need advice on planning 1st Asia trip

Aug 8th, 2004, 01:38 PM
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need advice on planning 1st Asia trip

Hi all!

This is my first posting on the Asia travel talk. I'm a regular member on Europe board and now that hubby and I have covered most of Europe, it's on to Asia!

He may be presenting a paper in Korea next summer 2005. Then I would join him either there or meet up with him in Japan.

We've only looked extremely briefly at some tour packages. We are not tour company people in general, but we will not have the luxury of a month as we usually do in Europe. So we are thinking about using a tour company.

So there questions are:

1. Should we indeed look at tour companies and if so , what is recommended. My requirements are:

*Really nice 4* and above hotels
*Lots of free time
*small group
*"not too touristy" in nature, but of course need to do the touristy things
*just a few dinners and maybe a few lunches together as a group
*not feel rushed through the sites
*excellent local guides
*perhaps a company that has itineraries that are a little more special, i.e.: bring you to sites not normally on the tourist path
*about $3000-$4000 per person ( including airfare if possible)
*about a 2 week to 19 day tour to include: Japan, Thailand and China

2. Or do you think I can plan this myself. I have done all of our trips to Europe with great sucess, but we have a trip to Greece in May 2005 that I am working on as well. Perhaps it will be too much for me to do both? Better deal onthe package tour?

Advice appreciated!!

( will do alot more research on own as well!)
tripgirl is offline  
Aug 8th, 2004, 03:18 PM
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I believe you are always better off going independently. I've traveled to Asia more than two dozen times and have never taken a tour. If you can travel Europe independently, you can travel Asia independently.

My one recomendation to you is to choose one country for your trip. Travel is often slower in Asia, and you need to slow down to experience the culture. Any of those countries - China, Japan or Thailand is easily worth a two to three week trip. My recommendation for an easy introduction to Asia is to choose Thailand. It has wonderful infrastructure (fabulous hotels and spas) and almost everyone you have contact with will speak at least basic English (indeed, it's easier for English -speakers than most of Europe).
Kathie is offline  
Aug 8th, 2004, 03:20 PM
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PS If you found a tour willing to take you to China, Japan and Thailand in 14-19 days, you'd basically see a major city in each country and have no real time to glimpse the life or culture of the country. Asia is much larger and more diverse than Europe.
Kathie is offline  
Aug 8th, 2004, 04:55 PM
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WARNING: Not entirely from personal experience...

Still have to get to Japan for an extended stay myself, but:

Do the big bits yourself & arrange day tours as you go -- very easy in Asia w/ hotel front desks or travel agents in hotel lobby.
Japan could be a city/culture(off-the-beaten-path) 5 day stay.
China -- didn't see much outside Beijing -- recommend the Shangri La.
Bangkok is fantastic, planning to do a bit of exploring shortly myself, but from what I've researched there is plenty opportunity to spend 3-5 days in the city and a long weekend in either Chang Mai or Angkor Wat. Search the threads & ye shall find.

Best advice -- spend as much time as possible.

CRAIGdotWHITE is offline  
Aug 8th, 2004, 06:01 PM
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kathie, above, and i often see eye to eye...i will second her suggestion of thailand for a number of reasons...first it is my favorite...second it is well within you budget constraints and in fact you can do it lux class at the prices you have mentioned...

if you have done europe planning then you can easily do asia as well and in some cases more easily...i will with hold that from china is more difficult, except in hong kong, beijing and perhaps shanghai...

look at tours and see what they do and then duplicate it on your own with enhancements and use us on fodors for fact finding as well as the ton of guide books available....its not too soon to start planning now....
use of asian travel agents can sometimes save you lots of money...just ask us for details...

getting there is the biggest expense...

one know how you often plan to do 3 things in the AM and 3 in the PM in europe...that often is not possible in asia, especially in the hot/humid must and will move more slowly...
rhkkmk is offline  
Aug 9th, 2004, 09:41 AM
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Plan the trip yourself and with the help of all of us and then just buy day trips when you get to the places.Pull up my previous post entitled,"Shopping guides for Southeast Asia". In the books I've listed, there are in depth descriptions of hotels along with places to shop. For Thailand order Nancy Chandler's map of Bangkok and Chiangmai. It's either or org...I can't remember which one. This way you'll get a lay out of Bangkok and Chiangmai if you so choose Chiangmai and she also includes a little booklet of restaurants, shops, hotels, etc...Happy Travels!
Guenmai is offline  
Aug 9th, 2004, 12:07 PM
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I agree with the above folks....SLOW DOWN!Southeast Asia is not Europe. I've spent 30 years traveling Europe almost annually and Southeast Asia is a whole different ball of wax. I am a very high energy person, but I love slowing myself down in Southeast Asia...there is an incredible lot to absorb.Personally, I would select Thailand, Singapore, and Bali for a first trip to Southeast Asia which I did back in the 90s.I'd fly to Singapore for overnight and then on to Bali and after RESTING in Bali then back up to Singapore for 3 days and then from Singapore to Chiangmai northern Thailand 3-4 days and then Chiangmai to Bangkok for 5 full nights. I did this routing and was glad I did. I also did it solo,and female, and in three weeks.I plan all of my own trips and travel alone. You can always buy a day trip tour of a place when you get there...there are tons in Bali... if that's what you want. Flexibility is a must in Southeast Asia. Happy Travels!
Guenmai is offline  
Aug 9th, 2004, 12:52 PM
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I'm joining the chorus of saying NOT to go to all three countries. You'll end up seeing a lot of airports and not a lot of the real culture of anything. And, again like many others I would vote for spending the full time in Thailand. It is a fabulous country and a wonderful place for someone to begin asia travel. It is also very easy to do on your own with a private driver and guide if you want.

I would spend at least 8 days in Bangkok. I would also spend 5-7 days in northern thailand and the rest of the time in other places depending on interests -- archeology, crafts, history or beaches. If you post your interests you'll have many suggestions.

You can easily do a trip like this in your budget category and can stay in truly deluxe hotels.

One caveat -- summer is not a great time for any of the places you named in asia but I guarantee the wonders of thailand and the fabulous people will compensate for any weather issues.

glorialf is offline  
Aug 10th, 2004, 02:01 PM
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Thanks all.

I need to clarify our plans to all of you since perhaps I gave the impression we are trying to cover many cities within each country. We are not. I do appreciate deeply all of your responses, but let me clarify.

We are only wanting to visit a total of 4 places: Toyko, Beiijing, Hong Kong and Bangkok. at our first time visiting a region we usually do what we term an overview tour, the knowing of which if we like something enough, we'll return.

I perfectly understnad that Europe and Asia cannot be compared,but my husband really really wants to do this kind of a trip as a first one out the gate.

Given that, what would you all recommend? We really need to keep the price total of $3000-$4000 per person. Now, given your responses, I'd like to spend more time in Thailand than anywhere else.

anyway, thanks for all of your help.

tripgirl is offline  
Aug 10th, 2004, 03:41 PM
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While that itinerary would let you glimpse three different countries, you would only be seeing four large cities. Now I'm a city person myself, and those are four very different and fascinating cities. But I'd still recommend that you consider an itinerary that would give you the flavor of a country by seeing both cities and more rural areas, perhaps even a beach if you like beaches. I can't emphasize enough how different Asia is from Europe. I do think you'll enjoy it much more if you concentrate your time in one area. Also, Tokyo and Hong Kong are expensive. You'll get luxe accommodations in Thailand for your money, but merely ok accommodations in those cities.
Kathie is offline  
Aug 10th, 2004, 05:55 PM
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tripgirl, I suppose you get the message that most of us here don't do tour packages like that. I have heard good things about Pacific Delight tours. Also Jalpak has some tours to Japan with add-ons to other places in Asia.

I understand that you want to do a highlights/sampler tour of east Asia. Three destinations would be better than four, though, given the amount of time you have to spend. I'll suggest staying in northeast Asia. Go to Korea, Beijing, and Japan.

Tokyo to Bangkok is about 2880 miles. Tokyo to Seoul to Beijing to Tokyo is only 2691 miles, so you can stay in the region and get a sample of three cultures.

The trip you are considering: Tokyo - Beijing - Hong Kong - Bangkok - Tokyo is about 6400 miles and about the same as travelling the following Eurasia itinerary: Dublin - St Petersburg - Istanbul - Baghdad - Dublin.
mrwunrfl is offline  
Aug 10th, 2004, 06:14 PM
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as you can see the distances are great...and so are the costs, often...i would develop either a northern or southern route with toyko as a center point as so many airlines fly there as a hub for asis...

would you consider: singapore, bangkok and toyko??? northwest airlines could do that nicely for you as could united and of course the asian airlines: cathy, singapore, thai and asiana and the taiwanese airline whose name escapes me....

given your budget flying as little as possible makes things could easily spend your wad in a week or two in toyko and more...

i would also consider just some thai places and malaysia and singapore or skip malaysia and add bali....

i also like an overview trip and i did do that once in asia and it was not too satisfactory....and very expensive...we paid almost $2000 each in airfare alone...

there are of course lots of overview tours which you could take but i detest them unless you can find one that only takes you there, gives you a hotel and a 1/2 day sighseeing tour and then leaves you alone for a couple of days...pacific delight is quite good ...i spent a week in beijing with them a few years ago and we just blew off their expensive side tours and went out on our own....
rhkkmk is offline  
Aug 10th, 2004, 06:46 PM
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Again, thank you all for your gracious assistance.

We are not that concerned about distances. If my husband leaves South Korea from his paper presentation and flies to Japan and I meet him there from the US, we'd start there and spend only three days. This is his desire.

We then go to Beiijing, another 3, then Hong Kong, another 3 and then I'd finish in Thailand with 5 days.
Beleive me, we have done much more major whirlwind tours than this.

I looked at Pacific Delights website and was not really too sure about it; will look again. It seemed there was little time to do things on own and I was not all that sure of the accommodations. Perhaps someone who knows might have some ideas on how to sift through their offerings and can provide more details of their experiences?

If I could plan this myself I have the confidence to do so. What I would need though from all of you is the names of an outstanding guide in each of those cities for 1/2 day tours; we LOVE private guides; my husband asks tons of questions and I have always found them enjoyable for all our trips.
I have no trouble choosing restaurants; I am a chef.

I am now getting familiar with accommodations so I know what I would like. I also have worked with agents specializing in a specific area that saved me money; always have had terrific success with them coupled with my own research and suggestions brought to the table.

I have emailed a few of these agents today , but if anyone has any agents ( someone here mentioned for me just to ask them) that they like, you can let me know. I know how to work with agents to my best advantage. mostly I like to work with them for smooth coordination and as a backup in case something might go awry.

I am the type of planner that will check every avenue before making any final decisions, so keep the suggestions coming.

We did briefly talk about Singapore, but my husband has made it clear that these four destinations is what he wants first. There is always the following year to go back and do more.
We do like beaches, but we will treat this trip from a historical perspective this time. It is ok to skip the rural this time; like I said we can go back.

We will most likely not have to pay for my husband's fare overseas, as his company will pay for him to go to Korea to present this paper and then of course will provide a return ticket. Whether he can fly back from another destination we do not know yet. Sometimes, his company requests he fly back from the same city. We'll worry about that later.

I might be able to use frequent flyer, but I know how that goes sometimes.

Anyway, thanks again for your patience. I now know how it feels to be "naive" again about travel!! But new experiences are what life is about, right?
tripgirl is offline  
Aug 11th, 2004, 12:05 AM
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dosnt globus and a bunch of other semi lux tour comapnies make the trip.. pacific delight is a verry well respected tour comapny for asia.

try too look for independent tours. that way you can have the guide go too the NOT so touristy places..

if you find a package that you want maybe post what it includes and we may be able too help. other then that most of us here have NO clue about tours..

actually if ya look at some of the china relateed posts they do seem too talk a lot about tours.
orgy7 is offline  
Aug 11th, 2004, 03:08 AM
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After reading the various posts, here are my thoughts:

1. You do not need an organized tour to see the places on your itinerary. You will have much more flexibility doing this on your own, and you won't waste time at "jade factories" "handicraft factories" (i.e., shops). You only need tour guides for certain portions of certain cities ( you don?t need one in Hong Kong at all, IMO). In the places you are considering, English is very widely spoken, taxis for the most part are cheap (except Japan), and the tourist infrastructure is very well organized.

2. I think the 4 places you have mentioned are fine for a first trip, although a have a comment about Tokyo, see below. Not sure what month you are going in the summer, if July or August it will be very, very hot and humid in Hong Kong and Bangkok, and most likely quite hot in Beijing. Bear this in mind when planning your day as the heat will slow you down, esp in Bangkok and Hong Kong which are very humid. The plus is that your hotel room and most restaurants (other than quite casual ones) will be air-conditioned, so you do get a respite. Take a look at and for historical average temps and rainfall in all the places you are considering.

3. IMO Tokyo does not offer as much to see and do beyond gapping at what a huge place it is, the crowds, etc. There is not a whole lot of cultural or historical interest there and it is rather geographically uninteresting, i.e., has no stunning harbour like Hong Kong. Moreover, it is a huge modern city and I am not sure you will feel that you are at all in Japan. You might consider skipping Tokyo and going to a smaller city like Kyoto or Osaka.

4. You might consider going to Japan first as a stopover on your flight out. If you are coming from the US via the Pacific, this makes the most sense in terms of geography, and you can usually get a non-stop from major US cities to Tokyo. You can then easily fly to Seoul in 2.5 hours non-stop. A stop-over is permitted on many airline tickets and should not cost more. Your husband may also appreciate the chance to adjust to the jet lag before having to speak at the conference.

5. Seoul is also not the most interesting place, IMO, but OK for a few days. Shopping is very good for leather and some local items, the food is good as well, love that Korean barbeque. (If you wanted to stay in Japan and skip Seoul that would be an option for you. I would say Kyoto is a much more interesting place than Seoul, so if you and your husband went to Tokyo and then you took your own trip to Kyoto, that might be a good option for you.)

6. For the rest of your itinerary, I would do as follows, based on what I think is the least amount of backtracking. Take non-stop flights whenever possible:

Seoul to Beijing (non-stop flight takes 3.5 hours)

Beijing to Hong Kong (non-stop flight takes 3.5 hours)

Hong Kong to Bangkok (non-stop flight takes 2.5 hours)

Bangkok to US

You could also go to Seoul/Hong Kong/Beijing/Bangkok, although some of your flight will be a bit longer that way. Look at flights and compare. I would suggest ending the trip in Bangkok as you could take a few days at the end to relax by sitting by the river or laying by the pool. You would not have that opportunity in Beijing. Ending the trip in Hong Kong is another good choice, as you can relax a bit there if your hotel has a pool or get out to outlying islands.

7. If possible, get your flight home out of Bangkok or whatever is the last place on your itinerary. If you have to go back to Seoul, this will take most of the day. Perhaps you can offer to pay any fare difference between departing for the US from Seoul versus other cites; my guess is that there would be either no difference or only a small one.

8. Bali is hard to do with this itinerary, as there are not nearly as many non-stop flights to Bali as to the other cities, and therefore the flight over and back from Hong Kong/Beijing/Bangkok would end up taking most of a day. As you are starting out so far north, it is hard to go as far south as Bali. I would save Bali for a time when you doing more of a SE Asian trip. Singapore is a nice city, but I would not skip any of the cities on your itinerary in favour of it. Save that for another trip and use it as a departing point for Malaysia, Indonesia, etc.

9. Once you land on an itinerary, people here can suggest hotels. The range of good hotels in all the places you are considering is vast. As an overall comment, you will find hotel rooms in Asia generally large, and much larger than average European room size, which is a nice change as well. Service is generally excellent, and English widely spoken at hotels and restaurants frequented by tourists. If I am correct, your budget is $6,000 - 8,000 in total for the two of you, including your flight to/from the US but not your husbands. If he is going business class and you want to accompany him, that will eat into your budget quite a bit, unless you can use miles. Otherwise, I think that is a very feasible budget for the trip, esp if you are not paying for hotels in Seoul. Look into the partners airlines in Asia like Thai Air and Singapore Air (members of Star Alliance). Cathay Pacific is an excellent local airline, not sure which mileage program they are partnered with, but it includes Swiss Air, so if you have miles on Swiss, look into that.

10. Don't forget that you will need a visa for China, and it takes a few weeks to obtain one, so you need to start the process a few weeks before your departure. Assuming you are US citizens, you can find downloadable forms on the the Chinese Embassy website at On the main page, click on "Visa and Passport" and read and follow the various instructions. I assume you want a tourist visa, which is an L visa.

Chinese Embassy
2201 Wisconsin Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20007

The other countries on your itinerary allow US citizens to visit for up to 30 days (Korea, Thailand) or 90 days (Japan, Hong Kong) with no visa required. As your husband is attending a conference, he may technically need a business visa for South Korea; but I would not bother to obtain one. Take a look at the US State Department's page on South Korea at for information.

Cicerone is offline  
Aug 11th, 2004, 05:06 AM
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Since you're only doing cities I certainly don't think you need to take a tour. You probably should get a driver/guide within the city but I'm sure this forum can provide you with names that will be both reliable and less expensive than going through a tour operator. The Keio Plaza Hotel is a good 4 star by American standards hotel that is well located and usually has decent rates. There are plenty of restaurants near it where you can eat reasonably.

For Beijing you will probably want a driver to go to the Great Wall, Ming Tombs, Summer Palace etc.

3 days in Tokyo is a good start. You can either spend the whole time in the city or do a day trip to Kamakura. There is a LOT to see in Tokyo and since it may well be hot and humid you may want to spend a lot of the time in their fabulous museums. The subway system is superb as long as you have a good map.

Hong Kong is easy to do on your own and there are a whole slew of first rate hotels at good rates.

I think you're wise to spend more time in Bangkok and I would definitely hire a driver here. And you must stay on the River -- Oriental, Shangrila, Peninsula, Royal Orchid or Marriott.


glorialf is offline  
Aug 11th, 2004, 05:08 AM
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Spygirl, I just ran a search of your previous posts, and see that you live in Virginia, so I assume you would fly out of Dulles. I noticed that Delta and Korean Air have flights from Bangkok to IAD which go via Seoul, so you may in fact not have to lose time or pay more if you go Delta or Korean Air out and back. Hopefully, you could work out an itinerary that will let you stop in Tokyo first, and then get to Seoul. Korean also flies non-stop to Hong Kong from Seoul, not sure about Beijing, so you may be able to work out a package using them for most flights. They are an excellent airline.
Cicerone is offline  
Aug 11th, 2004, 05:31 AM
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It seems to me that most of the people giving you informaation on your trip have not been to the country that is the reason you may be going there. Korea is a great country and the people are super friendly. Some it seems have only been to Seoul and are using that to judge all of Korea. Comparing Seoul to Kyoto is like comparing Tokyo to Toledo, Spain. I would suggest that you look into Korea beyond the shopping, get out into the countryside and visit some of the wonderful mountain temples Korea has to offer. KyungJu is the Kyoto of Korea and while it is not as perserved as Kyoto it has more character(IMO). At times I think Japan to too preserved with everything just so and in the exact right place. Take a look at Korean Folk Art. I think that it would be a misgiving to go to Asia and not take a look at what Korea has to offer.

okminty is offline  
Aug 11th, 2004, 06:08 AM
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Thanks for all your replies. Looking at the flights is most critical first, so I deeply appreciate you all looking at this.

Here is how we do have to to this though.

He will be in Seoul for the the conference last week of July. I am not planning on going with him, I will be here at home. Then I need to fly from Dulles to Tokyo and he needs to to fly from Seoul to Toyko. That is what makes sense. We begin our 3 days there.

Then we go to Beiijing, Hong Kong and finish in Bangkok. He may not necessarily have to fly back to Seoul on his ticket; his company basically gives him the funds and he can do what he wants with it.


Here is where I need assistance.

What I want to avoid is having to pay alot of money for all these airfares. The reason ( and perhaps on of the only reason ) I was looking at tour companies was that the airfares were included and I had heard that airfares alone can eat into the budget. We briefly looked at some fares, but need an organized way to peruse all the offerings: can you all help me here? I'd like to make up a comparision chart.

Then once the airfares can be all worked out, I'll start selecting hotels and lining up guides.

By the way, I know the heat is an issue, but we love heat, really! We've lived in florida and anyone who knows anything about hot Washington DC weather knows what I am talking about; we'll be hot, but we'll survive.
normally we'd be traveling in June , but with this conference, we are taking the opportunity to stay over there.
tripgirl is offline  
Aug 11th, 2004, 06:44 AM
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Take a look at the Star Alliance Asian Air Pass at
mrwunrfl is offline  

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