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The Emerald Triangle | Thailand, Laos, Cambodia

An exploration of the rarely-visited 'Emerald Triangle' where Thailand, Laos and Cambodia meet. The 4,000 Islands and World Heritage Sites of Ayuthaya, Khao Yai and Wat Phu

Off-the-beaten-track Thailand, Laos and Cambodia tour

Our 15-day Thailand, Laos and Cambodia tour – ‘The Emerald Triangle’ – explores this picturesque yet rarely-visited region in the heart of Indochina where the borders of the three countries meet. On our travels we’ll take in 3 World Heritage sites; the ancient Siamese capital of Ayutthaya and Khao Yai National Park< as well as the scenic Angkor period temple of Wat Phu in southern Laos.

From the vibrant contemporary capital Bangkok and historic Ayuthaya, we’ll head into the northeastern region of Thailand, known as Isan, (or Issan) for a jungle hike and wildlife safari in Khao Yai before visiting the beautifully preserved, Angkor-period temples of Phnom Rung, atop an extinct volcano, and charming Muang Tham amid its lily ponds. (Both sites feature on UNESCO’s tentative list.) The picturesque Mekong-side town of Khong Chiam with the enigmatic, Neolithic rock carvings of Pha Taem National Park completes our Thai section before crossing the border into southern Laos.

Discover the Boloven Plateau and UNESCO-listed Wat Phu, before heading south for an island-hopping tour through the stunning inland archipelago known as the ‘Four Thousand Islands’, as well as a chance to visit the Khone Phapaeng Falls where the entire Mekong River cascades into Cambodia over a series of falls. One of the world’s largest, yet least-known waterfalls.

From here we continue overland into northern Cambodia where visits include a boat trip to spot some of the freshwater dolphins that still inhabit this stretch of the Mekong and a tour of the well-preserved 12th-century temple of Wat Nokor before finishing our tour in Cambodia’s vibrant capital of Phnom Penh.

An unforgettable journey through the ‘Emerald Triangle’ – a little-known but fascinating and picturesque region of Southeast Asia.

Since airfares are fluctuating wildly at present, as well as varying considerably from period to period, our ‘with flight’ prices, below, are approximate only.

Includes: Meals: B x 14, L x 10, D x 6

Laos

Itinerary

Here's an idea of what you can expect to do and see day-to-day.

Bangkok City Tour

Day 1 - Bangkok - arrival and time to explore the area

Arrival in Bangkok and check in to a downtown hotel in the City’s lively Banglamphu district. Afternoon to relax, recover from your jetlag by the pool or explore the area, street life and local markets before a welcome, local-style dinner.

Overnight: Bangkok Transport: Walk,  Meals: D, 

Ayutthaya tour

Day 2 - World Heritage Ayutthaya

Departure upcountry for the ancient city of Ayutthaya, the Siamese capital between the 14th and 18th centuries, and once one of the largest and wealthiest cities in Asia. Tour of some of the myriad historical sites by boat and on foot before an afternoon transfer to Pak Chong town, our base for nearby Khao Yai National Park.

Overnight: Pak Chong Transport: Minibus, Boat,  Meals: B, 

Thailand, Mountains and Rainforests

Day 3 - Khao Yai National Park

Day tour of the World Heritage site includes morning and afternoon safaris to spot some of the park’s rich fauna including gibbons, hornbills and with luck wild elephants. We’ll also take you on a jungle hike and visit one of Khao Yai’s most spectacular waterfalls.

Overnight: Pak Chong Transport: Walk,  Meals: B, L, 

Unusually Phnom Rung's main entrance faces north

Day 4 - Phanom Rung and Muang Tam

Heading east to Buriram Province our first stop will be the charming 11th-century site of Muang Tam with well-preserved Angkor-period temples set amid picturesque lily ponds. later in the afternoon, we’ll visit Phanom Rung, another spectacular site (now on UNESCO’s tentative list) actually set atop an extinct volcano.

Overnight: Surin Transport: Minibus, Boat, Walk,  Meals: B, L, D, 

Thailand, Muang Tam

Day 5 - East to the Mekong River

This morning’s stops include the small town of Sikoraphum with a lively local market and another beautifully restored Angkor site, as well as the picturesque Sirindhorn Lake. Afternoon arrival at the small town of Khong Chiam on the banks of the Mekong River, overlooking Laos, with some time at leisure to take in the scenery from our well-placed riverside resort.

Overnight: Kong Jiam Transport: Minibus,  Meals: B, L, 

Thailand, The Emerald Triangle, Pha Taem

Day 6 - Pha Taem National Park

Our day trip to nearby Pha Taem National Park includes a forest hike to discover the spectacular cliff paintings and unusual ‘mushroom rock’ features for which the park is famous. Take in the magnificent Mekong vistas from the clifftops with a return to Khong Jiam by boat down the Mekong River.

Overnight: Kong Chiam Transport: Boat, Walk,  Meals: B, L, D, 

Laos, Pakse sundowners

Day 7 - Cross the border to Laos

Leisurely morning in this quaint riverside town before crossing into Laos for a 2-night stay in Pakse. The afternoon is free to check out the markets, temples and bustling waterfront of this old French river port or try one of the famous, traditional Lao herbal massages.

Overnight: Pakse Transport: Minibus, Walk, Tuk Tuk,  Meals: B, D, 

Si Phan Don, the 4,000 Islands

Day 8 - The Boloven Plateau

Day tour of some of the varied sites of the Boloven Plateau, home to numerous ethnic minorities and the centre of Lao’s coffee-growing industry including visits to one of the area’s tea and coffee plantations, a colourful local market and a chance to bathe in the spectacular Tad Yeuang Falls.

Overnight: Pakse Transport: Minibus, Boat, Walk,  Meals: B, L, 

Laos, UNESCO Wat Phu

Day 9 - Boat down the Mekong to World Heritage Wat Phu

Back on to the Mekong River for a boat trip south to the small, historic town of Champassak. Afternoon visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Wat Phu – a pre-Angkor, Khmer temple dramatically situated on a mountainside overlooking the valley of the Mekong.

Overnight: Champassak Transport: Boat, Tuk Tuk,  Meals: B, L, 

The Four Thousand Islands

Day 10 - On to the 4,000 Islands

Time to head south with a ferry across the Mekong and visit to a small but atmospheric ruined jungle-temple, before arriving on Khong Island in the beautiful 4,000 Islands archipelago. Afternoon free to explore the village and waterfront or just take in the views from our resort’s pool or a strategically placed riverside cafe.

Overnight: Khong Island Transport: Minibus, Boat,  Meals: B, L, 

Mekong Adventure, Laos, jungle tuk-tuk on Don Khone

Day 11 - By boat through the 4,000 Islands

Early morning visit to a lively and very traditional local market followed by an island-hopping boat tour through the 4,000 Islands – a stretch of the Mekong of truly outstanding natural beauty – including a lunch courtesy of local villagers, to our day’s final destination the picturesque Khone Island.

Overnight: Don Khone Transport: Boat,  Meals: B, L, 

Laos, Kone Phapaeng Waterfall

Day 12 - Don Khone, the Liphi Falls and old Japanese Railway

The morning is spent exploring some of the sites of Khone island on foot and by tuk-tuk including the Liphi falls and the old WW2 Japanese railway. The afternoon is at leisure for you to explore further on foot or by bicycle or just sit back and relax by the resort’s pool.

Overnight: Don Khone Transport: Walk, Tuk Tuk,  Meals: B, D, 

The Mekong near Stung Treng

Day 13 - Down the Mekong into Cambodia

A stop at Khone Phapaeng – one of the world’s largest waterfalls – before crossing into northern Cambodia and the remote town of Stung Treng. Here we’ll continue south to Kratie town for an afternoon tour by a Cambodian rural development project including the rare freshwater dolphins and local village life.

Overnight: Kratie Transport: Minibus, Boat,  Meals: B, L, 

Cambodia, Wat Nokor

Day 14 - A rarely visited 12th-century temple and on to Phnom Penh

Continue south through Kampong Cham Province with a stop at the well-preserved 12th-century site of Wat Nokor and afternoon arrival in Phnom Penh. An evening farewell, Khmer-style dinner completes the tour.

Overnight: Phnom Penh Transport: Minibus, Walk,  Meals: B, L, D, 

Cambodia, Phnom Penh's old French Quarter, from Saigon to Angkor

Day 15 - Phnom Penh and end of tour

Morning at leisure and end of the tour with departure at your convenience.

Meals: B, 

Print Itinerary

Details

The nitty-gritty, the things you need to know, the answers to your burning questions.

Reclining Buddha image

Just a few of the many highlights

Rarely visited Phnom Rung atop a volcano, the UNESCO site of Wat Phu and the awesome Khone Phapaeng Falls and serene 4,000 Islands are just a few of many highlights

  • Thailand's contrasting World Heritage sites of ancient Ayutthaya and Khao Yai National Park
  • Journey by boat down the mighty Mekong to explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Wat Phu Temple
  • Meet plenty of friendly locals and of course sample the contrasting and delicious cuisines of Laos and Cambodia
  • Island-hopping tour through the serene landscapes of the 4,000 Islands
  • Wonderful landscapes of southern Laos include the Boloven Plateau, Khone Phapaeng Falls and 4,000 Islands
  • Discover the spectaular landcapes, unusual rock formations and prehistoric rock paintings of Thailand's Phae Taem National Park

Air Departures (UK) *From

  • 8 May 24 2,750 GBP
  • 5 June 24 2,750 GBP
  • 4 July 24 2,750 GBP
  • 31 July 24 2,750 GBP
  • 29 August 24 2,750 GBP
  • 26 September 24 2,750 GBP
  • 24 October 24 2,810 GBP
  • 21 November 24 2,810 GBP
  • 16 January 25 2,860 GBP
  • 13 February 25 2,860 GBP

Land Departures

  • 9 May 24 1,950 GBP
  • 6 June 24 1,950 GBP
  • 5 July 24 1,950 GBP
  • 1 August 24 1,950 GBP
  • 30 August 24 1,950 GBP
  • 27 September 24 1,950 GBP
  • 25 October 24 2,010 GBP
  • 22 November 24 2,010 GBP
  • 17 January 25 2,060 GBP
  • 14 February 25 2,060 GBP

Guaranteed Places Left Special Price Solo Traveller Closed

*Air departures are from the UK. Land departures start from Bangkok

*Land departure dates correspond to the FIRST day of the itinerary.

We choose our hotels based on a combination of location, comfort and convenience. Here is a *selection of the types of hotel/rooms you can expect to stay at on this tour...

Nanda Heritage Hotel, Bangkok, Thailand

Nanda Heritage Hotel Bangkok view

  • Based around a beautifully restored 1920s teak family villa
  • The award winning design combines traditional and modern
  • Great central location for restaurants, cafes and shopping
Peerada River View Resort, Kong Chiam

Peerada River View Resort, Kong Chiam

  • Chalet-style accommodation in a garden setting
  • Situated on the banks of the Mekong River itself
  • Convenient location a short walk from Kong Chiam village
Laos, Pakse Hotel, Pakse

Pakse Hotel view

  • Splendid views from the hotel's rooftop bar and restaurant
  • Sip a cold one as you watch the sun set over the Mekong
  • Central but quiet location in the old port town
The Riviera Champassak Laos

The Riviera Champassak view

  • Riverside accommodation in Champassak Town
  • Comfortable boutique-style rooms with balconies
  • Well-placed bar and restaurant overlooking the Mekong
Seng Ahloune Resort 4000 Islands

Seng Ahloune Resort 4000 Islands

  • Scenic riverside location
  • Located on Khone Island in Sth Laos's scenic '4,000 Islands'
  • Traditional style wooden chalets
Hotel 252 Phnom Penh

Hotel 252 Phnom Penh view

  • Small, boutique-style and low-key
  • Quiet but central location near cafes and restaurants
  • Garden setting with pool and cafe

*This list should be considered a guide only, hotels/rooms may change (without notice) depending on availability.

Visa Info & Notes

Visas:

Thailand: Visitors holding passports of Australia, Canada, UK, US, certain EU countries plus citizens of other ASEAN member states receive an automatic 30-day entry stamp on arrival. Note this is a visa waiver rather than a tourist visa however obtaining a visa in advance or visa or arrival is consequently not necessary and there is no advantage in applying for an e-visa. (Rules may vary for stays over 30 days or multiple entries.)

Not all European countries are covered by this scheme so passport holders from eastern European EU or non-EU nations are advised to check conditions with your consulate or embassy beforehand. You can also check current information on the Thai immigration website.

Laos:30-day tourist visas are issued at the visa-on-arrival counters at international airports and mosty land entry points. These are available for most nationalities with the exception of certain African and Middle Eastern countries and require a passport photo along with $40. (You can check the list at this link.) Additionally, Lao e-visas are now available and will speed up arrival formalities.

Cambodia: Although a 30-day tourist visa is issued at the border, somewhat tedious formalities at this remote border crossing make obtaining a visa in advance or e-visa strongly advisable. (Cost is $36)

The visa on arrival is payable in $US and may vary slightly from country to country. Most European passport holders plus South African, Australian and NZ are charged $30 with the exception of Swedish who pay $1 more and British who pay an extra $5. US citizens are also charged $35 while, for reasons we can’t fathom, Canadians pay $41. (Note a $1 overtime fee is charged for public holidays, outside of standard office hours or whenever they feel like it.)

All: Your Thai entry point is Suvaranaphum International Airport (Bangkok) and exit point is Chong Mek. For the Lao section, the entry point is Vang Tao and exit point is Veun Kham. (Lao e-visas are not accepted at Vang Tao.) Despite some older information we’ve seen online, the Cambodian crossing point is Don Kalor and your exit point is Pochentong International Airport (Phnom Penh). Also, in contrast to some info we’ve found, Cambodian e-vias are now accepted at Don Kalor.

Passport: Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Vietnam and Cambodia. You may be refused entry if your passport is damaged, in poor condition or does not have at least 2 blank pages remaining.

Tipping: we recommend a kitty system for the smaller, daily tips such as hotel/restaurant staff and local guides and drivers. Amounts inevitably vary with group size but would generally be in the region of $3-4 per person, per day. With regards guides accompanying you for longer periods we’d recommend a separate tip of approximately $5 per person, per day though of course, this is always discretionary and performance-related. (Local currency or USD are fine.) 

Meals: Breakfasts are generally hotel buffets with lunch and dinners based on local food. Your tour-leader will usually order a selection of dishes, local-style, while a number of meals are not included, which allows you to ‘do your own thing’ or take a break if you’re feeling ‘riced out’.

Although you may assume Lao cuisine is little-known outside of Laos the fact that it’s hugely popular in neighbouring Thailand is a good reference and indeed many well-known Thai dishes such as the famous green papaya salad (som tam) and spicy minced pork salad (laap) are of Lao origin. Certain dishes can be pretty firey – though your tour-leader can, of course, ask for them to be toned down – while the more Chinese and Vietnamese influenced dishes, which will be more familiar to foreign travellers, being generally mild.

Both vegan and vegetarian diets are easily catered to.

Accommodation: all choices fall into the comfortable 3* range and are en-suite and air-conditioned with, where possible, pools. We have posted a selection of sample accommodation on the lefthand hotel tab but please note that as we try and avoid the larger hotels, availability, in high season particularly, means we use several options in each destination.

Activities: note that no activities are compulsory and that any offered can be tailored for various fitness levels or alternatives suggested.

Further info: detailed descriptions and photos can be found on the corresponding page of our travel blog.

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