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Southeast Asia forum

Itinerary advice - Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam

Posted by Tiga74 on 15/4/2013 at 05:06

Hello all,
I'm going on a backpacking travel with friends (6 in total) to Southeast Asia (Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam) next June. It's our first time in this wonderful region. Our flight arrives Bangkok on the 17th June and departures from Ho Chi Minh on the 3rd July.
I would appreciate your suggestions and expertise on a 17 days/16 nights itinerary.
We were thinking to visit these cities:

Thailand: Bangkok (2 nights)
Laos: Vientiane (passing by); Luang Prabang (2 or 3 nighs); Vang Vieng (2 nights)
Cambodia: Phnom Penh (2 or 3 nights); Siem Reap (3 or 4 nights)
Vietname: Hanoi (1 or 2 nights); Ha Long Bay (2 nights); Hue Hôi An (2 nights); Ho Chi Minh (2 nights)

Is this too much?
Should we shorten the itinerary?
What is really unmissable?

Thank you all in advance for your help,

Regards

Tiga

#1 Tiga74 has been a member since 15/4/2013. Posts: 7

Posted by caseyprich on 15/4/2013 at 18:21

From my personal experience I'd spend 2 weeks in a single country, but as you want to sample more of the region I'm assuming you'd like to hit up just the highlight locations. Without being totally clear what it is you're going for - culture? history? nature? party scene? - it is difficult to give a good recommendation.

However, one suggesting is cutting Laos out and focusing your route on BKK-Siem Reap-Phnom Penh and then your flight up to Hanoi . . you'll have to work pretty fast down to HCMC and may skip Hue, just flying or taking a night train down to Da Nang for a couple nights in Hoi'an. That gives you an average of about 2 nights per destination when including Ha Long Bay which is a little quick for me and I'd even consider cutting out Da Nang/Hoi'an in order to fly direct from Hanoi to HCMC (your quickest schedule has you at 18 nights though you said the trip is only 16).

I notice your itinerary doesn't have any beaches, any reasons for that? Perhaps you've also already been to Thailand as you only have 2 nights scheduled in BKK, but there are a couple spots you could hit for a night or two around BKK (Kanchanaburi, Ayutthaya). Either as well or in place of you could add a little time to Cambodia possibly going down to Sihanoukville for beaches and working your way through Kampot over to Vietnam - there is also Phu Quoc island which can be fun with a large group. This would give you the opportunity to stop in Can Tho for a couple nights to see a Mekong Delta city and then on to HCMC. This schedule would seem more realistically focused on seeing Cambodia with short experience of Thailand around BKK and Vietnam around HCMC to sample the culture of those countries.

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Posted by Tiga74 on 16/4/2013 at 10:35

Hi there Casey!
Many thanks for your prompt reply and help :)
Well the goal for this trip is culture/history and nature. Not so much of party. It's our first time in Indochina.
Maybe you're right and 4 countries is too much for only 2 and half weeks.
You're telling me to cut Laos of this itinerary, any particular reason or it's just because Cambodia and Vietnam are better options?
And yes, we gladly accept your proposition of finishing on an amazing beach before returning to Portugal, maybe Phu Quoc.
We were thinking something like this:




17-Jun Bangkok 18-Jun Bangkok 19-Jun Luang Prabang 20-Jun Luang Prabang 21-Jun Hanoi 22-Jun Ha Long Bay 23-Jun Ha Long Bay 24-Jun Ho Chi Minh 25-Jun Phnom Pehn 26-Jun Phnom Pehn 27-Jun Siem Reap 28-Jun Siem Reap 29-Jun Siem Reap 30-Jun Dao Phu Quoc 01-Jul Dao Phu Quoc 02-Jul Dao Phu Quoc 03-Jul Ho Chi Minh

Is this doable? Or still too much?
I'm concerned with the following connections:
Bangkok to Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang to Hanoi
Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh
I think these 3 journeys will be the hard ones in terms of duration.

Because the problem here is Hanoi (Ha Long) that is really way up north. Unless I would cut Luang Prabang (is it worthy?) and took a plane from BKK to HAN and later the reunification train to HCMC.

Your advices are important, once again I would appreciate your help.

Best Regards from Lisbon / Portugal!

#3 Tiga74 has been a member since 15/4/2013. Posts: 7

Posted by MADMAC on 16/4/2013 at 11:05

You realize you have to fly to all these places to make this work right? These are long distances and here ground transportation is often slow. If you try to bus any of the long legs this just becomes brutal. No fun at all. A nightmare

Assuming you are not flying all these legs then:

I agree with Casey. Spend some time in Bangkok maybe, since you're already there, then fly to Vietnam and spend the rest of you time (what little you have) there. You just don't have time to move around much.

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Posted by Tiga74 on 16/4/2013 at 11:24

Hi MADMAC,

Thanks for your reply and help!

Doubt 1: is Laos (and Luang Prabang ) worth a stop?
Doubt 2: In Vietnam there is an handicap called Hanoi and Ha Long that are so far away from the axis BKK/PHNOM PEHN/SGN.
Is it worth to stop in Hanoi/Ha Long?
Sure: Cambodia (Phnom Pehn and Siam Reap/Angkor Wat) is someting I don't want to miss.

So after these doubts and sures, I realise with the few days we have we could only do someting like this by PLANE:

BKK > Vientiane or Luang Prabang
Vientiane or Luang Prabang > HAN
HAN > SGN

From SGN/HCMC is easy to acess Cambodia (Phnom Pehn and Siam Reap/Angkor Wat) and return to catch the flight back right?

Sorry to bother with all these doubts

Best Regards from Lisbon to all

#5 Tiga74 has been a member since 15/4/2013. Posts: 7

Posted by caseyprich on 17/4/2013 at 02:03

Don't worry - we wouldn't spend time on a forum like this if we didn't enjoy sharing our thoughts on the subject.

I know this is an earlier schedule but I want to use the start of it to make a point:
17-Jun Bangkok 18-Jun Bangkok 19-Jun Luang Prabang 20-Jun Luang Prabang 21-Jun Hanoi 22-Jun Ha Long Bay 23-Jun Ha Long Bay 24-Jun Ho Chi Minh 25-Jun Phnom Pehn . . .

According to what you have here, you arrive on the 17th and have half a day in BKK, then one full day, then you fly to Luang Prabang, maybe only get there in the afternoon depending on flight schedules and such . . . and then one full day in Luang Prabang before departing from there. Jumping ahead, you plan to spend two days in Ha Long Bay, and I guess on the 24th get back from Ha Long Bay and fly to HCMC, then leaving the next day for Phnom Penh?!? I don't want to sound judgmental - but I'm going to be judgemental, this pace is crazy and you aren't going to see anything but taxis, buses and airplane headrests.

That said, the last time I was in Luang Prabang was over 5 years ago - but I can easily say that I loved the place. I really want to return there with my mom and uncle as there is something very nice about it . . . so I don't think you should skip it if you are really interested in history & culture. The same goes for Siem Reap , it is a destination you obviously must hit if you are looking to see the highlights of SE Asia. As for Hanoi . . . it is a nice city, but not a place to go well out of the way for if you are moving so fast and have other priorities like Angkor Wat and Luang Prabang. Ha Long Bay is supposed to be very pretty, but I skipped it when I was in Northern Vietnam as I was meeting people in Da Nang . . . so that shows my decision making about the place. As well, with just 16 nights I think you have to cut Northern Vietnam out as an option and should focus yourself. Maybe plan in a way where you look at travel days as just that and not as part of a destination:

You are setting yourself up for some pretty expensive flights, but with 17 nights . . .

BKK (2)
BKK - Luang Prabang (flight)
Luang Prabang (3)
Luang Prabang - Siem Reap (flight)
Siem Reap (3)
Siem Reap - PP (bus)
PP (2)
PP - Saigon (bus)
Saigon (2)

That's a 16 day plan and gives you the opportunity to speed up or slow down a little if you'd say want to leave SR one night early. All it will give you is the slightest experience of Saigon at this point - but if you speed up anywhere along the way you could maybe do a single night trip over to Can Tho. Even that kind of a trip would be a 2 days with 5 hours spent on a bus though.

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Posted by MADMAC on 17/4/2013 at 02:45

Casey's plan is really rushed, but given your desires it's the way to go. This isn't "travelling" as most people undersand it. This is international jet setting. But hey, if you have that little time and start in BKK and want to hit Laung Prabang and Siem Reap and have to fly out of Vietnam - well your options narrow real fast.

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Posted by Tiga74 on 17/4/2013 at 03:52

Hi guys!
Thanks once again I'm going to rethink all the options and your suggestions.
Maybe I'll skip north Vietnam and stick to BKK > LPrabang > PP > SReap > HCMC

#8 Tiga74 has been a member since 15/4/2013. Posts: 7

Posted by steppingintoasi on 17/4/2013 at 04:27

Hi Madmac,
I used to be a tour guide for many years through these countries.
Sure for this amount of days it is quick for so many countries and you will miss some areas to be honest, but if you really want to capture all these countries in this trip then my recommendation is:
Thailand: Bangkok (2 nights)
Laos: Vientiane (passing through-good) - Vang Vieng (if you love to party this is your place!) (2 nights); Luang Prabang (2 nights)
Cambodia: Phnom Penh (1 night);
Sihanoukville (if you like the beach and party come here) (2nights), Siem Reap (2 nights)
Vietnam: Hanoi (2 nights); Ha Long Bay (1 nights, you defiantly do not need 2 nights); HOIÃN´(2 nights SKIP HUE) If you prefer the beach than a small; Ho Chi Minh (2 nights)
If you havent booked the flights let me know as there is a better loop than this that will give you more visiting time in the places.
Cheers Tif
PS-Check out my blog steppingintoasia.com for some other info

#9 steppingintoasi has been a member since 16/4/2013. Posts: 10

Posted by caseyprich on 17/4/2013 at 07:20

Tiga - The other option really is to skip Luang Prabang in favor of Hanoi /Halong Bay . . . but I think with the time you have you can't do the H/H the 4 night minimum that it probably deserves for getting all the way up there. Also, I think Luang Prabang offers a lot in the way of relaxed town on the Mekong River and history/culture while Hanoi is much busier and needs more time to get into the groove of.

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Posted by JaiYen88 on 17/4/2013 at 17:32

Skipping Vietnam altogether is probably the most sensible option, unless you already have flights booked from HCMC. If you don't go to the North and spend only 2 or 3 days in HCMC, you will be wasting money on an expensive visa. There is conflicting information about how much a Vietnam visa costs, but expect to pay minimum $40 (maybe someone can clear this up?). I know I paid about $50 for an agent to get mine in Phnom Penh.

As others have already said, travelling around that much in such a short space of time won't allow you to get a good feel for any of the places you visit. This, IMO, is one of the most important things that many travellers miss out on by trying to squeeze too much into a short space of time. I suggest a few days (3-4) each in BKK, LP, SR and maybe 2 in Phnom Penh, which leaves you a few days to play with, which you could use to explore Southern Lao or Cambodia (places like Pakse in Lao or Kampot in Cambodia have plenty to offer).

Just keep in mind that any transport other than flying is going to take it out of you, so after a 12-14 hour bus journey you can expect to be quite drained for another half-day, which realistically means a whole day has to be used up doing any of the longer journeys. Flying, while expensive, will save you a lot of time.

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Posted by Tiga74 on 18/4/2013 at 05:32

Hello all,
Firstly I'd like to thank all your answers and suggestions.
Secondly I must day that there is a common point to all: this is an ambitious itinerary for such a short period of time.
Therefore I will surely cut the itinerary but still not sure where.
Maybe I'll stick to the axis BKK > Luang Prabang > Siem Reap > Phnom Pehn > HCMC

#12 Tiga74 has been a member since 15/4/2013. Posts: 7

Posted by JaiYen88 on 18/4/2013 at 18:26

I think you should probably just stick with the 5 places - 16 nights = 3 nights in each, with one to spare. Maybe have an extra night in Siem Reap instead of Phnom Penh? Siem Reap is small and easy to figure out, so you feel comfortable very quickly! Plus 4 nights there will give you time to spend at least 2 days at the amazing Angkor temples :)

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Posted by caseyprich on 18/4/2013 at 20:25

Tiga - I think that is a good choice. I would agree that it is some hassle and expense for the visa just to visit HCMC, but if you are looking to get a taste of each country you've already decided that is worth it. Keep in mind you'll want to arrange the Vietnam Visa before you travel as you can't get a visa on arrival (all other countries are fine - I know for USA at least but Portogese should be okay I imagine).

I also agree that Siem Reap or Luang Prabang will offer the most bang-for-your-buck for an extra night stay if you want to plan day trips. Keep in mind to try as much local food as you like -- and if you are a coffee fan you're in for a treat when you arrive in Vietnam (Cambodia and Laos try, but I've never had a cup of Joe to match Vietnamese coffee). I've found that my experience of local cuisine and hanging out with people around guesthouses and cafes has one the most impacts for my decisions about what places I want to return to. I hope with this sampler you'll find a place that you are drawn to return to and explore more in depth in the future.

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Posted by Tiga74 on 20/5/2013 at 11:28

Hello all!

Back again and with my itinerary closed (I hope), check it out:

Bangkok - 2 nights
overnight train to Lao border + minus to Vientiane > Vang Vieng > Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang - 2 nights
flight to Siem Reap
Siem Reap - 3 nights
bus to Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh - 1 night
boat to Vietnam Border + boat or bus to Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh - 1 night
flight to Da Nang
Da Nang (beach) - 4 nights
flight to Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh - 1 night

With such a short time I had to drop nortern Vietnam (Hanoi/Ha Long).

Any suggestions of accommodation in the cities above mentioned?
Visa suggestions?
ATM and money withdrawal?

Thank you all for kind help

#15 Tiga74 has been a member since 15/4/2013. Posts: 7

Posted by MADMAC on 20/5/2013 at 23:33

If you go overland from Bangkok to Luang Prabang, it's going to take around 24 hours - give or take - to get there. You'll be utterly exhausted when you arrive as well. Realistically you have to fly this leg.

As for ATMs, inform your bank about where you are going so your card will function in those places. Use ATMs at banks as there are scam machines out there.

To my knowledge you need to pre-arrange your visa for Vietnam. Otherwise visa on arrival should not be a problem.

#16 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
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Posted by Tiga74 on 27/5/2013 at 11:50

Hi MADMAC!

Just bought a good flight from BKK to VTE. Still have to do the VTE-LPQ by bus.

Here is the actual itinerary:

Bangkok - 3 nights
flight to Vientiane + bus to Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang - 3 nights
flight to Siem Reap
Siem Reap - 3 nights
bus to Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh - 1 night
boat to Vietnam Border + boat or bus to Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh - 1 night
flight to Da Nang
Da Nang (beach) - 4 nights
flight to Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh - 1 night

#17 Tiga74 has been a member since 15/4/2013. Posts: 7

Posted by MADMAC on 27/5/2013 at 13:23

Tiga - not sure the timing of your flight, but since you couldn't get a flight to Laung Prabang, you might have to spend one night in Vientiane. Might want to check on bus times for your connection. I've heard some bad things about that bus trip (Vientiane to Luang Prabang) so I don't think I'd want to do a night bus - assuming it's available.

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