Hi, i hope that you will please forgive the uneducated questions-- i am sort of behind the 8 ball on planning this one and trying to at least figure out entry and exit points-- we have two weeks (give or take) around christmas -- we will be traveling from NYC via Tokyo (and this is set in stone-- got tickets on miles-- though it doesn't seem like it was a good idea a this point since onward travel is looking insanely expensive! but at any rate...) .SO, I think if we fly into and out of BKK then maybe we can do this a bit more affordably (i could tack on a flight into laos, i think) -- we can fly into BKK (or somewhere in Laos?) on the 22 of december and we need to be back in TOkyo to catch a flight at 6 am on January 6-- it seems from my reading that doing both areas in the north and areas in the south would be inadvisable on this timetable-- so having never been to Laos do we go North? or do we go south?? both seem to offer some really interesting sights!- i would like to have a fairly active (some treks, etc) but also a some relaxation/boat trips..... we are a family of four (kids are teens) and i would really appreciate any advice on potential itineraries -- thank you so much for answering what i am sure is an oft repeated question.
I would avoid Vang Vieng at all costs. It has been totally ruined by party animals but thanks to the Lao government many of the drunken idiots have been tossed out after years of damage to the area and the Lao culture. Yes in that short period of time i would not wander far take it real slow. And please please read the do's and don,ts before you arrive. Forget about most of Thailand as it was ruined years ago by mass tourism. If you enjoy sex tourists and thousand of alcoholics go for it. You will see some of the same bunch in Laos. sorry for the sad news but its the truth. Have lived here for years so know a thing or two about life here. P.S don,t waste your time with the Lonely Planet Forum its a complete joke.
#2 theloner has been a member since 7/10/2013. Posts: 116
If possible, it would be nice to fly directly into and out of Vientiane or Luangprabang, though you may find a cheaper option is to fly into BKK and connect as directly as possible to Laos. With your short time, I'd just do Laos thought.
For a short visit to Laos I'd recommend the North. Easily the highlight of Laos is going to be the cultural experience of Luangprabang, and with a large family you may just want to camp out in that area for 4/5 nights and do day-trips around. Other highlights that would not be too far afield would be taking the boat up to Nong Kiaow and staying there for a night before going on to Mung Ngoi for a couple of days trekking. Finally, if you can make the time, a long bus ride out to Phonsovan for the Plain of Jars is very interesting culturally as there is a confluent of history between the ancient jars and the American bombing campaign during the Vietnam War. If you end up flying in and out of Vientiane, then with just these few options you've got your schedule filled.
In addition to what caseyprich writes above, you might alternatively fly straight up to Chiang Mai for a few days, then do a sweep through northern Laos via Huay Xai, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, and Vientiane. Then go back to Bangkok via sleeper train or flight option. This would give you a more diverse experience than just lingering in northern Laos the whole time.
snip: Edited by Somtam2000
thanks for your input! hmm-- now to think about this a bit more--Captain Bob, did you mean Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai? ALis it possible then to perhaps do the mekong trip backwards and leave (for bkk and then home) from Chiang Rai? so try to fly into LP or Vient. (and make our way north) to LP-- check out Nong kiaow and Mung Noi (is that spelled correctly-- is it Ngoi?) then leave back from LP to Huay Xai and then road trip to Chiang Ria for a night and then fly back to BKk and on to home (via, sigh, tokyo....no offense, i like tokyo well enough, but flying thru there is just messing me up!)
For what it's worth, we have traveled in Thailand before (though more in the south than in the north and never as far north as Chiang Rai-- so it would be cool to see that area) and also in cambodia but never been to Laos-- so this will be a laos only trip. I have heard that VV got sort of nuts..but that it also has some stunning scenery-- skip it? or worth a day?
thanks for any and all input.....I really wish we had more time as i would love to see the south as well (champask/bolaven plateau, 400 islands....)
really appreciate (more than you know!) the feedback.
Yes, that would make for a tidy circuit in either direction without backtracking. The south-north direction is slightly less popular which in my view makes it more attractive. Fly up to Vientiane (see airlines here) then head north to Vang Vieng. Yes it has a bit of a party reputation, but a lot of that was cleared up last year when the government had all the river slides/ziplines/swings/bars torn down, although some of that has returned lately. It's a gorgeous area and a good place to explore by bike, kayak, etc. definitely worth a stopover for a couple days. Then up to Luang Prabang with more stunning scenery en routre up and over the 1400m pass and down again. Time-permitting take a one-day boat up to Nong Khiaw and Muang Ngoi, and/or take a slow boat up to Huay Xai. Cross back to Thailand (border hours 8am-6pm). Plenty of buses from Chiang Khong to Chiang Rai. Note that cheaper Air Asia flights go to Bangkok Don Muang (DMK) not the international airport (BKK) so in that case you would need to transfer between the two airports to fly home, so allow time.
thanks for the heads up on the bangkok airport situation-- would have completely spaced on that-- we may end up doing just that- but would like to get in some trekking in nong kiaow if possible. time is the true limitation here! I hate being beholden to the school calendar!!! but at this stage taking them out of school for several days is not a great idea (at least for my kids...others may handle this just fine!) -- the 'expensive/overnight' boat gets you to the border at 5 (or so it says) --that might be a splurge worth taking? (not just because of the time but the experience? ) but how reliable are the schedules ????
Regardless how much you are paying I would never count on transport in Laos arriving punctually on time, especially if it is imperative to be somewhere at a specific time. Buses, boats, etc. are frequently late - not always, but it does happen often. So if you're booking a flight from Chiang Rai to Bangkok, aim to arrive in Huay Xai at least the day before. The first Air Asia flight ex Chiang Rai is at 11:15am and it's impossible to make that leaving Chiang Khong after crossing the border at 8am opening. You probably don't want to spend the last two days of your trip stressing about if you will make it on time or not. When in doubt allow extra time for Laos travels.
snip: Edited by Somtam2000
as i mention Vang Vieng isn,t worth it but check it out you might enjoy the wild experience. Numerous articles about another paradise lost. LP used to be great again tons of tourists to trip over. Please spend some time reading Dos and Donts before you travel. The Lao have had enough bad experiences with tourists and sadly its starting to show.
#9 theloner has been a member since 7/10/2013. Posts: 116
Thank you captain bob and thank you loner I do think we always take care to understand local and regional customs ,manners and mores and that when traveling we don't leave a bad impression --as an American I am particularly sensitive to this and make sure that my kids understand this too . It is important to respect the places you visit and the people you encounter . I have heard the stories of vv. but have also heard that it is a beautiful area. We will have to weigh the options as this is our first foray into Laos I guess it is kind of necessary to see the beaten track? But maybe not all of it
Thank you Lucy for making that effort sadly few do here. Daily i watch reports on Thai tv and websites about the latest troubles with foreigners in Southeast Asia and its seems to be getting worse every year. It is only a matter of time before the Thai and even Lao government starts cracking down on foreigners because of the trouble they can cause. Giving Americans and Canadians a lot of credit we tend to be much more liked here than many other countries. it tends to be the Euros and many from the middle east and Russia causing problems. Would love to hear a report from Vang Vieng as to how is has improved after the crack down. It was getting really scary there and thanks to the locals who were not after the almighty buck things improved a bit from reports. But i gave up on the place years ago after what i had witnessed there.
#11 theloner has been a member since 7/10/2013. Posts: 116
@theloner - Captain_Bob has been giving extremely useful advice here on Travelfish for over seven years. I've met him and his family and have stayed at his guesthouse (though we don't list it) and I can't think of an occasion where he has promoted his guesthouse on Travelfish unless he's been answering a specific query about it -- if he slipped one through that's my bad.
Here we work under slightly different rules to those at Thorn Tree -- if you haven't seen them, you can read up on them here.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but we ask that all members keep it civil -- if that's too much there is always Throntree ;-)
So, keeping in mind the above, I've edited/deleted a couple of the comments up above and let's try and keep this on track -- if for nobody else, then for lucy!
@Lucy, here's some links that may be useful:
What's going on in VV, Laos & things to do there now that the bars & tubing mostly nuked.
Trekking in Nongkiaow
We've also been very bust revitalising our embarrassingly poor ChiangMai coverage - here's a bucket full of things to do there.
Cheers & more questions. ask!
#12 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,764
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Thank you so much hopefully the harassment will cease.
#13 theloner has been a member since 7/10/2013. Posts: 116
thanks all i really did not mean to start a maelstrom! so aside from a truly horrific travel days (overnight to HND from JFK then a LONG layover at HND to HKG then BKK where we arrive at 16:20 and then backwards at a slightly less relaxed pace...honestly this transit was really planned so poorly-- and really cuts into our time --but oh well....I really cannot complain--We are going back to SE Asia and i am SO HAPPY!!!!!!) So the decision remains as to whether we fly straight into LP or Vientiane (the most expensive option and probably would require an overnight in Bangkok...) or train to the border and make our way to Vientiane or fly straight to Chiang Rai and take the boat-- this, i think is my preferred option but in order to catch the monday (23 of december) boat we would have to make a flight out of Don Muang at 19:55-- and i think that with getting visa on arrival, gathering bags and getting to DMK it may be very, very tight......
if people are allowed to offer their opinions about trekking companies or the various options for accommodation in LP, nong kiaow, etc i would be grateful--have heard green discovery mentioned a fair bit -- do they do a good job?
thank you again for all the great insight and advice.
If i were you with such a short period of time ,i would fly direct to LP.
#15 theloner has been a member since 7/10/2013. Posts: 116
This seems to time out after about ten minutes so i will have to answer one question each time. Forget about the boats going down the Mekong. They tend to be overly packed with tourists and many are drunk. Not fun and dangerous. When i went in 2003 i asked for a second boat otherwise i refused to go because the first boat was over loaded and more than a few were drunk. They drop you off for the night in Pak Meng? which when i went had over priced and dirty guesthouses. They have you trapped for the night so they can ask for any price. Besides at least then the village i would call it was really dirty and there was a dodgy bunch selling drugs hanging around the docks. Just did not feel safe. Might be better now not sure. But with the huge increase in tourists now i would not take the boat but the trip is interesting and beautiful.
#16 theloner has been a member since 7/10/2013. Posts: 116
Sorry that I am a bit late to this. Your time is limited, so I would stick to a few places only. Fly from Bkk to Vientiane with Lao Central Airlines. This is cheaper than the national carrier and is certainly cheaper than Thai. Cap Bob usually gives sensible advice, so I am surprised he does not mention this option. LCA also flies from Souvannaphoum airport, where your international flight will land, so there is no need to head to Don Meaung, which you would need to do with Air Asia. Anyway, Air Asia only flies to Udon Thani, and then you would need to head Lao by bus. LCA flies directly into Wattay in Vientiane.
I would spend a few days in Vientiane and then take the bus or a mini bus to Vang Vieng for a couple of days. The scenery is lovely. Ignore the nonsense that is sometimes posted about Vang Vieng. I drive to VV about 2 times a year with my family, including small kids, for some R&R. The drunken backpacker element is gone now and frankly was always able to be avoided. Those who say otherwise do not know about what they are talking.
After a couple of days in VV take a mini bus to Luang Prabang for about 4 or 5 days. Then head off to Phonsavahn, the Plain of Jars. This is an area well worth while seeing and will take you a couple of days or so. From Phonsavahn, I would fly to Vientiane as the road journey is a bit onerous.
Have a great trip.
Would enjoy hearing Lucy's viewpoint about Vang Vieng. In the meanwhile i will be heading in the opposite direction just in case. I wonder where the yahoos will head next?
#18 theloner has been a member since 7/10/2013. Posts: 116
Personally, OP, I avoid Greend Discovery. Both I and a number of acquaintance have had poor experiences with them. I do know that some other posters do not share my opinion, but I will never use or recommend them again.
I agree with ^^^^ i don,t trust most travel agents or those guide tours. just plain dodgy . do it on your own.
#20 theloner has been a member since 7/10/2013. Posts: 116