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Laos vs. Cambodia for a short excursion

Posted by danibean19 on 15/4/2016 at 14:04

Hi everyone!

I'm planning a 3 week trip to Thailand for next January with my beau. I know we could spend 3 full weeks in Thailand banging around, but while we're in the region it is so tempting to check out other countries. We are looking at both Laos and Cambodia as possibilities, but wanted to get some thoughts from other travellers about the major cities in these countries. Are there some must-see sites or huge advantages in going to one over the other? Is there anything you wish you had known before your trip that could save us any stress in planning this type of short excursion? Currently our only firm plans are flying into BKK and then the last 5-7 days of our trip we plan to relax in the sand on Phuket.

I visited Vietnam for 10 days last summer, but this will be my first trip to any of the others. My beau has never been to Asia. Thanks in advance for any insight you can give us!

#1 danibean19 has been a member since 15/4/2016. Posts: 1

Posted by exacto on 15/4/2016 at 15:20

Hi Dani,
Cambodia has the obvious destination of Siem Reap for Angkor Wat. You can travel there by road or by air. For most folks, three days at Angkor Wat goes a long way, so something like five days and four nights (arriving late the first day and departing early on the last) would give you a leisurely side trip.
Laos has Luang Prabang as its most famous and obvious destination. There are several other great options in the north of Laos, including Phonsavanh for the Plain of Jars, but given the amount of time you have to spend, I'd recommend keeping it simple and visiting just one location.
An alternative destination in Laos would be Pakse and Champasak (for Wat Phu) in the south. It would fit your timeframe, but the logistics of getting there and back would be a bit more involved.
Logistics is a big consideration, given the distances you'd need to travel and the short amount of time available. Luang Prabang is a natural side trip from northern Thailand, but Siem Reap makes more sense if you are in the greater Bangkok area already. Based on what you wrote above, I suspect Siem Reap and Angkor Wat would be your best choice for a side trip.
Having said that, instead of Angkor Wat, you might also want to consider adding Ayutthaya and Kanchanaburi to your plans instead. Those are closer to Bangkok, and add good ruins (Ayutthaya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and history (Kanchanaburi has the Bridge over the River Kwai museums and allied war cemeteries) to your trip.
I hope that information helps. Have a good trip.

#2 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,831

Posted by Miriamgr on 18/4/2016 at 10:48

I agree with exacto's points. I would recommend Cambodia over Laos if you are short on time. Travel in both countries takes a long time, mostly because of the difficult road conditions, but I have found Laos to be much more exhausting and uncomfortable in terms of bus travel. Also, the historical sites in Cambodia, personally, have been more rewarding to me than those in Laos. Phnom Penh is a must for anyone interested in regional history- the Killing Fields and the S21 Prison are incredible visits (in a terrible way) and really, really well presented . PP also has a music and dance show every night at the national museum which is very good and there is really good and cheap food that is easy to find (including a couple of restaurants that double as NGOs helping disadvantaged youth etc). Siem Reap (Angkor temples) is also a once in a lifetime experience- I spent four days there (took an excellent cooking class to break up the temple sightseeing in the middle) but you could see the highlights in two full days. In between the two, if you have time, I would recommend a stop in Battambang where you can do bike tours of the countryside and see the local circus. It's also home to excellent cooking classes and restaurants, plus has a little night market scene along the river.

Laos has its beautiful areas- I particularly enjoyed Nong Khiaw which was a concentration of outdoorsy activities, natural scenery, and some good food with a chilled out vibe. LPB is great too of course. But I don't think that a short visit to one, two, or even three places in Laos would be worth the hassle of Laos (long bus rides through the mountains, expensive travel, expensive food -relative to Cambodia or Thailand- sanitary conditions etc). In my personal opinion, Laos is a place that is most efficiently seen "all at once" (or at least the North or the South in one chunk) so you can bumble from place to place, taking your time to recover from the long bus rides, and chilling out when you come across a place you really enjoy.

Good luck!

#3 Miriamgr has been a member since 18/4/2016. Posts: 3

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