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Old 04-10-2013, 11:21 PM
 
Location: Colorado Springs, CO
7 posts, read 35,055 times
Reputation: 22

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Hello,

This is my first post on CD so here is a little background. I'm a 29 year old US Army Medical Officer currently stationed in Colorado Springs, CO. I grew up on a farm and Iowa, my parents didn't have much money so I never really traveled. Very recently I decided to get out of my comfort zone and upon returning from a deployment to Afghanistan in the summer of 2014 I am taking 35 days leave and traveling to Southeast Asia.

This will be my first traveling abroad and I am going solo. Part of me thinks a package tour is the way to go. Last night I was reviewing this topic in depth and came across this package: Complete Indochina Tour to Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos - Itinerary I don't know really anything about traveling so I decided to come here for some help. I'm looking at spending roughly $6000-$7000 total on this trip including airfare which should run around 1700 roundtrip.

Really I'm trying to get some feedback on whether prepackaged tours are the way to go vs. just flying into Bangkok (or HCMC in Vietnam....depends where I want to start) and just winging it. I feel that would be the best way to get out of my comfort zone (which is one of my main goals over the next year). However, I'm not sure how easy it is to travel country to country getting rides etc. in a foreign land. I assumed people on this forum would be more versed on that sort of topic.

Anyways, I appreciate your assistance and look forward to learning more during my time on this board. Thanks.

Aaron
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Old 04-11-2013, 05:06 AM
 
Location: The western periphery of Terra Australis
24,682 posts, read 49,148,876 times
Reputation: 11862
I did Vietnam and Thailand solo on my own in Nov-Dec 2011 for just over a month. My itinerary was Saigon -> Nha Trang -> Hoi An -> Hue -> Hanoi -> Halong Bay -> Sapa. Then back to Hanoi where I caught a flight to Bangkok, where I spent 3 nights, and then to Phuket where I spent 5 nights. The highlights for me were Hoi An and Sapa (hill-trekking and meeting the local tribes). Bangkok is a fun city, love the food there and pretty amazing architecture.

It's not TOO difficult to organise everything yourself in Vietnam, but occasionally the language barrier will prove frustrating, like when I tried to buy some train tickets at Saigon railway station. What was supposed to be a simple exercise turned into 30 minutes of stress where I was knocked back and forth like a ping-pong ball, and none of the staff seemed to speak good English. I ended up taking a coach. Other than that I arranged transport through hotels and a travel agent, which all went very smoothly.

As for accommodation I booked my hotel in Saigon prior to arriving, and for accommodation in both Nha Trang and Hoi An a few days before arriving. From then on everything was organised through a travel agent. Not sure how much I spent in the end, but it went way over budget.

I've been on one of these types of tours to the US (with Trek America, which was great) and it was great...travelling companions were great, the whole doing thing as a group was good, but at times I wanted to just get away from everyone. In the US I think it was a good decision due to transport. In Vietnam it's easier to organise your own transport, but in the end, I hit up all the spots on the tour you linked anyway, and saw most of the touristy sites, so I'm thinking if you don't have much experience travelling by yourself overseas it might be a good option. Also there's less chance of you getting ripped off. You'll be a big target in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia.etc as a tourist with money, so watch out.

The price seems reasonable, and it hits pretty much everywhere you'd want to go. For a month it sounds reasonable too. You wouldn't want a group of more than 12. Also check out Intrepid and Gecko Tours, among others, compare things like accommodation, included activities, meals (whether they're included), transport, guides, and most importantly read reviews, as many as you can! Intrepid is a pretty reputable company, though the smaller and less known ones can be just as good. I'd be wary of going with some of the really obscure ones though. There's the option of just arriving and then going with one of the smaller locally-run tours, which will be cheaper but probably more basic.

A rough guide for travelling in VN, food is of course cheap, a meal is $1-5 for Vietnamese food. Hotels can be as cheap as $10, especially in small towns, to $40 for what would be 5-star in other countries. There's a big jump up to those chain hotels like the Hilton which are over $100 a night and frankly not worth the money.

Be aware of how much you spend on souvenirs etc as that can quickly drain your funds...your budget seems generous for SE Asia, you can easily spend less than that, but bring as much extra spending money as possible.

Vietnam is a fairly safe country to travel in - just be very careful when crossing the road. The trick is to do what the locals do - just walk in front of the traffic and they'll weave around you. The people can be friendly but you'll be hassled a lot, I guarantee you. A polite but firm no or silence and walking away is the best strategy. I wouldn't bother with anti-malarials in VN but not sure about parts of Cambodia and Laos. The tour company can advise. Of course, travel insurance is mandatory.

Good luck with your trip!
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Old 04-11-2013, 05:31 AM
 
Location: City of Angels
2,933 posts, read 5,048,941 times
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i can't see the benefit of taking a packaged tour. just looking at the price, they're charging you double what you'd pay if you just did everything yourself. you also have to remember that these countries have the best tourist infrastructure in the world.

honestly i wouldn't recommend doing four countries in 5 weeks, you'd spend more time in transit than anything else - that's no way to travel. maybe if you cut out lao/northern thailand and only did bangkok to hanoi. even then thats a lot of travel for five weeks. but plenty to see along the way.
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Old 04-11-2013, 07:19 PM
 
Location: Colorado Springs, CO
7 posts, read 35,055 times
Reputation: 22
Appreciate your comments, I've got over a year to plan this out, of which a large chunck will be deployed with little else to do other than hit the gym and study for grad school. So I plan to read up on all the options available.

I will only have 35 days to see all the sites, and I agree being in transit during most of it isn't the preferred method. I'll have to come to a happy medium somewhere however.

Right now I think I'm leaning towards the travel company, but after reading more and more about the countries, I can see myself saying F it and just purchasing a ticket and winging it the rest of the way. That will certainly get me out of my comfort zone!

Here is a question that probably seems really dumb.......how much do you pack for a trip like this? I'm thinking 1 suitcase and a small backpack is sufficient. I'll have to do more research on packing and how to travel as light as possible.

Anyways, again I appreciate your assistance. This is a really good site!
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Old 04-11-2013, 07:58 PM
 
Location: City of Angels
2,933 posts, read 5,048,941 times
Reputation: 2252
Quote:
Originally Posted by outofcomfortzone View Post
Appreciate your comments, I've got over a year to plan this out, of which a large chunck will be deployed with little else to do other than hit the gym and study for grad school. So I plan to read up on all the options available.
if you're being deployed to afghanistan, you're prolly going to meet quite a few guys who spend time in the region. pattaya is filled with military and contractors.

Quote:
Originally Posted by outofcomfortzone View Post
Here is a question that probably seems really dumb.......how much do you pack for a trip like this? I'm thinking 1 suitcase and a small backpack is sufficient. I'll have to do more research on packing and how to travel as light as possible.
i typically only bring a small adidas backpack with a few days worth of clothes, some hygiene products, and thats it. something like this



i travel on the light side tho. one suitcase and a small backpack will be good for you. no need to take any more. try to leave with those things mostly empty.
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Old 04-11-2013, 08:43 PM
 
Location: Tucson/Nogales
20,295 posts, read 23,859,227 times
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No climate concerns? Have you researched the type of climate you'll be enduring for the length of time you'll be there? And will you be able to survive it comfortably enough?

For me, climate concerns are my number one concerns! If you can endure lots of humidity, along with heat, God bless you!
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Old 04-11-2013, 09:01 PM
 
Location: The western periphery of Terra Australis
24,682 posts, read 49,148,876 times
Reputation: 11862
Quote:
Originally Posted by outofcomfortzone View Post
Appreciate your comments, I've got over a year to plan this out, of which a large chunck will be deployed with little else to do other than hit the gym and study for grad school. So I plan to read up on all the options available.

I will only have 35 days to see all the sites, and I agree being in transit during most of it isn't the preferred method. I'll have to come to a happy medium somewhere however.

Right now I think I'm leaning towards the travel company, but after reading more and more about the countries, I can see myself saying F it and just purchasing a ticket and winging it the rest of the way. That will certainly get me out of my comfort zone!

Here is a question that probably seems really dumb.......how much do you pack for a trip like this? I'm thinking 1 suitcase and a small backpack is sufficient. I'll have to do more research on packing and how to travel as light as possible.

Anyways, again I appreciate your assistance. This is a really good site!
That would be sufficient. You'll be wearing light clothing because of the weather, but you don't wanna be wearing anything more than one day at a time (something you can get away with in cooler/less humid climes).

It's certainly possible and not too difficult to do things on your own, but it's just a bit more work and it usually takes you longer to see all the sights. You may or may not save money depending on how smart you are, although you most probably will. If pressed for time I would personally omit Laos from the itinerary and in Cambodia just check out Angkor.
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Old 04-11-2013, 09:51 PM
 
Location: Colorado Springs, CO
7 posts, read 35,055 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tijlover View Post
No climate concerns? Have you researched the type of climate you'll be enduring for the length of time you'll be there? And will you be able to survive it comfortably enough?

For me, climate concerns are my number one concerns! If you can endure lots of humidity, along with heat, God bless you!

I've done some pretty intense and specialized military training that has allowed me to push my body in swamps and pretty adverse conditions so I'm not really too concerned with the climate. I know it'll be extremely muggy and probably pretty awful, but I know my limitations and am a pretty resilient person when it comes to dealing with that.

My main concerns are taking enough clothing with me and not having it get stolen or having to lug it around all day long.

Man, I'm totally pumped about this and just downloaded about 4 books on Southeast Asia and traveling onto my Kindle. Looks like I found my new hobby!
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Old 04-12-2013, 10:24 AM
 
Location: Bike to Surf!
3,080 posts, read 10,329,054 times
Reputation: 3003
I backpacked through those countries with my spouse a little while ago and we were approximately the same age.

Quote:
Originally Posted by outofcomfortzone View Post
Part of me thinks a package tour is the way to go. Last night I was reviewing this topic in depth and came across this package: Complete Indochina Tour to Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos - Itinerary
We only did a few package tours, like in the Taman Negara rainforest, and we didn't really like them. The food was cheap and bad, the hotels poor and overpriced, compared to what we could find on our own.

Quote:
I don't know really anything about traveling so I decided to come here for some help. I'm looking at spending roughly $6000-$7000 total on this trip including airfare which should run around 1700 roundtrip.
That is waaaaay too much money. Including transportation, excluding airfare, as a single guy, you'll be hard-pressed to spend $50/day unless you just go crazy.

Quote:
Really I'm trying to get some feedback on whether prepackaged tours are the way to go vs. just flying into Bangkok (or HCMC in Vietnam....depends where I want to start) and just winging it.
Strongly suggest you wing it, but maybe start in an easier town. Kuala Lumpur is a modern, developed, metropolitan area where you can get your bearings before heading north into Thailand. Plenty of English, plenty of Expats. Plenty of tourist infrastructure. Basically, the closer you are to Singapore, the easier it is to travel, the closer you get to Hanoi/China, the harder it will be.

Quote:
However, I'm not sure how easy it is to travel country to country getting rides etc. in a foreign land.
All you need is a little money and a little patience.

Consider this example itinerary, as it closely parallels our own, which worked well:

4 Days in Kuala Lumpur (Southern Malaysia) - Get your bearings. See the towers and fancy mall. Learn how to haggle in Chinatown.
Minibus / Riverboat
3 Days in Taman Negara (Central Malaysian Rainforest - canopy walks, riverboats)
Minibus / Speedboat
3 Days in the Perhintian Islands (Northeast Coast - Stunning beaches, snorkle)
Minibus / Border Crossing (normal - no extortion) / Long-Range Bus
4 Days in Phuket (Party in Patong, skip the islands unless you didn't get enough in Malaysia)
Long-Range Overnight Bus
6 Days in Bangkok (You should be ready to handle this awesome city by this time)
Long-Range bus / Border Crossing (corrupt - extortion; plan on haggling a bribe) / Whatever's Running (Cambodian Bus)
3 Days in Siem Reap - Angkor Wat
Whatever's Running (Cambodian Bus) / Border crossing (normal - no extortion) / Short-Haul Bus
5 Days in HCMC/Saigon

4 Days crossing Vietnam by tourist bus--the best way to travel! Be sure to spend a day in Hoi An. Utilize overnight busses to save money on hotels. Haha. Just kidding, nice hotels run around $5. You actually use the overnight sleeper tourist bus to save time.

1 Day in Hanoi -- It's really not that interesting.
2 Day trip to HaLong Bay - Worth the excursion.

---

I'd suggest packing a good-size backpack, maybe a 3/4-sized from the full-on backpacker 4-foot stack you'll find in travel stores; something about the size of a carry-on suitcase. You're going for a month, so you'll need some equipment and 3-4 changes of clothes.

Tips:
- There are no laundromats anywhere in SE asia, so you'll have to give your laundry over to locals who will do it overnight for a fee (and hopefully bring it back), or wash it yourself in the hotel sink or bathtub.
- Wear boots, carry sandals for high water/showers. Don't go barefoot in public places or where sunlight doesn't reach to sterilize the ground.
- Carry 20+ feet of nylon cord. Mostly for a clothesline, but many uses.
- Stick to cooked food. Street food is tasty and usually fine, because you can watch it being cooked--as opposed to a resturant where they could be doing anything back in the kitchen. Avoid dairy or anything frozen (because it might not always have been). Islands are especially dangerous as power supplies and shipping standards are poor. Take lots of immodium along.
- You can get anti-malarials in local hospitals for cheap. Doxycyclene is popular and inexpensive.
- Be courteous. Impress the locals with what nice guys Americans are, because there are enough jerks out there making us look bad. Haggle hard, but always smile and say "thank you" even if you don't reach a deal.
- ATMs are everywhere. Open a bank account with a bank that doesn't tack on extra fees for withdrawls in foreign currencies or locations. You should be able to find one that won't charge you any more than the 1% VISA conversion fee.
- Malaysia; pay in Ringgit, Thailand; pay in Baht, Cambodia and Vietnam; pay in US Dollars. I don't think Cambodia has a currency and almost nobody uses Dong in Vietnam--there's no discount.

Have fun, sounds like an awesome trip. I think 4 countries in 35 days is ok. You'll be on the road a lot, but you'll also see a lot.
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Old 06-13-2013, 04:13 AM
 
24 posts, read 37,092 times
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Lonley planet's Southeast Asia on a Shoestring Budget is a great resource, get it and research it. Paying for things before will cost you a lot of money. If your looking for an authentic experience, going on and finding places to stay on your way is just fine. In fact you do not need any reservations, and will find places in all price ranges (even Kho San Road). Pretty much the theme here is modesty, backpackers, not flashy hotels. Traveled with my husband there for 58 days last year, made no reservations, no plans, and had no problem (even had less $$ than you between us). Learn the minimal of each language at least. In Bangkok you should not buy package tours or allow cabbies to take you where he feels best, go to the TAT they have people there waiting to help you. For Vietnam you will need to arrange for visa prior to visit (either departing country embassy, or I think you can get one at embassy in Thailand) Thailand will give auto 30 day visa on arrival by plane 15 day by ground Free, Malaysia/Singapore gives 90 days free on arrival. Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar (Burma) you can buy your visa at the boarder. Fellow travelers without company tend to stay at guest houses, its cheaper and you meet lots of people. Much is negotiable. No tipping necessary. You could probably go there with an empty backpack and buy all you need, its so cheap. AirAsia is cheap budget airline, and great. Get the book, then go there with an open heart, because it will fill in ways you never imagined! I miss it there so much, really, it changed us. Have a wonderful time.
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