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Thailand forum

2 months in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam AND Indonesia

Posted by mar571 on 9/11/2010 at 08:45

I am planning to travel from mid-January to mid-March of 2011. I plan on flying into Bangkok and from there am free to wander as I please. I want to visit the following places, but am unsure of the route to take and if it will be too much. I have been doing osme research online and reading some books, but I am finding it quite overwhelming! I want to visit:

Koh Phi Phi
Koh Lanta
Khao Sok
Koh Phangan
Koh Ang THong National Park
Koh Samui

Halong Bay
Hoi An
Nha Trang

Luang Prabang
Vang Vieng

Phnom Penh
Siem Reap
Angkor Wat

Mt. Rinjani, Lombok
The Gili Islands
Kuta, Bali
Ubud, Bali

If anyone has any advice on these locations, it would be so greatly appreciated. As Im sure you can tell this is my first trip across seas. I am flying out of Canada!

Thanks SO much!

#1 mar571 has been a member since 9/11/2010. Posts: 2

Posted by rawjer on 9/11/2010 at 09:43

This would be an insane trip if you visited all those places, and the route would be extremely circuitous as well. Even though I am one of the few who finds value in "fast travel" even I have to admit that you have way too many stops for two months.

So I think you could get more help from people here if you trimmed down your list by quite a bit. Start with the Thai islands and beaches. They are all fairly similar to one another, so you'd be better off picking maybe 2 or 3 in total. Phuket is the most expensive and it's got lots of resorts, and a few on your list are quite small and less commercial. So unless you are planning on writing your own guidebook on Thai Islands and beaches, just pick a couple and plan on spending more time there.

A few other notes:

Halong Bay is best as a 2-day/1-night side trip from Hanoi.
Hoi An is great, but I'd skip Nha Trang on this trip since you'll be going to much better beaches in Thailand. And stop in Ho Chi Minh City for at least a day or two instead.

Angkor Wat is the temple complex you'll visit while you are staying in Siem Reap, so it's really all one place for itinerary purposes.

If you trim down your list it'll be much easier to figure out your route. You can do most of it overland in cheap trains (Thailand and Vietnam), and cheap buses in the other places, although you might mix in a flight or two as Air Asia has very cheap fares if you buy well in advance.

#2 rawjer has been a member since 20/1/2010. Posts: 104
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Posted by mar571 on 9/11/2010 at 10:09

Ha! I assumed that it was WAY too much for 2 months, especially since we really want to go to Indonesia. If I were to limit the list a bit I would choose the following:

Bangkok -> Railay -> Koh Phi Phi -> Khao Sok and Koh Phangan. I am curious about the similarities between these places. After a while, I would assume a beach is a beach is a beach....

Siem Reap -> Phnom Pehn

Ho Chi Minh City (I meant to include this on the initial list!) -> Hanoi -> Halong Bay -> Hoi An ->

Vang Vieng -> Luang Prabang -> Vientiane

Laos back to Bangkok and then fly to Indonesia.

Open to suggesstions for Indonesia. Will likely fly into Bali. Will then fly back to Bangkok and back home to Canada.

I hope this has limited the original list a bit. Is this still too much though? I appreciate any and all feedback!

Thanks again*

#3 mar571 has been a member since 9/11/2010. Posts: 2

Posted by rawjer on 9/11/2010 at 18:39

This is still a lot for two months, but you could pull it off if you wanted to. One great thing about this part of the world (I've been traveling this region for over 9 months so far) is that you can wing it most of the time and you'll be just fine, so you don't have to lock in hotels or buses or even flights long beforehand.

My advice would be to break this into two, with the first part being a classic mainland loop, and you can do the islands and Bali with whatever time you have left. That way you'll be able to pace yourself through more of the "cultural" destinations, and speed up or skip some if you need to, then rewarding yourself with some beach time at the end.

So here's the mainland route that connects all of these:

Bangkok to Siem Reap by bus
Siem Reap to Phnom Penh by bus
Phnom Penh to HCMC by bus
HCMC to Danang by train (then a short taxi ride to Hoi An)
Danang to Hanoi by train
Halong Bay is a 2-day/1-night side trip from Hanoi
Hanoi to Luang Prabang flight (US$135 on Vietnam Airlines) (buses take more than a full day and some say they are torturous)
Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng by bus
Vang Vieng to Vientiane by bus
Vientiane to Bangkok by train (or bus)

The bus rides will be between US$5 and $10 in most cases and can usually be booked the day before, but it's good to check into them earlier to avoid surprises. The train tickets ($10 to $20 but well worth it) should be booked at least a few days in advance if possible since the better sleeper sections do sell out ahead of time, especially in Vietnam.

Tet (lunar new year) is a huge family holiday in Vietnam and it falls on February 3 in 2011. It probably won't affect backpacker hotel availability much, but it will clog up all the trains and buses until around February 10, which could be a problem for you now that I think about it. It's possible to buy train or bus tickets online in advance, but locking in dates would be a buzzkill on this route.

You might even consider doing the islands and Bali first and then the mainland afterward, though it'll be harder to pace yourself that way.

Regarding budgeting time on the mainland, part of the problem is all the travel time itself. The train sections above can (and probably should) be done overnight, but each of the bus journeys will take up a whole day. Even the shortest bus ride on the list - Vang Vieng to Vientiane - takes four hours, but they pick you up an hour early and then by the time you are in a hotel in the next city 6 or 7 hours have gone by and most people aren't ready to tour a temple with the remaining hour or two of daylight on a day like that.

So with this in mind, even two nights in one city is really only one day in that city, plus an extra dinner and breakfast. Three nights in each city seems like a proper minimum or you'll feel like you are mostly just on a bus tour. Some of these cities could be seen in two nights and one day, but if you really like them (and you will) that will be like a tease.

I'm sure others will chime in with some other opinions as well.

#4 rawjer has been a member since 20/1/2010. Posts: 104
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Posted by shawnmccrea on 9/11/2010 at 21:56

Wow Rawjer you seem to have super extensive knowledge. I was planning on doing a similar trip but the other way around and had a few questions.

Without changing focus on this thread at all is it possible to message you privately anywhere else to ask a few questions?

#5 shawnmccrea has been a member since 21/5/2010. Location: Canada. Posts: 12
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Posted by rawjer on 10/11/2010 at 07:58

Shawn, thanks, but all the stuff I wrote is pretty common knowledge to loads of people on this board, and I learned most of it from them earlier this year before I started those trips myself. Southeast Asia has a couple of well-trodden (and very convenient) loops that make good sense on any map.

Send me a private message if you like, or you might just post a new topic and get opinions from other people as well. I think many people researching upcoming trips might have similar questions, unless it's something extremely unusual. Glad to help if I can.

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Posted by shawnmccrea on 10/11/2010 at 21:56


For some reason It doesnt show a private message icon beside your name.

Basically im traveling to Bangkok from Toronto at the end of February 2011. I plan to go for 6 months and possibly longer. Im breaking my trip up somewhat into to legs.

I plan on going first up through northern Thailand around through Laos, Vietnam going south and than around to Cambodia and than ending back up in Thailand. This can take me up to 3 or 4 months.

From there I plan on going south through Malasia possibly going out to Bali and Komodo Island and than around to Borneo and possibly flying to the Phillipines eventually.

In terms of weather it seems I will be fine going overland from February 28, 2011 for 3 or 4 months. But I was wondering if there is any case for me doing a reverse route moving from Thailand to Cambodia > Vietnam > Laos and than back to Thailand? In terms of if it will help me hit better weather, attend festivals, etc

Hope that makes sense. Cheers!

#7 shawnmccrea has been a member since 21/5/2010. Location: Canada. Posts: 12
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Posted by AlainaRae on 11/11/2010 at 13:05

I am also going for 2 - 2.5 months....I leave in 2 days!!! I was initially planning to do everything overland and with ferries but flights are crazy I added in a couple to make the overland part easier. I am beginning in Bali and scooting north through Singapore to Malaysia. KL is a cheap place to fly from so if time permits I may check out the Philippines. Otherwise from KL I'll head to Phuket to see Ko Phi Phi and Trang, then to Bangkok. From Bangkok it looks to be a much easier/nicer trip to fly to Cambodia and work your was up the Mekong river to northern Thailand than the other way round... and since I am flying back home from Ho Chi Min, I'll hop a flight from Bangkok to HCM and chill in Vietnam for the last two weeks or so. Don't know if this helps but the more I read about the Thailand->Laos->Cambodia down river trip - well I am glad to be going the other way... also I'm set up to stay withing visa limits for each country - since I want to spend more time in Thailand.

And if this helps -here is the going rate for air asia flights as of this week (after taxes/fees):
air asia
Bangkok -->HoChi Minh $60
KL - HCM $70
KL- Phnom Penh $103
KL- Phuket --> $90
Phuket- Bangkok $45
Bagkok - Phnom Penh $90
KL--> Phillipines $300
KL-->BKK $58

Good Luck! And if you want a detailed itinerary let me know!

#8 AlainaRae has been a member since 1/11/2010. Location: United States. Posts: 4
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Posted by rawjer on 11/11/2010 at 13:44

Looks like a great trip no matter which direction you go in. I don't see Vietnam on your first version, and I really think that while you are in the area it's worth checking out. In many ways it's very different from the other countries, which most people really appreciate, even though the place does also have a bit of a reputation problem as well.

I'm not aware of any other festivals in the region that have the impact of Tet in Vietnam, in that they really can disrupt travel plans if you don't book ahead. And the main reason I'm aware of Tet is that I flew into Hanoi about two weeks before it in 2010, and I couldn't get a train ticket to Hue (in sleeper class) until 8 days after. There are smaller festivals and such, but most might only impact you a day or two at most.

Weather-wise, you should be fine as long as you like it hot and steamy. My first ever trip to Bangkok was in the month of April a number of years ago, and I was shocked to learn that April is the single hottest month in pretty much the whole region. And it's still very humid as well. The rainy season starts in mid May, and the clouds and storms do start to bring temperatures down a bit, but it's blazing hot until then.

The only other thing I can add about which direction to go is that those who go to Chiang Mai and then over to Luang Prabang by slowboat seem to be in huge tourist crowds that make the 2-day Mekong River ride like a livestock barge, where as in the other direction (which is the way I went) it's half or more empty and a very lovely journey. Come to think of it, buses might also be more crowded going in that direction, and some the other way might be like "repositioning" rides, since many I went on were not crowded at all.

Alaina makes good points about the flights being cheap, but it seems like the only people who fly are those on quite a tight deadline, or those making big jumps. I've been traveling the area for over 9 months now, and my Chiang Mai to Phuket flight in 3 weeks will be my first trip to an airport. Buses tend to be very cheap and usually comfortable, and trains are only a bit more expensive and far more comfortable. There are also interesting (or even cliche) stops within an easy day's journey of each other, so those wanting to save money and see a lot just end up stopping in each of the major tourist towns, or even some non-tourist towns in between.

For a 2-month trip as Alaina is doing, the cheap Air Asia flights are perfect, although in order to get the cheapest fares you always have to book well ahead, or be prepared to fly at really weird times of day. I hope that helps.

#9 rawjer has been a member since 20/1/2010. Posts: 104
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Posted by shawnmccrea on 11/11/2010 at 20:54

Hey Alaina & Rawjer.

Thank you both very much for your posts. I WILL NOT be in a hurry at all and being fairly unfamiliar with all of the small towns etc to see I think buses and trains will be my best options as Im looking to see as much as possible and essentially have no time limit (also looking to save money).

Alaina im guessing it fairly common for travelers to follow the mekong river through Thailand->Laos->Cambodia down river as well as the reverse moving up river? I was not aware of that im wondering what the benefits of that route is?

**I was hoping to travel from Thailand over to Laos and than go to northern Vietnam to Ha long Bay and than make my way down the coast in Vietnam and than head west at the southern edge over to Cambodia and make my way back around to Thailand. So Rawjer I Did forget to include Vietnam in my initial plans as I actually plan on spending a fair amount of time there.

Rawjer I am not aware at all of the to trip from Chiang Mai and then over to Luang Prabang by slowboat? Maybe I havent done enough research into specific towns and routes but I was hoping to make some of it up as I go based on talking to other people. Since you mentioned it though im wondering about this trip?

I was also thinking in terms of festivals if there are any must see festivals like the water fights they have in Bangkok etc that I may miss or be able to be a part of depending on which route I take?

#10 shawnmccrea has been a member since 21/5/2010. Location: Canada. Posts: 12
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Posted by rawjer on 12/11/2010 at 17:42

I'm not really a big festival person, except for the really famous ones. I've found that wikitravel has good listings of anything that is really worthwhile on their country pages.

For point-to-point travel info, including which are the most popular and obvious next stops, there's no better source than the main guide part here in Travelfish. Each city page has a Transport sub-section, which gives you schedules and prices for all the main options. I used this info all this year and it's pretty much all current still.

The Mekong River thing is starting from Chiang Mai, then taking a bus to Chiang Khong on the border, the crossing over the river into the Laos town of Huay Xai. From there you leave in the morning, spend one night in Pakbeng, and then arrive in Luang Prabang the following afternoon. That's the most common direction by far, so coming the other way is much less crowded and nicer.

#11 rawjer has been a member since 20/1/2010. Posts: 104
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Posted by shawnmccrea on 12/11/2010 at 20:45

Are there any big must see festivals you can think of that I wouldnt want to miss? I have been researching but its kind of tough im finding to get a big picture of the entire region and what festivals are when.

I will continue to look at this site for information about point-to-point travel.

As for the Mekong River route, is that a common route taken by many travellers im guessing? I had a look at the step by step direction of the route and it makes logical sense. I am just not sure what exactly the highlights are along this way?

Thanks for your help again!

#12 shawnmccrea has been a member since 21/5/2010. Location: Canada. Posts: 12
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Posted by rawjer on 13/11/2010 at 14:36

As for that Mekong River thing, yes, it's extremely popular, at least among those who land in Bangkok then go to Chiang Mai , and then want to head next to Luang Prabang. This is definitely one of those common tourist routes where interesting cities are spaced apart in a nice loop, although this one is a bit more complicated.

As wonderfully explained here on Travelfish, to get between Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang you have three options: An expensive flight on Lao Airlines, a bus ride in Thailand one day and a full-day bone-rattling and dangerous speed boat ride on another day, or the bus ride in Thailand combined with a 2-day slowboat journey. The slowboat option is by far the most popular among the long-term backpacking set.

Having recently done it, I can say that the scenery and ride is really a fabulous experience, and even the night in Pak Beng is kind of cool, but I did it from LP to the border on nearly-empty boats. The other direction is always more crowded, and you can read about some of the horror stories in the pinned-up-top Slowboat thread.

The reason that slowboat is the main way to go is that the normal and common type of Lao boat can only go so far each day, and it would be incredibly dangerous on the river after dark. It's a very cool experience through a nearly undeveloped part of the region.

#13 rawjer has been a member since 20/1/2010. Posts: 104
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Posted by shawnmccrea on 15/11/2010 at 21:16

Hi Rawjer,

I will most likely be making my way from Bangkok north to Chang Mai and exploring the northern Thailand region. The route you said is popular and will bring me over to Laos definately makes sense.

Since Im planning on going from Bangkok to Northern Thailand and around though Laos > Vietnam > Cambodia I dont know how I can avoid doing the busier route? I think there will be a ton of backtracking if I make me way to Laos through an alternative route and than river boat back into Thailand. That wont make sense if im already making my way through Thailand. So unless I change my entire route and do the opposite loop of the 4 countries there will be no avoiding the busier of the 2 directions right?

Thanks again for your help.

#14 shawnmccrea has been a member since 21/5/2010. Location: Canada. Posts: 12
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Posted by shorty9787 on 15/11/2010 at 22:22

Hey all

I have a similar query, i will be in S.E.Asia for roughly 10weeks.

Landing in Bangkok and flying out of Signapore.

we plan to head North in Thailand coming back down through laos, cambodia then up the vietnam coast to Halong Bay. From here we will probably arrange a flight to Ko Pha Ngan and stay a few days in the islands before arranging some kind of travel to signapore.

main places we want to see are

Chang Mai
Luang Prabang
Vang Vien
Siem Reap
Nha Trang
Hoi An
Halong Bay
Ko Pha Ngan
Ko Samui

Is it possible to accomplish all this? we will not be looking for any extended stays in one area (apart from maybe the islands) and have no problem with continuos travel.

Would welcome any feedback and reccommondations for anywere we might be missing.

#15 shorty9787 has been a member since 15/11/2010. Posts: 1

Posted by sonnymav5a on 25/11/2010 at 16:39

Thailand is a beutiful country. The places you mentioned are the best places to visit.
You will have a good time.
Vietnam is also good.

#16 sonnymav5a has been a member since 25/11/2010. Posts: 4

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