SE Asia trip, please help me decide

Old Jan 15th, 2021, 07:28 AM
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SE Asia trip, please help me decide

Were considering a trip to SE Asia in Jan-Feb 2022 for 3 weeks. I am having a hard time narrowing down the destinations and Im all over the place. Wes in our mid 50s, love history, nature, photography, wildlife, architecture, we prefer smaller places to big cities, scenery, good food, markets, unique experiences.

Angkor Wat is a must for 4-5 days (5-6 nights).

Other places that Im considering: Mekong Delta, Kampot area, Van Vieng, Luang Prabang and the villages in the North Laos. Too many for how we travel.

I think parts of Vietnam (Hanoi, Hue, Hoi An) are still chilly or wet this time of the year, so well save them for another trip. Should we also skip North Laos and LP and combine them with Northern Vietnam in a separate trip, maybe in an April-May time frame? It makes sense logistically, but the area looks beautiful and its hard to let go.

Im interested in birding, nature sanctuaries, wildlife (not zoo type, but natural habitat) and I would appreciate any suggestions.

Based on all this rambling, what do you suggest? Thank you.
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Old Jan 15th, 2021, 08:57 AM
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With the exception of the wild life we enjoy what you described. We did a long SEAsia Trip 7-8 years ago. OUR SEASIA Odyssey
Four to 5 days in Siem Reap would be way too many for me. I was disappointed in the Mekong Delta, but we did a 2 day journey there. Less time would have worked. We were in Hue & Hoi An during Feb and had really nice weather. Hanoi was cold and Sapa was foggy, but Southern VN was just fine. People complain about Luang Prabang as too touristy. We loved it. It was a welcome respite for us and thought it a nice little city. Have fun planning!
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Old Jan 15th, 2021, 09:33 AM
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Mekong Delta? If I remember correctly, it was just casinos, neon signs, and junk souvenir shops! We did cross the river and climb up a bank to buy some junky stuff on the other side, but certainly nothing to spend more than a few hours on.

Angkor Wat? A couple of days is plenty. The little town of Siem Reap is charming.
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Old Jan 15th, 2021, 09:41 AM
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Originally Posted by catspajamas View Post
Mekong Delta? If I remember correctly, it was just casinos, neon signs, and junk souvenir shops! We did cross the river and climb up a bank to buy some junky stuff on the other side, but certainly nothing to spend more than a few hours on.
What I read about and looking for is floating markets, the submerged mangrove forest (is Jan-Feb a good time for it?), the Trm Chim national park for birding. No casinos, no neon signs
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Old Jan 15th, 2021, 09:46 AM
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Thanks for the link to your TR, good to hear that Jan-Feb is a good time for Hue and Hoi An. Maybe if decide to skip the Mekong Delta...but I really need to read more about it. There is so much to see in that region, the big issue is prioritizing it.
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Old Jan 15th, 2021, 10:41 AM
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Originally Posted by xyz99 View Post
yestravel
Thanks for the link to your TR, good to hear that Jan-Feb is a good time for Hue and Hoi An. Maybe if decide to skip the Mekong Delta...but I really need to read more about it. There is so much to see in that region, the big issue is prioritizing it.
We were there awhile ago now but there were no casinos that I saw in the Mekong Delta. I happen to like neon and I think that can be in many perfectly fine places. We did go the floating market. We are not birders so don't know about that. And definitely you need to think about your interests combined with logistics. Like you said maybe doing part in another trip works better. We tend to slow travel these days so with just a couple weeks I would limit how many stops.

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Old Jan 15th, 2021, 11:02 AM
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Hi, xyz,
I don't have a lot to add here as we haven't traveled as extensively as others, but I'll add my support for Luang Prabang. It was a delightful town and we squeezed it in during a 3 week trip to Thailand + LP + Siem Reap. It's much more laid back than SR, and though I was glad to visit SR, I didn't find the town particularly charming. People were very warm and welcoming in both places. We haven't traveled through Laos at all, other than to take a boat from Thailand to LP, and only explored around SR, but LP did grab us.

My TR:
Travels in Tumultuous Thailand, languid Luang Prabang & Smiling Siem Reap

Definitely languorous!
(Luang Prabang, taken in February 2014)






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Old Jan 15th, 2021, 11:20 AM
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I think you already appreciate that with three weeks to play with, you need to pare down your wish list - a lot!

If Angkor Wat really is a must see, then I would suggest sticking to southern Vietnam and Cambodia and leave the rest of Vietnam and Laos until another time.

I am not sure where in the Mekong Delta catspajamas has been but that description bears no resemblance to the Mekong delta I have wandered around for weeks at a time. for me at least the delta is one of there rewarding places in which to travel in Vietnam and it would combine well with a visit to Cambodia in the time you have available.

January/Feb is an excellent time in which to travel in that regions. with three weeks to play with, I would start off with a couple of days in Saigon and then head down into the delta. Ben Tre is a good first stop and will enable you to explore the smaller rivers and canals where you will find some of the cottage industries like coconut production, duck farming and brick making etc. form there you could travel to Cant Tho via Ninh Long by boat, bus or car to Can Tho. A boat is by far the best option and enables you to see the wider stretches of the river. From Can Tho you can explore the floating markets of Cai Rang. Rather than stay in Can Thos city, you could opt for a homestay in the countryside outside the city.

Next stop for me would be Chau Doc, one of the most pleasant towns in the delta. There you could explore the markets, fish farms and Cham villages along the Bassac river either by boat or bike. Sam Mountain is an easy half day trip by bike from CD. Tra Su submerged forest is truly amazing and is a half day trip by car.

From Chau Doc it is a 5-6 hour trip by express boat to Phnom Penh which is well worth a few days in and around the city. from there you could fly directly to Siem Reap for Angkor or maybe take a side trip to Kampot for a couple of days first (a couple of hours by taxi). Alternatively you could stop off at Battambang for a couple of days en route to Siem Reap.

We have visited Angkor several times and whilst it is undoubtedly one of the wonder of SE Asia, it has suffered badly form over tourism especial from the mass tourism from mainland China. On our last visit, I couldn’t wait to get out of the place. whilst it is definitely worth seeing, I do feel that 5-6 days is way too much. personally, I would just spend a max of three days there. of course post pandemic, it may well be some time before tourism fully recovers and it may be less busy - for a short while..

if your are interested there are a lot of photos and detail of our time in the region in our blog @ https://accidentalnomads.com/category/vietnam/ . Just use the drop down menu to go to the Cambodia section ( though I never did get around to posting about Angkor.

You could easily spend another three weeks in the north of Vietnam or Laos so I would definitely leave that until another time. You could combine Laos with Cambodia or Vietnam or spend all your time there seeing Laos in depth which is very rewarding but does involve some difficult travelling.

If you wanted to include Hue and Hoi An you could perhaps do that though IMO they are probably better combined with northern Vietnam, perhaps not in Jan Feb though. There is also some posts on our blog re those towns.




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Old Jan 15th, 2021, 03:28 PM
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It's clear to me after reading all your suggestions that northern Vietnam (Hanoi + Hue, Hoi An, Ninh Binh, Sa Pa) and northern Laos would be a great trip together, maybe in April someday. So we'll save them for then and worry how to fit them all later
For this trip, it seems that Angkor Wat and Mekong Delta should stay. Your description of the area, crellston, is exactly what we're looking for. Then how crazy would it be to add Luang Prabang + Vang Vieng instead on Phnom Penh and Kampot/Kep? I have to admit, I haven't researched any of the 2 areas in details, and all I have to go by are internet photos, but Vang Vieng looks amazing.

yestravel I haven't thought about logistics yet, I am still trying to narrow down destinations, then hope that a logical path will magically be available. We'll see. If not...plan B.

progol thanks for the TR, it will be reading time soon. We've been to Chiang Mai, but not Chiang Rai (no time for it). I'm keeping a list of places to visit on future trips.

crellston The time for Angkor Wat needs to include some photography time on Tonle Sap and some birding at the Preak Toal Bird Sanctuary. Considering that 3 days (they say) it's the minimum to spend there, I think 5 days might be my minimum. Thanks for the photos, I'm so afraid to go look at them. I know you traveled extensively in the area, and the more I'll see, the more I'll want to add my list. But of course I'll look at them, and come up with not one more trip, but several.


Hoping some birder will see this and recommend a good area and a guide. Thank you all.

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Old Jan 15th, 2021, 04:42 PM
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"The time for Angkor Wat needs to include some photography time on Tonle Sap and some birding at the Preak Toal Bird Sanctuary. Considering that 3 days (they say) it's the minimum to spend there, I think 5 days might be my minimum."
How much time do you want to spend looking at Temples? Some people can spend days seeing Angkor Wat and all the other temples, others not so much. We were seeing just a few relative to how many. My TR describes pretty much what we saw. Also someone commented Siem Reap is charming town -- so not the case. As a matter of fact I thought the town would be more charming--its not at all.
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Old Jan 15th, 2021, 06:16 PM
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Originally Posted by yestravel View Post
"How much time do you want to spend looking at Temples?
Good question, and I don't think I have an answer. But really, 3 days for temples does not sound that long to me. I love photography, and that takes time. I will want both sunrise and sunset photos, and we'll probably see some temples in the morning, break for lunch, maybe go back to the hotel especially if we woke up for sunrise, then go back in the afternoon. I've heard the scale of the temples, the area to walk is large, so I was thinking 2/3 in the morning, 2/3 in the afternoon for 3 days. Take a day off in between and go birding. Take another 1/2 day off (or full day?) in between and visit the floating villages on Tonle Sap lake, sunset photography there.

Without working out the details, priorities, temple grouping, etc. that's my original thought. I read the section of your TR covering Angkor Wat, and counted 10 temples in a day. That makes me think that we can see more than 4 in a day, but maybe not. Then you had another day for Banteay Srei, which we hope to get to, too. I think 3 days for temples sounds decent. If we'll need an extra day, I think we could have just 2 1/2 days for temple and 1/2 for Tonle Sap. The birding day is non-negociable, but that will put us to 4 days, 5 nights for AK.

I'll keep your guide name in my notes, did you book him from home?

Love your general description of Cambodia (plus, the BKK part brought back wonderful memories), and I'm thinking...I will probably not have the stomach for the landmine museum. Too bad SR is not a more charming town, but that makes it easier to decide not to add more time there. Thanks, and now I'll go read about Laos.
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Old Jan 15th, 2021, 08:32 PM
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My first visit to Angkor, with a small Intrepid tour group, we had two and a half days for the temples. I didn't think that was enough and went back on my own for another three or four days. At that time (2002 and 2004), Siem Reap was reasonably charming, but it wasn't overrun by tourists either. I'm sure it is quite different, not to mention bigger, now. So, don't go for the town, but if you want to photograph a lot of temples, you could easily fill four days. Or more. There are temples over a very wide area, you don't have to stay close to SR. Pick up a copy of Dawn Rooney's guide, and figure out what you want to see.

I was disappointed by the floating villages, much more industrial than charming, and I didn't enjoy the delta the way crellston did. However, I did enjoy the boat ride on to Phnom Penh, it was fascinating to see the difference between Vietnam and Cambodia. I would opt for PP and Kampot, and maybe Battambang on this trip. Skipping northern Vietnam in the winter is a good idea. This was my take on Luang Prabang on my third visit in 2011: https://mytimetotravel.wordpress.com...luang-prabang/ and this was my 2002 trip to SEA: Wilhelm's Words -- Travels Round Asia 2002
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Old Jan 15th, 2021, 10:39 PM
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"For this trip, it seems that Angkor Wat and Mekong Delta should stay. Your description of the area, crellston, is exactly what we're looking for." Which is why I suggested that route . It is a relatively easy trip and easy to get off the tourist path as and when needed. Travel as much by boat a possible and there are some wonderful sights to see that you won’t going by road. As you are into birding Tra Su submerged forest is a must see (get there by dawn as the first visitors and you will wake up the birds - a sight to behold as they take off en massage at the boat approaches!



"Then how crazy would it be to add Luang Prabang +
Vang Vieng instead on Phnom Penh and Kampot/Kep?"


Not entirely crazy but a lot of additions travel and It won’t be quite as easy? If you don’t get the boat through to Phnom Penh, for the "quick way" you would need to return to Saigon and get a flight to Siem Reap and then on to Luang Prabang. If indeed those routes exist without the need to connect? The usual way to see Vang Vieng is a stop off en route between Vientiane ( itself not an especially entrancing city) and Luang Prabang.

You could go overland PP-Battambang-SR- Kratie cross the border into Laos at Si Phan Don (4000 islands) and then Pakse-Vientiane-Vang Vien - Luang Prabang.- we did it in the opposite direction and it is a very long tiring trip. Loads to see and certainly much is off the beaten track but it will take a lot of time.

if you did want to include Laos then I would probably focus on Luang Prabang and the far north. The minority villages and towns of Phongsali, Muang Sing, Muang Ngoi, Muang Long are set in incredible scenery and the people are incredibly welcoming. If you enjoy hiking and trekking then this is the place.


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Old Jan 16th, 2021, 04:54 AM
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I have not (ye)t been to Vietnam, but this is the bird guide company that some (very serious) friends used. Maybe the website will be helpful

vietnamwildtour.com

birdwatching vietnam.net

Also they have a Facebook Page that accepts messages (WildtourCoLtd)
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Old Jan 16th, 2021, 08:41 AM
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I stand corrected! I crossed the Mekong River in the north of Thailand. NOT the Mekong Delta!
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Old Jan 16th, 2021, 09:24 AM
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We enjoyed the Mekong Delta too and now see that catspajamas was thinking of another location with neon, casinos.
Siem Reap was fine but not charming. We bought some of our RX prescriptions as over the counter there.
We used tuk tuks to travel around, from hotel to Siem Reap and back.
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Old Jan 16th, 2021, 12:40 PM
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Yes, logistics seems complicated, but I found out that Vietnam Airline flies between LP and Siem Ream...I usually decide where to go first, then figure out how to get from A to B. On this trip, it seems transportation will have to come first, to see what's possible in the amount of time we have. Plus, we're not good with long drives...3-4 hrs, maybe 5 would be our max.
The northern part of Laos looks gorgeous, but it's so remote. The drive from LP to Luang Namtha is over 7 hrs on Google, which means is even longer in reality. That will need some research, to see if it's feasible. There's a flight there from Vientiane, but that's not in the itinerary... Is that an area to organize on our own, or join a local tour for a few days? Or get a private guide?

I think I need to figure out the wildlife/birding opportunities and allocate some time for those. Then, depending on where they are and what else is around we'll need to figure out what to add.
mlgb Thanks for the links!

HappyTrvlr How many days did you spend in the delta? Where did you stay? How did you organize it? Would you mind telling me more about your time there?

I need a lot more reading and research, but you gave me great ideas. Thank you!
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Old Jan 16th, 2021, 11:33 PM
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Luang Prabang and southern Laos is easy to organise yourself. The far north can be done on a DYI basis, though travel can be challenging and invariably does not run to plan. Roads are not good hence the long driving times. We used a lot of boats but they are erratic and we did end up having to wait a day or so in out of the way villages for boats to turn up. It is arguably better and certainly more efficient better to source a guide and driver on arrival in LP. (Much cheaper than buying a tour from overseas)

We really enjoyed the challenge of a DIY trip in the north but felt that we go more out of the trip with a guide and driver. We still got to do some river trips ( which I highly recommend) ) They can drop you at boat station and pick you up at the other end and that way you get spot see more of the amazing river scenery that you would miss on the roads. That said, the Chinese dams along the Mekong have had serious effects all along the Mekong so that may not be as easy as it once was as river flows decline.

A good guide will also be able to speak the various dialects of the minority peoples which will enhance the cultural experience no end. The people in the remote villages are very welcoming but very shy.
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Old Jan 16th, 2021, 11:33 PM
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We went Vietnam for 3 weeks in February 2020 and loved it. We only did Vietnam, as there was already so much to see that we didn't want to try and do bits from other countries. They can wait for another trip.

We flew into Hi Chi Minh City and home out of Hanoi in an open jaw return.

We started in HCMC. Did a goodwill sightseeing and a food tour.

From HCMC we did 3 nights in the Mekong Delta, don't know about any casinos, never saw anything remotely like that. We did an overnight night on a boat that finished in Can Tho and then two nights in Chau doc, and we did excursions around the area. We had a guide for those two days and that included pick up from the boat dock and transfer back to Can Tho from where we flew to Danang airport.

We got a transfer to Hoi An. We did cooking class, tour to My Son, visit to pottery village, photography tour etc there.

Then drive to Hue for a couple of nights, did sightseeing and food tours.

From here flew to Hanoi. In the middle of our time there we did a 2 night halong bay cruise including visit into Cat Ba Island. It was very very quiet when we went as was the start of the pandemic in East Asia, not that we knew what was to come. There were a handful of cases in Vietnam then and we were very impressed with how the government and people handled it.
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Old Jan 16th, 2021, 11:36 PM
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For Thailand, which we did in January 2018, we also did three weeks. You may enjoy my posts about our 3 Week Thailand Itinerary focused on Food, Culture, History, Cities & Nature.

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