After a lovely March motorbiking through Vietnam, we head back to Thailand for some more quality time in Bangkok followed by the beautiful northern cities of Chiang Mai and Pai. Northern Thailand was my personal favorite the first time I came here in 2012, and while we have heard that much has changed, I can't help but feel incredibly excited to be returning.
Looking back on our motorbike adventure, there aren't many things I would change. The main stops on our route were Ninh Binh, Phong Nha, Hue, Hoi An, and Dalat, while the 1 day pit stops included Ha Tin, Khe Sanh, Kon Tum, Qui Nhon, Nha Trang and Cat Tien. The beach towns of Nha Trang and Qui Nhon are quite popular multi-day stops (especially with Russian tourists), but we have felt a little burnt out on the beach after our winter spent almost exclusively on them. If we could redo it the only change I would make is one less night in Hue (we did three) and one less night in Hoi An (we did five), and add on two more extra nights to Phong Nha. It was the most beautiful place we visited in Vietnam and I would have liked to explore more of it - if you are ever planning on visiting definitely spring for three or four nights there.
We are currently now in Saigon and plan on staying here until the 5th, followed by a week in Bangkok, a week in Chiang Mai, and then Pai until we get sick of it. We will be arriving in Chiang Mai just in time for Song Kran, the Thai New Year's festival. We have some friends joining us for it and are beyond excited. Unfortunately, the festival also raised the flight prices from Bangkok to Chiang Mai considerably, so instead we will be taking the night train. It ran us about $80 total for two, which is considerably less expensive than flights ($150), but quite a bit a more than a bus ($20). The last time I went to Chiang Mai I traveled by bus, and while it had a Sega Genesis in the back of every seat, I quickly got bored of Sonic and Tails by the second hour of a long 11 hour journey. The train will offer a much smoother ride and the ability to actually sleep, which in my book is well worth the extra cost. No need to book accommodations that night either, a further benefit to overnight train over flight.
In Asia especially, most of our travel decisions have involved weighing cost versus comfort and deciding what makes the most sense for us. Some decisions seem obvious, like booking a $20 executive hotel suite instead of a $15 bare-bones guest house. Others not so obvious, like booking two beds in an 18 bed dorm over a private hotel room. When the dorm has far better facilities, location, food, and general level of comfort, it often makes more sense than a private hotel room. We've also really gotten used to sleeping in rooms full of people and are well equipped with ear buds and face masks - after 10 months on the road I would hope so. Sad to be leaving Vietnam and entering the last three months of our journey, but excited to return to Thailand and see what new challenges face us this April.