Thanks in no small part to the resource of Travelfish, our trip is almost ready to go. Here's the itinerary:
(Time allotted for each place includes the time it takes to get there.)
Feb. 2-3: Depart New York, arrive Singapore
- Singapore (1 day)
- Depart Singapore, Arrive Phuket (1 day)
- Island/beaches (where yet to be determined)(3 days)
- Kanchanaburi (3 days)
- Sangkhla (2 days)
- Mae Sot/refugee camps (7 days)
- Tak (1 day)
- Sukhothai (1 day)
- Lampang (2 days)
- Chiang Mai (and surrounds) (7 days)
- Chiang Rai (2 days)
- Enter Laos @ Chiang Khong/Huay Xai (1 day)
- Travel to Luang Prabang by boat (3 day)
- Luang Prabang (and surrounds) (7 days)
- Enter Vietnam @ Sop Hun/Tay Trang (2 days)
- Lao Cai/Sapa (5 days)
- Hanoi (and surrounds) (5 days)
- Ha Long Bay (2 days)
- Hue (2 days)
- Hoi An (2 days)
- Da Nang (7 days) (girlfriend's family lives here)
- Central Highlands (7 days)
- Southern Vietnam Coast (3 days)
- Saigon (4 days)
- Enter Cambodia @ Bavet/Moc Bai (2 days)
- Phnom Penh (2 days)
- Kampong Cham (3 days)
- Siem Reap/Angkor Wat (5 days)
- Enter Thailand @ Chong Jom/O Smach (2 days)
- Buriram/Sisaket (2 days)
- Ubon Ratchathani (and surrounds)(7 days)
- Enter Laos @ Chong Mek/Vang Tao (1 day)
- Southern Laos (7 days)
- Enter Thailand @ Mukdahan/Savannakhet (2 days)
- Northeastern Thailand (7 days)
- Ayutthaya (2 days)
- Bangkok (2 days)
- Depart Bangkok, arrive/depart Phuket,
arrive Singapore (1 day)
June 15: Depart Singapore
*Includes 7 "free days" that may be added to anywhere we like.
*Total duration: 134 days
*Countries visited: 4
*Visas acquired: 4 (Laos: 2, Vietnam: 1, Cambodia: 1)
*Border crossings: 6
For visas, we're planning on avoiding one for Thailand and obtaining a 30 day visa for Vietnam either before we leave or in Luang Prabang, which we'll have to extend while in Da Nang. Anyone see any problems with this? Feedback is appreciated.
That's quite a trip!
A few thoughts:
From Sangkhlaburi to Mae Sot , you'll need to backtrack to Kanchanaburi then north through Suphanaburi, via Tak to Mae Sot . So you may want to reverse your Tak placement as you'll be passing through it anyway.
Out of curiosity, why three days in Kompong Cham? You heading to that homestay place?
I'd lean towards allotting one of your spare days to an extra for Sukhothai.
If you're planning on seeing the Khmer ruins out from Buriram and Si Saket (don't forget Phimai !) I'd give that area another day (or two) and shave them off Ubon Ratchathani -- only because visiting the ruins are time consuming unless you have your own transport.
Otherwise, looks great and I'm suitably jealous.
Thanks... I was wondering whether there is a more direct way from Sangkhla to Mae Sot.
Kompong Cham was the one real shot in the dark. I had read that it is an interesting place with some genuine Cambodian Buddhist temples.
The reason for the seven days at Ubon Ratchathani is more for the "surrounds" part. We'll be visiting some forest monestaries in the general vicinity.
Thanks for your help. One thing that makes this website so great is how questions in the forum are usually answered so quickly, and by experts, including the actual administrator of the website. Cheers.
Well it is theoretically possible to do overland. I know one person who did it, on foot, took a week and involved considerable time in Burma (illegally). I've been itching to try it with the guide he used, but, well, I been kinda busy with this site, kids and other grown up stuff!
Kompong Cham is a good place -- we're actually sitting on a bunch on new research for it that will go up as soon as we put the redesign to bed. It's a good little town, with some interesting boat trips to temples and stuff, but I don't know if it's really worth three days. That said, pretty much anywhere in Cambodia is a fine enough place to lose a day or two.
The forest wat outside of Ubon (Wat Nong Pa Pong) is great.
Cheers & glad you're finding the site useful!
Thanks for the heads up on Sangkhlaburi to Mae Sot. I think we'll leave our machetes at home this time and just take the bus.
I am excited for Wat Nong Pa Pong. In the Ubon Ratchathani area, we'll also be visiting Wat Pah Nanachat, and then on to Laos.
Now, the southern Laos excursion was an add on due to the new 15 day Thailand rule. We've never been to Laos. If you had to pick, one or the other, would you stick to southern Laos or should we check out Vientiane area instead? (We're not so much into adventuring/partying; but more just relaxing, taking pictures, visiting temples - small and large - and hopefully chatting with a monk or some regular locals.)
As for Kampong Cham (and the whole trip), we'll just feel it out as we go. Finally, we've got the time and means to be able to travel at our own pace. Who knows what we'll actually end up doing!
Bought our plane tickets today, including Singapore to Phuket one-way on Air Asia for U$25. "Mai Phen Rai Thailand" sale. Got to love that.
I'd opt for southern Laos. The area around 4,000 islands is beautiful and is very easy to travel around in, so it makes for an easy stay. Closer to Vientiane also nice, but overall, I'd say Pakse and south is a great, condensed "package". If you do head up the panhandle (or should that be down?) consider Kong Lo Vave (near Tha Khaek ) - stunning.
The way I see your itinerary, you'll be spending FAR TOO MUCH time on buses!!!
You don't talk about budget. But, if financially OK, I'd suggest you look at renting a car when in Thailand (and doing all of it in one trip). I rented a Honda Civic from Avis a few years back (there are other firms), but I think only to/from Bangkok. There is an A4 sized road map (with major city street pages) which is a must. I found it the best way to tour the country (there's lots of miles between places). And, with a car, you don't have to rely on pre-booking accommodation (and you can check rooms before  agreeing on price &  deciding whether place A or B is best).
I'm not sure that 3 days in Kanchanaburi is needed. I'm a war vet, and 'had' to go there. But, only needed 1 day to see the city museum 'interests', the bridge and hellfire Pass (a MUST see). The tiger 'farm/zoo' about 2 hours before K is worth it.
Also, only those with permission can visit refugee camps. Most westerners not given same. Camps are a long way from Mae Sot on road to Um-Phang (this 'frontier' town worth the visit). Also, unlike the rest of Thailand, Mae Sot has a large (and broody) Muslim community.
Try & include Pai in your travels. Its just different, and there are several elephant 'ride' operators, all offering an 'overland' and 'river' ride. The river swim with the elephants is without doubt the best in the world.
Once you've visited several ancient temples in SE Asia, you start to pick up a thread. The best presentation of ancient temples is at My Son (near Hoi An , VN). There, you'll see the Khmer / Champa 'connection'. And, you'll note that what's being 'touted' as 'great' isn't necessarily.
Each country 'touts' there ancient temples as 'great'. On one hand its for tourism purposes, but also because of the recent politico-religious background. eg. Ayuthaya is Thailand's 'centre' becuase its where the current royal lineage emerged, and was destroyed by invading Burmese (hence making the site an identification icon for Thai nationalism). But as an architectural artifact, its not so great.
I think the most important ancient 'ruins' are those at Buriram - both Phanom Rung & Prasat Meuang Tam. Both have been 'reconstructed' (as have most) - with PR being the best example of how Khmer culture 'operated', and PMT having the most 'ambience [try and get to both before 9am and you'll have them to yourselves]. Maybe stay at Surin.
After 4 days at Seam Reap (Ankor), I kept reflecting on how PR & PMT were better at conveying the ancient Khmer 'ways'. Maybe its because Angkor is so overwhelmingly huge and complex, its hard to make sense of the place. That said, the 'best' way is to hire a tuk-tuk (try 'booking' for 3 days to get a good price), and visit along a timeline. ie. being the earliest built, go to Preah Ko first, and then Bakong, etc.
I also note you have included the Chiang Kong / Luang Prabang boat trip. Also the Mekong entry from VN to Cambodia. Frankly, do the Mekong only. The other is long and (largely boring). It's OK if you're just doing the Isan / Loas / Cambodia area. But, you've got more to see than time to do!
The entry to VN via Tay Trang needs a rethink. You really need a day at DBP just to see the French/Viet Minh history. Did you know that Gen. Giap used a military strategy at DBP that he employed in the US/Vietnam war (that the US appeared not to heed)? Also, that the French sought Washington support to bomb the Viet Minh, but Washington told the French "we're only prepared to nuke the critters!"
The trip from DBP to SaPa is one of the best scenery trips you'll see. But, it really needs 2 days (stop over at Lai Chau). Also, Lao Cai is a rebuilt city (bombed out by Chinese when VN entered Cambodia to 'teach VN a diplomacy lesson). So, other than a train station its nothing. The 'other' side is Bac Ha and other marketplaces. Bac Ha (Sunday) is definately a must.
Also, HaLong Bay is so busy. Unless you like NOISE, boats jostling for position etc., make sure you go with an operator that goes to quiet places. Try www.columbustravelsvietnam.com for their Pinta Cruise [2 nights on board with the optional canoe's and lunch on beach options]. Also, Cat Ba (often an overnight on HaLong cruises is a concrete jungle! Don't).
To me, Hoi An is a westerner's 'must see' and is atrocious. Unless you particularly want a poorly fitting, overpriced garment made for you, avoid it. You can rent a moto (auto 100,000 d/day) from DaNang and visit Hoi An and My Son (a must do), such that you'd be best to stay longer at DaNang if you have 'family' there. Hoi An is about an hour on moto from DaNang.
Southern VN coast same same DaNang!! Maybe better to spend time elsewhere.
Also remember that in VN, the gov't tells the travel agents what to say/do, etc. So, any conflicting messages are crap. And, VN merchants double/triple/ prices for foreigners. Haggle, be prepared to walk away (and then watch them try and seek your attention to negotiate). That said, some street vendors offer a westerner price and would rather lose busines than drop the price. Take the message and walk away: they DON'T want to deal with you. But, in spite of all that VN is great & I love the country.
And, you'll get no better coffee in the world than from an upmarket place in Dalat! Tho' if you only like bland and weak US coffee, it won't be a big deal.
Anyway, cheers and good holidaying.
Thanks for all the good info brucemoon!
I had planned on renting a car for different segments of the time in Thailand (i.e. 7 days in the north). Now I'm looking at renting a car in Phuket and dropping it off in Chiang Mai before hitting Laos and then renting another one when we return to Thailand, maybe in Ubon or Bangkok. It's not cheap, but considering it would replace most of the $ we'd otherwise spend on bus/train/taxi/motorcycle taxi/sporadic car rental, etc., it seems reasonable (and perhaps less of a hassle).
I have considerable experience driving around Bangkok area and central Thailand, though I always had Thai people there to help navigate. I do have an international driver's permit and a good road map (it's from Borch), so there's no good reason not to rent a car. Driving in Thailand is a bit more intimidating than what I'm used to, but I think I can handle it on my own. (Thanks for boosting my confidence!)
Thanks also for the tip on the river elephant trip in Pai!
I'm doing some research on Karen refugees around Kanchanaburi and Mae Sot, but thanks for the heads up on both of those.
When you say, "Frankly, do the Mekong only. The other is long (and largely boring)", what do you mean by "the other"?
I have been to both Ayutthaya and Angkor before, and I agree that Ayutthaya (as far as the actual ruins) is not all that impressive. Angkor , on the other hand, (not so much Angkor Wat itself but the many surrounding ruins) completely took my breath away. I am very excited for Phanom Rung, Luang Prabang and My Son, none of which I've visited before.
Any suggestions on how to travel from DBP to Sapa in a way that allows us to take our time and enjoy the scenery? Have you ever rented a car in Vietnam? Have you ever extended a visa in Vietnam?
Thanks again for all the info.
'Other river trip' - Chang Khong - LP.
Driving in Bangkok was a first for me (as was driving in Thailand). My wife had the roadmap & I followed her directions (I can't read Sanscrit).
As for Myanmar refugees, the UN has Thailand under 'watch', so the 'camps' are generally reasonably organised. That said, where there becomes a new stream, the Thai army amasses on the border and shoots them. If travelling around the border north of Chiang Mai, you may be prevented from travelling in parts due to 'army activity'. The Thai call the activity 'training exercises'. The situation around Um-Phang is a little different in that this area is the illegal Teak route: and Thailand needs Teak! And, the refugees at the camps in this area provide labor for the nearby vege farming industry.
If you go to Mae Sot, there is a restaurant called
Khao Mao Khao Fang that is an 'out of this world' experience. The setting is surreal, the food exceptional.
The more compelling 'issue' are the refugees from Laos. While not in the same number, these minority group refugees get shot by Laotian and Thai 'officials' on either side. This 'problem' is very under-reported.
As for DPB to SaPa, either you take the 10 seater bus, or you hire a car and driver (VN won;t allow foreigners to self-drive). The latter usually costs around US$100 / day (but you may be able to bargain down to 85). Remember that for you it's a 1 way trip, but for the driver it's 2 way.
The 'problem' re: this route is that the scenery is great. Either you're on a timetable (eg. bus, or 1 day trip with driver) and won't have time to stop, or you can afford the driver/time and just go at your own pace. Most drivers know the route, and know where its OK to stop over. But, if you do 'book' a driver, make sure they've done the route many times (ie. ask about accommodation at various locations to 'test').
You might also try a car/driver from LP to SaPa. The road from Laos (near the border) to DBP is also wonderful scenery. For this option try:
Extending a Visa is relatively easy: but must be done in major cities. But, why not get a 3 month or multiple entry?
Re: Laos/Thai Hmong on the wrong side of the gun, see:
While these stories focus in Laos, as indicated, those that flee into Thailand apparently receive a similar fate. That there are many police roadblocks in the 'contact' area attest to the Thai vigilance.