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Southeast Asia forum

Help! Rookies in SE Asia

Posted by fennellj on 23/10/2018 at 17:15

Hi, We will be traveling for 2 weeks in Southeast Asia from Dec. 12-27) and are trying to figure out a good plan. All of the advice we have read say keep it simple and don't add too many destinations. Our rough thoughts right now are these. Does this sound doable? Ideas for a better plan? To save time, we will fly, except for the shorter trips. Is there a way to fit in a beach day somewhere here?

1. Bangkok (2-3 days?)

2. Fly to Chiang Rai (several people who have been to Chiang Mai advise us to skip this city in favor of the natural beauty of Chiang Rai). (2 days?)

3. Golden Triangle (1 day?)

4. Ha Long Bay (1 day?)

5. Hanoi and vicinity (3 -4 days)

6. Siem Reap (3 days)

7 Back to Bangkok

#1 fennellj has been a member since 23/10/2018. Posts: 10





Posted by somtam2000 on 23/10/2018 at 21:05 admin

Posted from within Vietnam.

Hi fennellj,

Ok, yes that is a very ambitious timeline and I’d suggest perhaps could be slimmed down a bit.

Some general thoughts.

Chiang Rai doesn’t really jump into my mind on the natural beauty ratings. I mean the countryside can be very pretty, but the town itself, well, it is a typical Thai provincial capital. I'm guessing the friends who recommended it in this regard perhaps used it as a trekking base, but you’ve not allowed enough time for trekking, so, aside from what you’ll see out the bus window, I’m not convinced this is a good option.

Secondly, you can fly direct from Chiang Mai to Hanoi , but not Chiang Rai, meaning you will need to back track to Chiang Mai which is a bit of a hike by bus.

Thirdly, the Golden Triangle is a long day trip from Chiang Rai (you can overnight at Chiang Saen which is close to it) but again time is against you, and, well the Golden Triangle is a bit of a tourist trap... depends on your interests a bit I guess.

So, what I would suggest is flying from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and then going to Chiang Dao —this is a small town in a spectacular setting not all that far north from Chiang Mai. There is some excellent accommodation, a large cave system and some opportunities for trekking (which will let you take in the scenery). Plus it is a relatively short trip back to Chiang Mai for your flight to Hanoi. I would also allow some time in Chiang Mai as it is a great town for eating, sightseeing and shopping...though it will be very busy.

I'm in Hanoi at the moment and every man and his dog is offering Ha Long Bay tours, starting at as little as $35 for a single day trip. I would strongly recommend doing at least an overnight stay as otherwise you will spend most of your time in transit getting to and from there. I've seen three day trips offered for as little as US$110.

So, something like:

1) Bangkok 3 nights, morning flight to Chiang Mai, transfer to Chiang Dao
2) Chiang Dao 2 nights, returning to Chiang Mai
3) Chiang Mai 2 nights, morning flight to Hanoi
4) Hanoi 3 nights
5) Ha Long Bay 1 night, then flight to Siem Reap (you'll need to check flight availability on this, the Ha Long tours get back late, so if there is only a morning flight, juggle it around a bit.)
6) Siem Reap 3 nights
7) Bangkok & exit

One more thought, as far as I know only AirAsia and Bangkok Airways flies Chiang Mai to Hanoi direct, so there are not a lot of flights and you’ll be there in peak season. Would advise you look to book this flight sooner than later.

Hope this helps!

More questions, ask away

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Posted by fennellj on 23/10/2018 at 21:44

Thanks ever so much. This is really helpful. My spouse is wondering if we are really missing out on Ho Chi Min (the history, the tunnels,etc). Your thoughts on Hanoi vs Ho Chi Min?

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Posted by fennellj on 23/10/2018 at 22:09

So one more question: if this was your first time in SE Asia and you had two weeks (knowing what you know now), would you follow a similar itinerary or do something different? Again, thanks. So appreciate your help.

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Posted by somtam2000 on 24/10/2018 at 01:50 admin

Posted from within Vietnam.

Ok, I'll tackle the second question first. Unless this is a once in a lifetime trip, my advice with two weeks to use, would be to restrict yourself to one country.

If you don't think you will be making it out this way again, then yes, something like the above would let you take in some of the top shelf attractions, but, if you think this may be one of many trips to the region over the years, then why cram it in?

As it is, aside from your long haul flights to get here you are looking at four regional flights in two weeks and once you factor in checking out getting to the airport two hours before, then the flight then immigration and customs then back into a new town, a new hotel, checking back in, there isn't all that much of the day left. That is a fair chunk of your 14 days spent getting from A to B.

My advice would be to restrict yourself to Thailand, with perhaps a side trip, flying one way, to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat and save Vietnam for another trip.

This way you could do something like this (roughly)

Arrive Bangkok, hang out a couple of days then fly or get the night train to Chiang Mai for a few days in the north — perhaps go to Pai or above mentioned Chiang Dao for a few days in the north. That is one week done.

Then fly to Siem Reap (via Bangkok) to spend a few days in Angkor Wat and Siem Reap then overland to Ko Chang (an island in eastern Thailand) to see out the remainder of the trip before returning to Bangkok for your flight home.

The above give you a taste of the north, Angkor, Bangkok and a bit of island time at the end. There are lot of variations on this... but I think dropping Vietnam from your plans would be the easiest way to give yourself a bit more time to appreciate the rest.

Hope this helps.

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Posted by fennellj on 24/10/2018 at 18:35

Quite helpful. Just have to figure out what we really want from our two weeks. If we decide drop other areas and opt for Vietnam, is it Hanoi or HoChiMin City? Thanks so much.

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Posted by somtam2000 on 25/10/2018 at 01:09 admin

Posted from within Vietnam.

Personally I would stick with Hanoi —I think it is the more interesting of the two cities and it fits better with Ha Long Bay. While there are no tunnels, Hanoi does have plenty of interesting museums, some of which focus on the war.

Cheers

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Posted by flijten on 25/10/2018 at 04:23

Just to add an opinion; I fully agree with somtam2000. I it is not that HCMC is not interesting, it has a lot going for it, but I simply loved Hanoi. I think I stuck around for well over a week when I was there :)

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Posted by amnicoll on 25/10/2018 at 04:39

Just have to figure out what we really want from our two weeks.


Indeed I could not have put it better and excellent food for thought above from Somtam

When I look through your plan then the two big ticket memorable things for most would be Halong Bay and Angkor wat - don't get me wrong I am not saying the other places have no merit but worry that too much travel and not enough time to see

Anyway go back to basics and also have a quick look at flights before you commit- remember you will need to be at the airport at least an hour before departure and that travel time on the roads can be problematic in this region and I would not myself want the worry of getting from Halong Bay to the airport in Hanoi in the afternoon

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Posted by neharani on 29/10/2018 at 22:55

Glad to know that you are planning for South east Asia trip.

Since you have made your plan from 12th to 27th of December, please be assured that there will be huge rush due to Christmas and New Year festival.

I would suggest to visit those places that has less crowd so that you can enjoy your trip peacefully.

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Posted by fennellj on 30/10/2018 at 20:44

Thanks for this advice. I’m beginning to think that somtam2000 is right and that we should hold off on Vietnam. Trouble is I don’t know when or if we would get back. We already have tickets to Bangkok. Would it be a terrible idea with our two weeks do Bangkok, Siem Reap, Hanoi, (with maybe some side trips in each location or an island at the end Then fly back from Bangkok? This option obviously gives Thailand little time. Any thoughts appreciated.

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Posted by fennellj on 30/10/2018 at 20:52

In looking over your reply
“Then fly to Siem Reap (via Bangkok) to spend a few days in Angkor Wat and Siem Reap then overland to Ko Chang (an island in eastern Thailand) to see out the remainder of the trip before returning to Bangkok for your flight home.”



Does this mean there are no flights from Chiang Mai to Siem Reap - you have to go back to Bangkok then to Siem Reap?


Thanks

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Posted by DLuek on 30/10/2018 at 23:38 TF writer

That's right -- no direct flights from Chiang Mai to Siem Reap . From Bangkok, I believe only Air Asia, Bangkok Air and THAI fly to Siem Reap (for many years it was Bangkok Air only but the monopoly was finally cracked a few years back). If doing this trip in one day, beware that Air Asia uses Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok, while Bangkok Air and THAI use Suvarnabhumi Airport. To save money, book the two legs separately (also look at Nok Air and Thai Smile for Chiang Mai to Bangkok), but try to use one Bangkok airport or the other to avoid the shuttle bus transfer between airports -- that is free but kind of a pain and takes some time.

To answer question from post #11, no, I don't think it's a terrible idea to do Bangkok, Siem Reap and Hanoi in 2 weeks. Like Stuart said, something like that is a fine way to go if you're not sure when (or if) you'll return to the region, and you want to see at least a small slice of more than one country. Each of those three cities are well worth visiting and each posseses much of the heritage of their respective countries. Each also has a modern side -- they are not places you'll get bored in.

And each will work fine as a base with a few side trips thrown in, but choose wisely and consider time spent in transit -- buses are often cramped and slow, and trains, while not cramped, are also slow. With that in mind, don't forget to leave some time to stop and take a breath and take it easy for a day or two.

Personally, I'd pick two regions (i.e.Bangkok / Central Thailand and Hanoi / North Vietnam) and give a week to each of them.

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Posted by fennellj on 1/11/2018 at 16:08

Dluek: Thanks so much for your thoughts and encouragement. Had a follow-up question: by Central Thailand, what specific places do you have in mind? And why single out central as opposed to Northern Thailand?
Really appreciate your advice. J

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Posted by amnicoll on 2/11/2018 at 05:56

At a guess i would say that because you are missing out on Angkor wat there are plenty of places in Central Thailand with old temples such as Sukothai/Si Satchanalai and the like and you will get the hills in N vietnam

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Posted by DLuek on 3/11/2018 at 10:05 TF writer

Well, if you were actually doing all three cities -- Bangkok, Hanoi and Siem Reap -- then you really would not have time for Northern Thailand as well, in my opinion. This trip would already entail three flying days not including your long-haul flights and land transport for side trips. Adding Northern Thailand would result in what I'd deem to be an unacceptable amount of time spent in transit. As it is, many veteran travelers would say that hitting Bangkok, Hanoi and Siem Reap in two weeks is too much.

So if you want to hit Northern Thailand, cut one of the other places or at least skip Bangkok, although I think that'd be a mistake for a first-time visitor since Bangkok is the capital and has loads to see and do. Even cutting Bangkok, roughly 3-4 full days would barely allow you to scratch the surface of Northern Thailand, which is a slow-going and mountainous region.

By "Central Thailand" I really meant Bangkok + a day trip and/or an overnight trip within that general region. Options include:
Ayutthaya
Lopburi
Kanchanaburi
Khao Yai National Park
Ko Samet
floating markets in Samut Songkhram and Ratchaburi provinces
Phetchaburi
Hua Hin and surrounds

You can put together similar lists of side trip options out of Hanoi, Chiang Mai and Siem Reap, each of which anchors a distinctive region (Northern Vietnam, Northern Thailand and Western Cambodia), as does Bangkok for the Central Thailand region. So, if I were you, I'd pick two (or three if you don't mind rushed travel) of these regions, devote a couple of days to the actual cities (including the main Angkor sites around Siem Reap) and then break down potential side trips from each of them. But when I say "side trips," for the most part I don't mean a 20-minute ride out of town. Even getting to Ayutthaya from Bangkok can turn into a multi-hour hassle and accessing some of the most beautiful spots in the mountains, such as Sapa out of Hanoi or Mae Hong Son out of Chiang Mai, takes a full day each way.

Two weeks is a short amount of time when you're talking about hitting several different countries and regions.

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Posted by fennellj on 4/11/2018 at 10:18

Appreciate the reality check. As we narrow down options, I think we are going to skip Viet Nam this time and hopefully take this on another year. So a new plan might be to narrow to Thailand and Siem Reap (Anchor..)

Now to figure out a more specific plan. With this more narrow focus, do you think we should include Chiang Mai ?
Bangkok (4-5 days)
Chiang Mai (5 days)
Siem Reap (5 days)
Bankgkok for the return flight.

though I don't think we can fly from Chiang Mai to Siem Reap, so we might have to rearrange to make travel easier?

#17 fennellj has been a member since 23/10/2018. Posts: 10

Posted by fennellj on 4/11/2018 at 10:26

Rearrangement might mean
Bangkok (4-5 days)
Siem Reap (5 days)
Chiang Mai (5 days)
Bangkok for the return flight.


If you might have other options for this inexperienced couple, they would be welcome. J

#18 fennellj has been a member since 23/10/2018. Posts: 10

Posted by fennellj on 4/11/2018 at 17:34

David: I've been enjoying your hotel reviews in Bangkok. Liked what we read about Baan Noppawong and Inspire Bangkok. I've contacted both. My wife found something on Expedia, Lamphu Treehouse. Have you been to that one? If so any thoughts? J

#19 fennellj has been a member since 23/10/2018. Posts: 10

Posted by DLuek on 4/11/2018 at 18:52 TF writer

Your last rearranged itinerary looks good.

Yup we've good Lamphu Tree House covered -- good place, here's our review: https://www.travelfish.org/accommodation_profile/thailand/bangkok_and_surrounds/bangkok/khao_san_road/all/3895

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