With our 4 (teenager) kids we will explore this year Isaan province ( Loei and neighbourhood) but also want to go Laos (vientiane, vang vieng and prabang). We have 3,5 week. Leaving/combing back Bangkok, and preferably also visit Sukhotai and want relaxing couple a days beach/sun. Whats' the best (budget) travel schedule??
Providing the Mekong is running high enough, I'd try to do this in a way that would allow you to take the slow boat from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang. If you were to cross from Thailand into Laos at Chiang Khong , you could consider doing a route such as this ...
1) Bangkok to Phitsanulok by train, then to Sukhothai by bus.
2) Sukhothai (to Phitsanulok) to Chiang Khan via Chiangrai or Phrae or somewhere else along the way ... you can hop from town to town if you like because buses go everywhere. It's easy and a lot more fun than taking big bus trips, and you get to see more. It takes longer, though.
3) Chiang Khong to Huay Xai and then by boat to LP with a stop in Pakbeng.
4) LP to Vang Vieng.
5) VV to Vientiane .
6) Vientiane to Nong Khai .
7) Nong Khai to Sangkhom (with a day or two at Buoy Bungalow).
Sangkhom to Pak Chom to Chiang Khan (from Pak Chom to CK by taxi as there is no, or was no, public transport between the two places. The scenery along this part of the river, though, is outstanding. The alternative is a 3 hour trip south from Pak Chom and then north again to Chiang Khan).
9) South from Chiang Khan to Loei (this is only about an hour by songthaew or bus).
10) Then south to the islands in Trat Province for your beach time.
If the Mekong's water isn't high enough for the boat trip, you can go from Sukhothai to Phitsanulok to Loei, then you can travel up to Chiang Khan and then east along the river to Nong Khai where you can cross into Vientiane and then go north.
If you look at Google Maps or Google Earth, or a road map, you'll see that this route makes sense for what you want to do. It is also a road less traveled with great scenery, great towns, and a very laidback pace, particularly between Chiang Khan and Nong Khai.
Thanks Tilapia for your suggestions;it really make sense! I am a bit worried about Trat (and islands overtheir) because off rainy season (july). What's your experience depending on the weather in july comparing Trat (Chang, Damet, Mak, Kut) to Andaman or Surat Tani area. I would absolutely prefer going to Trat-region because it's a much better match coming from Isaan..
When I typed that info I wasn't aware of when you were going to be there. I think most people who contribute to this site would agree that the islands in Trat province are not ideal at that time of the year. I believe that boats stop running to some of them during the monsoon season.
You could always go to a place along the Gulf coast, such as Ban Saphan Yai, or Prachuap. It would probably take you as long to go down there by bus or train as it would to get to Trat from Bangkok. Or you could try a different island, like Koh Sichang, off Sri Racha. Less rainfall there, as well.