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Southeast Asia forum

5 Weeks in SE Asia with a 4 yr old - advice/thoughts on itinerary please!

Posted by ZPeppiatt on 12/4/2010 at 17:47


This is going to be long, so apologies in advance!

My partner and I are going to be spending 5 weeks in SE Asia with our 4 year old son in late May/June. I spent 7 months in the region about 7 years ago, but neither my partner nor our son has ever travelled in the area. I know that most itineraries go out of the window as soon as you arrive (mine certainly did!) but I want to make sure we have a realistic idea of what we can fit in.

23rd May – Arrive BKK at around 7pm.

4 nights in Bangkok, mostly just chilling out, getting over jetlag & acclimatising. Take in a few sights, but nothing too strenuous.

27th May – Travel to Siem Reap (Bus to Aranya Prathet, tuk-tuk to border then private taxi from Poipet.) Aiming to get to Mo Chit bus terminal for around 8am, and Siem Reap by about 5/6pm.

7 nights in Siem Reap, allowing 3 full days at the temples, 2 days for chilling out in Siem Reap (shopping, massage, swimming etc) and a final ‘spare’ day for whatever (with the option of leaving a day early if we’re ready)

3rd June – Travel back to Bangkok (reverse of journey to Siem Reap).

4th June – Train to Kanchanaburi in the afternoon.

3 nights in Kanchanaburi, including a day trip to Erawan waterfall and an elephant trek. (If we can combine these into one day there is potentially another ‘spare’ day here.)

8th June – Bus back to Bangkok in the morning, then night train to Nong Khai in the evening.

9th June – Cross border to Laos, spend night in Vientiane .

10th June – Travel to Luang Prabang. I’m seriously considering hiring a private car with driver to do this, as (a) I’m assuming this will be quicker/less cramped than the bus (b) I’m a bit worried about toilet stops/travel sickness/boredom issues with 4yo, so would like the flexibility to stop whenever we need to (c) I’ve heard that the route is very scenic and it would be nice to stop and take photos along the way.

3 nights in Luang Prabang, no specific plans, just chilling out and seeing a couple of temples, enjoying the food and the scenery.

13th June – Fly to Chiang Mai .

3 nights in Chiang Mai, no specific plans, although I would like to go out to the furniture district at some point and might visit the elephant sanctuary.

16th June – Train to Bangkok.

17th June – Train to Chumphon, book spaces on Catamaran to Ko Tao for the following morning and organise transport to the jetty.

18th June – Catamaran to Ko Tao.

4 nights on Ko Tao, no specific plans.

22nd June – afternoon catamaran to Chumphon, then night train to Bangkok.

2 nights in Bangkok, and final sightseeing/last minute shopping. (These are possible ‘spare’ days if we get delayed elsewhere.)

25th June – evening flight back home, check-in around about 4pm.

Firstly, does this sound realistic? I’ve tried not to spend too long on the road & have tried to build in room for flexibility, so there are 4 ‘spare’ days which can be moved elsewhere/sacrificed if we have unseen delays.

Secondly, given the time of year we’re travelling, do you think I would be better off booking train tickets a few days before travel, or will I get away with just turning up on the day? I’ve factored in time to book a few days in advance (e.g. booking night train to Nong Khai (8th June) when I am in Bangkok) but obviously this limits flexibility.

Similarly, can I buy a flight to Chiang Mai once I’m in Luang Prabang, or am I best off buying it in Bangkok or Vientiane?

Finally, does anyone have and idea how much it would cost to hire a car & driver from Vientiane to Luang Prabang? I’ve had a look on the forums but couldn’t find many definitive (recent) answers. Obviously it’s going to cost more than the bus, but any thoughts on which is more prohibitive – the cost of the car or the bus journey with a 4yo?! I’m not on a shoestring budget, but funds aren’t limitless either.

Many thanks,


#1 ZPeppiatt has been a member since 12/4/2010. Posts: 38

Posted by mtoftej on 12/4/2010 at 21:01

Dear Zoe,

As a former travel consultant on SEAsia and now a travel writer and father of a four year old I am inclined to ask you a question in order perhaps to advice you best. And it seems to me that one thing is missing from your itinerary. What's the fun for a four year old racing around Thailand, Cambodia and Laos over the course of five weeks?
I might underestimate your toddlers travel flexibility, but when I took my daughter for a five weeks holiday to Thailand in sept last year, all she cared about was a swimming pool, sticky rice and chicken. She remembers waterfalls we visited, and she was both in awe and weary of the mighty elephant at Lampang Elephant Cinservation Centre, though she didn't fancy the 3D-movie at a posh Bangkok movie theater. But more than anything else she was thrilled - and still is - with playing around in swimming pools, to the point where it frustrated her parents. But then again we asked ourselves: What is in the journey for her?

If you really want to complete the entire journey in five weeks at least spend money on flights. And perhaps tone down the ambitions of seeing temples en masse, handicraft centres and Bangkok downtown.
A constructive advice would be to log onto Nancy Chandler's homepage and get tips and ideas to travelling with children in Thailand (Bangkok and Chiang Mai specifically)

Though I in no way wish to encourage you to not go. On the contrary. But perhaps keep in mind that playmates and swimming pools come out on top of a four year old's list of adventures - even in a foreign country.

If I were to choose, I would leave out Cambodia and Laos and focus on Thailand. The infrastructure is much better suited for family travel and with Air Asia you can zoom around the country for next to nothing, or if you want to do overland journeys get on the trains that serve almost any corner of Thailand. In the end you can have a lot of Laos in northern Isaan (NE Thailand) and a lot of Cambodia in southern Isaan.

So in other words my itinerary would be Chiang Mai (one week), Isaan (7-10 days)- you can fly from Chiang Mai to Khon Kaen/Udon Thani in upper Isaan, Khao Yai national park and Bangkok (one week), Kanchanaburi (one week) and Ko Tao (one week).

On a final note let me also remind you that medical facilities and general hygiene standards are best in Thailand, and since this is the first tour of South East Asia with your loved toddler perhaps it could be a comforting thought to spare.

Hope you find the advice of some use. If nothing else my trip taught me to ask "what's in it for her (my daughter)?".

Happy travels

Mikkel Tofte

#2 mtoftej has been a member since 10/6/2005. Posts: 3
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Posted by ZPeppiatt on 13/4/2010 at 03:03

Thanks for your comments - definitely given me some food for thought, especially with regards flying.

I don't think I explained myself very well in the above post (was trying to keep it as concise as possible!) but any 'sightseeing in Bangkok' would really only extend to a trip on the canal ferry, riding the sky train and a tuk tuk ride or two (all of which 4YO would LOVE as he's mad on anything transport related!) and possibly a temple (the Golden Mount one for example).

We'll be staying near the MBK centre, so were planning on catching a movie if there's anything suitable for a 4 yr old on, and maybe finding a swimming pool, although to be honest 4YO can take or leave them. He might feel differently in the hotter climate, but we took him to Italy a couple of summers ago and couldn't get him in the pool for love nor money. 'Shopping' would be a wander round MBK/Siam Square as we're nearby (partly just for the air con), not a grand tour of designer boutiques or anything!

I appreciate your suggestion that we concentrate on Thailand, but Cambodia is a 'must' as 4YO is especially looking forward to seeing 'the temple with a tree in it'. 4YO's needs definitely take precedence over our 'wants' and there's no way we'd drag him round for 3 days of hardcore temple spotting. My plan was to concentrate on the main temples such as the Bayon, Ankor Wat and Tah Prom, and to take our time cycling round them, with plenty of rest stops, drinks etc. Realistically I envisage taking 5/6 days (including 'down day' in town) to see what other travellers cram into a day or so.

As far as Laos in concerned, maybe it's a little selfish of me, but Luang Prabang was one of the highlights of my trip last time, and I can't really imagine going to Thailand and not seeing LP with my family. I'd rather cut out Kanchanaburi or Chiang Mai if it came to it.

What you say about flying - I initially planned to fly from Siem Reap straight up to Luang Prabang, but having checked out the prices they are just a little too high. If I can find cheaper flights once we're there I would certainly prefer to fly. Alternatively, Vientiane to Luang Prabang is also a bit cheaper than I thought it would be, so I'm now considering flying that leg rather than hiring a private car + driver. After reading up on all of the islands I'd finally settled on Ko Tao, but having checked out the prices on Air Asia I'm now considering flying from Chiang Mai to Phuket and maybe checking out Ko Phi Phi instead.

Do you think that sounds more realistic?

#3 ZPeppiatt has been a member since 12/4/2010. Posts: 38

Posted by MADMAC on 13/4/2010 at 16:57

If you really want to go to LP, I would try and find something there on line in advance that your son would find interesting and get him excited about it. It seems out of your way looking at the other places you want to go to. In fact, I would do this for each stop along the way, so each time he can enjoy the anticipation of the next leg of the trip. God knows I love my little girl, but long bus rides with her sound even worse than long bus rides by myself - and those are horrible enough.

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Posted by mtoftej on 13/4/2010 at 20:54

Dear Zoe,

Bangkok Airways has a flyer pass that might be worth looking at since it involves both Siem Reap and Luang Prabang

Don't know where you are flying in from, but its seems you would have enough time to actually move on to another (and smaller) destination than Bangkok. Unless of course you want to make Bangkok your base of travels (i.e. luggage storage, shopping for flights etc.) I think it would be nicer for you to arrive in Siem Reap, Luang Prabang or Chiang Mai where you can easily get around.

I understand that you have certain priorities, Luang Prabang being the one most out of the way, but perhaps you could save it for next time? You don't have to abide by all your wishes in one trip, although I know very well that is the hardest bit to overcome (my wife keeps telling me to chill on my itineraries).

I think it will be easy enough for you to arrange the flight from Luang Prabang to Chiang Mai on the spot. Hotels likewise. But as I see it aren't you spending a lot of time or money just to get to Luang Prabang? Which is to the best of my opinion a very romantic, very cultural and very spiritual experience.

I am sorry for not supporting your all moves, but I really think you should consider Isaan instead. Khao Yai national park is a wonderful experience, and it can be at your own pace. Hotels everywhere in the region are cheap, there's plenty of homestays, and you can chill with the family along the Mekhong river west of Nong Khai. In other words you get much the same as in Luang Prabang (yes I know, nowhere near the splendour), and spend far less travelling around.

As for the last leg of the journey why not consider Ko Samet for your beachside days? It's once again more accessible, and you don't get the rough seas during the monsoon season that sometimes (nearly every year I'm afraid) claim lives in Phuket.

If this is a matter of relaxing on the beach. Getting to "know" the sea and playing around in the sand then Ko Samet is not bad at all. Beaches are nice, bungalows a tad cheaper than Phi Phi, and there's even a few lesser known islands off Samet (i.e. Ko Mun Nork). Last but not least the weather is quite steady around Samet.

Try to focus on what's the easiest travelwise. And is still flexible (i.e. to be changed at short notice). You will have grande experiences anywhere in Thailand, Cambodia and/or Laos. In other words think about making this trip your starting point for future trips in the region, not the best of.

OK, won't be trying to change your plans again. Have fun.


#5 mtoftej has been a member since 10/6/2005. Posts: 3
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Posted by ZPeppiatt on 15/4/2010 at 07:00

Thanks for the tip about the flyer pass - I'll have a look at it. I did look at the Discovery Pass, but the prices have gone up a bit from 1st April and for the routes I wanted to do it worked out that I'd only be saving about £20, which didn't seem much considering I'd be committing myself to certain destinations/transfers.

I was planning on using Bangkok as a base, especially for the first couple of days. Our flights don't land until 7pm, so we couldn't realistically get an onwards flight without at least a night's stopover, and I do quite like Bangkok. However, I'm keeping an eye on the political situation so we may rethink if things don't settle down in the next few weeks. (I thought we'd be out of the way as we were planning on staying somewhere near MBK/Siam Square, but I read another thread on here where someone recommended giving this area a wide berth.)

I get what you're saying about itineraries and Isan, but I have no idea when 'next time' will be (it's taken 5 years of pestering for me to convince my partner to agree to this trip!) so for me Luang Prabang is an absolute must. Also, I had a bad experience at Khao Yai NP, so not particularly keen to return! (Our room was broken into and my ex's money wallet was stolen, which had his passport, plane ticket, credit card & half of all our travellers cheques & emergency cash in it - 3 days into a 7 month trip - necessitating 2-3 weeks in Bangkok trying to get it all sorted out...)

I've taken note though, and have spent the past couple of days furiously mapping out & costing possible itineraries and I'm thinking now about heading straight up from Cambodia to Laos (stopping at Khorat to break up the journey), flying from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, spending at least 4 full days there then flying to Chiang Mai.

If we have time, we could visit Kanchanaburi via Ayutthaya - but I'm willing to sacrifice this leg, as we'll have opportunities to ride elephants in Siem Reap/Chiang Mai and visit waterfalls near Luang Prabang.

I'm still stuck on islands for the final week - basically yes, we just wanted to end the trip chilling out on a beach, but preferably a picturesque one with some decent snorkelling, not too built up but with some amenities not to far away. I keep reading up on the islands and trying to decide but I keep coming up with pros & cons for each! The only island I visited last time was Ko Chang (the big one), so I'd quite like to check out the Andaman coast/Southern Gulf this time.

Ko Samet sounds promising - but I'd heard that mosquitos were a bit of a problem and that it might be malarial. Do you know anything about this? And what is the weather like on Phi Phi towards the end of June? Is it rough enough that snorkelling would be out of the window?

Thanks again for taking the time to give such a thoughtful and detailed response - I am taking it in even if it sounds like I'm ignoring all your advice!

#6 ZPeppiatt has been a member since 12/4/2010. Posts: 38

Posted by ZPeppiatt on 15/4/2010 at 07:23

Madmac - good idea about looking at destinations online! So far we've just looked at some pictures in a guidebook, which obviously are fairly limited... Will definitely do this - once we've settled on destinations that is!

#7 ZPeppiatt has been a member since 12/4/2010. Posts: 38

Posted by MADMAC on 15/4/2010 at 12:29

Have fun. If perchance you come by Mukdahan, look me up. Your son could play with my little girl. She loves to play!

#8 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
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Posted by Tilapia on 21/4/2010 at 02:41

Hi Zoe,

I met a couple in Pakse who had a 4 year old, and a toddler. They were cycling through Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia with the kids riding along in bike seats!!!

Whenever this couple came into a town they would visit the market and pick up some cheap kids toys ... little bikes, balls, etc. for the kids to play with while they (the parents) were showering or unpacking or working on the bikes or whatever. They said that some of the shopkeepers would give them the toys free of charge because they'd be so taken by the little dudes.

The next morning before leaving they would always take those toys back to the shopkeeper to sell (or give away) again.

So, the kids always had toys and stuff to keep them occupied, the local economy was (almost always) supported, and everyone was happy.

Just something to consider.

Good luck.

#9 Tilapia has been a member since 21/4/2006. Location: Canada. Posts: 1,521
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Posted by ZPeppiatt on 24/4/2010 at 19:58

@ Tilapia - on bikes? Wow!

Thanks for the toys tip - genius idea.

#10 ZPeppiatt has been a member since 12/4/2010. Posts: 38

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