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Thailand forum

First time to Thailand

Posted by demoncleaner on 11/3/2009 at 06:38

Hello everyone,

My girlfriend and I are planning an 8 week trip to Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. I have been doing some research/planning for it and I have found this site to be very helpful, though I still have several questions.

1) Many people/articles mention bartering. I have been about before, but was just wondering of the general tone/feel of it, and whether it is appropriate to barter over budget accommodations. Is it more like Latin America where the vendor will state a price and you smile and state your counter offer, with things proceeding quickly if there is bartering to be done. Or is it more like North Africa and the middle east, where a lengthy debate that encompasses factors like materials, locations, weather, astrology, market forces, health of relatives, etc... goes on for hours, with breaks for tea and snacks (supplied by the vendor) until finally they decide they like you or not and charge you whatever? Personally, I prefer the former and only then if its likely to be productive.

2) To save time/accommodation costs, we were hoping to travel overnight on several legs of our journey. However I am 6'4" and 90kg, so legroom/headroom/shoulder room, might be a concern. Are the more expensive buses more comfortable in terms of seat size? Or do they tend to be more express service, reliable, a/c? Same question for sleeper trains. I was hoping to go 2nd class sleeper, but haven't been able to determine the size of the beds.

3) We are hoping to travel light, so not bringing sleeping bags, but is it a good idea to bring silk/lightweight bag liners just in case of dodgy bedding? And if it is, can they be easily found in Bangkok?

4) I would like to see many temples, but wish to see them dressed appropriately, ie. long pants, polo shirt rather than crusty shirt and shorts. Will I be able to find lightweight backpack-friendly pants in Bangkok for my size or should I look into purchasing them here in Canada? I hate not being appropriately dressed when traveling and I also hate the idea of wearing tight pants. I feel that avoiding both situations would be best for all concerned.

5) We were hoping to see Ayuthaya, Sukhothai , Nan and Chiang Mai. Would it be easier to do them all as one trip, or Ayuthaya as a day trip from Bangkok, then sleeper train up to Sukhothai. Also Lonely Planet (boo) says that it is possible to get to Nan via bus from both Sukhothai and Pitsalanok, but the travel times seem extremely different, and consequently I am skeptical of the information. Has anyone taken this route?

Any advice, recommendations or info would be greatly appreciated.


#1 demoncleaner has been a member since 11/3/2009. Posts: 8

Posted by exacto on 11/3/2009 at 08:33

hi d,

1. the bartering is more like the quick and friendly kind. the most important thing for you to remember is to smile and be friendly too while you are doing it. there are some pretty good threads in the forum on exactly this topic which should be helpful for you.

2. there are more expensive "VIP" long-haul overnight buses that have fewer seats and will therefore give you some of the extra leg room you crave. some. however, i don't feel safe on the overnight buses so i usually take the sleeper trains instead. for a tall guy like you, the second class lower berth should be okay. it will be tight, but you won't have to sleep like a pretzel. having said all that, if your goal is to save time, you might want to consider flying when possible rather than overnight transport, particularly since airfares are pretty cheap right now.

3. definitely recommend taking a silk sleepsack with you on your trip. they are lightweight and versatile. i'm afraid i don't know if they are available in bangkok or not. we buy ours online from a company in new zealand. i paid about US$35 earlier this year for one, including shipping.

4. you might want to buy a pair of those lightweight nylon zip off shorts/long pants that are so popular. they'll give you the flexibility you want. plus, the lightweight material dries quickly, which can be great if you get caught a bit short between laundry days.

5. you can definitely catch the northbound sleeper train in ayutthaya after a day (and evening) visiting the temples, but i'm not sure the distance from ayutthaya to phitsanulok warrants a sleeper train, particularly since it will dump you off around 4 am. you might be better off just travelling during the day for that one.

i hope that helps. have a great trip.

#2 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,766
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Posted by Rufus on 11/3/2009 at 11:10

"Many people/articles mention bartering."
I do not really know of anyone who barters in SEA unless they live in a remote village. You comment about "bartering for accomodation", what will you offer them in return? Work around the place? Perhaps you mean bargaining? That is totally different, and is commonly practised and expected.

With your size you would definitely want a first class sleeper. The buses will kill you. Have you considered flying? Investigate the "Discovery Pass."

Exacto has offered some useful advice re clothes and bedding.

#3 Rufus has been a member since 22/4/2007. Location: Laos. Posts: 978
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Posted by demoncleaner on 12/3/2009 at 00:38

Thanks for the advice.

I will take my current sleeping bag liner and pick up a pair of those pant/short combinations.

Sorry, for the gaffe, bargaining rather than bartering. I didnt mean to give the impression that I would be offering to work or trade krugerrands for a room. I will just smile and relax and bargain.

I have checked out the discovery airpass, and we are planning to fly from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang , Luang Prabang to Vientiane and Pakse to Siem Reap. I will consider switching my itinerary to avoid long bus rides.

Thanks again

#4 demoncleaner has been a member since 11/3/2009. Posts: 8

Posted by Tilapia on 12/3/2009 at 04:44

I took a pair of those pants/shorts last time I was there and they were great! Mine were made by Columbia ... probably in Cambodia.

The VIP buses in Laos are great. You get an entire bed, and they are less expensive and more frequent than flights to, for example, Pakse . Of course, you're talking about 14 hrs. vs. 1 hr.

If you are really interested in temples, try to get to Si Satchanalai, just north of Sukhothai . Worth the minimal effort to get there. Rent a motorbike in Sukhothai and ride up there on your own. Public transport is okay, but it's much better to have a motorbike for touring around the ruins. Same goes with Sukhothai. There is much to see in both places.

There are also very important Khmer ruins in Issan, as well as in Champasak, Laos (Wat Phu). Wat Phu is a very nice, quiet place with a great view over to the Mekong and beyond.

I went from Sukhothai to Nan in one day. Left early in the morning and arrived by mid-afternoon. Nan is great. Absolutely lovely place. Phitsanulok is the main transport hub for that area, so you'll get your bus from there if you are going from Sukhothai. If one is not going to Nan, get one to Phrae , then get on a bus to Nan when you arrive at the Phrae bus terminal. It's easy. There will always be someone at the station to help and hurry you along.

If you don't mind me saying so, by flying to all those places you are going to miss much of each country. The main towns are nice, but there's loads of great stuff to see in between most of them. Have you considered taking the boat to Luang Prabang? Or going from Pakse to Si Phan Don via Champasak? You can cross into Cambodia from the Si Phan Don area then continue on to Siem Reap. Then take the boat to Phnom Penh (or to Battambang), then the bus to Sihanoukville where you can get a boat back to Thailand. Just a thought.

6-8 weeks is plenty of time to see a lot in each of these countries.

#5 Tilapia has been a member since 21/4/2006. Location: Canada. Posts: 1,524
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Posted by fondo on 12/3/2009 at 09:27

As a tall person (6'3")myself:

Second class sleeper is a tiny bit too short for actual comfort, but I've done it many times (!)

The expensive VIP buses in Thailand - ie, from the bus terminal for a long haul - have tons of room. You're sitting up of course, but the seats go back a fair way. I inspected some sleeper buses in Laos and thought the beds looked way too short.

I'm doing more and more flying these days, it's generally pretty cheap except to/from Laos.

But, sometimes you just have to tough it out - some of those boat trips suggested above are pretty rugged for a big fella!

#6 fondo has been a member since 23/6/2006. Posts: 176
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Posted by demoncleaner on 12/3/2009 at 09:55

Thanks everyone for your advice and suggestions, this site is great!

I have seen you recommend Si Satchanalai in a previous post and have made plans to see it, as it looks fantastic. Great ruins and less touristed. Unfortunately, my gf is not keen on motorcycles or overland travel in both Laos and Cambodia, due to bandit related safety concerns. I feel that the sleeper/bed buses sound pretty good but she remains resistant to the idea. The boat ride to Luang Prabang was also vetoed because lasts years trip to Egypt involved a multiday felucca ride that involved a nearby boat sinking, intense nonstop heat and illness that required medical attention, so unfortunately we are done with boat trips for a little while longer.

We may try to barter, er bargain, in Sukhothai for transport to Si Satchanalai, and maybe with some bikes as we are both active and enjoy cycling. I have read about bike tours around Sukhothai, do you think they might be a good alternative? We are budgeting about 3 days for the Sukhothai area. Its good to know that getting to Nan wont be difficult as we are really keen to see less "westernized" areas as well. I have also seen that train to Den Chai and bus from there is an option if more direct buses are too long or not running.

In order to get to see more of the non town areas we are planning on longer stays Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Pakse , and taking day trips from there, and in Pakse a trip to the Bolaven plateau and Champasak.
If you have any recommendations I would be happy to hear them.

Thanks for the info. Its good to know that at least a passable sleep may be possible in either option. Again, I am trying to sort out options that my gf finds safe, I find pain-free and doesnt take too much time out of the schedule. I do a lot of travel by road, bus, plane and helicopter for my work, sometimes in pretty rough conditions, so I know I can do it, but it would be nice to be in tip top shape while on vacation too.

Thanks again everyone

#7 demoncleaner has been a member since 11/3/2009. Posts: 8

Posted by neosho on 12/3/2009 at 12:11

The boat trip to Luang Prabang is tough for a short person too. LOL The VIP bus from Chiang Mai to Nan is 5 hours.

#8 neosho has been a member since 13/8/2008. Posts: 386

Posted by Tilapia on 12/3/2009 at 20:15

Hi Demoncleaner,

Yes, Si Satchanalai is a must-see if you are interested in Thai/Khmer architecture and art. But, I strongly recommend that you have a motorbike to see the place, or at least rent bikes when you get there. The ruins are spread over a large, hilly area (unlike the enclosed historical park in Sukhothai ) and walking the area would be a long, hot ordeal.

Not sure why you would want to bargain for a lift to the place, though. The only time you would try to haggle a price down would be if you were to go by taxi, and that would always be more expensive than going by public transport (where you do NOT try to get the price down ... you pay what everyone else pays.) Public transport in Thailand is very inexpensive. Songthaews will take bikes onto them for a small fee. If you want to rent bikes in Sukhothai and take them to Si Satchanalai, it would be worth it.

As for an organized tour, I guess it depends on your level of interest in Thai history and architecture. I've never taken one myself, so I can't speak for or against them.

There is also a train there from Phitsanulok that will drop you off at Sawankhalok, the small town closest to Si Satchanalai. You can also take bikes onto trains. You need to buy tickets for yourselves, and your bikes at the ticket booth at the Phitsanulok station, and be ready to move quickly when the train arrives. Going third class (with your bikes) will probably cost you less than $2.

Sukhothai, itself, isn't particularly "westernized" compared to many other Thai towns. Best Phad Thai in the country at the night market(that's just my opinion.)

Champasak is very quiet, and very nice. There are lots of small dirt tracks that wind along the base of the mountains through small villages and farms. Wat Phu is exactly 10 km from the "traffic circle" in Champasak along a decent road that runs beside the Mekong. Worth a few hours, at most.

If you are going to go from Pakse to Champasak and back, I recommend that you go by boat for at least one leg of the trip, rather than going by songthaew or taxi both ways. The scenery is gorgeous.

#9 Tilapia has been a member since 21/4/2006. Location: Canada. Posts: 1,524
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Posted by donny on 14/3/2009 at 12:43

Useful sites

#10 donny has been a member since 14/3/2009. Posts: 3

Posted by Rufus on 15/3/2009 at 08:44

Somewhere else you might want to consider is the Plain of Jars. Also have a look at the KOnglor caves - about 4 hours from Vientiane.

#11 Rufus has been a member since 22/4/2007. Location: Laos. Posts: 978
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Posted by khunwilko on 17/3/2009 at 14:48

Bargaining -is 90% instinctive - if you don't do it at home or if you have to ask you'll probably make a mess of it. but go ahead and try there's not a lot to lose.

Barter - now that's a different but related matter

#12 khunwilko has been a member since 27/1/2007. Posts: 560

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