Planning a trip to Asia - help!
October 27, 2005 11:54 AM   Subscribe

Please help me plan a trip to Asia (Thailand, China, and points in between).

I have friends in Beijing and Kunming, China that I'd like to visit next year, and I just won a 5-day cooking class in Chang Mai, Thailand. So I figure, why not connect the dots? I've never been there before, though.

What I think I'd like to do is do the cooking school first, then head across Cambodia (Angkor Wat) and up Vietnam, maybe hit Laos, and cross into China. I assume fly from Kunming to Beijing. (Or else do the whole thing in the opposite direction.)

I'm wondering if this is possible and feasible in a month or less. I'm looking at sometime early next year (before May).

I've done my share of roughing it but I'm not as young or as poor as I used to be. In other words, I'd like to keep it inexpensive, but I'm willing to shell out for a plane ride if it means avoiding 24 hours on a bus.

Can I cross into China from Vietnam/Laos overland? Can I fly into, say, Bangkok from the US and then fly back out of Beijing? Should I worry about bird flu?

What are some out-of-the-way spots along the way that are worth visiting? I dig the unusual/colorful stuff. I also like trains and boats, i.e. local transport, if they're not exercises in patience and discomfort.

posted by gottabefunky to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total)
The great wall is awesome, if you go far away (2-4 hours) from Beijing. The summer palace is pretty lame, so is the Forbidden city. But go see them anyways, because you have to. Go to Shanghai, its 10x more awesome than Beijing. Visit the knock off markets while you're there, the pearl TV tower, the bund. Xi'an was kind of lame, cool city but not very interesting, the terra cotta army is disappointing (it looks fabricated). Don't bother going to the Shaolin Temple near Zhengzhou, its touristy and a waste of time. We also went to Souzou (spelling? pronounced sue-zjoe) and looked at the pearl markets, that was awesome.
posted by mhuckaba at 1:04 PM on October 27, 2005

Yes, overland entry from either Laos or Vietnam into China is possible. Bear in mind that Laos is a mountainous country with very poor infrastructure. Travel there especially will be an exercise in patience and discomfort.

With only a month your best bet would be to fly whenever possible.

"Good" overland trips (ones i enjoyed anyhow) on your itinerary include -

The boat from Chiang Kong (Thailand) to Luang Prabang (Laos).

The boat trip from Phom Pehn (Cambodia) to Ho Chi Minh City.

The train from HCMC up to Hanoi, the part between Danang and Hue is stunning.

Both Luang Prabang and Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) have airports.

The trip you're planning is a well-beaten path, so visas and tickets will be easily come by. Most guesthouses offer this service.

Some good stuff here.
posted by the cuban at 1:09 PM on October 27, 2005

For airline travel, you might want to check out Cathay Pacific's All Asia Pass. For a fixed cost you can go to as many cities on their list as you want in a month. I'm not sure if they have the exact destinations you need, but it might be an affordable way to get close enough that you could take busses or trains.
posted by MsMolly at 1:11 PM on October 27, 2005

mhuckaba: were you in Su Zhou? Here's the map if it helps. I'm so jealous - this sounds like a wonderful trip.
posted by whatzit at 1:12 PM on October 27, 2005

While in Chiang Mai, check out the waterfalls up at Doi Inthanon. Beautiful. You will be able to get a van and driver at your hotel to take you up there (and they speak English.)

Also check out the Night Market. And if you can see if you can get yourself a Northern Thai ricefarmer's shirt. (When I was there, they were sold inside the big indoor part of the Night Market.)They are made of denim and pretty doggone comfy-with big pockets. I have had mine since 1998 and it's still in good shape.

Also, IIRC you might be planning to be there during what is their hottest time of year (For Thailand, anyhow.) The earlier in the year the better. I went in early November (right after the rainy season )and it was nice. Just be prepared, is all.
posted by konolia at 1:32 PM on October 27, 2005 [1 favorite]

On that border crossing into Myanmar -- NO. Myanmar is closed to land border crossing with the exception of the northern Thai crossing which is for passport renewal purposes only. You can have a nice cup of tea while "in Myanmar" and see largely Thai goods at Thai prices with the rare Burmese object, but that's about it, nor can you travel further while there.

A month is do-able though you could spend far longer. And there is so much to explore in that area.
posted by dreamsign at 3:44 PM on October 27, 2005

I spent 2 years traveling asia.

And I agree wholehartedly with the cuban.

Be sure not to rush through laos. Its an amazing place. If you can go to the si phan don (four thousand islands) lovely place.

Overland travel can be "interesting"in laos and Cambodia. Vietnam is a breeze for traveling but I found the people hard work.

As for getting to china. The borders are open from laos and vietnam. But i think the vienam one is easier. The north of laos is incredably mountainous and the roads can become impassable in the wet season.
posted by gergtreble at 4:00 PM on October 27, 2005

The people in Laos are fantastic. Other popular things to do in Chang Mai are classes in massage and excursions to visit the colorful hill tribes. However, unless you put up with a week long trek you're most likely to visit ones catering to tourists.

Any way you slice it, you're going to have a blast.
posted by furtive at 7:18 PM on October 27, 2005

How about a Chiang Mai meet-up? I'll take you to the best khao-soi shop in town. Email's in my profile.
posted by soiled cowboy at 7:43 PM on October 27, 2005

And to answer your question:

Trying to accomplish all that in one month is going to be a challenge. If you could give yourself an extra two weeks you'd be more comfortable.

You can fly into Bangkok with a one-way ticket and get your visa on arrival. Exiting by land is fine.

If I were doing this journey, I'd follow a lot of Cuban's recs:

Fly to Angkor Wat.
Boat to Phnom Penh.
Boat to HCMC.
Train to Hue.
Fly to Hanoi.
Visit Sapa in the highlands, see Halong Bay.
Fly to Kunming.

This leaves out Laos, but you could easily take a journey from Chiang Mai up to Laos, travel up as far as you want (the Plain of Jars should be seen), then come back and start your big trip from Chiang Mai.

Overland from Thailand to Angkor Wat is simple, but not pleasant. It's about a 12-hour journey from Bangkok, with the final third across some pretty rotten roadways in Cambodia. And May is the hot season, so you're talking a long, hot, bumpy trip.

The train from Bangkok to the Cambodian border is nice, if also a bit warm. (No air-con, about six hours.) Flying is much nicer and not at all expensive.

I recommend this site for the most accurate and up-to-date info on Cambodia and Laos. The owner lives in Pnomh Penh and he does pretty much all the research himself.
posted by soiled cowboy at 8:01 PM on October 27, 2005

Kunming is the capital of Yunan Province, and my impression of it was just another prosperous modern Chinese city. Once there, a trip to "The Stone Forest" (Shi-Lin) is unavoidable.

Lijiang is 30 minutes away by plane, and it has gotten quite touristy, but it's still a lovely place to visit. From there, Shangri-la is 5 hours' drive away. (There was talk of an imminent new airport when I was there last November.) It's Tibet-lite in a good way. (self link to pictures)

If you like tea, Yunan is famous for it. It's also the most ethnically diverse province in China.
posted by of strange foe at 8:43 AM on October 28, 2005

A food suggestion, if you're going to head into northern Lao via the Chiang Khong, Thailand > Houay Xai, Lao route do yourself a pre-Mekhong-crossing favor and spend a night or two at Chiang Khong's Bamboo Riverside Guest House (known locally as The Bamboo). Husband and wife, Jib and Taew run the place and Taew makes the tastiest Mexican food you'll have in Thailand (and unless you get the taco salad at the Canadian "JoMa Bakery" in Luang Prabang or Vientiane you're probably not getting any Mexican food in Lao).

There is a group of friends who drive all the way in from Chiang Rai just for Taew's cooking. I recommend the Chicken & Cheese Quesadilla and a plate of nachos (also Taew's Indian Curry Chicken is outstanding).

And before you leave in the morning for Lao (or Chiang Mai if you're coming the other way), try the oatmeal porridge and get some of Taew's homemade bread to take with you.
posted by blueberry at 12:28 AM on November 1, 2005

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