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6-7 months in SE Asia (majority in Thailand) - visa, weather, meet-up ?s

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I am a 29 year old female US resident and I am working on planning an extended trip to Thailand, as well as outlying areas by myself (Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, wherever is cheap to travel to at the time). If anyone can answer ANY of my questions below, that would be greatly appreciated. I know I have a lot!

Right now I am looking into flying from Seattle (home) to Hong Kong for a brief layover (a few days), and then to Phuket to "start" my SE Asian journey.

I have plans to start with volunteering in Phuket for around 3-4 weeks. My first questions revolve around visas. I have done a lot of reading, but I still am trying to wrap my head around the requirements:

**Will I need a Visa for my few day stay in Hong Kong? This is the one area I have not researched. If so, will I need to apply in advance?

**The agency I have requested to volunteer with indicated I do not need a non-immigrant visa, which contradicts what I have read. They are a very reputable worldwide organization so I was a bit surprised to hear that, but the volunteering would be very casual (i.e. very little supervision and my own schedule).
*I have a friend who is a US resident who works/volunteers in Chiang Mai 6 months of the year (with the proper visa) who told me he has never heard of anyone getting in trouble for volunteering w/o non-immigrant visa, unless they are volunteering to try to get an extended stay. He noted it is somewhat impossible to get this type of visa anyway.
*I just requested re-confirmation fro the agency about using a tourist visa, but can someone please help address this concern and let me know if using a tourist visa would be risky/how this is tracked by the Thai government?

**My understanding is that, if I get a Thai tourist visa in advance, it is good for 60 days, and there is the possibility of a one month extension (not guaranteed). Is this correct? Would I be able to apply for this tourist visa in the US with documentation of my plane ticket in, and then a ticket to Vietnam 2 months later? Or do I have to show documentation of a return trip to the US?

**I also plan on getting a Vietnamese visa in advance as I am 100% sure I will be making a trip there at around month 2, if my understanding of the process is correct. For my entry into Vietnam, would a round-trip ticket from Thailand be acceptable for entry, or do I also need to show documentation of return to the US?

**Do I have to 're-apply' for a visa when I re-enter Thailand from Vietnam? If so, does this need to be done in advance if I am flying, or can it be done at the time of entry?

My second question is about the wet season in Phuket. I have read it is the wet season through October. Does the rainfall taper off at the end of October since I will be there from mid-Oct through mid-November? I plan on making a trip back to Phuket in December as well for better weather if this is a bad time to go.

For my second month in Thailand, I plan on heading up to Chiang Mai. I think flight would be the best, but can someone please let me know if bus/train would be a difficult option?

My main goal in Chiang Mai is to be there for Yee Peng (lantern festival). I cannot find consistent information about how to attend this. Some websites indicate all tourists must pre-pay (as they have created a separate tourist event), and the main website for that is sold out. I would of course prefer to join the locals, so does anyone have any information about this, or should I just wait until it gets closer? I would hate to miss out because I needed to purchase a ticket.

My final "plan" is to venture to Hanoi in Vietnam at the end of December and meet a friend at Ha Long Bay. Is this something I would need to book far in advance as it is Christmas/New Year?

After Vietnam is kind of up in the air (outside of making it back to Thailand for Songkran in April) as I am trying to not over-plan this trip and would like to have the flexibility to travel to places as I learn more about the area and find cheap tickets.

Finally, if anyone is planning on being in any of these areas (Phuket, Chiang Mai, Hanoi) mid-Oct-mid December and would like to meet up, please let me know! This is my first solo trip and would love to connect with folks who will be in the area. Also, if anyone has any other suggestions of must visit places I am always open to exploring those.



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