In February, David and I traveled with our friends, Bruno and Susan, for about three and a half weeks through Laos and Cambodia. We started our journey by crossing into Laos from northern Thailand, then took the slow boat down the Mekong River to the UNESCO town of Luang Prabang. We spent a few days in Luang Prabang before traveling overland to Laos’ capital city of Vientiane. From Vientiane, we flew to Pakse in southern Laos to take a river cruise to the Four Thousand Island region of the Mekong River. We then flew from Pakse to Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor. From Siem Reap, we traveled overland to Battambang and ended the trip in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, before flying back to Bangkok.

There are many impressions from the trip, too many to include in a single post. So I divided them into 4 parts.

Part 1: A boat ride from Houayxay to Luang Prabang (Laos)
Part 2: Vang Vieng to Vientiane and a river cruise to the Four Thousand Island region (Laos)
Part 3: Siem Reap and the Angkor (Cambodia)
Part 4: A floating village on Tonlé Sap lake, Battambang, and Phnom Penh (Cambodia)

What about the Coronavirus?

Well, currently the COVID-19 pandemic is what everyone is thinking and talking about and we will probably have to live with it for a while. However, back when David and I took this trip the COVID-19 situation was mostly limited in Asia. It was before the viral infection started exploding in Europe. Fortunately, there was no reported infected case in Laos at that time and only one reported case in Cambodia. Nevertheless, we were quite careful during our trip. We had hand-sanitizer and wore face mask when in crowded areas and when we flew. In fact, people wearing face mask was a common sight in Asia even before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic.

Click on the map to open a browsable map

Journey down the river

Our trip began by crossing into Laos at Houayxay from Chiang Kong in the Thailand’s province of Chiang Rai. After clearing the immigration, we were brought to the bank of the Mekong River where the boat was awaiting us. This is our transportation to Luang Prabang for the next two days with a stopover in Pakbeng. During the boat ride down the Mekong River from Houayxay to Luang Prabang via Pakbeng and a river cruise to Four Thousand Islands, we were part of a larger tour group. However, for the rest of the trip, we were on a private guided tour with tour companies in Laos and Cambodia. Shompoo Cruise was our tour operator of the slow boat from Houayxay to Luang Prabang.

It was a calm morning when we were settling into our seats on the boat, exciting for an adventure ahead of us.
Inside of the slow boat. You sit in the dinette-style seat. It’s not too crowded. I felt comfortable.
Lunch was served on the boat. Local foods were provided. It was quite tasty actually.
The scenery along the Mekong River.
Fishermen working along the bank of the river

After lunch, the tour stopped at a Khmu hill-tribe village. This Khmu tribe used to live higher up in the mountains, but now settled on the bank of the Mekong River near Pakbeng. We visited with the villagers and learned about their way of life through our guide. The villagers and children seemed to be genuinely interested in having visitors. I thought it was a very nice visit.

When our boat arrived at the Khmu village, these children were playing and walking on the sandy shore of the river. They were obviously interested in seeing a group of foreigners.
Sitting and watching us getting off the boat
The Khmu village
A common scene as we walked through the village
The villagers were gathering nearby as our tour guide gave us information about the Khmu tribe. They don’t speak English. We don’t speak their language. Nevertheless, the Laotian word “Sa-bai-dee”, which could be used for saying hello or goodbye was understood and acknowledged.
We stayed overnight in Pakbeng, a small town on the Mekong River about halfway between Houayxay and Luang Prabang.
In the morning, the boat continued to Luang Prabang. This section of the river is through mountainous areas. The water level was low. The captain had to carefully navigate the channels. The smoke from nearby field and forest burning filled the river valley.
Before arriving in Luang Prabang, the tour stopped at a cave and a village that made local glutinous rice spirit. We bought a small bottle as a souvenir.

Town of Luang Prabang — The UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the UNESCO World Heritage Centre website, “Luang Prabang is located in northern Laos at the heart of a mountainous region. The town is built on a peninsula formed by the Mekong and the Nam Khan River. Mountain ranges (in particular the PhouThao and PhouNang mountains) encircle the city in lush greenery.” “Luang Prabang is exceptional for both its rich architectural and artistic heritage that reflects the fusion of Lao traditional urban architecture with that of the colonial era. Its remarkably well-preserved townscape reflects the alliance of these two distinct cultural traditions.

Luang Prabang is a charming town in northern Laos. The town was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. We only had two days and an evening in Luang Prabang. But for the little time we had, we had a wonderful time and a good impression of the town. We would like to come back again.

The old part of town is quite walkable. Sisavangvong Road is the main street, which is full of shops, restaurant, and hotels.
The highlight is the architecture of the old buildings.
By evening, the Sisavangvong Road was transformed into a night market. It was pretty quiet when we were there. An impact from COVID-19 on tourism was felt throughout the region.
Luang Prabang is surrounded by mountains and, on this day, filled with smoke.
Monks crossing a bamboo bridge over the Nam Khan River.
There are two bamboo bridged across the Nam Khan River in the old town of Luang Prabang. A roundtrip toll is 7,000 kip per person (about $0.75). When you pay the toll, you are issued a return ticket, good on the same day.
Beautiful sunset on the Mekong River
On a sightseeing tour of Luang Prabang
Wat Xiengthong
Colorful glass mosaics at Wat Xiengthong
A nearby Kuangsi Waterfall is a popular destination to spend a hot day.
Kuangsi Waterfall

After Luang Prabang, we continued our journey overland to Vang Vieng and Vientiane.



6 thoughts

  1. Looks like it was a good trip before the Covid 19 situation got out of control. A couple of those sunsets are incredible! Hope you guys are staying healthy and safe!


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