The makings of this journey

Across the drenched border between isolated peoples in Cambodia and Laos

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November 28, 2004

The journey began in Cambodia with an 8-hour ferry ride up the Mekong River from the capital, Phnom Penh, to the town of Stung Treng. It ended with an hourlong flight from Pakse, a regional hub in southern Laos, to Vientiane, the capital.

In between, a series of side trips led into the hill country and along the rivers of northern Cambodia and southern Laos. Rented cars with local drivers were used to journey to jungle hill settlements. A rented speedboat cut travel time on the Sekong and Mekong rivers, in Cambodia. Local flat-bottomed skiffs navigated among the islands and cataracts of the Khone Falls.

How to get started yourself

Cambodia and Laos are both developing tourism infrastructure, which has improved considerably over the past decade. While both countries have popular destinations served by tour operators, the Mekong River journey from Cambodia into Laos is still a more rustic affair. Even along this route, however, waves of backpackers have fueled a boom in bungalows and other tourist amenities. With little effort, a flexible traveler can string together transport and accommodation on the move from Phnom Penh to Vientiane in a trip that could last days or weeks.

Visas are required for US citizens to enter both countries. While these are quickly and easily granted, it is strongly recommended to have papers in order before trying to cross at the remote border checkpoints between Cambodia and Laos. If an official there decided to make it difficult, a traveler would have a long trip back to the capital to fix the matter. For information on visas, visit the websites for the Laotian embassy,, the Cambodian embassy,, or The State Department website also includes recent information on security in the region.

Lonely Planet ( and Rough Guides ( are among the many publishers of guides to Cambodia and Laos. Several websites offer accounts from travelers who have made the journey, with discussion rooms, photos, and other information. Two sites worth visiting are and

Or, an easier way

Angkor Wat, the compound of Khmer temples in northeast Cambodia, is one of Asia's top tourist attractions. Many agencies offer packaged tours to the temple, often combined with several days in Phnom Penh. To learn more, visit One operator with packages to the temples, as well as several days in Phnom Penh, is:

The World of Cambodia
011 Riverside St.
Siem Reap, Cambodia

In Laos, many tourists begin in the calm capital of Vientiane and head north to the historical city of Luang Prabang. One operator offering tours in the region:

Diethelm Travel Laos Co., Ltd.
Namphu Square
PO Box 2657
Setthathirat Road
Vientiane, Laos PDR

About the team

Tom Haines has been the Globe's staff travel writer for 2 years. Over the past decade, he has reported in 30 countries and five continents, on topics ranging from coal to cricket, art to revolution. Haines, 36, a native of Pittsburgh, was named the nation's top travel journalist last year by the Society of American Travel Writers. His story about facing famine in Ethiopia appears in the 2004 edition of ''The Best American Travel Writing" (Houghton Mifflin). He can be reached at

Essdras M Suarez has been a staff photographer at the Globe for 2 years covering a range of assignments from local news to the war in Iraq. He was previously on the photo staff of the Rocky Mountain News, where he shared in the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Columbine school shootings. A native of Panama, Suarez, 37, was also the winner, in 2000, of the Robert F. Kennedy International Photojournalism Award. He can be reached at

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