Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos Itinerary

Aug 10th, 2009, 06:59 AM
  #1  
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Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos Itinerary

Hi Fodorites! My friend and I are planning a three week trip to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in mid December. We have already booked our international flights which are in and out of Ho Chi Min City. I understand the three countries are a lot of ground to cover, but my friend is determined to hit all of them. We are two single women in our mid-40’s.

Any suggestions for an itinerary that includes the “must see” sights? Although I have definite interests, I generally like to see what’s special about each country. I also get seasick so I don’t want to do any overnight boating excursions. Thanks!
sueblue is offline  
Aug 10th, 2009, 08:18 AM
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Do you know you will need a multi-entry visa for Vietnam?

Is it possible to re-book your ticket and fly in/out of different cities? This will save you on backtracking and the added expense of a multi-entry visa for Vietnam.

If you include Bangkok in your trip, you might also be able to use one of the Bangkok Air passes which hits most of those places and will save you a lot on internal airfare.
Kristina is offline  
Aug 10th, 2009, 08:34 AM
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Three countries is a lot of ground to cover. But if you choose carefully, you can see the highlights of each country.

The must-sees, IMO, are:

Cambodia: the temples at Angkor (Siem Reap) It takes three full days just to see th so-called major temples. If you really interested, you'll want more time. We spent a week and would have enjoyed more time. Do your research so you know how much time you'll want there. The best book is Dawn Rooney's book, Angkor. Get the most recent edition, 2006. I believe.
optional: a couple of days in Phnom Penh

Laos: Luang Prabang. This is a place to slow down and soak up the atmosphere. A minimum of 4 days is what I'd recommend.
optional: a couple of days in Vientaine

VN: Hanoi is, IMO, the most interesting city. Spend at least 4 days in the city.
you're flying in and out of HCMC so you'll spend a few days there.
optional: a couple of days in Sapa (it will be cold) or a stop in Hue or Hoi An.

Asia lends itself best to slow travel. Less is more. I usually decide what I want to do/see/experience in a new place, then cut half. Often, I want so much I have to make another cut. Travel is slow, so as you think about your time in each place, consider that on travel days you won't get to do much. So three nights in a place is just two full days. I wouldn't spend less than 3 nights anywhere. And you'll be happier of you don't spend all of your time moving from place to place. Count how many days you actually have on the ground in Asia. If you have 20 days, for instance, you could visit up to 5 places, but would likly be happier with 4.
Kathie is offline  
Aug 10th, 2009, 11:03 AM
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I forgot to mention that you might want to look at our photos of all of these places (and more) at www.marlandc.com
Kathie is offline  
Aug 13th, 2009, 10:36 AM
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Thanks very much! My friend worked up an itinerary that included Ho Chi Min, Hue, Hoi Ann, Hanoi, Halong Bay, Luang Prabang, and Siem Reap. The itinerary includes 2 different overnight boat trips -- one in Halong Bay and one covering the Mekong Delta area outside of Ho Chi Min. (I personally am not interested in doing the boat trips -- at least not for anything more than 2 - 3 hours. In addition to getting motion-sick, I find more than a few hours to be very repetitive.) The current itinerary also does not include Phnom Penh which I thought is a must see?

Kathie, I've read a number of your posts and know that you like to spend a fair amount of time in each place. We would be happy to settle for 3-4 days in the major places and at least two nights otherwise. (My friend and I have different interests so I am also looking to balance that out.) We will likely fly from place to to place and develop a custom tour for the other parts with a guide and driver. With this is mind, can you provide further suggestions?

I'm also curious . . . I was in Guilin, China last year and did the 4 hour cruise down the Li River. Is the scenery at Halong Bay very similar?

Thanks!!
sueblue is offline  
Aug 13th, 2009, 05:16 PM
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I didn't find Phnom Penh to be a 'must see' kinda city, but I do love the way it sounds.

I agree with you about some of the boat rides being monotonous, like the boat ride from Phnom Penh to Chau Doc/Can Tho.

I really enjoyed the elephant ride in Luang Prabang, and visiting the Kuang Sy and Tad Sae (various spellings) waterfalls.

I loved Sapa in Northern Vietnam, it will be cold in December though.
Femi is offline  
Aug 13th, 2009, 07:05 PM
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For your purposes, I think 3-4 days in places like Siem Reap, Luang Prabang and Hanoi is just fine. But do realize you need to figure in your travel time, so four nights somewhere is just three days.

Also, do you really want a guide and driver everywhere? There is no need for a driver and a guide i most places. Yes, in Siem Reap you'll need a driver and will probably want a guide. But for the other places, no. Now not everyone agree with me this, but I find traveling with a driver and guide all of the time to insulate me from the places I want to experience. Here's a link to my thoughts about whether and when to use a guide: http://www.travelindependently.com/i...de-or-no-guide
Kathie is offline  
Aug 17th, 2009, 04:21 AM
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I would say that Halong Bay is Guilin on a grander scale. The limestone formations are similar but set in the ocean rather than a river. In spite of horrible weather on both trips I wouldn't have missed either. I also suffer from sea sickness but had no problems. Don't know where you live but can highly recommend Kwells for the problem. Not available in pill form in North America only as a patch. Beauty of Kwells is you can wait until you begin to feel sick before taking them and they don't turn me into a zombie like some over the counter sea sickness pills do. I always have some with me but can't remember every having taken them in Asia, it is just comforting to know I have them with me if needed.

I would't say Phnom Penh is a must see in the way Angkor is but I am interested in the recent history of South East Asia so went to PP to see the Toul Sleng 'security prison'. Having paid my respects I didn't feel the need to go on to the killing fields. If you decide to go there is a very good bus service from SR. You could be there around 1.00pm, it would probably take as long door to door to fly.

If interested there are photos of all these places, some quite old by now at www.wright-photo.com

Have fun. Sue
Sukie is offline  
Aug 17th, 2009, 05:16 AM
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Thanks so much Sukie! Your comments were very helpful. I looked at a video of Halong Bay and it did look pretty similar to Guilin. My friend wants to do the overnight boat trip there and I think if I can't do fewer hours there, it might be worthwhile to do something else with those two days independently.

Regarding Phnom Penh, I am surprised more tours don't include this stop. I feel if I am going to visit/learn about things that happened hundreds or thousands of years ago, I should also at least bear witness to recent history!

Any thoughts on an itinerary? We have three weeks . . .
sueblue is offline  
Aug 17th, 2009, 06:56 AM
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sueblue can you E-mail me via my website www.wright-photo.com
Sukie is offline  
Aug 17th, 2009, 11:57 AM
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Ok everybody, back after doing more research. Here is what we're thinking:

Saigon: 3 Days (City Tour -- incl.Reunification Museum, War Remnants Musuem –
Cu Cui Tunnels, Mekong Delta)
Siem Reap: 3 Days
Phnom Pen: 2 Days (Primarily for War Stuff)
Luang Prabang: 4 Days
Hanoi: 2 Days in Hanoi and 2 Days Mai Chau while my friend spends 2 days in Halong ……….Bay.
Hue, Hoi-Ann – 3 Days

I know everyone says less is more, but we would like to hit these spots. We will be on the ground 19 full days. Your comments are appreciated!
sueblue is offline  
Aug 17th, 2009, 02:35 PM
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sueblue -- Wonderful itinerary, I'm most interested in hearing about Mai Chau when you get back. I understand why you are skipping Halong Bay, could you tell me why Mai Chau instead of Sapa? Thanks for your reply.
Shanghainese is offline  
Aug 17th, 2009, 04:57 PM
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Looks like a very good itinerary to me.
Can I just put in a plug for the Cao Dai temple. It is very close to the Cu Cui tunnels. I loved the idea of a religion which combines the three main religions of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism and embraces Christianity and Islam as well as the Vietnamese cult of Ancestor Worship. There is a colourful noonday service which I found very moving. The Cathedral is Vatican meets Disney. Unforgetable.
Sue
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Aug 17th, 2009, 07:03 PM
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Sukie, I will email you tomorrow. Shanghainese, I believe Mai Chau is closer . . . I believe Sapa requires the overnight train both ways and I will be solo. Not sure I want to go that long a distance for the short time I will have there. Any comments on this?
sueblue is offline  
Aug 17th, 2009, 07:13 PM
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Sorry I'm of no help, thinking of adding northern Vietnam as an extension of our Shanghai home visit next year, and Mai Chau looks very attractive to us.
Shanghainese is offline  
Aug 17th, 2009, 11:49 PM
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Your itinerary looks great to me. I loved Mai Chau, much nicer than Sapa with amazing scenery, lovely people and great food. We stayed in a homestay and the family were so welcoming (they even invited us to a party in being run by the local communist party for some visiting political science students from Hanoi Uni. We walked for miles along the valley visiting some of the other villages and each one was so welcoming.

There is so much more to Phnom Penh than just the war stuff. great markets, fantastic restaurants and of course Tonle Sap.

My only other comment is that IMHO you should spend one less night in Luang prabang and one more in Hanoi. Hanoi is massive and there is so much to see, whereas in LP there is also a lot to see but it is so compact that it will take a lot less time to see it all.

Have fun it looks like a great trip
crellston is offline  
Aug 18th, 2009, 04:21 AM
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How do you get from Hanoi to Mai Chau, and how long does it take?
shelleyk is offline  
Aug 18th, 2009, 02:12 PM
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Thanks, Crellston. I am torn on the LP thing because so many people on the board suggested 4 days, including travel time. It is our visit in Laos so I was hoping to get a sense of the people, the pace, in addition to just the sights. I've read that many people in the town aren't even Laotian? and I thought maybe we could do some outskirt type of thing. Do you still recommend another day in Hanoi? Thanks!

Shelleyk, I haven't gotten the details on Mai Chau yet.
sueblue is offline  
Aug 18th, 2009, 03:14 PM
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Looks good, although I might skip the Mekong tour and drop a day from Saigon - but I definitely second the vote for Cao Dai.

When you say three days for Siem Reap, that's four nights, right? I agree with crellston about Phnom Penh definitely being worth a visit for more than the Pol Pot memorials.

And I loved Luang Prabang enough my first visit to go back for six nights of R&R time, but I've been reading that it's gotten a lot more touristy since then (2004).
thursdaysd is offline  
Aug 18th, 2009, 11:33 PM
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shelleyk - It takes 3/4 hours to get from Ha noi to Mai Chau. You can either hire a car and driver and sort out accomodation when you arrive or buy an inc tour from an agent in the old quarter (loads to choose from). These can be private or, for a little less, a group tour. The most expensive way would beto book a tour from overseas.

sueblue - Yes, I think I would stick with my rec for an additional day in Hanoi. Whilst I would not want to put anyone off LP, it is still a unique place, but IMHO it has lost a lot of the charm that it had when I first visited back in the late 90s. I have been back 3 times since then, the last time in 2006 or 7, and have been shocked by the amount of change and pace of development. It is certainly no longer the place to "get a sense of the people, the pace etc " that you are looking for. There are few Laotions left in LP these days , at least in the main town (many have sold up and moved to new houses across the river). There are lots of new, very nice, hotels but the massive influx of tourist has obviously had a huge effect on the town. it is no longer the quaint unspoilt place it once was. That said, it is still relatively quiet by comparison with many other places you are visiting and many people love it and it is definitely worth a visit for a few days. If you want to see the people of Laos and experience the real pace of Lao life, then I would suggest getting as far out into the countryside as you can by hiring a driver/guide for the day or preferably overnight in a homestay (although this is difficult arrnge if you only have a short time there).

Hanoi is of course, a completely different sort of place, obviously much bigger with a much faster, big city pace of life but there is so much to see and experience. We spent 10 days or so in Hanoi last year and didn't run out of things to do(plus the food is marvellous).

At the end of the day, one day here or there is not going to have a huge effect on your trip. You seem to have got thisngs about right (particularly the visit to MC which I loved!). Have fun, it looks like a great trip and make sure you post areport upon your return.
crellston is offline  

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