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Southeast Asia Itinerary questions

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We are beginning to plan a 3 week trip to Southeast Asia late in 2015 or early 2016. Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, are at top of list but we are open to other ideas.
This is our first trip to Asia but we are seasoned travelers and are open to any/all advice about itinerary, travel companies and guides. We are interested in a combination of cultural, culinary and outdoor activities. Thanks for any and all advice.

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    I think the most difficult task will be cutting destinations. I'd suggest you save VN until you have time to devote 2 or 3 weeks just to VN. Even cutting down to three countries in three weeks, you will have to choose your stops judiciously. In three weeks (if you have a full 21 nights on the ground in SE Asia), I'd suggest no more than 5 stops. You have to slow down to experience these cultures.

    As you mentioned Cambodia, do get a copy of Dawn Rooney's book, Angkor: A Guide to Cambodia's Wondrous temples to prepare for your time there. You'll need to decide how much time to spend in Siem Reap. Dawn advises three full days (4 nights) just to visit the major temples. If you are really interested in the temples, you will want more time. We spent a week, and would have enjoyed even more time there. Angkor is the one place where you might want a guide.

    You don't really need guides elsewhere. Nor do you need a travel company. If/when you do choose to go to VN, a good local agency may be able to get you better prices on hotels, but otherwise, you can easily make all of your arrangements on your own.

    Thailand has a lot to offer and the best infrastructure in the area. You could easily spend all of your three weeks in Thailand.

    You will need to fly among destinations unless you want to spend full days on the road getting from one place to another - overland travel is slow. Bangkok Air flies to Siem Reap, Luang Prabang and to all of the destinations that might interest you in Thailand. Do take a look at their website for the Discovery Pass, as it can save you a substantial amount of money.

    Happy planning!

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    Hi, Nancy,
    Last January, my husband and I traveled to SE Asia for 3 weeks - this was our first trip to this region, so had to make many of the same choices that you will make. We traveled to Thailand, Laos, & Cambodia.

    We loved our trip, and it was difficult to make the decisions to eliminate places, but in the end, cut Vietnam because we felt it warranted more time than we could allot in the amount of time we had. We decided to focus on the northern part of Thailand rather than the beaches. After completing the Thailand portion of our trip, we took a 2-day boat trip down the Mekong, traveling to Luang Prabang, which was a highlight for us.

    We were both pretty pleased with the shape of the trip, traveling to Bangkok (4); Chiang Mai (4); Chiang Rai (2); Maesalong/Chiang Rai province (1); Chiang Khong(to begin the boat ride); Luang Prabang (3); Siem Reap (4).

    We did hire a guide, Jermsak, in Chiang Rai for 3 nights, which allowed for the coordination between the different towns. We were very pleased with him (others on Fodors have used him, and he is very popular on TripAdvisor, and deservedly so), and it allowed us to move from place to place easily, as luggage was kept in the car when we toured. While this moving around may not be to everyone's taste, we loved staying in Maesalong, which is culturally very different from other places as it was settled by nationalist Chinese in 1949 during the Communist takeover.

    We LOVED our boat trip down the Mekong; others here have done this, some loved it and others have not. We were fortunate to have a very collegial group and loved seeing the landscape from the water. This is not a cruise ship -- we slept in a hotel in a small town in Laos about halfway to our destination. We traveled with Nagi of Mekong, a moderately priced affair with basic hotel; there's another, more luxe version of the same trip with more amenities and a nicer hotel.

    We stayed 3 nights in Luang Prabang, and wish we had more. Loved, loved, loved this place -- it's less about the sights here as the gentle pace and relaxing atmosphere.

    We ended with 4 nights in Siem Reap -- we were glad we saw the Angkor temples and loved the Cambodian people, though found Siem Reap to be much larger and more urban/gritty than we expected and would've preferred not ending our trip here. The crowds at many of the temples are overwhelming, especially the major sites. This place is more exhausting and pacing is important.

    If we didn't take the boat trip, I would've added 1 day to Bangkok and 1 day to Luang Prabang, which was my original plan, until I carved out my boat trip. Overall, with the time we had to travel, we felt we allocated our days well. Of course, there are places I would've liked to have gone to, but wouldn't miss any of the places we visited to go elsewhere.

    You may want to look at my trip report for more details. In addition to many of the other travel reports on this board, I found the TR by yestravel & her husband gotravel especially useful, and used it as a base for my planning.

    Here's mine:
    http://www.fodors.com/community/asia/travels-in-tumultuous-thailand-languid-luang-prabang-smiling-siem-reap.cfm

    Enjoy your planning!
    Paule

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    Nancy--First thing you need to do is figure out what balance you want between the three interests you mention. We are all different and have very different interests, so all of the comments you get here will reflect the poster's interrests. Then you need to decide if you want a trip where you divide your time so that you hit the major highlights only or if you want to do some more lowkey, not on the usual itinerary places so you can get a different perspective on the country

    Can I chime in here with a couple questions of my own that I hope might also help Nancy? I am planning a last minute trip, but we have six weeks so the luxury of a lot more time. I agree with saving Vietnam for a separate trip. We've been on a two week trip there and had to skip the entire middle section of the country; we hope to get there some day to see that.

    Figuring out transportation between locations is one of the difficulties I am having. I would like to see southern Laos after Cambodia.

    anousonev or LL--Do you have any suggestions for how to get to southern Laos from Cambodia without enduring a horrible day long bus ride? I've checked out flying into Pakse, but flights from Phnom Penh are convoluted and expensive. There is a direct flight from Siem Reap to Pakse, but of course, our plan is to end our Cambodia sojourn in the far south so unless we return to Siem Reap that won't work out.

    Incidentally, I was just looking at the Discovery Air Pass mentioned by Kathie. For the Siem Reap to Pakse flight, a regularly quoted airfare was only $10 more than the air pass.

    Paule--I need to go back to look at your trip report again because we want to end our trip with the reverse of what you did--go Luang Prabang to Chaing Mai to Bangkok.

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    My family (6 people total) and I are planning a trip to Southeast Asia in December of 2016 and are struggling to pick which countries to travel to. We have a little over 2 weeks (December 17-January 1 including travel days) and don't want to feel rushed but would still like to experience much of the region. Currently we are considering starting off the trip with 4-5 days in Luang Prabang and then flying into Siem Reap for 4 days and then heading to Koh Rong or another island in the Gluf of Thailand. We also considered spending the entirety of our trip just in Thailand (hitting Bangkok, the north for 4-5 days and then heading south to some beaches) or Vietnam (starting in Hanoi, heading to Sapa, Hoi Ann, and then maybe south if time allows?)

    We would love to see some authentic culture, colorful street and floating markets, palaces and temple ruins, rice terraces, elephants and other wildlife, mountains with excellent treks, waterfalls, karst scenery, streets at night lit with lanterns, and just experience real Southeast Asia. I know we have a long wish list but hopefully we can find a few places that can somewhat accommodate all these wants! I would love to avoid places that are overrun with tourism or massive amounts of tourists that is, however I do know that, traveling in peak season, we may experience some of that in some places. We would also like to dedicate at least 5 days to and island or beach.

    Please...we need suggestions!! At this point we are open to any and all places! I am worried that in some places we won't be able to find accommodations for 6 without blowing our budget as well as paying for safe intercontinental flights with international flights tacked on to that. Any ideas or suggestied itineraries would be much appreciated!! Thank you!!

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