How to Plan 2 Weeks in Cambodia and Laos

Two of the hidden gems of Indochina, Cambodia and Laos are impressive countries where you can see the spectacular Buddhist and Hindu inspired architecture of the ancient Khmer Empire as well as the stunning natural beauty of the two countries. While they share a border, traveling between the two countries can take time, so planning your itinerary to make the most out of your two-week trips is of major importance.

Both Laos and Cambodia have been through years of isolation from the outside world, and are now open to tourism from all over the world, with hundreds of thousands of visitors traveling there from the west every year. And with so many things to see in these ancient nations, fitting it all into two weeks would be impossible. It is best not to over-plan, and try to visit more sites than you can realistically manage, choosing your route well, and including the major attractions you want to see.

Choose the “Right Time” to Go

Choosing the right time to go depends on many factors, including what you are looking for, your preferred weather, and when you can get the time off work to travel. The first thing to think about is the time of year. Both Cambodia and Laos have two seasons, wet and dry, and you need to think about which you prefer. While the dry season is the best season to visit, with the cooler weather and sunny days, it is also the peak season for tourism in Cambodia and Laos, so if you are not much into crowds, the peak months of December to February are not going to be ideal.

October to November and March to April are the shoulder months in tourism, where there are less people, but the weather is less pleasant. October is the last month of the rainy season, and can be one of the wettest months of the year, though rain falls mostly in the afternoons and early evening, leaving the mornings bright and clear. Similarly, April is the first month of the wet season, and while there is little rain, the weather is heating up, and temperatures of up to 30 degrees are not uncommon.

Travel in good weather
Travel in good weather

The wet season, from April to October, is not all wet, and the first half of it has as little rain as the dry season, but does have high temperatures of up to 40 degrees in May and June and very high humidity. From August to October, the temperature is getting cooler, but the rains have started in earnest now, with September to October being the wettest months of the year. Humidity is also high through the second part of the wet season, so if hot and humid does not sound comfortable for traveling, then you should avoid the wet season.

All about Visas for Cambodia and Laos

Cambodia and Laos both have Visa On Arrival services, which makes getting the visa for each country much easier. However, you should be sure that it is available at the entry port you are intending to use, as not all land border crossings with their respective neighbors have this service available. Make sure you check the land border access for international travel before planning your trip. Incidentally, if you are planning to travel overland between Cambodia and Laos, there is currently only one border crossing each way, which is a different overland crossing point depending on which way you are headed.

If you are traveling from Laos to Cambodia, the only land border checkpoint for international travelers is at Tropaeng Kreal, which has Visa On Arrival services as well as accepting E-visas for Cambodia. Conversely, the only overland access point from Cambodia to Laos is at Dong Krolar, and is a busy immigration point for Laos, with lots of buses and minibuses transporting travelers across the border.

Cambodia tourist visa
Cambodia tourist visa

Only Cambodia has an E-visa service, which is accepted at several other land borders apart from Laos, and can be used at all three international airports. Visas can also be obtained the old-fashioned way, by getting them at the embassy or consular office in your home country, though for Laos there are very few embassies outside Asia. You can, however, apply for a visa for Laos in any country with an Embassy, and if you are traveling from Cambodia to Laos, you can make the application in three working days at the Lao Embassy in Phnom Penh. If your home country has no Cambodian Embassy, and you do not want to apply for your visa on your arrival, you can make the application in any other Asian country before traveling on to Cambodia. Most countries have short visa-free stay allowances for many Asian countries, and since there are no direct airlines from North America and Europe to Cambodia, stopping in a neighboring country such as Thailand first means you can get the visa at the embassy there.

For those traveling to either country from outside Asia, the Visa On Arrival is the best option, and is available at all the international airports in both countries.

Traveling around Cambodia

Traveling around Cambodia, with its roughly apple-like shape, would appear to be easy, and ideal for those circuitous routes covering the major attractions. Unfortunately, the road network in Cambodia is not that way inclined, and rather than being in a regular, organized network, it is a little haphazard, with most roads radiating out from certain central points, such as Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

The best way to travel around in Cambodia is by using public buses, which are cheap if a little hot and crowded, but which give you a great opportunity to experience the local Cambodian culture at first hand. Select your route carefully, heading as direct as possible from one attraction to the next, though you will often find yourself doubling back along some roads to reach the connecting roads to other places. More time will be needed for travel than you might expect, so you should work that into your travel plans.

Traveling around Laos

Laos is a relatively small country, with a wider north, and narrow central and southern areas. Traveling around the north is similar to traveling in Cambodia, with some of the popular sites such as Vang Va being on roads you will have to double back on to get to the next place. However, traveling north to south in northern Laos is simple, and the route from Luang Prabang to Vientiane is a direct one, although the road is far from straight.

The central and southern part of Laos is much easier to travel around, especially if you are just heading south for the border. The road south from Vientiane runs direct to Savannakhet first, before continuing its direct route to Pakse and on to the border crossing at Dong Krolar.

One thing to note when traveling on public transport in Cambodia and Laos is that you should be flexible with your travel times, and maybe allow a little extra time for each leg of the journey. Public buses in Laos and Cambodia are well known to be erratic at times, and have been known to break down without warning, leaving you hanging around some dusty village street for hours waiting for another bus. Trains and flights are much more reliable, but are expensive and not ideal for those on a budget.

List Where You are Going and How Long to Get There

There are literally thousands of places that you could visit in Cambodia and Laos, and to do so would take many years of constant travel. Since you are only looking at two weeks, and not an entire lifetime, then you should list the highlights of both nations that you want to see, and plan an itinerary around those places you wish to visit most. Many major attractions can be seen well in just half a day, though you may want to allot extra time for places like the Angkor Temple Complex if you are interested in ancient Khmer Empire temples.

Other places may be seen in shorter times, such as the Silver Pagoda, the Royal Palace, and the National Museum in Cambodia, which can be seen in an hour or so each. Places like Phnom Penh, with multiple attractions within the city, can be seen in half a day, leaving the other half to get to your next destination.

Wherever you intend to go, you will need to include traveling time in your itinerary, and you cannot rely very much on the travel times given by Google Maps in most of Asia. Traffic in certain areas can change within minutes, and you can go from an open road to a major traffic jam in no time at all. And it can all disappear just as quickly. Whatever your estimated travel times between destinations, you should add at least an extra hour or two to the travel time to allow for unforeseen circumstances. This way, you will not end up rushing the last part of your trip trying to see all the attractions you listed because of insufficient travel time allowances.

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