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35 days itinerary (Viet/Camb/Laos) - backpacking rookie asks for help :-)

  • summerrain

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    Location Austria
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    Hallo everybody!

    I’ve been reading through quite a few posts in here and you guys have already been of immense help for me – thanks a lot for that!

    I’ve been trying to put together a tentative itinerary for my trip to Indochina (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos). As it’s my first backpacking trip ever, I would greatly appreciate any comments and "expert" advice.

    I’ve got exactly 35 days, starting in Hanoi on August 3 at 8:30 am and ending in Bangkok on the 5th of September (have to catch a flight at 1pm).

    So far, I came up with the following itinerary:

    day 1 (Aug 3, Mo) – 8:30 am: arrive HaNoi
    day 2-3 (Aug 4-5, tue-wed)- HaNoi
    day 4 - (Aug 6, thu)go to Halong Bay
    day 5 - (Aug 7, fri) Halong Bay
    day 6 -(Aug 8, sat) rtn HaNoi - catch night train to Lao Cai
    day 7 -(Aug 9, sun) to BacHa market then SaPa
    day 8 - (Aug 10, fri) SaPa
    day 9 – back to Hanoi –> night train to hué
    day 10 – hué
    day 11 – (Aug 13, thu) Hué –> move on to Hoi An
    day 12-14 – Hoi An (and surroundings)
    day 15 – 18 (Aug 17-20, Mon-wed) - HCMC , fly to Siam Reap
    day 19-21 (Aug 21-23, thu-sat) Siam Reap
    day 21-23 (Aug 23-25, sat-mon) Phnom Phen

    --> move on to Laos
    Kratie
    Four thousand Islands
    Pakse
    Savannakhet
    Vientiane
    Vang Vieng
    Luang Prabang

    Day 35: leave Bangkok by plane at 1 pm.


    I’m aware (and a bit worried) that this might be too much to fit into 5 weeks, but I’m really unsure about what to leave out… I’d love to see a lot but don’t want to miss out on really experiencing life… Especially in Laos, I can’t figure out where to go and what to skip. Hence I haven’t put any days/dates to the Laos-part of my trip… :-/.

    On the one hand I’m really excited that I’m soon going to Indochina, but I’m also getting a bit nervous that I haven’t had enough time to properly plan everything…

    Therefore I would really appreciate some comments and suggestions on my plans! Is this doable? Or would you say it’s too much “travelling”?

    Thanks a lot for your help and support in advance!!!!

    cheers
    Silvia

    #1 Posted: 21/7/2009 - 18:12

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  • somtam2000

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    Hi Silvia,

    Don't overplan!

    A few suggestions:

    a) I'd go overland from Saigon to Phnom Penh by bus (takes best part of a day) do a few days in PP, then on to Siem Reap (one way by boat, one way by bus).

    b) After Siem Reap, just overnight through PP before moving on to Kratie (I assume you're heading there for the dolphins), overnight again and then the following day you'll get to 4,000 islands.

    c) Unless you're planning on visiting the national parks in Savannakhet, I'd reckon you're better off either hanging out in Pakse and visiting some of the sights out from there -- or better still at Champasak so you can go see Wat Phu. Another option is Konglor Cave north of Tha Khaek -- but you'll be running out of time if you try ands stick that in as well.

    d) I'd recommend two nights in Vientiane and one night in Vang Vieng with the balance spent in Luang Prabang , followed by a flight back to Bangkok and out.

    So how to fit that into your remaining days...

    Day 18 Bus to Phnom Penh
    Day 19 PP
    Day 20 Bus/boat to Siem Reap
    Day 21 SR
    Day 22 Bis/boat to PP
    Day 23 Kratie
    Day 24 Transit to 4,000 islands
    Day 25 4000 island
    Day 26 4000 islands
    Day 27 Champasak
    Day 28 Pakse
    Day 29 Pakse
    Day 30 Transit to Vientiane
    Day 31 Vientiane
    Day 32 Transit to VV
    Day 33 VV
    Day 34 Luang Prabang
    Day 35 Luang Prabang & exit

    Pretty tight huh! With a lot of travel in between... I'd reckon you could shave a few days off Vietnam -- shave a night off Saigon perhaps... but at the end of the day you're trying to see a lot in a limited time and there aren't any easy spots to cull. If I had to pick places to skip, I'd lean towards ditching Pakse and perhaps Hue -- but I'm sure others would disagree...

    Save some for the next trip ;-)

    #2 Posted: 21/7/2009 - 18:46

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    "I assume you're heading there for the dolphins"

    I recommend against eating the Dolphins - they're endangered.

    #3 Posted: 22/7/2009 - 01:17

  • summerrain

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    Hey somtam2000,

    thanks for your quick and helpful reply!!! I think our "basic" schedule should be along the lines of that one.

    day 1 (Aug 3, Mo) – 8:30 am: arrive HaNoi
    day 2-3 (Aug 4-5, tue-wed)- HaNoi
    day 4 - (Aug 6, thu)go to Halong Bay
    day 5 - (Aug 7, fri) Halong Bay
    day 6 -(Aug 8, sat) rtn HaNoi - catch night train to Lao Cai
    day 7 -(Aug 9, sun) to BacHa market then SaPa
    day 8 - (Aug 10, fri) SaPa
    day 9 – back to Hanoi –> night train to hué
    day 10 – hué
    day 11 – (Aug 13, thu) Hué –> move on to Hoi An
    day 12-14 – Hoi An (and surroundings)
    day 15 – 18 (Aug 17-20, Mon-wed) - HCMC
    Day 18 Bus to Phnom Penh
    Day 19 PP
    Day 20 Bus/boat to Siem Reap
    Day 21 SR
    Day 22 Bis/boat to PP
    Day 23 Kratie
    Day 24 Transit to 4,000 islands
    Day 25 4000 island
    Day 26 4000 islands
    Day 27 Champasak
    Day 28 Pakse
    Day 29 Pakse
    Day 30 Transit to Vientiane
    Day 31 Vientiane
    Day 32 Transit to VV
    Day 33 VV
    Day 34 Luang Prabang
    Day 35 Luang Prabang & exit


    Even if we might not be able/in the mood to follow it completely, it gives at least some indication on what's possible within our timeframe...

    I'll have a chat with my travel companion later this week, on whether we're gonna ditch some places in favour of slowing everything down (a bit at least).

    We were actually not going to plan too much, but once I started to see alle these detailed travel-schedules e.g. in this forum here, I got a bit worried :-/. Anyways, I think I'll do some more research here on this website on what to see + where, accomodation and transport and that should be it...

    Thanks again for your help! I really appreciate your effort.

    Take care,
    Silvie

    #4 Posted: 22/7/2009 - 05:39

  • summerrain

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    Oh, one more thing...

    I was just checking online for flights from Luang prabang back to BKK on Sept 5th but couldn't find a suitable one... :-/. Are there chances that there are more flights available via travel agents?

    Ohterwise we might have to change the route so it ends in Ventiane instead (e.g. flying from Pakse to Luang Prabang...). ...

    I'm not sure if that makes any difference - Any thoughts on that?

    cheers

    #5 Posted: 22/7/2009 - 06:00

  • somtam2000

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    I think only Lao Airlines, Bangkok Airways and THAI do that route (and I'm not even sure if Thai do). More carriers fly out of Vientiane to Bangkok so, yes, perhaps that would work better... (or just fly from Luang prabang and then get a cheapie from there with AirAsia to Bangkok.

    have fun

    #6 Posted: 22/7/2009 - 06:55

  • BruceMoon

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    Sylvia

    Luv your little gif.

    First.

    As you may have read elsewhere on Travelfish, I make the point that travel is a trade-off between seeing places and experiencing life/culture/etc. Simply, in 35 days you can't see everything - so don't try. As you are in Australia, it's not that far to revisit in the future (so don't get hung up on it).

    IMHO, maybe you could go read what I wrote here.

    Second.

    I don't agree with Somtam on one point (and I canvass that below). I make other suggestions that may assist you better to see/enjoy.

    Third, the details.

    You've done a good job at planning HaNoi, Halong & Bacha/Sapa.

    As for Hue , one day there isn't enough. To me, either you spend a 2 or 3 days there, or you forget it.

    Also, the trip from Hoi An to SaiGon is long and tedious - spending this time travelling will make you irritable, and not give you any holiday memories (as life just flashes by the window).

    So, my suggestions in Vietnam...

    As the HaNoi - Hue train is largely overnight, if you don't want to spend more time at Hue, I'd suggest you fly HaNoi to DaNang, and bus it to Hoi An (an hour and a half).

    After Hoi An, I'd suggest you go back to DaNang airport and fly to SaiGon. That way, you have more time to relax and experience Vietnam (where is your choice).

    Also, the cost of flying (Jetstar) when booked at the lower price is closish to the cost of overland travel.

    I WOULD fly SaiGon - Siem Reap .

    I wrote about the tedium of travel here.


    Last year, I did quite a bit of bus travel in Vietnam. Simply, for fast bus travel, you don't remember what you saw, and in this day and age, it really is only a cheaper means to travel. So, where efficiency prevails, fly. Where there is no flight, you must take the bus (for me, unless there is a boat). Whether you like it or not, there is much bus travel in your currently planned journey, so while on a restricted timetable take flights where sensible/practicable.

    So, again, on your currently proposed journey I strongly suggest you fly SaiGon - Siem Reap.

    I agree that one full day in PP is necessary. It's not the most endearing place in the world, but the genocide museums are worthwhile, as is the Royal palace & National Museum.

    I'd stay in Siem Reap for at least 4 full days. The pass is 3 days (taken over any 7 days) and there are just too many temples to spend 3 days full on. As Tonle Sap is central to understanding the citing of Angkor (read #8 at this), a day on Tonle Sap is suggested (go read about Kompong Khleang here).

    As for Laos, you initially indicated the south. While you can fly Siem Reap - Pakse, I'd do the bus via PP.

    You've also got a problem with days 32 - 35.

    Day 32 Transit to VV
    Day 33 VV
    Day 34 Luang Prabang
    Day 35 Luang Prabang & exit


    It takes a full day to go from VV to LP. And, IMHO, you need much longer at LP: it's a delightful place.

    LP is such a nice laid back place that not only do you need time there to enjoy, but after all the helter skelter of southern Laos, you also need time to unwind and reflect on your journey before you head back to Oz.

    - - -

    My personal view is that you are trying to do/see too much. Yes, if touching all these places to say that you've been there is the focus, then leave the plan as is. But, if you want to actually experience life/culture in places, and having a fun time too, then I'd not include Laos as you don't have the time - leave to another trip.

    Last year I spent 6 weeks in Vietnam through to Cambodia. It was definitely not enough time for those two countries, let alone 3. Go look at what I wrote here.

    If you didn't read my 'compromise' post, maybe might like to go to it here.

    Hope this helps.

    Cheers

    #7 Posted: 22/7/2009 - 07:56

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 6243
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    If you ask me, this is WAY, WAY, WAY too much. 35 days is enough to scratch the surface of one of these countries. Language is culture, and if you don't stay long enough to absorb some of the language, you aren't really going to absorb the culture in a meaningful, humanistic way (I don't mean to sound like some hippy weirdo here). You'll see buildings, and some natural sites, and that's all nice. But unless you are an architect... well for me it would certainly be insufficient. Since you are flying into Hanoi and out of Bangkok (I would have flown out of where I started from) I suggest you throughly explore Vietnam, spending long periods of time that grab you when you get there, and less in places that aren't working for you. After a month in Vietnam head to Bangkok for your return flight.

    I realize we're all different, and some people love to race around and get a lot of happy snaps. That's OK if that's what you're in to. But the plan you have here puts you on the road a lot - so you better like long, hot, boring bus rides.

    Bruce and I differ here, as I am a city boy and he likes more nature oriented things, but we do agree that you need to spend time somewhere to absorb it, and time spent traveling endlessly on buses is usually not fun. It's "part of the experience", but mostly the bad part.

    #8 Posted: 22/7/2009 - 10:58

  • Nokka

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    Like you, Silvia, when at home and doing the planning I always start out with FAR too many places I wish to visit. When on the ground though, you will be pleased you have less.

    Yes, your trip is doable, but it will, I am sure, be better if you reduce the number of places a bit.

    I have done some fast travelling in the past and it has left me frustrated afterwards. Ah, if only we'd had a bit more time there....

    I counted 19 different places in 35 days, some of them long distances apart. If you got that down by between 5 and 10, or you take out one region or country completely, it will give you room to breathe.

    #9 Posted: 22/7/2009 - 18:43

  • summerrain

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    Thanks a lot to everyone!

    I've been talking everything through with my travel-mate and we decided to leave the plan as it is, and decide along the way, if it's too much travelling... We'll just go with the flow :-).

    Anyways, I really appreciate your effort and got some good input on what to keep in mind during my travels.

    Well, gotta finish packing now. Tomorrow is the "big day"

    Again, thanks to all of you!

    Cheers,
    Silvia


    Oh, one thing - @Brucemoon: Revisting sounds good, but I'm actually a bit further away from SEA than Oz... - it's Austria, not Australia ;-).

    #10 Posted: 1/8/2009 - 03:05

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  • MADMAC

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    Silvia
    Let us know how it goes.

    #11 Posted: 1/8/2009 - 11:08

  • summerrain

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    Hey!

    just wanted to thank you all for the pre-travel-advice :-). My trip was absolutely amazing, and 'course you were right, with me wanting to do too much in too little time... but still: it was great and defenitely worth it!!!

    I ended up with a similar travel route, to the one planned and I would have loved to see so much more, especially of more remote areas in some places... But well, one can't have all I suppose...

    I think I made the most out of my time, as I don't know when/if I'll ever get the chance to revisit Indochina.

    In hindsight your inputs were just about perfectly right :-).

    Cheers and thanks again,
    Silvia

    #12 Posted: 18/10/2009 - 23:17

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 6243
    Total reviews: 10

    Austria - that's an easy plane ride. My son is making it in two months for the third time in a year.

    #13 Posted: 19/10/2009 - 00:36

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 6243
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    Did you spend any time in Thailand?

    #14 Posted: 19/10/2009 - 00:37

  • somtam2000

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    Hi Silvia,

    Glad to hear the trip went well -- time to start planning the next one ;-)

    #15 Posted: 19/10/2009 - 07:43

  • summerrain

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    Of course the plane-ride is easy...
    -book flight
    -get on plane
    - fly
    ...

    But someone's gotta pay for it AND even worse, I have to get the time off work to travel, which is not THAT easy... :-(

    I did go to Thailand, but not for seeing the country or anything but for doing a 2 week Yoga-Retreat with an excellent teacher. (That was actually the reason I wanted to go to SEA in the first place... my indochina-trip evolved around that ;-).) So I only saw Koh-Samui and Bangkok...


    And there will defenitely be a next trip :-). On the short list are Thailand, India or Chile/Argentina... we will seee :-)

    #16 Posted: 20/10/2009 - 02:53

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 6243
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    "So I only saw Koh-Samui and Bangkok... "

    Well that's part of Thailand. Some would say the best parts.

    #17 Posted: 20/10/2009 - 11:54

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