Cambodia and Laos

Linda and I are always on the watch for a bargain airfare. To where? Does it matter? As long as it is a good deal, adventure awaits. When Singapore Airlines celebrated their longest non-stop flight, an 18 hour,  8,759 mile flight between Los Angeles and Singapore by offering a round trip flight with connections to anywhere they flew for $649 we jumped.  Singapore Airlines is the best.  Big seats with lots of leg room, no plastic, wine in real glass and lobster in coach.The routing we booked was Los Angeles - Singapore – Phnom Penh, Cambodia and the return would be from Luang Prabang, Laos – Singapore – Los Angeles for $642, slightly less than advertised. Using local flights and buses we would visit Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Angkor Wat in Cambodia as well as Vientiane, Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang in Laos.  Unknown adventure awaited.

Our flight arrived in Singapore at 7 in the evening and we had a not so short 15 hour layover until our connecting flight to Cambodia. It was a welcome relief for us after such a long flight. We checked our bags through and then walked to the Metro for a quick 15 minute ride to our hotel.  No better way to spend a long layover than to get out of the airport and enjoy your stay.  I strategically chose a hotel next to a Metro Station and a large outdoor food court. Mmmm Mmmm, you haven’t dined until you have had a food court meal in Singapore. Way too many worldly flavors to choose from.

Phnom Penh

We arrived in Phnom Penh rested and ready for whatever exotic adventure awaited us. Our hotel was right on the Mekong River next to the Royal Palace and National Museum. We did not have far to go to immerse ourselves into the culture of Cambodia.  Once known as the "Pearl of the Orient", Phnom Penh was heavily colonized by the French and still displays an exotic mixture of Asian and French culture.

Siem Reap and Angkor

After a few days of exploring Phnom Penh and acclimating ourselves to a 15 hour time difference we boarded a plane for Siem Reap.   There we would spend the next week exploring Angkor, one of the crown jewels of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.   Angkor, which includes Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom is the largest religious center in the world.  It's history dates back almost 1,500 years with influences from Mahayana Buddhism, Hinduism and later Theravada Buddhism.  The majority of Angkor's construction took place under King Suryavarman II 900 years ago.  Angkor is huge, spread over 1,000 square kilometers it contains over a thousand temples of both Hindu and Buddhist faiths.

Linda and I rented a motor scooter to avoid the oppressive crowds and visit the sites when the tour buses were not present.  A scooter is also the best way to explore the outer perimeter of the complex which is less visited.

To venture even further out we hired a private car with a driver who spoke excellent English and had an intimate knowledge of the surrounding countryside. For a very reasonable rate of $75 a day he served as an excellent tour guide to even more remote and exotic sites than we would of ventured to on our own.


To get to Laos we had a logistical problem. From Siem Reap it was a long rough overland route with a difficult border crossing. Linda and I opted to fly into Savannakhet where it would be a much easier job to clear customs and obtain a VISA at the airport. We were still a long way from Vientiane, our first area of interest on our route North through central Laos.  We made our way to the long distance bus station where we were able to secure the last sleeping berth available on a bus leaving that evening for Vientiane. Overnight buses are a very comfortable way to travel in Asia. For a very reasonable fee, you get a full berth to lie down and sleep while you travel to your destination. Not a bad way to travel.

Vientiane, the capitol of Laos is another city with French influence as it was the administrative center of the protectorate of French Indochina. It makes for a strange mix of cultures as it makes the slow transition back to being a Buddhist culture.  It has a large concentration of Wats and Buddhist monks for it contains many holy relics making it the holiest site for Buddhists in Laos. 

Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng is somewhat unique as a tourist destination in Laos.  At one time Vang Vieng was the backpackers hedonistic hot spot for Southeast Asia.  Hundreds of young people would tube down the Song River all  the while indulging in as much alcohol and various drugs as humanly possible.  As a result there were numerous deaths on the river each year.  In 2012 the local government put a stop to it all.  Now visitors no longer come to party but to enjoy the unique jungle and agricultural environment surrounded by majestic karst mountains. 

You can still get bucket sized cheap drinks made from "Top Shelf" bottles that are filled with liquor of questionable origins if that is your thing.  Yet the real focus of the local economy is catering to a clientele who prefers a "greener" experience.  Zip lines, caving, rock climbing, balloon rides and kayaking are the mainstays for the "older" traveler who prefers a "quieter" experience.

Luang Prabang

For Linda and myself, Luang Prabang was the highlight of our visit to Laos.  Stunningly beautiful, it is situated  along the Mekong River and was the royal capital of the country until 1975.  Filled with wat's,  gilded imperial buildings and Buddhist relics it exudes an atmosphere of oriental exotic.  The saffron robes of it's many monks drift through town adding brilliance to the already colorful avenues.  You are free to wander about the grounds of the wats, temples and royal gardens where many of the monks welcome conversation to perfect their amazing language skills.  Like the many other places in Laos there is a French influence, most notably in the neighborhood architecture and the cuisine.  If Linda and I were not searching out Laotian street food or dining at one of the beautiful riverside restaurants, we were getting full 5 course French meals with wine for less than $40. 

As usual we rented a motor scooter to explore the further outskirts of town and the surrounding country side.  To the North was Pak Ou and the Buddha Caves, to the South was Kuang Si Waterfalls.  Although each were less than 20 miles from Luang Prabang it would consume a full day each to travel the side roads less traveled and visit the villages along the way.

When it was time to go to the airport for our flight home our regret was that we did not allow ourselves an additional week or so to experience this amazing country.  Each day we were there we were overcome by the beauty, the simplistic lifestyle it's people lived and the utter joy and happiness they expressed throughout each day.  All in all it was a travel adventure well done.

Powered by SmugMug Owner Log In