Southeast Asia Without the Crowds?

Old Aug 11th, 2022, 04:41 AM
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Another vote for Jermsak! We traveled in 2014 and hired him for 3 days. He was a wide full companion and the ride on the raft was a definite highlight of our trip. One of the places we visited was a small town in the northwestern region of the Chiang Rai province, Mae Salong, which was settled by the Kuomintang and really feels like an outpost of China. The town is known for its tribal market and the region has wonderful tea plantations. We also stopped into the Doi Tung Royal Gardens. Of course, a stop in Chiang Rai means visiting the very popular White Temple, though our favorite was the fantastic Black House, a compound of houses built by a renowned artist which are built in a traditional Thai style but filled with a wide range of primitive art. The effect is strange but oddly serene. We loved it.

We did stay several days in Chiang Mai, which we enjoyed a lot, especially after visiting hectic Bangkok. If you enjoy temples, Chiang Mai is rich in them!

Another highlight was a 2-day boat trip down the Mekong River, ending in Luang Prabang. We absolutely loved LP. Many folks bemoan how it has become too touristed, but since we had nothing to compare it to, all I can say is it’s lovely. We didn’t travel to other parts of Laos, so I can’t compare, but for a brief taste, we did find it special.

We did visit several tribal areas and I must admit that I have a great deal of ambivalence about doing so - after the fact, of course. There is a sense of being a voyeur and, at the same time, being caught up in a subtle dance of being obligated to shop. I’m still not sure what’s the ideal relationship.

Anyway, there’s only so many places to visit, and you have to make hard choices for a brief trip, but I thought I’d add my own comments.

Here’s my trip report, too..
Travels in Tumultuous Thailand, languid Luang Prabang & Smiling Siem Reap
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Old Aug 11th, 2022, 08:50 PM
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Thanks Progol. Just read through your report. I am looking at the same amount of time and understanding how you distributed it is particularly helpful. But you're right that narrowing down is the hardest part - you want to go everywhere but doing too much risks not spending enough time anywhere to really enjoy a place. Will look up Jermsak.

Last edited by tripplanner001; Aug 11th, 2022 at 08:55 PM.
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Old Aug 13th, 2022, 03:57 AM
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Hi, tripplanner,

I donít think Jermsak has a website anymore, but you can confirm him by email:
[email protected]

I hope you get a chance to meet him - heís a lovely man and very dedicated to his community.
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Old Aug 13th, 2022, 09:54 AM
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Thanks progol. Will definitely reach out as we have a better sense of our plans.
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Old Aug 19th, 2022, 06:45 PM
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With your help and additional research, we have a Cambodia and Thailand itinerary that would satisfy us given our interests in Angkor, Buddhist temples and ruins, history, culture, variety of landscapes, and perhaps some outdoors. Our only problem: this current version comes out to 25 nights and we need to get down to 21. Interested in your feedback on what may be redundant and / or less worthwhile.

Draft itinerary:
Fly into Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh, 3 nights
Travel to Siem Reap using car and driver, stopping at Sambor Prei Kuk
Siem Reap, 5 nights (3 days for Angkor and 1 day for Siem Reap and Tonle Sap)
​​​Fly to Sukhothai or Phitsanulok
Sukhothai, 3 nights
Travel to Lampang using car and driver, stopping at Si Satchanalai
Lampang, 2 nights
Travel to Chiang Rai with car and driver, stopping at Wat Chalermprakiat (Sky Temple)
Chiang Rai, 3 nights (1 for city and another for day trip to Do Mae Salong)
Travel to Chiang Mai by car and driver
Chiang Mai, 4 nights (with one day trip to Doi Inthanon)
Fly to Bangkok
Bangkok, 5 nights (with day trips to Ayutthaya and Kanchanaburi)
Fly home

Thank you again for your continued suggestions and advice. I will come back with similar questions regarding Laos when we flush that option out.
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Old Aug 19th, 2022, 08:11 PM
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I would drop a night from Sukhothai and from Chiang Mai, and two from Bangkok, but I've already indicated I'm not a big fan of Thailand. And definitely not of Bangkok.
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Old Aug 20th, 2022, 02:48 AM
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A couple of observations…
If your group is up for day and night time activities, much of the vibrancy of Siem Reap can be seen at night. The Tonle Sap lake can be very hit and miss, decide to go based on water levels closer to the time. I’d cut a night from Siem Reap.
In 5 trips to Thailand, I haven’t been to Sukhothai or Lampang. Can you consolidate and save a night between the two ?
I reckon there’s a night to be saved in Chiang Mai. No doubt there are fabulous temples, street markets and interesting museums (museum of insects, quirky and fabulous), but it’s pretty compact.. Easily walkable.
I wasn’t too inspired by Doi Inthanon. Hope you like it more.
Bangkok is also not my favourite city (Thursdayd) so I’d easily cut another night here. I have spent several weeks in Bangkok over time, so have seen many of the major sights. If you haven’t been to Bangkok before that amount of time seems about right.
Continuing good wishes for your trip planning, I can’t wait to read about the journey when it happens.



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Old Aug 20th, 2022, 04:55 AM
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I would cut a night from CM (like Satroic I wasnt wowed by Doi Inthanon) and I night from SR. I love BKK and find it endlessly fascinating. We've been a couple times and stayed a week each time. Ihavent been to Sukhotha, Lampang or Phnom Penh.

Hope you have a great trip!
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Old Aug 20th, 2022, 06:27 AM
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As always, thanks for the feedback, everyone. The general feeling seems to be to shave nights from various places. We're considering cutting out a place too.

Yestravel and Sartoric, based on both of your responses, we will cut out Doi Inthanon. The appeal is that it is outdoors and offers a chance for hiking, but we could do that elsewhere. For our days in Chiang Mai, would you recommend sticking in and around the city or venturing further and if so where? We've looked at Mae Hong Son but the loop may take more time than we have.

Thursdaysd, is there something particular for your dislike of Thailand? What I didn't care for on my first visit was the crowds, but it seems less so now, which is driving my timing. Or do you just thinking other countries are more interesting? I'm looking at a Cambodia and Laos alternative too, but haven't spend as much time on it given that flights still seem to be non-existent. I would love to go to Burma, but that one seems to be off limits, at least for me, for a while.
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Old Aug 20th, 2022, 09:45 AM
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>> If you havenít been to Bangkok before that amount of time seems about right.

I agree. I think I spent 6 nights there and had the same two day trips. Took the train to/ffrom Ayutthaya which was an interesting experience. Hired a tuk tuk when I got there. It was a good day though a bit tough due to the heat and sun (earlt January). The trip to Kanchanaburi included another stop. I think it was a floating market which some people loved but I thought was just way too touristy.

We used to have several Thailand fans, Bangkok in particular, on this forum. I think it was Kathy who was always advising people to slow down when they visit Southeast Asia.


Am not a 'go slow' person, i.e. tend to move around a bit, so that amount of time in Bangkok was extra long for me to spend in one place. And it was worthwhile. The first day or two was partly about recovering from the time change and long trip (was in international first class - didn't sleep much on US-Tokyo leg on ANA and couldn;t stay awake on the also wonderful Thai Airways flight from TYO to BKK with a late night arrival).

Your first stop, in PP, could serve as some travel recovery time. I did not visit there because visiting Angkor was the whole reason for stopping in Cambodia. It was three nights. It was a nice hotel and I didn't bother to go into SR (couldn't imagine that it would be anything other than an over touristy town for buying trinkets or partying, not for me)..You could cut a night from Siem Reap, as suggested above. I suggest just cutting PP out completely and just fly to REP. That would save three nights. You could add one to your stay in SR just to chill after what I assume is a long-long trip (or not and just keep the 5 nights you have - I think Kathy would advise at least a week there).

You can cut from CM and probably CR. Just noticed that your OP said you have been to Bangkok before, so that could also be trimmed.

My trip was in 2004, arriving in Thailand the day after the tsunami.

Last edited by mrwunrfl; Aug 20th, 2022 at 09:48 AM.
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Old Aug 20th, 2022, 10:49 AM
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If you wanted to cut out a destination rather than trim nights from a number of destinations, then I would take another look at Sukothai and Lampang, neither of which would be high on my list of places to visit in Thailand. That shaves off more days than you need. If you wanted to save a few more days then I would lose a day from Chiang Mai and possibly another from Bangkok. That would reduce your time by around a week and open up other possibilities for alternative locations.

Like Thursdaysd, I am not a huge fan of Thailand these days ( though I do like Bangkok) and would likely use those days in Cambodia and include a few days exploring Kampot and Kep or maybe add a few days in Battamabang en route from PP to SR. Or, perhaps just a simple trip to Laos a few days in Luang Prabang from Bangkok would be great. Flights do seem to be available now but if not you could consider going by train from Thailand to Vientiane and making it a two centre visit.
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Old Aug 20th, 2022, 10:58 AM
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Thailand was my first SEA country, back in the 90s after a trip to China. I have been back since, especially to Bangkok, which is such a transport hub it's hard to avoid, but I have found the rest of SEA more interesting. BKK especially is so big, so crowded, so noisy, so polluted, that I much prefer to spend my time elsewhere, there's no shortage of options. Do stay on the river and use water transport when possible.

I would guard against allowing too little time for Angkor, which is a huge site. My first visit was three nights, and I felt it was too short and went back for several more nights. I recommend getting a copy of Dawn Rooney's book and deciding what attracts you. However, I was last there in 2004, I doubt very much I would recognize Siem Reap today. (I, too, arrived in Bangkok right after the tsunami, but it was overland from Laos. I had very fortunately decided to spend Christmas in Laos instead of on a Thai island....)
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Old Aug 20th, 2022, 11:48 AM
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>> Dawn Rooney's book
Ah, maybe it was thursdaysd, not Kathy, who would advise more time for AW (and bring up that book) Pretty sure Kathy was the "slow down" person, but that was a kind of common theme among the SEA travelers.

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Old Aug 20th, 2022, 12:15 PM
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An alternative view on time at Angkor. I think three days is enough for the majority of people. The received wisdom is to visit the temples early morning and late afternoon and then retire back to the hotel for the heat of midday. However, the last time we were there was to take my wife’s parents for their 50th wedding anniversary trip. They were short on time so we just stayed out the whole day and saw way more than we would have done popping back for the middle part of the day. A good guide is essential to make the best of your time there. They will be able to dodge the crowds at the major sites by picking the right time. Should be a lot easier with absence of the Chinese tour groups who sadly, I have never found to be the most well behaved or polite tourists

As for Tonle Sap, you will now have to go some way out to find somewhere relatively untouristy these days. The drop in levels of teh water system due to Chinese damming upstream on the Mekong is seriously affecting all waterways in the region.
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Old Aug 20th, 2022, 12:36 PM
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A few more pieces of food for thought. Thank you again.

Mrwunrfl, you're absolutely right about Kathie being a proponent of slowing down. One thing we have in common is our interest in Buddhist temples. Hope she and Cheryl are doing well these days; been a minute since I've seen here around here.

Thursdaysd, thanks for the mention of Dawn Rooney's book. I recall having come across it but it slipped my mind. Will grab a copy if it's still around.

Crellston, is there a village on Tonle Sap you would recommend? I wonder if the water levels are such that we should skip altogether. Perhaps we won't know until after the monsoon rains.
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Old Aug 20th, 2022, 01:22 PM
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Sorry, I can’t recall the names of the villages we visited, or even if I knew them in the first place! They were however quite some way from Siem Reap. I would definitely avoid Ching Kneas which is the nearest village to SR.

i would strongly recommend a visit to Artisans d’Angkor. They have the most amazing handicrafts for sale there.
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Old Aug 21st, 2022, 10:03 AM
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I have to say I agree with crellston on the time to spend at AW. Like he did, we went lunch time into the afternoon, it wasnt crowded and it was fine. We did spend other days at other sites which I actually enjoyed some of more than AW. And I was so looking forward to AW.
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Old Aug 21st, 2022, 11:11 AM
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Do you mean you were disappointed with the specific temple of Angkor Wat, or the 77 square mile site as a whole?
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Old Aug 21st, 2022, 03:54 PM
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It's fun to see some old friends on this thread. I haven't been on Fodors much lately.

Tripplanner, knowing your love of Buddhist temples, This will be a wonderful trip for you! I do love Bangkok, and we always find "new" temples to visit. I'm not a big fan of CM, but it is certainly worth a stop, and it has plenty of temples to visit.

Sadly, the place I would most recommend is not a place to visit now - Burma.
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Old Aug 21st, 2022, 05:18 PM
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Kathie! Hope you and Cheryl are doing well. Any of the "new" Buddhist temples in Bangkok you would recommend?
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