Following is a report on Adventures Abroad trip VN2 we took in January of 2014. The tour visited North, Central and South Vietnam, and Phom Penh and Siem Reap in Cambodia. You can retrieve the detailed itinerary online. This report is intended to cover aspects of the trip you may not read about elsewhere. I have also posted reviews of many hotels, restaurants and attractions to their spots on Tripadvisor. This report is posted in the Vietnam and Senior Travel forums.
First let me say that it was a wonderful trip for me and my wife; We would recommend this tour to most travelers. This is not an especially “adventurous” tour. There was much walking, in heat in Cambodia, but nothing really taxing for a healthy senior. I would guess most participants were in their mid sixties, with one couple much younger and one person much older.
A discussion of a problematic tour cancellation is at the end.
We made our own air arrangements, flying into Bangkok from NY via Heathrow, spent a few days in Bangkok, flew from there to Hanoi, meeting the tour and departing 21 days later from Siem Reap home via Beijing. The AA tour flies from Hanoi to Danang, from Hue to Ho Chi Minh City, and from there to Phonm Penh. Other connections are by comfortable, but not luxurious bus. Plenty of rest stops, and only one really long bus ride from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. There was always plenty of bottled water available on the buses, occasionally at a small cost.
The tour has a tour director, responsible for logistics, restaurants, team spirit, TLC, and additional information, who travels with the group the entire time. Local guides were provided for each region or special site, as well. The tour director was a young Canadian woman who was one of the best tour directors we ever encountered. She not only managed to get everyone out early in the morning, but created good team spirit with her upbeat attitude. The local guides were all knowledgeable and spoke English well. There were 20 persons on this trip, a bit large for AA. Radio sets were not used, so there were occasional problems hearing the local guides. Since much of the tour was in Vietnam, the local guides were reluctant about political and economic issues. The tour director was sometimes helpful, but she was not an expert.
Tipping of local guides, hotel staff, bus drivers, etc. is not necessary; only for the tour director. AA has a “no shopping policy”, so we were spared most of it. There was enough time to go shopping in most places, and especially in Hoi An.
The tour follows a well tuned tourist itinerary. We had 21 days on the ground with the tour. If you compare it with others, there are many similarities, but we thought AA had done well with its choices. Certainly Halong Bay and Angkor Wat are unforgettable. An extra day in Siem Reap allowed us to visit some of the outlying temples: for example, Prasat Beng Maelea (the overgrown temple in “Tomb Raider”) is magical. Hoi An, though touristy, is lots of fun, and beautifully lit up at night – a good place to slow down and relax. An overnight trip to the Meekong delta area and the real floating market at Cai Rang was a highlight. I might not have chosen Phnom Penh, but the palace is spectacular, and the Killing Fields a chilling reminder. Less successful was a trip to the northern Vietnam village of Mai Chau. A long bus ride followed by lunch, an amateur performance of local dances, then shopping in the souvenir festooned village. An enjoyable walk in the countryside, as suggested by other Tripadvisor reports was not included . One does get a good view of the countries during the bus rides.
All the hotels used were very good to excellent. If the reader is familiar with land tours, there is always anxiety as the bus nears the hotel. All of those chosen had a bit of a wow curb appeal, and several had nice amenities like rooftop bars and lovely swimming pools. None of them reached the level of luxury or resort status. All were well located, near attractions. Breakfasts in the hotel ranged from good to sumptuous.
Most of the meals are part of the tour package, and my wife and I were especially concerned since we have not had good experiences on other tours. Let me say that it was generally excellent local food, well presented. Our tour director had made a special effort in this regard – having eaten in many of the places on earlier trips, and checking with other local sources for recommendations. All the meals were prepared for our group, often with many courses and interesting presentations – both in the countryside and the cities. Overall it was something of a culinary experience.
The most negative aspect of our trip occurred two months before leaving when a different trip we had booked to SE Asia with AA was cancelled because too few people signed up. The other trip was called TH6, spent less time in Vietnam, but also visited Laos. Fortunately we were able to switch to the trip we did take, and even change our frequent flyer reservations at modest cost. We booked the trip in mid October 2013, our booking brought the number up to 8/10 of the necessary travelers. We had repeated encouragement from the sales staff that the trip would fill up, but it did not. So buyer beware. We were lucky. AA is entirely upfront about their cancelation policy. They run a very large variety of tours all over the world, and are not the largest tour company around, so their business model results in cancellations. Other companies we have used run many more travelers through a smaller variety of trips, with multiple departures. Some of the AA trips are guaranteed, and they will tell you over the phone how many people have already booked.
Apart from the cancellation, our other experience with their customer service was excellent. They were helpful in answering questions, arranged a couple of references I could contact directly, provided detailed, helpful pre-trip information. Billing and payment was straightforward. AA is not a bargain travel provider, it’s in the middle somewhere, and we believe they provide good value, possibly better than some more expensive companies