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Default_avatarcontiki_matt (contiki_matt)

BACKGROUND Hello everyone. I recently (early February 2012) went on Contiki’s Asian Adventure, which, FYI, is also the first leg of the Big Indochina Adventure. While trying to decide on this trip and after I did finally decide to go, I had a lot of questions about traveling to Southeast Asia. For some reason, tips, especially Contiki related ones, are kind of hard to find. So after I returned, I decided to write this guide to help answer some of the biggest questions I had based on my experiences. Hopefully, this will help someone else out in the future. Note: I am an American, thus this guide is written from an American perspective and will deal with flights, visas, money, etc all from that angle. I will try as much as possible to relate to countries other than the USA, however, some of my tips will be US specific. I promise there will be something for everyone though. Also, this is not meant to be a review of MY Contiki trip. I do not want to spoil all the surprises or tell you exactly what you are going to do. I will leave discovering the actual adventure up to you. FLIGHTS Currently, Contiki does not offer flight packages on its Asian tours. This means that it is up to you to book your own flights. On top of that, both the Asian Adventure and Big Indochina Adventure start and end in different cities. So here is what I did: I used sites like kayak.com, travelocity.com, expedia.com, orbits.com, hipmunk.com, etc to book a round trip ticket in and out of Bangkok from my home city. I found it is much cheaper to book roundtrip with an additional flight booked separately than multi-city. For my additional flight, I booked a one way flight from our ending city, Siem Reap for the Asian Adventure, to Bangkok. Flights within Southeast Asia are very inexpensive. Bangkok Airways is one of the only (maybe the only) airline to service Siem Reap, so I had to use them. Their website, bangkokair.com, offers the best deals. If you plan on doing any additional traveling while you are there, AirAsia.com offers the cheapest flights. I get the impression they are kind of like the Southwest Airlines of Southeast Asia; cheap, no frills flights. Tips: Use a site like yapta.com to track your flight for at least a week. You should also check out Bing Travel and use their flight price history tool (although sometimes there is no pricing history for certain flights). Using these two tools, I was able to watch the price of my flights fluctuate for two weeks and then purchase when I knew it was the lowest. This saved me almost $500. It is well worth your time to plan in advance so you can take the time to monitor your flight price and buy it at a low point. FYI, don’t buy on Friday or Saturday. Those seem to be the most expensive days. TRAVEL INSURANCE I would highly recommend traveler’s insurance. It is cheap and if you actually need it, it is worth its weight in gold many times over. If you are doing an Asian tour with Contiki, you really don’t have a choice though. Contiki requires it. What is up to you, though, is how you get it. Contiki offers a perfectly fine service for traveler’s insurance, although it is slightly more expensive than other options. The real issue I see with using Contiki’s insurance is that they will not extend your dates on either side of your trip. So, let’s say for example you want to do what I did and go on Contiki’s Asian Adventure and then travel on your own to Phuket or any other place for some period of time either before or after your trip. Well, Contiki will cover you for the time you are with them, but after (or before) that you are SOL. That is why I would recommend using a service like worldnomads.com for your entire trip. That way you’ll save some money AND be covered for your entire trip. FYI, Contiki requires you to have travel insurance at the time of your booking. If you don’t already have it, they automatically put you on their plan. When I booked my trip, you could cancel their service up to a week after you booked, but after that you are stuck with their plan. So, if you want to use another company for insurance, either have it pre-booked (so you can give them your policy number and info) or make sure and ask about their insurance cancellation policy at the time of your booking so you can call them back once you get your own. TIMING YOUR PURCHASES If you follow my flight price monitoring tip above you may start to wonder how to book your trip, flight, and insurance. Here is what I ended up doing: 1. Pick a trip and a date from the Contiki website 2. Monitor the proper flights for that trip and days 3. Find the best time to purchase those flights 4. When airline ticket prices are the cheapest, I called Contiki and had them hold a spot for me on the trip I wanted (they will do this for 24 hours) 5. Use that 24 hour window to purchase your flights 6. Call Contiki back once you have purchased all your flights without problems and either pay for or put a deposit down on your trip so that your spot is now reserved 7. Decide to either use Contiki’s travel insurance or book your own. As of this writing Contiki requires you to have travel insurance when you book so you can either just use theirs or get your own before you call them back VISAS Note that I did not travel to Vietnam so I am not sure what the policy is there. The following will help you with Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos… Americans do not need to arrange visas prior to traveling to Thailand. You can just walk up and they will stamp your passport upon entering the country (which I guess is technically a visa, but I mean a visa you can’t get upon arrival). The cost of this is $0. I believe this is also true of Canadian, Australian, and many other countries. Thailand is no big deal at all. It is just like going through customs in a country like Canada or Mexico. Cambodia and Laos are a bit different. Although you can, you do NOT need to apply for your visa beforehand. Applying beforehand will not save you any time or money. Everyone in your group will have to stand in line, pay their fee, and fill out paper work. Prices range for each country. For the US, I believe the cost was $20US and $35US for the two visas. You need to have this money in US currency (new, flat, not ripped bills or they will not take it). You also need to have ONE passport photo for each of your visas for a total of TWO photos. I took six passport photos with me simply because I followed the guide published by the US Government for passport photos here http://travel.state.gov/passport/pptphotoreq/pptphotoreq_5333.html and printed it off on 4x6 photo paper at my local drug store. Then I cut the 4x6 into the 2x2 passport photos, hence 6 photos. It is very easy to make your own passport photos. Just follow the guide, upload your photo, and use their tool to size and crop your image, then print it out using your favorite photo printing service. It cost me $0.27 total. Your Contiki rep should be able to advise you on all the latest visa requirements so it would always be a good idea to double check this info. More information can be found on visas here: http://www.thaivisa.com/immigration/visa/tourist-visa.html http://www.mfa.go.th/web/2637.php IMMUNIZATIONS/MEDICINE/HEALTH Let me start off by saying that immunizations and medicine are a very personal choice. Some people are completely against them and that is fine, good luck to them, but I have immunizations and take the approach of wanting to be safe but also not wanting to have $500 in medication I don’t really need. So you can take or leave my advice. I am not a doctor. You should consult yours, period. I, personally, went to my public health department and to my doctor for recommendations. This was overkill. They simply looked up the recommendations on the Center for Disease Control website. You can do that at home. Both my doctor and the health department recommended I get EVERYTHING the CDC said. I think that may be a liability thing… Anyway, I would recommend you have Hepatitis A and B, MMR, Polio, and Tetanus. You probably already have all of these from your childhood immunizations so not much to do here, although you may need a tetanus booster. All those are good to have for traveling anywhere. They will also recommend things like Typhoid or Japanese Encephalitis. I got the Typhoid shot. It set me back $100+. I do not think it was necessary. I passed on the Japanese Encephalitis as did everyone else on our tour. The only vaccine required by international regulations is yellow fever. Proof of vaccination will only be required if you have visited a country in the yellow-fever zone within the six days prior to entering Thailand. This is not an issue unless you are coming from Africa or something. The two other big things when traveling to Southeast Asia are Traveler’s Diarrhea (TD) and Malaria. I had my doctor prescribe me some antibiotics for TD incase $&!* hit the fan, literally. It cost me $4 to get it filled, but I didn’t use it. Money well spent IMHO. Malaria is another very controversial issue. I found there are two main (popular) types of malaria medicine: doxycycline and malarone. You should read about the side effects of each before choosing one and taking them. On our tour we had several people taking each. About half of each experienced the side effects and got sick. The other half were perfectly fine. They affect everyone differently. I had a prescription of doxycycline filled but never took it. Unless you are there during the wet season or you do not use lots and lots of bugs spray, it should not be a problem. I put 40% deet bug spray on every day. Other than your personal medications, I would recommend bringing a ton of Pepto Bismol, or generic equivalent, tablets. I look one at each meal. I would also recommend bringing a ton of hand sanitizer. I used this all the time. I believe that doing these two things helped me avoid getting TD, where as almost everyone else in our group had stomach issues at least part of the time. I would also recommend the following: DO NOT DRINK TAP WATER, buy bottled water. It is cheap. Don’t open your mouth in the shower. Brush your teeth with bottled water. Don’t eat fresh food like fruits or vegetables that have not been cooked or peeled by you unless the menu specifically says that their food is cleaned with filtered water. (Getting a salad at a random restaurant is just as bad as drinking tap water). Note that ice, at restaurants anyway, is okay. All ice is made at a factory and shipped to restaurants on a daily basis. The water used for making ice is treated. If you need any other medications, there are pharmacies on just about every corner. Whatever you need, they will have some form of it. Be very careful though. There is no FDA in Southeast Asia. One example that sticks out in my mind is that there is a type of malaria medication they like to give over there that is banned in the US because it causes heart issues. Counterfeit drugs can also be an issue in some places. Please just know what you are taking. WEATHER In a word, HOT, all the time hot. I was there in “winter” (February) and it was still hot. Bangkok is pretty hot. Northern Thailand and Laos are hot but not bad at all. Cambodia is hotter than Bangkok and it is humid. Instant sweat. A lot of the hotels you stay at have pools so that is a nice plus, but just expect to sweat. In these situations it is best to just try and keep some perspective: would you rather be at a comfortable temperature sitting behind a desk at work (or taking orders, playing customer service rep, doing homework, or whatever) or would you rather be sweating your balls off in Southeast Asia having the time of your life? Trust me, it is totally worth the heat. Just try to remember that when you are actually in the heat. The one exception to the hot is the morning you leave Pakbeng. You will be traveling on a boat down the Mekong River and you leave at like 8am. It is cool near the water, combine that with the wind from the boat and it gets freezing. It only lasts for an hour or two until the sun comes up, but our guide was wearing jeans, a t-shirt, a sweater, and a heavy jacket. Seems like a little overkill but the point is that you will be cold. The boat does have blankets for everyone, but I would still bring a sweatshirt or something and wear many layers. The night before the cold morning is an ‘overnight bag’ night because all the main luggage is loaded into storage areas in the hull of the boat. You cannot get to your bags for almost two days. So just remember to pack your warmest stuff when your guide starts talking about needing an overnight bag for travel on the Mekong. We were also somewhat concerned about all the flooding that happened in 2011 and how it would affect our tour. In short, it did not. The flooded areas were away from where the tours go and if I hadn’t know about it before hand I would have never known. ELECTRONICS Every hotel we stayed in had, in fact every plug I saw was, a universal adaptor wall outlet. This means that it doesn’t matter if you are from the UK, Canada, Australia, or the US, your home plugs will fit in their wall outlets (insert cheesy sex joke here). The thing for people from the US to consider is that they run 220V, NOT 110V like the US. So you need a converter (to convert 220V->110V) not an adapter (to make the plug fit). Luckily, many travel electronics such as laptops and camera chargers have 220/110 universal capabilities. Check your travel electronics and see. You may not need anything. For the ladies out there, about half of the hotels had hair dryers. Not sure if that helps much, cause I know you like your personal ones, but just so you know some of the hotels make them available to you. As for internet, there is WiFi in all the hotels and internet shops are everywhere. You have to pay a small fee to use WiFi in Thailand, but in Cambodia and Laos it is free. Also, several of the hotels have computers in their lobbies which will let you get on the internet for free. SCAMS/DANGER I really felt safe everywhere I went. As long as you don’t do anything stupid you will be fine. We were kind of concerned about some of the civil unrest that has gone on in the area during the past few years, but we had no issues at all and never saw any evidence of that sort of thing. Actually a bomb when off in Bangkok while were where over there and we didn’t even know until the tour manager got a call from Contiki. I never really experienced any scams, except for the one ‘too good to be true’ tuk tuk price where they take you to their buddy’s shop and try and sell you stuff (more on this in the GETTING AROUND section). No danger at all, just annoying telling them “no, you don’t want to buy” a million times. My best advice is that if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is. Just ask and make sure you know what you are getting into. One of my favorite quotes sums it up nicely: "if you're not paying for something, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold". You should be aware that the law is flexible in Southeast Asia. If a ‘cop’ wants to give you a ticket for something crazy, he is most likely looking for a bribe to get out of it. Just ask to go to the police station to discuss it with his superior. He will most likely let you go. I have also heard of people trying to sell you drugs, only once they give them to you their cop buddy is standing right there waiting to arrest you. They are also looking for money, but you can’t really go down to the police station to get out of your illegal activity. No matter what you have heard, DRUGS ARE HIGHLY ILLEGAL even in Southeast Asia. MONEY/TIPPING How much money you bring will be entirely dependent on how many souvenirs you buy and how much drinking you do. If you don’t buy any souvenirs and don’t drink alcohol then you will only need money for the following: the optional excursions (prices listed on Contiki’s website, I recommend all of them), ~$3/day tip for your tour guide, visa payments, and cash for bottled water and any meals not included in your trip (you can eat really well for ll be fine! However we are serious when we say it has to be less than 20kg/44lbs.” I will say that they aren’t nearly as strict on this in Asia as in Europe. This is mainly because in Europe you have restricted luggage space on a bus which you are basically on the entire trip. Whereas in Asia you are constantly taking different modes of transport and have to keep up with your luggage yourself. It is important to remember that on (some of) the Asian tours there are several flights included. You need to make sure that you are within airline baggage size and weight limits or you will be charged an extra fee on the spot. Contiki does not cover this fee for you. So basically for the Asian trips, airline restrictions are more important that Contiki’s restrictions in terms of baggage weight and size. If you are within the airline’s guidelines, you will be fine for Contiki. Don’t forget something light weight for temple wear. Guys long pants, girls dresses or pants, everyone’s shoulders must be covered. You can buy fisherman’s pants on the street for cheap but I just took a pair of my own light hiking pants that I kept in my backpack. Since it is very hot and you will want to dress in shorts and such, many of the girls took sarongs and long sleeve button up shirts in their bags to throw on over their clothes. One last thing you should not forget to bring with you is sunscreen. Thai people don’t use sunscreen really, so that means it is available to buy but crazy expensive. This is also true for aloe. A couple quick lists… Definitely bring: sunglasses, swimsuit, sunscreen, flip-flops, camera w/ charger, bug spray, temple wear (or plan on buying something there), passport photos, money Definitely do not bring: fancy clothes (heels, dress pants, etc), lots clothes or shoes Just remember that you can buy almost anything you need once you get there very inexpensively. Plus you’d get a cool souvenir out of it. If you really want a more complete list, check out: http://nerdfitness.com/blog/2011/02/03/how-im-packing-for-my-trip-all-over-the-world/ ADDITIONAL RESOURCES Like I said at the beginning, this post is not meant to be a review or recap of my tour, but rather a helpful tips guide for those considering the same tour. If you would like a review/tips post, the best one I have come across can be found here: http://www.contiki.com/community/discussions/13977-asian-adventure-review-part-1 http://www.contiki.com/community/discussions/2955-asian-adventure-review-part-2 There are tons of additional resources on the internet that talk about this sort of thing as well. My favorite is the Lonely Planet website, lonelyplanet.com. I also bought one of their guide books that was helpful. There are many other companies which do something similar to Lonely Planet so just look around if you care. Some of my other favorites are below: http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-guides/thailand-travel-tips/ http://www.thrillingheroics.com/tips-first-time-travelers-thailand FINAL THOUGHTS I have tried to cover everything here that I had questions about before traveling. Hopefully, this will help you as well. If you have gotten this far, thanks for reading. I want to end by saying that you don’t need to be worried about anything. Southeast Asia is much safer, tourist friendly, and easier to get around in than you think. Sure it is on the other side of the world, but that is why you are going isn’t it? Just relax and have fun. P.S. do the tubing and start early. :) We started at 11am and I wish we had started at like 9:30. You’ll definitely be the first ones out there but there are enough people in your Contiki group to make your own party and random people will eventually catch up with you.

Posted almost 2 years ago to the Helpful Tips for Asian / Big Indochina Adventures discussion

Default_avatarcontiki_matt (contiki_matt)

BACKGROUND Hello everyone. I recently (early February 2012) went on Contiki’s Asian Adventure, which, FYI, is also the first leg of the Big Indochina Adventure. While trying to decide on this trip and after I did finally decide to go, I had a lot of questions about traveling to Southeast Asia. For some reason, tips, especially Contiki related ones, are kind of hard to find. So after I returned, I decided to write this guide to help answer some of the biggest questions I had based on my experiences. Hopefully, this will help someone else out in the future. Note: I am an American, thus this guide is written from an American perspective and will deal with flights, visas, money, etc all from that angle. I will try as much as possible to relate to countries other than the USA, however, some of my tips will be US specific. I promise there will be something for everyone though. Also, this is not meant to be a review of MY Contiki trip. I do not want to spoil all the surprises or tell you exactly what you are going to do. I will leave discovering the actual adventure up to you. FLIGHTS Currently, Contiki does not offer flight packages on its Asian tours. This means that it is up to you to book your own flights. On top of that, both the Asian Adventure and Big Indochina Adventure start and end in different cities. So here is what I did: I used sites like kayak.com, travelocity.com, expedia.com, orbits.com, hipmunk.com, etc to book a round trip ticket in and out of Bangkok from my home city. I found it is much cheaper to book roundtrip with an additional flight booked separately than multi-city. For my additional flight, I booked a one way flight from our ending city, Siem Reap for the Asian Adventure, to Bangkok. Flights within Southeast Asia are very inexpensive. Bangkok Airways is one of the only (maybe the only) airline to service Siem Reap, so I had to use them. Their website, bangkokair.com, offers the best deals. If you plan on doing any additional traveling while you are there, AirAsia.com offers the cheapest flights. I get the impression they are kind of like the Southwest Airlines of Southeast Asia; cheap, no frills flights. Tips: Use a site like yapta.com to track your flight for at least a week. You should also check out Bing Travel and use their flight price history tool (although sometimes there is no pricing history for certain flights). Using these two tools, I was able to watch the price of my flights fluctuate for two weeks and then purchase when I knew it was the lowest. This saved me almost $500. It is well worth your time to plan in advance so you can take the time to monitor your flight price and buy it at a low point. FYI, don’t buy on Friday or Saturday. Those seem to be the most expensive days. TRAVEL INSURANCE I would highly recommend traveler’s insurance. It is cheap and if you actually need it, it is worth its weight in gold many times over. If you are doing an Asian tour with Contiki, you really don’t have a choice though. They require it. What is up to you, though, is how you get it. Contiki offers a perfectly fine service for traveler’s insurance, although it is slightly more expensive than other options. The real issue I see with using Contiki’s insurance is that they will not extend your dates on either side of your trip. So, let’s say for example you want to do what I did and go on Contiki’s Asian Adventure and then travel on your own to Phuket or any other place for some period of time either before or after your trip. Well, Contiki will cover you for the time you are with them, but after (or before) that you are SOL. That is why I would recommend using a service like worldnomads.com for your entire trip. That way you’ll save some money AND be covered for your entire trip. FYI, Contiki requires you to have travel insurance at the time of your booking. If you don’t already have it, they automatically put you on their plan. When I booked my trip, you could cancel their service up to a week after you booked, but after that you are stuck with their plan. So, if you want to use another company for insurance, either have it pre-booked (so you can give them your policy number and info) or make sure and ask about their insurance cancellation policy at the time of your booking so you can call them back once you get your own. TIMING YOUR PURCHASES If you follow my flight price monitoring tip above you may start to wonder how to book your trip, flight, and insurance. Here is what I ended up doing: 1. Pick a trip and a date from the Contiki website 2. Monitor the proper flights for that trip and days 3. Find the best time to purchase those flights 4. When airline ticket prices are the cheapest, I called Contiki and had them hold a spot for me on the trip I wanted (they will do this for 24 hours) 5. Use that 24 hour window to purchase your flights 6. Call Contiki back once you have purchased all your flights without problems and either pay for or put a deposit down on your trip so that your spot is now reserved 7. Decide to either use Contiki’s travel insurance or book your own. As of this writing Contiki requires you to have travel insurance when you book so you can either just use theirs or get your own before you call them back VISAS Note that I did not travel to Vietnam so I am not sure what the policy is there. The following will help you with Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos… Americans do not need to arrange visas prior to traveling to Thailand. You can just walk up and they will stamp your passport upon entering the country (which I guess is technically a visa, but I mean a visa you can’t get upon arrival). The cost of this is $0. I believe this is also true of Canadian, Australian, and many other countries. Thailand is no big deal at all. It is just like going through customs in a country like Canada or Mexico. Cambodia and Laos are a bit different. Everyone needs visas to get into Cambodia and Laos, however, you do NOT need to apply for your visa beforehand. You can, but it will not save you any time or money. Everyone in your group will have to stand in line, pay their fee, and fill out paper work. Prices range for each country. For the US, I believe the cost was $20US and $35US for the two visas. You need to have this money in US currency (new, flat, not ripped bills or they will not take it). You also need to have ONE passport photo for each of your visas for a total of TWO photos. I took six passport photos with me simply because I followed the guide published by the US Government for passport photos here http://travel.state.gov/passport/pptphotoreq/pptphotoreq_5333.html and printed it off on 4x6 photo paper at my local drug store. Then I cut the 4x6 into the 2x2 passport photos, hence 6 photos. It is very easy to make your own passport photos. Just follow the guide, upload your photo, and use their tool to size and crop your image, then print it out using your favorite photo printing service. It cost me $0.27 total. Your Contiki rep should be able to advise you on all the latest visa requirements so it would always be a good idea to double check this info. More information can be found on visas here: http://www.thaivisa.com/immigration/visa/tourist-visa.html http://www.mfa.go.th/web/2637.php IMMUNIZATIONS/MEDICINE/HEALTH Let me start off by saying that immunizations and medicine are a very personal choice. Some people are completely against them and that is fine, good luck to them, but I have immunizations and take the approach of wanting to be safe but also not wanting to have $500 in medication I don’t really need. So you can take or leave my advice. I am not a doctor. You should consult yours, period. I, personally, went to my public health department and to my doctor for recommendations. This was overkill. They simply looked up the recommendations on the Center for Disease Control website. You can do that at home. Both my doctor and the health department recommended I get EVERYTHING the CDC said. I think that may be a liability thing… Anyway, I would recommend you have Hepatitis A and B, MMR, Polio, and Tetanus. You probably already have all of these from your childhood immunizations so not much to do here, although you may need a tetanus booster. All those are good to have for traveling anywhere. They will also recommend things like Typhoid or Japanese Encephalitis. I got the Typhoid shot. It set me back $100+. I do not think it was necessary. I passed on the Japanese Encephalitis as did everyone else on our tour. The only vaccine required by international regulations is yellow fever. Proof of vaccination will only be required if you have visited a country in the yellow-fever zone within the six days prior to entering Thailand. This is not an issue unless you are coming from Africa or something. The two other big things when traveling to Southeast Asia are Traveler’s Diarrhea (TD) and Malaria. I had my doctor prescribe me some antibiotics for TD incase $&!* hit the fan, literally. It cost me $4 to get it filled, but I didn’t use it. Money well spent IMHO. Malaria is another very controversial issue. I found there are two main (popular) types of malaria medicine: doxycycline and malarone. You should read about the side effects of each before choosing one and taking them. On our tour we had several people taking each. About half of each experienced the side effects and got sick. The other half were perfectly fine. They affect everyone differently. I had a prescription of doxycycline filled but never took it. Unless you are there during the wet season or you do not use lots and lots of bugs spray, it should not be a problem. I put 40% deet bug spray on every day. Other than your personal medications, I would recommend bringing a ton of Pepto Bismol, or generic equivalent, tablets. I look one at each meal. I would also recommend bringing a ton of hand sanitizer. I used this all the time. I believe that doing these two things helped me avoid getting TD, where as almost everyone else in our group had stomach issues at least part of the time. I would also recommend the following: DO NOT DRINK TAP WATER, buy bottled water. It is cheap. Don’t open your mouth in the shower. Brush your teeth with bottled water. Don’t eat fresh food like fruits or vegetables that have not been cooked or peeled by you unless the menu specifically says that their food is cleaned with filtered water. (Getting a salad at a random restaurant is just as bad as drinking tap water). Note that ice, at restaurants anyway, is okay. All ice is made at a factory and shipped to restaurants on a daily basis. The water used for making ice is treated. If you need any other medications, there are pharmacies on just about every corner. Whatever you need, they will have some form of it. Be very careful though. There is no FDA in Southeast Asia. One example that sticks out in my mind is that there is a type of malaria medication they like to give over there that is banned in the US because it causes heart issues. Counterfeit drugs can also be an issue in some places. Please just know what you are taking. WEATHER In a word, HOT, all the time hot. I was there in “winter” (February) and it was still hot. Bangkok is pretty hot. Northern Thailand and Laos are hot but not bad at all. Cambodia is hotter than Bangkok and it is humid. Instant sweat. A lot of the hotels you stay at have pools so that is a nice plus, but just expect to sweat. In these situations it is best to just try and keep some perspective: would you rather be at a comfortable temperature sitting behind a desk at work (or taking orders, playing customer service rep, doing homework, or whatever) or would you rather be sweating your balls off in Southeast Asia having the time of your life? Trust me, it is totally worth the heat. Just try to remember that when you are actually in the heat. The one exception to the hot is the morning you leave Pakbeng. You will be traveling on a boat down the Mekong river and you leave at like 8am. It is cool near the water, combine that with the wind from the boat and it gets freezing. It only lasts for an hour or two until the sun comes up, but our guide was wearing jeans, a t-shirt, a sweater, and a heavy jacket. Seems like a little overkill but the point is that you will be cold. The boat does have blankets for everyone, but I would still bring a sweatshirt or something and wear many layers. We were also somewhat concerned about all the flooding that happened in 2011 and how it would affect our tour. In short, it did not. The flooded areas were away from where the tours go and if I hadn’t know about it before hand I would have never known. ELECTRONICS Every hotel we stayed in had, in fact every plug I saw was, a universal adaptor wall outlet. This means that it doesn’t matter if you are from the UK, Canada, Australia, or the US, your home plugs will fit in their wall outlets (insert cheesy sex joke here). The thing for people from the US to consider is that they run 220V, NOT 110V like the US. So you need a converter (to convert 220V->110V) not an adapter (to make the plug fit). Luckily, many travel electronics such as laptops and camera chargers have 220/110 universal capabilities. Check your travel electronics and see. You may not need anything. For the ladies out there, about half of the hotels had hair dryers. Not sure if that helps much, cause I know you like your personal ones, but just so you know some of the hotels make them available to you. As for internet, there is WiFi in all the hotels and internet shops are everywhere. You have to pay a small fee to use WiFi in Thailand, but in Cambodia and Laos it is free. Also, several of the hotels have computers in their lobbies which will let you get on the internet for free. SCAMS/DANGER I really felt safe everywhere I went. As long as you don’t do anything stupid you will be fine. We were kind of concerned about some of the civil unrest that has gone on in the area during the past few years, but we had no issues at all and never saw any evidence of that sort of thing. Actually a bomb when off in Bangkok while were where over there and we didn’t even know until the tour manager got a call from Contiki. I never really experienced any scams, except for the one ‘too good to be true’ tuk tuk price where they take you to their buddy’s shop and try and sell you stuff (more on this in the GETTING AROUND section). No danger at all, just annoying telling them “no, you don’t want to buy” a million times. My best advice is that if it is too good to be true than it probably is. Just ask and make sure you know what you are getting into. One of my favorite quotes sums it up nicely: "if you're not paying for something, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold". You should be aware that the law is flexible in Southeast Asia. If a ‘cop’ wants to give you a ticket for something crazy, he is most likely looking for a bribe to get out of it. Just ask to go to the police station to discuss it with his superior. He will most likely let you go. I have also heard of people trying to sell you drugs, only once they give them to you their cop buddy is standing right there waiting to arrest you. They are also looking for money, but you can’t really go down to the police station to get out of your illegal activity. No matter what you have heard, DRUGS ARE HIGHLY ILLEGAL even in Southeast Asia. MONEY/TIPPING How much money you bring will be entirely dependent on how many souvenirs you buy and how much drinking you do. If you don’t buy any souvenirs and don’t drink alcohol then you will only need money for the following: the optional excursions (prices listed on Contiki’s website, I recommend all of them), ~$3/day tip for your tour guide, visa payments, and cash for bottled water and any meals not included in your trip (you can eat really well for price. PACKING/STUFF TO BRING One of the biggest questions I see on forums like this is the old backpack or suitcase question. For these Contiki trips it is really a personal choice. Backpacks are fine, suitcases are fine. If you can haul your suitcase from your house to the airport to begin your trip you will not have problems taking a suitcase. I think there was one hotel without an elevator but it only had two stories. If you can’t haul your suitcase up one flight of stairs you are bringing way, way too much stuff. Which brings me to my next point… Pack light. You don’t need much and laundry services are everywhere if you need them. A couple bucks and all your clothes can be washed. Note that they do all laundry together; whites, darks, and delicates get thrown into the same machine and then hung out to air dry. So don’t bring anything you haven’t washed before or that requires special care unless you are willing to do your own laundry in your hotel room sink. I did laundry in my sink/shower every day because I only brought two pairs of ExOfficio underwear (exofficio.com) which is made for doing that. It worked great btw and only took like two minutes before bed each night. Don’t forget something light weight for temple wear. Guys long pants, girls dresses or pants, everyone’s shoulders must be covered. You can buy fisherman’s pants on the street for cheap but I just took a pair of my own light hiking pants that I kept in my backpack. Since it is very hot and you will want to dress in shorts and such, many of the girls took sarongs and long sleeve button up shirts in their bags to throw on over their clothes. One last thing you should not forget to bring with you is sunscreen. Thai people don’t use sunscreen really, so that means it is available to buy but crazy expensive. This is also true for aloe. A couple quick lists… Definitely bring: sunglasses, swimsuit, sunscreen, flip-flops, camera w/ charger, bug spray, temple wear (or plan on buying something there), passport photos, money Definitely do not bring: fancy clothes (heels, dress pants, etc), lots clothes or shoes Just remember that you can buy almost anything you need once you get there very inexpensively. Plus you’d get a cool souvenir out of it. If you really want a more complete list, check out: http://nerdfitness.com/blog/2011/02/03/how-im-packing-for-my-trip-all-over-the-world/ ADDITIONAL RESOURCES Like I said at the beginning, this post is not meant to be a review or recap of my tour, but rather a helpful tips guide for those considering the same tour. If you would like a review/tips post, the best one I have come across can be found here: http://www.contiki.com/community/discussions/13977-asian-adventure-review-part-1 http://www.contiki.com/community/discussions/2955-asian-adventure-review-part-2 There are tons of additional resources on the internet that talk about this sort of thing as well. My favorite is the Lonely Planet website, lonelyplanet.com. I also bought one of their guide books that was helpful. There are many other companies which do something similar to Lonely Planet so just look around if you care. Some of my other favorites are below: http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-guides/thailand-travel-tips/ http://www.thrillingheroics.com/tips-first-time-travelers-thailand FINAL THOUGHTS I have tried to cover everything here that I had questions about before traveling. Hopefully, this will help you as well. If you have gotten this far, thanks for reading. I want to end by saying that you don’t need to be worried about anything. Southeast Asia is much safer, tourist friendly, and easier to get around in than you think. Sure it is on the other side of the world, but that is why you are going isn’t it? Just relax and have fun. P.S. do the tubing and start early. :) We started at 11am and I wish we had started at like 9:30. You’ll definitely be the first ones out there but there are enough people in your Contiki group to make your own party and random people will eventually catch up with you.

Posted about 2 years ago to the Helpful Tips for Asian / Big Indochina Adventures discussion

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