Been reading these forums for a week or so and really getting a lot out of them. I haven't been able to find precisely answers to some of the questions I had.
My girlfriend and I have about 7 weeks (December 12th - February 4th) planned in the area with only one real stipulation - Thai islands from January 23rd onwards as we are meeting friends.
Our idea is for the first half to be an adventure, and then spend a nice amount of time on the islands of Thailand just relaxing before heading back to Melbourne. Not keen on spending every second day travelling either.
At the moment our idea is as follows-
Get to Bangkok and do a Intrepid Tour (not 100% keen on tours, fits in well though but would like some advice) that goes to Hanoi (13th - 27th December, http://www.intrepidtravel.com/trips/LSV).
From Hanoi we then make our own way down to Saigon via the train. Deciding on how long we stay at each place as we get there really. Time frame for this is 2.5-3 weeks. Does this sound like a good amount of time for the trip? What stop-offs are the best?
We're not even sure if Vietnam is what we want to do. We have heard so many good things from friends about Laos and Cambodia, but given our time frame only one can really be done well. Any thoughts as to the different advantages/disadvantages of each?
I think that just about sums things up to begin with, and of course I will be happy to add any information that will help in answering these questions. Thanks in advance.
#1 eddyirving has been a member since 10/8/2009. Posts: 8
If your Intrepid tour finished in Hanoi it makes sense to spend more time there rather than skip back to Laos.
In three weeks you could take in the most popular highlights, being:
Ha Long Bay
Nha Trang or Mui Ne
and maybe a brief trip into the Delta at the end.
If you finish down there, then you could scoot overland across Cambodia -- there's a number of different route and it would depend how long you could allocate to Cambodia -- I'd say you need five days at a bare minimum for it to be worthwhile.
Hope that helps
#2 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,789
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As I understand the Intrepid Tour program you linked, it's a 2 week trip that starts in Bangkok but also takes you to Chiang Mai, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, and Vientiane and onward overland to Hanoi (with 2 days for Hanoi). Is that correct?
If so, then if you've got 3 weeks left, then you'll have enough time to execute the route that somtam outlined minus Nha Trang and Mui Ne (since you're headed to the Thai islands afterwards and IMO, the beaches and marine life in Thailand are better).
And if you're willing to fore-go Nha Trang and Mui Ne, this would leave enough time for Phnom Penh (1 full day transport from Saigon overland and 1 full day to visit at least) and Siem Reap /Angkor (recommend 3-4 days). Then one more day to overland from Siem Reap back to Bangkok. This should work.
BTW, you could 'do' the same trip without using Intrepid by yourselves (though I've read their programs are very good) and it's not difficult since it's a predominantly very well paved path (except for the land border crossing between Vientiane and Hanoi).
Anyways, hope it works out and have a great trip!
#3 seagypsy has been a member since 5/2/2009. Posts: 136
You have 7 weeks overall, but want to spend 12 days in southern Thailand. That really means 5 weeks to 'tour'.
"Get to Bangkok and do a Intrepid Tour (not 100% keen on tours, fits in well though but would like some advice) that goes to Hanoi (13th - 27th December.
I spent a month doing a similar trip - well, with my better half actually. In that month, I felt as though I'd have preferred to take longer because parts were rushed. Go look at my blog here. So, for me, a 2 week 'tour' appears incredibly rushed.
For people who haven't a clue how to arrange their travel, operators like Intrepid do a great job.
But, to my mind, tours are not about letting the passenger experience what interests them. Rather, its a package that has the person rushing from one place to another, to another, etc. You can see my bias here... I note you wrote "Not keen on spending every second day travelling either. I believe that is what you will likely experience on said package tour - its just that you don't have to organise. Anyway, I wrote a piece on Travelfish that better explains how I see how travel should be undertaken. You might like to look here and digest.
I also note you wrote We're not even sure if Vietnam is what we want to do..
Personally, I'd suggest you don't. I think you are trying to scoot across so much land, and past so many great places, but not giving yourself time to enjoy/experience it.
I've elsewhere said that I believe that one should plan to be in a city/town/area (I refer to as region) for about a week (give or take). That means 5 weeks is about 5 regions.
I could spend 5 weeks in 5 regions of Thailand and still miss out on so much.
One of the things that I like about travel is to learn to engage with the locals. I like to try and learn their language, etc. It is almost impossible to do if you are going from one country to another.
If, for example, you were to spend all your time in Thailand, except for say a week in Siem Reap to see the Angkor temple complex, I'd suggest by the time you met your friends, you'd be able to talk enough Thai to really enjoy the cultural interaction. That's not to say you should do this, rather, its a way of explaining the merit of a point of view.
If I was selling travel, I could have you on planes/buses/trains/boats to so so so many places. But, I'm sure your holiday is not an around the world in 80 days affair - I'd expect it's a way to enjoy yourself and experience different things/cultures/etc., as you go. My dictum is slow down, don't rush here and there just because you can. Simply, hve the time to smell the roses.
You still have plenty of time to 'fashion' your plans, and I'm sure you will pass through many options before you eventually arrive in Bangkok.
As you'll have noticed by now, I suggest you take it slowly, and enjoy it more.
Thanks for the quick replies, still have quite a few questions.
I see what everyone is saying about the Intrepid trip and I tend to agree - we saw it as a good way to see a bit and get to Hanoi for the way down. But if we were to scrap the trip what would you guys recommend?
It's hard deciding between Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. I guess chilled, fun things to do are our preferences. Learning the language isn't really on my list of things to do, not much point and I was terrible with languages at school anyway. I get the feeling from looking around that Vietnam is a bit more 'intense' than the other two? Culture wise and the like? The war sites/sights are appealing to us both but not a 100% must do.
Some friends did the Gibbon Experience and said good things - they then went down Laos (was advised against Vientiane though) to the 4000 Islands and then a little bit of Cambodia. Also Chang Mai is a place we want to see too - the tour is only there for a day so I think that is another down side to it.
I totally agree with your 'slow down' idea Bruce. I thought mine was a little less pacey than a few I've seen around here, but do see how its a bit quick. I also sense a bit of negativity from you towards the islands, but as a Melbournian (distinct lack of nice beaches) and being young I think they will be a highlight of the trip - I intend to get my scuba license, go kayaking, relaxing, partying and all of that.
I know this post must seem very jumbled but there is just so much to do it is hard to pin point exactly what we want, and any help is greatly appreciated.
#5 eddyirving has been a member since 10/8/2009. Posts: 8
Please don't think I'm against the beach / islands. I'm not. The area is really fantastic and fully deserves the huge number of tourists visiting the area. The only thing I get 'down' on is where ppl race through an amazing SE Asia hardly taking breath, and then loll around on the beaches. While that's clearly their choice, I get annoyed when they seek advice as to how to enjoy the rest of SE Asia when they fail to understand that enjoyment in travel takes patience and time (and get peeved, when I point that out).
I feel split, if I tell what I think you might enjoy, you may think I'm telling you what you ought do. yet, I sense you are looking for ideas to explore.
So, I'll make a couple of suggestions - but please take them as ideas only...
week 1 in/around Bangkok
week 2, Chiang Mai for a few days, and Pai for a couple of days.
week 3, getting to, & enjoying the Gibbon Experience, moving to Luang Nam Tha for a couple of days,
week 4, Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng, to Vietiane (fly to PP, then bus SR)
week 5, Siem Reap,
week 6, with your friends in sthn Thailand.
My suggestion rests on you looking at the opportunities that prevail in these places, and working out whether they are 'right' for you.
Thanks for another quick reply - I really like what you've outlined, but there are bits and pieces we probably wouldn't be too into.
Hadn't really looked into Siem Reap but it looks great - what do you think the viability of adding Sihanoukville or the 4000 islands to that little trip, maybe taking out Luang Nam Tha and spending less time in Bangkok.
Any other suggestions would be great.
#7 eddyirving has been a member since 10/8/2009. Posts: 8
Bruce seems to have added a side trip to Angkor , which from your original post, was not on your radar at all. If you're looking for fun, some adventure and then on to beaches, why go to Angkor ? I haven't been to Angkor yet and I'm sure its extraordinary, but if is isn't something you really really want to do why spend so many days going there ?
The rest of Bruce's itinerary may be good, though. Maybe add Kanchanaburi on at the beginning, or take a couple of days getting up to Chiang Mai. Spend a bit longer, perhaps, in the North and then on to the Gibbon Experience, Luang Prabang, VV and Vientiane. Then back to B'kok and the islands.
But, whatever you do, make sure the itinerary is right for YOU and contains activities that YOU will enjoy.
Nokka makes a good series of points, esp. doing what YOU will enjoy.
I only included Ankor on the basis it appeared you were altering your itinerary and sort of heading to include it. Go look here to see if its a place you'd appreciate.
But, as an alternative, Nokk's ideas also look great.