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- Posted:Friday, May 8, 2015
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Backpacking on the fly: Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam in 4 weeks
Whatever kind of traveller you are, it can be hard to see everything you want in a short space of time. Take the three countries of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Seeing everything in four weeks can be done - while still getting the best experience of each destination. Buses are probably the most cost effective form of transport between locations, but a train or plane (or boat) are options if it’s a long journey or has too many transfers along the way. Keep in mind that you may be told by ticket agents it’s ‘only’ a 6 hour journey when in fact it may turn out to be 12 hours or more, so travel overnight or leave early and bring a book and/or pillow! Time spent travelling between locations has been taken into account within this guide.
It may be a good idea to start by flying to Hanoi, Vietnam and entering Laos at the Vietnamese border. This will bring you a straighter route towards the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site Luang Prabang. The cheaper option to get here is by bus for about $50 but it takes 30 hours. The shorter, but more expensive, option is to fly but it could set you back around $190.
Luang Prabang – 3 days
There are many temples (wats) here so you may need to pick and choose during your visit. Ensure you make time for an elephant ride, strolling around the markets and taking in the colonial architecture. If you have time, take a trip up Mont Phousi, or a boat to Pak Ou cave.
Vientiane – 2 days
A relaxing destination, even though it’s the capital city, reached by either bus (11 hours) or boat. There’s a lot of French influenced Lao cuisine to try, and you can stroll around an evening market while rounding off your evening with a bottle of Lao beer.
Pakse – 1 day
After another bus journey, Pakse is good place to finish off your trip in Laos near the border of Cambodia. There are some great buildings to see here but you may end up taking your day to travel to attractions like Bolaven Plateau or Tat Lo.
Taking into account passport checks at the border and a transfer between buses, Pakse to Siam Reap takes about 10-12 hours for $35. Siam Reap is a good base for visiting another UNESCO World Heritage site – Angkor Wat.
Siam Reap/Angkor Wat – 2 days
Siam Reap itself is a quiet town but there are lots of markets, bars and restaurants where you can relax after your long journey. There are also tours that can take you to Angkor Wat. Try to go at dawn so you’re in time to watch the sun rise and spend the day exploring. It’s an amazing sight so don’t forget your camera!
Phnom Penh – 2 days
Your bus journey to Cambodia’s capital may last around 7 hours so leave as early as you can. This will give you time in Phnom Penh to see more temples and museums. The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda are worth seeing, and don’t forget to pick up some souvenirs from one of the markets.
Ho Chi Minh city – 3 days
You’ll start in the city formerly known as Saigon. There is a lot to explore here so why not start with a visit to the Co Chi tunnels? If you’re not claustrophobic, you can go through the tight underground spaces, which you may be shocked to learn are built slightly bigger than the originals. Go for a trip along the Mekong Delta, shop at the markets and do a bike or bus tour to see more of the city.
Nha Thrang – 2 days
After an 8 hour train journey you may be glad to grab some beach time. In Nha Trang you can take advantage of spa treatments and massages by day, and beach parties at night.
Hoi An – 1 day
A good place to stop on your way to Hanoi. It’s 9 hours on the bus to Hoi An but you can also get the train to Danang which may be slightly quicker with a bus then from Danang to Hoi An. Here, you can get clothes made, for example a dress, suit or coat, which can be posted to you at your home address. It’s also a nice place for seeing some local artwork, bars and restaurants.
Hanoi – 2 days
Back to where your trip began, it takes 16 hours on the train from Danang to Vietnam’s capital of Hanoi, or 17 hours on the bus (both overnight). Spend your time here taking in the amazing local cuisine but wear stretchy pants! The most popular will be anything referred to as ‘Pho’ which is a noodle soup. For some local entertainment, take in a water puppet show, accompanied by music at a local theatre, or try some cooking lessons.
Ha Long Bay – 2 days
Here you could either decide to do a day trip to Halong Bay from Hanoi or an overnight stay on a boat. If you decide on the day trip – or the weather dictates this for you, take an extra day in Hanoi. This is another UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Natural Wonder of the World. It is definitely worth visiting and sailing among the ‘karsts’ and isles. You can relax on the deck of your boat or get out for a kayak ride.
Sapa – 2 days
Finish off your 4 week trip with a hiking trip to Sapa. It’s a 10 hour train journey from Hanoi but definitely worth it. It has become more touristic in recent years but the scenery makes it very memorable. If you didn’t bring hiking boots don’t despair, trainers are fine but they may get very dirty so don’t wear your best! You will be inundated with offers to buy gifts from the local people, who seem to be able to speak the language of anyone they approach! Don’t be afraid to haggle on price – or not buy anything at all.
What do you think of this trip? If there is anything you think should be included or swapped, let us know!
Thanks to Dennis Jarvis, Ross Huggett, Shankar S, Christine McIntosh, POTIER Jean-Louis, Aleksandr Zykov and a 1 u c a r d for the excellent pictures from Flickr. Please note they were under Creative Commons Licence at time of publishing.