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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 7th, 2020, 01:15 AM
  #21  
 
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KJa - My fault, I wasn’t very clear! Those places are just a selection of towns and villages you COULD visit. Phonsali for example is a longish way from LP and would make sense on a shorter trip but the likes of Luang Namtha, Muang Ngoi, Muang Sing would proably make a nice shorter trip. oudoxmai, though not of great interest in itself, as I recall is the transport hub for the area. If you are interested, I would check it out with a few operators in LP to see what they could put together for you. As I mentioned before, this is one of the places where, though it is entirely possible to travel solo, a guide would enhance the experience.
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Old Jan 7th, 2020, 06:25 AM
  #22  
 
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Originally Posted by kja View Post
@ 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!
The overnight train from Bangkok [Hualamphong] to Vientiane is excellent, albeit we got off at the then terminus of Nong Khai, on the Thailand side of the Friendship Bridge.

As you're going to Vientiane, you might think of spending a couple of nights in Nong Khai. Just over the Friendship Bridge from Vientiane. A laid back easy going Frontier town sat right on the Meekong River, perfect for a lazy couple of days.
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Old Jan 7th, 2020, 07:57 AM
  #23  
 
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The bus rides from LP to Vang Vieng, and Vang Vieng to Vientiane are both very well trodden, the buses are likely to be old and uncomfortable, and perhaps overloaded with passengers sat in the aisle on plastic chairs....the one we got was.

LP to VV winds its way through many a hill and village, with spectacular scenery, If you get travel sickness, this journey will test you. V V to V after the first half an hour is quite boring. Expect the bus compounds to be very busy. We did the trip in the opposite direction, in V we were picked up from our guest house in a truck, and taken to the bus compound where we waited for ages for other vans to turn up with pax.

The bus from Kampot might go to PP via Kep, and the advertised timing may easily run into overtime. I wouldn't plan on getting a connecting bus to SR or Battambang the same day. Though you could always get a pre-booked taxi from Kampot direct to PP making onward travel feasible. We did that [without the onward journey], and as well as being very comfortable with a safe considerate driver, the driver was full of interesting stories about the Pol Pot era.

The bus ride between Battambang and SR has a stop at some godforsaken hole while the driver feeds his face. So again, anticipate a longer than expected journey. The bus we got, again ferried by van from the guesthouse to a compound for the main bus, came to life as soon as the driver switched on the engine. It brought zillions of mozzies immediately to life, resulting in a lot of banging, zapping and cursing for a long while afterwards.

While in Cambodia use Giant Ibis where you can, I don't think they cover all the routes, but in my experience they're well worth the little extra that a ticket costs. Giant Ibis operate from outside their main office just off Sisowath Quay, and not the main coach station in PP.

If you stay in Kampot, then a good day out is to hire a tun tun for the day. Arrange to visit a pepper farm, the muslim village, and a fish restaurant by the sea in Kep for lunch....an excellent day out.

Make sure you visit the Foreign Correspondents Club on Sisowath Quay for their Happy Hour between 1700-1900, preferably after a day visiting the Killing Fields and S21 Genocide Museum by tuk tuk. The former despite it's name is very tastefully presented, the later is raw. But they are both park of living history in Cambodia, the locals want foreign visitors to see what happened during the Pol Post era.


Last edited by LancasterLad; Jan 7th, 2020 at 08:07 AM.
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Old Jan 7th, 2020, 05:24 PM
  #24  
kja
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@ crellston:

I have a lot to learn and a number of options to explore, but I think one way for me to visit Laos's far north would be to fly to Luang Namtha and use it for a base for even a day (2 nights), but preferably two days (3 nights), and while there, hire a car & driver & (definitely) guide to see some of the local minority villages. If that doesn't seem to work as I pursue my options, I'll look into tour operators out of Luang Prabang, although I must admit that arranging a multi-day solo trip from LP sounds a bit rich for my budget.

I'm still looking into the Bolavens Plateau. From what I've been reading, the things that most appeal to me are the waterfalls -- which, according to my guidebooks, might be mist-shrouded and difficult to reach once the rainy season starts. It seems that I might be able to try to visit at least one or two waterfalls from Pakse, perhaps even on the same day trip (with car & driver) that would include Wat Phu. My research continues....

Again, many thanks for sharing your wisdom and experience.

. . .

@ LancasterLad:

Thanks for adding your voice to this thread!

It would seem that you are sharing more stories about public transportation that I don't want to hear, but nevertheless, need to hear. One of the things I love about public transportation in foreign countries -- and particularly in non-Western cultures -- is the chance to see people going about their daily lives and interacting with one another more naturally than one might see in other contexts that a tourist might experience. And one of the things I don't like about hiring a car and driver -- no matter how convenient or how informative the driver -- is the sense of moving about in a Westernized "bubble." Despite those reactions, I will definitely want to take advantage of air-conditioned vehicles driven by people who speak English and who can share some of their insights for much of my trip, and it seems that avoiding buses might make sense for many reasons. So thank you for helping me approach my plans more realistically! And for reminding me to make sure I take motion sickness preventatives and treatments with me. I'll take Giant Ibis when I can and consider alternatives when I can't. Maybe I can find a way to satisfy my desire to get a glimpse of local life with just one or two short local buses.


A tuk tuk for a day in / around Kampot is definitely on the agenda, and I'd already taken note of the recommendation you've offered numerous Fodorites for a day in Phnom Penh, including a sunsetter at the Foreign Correspondents' Club. Difficult as I expect to find them, the Killing Fields and S21 Museum are non-negotiables for me -- I can't imagine going to Cambodia without paying homage to the victims of that horrible era.

BTW, it hadn't yet registered with me that any of the villages near Kampot were Muslim -- thanks for making sure I keyed in on that! And do, please, let me know if you have further thoughts about my plans.

Last edited by kja; Jan 7th, 2020 at 05:29 PM.
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Old Jan 7th, 2020, 10:59 PM
  #25  
 
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KJA.....thanks for your thoughts on my posting, I agree with all you say, and like you I much prefer to travel along the ground and by public transport. However, where connections are involved, you really need to have a Plan B if you miss your connection. Best way to ease that stress is plan in an overnight stop and continue the following morning.

You'll probably be met and guided by a knowledgeable local man at a Muslim village, which is likely to be quite small. He'll expect a $ or 2 for his efforts.
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Old Jan 8th, 2020, 12:22 AM
  #26  
kja
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@ LancasterLad: Sounds like I'll benefit from not just a plan B, but also a Plan C, Plan D, etc! Ah well, at some point, one just has to sit back and remind oneself that its all part of the adventure -- and to do one's best, when coming up with plans A through Z, to find ways that avoid the options that are particularly unpleasant or uncomfortable. And you are helping me do that, so thanks! In light of all the difficulties that seem to plague many of the transitions I envision, I suspect I'll end up with local buses much less frequently than I might otherwise prefer, just to ensure efficient and timely transits.

And thanks, too, for the heads-up on the norm for acknowledging the services of a guide at the Muslim village near Kampot. IME, it's very helpful to know something about the amount that is perceived as an appreciative acknowledgement, rather than an insulting pittance (on the one hand) or an unearned hand-out (on the other hand)!
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Old Jan 12th, 2020, 12:07 AM
  #27  
kja
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A new and improved itinerary?

I've tried to take the feedback that you have all so generously provided into consideration to develop a revised plan. I admit that I still have research to do -- a lot of it! (I hate when work interferes with my trip planning ), but am hoping that this new plan generates another set of constructive comments.

Some notes
  • I am assuming that almost every change in location will be largely "lost" to transportation, and while I might opt for a bus for some of the shorter and more reliable routes (because I value the exposure to local life provided by taking buses), I am reconciling myself to the idea that I will need to hire a car & driver more often than I might otherwise prefer.
  • I still haven't seriously examined my main international flight options, so I might have to shift a few things around -- I'm hoping my assumption that I'll lose a day to each change of location gives me a little bit of latitude to (say) start in Vientiane rather than Luang Prabang if necessary, etc.
  • I do not plan to use motorbikes or to trek during this trip, so some options that I'm sure many people would enjoy in these countries are not ones that I am contemplating.
  • I haven't yet plotted a plan with attention to the holidays mentioned in my first post; I could want to make some tweaks once I do.
The biggest changes from the plan I posted to start this thread are
  • Eliminate Kratie
  • Add a bit of northern Laos
  • Tweak my times for various places
  • Minimize reliance on buses.

Itinerary B(with differences from Itinerary A in purple ink):
  • Fly from the eastern U.S. to Luang Prabang; 3 nights
    • Recover from jet lag, explore the city, visit Kuang Si Falls +
  • LONG bus ride (5’+) or private car to Vang Vieng (mostly for the scenery); 1 night
  • LONG-ish bus ride (4’+) or private car to Vientiane; 2 nights
  • Fly to Luang Namtha; 3 nights
    • At least 1 day with car, driver, & guide for minority villages
  • Fly to Pakse; 3 nights
    • 1 day by car & driver for Wat Phu and one or two waterfalls of the Bolavens Plateau
    • 1 day by car & driver to Si Phan Don, just for the scenery
  • Fly to Kampot (via Sihanoukville); 4 nights
    • I'd like 1 night in Kep instead if I can make that work
  • Go by air, train, or other to Phnom Penh ; 4 nights
    • 2 days for the city
    • 1 day for a car & driver to Kampong Chhang and, if possible, Prei Kuk
    • (I think it's a bit further to Prei Kuk from Phnom Penh than from Siem Reap, but I'd like to spread out my temple experiences a bit and it seems like it could be possible to combine with Kampong Chhang on a very long day trip)
  • Go by train, air, or other to Battambang, 3 nights
  • Go by private car to Siem Reap for 8 nights, to include
    • At least 5 days for the temples of Angkor (to include several days to visit outlying temples, such as Banteay Srei, Preah Vihear, Beng Mealea, and Koh Ker, with car & driver)
    • A day for Tonle Sap and surrounds
    • A day for Siem Reap and its crafts / textile shops (to purchase gifts for family & friends)
  • Return flight
A few more questions
  1. Comments on this itinerary?
a. General comments?
b. Is it absurd to think that I could get a sense of, let alone enjoy, the scenery of Vang Vieng with just one night there?
c. I realize this would be a long day to visit Si Phan Don as a day trip from Pakse, but think I would like to see this part of Laos. Am I simply being foolish to consider including it as a day trip? Should I only visit it if I can spend at least one night there?
2. What are the best ways to research animal rescue centers? If I visit any, I want to have reasonable confidence that their animals are receiving ethical care, and I know that is not guaranteed!
3. Any observations to share about Lao Airlines?
4. I don't scuba, but am sure I would enjoy an hour or two of snorkeling if easy and safe (as a solo traveler, I don't want to take unnecessary risks with tides, currents, or even distances) -- any recommendations for options while I'm in / near Kampot / Kep?
5. One of my guidebooks recommended a day along route 5 south of Tonle Sap -- thoughts?


With gratitude for the input already provided, I look forward to further comments and suggestions.


Last edited by kja; Jan 12th, 2020 at 12:10 AM.
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Old Jan 12th, 2020, 07:33 AM
  #28  
 
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"A day for Siem Reap and its crafts / textile shops (to purchase gifts for family & friends)"
Can't help with your itin, but I wanted to mention that I thought Laos had the nicest textiles. So if you're interested in textiles, definitely look in Laos. We did fly Lao Air way back in 2012 or 2013. It was fine.
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Old Jan 12th, 2020, 09:53 AM
  #29  
kja
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@ yestravel: I do have an interest in textiles, and hope to admire them throughout my time in Cambodia, and perhaps especially, Laos. While I might make some purchases along the way, I've learned to do the majority of my shopping in my last stop, so I don't have to carry things around any more than necessary.
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Old Jan 12th, 2020, 04:10 PM
  #30  
 
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" do the majority of my shopping in my last stop," I may have already mentioned this but I would head straight to Artisans D’Angkor in Siem Reap. The highest quality of products and all run in an excellent cause. Agree with YT re textiles in Laos. We bought some excellent tapestries from some small producers there and there is (or was) a place run by an American woman who was credited with reviving the Lao textile industry.

I am not sure I understand where you are coming from with your new itinerary. It seems a little strange to head south from LP only to then head back north of LP to Luang Namtha. Maybe the flight routes? I hate backtracking and so would head to LN from LP and probably include some of the smaller towns and villages. The scenery is amazing and the village a great insight into another, rapidly disappearing world. maybe do this on some sort of tour or with a guide as this is where I feel they would be of the most benefit. I know cost is a consideration, as it is for us all, but in low season you could probably do a deal. The scenery in that neck of the woods is way more interesting than SI Phan Don. The latter is much flatter and more about chilling out on the islands for a day or three.There is a huge waterfall down that way which seems to be an interest and of course Wat Phu. It should be possible to incorporate something with Bolavens ( more waterfalls) as well. In your situation I would start by asking a couple of agents in LP to put something together for you and see how it costs out and see if you can replicate that trip independently.

Lao Airlines were fine when we flew with them.

I am a keen diver and wouldn’t have thought that Kep was any good for snorkelling or diving. It just isn’t that sort of place. More like a quick paddle and then off to the market for a Crab Amok!

I think you can enjoy the scenery of Vang Vieng from the town but to make the best of it, you maybe need to get out of the town on a boat or tuk tuk . Not a great fan of one nighters, especially with the hard travelling you will be doing.

No train to Battambang from PP . Mekong Express lux minibus was our preferred transport. Not sure about flights. We got a perfectly adequate big bus from there and our guest house picked us up fro free from the bus station ( most do)

I think your southern Laos itinerary needs further consideration. No I don’t think Si Phan Don is worth it for a day trip. Maybe combine with Wat Phu and an overnight on one of the islands - great at dawn and dusk)

Pakse is pleasant enough and I know you are only using it as base. Maybe one night there and then O/N in Bolavens.

I do think it is important to nail your International and regional flights. As I recall there can be a big difference in cost between flying into LP or Vietianne ( or there used to be) which could have and influence on which way around you go.


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Old Jan 12th, 2020, 10:02 PM
  #31  
 
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I love the fabrics in Cambodia (and Thailand, but my favorites are the silks and the cottons (especially the indigo dyed ones) in Laos. If you really like textiles, cross over the river from Luang Prabang and wander the weaving village for a morning or afternoon. Many homes sell directly from their looms to the visitors. Or, If you'd like to get some real appreciation for how many of the textiles are made, you can spend a day or a night, or a week at Ock Tok pop's weaving center in LP. They have one day classes in dyeing, weaving, and even even basket weaving, or you can take a mult-day class in making a silk scarf from scratch. I've done day classes twice, but would love to stay in one of their charming rooms on site and do more classes, and just sit and watch the river. They have a lovely cafe, and free shuttles into the heart of LP (about 5-10 minutes away). Their shops in town are also lovely, though not as cheap as in the weaving village.
https://www.ockpoptok.com/visit-us/villa
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Old Jan 12th, 2020, 10:08 PM
  #32  
 
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I've flown Lao Air RT twice. The service is fine, but the planes.... Lets just say they are pretty old, so say your prayers! If you can go Air Asia, Vietnam Air or Bangkok Airways, you can get by with a quick Hail Mary. (Disclosure: I hate flying and always say a prayer, even though I am not a religious, much less Catholic flyer)
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Old Jan 12th, 2020, 11:07 PM
  #33  
kja
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Such enthusiasm for the textiles of Laos! Thankfully, I enjoy seeing textiles, even when not shopping.

And thanks, crellston & lcuy, for confirming that Lao Airlines should be fine. (Prayers never hurt, do they, lcuy?)

. . .

@ crellston: Once again, you are providing invaluable insights -- thank you so much!

You had mentioned Artisans D'Angkor; it is firmly on my list as a place where I can find quality in service of a good cause.

The logic behind my ordering of stops in Laos was, indeed, driven by flights. But obviously, I'm struggling to find a plan that works for my interests and time frame. I'm incredibly fortunate to be able to travel for a month at a time, but many of the options I've considered just won't fit in the time I'm able to take off work. I love a good waterfall or two, but the Bolavens Plateau isn't calling to me in the same way that some other places are -- at least not from what I've read so far. While there are a number of places that I hope to visit primarily for the scenery (including Vang Vieng and Si Phan Don), I'm not seeking places to chill out. And although I'm happy to work with cars & drivers when it suits -- and it sounds like doing so will prove invaluable for many of the things I hope to do -- I travel alone in part because, well, I want to be alone! I'm sure that must sound awful, but its true, and even though a driver is not a companion, sharing a car with a driver changes the experience for me. Lots of things to juggle!

Your observations are definitely helping me think through my options and logistics, so again, many thanks!

. . .

@ lcuy: I had read about that village across the river from Luang Prabang and thought I might like it, so I'm very glad you mentioned it. And I hadn't thought at all about taking a class -- what a great idea!


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Old Jan 12th, 2020, 11:54 PM
  #34  
 
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I'm with Crellston in reply #30 about Vang Vieng....2 uncomfortable days on the road between LP and V with just an overnight in VV doesn't appeal. V V is set in glorious countryside. At least have one full day hiring a tuk tuk or pushbike, and explore a bit.

I mentioned in a posting further up the thread the Thai frontier town of Nong Khai. It's just across The Friendship Bridge from V, and sits right on the Meekong. Well worth a couple of nights. A lovely place to stay is the Mutmee Guest House.
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Old Jan 13th, 2020, 01:21 AM
  #35  
 
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I’d definitely second the across the river area in Luang Prabang. I found some great textiles in town too, but that was a few years ago. If you can make your last stop Phnom Penh, there’s many free trade, social enterprise type stores clustered around a walkable area. From memory 93rd street, google will find them. The prices are slightly higher, but much less hassle to buy.
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Old Jan 13th, 2020, 07:21 AM
  #36  
 
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"If you really like textiles, cross over the river from Luang Prabang and wander the weaving village for a morning or afternoon. Many homes sell directly from their looms to the visitors. Or, If you'd like to get some real appreciation for how many of the textiles are made, you can spend a day or a night, or a week at Ock Tok pop's weaving center in LP.
--Comletely agree. BAck then it was cash only which stopped us from buying even more.
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Old Jan 13th, 2020, 06:50 PM
  #37  
kja
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It has (finally and again) occurred to me that no matter what I choices I make about this trip, I will see any number of things that I have long hoped to experience. How wonderful! The rest is "icing" (or "gravy," if you prefer). I find the need to remind myself of this fact any number of times each time a plan a trip, particularly when I get caught up in dilemmas about what to skip. I hope it will give me the perspective I need to step back, prioritize, and then see what "extras" I can manage. Thanks one and all for your patience, and do, please, keep offering insights into how things are similar or different from one another and what I might or might not consider adding or leaving out!

. . .

@ LancasterLad: Thanks for confirming that the idea that just one night in Vang Vieng isn't a very good one. And thanks, too, for mentioning Nong Khai again -- I did take note of your mention of it upthread and have it in my notes as a possible side trip from Vientiane. If I don't make it part of this trip, do you think I could make it part of a future trip to Thailand, or is it too far from places I would likely visit in a month there?

@ sartoric: Thanks for adding you voice to the recommendations for textile shopping -- or at least textile viewing -- along my route!

@ yestravel: In that case, maybe I should make sure to carry only limited cash with me.
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Old Jan 14th, 2020, 01:47 AM
  #38  
 
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We spent a couple nights in Nong Khai a few years ago after visiting friends in nearby Udon Thani. Unless you had a reason to go to Udon Thani, most wouldn’t bother, it’s out of the way from major areas of interest. Similarly I thought Nong Khai was just okay, with little to see from a cultural perspective. I mostly remember a pleasant promenade on the river with many restaurants and the occasional elephant with handler wandering by.
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Old Jan 14th, 2020, 06:52 PM
  #39  
kja
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@ sartoric: Thanks for sharing your perspectives on both ease of access and interest value!
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Old Jan 15th, 2020, 07:36 AM
  #40  
 
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Originally Posted by kja View Post
@ LancasterLad: Thanks for confirming that the idea that just one night in Vang Vieng isn't a very good one. And thanks, too, for mentioning Nong Khai again -- I did take note of your mention of it upthread and have it in my notes as a possible side trip from Vientiane. If I don't make it part of this trip, do you think I could make it part of a future trip to Thailand, or is it too far from places I would likely visit in a month there?
Kja.....I didn't know what Nong Khai would be like, so I planned our visit to coincide with the Loy Krathong festival.

We travelled there by overnight sleeper train from Bangkok [Hualamphong]. We travelled 1st Class [not expensive] and had a very comfortable trip, sleeping most of the way. The compartment was very clean, with crisp white bed sheets. The only slight drawback was that there was only 2 bathrooms per carriage, a western one at one end, and a more rural affair at the other. But a minor inconvenience.

We stayed at the excellent Mutmee Guesthouse in Nong Khai, which sits right on the banks of the Mekong. English/Thai run, and very good.

Loy Krathong turned out to be excellent, and we really got into the swing of things. Plenty of other festivals though, so just try and pick one to coincide with your visit to enhance your stay.

After 5 days we moved on across the Friendship Bridge into Laos.
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