I am planning a trip to Laos and Cambodia in April-May of this year. I am looking for any advice about the best route to take. I am flying in from Melbourne and was thinking about starting north and working my way south to fly out from Phnom Penh. Would it make sense to start in Vietnam perhaps (Hanoi) or even west in Thailand (Chiang Mai)?
As yet i haven't purchased any books on Laos but i haven't read on the interent an account of someone travelling south from Vientiene to the border of Cambodia. Is this not often done? If not, why?
The last entries I have read regarding this region were entered at the end of 2006. Has security in the region changed dramatically?
I would be very grateful for any assisstance
A typical Indochina loop would see most people start in Hanoi before winding their way down to Saigon and then bus/boat into Phnom Penh, detour to the coast, up to Siem Reap, and then to Stung Treng before crossing into Southern Laos.
Going from Thailand is also possible. Buses go from Bangkok to Siem Reap but these are really not the most comfortable/safe way to travel. A much more scenic and scam free way is to go from Chiang Kong in Thailand to Huay Xai in Laos, before making your way down into Cambodia. I met some people who were full of praise for this 2 day river trip into Luang Prabang Laos (with an overnight stop at Pak Beng). This s a comparatively less travelled route than the Hanoi loop.
As for the security situation, Laos was probably the safest country i have visited, (aside from Singapore) with the Hmong insurgency no longer a problem. Eastern Cambodia can be a bit lawless, but is also one of the most beautiful parts of the country. Again ive met many travellers who has come down this way and had not heard anything bad... As for Vietnam, there is a thread discusing Vietnam now in the forums...
my route was similar to that which itinerant mentioned; I travelled through Thailand and crossed the border at Chiang Khong in the North and then got the 2 day slow boat down to Luang Prabang. After travelling through Laos I flew to Vientiane with Vietnam airlines and then travelled south through Vietnam. From Siagon it's a journey of a few hours to Phnom Penh, and then from there you can get buses easily to elsewhere in Cambodia. I flew back to Bangkok with Bangkok Airways from Siem Reap. I would recommend this route if you have time as then you can see Vietnam and Thailand too.
We looked into the bus route from Vientiane to Cambodia as you mentioned and it seemed a hell of a long journey with frequent delays, breakdowns etc (from what i read on the internet) and I never actually met a traveller who had done this.
As far as I know safety is still fine in this region. There are still some rebels in Laos but this rarely affects tourists. Some guidebooks warn against walking alone in Phnom Penh at night as a lot of people carry guns, but I never felt unsafe there at night.