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Cambodia/Laos or Thailand/Laos for first trip to SE Asia????

Portland, Oregon
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163 posts
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Cambodia/Laos or Thailand/Laos for first trip to SE Asia????

I am really excited about my first trip to SE Asia later this year but can't decide whether I should visit Thailand and Laos or Cambodia and Laos. I have done a lot of reading on Trip Advisor and Travelfish about both options but can't seem to make up my mind. I know that everyone has very subjective opinions about the "best" places to visit but am just really divided about whether to choose Thailand which is more touristy but an easier place to get around or Cambodia which I expect is a bit more challenging but possibly more rewarding.

I have a total of about 3 weeks to travel in December and will be traveling by myself for the first half and with my father (in his late 60s but super-healthy) for the second half of the trip. Both my father and I are experienced low to mid-range travelers who have traveled a lot in Central and South America but this will be our first trip to SE Asia. We want to see as much as we can without being exhausted by traveling from place to place, want to get a bit off the main tourist track, and see both urban and rural areas. I definitely plan to take other future trips to SE Asia but this may be my father's only visit to the region.

We are flying home from Luang Prabang and are planning to spend our last 4-5 days of the trip there (we are going to be using frequent flyer miles and this is the only city I can get return tickets from). Based on my research so far (and where we can fly into using our miles), here are two very rough itineraries I have developed:

1. Fly into Krabi and visit 1-3 surrounding islands, fly to Chiang Mai and explore surrounding areas for 3-5 days, meet my father in Chiang Mai and spend 3-4 days, visit Chiang Rai for 1-2 days, bus to Laos border and take slow boat to Luang Prabang, last 4-5 days in Luang Prabang.

2. Fly into Phnom Phen and take taxi to Kampot, 2-3 days in Kampot/Kep, 1-3 days on an island off of Sihanoukville, bus to Phnom Phen and stay 1-2 days, bus or boat to Battangbang and stay for 1-2 days, meet my father in Siem Reap and stay for 3-4 days, plane to Luang Prabang, and last 4-5 days in Luang Prabang.

I would greatly appreciate any thoughts/suggestions and am totally open to other possible itineraries. Thank you so much!!!

Brisbane, Australia
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1. Re: Cambodia/Laos or Thailand/Laos for first trip to SE Asia????

Hi there,

Just reading your post and I would go with option one seeing your going to be on your own for the first bit. Krabi will be amazing and there is plenty to do in see with the islands so close. I was there in Jan and was very sad to leave. I have been told that the beaches in Cambodia have nothing on Thailand. I too am looking at Cambodia and Laos in August and am trying to find the best way to get to Laos via Cambodia. What was your findings?

Perth, Australia
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for Cambodia
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2. Re: Cambodia/Laos or Thailand/Laos for first trip to SE Asia????

My first thought on reading both of your options was to ask you what are your interests and is there anything in particular that you'd like to see and do. Without that information it's a bit difficult to make any suggestions as each of the three countries you've mentioned is unique.

You've still got stacks of time before your trip so you'll be able to work out an itinerary which would suit you perfectly. Cambodia isn't more challenging than Thailand and is very easy to arrange transport while you're there. You could perhaps cobble together a DIY trip and as you only have three weeks, I'd be inclined to date fix your destinations and many of us on the forums will be able to help you put together the nuts and bolts with suggestions about travel and accommodation options.

Have fun with the planning.

Toronto, Canada
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3. Re: Cambodia/Laos or Thailand/Laos for first trip to SE Asia????


I agree that knowing your interests would be helpful.

As a traveler who enjoys culture and history a bit more than beaches, I can say that Cambodia has a lot to offer. The people are warm, and there is so much to do and learn. And, like travelkat88 said, we found it easy enough to get around. If you speak a bit of French, it is also helpful when English isn't working very well... :)

Thailand was lovely as well but, as you said, we found it quite 'touristy'. Chaing Mai is great, with a lot to do for a variety of interests.

Happy planning!

Kurashiki, Japan
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for Kurashiki, Cambodia, Myanmar
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4. Re: Cambodia/Laos or Thailand/Laos for first trip to SE Asia????

You have to decide what ther else to do there and which of that interests you the most, THEN decide on what countries to see. I love both Cambodia and Laos, so it would be a toss-up for me.

Thailand has some amazing beaches and a lot of nature, avoid Krabi or Chiang Mai if you don't want all the tourists. Plenty of islands south of that that are gorgeous and not overrun with resort tourists. Bangkok is heaps of fun and allow a few days to see the sights &/or shop there. If you are into history and ruins then you have numerous choices- very nearby Bangkok is Ayutthaya or you could fly up to Sukhothai/ Si Satchanalai.

Portland, Oregon
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5. Re: Cambodia/Laos or Thailand/Laos for first trip to SE Asia????

Thanks so much for all the feedback! I really appreciate it. I have decided to go to Cambodia and Laos and save Thailand for a future trip.

This is the itininerary I am thinking of at this point for Cambodia: Kampot for 3-4 nights (with possible day trips to Kep, Bokor, and/or Rabbit Island, 2-3 nights in Phnom Phen, 1-3 nights Battambang, then 4-5 nights in Siem Reap with my father.

I am hoping to get a good mix of culture, nature, cities, history, and more rural areas on my trip. I want to see as much as possible without rushing around everywhere and having no time to relax. I am not a big beach person but appreciate a day or so at a quiet beach or snorkeling. I especially like walking and exploring new areas (as well as spending a few hours relaxing in a nice cafe every once in a while). I don't love tours but plan to take a few day tours....I especially like walking and bike tours that provide a more local introduction to a place.

I would appreciate any further feedback on my itinerary, suggestions for any favorite places to stay under $45 a night, and/or recommendations for great day tours.

6. Re: Cambodia/Laos or Thailand/Laos for first trip to SE Asia????

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