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SE Asia July/August - more itinerary advice needed

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Friends and fellow travelers,
My wife and I need some additional advice about our itinerary. I've posted recently and gotten some good advice.
We've booked our long haul flights and now want to finalize and start to book rooms and the short flights for each of our stops.

Here's our plan:

NYC to BKK arrive July 9th around 10:00 AM

Bangkok July 9th - July 14th

BKK to Myanmar July 14th - 25th

Yangon 14th - 18th

Bagan 18th- 21st

Inle Lake 21st- 25th

- Fly back to Yangon 24th or the 25th

Yangon to Hanoi July 25th
(Yangon seems like the best airport to fly out of)

Hanoi July 25th - July 30th

Hanoi to Siem Reap July 30th

Siem Reap July 30th - August 4th

Siem Reap to Bali August 4th

Bali, August 4th - 11th

Bali to Singapore, August 11th

Singapore August 11th - 13th

Singapore to NYC August 13th

This plan focuses on the places we've been dreaming of for a long time and doesn't have us bouncing around too much, but we still have some concerns.

Here's a little about us:
Husband and wife in our early thirties, English speaking, 1st time in all these countries, but traveled much of Europe and North America independently. We love to explore on foot, eat good local food, meet the local people, experience local culture as genuinely as possible, major historical sites, temples, local animals and natural beauty.

Here's our concerns/questions:
1. Can we fit Chang Mai into our plan if we spend a day less in a few of the other spots?
2. If we switch our Hanoi days to Chang Mai, will that potentially save us a good bit of money and a good amount of transit time? I really wanted to see Vietnam and spend some time in Hanoi, but going to Hanoi is another flight (maybe 2) and travel day(s) and another visa. If we do Chang Mai instead, we can use Bangkok as a base and go to Mayamar first, up to Chang Mai (maybe on the day train), Angkor Wat and then on to Bali. And not waste as much time in transit for only a few nights in only the Hanoi area of Vietnam. If we have enough money, we would like to do our original plan, but we want to consider the smartest options.
3. What do you think of our Myanmar plan? Too many nights in any one of the spots? Can we fit another spot comfortably?
4. Is there an air pass we should look at? I've done some research but am still confused if its cost effective and flexible enough.
5. We're flying out of Singapore but don't anticipate spending a lot of time there.

Thanks for any help/thoughts you can provide.
Sean

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    Cutting Hanoi and substituting Chiang Mai will save you some money (in visa fees alone), but what it is you want to do/see/experience in Chiang Mai? I wouldn't cut other places to fit in CM , but substituting it for something else makes sense. I must admit that CM isn't my favorite place, though many people love it. It's just that I'm bored after a couple of days. But you might do the Mae Hong Son loop or go to up to Chiang Rai. No reason to take the train from Bangkok- it takes a full day, while a cheap flight will take you an hour. Then save your ground transport time for Northern Thailand. It's scenic and you could even self-drive if you wanted to.

    For your Burma time: Take the early flight from Bangkok, then fly to your next destination as soon as you get to Yangon. For your 10 nights, I'd recommend 4 nights in Bagan, 4 nights at Inle Lake and two nights in Yangon. Yangon, while interesting, will be the least compelling of your destinations. You want to maximize your time in Bagan and Inle and end in Yangon. I wouldn't add anywhere else. This itinerary give you enough time to absorb some of the atmosphere. While at Inle, I highly recommend getting to Sankar, the southern part of the lake (a full day on the lake). You can also do a side trip to Kakku. While in Bagan, you can opt for a day trip to Mt. Popa. No air pass for Burma (Air Mandalay has sometimes advertised such a pass, though I don't know that they have it now), it generally works best to let the travel agent know your preferences in terms of flight times and let them book you on whatever airlines work. All the domestic airlines (except for Myanmar Air) are pretty much same-same. You could squeeze in Mandalay, but I don't think it is worth it. It would end up detracting from your other destinations. The one other place that is really worth going to is Mrauk U. The problem there is that travel logistics are complex and you might need as much as a week to get there and back. You don't have that kind of time.

    You might find my two trip reports on Burma helpful (just click on my name). Our first trip in 2009 was basically the itinerary you are considering.

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    I really liked Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai even more so. Could you save Hanoi (and the rest of VN) for another trip ? VN is worth at least 3 weeks.
    Regarding airlines in Myanmar, Yadanarpon Airways is new, and flies new turbo props rather than 20 year old ones, so worth selecting. The flights within Myanmar are not expensive, should be less than $100 and more like $50 if booked in advance. Golden Myanmar Airlines is also new and has an Airbus A320.

    I believe there is now a direct flight from Chiang Mai - Mandalay, maybe worth considering. You can check flights on oway.com.

    I wanted to take the night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, but left it too late to get first class cabin, so book early if you want to do the train. Apparently the scenery is brilliant in the few hours of daylight before arriving in CM.

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    I haven't been to Chiang Mai for years and have never been to Hanoi or North Vietnam so I can't compare. I think if Chiang Mai and the surrounding area is important to you, you should figure out a way to squeeze it in.

    You could probably shave a day off of Bangkok, Yangon and Siem Reap. Or, as you said, skip Singapore this time. The number of days you devote to Hanoi would depend on what other parts of North and Central VN you want to cover.

    Also, are you still hoping to include a beach location?

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    I love Chiang Mai and return there every few years but would probably avoid July as it is the beginning of the rainy season and July often sees some flooding in the region ( although with recent climate change I think this may change from year to year).

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    Thank you everyone for your suggestions. It is greatly appreciated. If you have additional thoughts, please share. To address some of your points or questions:
    - Kathie, thank you again for your help. Your trip reports are wonderful and very helpful. I think we're going to skip Mandalay this time and do an itinerary about the same as what you describe. You think flying BKK straight to Bagan and ending in Yangon is the best course? Then we would fly Yangon on to Hanoi I think.
    - sartoric, our most difficult decision right now is whether to head to Hanoi for a few nights or stay in Thailand (probably northern Thailand) for extra nights. Is Chang Mai and northern Thailand usually rained out during the time we will visit (mid to late July)? We know it is the rainy season and are prepared to hit rain wherever we go, but want to plan not to visit the worst hit areas whenever possible.
    - crellston, that is exactly my reservation. I'm thinking we should save Northern Thailand for when we can visit at a better time of year. Any other spots in our plan would you avoid during the time we will visit, July and August? Again, in order to make the most of our experience, we are prepared to get caught in the rain, hit delays, be patient, change our plans a little bit as a consequence of the weather, but want to be smart about planing our time in the best spots during this time of year.
    - marmot, again thank you for your help. Siem Reap, Singapore, Bangkok and now Yangon are the exact places I'm thinking about taking a day from. I definitely think we won't do 5 nights in Siem Reap. We enjoy early exploring rather than nightlife so we'll probably only stay 3 or 4 nights for Angkor Wat.
    I think we'll stay in Hanoi for at least the 5 nights so we can take a day trip or two outside. Chang Mai is on our list of places to go, but after Myanmar, Angkor Wat, Hanoi & Bali.
    Laying on the beach days are a low priority, but relaxation days will definitely be a part of our schedule. Beautiful beaches are, of course, a welcome pleasure at any time. Exploring and experiencing the culture, people and places are the highest priorities. I hope our time in Bali could be very easy going, whether relaxing by the beach or hotel pool. We will probably choose a slightly more luxurious hotel in Bali whereas the other places, our hotel choice will be more about convenience and value. I have heard that Bali beaches are not as nice as some other possibilities, but again, it's not our biggest interest anyway.

    Thank you again.
    Sean

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    With Burma/Myanmar, the issue is how out maximize your time in the best places. That's why I suggest flying Bangkok-Yangon_bagan all in one day. You will want to get back to Yangon the day before your flight out, so it makes sense to save your Yangon time for the end.

    For Siem Reap, I recommend a minimum of four nights, which is just three full days. So yes, you could take a day from there if you wanted to. We spent a week in Hanoi, with just one day trip out of town. There is much to do and see there.

    I agree that it makes sense to save Chiang Mai for another trip.

    It will be a wonderful trip!

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    Sean

    I've only been to Northern Thailand once, last February, so not sure about the rain situation.
    I have been to Myanmar during rainy season, July/August last year. I find the rain not so big a deal, it is still very warm, and gets even steamier after a downpour, but that's half the fun!
    We were in Hanoi a few years ago, October I think, where it rained heavily on and off, again not a big deal.
    If you do go to Hanoi, try and fit in Sapa, I would rate it above Halong Bay, if you have time both are very worthwhile.
    Your trip will be amazing.....

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    Thailand's beaches have become the benchmark in Asia. Bali's beaches are quite different so it's difficult to compare, but they are beautiful in their own way.

    I live on the southwest coast and spend a good amount of time on the beach. I like the long walk-or-miles stretches of sand, the extreme tides, the big surfer waves and and the glorious sunsets. The beaches are lively and well used with all the downsides that come with human activity.

    If you're looking for pristine white sand and calm turquoise water, Bali isn't the place.

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    Thank you again everyone for all the great advice. My wife and I just had the dreaded, "Do we have enough money?" conversation. After pricing out most things and getting a sense of the total cost, we are getting very nervous.

    Besides replacing Bali with Laos, more Thailand or more Cambodia (which seems like the most obvious choice), can you suggest other ways we can do this trip more affordably?

    We have a few "extra" days we could use for land travel instead of flights. I thought maybe we could do land travel from Angkor Wat to Bangkok, and then fly on to Bali. Is there a cheaper way to get from Bangkok to Bali? Any other possible land routes we could take to save money instead of flying? Most of our stops seem too far from each other to make land travel practical, but if it will allow us to include Bali, my wife and I will sacrifice the time. Any suggestions on how to save money on rooms in Bali during this time of year (August)?
    Thanks for any help you can provide.
    Sean

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    Re reservations regarding weather in. Northern Thailand etc. Most a places in SEA will suffer more rain in July August. Cm has a history of flooding at that time of year althoughtvidoesnt mean that it happens every year but when it does it is no fun. As for other places on your itin. I wouldn't worry too much about it. Indeed Siem Reap will be much greener and a lot quieter at at time of year making it a much more pleasant place to visit.

    As for reducing costs, the two very basic ways are to spend less on accomodation and travel and to visit fewer places.

    1. Flying is the only logical and probably the cheapest way to get to. Bali.
    2. We traveled from Bangok to SR by train and taxi via the Aranyabprathet/ Poipet border crossing. A lot cheaper than flying but we did have spend a night in. Aranyabprathet ( a bit of a dump) due to the train times. There is now a better road from Poipet to SrR so you could probably do it in a long day.
    3. You don't mention what type of accomodation you are planning on, but that could be an area in which cost could be reduced considerably. We tend to travel over long periods these days and stay in smaller hostels and B&Bs where it is still possible to get a decent en suite room in many place for $30 or less if you are prepared to be flexible. Some of these places arguably can offer a more local/authentic experience than more expensive places. www.hostelworld.com and www.hostelbookers are good starting points. In many places you probably won't be spending too much time in the room anyway.
    4. Singapore is a very expensive place and reducing your time there could save a lot.

    Otherwise, as you already appreciate, cutting out Bali in favour of Laos or more Thailand or Cambodia is the only option.

    If you did spend more time in say Thailand, you could always continue overland through Malaysia to Singapore for your flight home. East coast Malaysia has good weather at that time of year and Air. Asia flys all over that part of Asia and is very competitive. Just a thought!

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    Bangkok to Bali on Air Asia can be as low as US$126. I can't imagine getting any cheaper than that. Bali to Singapore is as low as US$88. Since your Singapore-Hong Kong flight leaves at night (I think) you could spend a day in Singapore, have a look around and not incur hotel costs. Not ideal, but it would give you a glimpse.

    Bali room rates are all over the board and depending on your tastes and sense of adventure, some of the cheaper resorts can still be charming. Let us know what you're thinking per night and we can give you some suggestions. Aside from imported wine, meals are quite inexpensive.

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    Air Asia flights can be very cheap. Buy well in advance and include any extra luggage allowance, etc when you buy (it's more at the airport). Consider the Bangkok Air Discovery Pass. It's probably the best way to make the flight to/from Siem Reap affordable. Bangkok Air flies many places in mainland SE Asia - they fly in/out of Yangon, for instance.

    The overland to/from Siem Reap is not especially pleasant. And in comparison to the Discovery Pass, you wouldn't save much.

    As crellston noted, choosing fewer stops will cut down costs - as well as giving you time to really explore a place. And you an cut down on accommodation costs by staying at simple places.

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    Warm greetings again to the OP (Sean) and glad your planning is progressing. (And should you end up with a few days in our fine home of Singapore, can once again assure you that with thoughtful choices, a brief SIN holiday does not have to decimate one's cheque book. Again: yoursingapore dot com/ is a good initial venue for you and others. Would be honoured to offer SIN lodging suggestions.)

    Concerning your potential nights in Bangkok, will strongly urge you to enroll in various hotel programmes (if not already done so) and stay abreast of ongoing promotions. Suggest, because of my Bangkok business travel experiences over the past ~ six months and the rather spirited competition between various BKK properties. (My recent profile page review of the BKK St. Regis touches on these matters.)

    Also suggest the above, as was once again reminded of the wondrous value of select Bangkok hotels, relative to certain Japanese properties - and one current Shanghai hotel - I've encountered over the past ~ fortnight for work and weekend sakura viewing with long-time, Kyoto-based friends. As with SIN, pleased to offer BKK lodging suggestions.

    Savour your planning, Sean; very happy for you. Friday flight home to SIN today, so early and warm weekend wishes to you and all,

    robert


    ... Singapore Airlines, You're a Great Way to Fly ...

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    Thank you everyone for the advice. I enjoy the planning process, but have a lot of nervous energy about how close to departure we are getting. In the past, I've usually planned out and booked a lot more 3 months prior to leaving so I value everyone's advice based on their experiences.

    I think we are going to keep our schedule almost the same as it is with the exception of taking a night from Siem Reap and Singapore and 2 nights from Yangon and maybe Bangkok. I thought we could use the "extra days" to:
    - add a night in Hanoi (maybe day trip or overnight in Sapa)
    - add 2 nights in Mandalay (I thought we could fly BKK to Mandalay (2 nights) then travel down to Bagan (3 nights) and Inle Lake (3 nights), then travel down to Yangon (2 nights) where we would fly to Hanoi (probably through BKK from my research). Or the reverse route depending on the flights I find.
    - be flexible about our flight to Bali. After Siem Reap, we'll fly to Bangkok and I'm going to keep looking for the best flight BKK to Bali. Either we end up with a few more nights in Bangkok or add a night in Bali and maybe Singapore. Marmot has given me hope that I can find an affordable flight to Bali.

    I neglected to mention the accommodations my wife and I prefer. We love a good bed and breakfast with nice local people. A safe location with a reasonably comfortable bed and clean, working bathroom are usually all we require. We like to have our own bathroom whenever possible. We won't spend much time in the room. Location is often a priority when we choose a place. I thought we could live more luxuriously in Bali for the last leg of our trip and stay in a nice room in a hotel with a pool, but forgot that it is not the rainy season in Bali so demand is high. We have already found some perfectly acceptable simpler accommodations in Bali (thanks to many of the suggestions here) that I think we will go with instead. Maybe go to a hotel for the last two nights.

    1. Should I look to book Myanmar and Vietnam flights and rooms on my own or contact a local agent? I have read different opinions.
    2. What do you think of our Myanmar plan? Problems?
    3. Now that you know our lodging style, any recommendations in the places we'll be?
    4. Where can we potentially look to stay in a nice hotel for an affordable price? Vietnam maybe? Somewhere in Myanmar? I would like to surprise my wife with it if we can afford it.
    5. Most people here would suggest we book our short flights as soon as we find a decent price on Airasia or one of the other budget carriers and not wait?

    Thank you again.
    Sean

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    Ok, feedback on your ideas. Overall, I think you have a good plan.

    - Personally, I'd skip Mandalay and spend 4 nights each in Bagan and Inle. Both are stunning places. Mandalay not so much.

    - You will get better prices on Air Asia by booking ahead. Waiting until the last minute or a couple of weeks before and you will pay more. Figure out dates and buy your tickets once things are firmed up.

    - Bed and Breakfast places as we know them in the west really don't exist in SE Asia. What you will find are small family-run guesthouses that will meet your needs. In Siem Reap, Ponheary Ly's family runs such a guesthouse. Another place you might like is Baan Orapin in Chiang Mai.

    Myanmar is the one place it pays to contact a local agent. While a couple of people here are reported they booked with Oway with no difficulty, I think you are better off with an agent. They will put you on the flights that work best for you and will contact you in-country when flight times change (and they will!) and can even move you to a different airline if needed. Myanmar accommodation prices are higher than surrounding countries because of a shortage of accommodations in general.

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    If you want to take advantage of the $126 Bangkok to Bali Air Asia fare, you should book soon. The lowest tier of Air Asia fares fill up first.

    There is no shortage of low price accommodations in Bali, even in August, but you have to be careful as many are in less desirable locations -- not unsafe, but un-nice. It's hard to tell from a website what's next door or what that 10 minute walk entails.

    Actually, spending time at your hotel/resort is one of the most pleasant activities in Bali. Life revolves around the terrace or balcony -- breakfast, massage, drinks, just staring at the view -- rice paddy or garden.

    Aircon for sleeping isn't strictly necessary in the Ubud area (though you'll need a good mosquito net) but you'll want it near the beach.

    Some places I'd recommend. Even though it's high season you should still negotiate the room rate.

    Outside Ubud
    Alam Sari -- I like the main resort, but their homestay program deserves special mention. You stay with a family in a traditional compound, but with the assurance of Alam Sari's oversight.

    In Seminyak
    The Colony -- charming boutique hotel in the right in the center of a lively beach area. Steps away from Petitenget temple and beach.

    Just outside of Seminyak
    Desa Seni -- A wellness focused eco-resort -- a collection of antique wooden houses in lovely garden and pool.

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    I stay at the Arboretum Guesthouse in Siem Reap which is in easy walking distance of Pub street. Very clean, air con, own bathroom, free WiFi etc for $20 per night and stayed at the Little Hanoi hostel in the old quarter of Hanoi. Similar facilities and free pickup from the airport if you stay for two nights.

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    All of the following is personal opinion that some others may not agree with but with that said…

    We absolutely love the Hanoi Charming 2 Hotel and plan to stay there again on our next visit. It’s located in the Hoan Kiem (Old Quarter) section of the city and is an easy walk to lots of restaurants, shops and the lake. Large, modern, clean rooms / enjoyable breakfast and just the best service you can imagine. I’ve got a more detailed review at http://www.se-asiatravel.com/vietnam/hanoi-2012/. Out of interest, I just checked rates for late July on Agoda and also at the hotel web site and saw better rates at the hotel site: $47 including breakfast plus all taxes & fees for a Superior.

    In Bagan, we felt like Kumudara Hotel (http://www.se-asiatravel.com/myanmar/bagan/kumudara-hotel/ ) was a good value for a hotel with a pool. We paid $45 a night through a Yangon agent.

    A lot of the credit for us enjoying Mandalay so much should go to Guide Soe Soe. He is a really nice and very interesting guy and we felt like he gave us an inside look at a couple parts of the city that most visitors don’t get to see. http://www.se-asiatravel.com/myanmar/mandalay/mandalay-guide-soe-soe/

    In Inle Lake, we splurged a bit and stayed at ViewPoint Lodge and Fine Cuisine. We booked (2) Superior room(s) on Agoda at about $65 each, which included probably the best breakfast we have ever eaten in our lives. In addition, the hotel graciously upgraded us to suites at check-in. See http://www.se-asiatravel.com/myanmar/inle-lake/viewpoint-lodge-fine-cuisines/ for our review.

    If you don’t want to spend that much, we also looked at and liked The Queen Inn bungalows. It’s owned by Ma Su who also owns Century Travel, and who we booked our lake excursions with. She is a very nice lady and very fair on our tours and transportation charges.

    We’ve stayed in a couple places in Siem Reap. On our first trip at Peace of Angkor, which is a B&B style house owned by a British couple. We were very happy with the local tours organized by the hotel. We paid about $30 a night including breakfast for a very basic no frills room with private bath. On our more recent trip there in 2012, we stayed at The Kool Hotel. It’s actually only a short tuk tuk ride to the center of all the night action but felt a world away. Really nice big rooms, decent breakfast and a small but attractive pool; a nice option to have in Siem Reap which I consider one of the hottest places I’ve ever been. We booked an Indra grandeur room (Jr. Suite) for $57 a night directly with the hotel in 2012. We also booked tours directly with a local guide.

    I would recommend that you use a Myanmar agent to book your domestic transportation (particularly flights) and possibly rooms. For our trip in July/August 2013, the visa request form asked for a letter from an agent confirming we had bookings.

    I would second the suggestion of trying to find something near the river in Bangkok. It is really convenient and inexpensive to be able to make use of the Express River boats to get around the central city area which includes many of the attractions you’ll want to see.

    I am sometimes reluctant to recommend the Phranakorn Nornlen hotel where we like to stay in Bangkok. We love it for the neighborhood and location near the Thewet Pier, its bohemian atmosphere and the incredible service. But it’s a bit on the quirky side and you can certainly find very nice places in Bangkok for less money. This place is very family friendly and in fact, on occasion during our last visit there, some of the little kids demanded a little too much attention.

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    Here's where we are with our plan:

    NYC to BKK arrive July 9th around 10:00 AM

    Bangkok July 9th - July 12th
    3 nights

    BKK to Myanmar July 12th

    Will use Myanmar travel agent

    - Yangon 12th - 14th
    2 nights

    - Bagan 14th - 18th
    4 nights

    - Inle Lake 18th - 22nd
    4 nights

    Inle Lake to BKK to Hanoi July 22nd

    Hanoi July 22nd - 29th
    7 nights

    Night in Sapa?
    Night on Halong Bay?

    Hanoi to Siem Reap July 29th

    Siem Reap July 29th - August 2nd
    4 nights

    Siem Reap to ?? BKK August 2nd??

    BKK (or nearby beach or island on the east side) August 2nd - 5th
    3 nights

    BKK to Bali August 5th

    Bali, August 5th - 13th
    8 nights

    Early fly Bali to 12:45 Singapore to NYC August 13th

    We love the room suggestions and have started to check them out. I am about to book our Bali to and from flights because they are the most urgent in terms of timing and price. We've also started to make contact with Myanmar travel agents.

    - Is it wise to contact an agent to help us set up things in Hanoi or can we manage most things ourselves or through a hotel?
    - Airasia experiences? I've read lots of reviews. I'm also nervous about getting to the airport for that 6:15 AM BKK to Bali flight, Marmot. Will we need to be there about two hours beforehand? I don't think I want to chance that we miss it. I would like to book most of the flights this week and will use Airasia if I feel it works for us.
    - What do we do with those three nights in the middle, August 2nd - 5th? They seem out of place. We might fly into Singapore a night early so we don't have to rush for our flight home. We could add the the 2 or 3 nights to Bangkok or Myanmar in the beginning and then go straight Siem Reap to BKK to Bali on August 5th (then we definitely could not get the 6:15 AM Airasia flight to Bali that Marmot suggested for $126). Is there a beach getaway we could reach from Bangkok for a night or two at the beginning of our trip before Myanmar?

    Any and all suggestions are appreciated. We greatly value hearing real people's experiences.
    Sean

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    I think you need to decide what you want to do with those extra three days before you consider your flights. I wouldn't go back through Bangkok unless you want to be in Bangkok. You can get from Siem Reap to Bali in one day on SilkAir through Singapore or AirAsia through KL. The fares may be higher, but you won't be incurring hotel nights in places that you don't want to be.

    For your the three extra days, you have a lot of good options -- adding time to Bangkok, Burma or North Vietnam. Or fitting in a beach in Thailand or Vietnam. It really depends on how the flights work out for you.

    You might consider a stop in Java -- Borobudur and Yogyakarta -- between Siem Reap and Bali. The Islamic holidays will be winding down by the week of August 3 (and the European holidays winding up). Another idea would be to extend your Bali time to include a detour to a Lombok beach.

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    Sorry, I just realized that your 9 nights in Hanoi includes possible side trips to Halong or Sapa. 9 nights is probably enough. I think you're a little short on your Bangkok time, but there's no reason why you couldn't do it in two segments. Your first three days on arrival are going to be such an onslaught of sensory experiences, that it might make sense to back track after you've adjusted to Asia.

    That 6 a.m. flight is a killer. I'm not familiar with Bangkok airport requirements, but if you're a conservative traveler, 2.0 hours before your departure is a good target. Bali is a good place to recuperate.

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    I recommend Centre Point Silom for Bangkok. It's a short walk from the river and the BTS, well-priced and comfortable. It's not a luxury hotel, but an excellent next tier place to stay.

    If you go there, ask for a room with a river view. We had a partial view (looking south), but it was very cool to be able to look out and see the water.

    Paule

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    Since I brought up a visit to Sapa, I feel like I should chime in here to advise that the realities of making the side trip to Sapa are that if you decide to go you’re going to have to commit more than 1-night to make the trip. Most travelers opt for one of the 3 different night trains. On both of our trips there, we’ve booked soft sleepers in the Tulico carriage on the SP-1 train. It departs Hanoi at 9:10 pm and arrives in Lao Cai station, about a 45 minute ride to Sapa at 5:30 am the next morning. The SP-2 return departs Lao Cai at 7:35 pm and arrives in Hanoi at 4:10am.

    By taking the overnight trains, you don’t have to pay for a hotel room those nights. In addition, you get a full day in Hanoi before you head off and then arrive in Sapa early the next morning. Same deal with the return: a full day in Sapa before you depart and arrive in Hanoi early the next morning.

    Here is a possible schedule that fits your dates that would allow you visit one of the very colorful Sunday markets in a neighboring (actually a couple hours away) village:

    Date - Activity - Sleep in
    7/22/14 Evening arrival Hanoi - HAN
    7/23/14 Full Day in HAN - HAN
    7/24/14 Full Day in HAN / SP-1 Departs 9:10 pm - train
    7/25/14 Arrive Lao Cai 5:30 am / transfer to Sapa / 1/2 day Minority Village - Sapa
    7/26/14 Full Day Sapa or trek / Sat Night Sapa "Love" Market - Sapa
    7/27/14 Sunday Market in Muong Khuong or Bac Ha / 7:35 pm SP-2 to HAN - Train
    7/28/14 Arrive HAN 4:10 am / Full day in HAN - HAN
    7/29/14 Hanoi to Siem Reap - REP

    You don’t have to go to one of the area market days but these 2 really are pretty cool. Our thinking was as long as we’re going all that far and taking 2 overnight trains, we might as well spend a little time there.

    FYI… Both above markets require a drive of several hours each way and both also take you right through Lao Cai going and coming from Sapa so what you would do in the above plan is arrange for your guide taking you to the market to drop you off at the train station in Lao Cai for your departure back to Hanoi. You would spend 2 nights on the train and 2 nights in Sapa but be away from Hanoi for only 3-days. If you're interested, here is our report from our first visit to Sapa http://www.se-asiatravel.com/vietnam/sapa-vietnam/. With a little navigating, you can find other info at the same web page.

    A couple other thoughts: Look into Hanoi Free Tour Guides. As the name implies, this is a completely free service with guests paying only for transportation and any entrance fees. At the end of our first tour with the service, we attempted to give the guide a tip and he told us that he could not accept it as a tip but if we wanted to donate the money to a charitable cause, he would pass it on.

    Also, your notes on traveling from Inle Lake to Hanoi in one day indicate flights via Rangoon and BKK. It doesn’t fly every day of the week but Vietnam Air has a non-stop RGN to HAN that leaves around 7:30pm.

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    I just posted this to a new topic, but wanted to share with those who have posted on here and helped us out already.

    I am going to book our flights to get us from country to country during our Southeast Asia trip in July and August today or very soon. After looking at potential flight paths, times, prices and airlines to the point of insanity, here is what we've decided on and I would appreciate people's thoughts. The only thing booked so far is our long haul flight to Bangkok and home form Singapore.

    NYC to BKK arrive July 9th around 10:00 AM

    - Bangkok July 9th - July 12th
    3 nights

    BKK to Siem Reap July 12th
    $75 each Airasia or
    $125 each other airline

    - Siem Reap July 12th - 16th
    4 nights

    Siem Reap to Bangkok July 16th
    $70 Air asia
    $200 Vietnam Air

    - Bangkok July 16th - 17th
    1 night layover

    Bangkok to Mandalay July 17th
    $60 each Airasia or
    $175 each Thai Air

    Will use Myanmar travel agent

    - Mandalay July 17th - 18th
    1 night
    really just want to see the ancient capitals especially Saigang

    Mandalay to Bagan July 18th
    Is boat too slow because we would love to take the boat from Mandalay to Bagan?

    - Bagan 18th - 22nd
    4 nights

    Bagan to Inle Lake July 22nd

    - Inle Lake 22nd - 26th
    4 nights

    Inle Lake Yangon July 26th

    - Yangon July 26th - 28th

    Yangon to Hanoi July 28th
    Direct on Vietnam on Vietnam Air $275 each or
    Yangon to Bangkok to Hanoi $130 each Airasia

    Hanoi July 28th - August 4th
    7 nights
    Marmot, you were right the first time, only 7 nights.

    Mediakzar, You are saying we probably need more than one night for Sapa. Can we do a night in Sapa or it takes too long to travel to and from?

    If not maybe we'll just do a night on Halong Bay.

    Hanoi to Bali August 4th
    $333 Singapore Air most direct, about 7 hours

    Bali, August 4th - 12th
    8 nights

    Bali to Singapore August 12th
    1 night layover
    $100 each

    12:45 Singapore to NYC August 13th

    We are obviously taking a lot of flights. We are flying to maximize our time, but want to be smart about our money. We will spend some extra money to have more time in the places we want to be. We have discussed eliminating a destination, but we can't choose a place to eliminate without one of us becoming very sad.

    1. First of all, if we use Airasia for most of our short flights, it will save us a good deal of money (about $1000 total). What are some things we should be mindful of if we go with Airasia for most of our flights? I know the cancellation policy is tough. We are only bringing carry-ons, less than 40 pounds and we'll make sure they fit the proper dimensions. We've used budget airlines in Europe but never in Asia. Any red flags we're not thinking of?

    2. A little explanation about our choices:

    - Getting to Bali from Cambodia, Myanmar or Vietnam is our most difficult flight to choose. From my research, getting there from Siem Reap or Myanmar is expensive and time consuming with multiple stops. We could have chosen a layover in Bangkok for a very early budget flight (not appealing) or a layover in Singapore, but the option we like the most is the Hanoi to Bali on Singapore Air. It is the most direct, about 8 hours during the day, with a departure time we like and a price I thought was decent ($333).

    - With Hanoi as our stop before Bali, we had to choose between Siem Reap or Myanmar for the stop before Hanoi. It seems like either choice works. A person on these forums alerted me to a direct flight that Vietnam Airlines does between Yangon and Hanoi for about $275 and Siem Reap to Hanoi is about the same $220. Airasia doesn't fly between Siem Reap and Hanoi. We could use Airasia to go Yangon to Bangkok to Hanoi for about $130 so we choose Myanmar as our stop before Hanoi, but I would like to choose the direct flight Yangon to Hanoi if I can save some money elsewhere.

    - Getting from Myanmar to Siem Reap or Siem Reap to Myanmar seems to have no easy route so the best thing I am finding requires us to do a layover in Bangkok. If we do this we can find a budget flight from Siem Reap to Bangkok, stay a night, then take a budget flight from Bangkok to Mandalay the next day. I am considering splitting our time in Bangkok, two nights at the beginning (July 9th - 11th) and two nights here in the middle (July 15th - 17th) so that we're not on and off the plane in one night on the 16th, but I like having those three nights at the beginning so we can get acclimated to the heat and get rid of any jetlag without having to move to another spot right away.

    - We looked into taking an early morning flight from Bali to Singapore on the 13th so we could catch our return flight home without staying in Singapore at all, but at the slightest delay I would stress about missing our long haul flight from Singapore so I want to fly to Singapore on the 12th. If we can get there early, I would love to explore a site or two in Singapore.

    3. We are anticipating using a Myanmar agent to help us plan our Myanmar domestic flights, travel and rooms. We've contacted Santa Maria and Golden Travel already. Any other suggestions people have used and liked?

    I would greatly appreciate your thoughts on Airasia, Myanmar travel agents and any misconceptions you can find in my conclusions.
    Sean

    Again, I posted this elsewhere, but wanted to let everyone here know our plan.

    My wife is looking into rooms right now and loving many of your suggestions. We cannot thank you enough for taking the time to help us out.

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    You can fly from Siem Reap to Yangon on the same day, but you can't get out of Yangon on that day, no matter who you fly, unless you arrive early in the morning (which you can't do from SR). I've been looking at this myself because we are also going in July.

    Air Asia does the trip, but you arrive in Yangon at 5:30 pm. Our plan is to spend the night in a hotel near the airport and catch a 6am flight to Bangan the next morning. It's a pain, but there's no other way around it. Have you considered this instead of going to Mandalay first or staying in Bangkok?

    As for carry on on Air Asia, I'm not sure if you will be able to bring bags of 40 lbs on the plane (if that's what you were saying). You'll have to check them, and pay for it, so make sure you do that when you buy the ticket. Cabin Baggage cannot weigh more than 7 kilos.

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    We've used Air Asia several times in Thailand, Myanmar, Borneo, and Cambodia.

    We've never had any problems, in fact our experience has been v.good. But we always make sure we stick to their rules, especially with baggage.

    If you read their reviews on the Airline Quality website there's a fair few moaners. Have a look...

    http://www.airlinequality.com/Forum/air_asia.htm

    It's also worth noting that Air Asia operate from Don Muang (DMK) Airport in Bangkok, which the old international airport

    http://www.airlinequality.com/Airports/Airport_forum/bkk.htm

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    @ Crellston<<< We travelled from Bangok to SR by train and taxi via the Aranyaprathet/ Poipet border crossing. A lot cheaper than flying but we did have spend a night in. Aranyabprathet ( a bit of a dump) due to the train times.>>>

    Getting from Bangkok into Cambodia by rail/road is a great little adventure.

    The train from Hualamphong to Aranyapraphet takes about 6 hours and has 42 stops. The morning train deaparts at 0555 and arrives at Aranyapraphet around noon. It's a 3rd Class only service, and there are locals getting on and off all the time, with food and drink vendors shuffling up and down the carriages.

    The cost of a one-way ticket is the princely sum of 48 (forty eight) bahts!

    From Aranyapraphet it's a 15 minute tuk tuk ride to the border at Poipet.

    We did the trip in the opposite direction last year, having travelled to the border from Battambang (well worth a few days) to Poipet, and stayed overnight at the Market Motel in Aranyapraphet before getting the 0640 train to Hualamphong. We sat with the monks in the rear carriage. One of the highlights of our trip!

    Crossing the border overland at Poipet shouldn't be a problem providing you've clued yourself up on the possible scams and got your wits about you, and ideally got an e-visa (arriving by air a VOA is easy).

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