Asia Forums

Start a new topic Change Forum
Advanced search

Trip Report LowCountryIslander's South East Asia Adventure

Jump to last reply

Although I've been a Fodorite for several years, I don't frequent the Asia forum often, mostly since my recent travels have been in Europe and the US, which is ironic because I originally joined Fodors because I had a question about a trip I was taking to Hong Kong back in 2004. :-)

While doing research for this South East Asia trip, I read many trip reports on the Asia forum and decided I have really been missing out on some terrific stuff here by not reading the Asia board! So, in an effort to give back to those who have given me alot of great information here I decided to post a trip report.

As I've done with other trip reports I will post a "warning" note... I do tend to get a bit long-winded. If you like to read about flights, hotels, food, as well as the site seen and activities done you will probably like this report. I also tend to use exclamation marks and smiley faces, however I will try to keep them to a minimum! :-D

This first post will contain a good amount of background information, which I felt would be needed since many of the Asia posters don't know me...however if you want to checkout my Europe trip reports (alot on Italy!) please feel free to do so!

Here's where it starts...

A trip of a lifetime begins... 3 weeks of travel spanning Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.

The adventure starts in late February 2011 and ends in mid-March. It's a whirlwind trip beginning with dipping my toes into Hanoi and takes me to the far-off places of Hoi An, Hue and Saigon, in Vietnam. There is a too short stop in Siem Reap, Cambodia to ogle the grandeur of the temples at Angkor Wat. The finale takes me to Thailand, venturing into Chiang Mai and the metropolis that is Bangkok.

The people were welcoming, the food was fantastic, and the memories are priceless!

For a few years, Vietnam had been lingering on my mental “want to visit” list. It wasn’t at the very top, but it wasn’t at the very bottom either. A friend had mentioned interest in going there a few years ago, but we kept saying how expensive it would be, mind you, we never really took any big steps to find out what the actual cost would be, we just thought the airfare from the eastern USA would be exurbanite. Then a Fodorite friend went to Vietnam a couple years ago and I literally salivated over her photos and then when I read her blog about the trip, I knew I wanted to see Vietnam sooner rather than later.

I’m pretty well traveled throughout Europe, yet my only ventures into Asia up until now was a week long tour to Hong Kong 7 years ago and a 2 week trip to Turkey 4 years ago. Even with my self professed anal retentive travel planning attitude I will admit I was fairly intimidated to plan an “on-my-own” trip to Vietnam, so when a friend (RM) who coordinates small group trips for women sent an email about a 3 week trip to Vietnam, Cambodia & Thailand she was putting together, my interest was piqued and CL, my friend and travel buddy was also interested. We decided to go ahead and book the trip with RM. I will admit there are some positives and negatives about group travel, but the one thing I learned about myself, loud and clear, was that I could have easily planned this trip on my own. However, a plus was, all the “heavy lifting” planning was done for me, and to RM’s credit, we did stay at some fantastic hotels/resorts, probably much more high-end than I would have booked myself. A negative was there were some things I would have changed if I had done this on my own, but in the end, it was a great trip and it did to me, what all trips do to me…left me wanting more. More time to explore the culture, the food, the nature, and the people. Would I return to any of these counties? Yes, in a hot minute!

Here’s a little background on my friend RM: I met her several years ago during my Central Europe travels and found out she coordinates several trips a year with friends. It started out as a small circle of her friends going on the trips and over the years as these friends invited other friends and family members on the trips things started to grow and before she knew it, “Maiden Voyagers” was born. There are usually 2 domestic and 2 international trips planned each year, decided upon by the women who are in this group. And generally the trips average about 10-12 women.

Once the deposit was made it was time to start looking at airfare. I have become, what some may call obsessed, with accruing miles in my Delta Sky Miles account (I’m all about the miles baby!). I know I’ve heard from lots of people how terrible they think Delta Airlines is. However several years ago my airline options from Savannah, GA were slim, they are just now becoming slightly more varied, but back then Delta was the major player and I signed up for their Sky Miles program. Having now acquired gold elite status on Delta (which may not really mean a whole lot) I try to accrue miles with them or their partners as often as I possibly can, and I have been very fortunate to be reaping some upgrade benefits lately.

So the search for airfare to South East Asia begins. Since I know Korean Air is a Sky Team partner and I’ve heard a lot of good things about Korean Air and that is where I begin my focus. First I check out the online travel agencies. I find what I think are really good fares with the Delta/Korean Air combo.

Then I start researching the question, “if I book on an online travel agency will I be able to accrue the miles?” Because, lets face it, if I’m going to fly to the other side of the world to the tune of about 20,000 miles roundtrip, I better damn well accrue those miles! Well, I’m sure glad I did the research; turns out the really good fare I was looking at did not qualify for miles. That brought me very quickly back to the Delta website. I was able to find flights I wanted, I did have to compromise a bit on flight times but in the end, although I paid more than the “really good fares” at the online travel agency websites, I got not only the miles flown on the Korean Air outbound flight, but I got a 50% bonus mileage credit and yes, they counted towards my Medallion Qualifying Miles.

In the end I flew from Savannah, Georgia to Atlanta on Delta, from Atlanta to Seoul, South Korea and then Seoul to Hanoi, Vietnam on Korean Air. On the return I flew Delta (aircraft & crew) from Bangkok to Tokyo, Tokyo to Atlanta and Atlanta to Savannah. Let me tell you, getting the Tokyo to Atlanta flight was not easy, nor cheap, I could have flown for less if I flew from Tokyo to Seattle then to Atlanta and finally into Savannah, but I know how I am when flying home from a trip and the fewer connections I have the happier I am!

In preparation for this trip I did some research, but not early as much as I usually do. I did get the Lonely Planet Vietnam and Bangkok guidebooks, the Nancy Chandler maps for Chiang Mai and Bangkok (which I loved and was very happy I had with me), and of course I had consulted my Fodors family for their favorite restaurant picks in the places I would be traveling too, and they did not steer me wrong!

Although there were many meals included in the price of the trip, there were several days when meals were not included and then, as always, I wanted to make sure I had just the perfect place to recommend to the friends I was traveling with because after all, of the 9 of us traveling together about half really wanted to make our meals “count” if you know what I mean! It also helped that RM enjoys food and wine too and I was tickled when prior to the trip she had asked me to collaborate with her on some of the restaurant suggestions for group meals…yes my friends, we ate very well on this trip!
The last bit of pre-trip preparation was booking a hotel for 2 nights prior to meeting the group in Hanoi. Four of us going on this trip, me, my friend CL and our friends B & V decided we wanted to arrive in Hanoi a couple days before the tour started. This was one of the best decisions because in the end even with just having an extra day and a half in Hanoi it provided us the opportunity to see a little more of this incredibly interesting city, because once the group tour started, we were moving fast.

I could have easily made reservations at the hotel the group was booked into, but it was not within walking distance of the Old Quarter and after reading on Fodors about the Elegance Boutique hotels in Hanoi I knew exactly where I wanted to stay for the first 2 nights of this trip. I was able to book a deluxe twin, including breakfast for $75 per night and a pick-up at the airport for an additional $16. All the hotels we stayed at on this trip were good, but the Hotel Elegance Diamond was by far our favorite. The service was excellence, the room clean, spacious (roomier than I had expected), the breakfast was very good with a nice selection of eastern and western items and did I mention the staff, it’s worth repeating…the service was excellent. I was in the hotel business for 7 years and I have not experienced such terrific service for such a reasonable price.

And here’s where it all begins…

Saturday, February 26, 2011

When the alarm clock goes off at 3am I think to myself, “why did I book a 6:30am departure?” Then I remember how “antsy” I get at airports if I even feel the slightest bit of anxiety because of missing a plane. It’s my own paranoia and I’ve learned to live with it, and whoever I happen to be traveling with has to live with it too. Long layovers (at least 2 hours in my “book”) keep me calm and I’m sticking with it. Plus I know from previous experience once you buy that airplane ticket you are now at the scheduling mercy of the airline and more times than not when I thought I had plenty of time for a connection, times where adjusted and I was like the old Hertz TV commercials with OJ Simpson running through the airport…that is not going to make me happy and travel for me is about being happy.

CL and I are at the Savannah airport by 5am, car parked and bags checked. I was thrilled to have been able to check in on line the day before, because believe, me, when flying Delta and connecting on a code share partner that is not always the case. When I checked in on line I was delighted to find I had been approved for an upgrade on the Savannah to Atlanta leg, now a 30 minute flight in business class is not a big deal, but I do like having my bag tagged as priority.

The flight to Atlanta is uneventful and on time. We de-plane and by 7:30am we are having breakfast in the terminal. At 9am we proceed to the Korean Air gate and we are required to check in again with Korean Air to get Korean Air boarding passes and have our Vietnam visa checked.

The gate area begins to fill-up and I notice a rather large number of people traveling with children, who are now running around the gate area and I’m thinking, I sure do hope this exercise tires these kids out and it’s a peaceful 15 hour flight…my prayers were answered! I was pleasantly surprised to find that once on-board it seemed like there were no children at all on the plane.

I was happy to have done my research prior to selecting seats for the Atlanta to Seoul flight. The seats are in the 3-3-3 configuration, except for the last 2 rows, which were the 2-3-2 configuration. I was able to get the first row of 2 seats, so CL and I did not have to crawl over strangers to get out of our seats. We were able to board with the business class passengers thanks to the upgrade on the earlier Savannah-Atlanta leg and we settled in nicely. The seats felt slightly roomier than what I am used too. The entertainment system was great, so many movies to choose from! The flight attendants were extremely attentive, but what I noticed the most were the uniforms, a beautiful light blue and cream and white. It impressed me that they looked as fresh & crisp when we de-planed as when we boarded 15 hours earlier! The bathrooms were kept immaculately clean.

The food was good. We were served a meal about 2 hours into the flight, then a snack (a port bun…yum!), and then 4 hours before landing we were served a second meal. For a 15 hour flight it was very comfortable. I would not hesitate to fly Korean Air again.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

At some point we crossed the International Date Line and it becomes Sunday. We land in Seoul at 5:30pm local time. To my surprise it takes only 15 minutes to de-plane. We go through transit security, which was a breeze, found our way into the main terminal and found the gate for the connecting flight to Hanoi.

Before long our friends B&V arrive at the gate for the Hanoi flight and within about an hour we begin boarding the plane. One word of caution for anyone planning to use ambien or another sleep aid for assistance sleeping on flight. V had ambient, CL was exhausted and said she really wanted to sleep on the 5 hour flight to Hanoi. V offered her one ambient and CL took it. I am not exaggerating when I say within minutes CL was slumped over in the chair at the boarding gate; it was quite a feat getting her up and onto the plane. Later, she said she felt drunk and she did not remember getting onto the plane. Please if anyone wants to use ambient, or any sleep aid during a flight I suggest using it while at home to see how it will affect you. CL was lucky nothing more serious happened; it would not have been a good start to the trip!

The flight lands in Hanoi a few minutes before 10pm. We went through passport control with no trouble and onto baggage claim. Wonder of wonders, my bag is the first on the baggage carousel. We wait a few more minutes and we all have our bags. We walk into the arrivals hall and the driver the hotel sent is there waiting for us. It takes about 45 minutes to get form the airport to the Hotel Elegance Diamond.

The Hotel Elegance Diamond greeting was terrific; we are greeted and presented with a cool refreshing juice drink and towel. It feels great to finally be at our destination. The lobby check-in is an easy process and we are shown to our room in no time at all. We got upgraded from a deluxe twin to a family room! There are fresh flowers in the room and bathroom. The room is spacious, and clean and most importantly the beds are extremely comfortable. Within minutes we are asleep!

65 Replies |Back to top

| Add a Reply

Sign in to comment.

Recent Activity

  • Announcement:
  • Fodor's Go List 2015 Has Been Announced
    by Emily_D Fodor's Editor | Posted on Dec 19, 14 at 05:08 PM
View all Asia activity »
  1. 1 Hanoi driver wanted
  2. 2 Your favorites in south India & places you'd probably not recommend
  3. 3 Southern India itinerary help needed
  4. 4 Trip Report vietnam and laos
  5. 5 Buying loose sapphires in Sri Lanka
  6. 6 narrow down destinations, Japan 2 weeks in April
  7. 7 2nd location on the beach
  8. 8 Help: 24 hours to change decision for award flight BKK-SFO
  9. 9 Safe to buy Sapphires in Sri Lanka
  10. 10 Thailand - Food recos
  11. 11 A Thailand holiday vacation 9 years in a row!
  12. 12 Seoul - Cuckoo rice cooker
  13. 13 First Time Solo Trip To Thailand Itinerary
  14. 14 Laos for the backpacker
  15. 15 The best way (or place) to see Mt. Fuji while staying in Tokyo
  16. 16 Single parent traveling to Thailand with a 4-yo son
  17. 17 Amazing Samurai Armor Exhibition
  18. 18 Thailand Hotel
  19. 19 Which Section of Great Wall? And add visit to Ming Tombs?
  20. 20 Best country to visit 1st time in Southeast Asia
  21. 21 Honeymoon in Thailand
  22. 22 One Week in Asia, First Time Trip to Asia
  23. 23 Can you HELP with figuring out United Miles and how to get them SF-Bangkok?
  24. 24 Bangkok: Shangri-La, Penninsula, Mandarin Oriental
  25. 25 Elephants in Northern Thailand
View next 25 » Back to the top