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first time in Thailand, November~ ideas, suggestions?

  • pamjane

    Joined Travelfish
    5th June, 2009
    Posts: 16

    My girlfriend and I are planning to travel through Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia in late September, then in November and December (after a month’s obligation in Phuket ). I think I’ve figured out a tentative route (kudos to this site and LP) for Thailand.

    This is my first time in SE Asia (yay!), and I’d very much appreciate any thoughts and suggestions from seasoned travelers. What I’m most interested in is culture and talking with/watching people, scenery, and having interesting experiences. I also love swimming, and especially clear spring/waterfall action.

    September:
    mid Sept-Fly into Phuket
    (2 weeks)
    find month-long accommodation (http://www.travelfish.org/board/post/thailand/6586_)
    bus to Surat Thani
    ferry to Ko Tao (complete PADI course)
    ferry back through Ko Phangan, Ko Samui
    bus back to Phuket Town
    **question: would a short trip (maybe 2 days) to Krabi be worth it in September? we will spend a good bit of time on Ko Tao and Ko Phangan, and I don’t want to spend too much extra money if Krabi beaches will be rainy and not really good at this time... there’s a possibility of visiting Krabi in early November.


    October:
    stay in Phuket Town


    The real adventure will start in November (I hope to do this part of the trip in about 3.5~4 weeks):
    -Phuket (fly>) Bangkok
    **Should there be 2~3 days around Krabi planned here first, then Bangkok from Krabi?

    -Bangkok (no time here, as i’ll be returning in Jan.) (train>) Phitsanulok

    -Phitsanulok (1d) (bus>) Sukhothai

    -Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai (2d) (bus>) Mae Sot

    -Mae Sot (sawngthaew>) Umphang

    -Umphang (4~5d, including trek) (sawngthaew>) Mae Sot

    -Mae Sot (bus>) Mae Sariang
    **the whole excursion to Umphang seems like tiresome travel. any idea about the best way to accomplish this without spending too much time? where should i sleep vs. straight travel? is Umphang worth it? is there better trekking somewhere else? should I skip Umphang and rework the trip to trek in Mae Hong Son? in a trek, I’d like to see villages and not run into hordes of tourists. also, I don’t want a trek that’s too strenuous.

    -Mae Sariang (bus>) Chiang Mai

    -Chiang Mai (1~2d) (bus>) Chiang Dao

    -Chiang Dao (2~3d) (bus>Thaton>) Chiang Rai

    -Chiang Rai (1~2d) (bus>) Chiang Khong {cross to Laos!}



    late December:
    {cross from Cambodia at Phsa Pruhm or Poipet}

    -(bus, tuktuk, etc.>)Ko Chang, etc. (2~3d)

    -Chanthaburi (bus>) Bangkok

    -Bangkok (1~2d) + attend job festival, then fly out


    Thanks so much for your expertise, all! If anyone wants to give me some advice about Laos and Cambodia, I’ll be working out those tentative routes and posting them in the next week or so.

    #1 Posted: 21/6/2009 - 02:44

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  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6291
    Total reviews: 10

    OK, first off - as soon as you leave the tourist areas language becomes a challenge. Where I live most Thais don't speak any English at all. So that limits talking with the locals - certainly in any meaningful way. That's not to say they're impossible to find (those who speak English), but it won't be easy.

    I can't speak for the North of the country, but Northeast finding fresh water to swim in is also a challenge. A lot of muddy rivers and lakes with organisms in them of which I am highly skeptical. I like waterfalls and the like, but I have yet to find one where the water isn't muddy. I'm sure they exist though, so other members of the board here might be able to help out.

    You don't seem interested in Thai nightlife, which is an area I am well versed in. And I live in Isaan, not the North, so I cant comment on the other locations you have listed here, but guys like Bruce can.

    #2 Posted: 21/6/2009 - 04:02

  • BruceMoon

    Click here to learn more about BruceMoon
    Joined Travelfish
    27th December, 2008
    Location Australia
    Posts: 1941
    Total reviews: 6

    Pamjane

    I'm away from home, so won't deal in length (I'll do that later this week).

    But, you have a strange mix of focii.

    On one hand you're spending heaps of time at beaches, then getting off the beaten trak (good for you).

    While Um Phang is worth it, I'm much more interested in the goals you have for yourselves for this lengthy trip.

    Maybe if you can tell us about your goals, what experiences you deep down would like, that may really help.

    Cheers

    #3 Posted: 22/6/2009 - 14:10

  • tezza

    Joined Travelfish
    13th April, 2006
    Posts: 1301
    Total reviews: 61

    wow, my head is spinning a bit from multiple-input.

    But okay, I remember all the questions and uncertainties I had first trip.

    I can't comment on everything, but:
    IF you can fit your trip to Krabi into Nov do so - Nov is usually better weather-wise in that area, but still not too crowded as it gets later.
    IF you have no alternative than to fit Krabi into Sept, go for it. Usually enough sunshine that side that time of year to make a visit worhtwhile, and accommodation discounts for real nice places can be ridiculous.
    Note that Krabi weather Sept should on averages be no worse than Tao and neighbours, and if anything better.

    No need to do Bangkok earlier if you get a short look later. Short is fine - but then I'm not a big city guy.

    #4 Posted: 22/6/2009 - 14:48

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6291
    Total reviews: 10

    Bangkok has everything you could want in a city... the place rocks. But it ain't for everyone. Traffic is a nightmare, air quality is horrible... but the nightlife is excellent.

    #5 Posted: 22/6/2009 - 14:52

  • pamjane

    Joined Travelfish
    5th June, 2009
    Posts: 16

    BruceMoon,
    I'm not sure what I want to focus on... I kind of want to experience it all. The reason I'll be in Phuket so long is because I'll be taking a month-long course there. During the course time, I won't have much time to relax and play on the beach, so I hope to get a bit of that in before the course starts. After the course, I want to experience as much culture, small town life, and beautiful scenery as possible. I want to try to get to know the people as much as i possibly can in a backpacking trip. I'm a little nervous about getting off the beaten track, as this is my first independent travel and another person is included in my plans, but I'm really interested in not just having a plastic vacation.

    MadMac,
    I'm not too interested in nightlife, but I'm sure that Bangkok will be better than I expect. Thanks for your fast reply. :)

    tezza,
    I'll consider Krabi in November... and I'm also keen to check out your sig link. I read that in some places it's not good to do a PADI course in rainy season. Does that hold much water at all?

    Thanks, guys, for anything you can give me. I'm so glad to have this resource.

    #6 Posted: 22/6/2009 - 22:28

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6291
    Total reviews: 10

    Pam
    As long as you don't get into a twist over small things, there's not much to be nervous about traveling around in Thailand. Thais are pretty laid back people and if you offend just say sorry, wai, smile... all is forgiven. Every now and then I see someone who gets all bent out of shape because the waiter misunderstood their order and brought something they didn't want, or didn't leave out the chillis... or the hotel screwed up their laundry... OK, if small things torque you off, better to just not come here. But otherwise, this is an easy place to get along.

    #7 Posted: 22/6/2009 - 22:37

  • Tilapia

    Click here to learn more about Tilapia
    Joined Travelfish
    21st April, 2006
    Location Canada
    Posts: 1425
    Total reviews: 15
    Places visited:
    At least 113

    I'd recommend trekking in Nan Province if you want to check out an area with a less developed tourist industry. It's a gorgeous, little-visited (compared to other areas) part of the country with lots of trekking opportunities.

    {cross from Cambodia at Phsa Pruhm or Poipet}

    How do you plan to get into Cambodia? If you are going to be heading for Koh Chang from Siem Reap, rather than cross from Poiphet into Aranyaphrathet, you may want to look into heading down to Phnom Penh by boat, then to Sihanoukville where you can catch a ferry that will take you along the coast to Koh Kong. From Koh Kong you can get back into Thailand and then head to Trat or Koh Chang. It's a much better, more interesting, but slower way to get there, but it's worth it.

    If you aren't sure about how to get into Cambodia, you may want to consider going in the opposite direction, beginning in Trat.

    Also, if you're not into crowds, I'd skip Koh Chang and go to Koh Mak.

    If you plan to go straight back to Bangkok from Koh Chang, and if you don't plan on staying in Chanthaburi (which is a very nice town, as is Trat), then you just get onto a bus in Trat, not in Chanthaburi (unless there is a transfer.)

    For what it's worth, Southern Laos is excellent. Compared to Vientiane, Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang, etc., there is practically nobody there and it is incredibly quiet.

    #8 Posted: 22/6/2009 - 23:20

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6291
    Total reviews: 10

    Oh Pam, one other side light. I'm a city boy, so I'm not interested in nature or getting close to it, but as two women traveling alone, I would advise against going into parks or other places where the two of you are completely alone. Thailand is a generally safe place, but sexual assaults and murder particularly against female tourists are not unheard of here. Not to be alarmist - just use common sense like you would back home.

    #9 Posted: 23/6/2009 - 01:21

  • billbevan01

    Joined Travelfish
    19th June, 2009
    Location Global Village
    Posts: 46

    Hi, i'd certainly recommend Sukhothai . If you have time spend a few days there, hire a bike and have a good look around then revisit your favourite places. Unless you want to be in with lots of backpackers all the time consider staying in one of the old town hostels - there's some for different budgets. We stayed there and got talking to a lot of the street food vendors in the night market. Some had good English, others virtually none, but we hung out with them and spoke in some way to them all. We learnt enough Thai to communicate a few basics which really helps with being accepted. Thais will laugh at you for speaking Thai but in a jokey way rather than a nasty way.

    We also enjoyed Ayutthaya and again hired bikes to get to all the temples. There are a couple of temples that are still used, very much vibrant places, which are worth hanging around in for a while to soak up the way of life. It's very different to Sukhothai being in a major city. Again its worth staying for a few days. But them i'm a photographer so i like to get into a place to discover its personality.

    If you stay around a place for a few days and eat at the streetside night markets you'll quickly get to talk to people who don't often see foreigners for more than one or two nights.

    I hope this helps.

    Cheers, Bill

    #10 Posted: 23/6/2009 - 02:45

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  • pamjane

    Joined Travelfish
    5th June, 2009
    Posts: 16

    Bill,
    Sukhothai sounds really nice. I'm leaving a bit of leeway as far as time schedule goes, so we can stay there a couple of days extra if we really end up liking the place. Biking around and hanging out at the night market sounds fantastic!

    MadMac,
    Thanks for the sound advice. We'll keep that in mind.

    Tilapia,
    I think the plan will be to spend almost a month in Laos, then only 7-10ish days in Cambodia. We'll cross into Cambodia from Laos, Voen Kham. It might be extremely silly and too out of the way to consider, but when I read about Yak Loum, I really wanted to swim there. I haven't started looking into what I really want to do in Cambodia yet. Do you know about how long the by-boat trip you suggested would take? I've almost figured out the tentative Laos plan, and then I'll be looking more closely at Cambodia, so I'll be looking for advice on those places within the next couple of days! :)

    #11 Posted: 23/6/2009 - 09:52

  • tezza

    Joined Travelfish
    13th April, 2006
    Posts: 1301
    Total reviews: 61

    pj - I'm not a diver, but sure, wet season usually sees less clear water from river/creek run-off - so visibility will not usually be so great.

    #12 Posted: 23/6/2009 - 15:54

  • tezza

    Joined Travelfish
    13th April, 2006
    Posts: 1301
    Total reviews: 61

    pj - I'm not a diver, but sure, wet season usually sees less clear water from river/creek run-off - so visibility will not usually be so great.

    #13 Posted: 23/6/2009 - 15:55

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