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Please help me plan a month in Cambodia and Laos

Please help me plan a month in Cambodia and Laos

Old Jan 3rd, 2020, 11:40 PM
  #1  
kja
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Join Date: Dec 2006
Posts: 22,431
Please help me plan a month in Cambodia and Laos

Warning: LONG post ahead!!!

Iím planning a trip of about a month to Cambodia and Laos for this coming May, and I can definitely use some help! Although Iíve begun my research, I would like to take advantage of your expertise by getting your input sooner, rather than later.

(BTW, many thanks to all of you who have posted trip reports or contributed to planning threads over the last few years Ė Iíve found them extremely useful! If Iíve missed your trip report, please link it in. )

Time frame: Iím likely to spend about 30 or so days starting in May and extending, as necessary (depending on exact times) into the beginning of June. I could start a bit earlier, in April, if that would be better. I understand that there are some disadvantages to traveling to these areas at this time of year, but hope that the advantages balance them out. Thanks again for the input already provided about this timing:
Cambodia in May?


About me, my interests, and preferences:
  • Iím a woman with reasonably extensive experience as a solo, independent traveler.
  • I've been to parts of Asia (Japan, northern China, South Korea, Singapore, Java, and Bali), but I've never been to southeast Asia before.
  • Wherever I go, I seek to maximize the diversity of my experiences -- cities and towns, different styles of art and architecture, varied natural scenery, etcÖ.
  • I typically enjoy art, architecture, religious sanctuaries, parks and gardens, natural scenery, museums, markets (for their atmosphere, not for shopping), picturesque villages, folk traditions and performing arts, the chance to see and experience other parts of the world, and delicious foods Ė just to mention a few of my favorite things.
  • Even with days and days and days of visits to ruins, temples, churches, or museums, I have never, ever, reached a no-more! point -- instead, I love finding and appreciating the differences between seemingly similar things. As a result, I canít imagine becoming ďtempled out."
  • The one thing that most strongly draws me to this region is a longstanding desire to visit the temples of Angkor.
    • Other long-term inspirations include an interest in the cultures and people of the area, a wish to pay homage to the victims of the Khmer Rouge, a fascination with Luang Prabang, and a desire to see the karst landscapes and meandering Mekong River.
    • Iím a UNESCO World Heritage Site junkie (even though I know the designation is not without problems).
    • Iíve learned a lot while researching this trip, and my wish list is now MUCH longer! Once I began reading, I found more than enough sites of interest to keep me busy for a year Ė which I donít have. If I've omitted something you think I should add back in, please say so!
  • I will try to learn at least some Khmer before the trip. I donít expect to succeed. Iíll also try to learn at least a few basic civilities in Lao.
  • Iím not a ďbudget traveler,Ē but my funds are limited, so Iíll happily indulge in an occasional splurge, while making plans with an eye to cost. Iíll definitely consider paying for cars & drivers when the savings in time will be substantial in comparison to the ďcostĒ in time for less expensive public transportation.
  • I am not:
    • a beach person (but will want at least one sunset walk on a beach in / near Kep);
    • interested in clubbing or nightlife;
    • looking to relax -- Iím sure Iíll find time for that over meals. Instead, I want to take full advantage of every available moment to see and do things I canít do anywhere else. And I travel HARD Ė up and out after breakfast with no breaks, as a rule, until there is literally nothing else that I can see or do that day. Then I linger over dinner and take a last long walk before turning in. (No criticism intended of other travel styles Ė Iím just describing mine.)
  • I think of an itinerary as a guideline, not a checklist or set of rules.

First attempt at an itinerary:
  • Fly from the eastern U.S. to Luang Prabang; 3 nights
    • (Iím counting these nights from my actual arrival, so allowing at least 2 full days here.)
    • Recover from jet lag, explore the city, visit Kuang Si Falls
  • LONG bus ride (5í?) to Vang Vieng (mostly for the scenery); 1 or 2 nights
  • LONG-ish bus ride (4í?) to Vientiane; 1 or 2 nights
  • Fly? to Pakse, primarily to see Wat Phu; 2 nights
  • LONG-ish bus ride (4í?) to Si Phan Don (mostly for the scenery); 2 nights
  • Transport across the border to Kratie; 2 nights
    • If water levels are high enough, I think I would like to make this trip by boat Ė and I think I can arrange that from Si Phan Don? As an alternative, I think there is a bus or minibus?
    • This plan allocates a day to reach Kratie from Si Phan Don, leaving 1 day for Kratie, where my priority is to see the dolphins (if I can)∑
  • Another LONG - really long! - bus ride (7 or 8í ?) to Phnom Penh, 3 nights
  • A bus ride (at 3í, it will might seem quite bearable!) to Kampot / Kep for 3 nights
  • A LONG (9í?) day of travel, through Phnom Penh, to Battambang, 3 nights
  • A delightfully short (3.5í?) bus to Siem Reap for 10 nights, to include:
    • At least 5 days for the temples of Angkor (to include outlying temples, such as Banteay Srei, among others)
    • A day trip to Kampong Thom to see Sambor Prei Kuk (I think it could be as much as 4 hours each way Ė argh! What are my best options?)
    • A day trip to Preah Viherar (I think it could be as much as 3.25 hours each way Ė argh! What are my best options?)
    • A day for Tonle Sap plus
    • A day for Siem Reap and to shop for family & friends
  • Return flight

Questions: I will have more, but for now:

1. How to better arrange, adjust, tweak, drastically reconsider, or otherwise modify this initial itinerary?

1a. I think I would like to begin in Luang Prabang if I can (it sounds like a pleasant place to recover from jet lag) and to end in Siem Reap (not only because I think of the temples of Angkor as the high point of this trip, but also because I expect to buy all the gifts I give to family and friends in that city). That said, Iím not averse to considering alternative routings if there are benefits to doing so.

1b. Many of the travel times Iíve identified seem daunting. Any suggestions for a more efficient routing will be much appreciated!

1c. Iíve opted to skip Laosís Plane of Jars (too far for too little to see under conditions too precarious), even though I love seeing archeological sites of this sort. Does anyone care to convince me to include it?

1d. Are there better ways to incorporate Sambor Prie Kuk and Prehah Vihear in my plan?

2. Are there better ways to fit this (or a similar) itinerary around the likely shift from dry to wet season?

2a. Just a reminder: Iíd like to start in Luang Prabang and end in Siem Reap. I think that would give me the greatest chance, for this time of year, of seeing water in the moats of the Angkor temples? Again, Iíll reconsider if it makes most senset to do so.

2b. I think the rainy season begins earlier in Laos? And therefore that there is a chance that some of the waterfalls in Laos wonít be just dribbles and that transport along waterways is possible?
i. Can I assume that there will be at least some water falling at the Kuang Si Falls, even if the dry season lasts longer than usual?
ii. Am I likely to find a way to travel by water from Si Phan Don to Kratie at that time of year?

2c. Iíve read inconsistent remarks about seeing Cambodiaís floating villages around the time of the transition from the dry to the rainy season Ė some say it isnít worth trying to see these villages at the end of the dry season, when there may be no water; others say itís a wonderful time to see them, as one can see how much the water matters.
i. Thoughts?
ii. As a corollary: Should I consider visiting Kompong Chhnang rather than the villages of Tonle Sap?

3. Transportation options

3a. I believe there are night buses along some of the routes Iím considering Ė should I consider taking them rather than daytime options?

3a.i. Are there views that I wouldnít want to miss by traveling at night?
3a.ii. Are the night buses safe (meaning both road safety and safety for solo women travelers)?
3a.iii. Are there specific bus companies that I should, or should not, consider?

3b. I believe several airlines provide options for flying from Vientiane to Pakse Ė are there options that you recommend, or conversely, that you would suggest I might consider avoiding?

4. Holidays: How might the following holidays impact my trip, for better or worse?
4a. King Sihamoni's Birthday (May 13 - 15)
4b. Visak Bochea (May 18)
4c. National Day of Remembrance (May 20)
4d. Royal Ploughing Ceremony (May 22)
4e. International Chidren's Day (June 1)

5. Looks like travelfish might be a useful resource Ė thoughts?

Many, many thanks in advance for any and all comments!
kja is offline  
Old Jan 4th, 2020, 09:39 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 33,053
You are planning a wonderful trip! As you probably know, I always recommend Dawn Rooney's book, Angkor: A Guide to Cambodia's Wondrous Temples for those headed to Siem Reap. I read Stalking the Elephants Kings before going to Luang Prabang, and I felt like I should know all of the townspeople I encountered.

We did not use guides at Angkor, but used Dawn Rooney's book instead. Our drivers were invaluable in getting us to temples that were not overrun - I expect that is harder now than it was in 2001.

Have a fabulous time!
Kathie is offline  
Old Jan 4th, 2020, 10:04 AM
  #3  
 
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 7,785
1. How to better arrange, adjust, tweak, drastically reconsider, or otherwise modify this initial itinerary? I favour a drastic reconsideration. I have done a very similar trip albeit quite some years ago and can appreciate why you have set out this route but I do think it could be improved. although my interests would be different from yours. I prefer the far north of Laos for its incredible scenery and minority peoples village and would maybe include a loop from LP visiting Muang Sing, Luang Namtha, Phongsali and some smaller villages etc. Was Phu will only take a couple of hours and can be incorporated in the journey from Pakse to Si Phan Don. I would also highly recommend a foray into the Bolavens Plateau along that route. Pakse is no great shakes and is really only a staging post.


1a. I think I would like to begin in Luang Prabang if I can (it sounds like a pleasant place to recover from jet lag) and to end in Siem Reap (not only because I think of the temples of Angkor as the high point of this trip, but also because I expect to buy all the gifts I give to family and friends in that city). That said, I’m not averse to considering alternative routings if there are benefits to doing so.

There are no direct flights to LP but Emirates do fly into Phnom Penh which might be more convenient. Flights into LP always seem v. expensive. many more options to PP and SR

1b. Many of the travel times I’ve identified seem daunting. Any suggestions for a more efficient routing will be much appreciated! Travel in both Laos and Cambodia is indeed daunting. The trip from Si Phan Don to Kratie was the second most convoluted trip I have ever taken. don’t expect to get on a boat or bus and travel form one to the other. I think I used three boats and three buses and took an entire day. In some cases, opting for a car plus driver rather than buses can be a worthwhile investment.

1c. I’ve opted to skip Laos’s Plane of Jars (too far for too little to see under conditions too precarious), even though I love seeing archeological sites of this sort. Does anyone care to convince me to include it? A good move, a log way to go and, IMO, it isn’t that impressive.

1d. Are there better ways to incorporate Sambor Prie Kuk and Prehah Vihear in my plan? Probably not. No Koh Ker?
2. Are there better ways to fit this (or a similar) itinerary around the likely shift from dry to wet season? It is increasing difficult to predict the monsoons in the region and I don’t think it is really going to make that much difference. The only thing I would mention is that the burning season can sometimes extend to late April and tends to affect Lao more than Cambodia. We had to leave LP one year in April because the air quality was so bad. it shouldn’t however extend into May

2a. Just a reminder: I’d like to start in Luang Prabang and end in Siem Reap. I think that would give me the greatest chance, for this time of year, of seeing water in the moats of the Angkor temples? Again, I’ll reconsider if it makes most senset to do so. It may well do. I just looked at my photos from previous visits in Jan and April and the moats were full both times

2b. I think the rainy season begins earlier in Laos? And therefore that there is a chance that some of the waterfalls in Laos won’t be just dribbles and that transport along waterways is possible? The best waterfalls I saw were in the Bolavens Plateau. Kuang Si tend to be blue water in the dry season with the risk of an unimpressive flow. in the rainy season the increased flow is more impressive but teh water can be a muddy brown.
i. Can I assume that there will be at least some water falling at the Kuang Si Falls, even if the dry season lasts longer than usual? With the Chinese building dams all along the Mekong, I don’t think you can assume anything. t
ii. Am I likely to find a way to travel by water from Si Phan Don to Kratie at that time of year? ​​​​​​​See my previous comments

2c. I’ve read inconsistent remarks about seeing Cambodia’s floating villages around the time of the transition from the dry to the rainy season – some say it isn’t worth trying to see these villages at the end of the dry season, when there may be no water; others say it’s a wonderful time to see them, as one can see how much the water matters.
i. Thoughts? I visited couple of times during the dry season. the first time was the village close to SR which fine but is now I believe overrun with tour groups. Better to get further away to experience something a little more unspoiled.
ii. As a corollary: Should I consider visiting Kompong Chhnang rather than the villages of Tonle Sap? If you can work it into your itinerary yes.

3. Transportation options

3a. I believe there are night buses along some of the routes I’m considering – should I consider taking them rather than daytime options? You couldn’t pay me to take a night bus in either Cambodia or Laos!

3a.i. Are there views that I wouldn’t want to miss by traveling at night? See above
3a.ii. Are the night buses safe (meaning both road safety and safety for solo women travelers)? I don’t think solo women travellers faces anymore issues in SEA than other travellers. Drivers in both countries have a habit of speeding (both road speed and amphetamines) especially at night. This, combined with appalling driving standards and livestock in the roads lead to a high incidence of RTAs. Buses between LP and Vang Vieng used to have a reputation for armed holdups but I think this is now resolved.
3a.iii. Are there specific bus companies that I should, or should not, consider? Giant Ibis in Cambodia have good reputation and I used Mekong Express a few times and they were very good. Go for the best and biggest you can. the backpacker minibuses are truly dire.

3b. I believe several airlines provide options for flying from Vientiane to Pakse – are there options that you recommend, or conversely, that you would suggest I might consider avoiding?

4. Holidays: How might the following holidays impact my trip, for better or worse? I doubt these will have any effect one way or another but teh Royal Ploughing Ceremony is suppose to be fun.
4a. King Sihamoni's Birthday (May 13 - 15)
4b. Visak Bochea (May 18)
4c. National Day of Remembrance (May 20)
4d. Royal Ploughing Ceremony (May 22)
4e. International Chidren's Day (June 1)
5. Looks like travelfish might be a useful resource – thoughts? The best and most current resource. it may be worth paying for the annual memberships which provides significantly greater resources.
crellston is offline  
Old Jan 4th, 2020, 10:38 AM
  #4  
 
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 7,785
A few additional thoughts on your itinerary:

1. I would think again about travelling from Kampot to Battambang. It is a hell of a journey in one day. Maybe spend an extra night in PP en route. there is apparently now a train between PP and Kampot operating on certain days of the week which would be fun. I would stay in Kampot for the entire time and just visit Kep as a day trip by tut tuk. some nice spots to visit along the way - see the 3rd oct on our blog @ https://accidentalnomads.com/category/cambodia/

2. I know you are a temple junkie but even so, I do think 10 days is a long time for Siem Reap. You "travel HARD” so you should be able to cover much of what is on your list in less time than most. Many suggest 3-5 days for Angkor's temples but most will do this by visiting in the early morning and late afternoon, adjourning to the cool of their hotels for lunch and a siesta. I you are not going to that you can see more in less time. You just need to find a guide and driver that can keep up with your pace! Indeed the key to a successful visit is to source a great guide and driver. Some are much better than others. our last one just repeated everything she had learned at guide training school by rote.After a while it became more than a little tedious. The general principle is that you hire them by the day and they are at your disposal for the entire day at a fixed rate. There may be additional charges for outlying temples.

3. If you do decide to include far northern Laos, I would probably suggest going with a guide and driver.

4. I would want an extra night in Kampot. There is a lot to see and with just two full days, I don’t think you will do it justice.

5. The same with PP, although I would definitely add a night there en route from Kampot to Battamabang. It is two hours and $40 by car and even an extra half day there would allow you time for some of the other less visited sites. Again, in PP, I would hire a tuk tuk driver by the day to take you around. The Mekong Express minibus is a pretty good way to get to Battambang.
crellston is offline  
Old Jan 4th, 2020, 12:39 PM
  #5  
kja
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Join Date: Dec 2006
Posts: 22,431
@ Kathie: On your recommendation, I bought Dawn Rooney's book as soon as I started thinking about a visit to Cambodia and just now, upon reading your post, I ordered a copy of Christopher Kremmer's book. It's helpful to know that you didn't feel the need for a guide at Angkor. I might hire one just for a day or so if I think it will substantially enhance my experience. I have full confidence that I'm going to love my time there, whether with a guide or not.

...

@ crellston: OMG, what a wealth of information! You've given me a LOT to think about -- and that's exactly what I wanted at this point in my planning.

As I understand it, the most substantial changes you are suggesting to my proposed itinerary would involve adding time to northern Laos and the Bolavens Plateau, taking the time from what I proposed for Siem Reap (with a few tweaks to timing in other locations). Is that a fair summation? I will definitely look into that -- I had thought I would enjoy the minority villages and scenery, but didn't think I'd have time. Can I assume from your comment about a car & driver for the northern Laotian villages that you are describing a day-trip option, or were you thinking of hiring someone for a multi-day trip? BTW, you raise a good point about my time at the Angkor temples -- as long as I can find drivers who realize that I will not want a midday break, I should be able to fit more into each day that some might. I haven't reached out to them yet, but I think you previously recommended working with 7 Candles to arrange drivers? I'd be willing to pay a bit more to support a worthy cause, assuming their recommendations would be good ones.

Stopping at Wat Phu en route makes a lot of sense -- if I have a safe place for my suitcase while there. Or is that another trip you think best accomplished with hired car & driver?

I've read your references to that convoluted trip from Si Phan Don to Kratie, and it definitely gave me pause -- but also assured me that it would, in fact, be possible. That said, I certainly don't relish a trip as complicated as the one you took, so hiring a car and driver would definitely make sense for that leg. Do you think I could hire someone who could take me the entire way, or would I have to get to the border in one vehicle and then change to another after crossing?

Koh Ker is definitely part of my plan as a day trip from Siem Reap; I just forgot to mention it by name.

I'm so glad you saw water in the moats at Angkor in April! But good point about the impact of dams on the waterways. And I appreciate your thoughts on the floating villages -- sounds like I have some options, despite the time of year.

As for transportation, note taken: No night buses! And when possible during the day, Giant Ibis or Mekong Express.

I'm glad to know that travelfish is as good as I've read. I'll join this weekend.

I didn't identify a way to get from Kampot to Battambang without going through Phnom Penh, so I think my options would be to stop there for a night, as you suggest, or just bite the bullet and go on through, and I think I'll make my choice based on how easy or hard the connections seem. (Perhaps I should say: how hard vs. nearly impossible? Almost none of my connections seem easy!)

Although I realize I can visit Kep from Kampot, I love crab and don't eat lunch, so am thinking I might want a night in Kep. And I think that would be the only place where I'd actually be on the sea, rather than on a river. Fortunately, I don't mind relocating with frequency when it suits my purposes.

So many options! So much to see and experience! Many, many thanks for taking the time to share your insights.
kja is offline  
Old Jan 4th, 2020, 01:41 PM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Jul 2013
Posts: 1,448
I haven’t much to add, except we did manage Battambang to Kampot in one rather long day without going through PP. it was a 2 hour drive to SR, short flight to Sihonoukville, then 1 hour drive to Kampot. I highly recommend taking a boat from Kampot to Kep.
I spent a lot of time planning more extensive travels in Laos, in the end I gave up knowing that we don’t handle bus rides of more than a few hours. Good luck and I’ll be interested to read your report.
sartoric is offline  
Old Jan 4th, 2020, 05:45 PM
  #7  
 
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 10,349
I have nothing to add, you're getting great advice. I will look forward to your TR as we toy with the idea of doing a similar, slower paced, of course, trip.�� Happy planning!
yestravel is offline  
Old Jan 4th, 2020, 06:52 PM
  #8  
kja
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@ sartoric: That's an interesting option for getting between Battambang and Kampot -- thanks! And I'll definitely aim for a boat from Kampot to Kep.

@ yestravel: I am getting some great advice, aren't I? I'm lucky to travel at all, let alone to do so with the benefit of experienced travelers like Kathie, crellson, sartoric, and (of course) you and gottravel.
kja is offline  
Old Jan 4th, 2020, 08:23 PM
  #9  
 
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I have only been to four of the cities you have mentioned, so I thought I could help a bit by giving you some insight into each of those:

1. Vientiane - I am glad you are visiting there. I was there for two nights, which encompassed 1 1/2 days of sightseeing. The city is a nice mix of traditional and a little trendy. There were not too many tourists there. I especially liked the riverfront area. On both nights I was there, I participated in a fun aerobics class right on the waterfront. The ladies all wear the same color workout clothes depending on the day of the week. There was also some sort of performance center, but I missed going. I know you like performing arts, so check it out. Oh, that's right, there was a land mine museum that was interesting, but sad.

2. Luang Pragang - There have been debates here about its merits. I was there in 2012, and I found it to be way too touristy for my tastes. I was there for four nights, which was a big mistake. I saw the whole town in one long day, and after that, I took a ferry across the river to see the temples and caves over there. On another day, I walked to the newer part of town where few tourists were. I also took a day trip with an agency to the waterfall, with a hike included. I enjoyed it.

3. Battambang - I mentioned to you in your previous post what I did there. I am going to remind you to plan your days so that you can see the circus there. Regarding taking a bus to Siem Reap, I would like to suggest a private car, which is what I did. I think it cost about $30, and took three hours or so. I met some people that were taking the boat, which sounded fun. I believe that it's a much shorter ride one way than the other, but I cannot remember which way the current goes.

4. Angkor Watt - That's quite a bit of time there. The crowds in the middle of the day are so bad, mostly tour groups. I recommend getting out early to see the sunrise, and then doing quite a bit of temple hopping until the crowds come out. Then, I would start again in the late afternoon and see the sunset.

I am already looking forward to reading your trip report next summer. I don't drink much, but this will require some sort of drink with an little umbrella in it while I read.
CaliforniaLady is offline  
Old Jan 4th, 2020, 08:26 PM
  #10  
 
Join Date: Nov 2009
Posts: 970
And yes, I used Travelfish extensively in my planning. I wish they covered more places.
CaliforniaLady is offline  
Old Jan 4th, 2020, 10:11 PM
  #11  
kja
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Join Date: Dec 2006
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@ CaliforniaLady: Thanks for sharing your perspectives!

I'm glad to know that you have positive things to say about Vientiane. As I read through trip reports and planning threads, I was surprised by an impression that not many Fodorites like it. Even so, I want to see it for exactly the kinds of things you mention. (Those aerobics classes sound fun! I love that you joined in. ) I will definitely check out it's performing arts, which would provide a nice reprieve after the land mine museum.

I am aware the Luang Prabang has been overrun by tourists in recent years, but again, I want to see it! I'm hoping that it will be a little less crowded in May than at other times. My current plan would, I think, give me a relatively relaxed day for the town and a day for the Kuang Si Waterfalls (probably the ones you visited), and maybe a bit of the area across the river; I thought it might be a good place to recover from jet lag and begin to acclimate to the region.

The circus in Battambang has been on my "must-see" list since you mentioned it -- it sounds like something I'm really going to enjoy. I'll consider hiring a car and driver to get to Siem Reap, but if the water is high enough that boats are running, that'll probably be my choice.

Timing for Angkor Wat will be a challenge, I'm sure! I've definitely heard the wisdom you are sharing -- go early and late. But I've heard that most tourists leave during the lunch hour, so if one can bear the heat, it sounds like that can be a reasonable option -- particularly for someone like me, because I don't eat a midday meal. For at least some days, I'll probably aim to be at a temple when it opens, leave for a different temple when the mobs arrive, visiting that one during the midday "break" and then move on to a third when the masses return, and spend the rest of the day there. But I have a lot of research to do to plan out some options, and hope to be flexible enough to take the advice of a knowledgeable driver.

Thanks again for commenting, for endorsing travelfish, and for your kind words. If a drink with a little umbrella is in our future, better you than me! (I read that Laos is one of the few parts of Asia where one can get decent wine. Bonus!)
kja is offline  
Old Jan 4th, 2020, 10:36 PM
  #12  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 12,592
Two things to think about; the flight from Siem Reap to Snookyville is often cancelled. Fine if you are in SR and flexible, not so nice if you have fixed plans.

The boats between Battambang and SR are very unpredictable. I went from SR to B'bang at a time when the waters were medium high. It took about 5 hours, and while very interesting, was pretty uncomfortable, you either sit on top the boat and fry in the sun, or sit on the narrow- and very closely packed- church pew type benches. I'm 5'7" with average length legs and had to sit at an angle the whole way. Take a cushion if you do this!
Another Fodorite took the boat when the waters were very high. Their driver got lost, since all the landmarks were under water. It took them over 12 hours. Quite an adventure, but really uncomfortable, especially since there is no where to get more food or water!

We opted for a bus on our return. WE left at noon, then about one hour into the trip, we were told to get off the bus and everybody sat on the side of the road for an hour. We were then transferred to PACKED mini-busses for about an hour, and had no idea why. After we passed through some flooded roads, (the heavy buses might have collapsed the roads we were finally told) and we got back on a big bus and did the remainder of the trip in the dark. We had a couple of scares when motorbikes or animals jumped into our path. I am never a fan of night buses, and even with a full dose of Ativan, this was a nail biter.
lcuy is offline  
Old Jan 4th, 2020, 10:56 PM
  #13  
kja
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@ lcuy: OMG! I'm glad you survived these experiences, but they don't sound like ones that become good stories with the passage of time. I admit that these are not the kind of stories I want to hear. They are, however, the ones I need to hear -- so thank you for telling me! Do you think hotel staff be able to tell me, on any given day, which mode of transport would be wisest in light of current conditions?

BTW, "Snookyville" made me laugh.
kja is offline  
Old Jan 5th, 2020, 12:31 AM
  #14  
 
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 7,785
Re getting a car and driver or a tour. In both Laos and Cambodia this can be a very viable and convenient alternative. It can save a lot of time and will get you to places that would otherwise be very difficult to do by public transport. There are agencies in all the major towns who will be more than willing to help - at a price! It may be better to speak with your Guesthouses to arrange . In both countries, negotiation is the name of the game.

Re Battambang to SR, I really would not bother with the boats. They are uncomfortable, crowded and have been known to capsize. As you are travelling solo, the bus will be the best bet in terms of cost as long as the schedules work for you. If not a car and driver will provide door to door service ( but most guesthouses will pick you up from bus stations for free).

Re the revision of your itinerary. Yes, I would definitely add in the far north and Bolavens. But that is based on my interests not yours - I am less of a temple junkie than are you. Both places would be better done with a guide, especially the villages far north where few villagers speak Lao and to communicate you need someone who speaks the many different dialect.

Just an observation but I am not sure I would go all the way down to the coast to come back to SR at the end.

if it were me I could be considering whether crossing the border via Stung Treng/ SI Phan Don is actually worth the effort in a month long trip. An alternative would be to effectively treat this as two separate trips, a couple of weeks in Lao and a similar amount of time in Cambodia.

I assume you will be flying in from the US? If so, to where? Apart from Emirates to Phnom Penh via Dubai, I can’t think of any direct flights into either PP or LP so you would likely have to route through one of the major hubs like Bangkok, KL or SIngapore and get a regional airline maybe flying into LP and out of PP or VV. This would likely have an influence on your itinerary. Maybe fly into LP for a couple of days, a weeks loop north and then to Vientiane via Vang Vieng, a flight to Pakse for Bolavens and Wat Phu and then fly to PP. From PP to Kampot, back to PP and then up to Battambang for a few days before ending you trip in SR. I know you said you were keen to visit Kratie for the dolphins but the chances of seeing them are slim and, when you do, it will likely be only a fleeting glance. That is a long hard couple of days of travelling!

Anyway, sorry If this is a bit of a brain dump, I just wanted to respond before we head off to Japan and I need to pack!
crellston is offline  
Old Jan 5th, 2020, 05:32 AM
  #15  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
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Hi kja - so glad to see you are planning this trip. You say 'this coming May' so that means May 2020? If so that is great for me as I will benefit not only from your planning threads but from your trip report. I'm planning on a trip winter of 2021 - just about a year from now. You are much more adventurous than I am so I'm not planning as many rural areas as you (plus in the same amount of time I want to see some of Vietnam, and possibly Thailand) but I do plan time in both Luang Prabang and Siem Reap. I've seen in some trip reports people went to both an elephant sanctuary and a bear sanctuary close to Luang Prabang. Are you planning on either of those?

Anyway, have fun planning, I'll be following along.
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Old Jan 5th, 2020, 07:02 AM
  #16  
 
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"Timing for Angkor Wat will be a challenge, I'm sure! I've definitely heard the wisdom you are sharing -- go early and late. But I've heard that most tourists leave during the lunch hour, so if one can bear the heat, it sounds like that can be a reasonable option -- particularly for someone like me, because I don't eat a midday meal. For at least some days, I'll probably aim to be at a temple when it opens, leave for a different temple when the mobs arrive, visiting that one during the midday "break" and then move on to a third when the masses return, and spend the rest of the day there. But I have a lot of research to do to plan out some options, and hope to be flexible enough to take the advice of a knowledgeable driver."
As you may recall from our TR, we took advantage of the lunch hour and went to AW then. I don't remember it being unbearably hot, and it wasn't terribly crowded. It's been a long time since we were there but in general, our driver managed to avoid the crowds at the temples. None were unbearable. Finding a good driver is key. I'm sure you will receive some good recs.
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Old Jan 5th, 2020, 11:11 AM
  #17  
kja
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@ crellson -- again, thank you so much! I'm happy to be the recipient of one of your "brain dumps" any time!

Skipping Kratie might be a really good idea! As you say, it'll take a chunk of time to get to and from there, all for a possibility that might not be actualized. I will definitely give some thought to planning a route without it.

I am delighted to think that I might be able to include Laos's far north in my plans. It had intrigued me, but I had been under the impression that visiting that region would take days. I love the idea of sampling the region (its scenery and its minority villages) with a day trip from Luang Prabang! And the Bolavens had appealed to me, too -- I do love a good waterfall! -- but had thought it was a region best visited by motorbike, which I won't do. I obviously have some more research to do. And that's why I posted before I became too invested in a plan -- you are proving invaluable as I consider ways to improve it!

I haven't checked into flights yet, except to prove to myself that I'm going to have a long trip with at least one stop in each direction. In circumstances like that, I'm willing to consider adding yet another leg to an already miserable experience if it lets me start or end at a place that better suits my purposes. I know that might not work, and that I might have to add a night on either end to include an overnight in Phnom Penh or another major airport. I'll start exploring my options once I have a better sense of my itinerary.

A boat from Battambang to Siem Reap is now off my list of options. I don't need to add surviving a capsized boat to my travel adventures -- ack!

BTW, although I can't afford to hire a car and driver (let alone a guide) every day, I am more than happy to hire a car and driver, and a guide, when it will make a big difference to my experience. Before I went to Java, I had thought of those options as a true extravagance, and was delighted to realize that it was actually an affordable option! My understanding is that gentle bargaining is the norm in both Cambodia and Laos, and again, trust that you (or others!) will let me know if not. (And I promise not to bargain too hard when dealing with tuk tuk drivers, or anyone else.)

I can't thank you enough for taking the time to share these thoughts before you head out. I hope you and your wife enjoy your stay in Japan, and special wishes for a memorable celebration at Seikoro.

. . .

@ isabel: Yes, this trip will be this coming May, just months away!

From what little I've read (and it is very little!), the most reputable of the elephant sanctuaries in the region is the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand, so I've decided to wait to visit an elephant sanctuary until I go there. I believe that the Elephant Village near Luang Prabang still allows some limited riding of elephants, and while I understand that there are a number of admirable features of that specific sanctuary, I'd rather wait. There's an elephant sanctuary in Cambodia that I considered, but I decided that it's too far from anything else I'll visit to make it worth including on this particular trip -- unless someone wants to make the case that I should visit it (or any other).

Is the bear sanctuary you mention the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre? I have it on my list of things to research -- if anyone reading this thread knows anything about it, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

. . .

@ yestravel: Thanks for confirming that visiting Anghor Wat's temples in the middle of the day can be a way to avoid crowds!
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Old Jan 5th, 2020, 01:16 PM
  #18  
 
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Looks like you will have a great trip. I don't have much to add, as it has been a while since I was in SEA. I endorse a day or two for Vientiane, and would also spend at least a day in Phnom Penh.

If you arrive in Bangkok you can probably fly to Vientiane for less than Luang Prabang. I like to take the night train from Bangkok to Vientiane, but you probably won't want to take the time.
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Old Jan 5th, 2020, 02:38 PM
  #19  
kja
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@ thursdaysd: Thanks for your comments! I'm glad you also endorse a day or two for Vientane, and am definitely planning a couple of days in Phnom Penh. I normally enjoy decent overnight trains, but am not sure I'd want to face an overnight train after flying cattle class from the U.S. Thanks for mentioning it, though -- who knows what routing is going to end up making most sense!
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Old Jan 6th, 2020, 07:09 PM
  #20  
kja
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Originally Posted by crellston View Post
I prefer the far north of Laos for its incredible scenery and minority peoples village and would maybe include a loop from LP visiting Muang Sing, Luang Namtha, Phongsali and some smaller villages etc.
Originally Posted by kja View Post
I am delighted to think that I might be able to include Laos's far north in my plans. It had intrigued me, but I had been under the impression that visiting that region would take days. I love the idea of sampling the region (its scenery and its minority villages) with a day trip from Luang Prabang!
It would seem I misunderstood -- it didn't take much research to conclude that this loop would take at least several days. That doesn't mean it's out of the question, but it would make for a much more complicated arrangement!
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