About Cambodia & Laos Travel
Phnom Penh: Many consider Phnom Penh to be one of the prettiest of the French-built cities of Indochina. The capital city sits at the union of three rivers: Mekong, Bassac and Tonle Sap. Its broad boulevards, old colonial buildings and lovely parks offer a calm counterpoint to the energetic beat of the historic heart of the city with its labyrinth of narrow lanes, markets, food stalls and shops. In 1373, a wealthy woman named Penh is said to have found a tree floating in the Mekong River. Within the tree were four Buddha statues. She had the hill (‘phnom’) and a small temple built near the spot. The royal palace compound includes Chan Chhaya Pavilion for dance performances; the king’s official residence; and the spectacular Silver Pagoda, its floor covered with 5,000 individually crafted silver tiles. Independence Monument was built in 1958 to commemorate Cambodia’s autonomy from France. Tuol Sleng Museum (Museum of Genocide) was a school until the 1970s when it was taken over by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, who turned it into a notorious prison. Over 17,000 people were taken from here to the extermination camp at Choeung Ek, one of many Killing Fields across Cambodia. The dramatic and heart-rendering memorial includes a stupa containing thousands of skulls. Photos and paintings of many of the victims are on display. Another aspect to life here are the bustling markets with glimpses of the everyday life of the country. Stalls sell everything from local produce and flowers, to gold and silver jewelry, to textiles and luggage.
Siem Reap: Siem Reap province is located in northwest Cambodia. It has become the major tourist hub in Cambodia due to its closeness to the world-famous temple city complex of Angkor. Long thought to be a myth, Angkor was rediscovered by Henri Mahout in 1860. The temples became an attraction for adventurers of the day and remained so through the early 1900s until the late 1960s. After the arrival of the Khmer Rouge, Siem Reap, like much of Cambodia, fell into a kind of slumber that has only recently ended. Now, Siem Reap is a vital and growing city that once again attracts adventurers.
Vientiane: Vientiane is the capital of Laos, and is delightfully peaceful compared to other Asian capitals. Like all of Laos’ major cities, it spreads out along the banks of Mekong River. Its population, roughly 450,000, accounts for about ten percent of country’s total. The flavor of French colonialism is strong here with colonial buildings lined up next to gilded temples, and a French bakery sits amid shops selling noodle soup. Some of the colonial houses are being restored for use as offices, restaurants and the like. The city’s most famous landmark is That Luang (Royal Stupa), constructed in 1566 and restored in 1935. Wat Xieng Khouang (Buddha Park), about a half-hour drive outside the city, is known for its huge structures that combine Buddhist and Hindu philosophies. Wat Sisaket features over 6,800 Buddha images. The temple dates back to 1818, and is the oldest surviving temple in Vientiane. The Revolutionary Museum displays art and artifacts from the Lao People’s Revolution.
Luang Prabang: On a small peninsula surrounded by mountains, Luang Prabang seems cocooned in time. In 1353, the first Lao kingdom was formed, and this site at the junction of the Mekong and the Khan rivers became the capital and royal residence. In the 16th century, the capital was moved to Vientiane. Luang Prabang architecture blends traditional Buddhist and European styles in its many temples, stupas, monasteries and palaces. The city center is a UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site and features interesting markets and no end of dramatic scenery.
Mekong and Ou Rivers: The Mekong River forms Laos’ boundaries with Myanmar and Thailand. The river runs 300 miles through Laos, and more than half the people, 68 percent, live in the fertile Mekong River Valley and lowland plains. Most are subsistence farmers. The Ou River comes from the Chinese frontier, and flows south and southwest through the gorges and mountain valleys of the northernmost part of Laos before joining the Mekong at Ban Pak Ou near Luang Prabang town. At the confluence of the two rivers, the well-known Pak Ou caves are home to thousands of Buddha statues placed over centuries.
Pakbeng & Huay Xai: Pakbeng is a small village on the Mekong River that is a major stopover for boats traveling from Luang Prabang to Huay Xai. Pakbeng had the main road paved just a few years ago and it has several small guesthouses. Some noted hill tribes are found in the area. Huay Xai is the capital of the Lao province of Bokèo on the border with Thailand. The town lies on the Mekong River opposite Chiang Khong in Thailand. It is the northernmost border crossing between the two countries, where the two are connected by ferries. A bridge to Thailand is scheduled for completion in 2012. Fort Carnot, an ancient French fort in ruins, is situated on a hill overlooking the town. The Mekong River Houay has a domestic airport with regular flights to Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Boats of all kinds travel from here down the Mekong to Pakbeng, Luang Prabang and elsewhere.
Suggested Travel Itineraries
Day 1: Arrive Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Day 2: Phnom Penh / Siem Reap
Day 3: Siem Reap
Day 4: Siem Reap
Day 5: Siem Reap / Depart
Day 1: Arrive Vientiane, Laos
Day 2: Vientiane
Day 3: Vientiane / Luang Prabang
Day 4: Luang Prabang
Day 5: Luang Prabang / Depart
Custom Tour Options
Pakbeng & Huay Xai (3 days)
Small pak boats travel the Mekong River, where traditional cultures and local hilltribes still thrive.