It’s currently August of 2017—I’m in the midst of planning a three-week trip to attempt to visit Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. I already know this isn’t going to be enough time to see and experience all that I want to, but I want to make the most of my visit to a region of the world I’ve never been to before.
When planning a longer trip, my dad’s instincts take over. He likes to make guides, maps, and itineraries for each day that include the time the sun rises and how long it takes to walk from point A to point B. I have to fight that instinct because I want to leave room for flexibility and spontaneity. I’ve never been to these cities before, so I know there will be a lot to discover.
So far, I’ve used a combo of a very cheap (outdated 2011) guide book of “Southeast Asia” I got on Amazon for like $5 and websites like Lonely Planet, Tripadvisor, and even personal blogs. I compiled all the things that seemed interested to me in cities that were recommended by these guides. From there, I tried to time out how long we’d need to spend in each place to get that all done, and once I totaled that number—it was something like 45 days.
I have approximately 19 days (not including travel days). So how can I squeeze 45 days worth of places and activities into nearly a third of the time?
So I turn to the Internet!
My handy WordPress stats show me that approximately 2,000 visits to my blog since I opened it a few months back have come from the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Malaysia combined. (Shoutout to folks from the Philippines in particular, behind the US, UK, and Canada, the most visits come from you! Thank you!) Now it is totally possible it is one person from each of these countries checking in on SleepyWaldo.blog every few days—in which case, hi!—but if it is a few people, I’d love to hear your local viewpoints.
Also, anybody who has visited recently (or not-so recently), I’d also much appreciate any feedback on places to visit, places to skip, how much time you’d recommend in certain places, unforgettable experiences, and any other travel tips.
Here’s my long list of cities I had in mind to visit. I’ll add in the
strike-throughs too. If this post can be a helpful guide for trip planning or ideas for traveling, then that’d be great. I had to strike through some regions just because of the timing, and because I had to think if I’m going to a beach in Vietnam, maybe I can strike a beach in this other area, for example.
Specific questions I have: Is it dumb to try for some day trips, especially from Bangkok? I want to visit the elephant sanctuary for sure by Chiang Mai, but any other major place in Thailand we will be mad at ourselves for missing?
- Bangkok (3–4 days)
- Day Trip options from Bangkok
- Khao Yai National Park
- Day Trip options from Bangkok
The Gulf of Thailand Ko Samui Phuket
- Chiang Mai (3–4 days)
- Day Trips from Chiang Mai
- Elephant Nature Park
- Mae Hong Son
- Chiang Rai Province
- Day Trips from Chiang Mai
Specific questions I have: How many temples did you see? I’ve heard friends say that all of the main temples are amazing, but it’s hard to do in one day because you get tired. Recommendations for how many days in Riem Reap? Would the day trip to Beng Mealea and the floating village be amazeballs?
- Siem Reap (2 days)
- Day trip to Kompong Khleang and Beng Mealea
- Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Phrom
Phnom Penh Coastal Islands: Koh Rung
Specific questions I have: A friend recommended I stay in Hanoi and just have it be the Vietnam home base as we travel to Ha Long Bay, potentially Hoi An and Phong Nha, and maybe even Sa Pa. Thoughts on how to best see Vietnam? I had to already ruthlessly strike through a lot of Central and Southern Vietnam.
Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City (2 days) Mui Ne / Phan Thiet Town Dalat
- Hoi An
- Phong Nha (Ke Bang National Park)
- Ha Long Bay
Ba Be National Park Sa Pa
So! Here I am. It’s already August somehow, and I need to get a few things in order, especially considering I need specific dates entering and leaving Vietnam to acquire my visa. I just wanted to hear from you all, my trusty Internet brain, your best tips, and suggestions. I appreciate any help and you taking the time. Sincerely, I do!
Even writing out this post has settled a bit of the anxiety I’ve been feeling about being unprepared for the journey.
As I get a little closer to the trip, I’d love to do an updated itinerary, and maybe even share packing lists and stuff, if that is interesting to you. I’ll keep a little running list of to do’s that are on my mind…
My Current To-Do Before the Trip:
Research VISA information Write a post calling for suggestions
- Call for suggestions on Instagram
- Finalize cities to visit
- Finalize sights and tours to do in each city
- Book accommodations / find hostels, Airbnb, hotels
- Purchase airfare between Thailand and Vietnam and Cambodia
- Get passport photos printed
- Purchase Vietnam VISA online
- Check up on vaccines (I haven’t in a while…)
- Create packing list
- Dog and gecko sitters
- Look into a better travel backpack?
- New camera?
- Add stuff to the To Do list
Alright. Long rambles. Thanks for reading this far!
Much love friends!
25 replies on “PLANNING FOR 3 WEEKS IN VIETNAM, CAMBODIA, AND THAILAND”
Malaysian here – I spent 2 full days in Siem Reap, the temples are amazing especially if you watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat! The hotel I stayed in also hired a tuk tuk driver to drive us around so we got around quicker than the cyclists but slower than the tourists in cars – it depends on your mode of transport. The temples are really amazing though; I’m looking forward to your photos!
The floating village in Cambodia was cool but we were a little thrown off by the fact that we were “mandated” to visit an orphanage in the middle of the floating village and buy some boxes of food/supplies for them as “charity”. It wasn’t expensive or anything but it just felt a little scammy. I don’t regret going though, it was a great experience.
Halong Bay was beautiful especially since I’m from a tropical area and the region was cool and slightly “wintery” in January (we heard from our guide that it had just rained non-stop the week before though). There were older American couples in our cruise marveling at the sights so I guess that might suit your parents’ tastes as well? /stereotyping hahah
I’ve never been to Chiang Mai and my Bangkok trip was a short one almost a decade ago, I’ve heard the area has changed quite a bit since then so I’ve got no pointers on that, haha.
Have fun and be prepared for “traveler’s diarrhea”! Haha
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I’ll be traveling with Zach (no parents this time) but I was also told by a friend who recently was in Vietnam and Thailand for like 4 months to definitely do a cruise in Halong Bay.
Oh yeah I saw a little bit about the orphanage stop in Cambodia…but I’ve read some conflicting things about other for-profit floating villages where money doesn’t go to the people who live there…and wanted to be sure not to feed that scheme.
Thank you for all your tips! I’ll have to visit Malaysia too in the near future. So many places I want to go.
Can’t wait for the diarrhea….lollllol.
Wish you would go to the Philippines. Best beaches in the world. 🙂
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I see a visit to the Philippines in my future! The Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia…so many places I’d want to go.
Hi Sarah! First of all, so happy you’re going to my part of the world (another one of your readers from Philippines!), South east asia.
Just want to say that my favorite, favorite place in SEA (aside from my country) is Bagan, Myanmar. Myanmar has only recently opened its doors to tourism and so the Old Town of Bagan has the least visited tourists so their temples are so very well preserved. You can check here: http://www.go-myanmar.com/the-temples-of-bagan
HOWEVER, given that your going August and there won’t be any hot air balloons, and you’re pretty much set on these three wonderful countries anyway, I would love for you to visit Myanmar and other parts of SEA (Phils!) in the future 🙂
So to comment on your itinerary:
– Chiang Mai is definitely my favorite place in Thailand! I 100% recommend this. Day trips from BKK are doable as long as you’re ready to get up early and not get too frustrated with the language barrier.
– Haven’t visited any place in Cambodia except Angkor Wat and please go here early!! IT can be very crowded.
-Vietnam is my favorite of the three countries you listed and I’m quite sad you wont be able to see Saigon/Ho Chi Minh! However, definitely do the Halong Bay cruise and EAT LOTS OF PHO!!! I seriously went to vietnam twice just to eat eat eat lol
Enjoy and very excited for you! 🙂
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Tanya! Thank you so much for your thorough comment.
Since I’ve never been to Southeast Asia, I wasn’t sure the best course of travel. For a first time, I relied a lot on three friends who had visited recently…I wish that I could stay longer than 3 weeks in SEA, but ALAS! However! I do 100% intend to come back and see especially the Philippines, Malaysia, and now I’ll have to add Myanmar to the list!
I’ve heard a few folks say try to see Angkor Wat at sunrise and that sounds magical and I’ll definitely try to do that. My friends told me the food in Vietnam is just incredible! I can’t wait. Anything else I should be sure to eat in Vietnam??
Thanks again! I’m getting more and more excited….
Yes!! Please come back and safe travels on your upcoming trip 🙂
Definitely go to Angkor Wat at sunrise!
OMG, eat everything in vietnam, everything is so fresh! But definitely buy bottled water though! 🙂
Oh this is so exciting! I’m very envious!!
So, although I’ve never been to SE Asia, my boyfriend has, so I will ask him for travel recommendations since he’s a pro at this sort of thing. Also one of my best friends travels to Thailand at least once a year for work, and specifically stays in Chiang Mai, so she’ll definitely have tips on what to see as well as where to stay/eat etc. What’s more, one of my friends from work has just spent the last few months backpacking around SE Asia and has posted some amazing sights on her instagram. I’m DM you her insta and also ask her for her recommendations given that she’s still there now (I think in Thailand right now…?) and has been travelling on a budget so will have good tips I’m sure.
I might have to steal your itinerary if I ever save up enough to do a big trip!
Thank you thank you—esp accommodations and budget travel ideas. Appreciate any words of wisdom from your boyfriend and friend!
And I’m happy to post a completed itinerary for download after all this planning is done!
Oh, and my favourite restaurant here in London is Cambodian so I am extra envious about that part of your trip. Lok lak steak is deliiiiicccciooouuuussssss
I don’t think I’ve ever had Cambodian food, so I’ll have to look out of lok lak steak and other goodies when I’m there! Yuuuum.
Hello, Indonesian here!
2 days in Siem Reap is not enough! Because that’s exactly what I did last time. Apparently, there’s so much to see and do in Siem Reap. When you visit Angkor Wat, it took one whole day, I recommend you to hire TukTuk for a day which costs USD 20. I even went back to the hostel to freshen up before enjoying the sunset in Phnom Bakheng. The night life is Siem Reap reminds me of Bangkok so much.
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Hello! Thank you for your comment and travel advice. I was worried that 2 days wouldn’t be enough, I’ve seen online that it’s recommended 3 or 4 days. How long did it take you from your hotel to Phnom Bakheng via tuk tuk? Just curious!
I think it’s only about 10 minutes, I was staying at Monkey Hostel. It’s a very nice hostel with helpful staff and great crowd, also it’s near many food places 🙂
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Hi there! I visited Vietnam about 2 years ago. We started in Ho Chi Minh City and made our way up to Hanoi. HCMC is very metropolitan while Hanoi is more relaxed. In Hanoi, I enjoyed walking around Ho Kiem Lake and watching locals posing for engagement shoots (I was there on a weekend, I think). Also enjoyed the egg coffee at Giang Cafe; tasted like rich melted mocha ice cream. They take coffee very seriously in Vietnam. You won’t run out of coffee shops to visit 🙂 I think you’d love walking around the Old Quarter. From barbers setting up shop in street corners to ladies in bicycles selling everything from flowers to vegetables to cleaning supplies to street eateries and their iconic plastic stools – I couldn’t stop taking pictures.
For Halong Bay, I joined an overnight cruise with Emeraude Cruises and highly recommend them. The crew’s very friendly and the food is amazing! They never stop feeding you in cruises, I swear. We also had the option to kayak on one of the excursions. I think it was when we were visiting a pearl farm. Though the trip to the farm was nothing exciting, I loved kayaking especially since we did it in the late afternoon. We returned just as the sun was setting behind the limestone cliffs and it was soooo quiet and peaceful.
Hoi An is my favorite – especially at night with all the lanterns lit up. It also has the best bahn mi according to Anthony Bourdain (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUMlwNHNXp0) – tried it and although I don’t think it’s the best bahn mi ever , it’s good and cheap – definitely worth more than the price I paid for.
I haven’t been to Siem Riep in 6 years, but I remember liking Banteay Srei or the pink temple. Also a restaurant called Blue Pumpkin. Also depending on when you go, I found splurging on an air conditioned car worth it for going around the temples. It can get unbearably hot there.
Hope you enjoy your trip! SEA is amazing. 🙂
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Thank you so much for your comment! Now I am incredibly excited to try all the coffee in Vietnam *drooling*.
May I ask how you got from place to place in Vietnam? I’m looking now the best way to get from Hanoi to Phong Nha area, and from there down to Hoi An. I think there are sleeper buses and trains. What did you do?
It’s been about 7 years since I last visited Thailand (I have family there) and Ayutthaya was really cool. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, and I’ve found that UNESCO World Heritage sites are, in general, worth a visit.
Good luck with the heat and humidity!
Ooo! I’m so excited to see the photos from your trip.
Throwing my two penny’s worth into the mix, I thought I’d share some of the activities we did on our travels. Like you, I enjoy planning trips just as much as spontaneity. But I hate, hate, hate the thought of being scammed, so I thoroughly researched every ‘touristy’ activity we did before handing over any pennies.
I could write for days on the subject of travel but I’ll try and limit myself here. For reference, we travelled to Cambodia and South Vietnam in 2011, and Thailand and North Vietnam in 2015.
I was pretty angsty about which elephant sanctuary to go to because I didn’t want to inadvertently support one that didn’t treat their elephants well. We absolutely loved our experience with Baanchang. We went on the half day which included waking with, feeding and bathing the elephants (no riding, although they do offer bare back riding). The elephants seemed very happy and the staff were very caring of the animals. This remains one of my favourite memories from our year of travelling.
We went on LNT4 which was a great taster for trekking in the hills. We thought we might have liked to have done a longer stay, had we not already been in Thailand for longer than anticipated, but in retrospect, 1 night was enough. Day one involves a whistle stop tour of some fun Chiang Rai sights which would’ve been a bit of a pain to try and get to ourselves. Then a trek to a village where we stayed a traditional house, complete with pig pen underneath it. We were lulled to sleep by the dulcet tones of the porkers oinking and the village dogs howling. It was fantastic. More fun trekking on day two, with an amazing meal cooked in the forest and then a quick trip to a hot spring which smells of eggs, but is very relaxing.
You can definitely do Ayutthaya in a day. We ended up spending the night but that is because we got a late start. We got the train from Bangkok.
Whenever we travel for long periods, we like to pop to the cinema to see a film. I’m not sure how much tickets cost in the US, but they’re pretty pricey here in the UK. We really enjoyed seeing the new Bond film at the IMAX for relative pennies compared to back home. The cinema experience in Thailand is a fun one too – they play a reel of footage of the King, whilst the national anthem plays. Everyone has to stand to attention whilst it’s on.
We did visit the floating villages as a side trip whilst we were in Cambodia and whilst it was really interesting, I think given how little time you have, this would be one to miss.
Drink all of the coffee (especially the egg coffee) and eat all the pho and bahn mi in Hanoi. I don’t have specific recommendations here unfortunately because we basically picked places to eat/drink based on how busy with locals (or who we assumed were locals) it was. Our method didn’t fail us, however.
One specific place that does come mind for food, if you go to Hoi Ann, there’s a restaurant called Seedlings whose clay pot pork and cocktails I still dream of. It’s also very reasonable priced. There are some biking/kayaking recommendations I could give you if you decide to spend some time there.
Again, given how relatively little time you have, I would suggest a 1 night Halong Bay trip. This is one place where all the research in the world didn’t really help me pick which company to go with. There are so many opinion, so much advice and so many opportunities to get scammed that in the end, I gave up and just went with a place our hostel recommended. Thankfully it worked out very well, although as tend to happen in Asia, when you buy one thing you may well get another. We were ‘upgraded’ to a different boat which I think is code for, we couldn’t fill the other one so we are putting you on this one. It actually worked out in our favour as our cruise was lovely and we got an amazing room, on the top deck, all to ourselves.
Apologies in advance for all the typos, I’ve furiously been writing this on my iPhone and I tend to miss when it autocorrect my words incorrectly!!
I’m coming to LA in October and would love to hear any recommendations you might have? I’ve already gleaned a few from years of reading your LJ – namely the Boiling Crab and the Getty!