My boyfriend and I are planning a trip to Southeast Asia for July 2011. Now, I know this isn't optimal timing as far as weather goes, but it is going to be the only option for us. We have absolutely nothing planned so far, and we have only just started doing research. Here are my questions:
1. Just how bad is the weather in Southeast Asia during July/August??
2. What cities/areas are absolutely must sees in Southeast Asia if we have a limited amount of time?
3. If we had to cut out one of the countries, which one would be best to leave behind?
4. About how much money is it going to cost for a 5 week long trip, not counting airfare to and from the peninsula itself?
I'm still new at this, I've only traveled out of country once before in my life (excluding Canada). I would love any feedback I can get. Thank you!!!
#1 slemien has been a member since 22/2/2011. Posts: 7
With five weeks, I suggest you limit your travels to just one country. You can do two or three if you make a short jaunt into another country. For example, 4 weeks in Thailand and than about a week in Cambodia to see the Angkor Wat. Singapore-Malacca-KL-Penang-Thailand is another possibility.
There are all sorts of variations possible.
You have to do a bit more research to see which countries/destinations are more appealing to you.
If you just want to see some highlights of the region, stick to a few countries. I personally don't see why you should limit yourself to 1 country but the majority of posters here seem to think it matters.
There are some excellent itineraries and budget plans on this website. Have a look at those.
My guess/bet would be something like this.
- 3 days Bangkok
- 3/4 days Chang Mai
- 5/6 days Luang Prabang
- 10 days Vietnam (Hanoi, Saigon, Halong, Hue, Mekong delta, Sapa, Hoi An, choose 2-3 destinations depending on interest and accesibillity)
- 3/4 days Siem Reap (Angkor)
- 1 week southern Thai islands
That would cover most of the standard highlights and you'd have to fly between destinations/areas.
The reason so many of us suggest less travel is because there is so much to see and do in one place. If your travel style is hit and run just to see famous places then by all means...do that. But you WILL get a little worn out from the constant bus/train/ thing in SE Asia. This is not first class travel in comparison to what I am used to (can't speak for anyone else). SE Asian stations at their best are not top notch except for the excellent skytrain and subway in Bangkok an those in Singapore. Old buses, dusty stations, local touts harrassing you. I actually enjoy the adventure but many people don't really take to it and it shows on their faces as they drag too much luggage through the heat.
So all in all, if I had 5 weeks I would highlight my biggest desires and see how easy that route seems. I think Vietnam and Thailand are countries that need 3-4 weeks minimum if you are not the chill and soak it all in type.
Thank you all for your input. After thinking about it and talking to my boyfriend, here is what we are thinking now. We decided that if we have to skip one country, it will probably be Laos. As far as cities go in each country, that's still up in the air. Here is what we are looking at so far..
2 weeks Thailand
2 weeks Vietnam
1 week Cambodia [ Angkor Wat]/Laos
Obviously with the one week split up between Cambodia and Laos we would be looking to just see Angkor Wat and then maybe a few nights in a city in Laos.
Also, another question about flying into SE Asia. From New York City, is Bangkok the best place to fly into? Or is another city a better option?
We're going to be looking to book our vacation in stages, starting with whichever city we fly into. If that is Bangkok, what is the best area of Bangkok to stay? We have found some interesting hotels/hostels/apartments on airbnb.com but really know nothing about what areas are better than others.
Thank you for the input, we're willing to take all the advice we can get!
#5 slemien has been a member since 22/2/2011. Posts: 7
If its your first time in Bangkok you might as well stay around Khoa San Road. Its the big backpacker street, lots of options for further travel, and still a close walk to the historical district - King's Palace, etc. If you want to be a little hidden away and quiet Shambara Boutique Guesthouse is a good option. A great starting place to see where you want to stay in Bangkok would be this Feature Story - 2009 Top guesthouses in Bangkok: http://www.travelfish.org/feature/137.
I'm not sure what you want to see in these countries - but are you planning to fly between any points? I agree with most of eastwest's plan. If you're only going to see one city in Laos it should probably be Luang Prabang . You can save a lot of time by flying Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang. From there you can fly as another big time saver from Luang Prabang to Hanoi to start your Vietnam travels - though if you don't mind it there is a 24 hour Luang Prabang to Hanoi bus that I've heard about.
A few nights around Hanoi/Ha Long Bay - though August is supposed to be the wettest month in the North, down to Hoi An, down to HCMC. If time you can at least check out Can Tho in the Delta. May want to fly from HCMC to Siem Reap as well - however if its not in your budget you may just need to shave a little time off somewhere else so that you can overland it.
I always like the idea of ending on the islands/beaches because its a nice way to relax after so much traveling and hiking.
Bangkok is the usual hub and it might be chaeaper from NYC vs. Vietnam. (At least it used to be.) You could start in Vietnam and cross in to Cambodia from the south. Then cross over to Thailand or fly to BKK from Siem Reap. 2 days in Bkk, 4-5 in Chiang Mai. 5-6 on an Island. Just ideas.
After much careful consideration, I have come up with a rough outline of our trip. I would love any feedback.
Bangkok- 3 nights
Chang Mai- 3 nights
Luang Prabang- 4 nights
Ha Noi- 4 nights
Hoi An- 3 nights
HCMC- 6 nights
Siem Reap- 5 nights
Phnom Penh- 2 nights
Pak Bara/Koh Lipe- 5 nights
Bangkok- 2 nights
It's fast moving, with lots of travel time, but that's what my boyfriend and I are really looking for. We might never get back to Southeast Asia, so we want to see as much as we can while we're there.
#8 slemien has been a member since 22/2/2011. Posts: 7
Are you planning on flying between each destination or bussing? That will make a huge difference to your plans, I suspect.
For example, the travel time from Hanoi to Hoi An is approx 18 hours by bus. From Hoi An to HCMC is 21 hours. So you will effectively be losing a day each time you travel (esp if by bus).
The busride from SIem Reap to PP is approx 6 hours - which is doable, but again, you effectively lose a day.
Just make sure you factor travel time into your plans. It's not clear from you post what your plans are.
Check out the bottom of the Planned Itinerary pages for an overview of travel times by bus, train and air. The Vietnam page is found here: http://www.travelfish.org/trip_planner/vietnam-hanoi-to-saigon
That whole once in a lifetime thing is crap. If you really like what you see, then you do it again. That is why so many of us have been multiple times. That said....
Have you factored in how you are travelling between these places other than by flying? Ant that will still take more time than you think. Get to airports, fly, get from. Especially for a newbie, you will see what we mean when you get here. If you are just touching on Vietnam why not stick to Hanoi with Ha Long bay thrown in and skip Hoi an. I love Hoi an but it is NOT a muct see. It is a quaint little town but compared to Saigon/Hanoi/Ha long it doesn't compare. Shave a night off Siem Reap. You will be worn out at Angkor Wat after 3 days. Only the super temple people do longer but you will be seeing sooooooo much. 3-4 day is more than enough unless you are just doing 1-2 counties. But seeing that you are on the bullet plan, shave a day. Same with Luang. Shave a day. As for islands it is a lot easier to get to many other places as a first timer. To Lipe means all the way south and counting on ferries that are changeable when you are on time constraints. Krabi/Phi Phi/Lanta Samui/Pangnan/, all so much easier to get too.
Review some info here.
For some people, we can only afford to do something like this once in a life time actually - so I understand that you want to see what you can, perhaps you'll come back again but only have a very short time so better to sample all the countries so that you can make a very informed decision next time after having visited the areas once.
That said . . . I love Laos, but just a few nights around LP and the flight it would require from CM and then to Hanoi and the visa, it may just end up costing too much in time and money. Perhaps it'd be better to try and arrange a flight from CM to Hanoi and then use the time you save from LP to add a night in CM and make sure you have more time to play with working through Vietnam and Cambodia. That way if you do love the area you've got Laos as a great bait to get you back.
I agree with Thomas that you want to shave a night off Siem Reap, and since you're trying to save time there is the possibility of going to Ko Chang, Ko Wai, Ko Maak, near the Cambodia border to save time at the end of your trip. I'm not sure what time of year your going though, and that makes a difference in what islands you want to visit depending on activities like diving or loafing about.
Looking over the itninerary, there's about one week lost here in travel time. I personally see that as a real big issue when trying to cover too much, too fast. The other is language. Language is a critical element of culture, and you won't have time to learn any because they are difficult and you're moving around too much. Also, it doesn't much look like you want anything other than superficial interaction with indigenous persons. A year or two from now, you are not going to remember much about Thailand or Vietnam or Cambodia, and I would be very surprised if you made any indigenous friends with whom you were still in contact. You'll have seen things - but there just won't be time to experience much. For these principal reasons I would rather stay in a smaller geograghic area... but as long as you go in with your eyes open as to the limitations. I understand you might never get back, but understand that by moving around so much, you will absorb very little beyond the surface.
#12 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Thank you all for you input. Any help is appreciated.
I understand the issue of travel time lost. Like I said, this is only a very rough outline of our trip;refinements are necessary, and I understand that.
Bangkok- 3 nights
Chang Mai- 3 nights
Luang Prabang- 3 nights
Ha Noi- 4 nights
HCMC- 6 nights
Siem Reap- 3 nights
Phnom Penh- 2 nights
Thai Island [undecided]- 5 nights
Bangkok- 2 nights
From the original plan, I have removed about 4 nights. I'm hoping this will be sufficient for travel time? Also, I enjoy travelling between places. When I went to Spain last summer, the train rides were the best part-- watching massive amounts of country go by. My hope is to travel by train and bus where available, and plane where it's impractical or too time consuming to travel overland. This will incur additional costs, but that's less of what I'm worried about.
I have heard about a train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Would this be the most effective way of travelling between the two cities, or would flying be a better option?
In response to MADMAC, while yes, I do want to meet and have lasting relationships with indigenous people, I don't want to plan my vacation around that. I simply can't afford to. I'm a full time college student who works two jobs in order to pay for my trips. While I would love to spend a month in one country getting to know it's rhythms, routines, people, etc. I simply can't justify spending the money and not seeing everything there is to see.
#14 slemien has been a member since 22/2/2011. Posts: 7
Here is a more detailed schedule that I just finished working on.
- Fly into Bangkok
- Bangkok 3 nights
- Travel Day [Bangkok/ Chiang Mai ]
- Chiang Mai 3 nights
- Travel Day [Chiang Mai/ Luang Prabang ]
- Luang Prabang 3 nights
- Travel Day [Luang Prabang/Ha Noi]
- Ha Noi 4 nights
- Travel Day [Ha Noi/HCMC]
- HCMC 6 nights
- Travel Day [HCMC/ Phnom Penh ] (I'm hoping this one won't take up an entire day)
- Phnom Penh 2 nights
- Travel Day [Phnom Penh/ Siem Reap ]
- Siem Reap 3 nights
- Travel Day [Siem Reap/Thai Island] (may allow two days for travel here)
- Thai Island 4 nights
- Travel Day [Island/Bangkok]
- Bangkok 1 nights
#15 slemien has been a member since 22/2/2011. Posts: 7
That's what it comes down to - experiencing an environment or seeing one. Not just for you, but for many people. When time is a limiting factor, such as you case, you are stuck with deciding do I want to see as much as possible, or do I want to experience as much as possible. Can't have both I'm afraid. I fall down on the side of experience, you fall down on the side of seeing. No right answer on this one. Sounds like you've made your decision, and that's fine.
#16 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Hanoi vs. Saigon? Have you decided what to do where? If you haven't included Ha Long bay do so. You will not regret it. From Saigon to PP, about 7 hours or so? Its been a while since I went that route. Go early as possible. you should be in PP in the early afternoon. Get to your hotel quick and you can still see some markets and tour around.
There is a train to Chiang Mai. Most people take the night train. It is easy and comfortable. Leaves about 7ish and arrives between 5-7 am. I have been on a couple that were late. By midnight you will feel like resting so lay back and chill.
If you are in Siem Reap with designs on going to an island, you may have to go back to Bangkok. Not necessarily but easier. If you fly from Bkk to Samui it is an hour only. The early flights (6ish) are usually discounted online.(Bangkok Airways). You can visit Ang Thong Marine park during the day and maybe camp there overnight or go to Pangnan instead. Or you could fly to Krabi and get a ride over to Railey beach. Just suggestions.
- Chiang Mai 3 nights
- Travel Day [Chiang Mai/ Luang Prabang ]
- Luang Prabang 3 nights
- Travel Day [Luang Prabang/Ha Noi]
- Ha Noi 4 nights
- Travel Day [Ha Noi/HCMC]
- HCMC 6 nights
I look at this part of the plan and see a lot of travel DAYS - the bus from LP to Hanoi is 24 hours - a long ride. I'd recommend flying CM to LP as I said before. Without a place to stop between Hanoi and HCMC there is little reason to travel overland, as it is again a very long trip.
Casey, my friend - Saigon if you please.
#19 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
............ over night buses in Vietnam are a good way of saving on hotel bills and not wasting days on travelling. If you pay a bit extra for flat beds, you can actually get some decent sleep (compared with reclining chairs).
There's also a sleeper train that goes from Hanoi to Saigon - it's slow and a bit noisy, but a real experience. The tickets are cheap, you'll see lots out of the window and you can't help but have encounters with locals. If you go to the train station when you arrive in Hanoi, you shouldn't have a problem getting a ticket for the day/night you want to travel. See www.seat61.com for more details.
Personally, I think 6 nights in Saigon is too much. There's only so many guilt trips you can take at museums and monuments to the America/Vietnam war before you'll want something different! It's a very busy, noisy city - there's markets and hotels and stuff, but you might have had enough of that in Hanoi.
If you wanted to make the most of the journey from Saigon to Phnom Penh, I'd recommend a trip including a slow boat up the Mekong. It will take longer (still done in one day), but you'll get to see some interesting scenery and notice how the people, the architecture and the attitudes change when you cross the border. As you're mainly staying in cities, this will be an opportunity to see real rural Vietnam/Cambodia.
My advice is to allow yourself some flexibility - if you've had enough of Saigon after three days, you can move on. This is where bus travel definitely has the advantage - you can generally get a ticket for the next day's travel in any of these countries.
Also, make the effort to learn a few words in each language - it goes a long way. Smile a lot. Try to avoid getting frustrated and see the funny side of things.
Finally, a note on the weather. Not sure about the rest of the region, but in Cambodia in August, you might not even get rain every day. If you do, it will be a downpour for an hour, the streets will flood then everything will be normal again but fresher in another hour's time. Bring a decent waterproof jacket, buy plastic flip flops and enjoy the new cafes that you found while waiting for the rain to stop!
Hope you have lots of fun!
I am so incredibly appreciative of everyone's input. This trip would be so chaotic without all of your help
We are considering extending our trip for another week or two to incorporate more down time.
I am concerned about getting from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang and from Luang Prabang to Hanoi. Flying seems like the best way but I would love to not have to pay $200 a person to fly. Is there a cheaper, overland option? I wouldn't mind spending a day or two taking the train or the bus, but I just don't know what the most direct route is.
Personally, I love trains. So I believe that's how we are going to travel [even if it takes a day or two] between cities whenever possible. For Saigon/Phnom Penh and Phnom Penh/Siem Reap we will take a boat, this seems like the most scenic and a fairly easy way to travel between the cities. If you have any information or opinions on the boat travel, I'd love to hear it.
Again, thank you guys
#21 slemien has been a member since 22/2/2011. Posts: 7
"I am concerned about getting from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang and from Luang Prabang to Hanoi. Flying seems like the best way but I would love to not have to pay $200 a person to fly. Is there a cheaper, overland option? I wouldn't mind spending a day or two taking the train or the bus, but I just don't know what the most direct route is."
No train option to service you here, unless you took the train to Bangkok and then back north to Nong Khai. That would get you to Vientiane , but then you need to take another long bus ride to Luang Prabang. So you're talking about three days to get from Chiang Mai ro Luang Prabang if you want to take the train. From there to Vietnam you fly it or bus it - there are no trains. Realistically you are either flying it or busing it - very, very long bus trip or a flight to Vientiane accompanied by a only a very long bus trip. The reason everyone here was cautioning to take your time and reduce objectives is it takes A LOT of time to move between the places you listed here. The communications infrastructure isn't as robust as Europe and the distances are longer than they seem on a map.
#22 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
......................of course, you can break up bus trips with overnight stays in smaller places. Madmac is right that bus journeys are long. Especially in Laos, I've had the experience of a twelve hour trip that turned into 18 hours. All it takes is some rain or a fallen tree to seriously delay you. But you will be seeing the real country, travelling with locals and learning how to be patient and calm the Asian way!
Personally, I'd always take a bus or a train over flying, partly due to environmental impact and partly because I don't much enjoy the sardine-in-a-tin-can experience of flying. If you're feeling adventurous, you could also catch sawntaws (like a big public tuk tuk) in northern Thailand and Laos to get where you want to go. They have set routes and fares, and you can hop off and link up with one for the next leg of your journey. It could take longer, but you'll have some interesting encounters and won't be travelling with a load of other westerners.
Abi, you're getting a little funny here:
"Personally, I'd always take a bus or a train over flying, partly due to environmental impact and partly because I don't much enjoy the sardine-in-a-tin-can experience of flying."
You mean you enjoy the sardine in a tin can experience of sitting on a shitty bus for 12 hours - or standing if you can't get a seat?
"If you're feeling adventurous, you could also catch sawntaws (like a big public tuk tuk) in northern Thailand and Laos to get where you want to go. They have set routes and fares, and you can hop off and link up with one for the next leg of your journey. It could take longer, but you'll have some interesting encounters and won't be travelling with a load of other westerners."
"It could take longer"??? You think? I took the bus from Mukdahan to Ampur Saimun - one hour and 25 minutes. I took the songtow and it took three hours plus. I don't know how long, or even if, they could take a bunch of them from Chaing Mai to Luang Prabang - but we're talking a number of days here. Songtow is OK for very short distances only.
Honestly the key to not travelling with "loads of westerners" is to not go to places they go to. The reason people don't do this is because they want to go and see the highlights. They are all hitting the same spots because those spots have things that are of interest to a western tourist. I am reminded of an assessment written up here in travelfish which described Tha Khek as "far more interesting" than NKP across the river because it's got a cool river / cave. Tha Khek is a dirty little village with nothing of interest except that cave. NKP is a real city with real city activity. But most people aren't really interested in that because they aren't interested in interacting with people here. Very few people (other than sex tourists) come here to interact with the "locals" except in the most superficial of ways. So Tha Khek is a great spot, and NKP is not worth visiting. That's why over and over you see itinerary's that talk about going to Luang Prabang, VV and so forth and so on. It's always the same places over and over again. There's a reason for that. If people were truly interested in getting a real cultural experience, they wouldn't all be going to the same places. They are not interested in that. Honestly. Might as well travel the most efficient way possible. If you really want to experience the local culture and get a feel for how it is to live here, don't stay in hotels that cater to westerners and don't go to places where all the westerners go to. There's nothing wrong with doing that, of course. But once you make the decision to do that, you are obviously making the decision because you want to see these cool things (or hit the great beach) and not hang out with the locals. Again, look here at travelfish and you will see countless discussions about finding other backpackers to hang out with. I don't think I have ever seen a thread where people talk about hanging out with indigenous persons. Certain people here (like myself or Rasheed and others) encourage that, but almost nobody here indicates any real desire to do that. The Songtow pretty much sucks. It's slow, it's uncomfortable - the only thing going for it is it is cheap. There are much easier ways of meeting locals than riding in a Songtow. Trust me on this.
#24 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Back to topic.
I'd personally only fly between CM and LP and LP and Hanoi. The alternatives, although over scenic roads, are just too uncomfortable. Travel between all other places can be easily done in an enjoyable way over land.
BKK to CM you can do by (night) train and as said previously the train rides in Vietnam are scenic as well.
Other train route to consider is Hanoi-Sapa which is very scenic as well but long. Overnight train is possible as well but then you miss most of the scenery off course.
Boattrips to/in cambodia are fine. PP to SR is a lot more expensive though than the road alternative and only scenic if you sit on top of the roof which doesn't have seats nor shade. If you want to sit inside it's like a sardine can and you'll look out of a tiny window and then I'd say it's a waste of money and you're better off taking the bus.
.............. MadMac - I honestly do prefer buses! I can get off and stretch my legs, I can see out of the window, and I meet lots of local people. If you don't speak the language, then a long bus ride is the best way to learn some and to be involved with locals. Expats have the benefit of knowing some of the local language and how things work. Travellers/tourists don't have that, but they probably have more energy and less cynicism as well!
I've taken songtaws in Northern Thailand and Laos, which is why I suggested it as an option. Of course, it takes longer, but if you're interested in the literal experience of travelling (ie the bits between the places you're staying), seeing the countryside/features/architecture change as you travel, it's rewarding. Flying over countries doesn't give you that learning.
My point was that, whilst people want to visit the 'hotspots', they can also visit those lesser known places that you're talking about en route.
For the boat journeys, I'd definitely recommend the Vietnam-Phnom Penh one over the PP to Siem Reap, which is longer and less shady.
"My point was that, whilst people want to visit the 'hotspots', they can also visit those lesser known places that you're talking about en route."
They can - but it realistically means spending nights in these lessar known places which eats into time which cuts down on the hotspot visits which all brings us back to... You see where that goes.
"Expats have the benefit of knowing some of the local language and how things work. Travellers/tourists don't have that, but they probably have more energy and less cynicism as well!"
I try to avoid the cynicism, but it's almost unavoidable. Driving here did it for me. You would think that a sense of self-preservation and just a small amount of common sense would prevent what I see here daily, but it doesn't. I grew up in a multi-racial environment, with plenty of Asians who were intelligent and exercised a great deal of common sense. So it's obvious to me that it's cultural. Driving like a complete and utter moron with a death wish is something that is learned. So I have to say you are correct there. And I'm a mild case. Some of the guys here believe that Thais are the dumbest people on the planet. But, of course, I must also concede some of the expats (and not a small percentage) are drunken, useless louts too.
I became cynical concerning backpackers too. I've met a fair number since I've been living here, and while some are cool, interesting individuals (Casey here from Travelfish is a good guy), a lot were also incredibly obtuse with strong held opinions that were based in made up history and facts. That's tough for me to stomach.
To be continued...
#27 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
...................I also suffer with cynicism, MadMac, and I confess I don't spend a lot of time with backpackers. You're right that some are cool and interesting, but you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find them! Then again, there's expats that I have no time for, either!
My natural inclination is to be helpful and to share my passion for Cambodia and Asia, but so many people have already decided they know everything (don't you love the Asian expert that's been here for three days?!). They don't want my help, even when they're standing on a street corner in the blazing sun, turning their Lonely Planet map around to try and work out where they are. Seems that getting help from a whitie is going to ruin their authentic experience!
One of the reasons I like to contribute to this forum is that I can share some information, ideas and knowledge that can help people make the most out of their travels and not just have the same experience as everyone else on the wellworn path. I fell in love with Cambodia while travelling and of course, I know it better now I've been here for a while, but I still wake up every morning with a smile on my face.
Have to confess that most driving antics make me smile, apart from the SUV crazies who think a horn is going to protect themselves and others from ridiculous risks...
With the backpackers I am where you are - the experts who have been here a week and are now going to tell me what's what. Or worse, come over to me and tell me I am committing some cultural sin or other. One guy started telling me you can never point at anything or anyone, when he saw me pointing at something with my wife. My wife then said "What is that guy talking about?" (she's Thai). Another tried telling me that prostitution in Thailand is the fault of the Americans, who introduced it during the Vietnam war. Yeah, right. Obviously a guy who's never read "The Colonel of Tamarkan." One female backpacker had the nerve to ask me "Where are you going with that little girl?" The little girl was my daughter. The way she asked the question too - like it was a foregone conclusion I must be a pedophile. In Bangkok, not too far from Khao San Road, one told me I should be ashamed of myself for exploiting that poor woman. That poor woman was my wife. We are the exact same age differential as my grandfather and grandmother - 13 years. I would say I've heard it all, but I am certain I haven't yet.
The reason I like this forum is sometimes I do hear about some cool places that are in driving range for me that I can go and check out. There are some intelligent people posting here who have good information and are also fun to banter with.
#29 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
We've covered the topic of ground travel through Laos in another thread some time ago - I fell on the side of liking the bus for the experience and scenery, but in the end I agreed with MADMAC that having two wheels to (what passes for and in some cases no) tarmac is probably the best option.
However, if I was going to put flying against bus, I'd only take the flight if it was a time issue - and if you (siemien) are going to add more time to your trip I think you'll have less worry about the distance traveling over land and recommend if you like trains that you do the Hanoi to Saigon ground leg.
There is a good spot on this site that discusses the travel from the Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang - you can do it in 3 days with a slow boat. Once you cross overthe border, take the slow boat and spend a night in Pak Beng, then the next day take the boat all the way to Luang Prabang. I think you'll enjoy this overland route better than the long bus ride from LP to Hanoi. I've done part of that journey (Nong Kiaow to Sam Nuea) and it took me over 12 hours on a local bus - very memorable and I loved it . . . but I would never never ever recommend it to anyone if I didn't personally know them and understand what they like about travel, because there is a very good chance that you would otherwise hunt me down and hurt me for telling you it was a good idea.
................that's the bus ride that took me 18 hours, when I had thought it would take 12! When I got on the bus there were no seats available, just rice sacks in the aisle. But also very memorable and interesting and made some new friends on the way ...
Well Abi at least you had a sack of rice. The worst is when you are stuck on your feet the entire time... Man, does that wear you out.
#32 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Well, I will go out of my way to travel with an open mind. My thoughts are this: go, smile, explore, and try not to act like a stupid American tourist. When I traveled in Europe, this strategy worked extremely well for me, and I hope it works well again.
We are planning on going to Cambodia, and I have been doing a bit more research about staying there. Other then Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, is there another city that would be worth stopping in? If we have the time, I would love to spend a few days in a more laid back town, something smaller then most of the places we're going to be staying.
#33 slemien has been a member since 22/2/2011. Posts: 7
"Well, I will go out of my way to travel with an open mind. My thoughts are this: go, smile, explore, and try not to act like a stupid American tourist. When I traveled in Europe, this strategy worked extremely well for me, and I hope it works well again."
It will work Slemien. Perfect attitude on your part. And actually I find most people who come here pretty well behaved. You just tend to notice the ones who aren't more I suppose.
The thing I love about living here is just what you pointed out. Be friendly, smile, say your sorry if you make a mistake - and you can do whatever you want here (well within reason, don't kill anyone). In Germany you break a rule, you've broken a rule, and there's not much leeway. In Thailand, rules are guidelines and if you are nice, they'll cut you a ton of slack. You're going to love it here.
#35 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957