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FAR EAST Travel

Design Deluxe Journeys

Frequently Asked Questions


Below are a list of FAQs we have received at Far East Travel. Feel free to contact us if your question is not answered below.

Vietnam

Yes, most nationalities will need a visa to enter Vietnam; however passport holders from UK, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Russia, Japan and South Korea can enter Vietnam visa-free for 15 days or less. All other nationalities can apply for a tourist visa at any Vietnamese Embassy or Consulate in your home country. Alternatively, we can pre-arrange a “visa on arrival” or contact our Travel Specialists for further information. One last detail to note: your passport will have to be valid for six months after the end of your holiday in Vietnam.

Vietnam is a very long country that spans roughly 15 degrees of latitude, and the climate differs from the north to the south. In the north, it tends to be cool from November to March, warm and dry from March to May, and rainy from June to October. The hottest time of year is June to August.

Vietnam’s central region, from around Hanoi to Hoi An, can be subject to surprise showers year-round, but it tends to be mostly dry between February and September and bright, sunny spells are not uncommon. August is the hottest time of year, and October can be stormy with infrequent typhoons.

In the south, around the region of the Mekong Delta, temperatures are a bit more predictable. It stays dry from December to May, and it rains from June to November in short, daily downpours. It does get hot and humid in the south, with temperatures reaching 40 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) from March to May.

This depends on what part of Vietnam you’d like to travel to, but we love Vietnam in all its climates and attitudes. We at Backyard Travel believe there is no ‘wrong’ time to go to Vietnam. However, as a general rule, temperatures and sunshine tend to be at their most pleasant from October to March, though northern Vietnam can be quite cool, and even cold, during these months. There are also cultural events and festivals year-round, with the biggest, Vietnamese New Year (Tet), falling in February. To find out what time of year would be best for the perfect trip to Vietnam, contact one of our Vietnam-based Travel Specialists.

If you’d like to veer off the beaten path in Vietnam, you won’t have far to look. North of Hanoi, one of Vietnam’s main entry points, is the rugged and remote region of Ha Giang. Few tourists venture here, but it offers some of the most beautiful scenery in Vietnam. This region’s terraced rice paddies are home to many Vietnamese hill tribes who lead fascinating lives steeped in tradition. We offer customized Vietnam homestay tours that give you a chance to mingle and stay with the local White Thai, Hmong, and Dao people.

Or, perhaps you’d like to see the Mekong—Southeast Asia’s lifeblood—from a different perspective on a Mekong river cruise. Or take a jaunt out of Ho Chi Minh City’s hustle and bustle to discover Sa Dec, a river port in the Mekong Delta that is home to the novel The Lover. Here, you’ll find neighborhood floating markets that you won’t find in the city, and we can arrange a homestay that will give you a true taste of local life. Just contact one of our local Travel Specialists who can customize a Vietnam tour off the beaten track just for you.

Certainly. Vietnam truly does have it all: this culturally and historically rich country boasts some of Southeast Asia’s most colorful and interesting cities, as well as white-sand beaches, quaint fishing villages, terraced rice paddies, karst topography, the UNESCO-listed Halong Bay, and one of the biggest cave systems in the world. And the food—just wait until you try it! The Vietnamese are also very child-friendly and welcoming of families. A family vacation in Vietnam promises a lot to experience and discover, and we can help you tailor a family-friendly trip to Vietnam that incorporates everything on your wish list.

You can purchase a local Vietnam SIM card nearly everywhere, including at the airport on arrival. They’re cheap and ubiquitous, and you’ll easily find SIMs with 3G, too. Four major mobile operators carry data plans: Mobifone, Vietnamobile, Vinaphone, and Viettel. A SIM card costs about 80,000 dong (US$3.50), and top-up credit is available as you go.

As a coastal country that is home to the vast Mekong Delta and many rivers, Vietnam offers numerous fantastic options for overnight boat trips. From the verdant karst islands of Halong Bay to the local floating markets of the Mekong Delta, there are plenty of ways to experience a Vietnam boat cruise.

Of course, Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has some incredible options. We recommend a 2-night cruise or an overnight trip—we at Backyard Travel offer a relaxing overnight cruise, where you can soak in the Halong Bay sunset and participate in early-morning tai chi classes.

The Mekong offers the iconic, lazy river cruise as well as exciting river adventures with kayaking and other activities built in. Explore the river in a range of Mekong boat styles—your choice—from the deluxe boats that travel to Cambodia to the rustic cabins that ply quieter waters. Just contact one of our Vietnam-based Travel Specialists to have them customize a Vietnam boat cruise for you.

Although tipping in Vietnam is not generally practiced, you’ll want to tip your guide and driver at the end of each tour. We recommend tipping your guide about US$10 to $15 per group per day, and about $5 to $8 per group per day for your driver. If you’d like to tip the wait staff at a restaurant, we recommend leaving about 5 to 10% of the bill. Porters at hotels would appreciate about $1 per piece of luggage carried. However, remember that these are all rough guidelines and tipping hospitality staff other than your guide and driver is completely optional.

Internet access is widely available in tourist areas and big cities, which have many internet cafes. Internet access is less frequent in rural and remote areas.

Major credit cards are widely accepted by large shops, hotels and restaurants in Vietnam. However, they may not be accepted by smaller vendors such as small family restaurants, market stalls or in remote towns and rural areas. Make sure you carry enough cash for purchases, since credit cards aren't always an option everywhere in Vietnam.

ATMs are found widely throughout Vietnam, so withdrawing cash shouldn't be problematic in most areas. Some smaller villages and rural areas may not have ATM access, so prepare for this before venturing too far from a city or major town.

Absolutely. All passengers travelling with Far East Travel are required to purchase travel insurance before the start of their trip. Your travel insurance details will be recorded by your leader on the first day of the trip. Due to the varying nature, availability and cost of health care around the world, travel insurance is very much an essential and necessary part of every journey.

While the tropical climate lends itself to layered, breathable clothing all year round, if you are taking a tour in the North, cold winters mean you might need to bring a fleece or jacket.

 

Cambodia

Yes, visas for Cambodia are required for most nationalities, but most are eligible for a visa on arrival at Siem Reap International Airport, Phnom Penh International Airport, and at most major border crossings (although we recommend checking in advance). These visas on arrival are valid for 30 days for a single entry, and cost US$30. You’ll need to bring one passport-sized photo and be sure that your passport has six months of validity after your planned exit date.

Cambodian weather is similar to many other Southeast Asian countries, with two distinct seasons: dry and wet. The hottest and most humid months of March, April and May can see temperatures rise to a whopping 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). The summer rains fall daily from June to October, but skies clear up for gorgeous blue-sky days from November to February. These months make up peak tourist season, with low humidity and bright sunshine, so we recommend booking well in advance if you’re planning to travel any time from November to February. Comfortable, casual lightweight clothing in natural fabrics such as cotton are best for traveling in Cambodia. In mountainous areas, temperatures drop rapidly at night so pack accordingly.

We believe that for many destinations, it pays to travel when others are not. Traveling during the monsoon season has its benefits despite the rain. We love seeing Angkor Wat in the summer, when it’s less crowded and the temples are covered in moss. The plains and rice fields surrounding Siem Reap also take on a vibrant green hue, and fewer travelers means more room to take in the popular spots. Also, the rain usually only falls in short bursts, providing some welcome refreshment from the tropical heat. However, the blue skies, fresh air, and temperate weather of the high season (November to February) make this the best time to visit Cambodia. Although there are more tourists during these months, we at Backyard Travel do our best to steer you away from the crowds as much as possible.

Of course, we count a trip to the spectacular ruins of Angkor Wat among the best experiences in the world, but Cambodia is rich with lesser-known, lovely destinations. Preah Vihear, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the country’s less-traveled gems and one on the best places to visit in Cambodia. The ancient Hindu temple is built on the edge of a plateau that lets you view a vast expanse of the country lying below. Few people visit the historical city of Battambang, northwest of Phnom Penh, where you can drink in the quiet, old-town charm. Mount Kulen is considered the most sacred mountain in Cambodia, and a drive to the peak affords an exploration of a “lost city” as well as a dip under a beautiful waterfall. Or, you can always escape to one of Cambodia’s white-sand beaches, which tend to be quieter and less populated than the busy beaches of Thailand next door. If you’d like to see Angkor Wat but prefer a more immersive, unique experience rather than simply sightseeing, you might consider our Insider’s Angkor trip, which takes you up above Angkor in a helium balloon, weaves you through the best temples such as Ta Phrom and Angkor Thom on privately guided motorbikes, and introduces you to aspects of Khmer culture only insiders see.

Cambodia’s not-too-distant tragic past may not have always ranked the country among the best family-friendly destinations, but today, Cambodia is shedding the shadow of its history and coming into its own. Not only are improved infrastructure systems and amenities making cities like Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Battambung more accessible to families, but a diversity of natural settings—such as crescent beaches, steamy jungles, lazy rivers, and quaint country roads—also offers a plethora of kid- and adult-friendly activities. Kids also love zipping around in a tuk-tuk, exploring the Angkor temples, and jumping into the swimming pools offered at most hotels due to year-round hot weather. The Khmer people are also extremely welcoming of children and strive to make you feel at home on your Cambodia family holiday.

These days, you can buy a SIM card in Cambodia with ease at any phone shop across the country. Cambodia has seven mobile service providers, but most travelers find pre-paid Cellcard plans the most convenient for their 3G data plan, affordability and English-speaking staff. Here’s a good tip: If you purchase a SIM card directly at a service provider’s office, you tend to get a better deal than if you buy a SIM card at any generic phone shop.

Tipping is not expected but always appreciated in Cambodia. As most places, however, you should tip tour guides and drivers at the end of each tour. We recommend tipping your guide US$10 to $12 per group per day, and tipping your driver US$8 to $10 per group per day. At a restaurant, if you feel moved to tip, we recommend leaving about 10% of the total bill.

Internet access is growing in Cambodia. Internet cafes are easily found in large cities, but the speed may be slower than what you’re used to.

Credit cards are usually accepted by modern hotels, restaurants and medium-large shops in tourist areas. Smaller shops, cafes, market stalls and places in remote areas probably won’t have facilities that support credit cards, so ensure you have enough cash to cover expenses while in rural areas or when visiting smaller vendors.

You’ll find that ATMs are common in all urban areas and tourism hubs, most of which will take international ATM cards. However, do carry enough kip, the local currency, if you’re heading to a remote area, as ATMs still haven’t made their way deep into the countryside

Absolutely. All passengers travelling with Far East Travel are required to purchase travel insurance before the start of their trip. Your travel insurance details will be recorded by your leader on the first day of the trip. Due to the varying nature, availability and cost of health care around the world, travel insurance is very much an essential and necessary part of every journey.

 

Laos

Visitors who are not from the ASEAN member nations or Japan will need a visa to enter Laos, but on-arrival visas are available at most international airports and border checkpoints. A visa costs US$35 for most nationalities and allows a 30-day stay in the country

As many other Southeast Asian countries, Laos has two distinct seasons: dry and wet. November to February is generally more temperate and dry, and things start to heat up around March, when temperatures reach the high 30s Celsius (about 85 degrees Fahrenheit). Luang Prabang and the northern provinces can get cool at night and in the early mornings, so we recommend bringing warmer clothing when visiting these areas during winter. In July the rainy season arrives and lasts until October, although the wet months vary by location. In Vientiane, located in central Laos, the rainy season lasts from May to September, whereas in Luang Prabang, further north, August is the wettest month. Typically the monsoon season produces short bursts of rain and visiting during this time offers luscious green landscapes. It’s also typically a less busy time to travel, and most hotels slash rates and offer promotions during this period.

For those who don’t like humidity, traveling to Laos between March and May is best avoided, as this is the hottest and most humid time of year. Autumn is the best time of year to visit, with the dry season falling between October and March and the That Luang Festival providing a vibrant cultural experience in November. However, hotels are often fully booked during this period, and we recommend booking as far in advance as possible. Alternatively, if you don’t mind the heat, Lao New Year—known as Pii Mai—falls in April and is a fantastic time to travel to Laos and other Asian countries that celebrate the new year at the same period, such as Thailand and Myanmar. During these multi-day long festivals, locals participate in parades and throw the world’s largest water-fights, where entire cities participate. Kids absolutely love this fun experience, and so do the locals!

Vientiane and Luang Prabang are undoubtedly the two Lao cities that see the most tourists, and for good reason. Both are charming destinations with lots to offer in activities, cuisine, culture, and sight-seeing. But Laos abounds with lesser-known areas to discover, such as 4,000 Islands (known to locals as Si Phan Don), a grouping of literally thousands of islands that seem to calmly float in the middle of the Mekong. This is a wonderful place to kayak, meet dolphins, or relax on a giant inner tube and let the river’s current pull you gently downstream. Verdant, off-the-map Muang La will also give you a dose of tranquility in the midst of northern Laos’ rolling mountains, and remote Sam Neua offers quiet rambles in a quaint village and a jumping-off point for cave exploration. Contact our local Lao guide with your specifications and we’d be happy to customize a unique Laos tour off the beaten path.

Although Laos was regarded at one time as a haven for backpackers, the country is rapidly earning a rightful reputation as one of Asia’s most mellow and laid-back countries. With improving infrastructure and increasing amenities, Laos is quickly becoming an easy and enjoyable destination for your family vacation. Sweetening the deal, the locals in Laos love children—babies always get big smiles and extra attention!—and welcome families with open arms. Imagine your family whizzing around Luang Prabang in a tuk-tuk, sampling some of Vientiane’s French cuisine, or taking a lazy Mekong river cruise with water activities and cave exploration thrown in between. The possibilities for exploring nature and playing in the great outdoors—especially on rivers or in the jungle—are dizzying in Laos. From tubing and zip-lining to trekking and meeting an elephant, families will not run out of experiences to share in Laos.

You can purchase a local Lao SIM card and top-up credit almost anywhere, although coverage in rural areas tends to be spotty, and some regions may only be serviced by certain operators. Laos’ main mobile phone operators are ETL, Unitel, Lao Telecom (LTC) and Beeline (ETL and Unitel are the largest). All of these operators offer 3G; however, connectivity often drops in rural areas. SIM cards cost roughly US$5 at any phone shop. You’ll need to register your personal information to activate the SIM. Internet cafes and Wi-Fi access are also available in Laos’ main destinations but are harder to find in more remote areas.

Tipping for good service is not expected but is always appreciated in Laos. It is customary, though not compulsory, to tip tour guides and drivers at the end of a journey or tour. It’s also good form to tip hotel and station porters a small amount for their troubles. As a general rule, 10% of any total is considered a generous tip.

Internet access is available in tourist areas like Vang Vieng and Vientiane, but is far less likely to be found in rural and remote areas.

Major credit cards are generally accepted by large shops, hotels and restaurants in the city and tourist areas. However, they may not be accepted by smaller vendors such as small family restaurants, market stalls or in remote towns and rural areas. Make sure you carry enough cash for purchases, since credit cards aren't always an option everywhere in Laos.

ATMs can be found in the cities of Laos, so withdrawing cash shouldn't be problematic. Smaller villages and rural areas may not have ATM access, so prepare for this before venturing too far from a city or major town.

Absolutely. All passengers travelling with Far East Travel are required to purchase travel insurance before the start of their trip. Your travel insurance details will be recorded by your leader on the first day of the trip. Due to the varying nature, availability and cost of health care around the world, travel insurance is very much an essential and necessary part of every journey.

The small nation of Laos does not have a lot of direct flights. Most travelers fly into either Vientiane, the nation’s capital, or into Luang Prabang, a quaint and historical town in the north. Many also opt to take a boat from the northern Thai border town of Chiang Rai, which makes for a magnificent journey into Laos. Because there are no long-haul flights into Laos, most travelers fly from regional hubs, such as Bangkok, Singapore, and Ho Chi Minh City. During the key travel period of October to January, flights are often fully booked, and we recommend booking as far in advance as possible.

 

Myanmar ( Burmar )

Yes, most foreign nationals except ASEAN members and a select few countries are required to obtain a visa before visiting Myanmar. Citizens of the European Union, Australia, Canada, and the U.S. among others, are eligible for a tourism eVisa, which is valid for three months from the issuing date and allows a single-entry stay in Myanmar of up to 28 days. The cost of the eVisa will depend upon your nationality. There’s one catch: an eVisa will only allow you to enter the country through Yangon, Nay Pyi Taw, or Mandalay international airports, but these are how most visitors enter Myanmar anyway.

The most comfortable time to visit is during the cool season, which is also the least humid time of year and has the clearest air – however, this is also the peak tourist season. If you can put up with the heat and/or rain, then you will find it easier (and often cheaper) to book accommodation outside the cool season, and there will be less crowds at popular destinations. From February until the beginning of the rainy season, much of the country (particularly north of Yangon) can be dusty and hazy, sometimes hindering long-distance views. Myanmar is a large country and temperatures can vary significantly. As a general rule, temperatures and humidity become lower at higher altitudes; in Chin State in the west and parts of Shan State in the east, temperatures can get close to freezing, and in the Himalayan far north they may drop below zero. Monsoon rains are the most persistent in Yangon and the south and west; in the centre of the country, around Mandalay and Bagan, showers will generally be more sporadic in the rainy season (and you are likely to experience more sunshine).

Myanmar has a tropical climate, with the southwest monsoon bringing rain from May to October. Roads can become impassable, particularly from July to September. The central plains, however, receive only a fraction of the rain seen on the coast and in the Ayeyarwady delta. From October onwards the rains subside; the best time to visit most of Myanmar is from November to February, when temperatures are relatively manageable.

Myanmar is still not a heavily touristed country, making it a fantastic destination if you love to travel but hate the crowds. The biggest tourist hubs in Myanmar are Yangon, Mandalay, Inle, and Bagan, all of which offer amazing historical and cultural sights. But if you’d like to venture into lesser-known and little-visited Myanmar, you may want to consider cycling through Myanmar, which will allow you to see villages and local life off the beaten path. Or, our adventure tourS of the Putao region in Kachin State are fully customizable and will bring you face to face with the Kachin people, river islands, and jungles of this beautiful and remote part of Myanmar. To mingle with locals who reside in the mountains, you can trek into Hsipaw in Shan State, an enchanting town where you’ll be welcomed to immerse yourself in the culture and lifestyle of the Shan people. Hpa An, the capital of the ethnic minority state of Karen, also makes for a captivating trip to remote and mountainous Myanmar, with the karst peaks surrounding the picturesque town.

Myanmar is a great destination if your family shares a spirit of adventure. Burmese hospitality is truly heartwarming, and after years of political repression and isolation, many Burmese people are now welcoming foreign visitors with open arms. When you combine this with some of Southeast Asia’s most unspoiled and undeveloped countryside, you can expect your family holiday in Myanmar to abound with friendly people, a variety of outdoor activities, and plenty of opportunities to share an authentic Southeast Asian experience. Children will also love thingyan, the Burmese New Year festival that falls in April. Traditionally, water blessings were given to family, friends, and statues of the Buddha to start the year right. This long-time cultural tradition has evolved into a fun-loving celebration, where entire villages and cities throw a multiple-day water fight!

Although the difficulty of buying a SIM card may have plagued previous travelers to Myanmar, we’re happy to report that things are changing. MPT, the state-owned mobile service provider, is getting some competition with the arrival of Ooredoo and Telenor, two foreign-based companies providing cheap, local SIM cards with 3G. While Ooredoo and Telenor offer cheaper prices, MPT tends to offer the better coverage due to how established they are. You can find Myanmar SIM cards and pre-paid data plans at the airport on arrival, or at operator offices and mobile phone shops in all the major urban centers, such as Yangon, Mandalay, and Bagan. Depending on the service provider, a 3G SIM will cost you somewhere between 1,500 to 5,000 kyat (US$1.50 to $5).

As with any Asian country, it’s customary to tip your Myanmar tour guide and driver. We recommend giving each about US$10 per group per day. As for tipping at hotels and restaurants, in Myanmar it’s not expected but appreciated. If you want to tip your hotel porter, we suggest giving US$1 per piece of luggage carried, and for restaurant staff, about 5 to 10% of the bill.

The availability of Internet is increasing in Myanmar, with wifi and access points in most hotels. However Internet speeds are often very slow and unreliable, particularly in rural areas.

Credit cards can be used in some hotels, restaurants and shops however use will be very limited. Myanmar is still largely a cash economy, so it is best to still carry cash.

ATMs are available in all cities and most major towns. At times these can prove unreliable due to frequent power cuts or running out of funds, so you may need to try several ATMs when withdrawing funds. It's advisable to still bring cash to exchange. Foreign currency is no longer accepted for purchases in Myanmar.

Absolutely. All passengers travelling with Far East Travel are required to purchase travel insurance before the start of their trip. Your travel insurance details will be recorded by your leader on the first day of the trip. Due to the varying nature, availability and cost of health care around the world, travel insurance is very much an essential and necessary part of every journey.

With overland border crossings close to impossible for independent travellers, almost everyone arrives in Myanmar at either Yangon or Mandalay airports. There is also an international airport in the capital Nay Pyi Taw, although few airlines use it at present. The international flag carrier, Myanmar Airways International, only serves destinations within Asia. The cheapest way to reach Myanmar from outside the region is usually to fly to a regional hub such as Bangkok or Singapore. Current routes within Asia include flights to Yangon from Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Bangkok. Connections with Mandalay are limited to Dehong, Kunming and Bangkok.

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