Big trip to Asia
March 21, 2006 9:09 PM   Subscribe

We are finally going on the big trip to Southeast Asia (and China) in a few weeks. Would love some advice on a few general and specific travel topics.


1) Surviving a 24+ hour flight without comitting homicide
2) Dealing with 14 hours' worth of jet lag (do those No-Jet-Lag pills work?)
3) Enduring the hottest time of year in the region, when heat and humidity make you really really unhappy
4) Finally, any itinerary suggestion (rough 5-week route: Bangkok->Chiang Mai->Mekong river trip->Louang Prabang->Angkor Wat->Bangkok->Kunming->Beijing)
posted by gottabefunky to Travel & Transportation around China (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
A lot of folks will spend as little as possible on accomodations even when it's just a few bucks difference a night between a decent place and a hovel. Spend the money. Even if you're looking for an "authentic" experience, plan to check-in to a decent "western" hotel with AC at least once a week.

As for the 24+ hour flight ... is it too late to break it up with a stopover in between? I suffered through a 17-hour flight from Hong Kong to Germany and swore never to put myself through that again. Breaking up the flight may also help with the jetlag problem.

Err on the side of comfort. It's a long trip, you've got plenty of time, you don't want to be miserable. Have fun.
posted by zanni at 9:26 PM on March 21, 2006

The 24+ hour flights and jetlags really aren't that bad if you prepare yourself for them. What works for me is pulling an all nighter - or near all nighter - the night before your flight. Take a short nap from 9:00 - 11:00 and then stay up the rest of the night and sleep on the trans-pacific flight. Two birds with one stone: you'll be falling asleep at around 11:00 PM China-time and you'll sleep through at least 6-7 hours of your flight.

Also: Bring about 2 liters of water per person in your carry-ons. Water service can be a bit sporadic on the flight and the worst thing is to compound jet lag with dehydration.

What's your gateway city in SE Asia?
posted by nathan_teske at 9:35 PM on March 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

Enduring the hottest time of year in the region, when heat and humidity make you really really unhappy

Are you serious? I hate the cold, which is why I don't go on holiday to cold countries. Not being rude, but why are you going if you don't like heat and humidity?
posted by AmbroseChapel at 9:49 PM on March 21, 2006

AmbroseChapel - I hate heat and humidity but I love the Philippines. I can deal with the former so I can enjoy the latter.

posted by nathan_teske at 10:29 PM on March 21, 2006

Response by poster: This is our travel window - not much choice. Plus we want to, weather be damned.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:34 PM on March 21, 2006

Laos rules!!

Enjoy the river ride to Luang Prabang its Majestic. Luang Prabang itself is a wonderful little town, with more temples than you can shake a stick at. From there you can follow the backpacker trail down to Vang Vieng and Vientienne. Then you can either continue down Laos following the route of the mekong (The Si Phan Don (4000 islands) on the cambodian border is my favourite place in the whole world.) or head back to Chaing mai and Fly to Angkor.

If you are pushed for time I would suggest the latter.

If you learn one word of Laotian make it Sabaidee!
posted by gergtreble at 10:51 PM on March 21, 2006

For the lengthy flights, take Trazadone to sleep, or something stronger if you can get it, and spend the $14 or whatever at the airport to buy the neck support pillows. They allow you to sleep sitting up without our neck going all wonky and waking you up all the time with the nod/whiplash.

Spend the extra money on a Western hotel. It's completely worth it.

Visit the night market in Chiang Mai. It's fabulous.

Have a GOOD sun hat and stay hydrated. Don't drink bottled water with ice as the ice wasn't made with bottled water and you'll get the revenge.

In Bangkok, travel on the river whenever possible rather than by car. Traveling by car in Thailand is truly miserable, and many times you can take the river boat taxies to your location or near to it, then take a land taxi. Any river hotel can be found via river taxi. Then make your way by car from there, rather than driving across town which is truly, truly an awful experience.

Get to Phuket (skip Pattaya) if you can. The Phuket Yacht Club is fantastic.
posted by onegreeneye at 10:57 PM on March 21, 2006

My best jet-lag advice: stay up as late as you can the 1st night. That way, if you don't get much sleep, you're still on the right part of the day to make use of your time.

The flight: just try to do things to suck away the time. Best suggestion is a book that's not amazing but captivating (i.e. Life of Pi, Dan Brown books, Harry Potter, whatever). Something that you don't have to think too much but will keep you involved.

Heat and Humidity: suck it up. Brings sandals, thin, light colored t-shirts, a lightweight breathable anorak, always carry plenty of water.

As far as your itinerary goes, I see no explicit stop in Ho Chi Minh City. It is a really cool city and Vietnam is an awesome country, so I would definitely make a stop there.

Make sure you get all your visas and stuff taken care of to avoid unnecessary headaches and expenditures

Finally, I have been in various Asian places, though not for too long. One thing to remember, despite "horror stories" you might here about muggings and anti-Western/American sentiment: almost all people are exceedingly nice and while they might take a little advantage of you when selling things, the difference is usually so minute that there's no reason to get huffy puffy. Also I have always said, when asked, that I was American and never got harassed in any way.
posted by shokod at 11:02 PM on March 21, 2006

I stayed here when I went to Beijing. It's not luxury, but it's reasonably priced, and Renny Wei, the hotel operator, will pick you up at the airport. His English is quite good. He'll drive you around (he took my friend and I to a quiet part of the Great Wall with hardly any other tourists). He also took us out to lunch and helped us get oriented.

When it was time to leave, he helped us arrange travel on a train, took us to the train station, and gave us someone to contact in the next town we visited (Xian). This worked out well - in each city we visited, we had someone to help us get oriented and get a hotel, and were always given a contact in the next city along our route.
posted by syzygy at 1:13 AM on March 22, 2006

Advice to beat the heat in BKK: Never take a tuk tuk. Never. Don't do it. Not for the romance. Not for the noxious fumes of diesel busses. Not unless it's the only way in the whole world...There are almost always real cabs around, which are icily air conditioned. And as a bonus, cabs are on a meter always (or 99% of the time at least -- we chartered a cab to the airport but it was late at night), so you're not getting screwed.

This is a nice respite as you move between parts of the city.
posted by zpousman at 4:56 AM on March 22, 2006

Man, am I jealous. I was in Bangkok for Christmas/New Years 2004 and loved it. Granted it was during the tsunami, but I still can't wait to get back there.
For my flight, I loaded up my Palm with ebooks to read.
I also purchased an inexpensive Rio MP3 player for some musical enjoyment. I'm thinking that the telltale white earbuds of an expensive iPod might be counterproductive to safety.
You will love ChingMai. It's a bit like Berkeley with tons of students, travellers and assorted riff-raff, but still lots of fun.
Be sure and get a Thai massage.
We also went to Angkor Wat; plan on spending 2-3 days there to really explore the ruins.
And I would disagree with zpousman and take a tuk tuk at least once. I did and it was a hoot. Worse than your worse New York cab driver multiplied by 100.
The Thai and Cambodian people are wonderful.
posted by willmize at 5:35 AM on March 22, 2006

I travelled Thailand (left from JFK) last November, so here are my recommendations (your mileage may vary)

-I had my Sony PSP and Nintendo DS and a good book. On the way back I was on a Korean Air plane that had personal movie screens and a database of films to watch. Also, get a good sleep in on the plane, it will reset your clock and kill time.

-I got a tiny precription of Lunesta for the trip there and trip back. I never had an ounce of jet lag as a result. It also made it easier to sleep on the plane.

-I second getting a nice Western-style hotel with nice strong aircon to help beat the heat. Take multiple showers in a day. Make peace with the fact that you're gonna be damp. I second the sun hat and constant hydration. I had a camelbak-style backpack, which helped.

-Eat at a restaurant on the river while in Chiang Mai, at sunset if you can. I'd say take a Tuktuk at least once (but follow all the usual travel recommendations to avoid being ripped off *too* bad*...and have fun!
posted by jeditanuki at 6:59 AM on March 22, 2006

Change any time-telling devices to local time as soon as you arrive anywhere. It certainly doesn't cure jet-lag, but it helps to get you oriented.

I might also recommend taking tylenol pm (or something of that nature) for the first two nights.
posted by anonymous78 at 10:10 AM on March 22, 2006

I'd actually go further than anonymous78 and change my time-telling devices to local time the second I sat down on the long flight. Telling yourself "It's 11 pm, I should be sleeping now" can often help a lot.
posted by nathan_teske at 11:06 AM on March 22, 2006

My best tip is to ask your doctor for a prescription for Elavil (generic: amitriptyline) as a sleep aid. True, it's an anti-depressant when you take high doses, but in low doses, it helps you STAY asleep and is completely non-addictive.

It doesn't help you FALL asleep, but once asleep, you will keep sleeping. Great on airplanes and in noisy foreign hotel rooms.
posted by nancoix at 12:27 PM on March 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

It looks like you'll be in the region for Songkran, the Thai New Year, which is April 13-16. You'll be here in the worst god-awful heat and humidity there is, but the trade off is the New Year celebration. It is truly one of the world's great events, up there with Carnivale and Mardi Gras. The best place to celebrate is in Chiang Mai, but Bangkok is also very good, but the party atmosphere is a little more aggressive.

The New Year is also celebrated in Laos and Burma, but I'm not sure which dates.
posted by soiled cowboy at 5:56 PM on March 22, 2006

You might want to keep an eye on Thailand's tense political situation. Elections have been called for April 2nd, but they may not go ahead. The situation is not expected to become violent, but it has happened in the not-too-distant past.
posted by soiled cowboy at 8:33 PM on March 22, 2006

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