I'm traveling to SEA this summer for around 5 weeks. I arrive in Bangkok July 9 and leave from Bangkok August 14. I am hoping on doing 4 countries (Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos). After much research, I will probably spend a majority of my time in Thailand and Vietnam. I will probably only be able to do Angkor Wat in Cambodia and if I have time restraints may have to omit Laos unfortunately.
I would like to see the major sites as well as experience the culture of SEA. I would like to do some snorkeling and scuba diving as well, possibly getting certified if time permits. I also want to meet people and come back with some great stories and memories. I will probably stay in mid range hostels and guesthouses.
I should have around $5000 for my trip and from what I've read this should be plenty. Is this accurate?
This is my first time traveling solo. My gf and I backpacked Costa Rica last year, that is my only backpacking experience. Any advice from the seasoned vets on here?
Also, I'm wanting to end my trip on the beach somewhere. I realize it's rainy season at this time. Which side would be less rainy at this time of year, the Gulf of Thailand side or the Adaman (sp) sea side?
Any info or advice would be awesome!
#1 dupree has been a member since 3/4/2014. Posts: 14
Hey you can squeeze in five countries... no problem.
Seriously, unless you plan to fly to each location, this is too much territory with the time you have. If you were to fly from Bangkok to Hanoi, then fly again to Saigon, then fly again to Siem Reap and then fly on to Koh Samui, this would be doable. Overland? Forget it. WAY too much distance. Bangkok, Trat / Koh Chang, Siem Reap, Phnom Phen and maybe someplace like Kep on the coast of Cambodia. Then head back to Bangkok and hit one of the tourist Islands if you really want to do the diving thing. Guiven the time you have, that's a reasonable flow.
Understand if you are going to hit highlights (which you said you wanted to do) then by definition you are hitting tourist spots which means you're not going to get much exposure to contemporary culture of these places. Furthermore, you would need more time in one place to really get to know people and to learn some of the language. So obviously from a cultural perspective your other desires and time constraints are really going to be limiting factors there.
Thanks for the info! Yeah that makes sense. I guess when I said experience the culture I more so meant that I wanted to see and experience things that I wouldn't in my home country. I realize that it won't be a deep experience, just not enough time. However it may give me a taste for more if that makes sense.
I think I'm going to just stick to Thailand and Vietnam with a small side trip to Angkor Wat. What places would you recommend in those countries that would be a good experience that aren't touristy?
#4 dupree has been a member since 3/4/2014. Posts: 14
Any more advice out there? Greatly appreciated!
#5 dupree has been a member since 3/4/2014. Posts: 14
Bangkok is probably the single most important city in SEA - so it's worth some time. It is touristy, without a doubt. But huge swaths of the city are not. I would assume you will hit the highlights though.
For beach time I recommend Trat / Koh chang. But I understand I am not a beach guy. But it's one of the least touristy beach areas, and in your case it also is in the direction of Cambodia, making it a logical stop off point on the way to Siem Reap.
I would definitely go to PP too. Great city. Worth a full week easy.
Honestly I'd lop off Vietnam given your time constaints. First of all, Vietnam doesn't get good reviews (I caveat I haven't been). It has a low tourist return rate. The Vietnamese are tough as nails (which was a useful trait when they were fighting us back in the day) and don't have a soft super polite culture like Thailand does.
I would say five weeks gives you time for five or six destinations. Bangkok, Trat / Koh Chang, Siem Reap, PP and fly back to Bangkok. If you have time on the back end add on something close to Bangkok that interests you like Ayudya or Kanchanaburi.
You need to cut something for sure given your time constraints but I wouldn't take advice on a country from somebody who hasn't been there and has just googled a couple of search terms.
Vietnam is a great country, my favourite of those I have been to in SEA.
In 5 weeks, your choice is probably Thailand (as you are flying in there) plus (i) Vietnam, or (ii) Cambodia and Laos. Even that is tight enough but sure beats doing four countries in five weeks (which I would say is not practical). Either way you will need to fly a few legs, and this is a good option in Vietnam with Jetstar providing very cheap internal flights.
#7 chinarocks has been a member since 17/6/2011. Posts: 738
"Vietnam is a great country, my favourite of those I have been to in SEA."
But understand you're an outlier. It doesn't get good reviews - that's a fact, not something I am making up. I am friends with a number of young teachers who have worked here and then gone to Vietnam before going home. They ALL have said the same thing - the Vietnamese are not easy to get along with. Pushy and aggressive. Everyone says that. Some cultures are like that - like the German culture, or the NYC culture.
I can't believe you added in Laos - when they're already pressed for time.
What's wrong with the Bangkok, Trat / Koh Chang, Siem Reap , PP and fly back plan? That would seem to make perfect sense. If they have time leftover, then they can branch out again from Bangkok. Laos? Getting from Siem Reap to Laos or PP to Laos is a hassle and you end up in the lower pan handle and then still have to get back to Bangkok. Makes no sense. If the OP wants to do Laos, then just go from Bangkok to Nong Khai and head into Laos... I don't see your logic.
Thanks everyone for the replies!
After some thought, I'm thinking this might be how I go about it. Once again, I'm a novice traveler. I understand that hitting a bunch of places may not be ideal, but I never know if I'll make it back since life gets in the way sometimes.
Anyways, here it goes:
1. Land in Bangkok, spend 3 nights there.
2. Siem Reap and P.P - Total of 6ish days.
3. Vietnam - 2 weeks
4. Northern Thailand - 6 ish days
5. Southern Thailand - Remainder of time (Maybe full moon party, but haven't decided yet)
6. One or two nights back in Thailand before I fly back.
Once again, I'm open to feedback/criticism :)
#9 dupree has been a member since 3/4/2014. Posts: 14
I'm not sure what you mean by asking why would I want to visit the north or south of any country?
I'm interested in temples, history, snorkeling, culture, the food, the fun and basically the adventure. I guess you can say that I'm looking for it all :)
#11 dupree has been a member since 3/4/2014. Posts: 14
Because all of that is vague stuff that every 2nd person says.
To absorb local culture you need to be visiting the non touristy places and speaking some of the language.
Visiting 1 museum and 1 big temple isnt really culture.
Adventure is another vague term. To one person its doing a 7 day dirtbike ride thru the jungle while to another its visiting some contrived village for tourists or riding an elephant for 1 hr.
Well, to be fair Leonard, I don't know how much of the local culture and language I can really soak in in only 5 weeks. I think it's possible to have a little of everything, don't see anything wrong with it. From what I've read on this forum, it seems like there is a big divide between going on the tourist trail and getting completely off it. Is it possible to have a balance?
Grubert, thanks for the reply! I plan on taking the train or bus from south to north in Vietnam, where everywhere else I will probably fly due to time constraints. I will probably bus between SR and PP because it's relatively short distance, but anything over 8 hours and I'm probably flying.
North Thailand is still up in the air, may want to do the extra time on the islands instead. Is Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai a must see? From what I've read, it is highly recommended.
#14 dupree has been a member since 3/4/2014. Posts: 14
"North Thailand is still up in the air, may want to do the extra time on the islands instead. Is Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai a must see? From what I've read, it is highly recommended."
Yeah you must see them otherwise your legs will fall off. As I was saying it depends what you want to do. If you love beaches go south. Thai beaches are great. The north is good if you're into caves but you have to drive to them or do a tour. CM is just a city with heaps of tourists while Rai is a town with less to do but a high proportion of tourists. I thought Rai was lame and I don't like CM much either, just a boring soul less smaller version of Bangkok.
If you want to visit a wicked cave in the south go to Trang and do a tour to Tham Lae Khao kob. It's called dragon's tail cause it's shaped like that and half the cave is done via boat with the cave ceiling literally inches above your head. Quite an experience. The snorkeling tours from Trang are also good. Trang is a real Thai town with an excellent food market and good seafood. So if you want to see a local town with things to do without masses of foreign tourists head there. But if you want to hang out with drunk euros, Americans, aussies and kiwis then go to samui and Phuket.
Trang sounds like a good place to check out. What is the best way of getting there? Would you take a bus from Bangkok?
#16 dupree has been a member since 3/4/2014. Posts: 14
I too share Leonard's views on Chiang Mai - its old quarter is just one big backpacker ghetto (though nowhere near as horrid as Khao Sarn) while Nimman, where yuppie Thai tourists flock to, is the epitome of hipsterish pretentiousness. That being said, the north is worth visiting just for the scenery, even if you don't intend to do trekking.
There's not much to do in Chiang Rai, but it's a good base to explore that corner of the north. You can, for example, do day trips to Mae Salong, Mae Sai, Tachileik, Doi Tung, Chiang Saen, and Chiang Khong (well you'd probably want to spend a night at these last two places). Of course, whether you'd fancy seeing these towns is something you'll have to figure out.
"I plan on taking the train or bus from south to north in Vietnam, where everywhere else I will probably fly due to time constraints."
Again, very doable, especially if you take the option of going with open-tour buses, like those operated by Sinh Cafe. Though be aware that you'll still be looking at overnight trips (Hanoi - Hue, Hoi An - Nha Trang).
"From what I've read on this forum, it seems like there is a big divide between going on the tourist trail and getting completely off it. Is it possible to have a balance?"
Honestly, why would you want to get off the tourist trail? You've only got five weeks, and on top of that aren't even sure if you'll afford to come back any time soon.
With a little research one can always avoid the ghettos on the tourist trail. I would not, for example, skip the ruins of Ayutthaya or the Hermitage in St Petersburg just because there are other tourists milling about. That would just be dumb.
At the risk of having this thread degenerate into a pointless my-dick's-bigger-than-yours argument, I just have to say that I disagree with Leonard - I found old Ayutthaya a thoroughly decent town, and would ferociously argue that Wat Chaiwatthanaram's just as majestic as Phanom Rung. I most certainly did not find it any more "stinking hot" than, say, Nan or Satun.
Phimai - both the town and the archaeological complex - was utterly "lame" and hardly worth the drive there.
Now, to get back on track: sure, Exeter's a nice enough town, with some very really scenic spots, but I wouldn't recommend it as a destination for a first-time visitor to western Europe (and one with only five weeks to spend, to boot). That was partly what I was trying to convey to Dupree, with the other unmentioned half being that this oft-touted search for local culture or "the authentic" is, naturally, hardly everyone's cup of tea, and people should not feel obligated to include it in their plans (which is the sense I'm getting from Dupree's posts).
Sure, the backpacker strips and burger dens are filthy eye sores, but just because they exist doesn't necessarily detract from their host destinations.
Well that's what you are doing and it sounds like u have a small one. The ruins in Phimai are actually in better shape than Ayuthaya.
But ruins are ruins and unless you are into that sort of thing its not something to make a big effort for.
It depends what the individual likes.
I found the museum in Phimai to be more interesting. Very good museum, you must have missed it.
Thanks again for the advice Grubert and Leonard. There are so many options it's dizzying. I think a lot of it might have to be decided on the ground. However Bangkok, Angkor, Halong Bay and the islands are musts for me. I'm pretty open to everything else.
#24 dupree has been a member since 3/4/2014. Posts: 14
Leonard, thanks for that insult - but since I'm Thai you really shouldn't expect otherwise. And yes, being something of a history buff I made sure to visit the museum, and found it decent but hardly outstanding. Ayutthaya, on the other hand, has an excellent little museum in the form of the Historical Study Centre (plus two other museums, one of which happens to the country's second largest), in addition to the various ruins and excellent eateries. All in all a far worthier destination, methinks.
"Leonard, thanks for that insult - but since I'm Thai you really shouldn't expect otherwise"
I was just using your language.
You can visit Ayuthaya on a day trip or stay overnight. To me it's not worth the trouble. The National museum in Bangkok is better and the Ayuthaya ruins are badly decayed and in a poor state.
I would do a trip to Erawan waterfalls and see the war history in Kanchanaburi if you are into that stuff. The scenary is pretty good out that way and there's some hotsprings out past Sai Yok.
Recent review of Ayuthaya ruins:
"Maybe it was because I was on the end of my tour in Thailand, but to me this was just ok. I guess once you see a few temples they all kind of look the same. Plus I visited here after being in Chiang Mai which was gorgeous!!! To me I thought Ayuthaya was dirty, people definitely weren't as pleasant as they were in the rest of Thailand from my experience. I could of done without visiting this place"
The most famous Ayuthaya photo is a Buddha head in a tree which sums up how uninteresting the ruins are.
You can look at photos and videos on youtube and make up your own mind but if you are doing Angkor Wat there's no real reason to add on Ayuthaya as well. Might as well do something different.
Prachuap is a real nice town with excellent food and hardly any tourists. The scenary there is fantastic - google it.
Prachuap is a great little town, barely a tourist there. I always tell people on a limited time frame - don't miss kanchanaburi, so much to do and see, close to bkk. I love it. unsure why you would spend the time going up to chiang mai though, it is certainly worth a visit, but you could get more out of your time by staying central or south. The north DOES have so much to offer, but again, you need more time to get the most out of it.
Yes the Vietnamese were some of the shiftiest, scamming bastards I have met anywhere in Asia, but I also met some really, really great locals and loved the country. be alert and be prepared to be ripped off (or at least tried) regularly. it did detract from some of my experiences there, but it is one of the most beautiful countries I have ridden through. avoid the coastline unless you want to hang out with every other single backpacker in what are essentially, just regular cities/towns for the most part.
skip laos until you have more time, merely venturing into Vientiane will leave you disappointed.
I also couldn't recommend ayuthaya for 3 days?? for those of us with no schedule, sure, go have a look. but plenty more to see
"I was just using your language."
That's a rather disingenuous way of putting it, Leonard. And your citing a single "review" that just so happens to agree with you is comparable to the logic the Thai constitutional court's been using in its recent rulings. But fine, if you want to have the last word on this (that's something of a hallmark of your posts here, isn't it?), then go ahead.
"I also couldn't recommend ayuthaya for 3 days?? for those of us with no schedule, sure, go have a look. but plenty more to see"
At no point did I advocate spending three days there; Ayutthaya only entered this discussion as part of my rant about the unfair dissing the tourist circuit's been getting. That being said, I don't see why a night spent there would be a cause for regret, even if you will be visiting Angkor. But as Leonard rightly states, ruins and museums don't necessarily excite everyone, especially those mainly looking for "fun" and "adventure".
"Yes the Vietnamese were some of the shiftiest, scamming bastards I have met anywhere in Asia, but I also met some really, really great locals and loved the country. be alert and be prepared to be ripped off (or at least tried) regularly. it did detract from some of my experiences there, but it is one of the most beautiful countries I have ridden through."
My thoughts exactly, Noddy!
Grubert, you didn't say three days - I did. In fact, I'd be good spending a week there. I have a friend there, I like the vibe of the place, ate at a couple of good restaraunts... it has some decent nightlife. What's wrong with Ayudhya (sp?)? I don't like the "let's go someplace for a day" idea. I want to chill and look around and take my time and stop to smell the roses and meet people. I don't get the whole go there, take some pictures, mount up on the bus again and move out. Never did, never will.
You're talking about plans to do some scuba diving and you don't have the Philippines in your itinerary? I'd suggest you give your schedule a second look. You should maybe cut down your countries to three with Philippines included. You can't go wrong with Boracay, Mindoro and Palawan.
We've spent nearly 2 years on several different trips in Southeast Asia and absolutely loved it. We'll definitely be back there soon. You're in for a great trip so I'll try to give you a few pointers.
One of the most beautiful beaches we've ever seen was Koh Rong, Cambodia. It's a stunning 8km stretch of powdery white sand that's more deserted than any beach in Thailand and most in the rest of Southeast Asia. Get there from Sihnoukville.
A great place to get certified is Koh Tao in Thailand. They're very professional there and you'll meet plenty of like-minded travellers / divers.
Also the diving around the Philippines and Indonesia is amazing. If you can make it to Malaysian Borneo, check out Sipadan for one of the world's best dives.
You're budget's looking pretty huge. We spent on average $60 / day for a couple, so about $35 for a solo-traveller should be fine. You can see our budget for every country we've visited here for more.
Also, we've put together some very helpful travel guides on Southeast Asia.
Here are our guides that I'm sure will help anyone travelling to Asia:
Each guide is over 4,000 words and very in-depth. We've spent a minimum of 45 days in each country, some we've spent over 4 months and we've lived in some too. We like to think they're the most comprehensive guides online.
Let us know if you need any help with a specific country and we'll help out.
#35 goatsontheroad has been a member since 13/5/2014. Posts: 4
5 weeks isn't a lot of time to cover what you want. just to get from bangkok to southern thailand on the nightrain can take 15 hours. The best beaches I would suggest is Haad Yuan which is on ooh phangan or Railay. Railay is beautiful and seemed to have a lot of couples there.
#36 Kbrow15 has been a member since 13/5/2014. Posts: 2
Thanks for all the info goats on the road! Your website is very helpful and informative!
My time is limited so I plan on taking a few flights, specifically from Bangkok to Siem Reap, Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi to either Chiang Mai or Koh Tao (not sure on that yet). I hope to travel through Vietnam either by train or bus and hit some spots along the way. I am also keeping my eye on the Bangkok situation to see if that will affect my travel plans.
#37 dupree has been a member since 3/4/2014. Posts: 14
Don't know if you have your itinerary set in stone yet, but might you be interested in a bicycling tour? Our trips will overlap for the month of July and I am looking for a cycling partner as the tours in my budget have a two person minimum. I've never traveled in the region before, though I've had great reviews of cycling tours from other American friends. I have a flexible schedule and am open to taking a cycling tour in a variety of locations. I'd like to take a tour between 7 and 15 days long. Let me know if you might be interested and we could talk details.
If not, have a great trip!