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Southeast Asia forum

Some advice on Thailand-Vietnam-Cambodia itinerary please!

Posted by lucky13 on 13/8/2009 at 10:23

Hi there,

I am looking for some advice on this proposed itinerary for a trip to Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia in late Dec-mid Feb.

I will be traveling with my boyfriend, we are both 20. I have been in and around Saigon and Bangkok when I was younger, but basically we are both newbies to the region. We are looking for a trip that allows us to get a feel for the region, see some of the big sites, but also slow down and explore a few cities/areas a bit more to get a feel for them. I would love to think that we could get off the tourist trail a little, but due to time/money constraints, and being first timers this is unlikely to be the case to any great extent. I thought that Soppong might be a nice way to get away from the crowds without venturing too far out. We have tried to be careful not to squeeze too much in and be traveling all the time- but perhaps we are still trying to do too much- I would love some advice on this. Originally we were not going to do Cambodia, but it seems to make sense geographically, and does not mean too much of a compromise on time in Thailand and Vietnam.

We are happy to be busy, but do not want to feel that we are traveling all the time. We have figured that having the last week in Koh Samui and splashing out on a nice tour of Halong Bay will be our 'treats' for the holiday- but the rest of the time we will be trying to save where we can. At the moment, the only set internal travel is our flight BKK-Hanoi on the 3rd Jan.

Having done lots of reading up and looking at other itineraries, this is what we have so far. We are particularly flexible through the middle leg of our journey and looking for some advice!

Dec
29- Arrive late night BKK
30- BKK
31- BKK
Jan
1- BKK
2- BKK
3- Fly early to Hanoi, Hanoi
4- Hanoi
5- Halong Bay
6- Halong Bay
7- Halong Bay
8- Hanoi
9- Hanoi, overnight train to Hue
10- Hue
11- Hue
12- Hue
13- Travel Hoi An, Hoi An
14- Hoi An
15- Hoi An, overnight to Saigon
16- Saigon
17- Saigon
18- Saigon (NB. From Saigon we would consider a trip to the Mekong Delta at some point)
19- Saigon
20- Saigon
21- Saigon- Phnom Penh
22- Phnom Penh
23- Phnom Penh
24- Siam Reap
25- Siam Reap
26- Siam Reap
27- Siam Reap
28- Travel to Chiang Mai/Soppong (need to figure out the best way of doing this one)
29- Allowing another day for travel
30- Soppong
31- Soppong
Feb
1- Soppong
2- Soppong
3- Soppong
4- Chiang Mai
5- Chiang Mai
6- Chiang Mai, overnight to BKK
7- BKK, overnight to Surrathani
8- Ferry to Koh Samui, Koh Samui
9- Koh Samui
10- Koh Samui
11- Koh Samui
12- Koh Samui
13- Koh Samui
14- Koh Samui, leave for overnight to BKK
15- BKK
16- BKK
17- Leave BKK

I would particularly like to know
1) If we are doing a trek from Soppong, is there much more we are going to like in Chiang Mai? Is three days there too much?
2) How are we looking through the middle of Vietnam? Would it be better to shave days of northern Thailand and give them to Vietnam? Or vice versa?
3) We are incorporating two very long land travel legs- Siam Reap-Chiang Mai and Chiang Mai-Koh Samui. Have we left enough time for them? (on our budget flights are probably not an option, but hopefully we have the time, and perhaps two very long legs are better than many shorter ones.)

Thank you very much in advance for your help.

Emma

#1 lucky13 has been a member since 13/8/2009. Posts: 10

Posted by somtam2000 on 13/8/2009 at 13:18 admin

Hi Emma,

Here's a couple of suggestions:
1) If you're not planning on stopping between Hoi An and Saigon, I'd lean towards backtracking to Da Nang and flying down. Jetstar fly it and it's very affordable.

2) If you get tight on time, I'd take a day off Hue and give it to Hoi An .

3) Soppong : It's a big diversion from Siem Reap - especially as you're then heading south, but to get there I'd recommend overland from Siem Reap to Bangkok, then night train to Chiang Mai then morning bus to Soppong... Soppong is a bit of a trekking centre but it is very low key -- there's also a lot of caving there. If you find it too slow for your liking, I'd backtrack to Pai, or skip them both and head north from Chiang Mai to Chiang Dao -- which is even better ;-)

4) Chiang Mai see this (dated, but still very good) trip report on there

5) You're Vn section is brief, but for what you are stopping at, I reckon you're allowing enough time -- obvious one you are missing is Sapa -- I;d say scrounge up three days from elsewhere if you want to pop it in.

6) Don't discount budget air deals -- AirAsia (a Travelfish advertiser) has some cracking deals at the moment for flights at the very period you're travelling. They fly Bangkok Hanoi and should be doing Bangkok - Siem Reap by the time you are there.

#2 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,576
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Posted by BruceMoon on 13/8/2009 at 13:55

Emma

You dont say how how you are travelling from Hoi An to Saigon, but by road its about 20 hours actual travel, train is a couple of hours quicker. If time is important, maybefly.

What is the desire to spend so much at Soppong?

For me, logistically, and why not go Bangkok, Nthn Thailand, across to Vietnam, through Cambodia, to sthn Thailand.

I'm also a fan of SaPa, but you may have reasons not to visit.

Otherwise a reasonably sensible proposed Itinerary.

Cheers

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

Posted by Nokka on 13/8/2009 at 16:07

Looks well thought through. The only thing that struck me was the large amount of time to be spent in big cities. I like big cities, but usually after about 3 nights I'm ready to move on to somewhere a bit quieter for a few days.

There may be reasons why you wish to spend so much time in the cities and, of course, that is fine. But often I find the essence of countries is found away from big cities, in smaller towns or cities or rural areas.

#4 Nokka has been a member since 6/4/2009. Location: United Kingdom. Posts: 259

Posted by lucky13 on 14/8/2009 at 14:58

Thank you for all the advice.

@ Sontam,

Thank you for the advice on flights. I did not realise they were quite so cheap! Will definitely consider. If we were to travel Hoi An- Saigon overland, what would be a good place to stop along the way?

Do you think that Chiang Dao is a better choice than Sappong? I don't think finding it too quiet should be much of an issue for us, will be nice to have a break and explore. And if we went for an two night trek we would not have a long time in town anyway.

@ Sontam and Bruce,

We had considered Sapa, but had thought that if we were trekking from Soppong/Northern Thailand, we might find a similar experience in Sapa. Is it a must-see?

@ Bruce,

Thank you for the advice re: general trip organisation. It would make more sense to fly Chiang Mai- Hanoi if possible but flights seem very expensive. At the moment we have flights BKK-Hanoi for $230 and everything I can find on the net for Chiang Mai-Hanoi looks around the $480 mark.

@ Nokka,

Is there anywhere you would recommend getting away from the cities a bit more? Perhaps on the Hoi-An- Saigon leg? Or an area we should explore more? At the moment I think at least we will be slowing down as the trip goes on- hopefully with some quieter time in Northern Thailand and a wind-down at the end. That said, it will certainly be 'hustle and bustle' at the beginning.

Thank you all again for your advice, much appreciated :)

#5 lucky13 has been a member since 13/8/2009. Posts: 10

Posted by somtam2000 on 14/8/2009 at 16:36 admin

Given your time constraits, I'd break it somewhere on the coast -- perhaps Mui Ne -- though note the train station is a way from town so you're need to reconsider doing it all by train. If you like bigger centres Nha Trang is a popular beach resort area, but it is quite heavily touristed (by Vn standards). If you had more time I'd say break into the Central Highlands (eg Kontum or Buon ma Thuot / Da Lat ) but you don't really have the time -- you're doing a lot of miles as it is!

Soppong Vs Chiang Dao -- ahh hard call! Chiang Dao is probably a bit quieter, but both have good trekking and Chiang Dao Nest (see accom listings for CD) has incredible food -- i'd go there just to eat!

Hope that helps - more questions, ask away

#6 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,576
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Posted by lucky13 on 14/8/2009 at 17:09

Having done a bit more research on flights, they really do seem like a good option! I am surprised how cheap they are. I'm not sure what I was looking at with the $480 number- something terrible circuitous and poorly electonically generated I'm sure. And have found a much cheaper flight BKK-Hanoi. May consider doing Chiang Mai etc before Vietnam now, as it also makes sense with visas.

I am just hoping we are not locked into the BKK-Hanoi flight through the travel agent, having paid a small deposit today. Will have to check on that first thing tomorrow!

Just a question, is the total amount paid to the airline the only cost with flights? Or are there separate airport taxes not included in the ticket?

Hopefully if we were able to fly:
BKK- Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai- BKK
BKK- Hanoi
Da Nang- Saigon
and do all those cheaply, it would save us a lot of time (and energy predominantly I'm sure!)

What is the travel time Siam Reap to Bangkok? Is this ok overland, or worth trying to fly also?

Might have do some more research on Soppong/Chiang Dao. Would one of them be cheaper? As that would certainly be something to help decide!

#7 lucky13 has been a member since 13/8/2009. Posts: 10

Posted by Nokka on 14/8/2009 at 18:19

Or you could take the overnight train from B'kok to Chiang Mai; and indeed back again. Should be cheaper than flying, plus you save on a hotel room.

We are staying at Chiang Dao Nest in December. Bungalows are about 1000 Baht, I think; so not sure whether that is outside your budget. Looks like lots of things to do round there.

http://nest.chiangdao.com/

Sorry, not so good on knowing where you may get outside cities between Hoi An and Saigon, as I haven't been yet; or done any research. But you could spend at least a couple of days in the Mekong Delta area making your way beyween Saigon and Phnomn Penh. There are loads of dirt cheap tours which do this, but we're to do it on our own, which hopefully will be more satisfying.

There's some great stuff on Travelfish about Vietnam. I also found Robert Reid's site had some good stuff also.

http://www.reidontravel.com/home/

#8 Nokka has been a member since 6/4/2009. Location: United Kingdom. Posts: 259

Posted by seagypsy on 14/8/2009 at 20:22

OP Lucky13,
Hmm, to me it makes more sense to do your trekking in northern Vietnam since you're already in the area. This will save the time and cost of heading up to Chiang Mai to do trekking in Soppong. While Sapa is touristy, it nevertheless is a stunningly beautiful area and you don't have to trek from Sapa. There are more remote villages (fulfilling one of your desires) and markets in northern Vietnam other than Sapa/ Bac Ha (but a visit to Bac Ha is well worth it on a Sunday and easily arranged in Sapa to get to Bac Ha and back in time to Lao Cai for the overnight sleeper train to Hanoi). Why travel all the way up to northern Thailand when you're already going to be in northern Vietnam which offers great trekking as well. Saves money and time.

#9 seagypsy has been a member since 5/2/2009. Posts: 136

Posted by BruceMoon on 18/8/2009 at 12:20

Emma

Sorry for not coming back earlier.

AirAsia has flights from bangkok to HaNoi on 2 + 3 Jan for US$70 pp.

SaPa is not trekking as such, its more an interactive experience. Try looking through here esp. post #8, and here at post #14.

Whether you go to SaPa is your choice, but it's not really a 'trekking' destination (now), rather, a cultural experience.

- - -

Re: Soppong/ Chiang Dao , I'm a fan of Chiang Dao (read this esp. post #5).

Cheers

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

Posted by lucky13 on 20/8/2009 at 10:29

Sorry for the late reply, been sorting a few things out!

We have managed to get some great deals in the Air Asia sale, including $40 flights BKK- Hanoi and $10 flights BKK-Surrathani. These should save us some time and stress!

Having noted that our movements did seem slightly illogical, but still wanting to go to northern Thailand, we've changed our itinerary to look something like this:

Dec 29- Arrive late BKK
30- BKK
31- BKK
1- BKK
2- BKK
3- BKK, ON to Chiang Mai
3- Chiang Mai
4- Soppong / Chiang Dao
5- Soppong/ Chaiang Dao
6- Soppong/ Chiang Dao
7- Soppong/ Chiang Dao
8- Soppong/ Chiang Dao
9- Chiang Mai
10- Chiang Mai
11- Chiang Mai, ON BKK
12- BKK, fly to Hanoi 1835, arrive 2025
13- Hanoi
14- Halong Bay
15- Halong Bay
16- Halong Bay
17- Hanoi
18- Hanoi, Hanoi- Hue overnight train
19- Hue
20- Hue
21- Hue
22- Hoi An
23- Hoi An
24- Hoi An
25- Hoi An, fly from Da Nang 4:45 pm, arrive Saigon 6pm
26- Saigon
27- Saigon
28- Saigon
29- Saigon
30- Mekong Tour? (maybe extend this another day, depending how we find Saigon)
31- Mekong end PP
2- PP
3- PP
4- Siam Reap
5- Siam Reap
6- Siam Reap
7- Siam Reap, travel BKK
8- BKK, fly Surrathani 1405, arrive 1510, ferry Koh Samui
9- Koh Samui
10- Koh Samui
11- Koh Samui
12- Koh Samui
13- Koh Samui
14- Koh Samui
15- Koh Samui, fly BKK, leave 1540, arrive BKK 1650
16- BKK
17- Leave BKK around 5pm

Though we still haven't made up our minds on Soppong v Chiang Dao, I think we might be leaning to Chiang Dao after your advice. Still have a bit more reading to do though!

We are still also undecided about Sapa. Haven't got it pencilled in at the moment, but on our leg from Hanoi through to our Da Nang-Saigon flight we are going to be quite flexible. so it should not be too hard to fit in.

If I am right, hopefully this plan means our only long legs of overland travel will be return to Chiang Mai and Hanoi-Hue, so that is promising, though adding in PP-Siam Reap and Siam Reap to BKK probably need to be considered there.

How much time will we need to allow for the Siam Reap- BKK trip? If we have a flight at 1405 from BKK will we need to travel the day before, or is there a way to split the trip? I have read the article on the journey/border crossing, but need to go back and understand it the other way round.

Thanks again to everyone for the great advice

#11 lucky13 has been a member since 13/8/2009. Posts: 10

Posted by seagypsy on 20/8/2009 at 15:55

Hi lucky13,

You're new itinerary looks fine and nicely spread out and paced so that you're not rushing all over the place.

"How much time will we need to allow for the Siam Reap- BKK trip? If we have a flight at 1405 from BKK will we need to travel the day before, or is there a way to split the trip?"

I think it's wiser to arrive the day before for the 14:05 flight to Surathani. It'd be cutting it too close even if you were to leave Siem Reap on the same day extra early in the morning, especially since you're still supposed to check-in with Air Asia and their counter closes 45 minutes prior to your flight.

I do disagree with Bruce's dismissal of the Sapa area. It's still a stunningly beautiful area because it's high up in the mountains and affords incredible vistas. I do agree that the trekking there is now quite commercialised (I first visited in spring 1995 when we just hiked to those same villages that are used as home-stays now and was quite surprised by all the changes when revisiting again in 2001) but there are other areas in the northwest that are great. And northwest Vietnam's ethnic groups are different from Thailand's northern hill-tribe groups.

The only other option I would throw at you is to consider also visiting the Andaman Coast of Thailand. Samui is nice for relaxing but if you're seeking snorkeling, diving, or more dramatic landscapes, then the areas around Krabi or further north and south also provides excellent quality beaches with far better marine life and scenery.

#12 seagypsy has been a member since 5/2/2009. Posts: 136

Posted by BruceMoon on 20/8/2009 at 17:58

Emma

As far as Siem Reap/Angkor is concerned, please read this .

I'm not sure what seagypsy means by {i]"I do disagree with Bruce's dismissal of the Sapa area..

I love the SaPa area. The scenery is great, the ethnic community are wonderful, etc., etc., etc.

What I was trying to say is that the idea that the area is a 'must do/see' based on a trek, or that go there for a trek, is nowadays outdated. I argue that go to SaPa (if you can so do), and instead of paying some HaNoi based firm to get you to trek, engage with the local H!Mong women and do it yourself.

You don't say what you intend to do at HaLong Bay to warrant 3 days. many spend one night, some 2 nights, but few spend beyond that. Those that spend beyond 2 nights appear to do so off the water. What did you have in mind?

Similarly, what did you have in mind for your time at Hoi An? Yes, its on the tourist trail. Yes, its largely catering for western travellers. But, what do you see as important for you at Hoi An?

Also, what are your expectations of a Mekong tour? This is important as it isn't the be-all and end-all of southern Vietnam. Rather, for many its a distraction from the urbanity of Saigon, but only a marginal distraction. So, what do you have in mind?

cheers

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

Posted by lucky13 on 6/9/2009 at 17:28

Hi,

Having read a bit more on Sapa (particularly your recent thread Bruce, which is very helpful), I think we will try and fit it in. We should be able to get to the market on a Sunday morning which would work out great.

This will probably mean cutting some time off Hoi An or Hue . In terms of what we want to do there, there is obviously a lot to see in both and I do need to do a bit more reading. We would love to visit the Vinh Moc tunnels from Hue on our own and see a few of the sights (tombs etc) around town and soak up the sun by the river. I visited the Cu Chi tunnels when I was younger and found it a fascinating experience. In Hoi An we will be wanting to make the most of some cheap tailoring, see a few sights on the culture tour and maybe hire some bikes and do some exploring around town.

Do you think 2 days in Hue, 3 in Hoi An will be enough for this? We did not want it to be so crammed, but trying to add in Sapa sort of forces this due to our Da Nang -Saigon flight. (@ Bruce, the reason for 3 days in Halong is simply that we are doing a 2 night tour with Columbus and from what I understand it takes most of 3 days.)

In a nutshell, we arrive on the night of the 12th in Hanoi, and leave from Da Nang 4:45 on the 25th. In this time we are wanting to spend time in Hanoi, 2 night/3 day Halong Bay, Sapa, Hue and Hoi An. What do you think is the best way to spread this?

@ Bruce, our expectations for a Mekong tour are not high, we don't have the time to devote to explore the area properly. We would see it as a convenient way to get to PP with (hopefully) some interesting sights along the way. They seem to be pretty cheap so I figure not too much love lost if we see have an interesting experience and only take 2 days out of our trip.

@ seagypsy, cheers for the advice re: Siam Reap- BKK, I did have that feeling, but guess I was secretly hoping there was a magic way! The reason we are spending all our beach time on Samui is because that part of the trip will be primarily for recharging the batteries, we will do some exploring I'm sure, but also a lot of lying in the sun! We didn't want to distract by trying to see more that one island. Originally we were going to go for our dive certs on Ko Tao, but decided we'd save that for another trip!

Cheers to all for the advice, it is proving extremely helpful.

Emma

#14 lucky13 has been a member since 13/8/2009. Posts: 10

Posted by lucky13 on 6/9/2009 at 17:43

Hi,

Having read a bit more on Sapa (particularly your recent thread Bruce, which is very helpful), I think we will try and fit it in. We should be able to get to the market on a Sunday morning which would work out great.

This will probably mean cutting some time off Hoi An or Hue . In terms of what we want to do there, there is obviously a lot to see in both and I do need to do a bit more reading. We would love to visit the Vinh Moc tunnels from Hue on our own and see a few of the sights (tombs etc) around town and soak up the sun by the river. I visited the Cu Chi tunnels when I was younger and found it a fascinating experience. In Hoi An we will be wanting to make the most of some cheap tailoring, see a few sights on the culture tour and maybe hire some bikes and do some exploring around town.

Do you think 2 days in Hue, 3 in Hoi An will be enough for this? We did not want it to be so crammed, but trying to add in Sapa sort of forces this due to our Da Nang -Saigon flight. (@ Bruce, the reason for 3 days in Halong is simply that we are doing a 2 night tour with Columbus and from what I understand it takes most of 3 days.)

In a nutshell, we arrive on the night of the 12th in Hanoi, and leave from Da Nang 4:45 on the 25th. In this time we are wanting to spend time in Hanoi, 2 night/3 day Halong Bay, Sapa, Hue and Hoi An. What do you think is the best way to spread this?

@ Bruce, our expectations for a Mekong tour are not high, we don't have the time to devote to explore the area properly. We would see it as a convenient way to get to PP with (hopefully) some interesting sights along the way. They seem to be pretty cheap so I figure not too much love lost if we see have an interesting experience and only take 2 days out of our trip.

@ seagypsy, cheers for the advice re: Siam Reap- BKK, I did have that feeling, but guess I was secretly hoping there was a magic way! The reason we are spending all our beach time on Samui is because that part of the trip will be primarily for recharging the batteries, we will do some exploring I'm sure, but also a lot of lying in the sun! We didn't want to distract by trying to see more that one island. Originally we were going to go for our dive certs on Ko Tao, but decided we'd save that for another trip!

Cheers to all for the advice, it is proving extremely helpful.

Emma

#15 lucky13 has been a member since 13/8/2009. Posts: 10

Posted by BruceMoon on 6/9/2009 at 19:27

Emma

Regarding Hoi An and tailoring, I have a (largely negative) view. Go read the recent TF on this here . That said, Hoi An is great (international) destination, and a garment or two would be a talking point for when you return home. But, personally, I wouldn't be recommending Hoi An just for the tailored clothes. In fact, the tailoring elsewhere [eg. Hanoi] is reputed to now be on par or better that Hoi An.

If I had to choose between 2 or 3 nights Hue /Hoi An, I'd start by saying that (IMHO) Hue NEEDS 3 nights because the monuments are spread out and they really can't be seen in a day (or so). So, that suggests 3 nights at Hue.

Given that you'd like to visit Vinh Moc, maybe you're itinerary ought leave out Hoi An (for another visit), and concentrate on the he / DMZ region (spend a night at Dong Ha rather than rush to the DMZ from Hue).

You wrote "Bruce, the reason for 3 days in Halong is simply that we are doing a 2 night tour with Columbus and from what I understand it takes most of 3 days.. Couldn't agree more as a worthwhile exercise. My wife & I went on similar last year. On the full-day, we did the lunch excursion (I blogged about it here about 1/3 way down) we absolutely loved it.

Re: Mekong, I saw an option being advertised that appeared different to the normal 'run of the mill' offerings - go look here . I don't know anything about them, but the itinerary seems appealing.

Re: Siem Reap - southern Thailand, Bangkok Air is expensive. An alternate route is AirAsia via Kuala Lumpur to Phuket (but keep 3 hours between flights).

Cheers

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


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