Southeast Asia forum

forget about china? (laos,cambodia,vietnam trip)

  • christay2009

    Joined Travelfish
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    Location United Kingdom
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    Hey everyone,

    I have been planning a trip to SE Asia for awhile, although i've been unable to do as much research as i'd have liked by now due to various other events in my life, anyway...to the point!
    I had originally planned to go to china for 1 month then split laos/cambodia/vietnam into 2 months but am very wary about spending too much time travelling. Seeing a little of a lot rather than a lot of a little!

    It seems that seeing china first will mean more time travelling - getting from china to vietnam - and probably take a bigger chunk out of my budget (£3000 after flight to and from SEA). Although i did originally really want to see China, i think Lao has overtaken it as my no.1 destination so would like to spend a month there...

    What do you think? should i drop China and concentrate on Vietnam/Cambodia/Laos??

    Thanks in advance
    Chris

    #1 Posted: 13/6/2009 - 21:48

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  • christay2009

    Joined Travelfish
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    i think i may have posted this in the wrong forum! very sorry! i have about 5 travelfish forum windows open!

    #2 Posted: 13/6/2009 - 21:52

  • BruceMoon

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    christay2009

    Yes, drop China. From reading my replies, you'll note I always suggest enjoying what there is to offer by travelling slowly.

    China is a huge land area. To put the nation into perspective, in simple terms there are 4 distinctly different regions: the steppe (from the centre [Xi'an] through to Beijing and north to Harbin), the mountains (around Sichuan province & to Tibet & to Urumqi), the sub-tropical south (from the Yunann province through Guangxi province and to the coastal islands), and the South East or lowland floodplains (from Guangzhou province through to Shandong province).

    You could easily spend a month in each of these 4 'areas' and then only really skim the surface.

    I don't know if this is your first visit to Asia. If it is, 'tasting' the 3 countries will give you more than enough to do. And, you'll have enough time to get away from the city - tourist route and enjoy what the region really has to offer.

    Hope this helps.

    Cheers

    #3 Posted: 14/6/2009 - 05:28

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Christay
    I am inclined to agree with Bruce, but first, what do you want to do? Do you just want to tool around and look at old ruins and nature parks? Are you more the "party animal" type looking to cut loose? Are you looking for romance? Are beaches are motivator? There's a lot of factors to consider. China has a very old, very interesting culture, and people who enjoy history often love China. But it's not for everyone (like anyplace).

    #4 Posted: 14/6/2009 - 15:59

  • christay2009

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    Hey, thanks for the replies, they have helped!

    I had originally planned to travel from Beijing down the east coast of China before, probably, flying into Hanoi but as you rightly point out, the distance is massive and no doubt the travelling long. Additionally, it seems flying from China to anywhere is expensive (usually a good chunk of my budget) and going by land takes a long time. I cannot seem to fit China in to my trip even though, originally, it was my inspiration for going! I would ideally prefer to see China over Vietnam but it looks like it will be hard. I know there are many conflicting messages about travelling through Vietnam but of all these countries it i am most apprehensive about this one, especially as i am travelling alone.

    I am not a party animal no, i don't drink much more than a few beers and plan to rise when the locals do as much as possible. I am a great food lover though! i don't get a beer belly but just a regular one haha. I enjoy History, i would say that is one of the underlying reason for going to Asia. I'm not a massive beach fan to be honest but that doesn't mean i don't want to go to any at all!

    I know the time of year makes a difference, well, i had planned to travel for three months (September, October, November). I know November is a good time to visit Laos and October is okay in Cambodia its just the start of my trip that is the issue! I haven't booked flights yet but i've regularly checked prices and they seem pretty stable!

    sorry for the essay! any more advice/information/help would be great!
    Thanks again
    Chris

    #5 Posted: 14/6/2009 - 18:46

  • MADMAC

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    Based on what you've said so far, I would start in Bangkok (where a lot of cheap flights go in to), stay there and see the sights for a couple of days, then head to Trat for a day or two - depending on how you liked it. After that, cross into Cambodia and check out the beaches there along the cost. Sihanoukville is popular with a lot of people. Kep is pricey, but making a comeback. If you crossed the border at Aranyaprathet, you could take the train to Phnom Phen and from there go down to the coast to spend some time. Angkor Wat is hard to get to, but reportedly a great take. After that you can go north and cross into Laos around November, work you way up the panhadle into Northern Laos, spending a few days in each small city along the way.

    #6 Posted: 14/6/2009 - 22:33

  • BruceMoon

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    Chris

    I better understand your dilemma. That said, another way of considering the issue is to decide whether it will be all 3 months in China, or the 3 months in SE Asia.

    If China was your first 'love', then I suggest explore China for 3 months. Reason? One of the attributes I find helpful is getting to know more and more of the local language and using it as much as possible. If you spent 3 months around China, you'd increasingly be using Mandarin. And, with increasing mastery over language you'd become more and more 'in charge' of your journey (and experiences). There is a lot to be said for such focussing.

    As I've said repeatedly on Travelfish, it's pointless coming half way around the world only to spend time in transport vehicles / waiting rooms / hotels / etc. By planning to spend 3 months in China, you'll initially want to see all. But, after a while, you'll come to realise that travelling from place to place is the most tiresome part of any journey. Being in a place where you get to 'relate' with the locals (even the shopkeeper where you get a dumpling each morning) is what you remember over the scenery flashing by while on a bus (etc.).

    - - - - -

    If you choose to 'do' Vietnam / Cambodia / Laos, then...

    Other than cost, it doesn't really matter where you start or end.

    I live in Australia. I get cheap flights to Kuala Lumpur, and I then 'connect' to whichever city I choose for the beginning of a SE Asia journey. I use low cost carriers. You quote using UK currency, so Bangkok may be your cheapest (full cost airline) 'gateway'. I think AirAsiaX to Kuala Lumpur may be cheaper. Thus, an overnight at Kuala Lumpur and a flight to Hanoi the next day would resolve.

    And, it really doesn't matter when you go to any of the nations as the weather will generally be OK in all at that time.

    In another post, I offered a reply that I suggest is pertinent here. The person seeking assistance was directed to consider the 'itineraries', here on Travelfish:

    http://www.travelfish.org/itineraries

    I added (the part you may like to consider)...

    The itineraries are there to help, and where you start or end is up to you.

    It appears you have 3 months for SE Asia: I'm envious!

    A word of advice.

    The itineraries follow what is referred to as 'the beaten trail', meaning that while there are attractions along the way, you'll also be travelling the same route/s as many other travellers.

    Tourism in SE Asia is a money feed-trough to the locals. Where there are many tourists, there are generally lots of touts looking to relieve you of your money. The more you get away from the tourist 'trail', the less you'll experience touts, and the more you'll enjoy the wonderful company of locals (not jaded by mass tourism)

    I suggest you entertain using your selected itinerary as a blueprint from which you try NOT to follow.

    What do I mean by this? Well...

    I mean that where ever possible you get OFF the trail.

    To do this, you'll need a good travel guide book. I suggest you go now and get a good travel book like Lonely Planet SE Asia. This will allow you to see what is on offer OFF the well travelled route.

    For example, if you were to follow the Vietnam 'head to tail' itinerary:

    http://www.travelfish.org/trip_planner/vietnam-hanoi-to-saigon

    You'd miss out on the ethnic communities of SaPa and BacHa. You'd also miss out on the elevated regions such as Dalat.

    This 'itinerary' also suggests you take in Mui Ne . There are heaps of placed that are far far better than Mui Ne. The reason Mui Ne is there is BECAUSE it is on the major travel route.

    So, if you wanted to go to a beach and in so doing get OFF the traveller route, you may entertain going to (say) Jungle Beach or Cam Rhan Bay which are near to Nha Trang . That way, you'd still go to Nha Trang and enjoy all that it has to offer, but you wouldn't spend time at the crowded (and a bit dirty) Nha Trang beaches - you'd go to an out of the way place.

    So, please do yourself a favour and look at ways to follow your selected itinerary, but will give you experiences away from it
    .

    - - - - -

    So, I suggest you either choose China, or SE Asia. If the latter, I'd also suggest you sort of plan an itinerary. By 'sort of plan', I mean develop a rough idea of:

    a) time in each nation,

    b) route and stop off points along that route, and

    c) the sorts of attractions / experiences you'd like to 'do' when in those locations.

    I'd then suggest you post here on Travelfish, and seek feedback.

    Cheers

    #7 Posted: 15/6/2009 - 06:21

  • MADMAC

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    Very good advice from Bruce again here.

    Although I'm not sure Chris meant "Do" Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia - at least not in the Biblical sense. But that is what he / she wrote.

    Language is culture - you definitely learn a lot by learning language, although three months is just enough to sratch the surface of any of the languages in question unless your a Mensa member.

    The one point on weather though - China has some very cold winters. If you're kicking around Peking (Watch how many correct me and call it Beijing but will still call Koeln, Cologne) in December, it's going to be pretty nippy.

    #8 Posted: 15/6/2009 - 12:33

  • christay2009

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    Madmac - i don't think i ever used the word "do" in that sense Madmac!? I think i'm pretty far off being a Mensa member, very far!! I think i am likely to begin in Beijing and work my way down so hopefully the cold shouldn't be a problem! I will probably pack a light fleese just incase though.

    Bruce - your post has helped clarify my thoughts somewhat so i am grateful to you for that. I have actually just written a lengthy reply but as i did so i came to a conclusion so decided to delete it. I agree with you that China deserves more time but you can never know what the future holds and i think i'd regret not visiting Laos while i am in that 'neck of the woods'. I will have to look into it further but a 2 month/1 month split seems to appeal to me - allowing me to visit the two places that most interest me while also solving some of the logistical problems i was having [i can hopefully just cross into Laos from Mohen/Mengla in China]. You definately help make travelfish the vital resource that it is and i hope you don't stop posting anytime soon! This is my first experience of backpacking and i hope, if my trip goes well, that it will just be the begining!

    Thanks again
    Chris

    #9 Posted: 16/6/2009 - 00:17

  • BruceMoon

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    Chris

    Thanks.

    If you do go via Mohan (I hope you do, and that on your way there, you 'do' the Li River between Guilin & Yangshao - best karst scenery I've ever seen [and I've now seen a lot]), please entertain zipping on to Luang Nam Tha, Muang Sing, and spending some time in the northern part. It has VERY much to offer, and won't stay less travelled for much longer.

    Cheers

    #10 Posted: 16/6/2009 - 07:13

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  • MADMAC

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    Chris
    Once you hit the ground, make sure you keep posting to let us know how it's going.

    #11 Posted: 16/6/2009 - 16:29

  • christay2009

    Joined Travelfish
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    Bruce - your post would suggest you've been to China before, i'm not sure how long ago but what kind of budget are we talking? I've currently got £3100 (according to Google; 5051 US Dollar) after the cost of flights. I know that the major cities are more expensive, i planned to fly to Beijing and work my way down centrally toward the south-west (roughly) then head into Laos. I guess it will be abit less costly as i move away from the north-east. The Li River trip looks good - did you find Guilin abit of a hassle? i've read that its become abit of tourist trap, very pushy/aggressive touts/taxi drivers.

    Madmac - i'll definately keep posting, i'll use this thread if its still active or just create a new one

    #12 Posted: 16/6/2009 - 16:52

  • BruceMoon

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    Chris

    last time 4 years ago.

    Yes, the cities can be expensive. But, largely it depends on the type of accommodation you seek.

    Otherwise, the biggest cost will be rail travel. On this, you'll have to get 'up to speed' (ie acquainted) quickly with the quirky system they have. At major cities, you have to book your ticket at a special office at the rail station. There are some booking agents, but not that many. So, as soon as you know the date / time of the train, go book it.

    Guilin a tourist trap? They clearly aint been to HaNoi!!!!! In that area I'd say Yangshou was worse. But, in comparison to the tourist 'centres' of VN, China isn't much of a hassle.

    In some respects, on the 'tourist trap' subject, I thought Xi'An a bit more annoying than Guilin.

    Maybe you can post an idea of your planned route here for us to looksee.

    Cheers

    #13 Posted: 16/6/2009 - 18:24

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    But Hanoi does have a decent salsa scene!!!

    #14 Posted: 17/6/2009 - 18:32

  • christay2009

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    I'm still trying to workout a plan of action, should have more to report in a couple of days! It could be helpful that i've a friend who is travelling in China, for 3 months, 3 months prior to when i head out there so i should be able to get some relatively uptodate info from him.

    Adios amigos

    #15 Posted: 18/6/2009 - 02:15

  • MADMAC

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    Au Revoir. Have a good trip. Keep us posted.

    #16 Posted: 18/6/2009 - 03:43

  • christay2009

    Joined Travelfish
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    ahhh madmac, no no, i'm still here!

    Brucemoon, could do with your help here i think. Creating a China itinerary is tough! I'd like to stick with my original plan of of heading down the east-coast [using LP as a guide] - something like;
    Beijing
    Tianjin
    Qingdao
    Jinan ( > Zhujiayu)
    Tai'an ( > Tai Shan)
    Shanghai [trips to Suzhou etc]
    (maybe Hangzhou?)

    this is where i struggle, as i want to cross into Laos from China so obviously need to work my way toward that area [a fairly large distance]. Im not oppose to taking an internal flight [depending on the price] although i think you can get a train from Shanghai to Guilin which seems a good option. I could then have something like;
    -Guilin [Yangshuo trip - karst scenery etc]
    -work my way across to Kunming?
    - Dali Citiy
    - Kunming
    - Down toward Laos border

    Im aware this is quite vague but thought id try and get some feedback

    Thanks again

    #17 Posted: 22/6/2009 - 19:39

  • BruceMoon

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    christay2009


    I'm away, I'll get back to you in a few days,

    Cheers

    #18 Posted: 23/6/2009 - 08:44

  • BruceMoon

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    Christay

    Are you flying Ji'nan - Shanghai? (just curious).

    Shanghai to Guilin is some 20 hours by rail. All southern trains are funneled through Wuhan (to cross the Yangtze). I haven't done that leg, so am not sure if its a direct connection or a change at Wuhan (I'd imagine a direct). The scenery south of the Yangtze is just spectacular. So, a train trip (if daylight) may be worthwhile. If a night journey, it may be easier to fly.

    From Guilin, take a boat down the Li River to Yangshao (80k from Guilin). I'm not sure now, but likely to be expensive. The best section is from XingPing to Yangshao, so take a bus to Xingping and 'do', or a bus to Yangshao and a local bus to XingPing (great little town). Try and stay a couple of days in Yangshao, hire a bike and visit Moon Mountain.

    To continue south, you'll have to take a bus back to Guilin. From Guilin, you can take a train to Kunming (go see: http://www.muztagh.com/china-train/kunming-guilin.htm).

    I've not taken this route, but I've been told it is more scenic to go via Guilin - Nanning - Kunming.

    There are also seated & sleeper buses. One thing about Chinese buses is that pax ALWAYS close the curtains - hence, you have to go sit on the step next to the driver if you want to see the scenery.

    From Kunming, you'd just HAVE to go to Dali & Tiger Leaping Gorge.

    From Dali there are two routes to Mohan, either back to Kunming [5 hours] and down to Jinghong [bus takes 10 hours] (major city before Mangla [app 4 hours] where you stay o/n to get a bus to cross the border to Luang Nam Tha) or the more scenic (and ethnically diverse) route through Lincang to Lancang and onto Jinghong... [about 17 hours straight, but this would definitely be a journey bus {ie stopping along the way}.

    Hope this helps.

    Cheers

    #19 Posted: 26/6/2009 - 12:42

  • christay2009

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    fantastic bruce! great help!

    I hadnt planned to fly Ji'nan shanghai, no. I think the plan i had in mind was to go Qingdao>Jinan>Tai'an(for Tai Shan) then get the train rom Tai'an to Shanghai, of which there are apparently 10 daily!

    Shanghai to Guilin is likely to be by train unless i can find a suitablly cheap flight [i couldn't when i looked recently].

    It looks like my itineray is pretty much set, do you think thats a good pace for a 2 month stay in China? I wasn't sure i'd have time to get up to Tiger Leaping Gorge/Dali then get down to the border in time?

    I'm presuming i'll be able to extend my visa for another month, i can't see why i wouldn't but just incase my backup plan would be to head to Thailand from Shanghai/Hangzhou - month in Thailand - then cross into Laos at that border but hopefully there will be no need for plan B

    Thanks again Brucemoon
    Chris

    #20 Posted: 26/6/2009 - 20:48

  • BruceMoon

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    Chris

    As I wrote earlier, China is in effect four distinctly different regions. You are entering one, and moving into the second. In some respects, there are similarities (culturally, but not scenically). How long you spend up there (in the norht) is your call.

    In some respects, the south is not only a vastly different region, it's almost like another country - both culturally & scenically.

    I'm a bit biased here, I like the places that are not full on urban centres (with tourist attractions), rather, that are culturally 'engage-able' in themselves. Put another way, the difference between (say) Beijing & Hong Kong is weather, business lifestyle, location - but both are urban production centres.

    So, I'd be leaning towards spending your time in southern China than heading off to Thailand / Laos, etc. The reason? Because after a couple of months, you'll be able to communicate in Mandarin (albeit in rudimentary form) and so you'll be able to engage with people in the south.

    Can't comment on Chinese visa arrangements: your local embassy will advise.

    Cheers

    #21 Posted: 27/6/2009 - 06:34

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