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AlisaAAM Mar 24th, 2013 11:42 AM

Draft itinerary for a whirlwind trip. Your thoughts?
We have put together a very tentative broad itinerary for our travel in Asia this northern-hemisphere summer, coming from New Zealand before heading back to the U.S. after our year abroad. It will involve a lot of travel, which we understand, but our goal is that this will be an "overview trip." Nearly each of these places would benefit from more time (but really, where wouldn't? A traveler's bane!)

We are planning to spend at least 3 days/2 nights in nearly every place to allow us to settle in a bit before heading off to our next stop. We have a few other days to allow for rest stops but haven't figured out where to put them; that will come once we have travel booked to know when the most exhausting trips will be!

And advice on how to put these pieces together? The only piece that's booked is the flight from Hong Kong to SFO on our last night. It departs at 22:30, so we have most of that day in Hong Kong.

Indonesia (7 days)
-Bali, 4 days
-Sulawasi 3 days (diving)
Ankor Wat (4 days)
Vietnam (10+ days)
-Hanoi, including overnight in Ha Long Bay, 5 days
-Hue 3 days
-Hoi An 2-3 days
-HCMC/Saigon (?)
China (9 days)
-Beijing, 4 days
-Shangai, 3 days
-Xian, 2 days (sleeper train there and back)
Hong Kong (3 days)
Japan (10 days)
-Tokyo, 4 days
-Kyoto, 4 days
-something more rural and atmospheric, possibly near Mt. Fuji or Koya-san, 2 days

Kathie Mar 24th, 2013 12:16 PM

"We are planning to spend at least 3 days/2 nights in nearly every place to allow us to settle in a bit before heading off to our next stop." Note that two nights is really only one full day. It means you re traveling every other day (every second day) and on travel days, sometimes you can get in part of a day of sightseeing, but often on a travel day you get breakfast in one place and dinner in another. That travel pace means you are spending half of your days as transit days.

So when your itinerary says 4 days, does that mean four nights? If so, then you have three days. If you really mean 3 nights, then you have two days. My rule for myself is to have no stops shorter than three nights (two full days).

for Xian, I'm guessing that you are planning to spend one night in Xian, and a night of a sleeper train on each side of that. That's an exhausting schedule, as few people get really a full night of good sleep on a sleeper train.

Overall, I think you have a good outline, but do consider how much time you really have in each place. Your pace is such that any travel glitch will throw everything off, as you don't have a lot of flex time.

thursdaysd Mar 24th, 2013 12:43 PM

What Kathie said. It's true I've certainly seen worse, notably the Conde Nast itinerary I mentioned on the Galle thread, but this sounds exhausting. You need to lay it out on a calendar - plenty of blank ones on the web you can print off - with travel time (allow for checking out, getting to station/airport, wait time etc).

You also need to allow time for things like replenishing supplies (you run out of toothpaste, shampoo etc), getting visas if you don't have them all ahead of time (note that some have a short shelf life), and just generally resting up and enjoying people watching (I am very bad at that myself, but I do try to allow at least three nights in places these days).

I don't see Laos at all, which is a pity, and there is more to Cambodia than Angkor Wat - e.g. Phnom Penh, Battambang, Kompot.

AlisaAAM Mar 24th, 2013 01:28 PM

Kathie, it is confusing when some people talk about travel in terms of days and others in terms of nights! I was thinking about travel days (so 2 nights minimum everywhere except for Xian. As for not sleeping well on a sleeper train, sleep is a skill I'm quite good at! Having gone through a medical residency and fielding pages and phone calls through the night, interrupted sleep is still rather refreshing for me.

Thursdaysd, yes, no Laos or other spots in Cambodia. Something needed to get cut, after all! We know that we will need to allow time for the things that you mention (as well as paying bills and the like). That's where those extra bonus days will come in.

In putting this only a calendar (we have lots already printed out and several drafts), it would be helpful for us to get guidance from you experts about how to best (and economically) get from one place to another. Is geographically the best way to think about it? (NZ to Indonesia--there are direct flights from Auckland to Bali that time of year which are fairly expensive but end up saving about 14 hours of transit time-to Vietnam to Cambodia) or are there any route tricks I should be aware of?

thursdaysd Mar 24th, 2013 01:39 PM

From NZ you will have to fly to get to Indonesia. I believe there is a ferry from Singapore, but not to Bali. It may well be cheaper to fly NZ to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok, and get a cheap flight from there to Denpasar (Bali). Do a 'net search for "cheap airline Asia", or just check Air Asia. Sometimes airlines like Malaysia Air have passes for flights around SEA if you fly in on their planes. I think it is Thai airlines that has the Discovery pass (I like to travel overland so I am not up on airlines). You are likely to find you have to transit through Bangkok a fair amount, especially if you fly.

Look at for info on trains in Asia, for travel in/to Cambodia.

AlisaAAM Mar 24th, 2013 01:54 PM

That is just the type of information that I'm looking for thursdaysd! Thanks for it. Initial thoughts are that it may be worth a direct flight from Auckland to Bali as our initial flight. 9 hours direct vs travel from Auckland to Sydney to Bali (via Kuala Lumpur on Air Asia). The flights are only $200 more per person, and the time savings are probably worth it!

In terms of layovers in the big hubs in that area--Singapore, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur--what's the minimum amount of time you'd allow between flights?

thursdaysd Mar 24th, 2013 02:03 PM

Minimum time - depends on whether the flights are on the same ticket and whether any checked luggage is inter-lined. Probably two hours on the same ticket and four if not, but be aware that it can take a LONG time to clear immigration in Bangkok - in both directions, but that shouldn't be a problem if you're just changing planes. I would also look at regularly scheduled airlines out of NZ, switching to Air Asia or equivalent after you arrive jn Asia.

Kathie Mar 24th, 2013 02:20 PM

It sounds like you are tuning in to how much time travel takes. If you are connecting at a major airport like Singapore, Bangkok or KL, I'd allow 90 minutes if you are on the same airline - UNLESS you are flying Air Asia (or another budget airline). As a budget airline, Air Asia won't transfer your luggage from flight to flight, even if both flights are on Air Asia. Thus, if you fly into KL from NZ then go on to, say Bali, you'd have to go through passport control and customs, pick up your luggage, go to Air Asia check in desk, re-check your luggage, go back through security and passport control to get to your gate. I'd allow three hours for that.

The airline that has the discovery pass is Bangkok Air, not Thai Air. It has the only non-stop flights from Bangkok to Siem Reap. But given your itinerary, it doesn't look like it will help you.

Thurday's idea of plotting out everything on a calendar is a good one. Once you see how many days you will be transitting it will be clearer to you that two nights somewhere is truly one day.

AlisaAAM Mar 24th, 2013 02:29 PM

We've gotten spoiled by zipping around New Zealand and Australia this year. In New Zealand, 20 minutes between domestic flights is plenty and we generally arrive at the airport no more than 45 minutes before our flight is due to depart (maybe 90 minutes for an international flight). Very different from traveling around Asia, I understand!

thursdaysd Mar 24th, 2013 02:41 PM

Or the US for that matter. Two hours before flight time for domestic and three for international is standard. Plus some airlines, especially budget airlines, in the US and Europe and Asia close their check-in counters well ahead of flight time. You MUST allow enough time, including for security, or risk missing a flight it may be expensive and difficult to rebook. I am just reading the latest edition of Hasbrouck's "Practical Nomad" and he is emphasising the importance of having confirmed reservations, not open tickets, because of the liklihood of all flights for the dates you want being full.

AlisaAAM Mar 24th, 2013 02:59 PM

Maybe I'm lucky with my home airport in the U.S. (Boston)because I never arrive that early! My husband and I usually plan to arrive 2 hours before an international flight and 60-90 minutes before a domestic one and have always been fine, though we've cut it a bit close more times than I care to count! When I went to Greece a few years ago, the time between arriving at the airport, checking in, getting through security, and getting to my gate was 20 minutes. Can't beat that!

marmot Mar 24th, 2013 03:30 PM

Alisa, As you know from your other thread I'm a fan of Sulawesi (both north and central) but three days wouldn't be enough for either place. If you're thinking Manado, I'd either extend that portion or find another dive spot closer to Bali.

I'd go for the extra cost of the non-stop (or direct) flight from New Zealand to Bali. Start off slowly and allow yourself time to adjust to the climate and the culture.

I agree, it's airport time -- plus the packing and unpacking and getting to and fro -- that eats up your schedule and piles on tension and exhaustion. Flights get delayed, or even cancelled, luggage gets lost, people get sick, holidays schedules kick in, weather happens. On the plus side you may enjoy a place so much that you want to spend another day or two. You need some cushions for the unexpected.

I traveled in Asia for business for decades (those diabolical three week, 10 stop trips)and I can tell you that somewhere around Day 10 you have a meltdown from acute excess. So factor in some down time, preferably non-urban, along the way.

AlisaAAM Mar 24th, 2013 04:16 PM

Marmot, I was wondering about cutting out Sulawasi and just spending a week on Bali and diving there to eliminate that flight. Any specific recommendations? We're still novice divers, having just been certified less than a year ago and with about 15 dives under our belts.

marmot Mar 24th, 2013 04:33 PM

I'm not an expert on diving, but I would say there are some reasonable choices in Bali. Not best in class, but quite good. I personally like Menjangan. The northeast coast wreck sites like Tulamben are also popular. There is drift diving off the southeast coast, but this is for more experienced divers.

There are many dive operators in Pemuteran (for Menjangan) and Amed (for Tulamben. You can also "commute" from Ubud or the southern beaches, but it's a long, long day.

With three to four days, you could consider one of the Bali based live aboards that go a little further afield.

AlisaAAM Mar 24th, 2013 05:20 PM

Love the idea of a Bali live aboard to get a little away from it, but still not waste time in transit!

rkkwan Mar 24th, 2013 06:23 PM

For the China/HK part, nine days is fine, though I'd give Beijing an extra day and cut one from Shanghai. You don't want to take overnight trains to/from Xian. Go like HK-Shanghai-Xian-Beijing with only the last leg by train. Or reverse the route if you find PEK-Japan flights expensive. Lots of options - depending on best flights into and out of China/HK.

gpotvin Mar 30th, 2013 02:36 PM

I would do 2 days in Hue and 3 days in Hoi An. The trip to Halong Bay is 3-4 hours each way, so you burn up a day getting there and back. We spent three days and two nights on a boat, which was quite relaxing. If you do one night you might find the pace a bit hectic. Having said that, Halong Bay was one of the highlights of 23 days in VN this winter.

We spent 3 nights in Siem Reap - 2 days at the temples - and found that to be sufficient.

HCMC included 3 days in the city and surrounds - Cu Chi Tunnels and Cao Dai Temple at Tay Ninh will take a full day - and to days in the Mekong delta. The floating markets in the delta are interesting, but there are others you might visit somewhere else along the way.

mrwunrfl Apr 1st, 2013 08:42 PM

Have you considered an air pass, like this one:

AlisaAAM Apr 3rd, 2013 10:47 AM

Glad to hear that you loved Halong Bay gpotvin--it seems like people have mixed opinions. It seems like we might be able to cut a day from Siem Reap and still explore the place enough. Yes, we have considered an airpass like that one. Still looking into options for what will suit us best!

daichovo Apr 4th, 2013 10:31 AM

Hey Alisa,

I am also a med student (acupuncture/TCM) who is doing a similar trip later this year, although much shorter. SEA-NZ.

I will be using 80,000 miles and less than $100 to book flights- LAX-PEK (day layover)- BKK (spend a couple weeks in SEA) - AKL - LAX. Worth looking into. _

is one description. You can use United or US Air miles to do it for 80,000 in economy, or on US Air in business for 110,000 miles. This is saving me a ton of money! I don't know if it helps you, but FWIW.

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