Hello fellow users of Travelfish,
I've booked flights to and from Bangkok for a 6 week trip (43 full days) in August and September, and I would greatly appreciate any advice from those who have visited the region before.
As said, this will be my first solo trip to Asia (I am a 25 year old male indepentantly-minded traveller with plenty of experience travelling solo in different corners of Europe) and while I am ok with hitting some of the touristy spots (of course they became so for a reason) I want to mix in a slightly different route to avoid the conveyor belt style of travel with the teenagers and general idiots (not that all teenagers are idiots, but you get my point...) -- organised 'hill tribe treks' in Chang Mai or drugs and rafting binges in Vang Vieng sound awful and I want to avoid them.
I also, considering the time I have, don't want to overstretch and prefer to take the time to get off the 'beaten track' once in a while so I'm thinking of a circular route from Bankgok, through NE Thailand to Laos. North through Southern Laos then across to VN around Hue, south to HCMC with time to explore further reaches of the Mekong Delta, through Cambodia (how much I see is flexible with time left) back to BKK.
I'm interested in people and culture in the main (big cities and villages) -- I also like nature if I can explore on my own without being part of an organised trek. I'm not into sports activities, extreme or otherwise, with the notable exceptions of mountain-biking and walking.
Given the above, any advice, recommendations or notes of caution would be greatly welcomed as I want to make the best of my trip.
Thank you for reading.
p.s sincere appologies for misspelling 'itinerary'
#1 jonq1987 has been a member since 12/4/2012. Posts: 2
Maybe you should skip Vietnam this time round given your time available. I think you can hit on all of your interests within Laos, Camb and Thai and also be a bit more relaxed if you leave aside Vietnam for now. Travel is slow in the region and you don't want to be racing around too much.
#2 chinarocks has been a member since 17/6/2011. Posts: 740
Going through the NE, following the Mekong, makes for a great trip. This area is most definitely not too popular with the majority of visitors to the country. The scenery is beautiful and there are lots of places where you can stop and stay along the way. People are great, food is great, transport is pretty good, and it's inexpensive. With the exception of a few places, you'll see very few non-Thais.
You can take the train from Bangkok to Nong Khai and then follow the river on the Thai side down to Khong Chiam (through Nakhon Phanom, That Phanom, Mukdahan and Khemmarat) and then cross into Southern Laos at Chong Mek (don't stay in Chong Mek).
Personally, just to avoid missing the stretch between Chiang Khan and Nong Khai, I'd take the bus to Loei and then continue to Chiang Khan and start the trip there. Or start in Nong Khai and head to Chiang Khan then backtrack to Nong Khai. It's worth it just to see this part of the river. You could also rent a scooter in Nong Khai for a few days and ride to Chiang Khan. It's a beautiful stretch of road (when it's not underwater).
Once in Laos you'll have Pakse, the Bolaven Plateau, Champasak, and Si Phan Don to check out before heading into Cambodia.
Weather might be a big issue, though. Typically there's serious rain at that time of the year. But these days ... who knows? Maybe you'll get lucky.
I agree with chinarocks. With the preferences you've shared, you'll find the pace too fast trying to include Vietnam. Better to move down from 4,000 Islands (Tilapia hits all the hotspots in Southern Laos that can eat up 2 weeks on their own, but also be done more quickly) into Cambodia directly. If you want to avoid 'the usual' you'll need to spend a little more time in each area and so 6 weeks is a stretch for BKK - Northern Thailand - North to South Laos - and Cambodia.
"If you want to avoid 'the usual' you'll need to spend a little more time in each area and so 6 weeks is a stretch for BKK - Northern Thailand - North to South Laos - and Cambodia."
Indeed. If you do want to stay off the beaten path, and given the time available to you, it might be worth sticking to the northern part of Cambodia (Kratie, Ratanakiri, Tonle Sap and maybe Battambang). You could easily kill 2 - 2.5 wks weeks doing that, along with the same for Laos, leaving you a week or so for Thailand. I definitely think Vietnam should be skipped for this trip given your preferences and time available.
While Kampot, Kep, PP, and Sihanoukville are all nice and worth seeing, they are definitely the most heavily touristed areas of the country.
#5 chinarocks has been a member since 17/6/2011. Posts: 740
If you come through Mukdahan, drop me a line and I'll square you away concerning around here.
#6 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Thank you all for your insights and you have some good points.
Missing out Vietnam has crossed my mind considering it is a little more work getting a visa (I planned to do it in Bangkok on the first day) and although on one hand it is a shame to miss out on a country as interesting as Vietnam being so close to it, there are some plus points to missing it on this occasion. I hear HCMC isn't too great for some people (I love big crazy cities so I think I personally would enjoy it) and I suspect some of central VN might not be my thing (too many people travelling up and down the coast Hanoi to HCMC). The Mekong Delta still interests me, however, so my question is this: will southern Vietnam provide anything vastly different (or superior) from what can be found in Laos and Cambodia?
Although I am someone who enjoys moving from place to place quite quickly, maybe a better compromise this time is something like the above suggestions, making for lots of small journeys rather than the long distance legs I've done in the past. It deeply pains me to admit, but Vietnam will maybe have to wait (but hey, it's an incentive for a future trip).
'You can take the train from Bangkok to Nong Khai and then follow the river on the Thai side down to Khong Chiam (through Nakhon Phanom, That Phanom, Mukdahan and Khemmarat) and then cross into Southern Laos at Chong Mek (don't stay in Chong Mek).'
Something like Tilapia's recommendation sounds interesting, but that would mean sacrificing central/southern Laos on the other side of the river (The Khaek and Savannkhet). At what point would any of you suggest crossing over to Laos to get the best of both sides?
#7 jonq1987 has been a member since 12/4/2012. Posts: 2
"Will southern Vietnam provide anything vastly different (or superior) from what can be found in Laos and Cambodia?"
Three things I would say.
1. Saigon - no city in Laos or Cambodia can came anywhere close to the size, population and energy of Saigon.
2. War memorobilia - if you like this type of thing then between the museums in Saigon and the CC tunnels you will be quite happy.
3. Mekong Delta - you might be able to see a similar, smaller experience in Tonle Sap in Cambodia but in terms of seeing how a community lives purely off the water, the MD is pretty cool. I understand there are some homestays you can do around here which are supposed to be excellent.
If any of these things appeal to you then I guess you have to weigh up the pros and cons of travelling to Vietnam on this trip. Personally I would leave it for now.
#8 chinarocks has been a member since 17/6/2011. Posts: 740
One of the great things about SE Asia is that each country is so unique with a history that has changed it and then there are different regional ethnic groups with their own much more distant history. So, I would say that you will not have anything like a similar experience in any of these areas. I know that doesn't make the choice any easier - but I would honestly say go with the above advice and then save Vietnam for a trip all its own, as if you give it plenty of time there is so much to see off the beaten track - or even on it.