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Trip report - Bangkok, Laos, Cambodia

Posted by syzafar on 12/9/2007 at 04:10

hi, just got back from bangkok, laos, and cambodia. thought i'd post some tips. i skipped the obvious stuff (like going to wat pho) and included what i found useful or interesting.


- if you're taking a taxi into town from the airport, make sure the meter is running. some taxis will attempt to charge you a flat rate of 500 bhat (~USD15) instead of the average meter rate closer to 300 bhat include expressway tolls.
- i took a cooking class at the Blue Elephant. if you have the time (half day), it's really worth it. they take you to the market, teach you how to make 4 dishes, then you make your own. your eat your lunch in the very nice restaurant where the school is based. less expensive schools are also available. just google bangkok cooking school
- if you have any medical inclination, you might want to check out the forensic pathology museum at the Siriraj Hospital. this museum holds a fascinating, if not gory, collection of mutilated body parts, blood-stained clothing, and mummified serial killers. I also stumbled upon the less-advertised prehistory museum at Siriraj, where I spoke to the archeologist who made most of the finds in the museum (really just a big room with dusty tables). to get to siriraj, take the Chao Phraya ferry to the Tha Rot Fai pier (also called Tha Bangkok Noi pier) on the western side of the river. Exit and walk due west, then walk left into the hospital grounds, and follow the signs to the Adulyadej building.
- for the full bangkok market experience, hit Chatuchak (also called JJ market) on the weekend. frequented by both tourists and locals for everything from clothes hangers to rabbits to wall hangings. the suan lum night market has better quality stuff, i think, at least in terms of touristy stuff and cool tshirts. unless you're looking to spend the night with a depressed-looking pole dancer, skip patpong night market and its strip clubs all together. this is purely a tourist trap for goods like overpriced fake watches and singha beer shirts.
- if you're looking for a more local, neighborhood market, bangrak market might be for you. it's a small meat/produce market during the day that turns into a clothing/dvd market at night. bangrak market is located behind the robinson's department store near the Shangrila hotel and Saphin Taksin skytrain stop.
- for a big splurge, consider a thai massage at the peninsula hotel. it'll run about USD110, but it's really an amazing experience. of course, you could also get a less frou-frou thai massage just about anywhere else for just a few bucks.
- EAT THE STREET FOOD. enough said.
- if you still refuse to eat street food, then try the food courts at the gi-normous MBK shopping plaza. afterwards, stop by the fourth floor to get lost in the maze of mobile phone, DVD, and camera vendors.
- down the street, the opulent siam paragon is worth a visit if you have time. nothing really thai about it though, as most of the stores are the likes of chanel, ferragamo, etc...across the street from siam paragon is siam square with cool clothing shops and food stalls.
- don't use bangkok as just a transit stop. it's an amazing city with a lot to offer!

Luang Prabang, Laos:

- this town clearly lived up to all the hype. One of our favorite spots during our trip. Still, 3 days should be enough.
- we stayed at Thongbay guesthouse about 5 minutes by tuk-tuk out of town. They rent bicycles for a nice ride into town. This place was fantastic. We had a thatched-roof hut with a veranda overlooking the river. breakfast was served on our veranda every morning. In the morning we could hear the bells from the wats all around town. the people running thongbay are wonderful, as well. can't say enough nice things about this guesthouse. it costs about $22/night.
- the top of phousey mountain is a nice (though crowded) place to watch the sunset. get there early to find a seat and an unobstructed view. even on rainy days, the sky clears just enough for a dramatic sunset.
- in terms of food, head for the road along the mekong and find yourself some lao BBQ -- this is the stuf fyou cook yourself at the table. lots of fun and pretty tasty. there's another one that LP recommends that is also pretty good.
- the Pak Ou caves were somewhat of a disappointment, or rather, would have been had we payed more than USD5 to get there. the boat ride is very pretty, and the hundreds of old buddahs are quite photogenic. overall, if you need to cut something off the list, this is it.
- we did a trek to the Kuang Si waterfalls. we hired a guide from green discovery (which was less expensive than Tiger Trails). we started in a hmong village, hiked through rice fields, then through the jungle, ending up at the falls. we didn't really see a soul until we hit the falls, which were packed with swimmers. the trek took about 3.5 hours and was pretty rigorous, but definitely worth it. could just hire a tuktuk and ride to the falls for a few bucks. no need to book either pak ou or the falls until the night before you want to go -- plenty of tour companies or tuktuks to take you.
- waking early (6am) to watch the monks walk through town for alms is worth it. once a month (i think) there's a special ceremony for the novice monks where the townspeople turn up at the local wats to give alms. ask in advance when the novice monk ceremony is, and try to wake up for it. really nice ceremony.
- enjoyed the lao massage -- not much as at all for a 90min massage. we tried a few different places in town, and all were great.
- we spent 4 days in luang prabang, but i think 3 is probably enough for those with less time.

Siem Reap, Cambodia:

- the town itself is a tourist trap. the road from the airport is lined with monsterous, new hotels designed to hold hundreds of tour groups that swarm in each day. would not recommend staying at any of these places.
- we stayed at Borann guesthouse. Nicely decorated rooms, private sitting areas, great pool, quick breakfasts. Always-helpful staff. It's on the other side of the river from the main tourist area in the Wat Bo neighborhood. about a 5min walk to FCC, for example. Definitely recommend, though it's on the expensive side for what's available.
- definitely recommend getting a guide for angkor wat, angor thom, and ta prohm. they cost USD25 not including a car/tuktuk, but it was definitely worth it. our guide was panya thin ( and he was absolutely great -- much better than the other guides we came across. he is an MBA student. he's officially trained as a guide but also got additional instruction from an uncle who was also a guide.
- we also spent a day going to beng mealea (which is more overgrown by jungle than ta prohm), kbal spean (a carved riverbed found after a 45min trek through jungle), and bantey srei. these were also worth it, though it can cost a lot to get out there by car (too far for tuktuk). at beng melea we hired a local guy for a couple bucks to guide us through the temple. without him, i dont think we would have been able to find our way to all the hidden caverns, over walls, etc...
- one of the coolest, non-temple experiences we had in siem reap was at the childrens' hospital. Dr. Beat Richter is a swiss MD who has built 4 hospitals in cambodia, one of them beign in siem reap. every saturday he holds a free cello concert in the hospital auditorium and talks about his program. in addition, a documentary featuring him is played for free mon-thurs (i think). well worth it.
- a day trip to the floating village might be worth it, but only if you aren't taking a boat out of siem reap (to battambang or phnom penh) as your boat will go through it anyway.

Phnom Penh:

- if you're coming down from siem reap, consider taking the bus (USD4) instead of the boat (USD20). specially in the rainy season!
- we stayed at the pavillion guest house ( we really enjoyed this place. amazingly decorated, good location (near great restaurants and sights), friendly staff.
- in town shouldnt have to pay more than $1 for a tuk-tuk ride anywhere in town (more to the airport). less for motos
- the much-touted national museum was somewhat of a let-down after seeing angkor. but worth it if you have the time
- visit Friends restaurant or their new side project, Romdeng. This is a really wonderful program meant to train and employ homeless youth in the restaurant industry. plus, the food is great!

Kampot, Cambodia:

- stayed at little garden guesthouse. the rooms were fine--pretty standard and functional, but nothing to write home about. well worth the price. the best part of this guesthouse is the restaurant, by far. had a great dinner there.
- rode in the back of a pick-up truck to the hill station in bokor. this was a great trip despite the rain and the fog. it's a hard, long ride up the bumpy "trail," but i'd do it again. the views from the top are great if there's limited fog. we took a boat ride back down the river which was very peaceful. the boat broke down in the middle of the river, which resulted in us hanging out at a villager's house while the boat got fixed. the people we met were so friendly -- and representative of everyone we met on the trip.

Hope this helps. Thanks to all of you for the tips prior to my trip...

#1 syzafar has been a member since 18/3/2007. Posts: 11

Posted by somtam2000 on 12/9/2007 at 08:42 admin

Thanks for the great trip report -- much appreciated!

#2 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,943
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Posted by dharmakaya on 12/5/2008 at 14:26

Great report, just skimmed through it but going to save it as a document and go through it when I find the time.

Thanks for sharing !!

#3 dharmakaya has been a member since 12/5/2008. Posts: 16

Posted by daawgon on 27/5/2008 at 01:06

Your tips for Luang Prabang are much appreciated. I think I'll book that same guesthouse.

#4 daawgon has been a member since 17/4/2007. Posts: 1,152
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Posted by dseckel on 29/5/2008 at 22:07

Planning 2-3 weeks in September in Thailand, with a 5-6 day either Laos (Luang Prabang + either Vang Vieng or gibbonX) or Cambodia (Angor Wat / Siem Riep / Phnom Penh) – no time to do both.

Anything opinion / advice in choosing between the tourist trail in Laos vs. the tourist trail in Cambodia?

#5 dseckel has been a member since 21/5/2008. Posts: 9

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