Vietnam Tour or Self-Guide?

Vietnam Tour or Self-Guide?

Hey Matt – my wife and I are debating using this company to help us plan and book our trip to Vietnam.  However, we’ve gone back and forth using them because it seems a little too structured and defined as well as way more expensive than we thought it would be.  Do you think we should just try and book it all ourselves and use the hotels once we get there to help us plan our day trips and travel?

Thanks for any advice you might have.
 
Dave

surprise cave

Dave,

Vietnam is one of the most interesting and beautiful countries I’ve been to.  The itinerary they provided hits the major highlights: Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hoi An, Phu Quoc and Ho Chi Minh.  Looking at it though you are paying quite a premium to be on a tour.  We “backpacked” Vietnam and spent $43/day…for the both of us.  I think that you could do it very comfortably for $200-250/day for two people (or about half what you’ve been quoted).  Paying less means two things: 1) you’ll have to make the arrangements by yourself; 2) you’ll have to negotiate a ton.  Every price in Vietnam is negotiable, they start with something 3-10 times what they’re willing to accept, then you have to work your way down to reasonable.  This gets quite annoying.

The good things are that Vietnam has well-built tourist infrastructure and to do any of the things on this itinerary won’t require much work…in fact, it’s going to be more effort telling off all the people trying to sell you tours than finding it.

Personally, being inclined to independent travel I’d do the following:

  • Book flights into/out of Asia and Vietnam.  This seemingly obvious task is made a little more interesting with AirAsia, Tiger Airways and Cebu Pacific, these discount airlines make getting around the region pretty cheap if your main flight is out of Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur.  If you are flying all the way there and want to see one of these cities they can be a pretty easy side-trip.
  • Plan 2-3 days in your first city to get over jetlag.  This is a serious timechange, I’ve done it 20-25 times and it still is a bitch.
  • Plan out an itinerary based on what you want to do with a outline of dates that allow you to go everywhere you want.  (i.e. 1-2 nights in Halong Bay).  Do a little Halong Bay cruise research…they are substantially cheaper to book in-country, but if you find a good-enough price you might as well lock it down.  Feel free to send me prices and options to review.
  • Book your in-country/region flights (if you choose to not do a tour).  Examples would include, if arriving in Vietnam in Hanoi this would be Hai Phong (Halong Bay) to Da Nang (Hoi An), Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh, Ho Chi Minh to Phu Quoc to Ho Chi Minh, then the flight to wherever you will be exiting the country.  It appears that if you book soon on Vietnam Airlines the flights are about $50/person each segment (1.1 million dong–insert “dong” joke here).
  • Book hotels if you see fit.  Honestly we didn’t book that many hotels, but it depends on what you are looking for.

vendor in DalatThe people and cuisine of Vietnam is unforgettable…in a good way.

If you really want to go on a tour I would 100% recommend these in rank order (better guides, but probably less lux than the tour you found):

All of these require adding the beach portion, for which I’d personally go to the Philippines or Thailand, both which will lower your US-Asia flight cost, are cheap to get to, and certifiably awesome.

Let me know if you need more clarity or I can help,

Matt

PS: this will be a really fun trip no matter how you do it.

.

YOUR TURN: What was your experience planning and traveling in Vietnam?  What was your highlight?  What was the lowlight?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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