Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand? Help!

I’m staring at the calendar. I have three and a half weeks of vacation time coming up at Christmas. What to do?

I am facing three options:

  • America.
  • Indonesia – most likely Bali (again) and possibly Lombok or other islands.
  • Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand.
  • Jakarta – absolutely not.

The first and last option are much more expensive propositions, but have serious advantages.

America - I haven’t been back to the States in a year and a half and am feeling like a car needing an oil change. I’d love to see my family again, but they’re totally understanding, so I may push this option back until summer. I’m also undecided whether this will be my last year in Indonesia or not – which would mean I should prioritize traveling in Asia – NOW.

Indonesia - well I’ve been to Bali half a dozen times and love it every time. My three weeks there in July were wonderful (except for my head on collision while on a motorcycle – ouch.). My only regret was that for some odd reason I wasn’t taking nearly as many photos as I should have. Looking back, I’m kicking myself for giving up that immense opportunity by not taking full advantage of being there. So going back could have its perks. Plus it’s much cheaper than leaving the country. I’d love to hike some of the volcanoes this time.

Cambodia - A group of my collegues spent last week touring around the land. A first hand account with some great photos can be viewed on my friend, Ian’s, blog. Hearing about their experiences has made me even more eager to see places like Angkor Wat. I know that I’d be absolutely taken with the place.

Thailand - I have yet to visit, despite being relatively close here in Indonesia. It has always fascinated me in more ways than I can explain. Still can’t believe I haven’t been.

Vietnam – I’m not a war buff at all, but many of my friends have visited and loved their time in Vietnam. I think I’ll have to do a bit more ‘research’ into this one, but have heard only good things.

If anyone has any experience traveling or living in any of these places (except America), I’d really appreciate hearing of your experiences, opinions, and/or links to any sites or photos of anything relevant.

Why the sudden urges? Check out my friend’s images below and you’ll see why:

60 Responses to “Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand? Help!”

  1. The good thing is that you can’t go wrong with whichever one you select. Not a bad dilemma. Might want to go for the one that will likely change the most in the next few years -Cambodia – Siem Reap is going through a hotel building boom. And our driver pointed out many more plots of land that have been sited for hotels. But they can’t really touch the temple complexes so they should remain the same. Also the outlying areas will remain the same for a long time – if you want to get off the beaten path.

    I’ll be sitting on the couch in Illinois getting fat.

  2. Hi Brandon,

    excuse me for my bad english.

    Why do you want to go out of Indonesia for your vacation? I mean, IF you will go back to America in 1 year, you can go to visit Thailand etc, from there, ok, the costs for the flight ticket is a little bit more expensive, but the costs for travelling in these countrys will be nearly the same. As long as you stay in Indonesia enjoy Indonesia and vistit the islands you havn´t seen yet (Bali is great, but not the only one)
    Greetings from Germany

    btw, I´ll be sitting on the couch in Germany and getting fat, too. lol. I am going to visit Surabaya and Bali in May/June 2006

  3. Vietnam. Go. We loved it–and talk daily of going back. Head for the mid-coastal region. beaches to die for. the food is amazing.

    (if come stateside, let us know)

  4. I’d recommend Vietnam.

    My brother and I travelled from Saigon to Hanoi (and in between) for a few weeks in July and LOVED it.

    It’s pretty cheap, the people are so friendly, the food is DELICIOUS, beautiful beaches, gorgeous rainforest.

    I have heard wonderful things about Cambodia (esp Angkor Wat) and Thailand too. Perhaps you can do a loop including all 3 countries if the budget allows?!

  5. ISD – A couch in Illinois sounds like my worst nightmare. ;)

    At least you’ll see snow again – I can’t even remember what it feels like. Christmas sucks on the equator. ;)

  6. Indcoup – I always wanna spell your name “Indocoup” with an ‘o’ – where’d you get the name?

    I’ve had many people mention Bangkok, but I’m wondering if your enthusiasm stems from the ‘shady side of town’ or from the city itself. ;) I’ll give it some thought.

  7. Juergen – No need to excuse your English – the fact that you’ve mastered another language makes me feel pretty lazy. I’ve been here for over 3 years and still can’t read a book in B. Indonesia.

    Also – you’ve got an interesting point. When I do decide to leave here, it could be an awesome chance to travel around (considering I wouldn’t be employed) – plus I’d have a nice chunk of change from selling my new car. Definitely an option to do this all at a later date and stay in Indonesia for now.

    I have never seen Lombok or even Sumatra for that fact, so I have far from exhausted my time in Indonesia. Thanks for the input.

    Good luck with your couch plans – maybe you can hang with ISD. ;)

  8. John and Sarah – It’s amazing how time flies. I owe you a long email, and have absolutely no excuse as to why I haven’t written one.

    Your stories of Vietnam are some of the reasons I’ve considered it. The only thing I’m wondering – would Dec/Jan be cold (cooler) in Vietnam during that time? I’d love to hit the beaches.

    I’ll write you guys soon.

  9. Nicole – Thanks for throwing in your 2 cents as well. I was feeling the same way – if I’m already up in that area, why not see 3 or more of the countries (which would tie in with going at a later, unemployed date).

    I’ve heard Hanoi is beautiful and even better than Saigon – what do you think?

  10. I’d recommend Vietnam. I haven’t been there, but everyone I know who’s visited and one was lucky enough to work there on various EU projects couldn’t say enough good things about it. The photog friends have also taken amazing photos, which of course you can do everywhere on the planet… but as far as I can tell, Vietnam (and Cambodia and Laos) haven’t been as spoiled by tourism as Thailand yet (which I’ve been to, but would still recommend Vietnam, even though I haven’t been). I don’t know if that’s helpful, but that’s my vote.

    Check out my friend Sockeyed’s photos from Vietnam last year:

    In fact, he just wrote me an e-mail from northern Thailand last week, and says he was really disappointed with his experience thus far, calling it “overrun with tourists, bland…” He’s a seasoned traveller to countries like India, Turkey, and China, just so you know where the opinion is coming from.

  11. when we were there in June it was really hot–a bit unbearable really. there’s not a lot of AC either. so a bit cooler might be just right. the place that we loved was hoi an–popular tourist spot, but rather charming.

    good luck wherever you go. lombok is worth the trip (qunci villas). sumatra too.

  12. Hanoi IS a beautiful city with the various quarters – Old Quarter, French Quarter etc.

    But Saigon is also really fascinating (and quite crazy) from District 1 in the centre (Ben Thanh markets, museums, reunification palace etc) out to Cholon (the old Chinese area), and other areas.

    Unfortunately I didn’t have time this trip to visit Sapa, or spend longer in Hanoi. Halong Bay and Hoi An were two very special places.

    I can’t wait to get back to Vietnam sometime soon. It’s definitely one of those countries that sucks you right in!!

  13. Hi Brandon:

    We spent three weeks travelling though Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia on buses and boats (KL – Koh Pha-Ngan – Bangkok – Siam Riep (Angkor Wat) – Phnom Penh – Sihanoukville – Trat – Bangkok – Ko Phi-Phi – Ko Lanta – KL).

    Highlights by far were Angkor Wat, Angkor Wat and Angkor Wat. One day is not enough, one could easily spend 5 days there, especially with a nice new Olympus camera!. Night life in Siem Reap is relaxed. Take a boat on Tonle Sap (enormous lake), where you’ll find whole communities in floating “kampungs”, complete with floating churchs, mosques, police stations and schools. When the water level falls in the dry season the villages are moved as the shoreline migrates. Phnom Penh is interesting too, Presidential Palace is photogenic, hang out in the FCC (Foreign Correspondents Club) in the centre of town (overlooking the Mekong). The walls are covered in an amazing collection of contributions from war photojournalists. There is a lot more than Angkor Wat to do and see in Cambodia, I wished we had time to travel further inland. It does takes time to get around, the road network is very poor, especially away from Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, so make flexible travel plans. It is also inadvisable to wander from well trodden paths – landmines and ordnance, even around Angkor Wat!. As you seem to have a tendency to fall-off sepeda motor, I would buy some very good medivac insurance, Cambodia is no place to have an accident.

    I would avoid the border crossing at Poipet (from Thailand) again, where a very active tourist mafia operates – fun but slightly annoying too!. Fly into Phnom Penh, bus to Siem Reap, boat to Battenberg, bus to Phnom Pehn, then bus over the border to Siagon. 7 days in Cambodia, 14 in Vietnam and Laos – sorted!

    Okay that’s it, I’ve just talked myself to go back next year with my new 70s!!

    I’ll upload some pics to my new Minigal site soon and send you the link.

    Richard – Jakarta

  14. Gail – thanks for that link to the flickr photos. I’ve checked them out – great stuff! His photos really captured the vibrance of the people.

  15. J&S – Yeah, I still haven’t checked that place out that you mentioned a while back. I also can’t believe I haven’t seen Sumatra yet – considering it’s like a one hour flight from JKT.

  16. Richard – I appreciate you taking the time to write such a complete and thorough guide to Cambodia.

    I’d love to see the pics, so please send off a link. How long have you been in Jakarta?

    By the way, the my motorcycle accident in Bali was completely the other guy’s fault – as he came into my lane and hit me head-on. ;) But, yes, I have full insurance already.

    Send the link soon.

  17. Juergen – I checked out those links. A floating villa??? Sounds great but the only price I saw listed was at around $300 – is that per night or per week? If that’s per night that terribly expensive for anything in Lombok wouldn’t you agree?

    The Balinese resort looked wonderful, I’ll have to investigate further. Thanks for the links.

    By the way guys, I have my ‘filter’ set to pickup on comments that include any links – they are marked as spam until I approve them. So if you leave a comment with a link, it may not show up right away, but realize that it will eventually. ;)

  18. Definitely head to Southeast Asia! I got to spend two months traveling in Burma/Thailand/Cambodia back in early 2003 and I highly, highly recommend it.

    -my favorite restaurant *on earth* is May Kaidee in Bangkok: – you can even take cooking classes with her!

    -there are several Vipassana centers around – the 10-day courses are super-intense but totally worth doing

    -Angkor is unbelievable, but go asap. They’re putting in an international airport in the town next to Angkor (it might already be finished, I dunno), so eventually tourists won’t even have to deal with Phnom Penh or neverending roadtrips from the Thai or Vietnamese borders.

    Email me if you’d like any more info, and have a great trip!

  19. i've visited the three and I like them equally. However if I had to choose one, i'd go for thailand.


  1. Descending at j a v a j i v e :: paradise is not all that it seems :: - December 12, 2005

    […] Well, we’ve decided to use our 3 weeks of vacation in Bali – yet again. We’ll leave this Saturday, the 17th. After much thought and discussion, I think it makes the most sense this time. As I mentioned last month, we were thinking of trying to get to Cambodia, Vietnam, and/or Thailand, but I just feel that three weeks isn’t quite long enough for such an undertaking – plus, it makes more sense to wait until I’m ready to leave Indonesia (enjoying a period of unemployment and freedom to travel a bit) – when I’ll also have plenty of $$ to make it happen the right way. […]

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