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Karen's final thoughts and Top 10 lists...

Karen's final thoughts and Top 10 lists...

Old Mar 30th, 2006, 05:16 PM
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Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 3,239
Karen's final thoughts and Top 10 lists...

First, let me say I can’t thank you all enough. This is the best trip I’ve ever taken, and we’d never have done it on our own without your help and encouragement. You are a wonderful, generous, fun group of people. (Am considering the Boston GTG because I’d love to meet some of you!)
If anyone else out there is on the fence about doing a similar trip, take the plunge. Southeast Asia is fabulous. And traveling there is easy with a little research and planning – and the help of this group.

Quick Recap...

Itinerary – We had 19 nights. Spent 5 in Bangkok, 2 in Mae Hong Son, 4 in Chiang Mai, 3 each in Luang Prabang and Siem Reap, and final the 2 in Bangkok. It was a good pace for us – fast, but not overly rushed, except for the Mae Hong Son portion, which was a little short. Would recommend at least 3 nights in a place – or skip it.

Hotels – Loved them. Would stay in every one again: Centre Point Silom, Fern Resort, Baan Orapin, Sayo Guesthouse, Pavillon Indochine Resort. Most expensive was Centre Point - $81. Go for the $60 big corner room at Sayo.

Guides – Again, we batted .1000. Strongly recommend Julie Taxi (ask for Julie) in Bangkok, Sergeant Kai in Chiang Mai, and Dara (Ponheary’s brother) in Siem Reap. Also very much enjoyed our day with Sutee (who works for Sergeant Kai). In Mae Hong Son, it was hard having a driver who didn’t speak English – would try to avoid that in the future.

Favorite activities/trip highlights:
1. School visit in Siem Reap. Seeing the kids, interacting with them, was wonderful.
2. Talking to locals. Among my fondest memories - especially the 45-minute conversation with the small group in the Siem Reap chapel (see full report for details).
3. Elephants at Lampang. We touched them! It makes me smile to think of it.
4. Monk parade in Luang Prabang. Surreal. Unlike anything anywhere. Worth getting up for.
5. Trip to long-neck village near Mae Hong Son. Very special interaction with a 53-year-old woman made this a highlight.
6. Boat trip on the Mekong (to Pak Ou caves). It's about the journey not the destination. Views along the river are incredible (although the smoke/haze detracted somewhat). Life along the river is even more incredible.
7. Tonle Sap boat ride. A fascinating, somewhat voyeuristic, look into the everyday lives of some very poor people. The houses on land at the edge of the lake (the “edge” changes with the seasons) are bleak – such poverty. It was almost hard to look at the children - so sad.
8. Bike riding in Luang Prabang. The entire town is amazing – it's like stepping back in time 75 years. Loved the architecture. Even more, loved the feel of the town. Hard to describe.
9. Hike near Chiang Mai to non-touristy hill tribe village – fun hike, great village. It’s wonderful to visit a village with no tourists in sight (except yourselves) and no souvenir stands – just pigs tied under houses, skinny chickens picking at the ground, water buffalo, and people who speak no English.
10. Shopping in night markets. They were a shopper’s paradise. Wish I’d bought more.
(And if I may go beyond 10: meeting fellow Fodorites, Susan/Dave and Tamara/Peter; walking along the streets in Bangkok; and cooking class at A Lot of Thai)

Favorite tourist attractions:
1. Temples of Angkor (Ta Prohm, Bayon, Angkor, Banteay Srei - in that order, I think). Wow, wow, wow, and wow.
2. Grand Palace/Wat Phra Kaeo, Bangkok. Dripping with gold and jewels. So bright it makes you squint.
3. Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang. Uniquely Lao, beautiful. Not crowded like the tourist attractions in Bangkok. A jewel box.
4. Doi Suthep, near Chiang Mai. Similar to Wat Phra Kaeo and also beautiful.
5. Floating market, Bangkok. Touristy but quintessentially Asian.
6. Wat Po, Bangkok. Loved the Reclining Buddha’s face (fabulous expression) and the 108 begging bowls. (And he's huge!)
7. Wat Arun, Bangkok. Unlike any other. Loved the pastel colors and intricate details.
8. Palace Museum, Luang Prabang. Spent a delightful morning there. Some beautiful furnishings and art.
9. Wat Phra Singh, Chiang Mai. Lovely temple. Enjoyed talking to monk, making merit.
10. Jim Thompson House, Bangkok. Our first sight and a great intro to Bangkok.
(And 11 – local food markets on the streets are a definite tourist attraction that rank right up there. Don’t miss them.)

Favorite restaurants / food:
1. Stir-fried vegetables – ANYWHERE
2. Banana fruit shakes, watermelon, pineapple – AWESOME
3. Tongue Thai, Bangkok – it’s all about the chicken and cashews!
4. Bed Supper Club, Bangkok
5. Veranda, Bangkok – such a soothing ambience
6. Cabbages and Condoms, Bangkok – fun spot, good food, good service
7. L’Elephant, Luang Prabang
7. Red Piano, Siem Reap (tie)
8. Centre Point Silom, Bangkok – cheap and good
9. Harmonique, Bangkok – interesting ambience, inexpensive, good
9. Crepes and Co. (tie) – nice for a change, great desserts
10. Fern Restaurant, Mae Hong Son
(Julie loved the beer – Singha, Lao, and I forget the Cambodian brew, but she liked them all. I’m not much of a beer drinker, but even I liked them.)

Things we missed and want to see/do next time:
1. Vinanmek (Teak) Mansion, Bangkok
2. National Museum, Bangkok
3. Suan Pakkard Palace, Bangkok
4. Peking duck at China House
5. More Angkor temples
6. Prasart, Bangkok
7. Joe Louis Puppet Theatre, Bangkok
8. Chiang Rai (wanted to include it in this itinerary, but not enough days – next time!)
(I THOUGHT we could do it all, but it turned out we couldn't!)

Stuff I got right...
1. Did lots of research
2. Relied heavily on advice from Fodorites
3. Built a great itinerary, booked great hotels, arranged excellent guides (see #2)

...and wrong
1. Pushed Julie too hard the early part of our trip – Type A personality (disorder)

Lessons learned / tips for newbies (in no particular order):
1. Always carry toilet paper.
2. Squat toilets are easy once you get the hang of them. The trick: don’t try to hold yourself in a seated position – squat all the way down (hope that wasn’t too graphic, but it makes a world of difference). It took me over a week to figure it out.
3. TALK to people. They’re as interested in you as you are in them. Be yourself and feel free to interact and laugh with people. It will be the icing on the cake of your trip. Southeast Asians are warm and approachable. They will respond if you’re respectful and friendly. Learn the basics in the local language: hello, thank-you. Those two words go a long way.
4. Getting around is easy. Use the skytrain and taxis in Bangkok. Make sure the driver uses the meter. I’d avoid tuk-tuks in Bangkok (traffic is scary). But do use the tuk-tuks in Chiang Mai (settle on price before getting in – most destinations shouldn’t be more than 40 or 50 baht).
5. Language is not a major barrier. Most people speak enough English that you can get by.
6. Arrange guides in advance if possible – use the recommendations posted here. (These Fodorites know what they’re talking about.) If you haven’t made arrangements in advance, don’t fret. The places I visited all have well-organized tourist infrastructures. It’s easy to get a guide/driver or join a tour for a day. The options are numerous and readily available.
7. Use sunscreen every day.
8. Take a midday break if possible to get out of the sun. Take naps. (Or you’ll end up face down on your bed, drooling all over your pillow by the end of your trip – see my report for details.)
9. Arrange your itinerary so you don’t have any one-night stands. Three nights is a comfortable minimum. Bangkok can easily gobble up a week. Luang Prabang and Siem Reap are certainly worth four nights each (although we only had three). We loved having four nights in Chiang Mai. The two-night stay in Mae Hong Son was rushed.
10. Be prepared for poverty. It’s a sobering reality. Seeing small children in dirty, torn clothing selling bracelets to tourists is heart wrenching.
11. Take Deet insect repellent. Mosquitoes weren’t bad when we were there (dry season), but there were times when we were glad to have the repellent as a just-in-case.
12. Prepare for heat. Wear loose, lightweight clothing. Shorts aren’t common – skirts are great (and cheap!). Wear comfortable shoes – don’t worry about making a fashion statement while touring. A lightweight cotton sweater or wrap is nice for dinner in air-conditioned restaurants.
12. Pack light and take an empty bag (or plan on buying one there). You’ll shop a lot! There are so many bargains to be had. (Also, if you see something you like, go ahead and get it – you may THINK you’ll see it again... but you just might not.)
13. Go with the flow. Celebrate the serendipitous. You can’t plan for all eventualities. We didn’t expect our SUV to break down in Mae Hong Son. We didn’t expect to pick up six other tourists on our trip to the waterfall in Luang Prabang – and have a flat tire 10 minutes later. We didn’t expect not to get the room we had booked well in advance – twice. Lots of unexpected stuff happens. Just go with it. It will be less stressful.

14. And lastly, SAVOR EVERY DAY. Asia is unlike any place I’ve visited. It’s different. Exotic. Intoxicating. Exhilarating. With beautiful sights. Wonderful food. And best of all, people that stole my heart and touched my soul.

I’m so sad to end this trip report – it has made the joy last much longer and the memories remain vivid! Thanks again to everyone who’s been reading. Would love to hear others’ thoughts on tips/lessons learned – for my NEXT trip. I’ll definitely be back.

At last...

The End.

althom1122 is offline  
Old Mar 30th, 2006, 05:42 PM
Join Date: Dec 2005
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Wow, Karen, what a finale! I'm left speechless as you said it all so well and even more...

You describe an experience that I had too after my return from SEA at the end of December...of having to say "good bye" to Fodors after I wrote up my reports on a beach resort south of Jomtien Beach, BKK, and Siem Reap...it was like having to say goodbye to a valued and developing relationship, you know? Like most new travelers, I was plugged into Fodors for days on end prior to starting our trip as there were so many great suggestions coming in once I learned about Fodors and posted my questions. My husband couldn't believe how "engaged" I became with a website (and grateful for all the great advice)!

You seasoned Fodorites were real life savers in so many ways from our learning about a limo service in and out of BKK airport that would safely and reliably get our family to a beachside destination 2 hours away at 11:30 PM after our 31-hour plane travel, to really getting the inside scoop to great restaurants (as I felt like I was going around in circles trying to make sense of all the recommendations in all those tour guide books...the day that I got Bob's BKK restaurant guide lifted a dark cloud of many), and to helping with loads of other big and little choices and decisions!

So obviously when we returned, I wanted to post my reports, both as a way of providing feedback, but also as a way of passing on valuable information to new travelers. It was really great to have so many of you listen and respond! But at some point all good things must come to an end so I too remember the moment when I was no longer posting regularly...it was very hard to say good bye after all that engagement (so that's why I keep reading new posts and adding my two cents whenever I can add something of use...and looking forward to planning a future Asia trip so as to have a chance to re-connect with all of you again!).

Like Karen, one thing I've learned for sure is that I won't ever leave home (to go traveling) without checking in first with you Fodorites!

terryr is offline  
Old Mar 30th, 2006, 07:40 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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so ladies then we, the regulars, expect you to pop in more than occasionally and add your 2 cents worth or $2 worth, like the rest of us do....each of us has our favorite places and experiences and they are enhanced by this unique forum....the more people ask and the more people contribute, the better resource this will be...

karen---again thanks for the great report and the unique recap....you asked a thousand questions and follow-up questions and we enjoyed answering them and look what you ended up with!!!

see you in october----we hope...

rhkkmk is offline  
Old Mar 30th, 2006, 07:58 PM
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Posts: 108
Bravo! Bravo! Excellent wrap up, thnks for sharing all of these and start planning your following trip asap!
jcontreras is offline  
Old Mar 30th, 2006, 08:59 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
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Karen - well there is no doubt that you will have to go back again soon to catch the things you missed. A wonderful summary and very useful for all.

Can you please tell me who you booked with for Centrepoint - I haven't seen it at that price! - was it city view or riverview please - I thought from your photos it was the riverside.
MaryW is offline  
Old Mar 31st, 2006, 02:26 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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Great recap, Karen. If we had done Top 10 lists, they would have been quite similar to yours. Hope to see you in Boston in October.
Craig is offline  
Old Mar 31st, 2006, 02:59 AM
Join Date: Mar 2006
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Your original report was superb and so helpful as I go to BKK on Wednesday next, but this summary was just stupendous!
Many, many thanks.
mise is offline  
Old Mar 31st, 2006, 05:14 AM
Join Date: Dec 2005
Posts: 319
Thanks, Bob, it's always good to connect with you! and to hear all of your valuable suggestions to would-be travelers out there...even if I'm not the one packing my bags!

terryr is offline  
Old Mar 31st, 2006, 06:44 AM
Join Date: Mar 2003
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Karen-super finale. The SEA bug has another victim. While there is no cure, some of us have found that regular posts on Fodors keeps the longing at a manageable level. Plus, you get to appoint yourself an expert on a complex area that you've only visited for several weeks. here in Cambridge we like to think of ourselves as "Travel Consultants".
Gpanda is offline  
Old Mar 31st, 2006, 08:12 AM
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I could feel the warmth of the Cambodian air as I read your finale. Thanks!
waynehazle is offline  
Old Mar 31st, 2006, 08:56 AM
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Laren, Thanks so much for all your reports and pictures. I have taken a lot of notes, and feel prepared for when we go.
pat is offline  
Old Mar 31st, 2006, 11:26 PM
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Yes, thank you for all the great info Karen!!
LA_FadeAway is offline  
Old Apr 9th, 2006, 07:36 AM
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Mary - I was rereading my post (reliving the experience!) and noticed I hadn't responded to your question about whom we booked with for Centre Point Silom. It was asiarooms.com.
I just checked them and see the price is SLIGHTLY higher - but basically the same. Here's the link directly to Centre Point on asiarooms' website:

(and thanks for giving me an excuse to top my own post!)
althom1122 is offline  
Old Apr 9th, 2006, 08:21 AM
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Enjoyed reading your report..Just got back from BKK and Siem Reap, but have been to Chiang Mai in the past..

Glad to know you enjoyed Cabbages & Condoms as well..It was just full of fun and atmosphere and the food was really good..We were not expecting it to be very good after reading not so good reports about it..So it was a pleasant surprise.

Really disappointed that we didn't get to Tongue Thai, but i got ill the night we were supposed to go..But i guess we can save it for next time..

Also liked the Floating Market..touristy yes, but so enjoyed it..Also loved the boat ride on Tonle Sap as well..

And all of your advice is right on..Especially that taking toilet paper along..I even used it in the middle of the night at the Marriott when we ran out!!!

Reading your report has just made me want to go back!!!
TracyB is offline  
Old Apr 9th, 2006, 11:30 AM
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Karen if you had to choose between visiting Laos or Cambodia-which one would you choose. How expensive were the outbound flights from BKK? I'm still trying to put a vacation together, and all your input is great.
Old Apr 9th, 2006, 12:15 PM
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Posts: 3,239
That's a REALLY hard one - Laos or Cambodia. We loved both, but if I had to choose one, I think it would be Cambodia. The temples of Angkor are amazing (although Luang Prabang is, too!). Still, Siem Reap is much easier to get to and that alone gives it an edge. We used the Bangkok Air Discovery Pass for those legs of the trip, and I think they were about $80 one way - although believe they may have gone up slightly. Both are wonderful (and in very different ways) - but the nod goes to Cambodia. If you missed my pictures, they're at: http://kbutler8.photosite.com/

and they give you a good look at both Laos and Cambodia. (I often find looking at pictures is what tips the scale for me on where to go.)

Also, if you missed my full trip report (oodles of detail), it's at:


Good luck with your planning. You'll love Asia. I asked tons of questions when my initial planning began!
althom1122 is offline  
Old Apr 9th, 2006, 08:33 PM
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karen...why do you say cambodia is easier to get to than is laos....they are about the same are they not?? did i miss something??

if temples bore you after an hour, i think LP would win out over siem reap...
rhkkmk is offline  
Old Apr 10th, 2006, 02:56 AM
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Thanks Karen for the info about Centre point - will get on to it.

Worth topping the post too!

Regards, Mary
MaryW is offline  
Old Apr 10th, 2006, 03:57 AM
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When I said Cambodia was easier to get to, it's because I went there from Chiang Mai - and there were only three flights a week, so it was difficult scheduling my itinerary around it. I'm not sure how many flights there are from BKK (to LP) - but I'm guessing much fewer than to Siem Reap - where there are many, many flights. So I just meant it's probably easier to schedule, not easier to get to. Sorry for the confusion. (In fact, it's as easy to sit in one airplane seat as another!)
althom1122 is offline  
Old Apr 10th, 2006, 07:15 AM
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now i get it....
rhkkmk is offline  
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