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First Time Trip to SE Asia - Advice Needed!

First Time Trip to SE Asia - Advice Needed!

Old Aug 10th, 2019, 07:54 AM
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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!
Ellen
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Old Aug 10th, 2019, 08:09 AM
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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!!
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Old Aug 10th, 2019, 09:48 AM
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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.
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Old Aug 10th, 2019, 11:10 AM
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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.
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Old Aug 10th, 2019, 11:49 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...

Thanks,
Ellen
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Old Aug 11th, 2019, 03:39 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!

Ellen
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Old Aug 11th, 2019, 07:08 AM
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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.
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Old Aug 11th, 2019, 08:41 AM
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crellston,

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!

Thanks,
Ellen
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Old Aug 11th, 2019, 10:34 AM
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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
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Old Aug 13th, 2019, 01:24 PM
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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.
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Old Aug 13th, 2019, 10:49 PM
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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.
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Old Aug 15th, 2019, 01:39 AM
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hi,
We did the Halong bay cruise with Pelican cruise last time. It was just wonderful...
And skipping Hong Kong was an excellent idea!
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Old Aug 16th, 2019, 04:55 AM
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Fodorites,

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.

Ellen
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Old Aug 19th, 2019, 11:34 PM
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Crazy race ! At least, spend only 2 days in Hanoi and take a 2-day cruise Halong, if not, you miss the magic of the evening and next morning amid the limestone peaks. (plus,if you go for one day only, you spend as much time for the RT hanoi-Halong Bay-Hanoi than cruising in the bay
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Old Aug 20th, 2019, 04:11 AM
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Larsay,

Not sure that you saw that we'll be overnight at Halong/Bai Tu Long Bay? So it's two days/one night on the bay. I agree; spending only the day there would be a long and hard trip!

Ellen
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Old Aug 20th, 2019, 10:18 PM
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My mistake ! That's 4 days in Hanoi, one day too much in my opinion. I would spend one day visiting Arts and Crafts villages out of Hanoi or, much better, visiting the West Pagodas and the amazing ancient village of Duong Lam (Muong Phu) with lunch in one of the 500-year old house

Last edited by Larsay; Aug 20th, 2019 at 10:20 PM. Reason: Typo
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Old Aug 21st, 2019, 10:14 AM
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To each, his/her own. We spent a week in Hanoi and it was not too much. It depends on what one wants to do/see.
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Old Aug 21st, 2019, 10:08 PM
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I agree with you IF you have the time to visit other things after . I think that seeing of Vietnam only Hanoi and Halong is a pity. If I were our friends, I would skip not-so-exciting Thailand, its superhighways, shopping malls and phony "minority villages", and spend more time in stunning Vietnam, especially in the northern mountains ; Sapa is another thing than Chiang Mai !
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Old Aug 22nd, 2019, 01:32 AM
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For what it is worth Ellen7505, I think you have the makings of an excellent, well balanced and well paced first trip to Asia. Thailand and Vietnam are very different places as the two countries are in very different stages of their respective development. Combined with a visit to Seoul, I think you will have a very varied and interesting trip.

I note the above comments re "phony minority villages" and tend to agree. To visit any of the minority villages either in Vietnam or Thailand we have always had to trek for miles off the beaten path. However, as far as I can see, you have expressed no intention to do this? If you do, then I would also avoid Sapa as it was hideously over touristed when we visited 10 years ago. I dread to think what it must be like now with the building of a new highway.
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Old Aug 22nd, 2019, 01:44 AM
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There fortunately plenty of places left around Sapa with very few tourists, as soon as you go a little bit farther from the tourist centers of Ta Van and Ta Phin. For example, a friend of mine, Olivier, organizes a 2-day trekking to the village where he lives in 45 mn walk from Ta Phin ; the hamlet counts 5 houses and you stay in his Dao wife's house, very simple but you cannot dream quieter and more authentic ! Farther north, the entire Ha Ni Minority territory of Muong Hum (very nice Sunday market)/Ity is practically void of tourists.
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