Southeast Asia forum

Advice needed...Bangkok, Chang Mai, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, southern Thai islands...

  • sunshine87

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    Advice needed...I am travelling for 7 weeks and plan to go to Bangkok, Chang Mai, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and down to Thai islands..in that order!

    Attempting to get through all the amazing informtion on here, I thought it would be great to get expert advice on realisms of my itinary working out...I have no idea about how long it takes to get everywhere, so would rather get a better understanding before its too late!

    I am going to Dubai 30th July-10th August. Arrive in Bangkok 10th August pm, staying overnight and will explore briefly on 11th.
    11th or 12th plan to fly to Chang Mai
    12-21th Aug: explore Chang Mai and nearby areas for 10days.
    22nd:Travel to Laos
    23,24th spend in Laos (capital only?!)
    25th Head to Hanoi (how is best to get there?)
    26,27th in Hanoi and surrounding areas
    28th Hue
    30th Hoi Am
    1st Sept Nha Trang
    3rd Sept Ho Chi Minh City
    5th Ph Non penh
    7th Siem Reap
    (Is this realistic time bus/train between places and to actual see the place??)
    9 or 10th back to Thailand, to Pattaya
    11th or 12th fly Bankgok to Surat Thani (easy access from there to islands?)
    13th-27th Island hopping
    28th Back to Bangkok
    30th Sept Depart for England

    Please let me know what you think and if it would be possible or if a complete longshot!!

    Thanks soo much..

    #1 Posted: 24/6/2008 - 20:19

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  • somtam2000

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    Hi Sunshine,

    A couple of suggestions:
    1) given you're flying a few legs, take a look at the Discovery Airpass

    2) I'd shave some time off your island hopping leg and add it to Laos. If you can't do that, then skip Laos and save it for another trip. If you can wangle say 4-5 days there, then I'd suggest overlanding from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang and then flying to Hanoi. You can read about the overland segment here.

    3) If you want to see the surrounds of Hanoi -- eg Sapa and Ha Long Bay you'll need 5-7 days to do it comfortably... again, consider how long you've got alotted for island time.

    4) I'd spend more time in Hoi An and less in Hue

    5) Pattaya seems an odd inclusion...

    Also, take a look at our suggested itinerary section.

    #2 Posted: 25/6/2008 - 07:40

  • sunshine87

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    Somtam thanks for your advice!! This website is actually amazing!!

    I would like two weeks island hopping though as meeting some other friends and they leave on 18th...

    Also pattaya is only a quick stop, as my friends are living there so can stay overnight for free and see what its like...

    Regarding coming down the Vietnam coast line, i obviously think we didnt understand the distance between places, only allowing two days between each place on my list, I seem to understand now, would mean a day travelling on bus so then only a day in each place...but I really didnt want to buy flights everywhere as would cost too much, but would you suggest that is the only way to see all the places on my list in this time frame?

    #3 Posted: 25/6/2008 - 16:38

  • SBE

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    If you don't want to sacrifice beach time, how about spending less time around CM and more time in Laos? Luang Prabang is well worth seeing. Even if it isn't the sleepy laid back town I remember, I bet it's still a lot more atmospheric than CM.

    #4 Posted: 25/6/2008 - 17:53

  • sunshine87

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    Yeah maybe, but my step brother lives around there so we were going to spend some time with him and visit some of the schools he works at etc...

    But I will definitely make sure we go to Luang Prabang..is it worth going to the capital Vientiane too?

    #5 Posted: 25/6/2008 - 17:56

  • SBE

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    I'd say no, not if you're short of time.

    #6 Posted: 25/6/2008 - 17:58

  • sunshine87

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    OK thanks..

    do you know if it is feasbile to bus/train from Luang Prabang to Hanoi? Or does it takes hours and hours? An overnight bus/train wouldnt be a problem? I just was more keen on seeing the land and passing through different places of each area rather when travelling than flying everywhere (also much cheaper obviously)

    #7 Posted: 25/6/2008 - 18:10

  • SBE

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    Sorry I haven't been to Vietnam but even getting from LP to VTE takes hours and hours. No overnight train option, just buses and minibuses. You can also paddle downriver in a canoe for part of the way to Vientiane but that also involves an inordinate amount of time bouncing about in the back of pick up truck on dirt tracks so it's not exactly the most time-efficient option.

    If you're not keen on flying to Hanoi from LP then maybe it would be simpler to just to skip Laos altogether and save it for another time as Somtam suggests?

    Also have you checked out Air Asia? They have flights from BKK to Phnom Penh, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. One of those routes might come in handy and save you a lot of time.

    #8 Posted: 25/6/2008 - 19:13

  • sunshine87

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    Thing is I am definitely going up north to Chiang Mai to stay with my brother, so flights from Bangkok are no good (unless down to islands later..) but maybe i will look into Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang to Hanoi (flights) then bus/train down coast of Vietnam, then either fly Phnom Penh to Bangkok or if i want to see friends in Pattaya, bus or train from Cambodia across?

    So complicated, getting experience advice is really helpful so thanks!

    #9 Posted: 25/6/2008 - 19:18

  • SBE

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    An overnight sleeper train or cheap flight to BKK from CM then a flight to Hanoi would be relatively easy and painless compared to doing an overland detour from CM via LP I'd have thought.

    #10 Posted: 25/6/2008 - 19:47

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  • SBE

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    Oh and I'd cut out Pattaya too... unless they are really good friends it's going to cost you a lot more in terms of time and cost (much more than one night's free accommodation) if you have to come back via the nearest Cambodian border at Ko Kong.

    #11 Posted: 25/6/2008 - 19:59

  • sunshine87

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    Oh really? OK...i am seeing them in Bangkok as they are picking me up from airport so I will cut out Pattaya. From Cambodia then do you suggest flight down to the islands? Or is there trains and buses? Also if flying does it mean I have to sort visa out for Vietnam and Cambodia before? (As i heard on bus trips you normally get them included..)

    #12 Posted: 25/6/2008 - 20:02

  • SBE

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    Much easier to nip down to Pattaya when you're in BKK In fact, it might be an idea to go and see them when you first arrive as the airport is practically halfway there!

    #13 Posted: 25/6/2008 - 20:05

  • SBE

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    Oops crossed messages! (Sorry I'm multitasking as usual here).

    You have to sort out the Vietnam visa in advance. They need to know exact dates and ports of entry and exit I believe. Cambodia is optional but it's advisable as the land border guards have a tendency to try and extract more than the official price.

    Once you are in Thailand getting to the Thai islands is a doddle, especially from BKK. Which ones do you want to go to? You don't mention when you intend to travel ... that makes a difference.

    #14 Posted: 25/6/2008 - 20:16

  • sunshine87

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    I did mention dates at the top of the chain.. I will be arriving in Thailand 10th August and leaving 30th Septrember...

    Island wise I want to go to Ko Samui, Ko Tao, Ko Pha Ngan and then whatever others take our fancy at the time, i dont want restrictions on that except for the full moon party we have to try...

    By sorting Visa in advance, you mean advance as in when we arrive to Bangkok? Or now from UK?!

    There doesnt seem to be any direct flights from Chang Mai to Hanoi...I dont want to go back from Chang Mai to Bangkok before Vietnam so what is the best suggestion?

    Also if I cannot fly from Camodia to the islands, i will train or bus back to Bangkok, (which i though passed through Pattaya anyway which is why i was going to stop for a night)

    (thanks for your help!!)

    #15 Posted: 25/6/2008 - 20:27

  • SBE

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    Apologies I didn't notice the dates. The islands you mention should all be good weatherwise... also Ko Samet which is not too far from Pattaya BTW

    -----------

    "Also if I cannot fly from Camodia to the islands, i will train or bus back to Bangkok, (which i though passed through Pattaya anyway which is why i was going to stop for a night)"

    ---------------

    ??? Don't quite understand that bit. From Siem Reap it's a LOT quicker going overland to BKK via Poipet than via Ko Kong but you won't be passing through Pattaya en route.



    back to the islands... You can get an overnight bus or train to either Surat Thani or Chumphon from BKK. The sleeper trains south are usually fully booked around Full Moon Party time so you'd be wise to buy a ticket in advance. Otherwise the Lomprayah ferry has a good reputation and has an office somewhere around Khao San Road which can sell you a combined bus/ferry ticket. Another scam free option would be to get an official government bus from the Southern bus terminal and buy a ferry ticket on arrival at Surat Thani or Chumpon. There are a number of ferry companies you can chose from including cheaper but slower ones than the Lomprayah. In any case don't worry, things are all set up to make travel very easy to get to those islands. I find it much harder getting anywhere in the UK! ;-)

    You can get a Vietnam visa at any consulate outside the country but if you are only planning to stay one night or so in Bangkok it might be more prudent to get one in the UK.

    Why is going back to BKK so out of the question? I just looked at prices on Air Asia and they still have a flight for 49B (approximately 1 euro) on July 22nd. OK that rises to about 900B with taxes and baggage charges but that still makes it under 14 quid which is probably roughly the same price as an overnight sleeper train. Flights to Hanoi at a civilized hour next day currently cost about 33 quid including taxes.

    Maybe someone else has a better suggestion but that's the best thing I can think of right now!

    #16 Posted: 25/6/2008 - 22:09

  • sunshine87

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    I just looked at Air Asia for August when we would fly and the cheapest is 2,100 THB for Bangkok to Hanoi..does that sound normal? Plus the 1000 THB to get back to Bangkok from Chang Mai, so yeah we are talking at least 3000 Baht to get from Chang Mai to Hanoi..it would only take a few hours in flights and waiting time.

    But I guess bus/train/boat from Chang Mai to Hanoi would take much longer, but much cheaper??

    Thanks for advice on getting to islands! Sounds good.

    Regarding Siem Reap to Bangkok, I didnt realise it was quicker, thank you. So from Pphom Penh to Siem Reap by bus/train and then bus/train to Bangkok..?

    #17 Posted: 25/6/2008 - 22:30

  • SBE

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    Is that 2,100B including taxes? If so it's not bad at all. Overland you'd have to cross Cambodia or Laos ...which means you'd have to fork out money for a visa. I don't think flying would actually work out any more expensive, might even be cheaper, but I may be wrong. If you get an overnight sleeper train from CM you'd be saving on a night's accommodation too remember. BTW like most budget airlines you generally get the cheapest fares the earlier you book on Air Asia.

    Phnom Penh-> Siem Reap -> BKK sounds logical enough to me. It's a pretty classic route.

    #18 Posted: 26/6/2008 - 00:03

  • sunshine87

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    So if you fly are you saying you dont need a visa?!

    Phnom Penh-Siem Reap-BKK via train? A few hours each?

    Thanks for your help.

    #19 Posted: 26/6/2008 - 15:50

  • SBE

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    You still need a visa for Vietnam (obviously) but not the countries you have to fly over to get there ie Cambodia or Laos. You would have to pay for a visa for one of these countries if you went to Vietnam overland.

    I went by bus not train. PP-SR was about 5 hours I think. SR-BKK can vary depending on who you go with and how quickly you get across the border. Taxi to the Thai border from SR is probably the quickest (about 3 hours) but most expensive option. (If you can find people to share the taxi it cuts costs though.) After that it's about another 3 hours to BKK.

    This said I have known people taking 17 hours or more to do that same route when they didn't go independently, thinking it would be simpler and easier to get a package deal from a travel agency.

    All the BKK travel agencies seemed to use the same transport as the notorious Khao San Road scam buses.... it's generally much more painless to use official public transport. I think there's a section on travelfish giving detailed advice, or you could have a look at this for more info. http://talesofasia.com/cambodia-overland.htm

    #20 Posted: 26/6/2008 - 16:37

  • somtam2000

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    OK, I'm exhausted after reading all the above!

    Bangkok to Angkor covered here - of Tales of Asia site mentioned by SBE is an excellent resource.

    Luang Prabang overland to Hanoi will set you back the best part of two days. In your case, given time constraints, I'd fly -- I was given a fare recently of around US$170 for the leg, but there was another post last day or two that mentioned fares around US$100 mark -- so shop around!

    #21 Posted: 26/6/2008 - 16:59

  • sunshine87

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    Hi again Somtam..I know so much advice on this post! (Much appreciated)

    My outstanding questions are;
    From Chiang Mai do you suggest back to BKK and just flying to Hanoi, or Chiang Mai by bus to Luang Prabang (if possible?!) and then fly Luang Prabang to Hanoi? I am prepared to skip Laos if people don't think it's worth it in the short time...

    From Bangkok it is pretty easy to get a sleeper train down the coast to somewhere as a starting point for island hopping?

    #22 Posted: 26/6/2008 - 17:56

  • packtoofull

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    Hi Sunshine,

    Somtam is off having a G&T, contemplating a very-soon-to-arrive baby somtam ... far away from this computer. In the meantime I'll try to answer your questions.

    No bus from CM to Luang Prabang - or no direct one anyway. See the following feature sty that lays out all the main ops on traveling from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang:
    http://www.travelfish.org/feature/119

    For the GulfIslands, Chumphon and Surat Thani are the main launch points. Both are on trainline, so its easy peasy.

    If you're headed west coast (Krabi, Phuket, Trang etc) then o/night bus from Bangers is my recomednation, as if you take the train, you'll still have to polish off the trip with a bus ride -- much easier to get a bus straight there.

    Have fun, it sounds like a good trip.

    #23 Posted: 26/6/2008 - 18:26

  • SBE

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    Is it the first baby somtam? Congratulations! (Speaking as a mother I'd say retiring for a quiet G&T while you still can is a very wise move BTW) ;-)

    #24 Posted: 26/6/2008 - 23:55

  • somtam2000

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    This will be number two -- due any day -- sooner the better according to my better half.

    First one is here.

    Two under two -- yes should be lots of fun.

    #25 Posted: 28/6/2008 - 09:09

  • SBE

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    Two under two ... yes I did that too. Trouble with being pregnant is you can't remember what your feet look like towards the end. After the second baby's born you'll be glad to hear that in just a mere two years time you might get a full night's sleep again! :-)

    Good luck, looking forward to the next baby somtam pics.... your first one is absolutely beautiful!

    #26 Posted: 29/6/2008 - 07:20

  • inthesoup

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    Hello to any one who has done this. My husband and I are booked to go to Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Ho Chi Minh, K.L and then back to Aus. We have never been to Vietnam before and unfortunately or travel agent had never sent any one to Vietnam either and so failed to let us know we needed a visa! Now with 1 week til we leave, our choices are to send our express application to the Vietnamese consulate in N.S.W and hope like hell they're back in time for us to travel,(this makes me nervous as it gives us 5 working days and we are in Perth) OR we can apply for a Vietnam visa when we are in Bangkok as we are there for 15 days. However I need to speak to some one who has applied for a visa in bangkok recentley. How long will it take? Am I dreaming thinking I can get it in15 days? Any help from anybody who has found themselves in the soup like I am would be greatly appreciated. I have 24 hours to make a decision. HELP!!!

    #27 Posted: 13/7/2008 - 12:55

  • marianwarren

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    Hi inthesoup

    You can get your Viet visa in Phnom Penh, you pay a little more for a next day visa - a couple of bucks US - but don't sweat it. Any hotel in PP will be able to arrange your visa no worries - we weren't in to much of a hurry and we got ours in 3 days as Vietnam was a last minute decision. Given that I wouldn't bother to mess around in Bangkok just wait until you get to PP.

    Hope this helps

    Marian

    #28 Posted: 13/7/2008 - 14:13

  • inthesoup

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    Hello Marian,

    So glad to hear from you. The idea of sending our passports to N.S.W this close to departure was making me very nervous. My instinct was telling me to get this visa in Bangkok or PP, but I just wanted to hear from some one who had done it. Thank you so much for your prompt response. Did it make you nervous handing your passports over to complete strangers to organise this visa? Can I go to the Vietnam consulate in person and do it myself? Appreciate your help. You are a legend.

    #29 Posted: 13/7/2008 - 15:45

  • marianwarren

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    Hi again

    At some point you have to trust somebody in order to do what needs to be done. Handing over the passport is a giant step. Use reputable hotel desks/travel agents and go with your gut feeling as to cognisance - scam artists are very slick - but every-time I have been ripped off there was an underlying niggle that something wasn't quite kosher - and I paid for not listening. So trust your gut - best bullshit monitor there is.

    You can go to the consulate to do this yourself, but why bother for a few $$ which you will most probably pay in tuk-tuk fares plus the time and hanging around waiting - unless you are desperately strapped for cash - this is what gap year students with not much money have to do. I don't know how long you are travelling for but I suggest you relax and plan to have a fantastic time - if you do you will. Somehow it all seems to fall into place and is easier than you anticipated. In 11 weeks I had 1 internal flight organised and 3 places to sleep. The rest just happened with very little effort - occasionally we had to wait longer for buses and didn't always get our first choice in accomodation but overall so cruisey - not one complaint.

    Any more ??? fire away!!

    Marian

    #30 Posted: 13/7/2008 - 16:40

  • inthesoup

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    Hi Marian

    No, that'll do me. We are just going to take the bull by the horns. 15 days in Bangkok, 3 days in PP and hopefully 4 days in Saigon. Anything in particular you would recommend seeing or doing? I'd appreciate your thoughts

    #31 Posted: 13/7/2008 - 17:45

  • marianwarren

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    One thing that impressed me was a all-you-can-eat Vietnamese buffet - sounds crass - but it was fantastic. Wait-persons on inline skates; very few westerners and a vast array of food - mostly labelled - so you can decide what you are eating. Have no idea of the name but it is on Le Thi Hong Gam on the left-hand side of the Art Museum, with only a banner to identify the venue but lots of locals moving in and out for lunch and dinner.

    Travel well

    Marian

    #32 Posted: 13/7/2008 - 18:48

  • marianwarren

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    Sorry - Saigon; could have been anywhere!!

    #33 Posted: 13/7/2008 - 18:57

  • inthesoup

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    Hey Marian,

    Will try it if we find it, I'll let you know what I think!
    I meant to ask you, when you applied for a Vietnam visa, did you apply for it in PP or in Sihanouk city, which I have read is faster at issuing visas than PP. I only ask 'cos we are only there for 3 days. Thanks for all your advice, you have been a great help

    See ya, in the soup

    #34 Posted: 13/7/2008 - 19:29

  • marianwarren

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    Didn't make it to Snookyville only PP and Siem Reap - just organise it as soon as you arrive at your accomodation - maybe have a walk around to compare prices first - if I like where I am staying I like to give them the commission.

    Ciao

    Marian

    #35 Posted: 14/7/2008 - 03:42

  • inthesoup

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    Thanks Marian. Just 1 question. What the hell are you doing up at 3.42 am????

    Cheers

    In The Soup

    #36 Posted: 14/7/2008 - 05:12

  • marianwarren

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    Actually the time is Indonesian time as Somtam lives in Jakata and I live near Byron Bay so it was really around 7 o'clock when I posted the last. I'm also doing a BA by distance and I get some of my best work done when the house is quiet - be concerned when my posts are around 9 pm.

    Regards

    Marian

    #37 Posted: 14/7/2008 - 05:39

  • sunshine87

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    Hey, these last few posts have worried me...I am going to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and then back to Thailand but I have not got any visas yet, I was under the impression you can just get them at the border? I am only in Bangkok for one day but Chang Mai for a week before visiting the other countries...do I need to sort it out in CM or bangkok then??

    Thanks!

    #38 Posted: 14/7/2008 - 15:03

  • marianwarren

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    Hi sunshine 87

    As far as I am aware Vietnam is the only visa you have to organise beforehand. It will depend on your point of entry as to how early you need to make arrangements.

    #39 Posted: 14/7/2008 - 18:10

  • sunshine87

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    Oh OK thanks, but then do any of you know what i can do??

    #40 Posted: 14/7/2008 - 18:48

  • sunshine87

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    By the way I am flying from Luang prabang to Hanoi most probably...

    #41 Posted: 14/7/2008 - 19:07

  • marianwarren

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    Not having done this myself I can't be sure but I'm positive you should be able to arrange the visa in LP. The Viet govt. want you to visit and spend your tourist dollars there - none of the five countries I visited made it difficult to get in. If you can arrange a flight to Hanoi you must be able to arrange a visa.

    Travel well and good luck

    Marian

    #42 Posted: 15/7/2008 - 05:25

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