Young Pioneer Tours

The best way for a Cambodia to Laos overland visit in 2024

Whether you are an expat in Phnom Penh looking for a long weekend getaway, needing a visa run but wanting to avoid going to Vietnam yet again, or a traveller in Cambodia who simply wants to visit Laos.

It boils down to the same question: How to best do it?

Your answer in a nutshell

Depart from Phnom Penh or even Siem Reap to visit the 4000 Islands paradise in Laos and have a stopover to visit the the rare Irrawaddy river dolphins in laid-back Kratie along the way. Enjoy kayaking around the beautiful island of Don Det, directly situated in the Mekong river delta, before returning conveniently back home (if you still want to).

A combination of minibuses and eventually a short boat-ride will bring you all the way alongside rural and nature-rich areas, allowing for eco-tourism and affordable options while fulfilling your explorer´s heart. Especially when reaching the random border crossing in the middle of the jungle.

How to do it

First leg: Phnom Penh to Kratie

  • Budget day-time minibus services from Phnom Penh are around $14-18, night buses are cheaper at around $12
  • Both leave conveniently in the city centre and take ~5h
  • Tip: Arrive overnight to have a full day of exploring before continuing the journey early next morning

Second leg: Kratie to Don Det

  • Pay the no-hassle transportation package of $25
  • Go from Kratie to Don Det on three minibuses and a short boat ride from ~7:30am-2pm
  • Tip: Don´t worry along the way, local employees of the transport firms will wait and guide you

(Return: Don Det to Phnom Penh)

  • Pay the no-hassle transportation package of ~$33
  • Reverse the arrival trip with less vehicle switching all the way to Phnom Penh from ~9am-7:30pm
  • Tip: Get the $36 eVisa for the return border crossing beforehand to save yourself some time and energy

What to do in Kratie

Make this a full day exploration trip where you arrive in the surprisingly modern and contemporary Sorya Guesthouse, where even the $11 “dorm” is a 3-person hotel room, and head with a 30-min TukTuk to the rare and small population of the Irrawaddy river dolphins living right in the Mekong delta. A $10 motorboat will take you out on the river. If you´re energetic and interested (and your laptop´s not calling you), let the TukTuk bring you further to the astonishing 100-Pillars temple.

Upon returning, enjoy a cool beer after a hot day while marvelling at the glittering Mekong river-featured sunset from the second level terrace of Sorya. When the fresh breeze of the evening arrives, stroll for dinner in the exceptionally delicious Street Three Eatery, just a lazy 5-min walk away.

What to expect at the border

Land border crossings tend to have a dubious aura, which is why we love them. They give you a glimpse into the involved countries relationship and maybe offer a whiff of prevalent, institutionalised corruption.

When you have passed through the process in the quite pompous Cambodian immigration building, probably under the rigorous eyes and strict commands of the officer on duty, you will find yourself walking over to the more modest Laos side. There, the paperwork begins, probably with a cat lying next to your immigration forms on the table.

The $40 fee for the visa is not surprising, but the officers will make sure to ask you for another $2 “processing fee” before handing you your passport and visa back. All this happens in a quite relaxed and smiley atmosphere.

What to do in Don Det

The island of Don Det covers the whole range of activities like kayaking, tubing, and biking. On the other hand it provides hammocks, happy shakes in the Reggae Bar, as well as cool Lao beers and pool billiard at Adam´s. Just pick your treat as desired. The obligatory waterfall is also to be found, the ‘Khone Phapheng’, which surprisingly is the widest one in whole Southeast Asia.

You will be able to stay on the more “busy” or calmer side of the island and you can take a $5 fan-room, a$20 river-view bungalow with AC, or pick a plus $30 luxury room in one of the few two-storey hotels. During the night you will mingle anyways with the small island crowd on the cosy main alley. When the daylight arrives, a surprisingly good coffee at Jay´s will bring you back to life, with the beans coming from a family-run farm in the nearby mountains of Pakse.

Khone Phapheng Waterfall

What remains

Overall, this is a pretty epic trip, showing the rural way of life as carried out in its essence since thousands of years in these regions – think of rice farming and fishing – while having you overlook the mighty Mekong from various places and angles. You will clearly see that it´s a source of life for everybody in its vicinity.

If you were to drift with your tube down the river for 20-min or so, you would even cross the border to Cambodia by accident. Nonetheless, it’s advised to rather use the official transportation back to Phnom Penh.
It´s safe to say that the islands are a truly fantastic location, geographically and beyond.

YPT do not currently feature this on our group tours, but it can be arranged as part of a bespoke Cambodia Tour or Laos Tour.

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