We are thinking of planning a trip to SE Asia and came across this wonderful site! Having planned a couple of independent trips to India (using the fantastic Indiamike site for info.) I am pretty enthusiastic about having a go at doing the same in SE Asia. However, India was easy, as a lot of Indians also speak english!
At the moment the (very) sketchy plan is a three week trip in Jan/ Feb along the lines of: From Uk fly to Bangkok then stay for 2 or 3 days. Fly to Hanoi , Vietnam. Travel down the country via train (sleepers if possible) taking around 2 weeks and for part of that take a short excursion of around 4 days into Cambodia to vist Angkor . After that fly back from Ho Chi Minh City to Bangkok for the remaining 2/3 days before flying back to UK. This itinerary will probably change many times as I read stuff on here, but the basic plan is to cover mostly Vietnam, take the detour to Angkor (must see) and to fly in and out via Bangkok as I want to visit there too. I'm a bit of a control freak/ list maker/ planner so I will plan the trip down to the last letter and love doing the research. I think at this stage I just need to know that what I am suggesting is 'do-able'.
My other concern is about how easy it is to communicate in Thailand/ Cambodia/Vietnam? It looks like it shouldn't be a problem to arrange flights/ accommodation ahead via the internet and it looks like a visit to the Railway Station in Hanoi would secure train bookings. We will pretty much be sticking to the main tourist trail destinations due to time restraints- how well can you get by with pretty poor language skills?! Are there any signs etc in English, do some locals in tourist areas speak english? SE Asia is a part of the world that I have never been to before so I'm a total novice I'm afraid!
Anybody's advice from prior experience would be greatly received!
#1 suzienichols has been a member since 5/9/2010. Posts: 17
Don't worry about communication. Millions upon millions of tourists from all over the world arrive in Southeast Asia every year without knowing a single word of Lao, Khmer, Thai, Vietnamese, etc., and the vast majority of them get along fine. It's usually never a problem in hotels and guest houses, restaurants, train stations, post offices, banks, etc. And when a language barrier appears, patience, politeness, smiling and pointing usually substitute nicely.
Re your note on Hanoi train station (and this probably applies to other bus / train stations too) - I find it helps to write down the date, time and start / end place and hand to the person serving you whilst smiling sweetly. They don't usually speak a lot of English so this helps avoid any confusion and the smile means they're more likely to smile back.
Thanks for the imput Tilapia and travellingsarah I've been doing a little more research and think now that we can go into Cambodia at the end of the Vietnam leg and fly back to Bangkok out of Siem Reip or Phnom Penh which would save having to travel back to HCMC. It looks like you can travel from the Vietnam border to Siem Riep by boat which looks interesting I'd sooner do as much as possible overland/ rivers/ train etc than take internal flights as I'm not a happy flier! It's 4 flights already which is approaching my limit!
#4 suzienichols has been a member since 5/9/2010. Posts: 17
"Yes. Well, you can certainly get a boat from Chau Doc to Phnom Penh, not sure if you can go direct to Siem Reap."
If not, there is always the boat from PP to Siem Reap, which I took and loved.
I flew from SR to Bangkok rather than face the insanely long and uncomfortable pick-up trip to Poipet (I understand that the road is now much better and that travel time is much shorter). This would be a better idea than going back to HCMC because (and I might be wrong here) you would need to purchase another Vietnamese visa. And, best of all, it would give you more time in Bangkok and, perhaps, give you a chance to visit some other spots like Kanchanaburi and/or Ayuthaya.
Thanks everyone for the imput
From what I have read you can actually get short boat cruises(3 days 2 nights) that will get you from HCMC to Phnom Penh via the Mekong and visiting villages etc. Depending on cost that might be a goer as we will have limited time and I love travelling on boats. I also read about the ferry from PP to SR across lake Tonle Sap and wasn't so sure because I read that it wasn't the most reliable service (breakdowns etc.) Was it the ferry you used Tilapia or was it a chartered boat/ part of a tour? The other alternative was to hire a taxi to drive up to SR so we could stop off along the way when we saw anything interesting.
You're right about the flight out of SR back to Bangkok being the way to go.
#7 suzienichols has been a member since 5/9/2010. Posts: 17
We took the road option from SR to Bangkok - the road from SR to the border was surprisingly good and it only took a couple of hours (over long breaks 1/2 an hour into the journey non-withstanding) but the Thai part wasn't great - a long wait at the border, another food break and a cramped and hot minibus for 4 hours. So it wasn't the worst journey I've done but if you can afford the flight it'll be more comfy and save 1/2 a day.
Note that from what I could see the only boat option from Chau Doc to PP was an 'Express Boat'. Not my idea of fun! So would definitely be worth looking into other boat options in advance if you fancy boating it.