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Southeast Asia forum

Trip Planning Help Please!

Posted by joezinho on 11/6/2009 at 22:18

Hello All! Looking for some help if possible please!

We are leaving on August 6th for a three week tour from Beijing to Hong Kong. We then plan to take in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia befor flying back from Singapore in early December.

I have been scratching my head trying to work out the most viable route! We want to see as much as possible but not rush! Can anyone please let me have their thoughts on a sensible/viable route.

Many many thanks,


#1 joezinho has been a member since 11/6/2009. Posts: 4

Posted by somtam2000 on 12/6/2009 at 10:01 admin

Hi Joe,

Depends a lot on how much time you have. Suggest you take a look through some of the suggested itineraries as a starting point.

#2 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,943
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Posted by joezinho on 12/6/2009 at 14:55

Thanks very much. We have looked at those and are going to roughly follow one but in reverse as we are starting at Hanoi!

#3 joezinho has been a member since 11/6/2009. Posts: 4

Posted by BruceMoon on 13/6/2009 at 10:02


The itineraries are there to help, and where you start - end is up to you.

It appears you have 3 months for SE Asia: I'm envious!

A word of advice.

The itineraries follow what is referred to as 'the beaten trail', meaning that while there are attractions along the way, you'll also be travelling the same route/s as other travellers.

I suggest you entertain using your selected itinerary as a blueprint from which you try NOT to follow.

What do I mean by this? Well...

I mean that where ever possible you get OFF the trail.

To do this, you'll need a good travel guide book. I suggest you go now and get a good travel book like Lonely Planet SE Asia. This will allow you to see what is on offer OFF the well travelled route.

For example, if you were to follow the Vietnam 'head to tail' itinerary:

You'd miss out on the ethnic communities of SaPa and BacHa. You'd also miss out on the elevated regions such as Dalat.

This 'itinerary' also suggests you take in Mui Ne . There are heaps of placed that are far far better than Mui Ne. The reason Mui Ne is there is BECAUSE it is on the major travel route.

So, please do yourself a favour and look at ways to follow your selected itinerary, but give you experiences away from it.

By the way, tourism in SE Asia is a bucket of money to the locals. Everywhere there are lots of tourists, there are generally lots of touts looking to relieve you of your money. The more you get away from the tourist 'trail', the less you'll experience touts, and the more you'll enjoy the wonderful company of locals (not jaded by mass tourism).

Hope this helps.


#4 BruceMoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by MADMAC on 14/6/2009 at 17:40

A lot of people ask similar questions, but for me it always comes down to this: What do you want to do and see?

Some people are into history. Some are into nature. Some just want to relax, let their hair down and sit on a beach. Some are looking for sex. Some want to experience a different culture with all that entails (Language, food, romance). Really, to answer your question sensibly means first knowing what you want to get out of the trip.

#5 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
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Posted by joezinho on 15/6/2009 at 15:03

Brucemoon - we are kust going to follow the route loosely! We have already purchased the SE Asia on a shoestring book! We really just wanted a series of points to aim for and see what we discover inbetween!

MADMAC - we are hoping to take in the sights and the culture that SE Asia has to offer!

MUST see places in our visited countries is what we're after please and generally what order to visit places in!

Thanks so much for the help and advise so far!

#6 joezinho has been a member since 11/6/2009. Posts: 4

Posted by MADMAC on 15/6/2009 at 15:07

Well, then Bruce is a good guy to get info from. He is a culture kind of guy and he knows the places to see. If you are interested in the Thai side of the Mekong, I live there, so I can help in that domain. But I would ask Bruce.

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Posted by BruceMoon on 16/6/2009 at 08:28


I'd suggest you go look also at Lonely Planet 'Vietnam', 'Cambodia', 'Laos', Thailand',...etc, because they have better maps. Also, the texts would be a good 'balance' to Shoestring when you are needing to make a decision about going/not going to a place. You really only need Vietnam to start. Then, pick up Cambodia in Vietnam (and sell Vietnam if you don't want to carry it), etc., etc..

The logical route is Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia. But, as I said above, try not to stay 'on the route'.

Along this route, some ideas...

HaNoi > Halong Bay > HaNoi > SaPa/BacHa > HaNoi (in either order, but make sure you 'order' your plan to take the Saturday night train to Lao Cai (for SaPa/BacHa) so that you can visit the BacHa Sunday market - a must see!!!

Many also take the time to visit Mai Chau (South west of HaNoi) to stay at a white Tai village. Worth it? Yes.

Next stop most 'do' is Hue : generally by overnight bus/train from HaNoi. As the ruins are scattered, if you can ride a motorbike, hire one and enjoy yourself. If you are yet to ride a motorbike, get a 100cc automatic and teach yourself. Traffic in and around Hue is quite slow (eg. 15kph average in town , and never more than 30kph in outlying areas).

From Hue, take a bus to Danang/ Hoi An . The beaches here are good. People like the tailoring aspect of Hoi An (but I don't). The My Son ruins out from Hoi An have a museum that portrays diagrams of the Khmer / Champa / Muslim 'civilisation' in the SE Asian region - it's perhaps the best in SE Asia. It's worth taking pics and printing the diagrams so that you can make sense of temples elsewhere in your travels.

From Hoi An, most take a night bus to Nha Trang . Nha Trang is very touristy. You may like the 'party animal' atmosphere (or you may not). Nha Trang beaches aren't much (compared to elsewhere) so you either head for islands nearby, or better beaches - eg. Jungle Beach, or Cam Ranh Bay.

From Nha Trang, the tourist trail either goes to Mui Ne for a tourist beach (great, I suppose if you come from a non-beach country and are in VN for a limited time, BUT...), or heads to Dalat.

There is a day bus from Nha Trang to Dalat. Or you could get some Dalat Easy-Riders to pick you up and spend a few days being driven on the back of a bike to Dalat. Great riding!

Dalat needs to be seen from a motorbike - so go hire one. There's pleanty to see, but its spread out. There is a coffee place near the Dalat railway station that makes the best coffee in the world - and I've drunk from many places. I like strong Italian, Theirs is strong, but also chocolate-y and velvety smooth (I'd like to go back now....Mmmmm).

The link between Dalat & Saigon is full of opportunities, especially the Cat Tien NP. But, you may prefer to go direct (again a day bus).

From Saigon, some also visit the coast. You can take a hydrofoil to Vung Tau, then rent a bike and head towards Long Hai area (good beaches there, but not weekends). Or, rent a bike from Saigon.

Some head for Phnom Penh overland by day bus. Others use a combination of bus/boat from Saigon to Phnom Penh. You do see a great part of SE Asia on this boat trip.

In PP, the genocide museums is IMHO obligatory. Start with a tuk-tuk to the 'Tuong Sleng' museum, then on to Choeng Ek. If you contrast this with the Royal Palce (in the afternoon), your heads will really be buzzing!!!

Some head down to Sihanoukville and 'do' the beaches / islands around there, others go straight to Siem Reap . Bus is really the only cost-effective means of travel in Cambodia. Siem Reap - to my mind - needs at least 4 whole days. 3 for the temples, and one for Tonle Sap. I've written elsewhere on this (go type in Tonle Sap into the Search Travelfish box up on the [top] left in the grey section). Do get yourself a 'plan' to see the temples, or you'll quickly tire of them and fail to comprehend why they are heritage listed.

From Siem Reap, you will have to decide whether to go overland to Laos and where to enter (you must either go back to PP to southern Laos, or enter via Thailand to Vientiane ). Alternately, you can fly to Vientiane.

I really like Laos. But, travel is slow, and unless you've got a lot of time, you are probably going to have to choose between southern Loas to Vientiane (and maybe Luang Prabang) or Vientiane to northern Laos.

In a very general sense, the south sort of has similar attractions to the north. It's not such a contrast like nth and sth Vietnam, or nth and sth Thailand (culturally, and scenically).

I'm biased, I like the forested areas of the north, so would suggest flying to Vientiane, and maybe even flying to Luang Prabang. I know many like Vang Vieng, but the attraction there is more for the party animal.

Luang Prabang is a must, and I'd suggest boating up the Nam Ou to Nong Khiaw before busing it to OudomXai and on to Luang Nam Tha. There, hire an bike and go to Munag Sing for a look at Laos as the nation would have been 30 years ago. The ethnic villages ARE worth visiting.

From Nam Tha, the bus goes through Vieng Phouka. Here, some of the best trekking in SE Asia can be enjoyed (book through the Lao 'ecotravel' office in Nam Tha).

There is the Gibbon Experience nearby, if your budget can allow, seriously entertain it.

In any event, from Nam Tha you'll be headed towards the Huay Xai /Chiang Khong border, to cross the Mekong and enter Thailand. There is a VIP minibus that takes you to Chiang Mai. many want to visit Chiang rai, etc., but for the north of Thailand, you really have to do your research. there is so much to do / see that you can spend so much time in this region. Search Travelfish for ideas.

Personally, I'd catch buses to Pai (for a swim with elephants, rafting, etc.) before getting another bus to Mae Hong Son, then another to Mae Sariang, and another then to Mae Sot (research this well for times, etc). I'd suggest you visit Um Phang and enjoy a trek there with local Karen. Return to Mae Sot and head to Sukhothai. From there, its onto Bangkok.

I doubt you'll have the time to also 'do' Isan. Pity, but, unless you can wangle another year or so....

I constantly suggest a trip from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi via the early morning floating market. When there, 'do' the walk along the train line suggested here on Travelfish, and make sure you visit Hellfire Pass (you'll need wheels for this).

From Kancanaburi, head southwards (if you plan well, you don't have to return to Bangkok) to Hua Hin (the Royal beach).

Then, you can explore the islands in the south before either, flying to Penang, or training it to Butterworth for Penang.

Having been in Buddhist countries (tho Vietnam isn't Buddhist in the way Cambodia, Laos & Thailand are), you'll now be entering a Muslim country. The customs and attitudes can be quite different.

Penang (as does Kuala Lumpur [or KL], Malacca and Jahore Bahru) has a large (ex)Chinese population and the cuisine - known as Nonya - is really enjoyable. The Chinese think/act/trade differently to the Muslim Malays (and very much differently to the now everywhere Pakistani's [imported as labour]).

If when in Malaysia you can get to Taman Negara, you'll find one of the best examples of SE Asian (intact) forest around. The trekking here is wonderful (leeches aside), and you never know what you'll bump into. I say that because I 'stumbled' upon a tribe of Orang Asli (native hunter gatherers still living as they did thousands of years ago). If you are going to do this, the easiest way is via KL, but there is a bus that heads west from Ipoh to Gua Musang, and you'd catch the train to Jerantut, and a bus to the boat to the NP. But, you'll have to do your research on this. It may be quicker from KL, but less scenic and less of the 'traditional' Malay.

After 'doing' VN, Cambodia, Laos & Thailand, I doubt you'd have time for the west coast of Malaysia. More so because travel along the west coast is slow. I'm assuming you'll merely 'do' the east coast.

Like Bangkok, KL is a 'buzz', but do try and visit Jayapura (the new national capital) to see some amazing buildings - and an indication that the east isn't necessarily poor.

From KL, most head for Malacca. Then Jahore Bahru to enter Singapore.

Hope this helps


#8 BruceMoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by joezinho on 16/6/2009 at 15:04


All I thought I'd get was a few ideas! That is an excellent reply and I can't thank you enough!

Seems like a lot to take in! Is all this possible in 3 months?

#9 joezinho has been a member since 11/6/2009. Posts: 4

Posted by BruceMoon on 16/6/2009 at 18:30


Amazingly, some try and do it in half the time.

But, frankly, I'd probably fly from southern Thailand (eg. Phuket) to Singapore and save time so more can be had elsewhere in Laos / VN.

Malaysia is great, but I suggest you won't find the contrast that is Vietnam / Cambodia / Laos / Thailand that will make you say (afterwards) that was great. Perhaps because it has become westernised, most of the rural landscape is mass plantings of oil palm, and the Muslims not particularly interested in engaging with westerners (compared to the other countries).

In any event, you'll have to make some plans before you go, and though you'll keep changing them as you go (which is good), the planning is necessary so that you don't 'waste time at the expense of something further along the route.

Hope this helps.



#10 BruceMoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

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