About Cambodia & Laos Travel
Battambang: Founded in the 11th century by the Khmer Empire, Cambodia’s Battambang is known as the leading rice-producing province of the country. For over 500 years, it was the main commercial center of Siam’s Eastern Provinces, though it was always populated by Khmer with a mix of ethnic Vietnamese, Lao, Thai and Chinese. Today it is a bustling provincial capital in western Cambodia on the banks of the Sangker River. It connects the region with Phnom Penh and Thailand. The city has some of the best preserved French Colonial architecture in the country. It also has the Battambang Museum and Wat Piphit temple. Outside the city north of the Cobra Bridge are the ruins of Ek Phnom, built during the Bayon period. Sadly, much of the temple has fallen down and been heavily looted. Wat Ek Phnom shows remnants of a once impressive temple. It sits next to a large pond behind a modern Buddha statue.
Koh Ker: Briefly the capital of the Khmer empire between 928 and 944, Koh Ker is an amazing temple site that is dominated by Prasat Thom, a 30-meter/98-foot tall temple mountain raising high above the plain and the surrounding forest. Beng Mealea is a 12th-century temple that was enclosed by a large moat. Almost lost to time and jungle, the site was being reclaimed by giant tree roots clinging temples and walls. The site is slowly being reclaimed. Now, it is recognized for its wealth of classical bas reliefs. The Koh Ker site is dominated by Prasat Thom, a temple mountain raising high above the plain.
Mekong River, Pakbeng & Huay Xai: Riverboat cruising explores the Mekong River, the 7th longest in Asia, and the lifeblood of the region. About 80% of the protein intake of Cambodians is from fish. River cruising along the Mekong can include sailing from Saigon to My Tho, some 70 kilometers / 43 miles to the south. Cai Be has a colorful floating market. Local sampans come from all provinces of the delta to sell fruits and vegetables. Along the river, scenes of daily life are carried out on the islands of the Mekong River. Pakbeng is a small village on the river that is a major stopover for boats traveling from Luang Prabang to Huay Xai. Several hill tribes are nearby. Huay Xai lies on the river opposite Chiang Khong in Thailand.
Northern Laos: The towns and provinces of northern Laos, including Oudomxai, Phongsali, Muang Khua, Nong Khiaw, offer travelers the increasingly uncommon opportunity to engage with a quickly vanishing way of life. Distinctive traditional cultures of the hill tribe minority villages include Ban Song Cha, Ban Luang Cheng, Na Sao, Na La, and Muang Ngo. For now, these people cling to their generations-old traditions. Ou River comes out of the Chinese frontier, and flows south and southwest through the gorges and mountain valleys of the northernmost part of Laos before joining the Mekong near Luang Prabang. At the confluence of the two rivers, the well-known Pak Ou caves are home to thousands of Buddha statues.
Phnom Penh: This is said to be one of the prettiest of the French-built cities of Indochina. Cambodia’s capital city sits at the union of three rivers: Mekong, Bassac and Tonle Sap. Its broad boulevards, old colonial buildings and parks are a tranquil contrast to the energy of the historic city center with its labyrinth of narrow lanes, markets, food stalls and shops. The royal palace compound includes Chan Chhaya Pavilion for dance performances; the king’s official residence; and the spectacular Silver Pagoda with its exquisite 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 the Khmer Rouge turned it into a notorious prison. Over 17,000 people were taken from here to the extermination camp at one of many Killing Fields. A period of reconstruction was spurred by the continuing stability of government that led to new foreign investment.
Siem Reap: Siem Reap province is located in northwest Cambodia. It is a major tourist hub due to its proximity to the remarkable, world-famous temple city of Angkor. Long thought to be a myth, Angkor was rediscovered by Henri Mahout in 1860. The fortified city of Angkor Thom covers an area of ten square kilometer/3.8 square miles. Enclosed by a wall and wide moats, the city includes many of Angkor’s popular sights: the famous south gate, Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper Kings. Bayon Temple features galleries of delicate bas reliefs.
Vientiane & Luang Prabang: Vientiane is the capital of Laos. It is 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. Dated colonial buildings nudge up to gilded temples, and a French bakery sits amid shops selling noodle soup. The city’s most famous landmark is That Luang (Royal Stupa), constructed in 1566 and restored in 1935. Wat Xieng Khouang, 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, but it is the oldest surviving temple in Vientiane. The Revolutionary Museum displays art and artifacts from the Lao People’s Revolution. On a small peninsula surrounded by mountains, Luang Prabang seems cocooned in time. In 1353, the first Lao Kingdom was formed here at the junction of the Mekong and the Khan rivers. It became the capital and royal residence until the 16th century, when the capital was moved to Vientiane. Luang Prabang architecture blends traditional Buddhist and European styles in its many temples, stupas, monasteries and palaces. Every morning, hundreds of monks from the monasteries walk through the streets collecting alms. At a forest camp outside the city, an elephant encounter explores the lives of Asian elephants, allowing visitors to spend time with these intelligent, gentle animals.
Song Saa Island: Cambodia’s charming islands sit in the warm waters of the Gulf of Thailand. Most remain undeveloped, deserted oases of virgin rainforests, tropical reefs and glistening white beaches. Song Saa Island is a beautiful, untouched paradise of old-growth rainforest and clear coral reefs with Cambodia’s first luxury private island resort.
Suggested Cambodia & Laos Travel Itinerary
Day 1: Vientiane, Laos
The city, between Nam Khan and Mekong rivers, is known for its Buddhist temples and monasteries.
Day 2: Vientiane / Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang’s city center is a UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site with old-world markets and dramatic scenery.
Days 3/4: Luang Prabang
This ancient capital of the Lan Xang Kingdom is famous for its superb Buddhist temples and mountain setting.
Day 5: Luang Prabang / Siem Reap, Cambodia
Siem Reap has colonial and Chinese-style architecture in the Old French Quarter and around the Old Market.
Days 6/7: Siem Reap / Angkor Wat
The 12th-century Angkor temple complex is one of the highlights of a journey into Southeast Asia.
Day 8: Siem Reap / Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh’s broad avenues, colonial buildings and parks contrast with the city center’s narrow lanes and shops.
Days 9: Phnom Penh
Founded in 1434, the city is noted for its historic, colonial architecture, and is the wealthiest city in Cambodia.
Day 10: Phnom Penh / Depart
Custom Travel Options
Battambang (2 days)
The city has some of the best preserved French Colonial architecture in the country.
Hill Tribe Provinces of Northern Laos (5-6 days)
Northern Laos is rich with traditional cultures found in minority villages scattered throughout the mountains.
Koh Ker (1 day)
This ancient Khmer site dates back to the tenth century, and is dominated by Prasat Thom, a 30-meter/98-foot tall temple mountain.
Mekong River, Pakbeng & Huay Xai (3-7 days)
The river is busy with all manner of crafts – local sampans, small pak boats and freighters, that all ply their trade amid these rural landscapes and traditional communities.
Song Saa Island (2 days)
One of Cambodia’s islands, it rests in the warm, crystal waters of the Gulf of Thailand, a lush island escape.
Land price, per person, double occupancy: From US$300 per person per day