Hi folks - what a wealth of experience on this site! I couldnâ€™t immediately find an existing forum that answered my question, but please feel free to point me towards any answers already written if theyâ€™re out there.
In April 2014 I will be embarking on a 5ish month trip encompassing: Japan (3 weeks) > Taipei (3 days) > HK (4 days) and then moving around Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia for the next 3 months > finishing off with 2-3 weeks driving round New Zealand. And if I have any remaining time / budget, possibly a trip to Borneo.
I have so far planned the first month and Iâ€™m now starting to think about SE Asia. With the proximity of Vietnam being closest to HK, I was thinking of starting there and this would be towards the start of May 2014. As I have 3 months in the four SEA countries, I thought it might make sense to spend 3 weeks in each to give them an equal amount of time.
Iâ€™m looking for some advice on how best to experience as much of Vietnam as possible starting in the north, within the three week period. My particular interests are food, scenery, wildlife, history, immersing myself in the culture. Iâ€™m keen to visit the places in Vietnam that canâ€™t be missed, but would also like to get off the beaten track and see some smaller more remote areas, if I can reach them. Iâ€™ll be travelling with my boyfriend and weâ€™ll be looking to stay in hotels on a budget rather than hostels, so weâ€™d prefer to avoid areas with an intense back-packing scene as itâ€™s not quite our thing.
Our preferred method of travel around the country would be train (as opposed to bus) but Iâ€™d be more than happy to substitute any long train journeys with internal flights. Whilst Iâ€™d like to see as much as possible, I donâ€™t want to be travelling every day so would quite like to stay at least 2 nights in each location I visit.
Thereâ€™s so much SE Asia experience out there, Iâ€™m hoping someone will be able to provide some suggestions on what path I should follow / or what sort of locations I certainly shouldnâ€™t miss. Any advice is much appreciated in advance â€“ thank you!
#1 LeyLaLaa has been a member since 25/2/2013. Posts: 4
Cambodia and Laos do not require quite as much time as Vietnam does. To better see Indochina, I would suggest perhaps 5 weeks in Vietnam and 2 weeks in both Cambodia and Laos. You should plan on a mix of air and train travel - trains do not cover the entire country in Vietnam. You need to research each county with the info provided in both Places and Planning sections of Travelfish.
Some minor notes:
-Think about the countries in terms of regions as you plan, that makes it easier to estimate the time you'd expect to spend and to choose what exactly you'd have to miss. For example, Northern Laos would be centered on Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Vientiane and is considered a must see for most travelers while Southern Laos is centered on Pakse, Champasak (Wat Phu) and 4,000 Islands and many people will skip it as it is often out of the way to get to, Wat Phu is considered unnecessary if seeing Siem Reap and 4,000 Islands while idealic in some regards can be a bit of a travel scene. The main reason to go would be if you wanted to set aside a good chunk of time to explore the Bolavan Plateau on motorbike or were taking the time to travel the length of Laos from the north to get into Cambodia overland.
-In that regard I agree with daawgon's overall time table of 1 month Vietnam, 1 month Thailand and 2 weeks for Cambodia and Laos, probably finishing up with Thailand is a good idea as you can relax with some beaches at the end of your trip and then fly out of BKK which is usually a cheaper flight.
-Starting in Vietnam I'd give yourself a week in Hanoi/Ha Long Bay, and the trains are a great way to travel if you've got time - especially the section between Hue and Da Nang , another region worthy of a week. Then give yourself a week to get to Saigon and include some of that time in Saigon --- I'd probably recommend heading via Can Tho, then Ha Tien to overland into Cambodia through Kampot, loved that town - and then skip up to Phnom Penh and on to Siem Reap. From Cambodia you may be best served to save some time to fly from Siem Reap to Vientiane
. . . though to deal with Visa issues you could also work overland up to Northern Thailand (2 weeks) and then cross into Northern Laos around Huay Xia working your way back down to Vientiane, to then cross backin overland to head down to beaches for 2 more weeks, saving yourself flying in just to get the full 4 week free visa on arrival.
By thinking of it in broad regions like this and not so-many-nights per city you have the option to plan more loosely so you could stay in Da Nang an extra couple nights if you love the place and then just take a flight down to Saigon to make up for lost time, or something like that.
That's very kind everyone - many thanks for your thoughts so far. I didn't even thinking of splitting up Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand like that, so that's really useful information. Caseyprich - many thanks for your detailed response - thinking in terms of regions sounds like a good idea.
#5 LeyLaLaa has been a member since 25/2/2013. Posts: 4
Caseyprich - I notice you don't mention Sapa in your Vietnam suggestion - do you think it's worth a visit from Hanoi ? I was thinking of landing in Hanoi, taking the overnight train to Sapa on the third day, spending two nights in Sapa, taking the overnight train back on the third day, spending one more night in Hanoi then heading to Ha Long Bay. Is Sapa worth that chunk of time out of an itinerary do you think?
#6 LeyLaLaa has been a member since 25/2/2013. Posts: 4
I think you can squeeze it into the itinerary, but I know that as you look at any little region all sorts of options will pop-up, so I figured you'll find what really interests you about each place and just wanted to mention it as a region. If you set aside a full 7 days for Hanoi/Halong bay that would probably be too much and you'll be happy to include a trip out to Sapa.
4 week in Vietnam is quite fit time, you can spend a week in Northern vietnam. land to Hanoi then hang around in 2 days, catch a night train to Sapa and spend 2 days there then catch a night train back to hanoi, the next day you can catch a bus to halong bay, it takes 3h(100km), you can decide to stay overnight on boat or go to Cat Ba island, then catch a train to Hue, it take 10h from hanoi, stay 2 days, then go by bus or train to Danang(100km), then go to Hoi An , 30km from Danang. it is a good place for you to take a rest, then you can book a motorcycle trip up to the Central Highlands, I think it a place in which you like, amazing tropical rain forest view while you ride along the Ho Chi Minh roads(legend Ho Chi Minh trail in Vietnam war), there are still more than 44 minority hill tribe groups living here, Very interesting to learn about their tradition and see the real life of them. It'll take you 10 days from Hoi An to Saigon via Central Highlands. I highly recommend (www.vietnammotorcycletrips.com) they are professional in these kind of trip and perfect english speaking guys. From Saigon, you should visit some highlight spots around like war remnant museum, Ben Thanh Market, Cuchi tunnels, then go to Ben tre, Can tho(floating market) then you can take a bus to Rach Gia then go to cambodia by boat or head to Chau Doc then across at tinh Bien Border gate.
This is the intinerary I did last year, hope it useful for you and everyone
#8 bbb has been a member since 13/1/2013. Posts: 2
Ah many thanks Brian - I have already exactly replicated your suggested plan up until an overnight boat ride in Halong Bay - I'll be certain to look into your suggestions after that too.
Many thanks :)
#9 LeyLaLaa has been a member since 25/2/2013. Posts: 4
I didn't even cerebration of agreeable up Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand like that, so that's absolutely advantageous information. Caseyprich - abounding acknowledgment for your abundant acknowledgment - cerebration in agreement of regions sounds like a acceptable idea
#10 mariajames has been a member since 29/9/2012. Posts: 57
We have just returned from our second road tip through Vietnam..what a laugh we had and by avoiding common activities we found it very cheap and travelled with ease. One tip is to just chill a bit and think about what you want to really achieve...is it to cover the most ground or to open up an insight into this crazy culture. First time round we did the Saigon to Hanoi train trip which was good but we didn't learn as much and stayed very much as observers....this time we took domestic flights to Con Dao Island and Da Lat , which was cheap and helped with opening up more time. We also jumped on the back of bikes from Da Lat to Saigon with Vietnam-easyriders, Lee is the contact there, excellent way to see and learn, very good boys. In Saigon for three short bursts meant we tried switching hotels from Evergreen, zone3 district1, to The Four Roses, district 3...both $25 for 2 folk, clean and good locations with no tourists so again local prices. Very different experiences.
Using Phuong Trang coach services you can move about in comfort and for next to nothing. I simply screenshot all my addresses and info on the ipad which I just showed to the Vinasun taxi drivers..stick to these cabs and hey presto your there, no fuss no rip offs.
Lastly we asked people's permission with a smile and "photo please?" when we taking people pictures and the results were amazing. Also - I learnt how to say thank you and that went a long way, somehow managed to break through the cultural barriers to discover that the Vietnamese have a great sense of humour - infact brilliant.
Check my blog on TravelBlog.org Hilary Seatter 60 degrees North for more info .....