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Southeast Asia forum

Help re: decision on countries to go to (Thailand, Laos, Cambodia or Vietnam)

Posted by Flanb on 14/1/2013 at 04:30


I appreciate that a lot of people post similar topics all the time, so thanks in advance for any advice you might be able to give.

My friend and I are travelling to Southeast Asia from mid-April to the first week of June (6 weeks), and apart from flights to and from Bangkok, nothing else has been decided. We had originally planned to travel from Bangkok into Siem Reap, into Laos working north, flying over to Vietnam and working south before flying back to Bangkok. After reading around, we both felt this would make our trip too travel heavy so have decided to reassess. We have toyed around with the idea (with rough timings) of: Bangkok (1 week) -> Cambodia (2 weeks) then either Vietnam or Laos (3 weeks) OR spending 4-5 weeks in Thailand and the remaining time in Cambodia (either doing a couple of places or just Angkor Wat).

My question is which routes or countries would you recommend based on your experience of them?

A bit of information about us to help:
- Angkor Wat is about the only thing we're dead set on. And that our flights are in and out of Bangkok.
- Although both is us have travelled extensively with families (Middle East, Northern Africa etc.), the only backpacking experience either of us has is around Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
- I've been to Thailand briefly with my family when I was younger but other than that, neither of us have been to the other countries. Consider this as our first time to the area.
- We are looking at a budget of roughly £1500 for the 6 weeks, excluding the flights to Bangkok, but have both set aside £2000 if needs be.
- Although not looking for it to be a beach orientated trip, we would like to go to at least one. Generally like historical buildings and stunning landscapes. Apart from things like half day hikes, we are not really looking to do big chunks of walking. And whilst we enjoy a good drink, we are not planning our trip around the good places to party.
- Keen to keep the pace relaxed, but steady enough.

Thanks again for any advice you can give us about which countries and routes you think might be best, and any other hints re: budget etc. you might be able to give!

#1 Flanb has been a member since 14/1/2013. Posts: 2

Posted by caseyprich on 14/1/2013 at 05:22

Thanks for all the info from the get-go. I think with your plan I'd cut Vietnam out, just because it is so expansive really - you can see some good highlights of Laos if you decide to do the 3 country option without feeling undersold, meanwhile with Vietnam I think you'll feel a little shorted. Also, while I love Vietnam, the food, the pace, the places - there is something special about Laos that goes beyond words like love for me (though I do think the food in Vietnam is much better so if that is a big part of your travels then I may reconsider my advice).

With three countries option I'd recommend doing BKK and then heading through central and north Thailand to do the usual loop via Chiang Mai into Northern Laos, Luang Prabang -Vang Vieng (maybe Phonsovan if history is your thing) and Vientiane . From Vientiane you can fly to PP and spend a little time there and hit Siem Reap before heading back into Thailand to hit up some beaches. I don't know off the top of my head which islands are best that time of year, but you have the option to hop around Ko Chang without having too much distance form Siem Reap and you can easily bounce around the 4 main islands there for a week or two with a short (6 hour?) bus ride back to BKK to catch your flight.

However - there is certainly a lot to explore in Thailand and I can easily recommend 4 weeks there with 2 weeks in Cambodia. This would allow you to simply relax, rent out a room for a few nights, get to know the people in the neighborhood and take some motorbike trips back and forth in the area. You could do a much better circuit of Northern Thailand with that time and then fly over to PP from Chiang Mai - and with 2 weeks in Cambodia you'd have some time to check out the beaches in the south first to take a little break after the North of Thailand before heading to Siem Reap. Then more beaches to finish off the trip (always highly recommended).

On average, I've done things more like that in the past - 3 week trips to Thailand (North and an Island) or 3 weeks in Southern Laos with a couple of nights in BKK for the return flight. So, if I were to advise based on my personal preference I'd say go with the later suggestion. However, if you aren't going to be back in the area for a long time - it wouldn't be a bad idea to skip out on Pai and some of central Thailand in order to check out Luang Prabang and northern Laos, just to get a sense of it.

No definitive answers. I'm not so good at that.

#2 caseyprich has been a member since 3/3/2010. Location: China. Posts: 1,281
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Posted by Flanb on 14/1/2013 at 23:56

Thanks for the quick, and very useful response. Your message has thrown up a couple of questions for me to answer, and thrown up more questions for me to ask!

I can only speak for myself in this instance, but there won't be any more big trips to SE Asia for some time. A couple of shorter breaks (2/3 weeks) will be in the cards in the future, I'm sure but even then, I want to do some travelling to S. America, Iceland etc. first. This is really the only opportunity in the near future where money (within reason) and time doesn't restrict us, whereas once we come back, we will have to travel around work commitments, and save again.

On the basis of what you've offered up, our own research, the fact that Thailand is generally easy to get to from the UK whereas Laos requires that extra bit of travel and this is our one opportunity where we really can do that extra travel, we are back leaning towards Bangkok, Cambodia and Laos. No definitive answers, maybe, but your thoughts at least have definitely helped in organising our own thought processes so a definite help. If time allows, we'll try and see those famous Thai beaches, but otherwise will just have to 'settle' for some of the Cambodian beaches!

So yet more questions!

1. You have suggested the northern part of Laos, but is it feasible (and pleasurable) to spend 3 weeks in Laos travelling down the country (Luang Prabang to Pakse or vice versa)? Is the south worth it?
2. I've read that you can fly from Bangkok to Vientienne, but that many people also fly to Udon Thani and then travel on to the border, or take a train to Nong Khai and then Laos. Nong Khai seems to be well-liked, but Udon Thani doesn't get quite the same accolades. Is it worth factoring in time to spend in Nong Khai or to just get on with it and make it up to Vientienne - in which case, what would you recommend as the best (read: cheapest+most time efficient) method?

Ta again

#3 Flanb has been a member since 14/1/2013. Posts: 2

Posted by caseyprich on 15/1/2013 at 00:40

1) I really enjoyed my time in Southern Laos - I spent just under 3 weeks in Pakse , doing the Bolavan motorbike loop then heading down to Champasak and 4,000 Islands. If you are considering giving northern Thailand a miss (as question 2 indicates) then for efficiency you could fly from BKK to Luang Prabang (probably not that cheap) and then work your way down over 3 weeks . . . it would seem a little rushed - 1 week Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, Vientiane . .. a few days to check out Kong Lor cave possibly on the way down to Pakse and do the short motorbike loop to Tad Lo and Paksong for a couple nights . . then you've still go ta handful of nights to see Champasak and cool off on 4,000 Islands before heading into Cambodia . . . I think you can do it in 3 weeks, but something I've mentioned might have to go out the window.

If you take the cheaper option of flying to Udon Thani or taking the train there (then cross directly to Vientiane, I don't think you have the time to hang around in UT or NK and probably not highlights of anyone's trip) then you'll have to double back if you go up to Luang Prabang and then back down to Vientiane and this will certainly force you to take the long-full day bus ride from Vientiane to Pakse in one go.

In the end, with 3 weeks I'd say you can do the north and the south, but you'll probably end up skipping Kong Lor cave and maybe Champasak too as you'll find yourself wanting to settle into one or two spots for a couple nights longer than you'd expected. Play loose with the schedule anyway, with more places you want to visit than you can actually hit and you'll have more fun.

If you're going to go over to Cambodia first, you can also work your way up Laos and just see how long it takes you to get to Vientiane. If you have a flight booked ahead from Udon Thani back to BKK and you get to Vientiane with a hand full of days to spare, make sure to jet up to Luang Prabang and then get back over the border in time to catch the flight.

My last point would be that I personally think 1 week in BKK is a bit much - It'll be pretty humid in the city.

I'm rambling. I need to get back to marking these exam papers.

#4 caseyprich has been a member since 3/3/2010. Location: China. Posts: 1,281
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Posted by SeemaSEA2013 on 20/2/2013 at 07:49

Hi Guys,

I'm going to be in SE Asia March - June, let me know how your itinery turns out, I'm hopefully going to be in Laos and Vietnam around April...


#5 SeemaSEA2013 has been a member since 11/2/2013. Posts: 19
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