southeast asia itinerary help
March 5, 2008 2:22 PM   Subscribe

Which city/cities should I cross off my south east asia itinerary?

I will be traveling to South East Asia from 6/9 to 7/7 but am having a difficult time trying to put together an itinerary I am happy with. I have spent hours mulling over which cities to include and which ones to skip given my limited time. The logisitics of traveling from place to place and the varying weather during the wet season also complicates things....I was hoping to get advice on which countries to include/exclude or add/subtract days to.

my tentative itinerary is:

2 days in Ho Chi Mihn City
5 days Easy Riders Bike tour from Dalat to Hoi An
3 days in Hoi An (I've been told hoi an is famous for their tailored clothes and that three days is the minimum days to spend here if you want to get it done)
3 days in Hanoi 2 in Ha long bay
3 days in Luang Prabang
2 days in Vang Vieng
4 days in Chiang Mai (can anyone give advice on whether the hill tribe treks are worth it)
3 days in Bangkok

My original itinerary included a trip to Northern Laos for the Gibbon Experience, a trip to Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao, and a few days in Phenom Phen and Angkor Wat.

Am I foolish for leaving these places out, and what would you suggest in order to fit them in to my current itinerary?

What complicates things:

I was thinking about cutting out Ho Chi Mihn City to even out the time spent in each country, but there is no way to fly directly into Dalat for the Easy Rider Tour and Ho Chi Mihn seems like the easiest entry point. I also have to be going from south to north vietnam in order for the bike tour to work.

We are stretching to see a lot of places, and to save time we are going to have to fly into most of the cities. However, this really limits where we can get to.

some people suggested that Vang Vieng was a tourist trap, but have also heard that the scenery there makes up for it...

I decided to reluctantly cut out Cambodia b/c I have been told the rainy season during June/July is worst than the rest of Southeast Asia.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
posted by nyu2 to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
How are you getting from Hanoi to Luang Prabang?

That itself may take a day since air travel is sparse and I had to fly into Vientane first. I assume travel logistics may affect other parts of your itinerary too.
posted by vacapinta at 2:29 PM on March 5, 2008

Luang Prabang is fantastic.

Vientiane is terrific too.

Chiang Mai is interesting enough, and some of the hill tribe trips are OK. I'd suggest a 2-day trek with a private guide who you hire yourself. Maybe with 3-5 other people. We did one with 2 other couples that was terrific - maybe 15 km on trails each day, some time on bikes and some time on elephants and a short raft, spent the night in a Hmong village with solar-heated showers, they butchered a pig for a NY celebration that night and we had a nice meal with them.

Nice thing about Chiang Mai is not the big tourist markets, but the Thai night market, the one on the river, and the massive indoor "mall" - more like an indoor fleamarket, all raw concrete and haphazard stalls - near it, just north of the hotel zone on the west side of the river.

Stay away from the first class train sleepers in Thailand .. .the regular second class sleepers are far better - plus you get thai food, not western toast and jam, and the service is better. first class is a ripoff and meant only for rich Europeans I think. the 2nd class cars that convert to sleepers are super awesome and one of the most pleasant ways to travel I've ever experienced.
posted by luriete at 3:40 PM on March 5, 2008

It sounds like a promising list to me.

A lot will depend on how you get between these locations however- land travel in a country like Laos can be endearing and memorable but very slow.Travelling across borders overland (for example from Laos to Vietnam) can add even more time. Finally - if you are going to need to get visas whilst in the field - then you will need to allocate ample time to wait in a queue at embassies. You will need to study up to date information on the state of border crossings and on visa requirements.

Angkor Wat is an amazing place to see but you would have to allow a minimum of 2 or 3 days to do it justice.

There are many people who do some sort of variation on this trip and there are some travel agents in Bangkok and Vietnam who are good at assembling all the flights and other connections for you.
posted by rongorongo at 3:50 PM on March 5, 2008

One other thing regarding visas. Countries like Vietnam and Laos require them and the default is a single entry visa. That means if you are planning to fly into Vietnam, go to other countries, then return to Vietnam to fly back home your original visa will no longer work.

I know this from first-hand experience.
posted by vacapinta at 4:01 PM on March 5, 2008

Response by poster: luriete, i believe vietnam air now flies from hanoi to luang prabang. im not sure if we should buy the plane tickets when we are there or go with the Discovery Airpass from Bangkok Air.

I think the airpass might save us a lot of money, but won't offer the flexibility we might need. anyone have experience with an airpass like this and/or booking last minute flights while yo are there (we will probably have a group of about 4 or 5)
posted by nyu2 at 4:02 PM on March 5, 2008

I don't know, Angkor Wat was the highlight of my trip to SEAsia, but I went during the dry season. Doesn't it just rain for an hour a day during the wet season? I flew in to Siem Reap from Luang Prabang, then took the bumpiest ride ever bus back to Bangkok. Friends tell me ground travel during the wet season can get pretty ugly (getting out and pushing the vehicle).
posted by furtive at 7:20 PM on March 5, 2008

I agree you can cut ho chi minh city out of your itinerary - its a madhouse (unpleasantly so). Far more interesting is the area around ho chi minh (the mekong pennisula). On the tailoring, you can get clothes made in any large city, just be sure to go for multiple fittings.

On Chiang Mai and the treks I've heard they are good but rigourous. I can't recall if its rainy season, but if it is, be prepared to get your leech on; you will definitely be soaked, and be prepared for some heavy duty treking - stories I heard from fellow travelers were that it can be quite industrial.

Sounds like you have a great itinerary - have fun!
posted by zia at 9:47 PM on March 5, 2008

Having traveled in both Cambodia and Northern Vietnam last May, I must say that I preferred Cambodia immensely. Angkor Wat is an amazing place, and most of the country is quiet, placid, and filled with calm energy. Vietnam was a madhouse, and not in a pleasant way. The only highlight was treeking around Sa Pa in the North. I went to the Ha Long Bay, and it was pretty but 3 days was 2 too many IMO.
posted by blindcarboncopy at 10:51 PM on March 5, 2008

You could probably cut to 2 days in Ha Noi if you had to. 1 day in Ha Long would be possible, if you can find the transport to/from Ha Noi - it's a 3 hour bus ride. But, if you're there 2 days, you can do the island/harbor tour, jump off the boat into the water to swim, etc. Very nice.

Though I've never gotten positive impressions of it (madhouse, as everyone else says), it might be neat to have a brief impression of HCMC to contrast with Ha Noi. North and South Viet Nam are very different places.

I love love love Bangkok. It is a crazy and mostly dirty city, but so much food and stuff and it's great to walk in. Those three days I wouldn't cut out for anything! (I've posted a lot of stuff on favorite restaurants and places in Bangkok, if you're looking for those kinds of things).
posted by whatzit at 3:18 AM on March 6, 2008

I just came back from 2 months travelling around SE Asia.

Don't miss Angkor Wat (3 full days). Many of the temples look better in the wet season, just take some rain gear. I can recommend a good guesthouse that gives you a bicycle and a great route to ride.

If you want to get tailored clothes, you can pay extra and get them to ship it home for you. This is particularly useful if you're going to be flying any of the budget airlines which allow only 15kgs of checked baggage with punitive fees if you exceed it by even 1kg. I got my tailoring done in Bangkok as I was there for a few days.

I enjoyed Chiang Mai but better was renting a truck for a week and driving around the region to Pai, Mai Hong Son, Doi Inthanon and around Chiang Rai.

The only reason to go to Ko Pha Ngan is for the Full Moon Party. If that's not your thing, rather go to Phi Phi. If you do go, DON'T stay in Haad Rin unless you want to be surrounded by loud, drunk white people and the Thai who prey on them.

As vacapinta says, be careful with your travel expectations. Transport take longer and is not as reliable as you expect.

One the best parts of my trip was the complete flexibility. If I liked a place, I stayed longer. If I didn't, I left earlier. This works really well if you're taking buses from place to place but you may pay more if you're flying. This would also allow you to join up with other people, which IMHO is a huge part of the experience.
Would it be possible for you to have more fluid dates and just have a few big area changes when you need to cover big distances?
posted by quiet at 4:50 AM on March 6, 2008

Just to throw in one more possibility: I travelled from Chiang Mai a short bus ride to the Laos border and then got a boat down the Mekong to Luang Prabang. This was almost 10 years ago. At that time the operators on this route used skiffs powered by engines ripped out of something like a Toyota Hilux with a prop welded to the end of the crankshaft. They were extremely loud, fast and dangerous feeling: a great introduction to general travel in Laos. These days it would seem that there are a number of options to take you on this trip in either direction. The Thai/Lao border crossing was quite easy.
posted by rongorongo at 7:25 AM on March 6, 2008

Response by poster: If I were to skip out on HCMC, does anyone know any alternative ways to get to Dalat to start my bike tour?
posted by nyu2 at 8:50 AM on March 6, 2008

You'll probably need to fly into HCMC to get to Dalat.
posted by quiet at 7:06 AM on March 7, 2008

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