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Please, Help Me Plan My Trip Of A Lifetime To Southeast Asia

Please, Help Me Plan My Trip Of A Lifetime To Southeast Asia

Apr 15th, 2006, 12:32 PM
  #1  
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Please, Help Me Plan My Trip Of A Lifetime To Southeast Asia

Good afternoon!

I will apologize in advance for this lengthy and somewhat convoluted post. Take a bathroom break, grab a beverage, get comfortable, and settle in to spend some time with the inner-workings of my mind as I try to plan a trip to Southeast Asia.

As a celebration/reward for completing my education, my husband and I are taking a trip to Southeast Asia. I would like to visit the countries of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. I know very little about these areas and even after weeks of research (online and book) I still feel so overwhelmed and so unsure about what Id like to see. Ive been contemplating for days whether I should post this message because Im not even exactly sure myself as to what Im hoping to gain from it. I feel as though all my thoughts about this trip are laying in the bottom of a blender, totally disjointed. Im looking for something that can help me blend them together to create a memorable experience…

I thought one possibility would be to take advantage of a tour service. I realize the general consensus is that its much less expensive to plan your own itinerary. While this is normally something I would be totally in to, I dont have the time. Admittedly, if someone told me they “didnt have the time” to plan their dream trip I wouldnt feel too sorry for them, however, from now until the time I take this trip I will be studying for the huge exam that completes my education. So, please, dont think its a matter of me not wanting to exert any effort!

Ok, back to the tour service. In order for me to choose an itinerary, I had to determine what types of things I wanted to see. This is the trip of a lifetime for me-something Ive dreamed about for I dont even know how long. In my wildest dreams I would love to sail along the Mekong River and see rice paddies along the shoreline. I want to revel in the history of Ho Chi Minh City and view the islands in Ha long Bay on a private junk. I want to visit the temples of Cambodia and visit tribes, ride elephants, and explore the rainforests of nothern Thailand (and see Bangkok). I want to experience and appreciate the different cultures and ecosystems. I want to see beautiful sunrises, breathtaking sunsets, and star filled skies.

Ive found a place online called explorient which looks really cool. Ive read a positive post or two about it on this site as well. Based on my “wildest dreams,” they suggested the following itinerary (I hope this link works for you) for the first portion of the trip:

http://explorient.com/Asia%20Luxury%...Explorient.htm

(Note that Im not so interested in the cooking lessons…)

In regard to the second portion of the trip they suggested this:

This program does not include the northern part of Thailand. We can add an extra 3 days in Chiang Mai with the following itinerary:

Tour Includes:
3 nights in a pavilion villa at the FOUR SEASONS RESORT & SPA
2 hour Herbal Aromatic Spa treatment at the resort
Half day Thai cooking lesson with trip to the market with chef
Full day private Elephant Conservation Camp visit

Day 1 in Chiang Mai:
Flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Upon arrival, be met and transferred to your hotel. Enjoy the rest of the day by pampering yourself at the Spa. In the evening, explore on your own the bustling little city of Chiang Mai, filled with night market vendors, shops and cuisines. (B)

Day 2 in Chiang Mai:
Visit the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang followed by a short city tour in an old horse carriage. Also visit the interesting 700 year old Wat Prathat Lampang Luang. Upon returning to Chiang Mai, stop by the small historic town of Lamphunand to visit the Wat Phra That Haripoonchai, the oldest temple in the region and take a stroll in the local market. Lunch included. (B,L)

Day 3 in Chiang Mai:
This morning, join the chef to the local market for grocery. Return back to the hotel for a Thai cooking lesson. Lunch included. Balance of the day at your leisure to relax or indulge in a variety of activities on resort grounds. (B,L)

Also, Im wondering about the best time of year to go. My exam is the very end of July so I figured wed go some time in August-but I believe this falls within the rainy season. Based upon your experience, does travel during the rainy season lessen the enjoyment (any more so than having to deal with being out in the rain all the time)? It seems to me that one would prefer to travel during the dryer season, but that means waiting until November. Choosing the time of year to go is perhaps the first huge obstacle to overcome. Please provide your thoughts on this…

Another issue is price. While I am willing to spend more than usual on this trip, Ive got to exercise some degree of restraint.

Keeping that in mind, some other itineraries offered by explorient pretty much go to the same places and do the same things, you just stay in different hotels (presumably less “luxurious”). These are considerably less expensive and, for whatever reason, also often include all airfare. Interesting. Based on the facts that Im not interested in the cooking lessons included in the pricier itinerary, the airfare isnt included in the pricier itinerary, and Im not super concerned about staying at top notch hotels in the pricier itinerary, Im considering one of the lesser priced ones. I was thinking maybe this one (adding to this the 3 days in northern Thailand-that for me is a must see):

http://explorient.com/Packaged%20Tou...Explorient.htm

Im not opposed to other travel services-I was just really impressed with the explorient website and I like what they purport to offer (see their homepage for more details).

I guess Im hoping you guys can provide some feedback and/or suggestions on whether you think these itineraries truly fit the description of what Id like to see. I would be so grateful to those of you who have had the opportunity and privilege to experience that part of the world if you could provide any comments that you feel would help me plan the best trip possible!

Thanks again and have a pleasant day!!

Sincerely,

Carrie

NatureGirl19317 is offline  
Apr 15th, 2006, 12:57 PM
  #2  
 
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The tour company is choosing the most expensive hotels in the various places which ups the price considerably. You could choose less expensive places and still be in lovely accommodations.

For instance, the Northern Thai 3 day extension seems to me to be not a great use of your money, as you are staying at the Four Seasons, which is 30 minutes away from CM. You are paying a lot of money to spend most of your time elsewhere. In Siem Reap, the Grand Hotel D'Angkor is at least a hundred dollars a night more than anyplace else, and you'll spend almost no time there. There are lovely accommodations for US$100-150 a night.

Frankly, it won't take all that much of your time to plan a really wonderful trip for much less money than this place charges you. And you can arrange exactly what you want.

Are these the places you most want to see? If you asked me to design your trip, I'd opt for Hanoi (but not HCMC), Siem Reap, Luang Prabang Laos, Bangkok and Chaing Mai. That's five locations and you want at least four night each place, which comes in at three weeks time plus your travel. Also, the tours and activities are easily arranged once you are in Asia for MUCH less money. And you can choose what you want to do.

If you can delay your travel into the fall, November is a good time to go. The weather is pretty good, but you don't have the high season crowds.
Kathie is offline  
Apr 15th, 2006, 01:02 PM
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Asking here is the best idea you will probably ever make regarding this trip.
There are lots of regular posters who have done exactly as you have.
I know about Thailand and have visited many other areas of asia but I will leave all that to the experts for those areas who can tell you everything about Halong bay, the Mekong and more, many can give very detailed insight.

To give the best advice what is really needed is:
1> Where are you originating the trip from ? This helps to give ideas about flights and best airline combinations to get the best deals, also whether Coach or Business
2> How long have you go for the whole trip ?
3> Budget? This is vital, some people want plush 5 star, others 4 star, many want mid range. Some prefer large chain accommodation, others prefer smaller "little gems".
4> When you plan to travel - again vital regarding weather, how busy places are.

One thing for certain is that Asia is a great deal 'easier' to do yourself than you might have imagined. In many places you don't need a guide, in some locations good local guides can really make a visit into something memorable.

All you need is to arrange the flights, insurance ( arrange travel insurance from when you start so it covers any medical issue or the such, many don't bother to do it, get cancelation cover right off ).

Transfers from airports to accommodation in most places are simple, though in some places you may prefer to have this arranged.

Accommodation tips and ideas you will get once we know the budget!

I am wild guessing that you might be from the US, there are often Get-Togethers ( GTGs ) of reglars and you might hit the jackpot if one of these is happening close to you soon !

Get back with where from, how much time, budget etc.


JamesA is offline  
Apr 15th, 2006, 01:04 PM
  #4  
 
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We were posting at the same time Kathie !
JamesA is offline  
Apr 15th, 2006, 02:49 PM
  #5  
 
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Posts: 47
Hi--- You may want to read my recent posting---36 day custom tour to SE Asia. If you're interested, you may want to check out Asiaexpore.com, the tour company based in HCMC that we used. We have nothing but good things to say about them, including the itinerary, guides, drivers, and totally reasonable price. Although, you probably aren't interested in taking a 36 day trip, you can custom design your own tour, as we did.
Hope this is helpful. By the way, other than being to China, this was our first trip to SE Asia----but, hopefully, not the last.
artmarth is offline  
Apr 15th, 2006, 04:48 PM
  #6  
 
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Posts: 3,237
You might find my "pre-trip report" interesting. I wrote all the details about how I planned an independent trip with my daughter to Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia - with no experience traveling in Asia. Here's the link:

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...7&tid=34713850

And if you want to read how it turned out, here's the link to my trip report:

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...7&tid=34762799

I'd recommend making the arrangements on your own if you possibly can. It will be cheaper and I suspect you'll be happier with the results. No way would I stay at Four Seasons in (out of) Chiang Mai. I like being within walking distance of key sights - or at least an easy tuk-tuk ride away!
We didn't visit Vietnam (hope to one day!), but we did lots of the kinds of things you're looking to do - and planning it was easy. You can do it!!

Karen
althom1122 is offline  
Apr 17th, 2006, 09:45 AM
  #7  
 
Join Date: May 2004
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You can type in the Search box...Siam Ocean World...and pull up my three-week trip report in Bangkok...Dec 2005/Jan 2006. You can also type in Boston GTG...the 2005 GTG, NOT the upcoming one...and then hit...Most Recent Post...which will take you to the BOTTOM of a very long thread and you can scroll UP to August 20,2005 and I have a trip report under that thread,too. Happy Travels!
Guenmai is offline  
Apr 17th, 2006, 09:46 AM
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It's Boston GTG-Announcements. Happy Travels!
Guenmai is offline  
Apr 18th, 2006, 09:13 PM
  #9  
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Good evening!

I want to thank you all so, so much for the wonderful support you have offered! I guess I was silly for being nervous to post

I will craft a more detailed response in the coming days, however, here are some general responses/comments.

JamesA:

1) Departing from: I will be leaving from either PHL or TPA (I live in PHL but I might drop my pet off with my parents in TPA and leave from there). This is flexible.

2) Trip length: This is flexible but ideally Id like the length to be the shortest amount of time it would take to see what I want to see. So, what do I want to see? Thats still to be determined! I think the travel service itinerary was 16 nights or something along those lines. I dont think I could do anything any longer than that (vacation time from work).

3) Budget: Hmmm. Im sort of all over the place with this one. Itd be nice to keep it under 10k but this is flexible.

4) When to travel: Based on your feedback, it seems like itd be a more enjoyable experience if I waited until at least Nov to go (avoid rainy season and crowds). This is, guess what, also flexible. Hahah!

I guess Im having a hard time planning a trip with so much "flexibility!" That sounds strange b/c it should really be the opposite!

As for a get together (“GTG”), if one were taking place while I was over there Id be all over it!

You are all clearly very knowledgeable. Kathie, Ive seen your name so many times as Ive read through posts! In the coming days I will take time to look more closely at what youve suggested-thank you!!

Also, I thank you all for providing links to some wonderful trip reports!

Althom1122, over the past few weeks I had read every detail and saw every picture you posted! It looked like an awesome trip! Your story was truly very inspiring (how you planned everything on your own)! I was cracking up about the time mix up (am versus pm) b/c thats something I would totally do!

Artmarth and Guenmai, thank you very much for the info-I cant wait to check your reports out (hopefully this weekend)!!!!!!

Thank you all again so much-the kindness of the members on this website never ceases to amaze me!

Very Sincerely,

Carrie
NatureGirl19317 is offline  
Apr 18th, 2006, 09:15 PM
  #10  
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Please accept my apologies-it was ignorant of me to use airport codes.

PHL = Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
TPA = Tampa, Florida, USA
NatureGirl19317 is offline  
Apr 19th, 2006, 05:05 AM
  #11  
 
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Congrats on your degree. Anyway, my husband and I got back in February from a 2 month long trip to Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam). We had a tour organizer called "journeys within" arrange a reasonably priced personal tour for us with private guide and driver. We had some independent days and some days with our guide. They tailored the trip according to our request.

The couple also runs a wonderful and intimate B&B in Siem Reap, Cambodia. This was a highlight for us and the guide they provided us with was wonderful.
Good luck.

traveljen is offline  
Apr 19th, 2006, 06:34 AM
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First question is time. If you really only have 16 days you are going to too many places. You could easily spend 16 days in thailand alone or in Vietnam alone. If you really want to do all three countries I would recommend spending 4 weeks -- you can probably do it for less money than the tour price you were give. My suggestion in terms of time spent would be: Bangkok - 5 days;Chiang Mai - 3 days; Chiang Rai or Mae Hong Song - 3 days; PP- 2 days; Angkor Wat- 3 days; Hanoi - 4 days; Saigon- 2 days; other cities in Vietnam - 5 days
glorialf is offline  
Apr 19th, 2006, 06:34 AM
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A couple of quick notes...

If you can stretch you time to three weeks, it will give you a lot more options. If not, we can certainly help you work within your time frame.

Budget: You can live in the lap of luxury for well under $10,000 for three weeks.

Keep these things in mind as you read all the reports. This board is a wonderful resource!
Kathie is offline  
May 5th, 2006, 08:32 AM
  #14  
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(sorry in advance if this is a double post: it doesnt show up on the asia board no matter how many times I refresh for log out/in but it does show up under my name, weird)

Good morning!

Although I havent had a chance to post my thoughts, Ive been thinking a lot about what youve all said and suggested.

Ive been drafting this post since about 9:30 this morning, trying to figure out exactly what I want to say, what I want to ask, etc. At some points Ive had up to eight paragraphs of who knows what. Its now 11:15 and Im starting over! Ill try to keep this as simple and painless as possible ļ

I like Kathies proposed itinerary: Hanoi, Siem Reap, Luang Prabang, Bangkok, and Chaing Mai. Due to time constraints, however, Im not sure if I can swing 4 nights at each location plus travel time.

*Would three nights at each location be completely unreasonable?

My mom tells me that when I was little I hated to go to bed early while everyone else was still awake b/c I was afraid Id ¡§miss¡¨ something. Well, Im afraid Im ¡§missing¡¨ things in southern Vietnam (ie HCMC) and southern Thailand (ie beaches). I didnt originally care if I saw Thailand beaches but now Im thinking Id like that time to RELAX.

*What would I be missing in southern Vietnam?

*What do you think of cutting Siem Reap and adding southern Thailand?

Im heading off tonight to do a bit more research and make sure that this itinerary still covers the things I knew I wanted to do (for instance, whether I can still see Ha Long Bay and where is most convenient to a Mekong River outing-Im thinking Luang Prabang)

Thank you in advance for your comments and suggestions!

Can I just tell you that, in an effort to ease the stress of final exams and give me something to look forward to, Ive been listening to ¡§One Night in Bangkok¡¨ over and over again. Go ahead, you can laugh.
NatureGirl19317 is offline  
May 5th, 2006, 11:13 AM
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Anyplace you don't go you are missing something. It's a fact and it's not very helpful. Are you missing something you REALLY want to see/do/experience? Maybe, maybe not. As you approach the delightful task of planning this trip, remember that it is your first trip to SE Asia, but it is unlikely to be your last trip. So choose things that you want to do, but don't feel it's important to do "everything."

You'll enjoy your trip more if you take it slowly, and don't spend too much of your time in transit. I always figure it takes a full day to get from one place to another. That may not be entirely true, but once you figure in packing up, getting to the airport, waiting, flying, gettting to the new hotel and unpacking... well, consider anything you actually do that day to be a bonus.

"Would three nights in each location be unreasonable?" I don't know about unreasonable, but it will be less pleasant, you'll have much less of a sense of place. I listed "Hanoi, Siem Reap, Luang Prabang, Bangkok, and Chaing Mai" as recommendations. If you have three weeks, you can do all of those places. If you have say, 16 days, cut it to four places. You'll be happier if you have more time in fewer places.

You wonder whether you should trade the Temples of Angkor for Thai beaches. Look, this is just my opinion, but the temples of Angkor are unique. The Thai beaches are lovely, but they are just beaches. Part of the point of spending more time in each place is to give you time to relax. Often, the most memorable parts of your trip are the things you didn't plan for. The monk you talked with for a hour as you were wandering the wats, the child who tells you about something, sitting in one of the Angkor "minor" temples, the only visitor, communing in silence...
Kathie is offline  
May 5th, 2006, 11:50 AM
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NG-You will NOT see everything that is wonderful and fascinating in SEA on this trip. Take Kathie's advice and slow down. That way you will have a much greater appreciation for the things that you do see. You'll still see an incredible number of rare and unique sights. With three weeks, you can see all the places you've listed. If it's only two weeks, cut back to 3 places.

To Beach or not to Beach is a perpetual question on this board. While they're very nice, they are not one-of-a-kind. I suspect the answer is dependent on whether you are a "beach Person" or not. If so, it's easy enough to pop down to a Thai beach for a few days from BKK at the end of your trip.

On a more general note, I assure you you will have an unbelievable time wherever you go in SEA for however long. Don't over-agonize trying to get it perfect. Plan as much as you want, but relax after the plans are made.
Gpanda is offline  
May 5th, 2006, 05:54 PM
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And just to add to what Gpanda has said, some of the things which you will remember most will be those things you didn't plan.
Peteralan is offline  
May 6th, 2006, 10:23 AM
  #18  
 
Join Date: May 2006
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I hope you have a wonderful trip.My
husband and I just returned from Malaysia and Singapore. Because
Vietnam is the epicenter of the bird
flu we skipped that entirely. Families
in Malaysia and Singapore generally
don't live with birds as pets in the
house and they have pretty much avoided
it. My husband is Chinese but grew up
in Kuala Lumpur. The language barrier
would of been difficult had I not been
with him or a Tour Group. People who
live in cooler climates are always
shocked by the head and humdity of
the tropics but it's so exotic!
schoong324 is offline  
May 6th, 2006, 12:07 PM
  #19  
sandi
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I've used a great tour operator here in the States who specializes in Southeast Asia. Believe a few others who post here have used this TO also.


You should contact:
InnovAsian Travel
at www.innovasian.com
or contact Gregg direct at:
800-553-4665
If you don't see what you want on the website, just ask and you'll get just what you want, where, as many or few days, etc.

Gregg can pull it together for you and at any budget you choose.

With the exception of one trekking lodge outside of Chiang Mai, our accommodations were 5* in BKK at the Peninsula and 4* elsewhere. We even did 2-days in Siem Reap (should have been 3, but did what we could with the time we had) at 5*. Added beach time at Phuket. Gregg arranged all of our inter- and intra-air flight, private tours w/guide and air conditioned Mercedes (it's quite hot/humid in Thailand). Believe total price was less than $2,500/person. This was in 2002, but can' imagine prices have increased much since. Southeast Asia gives you lots for what you pay.

Congrats on your degree!
 
May 6th, 2006, 12:37 PM
  #20  
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 6,664
I second Sandi's recommendation of Gregg at Innovasian. We used him for our first trip. He handled everything and took out all the anxiety. Since then, we've planned our own trips. It's actually more fun and somewhat cheaper, but there is a greater degree of uncertainty.
Gpanda is offline  

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