Travel in Indochina is Getting Easier by the Day
Khiri Travel aims to give travel professionals the most reliable information on emerging destinations in Southeast Asia. As a specialist dmc, we believe that the key to unlocking some of the most memorable travel experiences in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam is to get off the beaten track. We therefore recommend making the most of new border crossings, boat links, bridges, road upgrades and easier visa opportunities in the area. Here is some practical advice that will help your customers make great discoveries on their next cross-country trip to Indochina.
Khiri Travel’s answers to FAQs for cross-country travel in Indochina
What border crossings can be used to good advantage?
Thailand/Cambodia: The Thai-Cambodia crossing at Poipet is the most accessible to Siem Reap, Khiri Travel has a guide on the spot (Mr. Vet) to help travelers with a smooth crossing into Cambodia.
Thailand/Cambodia: The Thai crossing at Koh Kong and the Vietnamese crossings at Prek Chak and Phnom Den give international access to southern Cambodia and the beaches of Sihanoukville and Kep respectively.
Vietnam/Cambodia: The Vietnamese crossings at Moc Bai/ Bavet connect Saigon and Phnom Penh. A new bridge (Neak Loeung Bridge) has been built, cutting travel time from six to about five hours. For travelers looking for a scenic Mekong Delta crossing we recommend taking the boat from Phnom Penh to Chau Doc.
Laos/Vietnam: One of the most interesting border crossings between Laos and Vietnam is the one connecting Na Meo in Laos and Nam Xoi in the Vietnam side. It connects Nam Et Phou Louey NP and the Prathet Lao cave hideouts in Viengxay in Laos to Hanoi in Vietnam, via Cuc Phuong National Park and Phu Hu Nature Reserve. Note though that on the Vietnam side, the road conditions may be quite bad in the months of July and August. Due to current construction work and the rain in these months, it can be pretty muddy.
Thailand/Laos: The border crossing from northern Thailand into Laos at Chiang Saen and Houay Xai has seen major changes with the opening of a new bridge in December 2013 linking the two countries. This has helped improve travel time, making it easier to access Laos from Thailand.
Laos/Cambodia: The Dom Kralor/Veun Kham border links southern Laos and Cambodia. The route leads via the Khon Pha Pheang Waterfalls via views of Lao countryside life in the 4000 islands area to the temples of Angkor in Siem Reap. A new way to travel this route is via the completely renovated road (National Highway 64), cutting the journey by half to just 350km, instead of driving via Kratie and Phnom Penh to Siem Reap.
Which border crossings should I be extra informed about?
Rules at various border crossings can change from time to time. Therefore, we recommend being cautious about information provided by unofficial sources on the Internet. Instead, agents should rather consult one of our travel advisors. We have the latest updates available for you and your travelers on visa costs, currency needed, and other important updates.
As a rule of thumb, we advise travelers to arrange for all visas needed for their trip before departure from their home country. This to save on precious holiday time by avoiding visa queues etc.
Can travelers obtain e-visas for Indochina countries?
The Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs now offers an ‘e-visa’ – visas available online through the Ministry’s website. Scan of passport and a passport-size photo are required. Payment is by credit card. It is USD 37 for a 30-day visa (three month validity). Processing time: 3 days. Issued by email and printed from the recipient’s computer. The Ministry recently announced that e-visa entry points include Siem Reap International Airport, Phnom Penh International Airport, the Bavet/Moc Bai border crossing, the Poipet/Aranyaprathet border crossing and the Koh Kong/Had Lek border crossing. To order an E-visa visit: http://www.mfaic.gov.kh
For visa on arrival, passports need to have at least six months of validity before the client’s arrival, sufficient blank pages and it’s very important to present two passport-sized pictures at the Immigration office. This is why we advice all travelers to arrange for their visas to Indochina in their home country in advance.
What are the most recent developments regarding visa issues?
Phu Quoc Island in the south of Vietnam has recently been designated a special economic zone by the Vietnamese government. This allows travelers to stay on the island for up to 30 days without requiring a Vietnam visa. Those flying in directly to Phu Quoc from any international country (Cambodia, Singapore etc), don’t need a visa. Travelers will need to provide evidence of a return ticket.
This option opens great beach extension opportunities for travelers finishing their trip in Siem Reap and flying back to their home country via Ho Chi Minh City (using the Phu Quoc airport as a transit hub).
What new developments have there been in recent months?
In Northeast Vietnam there’s a new road between Lao Cai and Hanoi. At the end of September 2014, the new highway from Hanoi to Lao Cai was opened, replacing Highway 70 that previously took 7-8 hours (348 km). The new highway cuts the journey to 3.5 hours (245 km). This is an alternative to the overnight train route that most travelers take.
What do I need to know about road construction in Indochina?
There are road works in progress on the route between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. The travel time is around 8 hours — on a good day. In parts, the road is bumpy. When construction is finished, the travel time will be about six hours.
What effect does the weather/monsoon have on road conditions?
On the route between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, and Siem Reap and Battambang, flooding can delay the journey time.
In the rainy season some roads might see landslides causing big delays – for example, the roads in the south of Laos and the Luang Prabang to Vientiane road.
What options do my clients have on the mode of transport regarding some main travel hubs?
The route Siem Reap to Phnom Penh has a variety of travel options:
- via Tonle Sap, the boat takes about 7-8 hours; in February and March this option is unreliable because of the low water levels
- via Kampong Thom with a stop at the Sambor Prei Kuk temple ruins
- via a direct transfer by private car or public bus
- via daily flights with Cambodian Angkor Air and Bassaca Air between both cities.
The route from Hanoi to Hue and Danang can be traveled in different ways:
- overland making stops at Ninh Binh, Vinh, and along the beautiful coastal road via the famous Hai Van Pass
- flying in (about 1 hour 15mins)
- by (overnight) train on the Reunification Express
From Hue/Hoi An clients have different options to reach HCMC:
- The overnight train has sleeper berths for the 20hr journey
- Flying takes about 1.5 hours with this route operated by VietJet Air, Jetstar, and Vietnam Airlines
- A multiple day overland trip is one of the ways we highly recommend, either via the hills and ethnic tribes of Kontum or via the coastal route passing Nha Trang and Dalat.
Travelers entering Indochina from Thailand can do so via the Chiang Mai/Chiang Saen route to Luang Prabang:
- There are two-day slow boat options available in different budget options making interesting stops along the route; or there is the fast boat taking one long day
- Overland travel is possible as well, allowing travelers a glimpse into local Lao countryside life
- More adventurous travelers cross the border and make a side trip to the canopy treetop in the Bokeo Nature Reserve.
How can we avoid long drives when traveling with kids?
For families with small kids, the best way to prevent tiring long drives is by making scheduled stops or traveling via train. The train from north to south Vietnam stops in every region of the country, which makes it suitable for kids. However we recommend that kids should be over six or so years old. If kids get sick this could get complicated. Also it’s possible that the experience may be too intense for children younger than six. At the end of the day however we believe it’s up to the parents’ discretion.
Our guides in the different countries know about the different places along the way that are interesting for children. This helps them get out of the car for a while and learn more about local life. For example, in Cambodia there’s the spider village (Skuon) and Sambor Prei Kuk where children can meet the local children of the school.
In Laos, our guides bring children to play a game of soccer with the local village kids. In Vietnam children can try their hand at traditional kite making in Hue.
When are rivers and lakes accessible?
Tonle Sap in Cambodia is available all year round for touring. However in February and March, low water levels restrict some touring, and the boat from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and from Siem Reap to Battambang cannot run due to low water level.
The Mekong has water all year round, but in February and March it is considerably lower. Some cruises such as the Pandaw linking Phnom Penh and Saigon, can only run to Kampong Cham, but this is case by case.
In the rainy season transport to Koh Rong Samloem island off the south coast of Cambodia by boat is limited due to possible stormy weather. Decisions are made on a day-by-day basis. The same applies for Rabbit Island/ KohTonsay in Kep.
The Tra Su Cajaput flooded forest outside of Chau Doc on the Vietnam side of the Cambodia-Vietnam border is a fantastic place to visit in the green season (May to September). This is when the area is at its greenest and there’s more wildlife especially birds. Chau Doc is easily connected by a six-hour boat trip from Phnom Penh.
The Mekong in the 4000 Islands area is at its widest in the green season. This is when the ‘Mighty’ Mekong lives up to its name. Linking South Laos to Cambodia is the Veun Kham/Dom Kralor border. This is the gateway to northeastern Cambodia. Travelers crossing from the land-linked south of Laos in to Thailand can cross from Vang Tao (Laos) in to Chong Mek (Thailand) before transferring to Ubon Ratchathani and taking a night train to Bangkok.
We put together this list of Frequently Asked Questions on Indochina with the increasing border openings and new routes to travel overland in mind. The unique routes, new bridges, updated visa information and weather influences, might help you give better travel advice to your clients on cross-country travel.
For more information you can reach our Indochina managers in Cambodia (Nick), Laos (Chris) and Vietnam (Florencia) via the yellow contact form below.