The Emerald Triangle
An exploration of the rarely-visited 'Emerald Triangle' where Thailand, Laos and Cambodia meet. Visit the spectacular 4,000 Islands of the Mekong River and World Heritage Wat Phu and Preah Vihear
Off-the-beaten-track Thailand, Laos and Cambodia tour
Our 2-week 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.
Journey by night sleeper train from the vibrant capital Bangkok to the northeastern region of Thailand, known as I-san, where we’ll visit the beautifully preserved, fabulous Angkor-period temples of Phnom Rung atop an extinct volcano and charming Muang Tham surrounded by lily ponds.
From here, we’ll continue, via the picturesque Mekong-side town of Khong Jiam and the enigmatic, Neolithic rock carvings of Pha Taem National Park, into southern Laos. Discover the Boloven Plateau and World Heritage site of Wat Phu, before heading south to the stunning ‘Four Thousand Islands’, where the entire Mekong River cascades into Cambodia over a series of falls. (Known as Khone Phapaeng these are some of the world’s largest, yet least known.)
Continue by boat, down what to our minds is the most scenic stretch of the Mekong, into northern Cambodia, from where we’ll head west to the awe-inspiring site of Preah Vihear. Also, UNESCO listed, this 11th-century temple emerges from sheer 600-metre cliffs to overlook the forests of the northern Cambodian plain. After an early morning visit, we continue across country, via the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Anlong Veng, to our final destination Siem Reap with a day at leisure before departure from its international airport.
An unforgettable journey through a little-known but fascinating region of Southeast Asia.
Note that, as your tour finishes at Siem Reap International Airport, those with a few more days to spare can extend your Emerald Triangle tour to discover, or re-visit, the fabulous jungle temples of Angkor.
Here's an idea of what you can expect to do and see day-to-day.
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 jet-lag by the pool or explore the area, street-life and local markets before a welcome, local-style dinner.
Overnight: Bangkok Transport: Walk, Meals: D,
Day 2 - Bangkok - city tour with a difference
City tour with a difference! Bangkok by public transport; riverboat, Skytrain, tuk-tuk and canal boat with stop-offs to take in Wat Pho, the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Keow – the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. (Note, alternatives can be arranged for those who have already visited Bangkok). In the evening we’ll board the sleeper train for Surin.
Overnight: Sleeper train Transport: Train, Boat, Tuk Tuk, Meals: B,
Day 3 - Buriram Province - an Angkor temple atop a volcano
Early arrival in the small provincial town of Surin where our exploration of the Emerald Triangle begins with a visit to the area’s spectacular Angkor-period sites; Phnom Rung – dramatically situated on the summit of an extinct volcano – the well-preserved, picturesque Muang Tham and the hidden border temple of Ta Muan.
Overnight: Surin Transport: Minibus, Walk, Meals: B, L, D,
Day 4 - Khong Jiam - Pha Taem National Park
Time to head eastwards to our day’s destination – the small, scenic town of Khong Jiam on the banks of the Mekong, overlooking Laos. In the afternoon we’ll travel to the nearby Pha Taem National Park for a hike to visit the prehistoric cliff paintings and unusual rock formations before returning to Khong Jiam by boat down the Mekong River.
Overnight: Khong Jiam Transport: Boat, Walk, Meals: B, L,
Day 5 - Pakse - across 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, Meals: B, D,
Day 6 - Pakse - the picturesque 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, Walk, Meals: B, L,
Day 7 - Champassak - down the Mekong to 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 mountain-side overlooking the valley of the Mekong.
Overnight: Champassak Transport: Boat, Walk, Tuk Tuk, Meals: B, L, D,
Day 8 - 4,000 Islands - south by road and river
Time to head south with a ferry across the Mekong where we’ll visit 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: Don Khong Transport: Minibus, Boat, Meals: B, L,
Day 9 - Done Khone - by boat through the 4,000 Islands
A morning tour of the unspoilt island before a delightful boat journey weaving through the ‘4,000 Islands’ – a stretch of the Mekong River of truly outstanding natural beauty straddling the Lao, Cambodian border – takes us to our next destination, picturesque Khone Island.
Overnight: Khone Island Transport: Boat, Meals: B,
Day 10 - Don Khone - Khone Phapaeng Falls and freshwater dolphins
Explore some of the islands by boat, tuk-tuk and on foot*. Visit Southeast Asia’s, and indeed one of the world’s, largest waterfalls, the stunning Khone Phapaeng Falls – and with luck catch a glimpse of some of the rare freshwater dolphins which still inhabit this stretch of the river.
Overnight: Khone Island Transport: Boat, Walk, Tuk Tuk, Meals: B, L, D,
Day 11 - The Mekong - down river into northern Cambodia
Continuing down the Mekong we’ll follow the picturesque jungle-lined river into Cambodia and the remote town of Stung Treng. Here we’ll visit a traditional silk weaving workshop before continuing overland, west to Preah Vihear, for our night’s accommodation in a comfortable, chalet-style resort at the foot of the mountains.
Overnight: Preah Vihear Transport: Minibus, Boat, Meals: B, D,
Day 12 - Preah Vihear - sunrise and morning drive to Siem Reap
Early start for a sunrise visit to the awe-inspiring site of World Heritage Preah Vihear Temple perched atop a sheer 600-metre cliff! From here we’ll continue overland with a morning drive to our final destination Siem Reap, with an afternoon at leisure before a farewell, Khmer-style dinner.
Overnight: Siem Reap Transport: Minibus, Meals: B, D,
Day 13 - Siem Reap - morning at leisure and departure
Morning at leisure and end of the tour with departure at your convenience.
Extra accommodation in Siem Reap after your tour, is available if required.
Airport transfers are included if you purchase the 'with flights' package. If you purchased your own flights, airport transfers can be arranged.
Overnight: Departure Transport: Walk, Meals: B,
The nitty-gritty, the things you need to know, the answers to your burning questions.
Just a few of the many highlights
Rarely visited Phnom Rung atop a volcano, the UNESCO sites of Wat Phu and Preah Vihear, the awesome Khone Phapaeng Falls and serene 4,000 Islands are just a few of many highlights
- Travel by train to the rarely-visited, I-san region of Thailand with some of the most spectacular and best-preserved Angkor temples
- Journey by boat down the mighty Mekong to explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Wat Phu Temple
- Down the Mekong again and into northern Cambodia for a visit to another World Heritage Site - the awe-inspiring Preah Vihear
- Discover the spectaular landcapes, unusual rock formations and prehistoric rock paintings of Thailand's Phae Taem National Park
- Wonderful landscapes of southern Laos include the Boloven Plateau, Khone Phapaeng Falls and 4,000 Islands
- Meet plenty of friendly locals and of course sample the contrasting and delicious cuisines of Laos and Cambodia
Air Departures (UK)
- 26 October 20 2,375 GBP
- 27 November 20 2,375 GBP
- 28 December 20 2,475 GBP
- 30 January 21 2,375 GBP
- 27 February 21 2,375 GBP
- 21 May 21 2,375 GBP
- 23 June 21 2,375 GBP
- 23 July 21 2,375 GBP
- 21 August 21 2,400 GBP
- 22 September 21 2,400 GBP
- 22 October 21 2,400 GBP
- 18 November 21 2,400 GBP
- 24 December 21 2,400 GBP
- 27 October 20 1,475 GBP
- 28 November 20 1,475 GBP
- 29 December 20 1,475 GBP
- 31 January 21 1,475 GBP
- 28 February 21 1,475 GBP
- 22 May 21 1,475 GBP
- 24 June 21 1,475 GBP
- 24 July 21 1,475 GBP
- 22 August 21 1,475 GBP
- 23 September 21 1,475 GBP
- 23 October 21 1,475 GBP
- 19 November 21 1,475 GBP
- 25 December 21 1,475 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 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
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 view
- Delightful individual, chalet-style accommodation
- Superb riverside garden setting
- Well-placed bar and restaurant overlooking the Mekong
Seng Ahloune Resort 4000 Islands
- Scenic riverside location
- Located on Khone Island in Sth Laos's scenic '4,000 Islands'
- Traditional style wooden chalets
Preah Vihear Jaya Hotel Sra Em view
- Comfy accommodation in rather remote Sra Em Town
- In-house swimming pool, bar and restaurant
- Convenient short drive to UNESCO site Preah Vihear
City River Hotel Siem Reap view
- City River is out first choice in Cambodia's Siem Reap.
- Rooftop pool; spa, riverside location, super friendly staff
- Only a 5 minute walk from the bustling Old Market district
*This list should be considered a guide only, hotels/rooms may change (without notice) depending on availability.
Visa Info & Notes
Visas – Thailand: While most nationalities receive an automatic 30-day stamp on arrival, there are still a few details to watch out for plus various bilateral arrangements between Thailand and other nations do throw up a lot of anomalies.
The following nationalities benefit from a visa waiver or exemption scheme and passport holders will automatically receive 30-day stamps on arrival at any Thai international airport: Australia, Canada, UK, US, certain EU countries plus citizens of other ASEAN member states. Generally, citizens of western and central European EU countries are included while those of some newer, particularly eastern EU nations aren’t. Conversely, several South American nationalities receive 90-day visas so do check in advance. A full visa exemption list can be found here. Note this is a visa waiver and not a tourist visa.
If arriving by a land crossing then the situation gets more complicated and regulations do change frequently. Normally most above nationalities are also entitled to a 30-day visa exemption stamp while other passport holders will receive 15 days though the latter is again worth checking in advance. The nitty-gritty also varies from one land crossing to another – some of which may be very little frequented by foreigners – so to be on the safe side have passport photos and photocopy of your main passport pages to hand.
Importantly, and this can, in theory, go for airports too, you may be asked for proof of onward travel and sufficient funds for your stay. We reckon these are more aimed at long-stay visitors and though we haven’t come across either rule being applied to casual tourists they are specified on the Thai immigration site.
If you’re not covered by any of the above or have any doubts or if you intend to stay more than 30 days then you will need to apply in advance for a Thai tourist visa. The validity of single-entry tourist visas is generally 60 days but again can vary depending upon nationality and you need to make an application at your nearest Thai embassy. (Cost is approximately $30 or equivalent in local currency.) If you are planning on exiting and re-entering Thailand more than once then you can also apply for a multiple entry tourist visa costing approximately $150. (Precise costs and waiting time vary from one embassy to another.)
Furthermore, citizens of states not covered by the visa waiver system can also apply for a visa on arrival at an international airport. This is a 30-day one costing 2,000 baht payable in Thai currency only. Again you may be asked for proof of onward travel and funds.
The above can be construed as unnecessarily complicated and furthermore regulations do change on a regular basis so again, please check beforehand if you’re not a passport holder from one of the usual suspects Canada, France, Germany, UK, et al. We have in the past come across smaller Thai embassies providing inaccurate or out of date information and anecdotal travellers’ tales are – well anecdotal – so the official Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs site should, in theory, be your best source.
Visas – Laos: 30-day tourist visas are issued at the visa on arrival counters at international airports as well as any land entry point. These are available for most nationalities with the exception of certain African and Middle Eastern countries. (You can check the list at this link.) For some reason, Swiss, Luxembourgeois and Russian passport holders are exempt from visas while any nationalities not included in the visa on arrival list will need to apply at a Lao embassy or consulate beforehand.
Requirements are at least 6 months passport validity, a minimum of 1 blank page and 2 passport-sized photos. Application forms are available at immigration counters though if arriving by flight they are usually handed out by cabin crew while for land crossings our guides are on hand with forms and assistance.
The fees are only payable in $US except for Thai/Lao land crossings where baht are accepted and this is where things do get slightly complicated as pricing does vary 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 and outside of standard Lao office hours.)
A Lao tourist visa is a 1-page stick on type and you’ll receive additional, regular-sized, entry and exit stamps.
Visas – Cambodia: Citizens of ASEAN countries do not require visas while passport holders from certain African and Middle Eastern nations need to apply in advance. For the majority of nationalities though, a visa on arrival is issued at international airports and all land borders including arrival from Laos and the Mekong entry point from Vietnam. Visa fees and conditions are subject to change but are usually $30 payable in cash in US dollars although certain land crossings may cost a few extra dollars in random ‘service fees’. A passport photo is required. Tourist visas are issued for 30 days from date of entry into Cambodia.
E-visas (thus cutting down on queuing time at the airport) are now available for many nationalities at this link and cost $36 with a stated processing time of 3 working days. These are accepted at international airports and certain land crossings only and do not include the Mekong crossings from Vietnam or Laos.
When entering Cambodia make sure you get an entry stamp in your passport and keep your departure card.
Visas – All: A passport photo is required for both Laos and Cambodia while tourist visas for both are valid for 30 days from entry.
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry and you may be refused entry if your passport is damaged, in poor condition or does not have at least 2 blank pages remaining.
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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