After a fair whack of time vegetating in comfortable Phuket , I'm looking to get out and experience more of the region.
My rough bucket list includes visits to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, though I really need help filling in the details - which is where you, my fellow travelfishies come in. I really don't know anything about these places although I'm scouring the net (including this site of course), and a ratty, five-year-old copy of LP for info.
Although I'm most curious to see Vietnam, it looks like I'll have to stop off in a Capital city somewhere else to pick up a visa first as there's no Visa on Arrival offered. Apparently you can get a VoA at Laos and Cambodia, so that puts them in the forefront.
I was considering a flight directly from Phuket to Udon Thani, spending a couple of days there before heading overland via the Friendship Bridge to Vientiane in Laos where I could procure a Vietnam visa and get a flavour of Laos.
After that I could continue overland up to Luang Prabang and after that... well, one thing at a time.
My itinerary skills are truly cruddy, but I'm hoping to refine them a bit with your input.
MadMac, I'm aware you think Laos is a snore - does anyone else think I should leave it off the agenda altogether?
I wouldn't cut out Laos - I love it. It sounds like you'll be going through the North to get into Vietnam - so if you find you enjoy the North consider swinging into the south around Pakse after going the length of Vietnam and possibly heading into Cambodia through the Mekong Delta.
If you're just looking at the North - Vientinne, VV, Luang Prabang, then head up to Nong Kiaow and a couple nights in Muang Ngoi (reached by boat via NK). If you want to stay in Laos longer maybe head up to Luang Nam Tha from there and then double back to Sam Neau on your way into Northern Vietnam.
Hey Cranky - Not sure if you realise but if you were to fly in to Vietnam, you can sort out your Vietnam visa online. I got mine from http://www.myvietnamvisa.com/ - hassle free. Apply online and pay your USD$20. Two days later they email a 'Visa Approval' letter that you need to print and bring with you. At the airport, you show the approval letter, fill in a visa form, then pay a $25 stamping fee (!) at the airport.
I know your plans above indicate you'd be arriving overland, in which case, the above info is redundant. But just in case you aren't up to the torturous bus ride to get there, this
might be useful....
@Bizzy - Actually, after considering just how freaking uncomfortable long bus/minivan rides have been for me in the past (The rides seldom accommodate my 6'3" frame too well), I'd be only too happy to fly into Hanoi or Ho Chi Mihn.
I'd heard of that visa online thing, but it seemed like there were a lot of people on the net skeptical as to whether it was a scam or not. If you say you got one without issue from that site, I might give 'em a go too.
Do they call it a "Stamping Fee" because you stamp your feet at how much of a rip-off it seems?
@Caseyprich - What do you love about Laos? Thanks for the detailed route suggestions. I have virtually zero itinerary building skills so all assistance is gratefully accepted.
At this stage I just vaguely have it in my head that I may as well visit these three countries while I'm in the region, but as far as the order to do them and approach to take (overland vs flying), well that's what I'm trying to nail down.
From Phuket, it looks like I'll kick off by either flying to Phnom Penh or Hanoi via Bangkok OR fly up to Udon Thani and cross the good 'ol Friendship bridge into Laos/Vientiane.
After that, there's a whole lot of blanks to fill in. Time isn't so much of a factor - I'm just going until the money runs out.
I like the people, the scenery, the relaxed pace, the coffee. Living in Shanghai I take any opportunity to get away form noise, crowds, and smog - and Laos offers a great distance from that. It is hard to put my finger on what is so great about Laos - but my trip to Southern Laos last year was probably the best vacation I've had. I don't really mind long bus rides though, and anywhere I can rent a motorbike and zoom around through trees and villages is great. If you've got the time it certainly isn't a fly over state.
Not knowing where you will end up (BKK?) flying into Hanoi isn't a bad idea if you want to do a large loop - but it'd put Laos a little out of the way. Flying to Vientiane you have that option to work overland to Hanoi and then take your time going down Vietnam and into Cambodia - then you're option to hit Southern Laos and head back to BKK or leave Cambodia for Thailand and check out Trat and the Ko Chang Archipelago before heading back up to BKK.
@Caseyprich - the coffee part sounds good to me. I've not been running the rat race in some hectic city, so the appeal of lots of dirt, dust and not much else holds limited appeal for me atm.
Since Bizzy clued me in to the online visa app for Vietnam I'm now thinking I may as well go there first since it's the country I was most curious to go see.
**One thing with those visas** - you have to enter within 30 days of the day you list on the app as the date you plan to enter the country. I had no clue so just picked a date a few days from now ...meaning I gotta go there by December 7. Shouldn't be an issue, but I didn't see anything on the site pointing that out.
So a friend suggested Saigon was the best place to start out in 'Nam... guess I can work my way up from there.
If you plan to travel the length of Vietnam it doesn't really matter where you start - i'd check the climate reports and see if the weather gives any indication of where you should be when. If that doesn't steer you into a particular direction then think about where your next onward travel may be. For example, if you're really interested in PP, Angkor, and the beaches of Cambodia then start in Hanoi so you can work your way into Cambodia through the Delta from HCMC. If you want the dirt and backwoods of Northern Laos then start with HCMC so that you can move into Laos via Sapa.
Hmmm "Dirt and backwoods of Laos" ...
What about if I start by flying into HCMC, work my way around Vietnam a bit, then just fly straight to PP or wherever in Cambodia from Hanoi?
I'm not deadset on travelling everywhere by land. My threshold for being stuffed in a bus or van is only about 3 hours, and it looks like plane rides between BKK, 'Nam and Cambodia are usually around the hundred dollar mark with Air Asia and the like.
I can weather that.
Speaking of weather, I'm really just a shorts and tee shirt kind of guy. Does it really get cold enough to rug up anywhere in Vietnam?
Hmm.... I don;t think Laos is going to be your thing Cranky - esp the overland bit from Hanoi .
I do think you will find Vietnam far more interesting. Your money goes a lot further in terms of accom (ie you will spend less to get pretty decent accom, with WiFi, etc). Bus rides can be long, but I didn't think they are that bad compared to what the Laos ones. And the roads are definitely better (generally speaking). Just forget the night buses - you're too tall for the sleeper bus beds!
I would suggest that you fly into Hanoi, and make your way down south to HCMC by combination of bus/train and flights on the longer haul. I just had a look at the Jetstar prices for another post and they can be pretty reasonable in Vietnam.
Once in HCMC, I would suggest that you go overland through the Mekong Delta area. Stop in Can Tho (2 nights) then in Chau Doc (1 night. In Chau Doc organise a ticket on a boat for the next day to Phnom Penh. The boat is an interesting way to travel - like a comfortable bus on water. It takes approx 6 hours I think in total but you stop twice to go through immigration (once for Vietnam, once for Cambodia).
Weather in Vietnam is only an issue north of Hue in my experience. I was in Hanoi in early December and wore a T-shirt day and night. I did put on a thin merino top over the T-shirt when sitting outside on a boat in Halong Bay in the evening. Likewise I needed my merino top in Hue where it was constantly grey and drizzly.
South of Hue, the only time I wanted something warmer than a T-shirt was when I was on a motorbike first thing in the morning in the Central Highlands. Out of the highlands, it was bloody hot.
Right - sounds like I'm best off flying up Hanoi and working my way down then. A friend of mine said she thought Hanoi and much of the north was dull and HCMC was great, but another friend said he thought Hanoi was where it was at.
I guess I might as well just go start from the top and get down low with a view to going on to conquer PP etc in Cambodia.
I really think Vietnam sounds like my scene more than Laos, so I might as well go there first, then on to Cambodia ...and if my itchy feet aren't well and truly scratched by then, I guess I might as well double back for Laos.
Got my US 25 Dollars this afternoon. The fiver has a big purple 5 on one corner - I never noticed that the last time I picked up a Lincoln (to buy entry to Indonesia). Is that meant to be there?
I thought Hanoi was far more interesting than HCMC. HCMC seemed to me to be just another big city - but I was only there for two nights, and the middle day was Xmas day so to be fair, I didn't see a lot. Hanoi is far more buzzy, chaotic and fun to explore. But... the touts are more aggressive, so be on scam-alert. For example, don't offer to wear a cone hate and hold a pole carrying baskets of fruit for a photo opp. If you do, you just bought the fruit!
I forget to mention earlier when answering the weather question: if you plan on going to Sapa (hill country) up north, then I think you will need something much warmer to wear.
I have a pair of jeans and a long sleeve collared shirt, and that's about the warmest stuff in my backpack.
The way things are going, I'll be in Vietnam for Christmas too, but I might take a little more time in HCMC.
Thanks Bizzy and CP.
@CP - I'm sure Laos is a lovely place if you're looking for a nice, laid back environment with zero hustle and bustle, but at this stage I'm keener on seeing a little more action, so it's off to Vietnam. Thanks for your input all the same.
If that is your mood and after Vietnam and Cambodia you stil have time and want a feel of Laos (though again I don't know your onward travel spot) you could always go into Southern Laos and relax in the very celebratory 4,000 islands for a couple of days before heading back into Thailand if you don't mind the visa fee just for a quick visit.
Glad I could give you some low-down, enjoy Vietnam & Cambodia.
My onward travel spot is almost invariably Phuket. I know my way around here. It's comfortable. It has big shopping centres with cinemas where I can go watch movies for three bucks... the internet works. I've never found a frog in my toilet.
Anyway, I endure the discomfort of low budget travel reluctantly, but I am keen to go learn about somewhere new, so here we go.
I've still got a bunch of questions about Vietnam, but I'll go post up in that forum. See you there!
" It's comfortable. It has big shopping centres with cinemas where I can go watch movies for three bucks... the internet works. I've never found a frog in my toilet."
I remember months ago seeing a post here on TF from someone claiming to be a "hardcore backpacker".
That obivously wasn't you, right?! ;-)
Well, I do travel exclusively with a backpack, but most of the time it's stashed in the cupboard of my 3 star apartment :)
I never claimed to be a hardcore anything.
I've been rendered softcore by months of air-con, hot water and maid service.
What are you going to do with that crappy little bike you've got? You going to drive it over to Cambodia and Laos?
If it were me, I think I would go to Nong Khai, Nakhon Phanom and Bueng Kan (not in that order) and check those places out. Definitely off the beaten path, particularly Bueng Kan. You decide to come out Mukdahan way, drop me a line.
My crappy little bike is just a rental, so it'll be back to the shop with it before I take to the air to get wherever I'm going next. At this stage it looks like a flight to Bangkok and then on to Hanoi. I've heard talk of direct flights from Phuket to Vietnam, but yet to confirm they exist.
If I somehow end up in Mukdahan, I'll look you up.