I'm teaching ESL near Bangkok, and I'm planning on traveling around during my 2 week vacation in October. I really want to check out Chiang Mai, Luang Prabang, and Bali, in particular - but that doesn't seem like a very logical itinerary, haha. Does anyone have any suggestions for including these places in a trip plan, or ideas for a better 2 week itinerary?
Well - I think Bali should get ditched from the plan unless you want to do just Bali for two weeks (maybe spending time on Lombok & the Gili Islands for a change of pace, to hike a volcano or something).
If you are living in BKK and still haven't seen Chiang Mai , then two weeks is a really good amount of time to do a wide circle and end up back in BKK. Take an overnight bus to Chiang Mai and spend a few nights there - then work your way to Chiang Rai and either
1) take the boat down to Luang Prabang (good if you've spent too much time in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai and don't have as much time for Laos as you'd like).
2) go overland via Luang Nam Tha (maybe a detour to Nong Kiaow) to Luang Prabang.
From Luang Prabang if you have time left stop in Vang Vieng, spend a night or two in Vientinne before taking a bus or train back to BKK. It'll probably be much cheaper than flying to Bali and allow you a taste of Northern Thailand and Northern Laos.
Another good thing with this itinerary is you don't have to book anything in advance so you can spend as long as you like wherever you end up.
Good suggestions from casey and I agree that you should pick either Bali and surrounds or do the northern Thailand/Laos loop. The only difference I would suggest is to take an overnight sleeper train up to Chiang Mai instead of the overnight bus. It is safer and more comfortable, an adventure in itself, and you've got plenty of time to book your berth before you travel.
If you do make that big loop through northern Thailand and Laos as casey suggests, you might want to book your return train from Nong Khai back to Bangkok in advance too. Nong Khai is a nice place to spend a day or two as well, with a nice promenade along the river and great views.
If you wanted to spend more time in northern Thailand and Laos and your budget allows it, you could always look at flying from Luang Prabang back to Bangkok. The extra cost could be worth the few extra days. Regards.
in october you should be fine just turning up and getting a room in the places you've mentioned. the only time i book ahead is if i'm arriving late after a long (international) flight, or if there is a specific place where i really want to stay. otherwise, just have a few spots in mind and/or an area in each town where you'd like to stay and show up. plus, many of the good budget-style places don't accept advance reservations anyway.
as for transport, you could book in advance, particularly for your first day out of bangkok and your last day back to bangkok. i'd definitely book ahead if you are taking an overnight sleeper train or VIP sleeper bus or air flight. otherwise, and particularly for the shorter trips between towns, just turning up or maybe booking the night before should do ya.