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Southeast Asia forum

SEA advice - narrowing down our destinations

Posted by jrdnly on 18/3/2014 at 21:42

Hi - I've been browsing these forums and using many of the travelfish recommended itineraries to help research the SEA portion (~4 weeks) of our broader trip (~6 weeks). Currently, I've got a "long list" of destinations we're considering hitting in Cambodia/ Laos/ Northern Vietnam, but would love to poll this group for advice narrowing it down. For context, this sub-trip is sandwiched between a week in Singapore and a relaxing week in Bora Bora to end it all. Thus, we're okay running our batteries to completely empty while out in SEA! Timeframe is July/August.

Our goals for these 4 weeks are:
1. To see as much diversity (sea/river side towns, scenery, trekking, culture, historic sites, temples, etc.) as possible - we get bored quickly with one spot and also don't need to see every temple in the area
2. To "rough it" as much as we can tolerate - we've never 'backpacked' and so we want to do it before we have kids
3. To just get away from our busy lives and go on an adventure in SEA!


Restrictions: Our inbound flight is to Phnom Penh, Cambodia and our outbound leg is from Da Nang, Vietnam. We have 4 weeks between flights. We are prepared and prefer to do mostly overland travel (for the experience), but will fly to avoid really, really painful overland travel.


Having said all this, we are heeding many people's advice to not try and overdo it and so I'm coming to this group hoping to get feedback on what NOT to see. Obviously, if you have any strong recommendations that I've missed, please do share those, but please do also suggest what to drop as we're hoping to get to a shorter list, not a longer one! :)

Here's the "long list", which by my uneducated estimation is probably more than twice as many as we could reasonably see in 4 weeks. The order is roughly how we'd travel it if we had all the time in the world - which we don't of course! (*)s indicate my current hypothesis for places to see. I'm a bit worried that I've landed with all the bigger towns/cities and am missing the beauty of the area. Please beat it up!


*Phnom Penh, Cambodia
*Siem Reap, Cambodia
*Kratie, Cambodia
Muang Khong, Laos
Champasak, Laos
Pakse, Laos
*Savannakhet, Laos
Tha Khaek, Laos
*Vientiane, Laos
Vang Vieng, Laos
*Luang Prabang, Laos
*Muang Ngoi, Laos
Muang Khua, Laos
Dien Bien Phu, Laos
Sapa, Vietnam
*Hanoi, Vietnam
*Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
Hoi An, Vietnam
*Da Nang, Vietnam

Thanks in advance!

#1 jrdnly has been a member since 18/3/2014. Posts: 3

Posted by MADMAC on 19/3/2014 at 01:03

I hate to break it to you, but this itinerary is insane. You have 19 travel days out of your 28 days available. Each travel day is a day largely shot where you are sitting on a bus doing nothing for hours on end. A few short hops like Savanakhet and Tha Kek are OK, but you've got some long ones in there too. Traveling from PP all the way through the Laos Panhandle and then through Northern Laos and into Vietnam is extremely long. Each time you move, you have to check out of a hotel, take some formm of transportation to the bus station or airport, travel that leg, then find a hotel at your destination. Even for short legs, you're eating half the day. For longer ones the day is completely shot. Most people regard the rule of thumb as 3 or more days at each destination. Otherwise what's the point in going there at all?

I would recommend you go to Siem Reap, PP and maybe a beach like Kep. When you're ready to leave Cambodia head to Saigon and work your way up to Danang.

#2 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957


Posted by somtam2000 on 19/3/2014 at 02:35 admin

As Madmac suggests, that is a decidedly ambitious timeline. If you were to drop in a couple of regional flights, it would save you quite a bit of time, but assuming you're sticking to ground transport, my first suggestion would be to drop Savannakhet and Tha Khaek. Then retime it as something like: (cumulative nights in brackets)


Arrive Phnom Penh 2 nights (2) bus/boat to
Siem Reap 2 nights (4) bus to
Kratie 1 night (5) bus to
Muang Khong/Champasak 2 nights (7) bus to
Pakse 1 night ( 8 ) bus to [ I would fly this leg ]
Vientiane 2 nights (10) bus to
Vang Vieng 2 nights (12) bus to
Luang Prabang 3 nights (15) bus to
Muang Ngoi 2 nights (17) boat to [ I would swap Muang Ngoi to Nong Kiaow ]
Muang Khua 1 night (18) bus to
Dien Bien Phu 1 nights (19) bus to
Sapa 2 nights (21) train to
Hanoi 3 nights (24) tour to
Ha Long Bay 2 nights (26) via Hanoi, via Da Nang train to
Hoi An 3 nights (29) bus to
Da Nang 1 night exit


Now there is no way I'd recommend anyone actually do the above, but it is possible!

My advice would be to fly the legs I already mention, plus also drop Muang Ngoi, Muang Khua and Dien Bien Phu and fly from Luang Prabang to Hanoi (then do night train both ways to Sapa) that will free up 4-5 days which, with your current plan will largely be spent on the road.

You can no longer get the boat north from Luang Prabang to Nong Kiaow/Muang Ngoi due to dam construction, so that's another leg largely by van now.

Regarding travel time, some of the above legs (Siem Reap to Kratie, Muang Khua to DBP, Pakse to Vientiane for eg) are all full day trips.

Hope this helps - more questions, ask away :-)

#3 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,425
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Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 19/3/2014 at 04:25

You might get bored in some towns but spending 10 hrs on a bus is far more boring.

I tend to spend 3 nights in smaller places and 5 to 10 nights in places that i like.

Pretty hard to get bored in bangkok or krabi with so many things to do.

#4 LeonardCohen1 has been a member since 24/7/2012. Posts: 2,148

Posted by amnicoll on 19/3/2014 at 06:33

I am with leonard on this and certainly agree with the others that this is NOT a trip I would undertake in the time available even as ammended by Somtam

Dien Bien Phu is in Vietnam by the way

#5 amnicoll has been a member since 10/1/2005. Location: United Kingdom. Posts: 614

Posted by jrdnly on 19/3/2014 at 08:00

@MADMAC, @sotam2000, @LeonardCohen1, @amnicoll - Thanks for the quick responses. Much appreciated input.
@sotam2000 - Thanks particularly to you for putting in the effort to create a revised itinerary. And for the heads-up on the dam construction between LP and DBP.


Totally agree with everyone, 19 out of 28 travel days is absurd and no one should try it. Certainly doesn't sound like a vacay to me and never crossed our minds. Our current plan envisions

#6 jrdnly has been a member since 18/3/2014. Posts: 3

Posted by amnicoll on 19/3/2014 at 08:34

Thank for getting back. I would stick to 2 countries at most. perhaps spend a bit more time in cambodia and then fly up to hanoi (or even cross overland through the delta to HCM and fly to hanoi

#7 amnicoll has been a member since 10/1/2005. Location: United Kingdom. Posts: 614

Posted by jrdnly on 19/3/2014 at 09:12

Well that's strange, my response annoyingly got cut off.

Totally agree with everyone, 19 out of 28 travel days is absurd and no one should try it. Certainly doesn't sound like a vacay to me and never crossed our minds. Our current plan envisions 9 travel days out of 28 and I'm considering trying to cut that down further as well. Per my original note, any thoughts on just the bolded items (repasted below for convenience)? Worth swapping anything out or skipping anything?


*Phnom Penh, Cambodia
*Siem Reap, Cambodia
*Kratie, Cambodia
*Savannakhet, Laos
*Vientiane, Laos
*Luang Prabang, Laos
*Muang Ngoi, Laos
*Hanoi, Vietnam
*Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
*Da Nang, Vietnam

#8 jrdnly has been a member since 18/3/2014. Posts: 3

Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 19/3/2014 at 09:23

4 weeks isnt enough for 3 countries. Pick 1 or 2 max. If u like ruins do cambodia. If u like laid back pick laos.

I prefer beaches so i normally do thailand.

#9 LeonardCohen1 has been a member since 24/7/2012. Posts: 2,148

Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 19/3/2014 at 09:25

I would cut singapore down to 2 nights if u want more time for these others. Sing is dull.

#10 LeonardCohen1 has been a member since 24/7/2012. Posts: 2,148

Posted by amnicoll on 19/3/2014 at 09:27

this makes more sense. Savannakhet,is not the most exciting of places and you would not be likely to get there in a day from Kratie apart from overnight. There is a direct bus to Pakse from Kratie. I would be tempted to fly from Pakse to Luang Prabang and miss Vientainne

I do not know Muang Ngoi and transport links from Luang Prabang and on to Hanoi but it may be worth making an enquiry on this. An alternative might be to go from Luang Prabang to Hanoi via Dien Bien Phu and Sapa using the time saved by not going to vientaine but you will need to lookat this in a bit more detail because I am not upto date with the transport links on this route either

hope this helps

#11 amnicoll has been a member since 10/1/2005. Location: United Kingdom. Posts: 614

Posted by MADMAC on 20/3/2014 at 04:25

Fly from Siem Reap to Vientiane and you have a reasonable plan.

#12 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957


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