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1 month whistlestop tour of SE Asia - Possible?

Posted by rick108 on 9/7/2009 at 23:27


Firstly apologises for the long-ish message but I really want to get the most out of SE Asia.

I'm a final year medical student and have a medical elective, which is basically where I can travel and experience medicine
anywhere in the world.

Due to last minute cancellations from my previous destination I was fortunate enough to organise an elective
in Mae Sot in Thailand in a refugee camp, which starts in September. However I arrive in Thailand on August 3rd and plan to travel around SE Asia. My placement starts at the beginning of September and finishes on the 30 September. I then leave on 3rd October from Bangkok to London.

I only have a month in August to travel but I wanted to make the most of it! I plan to get all internal SE Asian flights sorted by the 12 June because its basically when the amazing deals from AirAsia end.

My aim is to see as much as I can of SE Asia. I have no preference where to go - just want to see a variety of interesting things.

I first arrive in Bangkok but thought its best to spend probably 1 day thailand then move elsewhere as I'll be spending most of my time in Thailand in September.

I have seen this link:
is this a good iternary? any other ideas? any must-see-before-you-die places?

I don't mind what I see just a variety of cool things.

I also have some questions with regards to Visas. I have been trying to call these embassies all day but they seem not to want to pick up!

1) Thailand:

a) I assume I have to get a 60 day tourist visa? However, I'll only be in Thailand for a little while and then shooting off elsewhere. Then I'll return so could get it renewed at the border checkpoints?

b) Have long does it take to return your passport and give a Visa? Site says minimum 2 days but what's the normal time?

c) Do I really need to take 20,000 Baht as proof of going?

d) On the Thai government website it says the 25 pound fee is waved for a certain period?

2) Vietnam:

a) Do you need to get the visa 6 months in advance?

b) How fast are they in returning information?

The reason I'm asking is I leave in approximately 3 weeks so it will be cutting it fine to sort out those things.

I assume all other countries I can just pay when I cross the border?

3) Book. I've read the forum and others. People are seem to not like LP, but Rough Guides. Which one is best? LP seems really detailed but black and white. Also LP is easier to get around where I'm staying.

Sorry if the message is too long but any information would be fantastic and if anyone needs clarification on questions please ask!

Thanks again,


#1 rick108 has been a member since 9/7/2009. Posts: 1

Posted by SBE on 10/7/2009 at 05:49

This site has some detailed itinerary suggestions which I think are far better than those on that wikitravel link you posted. I'm not sure how you access them directly (I can't see a dedicated button in the toolbar at the top) but if you just type "itineraries" or "trips" into the search bar a whole bunch will come up.


a)Tourist visas are usually single entry but you can get a 30 day free entry stamp on arrival if you fly into Thailand. As you will be leaving soon afterwards you could ask them not to stamp your 2 month Thai tourist visa when you arrive in Thailand in August. I've done this a couple of times in the past and had no problem. Just explain you're leaving in a day or two. If you have an air ticket out of the country you could show them that too. BTW the two month visa should be free too as there's a "special offer" on until next March.

One word of caution though.

I'm not sure what the status of your placement is. Will you be working or is it purely "educational"? In theory, even if you're doing unpaid volunteer work you need a work permit in Thailand. And that's complicated... it involves getting a non-immigrant B visa and lots of paperwork! You'd probably be fine with the tourist visa but it might be worth rechecking with your university to see what they say. Have the sent students to do work work placements in Thailand before?

b) Usually you give in your passport in the morning and get it back next day in the afternoon. However things might be different now because of the "free visa" thing. (See the comments about Thai consulates in that link I posted above). It could even explain why nobody picked up when you phoned. Keep trying...

c) No. (As long as you look fairly respectable).

2. I've never been to Vietnam but I'm pretty sure you don't need to buy the visa 6 months in advance! AFAIK you do need to give exact dates when you're going though and where you will be entering and leaving the country. There's a dedicated section about visas on here...I'd have a look there if I were you.

3. LP do a SE Asia on a shoestring guide which might suit you but I don't know if it's better than the Rough Guide as I haven't bought a guidebook for years. Guidebooks are mainly useful for maps and an idea of what there is to see anywhere, much less so for detailed transport options and accommodation because the books are already out of date by the time the book gets printed. Also if you go where the guidebook recommends then bear in mind you aren't the only one. Guest houses often go downhill fast once they get recommended in guidebooks (particularly LP) because they know they'll have lemmings arriving clutching their travel bibles anyway. Take a wee walk and see if there isn't somewhere better to stay just round the corner and ask fellow travellers for their tips as you go too.

Travelfish does some good guides you can download onto an ipod if you have one BTW.

Have a rummage round this site and I think you'll find a great deal of useful info.

And no I don't get any commission from Somtam ... yet. ;-)

#2 SBE has been a member since 14/4/2008. Location: Global Village. Posts: 2,053
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Posted by BruceMoon on 10/7/2009 at 06:57


If you go look at other replies that I've made to ppl 'posting' here on Travelfish, you'd see I'd normally respond in the same way as SBE (though with different information).

But, I'm troubled by your comments.

First, congratulations in choosing to work with the Karen in the refugee camps near Mae Sot. This is an interesting, colourful and scenic part of the world, and the Karen in these refugee camps have really been treated abysmally by the Thai gov't. If it wasn't for UN pressure, these people would have been shunted back to Myanmar long ago - and to their probable death.

Second, as a medical student, by now you clearly will have come to understand the issue of compassion. I suspect your work in the refugee camps will really test your degree/level of compassion. I suspect that in terms of Karen health care, you will have to come to terms with some mentally troubling issues.

But, it's not the issue of compassion that will be the biggest challenge to you. Rather, it will be your capacity to understand the cultural issues of the Karen. And, to have some idea of how the gambit of cultural issues will impact on how you do - or do not - make your decisions about patient health practice options.

I have no doubt, that what ever you do in the refugee camps will advance the healthcare of the Karen. But, this is not just about merely doing some health care 'aid'. Rather, it is about enhancing your health care sensibilities both for the Karen and for you as a future health care provider.

To that end, I suggest you would be far better advised to spend the month you have relating with other marginalised ethnic groups in northern Thailand, northern Laos &/or northern Vietnam.

I'm not suggesting you go and 'do' medicine there. Instead, I'm suggesting you go and spend time with these marginalised groups to understand what it is that makes their lives 'tick'. What are the socio-economic issues that they, as poor marginalised groups, face in their daily and lifelong struggle/s. What are the familial issues that keep these people wedded to their community, and so not go chasing the bright lights in cities.

If you do go this way, you'll see there are differences, and there are commonalities. I suggest it is this wisdom (or perspective) that will allow you to not only make a better 'difference' when attending to the Karen, but also cope with the various mental challenges that you will undoubtedly face while there.

I suggest that if you choose to spend time with these marginalised groups, not only will you experience the 'real' SE Asia, but it will both enhance your capacity to learn much from your elective and so empower you to rationalise your Karen patients' issues with a greater degree of compassion and understanding: and make your health care contributions more targetted, focussed, and meaningful.

- - -

If you prefer to mingle with masses of tourists who are conned by travel companies to visit must see icons because that's easy for the travel companies to materialise, then sobeit.

But, having spent much forgettable and boring time in transport vehicles getting to these must see icons - and at the end merely have a few pictures to say you were there - I doubt the journey will have an impact, nor stay in your long term memory.

I suggest that engaging with ethnic groups in the rural backblocks of nth SE Asia will stay in your mind for a lifetime.


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

Posted by SBE on 11/7/2009 at 05:49

You've got a point Bruce but on the other hand traveling elsewhere for a month will already be a cultural eye-opener for someone who's never been to SE Asia before. It may be a long time before Rick can come back to this part of the world so I think he should be allowed to make up his own mind about what HE wants! There's nothing to stop him reading up on the Karen before he starts his work placement.Indeed it would be a good very idea to do that... that's your holiday reading sorted for you Rick. ;-)

PS. I've just been perusing the tours offered by All Points East and it struck me that some of their tours give some interesting itinerary ideas for short trips.

#4 SBE has been a member since 14/4/2008. Location: Global Village. Posts: 2,053
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