I've been browsing for some time and getting great tips but my husband & I are starting to settle on a trip and wanted to get your wise opinions on it. We're caught for time so are well aware that we'll be rushing much of it, which is probably not recommended but c'est la vie! We're interested in the historical aspects of the countries as well as the highlights and a bit of fun!
We fly into & out of BKK so trying to do a loop from there involving Cambodia ( Siem Reap & Phnom Penh), Vietnam (Saigon, Hoi An, Hanoi & Halong Bay) and Laos ( Luang Prabang & Vang Vieng - possibly travelling on to Vientianne for a flight back to BKK).
As we're caught for time we know we'll have to include a few flights between countries but what we're mainly worried about is Visas and travel between places.
- We don't want to backtrack too much so thinking about going from Bangkok to Siem Reap overland: is this fairly straight forward to do? Do we need to get a VISA in Bangkok for Cambodia or can we sort it at the border?
- What's the best way to travel in Vietnam? We were thinking of the train but if the bus is a better suggestion I'd love to hear it.
- Halong Bay - what do you recommend? Do we need to pre-book a boat?
- What's the easiest way to cross into Laos? Should we fly from Hanoi to Luang Prabang or are we better off going overland?
As I said we know we're only tipping the ice-berg and we're trying to fit a lot into a short while but we've done similar highlight trips before so know we can manage it and as it's probably going to be the last time in a while we'll manage a holiday like this we want to fit as much in as possible.
Thanks in advance!
For overland BKK to Siem Reap this is the best information on the site: https://www.travelfish.org/feature/71 (was updated in 2011).
Best way to travel is certainly train over bus, but to save time you could fly from HCMC to Da Nang in order to check out Hoi'an and then take the train from Da Nang to Hanoi (the area between Da Nang and Hue is beautiful so I'd make sure to book that part for a daylight travel).
Will have no trouble finding a boat when you get into Hanoi, so I don't think you need to pre-book.
Highly recommend a flight from Hanoi to Luang Prabang to save time.
With regards to Halong Bay, I'd suggest that you research boat options before you leave, maybe get down to a list of 2-3 prospects, but don't book until you get there. This will leave you flexibility in terms of dates, etc - but also allow you to get better walk-in deals potentially, and see what else is offer once you get there. In our case, we booked online a few days before we got to Hanoi, but I asked if I could pay the deposit once we got there and they were good with that. I didn't feel comfortable paying online and wanted to go to the office to check things out first.
For what it's worth, I went with Columbus Cruises on the Pinta Gold, and found them to be excellent. A bit pricey compared to other options, but I thought it was worth the extra. Also - we did the 2-night option which I would recommend over the 1-night option as the boat goes out just a bit further (ie avoiding the 100's of day tripping boats, etc). We also opted to stay on the boat for the 2nd night rather than going to Cat Ba island - and was glad that we did. My reasoning was that we were paying for a boat experience and could stay in a hotel on an island anywhere else along our journey.
My two cents worth!
Yeah, I think we're going to do the 2night option alright so it's great to get a tip about which trip to go for.
I've another question about crossing into Vietnam from Cambodia - is the boat a good way to get a different view of the country or would we be better off to just get the bus?
I would definitely recommend the boat over a bus. (I'd always prefer water over roads). The boat was very comfortable, like a VIP bus on water. They stopped twice for a half hour or so each time, for each country's immigration point.
Going by boat gives a nice scenic view of river life. I think the trip took 5-6 hours all up by memory from Chau Doc to Phnom Penh. I have posted a few times before about it so maybe have a scout around on the from (probably in Vietnam section).