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Our June Trip is all Set - Thanks for Your Help Fodorites!

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Apr 28th, 2013, 06:51 AM
  #1
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Join Date: Dec 2005
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Our June Trip is all Set - Thanks for Your Help Fodorites!

Hi all. I just wanted to drop by and say thank you for all the help in planning my upcoming trip to Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. We leave mid-June for 3 weeks and we are so excited! I used the forums extensively for itinerary help and now I am back to get specifics about restaurants and markets., etc. and have written 4 pages of notes this morning.

I thought I would give an update on what we came up with, thanks in part to all of the suggestions from Fodorites. Perhaps my itinerary will help those in the infancy of planning. As a note, I am traveling with my 3 kids, ages 5, 9, and 11, a 10 year old cousin, two adult God Parents, and an adult friend. Sadly my husband will miss due to work.

Anyway, the forum helped immediately with three things: 1) because we only have 3 weeks, upon suggestions we took out 5 nights on the beah in Thailand. Everyone said explore more of Vietnam and save the beaches in Thailand when I can also do the rest of the country.
2) people also suggested that I add Luang Prabang and change from my original 2 nights to more. 3) folks also said no to all my travel agent suggestions and said go with someone local! I believe all of these suggestions were a game changer for having a more authentic, cultural experience, at really good rates. So thank you!!!!!

I ended up using Aurora/Vietnam Stay as my travel agent and they have been wonderful! I emailed 2 other agents with a rough draft itinerary and they were the first to get back to me and have been on the ball ever sense. My agent, Mr. Pham Tuyen, has been excellent with booking all my personal suggestions, getting price quotes, suggesting cultural experiences I would not have thought of, booking air, hotel, tours, transport in all 3 countries, getting lower rates than I could for hotel (even when I email him thinking I have found a rate lower on Agoda), and responding to over 50 emails within a day even on the weekends. It has been so easy and a joy to plan this trip. I highly recommend Aurora/Vietnam Stay.

Also of note, we are flying Asiana Airlines from Chicago to Saigon through Seuol. I have never flown this airline but chose it because our group is flying a mixture of classes from coach, business and first. They had the most competitive and affordable prices for all three classes. Some of us have used miles for upgrades and American Express Companion tickets for some of the seats. But what I really wanted to share is that we were originally flying out of New York where we live. But after checking reviews on Skytrax, I learned that they use their older plane out of New York and it has horrible reviews for all classes. They have a brand new plane with wonderful configurations and bells and whistles for all classes flying out of Chicago. So we switched and will just get up a little earlier and take an early morning flight to Chicago to make our connection. We feel that because it costs EXACTLY the same, why not have a more comfortable flight on a plane that has gotten stellar reviews!

I will leave this post with our final itinerary:

Ho Chi Minh Citty - 3 nights - Park Hyatt
Hoi An - 4 Nights - The Nam Hai
Hanoi - 2 Nights - Sofitel Legend Metropole
Ha Long By - 1 Night - Indochina Junk - Red Dragon
Luang Prabang - 4 Nights - 3 Nagas
Siem Reap - 3 nights - La Residence de Ankhor Orient Express

The Nam Hai is a major spurge and was just booked last week, as our first three much-lower priced options were sold out for the number of rooms we need (I really, really wanted the Boutique Hoi An and was so disappointed when it did not come through). But we want to stay on the beach for the kids as this gives us that beach time we took out of Thailand. And if the kids get templed out, they have this option. But I must say, our agent worked wonders because he got a rate cheaper than Agoda and Agoda lists half off of the regular rates as it is. And we are all sharing for it to be affordable and cozy!

Lastly, I am so looking forward to day of volunteering as a family with the Ponheary Ly Foundation in Siem Reap. We will bring food to the students and do an arts and craft project that we will bring with us from the U.S. We are also purchasing some needed supplies but will buy them in Siem Reap where they are cheaper and we don't have to worry about transporting them.

So that it is for now. Another huge thank you to all those who offered suggestions. And for those of you in the initial steps of planning, please feel free to ask any questions.

I will, of course, write a trip report!

Have a wonderful day.
Lolazahra is offline  
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Apr 28th, 2013, 09:17 AM
  #2
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
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Have a great trip. Looking forward to the TR. I do think you'll be sorry not to have more time in Hanoi, but I understand your desire for the beach with kids.
thursdaysd is online now  
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Apr 28th, 2013, 07:28 PM
  #3
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
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Hope you have a great trip!

I always cringe, though, when I read rave reviews for travel agents, hotels, activities, etc., before the reviewer has actually gone on the trip. Someone might follow your lead, only to later see you report that pre-sale performance was not matched during the trip.

I have no reason to suspect that your experience will be at all negative, but was remembering some old posts...
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Apr 28th, 2013, 08:49 PM
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Join Date: Oct 2007
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Thanks for posting. I'm in the beginning stages of planning. Will look forward to your report.
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Apr 29th, 2013, 10:29 AM
  #5
 
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So glad you are doing an art project at a PLF school. It will be the most memorable experience for your kids and the adults as well.
Please let us know what art project you are doing. Thinking of going in December and cannot think what to do...origami??
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Apr 29th, 2013, 11:49 AM
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Elainee, In addition to art, they like music and dancing. I left a bunch of noisemakers (Kazoos, recorders, maracas, hawaiian "puili", etc). Do you know any folk dances? Some other successful projects were painting stones, making stuff out of foam sheets, sock puppets, weaving friendship bracelets, and jewelry making.
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Apr 29th, 2013, 02:37 PM
  #7
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Hi guys,

We are very excited.

For the art project, I'm trying to make it child-led, so the kids want to do tye-die. We are bringing the kits and t-shirts, bandannas and bags to tye-die. We are thinking of one other thing too so I will let you know.

And lcuy, I was only saying that the travel agent I chose was great so far. My post was not a trip report, just an update. Of course, if we have an awful time because of the agent, I will post it! But for now, my trip planning as been really wonderful and I thought I would let everyone know since my decision to choose a local operator was because of Fodors and the great Fodorites and I was hesitant at first. I think most people will make up their own minds based on trip reports in the long run which is what I did. If you check my profile you will see that I have used Fodors to help plan multiple trips to Africa and to Europe, so I value the feedback. I recently posted on an agent I used for last summer's trip to South Africa and Namibia based on a suggestion on Fodors. By the way, I like your jewelry making idea, so maybe we will add that to the tye-die.

Also, I thought the info about flying Asiana out of Chicago vs. New York was worth posting. If I had known this in the beginning I would have saved a lot of time.

If anything else comes up before we leave, I will post, otherwise see you guys on the other side!
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Apr 29th, 2013, 02:42 PM
  #8
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Oh, Thursdaysd,

I already regret not having more time in Hanoi! As I have been reading reports on the markets, restaurants, attractions that people have gone to in the city, it's killing me not to spend more time. But something always has to give, right? I am glad that I have 4 days in Luang Prabang to roam and I am glad that the kids get the beach, especially if they tire of temples, I know they will be having a ball while I continue exploring. I can already see why people plan multiple trips to SE Asia. Thanks for all.
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Apr 29th, 2013, 04:52 PM
  #9
 
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Lolazahra,
I didn't mean you'd done anything wrong. It's just that I've known posters who regretted their recommendations later!

Are you doing your class at Knar School? I've done tie-dye a few times there. Keep in mind that the kids are really tiny when you're buying supplies. If I'm taking 50 shirts (for the older kids), I'll usually take ten extra small (kids), 15 small, 15 med, five large and five XL. Hanes and Fruit of the Loom come in bags of five, hence the multiples. If you are doing the younger kindergarteners add more XS sizes. I have had no luck finding plain white cotton tee shirts in Siem Reap.

Also remember hot water will need to be done over a fire at Knar, so bring cold water dye. The "Tulip" kits with squeeze bottles are perfect, although you can't rinse them for a few hours.
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Apr 30th, 2013, 02:52 AM
  #10
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Lcuy,

Thanks for the great advice. Duly noted and appreciated.

Yes, we are doing the Knar School.

Take care.
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