Never been to Asia

Apr 27th, 2010, 11:57 AM
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Never been to Asia

We have traveled extensively, but never to Asia (I'm a regular participant in the US, Lounge and Africa forums). We are very independent types -- until a trip to Egypt a couple of years ago, the most "tour" we'd ever been on is a private driver we once hired in Portugal for an entire day. We have used guides in Morocco, hired once there, but we made our own plans for hotels, car rental, etc. (some good, some not so great, but the trip was fantastic). Egypt was somehow a little more intimidating to try to do on our own, so we went through a local agent (Lady Egypt - excellent) to plan pretty much everything for us, although we did a lot of the legwork -- checking hotels, etc. We did a private tour for six people -- driver and guide the whole way.

Now we're thinking of making our first trip to Asia, probably Vietnam, although we'd certainly be willing to listen to your thoughts about why we should include/choose someplace else. It's so far away, we'd probably go for 2-1/2 to 3 weeks.

My first question, and the reason for this post this an area of the world that we can travel independently? (As for who we are, this will be next year, when we will both turn 60. We are very young 60s. We're the type of people who take carryon luggage no matter how long the trip and do laundry along the way. We use public transportation as much as taxis, if not more. We like nice hotels, but Marriott level fits the bill (doesn't have to be the Four Seasons, but want air conditioning that works, a comfortable bed, and a great shower). We prefer local restaurants -- we don't eat in hotel restaurants, and we prefer not to "break the bank" on food, but we like good food. We'd just as soon spend an afternoon at a street fair we wandered upon, or a market, as at an art museum.)

So now that you know something about us, we'd appreciate your advice. Thanks for your help.
sf7307 is online now  
Apr 27th, 2010, 12:07 PM
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If you can travel independently elsewhere, you can travel independently in Asia.

I think the real question to stat with is what do you want most to see/do/experience?

While you can certainly do VN independently, I think it's a bit harder as an introduction to Asia than some other places, as it's a bit rough around the edges. Thailand has better infrastructre and is a great introduction to Asia. Bali is another option with good infrastructure and accessible culture. But if VN is what grabs you, then start there.

Browse some of the trip reports here to get ideas, and I always find photos capture my imagination. Take a look at our photos from all over SE Asia (and a few other places) at
Kathie is online now  
Apr 27th, 2010, 12:22 PM
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You sound like my kind of travelers, lol! Yes, you can travel in Asia independently - totally on your own, with a car and driver hired for an hour or a day once you get there, or with arrangements made before you leave home through a local agency.

Sounds like you're thinking south-east Asia, but the same is true for east and south Asia. For my travels in Asia (partly solo, partly with budget tour groups) see - SEA is Asia2002.

I usually agree with Kathie, but I don't think Vietnam is really a harder intro. The trains aren't as comfortable as in Thailand, but there are trains (see ) and it's easy to get around, with a lot of choice in hotels and good food. But then, I'm not as fond of Thailand as a lot of posters here.
thursdaysd is offline  
Apr 27th, 2010, 12:45 PM
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You sound like my kind of traveller too. I've just come back from a month in Vietnam, some of it alone, some with various companions, all arranged independently. Ask any specific questions and I'll try to answer.
gertie3751 is offline  
Apr 27th, 2010, 01:11 PM
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My wife and I have been traveling to Asia for 10 years. Whether it's Vietnam, Thailand, Bali or India, I'll offer the following observations:

1. You can arrange everything on your own if you want to. However, sometimes a local agent can get you better deals on hotels and transportation. You should in no way feel obligated to hire guides or any other services that you do not want.

2. You do not want to self-drive. Car and driver is the only way to go as the rules of the road are somewhat different here (and it's more relaxing to be a passenger).

3. Air travel is sometimes preferable to trains (or traveling by car), and sometimes it can be fairly inexpensive.

4. Eating in local restaurants is often but not always preferable to eating in hotel restaurants and will save you (sometimes a lot of) money.

5. You can cover much of Vietnam in 2-1/2 to 3 weeks. That amount of time actually gives you lots of options if you base yourselves in Bangkok, especially as from there you can fly to Hanoi, Bali, Laos, Cambodia and other places in Thailand. You can access my trip reports by clicking on my name.
Craig is offline  
Apr 27th, 2010, 01:15 PM
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i agree 100% with kathie... to me the easiest three places are singapore, thailand and bali.... english is pretty eeasy in each of these, plus all 3 have very developed tourist infrastructures..

i am 66 and began SEA trips at age 50+... we have been 12 times to thailand and love it and our hotel situations are the same as yours... we love marriotts and there are several in thailand... not many in vietnam thus far...

VN is interesting but i prefer some of the other countries more than VN... myanmar, laos, cambodia, malaysia... i'm leaving in 3 wks for bali and malaysia for repeat trips...

we love to help people here with suggestions... we need to know more of your budget and specific likes...

hotel sites for ideas:

many of us also deal directly with the hotels on the internet

look forward to helping you

rhkkmk is offline  
Apr 27th, 2010, 02:33 PM
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This is simple. Go to Thailand and if your budget allows, Angkor Wat and Luang Prabang, Laos. You can do all this on your own, but you may want to use a guide for individual days. The airfare to Cambodia and Luang Prabang is not cheap, but these two additions to Thailand are both amazing. Bangkok is a magical city and the Marriott Resort and Spa on the river is very nice (not quite as well-located as the Roayal Orchid Sheraton, but there is much debate about this). If you like beaches, you can pop down to a Thai beach for a few days. The airlines in Thailand and all of SEA are much better than domestic US carriers.

A trip to Thailand will whet your appetite for much more Asian travel. Many of us are hooked. This forum can provide lots of helpful information, e.g., hotels, reataurants, guides, activities.
Gpanda is offline  
Apr 27th, 2010, 03:27 PM
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Vietnam was my first trip to Asia, and I suppose that's given me a soft spot for it, but I'd say go for sure! I went to Hanoi-Hue-Hoi An-HCMC via Untours (unfortunately not still an option) and did day tours, plus an additional three days in Cambodia for Angkor Wat.
I was out and about on my own a fair amount, too, and had a wonderful time on the buses and such. Here's my (old) trip report with a photo link at the bottom:

I would definitely support going to Vietnam and going independently!
Amy is offline  
Apr 27th, 2010, 03:33 PM
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I've not been to Thailand, Angkor Wat, etc., but have had two trips to Hong Kong (very easy to do by yourself), Korea once for just a few days (pretty easy), and India (can do by yourself, but you need a car and driver). I can't wait to get back to India, have seen enough of Korea, would enjoy another trip to HK, but with added side trips to other destinations in the region.

Just watched "Grand Torino" on Netflixs and it emphasizes the differences between east and west ---- "Americans eat food that has no taste." Amen, sister, amen!
indianapearl is offline  
Apr 27th, 2010, 03:33 PM
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SE Asia is one of the easiest places for independent travel. Let us know what your interests are and what you're looking for. My favorites in Vietnam include Halong Bay (take a boat out and explore limestone islets, swim in the bay if you'd like, eat fresh seafood) and Hoi An (tailor town). In the surrounding areas, Laos (especially Luang Prabang) and Cambodia (Angkor Wat and surrounding teamples) are 2 of my favorite travel destinations ever. Everything is very cheap there.

In terms of itinerary planning, I would look up itineraries from companies like Intrepid Travel and modify from that starting point.
unitoro is offline  
May 9th, 2010, 01:06 PM
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Thank you all so much -- I haven't gotten back here sooner, because we were in New Orleans for Jazz Fest, and then work interrupted for the rest of this week! I will digest what you've all said, and get back to you soon. Your thoughts are much appreciated.
sf7307 is online now  
May 10th, 2010, 10:20 AM
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What is the best time of year to travel to this part of the world -- nice weather, not too hot and humid, not too rainy?

Someone mentioned to me the possibility of a bicycle trip -- has anyone done this?
sf7307 is online now  
May 10th, 2010, 10:33 AM
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its always humid 24/7 in SEA....

mid oct to jan is the best time imo
rhkkmk is offline  
May 10th, 2010, 12:05 PM
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I totally agree with everything that has been said here. We did a three week trip to Thailand and Angkor Wat with the helpful guidance of many of the Fodors folks. We did a mixture of guide and driver for the day, a three night private package in northern Thailand, and totally independent "book it when we get there" traveling in Phuket. We did the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and thought it was a great way to see the countryside. Many people said we should do the overnight train to save a hotel room and because there wasn't much scenary, but we still did the daytime one and never regretted it for a minute.

Vietnam is on my A list and the only reason we didn't do it with Thailand was that I wanted to give both their full focus. I will definitely get there and will probably do it on our own since that's how we do everything (except for Egypt which we did with a group).

We went in June/July and it was hot and humid, but bearable. Dress in cool fabrics - mostly cotton. Actually, my one regret is that I didn't take an empty suitcase and buy everything there!

As you figure out where you want to go, definitely post your itinerary and hotel thoughts here. The folks on the Asia board are very helpful and many have been there multiple times and tried lots of different hotels, restaurants, sights, etc.
jcasale is offline  
May 10th, 2010, 12:19 PM
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There are variations in the weather in different parts of SE Asia as there are several different monsoon systems. Take a look at and check each location you want to visit.

I've not done a bicycle trip. It's so hot that you would only want to do it if you were acclimated to the heat. When we were in Sri Lanka, we met two women who work for Spice Roads, which is a company that organizes bicycle trips in Vietnam.
Kathie is online now  
May 10th, 2010, 02:52 PM
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Thailand is best in late November through February. That is also a good time for Angkor Wat and Luang Prabang.

There are a number of bicycle options in Thailand, from day trips to week long treks. We doid a one day in Phuket that was nothing special but a one day in Bangkok that was lots of fun. I think it was with ABC Bicycle.
Gpanda is offline  
May 21st, 2010, 12:32 PM
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Thanks again. I'll check back as we make firmer plans (starting with what part of the world we'll visit, and then narrowing it down!)
sf7307 is online now  
Jun 5th, 2010, 09:00 AM
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So, since I started this post, I've gotten a map, and a book (Lonely Planet - Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos & the Greater Mekong - although Thailand is included as well even though it's not in the title). We've definitely decided we can do this on our own.

I've deduced that for a first "glimpse of everything" trip (which would take at least 3 months, I'm sure), these are the places we (and everyone else) would want to go:


Halong Bay
Hoi An
Ho Chi Minh City
Mekong Delta (Can Tho)


Siem Reap
Phnom Penh (?)


Luang Prabang


Chiang Mai
Phuket or Koh Samui

Obviously, this will be a "sampling", fast-moving trip (not slow travel) (we're fine with moving around). We'll probably take 3 weeks all-in, including travel from California, and 3 days layover in Hong Kong (we can layover for free, and we've never been to Hong Kong either, and my DH definitely wants to take a few days there). We'd possibly like to take a mid-trip couple of days bike or scooter trip maybe around Hue, but if you've got another suggestion, I'm all ears.

So, if you were me (!), would you limit the trip to (A) Vietnam/Cambodia (and is Phnom Penh worth a couple of days, or just go to Cambodia for Siem Reap/Angkor), (B) Thailand/Cambodia, (C) either Vietnam or Thailand together with Laos instead of Cambodia, or (D) something else? Of all the places I listed, are there any that just aren't worth the time on a first trip? Any that you consider absolute musts? Unlike some, we do not assume that this will be our only trip to Asia, in fact, just reading about it has so whetted our appetites, that we're sort of planning this trip with a mind toward a second trip a few years from now!

BTW, we can fly from hometo either Ho Chi Minh City or to Bangkok. Also, we're flexible as to when we go (anytime in the January-April 2011 window), and would like to go when it's the best possible weather, understanding that the weather differs greatly from north to south.

Thanks again!!!!
sf7307 is online now  
Jun 5th, 2010, 09:01 AM
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Oh, I should add, we would NOT want to spend our time doing things like the candy factory tour (?) on a Mekong Delta trip -- we just want to take the boat and see the floating markets and some local life.
sf7307 is online now  
Jun 5th, 2010, 09:26 AM
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Hi sf7307 - we visited many asian destinations in 2007 independently - here's a link to our blog

navigate on the left margin
Elizabeth_S is offline  

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