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8 days before southeast asia trip, a couple loose ends to tie up - please help?

8 days before southeast asia trip, a couple loose ends to tie up - please help?

Old Jan 27th, 2009, 09:18 AM
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8 days before southeast asia trip, a couple loose ends to tie up - please help?

Hello again,

I went through my itin with a fine-toothed comb over the weekend and there are a couple things I've yet to firm up before I leave next week for my Hong Kong, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam trip.

I don't really have any specific restaurants in mind, though I have noted some that are mentioned a lot here (i.e., Chote Chitr, Blue Pumpkin Cafe, Fanny's Ice Cream). I'm hoping that we'll be able to get on the spot recommendations while we're there, and also hoping to be a little adventurous and just go off and find something that looks good (though we are well traveled and aware of the precautions we need to make when shopping in the markets and off the streets, so who knows how adventurous we will be haha!).

We have a nice mix of time on our own to explore and already arranged tours (1/2 day with Tong, A Lot of Thai cooking course, an afternoon with Ponheary, and a trip to the Red River Delta, to name a few).

Things I am not totally confirmed on are the following:

*Exact directions on how to get to the Plaza Athenee Hotel in Bangkok from the airport - will be contacting the hotel some night this week for advice.

*Grand Palace, Jim Thompson House, and the various temples in Bangkok - I know we want to go early in the day or later in the afternoon, and we haven't totally decided which ones we want to do yet. I'm thinking I'll read in much further detail on the epic flight to Hong Kong and try and plan our days out then.

*Visiting Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai, while making a stop on the way there or back to TECC - is this something we need to prearrange for? Do we need to book a driver, or are there other ways of doing this? I feel like all I saw online were driving directions, and we don't plan to rent a car. If we need a driver, should we do this in advance, or arrange with the hotel upon arrival?

*Legends Spa while in Chiang Mai - I imagine we can book services once we arrive in the area.

*Alms giving in Chiang Mai - I'd love to spend an early morning with the monks the day we head out of CM and make our way to Siem Reap, but wasn't sure the best way to go about doing so. I was hoping not to have to book this through a tour operator, but wasn't sure what our options were. Thoughts?

*Luggage storage in Hong Kong airport for our long layover. We're hoping to go visit Po Lin Monastery/Giant Buddha since we arrive at 1:30pm and don't depart for our return to the States until 11:25pm. I haven't looked too much into this yet but plan on doing so this week. I imagine it's got to be pretty easy to store our bags (unless of course we can check them way in advance somehow) and make our way for an afternoon trip, but if anyone has immediate knowledge of the best way to do this, please let me know.


I'm getting SO excited. I'm thrilled to explore new countries, a brand new culture, new food, new sights, new smells, etcetcetc. Every time I have gone somewhere other than Europe, I am completely blown away and I'm expecting the same for this trip. Thanks once again to everyone that helped me put this trip together. I work for a travel company and have a lot of "area experts" here and suppliers that can book things for me, but I myself am "allergic" to group travel and prefer to do things on a much smaller scale. My itin would be complete crap were it not for all of you. So thank you. Very very much.
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Old Jan 27th, 2009, 09:57 AM
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Bah, forgot one!

I wasn't sure if it would be appropriate or not to bring some things to the kids at the school we're visiting with Ponheary.

We definitely plan to donate to one of her standard funds, but if we're going to be meeting the students, should we come bearing gifts? I know when we went to Tanzania, the kids went crazy over pencils and soccer balls, but I'm not sure if it's appropriate or not to bring stuff? I'll check with Ponheary as well, but figured I'd ask you folks who have done this before.

Thx!
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Old Jan 27th, 2009, 10:04 AM
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Let me see if I can help on a few things.

You should have the address for the Plaza Anthenee, but you do not need driving directions. The cab driver should know where it is - confirm with the dispatcher at the airport that the driver knows the hotel.

You do want to go to the Grand Palace/Emerald Buddha and Wat Po early in the morning. These are all clustered together (the Emerald Buddha is on the grounds of the Grand Palace, Wat Po is a block away). I consider all of these must-sees in Bangkok. You will likely want to choose some other wats to visit in Bangkok as well. You can decide on those at the time.

The Jim Thompson House - not necessary to do this in the morning. In fact, you might want to plan to be there at lunch time to eat at the cafe.

You will need a driver in CM, but you can hire a taxi driver for where you want to go. As you use taxis in CM, if you find a driver you really like, ask to use him/her for a trip to Doi Suthep and the TECC. There is a standard posted price in the taxi for Doi Suthep, and there may be a per hour price as well. Firm up the price with the driver, set a time and that's it. Nothing complicated necessary.

Watching and participating in the alms-giving in the morning is nothing you need a tour agent to book. You just go to the street with the wat (there are probably several areas in CM that have this) and follow along with the ritual (read about this forost so you don't make a major faux pas like touching a monk).

You can book the spa, choose restaurants once you get to a place. Give yourself the flexibility to discover things for yourself. No need to plan it all.

Have a wonderful trip!
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Old Jan 27th, 2009, 10:22 AM
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I'll try and answer some of the things Kathie did not answer:

Ponheary's visits to the schools are fairly organized. If you are going to contribute to the foundation, you might let her know and ask her if she could arrange for you to hand out some things during your visit. School supplies, etc. are much less expensive in Cambodia than in New England so it is better if she gets them. She will also know what the kids need.

I'd do a little more research on restaurants, if I were you. Otherwise you may be directed to those that are "touristy".

I have stayed at the Plaza Athenee and the taxi drivers don't necessarily know where it is. Fortunately, you are close to the skytrain so you won't need taxis that much. Have the hotel give you a card with its name and location written in Thai so you can give it to any taxi drivers that you may use. From the airport, take Kathie's advice.

Have a wonderful trip and don't forget to post a report here when you return.
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Old Jan 27th, 2009, 10:46 AM
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When I was in Chiang Mai last summer, I did get up early to give alms to the monks. While it's true a tour guide wasn't necessary, it helped that I had one as he took me to a early morning market where we purchased baskets of wrapped foods specifically for the monks. He also taught me the protocol, such as when to put the food in the monks' baskets, when to kneel down for their prayer, etc. It was a memorable experience.

I also recommend in Chiang Mai going to monk chat at some of the wats.
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Old Jan 27th, 2009, 03:13 PM
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you might consider having AOT (the airport's limo service) take you to the PA... they will know just where it is...cost about 1000 B... money well spent on your first arrival in bkk...

why only 1/2 day with tong? a whole day, while slightly more expensive, will give way more of an experience----do i remember you don't have time??

we did not like Chote chitr...

go to tong's current favorite---closes at 7PM...coconut palm---just beside wat pho---great for lunch..

harmonique is my favorite thai, along with tongue thai and coconut palm...

i second JT house for a nice lunch in a/c...

you need a driver in CM except for any in town activities...
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Old Jan 28th, 2009, 06:58 AM
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Thanks to all for your advice.

I plan to contact our hotel in CM for help on hiring a driver in advance to take us to Doi Suthep.

And yes, now that you mention it, I will definitely do more research on restaurants as I really do not want every meal to be from a tourist menu/place.

And correct, we only have 2.5 days in Bangkok, so we only booked a morning tour with Tong.

Thank you again, and yes I will def post my trip review! Just consider yourself forewarned - my trip reports are more like novels, and I'm an amateur photographer so if I post links to my pictures, be prepared to find anywhere from 2000-6000 to sift through
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Old Jan 28th, 2009, 11:20 AM
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When we visited CM the first time in 1994, we stayed at Galare (www.galare.com) and the owner provided us with a drawing on street map on how to access the TECC, Doi Suthep and the like.

So we rented mopets and we were on our merry way.

We loved it. We left with business cards in Thai from the Galare (in case we got lost so we could tell a taxi driver to bring us back there...) and we were free to go anywhere, stop anywhere along the way and for a fraction of the cost of taxis or tuk-tuk.

A decade later (2004), we rented a car and went further west, visiting Pai and its hot springs.

Think about renting mopets. We stayed on the side of the road and felt secure at all times. Just remember to put 35spf lotion on your calves...darn sun...
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Old Jan 28th, 2009, 11:27 AM
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Unless you want to pay a lot to get out to Doi Suthep and TECC, don't ask your hotel to get you a driver. The price will be 5-10x as much. If you are uncomfortable negotiating with a taxi driver on your own, you could call the taxi driver I used when I was there last (2006) Mr. Nakron Buthluang, who drives Taxi No. 75. You can reach him on his cell phone at 08-1884-5649. He charges 250 baht an hour. The trip to Doi Suthep is 800 baht. Note that these prices are two years old - I'm sure they have increased.
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Old Jan 28th, 2009, 11:49 AM
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Tong can take you to 'make merit' and give alms in Bangkok - I think if you look for a post from offwego you can find out about her experience of this, others may have also done this now too.

As regards the order for Doi Suthep and TECC - go to TECC in the morning in time for the elephant bathing. I can't remember what time it starts exactly - you may want to email them. After the elephant bathing, you can walk with the elephants up the hill. It was a lovely bit of the day. We really liked Doi Suthep in the late afternoon, cooler and quieter and beautiful in the late afternoon light for photos.
BB
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Old Jan 28th, 2009, 12:15 PM
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i am sure i have offered my restaurant listing to you before, but if not, please ask for it at:

[email protected]

i will send it to you when i get home to boston mid week, next week
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Old Jan 28th, 2009, 03:28 PM
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By the way, TECC and Doi Suthep are in opposite directions from Chiang Mai. I would not consider doing them both in one day. Doi Suthep takes the better part of a whole day, especially if you take in the Meo village at Doi Pui as well.
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Old Jan 28th, 2009, 08:37 PM
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With regard to your layover in Hong Kong, my thoughts are as follows:

I would hope that your bags will be checked through all the way, because your layover is less than 12 hours (usually the cut off is something like 17 hours between flights). Just because you are flying different airlines does not mean your luggage will not be transferred. Virtually all airlines have baggage transfer agreements, they do not have to be partner airlines to have these agreements in place. You may not get a boarding pass from your originating airline (see below) but you should be able to get your bags tagged all the way through. If for some reason you can’t get your originating airline to check your bags all the way through, then when you arrive in Hong Kong, you will have go collect them at baggage claim; and what is worse, IMO, you will have to re-check them in for the next leg of your flight, which means waiting in line at check in counters with all the other regular outbound passengers from Hong Kong.

If you are flying the same airline the entire way, you should be able to get your onward boarding pass when you check in for the first leg of the flight; if you are on different airlines (even partner airlines) you most likely will have to get your boarding pass for the onward portion from Hong Kong at the transfer counters. This is very easy to do, and you will get your pass from transfer counters within the secured area of the airport before Immigration. See http://www.hongkongairport.com/eng/aguide/transit.html for information on being “in transit” in Hong Kong. All transit passengers have their checked luggage transferred automatically. This is what I am hoping will apply to you. If so, I would get the onward boarding pass, then head to Immigration and out to Hong Kong for the day.

If you cannot get your baggage transferred automatically, and have to check-in your luggage again in Hong Kong, you will have to go collect your luggage at Baggage claim (after going through Immigration, which you have to do anyway if you want to go out for the day to Hong Kong), go out into main part of the airport, go upstairs to the Departure Hall and wait in line there with all other passengers departing Hong Kong. Although I normally advocate ate that connecting passengers take care of this first, as your departure is so late, and your daylight time so short, I think I might advocate waiting until you return to the airport to check-in again, but leave that to you. If you would feel better having your boarding pass and having checked-in in your luggage before you leave the airport for the layover, then by all means do that.

You can leave your luggage for the day at the Left Luggage counter in the Meeters and Greeters Hall, the cost is HK$35 (US$4) per piece, go to http://www.hongkongairport.com/eng/a...gage.html#left for info. The "Meeters and Greeters Hall" is the main Arrivals area, the Left Luggage area is on the far right of the hall as you exit the baggage claim/Customs areas. There are ATMs in the Arrivals Hall as well.

If you want to go to the Buddha, IMO the easiest way to get from the airport to Tung Chung town centre (where the cable car starts and where buses to the Buddha also start) is to take a taxi. You can take a bus to Tung Chung, but IMO it is not worth your time or trouble (and will take about 30 minutes as the bus makes several stops). A taxi will take 5-10 minutes and cost about HK$40 (US$5). Note that you can take a red Hong Kong taxi, or a blue Lantau Island taxi. (Lantau taxis are slightly cheaper per kilometer.) While red Hong Kong taxis cannot go many places on Lantau island, they are permitted to go to Tung Chung town centre. Tell the taxi driver that you want to go to Citygate Outlet at Tung Chung. A taxi to the Buddha right from the airport would be fastest of all, would take about 30 minutes, I estimate the cost at HK$150-180, but try to bargain and get it off the meter if you can. You must take a light blue Lantau Island taxi for this trip. After you have seen the Buddha, you can take a bus or cable car down to Tung Chung and a taxi back to the airport, or take the MTR (subway) from Tung Chung into Kowloon or Hong Kong itself.

Note that the Buddha closes at 5:30 pm and the last bus and cable car down also goes at about that time, so with a 1:30 pm arrival time and given Immigration, getting your bearings, etc, this should be an OK, but not a huge amount of time at the Buddha. (If you have to check-in again for your flight this will take more time.) However, the first caveat for any planned trip to the Buddha would be the weather. If it is raining or foggy (i.e. you can’t see the tops of the mountains from the airport), IMO the Buddha (and esp the cable car ride) will be a bit of a disappointment, and you might want to consider going into Hong Kong and doing other things, like exploring the local markets, have tea at the Penn, etc. While the Buddha itself does have an ethereal beauty in the fog I will admit, you may find the whole trip to be a waste of your time if your plan was to see the countryside and views, plus you may not have packed an umbrella in your carry-on luggage. However, if you get a clear day, the late afternoon sun as it sinks behind the Buddha is quite lovely (it is quite lovely from Tai O, the fishing village on stilts also on Lantau which can be incorporated into a visit to Po Lin, but possibly not with your limited time).

With regard to getting up to the Po Lin Monetary from Tung Chung, your choices are the cable car or the #23 bus. There is no need, IMO, to pay for or take the cable car both ways, and the bus ride really is quite interesting in itself and takes just about 15-20 minutes longer than the cable car. For info on the cable car, go to http://www.np360.com.hk/html/eng. As you would be taking the cable car quite late in the day, IMO you would not need a reservation to go up, even on a Sunday, not sure if you can make a booking to take it down, check the website. If there are no lines for the cable car, you might want to take it up, and then take the bus back as there are always plenty of buses and never really lines for that. (For the bus, sit as far in front as you can, on the right side going up to the Buddha and left going back is slightly better but not hugely important, but from that side you can get some nice long distance views of the Buddha looming over Shek Pik reservoir; but from the other side you will get some very nice beach views. From the top, you can take any bus which says “Tung Chung Town Centre”) The buses do not give change, but you can pay more than the fare, i.e., put in a $20 bill for the $18 fare. Fares vary depending on the day of the week, but the most expensive is Sunday and that fare is HK$27 or so one way, weekday and Saturday fares are about HK$18 (US$3.4 and 2.30 respectively).

Note that other than the somewhat average vegetarian meal offered by the monastery and some chain-like restaurants at Ngong Ping “village” near the top of the cable car, the restaurant options are somewhat limited once you get to Po Lin, so if you want a full meal, you may want to eat at the airport or at Citygate outlets (has a quite nice food court and several restaurants) before you go up to Po Lin or after you come down. For information on Citygate outlets see http://www.citygateoutlets.com.hk/index.html.

Note that there is no admission fee to go up the stairs and see the outside of the Buddha or to enter any if the other monastery areas. However, before you go up the stairs, the ladies in the booking windows may ask you to consider whether you want to buy a meal ticket, you can ignore them if you have no interest in any meal. There is a small museuam inside the base of the Buddha, you do need to buy a ticket for that, and need to buy the ticket at the ticket windows at the bottom; however the museum exhibits are not curated in English so unless you can read Chinese, it will be virtually meaningless to you. There is a tiny Buddha relic there, but again, for the most part I think you will find this somewhat obscure and not meaningful. The entrance ticket to the musueam will also include a vegetarian “snack” at the snack bar run by the monestary. Price is HK$23. Therefore, unless you want to go inside the museuam for the air-conditioning (something to really consider in the summer) skip the museum/snack tickets. The basic ticket with snack option is not in the list of options at the ticket window, and in my experience it is not mentioned to foreigners by the sales personnel. I rarely see it mentioned in a guidebook (and even Fodors has it wrong on this site by implying you have to pay to go to the “upper podium” of the Buddha, which is incorrect). The first time I learned of it was recently when I was with a Cantonese speaker, so ask before you commit to buying a full meal ticket if all you want is access to the air-con inside the Buddha, or just a snack. The snacks overall are OK (the silky tofu is quite good actually), you eat outside under awnings near the restaurant and the temple.

Please spend some time exploring other areas of the monastery besides the Buddha, the main temple is quite interesting (if you hear amplified chanting, look downstairs underneath the main temple where a ceremony will most likely be going on, look in at the side doors on the right and left of this ground floor room), and the Wisdom Path area has some lovely views as well.

The airport runs a transit tour, which takes 5 hours. Take a look at http://www.discoverhongkong.com/eng/...g_138539.jhtml I have not taken it.

See sunrisesunset.com for twilight and sunset times for your trip.

If you already have your boarding pass and your luggage is checked through, you don’t need to be back at the airport until 10 pm and even 10:30 is probably fine, but you never know if there will be a line at Immigration/security or if you will have a long trek to your gate, so 10 pm may be a bit better. If you have to check-in all over again, I would say 2 hours before departure, unless you are in business class in which case 90 minutes should be fine.


Cicerone is offline  
Old Jan 29th, 2009, 12:34 AM
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I am not sure who or what Metroplasia is, but at least some of the information on their site with regard to the Buddha is incorrect and quite a bit out of date, so they do not seem to be updating their information, which is a shame for a website which can be so easily updated. They recommend walking Stage 4 of the Lantau Trail, however this stage has been closed since June 2008 because of landslides. I would not want to see someone make plans for the day to walk this trail (which was a lovely one) based on old information on that website, only to be met with the closed trail sign. An alternative trail is under construction but it is my understanding that this is some months from completion. This information is correct as of my last walk from the Po Lin area which was January 17, 2009 and see http://www.hkwalkers.net/longtrail/e...il/ltrail.html
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Old Jan 29th, 2009, 05:31 AM
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AsiaExpert appears to be a spammer, as all of his/her posts are pushing the same website. ANd as Cicerone says, the info isn't even good.
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Old Jan 29th, 2009, 06:09 AM
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Cicerone - Thank you for all your advice about Hong Kong! I do believe we'll be able to check through all the way (flying Cathay/DragonAir Hanoi to HK and then Cathay HK to London, connecting up with BA London to Boston), but if not, I have printed out luggage storage info. And I will read further into your Buddha instructions, thank you again!

Kathie, thanks for the tip about not asking hotel to hire driver for us. Maybe I'll see what rate they can get us and judge from there.

travelingmad - I have a fear of all things related to a motorcycle and not sure I can even stand a moped I wish I could though because that sounds like fun!

rhkkmk - thanks for your email address; I'll be contacting you for that restaurant list. Yahoo!
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Old Jan 29th, 2009, 06:10 AM
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Oops, I forgot to thank Michael for the tip on TECC and Doi Suthep. For some reason I thought it would be possible to visit TECC on the way to or from DS. It doesn't appear that we'll have time to visit TECC after all. Woe is me
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Old Jan 29th, 2009, 07:43 AM
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I don't know what else you've got on your list of things to do in Chiang Mai but TECC and Doi Suthep would be my top two, I'd be reluctant to drop either of those. Not sure what else you are planning whilst there though
BB
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Old Jan 29th, 2009, 05:09 PM
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Cathay Pacific owns Dragon Air (well they are owned by the same company really) so I can’t imagine that you would have any issue there, you should be able to get boarding passes too I would think, but sometimes that is not the case, but boarding passes are the easy part. In all my years of travel, I have only heard one statement that BA may not have a baggage transfer agreement, but you can check on this yourself. Having not flown BA myself in like 25 years, I can’t comment. Would love to hear if you had any issues with that transfer.
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Old Jan 29th, 2009, 05:27 PM
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BA will not forward bags if you're flying BA into LHR and then another airline out of LHR, if they're not in the same ticket. That's it. Doesn't apply to the OP.

About taking a taxi from HKG to Tung Chung, take a blue one unless there's absolutely none available. The red taxi drivers may have waited half a day or longer to get a long fare out of HKG into the city. To take one from HKG to Tung Chung is really denying them a chance to make a living. Please don't do it, and I don't doubt he/she will be cursing you the whole way in Cantonese.
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