Traveling to Thailand and Cambodia (and maybe Laos)

After so many years spent having Christmas in Bali (or with Dengue Fever last year) Novita and I have decided to spend two weeks traveling around Thailand and Cambodia. We leave tomorrow for Bangkok. She’s never been, so it should be interesting.

I am excited to capture a completely new destination through the lens. We plan to spend a few days in Siem Ream, Cambodia, exploring Angkor Wat (the world’s largest religious monument – build in the 12th century) and the surrounding temples. We’re still undecided if it’d be a better use of time skipping around some of the islands of Thailand, or heading more north to Chiang Mai, etc. Heard great things about both. My only reservation with the island options is exactly that – no reservations. In a place like Bali, I generally hop off the plane and find a room no matter what time of year. I’ve heard that’s not quite so easy on many of the more popular islands in Thailand (especially at Christmas).

I’ve looked at staying on some of the following: Rai Ley Beach, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, Phuket (not sure about this as I’d like more seclusion), Koh Chang, or perhaps some of the East coast islands. If anyone has any thoughts on which offers more chill for the Baht, I’m all ears. Would I be alright to arrive without any bookings? What’s the best way to travel from Bangkok? Would I be better off exploring more of Thailand rather than beaching it considering I live in Indonesia? (meaning I have Bali, Lombok, Thousand Islands, etc easily accessible)

My sister is wandering around Asia/Australia for a year or so. She’s somewhere in Cambodia now, having spent the better part of a month in Thailand. She hated Bangkok, but I thought it was a great city. Perhaps I’m more calloused having come from Jakarta. I believe she’s off to Vietnam after Cambodia; don’t think our paths will meet up, despite the fact that I’m only a few days behind her footsteps.

The other option, after Cambodia, is to travel to Laos. Some friends highly recommended Luang Prabang. I probably should ask an expert like Lao Ocean about this topic! Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Yes – the actual city is a living Heritage Site. Amazing. This option might be a bit tough to squeeze in with only two weeks total.
[Coincidentally, after posting this I visited Lao Ocean’s blog and just happened to come across her link to The New York Times ‘The 53 Places to Go in 2008‘ – Laos is #1. This hotel doesn’t look too bad]

If anyone will be around Bangkok, the islands, or Cambodia in these dates, we’d love to meet up! I’d also appreciate any information, advice, or opinions about these locations, especially in regards to photographing them (hopefully beyond tourist shots).

I’ll try to post again soon. Until then, Merry Christmas to all of you!

PS – Lombok is #34 on the NYT list.

  • Finally making a trip to Thailand? I’m excited for you.

    “I’ve looked at staying on some of the following: Rai Ley Beach, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, Phuket (not sure about this as I’d like more seclusion), Koh Chang, or perhaps some of the East coast islands.”

    I’ve stayed at all those places and can go into more detail, but overall:
    – Rai Ley: go if you like rock climbing, otherwise it’s nothing too special.
    – Koh Phi Phi: small but beautiful island that was still trying to recover from the tsunami. Beaches were ok, but not great.
    – Koh Lanta: I stayed there for 3 weeks over the X-mas/New Year break one year. Beautiful sunsets every night, laid back, and quiet near the south.
    – Phuket – long stretched of beach and very touristy. Nothing special.
    – Koh Chang – There was a lot of development at the time but the beach we stayed at was nice and secluded.
    –> of those above, I’d recommend Koh Lanta or Koh Chang.

    Once you arrive in Bangkok, go to Kao San Road – there are a million travel agents and you can book anything there. Don’t worry about reservation. Most people travel around the country by bus, since it’s the cheapest, but there are flights to Chiang Mai and to the Islands. Since you already make frequent trips to Bali, I’d recommend trying non-beach related activities up north. I haven’t been, but some friends recommend Pai over Chiang Mai. They say it’s more bohemian, artsy, and laid back.

    You don’t have a lot of time, so I wouldn’t recommend going to Laos unless you want to commit 3 days. I’d recommend at least 2 full days in Luang Prabang, and you’d also have to consider the travel time to get there. Plus, there’s Angkor Wat. You’d be very hard pressed to get everything done in one day there. We bought a 3 day pass, and that was sufficient, but there was still more to see. I believe the passes come in 1, 3 or 7 days.

    For beautiful shots, I’d recommend Luang Prabang and Angkor Wat, for sure. In L.B., you get to see this every morning: http://flickr.com/photos/riverdaleto/112938800/

  • I like many of Lao-Ocean’s recommendations, but I would not recommend staying at KhaoSan area in Bangkok, unless you /really/ dig the smelly dreadlocked drunken backpacker (farang khii nok — birdsh!t foreigner) scene.

    Hotel prices in Bangkok are generally lower than that of Jakarta. My favorite lower-midrange is Sawaddee Sukhumvit, located near the Thong Lor BTS station. Other low-priced options are on Soi Kasem San near the National Stadium BTS station, much more convenient for getting around than Khaosan. I’m sure you can splurge for a little extra comfort.

    Novita may like the nightlife (non-naughty kind) in Bangkok, much better than Jakarta. I recommend the Bed Supperclub for dinner and clubbing afterwards. My favorite jazz joint is the Saxophone, near the Victory Monument. A lot of cool places are located on Soi Thonglor and Soi Ekkamai, need a taxi to go there.

    Eat on the streets. At night there are usually plenty of food courts that put on a show to go along with your meal.

    If you go to ChiangMai, you have to go to Khaosoi Lamduan and have their khao soi noodles and sai oua sausages.

    It’s worth visiting the floating village near Seam Reap. I found it very peaceful and mesmerizing.

  • Avi

    Hey. I also suggest you hit Kao San just to figure out where you wanna go and how to get there. I find hanging in a bar and talkin to a few people is a cool way to find out what is happening at the moment. I did the BKK to Samui by train a few years ago. It was fun but long. Trains are comfortable though.

    As for Cambodia, I did Siam Reap last year. I did not care much for Angkor Wat, there are so many other temples that are way more photogenic. But I guess you gotta see Angkor. There is another one that is totally overcome with trees. Ask about for a temple with a room where you can hear your heart beat. I am really keen to see pictures you take there.

    Have fun mate. Merry Christmas and happy new years. Watch out for nut cases. Aloha.

  • Lucky bastard! I just find recommending Kao San once again entertaining, i’m sure you’re already there by now. You should. Be careful with travel agents making promises and stuff, we had our flights booking from BKK to Hanoi confirmed (with a piece of seemingly official printed paper), only to realise that the agents havent fully paid for our return ticket from Vietnam later. I’m sure that’s more the exception rather than the rule, but be careful anyway.

    As Lao Ocean said, traveling up north is immensely more fun – i find the beach scene in thailand a bit tiring after a while. Chiang Mai is brilliant.

    If not all the way north, then at least drop by in Sukhotai. The ancient city is nothing but amazing. Take pictures. Lots!

  • Enjoying vacations in the destinations like Thailand and Cambodia is a great experinece for anyone…these destinations have many things to offer to the visitors….both of these places are very diversed and one can easily attracted towards it….these destinations are full of natural sites and beautiness….

  • I like to travel to Koh Lanta So much.