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 scenic 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 Phanom 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 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 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 women’s silk-weaving cooperative in remote Stung Treng Town, 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, Phnom Penh.
An unforgettable journey through a little-known but fascinating 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.
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 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,
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, L,
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,
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,
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 Jiam 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,
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,
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,
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,
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,
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, D,
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,
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, L, D,
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 visit a women’s silk weaving co-operative before continuing 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,
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, D,
The nitty-gritty, the things you need to know, the answers to your burning questions.
Visa Info & Notes
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
- 23 June 23 2,750 GBP
- 28 July 23 2,850 GBP
- 25 August 23 2,750 GBP
- 29 September 23 2,750 GBP
- 27 October 23 2,750 GBP
- 24 November 23 2,810 GBP
- 20 December 23 2,910 GBP
- 16 January 24 2,810 GBP
- 13 February 24 2,810 GBP
- 24 June 23 1,950 GBP
- 29 July 23 1,950 GBP
- 26 August 23 1,950 GBP
- 30 September 23 1,950 GBP
- 28 October 23 1,950 GBP
- 25 November 23 2,010 GBP
- 21 December 23 2,010 GBP
- 17 January 24 2,010 GBP
- 14 February 24 2,010 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
- Riverside accommodation in Champassak Town
- Comfortable boutique-style rooms with balconies
- 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
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: 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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