My flight from Bangkok to Düsseldorf on Monday 24 November was delayed by 2 hours because of the snowfall in Düsseldorf. From 30 degrees and sun to 0 degrees and snow, the difference could not be much larger. And what happened to global warming with snow in the Netherlands in November?
Time for a trip review:
- Did I see everything that I wanted to see (Angkor, Cu Chi, Luang Prabang, Chiang Mai)? – Yes, and more.
- Did I do everything that I wanted to do (diving, hiking, biking, tubing)? – Yes.
- Did I go everywhere where I wanted to go (Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos)? – Yes, even Myanmar.
- Did I have fun? – Yes.
- Did I get bored anywhere? – No.
Would I do anything different next time? Maybe take the advice of some people to fit less countries in a 5-week trip. I should have left Vietnam out, as 6 days there was too short. About 3 weeks would be better. But I knew that in advance, and therefore skipped the North entirely (in favour of South Laos), and my initial research indicated that the border crossing between Cambodia and Laos would be difficult, something which proved not to be the case (Laos visa needs to be obtained in advance, Cambodia visa is issued at the border). But when that came to light we already had a visa for Vietnam and not using it would be a waste. The main reason for visiting less countries is spending less hours in the bus or train, as now it was sometimes 7 hours in the bus on consecutive days. Visiting less places would allow to stay longer in certain places, thus avoiding long bus travel every day. But then again, many places were only interesting for a half or full day, staying longer would only allow me to read more books (which is something I can do at home as well, although I do not seem to get around to it there).
Some comments on each country:
- Thailand: the most touristy, the best developed (excl. Singapore and Malaysia) and the friendliest country of South-East Asia. Still my favourite. The right level of customer service, not too pushy (as in Vietnam), not too uninterested (as in Laos). It seems every time I only visit for a short time (10 days in 2003, 12 days now), and I always leave places to visit next time (Kanchanaburi, Surin elephant round-up in November, islands like Ko Tao, Ko Phi Phi). And I do like Bangkok (aside from the political mess at the moment) for the fact that it is so varied: the ultra-capitalistic commercial area around Siam, sensory-overload Chinatown, quiet padang fields West of the river and backpacker-central Khao San Road (although I did not visit the area this time). And traffic is not really an issue when using the Skytrain, MRT and river boats.
- Cambodia: the strangest country to travel in. People are either really poor (the large majority) or really rich (I have not seen so many Lexus SUVs before). If nothing else, visit Angkor, it was the highlight of my trip. Just realise that Siem Reap is not representative of the country. I do not claim to have seen all of Cambodia in 6 days, but I think I got a good impression.
- Vietnam: most touristy and best developed after Thailand. Very proud people, a bit pushy, but at least that results in good customer service. If you do not like busy cities, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is not for you, as crossing the road is already a challenge. No problem once you understand the informal road rules (no hesitation!). You also need to like people, as there are 85 million, resulting in houses along the road everywhere. As already mentioned, 6 days is not nearly enough, and I am wondering how my parents will like Dalat and the North.
- Laos: most laid-back country I have ever been to. Non-existent customer service. Expensive transportation. Cheap accommodation. Good beer. My expectations were quite high, as everybody who has been there raved about it. I guess they were too high. I spent 13 days there and got a good impression of the country, visiting almost all the highlights. The real Laos is in the South and the North, not in Luang Prabang or Vang Vieng. If you think about visiting only those two places, I would recommend not visiting Laos at all.