Photo: Street food Phetchaburi Soi 10, Bangkok.

Southeast Asia forum

SE Asia - 3 weeks?

Posted by Undisclosed on 10/10/2012 at 17:18

I would really appreciate some feedback. Planning to go to SE Asia for 3 weeks next Nov (super early planning I know, I need something to look forward to!). Laos and Cambodia are musts, otherwise we would also be keen on Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. Keen to do some long walks, and general things (appreaciating the culture, nature etc) that aren't too touristy. But at the same time we are both a bit safety concious and cautious (not sure how to say this, perhaps easier out of our comfort zone than some people?). Any suggestions of good places to go? I realise 3 weeks isn't much. Any itenerary suggestions? Good places to go tramping?

#1 Undisclosed has been a member since 10/10/2012. Posts: 10

Posted by shaydan_01 on 10/10/2012 at 18:35

As you've already mentioned, 3 weeks isnt a long time. I would very highly recommend that you cut your trip down to just one country and save the others for future trips. 2 at the very most, but then you'd be really limiting yourself.

I would suggest starting with Cambodia, perhaps Siem Reap for Angkor Wat and go from there. Read up on the country and work out what appeals to you. Then do the same for Laos and you will get an idea of how much you can realistically see, and where you most want to spend your time.

Cambodia is quite easy to travel around, especially along the tourist trail and the south. I havent been further north than Siem Reap so I can't comment, but generally the more mountainous the slower the transport. You could comfortably fit in four or five locations with a few days in each place plus a day inbetween each for transport. Any more and you'll be rushing a lot!

Laos is slower going still, especially in the wet season. I don't really know what you could possibly get out of spending a week or so in Laos so I can't make any suggestions really. I spent around a month in the country with an average of about 5 days in each place and only managed to get in four or five locations. I could have spent a lot more time and there were lists of places and sights I didnt get to.

The main thing to remember is that whilst tourist infrastructure is quite good in a lot of places, these are still very poor countries and transport can be painfully slow. Bus's break down all the time. Roads have potholes, landslides, accidents, cows, people etc blocking them. You need to expect at least one or two delays and allow extra time for this. The more flexible and less jam packed your itinerary, the less this will bother you. You also havent included anything regarding your budget or preffered travel style (flying from A - B, bus's, private car, tour etc). Are you planning on taking an organised tour or do you want to travel independantly? These details may make a considerable difference in what you can do with three weeks.

You have plenty of time to plan, and in my opinion that is half the fun. So I suggest you begin reading up on both countries, list the places that appeal to you, look at maps and research travel times to work out a rough route and itinerary and then post again for more feedback. Think about what motivates you to travel to these places. Is it to see as many "sights" as possible, is it to relax and take a break from work, is it to learn about a new culture, is it to be amongst nature.... etc. You will have a much clearer idea of what you can accomplish in three weeks, and it will be much easier for others to provide feedback and suggestions if you put some time into developing a clearer idea of what you want out of this trip.

I hope this helps. Happy planning : )

#2 shaydan_01 has been a member since 16/11/2009. Location: Australia. Posts: 80

Posted by Undisclosed on 10/10/2012 at 19:01

Thanks for your reply Shaydan! I really appreciate the effort :)

Your probably right there - We may cut it doesn to 3 countries and spend a week in each, which I realise isn't ideal, but there's a lot of world to see and limited time! We would then only see two or three places in each country, but it will be nice to get a taste.

Budget is about NZD$5000 each as a very top maximum! Including flights there etc. So can probably easily fly to and from a few places, other than that it will probably be busing I am guessing. Would rather avoid tours, unless its only a day or two.

I will certainly get to reading up some more about countries and decide where to go, its always hard to get started in such a massive wave of information, so thank you for your feedback, its a great start!

#3 Undisclosed has been a member since 10/10/2012. Posts: 10

Posted by caseyprich on 10/10/2012 at 20:27

As you've said you are looking for more of a sampler, I'll spare you the remark that 3 weeks would be better spent in a single country - after all I'm breaking my own rule and hitting up two in 3 weeks this February. That said, when I say two I mean largely hitting up one country (Cambodia) and just spending a few days in the Mekong Delta.

1 week in each country, when you include in travel time, will be very taxing. You'll be on the move every other day if you try to hit up 3 spots in each place - and it will require flying to save time, there you lose an entire day usually with getting to airports 2 hours early for international flights and getting into town, finding hotels, etc.

You've said Laos and Cambodia are musts, and they are also the two countries you've mentioned with some of the slowest transportation and most expensive flights. I'd probably recommend to you that you fly into BKK as it is usually the cheapest airport. I don't really know how to suggest an itinerary that includes Thailand-Laos-Cambodia in three weeks without mostly flying. Something like BKK (2) fly to Luang Prabang (3), stop in Vang Vieng(1) on the way to Vientiane (2). Fly from Vientiane to Phonm Phen (2) bus to Siem Reap (3) then maybe to Battambang (3) to do some exploring around there and either back to BKK to fly to an island and relax for the remainder of the trip or bus to Ko Chang. Otherwise, if you still want some more hiking you work over to BKK and then fly/nightbus/train to Chiang Mai. This is a pretty basic itinerary I think, but it is sped along with the two international flights and I'd probably count those days as extra atop this, not eating into quality time in any location.

#4 caseyprich has been a member since 3/3/2010. Location: China. Posts: 1,281
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Posted by exacto on 10/10/2012 at 20:28

I thought you'd be Kiwi's when you mentioned going tramping!

Anyway, like Shaydan says, three weeks isn't much time to visit all the places you've listed. Have you decided yet where you'd like to fly in/out of? That will influence where you go for sure. For example, if you choose Bangkok like most folks, there are a few loops that will get you into the types of activities you mention.

One option is from BKK through northern Thailand and across into Laos, down to Vientiane, and back to Bangkok. You could do that in three weeks without too much rush. Chiang Mai. Luang Prabang. Maybe even a few days on a Thai island at the end.

Another option is from BKK across to southern Laos and Pakse, down through the 4,000 islands into Cambodia, Siem Reap and Angkor Wat, then back to Thailand and the eastern islands like Ko Chang, finishing up in Bangkok. That would be a bit more rushed but still comfortable.

You might even be able to fly from Phnom Penh to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia on a cheap Air Asia flight, perhaps even flying back to BKK or directly back to New Zealand. But that starts to get a bit rushed.

Anyway, lots of possibilities. Cheers.

#5 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,660
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Posted by Undisclosed on 10/10/2012 at 21:04

Thanks guys, all this feedback is really great!
We have been to Bangkok (on our way back from Europe last year), so my current thinking is to fly into KL, stay for 3 days or so (its also our honeymoon), then fly straight to Vientiane and do Laos and Cambodia from there.
Its time to do some serious research I think!
Did anyone plan accom beforehand?

#6 Undisclosed has been a member since 10/10/2012. Posts: 10

Posted by caseyprich on 10/10/2012 at 23:30


With that plan, I imagine you'll leave back out of KL - booking a round trip ticket to your destination. There are a few nice places in the North of Laos, but I don't think you should go further than Luang Prabang if you want to see Cambodia in that time also - as well Southern Laos is just fantastic. I'd suggest a couple days in Vientiane and Luang Prabang each, with a stop over in Vang Vieng to break it up, then see if you can get a flight from Luang Prabang to Pakse . From there you've got some options to depending on how romantic or rustic you want to go. I'd recommend at least a motorbike trip to Tad Lo for two nights, and if you enjoy the bikes take them down to Champasak . - which I liked a lot with the motorbikes to beat all the pedlars to Wat Phu. A couple nights staying at Anouxsa Guesthouse (probably would want to try and book ahead) would be fantastic with a Mekong sunrise view. Still, you could then ride the bikes back up to Pakse one day and catch a bus down to 4,000 before entering into Cambodia, heading to Siem Reap and preparing to fly out of PP. If you have any extra days still at the end of the trip head down to some of the beaches to unwind on the Cambodia coast.

Of note I've heard really good things about a middle of the forest stay between Pakse and Champasak but I can't remember the name. Was too pricey for me to look into as a solo traveler, but perhaps good idea for a honeymoon. I've normally planned where I want to stay and a backup location so I'm not wandering around when I enter town - but don't usually book ahead. If there is a place I find online that I'm really into, or if I'm staying on an island like Langkawi during top or peak season then I will book ahead though.

#7 caseyprich has been a member since 3/3/2010. Location: China. Posts: 1,281
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Posted by MADMAC on 11/10/2012 at 00:09

"Your probably right there - We may cut it doesn to 3 countries and spend a week in each, which I realise isn't ideal, but there's a lot of world to see and limited time!"

Hey, it's your life, and if you are just looking to get stamps in a passport, by all means. But one week in each country is all you are doing - collecting passport stamps. Factor in travel time, one week is nothing. Not even a sampler. In a few years you'll have a hard time remmembering what you saw in which country. You'll be pulling out pictures and asking "Was that in Laos or Cambodia?" The guys above are trying to gently tell you that your plan is insane. It will not be much fun, as moving from place to place is not any fun out here. It's usually uncomfortable and long (unless you have a chopper to ride from city to city - and you don't). If you go to three countries you have time to realisticly visit three cities (or areas). You are right when you say there's so much to see in the world and so little time. Guess what? You ain't going to see it all. And if you don't slow down, you won't remmember anything you saw. And forget about "experiencing" anything. No time for that. To experience a culture in a meningful way takes more than three weeks, which is all you have. In one week? Nada.

#8 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by Undisclosed on 11/10/2012 at 22:08

Thanks Caseyprich, these places all sound lovely! I am certainly going to look into them!

And Madmac. Thanks for your input. I fully understand why people are suggesting we go to fewer countries (I have traveled before). I know you can't fully experience a culture in a few weeks (I'd guess that it takes years). I was never suggesting we would go to a town a day or anything like that, if we went to three countries, it would probably still be a town a week, just three towns in different countries rather than three in one. Its nothing to do with passport stamps, its about getting a taste for what is out there in the world, and the coming back to places we loved.

#9 Undisclosed has been a member since 10/10/2012. Posts: 10

Posted by MADMAC on 11/10/2012 at 22:57

I don't know, I guess my perspective would be there's about 196 countries in the world, which means if you did one a week you could cover them all in just under four years - assuming you had the money and no work. At the end of that, would you be able to pin the tail on the donkey and say "here are the places I want to go back to." Hell, I wouldn't remmember where they were or what I saw there (certainly not how it felt, etc.) The world is just too big and life is just too short. In my view, better to slow down, spend less time on the road, more time getting to know places and people. But you've travelled before, so it ain't your first rodeo. Given that I guess I would recommend Luang Prabang in Laos, Halong Bay in Vietnam and Siem Reap in Canbodia. Those are the cultural tourist hot spots for those countries.

#10 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by Undisclosed on 11/10/2012 at 23:20

I'm not really after 'tourist' spots. Of course I won't get to see the entire world in my lifetime. We are going to take our time, as much as we have. Yes, I would like to spend a year or so there, but annual leave doesn't grow on trees.

#11 Undisclosed has been a member since 10/10/2012. Posts: 10

Posted by MADMAC on 12/10/2012 at 13:09

"Yes, I would like to spend a year or so there, but annual leave doesn't grow on trees. "

Exactly. That is why I would do my research on the internet, pick one country, and do the best I had with three weeks.

Like I said, you've travelled before and know yourself better than I know you. That would just be what I (and those above) would recommend for this region.

#12 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by Undisclosed on 14/10/2012 at 17:27

Yes, I realize that. Well thanks for your input!

#13 Undisclosed has been a member since 10/10/2012. Posts: 10

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