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Help me plan our first trip to Southeast Asia!

Help me plan our first trip to Southeast Asia!

Oct 27th, 2019, 09:21 AM
  #1  
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Join Date: Feb 2003
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Help me plan our first trip to Southeast Asia!

We are a Senior couple planning our first trip to Southeast Asia. Our plan is to spend up to a month in the region which would include Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. We live in NYC and can either fly out of there or since we are planning to being in Los Angeles after our trip we can start in LA. I have many questions before I begin to make our travel plans and hope that you can help me in making our decisions regarding an itinerary.

1. We are planning to spend the month in February in the region. Is this a good time to be there?
2. Best to fly from NYC or LAX? Which city do you suggest we fly into for a stopover?
3. Which airline would you suggest we use?
4. Is it too ambitious for us to see all 4 locations in a month and if so which one would you cut out/
5. Can you suggest an itinerary regarding where to start and finish our travels?
6. Will we need specific Visas and/or vaccines before entering these locations?
7. Would you suggest a Tour company, local guides and if so offer any suggestions?
While I have already begun my initial research into the locations I have always found it helpful to start with Fodor's in planning all of my trips. It would be most helpful to hear about your experiences, suggestions even if it is offering advice on only one of these questions.

Thanks!
allyboy is offline  
Oct 27th, 2019, 12:41 PM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
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All good questions. We, same age group, will be in Thailand (25th time) and Vietnam (6th time) from dec30 to feb 11.

You do not generally save that much time flying from LA, I don’t think. Some $$ savings. I suggest flying into one city and leaving from another. We love Korean Air, flying west, and Singapore. Cathy Pacific is also good. We love Emirates and Qatar too. Both often well priced. BA and Air France, plus Swiss and Lufthansa. Some like Turkish— new planes.
We favor the A380 for a plane and the 787.

Thailand is very easy for beginners, Vietnam not bad either. I plan all of our trips. You can click on my name and read trip reports to the region.

Don’t skimp on Hotels. 5* are bargains. I favor Marriotts. I have tons of favs, just ask.

BTW we fly from Boston.

I sometimes seek help from local tourist/travel agencies— foreign. For instance in VN I like Tonkin Travel in Hanoi. I use them for drivers and some guides, and some internal flights.

I think. I might concentrate on TH, VN and Laos (Luang Prabang only). LP is small and fab.

In Feb it is starting to get hotter. Apr is the hottest.

Unlike Europe, Asia moves slowly and so must you. Among other things humidity is horrid.

Yes you need shots— go to a travel clinic. VN require a visa, so does Laos. Thailand’s you get automatically on arrival. In nyc, just go to their UN office for visa or do it on line.

Ask me some specific questions and I will try to help.

I am in so Africa today but will be home in a week.

bob
rhkkmk is offline  
Oct 27th, 2019, 01:58 PM
  #3  
 
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 9,687
I looked at google airline matrix for flights the first week of February R/T Bangkok returning the first week of March.
There are a lot of good choices from both LAX and JFK. UAL out of LAX is around $520.00 which is astoundingly cheap and for around $642.00 you can fly out of JFK on Asiana which personally I would do as they have excellent service and are a superior carrier than UAL.
However that choice is yours.
Good luck with your planning.
Larry
jacketwatch is offline  
Oct 27th, 2019, 07:24 PM
  #4  
 
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 10,255
Seven years ago during January & February we visited all the countries you mention. However, we spent 9 weeks. Going to all 4 countries in a month would be too much for me. We travel very slowly now that we're retired. This trip was also our first trip to SEAsia and it was a lot to take in as we traveled. It was all so fascinating and different from the places we had previously been. Take that into consideration as you plan. We used Tonkin Travel for our travel in the VN portion of the trip and were very pleased with them. We also used Jermsak, a guide in Chiang Rai. I also believe he does tours in Chiang Mai. He was excellent and I highly recommend him. Otherwise we planned it on our own as we have other trips to Asia.
I would check the CDC website for vaccines or pills you might need depending upon where you decide to go. We did not have any shots and took Malarone for mosquitoes. But things may have changed since we were there. Happy planning!
We have a TR that you can read, OUR SEASIA Odyssey
yestravel is offline  
Oct 28th, 2019, 12:34 AM
  #5  
 
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 7,666
1.February is and excellent time of year in which to visit SE Asia from a weather perspective although, being high season some places, e.g, Angkor Wat, will be very crowded.

2/3. No idea about airlines from the USA but it would definitely make sense to try for an open jaw ticket. e.g. say into Hanoi and out of Bangkok to avoid back tracking. Having said that flights within SE Asia using the many budget airlines like Air Asia can mean that it is realtively efficient and cheap to fly between say Hanoi and bangkok for your homeward leg.
4. It is too ambitious to visit all 4 countries. Which one to cut is entirely dependent on your interests. Personally I would drop Thailand and Laos. Laos because it is a bit of a dead end in terms of getting flights there and Thailand because IMO it has become over touristed in recent years. You could easily spend 3 weeks travelling down through Vietnam and then into Cambodia for a final week.

5. vietnam - Hanoi - Phong Nha Ke Be - Hue - Saigon - Mekong Delta ( Ben Tre, Cai Rang and Chau Doc) and te boat to Phnom Penh and to to Angkor . Some details of our travels there and lots of photos on our blog @ https://accidentalnomads.com/category/vietnam/
6. You can get evisas online for Vietnam and Cambodia. For vaccines, check with your GP or travel clinic, but yes, there will be some so allow plenty of time.
7. It is pretty straightforward to DIY in Asia but some do prefer to use agencies to organise everything. Do check credentials ( and prices) carefully and always pay be CC rather than wire money. Do be very specific in what you want to achieve. TAs in the region always seem to feel that they need to pack in as many destinations as possible into an itinerary, believing more is more - it really isnt in Asia. The best way may be to do part and part i.e. organise most yourself and book certain tours locally. Hotels and guest houses are very helpful in this respect.

Have fun planning.
crellston is offline  
Oct 28th, 2019, 06:02 AM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 9,687
Originally Posted by no06011993 View Post
Thanks. Your information is very helpful.
Thank you. I was assuming a RT with a base in Bangkok but Crellstons idea about an open jaw ticket is a good one. Several times I have looked at open jaw tickets or multi city routes and those times the cost was much higher but that could be due to circumstances particular to that routing and that time frame. However do consider all options.
Airline matrix is not a booking service. It does show prices for specific routes and those prices are from the airlines. You can look at third party agencies like Expedia and cheapfareguru just to name a few and you may get a better price.
jacketwatch is offline  
Oct 28th, 2019, 10:37 AM
  #7  
 
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Hi, allyboy,
You've gotten some great advice here, and I'll just tag along and add a few of my own thoughts. My husband and I traveled in 2014 for 3 weeks, and we traveled for 2 weeks in Thailand, 3 nights in Luang Prabang, and 4 nights in Siem Reap. If I had more time, I would've added a day to Luang Prabang, and would've probably added Hanoi and/or more countryside in either Vietnam or in Cambodia. All 4 countries are "doable" if you think of it more as visiting specific spots rather than visiting a country. You'll just be doing more flying, but the flights are pretty quick although not bargains.

I can't recommend Jermsak highly enough in Thailand! We hired him for 3 days in the Chiang Rai area and they were fabulous. He is a wonderful companion as well.

We really enjoyed Luang Prabang a lot. While some will say that the character has changed and it's not the charming place it was many years ago, I've nothing to compare it to and we found it a really laid back and relaxing place, with enough charm still there!

We flew Korean Air and were very happy with it. We flew New York to Bangkok, with a stop in Seoul (Incheon) and then flew from Siem Reap back to New York. I think we flew from JFK, but I can't recall this minute. Service was good -- and we flew economy! I liked Incheon very much - we had about 3-4 hours between flights and we were able to find places to lie down and nap. I know showers were available, too.

I followed in the footsteps of yestravel and gotravel and used their trip report for a number of the places we visited!

Here's my trip report from 2014...
Travels in Tumultuous Thailand, languid Luang Prabang & Smiling Siem Reap

I will add that I wouldn't go now to any of the elephant camps that still offer rides. I'd only visit one of the sanctuary type of camps if I were to go back.

Hope this helps.
progol is offline  
Oct 28th, 2019, 10:41 AM
  #8  
 
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The only thing I can contribute is to plug Singapore Airlines, even cattle class is wonderful!
mlgb is offline  
Oct 30th, 2019, 12:58 AM
  #9  
 
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We found February to be warm (for us) but manageable in Thailand and Cambodia. We'd even lucked into some spotty rain periods at Angkor that helped cool things down. On the other hand, Hanoi was really nice in April so I imagine it could be considerably cooler than other SE Asian locations in February. Luang Prabang was at least 15 degrees hotter when we landed there on the same trip.

Not sure I'm clear on the city/stopover question, NYC or LAX. Assuming it would be best to choose the shortest, cheapest route out of the US that would pair well on a ticket with your chosen carrier for the trans-pacific segment.

Airlines - we usually prefer an Asian airline that isn't Chinese (to be frank). Singapore as mentioned and Cathay Pacific are both head and shoulders better than the US carriers, IMO. Even EVA and Thai are an improvement over the N. American based options in terms of comfort and service. We found that they usually won on price too, but you never know.

All 4 countries are probably doable if you can accept that you're not going to see all of any one of them in the one week you allocate to it. But if you decide on sticking to one area and one planned out route in each place, sure, that can be done. But breaking it down, will you enjoy trying to see Chiang Mai, Bangkok and the southern beaches of Thailand in the 1/4 month? I wouldn't because it seems like a lot of effort relocating. Bangkok by itself would be perfect for a week.

Not sure where to end but Bangkok seems like a logical place to start because it probably has the most inbound flight options. Siem Reap (Angkor) is well connected to Bangkok. And it looks straighforward to fly to Saigon from there. Luang Prabang I know is pretty easy and cheap to get to from Hanoi but possibly also from Angkor. May want to get back to BKK or SGN for your final city as HAN, REP and LPQ airports are not well connected to the US and may reduce your options. (actually HAN is just a quick connection to Hong Kong where Cathay is hubbed but as many times as we've connected or done layovers in HK, I'm not sure I would just now).

I'll stick with the logistics questions but visa and vaccine info is pretty readily available already. We don't tend to use tour companies ourselves but I know there's a very popular guide for Angkor that is recommended here often.

Last edited by CounterClifton; Oct 30th, 2019 at 01:03 AM.
CounterClifton is offline  
Oct 30th, 2019, 03:46 AM
  #10  
 
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Can fly Korean Air from many USA cities direct to Seoul. From Seoul can fly direct to Chiang Mai Thailand. CM smaller city, much faster Immigration, compared to BKK. For fast Immig, nowhere better than S'pore, HK a second, Seoul 3rd, IMO. Visit CM for a few days. Can fly direct from CM to Luang Brabang or domestic to Bangkok, or direct daily to Hong Kong.
jobin is offline  
Nov 1st, 2019, 07:14 AM
  #11  
 
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All boy—. Where re you
rhkkmk is offline  
Nov 1st, 2019, 08:03 AM
  #12  
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Thank you to everyone who has contributed to this page! I am slowly absorbing all of the information while I do my research which also includes picking my friends brains who have traveled there as well. I am slow to plan and first need to understand the region, understand where/when I specifically want to go, how to travel to each location and how much time I will allot to each location. My wife and I are retired and can spend as much time as we want, however, I am the reluctant one trying to limit this vacation to a month while she would go for longer!
night tour
We have decided that we will travel from Los Angeles as we will first spend time with family there. Questions abound: Should we fly directly to Bangkok and stay there for a few days before heading out to our next location? How many days in Luang Prabang? Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai? Would you consider the 1 night tour around The Golden Triangle? How about the 2 day slow boat down Mekong River to Luan Prabang? Will we have problems with our luggage ( only take carry on with wheels) when needed to board these type of boats?

I like the idea of flying into one country and out the other--just need to first figure out which ones to select. It's looking like into Bangkok and out of Ho Chi Minh city back to LA.
allyboy is offline  
Nov 1st, 2019, 08:24 AM
  #13  
 
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My husband and I did a Road Scholar tour of Vietnam and Cambodia last year which we thoroughly enjoyed. Just another idea to throw out there. It was our first time in Southeast Asia and we enjoyed it so much, we hope to go back someday.
KTtravel is offline  
Nov 1st, 2019, 09:33 AM
  #14  
 
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Originally Posted by allyboy View Post
Should we fly directly to Bangkok and stay there for a few days before heading out to our next location? How many days in Luang Prabang? Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai? Would you consider the 1 night tour around The Golden Triangle? How about the 2 day slow boat down Mekong River to Luan Prabang? Will we have problems with our luggage ( only take carry on with wheels) when needed to board these type of boats?

I like the idea of flying into one country and out the other--just need to first figure out which ones to select. It's looking like into Bangkok and out of Ho Chi Minh city back to LA.
Wherever you decide to fly to, I think it is a great idea to spend a few days in the city of your arrival if only to recuperate from the inevitable jet lag. Both Bangkok and HCMC are amazing cities.

Re the north of Thailand/ Laos A word of caution. In that region of SE Asia, they still practice "slash and burn" agriculture. This usually takes place in March through to late April but can occasionally be earlier. You should be fine in Feb I would think, but there is a possibility - global warming is affecting the seasons in Asia a lot!

You will be fine with wheeled carry-ons on the boats. Regardless of whether you do a cruise with Luangsay or similar or, as we did, hire a private boat, there will be people to help if needed. Just don’t expect to wheel them anywhere! Public boats are another option but they can get rammed with people - not the most comfortable of trips.

I would suggest allowing 3 days for Luang Prabang & Chiang Mai and 2 for Chiang Rai. The "golden triangle " is not as scenic as you may imagine so I wouldn’t bother. An alternative might be to consider Mai Hong Sorn/Pai or Chiang Dao.
crellston is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2019, 02:01 AM
  #15  
 
Join Date: Jun 2019
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To star with, visit those 4 countries in one month is completely unrealistic; you are going to spend more time in transportation (the ground ones in those countries except Thailand are frustratingly slow) than in visits. I would skip Thailand, swarming with tourists ('45 millions a year) and very occidentalized sky-scrappers, huge shopping malls, superhighways, Mc Do and Co.

Contrary to what someone told you, February is NOT OK everywhere ; it is a very bad month for the north of Vietnam ,which is by far the most beautiful part of your trip, bar the temples of Angkor :: cold (I have known 6° C in the mountains) and frequent heavy fogs (January is not better)..

Now, there is another problem : Laos and Vietnam are parallel north-south, so, if you want to visit ALL in both, you have to go all the way up one country and all the way down the other. The best would be Cambodia, (Siem Reap and Phnom Penh), then speed boat PP-Chau Doc in Vietnam and 3-4 days to do Chau Doc-Saigon through the Mekong Delta (the weather is perfect is the south in February). 2 days in Saigon, then fly Saigon-Danang and 3 days in wonderful Hoi An ; then day train Danang-Hue and 2 days in Hue; flight or night train Hue-Hanoi, 2-3 days Hanoi, 2 days Halong cruise with one night on board, then 3-4 days in the mountains and then fly Hanoi-Luang Prabang, which is enough in Laos, you cannot do everything !

Last edited by Larsay; Nov 2nd, 2019 at 02:03 AM.
Larsay is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2019, 04:42 AM
  #16  
 
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Re post #15 above esp. "February is NOT OK everywhere ; it is a very bad month for the north of Vietnam" . I disagree. Overall, if visiting a diverse range of locations as you seem to have in mind, Feb is one of the better months of the year in terms of climate.

In the north of Vietnam ypu can expect plenty of sunshine and clear blue skies in Feb. Yes it will be quite cool (avg temp: 17 °C) but for many, that is no bad thing. Rainfall is at its lowest in February although a mist is not unusual, especially in coastal areas and around Halong Bay ( which I would skip anyway) . In the far north conditions are dry but chilly at night and sometimes foggy.
crellston is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2019, 09:13 PM
  #17  
 
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Average temperature 17¨in HANOI ! In the mountains, which is the best part of the region, ° it is not uncommon in Sapa, the most visited site ebcause of its great trekking, a temperature of 0°C at night, and the homestays are not heated. One February, I was in Dong Van ; the fog was such for days that the gas tankers could not come from Ha Giang and the gas pumps were empty all over the area ; I managed to buy 5 gallons in the market at three times the price, and I was very lucky !

Going to the north without visiting the fantastic Halong Bay is like going to New York State without visiting New York. Besides, it is one of those rare sites (Mt St Michel in France is another one) which is stunning even when foggy
Larsay is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2019, 10:51 PM
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We are going to have to disagree. Such is the nature of forums! Both Halong Bay and, especially Sapa are the very antithesis of places I would want to visit. Iconic, yes, but for years they have been subjected to the worst aspects of over-tourism. Sapa and it’s environs, particularly were like a human zoo when last I visited several years ago. I can only imagine what they are like now after the opening of of the new road and cable car. Halong Bay is renowned, not only for its amazing beauty but also for its uncontrolled pollution Everyone’s interests, likes and dislikes are different and it is great that the OP is getting some opposing viewpoints.

As far as the weather is concerned, I do think you are missing the point. When someone wants to visit multiple destinations in SE Asia, Feb is one of the best months. I have travelled in Vietnam many times over the last 30 years at most times of the year, including the far north in February and I would definitely not say "it is a very bad month" as you suggest. Far from it. Yes, it is likely there will be mist, fog lower temps but blue skies and sunshine are also likely.
The fact remains that Feb is when the OPs are choosing to go.
crellston is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2019, 11:08 PM
  #19  
 
Join Date: Jun 2019
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There is an easy solution considering that you are mostly right : chance of OK weather in Hanoi and Halong do exist, but, before going to the mountains, our friend types "Weather Sapa" on Googles, then clicks on Accuweather and decides accordingly (if bad in Sapa, he types "Weather Bac Ha", only 3-hour rive from Sapa, but quite different)
Larsay is offline  
Nov 4th, 2019, 12:20 PM
  #20  
 
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To me Thailand is the beacon of modern SEA. Bangkok offers a smattering of everything. Good place to land and unwind. Min. 5 days, IMO.

I personally do not like Chiangmai Mai.

Luang Prabang is unique in the same way Hoi An is— 4 days each.

Do you like beaches? I prefer Thai resorts: JW Marriott, Khao Lak. Marriott or Hyatt Hua Hin. Samui is nice also.

Our fav bkk hotel to chill at is the Anatara Riverside.

Stay at the best quality hotels you can afford. Hire private drivers/guides to save time.
rhkkmk is offline  

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