Southeast Asia Itinerary…Halfway There

Southeast Asia PlanningIn less than two weeks we’ll be touching down in Bangkok, the beginning of a four-and-a-half-month stay in Southeast Asia and our first visit to the continent. It’s exciting (and slightly nerve-wracking) to think about spending such a lengthy amount of time in a place that will be so different to us in just about every respect—language, culture, customs, cuisine.

In Europe, we moved every three to four days on average, but we plan to slow down our pace in Asia. Getting from place to place will take longer, plus we want to make sure we have unscripted sightseeing time to soak up the atmosphere in each locale.

We’ve also learned a thing or two about our style of travel over the years, and that has colored our itinerary to some extent. One place we’re skipping this trip is Sapa in Vietnam. It looks amazing, but the only way to get there is by overnight bus followed by another overnight bus on the return trip. That’s simply too much travel pain for a couple of days in a destination.

We nonetheless hear a lot of folks recommending traveling overnight, especially in this part of the world where distances between cities are long and transportation is slow. And it is true that taking an overnight bus or train gets you to your destination during what would otherwise be downtime and saves a night’s lodging cost in the process. But those benefits have never been worth the trade offs for us. In our experience overnight transport always costs us more time than it saves.

The day of travel we get kicked out of our hotel room in the morning and then have to wait around for a train, bus, or plane in the evening. Theoretically we could use those ten or twelve hours to sightsee, but in practice we never do. We always find that by then we’ve seen everything we wanted to see in the area. And because we never like leaving our computers and other gear in the hotel’s storage room or at the front desk, we usually end up spending all those hours babysitting our backpacks.

Once on the train we don’t really sleep. We get to our destination overnight but we’re pretty well wrecked the next day. So the overnight train that was supposed to save us a day’s travel ends up costing us two. We’re going to avoid them whenever we can.

So far we’ve planned out the first half of our itinerary from November 4 through January 16. That still leaves two months until our flight out of Bangkok on March 17. We might hit the Thailand beaches, meander to Malaysia or Myanmar, or bound over to Bali or Borneo. Suggestions on where else in Southeast Asia we should venture? Please give us a shout. We’d love to have your input.

Here’s what we’ve decided on so far:

  • Chiang Rai, Thailand
  • Chiang Mai, Thailand (including a night in an Elephant sanctuary)
  • Luang Prabang, Laos
  • Hanoi, Vietnam (including a night on Halong Bay)
  • Hoi An, Vietnam
  • Hue, Vietnam
  • Da Nang, Vietnam
  • Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
  • Phnom Penh, Cambodia
  • Siem Reap, Cambodia
  • Bangkok, Thailand 
  • Thailand beaches and south to Malaysia?

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29 Comments on “Southeast Asia Itinerary…Halfway There”

  1. Kris10 October 22, 2014 at 8:45 am #

    When you are in Siem Reap go to the ngo SOID http://soidngo.org/main-eng.php. My friends there will be happy to show you around SR and tuktukdriver Puk brings you wherever you want to go -and other places-. If interested and you want more info feel free to contact me.

    Like

    • Brian October 22, 2014 at 9:48 am #

      Hi Kristen,
      Thanks for the link to SOID. We hadn’t heard about them before and they sound like a worthwhile organization. That’s the kind of thing we’d prefer to do so We’ll definitely check them out.

      Like

  2. Betty Londergan October 22, 2014 at 9:22 am #

    Hey, Brian & Shannon – you are going to LOVE LOVE LOVE Southeast Asia! My daughter Lulu is living in Thailand (about 45 minutes west of Bangkok, teaching at a big Catholic school there) — and she can give you lots of suggestions about going South to the beaches, as well as where to go in Bangkok! I’ll send you her email … she’s is Vietnam right now (in Sapa) but she and I both loved Hanoi, Hoi An and Halong Bay. Luang Prabang is one of my favorite places in the world — you will adore it! And the countryside in Cambodia is really beautiful — if you go during the wet season. I wouldn’t spend too much time in Siem Reap unless you really, really love temples. Ohhhhh,
    I can’t wait to read your posts! (and you’re going to LOVE the food, too!!!) And the people are really gentle, beautiful and kind …. I’m jealous!!!

    Like

    • Brian October 22, 2014 at 9:41 am #

      Hi Betty,
      Thanks so much. We love your energy and enthusiasm. It’s a great send off for us. 😀

      We’d love to touch base with your daughter. And also wanted to pick your brain about Myanmar. That’s a place we know you’ve been and we’re thinking we might fly there for a couple of weeks from Kuala Lumpur.

      Like

  3. ronmitchelladventure October 22, 2014 at 9:37 am #

    Hello. We loved Thailand! We are retired,and travel most of the time. You could check out several of my posts from several months ago on Thailand, one devoted solely to my favorite city, Chiang Mai!
    http://www.ronmitchelladventure.com

    Like

  4. anoccasionaltraveller October 22, 2014 at 10:30 am #

    When you are in M’sia, apart from Kuala Lumpur, you should also check out Melaka (or Malacca) and Penang, both are listed as UNESCO Heritage Sites.

    As for Borneo side of M’sia, do check out Kota Kinabalu and Kuching. As you will be arriving end of the year, you will probably not able to visit the East Coast due to the monsoon season

    Like

    • Brian October 22, 2014 at 10:32 am #

      Penang is definitely on our list. We’ll look into the your other recommendations too. Thanks!!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Wondering Celt October 22, 2014 at 10:30 am #

    Hi Guys
    We lived in Thailand for 3 years. I agree with your comments about night travel, plus drivers of buses in Thailand are often high on drugs to keep them awake at night so I would never recommend that! Flights from Bangkok to Chiang Mai might be too expensive but we’ve taken both the day and night trains and found them very good.
    Smiles don’t always mean what you think in Thailand. It is simply a knee jerk reaction to most situations however bad, embarrassing or good they are. It is out of a desire to be polite and save face which is deeply ingrained and highly valued by Thai society. It never pays to lose your cool!
    Chiang Mai is great and you will be spoilt for choice on what to see so no real recommendations, you should be ok language wise there on the whole. It’ll be fun or ‘sanuk’ as they say there….another very important part of Thai life. Chiang Mai zoo used to be good and you can often hear the howler monkeys in the City centre. Chiang Rai – long journey and my only recollection of there was a monument on the top of a hill with a huge phallic sculpture surrounded by about 30 others! Obviously still a focal point of worship but nothing to do with Bhuddism:-)
    Did you make it to the Cheltenham festival in the end or Wales, and are you coming back through Europe? You haven’t written much of your time in the UK…….wanting to know how it was for you!
    Take care and have lots of sanuk!!

    Like

    • Brian October 22, 2014 at 11:13 am #

      We’ve found most internal flights to be quite cheap. A flight from BKK to Chiang Rai cost us 1,600THB (~$50) per ticket. I understand the night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai runs about 900THB ($28) per ticket. We’d then still need to take a bus if we wanted to get Chiang Rai. So for less than $20 extra each we can take a 1 hour flight rather than a 12 hour train ride plus a ~4 hour bus ride. That’s money well spent IMHO. 🙂

      We never made it to Wales. It’s one of a handful of places on the Isle that we missed this time around – it just didn’t fit logistically with some other stuff we had to do. We will definitely be back. The plan right now is to land in Europe next spring, probably starting in Greece.

      You’re quite correct that we haven’t yet written about the U.K. even though we’ve been here for quite some time. We fell so far behind in our writing that we just haven’t gotten to it. Now we have to decide whether we just skip ahead and start writing about Asia as we’re traveling through or continue writing about the European portion of our trip we haven’t yet covered.

      Like

      • allisonmohr October 25, 2014 at 11:53 am #

        Could I vote for skipping ahead to Asia? As a long time reader, I want to see what you’re seeing. This trip takes you to places I doubt I’ll ever visit, so I’m really looking forward to it.

        Like

        • Brian October 25, 2014 at 12:25 pm #

          Hi Allison, you can and your vote is duly noted. We’d like to get more current and are thinking of ways to do that without completely blowing past the U.K.

          Thanks for following along!!!

          Like

  6. Wondering Celt October 22, 2014 at 10:39 am #

    Oh forgot to mention Hua Hin for beaches, less commercial than Pattaya (don’t recommend a visit unless you are interested in the sex trade!) or Phuket, we took the train from Bangkok to KL once. Comfortable, cheap but loooong – you do get to see a lot of scenery and ‘life’ go by the window though. Isaan or East Thailand is very different culturally to the rest – more like a mix of Cambodia or Laos.
    Malaysian food the BEST anywhere. Got engaged in KL in 1995! Agree re Penang and Malaaca for destinations East Coast is fab but monsoon makes it difficult to put it mildly! So jealous that you are going to Luang Prabang – still on my to do list!

    Like

  7. ronmitchelladventure October 22, 2014 at 1:09 pm #

    We spent two months budget traveling in Thailand. In Chiang Mai I highly recommend a cooking class at http://www.asiascenic.com. I have prepared many Thai meals for friends back home. Also, I highly recommend the two-day slowboat to Laos…for a relaxing ride up the Mekong and a taste (fried river moss) of Laos culture.

    Like

    • Brian October 23, 2014 at 6:59 am #

      We’re definitely planning on doing a bunch of cooking classes. At least one in every country. As far as the slow boat, we’ve heard mixed reviews. It sounds like something that was probably amazing at one time, but now it seems as if they’re cramming too many people on to the boats. We’ll want to get out on the river, for sure. We’re just not sure about spending two full days on a wooden floor shoulder to shoulder with 100 other folks.

      Like

  8. aenee2u October 22, 2014 at 11:24 pm #

    If you already made up your mind to go to Bali, you should also visit Lombok ( http://www.indonesia.travel/en/destination/478/lombok-alluring-island-east-of-bali )
    or bound to raja ampat http://www.indonesia.travel/en/destination/248/raja-ampat

    You should visit Indonesia beautiful beaches 😀

    Like

  9. mynuttydubai October 23, 2014 at 12:42 am #

    Chang Mai is a beautiful place – I did a day trip up there once which incorporated a boat ride to the Golden Triangle (where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet) and it was wonderful.
    Try adding Phuket to your list, especially Bangla Road – this is made famous by the she-boys of Thailand, all offering wild and wonderful shows for tourists.
    I haven’t been to anywhere else in Southeast Asia, but I LOVED Thailand – enjoy 🙂

    Like

  10. vastergotland1 October 23, 2014 at 3:24 am #

    I traveled by canoe between Luang Namtha and Huay Xai in Laos. I found that to be one of the best travel legs I did in SEA, but it is slow traveling which may not be for everyone. Also, I think you would be missing out if your itinerary completely sidesteps China.

    Like

    • Brian October 23, 2014 at 6:42 am #

      I think we’ll probably visit China on a different trip. Even with 4+ months we can’t get everywhere. Not at our travel speed anyhow.

      Like

  11. Chryt October 23, 2014 at 10:05 pm #

    Sounds like a great trip again. I loved Sapa, we stayed there for a few days, walking through the rice fields and home-staying at a local farm. We took the night-train, which wasn’t too bad and we were actually able to do things next day. I’d never again take the night-bus though in this part of the world, was really wrecked after a night without sleep.
    If you want to experience Cambodia, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap are great tourist places and definitely worth the visit, but have nothing to do with the real Cambodia. You might want to consider going to one of the provincial capitals and stay there for a few days. Mondulkiri (Sen Monorom) and Ratanakiri (Banlung) are great when you want to cool down a bit and do some trekkings, but a bit out of the way. Probably the easiest places to experience Cambodian daily life would be Battambang, just a few hours by road or by boat from Siem Reap, or Kampot, close to Phnom Penh on a beautiful riverside location and with access to the quiet Cambodian beaches in Kep.
    Anyway, you will have a great time in this region!

    Like

  12. busybee28 October 24, 2014 at 2:57 pm #

    Im super excited for you, Asia is awasome. I very much looking forward to following your journery over the next few months wishing i was there myself 🙂 Have fun!

    P.s Malaysia is awsome so if you get the chance go and i would recomend (KL) kuala lumpur & the Cameron highlands 🙂

    Like

  13. lorrainetyner October 26, 2014 at 11:49 am #

    If you end up going to Phuket, I HIGHLY recommend the hongs by starlight sea kayaking experience. We used the John Gray company after reading reviews and also seeing they did environmental education. You have to not be clausterphobic for the kayak ride back OUT through the cave after the tide comes in, though…have to lay down flat on the kayak in one part of the cave. Very exciting adventure, if you are into that kind of thing. http://www.johngray-seacanoe.com/ We went about 12 years ago, so things may have changed since then, but it was great back then!

    Also, in Bangkok, we found the cobra snake show at the Red Cross center absolutely fascinating! http://www.bangkok.com/magazine/snake-farm.htm

    There is also a place we went to where thousands and thousands of bats fly in (or was it out?) of a cave…not sure where this was as locals took us…but it was pretty fascinating.

    And of course the floating market was an experience not to be missed, IMO.

    Like

  14. intentionalmc October 26, 2014 at 7:26 pm #

    What an exciting itinerary. We hope to get to SE Asia (and Japan) in the next few years. It will be our first time as well, so we look forward to seeing what you discover.

    Like

  15. nigemate November 7, 2014 at 2:26 am #

    If you are still in planning mode, then anything for Indonesia? Yogyakarta and its sights (Borobudur) are interesting. Bali – can be overrun with tourists but I think you can still get off the beaten track. And it still has a certain charm. The islands further east are varied. From many years ago, Flores was wonderful. Unspoilt rugged scenery, amazing volcanos, interesting culture (Portuguese influence), great traditional weaving.
    And whilst you are in Laos, we had a great time on a hire scooter doing a trip around the Bolaven plateau. If you can ride a motorbike, invest in a proper motorbike if you are both on it. The roads were a little bit hairy with two of us on a 110cc scooter. departing point is Pakse in the South. Further north, Muang Ngoy (depart Nong Khiaw) accessible only by boat. Kind of a backpacker chill out zone but without the feral backpackers. We hired a traditional canoe and did our own river trip – an absolute hoot but hard work! So many choices – good luck and enjoy!

    Like

    • Brian November 8, 2014 at 3:48 am #

      Nothing yet definitive regarding Indonesia, although Bali is on our radar. We’ll look into Yogyakarat too. Thanks.

      Like

  16. Albatz Travel Adventures November 10, 2014 at 3:05 pm #

    We took this cooking course in Luang Prabang in 2007 and I highly recommend it. The cooking classes are still running today (2014) but under the name Tamnak Lao (Three Elephants Café).

    We also took one of Ms. Vy’s Morning Glory Cooking Class in Hoi An last year and it also gets a huge thumbs up!

    Like

    • Brian November 11, 2014 at 12:40 am #

      Thanks for the tips. We’ll be looking for cooking classes in both locations so this helps a ton!

      Like

  17. Em November 21, 2014 at 9:50 am #

    You will miss by not seeing SaPa….in 3 weeks of being in Vietnam, staying with a local family there was one of my all-time favorite travel memories I will forever cherish. Just my thoughts. Have a wonderful trip!

    Like

    • Brian November 21, 2014 at 9:14 pm #

      That is what they make return trips for. 🙂 This time around we have more than enough to do to keep us busy for the entirety of our 30 day visas.

      Like

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