Bangkok, Bhutan and Beyond

May 14th, 2013, 12:33 PM
  #21  
 
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 538
Really enjoying your trip report. Wondering how long you were in Luang Prabang and if the time was about right for you? Waiting for more! Thank you.
cindyjo is offline  
May 14th, 2013, 01:21 PM
  #22  
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Join Date: Aug 2011
Posts: 336
NORTHERN THAILAND: THE FINAL CHAPTER

We decide to intensify our exposure to heat and smoke by heading up to Chiang Mai/Chiang Rai. We plan to take a tour to take us through the hill towns and into the Golden Triangle, and then spend a couple of days in Chiang Mai. We are late in making arrangements, and our first choice tour operator doesn’t have availability. It is pushing (or past) the end of the season. We follow a Fodor’s suggestion to Sergent Kai (www.chiangmaitours.com); he puts together a very good (and full) 3-day/2 night program for us. He uses his military connections to get us in to some odd places – we get a trip briefing on the lip of a bunker on the border in the no-mans-land between Thailand and Myanmar. We get to a couple of hill towns that obviously don’t get much tourist traffic, and a couple that obviously do. The difference is the extravagance of their costume, and the intensity of their marketing (none in the former, lots in the latter). I don’t know what to think about these visits, honestly. Sgt Kai is friendly and respectful, and is well-received. And I get that these are mostly refugees, or stateless, and that selling stuff (including their “exotic” ethnicity) is a way to make a living in an economy isn’t otherwise accessible to them. But there are many of them, and they don’t have anything I want to buy… We cover a lot of ground, and a lot of river, and learn a lot.

The comfortable modesty of our accommodation on the two nights on tour is offset by the cool elegance of our choice of hotel in Chiang Mai, the Chedi. It is a respite in the heat, and an indulgent way to conclude our Southeast Asian adventure. We get out of town just before Songkram, the new year celebration that involves drenching your closest and dearest, and perfect strangers, with buckets of water.

I will do a wrap-up on lessons learned and logistics over the next day or so; I told a couple of friends this morning I would get this done, and I need to get on with my life (and planning the next trip).
Friendship_Bay is offline  
May 14th, 2013, 02:08 PM
  #23  
 
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 11,334
Wow... great report! Thanks for sharing your experiences. I'm happy to read that you are planning the next trip...

Don't give up on Thai beaches just yet. You need to see some other locations. Samui is nice, but there are nicer.
simpsonc510 is offline  
May 16th, 2013, 09:25 AM
  #24  
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Join Date: Aug 2011
Posts: 336
Hi Craig. We haven't done much travel in SE Asia, putting it off until we had the time to be able to leverage the long flights. Gladly, that day has arrived!

cindyjo, we spent 5 nights in LP. We wanted to take it easy after an intense 2 weeks in Bhutan, and didn't plan to do more than one "big" thing a day. You could certainly see as much or more in a shorter stay, if you were so inclined. We found that time about right for us, there is enough variety in eating, touring, biking, etc, to sustain that time.

simpsonc510, we haven't given up on Thailand; I know the beaches we were choosing don't come highly recommended here. I will pay more attention next time. Our next trip is something completely different--Norway and the Arctic Circle. Maybe back to Asia, Japan on the agenda, next year.
Friendship_Bay is offline  
May 16th, 2013, 09:31 AM
  #25  
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Posts: 336
LOGISTICS AND LESSONS LEARNED

1. We didn’t use a tour company, except for Bhutan (where it is the only way to go) and our days in Northern Thailand (because we had a short window, and weren’t sure we would ever be back…). Based on brief previous trips, we had an idea of where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see. Because we had time, we could be flexible, and we enjoy the adventure of doing it ourselves. We made our own hotel bookings directly over internet or email based on research and recommendations from this forum and other sources, and never had a problem.

2. I would make more use than we did of on-site guides at temples, or specific thematic tours. This was helpful at the Grand Palace; we got more out of it than we would have on our own. And it would be good for something like a food tour in Hanoi or Hoi An.

3. We were using this trip as an exploration to see where we might want to settle in and spend several weeks or months. We had an idea that we would find a furnished/serviced apartment. We haven’t found quite what we were looking for in Thailand yet, and would like to do a little more exploring in Vietnam. We would like to check out Bali, too. In Vietnam, it seems to make more sense to stay at hotels; they are reasonable and convenient. It would be more expensive to do our own laundry and cook our own meals!

4. We waited until we got to Bangkok to book our internal flights in SE Asia, because we wanted to firm up our plans, and get better fares. We asked the concierge at the Intercontinental about some dates and details once we had our itinerary blocked out; she offered to make the bookings through an agency. We took up the offer, and she did some back-and-forth to get a program that worked for us. But when things came up on the road, like our disappearing Vietnam air flight, and trying to change our flight from Luang Prabang to go directly to Chiang Mai rather than backtracking through Bangkok, the agency was not helpful. So next time we would either book on-line directly, or work with an agent directly, and forego the convenience of having someone else do it for us.

5. We got into a new “9 to 5” routine…up at 5 (ish), in bed by 9. That worked well for the heat and to help us beat the crowds at heavily-touristed sites. It meant we missed some of the Bangkok nightlife, but Bangkok was plenty crazy for us anyway—and some of it was still going on at 6:00 a.m.

6. Travel between destinations in this part of the world WILL take a day, no matter how close they appear on the map. You can never predict a 1 ½ hour check-in line at an airport, a one hour wait for luggage, a Friday night taxi line or a flight that disappears altogether. It is never catastrophic, only inconvenient. Plan (and chill) accordingly.

7. Much to our surprise, we lost weight on this trip. This doesn’t happen when we go to Europe. Not so much wine or meat, lots of walking and fruit shakes.

8. Day-to-day living is less expensive than at home, sometimes dramatically so. In tourist zones, though, expect an automatic 10% service charge and a 5 – 7% tax. It’s not a deal breaker, in most cases, just be aware and factor it in.

I have been spending a lot of time on the Asia board recently, and the traffic on Japan has piqued our interest in getting back there. Fall of 2014 looks like the best window. Maybe there will be another GTG?
Friendship_Bay is offline  
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