[Copied from my post to a forum question]
I've been to all of the places you mentioned. And I've spent several months in a few of them too. I will agree with the posts above and say that your original plan is too much in too short a time. Five countries in 5 weeks leaves for 6 days minimum in each country once travel is taken into account. Land travel in SEA can take a while, so 6 days will only let you see maybe two places with any respectable amount of time to do them justice.
India would definitely be worthy of a 5 week (or longer) visit by itself. Bali is a big island and can eat up a few weeks easily.
The only other point that I will interject at the moment is if you do the Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam trio, I suggest doing Vietnam first. That is not because I like it least/most or because its more expensive/cheap... but simply due to the required Visas.
Thailand does not require Visa, so you can fly, bus, or walk over at any time and you are fine.
Cambodia does require a Visa, but you can get this at any boarder crossing upon arrival.
Vietnam absolutely requires a Visa. If you are traveling into Vietnam by air, you can either visit an Embassy prior, or you can get an authorized Visa on Arrival over the internet before you go. But if you travel to Vietnam over a land boarder, you 'must' have your Visa prior to arrival. That means taking at least 2 days out of your other travels to visit an Embassy or paying a travel agent an additional processing fee to do it for you.
For its wide variety of minerals and gem Laos could be rich country, if ... (you're free to end the sentence by yourself).
Fondest memory: Browse the shops (and sometimes markets) in cities such as Vientiane, Pakse and Luang Prabang and see variety of 'stones', the precious gems - these are hidden in remote and unaccessible, well guarded Lao mountains: the locations of mines will rest unknown to you and me forever. Well, not everyone is entitled to the business, at least not a vast majority of Lao commoners and strangers.
Some may actually want to take 'stone' back home. Indeed - they're pleasant to an eye and fine to touch, with its individual properties for each piece. Some may actually believe in their 'magic' properties.
Price usually begin at 8 USD in certified shops - for the smallest pieces. Depending on size, variety and rarity, the price will rise accordingly.
It is one of the Asia's largest rivers and a lifeline of the region. It makes it worth to travel some time by Mekong, the best by slow boat, the public one. You will pass diverse landscapes from mountains through plains - depends on part of river.
Fondest memory: We did quite often the trip between Vientiane and Pak Lay (Sayabouly province) by boat. I'd say best to take slow one but that means up to 9 hrs on the seat and you need your own meal (no such things as restaurant on the deck exist, maybe some snack shop only). The speed boat is terrible both for your ears and for your safety, but if you cannot wait, well then you go as you please. I also see that this route is not as popular with tourists, so it may be fine alternative for those who wish to travel less crowded part of Mekong and into more of the main path places.
Most people travel the ordinary 2 day northern Mekong way from Houay Xay - Luang Prabang with one overnight stop in a village called Pak Beng, that's where the Beng river join Mekong and the place is quiet in a day and busy in the evening after first boats land with tourists.
We did some parts on this route when travelling Oudomxay to Hongsa, and needed to take a public boat to make the distance with no road. The speed boat again do that entire HX-LPB distance much faster, in 6 hrs.
I enjoy taking the boat from time to time, the Mekong on VT-PL pass many rocks and rapids. Once when approaching villages and town you will see temporary gardens which are well kept by people. This happens in dry season, when the water has lower level and river banks takes several meters of fertile land and it is then easy to grow a garden. In rain season all these banks will be under water again. Villages remain hidden behind trees, and sometimes large forest will cover many hectares of mountainous land with no people in sight. Large sand dunes and tiny islands come revealed in Lao summers and many fishermen throw the net into the river, but the prey is inconstant due the man made changes upstream.
Visit jungle in Laos if you get a chance. Lots of areas with forest are being cleared yet some places are left intact. This also mean, when speaking on such place you need to know exactly where are you going to and it's thing one is not advised to do alone.
Some adventure-like agencies from Luang Prabang or Vientiane now already organize such trips for some time, but it is not cheap and it is also not possible at any given time, which depends on season.
Fondest memory: I had oportunity to go with my father-in-law who stays at forest very often and know it well and once by car through jungle on dirt road, when we wanted to take 'shortcut'. Both times in Sayabouly province, near Thai border.
We sometimes as well stayed overnight, which is the most magic time in Jungle. We went to find wild food directly from the place, such as ferns, mosses, crabs, little fish and mushrooms, which we later cooked from bamboo stem and drink the water from tiny stream. It is the most delicious to eat right from the forest.
Jungle has abundance of animals and insects which you have to know to avoid or must be careful you don't interact with.
Lots of poisonous snakes and insects.
Gear to wear is good boots, always long trouses and long shirt, best of light material such as cotton, even if you are hot. It will help you to avoid problem.
You need to regularly check your with legs for leeches. It doesn't hurt when they bite but they make mess and it looks gore.
Elephant if alone and when looking for partner must as well be only kept at safe distance. If he feels disturbed he may 'attack' the intruder which can result in serious injury or even death.
Watch for plenty of scorpions and spiders, then there are as well poisonous frogs.
I guess I don't need to say that tiger encounter is extremely rare (well, most endangered species are rare), so don't expect too much if you go for that. You will need to spend many days in forest in NPA Nam Et in LPB province.
Great if you have binoculars to spot some very rare and beautiful birds.
Nights are very cold and you will need warm sleeping bag. Mosquito net is a must or you'll have sleepless night.
Take the smallest piece of trash back with you and dig your excrements into the small hole, don't let it out just like that, uncovered or worse, covered by toilet paper. All this is necessary to leave the minimum impact on the ecosystem. If you can't, well, then there's no place for you in the rain forest.
Laos uses 230V, 50Hz
Laos has a variety of electrical outlets being used. However, most common plugs will be the European 2-pin plug and the USA flat 2-pin:
In remote corners of the country, a variety of outlets may be found.
Old French 2-pin, and Old European 2-pin with ground lugs, as well as USA 2-pin with ground are common.
These thankfully can all accommodate the type C or A respectively above.
Laos has some wonderful people. They wear their smiles openly and are genuinely happy to see you come through their streets and share an exchange even if it is just a wave and a smile.
I personally think the people in the south of Laos, and those in the smaller towns are more sincerely openhearted, and the kids take this to the extreme.
When walking, or biking around these areas, everyone smiled and waved. The kids would typically come running to us to say hello. One of their favorite things was to slap hands with us, and give "high-fives". This little group of kids (pictured on my Laos page) followed our bicycles and laughed the whole way for a few kilometers.
This other old gentleman was probably the grandfather of the little home along the banks of the Mekong outside of Si Phan Don. When the little long boat driver decided we should take cover from the rain, we beached the boat and ran down the foot path to the nearest home. Without saying a word, we simply walked up and the man moved over to let us sit down. He smiled, offered a hand-rolled cigarette (rolled in banana leaf), a drink of water and graciously let us wait the rain out.
I did a bit of research on accommodation before coming and borrowed a friend's guide book. However, I would say that guesthouses in Laos open almost daily.
There is no shortage of places to stay here. The true discount ones are the ones that have just opened up and have not yet been reviewed and made popular by things like the Lonely Planet.
Particularly if it is the off-season, couple that with the number of guest houses, and they are putting each other out of business with the competition. There are enough guest houses for thousands more than there are actual tourists...
When you get off the bus, tuk-tuk, mini van, they will swarm you trying to get you to their guest house. Simply look for the cheap ones and negotiate something.
Vientiane - stayed near the fountain for 75,000 kip
Vang Vieng - stayed on the river by the foot bridges for 45,000 kip
Luang Prabang - stayed down the street from the JoMa coffee for 45,000 kip
Phonsavan - stayed on main street near MAG/UXO center for 40,000 kip.
* all of the above were based on double occupancy and private bath, so you could get even cheaper for shared bath.
The Royal Family (presiding in Luang Prabang) befriended the French and more or less invited their colonization in turn for support against attacks from the north (mostly coming from China).
However, the communist propaganda centered in Vientiane shows the French to be cruel imperialists focusing on stealing all of the Laos' resources with brutality, theft and slavery. It is quite an interesting point in my opinion to see disparity between these two cities in their slants on the political histories and importance they held.
The Anti-French and Anti-American typical communist propaganda is strong in Vientiane museums, all the while never mentioning the royal family that the Party exiled to live in the remote caves of the north. The Luang Prabang museum shows the amicable relations between these foreign countries and only the observant museum reader might notice how that all miraculously ceases to exist simultaneously with the withdrawal of US troops in the neighboring areas. Obviously, the truth is somewhere in the middle...
I work in Laos from time to time as a tourguide bringing in danish tourists and i have had some good experiences with Vansana travel & tours.
I have had hotels, busses, flights and local guides booked through them and it always went very well and they have shown a good level of professionalism towards me.
If you need an incoming agent then they are not a bad choice.
Favorite thing: Some Lao banks such as BCEL and Lao Development will exchange A$ but many money exchange booths/kiosks or gold and jewelry shops won't. So it's best to have a combination of U$, Euros, or Thai bahts. With regards to TCs, Lao Development doesn't charge to exchange TCs into kip but BCEL charges nearly U$1 per TC regardless of the denomination of the TC so it's best to cash TCs in larger denominations.
The only country you'll need a visa in advance of arrival is for Vietnam. For Laos or Cambodia, you can get a 'visa upon arrival' via an airport arrival OR via their recognized international border crossings.
One may also get a Viet visa upon a fligh arrival BUT this needs to be pre-arranged with a Viet travel agency well in advance. They'll have to send you a letter stating that you're eligible to get the visa at the airport. Otherwsie, the airline will not allow you to board a flight to Vietnam without already having a visa or this letter.
If you're going to spend some time in Cambodia, then you could also get a Viet visa there since it's also the cheapest place to get Viet visas. Major cities like Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Sihanoukville have travel agencies who'll arrange it but make sure you get a 28 day visa and not a two week one.
I've entered all 3 countries mulitple times without having to provide proof of a flight departure or forward travel. As long as you're NOT dressed like your destitute or a 'bum' then you should be fine. If an immigration asks, inform them that you're visiting neighbroing countries overland.
The Mekong is the 12th longest river in the world. It stretches from Tibet to the South China Sea and flows through China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Over 60 million people, many of whom belong to the poorest in the world, depend on the Mekong for water, food, transport or other aspects of daily life.
The river is unique in many respects. Unlike other rivers, it does not flow in the same direction all year long. For half of a year, the part of it in Cambodia reverses its flow and goes into Tonle Sap lake instead of flowing towards the South China Sea.
The Mekong has the third highest fish diversity in the world (after the Amazon and the Congo). It's home to over 1200 fish species, including such rare ones as catfish - the world's largest freshwater fish which can grow to 3 metres in length and weigh to 300 kg. Yet, many fish species are in decline and may even become extinct due to immense dams being constructed, especially by the Chinese, who view the Mekong as a vital energy source. They built the first dam in 1993 and then others followed. Outside China much of the river is still unspoilt and deserted. The first bridge outside China (the Friendship Bridge between Vientiane in Laos and Nong Khai in Thailand) was built in 1994.
In spite of that sign of modern times a strange inexplicable phenomenon can be observed on the river near both towns. From time to time balls of light are seen rising over the water surface. Local people attribute them to Mekong dragons.
Fondest memory: Before my trip to Laos I pictured myself sitting at the bank of the Mekong river, drinking Beerlao and admiring the sunset reflecting in its waters. The reality was a bit different, at least in Vientiane. I saw the sunset, I drank the beer and I did something that I didn't expect at all! I walked across the Mekong. No, not over the bridge, but the river's BOTTOM. I felt a bit weird thinking that I was walking on the mighty Mekong, the mother of rivers! I hadn't realized before that it can dry up almost completely.
It's nowsadays much easier to get your KIP from ATMs - you need to find BCEL's ATMs as so far they're the only ones that accept foreign cards such as Maestro, Visa, Mastercard... The atm network grows rapidly in Laos and it's now possible to withdraw money in almost all bigger cities with many tourists and some provincial capitals. For the entire list of international ATMs and locations look at: http://www.bcellaos.com/atmlocator.php
However, you're limited to max. 700 000 KIP withdrawal per once (and up to 8 times withdrawals in same day). Add to that BCEL's bank commision which is 20 000 Kip per EACH withdrawal so you'll be actually charged 720 000 KIP in your currency PLUS the cost of your bank-card issuer- commision which varies from the type of card (you should know that in advance - some people doesn't and they'll complain laters!!!) and other rules. Taking money from ATMs in Laos shouldn't be your priority unless you want to subside banks and leave them more money than necessary - 700 000 KIP is not a lot of money for traveler and if you rely on cash withdrawal you'll need to do it many times to get bigger sums which will in the end eat your money, time and nerves.
In Luang Prabang, you can find a lot of quiet, simple things to fill your days.
It's a sweet place full of temples and unique views of a culture in transition. You may have read recently that LP has become overrun with tourists out to capture this transition, and thus hasten its down fall.
It's a tough question and one worth pondering. There's a discussion at Lonely Planet's bulletin board that you may want to weigh in on:
Fondest memory: Getting up before dawn. Enjoying a Laotian coffee with milk in the mist as the fruit sellers set up for the day's business and those seeking to make merit prepare their offerings. The first budhhist monks and novices begin to seek alms and the town is quiet, peaceful. THAT's the LP i visited.
You can easily take a bus to VV from VT. It takes about 3 hrs and costs roughly $6-$8. Once you are in VV you can head right down to the river and sort yourself out with a place to stay no problem. We had a room overlooking the river with a nice balcony and we paid $10/night. I believe the place was called.....shoot Im having a hard time remembering....ah the orchid. Vang Vieng Orchid.
Its a pretty small little town and ou should be able to walk around and find a place to stay no problem.
Fondest memory: Tubing....nothing more to say....well the scenery was amazing, simply amazing.
TOUGH MANAGEMENT While this facility may be nice, I know the management is tough and does not have...more
Although my stay in Vientiane was brief, I really enjoyed the hotel. It had everything I needed and...more
Ban Sawang, Vang Vieng, 2145532, Laos
Satisfaction: Very Good
Good for: Business
More Regions in Laos