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3 months in south east Asia - itinerary request please

Posted by Navy058 on 27/8/2016 at 05:40

Hi, I am planning to spend one month each in Thailand , Laos, and Vietnam . I shall be leaving in January and returning in April. I plan to start and finish my journey in Bangkok. My intention is to back (or flash) pack. I'm planning a budget of US 30 per day plus US 500 for internal travel. Im English although I live in Spain. I'm 72 years old. I would appreciate any advice on an itinerary. I do not envisage any over adventurous jungle treks or mountain climbing. I would also appreciate any comments on my proposed budget. As you may have guessed this is my first backpacking trip. I shall be travelling alone. Many thanks.

#1 Navy058 has been a member since 19/8/2016. Posts: 8

Posted by exacto on 27/8/2016 at 15:09

Hi Navy,

Are you traveling on a UK passport?

If you haven't yet, I suggest you have a look at the itineraries section at the top of the page. It will give you ideas on several popular loops that you can string together for your journey through Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam.

In my opinion, a budget of USD 30 per day would be bare bones. You could make it on that much cash, but it won't give you much extra money for day trips and the other things that make life on the road memorable. One way to help stretch your travel dollar is to visit more out-of-the-way places and stay away from larger cities. Everything from food to accommodation to transport will be less in the countryside. Another way to save cash is not to move around as much. You'll save money on transport and accommodation that way.

In any case, have a look at the itineraries and compare the suggestions to what you like to do and see what you think. Let us know if you have specific questions on places, logistics, etc. Cheers.

#2 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,831

Posted by Navy058 on 28/8/2016 at 06:52

Hi exacto, thanks for the reply. I will be travelling on a uk passport. Perhaps I need to take another look at my budget! The $30 a day was only intended to pay for accommodation and food (plus a few beers). Travel costs were to come out of the $500 I budgeted for this purpose, however I may have been a little optimistic !! I'm grateful for your advice on how to save a little money, but I do want to spend some time in the major towns and cities so will take this into account when planning my itinerary, and thank you for the advice on route planning. Thanks and best wishes, navy 058

#3 Navy058 has been a member since 19/8/2016. Posts: 8

Posted by exacto on 28/8/2016 at 22:14

Hello again, Navy.

I don't mean to be discouraging at all. I calculate you'd have in the 1,200 baht per day range, which is certainly a workable budget for at least the Thailand portion of your trip and likely the other countries at well. You can save even more with fan rooms instead of air conditioning, shared bath instead of private, second class bus instead of first, buying a beer at the grocery store instead of a bar or restaurant, eating street food instead of sit-down places, yoghurt from the 7-11 for breakfast, etc. You could do it, but do you really want to? That budget wouldn't leave much extra for tours, massages and spa treatments, gifts, etc. It seems a shame to be in exotic and exciting places and then not have the cash to experience them to the fullest while you are there.

In my travels, one problem is that being on the road can take its toll, particularly for longer trips, and having a bit of extra cash for a first class room/ride/meal is an important way to keep healthy and happy. For that reason, if you can, I'd suggest trying to find an extra $10 to $20 a day for your trip. That extra little bit will go a long way. Then if it turns out you didn't need it, all the better. If you can't find the extra funds, you might also consider shortening the trip by a bit, assuming you haven't already locked in your flights to/from Bangkok.

On the other topic, have you looked at the suggested itineraries yet and figured out where you want to go?

Where do you live in Spain? We just returned from a lovely trip there in June and July: Madrid, Oviedo, Sanxenso, Salamanca, and back to Madrid. Cheers.

#4 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,831

Posted by caroc on 29/8/2016 at 08:17

Hello exacto and Navy.

I'm new and rarely contribute but, exacto, your comments are always great, and thank you for directing me (as well as Navy) to the itineraries section, which I'd missed so far. So much to explore on this fabulous site!

Navy, I'm in a similar boat. I'm English, living in France and off to SE Asia, leaving in January and back in April. I'll be 66 by the time I set off so, like you, I won't be planning any really long treks or climbs. My original plan was for the same countries as you but events have forced me to put most of Thailand and Laos back to the end of next year on a second trip. So I can only comment on Vietnam, which is where I'm spending my first month (then back to Cambodia, which I love), maybe Bali/Lombok depending on how far the pension goes.... Highly recommended for mature (ahem) travellers seem to be Hanoi, Hue, Hoi An/Danang. DaLat and some time in the Mekong Delta area, Can Tho looks interesting. I'm giving SaPa a miss, beautiful though it may be, as it's a trekking paradise but not for me. If you do get to the southern part of Vietnam I would certainly recommend whizzing up into Cambodia. If you get the taste for it, you'll be back! For every few days I'm in a cheapo dorm, I'm treating myself to a private room and bath for the odd night, and travelling overnight where appropriate. My budget is similar to yours, although exacto is making me a bit more frugal in the run-up smile.gif but I spent over half as much on a ten day visit to Andalusia as I did in six weeks in Malaysia and Cambodia, with a few days around the Andaman Islands too. Happy planning.

P.S. I did manage a few cocktails too.

#5 caroc has been a member since 6/8/2016. Posts: 9

Posted by SBE on 29/8/2016 at 18:40

Ah, Somtam still hasn't fixed the giant smiley bug yet I see. He's probably too busy snoozing in a hammock somewhere.... ;-)

Exacto's comments about budget are spot on. Ten years ago $30 would have been quite a comfortable budget but accommodation prices have gone up since and the value of the pound and euro have gone down (a lot). I'd echo exacto's advice to not rush about too much and to limit the time you spend in big cities .... either that or raise your daily allowance and/or shorten the trip a bit like he said. You're going in high season so there won't be many discounted rooms. If you check hotel/guesthouse prices in Bangkok you'll see it's pretty hard to find a decent private room for under $30 a night (I'm presuming you'd rather not do backpacker dorms).

Inexpensive food is easy enough to find on the street or in food courts (every shopping mall or big supermarket in Thailand has a cheap food court) but "extras" like beer, coffee and western food can quickly dig a big hole in a tight budget. Transport is cheap compared to Europe but still adds up. Also staying put for a while in a place you really like is far more enjoyable than rushing around ticking off a list of "must-do" sights.

You've said you don't want to do any treks but haven't said what you are interested in seeing/doing. It might help if you mentioned what kind of stuff interests you.

I'd suggest doing Thailand in January, Laos in February and Vietnam in March if you're looking for the best weather. Thailand is also the easiest place to start if you've never been backpacking before... I think you'll be surprised how easy it is! Laos and northern Thailand do rice field burning in March (lots of smoke) but it should be a nice time of year to visit Vietnam.

You can get a free 30 day stamp when you enter Thailand but airlines flying from Europe (not Thai airport immigration) usually demand to see an onward plane ticket out of Thailand within 30 days if you don't have a 2 month tourist visa in your passport. Air Asia has cheap flights to nearby countries which you can book online before leaving home and print out to show the airline check in staff.

You can't get out of paying for a Lao visa on arrival ($35 I think) but Vietnam now gives UK citizens up to 15 days for free... it would be another way to cut costs a bit because the Vietnamese visa is quite expensive. It depends what you want to see in Vietnam though. Two weeks isn't enough time to do the whole country. If you only stayed there a couple of weeks you could fly back to Bangkok and spend the last part of your trip in Thailand...you'll get another free 30 day stamp when you arrive and the beaches down south won't be as busy in March/April as in January.... unless you're going to be there during Songkran (Thai New Year, starts April 13th and lasts 5 days so will be very busy with local tourists)

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

Posted by Navy058 on 30/8/2016 at 06:18

Exacto, Caroc, and SBE Hi Guys! Thank you for all your recent contributions, I cannot emphasise enough how valuable I find them. Thank you also for the tips on saving money, and I do appreciate the advice on the need to have sufficient money to ENJOY the wonderful places one visits! It would be a shame to spoil the ship for a hap'orth of tar! So I have recalculated my budget (again)! If I add all the various costs together - subsistence, travel, visas, trips etc, plus a little more from my fast depreciating savings I can afford US 50/day, but that will have to pay for everything (excluding flight from Spain, insurance, and backpack). I cannot shorten the trip as I am tied into a flight from Bangkok on the 11 April. I have checked on line the cost of two of the trips I'm planning to take - 2 day slow boat trip Chaing Mai to Luang Prabang (any comments on this trip would be appreciated) and the Ha Long Bay overnight trip on the Alova or Dugong Sails boat - and they both work out to about US 100 each - which relates to about US 2.5/day. I have also found a hotel in Bangkok (@Hua Lamphong Hostel) for the first 4 days of my trip for, single room with shower for US 23/night. It is my intention whenever affordable to stay in single rooms as a courtesy to my fellow travellers, but I don't mind sharing a bathroom if necessary, nor am I particularly adverse to dorm rooms (I was 13 years in the Royal Navy so I am used to sleeping in the same room as other men). It is my plan to travel through Thailand in January, Laos in February and Vietnam in March. I have checked out the travelfish and some other suggested itineraries and so far my ideas are Thailand: Bangkok, Ayutthaya, Phitsanulok, Shukho Thai, Chaing Mai, Chaing Dao, Chaing Rai, Chaing Khong then in Loas. Apart from the 2 day river trip to Luang Prabang then perhaps on to Phonsavan, Vang Vieng and Vientiane I haven't got too much of an idea where to go. Vietnam I haven't thought about yet (any suggestions?). You asked what I like to do when travelling. Primarily I like to meet and talk to people, local people and fellow backpackers. I like to visit temples, see both towns and villages, take photographs and when the occasion arises give free English lessons (I'm a retired English teacher), also I enjoy seeing the countryside. Sorry if this is a rather long posting, but I wanted to answer as many of your questions as possible. By the way I live in Valencia, a beautiful city with some fine old architecture as well as a very modern 'City of Arts and Science'. It also has an amazing opera house which looks a little like Darth Vader's helmet!
Regards Navy 058

#7 Navy058 has been a member since 19/8/2016. Posts: 8

Posted by SBE on 30/8/2016 at 22:34

Hi Navy,

You're welcome even though I'm a bit lost trying to figure out the way you do maths....

I have checked on line the cost of two of the trips I'm planning to take - 2 day slow boat trip Chaing Mai to Luang Prabang (any comments on this trip would be appreciated) and the Ha Long Bay overnight trip on the Alova or Dugong Sails boat - and they both work out to about US 100 each - which relates to about US 2.5/day.

but it sounds like you've already found a good place to stay in Bangkok so I expect you'll manage just fine!

My input re the slow boat won't be very useful because I did it about 15 years ago and things have changed a lot ....in the good old days you had to get a small boat across to Huay Xai and the Laos immigration "office" was just a small wooden hut on the river bank. Our slow boat was not particularly comfortable ....seating was very hard and very cramped wooden benches and there was no food or drink for sale on board. They crammed so many tourists onto our boat that it actually sank and we spent a very chilly and damp night on a small sand bank in the middle of the mekong instead of sleeping in a rat infested guesthouse in muddy Pak Beng. We discovered that our boat was also (illegally?) transporting rather a lot of bottles of Beer Lao in the hold...we helped them salvage and drink it while we were waiting to be rescued.

According to the internet, there's now a Friendship bridge across the river and the Lao immigration office is a large concrete building. Travel blogs mention padded seats instead of hard wooden benches and I've even seen pictures showing tourists with a whole seat each...comfort levels have improved somewhat by the looks of it. Drinks and snacks are also available on board now. Pictures of Pak Beng show tarmac roads, not deep mud everywhere, and the overnight accommodation seems decent enough these days. The only thing that's not so good is that passengers don't get dropped off in the center of Luang Prabang any more. Apparently there's a new pier 10km out of town and you have to take a tuk tuk to get to your guesthouse. Recent travel blogs should give you a fair idea of what to expect. If I were doing that slow boat trip again I think I'd do FROM Luang Prabang to Thailand because I have a hunch fewer tourists travel in that direction but if you're planning on flying from Vientiane to Hanoi that won't work for you.

A couple of useful sites you may or may not have found yet are http://www.seat61.com/(great for train info) and http://hobomaps.com/ (maps and detailed transport stuff for Laos and Northern Thailand)

Sorry to keep harping on about visa stuff, but as you're planning to do an overland route to Laos, I suggest you contact your airline before you leave home to ask if they'll let you board the plane without either a Thai visa or an onward flight ticket out of Thailand within 30 days. It's extremely unlikely you won't be allowed into Thailand, but if does happen, the airline will get fined and they have to fly you back home so they can be quite strict about enforcing official entry requirements even if Thai immigration isn't. You shouldn't have any problem boarding flights to Thailand within SE Asia but long haul flights out of Europe are a different matter. It's PITA to have to pay for a Thai visa when you don't need one but you might have to. Also might be best to just write "retired" when you fill in immigration forms... lots of foreigners work illegally as English teachers there have been quite a few crackdowns in Thailand in recent years.

Can't help with Vietnam I'm afraid (I keep meaning to go and have a look but haven't got round to it yet). You'll probably get more answers if you post questions on the specific country forums.

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

Posted by Navy058 on 31/8/2016 at 06:44

Thanks for all your help. Let me see if I have this visa business sorted ! I arrive in Bangkok and get a 30 day tourist visa exemption, travelling on my uk passport . I then go about my travels leaving Thailand overland to Laos, making sure I get a Thai exit stamp. I get my Vietnam visa in Laos and then exit Laos by land and enter Vietnam. So far so good! At the end of my visit to Vietnam I fly from Hanoi to Bangkok and get another 30 day tourist visa exemption so that I can then board the aeroplane and fly home. Have I got it right ? If so presumably I could arrive in Bangkok a few days before my flight home and spend a little extra time in Bangkok . Thanks for the input on the 2 day Luang Prabang river trip. I think I will settle on the Saga version sooner than the Rambo one however!


Navy 058

#9 Navy058 has been a member since 19/8/2016. Posts: 8

Posted by SBE on 31/8/2016 at 12:17

You've got it almost right... but not quite!

The visa problem, if there is one, will happen at the airport in SPAIN. Your return ticket shows you arrive and depart from Bangkok and the time between the two dates is about 3 months. You want to arrive in Thailand on a 30 day exemption stamp but have no proof you'll be leaving the country within 30 days. As a result, your airline may refuse to let you board the plane and it would be a shame to only get as far as the airport after all this (saga) :) adventure itinerary planning.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I strongly recommend you contact your airline before January to explain you'll be travelling to Laos overland and will have neither a tourist visa nor an onward flight ticket to show them. Different airlines have different policies so it may be OK but in my experience it won't be OK. I spend 5-6 months in SE Asia every winter, and it's been years since I've been able to get on a plane from France to Thailand without showing either a visa or an onward flight.

You don't have to actually use the onward flight ticket so any destination will do as long as the flight leaves Thailand before your 30 stamp expires. Skyscanner site is useful for finding the cheapest flights between countries for any given month.

Otherwise, yup, sounds like you've got the visa business pretty well sorted and you'll be able to get another 30 day exemption stamp for Thailand at the end of your trip. You just need to present a booking number and a passport if you're flying into Thailand from another SE Asian country.

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

Posted by Navy058 on 31/8/2016 at 12:29

Hi my long suffering friends! Please disregard my last post as it was a tad inaccurate (to put it mildly). After a day of reading a million (well lots) of postings, comments, reports etc on line about 'proof of onward journey' I think I might just be getting the hang of it. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but this is how I see things. Proof of onward journey is a requirement of the airline flying you into Thailand, not the Thai authorities. It seems that if your return flight date is more than your visa entitlement (ie 30 days for normal tourist visa) the airline is responsible to fly you home in the very unlikely event that the Thai authorities suspect you of trying to overstay your welcome and refuse you entry. Therefore an onward journey is necessary to relieve the airlines of this responsibility. (Onward land journeys are not acceptable proof). For me therefore, this means one of the following. Book and pay for a flight out of Thailand before my 30 days are up, then either take the flight or cancel it and ask for a refund (usually not an option on the cheaper flights), hope for the best (risky) or, as one guy suggested, fake an airline booking (even more risky)! So I think the best option would be to book a flight from Chaing Mai to Luang Prabang (about US 100) and either forgo the two day river trip or do it in reverse and then take a bus somewhere ! The worst case is that it adds an extra 100 dollars to my budget (but what the hell i'm now quite used to my fragile budget getting shot to pieces). I look forward to your comments, and if I'm still completely wrong be gentle!

Navy 058

#11 Navy058 has been a member since 19/8/2016. Posts: 8

Posted by Navy058 on 31/8/2016 at 12:56

Sorry SBE sent my last posting before I received yours.

#12 Navy058 has been a member since 19/8/2016. Posts: 8

Posted by caroc on 15/9/2016 at 17:37

I hope I can come back onto this thread. If not, just tell me to buzz off and start a new one. Navy, your queries were so helpful to me as I'm in a similar boat and I hope you are having as much fun, despite frustrations, as I am, planning this adventure. Now I would appreciate opinions from the learned ones on my current quandary. I mentioned a while ago that I'm solo for three months from end Jan to end April 2017, concentrating on Vietnam, Cambodia and then whatever takes my fancy. A trip later in the year would take me to Thailand and Laos. My travel companion for the second trip has backed out so now I'm rearranging my ideas, hoping to incorporate some of Thailand and Laos in this winter's travel plan. I've booked and paid for a return to KL as my hub. I've then paid for the flight to Hanoi with the idea of travelling south through Vietnam for a month, then into Cambodia (second visit, so Angkor Wat not planned). I've booked a few hostels from Hanoi down to Na Trang. Is it daft to keep to this itinerary and fly up from Phnom Penh to Bangkok for a Thai/Lao experience and back to KL or should I just accept that my KL to Hanoi flight is money lost and start my itinerary again, i.e. KL to Bangkok and the usual trail into Vietnam? PS Navy, I'm also a retired English teacher. If our itineraries hadn't been in the opposite directions we might have met up and discussed our travels over a beer. Maybe compare notes after!

#13 caroc has been a member since 6/8/2016. Posts: 9

Posted by caroc on 1/10/2016 at 15:36

OK, no replies so sticking to Plan B of Vietnam, Cambodia and then probably Lombok. Thailand and Laos hopefully next time. Enjoy your travels.

#14 caroc has been a member since 6/8/2016. Posts: 9

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