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Questions and itinerary

Posted by TheAlmightyBob on 13/9/2009 at 10:47

(sorry for the vague title and long message, but it seemed perhaps preferable to starting multiple threads... feel free to tell me if I was mistaken)

I'm dragging two friends on a quick (3 week) tour through Vietnam/Cambodia/Thailand. Yes, it's very much the well-beaten tourist path. We probably best fit the "flashpacker" category (a term I never came across until Travelfish)... overland travel, budget-but-not-too-budget guesthouses, etc...

First, some questions:
1. Chiang Mai trekking - Everybody says to wait until we're there to book a trek. Fine. No problem. However, do you know how easy it is to book them on short notice? We'd like to arrive on one day and immediately arrange for an overnight trek to start the following day. Is this a likely possibility? The idea is to get it done right before Loi Krathong, so we could stay in Chiang Mai for that... possibly the many other tourists with the same idea would make that a problem?

2. Bangkok (Chao Phraya) river taxi - can anybody point me to any info on this? It came highly recommended by another traveler.. maybe I'm blind or suck at googling, but I haven't been able to find much on locations/schedules, or just generally how the whole thing works. He also said it was worthwhile to get more of a boat tour along the smaller canals...?

3. Ayutthaya - I've heard this can be reached by boat, but again haven't found much about it? Another forum posting seemed to suggest that maybe it's only an option for organized tours??

4. Boating the Tonle Sap - recommended? Not recommended? The Travelfish guide says it's worth doing once, but talesofasia argues strongly against it... curious what others think.

5. Muay Thai - We (well, I) definitely must catch a fight (yes, I know it won't be anything like Tony Jaa). If we have the option, is there much difference between the venues in BKK and Chiang Mai? Travelfish only lists a couple days for fights... are such schedules specific to those venues, or are you out of luck if you want to see a fight on a different day?

6. The flight out of BKK is ridiculously early... we probably have to be at the airport ~3-4am. Are there any tips for managing this? Are we going to have trouble finding a (decent, metered) taxi? Would there be any transport alternatives at that time? Neighborhoods that would be easier to depart from?

Okay, now the current itinerary. I know this is somewhat rushed... but curious if I am cramming things to the point of insanity...

Oct 18 - arrive HCMC
19-20 - HCMC
21-23 - travel via Mekong to PP (prob. Sinh Cafe... seems like we should be able to arrange such a thing a day or two before)
24 - bus (or boat?) to Siem Reap
25-27 - Siem Reap
28 - travel to BKK
29 - BKK or a day trip to Ayuttaya (saw that suggestion here, but perhaps that's overkill, especially so soon after Angkor?), then night train to Chiang Mai
30 - CM
31-Nov 1 - Overnight trek, then Loi Krathong (and maybe the Sunday Market?) on the evening of the 1st (or would we be missing the festivities while returning from the trek?)
2 - CM and Loi Krathong
3-6 - Improv. Options include flying to Phuket for some sea canoeing (this would definitely be a splurge, and maybe not worth it, but thought I'd keep the option open), going to Kanchaburi, extending the stay in CM, or just spending the rest of our time in BKK. But the idea is to not decide this 'till we're over there.
7 - BKK
8 - fly away

I originally planned to spend more time in BKK after SR, get to CM just in time for Loi Krathong, trek afterward... but the hope is that by moving things up, I make room to be more flexible at the end, when we'll be in a better position to decide where we'd like to spend the rest of our time.

Thanks for any answers/feedback. :)

P.S. Somtam... I have a complaint... your site is too awesome. I've spent too much time pouring over it... that should be spent doing other things...

#1 TheAlmightyBob has been a member since 12/7/2009. Posts: 10

Posted by jclarkson on 13/9/2009 at 14:06

I caught a fight in Chiang Mai and it was way cheaper than the fights in BKK and tons of fun. It was a pretty small venue and we got to get pictures with the fighters and what not. With regards to booking a trek the night before I had no problems with it but that was in July so I can't tell you what the situation will be like this time of year. Honestly I found Phuket to be pretty horrible, I would say maybe check out Phi Phi, still pretty on the trail and easy to get into and out of but way better than Phuket. Lastly, for the ridiculously early flight out of BKK, you might want to try and find a driver that will take you to a few sights during the day; take you out at night and pick you up and drop you off at the airport. I mean, you can just sleep it off on the plane.

#2 jclarkson has been a member since 10/9/2009. Posts: 35

Posted by somtam2000 on 13/9/2009 at 14:10 admin

TheAlmightyBob: I could do with more complaints like that -- keep em coming!

By the numbers:
1) Should have no problem getting a trek out the next day. There is around 54,342,765 trekking agencies in Chiang Mai (all going to the same "new remote area" funnily enough) someone will be able to suit you up. For general advice on trekking see this story:

2) Chao Phraya river taxi
I think you mean the express boat -- it's a regular ferry goes up and down the river -- all day, every day. Is that what you mean or you after info on the boat tours that take you off to the back canals etc? let me know.

3) By boat is done only by tour. Generally boat one way, bus the other. Includes a buffet lunch etc. A bit pricey, but good for a day trip.

4) I'm assuming you mean Phnom Penh to Siem Reap? It is worth doing once I'd say -- not twice, and certainly not thrice. Bus is cheaper, faster and you won't get sunburnt.

5) Bangkok has the better stadiums in my opinion. they're more "local" Get a seat in the stalls -- not ringside. It's more fun and definitely more interesting. The gambling is totally insane and the fights are fast and furious.

6) If you are staying in Khao San Road area, I believe there are minibuses to the airport every hour 24 hours a day. Any travel agency will sort you out.

General itinerary:
Given you're already seeing Angkor, and your limited timeframe, I'd skip Ayutthaya.

Bear in mind a one night trek out of Chiang Mai will be quite the touristic experience...

I'd be inclined to skip the southern excursion and do a 3 night trek out of Chiang Mai after Loi Krathong.

It's a very fast trip and you're covering a LOT of miles, but there's not an obvious may to slow down...

...ask the boss for another week off :-)

#3 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,863
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Posted by mattocmd on 13/9/2009 at 22:00

WOW! I was assuming that you were leaving Dec 8 and not Nov 8.

Dude seriously reconsider your itinerary! I know you want to see all of the cool spots but man your gonna spend all of your time in busses!

Look at a SE Asia map and see where CM is. Geographically speaking, it is impracticable for you. You could totally focus on Southern Vietnam, Cambodia and Bangkok area/Thai beaches and have so much more time to enjoy it.

Id save CM for your next trip where you include Northern Thailand and Laos!

#4 mattocmd has been a member since 13/6/2007. Location: United States. Posts: 366
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Posted by SBE on 14/9/2009 at 00:21

2. Chaophraya... be aware that the riverboats have flags on them, yellow blue, orange, green/yellow, none...

None means the boat stops everywhere. The others are explained on a map at the Saphan Taksin AKA Sathorn) stop that you can peruse while waiting for the boat if you can't find river route map online.

You can also take a tourist boat which is slightly more expensive (eg 20B instead of 13 or whatever) but it's a bit less crowded and you get a (usually unintelligible) explanation in English of the sites you go past.

You can buy tickets in advance while waiting at Saphan Taksin but I've always found this is not absolutely necessary, even for the tourist boat, because you can get a ticket on board too. I would advise against buying a day pass because I don't see how anyone could possibly travel enough in one day to make it worthwhile.

All you ever wanted to know about Bangkok River express ferries in the link below... it shows what they look like. It's quite confusing at first for a newbie to know what boat to get on so knowing what an express boat looks like helps. If you get on at Saphan Taksin BTS stop (Sathorn) you'll probably be heading right.

3. I've only used a bus (from Mo Chit) or a minibus (Victory Monument) to get to Ayutthaya but you can go by train too. It's quicker by minibus but more difficult to find the right minibus at Victory Monument than the right bus at Mo Chit.

6.You can get a taxi pretty easily at any time during the night but try and flag down a moving one. The ones parked in front of hotels are often very reticent about using the meter. You may have to walk a little from your hotel to a road with "real" moving traffic, like Sukhumvit Road Democracy Monument if you're staying on KSR.

#5 SBE has been a member since 14/4/2008. Location: Global Village. Posts: 2,051
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Posted by TheAlmightyBob on 14/9/2009 at 02:47

Thanks everybody!

jclarkson: Interesting idea about finding a driver... that seems like it could be difficult/costly with all the warnings to stick with metered cabs (such as SBE's post). Yeah, I am aware of Phuket's somewhat negative reputation, but we're not really beach people, and it seemed to offer the most by way of coastal activities that didn't involve sitting on the beach (sea canoeing through the hongs looked particularly cool..). That said, I am kinda thinking that might be one long-distance destination too many. It's just that...

mattocmd: ...I know somebody else who did a similar trip in a similar timeframe... hit all the main destinations on my itinerary *and* Ko Tao *and* Nha Trang... relying on night busses... so my original itinerary seemed relatively relaxed. And I suppose there was a bit of subconscious pressure to try to do everything he did. But I am making somewhat of an effort to space things out a little... 4 nights in SR, at least 4 in CM... the only part that makes particularly nervous right now is the only-one-night in BKK between SR and CM... but I already explained why I'm considering that. Re: CM.... that's a must. Too many people have told me it was their favorite destination in SE Asia and they could have lived there (and most things I read say it's one of the best places to experience Loi Krathong). SR and CM are the two primary destinations of our trip. We *are* kind of breezing through Vietnam... it's not a focus of the trip, but I wanted to at least get a taste. I might like to do a future return trip traveling up (or down) the length of it... anyhow, if we get to CM and decide we're sick of busses/trains, we can always cheat and fly back.

1. That's somewhat comforting. I guess I can't help wondering if, especially at that time of year, the only treks not full will be the crappy ones that aren't full for good reason... I have read that article previously, and that was actually one of the things that made it sound like it would take a couple days to set up a good trek (seems like all those steps of investigating the agency, meeting the guides, meeting returning/future trekkers, could take a while... especially if a trek passes your first few criteria and then fails a latter criteria).

2. Yes, I guess I meant the express boat. I was *also* curious about the boat tours. I think SBE covered this one pretty well, but if you have something to add, feel free. :)

3. That's a shame, it seemed like a nice boat trip, but I think I'll take your advice and forget Ayutthaya.

4. Yep, that's what I meant. But I already knew *your* answer from the travelfish guide ;)

5. Cool. Between this and jclarkson's response, it sounds like both areas have their pros and cons, but we should have a good time either way. :)
(I will keep in mind the tip about getting a seat in the "stalls"... I did read sort of a suggestion to the contrary, but I think that was on TripAdvisor, which I'm noticing seems dominated by a very different sort of traveler...)

6. That is very good to hear. I expect we will try for one of those near-but-not-on-KSR type places....

Trekking: I know it will be a touristic experience, but to be honest, I'm not sure if we can handle much more. None of us are experienced trekkers/campers (we've done day hikes, but never anything overnight)... even the one night makes us somewhat nervous. I was originally thinking of a two-night, because some coworkers did that and loved it, but they're much more "outdoorsy" people, probably quite comfortable with that type of environment. I figure if it's not a problem and we love it, we can always do more on a future trip. If it was just me, I might be more willing to risk it, but I'm hesitant to make the decision for the others (I'm The Trip Planner). Although, this does lead to the idea that if we went back to leaving the trekking 'til after LK, we'd have both versions as options and we all might be able to better judge what we feel comfortable doing........ hm.....

You have correctly deduced that I am using up my entire allotment of vacation time for this trip. :-P

2. Thank you very much. Good info.
6. Also good to know. I had previously read the suggestion about flagging down a moving taxi... wasn't sure if I'd find many about at 3am!

P.S. I originally freaked out a little because when I tried to submit my original (rather long) message, I received an error telling me I forgot to login first, and hitting Back presented me with an empty edit box! (I *had* logged in on a separate tab, so I thought I could ignore the warnings about needing to login first, but I guess that didn't affect the already-opened tab) Fortunately, I was able to login at the error screen and then use a combination of Back/Forward to make the browser resubmit the message, and it was accepted! So, it might be helpful to either: a) completely disable the posting interface if the user isn't logged in, or b) post these instructions on the error screen for how to login and resubmit. ;)

#6 TheAlmightyBob has been a member since 12/7/2009. Posts: 10

Posted by TheAlmightyBob on 14/9/2009 at 02:50

Quick follow-up to my P.S.: I had the same problem with that post, and I *know* I logged in before starting to write it this time, so I guess the site automatically logs users out if they take too long to write a message?? (or it just doesn't like me)

#7 TheAlmightyBob has been a member since 12/7/2009. Posts: 10

Posted by TheAlmightyBob on 14/9/2009 at 06:53

Re: #2, I finally found info in Rough Guide on what the other guy must have done... it sounds like the boat tours around the Thonburi canals. It also has some info on the express boats, tho doesn't seem as comprehensive (or visual!) as what SBE provided. :)

#8 TheAlmightyBob has been a member since 12/7/2009. Posts: 10

Posted by somtam2000 on 14/9/2009 at 08:12 admin


Thanks for letting me know about the message problem. If you're not logged in, you shouldn't be able to type in the big grey box at all!

The time out is an hour (you're automatically logged out after an hour if you don't open any new pages etc).

What browser are you using?


#9 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,863
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Posted by TheAlmightyBob on 14/9/2009 at 10:01

Somtam: yeah, you're right, the box is disabled if not logged in. It's just because of the timeout (I could have sworn that it let me type when not logged in yesterday, but I was probably mistaken). I have no trouble believing that it took me over an hour to write those long messages. I assume you have your reasons for the timeout... don't know if it would be difficult to have the message still be there if you hit back after a posting error? Or allow the user to login at the error page and have it automatically post the message then? (it actually seems to retry posting it, but fails.... logging in from the error screen actually just takes you to a *different* error screen.... saying that it couldn't post the message because either you weren't logged in or there was no title...)

Browser is Firefox.

#10 TheAlmightyBob has been a member since 12/7/2009. Posts: 10

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