10 Travel Lessons from Indochina

“a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Laozi

vietnam-hoian (Hoi An, Vietnam)

I just came back from a 4-week vacation to “Indochina” (Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos) with my gf.
Here’s the itinerary, main attractions and means of transportation we’ve used.

  • Venice to Bangkok (Thailand) with stop in Dubai with emirates: great airline, comfy chairs and good food.
  • Bangkok: we stayed in Chinatown, the city was too crowdy for us, but the area around the royal palace is great.
  • Ayuttaya trip by taxi.
  • Seam Reap (Cambodia) via plane to see the Angkor area: majestic!
  • Da nang (Vietnam) via plane
  • Hoi An (A-W-E-S-O-M-E!!!!) via shuttle bus + Cham islands (not really worth it)
  • Hué via sleeping bus
  • Dong Hoi via local bus + Phong Nha Kẻ Bàng national park to see the caves (mesmerizing!)
  • Hanoi via night train
  • Halong bay (unmissable!) via shuttle bus + Cat Ba national park
  • Hanoi via shuttle bus
  • Sa Pa (great rice terrace views!) via night train to Lao cai & shuttle bus
  • Hanoi airport via sleeping bus
  • Luang Prabang (Laos) via plane: fantastic!
  • Chiang Mai (illuminating talk with Buddhist monks) via plane
  • Chiang Rai via bus
  • Bangkok via plane
  • Venice via plane with Emirates, upgrade to business class up to Dubai!!!

Unluckily due to time, budget, and weather constraints, we didn’t manage to go to the South of Thailand to see islands, beaches, and the sea…

Altogether we spent, ALL included, about 110€/day per person. Getting the flight earlier would have probably saved us an extra 200-300€.

bangkok-wat-arun (Wat Arun – Bangkok, Thailand)

Lessons learnt:

  1. Do laundry on the spot when you need it, it’s 1$/kg (if your hotel charges more, go outside on the street to find it)
  2. Food and drinks are cheap: 2€/$ for a dish, 0.50€/$ for a soda; food in the street is generally half price of what you find in a restaurant.
  3. Get a meter taxi when you can (from a recommended company, use Wiki Travel to find out), it’s usually cheaper than tuk-tuk. Public transport is cheapest of course. In many airports if you walk 200m out of the exit there are cheaper means of transport (used by locals I guess).
  4. Either you have a tour guide who can speak good English or just have a driver to get you around (or go by yourself), the tours we took were not so great, do them yourself with mopeds!
  5. Use mopeds/motorbikes (only with automatic transmission!!!) to get around the city, it’s the best way and cost just 4€/$/day (don’t get them at the hotel, find them on the street so it’s cheaper, no Driver license needed!)
  6. Hotels/guesthouses: agoda.com is a great place to find a good place to sleep, have them including breakfast, don’t get anything else from them (laundry, tuk-tuks, tours). Only book 1 day in advance at a time, so you’re flexible in changing your plans in needed, and in case you can always stay an extra night at usually a cheaper price!
  7. Get a local SIM card (5/10€ well spent) for your smart phone, so you have internet (and navigation with google maps!!)
  8. Bargaining: for souvenirs, transportation, tours, etc.: by chance in Kenya I stumbled across this “technique”… Lowball at 1/10 of what they say and see their reaction… Usually half price of their initial price is a correct price, but I always thought I could have done better. The important thing is to have options (e.g. More than 1 souvenir shop you can buy from, hence never buy the first thing you like! you can always come back later) and not too care too much about what you are buying (i.e. I can come back later… Usually another good “technique” I found is not to bargain at all, just give a low price and keep saying that, then go away if it’s not met). Never accept their first offer!!! In any case the common sense plays a key-role: it’s way better to negotiate hard on big purchases where you can save “big bucks” (10-15€, i.e. tours, expensive souvenirs, hand-made tailor-fitted clothes…) than on small purchases where you can save little (2-3€, i.e. tuk-tuk rides…)
  9. … Upgrade to business class on long flights, if u can!!! Ask in a very friendly way when you check-in, especially if the flight is overbooked, you check-in early, are well-dressed, and have a frequent flier card (and maybe say you’re on your honey-moon :-P)…
  10. Don’t expect the locals to solve your problems, take the initiative and solve them yourself! E.g. The bus we took to Chiang Rai broke down halfway, so if another one arrives and goes in the same direction: GET IN! Don’t expect the employees of the bus company to fix the problem for you by accommodating you on the next available bus, do it yourself (also because they hardly speak English). Another example: at the travel agency in Sa Pa they said the bus would only stop at the centre of Hanoi, but we needed to go to the airport… so we talked to the bus driver who agreed to freely stop the bus at about 2km from the airport, which saved us 2 hours (and of course where it stopped there was a taxi for the remaining 2km)! Hence, do-it-yourself and ask for forgiveness instead of permission… 😉

vietnam-sapa (Sa Pa, Vietnam)

We also noticed that despite the most beautiful places are in Vietnam (we wished we had stayed more in Laos to compare though), the average Vietnamese is not as nice/pleasable/kind as (northern) Thais, Cambodians and Laotians… Also because in Vietnamese culture it’s much more ok to make tourists pay more than locals, compared to the other countries mentioned above.

What about you? any tips to share for our next vacation?!? 😀

angkor-thom (Angkor Thom, Cambodia)

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