As far as this forum is concerned rickus, the lack of reviews is down to the fact that most travellers on here either book hotels, flights etc. independently or use Vietnamese travel agents to tailor tours to their own requirements.
I've had a look at the itinerary on the link you provided and am not impressed. It amounts to a headlong gallop through the country, spending most of the time travelling and insufficient time in the designated places for you to gain any meaningful impressions of Vietnam or Cambodia. Indeed the time allocated to the latter country is derisory.
Just one example of the inadequacies of the Vietnam section is the day trip from Hanoi to Halong Bay, whose blurb conveniently omits to mention that the return journey takes about 7 hours and your time on the bay will be negligible. At the very least one night should be spent on a boat in the bay. And thus it continues throughout the itinerary.
If it really will be your only trip to SE Asia, then please do it justice. Spend some time looking through previous posts on this forum to establish just what you would like to see. There's no need for you to organise everything yourself as there are a number of excellent agents in Vietnam who can book everything for you (hotels, transportation, guides) according to your wishes and budget. All you would have to do would be to buy your return flights from the UK.
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Rickus, save yourself a fortune and see more! Do as Creaking Bones suggests and either use a reputable Vietnamese tour operator (plenty of recommendations on these forums) or work out what interests you and DIY.
Travel agents in our home countries just can't compete pricewise or quality wise; and they usually grab a big commission and palm off the details to local Viet companies anyway.
Cut out this middle man and you save big time.
Like you I am looking at booking through a UK agency, mainly because I don't have the time or inclination to spend weeks sorting it out online with agents I know nothing about in Vietnam, and really I've done the backpacker thing plenty before. I think the tour with Explore provides better value, by using Vietnam Airlines for the flights from London, and there are tours at varying levels of comfort accomodation with or without a trip to the Angkor temples
Thank you very much for your replies.
I will have only limited time to research this but have done some. We are thinking of going for two and a bit weeks in mid April or possibly early March. Looks like the cheapest non-stop flights from the UK in April would be around £700. That's for a return - have not yet checked singles so that you do not have to return to your arrival point, but I guess they would be more. So the next thing to consider is the price of a similar or better tour with a locally based operator and whether that would be better value. We are looking for group tours rather than just the 2 of us with a driver/guide.
Creaking Bones' comment on the Halong Bay day trip with Riviera is a good one - I have just e-mailed them to ask how long you actually get in Halong Bay - guess it would not be much more than 4 or 5 hours. Other than that the travelling times do not appear to be too onerous given the number of places visited. Several of the internal flights are quite early in the morning which I regard as a plus.
Have also looked at the tours of a few other UK based operators. These are generally much pricier - Around the £3k mark as opposed to less than £2k with Riviera. Explore, recommended by red97 do offer a wide variety of interesting tours. These tend to be cheaper than Riviera, but look about the same if you want more comfortable accommodation e.g. their Vietnam and Angkor Odyssey . That tour leaves - it leaves you at Siem Reap with a protracted journey back to the UK, it's similar with Riviera.
The other tour I have look at is with VJV, who we have also used before. It is a couple of nights shorter for a similar price but does have an overnight (in a hotel) in Halong, direct flights and perhaps slightly better hotels
Ok rickus, oh how I love a challenge!
For a start, flights. Cathay Pacific is my preferred airline when travelling from the UK to Vietnam because although the flights are not direct the flying time is shorter than most and if you pick the right schedules (there are several flights a day) there is a fairly minimal transit time in Hong Kong. Their sale is still on and and by juggling dates and flight times you can pick up a very cheap fare. About a month ago I paid £532 for a Heathrow-Hanoi return flight for 8 weeks in March-May. The prices might be 10 quid or so or higher now, but still a huge bargain. Have a look for yourself:
On to hotels and travel agents in Vietnam. With regard to hotels, a heck of a lot depends on the number of stars you want your hotels to have, but believe me (and countless others) 2-3* hotels in Vietnam knock the socks off their equivalent in the UK in terms of accommodation, comfort and quality of service. There are very few Basil Fawltys in Vietnam.
If you use the forum search box just above your post you will find quite a few travel agents who can tailor-make a tour for you at considerably less than the amount charged by non-Vietnamese agents who farm out the nitty gritty to associates who are actually in Vietnam - at a cost to you of course.
One Vietnamese travel agent who is held in particular regard on this forum by contented travellers is Mrs Ha of Vietland Discovery, whose website is listed under the name of Discover Vietnam because another local tour operator has used the name of her company to capitalise on her much deserved success. Ha's genuine site is:
Another local agent - and I have to declare an interest here because the owner is a friend of mine - is Indochina Voyages:
I know his approach to business and how he gets his knickers in a twist about providing customer satisfaction, so I would be willing to take the flack if I were proved wrong.
An agent often espoused by a forum member who lives in southern Vietnam is V'Explore, which has been used to the satisfaction of a number of forum contributors:
That company and a couple of others recommended on this forum (do a search for travel agents) seem to specialise in southern Vietnam, but I'm sure they could come up with itineraries that include the north and Cambodia as well.
Finally, there is ComeAndGoVietnam, a forum member and UK expatriate with an agency in Saigon:
Soooo, are you willing to pick up the gauntlet and get quotes tailored to your own specifications, and to compare those with the rates charged by UK tour operators?
Edit: phew, this post turned out to be somewhat longer than intended. Please don't fall asleep.Edited: 12 January 2012, 21:42
Thank you again Creaking Bones. I really appreciate the effort you have put in to providing your advice.
Have had a look at Cathay Pacific prices - seem to be about £570-580 return in April arriving/leaving at the same airport. Using different airports look a lot pricier.
Have looked at the links above (googled ComeAndGoVietnam - you had repeated the previous address!) and they look good. However, they do not appear to do group tours - unless you are already part of a group. I guess that will tend to be the case for most local operators. My wife and I both much prefer to be in a group on this type of holiday rather than it just being the two of us and the driver/guide.
The price for the Riviera tour in April is £2000. From the prices I have seen so far I am not convinced that the overall price using a local operator would be much cheaper. Obviously doing it the latter way gives you control of your itinerary. Having said that, other than the short time in Halong Bay, the Riviera trip covers most of what we would want to do. It covers a lot in two weeks, generally without excessive travel time. I am sure there are many places that warrant an extended stay - however, we could always choose to do that another time.
Oh well, it was worth a try. :-)
Enjoy your trip rickus!
Hi Rickus. I came across this tour recently and have been seriously considering it for later in the year (poss. Oct). Based on your positive comments and (noting you and others put some thought and effort into researching alternatives), I think this trip is now looking very likely. Similar to your views; I think it seems reasonably priced and it covers much of what we want to see (without switching hotels every other night). It also appeals that it can all be booked through a UK agent and I don't have to waste hours (or even days) considering various options, e-mailing loads of different places and then trying to tie up all the components. Thanks for nudging me on this and I really hope you enjoy your trip!
I just had a look at the hotels listed for this tour. The 3 in VN are all stated to be 5star which I would dispute. I know the Imperial is only 4star and I'm pretty sure the other 2 are as well.
Just something for you to think about. Personally I would rather be in the Old Quarter of Hanoi not the business district, and in Dist.1 of Saigon.