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Southeast Asia forum

SE Asia in ~7 weeks, what would you change?

Posted by Agriff on 25/9/2013 at 23:05

My partner and I are going to be heading back to the States after a year in Korea, but first we're stopping off in SE Asia! I think we have our itinerary hammered out, but is there anything you would change? We're on a budget of about $1,800 each.

Two disclaimers:
1) She studied abroad with Chiang Mai as a base about 4 years ago, and so she has a TON that she wants to show me.
2) We considered the islands, but we're concerned about how touristy they are and budgetary concerns.

So the plan as it stands goes like this:

-Fly into Bangkok November 5th. Spend 3 nights 3 days.
-Fly into Chiang Mai. Stay with partner's old host family 10 days. Leave our luggage.
-November 19th (after Loy Krathong), bus to Chiang Dao. Stay at the CD Nest 2 nights, 3 days. Climb Doi Chiang Dao.
-Nov 22 pass through Chiang Rai (??) stay the night in Chiang Khong.
-Take an early boat over to Huay Xai, bum around in the morning, take the afternoon bus to Luang Prabang.
-Stay in LP for 4 nights 4(ish) days, including a day trip to Kuang Si Falls.
-Nov 28 catch an afternoon flight to Hanoi. Spend 4 nights, 4(ish) days. Skip over going to Ha Long Bay (!?)
-Dec 2 another afternoon flight to Ho Chi Minh City. Spend 5 nights, 4(ish) days in HCMC, including one (or two?) days on the Mekong.
-Dec 7 morning bus to Phnom Penh. Spend 3 nights, 2.5 days.
-Dec 10 morning bus to Siem Reap. Spend 4 nights 3.5 days, most of which will be spent "templing".
-Dec 14 morning bus to Bangkok. Maybe go all the way through to Chiang Mai? Maybe spend one night and take off in the morning.
-Spend 3 nights 2.5 days alone in Chiang Mai.
-Dec 19th meet up again with the host family, spend the night. Retrieve luggage.
-Dec 20th spend one last night (and 1.5 days) alone in Chiang Mai. Total of 15 days in CM throughout the trip.
-Dec 21st morning flight to Bangkok.
-Dec 22nd flight leaves for the States!

Now that that's out of the way, I'll just add a little bit about ourselves before inviting criticism. First and foremost, we are interested in FOOD. We love exploring culture through food, and a big reason we're adding weight to northern Thailand is because of their unique cuisine. We've tried no to load ourselves down with too many day excursions so we'll have more opportunity to scout out the best restaurants, street food, etc. We're not big shoppers at all, and will probably not even step foot in a mall (we do have a lot of souvenir shopping to do though) . Instead, we prefer browsing smaller marketplaces and taking in the scenery.

Also, we're really split about what seems to be a classic dilemma between Ha Long Bay and time on the Mekong. We're leaning towards the Mekong because the Bay is 8 hours round trip just to get there and apparently you don't have the opportunity to see the truly amazing karsts unless you spend a night on the bay.

We really appreciate any and all feedback!! If you've gotten this far thanks for reading!

#1 Agriff has been a member since 25/9/2013. Posts: 5

Posted by Geer1 on 25/9/2013 at 23:38

Money may be tight with all that travel(especially so many flights). Make sure you look up your costs and figure out if everything is going to work or at least make sure you have some extra money available if needed.

Ha Long bay is overrated imo. Sure it is a neat area but the water is polluted and at that time it will be cool, overcast and possibly drizzly.

I absolutely loved Paradise Cave near Dong Hoi . Look it up and if you think it is something you would enjoy it might be worth doing instead of Halong or Mekong delta.

If so a somewhat economical way to see it would be to take night train from Hanoi to Dong Hoi. Spend the next day going to the cave(renting a motorbike is a nice way to do it if you are up to that and they still let tourists rent bikes, there was an article saying they were cracking down on it). Then either that evening or morning head on to Hue via train. Spend the next day looking at citadel and some tombs. The next morning go to Danang(train ride has nice views on this stretch) and catch a jetstar flight to Ho Chi Minh(only like $60). You could fly straight from Hue or even Dong Hoi but it will cost a lot more(like $240).

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Posted by Agriff on 25/9/2013 at 23:46

Good ideas for getting more out of Vietnam than Hanoi and HCMC. I'll run that by her. Glad to hear your opinion of Ha Long. The flights we're looking at now total to be about $337 per person!

#3 Agriff has been a member since 25/9/2013. Posts: 5

Posted by Geer1 on 26/9/2013 at 00:15

$337 plus another ~$125 for visas is roughly $460 off your budget per person already.

That leaves only 1340 per person, 2680 total for 46 days of travel or $58 per day for the both of you. That isn't very much since you are keeping fairly mobile and especially since you plan on eating good and I am guessing want to stay in reasonable guesthouses. For nice rooms, good food, travel and tours etc I would be targeting $80-100 a day for 2 people. You can get by on only $60 but it will mean staying in cheap grungy guesthouses and eating cheap meals or passing on things to do. I did $30 a day but I travelled very cheap, $5-10 on a room, $5-10 on food and the rest on travel and sights.

If you up your budget to $80 a day that is another $500 each you would need.

One thing that might make this possible is the amount of time you are spending in Chiang Mai and if you are getting a deal on accommodation and going to be taking things fairly easy. If you can go cheap while there then you might be able to pull everything off.

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Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 26/9/2013 at 10:42

There's a few northern Thai dishes that are different to Bangkok but a lot of it is the same. I wouldn't spend so much time in CM. 15 days is an awful lot. You can see the city in 2-3 days and the surrounding areas can be done in 4-5 days.

The best food I've had in Thailand is in Bangkok, Prachuap, Trang and Khong Chiam.

(I eat Thai food 5 days a week every week)

Krabi and Phang Nga bay areas are much better than Halong Bay.

Krabi is fairly cheap. Not expensive. Google Koh Hong and have a look at the scenary. Day trips are cheap.

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Posted by Geer1 on 26/9/2013 at 12:38

Normally I would agree 15 days is an awful lot in a location but considering she lived there for a while I am guessing they are going to be spending a lot of time just visiting old friends and taking things easy for a while, not to mention there will be extra things to do and look at with Loi Krathong taking place during their first 10 days.

Having to travel back to Chiang Mai to get bags is a bit of a hassle though. I wonder if you wouldn't be better shipping some things home instead of storing them? Can't be much more expensive and would be a lot less hassle.

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Posted by Blackartemis on 27/9/2013 at 02:53

1,800 is a bit short on funds, but staying with the host family would cut down on the fund. (This semester abroad wouldn't happen to be run by 2 St. Olaf professors would it?)

You two are going to be looking at budget accommodation and having to select cheap over comfortable when it comes to transport.
I would say skipping Halong Bay is a good idea, I am headed to Northern Vietnam in 3 days and the prices for a decent cruise would eat a large chunk of your money for a short period of time.

Have you factored in visas? Like the $45 for the Vietmanese visa +fees if you use an agent or the $30 for Laos

As for Chiang Mai, there is a ton to do here, I've been here for 6 years and still learn about new things.
Traditional Markets
Multiple night markets throughout the city each with a different vibe
Cool second hand markets
A myriad of temples
2 large handicraft centers in opposite areas
Floating rafts/houses
Water falls
Animal attractions of many sorts
Fantastic food selection
This being within the city or a brief public transport ride. Once you expand this you have all sorts of fun things to do
ranging from
White water rafting
National parks
We also have a pretty fun night life as well.

You have a month to try and raise a few hundred more dollars, ebay some stuff if you have to, it will be worth it.

#7 Blackartemis has been a member since 16/7/2011. Posts: 36

Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 27/9/2013 at 12:08

Ebay stuff so they can buy more stuff at the markets. Visiting Thailand and not seeing the south is a big loss IMO. The scenary around Phang Nga leaves anything up north for dead.

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Posted by daawgon on 27/9/2013 at 12:45

Your Vietnam part is too sketchy, and you're bypassing some of the very best parts (such as Sapa and Hoi An). In my opinion, Saigon is the least interesting part. I put Hanoi and Sapa as the most interesting and varied.

I would also consider other options than buses - the most dangerous/uncomfortable way to see SEA!

I do hope you have credit cards available, because you will easily exceed that budget. SEA is not as cheap as it once was.

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Posted by Agriff on 29/9/2013 at 00:52

Thank you so much for the feedback guys!

We've thought more about the budget and have realized that the itinerary I posed above just isn't in the cards. We really didn't factor in the ~$125 for visas at all, and that makes a huge difference.

Right now the alternate plan we're working with is to cut out Luang Prabang and Hanoi . This would have us go from Bangkok to Saigon after Chiang Rai. Then we'd do Cambodia as planned. With the extra week we're thinking about staying on Ko Kut (or Kood), which is kind of along the way back to Bangkok.

The re-route will save us about $180 each. We have extra funds that we'll be able to dip into if we go over budget, but we'd rather not. Raising more money/ selling things on Ebay is out of the question because we'll be working in Korea up until the start of our trip. In general we're ok with staying in less-than-nice accommodations, and we don't need to be eating at 5 (or even 3) star restaurants as long as we have the opportunity to try a lot of different things.

"I am guessing they are going to be spending a lot of time just visiting old friends and taking things easy for a while, not to mention there will be extra things to do and look at with Loi Krathong taking place during their first 10 days." Exactly! We wanted to at least stay until Loi Krathong, as that was her favorite part of her time in Thailand. The host family will also be 100% free of charge, so every day we spend there is one day less we need to worry about budgeting. It's really unfortunate we have to start and end our trip there, but mailing a year's worth of suitcases would be cost-prohibitive, as would storing them at the airport.

Thanks for the reassurance about CM, Blackartemis!

LeonardCohen, Prachuap, Trang, and Krabi/ Phang Nga Bay would require at least a 13 hour overnight train each way from Bangkok. Do you think that it would be worth the travel time? We were really set on making it down to the South before we thought about how long it would take, which is why we originally decided to put the money we'd spend on a flight into the flight to Hanoi.

Daawgon, I'm really heartbroken to hear you say that. I personally was looking forward to Hanoi the most, but I don't see how we could make it happen. We were going to compensate for the loss of diversity by doing a couple of day trips outside of Ho Chi Minh City, but do you think an overnight jaunt to Hoi An would be more worthwhile? Or do you have any other suggestions for what we could do in southern Vietnam? We were including a lot of flights to cut down on bus time, but buses seem like the best way to see as much as possible on our budget!

Again, thank you all for your advice. We'd love to hear what you have to say about this new plan!

#10 Agriff has been a member since 25/9/2013. Posts: 5

Posted by Agriff on 29/9/2013 at 02:19

Ah, I forgot two things!

1) Do you all think that the Bangkok- Chiang Mai train would be able to accommodate our luggage? We're thinking about cutting out the round trip flight in order to save more, but we each have a large, medium, and small suitcase, plus school-sized backpacks. Taking the train would save about another $90.

2) LeonardCohen, you mentioned Khong Chiam as one of the places with exceptional food. Was it good enough to warrant a trip out to Ubon Ratchathani? That might be possible instead of Koh Kut, but I'm not sure what we'd do there other than eat.

#11 Agriff has been a member since 25/9/2013. Posts: 5

Posted by Geer1 on 29/9/2013 at 12:00

Have you looked into Nok Air for flights BKK to CNX? Flights are only around $40(baggage will likely cost more with so many bags though).

Mailing some of your stuff home shouldn't be that expensive. A quick search shows around $50 for their largest box to be shipped by sea from Korea to the US via the post office. Will take a while but the luggage should get home before you do. Their largest box won't fit your large suitcase but maybe the medium sized ones, just can't be over 20kg(all this information is dated a couple years by what I see online but worth a try). You could always just mail the contents in their boxes and sell/scrap the suitcases as well or sell/give away some of your belongings and put some of the smaller suitcases into a large one and pay the extra to ship it home. I would just make sure you look into all your options as it would make things a lot easier and very well could be cheaper as you are likely going to be charged for excessive baggage on all your flights as well as having to travel back up to CM(going to cost you $150 or more just for that travel). Alternatively you might be able to get a guesthouse to hold onto them for you in Bangkok for a reasonable cost, just offer to book for both when you first arrive and the days before you leave and ask if it is possible to leave some bags there. They might offer a very reasonable rate to do so.

As for re routing your trip. You might want to consider dropping Vietnam completely and seeing more of Laos/Cambodia. Could do everything overland then which will save a fair bit of money and visa cost will drop to $60. Can easily go back and see Vietnam since you would be missing out on so much there anyways. If you do this start with your original plan of heading north then over to Luang Prabang, slow boat would probably be nicer then bus unless you choose to spend a day in Luang Namtha or Oudomxay. Then head south to Vang Vieng/Vientiane, could swing by Konglor on way down to Pakse and 4000 islands. Cross into Cambodia, make sure you break up the trip by stopping in Kratie. Then go to Phnom Penh. If you have time could go to Sihanoukville/Koh Rong or Kampot/Kep and back otherwise head up to Siem Reap, might have time to stop in Battambang along the way. Then back to Thailand. Another benefit of this is that Laos and Cambodia are the cheapest countries to travel in and this will help you save money. $60 a day would be possible most days.

If you skip Vietnam and figure a way out so you don't have to head north back to CM then that saves you around 15 extra days. You already had 5 in Laos and 7 in Cambodia. 2 weeks would get you comfortably overland stopping at most of the nice places through Laos so 9 days added there. 5-6 days added in Cambodia gets you to PP and lets you take one of the side trips I mentioned(or if you would rather could check out Ratanikiri or something like that).

Lots of options and things to think about. Hopefully this helped some.

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Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 29/9/2013 at 18:14

Trang/Krabi have airports. You can get $40 flights.

The train to CM has been suspended up north for a while.

Ubon is a great province to explore. Temples, Pha Taem NP and twin rivers.

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