I am traveling (on my first overseas trip!) to SE Asia with my boyfriend in April, and have just over 3 weeks to spend in the region. My plan has been to spend most of the time (about 2 weeks) in Laos (mainly around Luang Prabang), and approximately 1 week in Cambodia, to see - of course - Angkor Wat and the Killing Fields. I know that it isn't very much time, but I thought for a first overseas trip at the age of 24, that I should keep it short as I'm just getting my foot in the door, and will probably find it a bit challenging.
I fly out of Sydney, Australia and arrive in Hanoi , Vietnam on the 8th of April at 12:15pm. I fly back home on the 30th of April (and my boyfriend leaves on the 28th). Originally I was planning on covering Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia but I know (from friends' advice and online forums such this) that 3 weeks isn't really long enough for that. However, we do fly into Hanoi, and my first question was whether it would be worth spending a couple of days in Hanoi before flying across to Laos? My dilemma here is that this would eat into my time in Laos/Cambodia, and I really wanted to experience those regions as much as possible. On the other hand, I have heard some really lovely things about Hanoi.
I guess that, in order to advise me appropriately, I should explain what kind of trip I am hoping to experience. I am not really interested in spending too much time in tourist-y cities, and would like to experience some of the smaller, regional parts of Laos - its unique culture, food, and landscapes!
Is it worth spending a couple of days in Hanoi, or should I head straight over to Laos?
Where/what is a must-see in the countries that I am visiting, in your opinion?
Advice and suggestions very much welcome!
#1 melface has been a member since 17/3/2012. Posts: 4
You have allowed 2 weeks in Laos (in Luang Prabang area). That would give you plenty of time to, say, head up to Nong Khiaw (2-3 days) and Muang Ngoi (2-3 days) if you wanted. I'd say that the trip up to those areas was a highlight for me and is worthwhile if you want to see local lifestyle, remote scenery, etc).
If you cut the Laos part back to 10 days and added those extra 3-4 days on to Hanoi since you are going to be there anyhow, then I think that would work out comfortably. You might as well see Hanoi since you are there anyhow. This will cost you an extra visa of course (US$45 or so if you get pre-approval visa, and visa on arrival) - but that shouldn't be a big consideration.
But,.. I wouldn't be tempted to try to squeeze in more of Vietnam in those days (as would be tempting to do!). Focus on Hanoi only to get a taster of Vietnam, then move on to your original plans.
Thanks for your great (and prompt!) advice - both Nong Khiaw and Muang Ngoi look absolutely beautiful and definitely the sort of places I want to visit while in Laos! (in fact, because they looked so amazing that I almost decided to completely skip Hanoi ..)
However, I do think that you are right. I am going to be in Hanoi anyway. Do you think 2-3 days there would be enough? I have been looking at flights and I arrive in Hanoi at midday on the 8th, and I'm planning to fly to Laos at 7pm on the 10th. That would allow me even more time in Laos. (12 days if I aim to get to Cambodia on the 23rd) What is the minimum time you would suggest I leave for Cambodia, though? And the best (most enjoyable) means of transport from Laos to Cambodia?
Also, someone from another forum mentioned that Laos will be hot and dusty in April (he implied unbearably so, and that I should skip Laos altogether..but that's not going to happen!). Is this true, though? I'm a bit worried that I've chosen a bad time for SE Asia…
All your help and advice is greatly appreciated
#3 melface has been a member since 17/3/2012. Posts: 4
Yes, 2-3 days in Hanoi is fine. There is plenty to do if you wanted to stay longer, but 2-3 would allow you to get the feel of the place, see the main sites and have some fun there. I just loved the Old Quarter even though it was absolute chaos!
Minimum time in Cambodia would be approx 6-7 days, assuming you spend 3-4 in Siem Reap and the rest in Phnom Penh. With a bit more time (eg 3 days) , you could make your way down to Kampot which I thought was a great (but sleepy) river town. But remember, you can't do it all so you have to pick and choose your highlights.
Most enjoyable transport from Laos to Cambodia? It depends on your definition of enjoyable? Comfortable and quick would be a plane (albeit pricey!). Good for horror5 stories on the blog? Then that would be the bus! To be honest, it would be a killer from LP to Cambodia. Best you fork out the $200 or whatever for the flight from LP to Siem Reap and go easy on yourself, especially when you have limited time to play with. (Check out Laos Airlines for exact cost - I just pulled that out of the air, but I know they are expensive compared to other airlines).
Temperature in April? Bloody hot! I spent time in Cambodia and Thailand in Apr-June, and yes it was atrociously hot. But I don't see northern Laos being any hotter than Cambodia (someone can correct me if I'm wrong) so there is no point in skipping it just to head to Cambodia. My suggestion for Cambodia: find some hotels with pools. After spending all day traipsing around town, temples, etc - it was great to come back for a refreshing dip in the pool. This was also the time of year that huge afternoon showers hit so you often get a thunder and lightening show for an hour or so. (Just don't do that from the swimming pool!).
Look, it's hot in SEA all year around. If you're not used to the climate, then there seems to be little different in hot temps in Nov/Dec and hotter temps in Apr! Locals will probably feel it more...
Thanks for the tip on Cambodia! This was already my rough plan so I'm glad to hear it confirmed as a good one! Kampot sounds lovely though! If I do leave Laos early enough I will have to check it out! Another one that popped up as being nearby and lovely is Battambang - what are your thoughts on this place?
$200 doesn't seem so bad to get from LP to SR, so I will keep the flying option in mind. However, If I end up leaving myself 2-3 days to travel down from LP to Cambodia - what could be a possible route/means of transport? Are there some nice places to pass through, and could I do some by boat, and some by bus? Might be nice to mosey down through Laos to Cambodia - but please correct me if I'm wrong!
In regards to the heat, I'm planning on staying in places with air-conditioning - it seems that double bed rooms with a/c are quite inexpensive (let's face it, everything is inexpensive!). My travel budget can definitely afford it. Once again, thanks for the tip on finding a hotel with a pool! Sounds like it would be quite a perfect way to wash off the sweat of the day! Haha. Hopefully the heat of Australia has prepared me for some of the heat of SEA.. (though the Summer just gone was a bit wimpy..)
Thank you thank you thank you!!!
#5 melface has been a member since 17/3/2012. Posts: 4
Also, the 2-3 days I've allowed in Hanoi won't really allow for any nice day-trips away from the city, will it?
That might be fine. Both my partner and I love food. We can spend most of the time eating and wandering around the city, perhaps
No, definitely not! 2-3 days will be just enough to really enjoy what Hanoi has to offer. If you do get tired of walking around and eating & drinking there are some worthwhile museums covering the war, different tribes of Vietnam etc but I would not make these a priority. Hanoi is all about the ambience and atmosphere and being chilled.
#7 chinarocks has been a member since 17/6/2011. Posts: 740