This beautiful region of Laos is a great place to explore for those with a strong sense of adventure and eye for beauty. Although you won’t find tourist towns like those in the north of the country, those who take the time to explore southern Laos will find an impressive number of pretty islands, dense jungle and magnificent mountains. (more…)
Located in the southern section of Laos, Savannakhet province is bordered by both Thailand in the west and Vietnam in the east. Many travellers pass this way on their way in or out of Thailand as the Second Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge spans the mighty Mekong River, connecting Savannakhet with Mukdahan in Thailand.
Another way to reach the town is by boat from northern Lao areas such as Vientiane and Tha Khaek or from Pakse in the south. Travelling through Laos by boat can be very relaxing and a great way to see the countryside at a leisurely pace.
The name Savannakhet means ‘city of paradise’ in the Laos language and this is Laos’ second-largest city. This is a good place to pause for a while as the town has a lot to offer tourists and there are a good number of guesthouses, hotels and restaurants serving international food. You will also find plenty of Asian delights such as curries and spicy salads from Thailand and Vietnamese noodles.
Savannakhet’s close proximity to Thailand and Vietnam means that you will discover a number of different styles as you explore. Take a look around the city’s old Vietnamese temples, French colonial quarters and Buddhists temples. Among the most popular temples are Wat Inghang and Wat Xayaphoum, while the large Catholic church provides an interesting contrast.
If you are interested in the history of this unique area, take a day trip to Heuanehine or Stone House. This rocky house was designed by the Kham people and is thought by many to be one of the most important and interesting sites in the province. The house was built somewhere between 553 and 700 AD and contains a collection of Khmer artwork.er important site is the That Phon stupa, which was built around the same time as the Stone House. Unlike most of the religious shrines and temples in Laos, this stupa is Hindu in origin and dedicated to Phra Shiva and other Hindu deities.
Before you leave Savannakhet, drop by the Dinosaur Exhibition Hall in the town of Khanthabouly at the heart of the province. Here you will find a collection of dinosaur remains that were discovered by an intrepid French scientist in the 1930s. This is one of the few collections of dinosaur remains in Laos and they make an interesting break from exploring the country’s temples and jungles.
This very pretty Lao province is surrounded by amazing limestone formations, caves, rivers and dense jungle. The population of the province is around 260,000, with people coming from several different tribes such as Phuan, Tahoy, Kri and Katang. Most of the settlements in Khammouane province are small villages with collections of houses built from wood in the traditional Lao style. Everywhere you turn in Khammouane you are surrounded by intense natural beauty. Rich dark soil is covered with colourful plantations of rice, cabbage, sugar cane and bananas, while the Annamite mountain range is to the east and sparkling rivers, forests and caves are just waiting to be explored.
Khammouane province is easy to reach by bus from Vientiane in just five or six hours. There are plenty for visitors to do here such as kayaking, rafting, and caving. There are a large number of caves to explore and some of the highlights include the Buddha cave and Tham Nang Aen cave, while the Tham Xieng Lap caves are so pretty that they are worthy of a day trip by themselves.
Another great day trip destination is That Skihotabang, which is a large and interesting stupa commissioned by King Nanthasen in the 10th century. The stupa was carefully restored in the 1950s and is an impressive sight.
The province’s capital is Tha Kek and this is a good place to stay for a night or two while you explore this lush and leafy area of Laos. While in Tha Khek take the time to explore the striking French colonial architecture in the city and sample the delicious range of Lao dishes, which is slightly different to those found in the rest of the country.
Nature lovers will want to explore the Nakai-Nam Theun Biodiversity Conservation Area, where you can spot a wonderful range of animals such as elephant, tigers, lemur and turtles. For excellent views over the jungle climb the Khammouane Limestone, which is a maze of limestone karst peaks.
Situated in south-western Laos, The province of Champassak is stunningly beautiful and has a lot to offer visitors. The people who live here have a distinctly different language, culture and life style to people in the rest of Laos and this is an interesting place to explore.
Pakse is the capital of Champassak province and it is here you will find the enchanting irriwaddy dolphins. Take a boat trip on the Mekong River for a chance to spot these shy mammals as they play in the water and leap through the waves.
Situated on picturesque Done Khone Island, the Mekong Dolphin Conservation Centre is a good place to find out more about these interesting animals and how to protect them. Nearby you will find Wat Phou, which is located high atop a mountain and considered to be one of the most important sights in Laos. The temple dates back to the same period as Cambodia’s treasure Angkor Wat and offers spectacular views from the top.
Champassak is also home to the largest waterfalls in Southeast Asia. Known as Khone Pha Pheng, these pretty falls are easy to get to by boat or road and are a great place for a swim and a picnic, surrounded by dense jungle and a colourful array of wildlife.
Another great day trip is the Dong Hua Sao Forest reserve, which is a great place to spot a wide variety of wildlife. There are a large number of waterfalls to explore here such as the Li Phi falls and it is possible to spend the night.
The town of Champassak itself was home to the royal family until about 30 years ago and you will still find a large number of grand buildings here, including a collection from the French colonial-era, which make an interesting contract beside the traditional wooden Laotian houses and shining temples. The town has a sleepy feel to it these days and there are few vehicles to clog the streets.
There are plenty of things to do in Champassak such as elephant riding, trekking and boat rides. Champassak’s rich and fertile land is perfect for growing crops and you will find large coffee, cardamom and bananas plantations here, which make the perfect backdrop for a scenic country walk.
Bordered by both China and Myanmar, Luang Namtha province is situated to the north of Laos and is home to 39 of the country’s ethnic groups. This is a good place to pause before making your way into China as the Chinese-Lao border crossing is located nearby at Boten and connects Laos with Mohan in China. Visitors to Luang Namtha will notice some similarities between the local culture and that of China, and those familiar with Laos will enjoy making comparisons between this province and the rest of the country.
This region is famous for its stunningly beautiful rainforest and unspoilt monsoon forest and no visit to Luang Namtha would be completed without a trip to the Nam Ha National Biodiversity Conservation Area. There are plenty of animals to spot here including tigers, bears, clouded leopard, and gibbons as well as a large collection of colourful birds and reptiles.
Luang Namtha is a good place to rest and relax and immerse yourself in the beauty of the area. Walking is a good way to explore and there are several villages where you can stay for a day or two and simply explore or relax by the river and listen to the wind in the trees.
The town of Luang Nam Tha is a good place to stay and you will find plenty of basic places to stay and evening entertainment at the night market. Surrounded by a pretty patchwork of rich rice paddy fields, this is a great place to stop for a day or two and get learn about the diversely different tribes that live in the villages nearby. The town sits on a hilly area and provides great views of the surrounding countryside.
A popular activity around Luang Namtha is trekking. There are a number of experienced guides available and embarking on a trek with a qualified guide can be a rewarding experience as they can provide an insight into the unique culture of the region and make can provide access to the many villages and villagers themselves.
Tranquil and picturesque, the town of Muang Xing has a great collection of friendly guesthouses where you are sure to receive a warm welcome and a good meal. This is a good place to arrange trekking and hiking trips and to meet fellow travellers to share a beer or two in the evening and swap stories with.
This pretty port in Rakhine State is located at the mouth of the Kaladan River. Those who have already spent some time travelling through Myanmar will notice that clothes tend to be brighter and food spicier here.
One of the focal points of Sittwe is the Atulamarazein Pyilonechanthar Payagyi, which is a large pagoda with a decorated Buddha statue inside. For those interested in Buddhism, the town’s Buddhist Museum is worth visiting.
There are some pretty places to visit around Sittwe. Take a boat trip and explore the three islands located nearby such as Bayonga Island where you will find a community of fishermen and coconut farmers.
Most people travel to Sittwe in order to visit the ancient temples at Mrauk-U. Take a boat trip about 50 miles along the Kaladan River and you will discover an impressive collection of more than 150 antique places of worship. Mrauk-U was a very affluent city between1430 to 1784 and the area was home to a number of kings, Japanese samurai and a fleet of 10,000 ships.
Mrauk-U’s riches were based on the fact that it was a successful trade city, with a large canal network running through it. The people of Mrauk-U traded with a number of nations including Holland, Portugal, Spain and the Middle East.
One of the charms of Mrauk-U is that despite being famous for its history the area is still a focal point for daily life. As you explore you will see shepherds leading their flocks and people cooking by camp fire. There are a number of interesting temples to explore such as the Shittthaung Pagodas, Ananda Sandra Pillar, Andaw Thein temple, Yadanarpon temple, Dukkanthein, Koe Thaung Pagodas, Pitakataik, and the Five Victory Pagodas.
Many people start their tour of Mrauk-U with a visit to the Royal Palace, which was built in 1430 and has largely been destroyed by the ravishes of time. Better preserved is the Shitthaung Pagoda, which was commissioned by King Minbin in 1535 and is intricately designed.
The best time to visit this area is in the middle of May when the pagoda festival is held. This area really comes alive during this festival, with traditional song and dance performances and the retelling of ancient legends.
The second largest city in Cambodia, Battambang makes the idea base to explore the surrounding attractions. Situated to the northwest of Cambodia, Battambang is full of interesting buildings left over from the French colonial era and has a pleasantly relaxed feeling that entices many travellers to extend their stay for a day or two.
Battambang takes its name from the legend of an ancient Khmer king, who is said to have calmed the city’s rebellions with his battambang staff. As you wander through the city streets you will see a statue representing this event as well as a number of interesting statues depicting mythical animals and religious characters.
There is plenty to see and do in Battambang. Start by climbing the hill of Phnom Sampeu to enjoy spectacular views of the city and explore the hill’s caves, stupas and monastery. Near the hill is Wat Banan, which is dubbed a mini Angkor Wat and contains a large Buddhist shrine. Just to the west of the city, Wat Ek Phnom has also been constructed in Angkorian style, while Wat Baydamran is home to hundreds of fruit bats.
Situated 70 kilometers north of the city of Battambang in northeastern Cambodia, Bantaey Chhmar is a pretty temple complex built by Jayavarman VII as a tribute to the death of his son Indravarman and four generals in battle. Dating back to the 9th century, this is a great place to explore on a day trip. A mighty battle took place on this site in 1177 when it was invaded by the Cham people. Those interested in the areas unusual history can find the story engraved on the stone ways that surround Bantaey Chhmar. The complex has been overgrown by forest, giving it a mystical quality and it features large Avalokiteshvara faces which are reminiscent of the Bayon temple near Siem Reap.
Head out of Battambang to discover the ancient wooden houses of Watkor, which is a very pretty village. Other nearby villages worth exploring include Kompong Seyma, and Ksach Puoy. These villages offer a real insight into traditional Khmer life and you will still find people engrossed in skills such as weaving and basket making.
An interesting way to explore this area is by riding the bamboo train known as the norry. The Wat Poveal Museums is a good place to learn more about the Khmer arts, while just 44 kilometres from the city is Pich Chenda, a very pretty nature and wildlife preserve.
Walk along the bank of the Sangker River in the evening and you will discover a large number of small food stalls selling traditional Khmer food and also delicious French bread. This is a great place to get a cheap meal and perhaps wash it down with a beer or two.
A great way to travel to Battambang is by boat from Siem Reap. This scenic journey takes you slowly through the countryside, past floating villages and fishermen along narrow canals and waterways.
This picturesque region of Cambodia stretches from the capital city of Phnom Pehn to the Thai border. The area is marked by two dramatic mountain ranges, namely the Cardamom Mountains located in the southwestern corner and the Dangrek Range to the north.
There are a number of picturesque villages located in this region of Cambodia, especially in amongst the Cardamom Mountains. Although not many travellers visit western Cambodia, those that do will find waterfalls, caves and traditional villages, where the way of life has stayed more or less the same for centuries.
This is a great place to rest and unwind away from the tourist scene. Although you won’t find many bars or beaches in this area, there is still plenty to do. Hike through the forest, discover traditional craft skills at tribal villages and take a boat trip from Battambang to Siem Reap.
Situated in the south of Cambodia, Sihanoukville is one of Cambodia’s most popular seaside towns. Visitors to this pretty beach area will find plenty of bars, restaurants and cheap guesthouses, while there are plenty of places to stretch out on the pure white powdery sand and work on your tan.
Formerly known as Kompong Som, Sihanoukville takes its name from the famous prince Sihanouk. A great way to reach this resort is by boat from the Koh Kong / Hat Lek border crossing that connects Cambodia with Thailand. This is a good place to relax for a day or two before travelling through the rest of Cambodia.
Sihanoukville’s main attraction is its beautiful sandy beaches, which are some of the best in the whole of Cambodia. While each of the beaches here feature their own distinct charms, the most popular tend to be Sokha Beach, Victory Beach, Ochheuteal Beach, Independence Beach, Otres Beach and Serendipity Beach. Those who are on a tight budget will find plenty of cheap accommodation around Victory Beach, while party people will want to gravitate towards the bars and restaurants that can be found around Ochheuteal Beach.
Water sports are popular in Sihanoukville, and this is a great place to try snorkelling and scuba diving. A large number of islands can be found just off the coast, surrounded by cool, clear waters. A number of local companies offer boast trips to explore the area, which also allow visitors to check out snorkelling and scuba diving around Bamboo Island, which is known locally as Koh Russei. Visitors who are enchanted by the tranquillity and natural beauty of this island also have the chance to spend the night on Bamboo Island.
One of the most popular attractions that can be found in this part of the world is the large and lovely Ream National Park, and a wide range of local companies offer daytrips here. Public transportation in this part of Cambodia can be a little thin on the ground, and those who want to really get to know the area will want to hire a motorbike.
Make sure you surrender a photocopy of your passport rather than the actual document itself in order to secure bike hire. After all the arrangements have been made it is now time to drive to the temples of Wat Krom and Wat Leu before soaking up the scenery at Kampong Pier Nup Lok.
Getting to and from Khao San Road is easy as this area is well connected to the rest of Bangkok by bus and ferry. Most taxi and tuk-tuk drivers also know this area well, so visitors should have no trouble getting here from any part of Bangkok or the surrounding area.
There is a direct bus to Khao San Road from the airport, and the journey takes around an hour. The air-conditioned AE2 bus takes passengers to the top of Khao San Road for 150 baht, while there are also small local buses that complete the journey for just 35 baht. Those who are travelling in a group may find it more economical and convenient to catch a taxi from the booth outside the main entrance. The fare should cost around 350 in total, including a small charge to cover the toll way tax.
Khao San Road isn’t located near either the underground or sky rail system. However, the Chao Phraya River is just a ten-minute walk away and pier 13 is located at the end of Phra Athit Road. Taking the ferry along the river is a great way to see the sights and it stops at a number of different districts such as Chinatown and Thonburi. There is a Skytrain station at Central Pier, which whisks visitors into the heart of Bangkok in a matter of minutes.
Buses pass by Khao San Road on their way to most parts of Bangkok and those in the know will be able to get around fairly easily by bus. The travel agencies on Khao San Road are a good source of information and most are happy to give advice about which bus to take.
All air-conditioned taxis in Bangkok are supposed to use the meter, which starts at 35 baht. However, most of the taxi and tuk-tuk drivers that par at either end of Khao San Road have to pay a fee to stay there are unwilling to use the meter. The fee they charge for trips is often quite high and it is better to walk a few meters from Khao San Road and flag one of the passing taxis, insisting that they use the meter.
The three-wheeled vehicles known as tuk-tuks are good at nipping through the Bangkok traffic, which can save time in the rush hours. It is important to negotiate the price before getting into the tuk-tuk as fare prices are not fixed. The quoted fare will usually be high to start with, but with a little gentle persuasion it is possible to end up paying around half the starting price.
There are a number of tuk-tuk drivers on Khao San Road who offer to take tourists on a trip around the city for just 20 baht. While this may seem like a cheap way to see the sights, visitors should know that these drivers make their money by taking tourists to a number of different jewellery shops on the way. They make a commission for anything you buy and if you plan to make a purchase anyway this could still be a good deal, but unsuspecting travellers could end up with more than they bargained for.