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Southeast Asia

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Need some advice for 3 weeks in Southeast Asia

Posted by aefeeme on 8/8/2015 at 05:33

Hi everyone, I'm planning a backpacking route through Southeast Asia: Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. I would like to keep the budget as low as possible while also making the most of it. However, I'm not sure if the time plan is enough. The trip starts in Bangkok, sleeping there and starting the next morning on day 1:
1. Bangkok city, Wat Pho, Wat Phra Keow
2. Bangkok, Damnoen Saudak.
3. Bangkok, Khao San Road. Night train to Chiang Mai
4. Arrive to Chiang Mai, visit the city. Sleep in CM
5. Elephant Reserve, afternoon and night in CM.
6. Bus to Chiang Rai, visit Wat Rong Khun. Night in CR
7. Bus to Chiang Khong and cross the border to Huay Xai. Sleep in HX
8. Slowboat to towards Luang Prabang, sleeping in Pakbeng
9. Arrival on Luang Prabang, visit city. Sleep in LPB
10. Kuang Si falls, Mt Phou night in LPB
11. Flight to Hanoi. Sleep in Hanoi
12. Ha Long Bay cruise. Night in Hanoi
13. Hoan Kiem Lake, night in Hanoi
14. Flight to Saigon, visit city. Sleep there
15. Cu Chi Tunnels and Mekong delta trip (Through an agency, it's a planned day-trip). Sleep in Saigon
16. Bus to Phnom Penh. Sleep in PP
17. Visit the city of Phnom Penh. Sleep in PP
18. Bus to Siem Reap. Sleep in SR
19. Visit Angkor
20. Finish the tour through Angkor and afternoon visit to Siem Reap.
21. Flight back home
I would be very grateful to hear your advice and opinions and learn from your experiences

Thank you very much!

#1 aefeeme has been a member since 8/8/2015. Posts: 3

Posted by MADMAC on 8/8/2015 at 09:55

Ahhhh - you must love the inside of buses, trains, boats, taxis and airplanes because you must be spending a full third of your three week vacation literally sitting in one. I've seen hectic schedules, but this one is impressive. You do realize how long many of these legs are that you plan on making right? Some legs might not look that long on a map, but will take real time to reach them. Also, you are spending to little time in each location, it will become a blur. This schedule is exhausting. You'll need a vacation to recover. Is there a reason you are trying to visit four countries in three weeks?

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

Posted by aefeeme on 8/8/2015 at 10:13

@MADMAC Thank you very much for the advice. Since I will be going there in summertime (it's the only time I can spend at least 20 free consecutive days), I would not want to be out for the whole vacation, so that I can spend some days at home with family and friends. However I am able to extend the stay in SE Asia. Would you recommend removing any of the visits? Also, how much would you say is the average day spending?

#3 aefeeme has been a member since 8/8/2015. Posts: 3

Posted by MADMAC on 8/8/2015 at 11:55

Well, it was me (and it's not), I would pare down to two countries hitting critical highlights which seem of interest to you. You appear to be a sight seeing kind of tourist (that's not a pejorative. Nothing wrong with that.) I base that on your itinerary, because otherwise you did not specify.

I would cut down to Bangkok and it's environs (Kanchanaburi (Erawan is nice) and Ahyudya), Phnom Phen and Siem Reap. You could honestly spend all three weeks in Bangkok and it's environs and not see all there is to see.

You didn't mention beaches, so I assume it's not a priority (same with me - I don't like the ocean).

The loop you have planned is something people tend to do slower over a three plus month period. You just don't have that kind of time. I would hit Laos and Vietnam on future trips. As right now, you are just blazing through everything and it will be hard to enjoy any of it.

Have you been to SEA before?

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

Posted by aefeeme on 8/8/2015 at 12:14

I have never been to SEA. Since it is difficult to organize everything with my friends, for the moment there is only one opportunity to do this trip with them, because of college and work schedules. That is why I was trying to fit as much as possible. All of us knowing the intensity of this trip in the time frame, would you even consider extending to a total of 30 days instead of 20? I consider future trips to SEA, don't know if solo or with company, but being able to do this itinerary would be a great adventure, don't you think?

#5 aefeeme has been a member since 8/8/2015. Posts: 3

Posted by MADMAC on 8/8/2015 at 14:31

Ahh, you are not travelling alone? My advice would then be to definitely cut back. I don't think you appreciate how big the suck factor will be. Constant moving around will not make for happy travelling companions. You got to figure someone is going to get the shits along the way, probably more than one person. Par for the course out here. That makes moving around on buses a little more adventurous than most would prefer. This kind of constant movement is also otherwise just stressful. You got to check out of the hotel, get transport to your point of departure, get tickets to go wherever, then travel often long, tedious trips. Arrive at new place, another taxi ride to hotel check in, shower, change... then hit the street. Even a short trip eats half a day. If you spent the night out, the night before, and now your tired and hung over... it truly blows. I think you get the picture. The distances you are talking here, with the infrastructure we have, it's not fast movement. This isn't Europe.

I would suggest getting the group together and talking about what each person really wants to see. If some people just have to go to Halong Bay, for instance, let them go and link up with them latter at a common point. Don't feel compelled to stay chained together the whole time - or some people are going to feel resentment at all the rushing around while others might feel resentment they didn't get to see "X".

That's the best advice I can offer. I prefer, as do most people here, to wing it. I don't do planned itineraries. Of course I also travel by motorcycle since I despise buses. But if you feel like you have to lock in each day because of your limited time, then I would recommend you cut way back and let individual group members stray from the group to see those things they really are interested in.

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

Posted by SBE on 8/8/2015 at 17:47

Don't underestimate the jetlag on arrival if you're coming from a long way away. You'll probably be feeling pretty out of it for the first couple of days. I find a 2 hour Thai massage helps a lot...try and get one when you visit Wat Po on day 1. Hurts a bit if you're not used to it but it works miracles. Damnoen Saudak is very touristy and involves getting up early....see how you feel about that once you're there. You can always skip it and do something else if you want.

Years ago, when I only had 3 week vacations too, I did a similar trip with a few days spent in Chiang Mai before going to Luang Prabang on the slowboat. We actually did it faster than you and skipped visiting Chiang Rai. It wasn't necessary to spend a night in Huay Xai . A travel agent in Chiang Mai arranged transport to Chiang Rai and overnight accommodation there and the onward transport to Huay Xai the following morning. After getting through Lao immigration we got straight onto the slow boat. It left about 11am or midday I think. The boat waited for a while until it was absolutely impossible to get any more people on board before setting off and then it sank when it hit a rock so we spent the night on a sand spit in the middle of the Mekong instead of staying in Pakbeng ...but that's another story. :) Anyway, not spending a night in Huay Xai would give you an extra day in Luang Prabang which you'll probably need to recover from the 2 day boat journey. LP is a nice place to hang out in for a few days... there are treks to do and you can rent bicycles to explore a bit on your own. We spent several days there before making our way south to Vientiane . I think we spent about 10 days total in Laos and the pace was OK ... we even canoed part of the way between Vang Vieng and Vientiane so it wasn't all sitting on cramped minibuses and boats. We only did Thailand and Laos that year though, not all the places you're planning to go to and we spent the last week relaxing on a Thai island so it felt like a holiday, not an endurance test.

Can't help with Vietnam, haven't been there.

I suppose Phnom Penh can be "done" in a day if you just visit the Royal palace and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum but Siem Reap probably needs more than 2 days. It's quite tiring visiting all those temples so you may well feel like taking a day off just relaxing by a pool before heading back to the office. Are you flying back home straight from Siem Reap? Hope you've allowed a day to recover from your trip when you get home... don't forget the jetlag!

#7 SBE has been a member since 14/4/2008. Location: Global Village. Posts: 2,055

Posted by MADMAC on 9/8/2015 at 01:49

Actually I would advise against going to Tuol Sleng. There is something so insidious about that place that is leaves you feeling depressed for a while. It's good to pay respects and appreciate what went down there, but damn... I'll never go back, I can tell you that. It was worse than Dachau.

As for the rest - I guess anything can be "done" in a day (whatever done means in this context), but the reality is you can spend a week in Bangkok or PP and see maybe 10% of what there is to see and experience less than that. These are not the kinds of places that lend themselves to superficial stop overs unless superficial is all you are after or have time for.

Good post there by SBE. Of all the boats to get on she gets on the Titanic!

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

Posted by exacto on 9/8/2015 at 08:56

Great suggestion by SBE on the Thai massage on arrival. It makes a HUGE difference getting past the jet lag quickly and is the best type of welcome to the country.
Excellent advice from both MADMAC and SBE as well on slowing it down and trying to do less. Looking at the proposed itinerary, I think you would actually spend half your time between transport, checking into hotels, getting ready to go, etc., with only a few isolated afternoons to actually visit where you are.
Instead, I'd recommend that you visit mostly Thailand on this first trip, and if you absolutely must, then add one other destination, like Luang Prabang or Siem Reap. If you can, extend to the 30 days you mention too. As examples, we once did a trip to Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. We were there for 60 days. It wasn't rushed, but we still didn't get to as much as we wanted to see. On a recent trip to Indonesia, we were there for the standard three-week trip, and visited just three locations, which was about right for that amount of time.
There is something nice about being able to settle in for that third or fourth night at a place you enjoy. Not having a strict itinerary also means more flexibility - stay if you like a place and move on if you don't. Something else to consider is cost. It will be much more expensive to constantly move around than to visit just a few places.
I hope that helps. Have a wonderful time. Cheers.

#9 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,840

Posted by Gogomobile on 9/8/2015 at 10:52

Thai islands and beaches are a major highlight and your plan misses it. You are rushing around to see famous attractions but frankly there isnt one on your list that I would crave seeing.

#10 Gogomobile has been a member since 14/4/2015. Posts: 412

Posted by MADMAC on 9/8/2015 at 11:47

I recognize I am an exception here, but I really do not like the beach or ocean. So much so, if I never hit another beach in my life, it's fine with me. The OP did not plan a beach stop and I presume there is a reason behind that, as I mentioned in my first post.

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

Posted by exacto on 9/8/2015 at 15:34

"...frankly there isnt one on your list that I would crave seeing."

Fair comment, but I think it also underscores the difference between someone who has spent a lot of time in SEA like Leonard, and someone who is visiting for the first time, like the OP. I've been to Angkor Wat twice now, and am not in a hurry to return, but for someone who has never been, I'd say it is worth the extra effort.

Asia takes a bit of getting used to and can be overwhelming for some folks on their first trip. Picking a few highlight destinations that are more user-friendly for first-time visitors makes sense. Save getting off the beaten path for the end of the first trip or a follow-up trip.

I agree with Gogo on Thai beaches being a major highlight and think it is worth at least mentioning. Some well-respected people like MADMAC don't like the beach, but I think it is fair to say that the majority of us do. Plus, while the OP's plan didn't include beaches, they didn't say they are interested in them either (did they?).

#12 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,840

Posted by TerroirTravel on 9/8/2015 at 22:54

I echo the thoughts of the others- wow. Just reading this was exhausting!

How many friends are we talking about here? Wrangling a tired, sweaty, jet lagged group on this schedule... and, as said, a good chance of intestinal complaints along the way, not fun. You need to build in some time to explore, ride bikes, wander, get Thai massages, and let people have their own time to see what they want.

Because in truth, you won't get a feel for any of these places, just of the conveyance you used to get there.

So, as another non-beach person, I would cut a BKK day, I would definitely go to Chiang Mai on the night train, and if you're going to the elephant nature park, do it, I spent 3 days there and it was magic. Perhaps others (looking at you madmac) can advise on how to get to Chiang Khong from Chiang Mai. (Edited to add- I see you've already gotten some advice on that).

If I were going to edit your trip, I'd cut Vietnam entirely. Don't get me wrong, I love VN, but if you're spending only 1 full day in Hanoi and a half day in Saigon, what's the point? It's a huge country with so much to offer. Take those days and add at least 1 to Siem Reap, and sprinkle the others as buffer against "adventure" (adventure happens when plans fail). Come back to Vietnam another time.

#13 TerroirTravel has been a member since 1/2/2014. Posts: 76

Posted by Bridgequeen on 4/9/2015 at 13:54

I echo everyone else's views on just how rushed this itinerary is - however my suggestion would be yes - make it longer if you can, and also cut out Laos. Not my favourite place and you are only seeing Luang Prabang. You are planning on seeing plenty of temples in Thailand. Then I would add at least 2 days to Siem Reap. As others have said all that temple viewing is tiring. I usually spend 3 nights there - if you want you can spend a day going to a floating village, or go out to the War museum (the chairty one) not a must see but can be combined with the waterfall of the thousand lingas, The bus journeys in Cambodia are long (use Giant Ibis) and you will need a chance to recover. Then add a day to PP, Saigon and Hanoi. I usually spend 3 -4 nights in each place and for me that is enough. Having said that I travel solo and I do accept what Madmac says - completely different with a group of people.

#14 Bridgequeen has been a member since 29/7/2013. Location: Earth. Posts: 55

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