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Can someone help trouble-shoot my itinerary? (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar)

Posted by FernR on 1/11/2015 at 05:10

Hi all,
I'm wondering if someone could quickly trouble-shoot my itinerary; I'm just about to start buying tickets, and would be extremely grateful if someone could just eyeball my itinerary and make sure we're not doing something stupid. I've got:

Dec 23: Fly into Ho Chi Minh City
(Overland thru Mekong Delta to Pnom Penh. Boat to Siem Reap .)
Dec 31: Fly Siem Reap to Vientiane (on Lao Air?)
Jan 3: Fly Vientiane to Luang Prabang (Lao Air?)
Jan 5: Fly Luang Prabang to Hanoi (Lao Air?)
Jan 7: Fly Hanoi to Yangon , Myanmar (Air Asia? Jetstar?)
Then I've got about a week in Yangon and environs; a week in Bagan and environs, two days in Mandalay, about six days in Inle Lake, and a few days at Ngapali Beach before heading home. (Is there still a 'Discover Myanmar' pass?)

Does that sound A) like a reasonable plan and B) like a reasonable use of time? (Any better transportation options I should be aware of? Our group hates buses, but loves trains and (not overly long) boats.)

Thanks for all thoughts.
/Fern

#1 FernR has been a member since 31/10/2015. Posts: 14

Posted by antoniamitchell on 1/11/2015 at 06:12

Hi,
I think it's great that you're giving yourself plenty of time in most of your stops in Burma, and not rushing that part of the trip. My concern would be the mad-dash tour you're doing before getting to Burma. For instance, you're flying into LP on 3 Jan, and flying our 5 Jan. Since getting to the airport, checking in, waiting ages for your (possibly delayed) flight, the flight itself, any customs and visas depending on where you're flying from, getting from the airport into the new town, finding and checking into accom - all that can easily take a big chunk of a day. So you'll end up with really one 1 day in LP. It just seems an awfully lot of travelling about to barely see anything (apart from loads of airports), and quite tiring. You're also going to need a double entry Vietnamese visa.

If I were you, quite frankly, I'd save Cambodia and Laos for another trip, where I could devote the time to see them properly, and spend the first 3 weeks of the trip, before you fly to Burma, entirely in Vietnam. There's more than enough of interest there to keep you occupied for months, so happily filling 3 weeks won't be a problem. Or I'd skip Vietnam and devote the 3 weeks to Cambodia. Or Laos. But I'd spend the time in 1 of the 3, not all 3.

BTW, the trains in Burma are terrible - far slower and less comfortable than the buses. Picture moving at walking speed while it sways and bumps so violently that you're nearly thrown out of your chair every 60 seconds. For hours. And hours.

Normally, I'm with you on my loathing of long bus journeys (give me a train any day), but in Burma, I'd much prefer to take the bus over the train.

Have a great trip!

#2 antoniamitchell has been a member since 13/5/2012. Posts: 569

Posted by MADMAC on 1/11/2015 at 06:27

This is hard to comment on because it's way short on information:

1. What kind of group is this? How many people? Ages?

2. Is there are reason for the locations you chose or are they just what seem like popular places to go?

3. You're in Burma forever, one of the more difficult of all the destinations you could be visiting. Is there a reason for that?

4. You are not going to Thailand, the most user friendly of all the possible destinations you could be going to. I assume there must be a reason for that as well????

5. Lastly, of course Antonia's point above is very valid. You are screaming through Cambodia and Laos at breakneck (and expensive) speed. Why?

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

Posted by FernR on 1/11/2015 at 06:43

Thanks, Antonia & MadMac, really appreciate the feedback. We're a group of five (two mid-50's parents, three older teen kids). We (parents) did a one-year, leisurely, $5/day backpacking trip through Africa/Asia 25+ years ago (and hit most of the rest of Asia, including China, Thailand, India, Nepal, Indonesia; Burma was the one country on the current list that we were supposed to have gone to then, and missed, which is why it's snagged the bulk of the time.) Burma/Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam are countries none of us have ever been to, so we're torn between knowing we should go more slowly/see just half, and really wanting to collect 'em all :*) So we were thinking of this as a 'taste' of these three countries (plus an in-depth trip to Burma) and hope sometime soon to come back and spend more time in the one(s) we most liked--but maybe this is insane, and we just need to focus on one... Sigh. There's no good way to cut it down and still feel like we've tasted them all? (What if we did Ho Chi Minh, Mekong Delta, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, & Vientiane, and called it a day? Does that seem feasible, or still too rushed?) Or is there any other smart way to do it?

/Fern

#4 FernR has been a member since 31/10/2015. Posts: 14

Posted by Gogomobile on 1/11/2015 at 09:29

With teens I would think some islands are in order and some trekking. Khao Sok and Krabi plus a couple of cities.

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

Posted by MADMAC on 1/11/2015 at 10:55

Well, I'm not a fan of the idea of "a taste" of a country. So I'm probably the wrong guy to ask. If it were me, I'd stick to the Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos end of things because Burma is a bit trickier to navigate. But I would definitely pick - one or the other. I don't think this kind of rapid movement would be fun. And Laos airways is expensive, so with 5 of you you'll be forking over real money. It ain't a budget airline and there are no budget airlines servicing Laos. Nor are there any railways... it's shittyass bus.

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

Posted by FernR on 1/11/2015 at 11:27

Thanks, everyone. Got it. Ok, what about this, is this more do-able?

* Fly in to Ho Chi Minh City, 4 days thru Mekong Delta overland, into Phnom Penh
* 3-4 days in Angor Wat-ish area, overnight boat to Siem Reap
* Fly Siem Reap to Vientiane (few days in Vientiane)
* Fly Vientiane to Luang Prabang . Spend most of that week in Luang Prabang and surroundings. (ie, skip Hanoi )

Does that sound do-able for about 2-weeks plus? (That gets us down to just two Laos Air flights, & eliminates Hanoi (and the two entries to Vietnam issue.) Is that still too rushed? Or is there something I'm missing that would make more sense?

Thanks!
/Fern

#7 FernR has been a member since 31/10/2015. Posts: 14

Posted by MADMAC on 1/11/2015 at 11:56

You could do this - again, a bit pricey flight wise.

Have you considered cutting Burma for another time and doing 4,000 Islands, moving up the Laos panhandle into Vientiane, and then crossing northern Laos and heading into Northern Vietnam? This is a fairly popular backpacker route and saves you significant airfare costs.

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

Posted by antoniamitchell on 2/11/2015 at 00:30

I'm also not a fan of the "taste" of a country approach, not least of which because it can be so mis-representative.

For example, I personally hated HMCM - if that had been all I'd seen of Vietnam, I would have thought it was a crappy country and there was no point going back. I also thought KL was the least interesting place I visited in Malaysia.

Often, I feel like the "big" destinations in a country (the big cities, the ones easiest to fly in and out of) are a lot less representative of the country than all the other places, and potentially less intriguing (westernised, modernised, more similar to home, etc). Bangkok is hardly representative of the bulk of Thailand, is it? So if you think back to your backpacking days, were Bangkok and Jakarta your favourite places in Thailand and Indo? The places that most inspired you or made you love the trip? I'd also think about what's going to leave the biggest impression on the kids (assuming this is their first time doing something like this, and their first time in Asia) - which places and experiences are going to blow their minds?

All that is not to say that you shouldn't do what you're thinking, or that it's not the right decision for your family, just food for thought.

#9 antoniamitchell has been a member since 13/5/2012. Posts: 569

Posted by Gogomobile on 2/11/2015 at 01:01

Agree with Anton. Big cities can all look the same with traffic, airports, hotels and shops.

That is why I suggested alternatives with amazing scenary that is memorable.

But matching up the tastes of 55yos and 15yos is difficult. The kids may well get bored after a day of temples.

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

Posted by MADMAC on 2/11/2015 at 04:01

"For example, I personally hated HMCM - if that had been all I'd seen of Vietnam"

This is funny. My son LOVES Saigon. He has to go there on business sometimes and he loves going there. Thinks the place is great. Different strokes for sure.

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

Posted by chinarocks on 2/11/2015 at 04:39

Hanoi wipes the floor with Saigon, IMO.

#12 chinarocks has been a member since 17/6/2011. Posts: 738

Posted by MADMAC on 2/11/2015 at 07:21

"Hanoi wipes the floor with Saigon, IMO."

My son would disagree with you. BUT, we're all different.

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

Posted by chinarocks on 2/11/2015 at 09:31

Does he not like Hanoi or just really like Saigon?

#14 chinarocks has been a member since 17/6/2011. Posts: 738

Posted by MADMAC on 2/11/2015 at 10:48

"Does he not like Hanoi or just really like Saigon?"

He just really likes Saigon. Something about the city appeals to him a lot.

Like I really like Nakhon Phanom. Can't tell you why exactly, I just like the place a lot. Like the feel of it.

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

Posted by FernR on 2/11/2015 at 10:54

Ok, I'm thinking cut out Vientiane, spend more time in Luang Prabang (which it sounds like we'll really enjoy more anyway), cut down Yangon to fewer days, and maybe try to squeeze in Sapa instead. (Thanks for all the various suggestions--we've already done a ton in Thailand, and this trip wanted to focus on some places we'd never seen, primarily Burma.)

Thank you, everyone, for all the great suggestions, this really helped! I'll pop back in and let you know how it went.

Thanks again for everyone's time.
/Fern

#16 FernR has been a member since 31/10/2015. Posts: 14

Posted by MADMAC on 2/11/2015 at 10:59

Have a great trip. Let us know how it goes. Always nice to get feedback.

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

Posted by FernR on 3/11/2015 at 08:24

Ok, I thought I was done, but I realize there's one more option I hadn't really considered: Dropping HCMC entirely (or almost entirely), and spending the extra time in Halong Bay and maybe also Hoa Binh while in Hanoi. So here are the two current options:

Plan A
Fly into Ho Chi Minh City; Spend day or two in HCMC
Do 3-day Mekong Delta trip
Boat to Siem Reap (3-4 days Siem Reap)
Fly to Luang Prabang (I cut out Vientiane - 4 days in Luang Prabang)
Fly into Hanoi to fly home (or maybe half day in Hanoi)
Plan B
Fly into Phnom Penh; Spend day in Phnom Penh
Do 3-day Mekong Delta trip
Boat to Siem Reap (3-4 days Siem Reap)
Fly to Luang Prabang (four days)
Fly to Hanoi. Day in Halong Bay, day in Hao Binh, etc.
What do you think? Does it make sense to bag HCMC and add some Halong Bay time? Thanks again for all the help!
/Fern

#18 FernR has been a member since 31/10/2015. Posts: 14

Posted by FernR on 3/11/2015 at 08:29

Hi all,

Our family (two parents, 22-year-old, 19-year-old, 15-year-old) are very big on 'hands-on experiences' while traveling; when we backpacked through Africa/Asia 20+ years ago, some of our best things were doing a batik workshop in JoJakarta, doing a cooking class, etc.

So, in
* Phnom Penh
* Siem Reap
* Luang Prabang
* Hanoi
* Burma (Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, Inle Lake)

Are there any particularly phenomenal experiential things (that preferably aren't prohibitively expensive)? Best tips for superb cooking classes, art workshops, culinary tours, etc? (Prices and contact info if you have them?)

Thanks for all tips!
/Fern

#19 FernR has been a member since 31/10/2015. Posts: 14

Posted by MADMAC on 3/11/2015 at 12:05

I like to ride, and here are some outfitters in Vietnam. But it's hard to imagine all five of you wanting to do this and riding motorcycles in SEA can be a little hairy - though I love it.

A core problem you are wrestling with is scheduling. With all the flying planned, you kind of have to make decisions now. Given your desires, I don't know how to avoid that. I always advise people not to pre-book, and decide from day to day. But you can't really do that because you are locked into flights (which are going to be expensive - check now). Most people move shorter legs and travel by bus or train... Not realistic for you given your plans.

Phnom Penh is one of my favorite cities. Consider Tuol Sleng, but understand it's a horrible place and that horrible place is likely to stay with you long after you leave. But good for the kids to learn what happens when political thought becomes so Manichean.

I always advise people to pursue hobbies. For example, I like to play Thai chess, which is also played a lot in Cambodia and some in Laos. I enjoy that as an off shoot of my international chess playing. I also like to dance, and look for salsa venues at new locations. Great way to meet indigenous people. So if you have hobbies, you might check and see if you can pursue them at one of the places you are going to.

Make sure you plan some down time. Every day can't be a run around day. Some days you just want to do nothing but chill, read a book, get a massage, have a beer.

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


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