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First Time Trip to SE Asia - Advice Needed!

First Time Trip to SE Asia - Advice Needed!

Aug 10th, 2019, 06:54 AM
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Join Date: Dec 2009
Posts: 442
First Time Trip to SE Asia - Advice Needed!

Greetings, Fodorites,

You've been so helpful with my questions in the past and I know you will be this time as well. My husband and I (boomers, 60's/70's) are planning our first trip to SE Asia. We're pretty fiercely independent travelers and we travel quite a bit, but this area of the world is brand new to us. I enjoy doing the research and planning and we've put together a draft itinerary which I'd like your thoughts about - enough days? Too many? We won't spend too much time in museums except maybe for Hanoi; we want to get a feel for each place and visit the main sites. The long-haul flights are booked. I have an idea of flights internally, but haven't made any of those reservations yet. We're flying in and out of Seoul basically because that's where Delta flies non-stop from Detroit. We'll start working on jet lag there and we also want to tour the DMZ on one of the days.

Sunday, 10.27 DTW/SEL, arrive 4:30 p.m. 10/28
10/28 - 10/31 Seoul (21/2 days)
10/31 Seoul/Hong Kong - arrive evening
10/31 - 11/5 Hong Kong (4 full days)
11/5 Hong Kong/Hanoi - arrive Noon
11/5 - 11/9 Hanoi (3 full days) Would like to spend a day at Halong Bay
11/9 Hanoi/Chiang Mai - arrive late afternoon
11/9 - 11/13 Chiang Mai (3 full days)
11/13 Chiang Mai/Bangkok - arrive Bangkok Noon
11/13 - 11/17 Bangkok (3 full days)
11/17 Bangkok/Seoul - arrive evening and stay at an airport hotel
11/18 Depart for DTW in the morning

Thanks in advance for your thoughts!
ellen75005 is offline  
Aug 10th, 2019, 07:09 AM
Join Date: Aug 2019
Posts: 18
Hi Ellen,
Looks like a very good plan. But if you are open for a small change... I would stay longer in Hanoi and shorter in Hong Kong.
I am sure that many will not agree, but Hong Kong feels so, I am not sure how to say it, modern?
Halong Bay is amazing, maybe an idea to do a 2-day/1-night cruise........
Regardless of where you will go, you will have an amazing time! and the planning is half the fun!!
JessicaBr is online now  
Aug 10th, 2019, 08:48 AM
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 7,498
You have a lot of wonderful places in your itinerary but that is a LOT of moving about - 7 locations in maybe 20 days. Each time you move location you can probably write off most, if not all, of a day which will cut back on the actual time available to see the sights. This doesn’t really correlate with your desire "to get a feel for each place and visit the main sites"

A few specific comments;

1. Hanoi really needs 3 full days just to see the main sites.

2. Halong Bay really needs an overnight on a boat, so you would need to add a day for that or miss out on the Hanoi sights.

3. I assume you mean the DMZ in Vietnam as opposed to The DMZ in Korea? If so, that is nowhere near Hanoi. You would need to fly to Hue or Da Nang which would be another overnight. It is also the height of the rainy season in central Vietnam with typhoons and flooding possible at that time.

4. If you mean the DMZ near Seoul then that can be done as a day trip from Seoul. We found it very interesting and enlightening. Some details on our blog @ https://accidentalnomads.com/category/asia/south-korea/ if you click on the destination tab and go to Vietnam, there are also some posts re Hanoi.

5. Seoul is a great place to spend a few days. I prefer it to Hong Kong, but both are wonderful, exciting cities so you can’t really go wrong with either.

6. I like Chiang Mai but the old city can be seen in a day. If you really want to spend 3 days there I would be inclined to get out into the countryside. You itinerary is very focused on big cities.

If it were my trip (which it clearly isn’t) I think I would want to cut out one destination or even one country in order to slow down the pace a little and spend more time in each location.
crellston is offline  
Aug 10th, 2019, 10:10 AM
Join Date: Dec 2006
Posts: 21,365
That's a LOT of time in transit for relatively little time on the ground. Are you sure you can see what you want to see in the time you're allowing? Just an example -- I couldn't have seen what I wanted to see in Seoul in just 2.5 days, even if already over jet lag, and I didn't visit the DMZ.
kja is offline  
Aug 10th, 2019, 10:49 AM
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Jessica and crellston, I totally get what both of you are saying; I was starting to get a little nervous about the number of stops, on and off planes every few days, etc.

And eliminating one destination would give us a chance to do an overnight cruise at Halong Bay as you both suggest.

Crellston, I was referring to the DMZ in Korea. I read your post - it's fantastic! From what I've read, it seems that the USO tour has the best feedback. It's something we're very excited (maybe not the right word) to do. But cutting down on the whisky at breakfast so we can arrive sober might be a bit of a stretch...(!)

Re Chiang Mai, we are hoping to go to an elephant sanctuary. I assume that would take the better part of a day, but maybe two days would be all we'd need in total We'll stay in the old city.

We need to do some re-thinking...do either of you - or anyone else - have a recommendation for a one-night Halong Bay cruise company? There seem to be many...

ellen75005 is offline  
Aug 11th, 2019, 02:39 AM
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This is our revised itinerary; we've cut out Hong Kong on this trip to save for the next one.

Monday, 10/28 - Arrive Seoul 4:30 pm
10/28 - 11/1 - Seoul (3 full days inc. DMZ tour)
11/1 - Seoul to Hanoi
11/1 - 11/8 - Hanoi (6 full days inc. a one-night Halong Bay cruise)
11/8 - Hanoi to Chiang Mai
11/8 - 11/12 - Chiang Mai (3 full days)
11/12 - Chiang Mai to Bangkok
11/12 - 11/17 - Bangkok (4 full days in Bangkok)
11/17 - Bangkok to Seoul airport hotel
11/18 - Seoul to US

I feel much better about this itinerary; it will give us more time in each location. and won't be as hectic. Having said that, please let me know your thoughts. Thank you again!

ellen75005 is offline  
Aug 11th, 2019, 06:08 AM
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 7,498
The new itinerary is much, much better. I would be happy with that.

For Halong Bay, sorry but I can’t recommend a tour operators but would say that that it is very easy ( and cheaper) to organise on the ground in Hanoi. The most straightforward way is to ask your accommodation to make a recommendation or to organise it for you. They have a vested interest in getting it right! Happy to suggest hotels in Hanoi as I have stayed in quite a few of them over the years. An idea of budget would help. Also, try and find a trip which takes you to Bai Tu Long Bay which is far less crowded than Halong Bay itself and just as spectacular.

A lot has been written about elephant projects in Thailand, here an elsewhere. There are a few ethical operations around an a lot which mistreat the animals. This is one of the good ones and one of the longest established https://www.elephantnaturepark.org/ . I think they offer both day and overnight trips from Chiang Mai including travel.
crellston is offline  
Aug 11th, 2019, 07:41 AM
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I'd love any advice you have on Hanoi hotels. We like to stay in the old part of cities and I've been concentrating on the Old Quarter but I'm also open to other areas/suggestions. I'd like to stay under $150 per night if possible.

The Elephant Sanctuary looks like what I had in mind. What an experience!

ellen75005 is offline  
Aug 11th, 2019, 09:34 AM
Join Date: Dec 2006
Posts: 21,365
Much better!

If you haven't already seen it, you might find some useful information about Seoul in my TR -- the time in Seoul is at the beginning of the trip (starting with post # 16) and then again at the end (starting with post # 100).
4 wonderful solo weeks in South Korea
kja is offline  
Aug 13th, 2019, 12:24 PM
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 7,810
It sounds like you will have a terrific trip.
We did an overnight Halong Bay cruise with Bhaya Cruises. We were on a tour and this was booked through the tour agent but I think you should be able to book this on your own. We had a lovely time on board (good food, friendly and helpful staff) and the scenery in Halong Bay was gorgeous. We stopped and visited an interesting cave and had a cooking demonstration and tai chi class on board. One brave soul took a quick dip in the water but found it to be too cold to her liking for swimming.
KTtravel is offline  
Aug 13th, 2019, 09:49 PM
Join Date: May 2004
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$150 per night is sort of an awkward rate for Hanoi. You can get a lot of perfectly fine hotels for a lot less or pay a lot more. Mid range places are not quite so prevalent.

Here are a few thoughts:

Apricot Hotel Great location close to Hoan Kiem Lake. Just about in your price range. Marketed as 5* but really more of a 4*

Silk Path Boutique Hotel - at the southern end of Hoan Kiem Lake. Still in the old quarter but close to the French Quarter and a quieter area.

Hanoi Marvellous Hotel and Spa - we haven’t stayed there but met with some Fodor’s friends who did a couple of years ago and they really loved the place. Nice location, close to lots of restaurants ( but then, everywhere is in Hanoi,)

La Siesta Premium Hang Be - nice location and a good reputable hotel group with a lot of properties in Hanoi. I haven’t stayed at this one but have stayed at a couple of other of there hotels.

I would probably go with either of the last two above. All are available on booking.com which, along with Expedia is my booking engine of choice.
crellston is offline  
Aug 15th, 2019, 12:39 AM
Join Date: Aug 2019
Posts: 18
We did the Halong bay cruise with Pelican cruise last time. It was just wonderful...
And skipping Hong Kong was an excellent idea!
JessicaBr is online now  
Aug 16th, 2019, 03:55 AM
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Join Date: Dec 2009
Posts: 442

Thanks to all of you, I've made a lot of progress in the past week. These are the hotels we've booked:

Seoul - Millennium Hilton - (DMZ tour booked through USO)
Hanoi - JM Marvel Hotel & Spa (Dragon Legend cruise on Bai Tu Long Bay booked)
Chiang Mai - Phor Liang Meun Terracotta Arts Hotel
Bangkok - Key Premier Sukhumvit

We're taking the day train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok which should be interesting.

Thanks again for all your advice; it was so helpful. I'll write a trip report when we return.

ellen75005 is offline  
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