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Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar or Thailand?

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Dec 7th, 2017, 06:08 PM
  #1
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Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar or Thailand?

My husband and I have never traveled in SE Asia and can't decide where to start first. I know this is a vast area and will likely require several visits but I thought I'd ask Fodor experts here which places they really enjoyed. We will definitely start reading guidebooks and trip reports!

A bit about us: we are 60 years old and enjoy traveling. We usually are independent travelers but did use a travel agent to help organize our trips to Turkey and Peru. We enjoy history, culture, museums, food, theatre, viewing wildlife and beautiful places. We are not big shoppers or beach goers. We tend to aim for "medium" priced hotels and restaurants with occasional splurges.

We will likely aim for spending two to three weeks on our first trip and are flexible about the time of year although would prefer to avoid the hottest and most humid weather.

Any suggestions, tips, favorite tours or travel agencies, etc. would be much appreciated. Thank you!
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Dec 7th, 2017, 06:12 PM
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Addendum: even though I said we aren't beach goers, we do like to snorkel! We just aren't lie on the beach types (fry to a crisp easily!)
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Dec 7th, 2017, 06:29 PM
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I made my first of a number of trips to Asia about 15 years ago in my late 50s. After doing some reading I chose Thailand and my experience was that it's a good starting point. It's remarkably easy to navigate in general, the food is invariably fresh and delicious and Thais are exceptionally hospitable and even the most modest accommodations tend to be spotless. I've since spent quite a bit of time in the region, including return trips to Thailand, have enjoyed almost everywhere I've been but still have a soft spot for the country. That's my recommendation.
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Dec 7th, 2017, 07:29 PM
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Update: I realize I feel Angkor Wat is a must. This narrows the field slightly!
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Dec 7th, 2017, 07:39 PM
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If you have 2 -3 weeks, you can easily do a trip to Thailand with a side trip to Angkor. Let me recommend that you find a copy of Dawn Rooney's book, Angkor: A Guide to Cambodia's Wondrous Temples.
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Dec 10th, 2017, 08:15 PM
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there is so much more to see than just angkor wat in the siem reap area.

if you can stay a few more days, i would highly recommend taking a tuk tuk and going on day trips to:

beng melea - the jungle temple. i believe the original indiana jones was filmed here.
banteay srei - the 'lady temple' or the pink temple for exquisite carvings
kbal spean - in the phonm kulen national park

i know there are a few others but i am traveling and researching vietnam right now and don't have all my notes.
enjoy!
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Dec 10th, 2017, 10:43 PM
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Thank you, abranz. Yes, I think several days in the Siem Reap area would be good. So many amazing places to visit!
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Dec 11th, 2017, 07:20 AM
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If you take a look at Dawn Rooney's book, you'll find her recommendations for how long to stay in the Siem Reap area to get a good introduction to the Angkor Temples. She says to stay 3 full days (4 nights). We spent a week, but we are temple fanatics.
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Dec 18th, 2017, 09:15 AM
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I've been to Thailand several times and headed to Siem Reap next month, so I can't comment on the other countries. We are same age and similar interests.

Agree that Thailand is a nice introduction like Hong Kong is a stepping stone to China. Exotic, yet easy for a tourist to navigate. First time I used a travel agent who had helped us in China to make some arrangements, but I was less than delighted, so we made all our own arrangements after that. We have enjoyed our visits in December and January except only one year when it was record cold and we were staying near a national park in uninsulated hotel with outdoor shower and open dining area. I've been in July and can tell you that it is unpleasant then.

First visit, Bangkok--it is nice to stay on the Chao Phraya river with view to watch all the traffic when relaxing in room, take rides on the river and klongs (can hire boat or go on tour), see the royal barges, visit the Grand Palace (as soon as it opens; it gets crowded), Vimanmek Palace is interesting and may have a dance program, walking through crowded flower market is fun for me, lots of temples as you like. I've been to the Joe Louis puppet show at Asiatique night market and found it interesting. Royal Orchid Sheraton used to have a good tourist dance show. We have used the airport limo service. Now there is train to city too. We have used taxis, mass transit and once tuk-tuk to get around in addition to hired cars with guide.

Ayutthaya is a long day trip from Bangkok. Great ruins and not crowded when we visited. We also timed our visit to see the storks arriving at dusk at Wat Phai Lom near Bangkok. Great experience for nature geeks.

Chang Mai--enjoyed Doi Surep. The other stops we made with local host were too touristy for us. Our highlight was stay at ecolodge (isolated, though) Lisu Lodge, from which we took a guided truck ride, then overnight true hike uphill via villages and forests with sleep in elevated rustic, but fun Lahu Outpost.

We like to do nature trips, so we arranged a trip to Khao Yai National Park for a few nights. Touring looking for large mammals was disappointing. Birding with a local guide was great. Wlaking to see gibbons was OK. Visited a cave for the millions of bats exiting at dusk. Not a "must see" for most people, but we enjoyed the experience (except that was where we were when the record cold arrived).

Another visit with a friend we went to Kanchanaburi for one long day. We hired car/driver, left early to drive to the JEATH museum, bridge, and cemetery first. Then we drove to Hellfire pass, took the trail down to the first bridge and visited the museum. I found it very moving, much like visiting the concentration camps in Europe. Many people stay overnight because of the distance.

Same friend and I took what we knew would be a real tourist day--guide took us to Damnoensaduak floating market and Mae Klong train market. We really enjoyed the train market. We stopped at a tourist place that shows how they make coconut sugar (tastes great), then on to the canal boat ride to the market. There we walked along the edges, ate lunch from a boat, and enjoyed the market for the tourist destination it is. We aren't shoppers, so after lunch, we were ready to head back to Bangkok.

I think the food is great most everywhere I've eaten in Thailand, even the wok in the open air at the national park, so no specific suggestions there.

In my planning for Siem Reap, I liked Focusing on the Angkor Temples: The Guidebook (2017 Edition) Michel Petrotchenko. We don't go until next month, so I can't report yet. We have hired a recommended local guide who also works with the Sam Veasna Center to take us touring the temples plus birding and just out into the countryside.
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Dec 18th, 2017, 10:31 AM
  #10
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Thank you, Kay2, for your wonderful suggestions. You've given me a lot of great ideas and the nature trips you mentioned sound particularly good. I really appreciate you taking the time to write. May I ask who your guide will be in Siem Reap?
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Dec 18th, 2017, 07:48 PM
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We are working with Mardy Sean Phone: +(855) 12 546 023 | 977 546 023 [email protected] He has a Facebook page.

My niece, an archaeologist, has a colleague who does work in Cambodia and she provided me with his name for a younger outdoors guide and Quieu (Cue) Thy (Tea) 012 630287 for an older, more experienced temples guide. I decided just to go with one guide for everything.

My husband likes to use a guide/driver the first time in a new Asian or Latin American country, but I do a lot of the planning with the guide directly now rather than using a travel agent. Better communication that way.
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Dec 19th, 2017, 02:54 AM
  #12
 
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Just want to pick up on a couple of Kay2's comments in her excellent post...

<<>>

Ayutthya doesn't need to be a long day if you stay overnight. It's easy to reach by train from Bangkok's main train station [Hualamphong]. There's several morning departures, and a 3rd Class ticket only costs 20 baht. I mention 3rd Class as it's a great way of getting close to normal Thai people. The train journey takes about 2 hours, and particularly for the first 20 minutes it passes through 'hidden' Bangkok, ie. places that the vast majority of tourists will never see. Although it's 3rd Class, expect the train to be clean, and relatively comfortable [find a carriage with cushioned seats].

There's no need for a Guide to tour the sights, there are plenty of tuk tuks waiting at Ayuitthaya train station who'll have standard routes for about 3 hours @ c200 bahts an hour.

There's plenty of accommodation for an overnight stay, and enough low-key nightlife to keep you happy.

<<>>

A one day tour from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi and Hellfire Pass can be torturous. The whole area deserves at least 2 full days, with Hellfire Pass taking up a full day being visited from Kanchanaburi by Public Bus, returning on the afternoon train from Nam Tok, which departs at 1530. The public bus stops right outside Hellfire Main Gate, takes about 90 minutes to get there, and a single ticket costs 50 baht. The bus to Nam Tok passes opposite Hellfire Main Gate and takes about 20 minutes, costing 15 baht.

No need for a Guide at Hellfire Pass, as there are free audio guides available [200 baht deposit]. As soon as you put the headphones on you'll be totally immersed in the occasion. Wear stout footwear, a hat, and take plenty of water

It's very easy to reach Kanchanaburi from Bangkok's Thonburi train station under your own steam. Here's an excellent link...

https://www.seat61.com/Bridge-on-the-River-Kwai.htm

I've visited Kanchanaburi and Hellfire Pass 4 times, and the whole area has beautiful scenery, and the history and atmosphere needs to be savoured at leisure, not on a rushed one day tour.
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Dec 19th, 2017, 07:58 AM
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Totally agree with Lad about the time one can spend at Kanchanaburi and Ayutthaya. I forget why we only took day trip to the ruins.

My Kanchanaburi short trip was dictated by my local friend who could only take one day. I would have preferred overnight. We were traveling in July and the heat was sweltering, so we thought the door to door air conditioning in the comfortable hired car was heaven for the long day especially after the hot walk. We didn't need a guide.
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