my itinerary a bit and decided to skip Chiang Mai to have some more time for Laos and Cambodia. This is how my revised itinerary looks right now:

Thailand (3)

Bangkok (3 days)
(Night bus to Chiang Khong and crossborder to Huay Xai)

Laos (21)

Huay Xai / Gibbon Experience (2)
(only if can book last minute on thego otherwise will skip and move to Luang NT)
Luang Namtha (2)
Nong Khiaw (2)
(boat on Nam Ou to Luang Prabang)
Luang Prabang (4)
Vang Vieng (2)
Vientiane (1)
(Night Bus to Pakse)
Pakse / Tad Lo / Bolaven (4)
Champasak (1)
4000 Islands / Don Dhet (3)

Cambodia (12)

Kampong Cham (1)
Siem Reap (4)
Phnom Penh (2)
Kampot (2)
Sihanoukville / Koh Rong (3)

Thailand (6)

Koh Chang (4)
Bangkok (2)

Does this look better? Any suggestions?

Thanks a lot!

#9 pascal1980 has been a member since 9/12/2011. Posts: 4

Posted by caseyprich on 7/1/2012 at 21:57

Sounds like a treat. I really enjoyed Nong Kiaow, nice to hear they have hikes available in the area now. The town itself has some real scenic charm. You're on the move a bit, but I think you break it up nicely with some longer stays (Luang Prabang/Don Dhet/Siem Reap). Only possible suggestion . . . depending on your flights arrival in BKK (how much time you'll have to explore the first day) don't feel stuck to your three nights planned there at the start of the trip. If you've got itchy feet you can take off earlier and then if you really want to get more BKK add that saved day to the end of your trip stay in BKK. Otherwise it gives you an extra day to spend somewhere else in your journey - so a win/win - if you decide not to use the day you still have it back in BKK at the end.

#10 caseyprich has been a member since 3/3/2010. Location: China. Posts: 1,281
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Posted by pascal1980 on 8/1/2012 at 08:15

Thanks Casey! About Bangkok, I will arrive on friday morning around 6 AM and planning to leave on sunday around 6 PM to take the night bus to Chiang Khong. So actually it is 2 nights in Bangkok, but counted is as 3 (including travel to Chiang Kong / Huay Xai). So two full days seems about okay to me actually.

#11 pascal1980 has been a member since 9/12/2011. Posts: 4

Posted by caseyprich on 8/1/2012 at 17:37

Yeah - for a first time trip I would certainly stay for two nights before onward travel.

#12 caseyprich has been a member since 3/3/2010. Location: China. Posts: 1,281
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Posted by overtherainbow on 27/4/2012 at 16:26

Pascal how did you get on? I'm planning a similar trip with my husband so interested to hear any suggestions/tips that you picked up along the way if possible.

#13 overtherainbow has been a member since 13/1/2012. Posts: 4

Posted by kolibri1 on 16/6/2012 at 11:49

I'm interested in how the trip went, too. I want to do a similar trip and wonder whether you (Pascal) liked the places you stayed in, e.g. Koh Chang and Nong Khiaw.

#14 kolibri1 has been a member since 10/6/2012. Posts: 3

Posted by JustBreathe on 12/10/2012 at 22:16

I see that most of these posts are from January...is this itinerary one that could be carried out in June/July based on weather conditions?

#15 JustBreathe has been a member since 12/10/2012. Posts: 2

Posted by mariajames on 16/10/2012 at 10:55

Well I didn't anticipate abundant of Paksong, but to be fair, this was afflicted by the complete applesauce acclimate we were accepting on the motobikes, and rather than blockage as planned, we just pushed on through the cloudburst rain to get aback to Pakse

#16 mariajames has been a member since 29/9/2012. Posts: 57

Posted by mariajames on 2/11/2012 at 12:42

If you are in a hurry, get up absolutely aboriginal and you'll get there by cafeteria and accept the time to yield your bike about and see the waterfalls. The next day you could get up aboriginal and yield off to Paksong - accept affluence of time for some ancillary advance on your way there. Then just one night in Paksong. The next morning get up and you can stop at a few of the waterfalls on the way aback to Pakse.

#17 mariajames has been a member since 29/9/2012. Posts: 57


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