Solo traveller excited to explore but conscious of budget and time - help appreciated

by Chelsea
(Bristol, England)

First of all I would like to thank you in advance as I know this is not the first time that I have contacted you!

I really hope I am not subjecting you to advice slavery and am aware that you are extremely busy.
I seem to be struggling to balance between one hand not wanting over plan and spoil my adventure and the other hand my research is getting me a little lost and jumbled!

I am a 25 year old English female and am leaving on feb 14th for India to explore the north east. I am meeting a friend out there who is joining me but just for the india part.

Then I am flying to Bangkok on Feb 29th and was looking at seeing a little bit of Bangkok maybe like 3/4 days before heading up to Chiang Mai and then looking at border crossing into Laos.

I'm not really sure how long to spend in Chiang Mai or each place and think it will obviously depend on how I connect with each place but the one thing that is planned at the moment is a flight out of Singapore to Australia on May 20th.

I would really like your thoughts on wether it will be possible to see Laos, vietnam and cambodia within this time?

To add to this I would then like to head to Patong Beach, Kathu Phuket ( am thinking it may be best to border cross back to Bangkok if possible and fly to Phuket?) as this is where my Cousin is living at the moment and I would like to spend a week or two chilling out and checking out places with her.

Ideally I would like head down to Malaysia via land to Langkawi before flying (looking at pre booking flights with air asia between Langkawi, Penang&KL to save time and it looks quite reasonable?) Penang and KL before flying to singapore to get my flight on the 20th May.

I am not sure if this is all a little ambitious given I only have from March 1st when I arrive in Bangkok until May 20th when I have to be in Singapore and am a passionate believer in less is more and quality is better than quantity which is why I am looking for advice.

If you think I have too much on the to see brainstorm - which places are rich in experiences/culture or would you recommend for this time of year or which ones are not as touristy/commercialised please?

I have found your articles and E Books extremely helpful and I'm sure the backpacking safe section will literally be a lifesaver!

I have also been picking out areas which I have read on here and writing down places although I am now doubting my ability to sort an itinerary and I think lacking in confidence with it being my first trip to Asia and would be very grateful if you could help in any way please just so I can feel a little more prepared.

I have had things crop up so my travelling piggy bank has suffered a little I am all for train, bus and overnight travel and have really enjoyed reading your money saving tips as I am definitely travelling on a budget!

Sorry for the rambling I think I have just maybe got myself a little caught up in 'everything looks amazing' and would really like to get a clearer non-plan type deal together to add with my over excited state right now!

Thank you so much,

Answer: Hi again, Chelsea :)

It's possible to cover Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia in the time frame you have stated, but you'd have to speed up or cut down on destinations. Since you want to avoid commercialized places I would recommend to spend more time in Laos. Laos is not that commercialized as for instance, Thailand.

The itinerary below is only a suggestion, but it shows how much time you really got in each country. I've considered that you have to take bus or train transportation due to budget.

As a general rule, spending 3 days at one destination should suffice. But this depends on how you relate to the destination. 3 days is sufficient for cities like Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Chiang Mai, Saigon, Kuala Lumpur etc.

A piece of warning first: The months of March to May are some of the hottest in Southeast Asia. I've traveled during the same months before, and I was occasionally dependent on a couple of days on the beach to cool down ;-)

So an itinerary for Southeast Asia from March 1st-May 20th:

Thailand: March 1st-March 10th

So 3-4 days in Bangkok before you head to Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai itself doesn't have many attractions - it's the trekking opportunities outside the city that attract travelers.

I'm not sure if you're into trekking, but visiting hill tribe villages is a good way of experiencing Thai culture. These kind of trips to hill tribe villages are usually part of a trekking trip, combined with an elephant ride. Trekking trips last from 1 day to several days - the options are plenty! :-)

If you're up for this, I would recommend 3-4 days in the Chiang Mai area. I spent 5 days in Chiang Mai CITY, and that was more than enough.

Another option is to take the Mae Hong Son-loop, it can be done in 4 days, but 5-6 days if you want to slow down and relax. This loop takes you into the heart of north Thailand. You can rent a bike or take the bus. The Map Your Adventure book which you've bought, covers this loop ;-)

From Chiang Mai you can arrange transportation all the way to Luang Prabang - packages cost 1700B-2000B. Most guesthouses and travel agents arrange the trip, so you can ask your guesthouse about prices, or get quotes from others.

Total days in Thailand: 10 days

Laos: March 11-March 25/27

Option 1: Many travelers take the slow boat from the border town of Huay Xai to Luang Prabang, but this trip swallows 2 days. Nevertheless, it's a once-in-a-lifetime trip ;-) In Luang Prabang, 3 days is sufficient. But for people who fall in love with the place, 5 days is also normal. See how it goes.

From Luang Prabang, you can travel to charming Nong Khiaw. Nong Khiaw is a destination I would recommend, according to what I've heard and read about the place. I never been there myself, but when I return to Laos, I will definitely go there. I would calculate 3-4 days there.

If you're into the backpacker scene, you should head for Vang Vieng. This is where tubing and caving are popular activities. I especially enjoyed the caving there! :-) I would probably stay 3 days in Vang Vieng.

Then Vientiane - 2 days and Savannakhet (2 days).

Total days in Laos (option 1) = 16 days (including 2-day slow boat)

Option 2: You can also skip the slow boat to Luang Prabang, and take the bus from Huay Xai to Luang Namtha, and from there to Muang Sing (you'll save time this way). Muang Sing is the backpacker town in the far north of Laos (4 days there).

If you decide to go for Nong Khiaw, you can return to Luang Namtha and take a bus from there to Nong Khiaw (3 days). From there, a boat or bus to Luang Prabang (3 days). Onwards to Vientiane (2 days) and then Savannakhet (2 days) for border crossing into central Vietnam.

Total days in Laos (option 2) = 14 days

Vietnam: March 26/28-April 11/13

From Savannakhet in Laos, you can border cross into central Vietnam, to Hue - a pure cultural destination (3 days in Hue).

Then Hoi An for 3 days and work your way to the south to for instance Mui Ne (5 days). Mui Ne is a must - it's calmer than the other beach destination Nha Trang. Travel onward to Saigon (3 days), and from there to Mekong Delta (2 days), and border cross to Cambodia to Kep through the Ha Tien border crossing.

Total days in Vietnam = 16 days

I would probably skip Hanoi this time, since the distance between Hanoi and Hue is too many hours by bus or train. Flying would be more convenient. And there's not much to see between Hanoi and Hue - most of the exciting places are in central and south Vietnam. Since you're going to Cambodia after Vietnam, I suggest you focus on getting to the south.

If you had more time I would suggest visiting Hanoi, Halong Bay and lovely Sapa in the north ;-)

Cambodia: April 12/14-April 22/24

Visiting Kampot is a must! Kampot is surrounded by greens, tranquility and not far from Bokor mountain. I would probably say 4 days in Kampot, move on to Phnom Penh for 3 days, and then Siem Reap and Angkor for 3 days.

Total days in Cambodia = 10 days

Back to Thailand for Phuket: April 23/25-May 6/8

If you're border crossing to Thailand, remember that you only have 15 visa-free days (not 30 days). There are buses from Phuket to Satun. From Satun, take a Songthaew to Thammalang pier. From Thammalang there are ferries to Langkawi.

You probably have to stay the night in Bangkok after you've border crossed from Cambodia, but there's also a possibility of taking the night bus from Bangkok to Phuket.

Total days in south Thailand = 13 days

Malaysia: May 7/9-May 17/19

Langkawi (4 days), Penang (3 days), KL (3 days). Personally, I would stay 4 days in Penang and 2 days in KL, but your choice :-)

Total days in Malaysia = 10 days

Arriving in Singapore on May 19th

One or two days in Singapore before you go home! ;-)

Hope this helps! Just ask if there's anything else.

Amanda :-)

Posted on: Feb 05, 2012

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