If you’ve had enough of bustling cities but you’re hungry for adventure, great food and to discover new territories, then Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos have the best islands to satisfy the explorer in you. Taking into consideration the logistics of visas, flights and value for money, to plan a single trip that hits all 3 countries, Phu Quoc (Vietnam), Koh Rong Samloem (Cambodia) and Don Khon (Laos) are the ones that stand out. By heading to these islands,  you can get to visit three new countries in less than two weeks! AND explore magnificent UNESCO listed Angkor Wat and Bolaven Plateau along the way. How convenient is that!

All three islands have incredible scenery, adventure activities and plenty of dining and accommodation options. But they’re way less developed than similar places in Thailand, so you will feel like you are getting away from it all. Here’s a Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos itinerary achievable in under 2 weeks.

Vietnam Cambodia Laos Trip Itinerary

All three islands have incredible sceneries, adventure activities and plenty of dining and accommodation options. But they’re way less developed than similar places in Thailand, so I could feel like I was getting away from it all.

 

First Leg: Vietnamitinerary-divider

Phu Quoc Island

The logical place to start was Vietnam. Unfortunately, there are no longer direct flights to Phu Quoc from Singapore, but it’s still easy to get there for less than S$250 and in under five hours via Ho Chi Minh City. There are a couple of quick stopover flights from Singapore to Phu Quoc everyday and the flight time is only 6 hours via multiple airlines.

phu-quoc-island  Photo Credit: Tim Nilsen

Phu Quoc is developing quickly and easily lives up to its reputation as one of the best islands in Vietnam. I suggest you stay for at least 3 nights to get a full appreciation of what’s on offer. One of the most difficult decisions you’ll make is where to stay. Long Beach is the main area and has the largest selection of hotels, restaurants and bars. But there are excellent options where you can get away from it all like Montana Resort or Daisy Resort, both only a stone’s throw away from Cao Say Beach. Stretching north and south from Long Beach is an increasing number of luxury developments.

Transport around the island is cheap and convenient so wherever you stay, you can still see the whole island fairly easily.

Long Beach, Phu Quoc Photo Credit: Tim Nilsen

In the end, I chose to stay close to the action and plan day trips to visit other highlights. Hiring a motorbike is very reasonable at around 150 000 VND (S$10), and it’s easy to visit the Phu Quoc museum and stunning Sao beach in a leisurely day trip.

Despite the rudimentary nature of the “models” in the displays, the museum is very confronting, telling the tale of brutality and terror that reigned when the island was an infamous prison.

Sao Beach in Phu Quoc

In contrast, Sao beach is a beautiful stretch of white sandy beach, fringed with shady trees and
plenty of places to drop in for a delicious lunch or refreshments and relax.

Sao_beach_Phu_Quoc Photo Credit: Tim Nilsen

Diving and snorkelling are two favourite activities, and several companies run tours. From experience, even if you’re just snorkelling, I suggest that you take a slightly more expensive option and go with one of the dive companies for access to more beautiful marine life.Sunset at Long BeachPhoto Credit: Tim Nilsen

Seafood in Phu Quoc

One of the highlights of my time on Phu Quoc was the fresh seafood available all over the island. And one of the most popular venues is the night market running from Tran Hung Dao to the marina at Bach Dang. Dozens of impressive displays and tanks of live fish, lobsters, squid, prawns and other yummy sea creatures vie for your attention. If you’re not into seafood, there’s a wide selection of international cuisine available at dozens of beachside restaurants and cafes.

Getting out of Phu Quoc

All too soon, it was time to move on. The early Superdong fast ferry to Ha Tien costs approximately S$22. The first boat leaves at 8.35 am and arrives before 10am.

You can arrange pickup from the pier and transport to Cambodia from agents on Phu Quoc. With the border crossing formalities, it’s unlikely you’ll make it in time to catch the 3pm ferry to Koh Rong Sanloem that day, so make plans to stay the night in Kampot or Sihanoukville. My preference was Kampot, a quaint little French colonial town along the river. There are lots of great cafes, and I can highly recommend Mea Culpa guesthouse and Rikitikitavi as good places to stay.

The next morning I caught an early bus to Sihanoukville, which gave me an opportunity to take a quick look around town before boarding the boat to take me to my next destination in Koh Rong Sanloem.

If you’re staying elsewhere, you can catch a later 3pm fast ferry from Serendipity Beach Pier to Saracen Bay on Koh Rong Sanloem. It’s a short 45-minute ride to get to the island (around S$30 for a return trip).

You can book your ferry ticket here: http://www.vongveng.com/speed-ferry

Hotels in Phu Quoc

Koh Rong, Samloem Island

Frog, Koh Rong SanloemCC BY-ND / Oliver Townend via Visualhunt

Not surprisingly, this island is a favourite weekend getaway for expats from Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville. It’s far quieter than its sister Koh Rong, with none of the rowdy backpacker atmosphere. Perfect for relaxing on the beach, doing a bit of light hiking, kayaking, snorkelling or diving. The only way to get around the island is to walk or hire a boat.

One amazing accommodation to look out for is the Moonlight Resort, that are dome-shaped bungalows situated on the beach. The glass roofs of the white domes provide an excellent opportunity for star-gazing during the night while you bask in the laid back atmosphere.

Koh_Rong_Sanloem_(CC)CC BY-ND / Oliver Townend via Visualhunt

There is fantastic snorkelling straight off the beach, so there was no need to move very far, although I did take a walk to the other side of the island to check out the main beach.

My conclusion: Bliss. Koh Rong Sanloem is definitely one of the best islands in Cambodia.

Hotels in Koh Rong

2nd Leg: Siem Reap, Cambodia

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After dragging myself away from my island paradise, I was ready for some history and culture. The boat from Lazy Beach heads back to the mainland early in the morning. There are plenty of buses from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap via Phnom Penh for less than S$30, but I decided to save time by catching a lunchtime flight, which takes only an hour. You can usually pick up a promotional flight for around S$140 with one of the four airlines servicing this route.

By saving that time I was able to see everything I wanted in Siem Reap in just two days. I had plenty of time to check into my hotel, take a walk around town to explore the markets, then head out to buy my Angkor Archaeological Park 1 day pass.

Handy hint: If you buy a 24 hour or 3-day pass after 4pm, you get up to 6pm that day as extra time. You can duck in to explore the main temple of Angkor Wat in the afternoon and then still have the next full day to see a selection of other temples.

My favourites were the massive Angkor Thom (including Bayon – 54 incredible towers carved with more than 200 heads), atmospheric Preah Khan, and Ta Prohm Temple made famous in the Tomb Raider movie.

Hotels in Siem Reap 

3rd Leg: Laos

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There were several ways to get to my next destination which is one of the best islands in Laos from Siem Reap. I could take a bus directly to Laos, stop off in Kratie or fly to Pakse and make a round trip from there. By all accounts the bus trip can be around 20+ hours and the border procedures can be frustrating.

After reading many reviews, I decided to save time and frustration and buy a one-way ticket to Pakse (around S$195), and spend the extra day touring the Bolaven Plateau. I’d much rather be seeing and doing something different than crunched up on a bus.

Most guesthouses can arrange a day trip to the cool, misty Bolaven highlands, home to numerous waterfalls, great scenery, tribal villages and more. A lot of tourists skip this part of Laos, which is a
pity. It was yet another highlight of this trip.

Cycling, Don KhonPhoto Credit: Tim Nilsen

It’s easy to arrange transport to Don Khon from Pakse with the entire trip taking less than three hours and costing the equivalent of around S$11.50.

Alternatively you can stay at The River Resort, a nice eco-friendly resort along the Mekong River that provides you with airport transportation, tours and ticketing assistance for a fuss-free itinerary. Make sure you get to the picturesque Li Phi Waterfalls and take a boat trip to spot rare Irrawaddy dolphins and explore some of the historic sights left from the French colonial era.

Sunset drinks looking out onto the Mekong is sublime.

Li Phi Waterfalls

Photo Credit: Tim Nilsen

Hotels in Laos

 

Heading Home

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Sunset at Don KhonPhoto Credit: Tim Nilsen

All too soon it was time to head home. I headed out early to Pakse for a flight to Vientiane and then catch my connection back home to Singapore.

I had fulfilled my mission. I’d relaxed on three of the best islands in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, explored the history and culture of three of our closest neighbours and enjoyed many fun, adventurous activities. While it is more expensive to fly rather than take buses, I feel the money was well worth it, allowing me to spend more time seeing and experiencing the highlights rather than just travelling from one place to the other.