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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, Wat Phu and Preah Vihear

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 4 World Heritage sites; the ancient Siamese capital of Ayuthaya and Khao Yai National Park as well as scenic Wat Phu in southern Laos and Cambodia’s dramatic 11th-century Preah Vihear Temple, perched on the edge of a 500-metre escarpment.

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 on UNESCO’s tentative list.) The picturesque Mekong-side town of Khong Jiam 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 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. This 11th-12th century temple emerges from sheer 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.

Laos

Itinerary

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

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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, 

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Day 2 - World Heritage Ayuthaya

Departure upcountry for the ancient city of Ayuthaya, 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, L, 

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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. (An optional night safari can also be arranged.)

 

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

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Day 4 - Phnom 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 climb up to {Phnom Run, 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, 

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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 Chiam Transport: Minibus,  Meals: B, L, 

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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 Chiam by boat down the Mekong River.

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

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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, 

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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, 

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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 mountain-side overlooking the valley of the Mekong.

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

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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, 

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Day 11 - 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: Don Khone Transport: Boat,  Meals: B, 

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Day 12 - Irrawaddy dolphins and Khone Phapaeng Falls

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: Don Khone Transport: Boat, Tuk Tuk,  Meals: B, L, D, 

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Day 13 - Down the Mekong into 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: Sra-em Transport: Minibus, Boat,  Meals: B, D, 

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Day 14 - Preah Vihear and on 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, Walk,  Meals: B, L, D, 

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Day 15 - End of tour or Ankgkor visit

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 sites of Wat Phu and Preah Vihear, 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 Ayuthaya and Khao Yai National Park
  • 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)

  • 25 November 20 2,500 GBP
  • 26 December 20 2,750 GBP
  • 28 January 21 2,500 GBP
  • 25 February 21 2,500 GBP
  • 19 May 21 2,450 GBP
  • 21 June 21 2,450 GBP
  • 21 July 21 2,650 GBP
  • 19 August 21 2,450 GBP
  • 20 September 21 2,450 GBP
  • 20 October 21 2,450 GBP
  • 16 November 21 2,500 GBP
  • 22 December 21 2,750 GBP

Land Departures

  • 26 November 20 1,850 GBP
  • 27 December 20 1,900 GBP
  • 29 January 21 1,850 GBP
  • 26 February 21 1,850 GBP
  • 20 May 21 1,800 GBP
  • 22 June 21 1,800 GBP
  • 22 July 21 1,800 GBP
  • 20 August 21 1,800 GBP
  • 21 September 21 1,800 GBP
  • 21 October 21 1,800 GBP
  • 17 November 21 1,850 GBP
  • 23 December 21 1,900 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

Peerada River View Resort, Kong Chiam view

  • 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

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

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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