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  1. #1
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    travel advice - Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, maybe northern Thailand

    Hi

    I'm heading off on my first travel adventure in many years very soon - 2.5 weeks starting in Ho Chi Minh City and ending in Vientiane. After that I will be spending extra time in Laos and Vietnam on a uni course. We'll be looking at development issues and such, traveling between Vientiane and DaNang. One of the stops is in Sepon and we get a free day in Savannakhen.

    This will be my first visit to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia (have been to Thailand before, but not to Isan). So far, I have not that many ideas about what to do and see... a Vietnamese cooking class, Angkor Wat, Phnom Penh... but what else? Is it best to base in the capital cities (PP and Vientiane), or pick something smaller?

    Because of limited time, I probably won't include northern Vietnam in the itinerary, but I'd like to explore as much of Cambodia and Laos as possible. It would probably make sense to explore HCMC (2 days?), do something else in the south of Vietnam (2-3 days?), then head to Cambodia (5-6 days?) and then to Laos (5 days?).

    One aspect I'm unsure of is travel from HCMC or PP to Vientiane - how to arrange it, options etc.
    I haven't arranged any accommodation yet, so any recommendations for a nice (and student budget-friendly) hostel in HCMC would be fabulous - I'd love one that has a cooking class on offer to do that on the first day.
    Also, I've been told it's best to take US dollars?
    What weather/temperatures to expect in November?

    So excited!
    Any tips and insight will be greatly appreciated.

  2. #2
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    I think you should go buy a Lonely Planet guide for these countries, a lot of people diss Rough Guides because they have a lot of pages nagging about climate change and the hotels listed are usually out of date but Rough Guides have other excellent options not listed on LP. You seems to not have a lot of time in your hands so if I were you I'd take a look at these books, focus on your interests and plan how much time it would take to do top 3 activities in each city. You will be closer to the equator so that gives you the advantage I didn't have in japan last year of a 1 or two extra hours of valuable daylight time for sightseeing.

    I sincerely don't know what the weather will be like in November, never been to any of those countries, sorry but the guides have all of that info so that you can expect a certain weather and rainfall to plan ahead. You might still get 1 surprise typhoon because of the time of year so bring an umbrella and a raincoat just in case. I used the guides planning clothing to take to Japan and the guides served me well. Ojo: the guides don't have EVERYTHING, they have the most important biggest tourist attractions for the backpacker so if you want to hit a smaller temple or something without a horde of tourists maybe take a look at the regional official tourism sites which might be spots on the way where you could take a look and see more of the real Asia.

    Vietnam has a lot of bad drivers, bad traffic and don't respect traffic lights, cross streets under your own risk. I've also read tuc tuc scams happen in the big cities which you might have already experienced in Thailand. Use the guides to see on the map how many streets is the museum or place you want to visit, if the tuc tuc is wandering around in circles when your place was just 8 blocks away the driver is probably taking you to a "detour" jem store where he gets a % of the cut of your unexpected diamond necklace purchase. Usually the jems are legit and the store is legit in a way but if you are on a tough schedule the time waster will ruin your day. If you notice the driver is doing this trick thanks to seeing maps, request him to drop you off now, pay him whatever price accorded and either walk or find another tuc tuc. Have fun!

  3. #3
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    I just wanted to say that I'm so jealous I could cry. Angkor Wat tops my list of places I wanted to go. I've been to Thailand but I didn't have the knowledge base to get to Cambodia to at the time. Hopefully in the future.

  4. #4

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    Ask alilou. She has been to many places in SE Asia. Here's her travel thread in FSU: http://www.fsuniverse.net/forum/show...Vietnam/page26
    You can find her travel blog as her signature.
    There's a Vietnamese PhD student in my workplace. I can check out whether she has any useful tips for you. The places you mentioned sound remote to me. Out of curiosity, since you are going there as part of your uni course work, why aren't the Uni providing you any links to the people you will be working with?
    Have a good, safe trip.
    Prosperity makes friends, adversity tries them. – Publilius Syrus

  5. #5
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    I went in December to Cambodia and Vietnam 2 years ago. Cambodia was hot but it was cold in Vietnam especially the farther north you go. If you go to Vietnam beware of anyone trying to solicit you for a taxi especially at the airport. While your at it don't trust the cops either, don't trust anyone (my guidebook warned me about the taxis and such and it was spot on). Go to the assigned booth and shell out the $50+ for a hired cab, it is safer this way. If you decide to go anywhere, make sure that once you start crossing the street, you do not stop or start second guessing because there WILL be a million motor scooters coming at you in both directions and they do not stop. Practice the technique of dodging and weaving!!! Also they drive up on the sidewalks too and yes they do not obey the traffic lights, everybody just goes at once. Also be prepared for lots of air pollution. Also I went with a native speaker (who ditched me ) but I heard from others that it's kind of hard to navigate because of language barriers, etc.

    Cambodia though is the most awesome country ever!!! We hired the cab driver at the airport to take us everywhere in Phnom Penh. In Angkor Wat, we hired a tuktuk driver. They both had excellent English!!! Also everything is super cheap, great quality, and they use American dollars as their currency so no currency exchange!!! If you go to the temples at Angkor Wat, there will be lots of children trying to get you to buy things at every single site. Best not to make eye contact with them unless you want to buy something.

    As far as restaurants, I always ate off the streets so I can't help you there. Hotels/Hostels I used the internet (hostelworld, etc). I only use guidebooks for places to see and what to expect culture wise, temperature wise, warnings etc. So buy a guidebook to each country, they do come in handy!! Also used message boards for more updated info/advice (http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/index.jspa) or blogs.

    Have fun and be safe!!!!

  6. #6
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    Will give a more detailed reply soon, but just this - take a little time in Vang Vieng. It is about half way between Vientiane and Luang Prabang and the countryside is stunning and you can go kayaking/tubing on the river. We loved Luang Prabang so much we spent an extra 5 or 6 days there. More soon.
    My travel and adventure blog http://alisonanddon.wordpress.com

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    You have me reminiscing, we spent three weeks in Vietnam/Cambodia last November and loved it. You've already gotten some great tips here, so I'll just add a couple things: 1) resist the temptation to try to fit in too many places! Places that seem close together can take a long time to travel between due to poor roads, etc. 2) try to get off the beaten path for at least part of the trip. The most touristy areas, though worthwhile, can get overwhelming with the crowds and people trying to sell you stuff. Some of my favorite moments were in lesser known places away from all the chaos. 3) Re: scams/taxis. Your hotel can be really helpful in this regard and call taxis for you and send a driver to pick you up from the airport. The previous comment about crossing the roads is spot on!! I never got totally comfortable.

    Also, I know you said you weren't going to N. Vietnam but in Hanoi we did a daytour through Hanoi Kids, it's an organization of college students who give free tours to practice their English (you just pay for their entrance fees and lunch). I recall hearing that HCMC has something similar. It was really worthwhile.

    Have fun! I really want to go back to Vietnam sometime and also go to Laos.

    ETA- just read your questions again. To go to HCMC to PP, you can go by bus, boat, or air. You could also make the journey over a few days and explore the Mekong Delta along the way. We were limited on time and after visiting the delta just went back to HCMC to fly to Siem Reap, but I was really tempted by the slow overland option.
    Last edited by elka_sk8; 10-28-2013 at 06:53 PM.

  8. #8

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    Hi Loth
    Here's the response from my Vietnamese colleague - I just copy and past her response here. Now ignore Australia dollar part as she assumed the feedback is for someone from Australia.

    This is quite an ambitious plan to visit three countries in just 2.5 weeks. There are many places to visit in each country. I can give some suggestions for Da Nang and HoChiMinh city trips in Vietnam. I am not sure about cooking class. However, guesthouse and small hotels can be searched easily in the internet. In HoChiMinh city, tourists mostly stay in Pham Ngu Lao street. HoChiMinh city is quite a busy one and there are a lot of things to do and food to eat in the city.

    DaNang is a small but very nice city. If only for tourist purpose, that person can choose a guesthouse or small hotel in DaNang city, take a tour to the Ancient Hoi An town (just 30 km away) by taxi. If it happens to be the middle of the lunar month, the night in Hoi An would be very romantic as latens will be lighted up along the streets and the river.

    Travelling between HoChiMinh city and PP can be through air or road. If you choose the road traveling, which many tourists would like to, you should contact the travelling agent to enquire about visa at the border gate.

    The weather at these months towards the end of the year is hot and rainny in all these cities. But the North of Vietnam is starting its very cold winter (as cold as Melbourne).

    You can take Australia dollar to Vietnam and get changed easily. However, US dollar is still more common in all three countries. Take 50$ or 100$ notes for easier to get changed.
    Prosperity makes friends, adversity tries them. – Publilius Syrus

  9. #9
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    If you go to Chiang Mai, Julie's hostel can hook you up with a full day cooking class complete with a visit to a local produce farm. The Lonely Planet website has a really useful Thorntree forum which I would recommend checking out. I didn't have to prebook any hostels during my stay in Cambodia or Thailand, but it's easy enough through hostelworld/hostelbookers. (I always look at the reviews)

    I personally love the street food in Southeast Asia, but I have an ironclad stomach. You can't go wrong with asking hostelmates for fresh food recommendations.

  10. #10
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    I second what's been said about traffic in Vietnam, esp HCMC. I felt fine crossing the road in Hanoi as there's a huge amount of traffic but it moves fairly slowly so you just weave your way through it. HCMC traffic is fast and does not stop. You just have to wade out into it, holding your breath til you get to the other side.

    Highly recommend a Mekong Delta tour - try to get to the Cai Rang floating wholesale market - quite amazing. We did a 3 day boat/bus trip from PP to HCMC. I would recommend this too except don't expect to get exactly what they say you will - see this blog post:http://alisonanddon.wordpress.com/20...getting-there/

    If I were to choose a base in Laos it would by far be Luang Prabang over Vientiane. We had a good time in Vientiane, and did a couple of interesting day trips from there, but Vang Vieng (for the scenery) and Luang Prabang are far more interesting and beautiful. In LP you can go swimming with elephants/boat trips/kayaking, etc. If you go to LP be sure you have dinner one night at The Hive and see the fashion show of all the indigenous traditional clothing.

    We did an amazing day trip to a floating village called Kompong Chhnang from Phnom Penh though wouldn't overall rave about PP. Still you could travel there by boat/bus from HCMC and have a couple of days in PP and include a trip to Kompong Chhnang and Oodong. Angkor Wat and the surrounding sites must be on your list no matter how many tourists are there - quite extraordinary. Also stay at Bliss Villa in Siem Reap. Don and Van Anh will make you feel at home and organise any trips you may want to take. Don organised an excellent day trip for us to a floating village (away from the two closest to Siem Reap which will scam you no end) and to Prec Toal bird sanctuary. See this post: http://alisonanddon.wordpress.com/20...t-angkor-thom/ and the following one.

    If you have the time/interest to read more about all we saw and did in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia the best way to navigate the blog is to put the country name in the search field.

    Hope this helps. Have a fabulous time!
    My travel and adventure blog http://alisonanddon.wordpress.com

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