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Pre plan my route (flights) or take it as it comes?

Posted by markacino on 18/2/2010 at 08:54

Hey all,

To preface this, I have only been overseas once, to Phuket, and it was all arranged at a travel agent.

My partner and I are looking at doing Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam over approximately 8 weeks.

We were planning on pre-booking flights everywhere. Starting in Phuket, to Chiang Mai, to Bangkok, to Phnom Penh, to Siem Reap, to Ho Chi Minh, to Hoi an, to Hanoi. Then back home to Melbourne.

We were also planning on booking any hostels/guesthouses before we leave on a booking site.

What are people thoughts on our itinerary for 8 weeks. As well as the best way to go about it (pre-booked and planned vs. main return flight only and the rest as it comes along)


#1 markacino has been a member since 5/2/2010. Location: Australia. Posts: 16

Posted by sirhalberd on 18/2/2010 at 12:03

I have a couple comments. Did you find the plane ticket direct to Phuket cheaper than to Bangkok? If you are using discount airlines keep in mind that they have some lower weight allowances than the larger airlines.

Have you ever stopped in Bangkok to see the city at all?

It looks like you are arriving in one city and leaving for home from another city. Most of the time a round trip ticket to Bangkok might be cheaper than two one way tickets but you have to run the numbers.

You mention the trip is for 8 weeks but I couldn't find when you will be traveling. If it is during the Christmas - New Years holidays some hotels bookings may be a little tight. Within Thailand you can sometimes book a room with a simple phone call a few days ahead of time unless it is around the holidays.

What do you mean by pre-booking? Does this mean you purchase everything while you are still in your own country or purchase the flights as needed in the country you are at? You can get some good prices in Thailand and there may be times when you may want to take a bus or train instead of flying. There may be times when you may want to stay longer at one place or leave sooner and getting plane tickets way ahead of time may not be best. Except for the flights over and back home, I would purchase plane tickets as needed - unless it is Christmas/New Years then book a little more ahead of time. Often you can get a ticket in a day or two during non holiday periods.

Some alternatives are the overnight sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, this saves paying for a hotel room in Bangkok. From Phnom Penh there are buses and a ferry boat that goes to Siem Reap. I have taken the boat ride, during the rainy season you have a larger ferry, dry season a smaller boat.

I would double check the prices of a round trip to Bangkok vs two single one way flights and see if you can save some money.

When you need some hotel recommendations for any cities you visit also mention how much per night you want to spend on your room. This way you can get some recommendations closer to your budget price.

I suppose you have sorted your visa information out by now and know what to do. Also check on your currency requirements. Don't leave Cambodia and Vietnam with their currency because no one wants to change it after you leave those countries. Make sure you notify your banks ahead of time if you intend to use a debit or credit card overseas.

Good luck.

#2 sirhalberd has been a member since 30/12/2007. Posts: 295
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Posted by DLuek on 18/2/2010 at 12:57 TF writer

Given the huge areas you want to cover and the amount of time you have I would probably book some, but not all of those routes before you leave. That said, your itinerary is sort of "all over the place." The way you have it written it starts far south ( Phuket ) then way north ( Chiang Mai ) then south again (Bangkok) then pretty far southeast (Phnomh Penh) then backtracking northwest ( Siem Reap ) - that part really doesn't make sense - then backtracking again southeast (HCMC). The last two stops - HCMC to Hoi An to Hanoi are the only ones that seem to make sense. You don't mention if you've already purchased one-ways Melbourne > Phuket and Hanoi > Melbourne. If not I'd consider roundtripping through Bangkok. Start there with a few days in Bangkok then:

1. Fly roundtrip Air Asia to Phuket (or since you've already been there have you considered any of the other islands?) Also bear in mind if you fly through Bangkok you could save the islands for the end of your trip - a lot of people like to spend a week relaxing on the beach after a long trip around the region.
2. After you get back to Bangkok take the train or bus to Chiang Mai (or fly it if you must on Air Asia).
3. Fly from Chiang Mai to Hanoi (this will be the only non-budget flight you'll really need, would prob. be with Thai or Vietnam Airways)
4. Fly, bus or train from Hanoi to Da Nang/Hoi An (if you fly go Jetstar)
5. Fly, bus or train from Da Nang/Hoi An to HCMC (Again if you fly go Jetstar... But there's lots to see between Da Nang/Hoi An and HCMC so this might be a good route to bus it with stops in Nha Trang and/or Mui Ne and/or Da Lat.
6. Fly Air Asia HCMC to Phnomh Penh
7. Fly or bus Phnomh Penh to Siem Reap
8. Bus or fly Siem Reap back to Bangkok (flying is pretty pricey b/c only Bangkok Airways does this route but I hear the bus isn't so bad now that the road is paved)
9. Catch your return flight from Bangkok to Melbourne.

Actually, the only of these flights I'd book before your trip would be the Bangkok to Phuket roundtrip (assuming you stick to doing that in the beginning of your trip) and the Chiang Mai to Hanoi. The rest you can probably get away with booking during your trip, but I would try to book a good 3 weeks in advance. But hey, none of those destinations are more than a day of travel apart overland so it wouldn't be a huge deal if flights were booked up. Oh and you could easily flip that itinerary around and do it the opposite way. You could even throw in a short stop in Laos for good measure inbetween Chiang Mai and Hanoi. Of course, if you want to be totally care free during your travels then just book all the flights before-hand if you can afford it, but personally I wouldn't.

As for accommodation I never book anything in advance unless it's during the major holidays - Christmas/New Year's (late Dec. obv.), Thai/Lao/Cambodian New Year (mid April) or in Vietnam lunar New Year or Tet (early Feb.).

The best thing to do is just download the relevant Travelfish guides and efish. They have all the accommodation info you need and generally there's plenty of guesthouses and hotels in all these places so you can just read up on them in the guides and then check out the ones that sound good to you once you get there.

Hope that helps.

#3 DLuek has been a member since 19/6/2008. Location: Thailand. Posts: 1,305
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Posted by DLuek on 18/2/2010 at 13:08 TF writer

By the way if you want to avoid roundtripping through Bangkok for whatever reason you may consider Kuala Lumpur or Singapore as other options for starting/ending your trip. Last year I started in Singapore and then flew one-way to HCMC then traveled the region and flew one-way again Bangkok back to Singapore at the end. With Jetstar and Air Asia it's inexpensive to do it this way.

#4 DLuek has been a member since 19/6/2008. Location: Thailand. Posts: 1,305
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Posted by markacino on 18/2/2010 at 13:11

Thank you kindly for the informative reply!

I will be traveling beginning at the start of April, so close to their new year celebrations. Will definitely have to look in to the price difference of a round trip Bangkok ticket, as opposed to departing from Hanoi.

The order of destinations was taken from something a travel agent put together for us (along with a ridiculous price), hadn't crossed my mind that it wasn't the most logical route to take.

The main reason we are looking at Phuket as our first destination is because there are quite a few family members of ours who will be there at the same time.

#5 markacino has been a member since 5/2/2010. Location: Australia. Posts: 16

Posted by DLuek on 18/2/2010 at 13:26 TF writer

That route is not just "not the most logical" it's totally illogical. Forget that travel agent - Travelfish is all you need.

Another bit of advice - if you flew through Singapore or KL you can go one-way from either of those places to Phuket on Air Asia in the beginning of your trip thus cutting out the need for the roundtrip from Bangkok to Phuket. Of course then you would still need a one-way from Bangkok or maybe Phnomh Penh to KL or Singapore at the end... Okay I'm probably just confusing you now - good luck mate.

#6 DLuek has been a member since 19/6/2008. Location: Thailand. Posts: 1,305
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Posted by markacino on 18/2/2010 at 13:26

Just had a look at some prices online for the Vietnam domestic flights. Vietnam airlines seems to come out somewhat cheaper overall surprisingly. The other one I checked being Jetstar.

#7 markacino has been a member since 5/2/2010. Location: Australia. Posts: 16

Posted by markacino on 18/2/2010 at 13:31

Thankyou all kindly for the helpful advise.

DLuek - Yeah a bit confused but I will get there!

Will check out return flights from Bangkok now. Then re-organise the itinerary to reflect what has been mentioned. Will see how I go with that.

Also, as I mentioned I will be there in the middle of Thai/Camb/Lao new year. Booking guesthouses prior recommended then?

#8 markacino has been a member since 5/2/2010. Location: Australia. Posts: 16

Posted by wombatfuz on 18/2/2010 at 15:10

If you are thinking of booking guesthouse while you are still in your home country, then I would not advise.

You can make reservations for the first few days. For instance, you should make reservations for guesthouse in Phuket (1st stop). Then while you are in Phuket, book your guesthouse for your next destination (e.g. Chiang Mai).

But of course, check the exact date of the new year (and any other holidays) and your scheduled arrival in each place. If you are going to be arriving just a day or two before the big holiday/festival, it would be advisable to make reservations early.

It also depends on your exact destination. If it's a big city, there will be more accomodation choices to suit various budgets. And depending on how picky you are and your budget.

Pre-booking everything restricts your freedom. Because if you like a particular place, you may be tempted to stay longer.

#9 wombatfuz has been a member since 30/12/2009. Posts: 38

Posted by markacino on 18/2/2010 at 16:30

If one was to bus from HCMC, northbound, is there a particular bus company that is recommended?

All I have heard about is the open bus from Sinh?

#10 markacino has been a member since 5/2/2010. Location: Australia. Posts: 16

Posted by DLuek on 19/2/2010 at 02:07 TF writer

There are tons of open tour bus companies that depart from the Pham Ngu Lao area... Just go into any of the countless travel companies or ask your guesthouse in Saigon for a rate on bus tickets. Or you can catch a public bus from the main bus terminal or, even better, the train. It's not as easy to arrange as the open tour busses but it's a good experience to travel as the locals do. I would really recommend just getting the Travelfish guides. They have all the logistical travel info you will possibly need.

#11 DLuek has been a member since 19/6/2008. Location: Thailand. Posts: 1,305
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