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To Koh or not to Koh? - Itinerary advice for Thailand and Laos

Posted by CaptainScott on 8/5/2013 at 08:46

I know you must get sick of these itinerary advice threads, but here goes. I have my flights booked already so the period of time I have to spend in the region is fixed at 3 weeks. I would like to get a brief taste of both Thailand and Laos in the limited time I have, and consider this a reccie for future more in-depth trips.

I had originally planned to do the northern Thailand and Laos classic loop, then finish up with 4 nights on Koh Chang for some beach time. However, I am currently torn between Nong Khiaw and Vang Vieng and I figured that if I ditched Koh Chang then I could fit in both at a slightly more leisurely pace.

Here is my plan so far:

Day 1:Bangkok
Day 2: Bangkok
Day 3: Bangkok
Day 4: Ayutthaya then overnight train to Chiang Mai
Day 5: Chiang Mai
Day 6/7: Chiang Dao trek and back to Chiang Mai
Day 8: Chiang Mai – possible Loi Krathong goings-on in the town?
Day 9: minibus to Nan province border
Day 10: Pakcan Slow Boat and arrive Luang Prabang
Day 11: Luang Prabang
Day 12: Luang Prabang
Day 13: Luang Prabang
Day 14, 15 and 16: Either Vang Vieng or Nong Khiaw(if Nong Khiaw will shift these 2 days back to allow for 1 night in LP before onward travel)
Day 16: Either bus or fly to Vientiane
Day 17: Vientiane then fly or night train to Bangkok
Day 18: Arrive Bangkok then minibus to Koh Chang
Day 19: Koh Chang
Day 20: Koh Chang
Day 21: Koh Chang
Day 22: Koh Chang to Bangkok and flight home (late night)

Any advice/constructive criticism welcomed :) If it helps, my interests are beautiful scenery and interesting journeys, culture (but not so much as to get watted out) and trekking with a bit of time to relax.

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Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 8/5/2013 at 08:52

I really like Koh Chang as it has a laid back atmosphere, good food and things to do. Your trip north looks real rushed and personally I didn't think much of Chang Dao. Apart from the cave (which is ok) it wasn't that appealing to me. If you want to drop something I'd drop CM/Dao.

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Posted by exacto on 8/5/2013 at 13:51

It is always tempting to try and fit in as much as you can in your three weeks, but the smart move is to plan less so you move around less and spend more time enjoying what you came to see in the first place. Just to offer another opinion, I really enjoyed my visit to Chiang Dao. I didn't think the town itself was much more than a wide spot in the road with a 7-11 and a good noodle shop, but I loved the cave, the climb up the stairs at the hillside temple, and hanging out at Malee's and The Nest. It is a good quick side trip out of Chiang Mai , and gives you a chance to see another side of northern Thai life.

If you are looking to save time so you'll still have those last few days on Koh Chang at the end of your trip, you might consider adding a few flights to your itinerary. The most obvious might be to fly from Chiang Mai straight to Luang Prabang . It isn't cheap, but it is quick and the views from the air are pretty great. Another time-saver might be to fly from Luang Prabang down to Vientiane (meaning you'd skip Vang Vieng), and you might even consider flying from Luang Prabang straight back to Bangkok. That would give you time to visit Nong Khiaw if you wanted or spend a few extra days in Luang Prabang, and still hit the beach.

By the way, it wasn't clear to me when you are travelling. Koh Chang is a great destination, but gets soaked during the wet season, so timing will make a difference too. Have a look at this animated Thai weather map to see what I mean.

Have a great trip. Cheers.

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Posted by somtam2000 on 8/5/2013 at 17:33 admin

I'm very recently back from Ko Kut (a large island to the south of Ko Chang) - you don't mention what time of the year you're going, but depending on the weather I'd consider swapping Chang to Kut. You can read more about it on the following entries (as have not updated the destination guide yet)

The best beaches on Kut
Meet Kut

Have an accommodation post coming up shortly :)

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Posted by CaptainScott on 8/5/2013 at 17:38

Thanks for the advice folks. The main reason for going to Chiang Dao was to do the overnight trek up Doi Chiang Dao whick looks ace so I've sort of based that bit of the trip around that. My main quandary (which I've posted about before) was the choice between Vang Vieng and Nong Khiaw because the scenery around VV looks incredible, but Nong Khiaw seems gorgeous too, particularly with the trip up the Nam Ou river plus it seems quieter. It's good to know that Koh Chang is pleasant as I've heard mixed things about it so I will keep it in my itinerary. I'm going to be staying at Klong Prao beach.

So yeah, back to that old chestnut of Nong Khiaw or Vang Vieng. At the moment I'm swaying towards NK as I believe the boat trip on the Nam Ou might not be available in the future with the Hydro schemes being built.

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Posted by caseyprich on 8/5/2013 at 20:29

I haven't been up to Northern Laos since 2008, but at that time I was avoiding Vang Vieng (tubing madness) and found Nong Kiaow a really nice relaxed and friendly location. I also took the motorboat up to Muang Ngoi, which I found to be a strip of guesthouses and spas - but still had some charm . . . I can only imagine though that it has gotten worse and not better. These days I've heard that Vang Vieng has settled down a lot, and the scenery remains very beautiful (though the bridge/cliff around Nong Kiaow is still pretty spectacular in my mind). The main reason I'd advice Vang Vieng though is simply that it saves you a flight as it is a perfect stop to break up the journey between Luang Prabang and Vientiane.

On another note - if you found something you really want to do in Chiang Dao, then certainly don't just fly over it - that said, have you been to Chiang Mai before? If not - just one day there seems really short change. I'd suggest you need to cut out Ayutthaya if only to slow down your pace and soak up some scenery more.

@exacto - I just discovered that map the other day, pretty fantastic thing . . . when did somtam put it up I wonder . . .

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Posted by CaptainScott on 9/5/2013 at 07:56

Somtam2000 - Ko Kut looks quite appealing, but I guess it all adds to the travel time, particularly as I'm only going to be there for 4 nights. I'm going in November by the way, so the weather will hopefully be decent on Koh Chang.

I know I'm not leaving myself much time for Chiang Mai, prticularly as a first time visitor, but I will have the day the sleeper gets in (early morning) plus one full day after I get back from Chiang Dao. Hopefully I will get the chance to explore a bit.

Is Ayutthaya worthwhile? I could get the night train up north from there as it is on the way to Chiang Mai, but if it meant an extra day in CM maybe that would be more worthwhile?

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