Went on a full day's trip with Jason SSS today and thought we'd share our experience as we were pretty disappointed overall based upon the value of the trip for the amount we paid ($175 US for 2 people, including the "Trip Advisor Discount"). This seems fairly reasonable while planning a trip but once you get to Vietnam you will see that is A LOT of money and you can do a broad range of trips for significantly less (though you will have to tour with other travelers). We booked the full day trip (Option 5) with visits to the floating market (not much of a market at all), a walk through the street market, and the canal/boat trips. Sorry, I can't recall all the names now as am totally wiped out.
Firstly let me say that Jason is a very nice person. He was great coordinating via email and showed up on time to get us in a nice car with air con and driver. Our first request of the morning was to stop for coffee as our guesthouse wasn't serving yet by the time we departed. He was very accomodating and took us to a nice roadside stall for takeaway Vietnamese coffee (which we paid for).
For the most part the morning portion of the trip was pretty good. The Cao Dai temple was interesting and Jason provided lots of information but then we moved on to the the "fish toilet" and "coffee stop". We did the toilet which was fun but then we were back in the car with no mention of coffee. Granted we'd had coffee about 2 hours earlier but we would have loved more, especially since others here on TA have spoken of lounging in the hammocks as they drank theirs. We were even taking pictures of the hammocks and remarking how nice they would be to lounge in and were just told to get in the car. A few minutes later Jason hopped in the car with his own iced coffee and we were back on the road with no mention of the coffee/hammock stop that was 'included' in our trip.
The rest of the morning was fine though again the floating market really isn't a market it all. It's a collection of big boats with people sleeping in hammocks and sticks coming out of the back displaying their wares (mostly root veggies and squash from what we saw). There is no interraction with the market folk at all.
For lunch we chose the Truck Stop with pork and it was fantastic. It was by far the best part of the tour.
After lunch we were back out on the road for our boat trips and to "taste" coconut candy. Our ENTIRE afternoon consisted of visiting FOUR coconut candy makers, all making the same candy, all rude, and all overpriced. While at the candy shops he would give us a quick rundown of how it's made and then dump us off at a private table to "drink tea" while he worked on his laptop or chatted with the locals, read a newspaper, or disappeared completely. No one spoke to us or interacted with us. Once the prescribed amount of time passed (as with many tours, guides are required to keep you at a location for a certain amount of time in order to get a commission for bringing you there. This was no different. The guides in these situations turn in little slips of paper with their information to the main bookkeeper and are somehow remunerated that way and I watched Jason do this at each stop) we continued along to the next stop. Now don't get me wrong, I am all for guides earning their commissions but four of the same shop? Unacceptable. Had Jason been taking us to see various local handicrafts and attractions and earning extra money at the same time we would have no issues. But it was as if he was trying to hit every stop to make as much as possible, to the detriment of our experience.
At the first one of these stops we arrived just as another boat of travelers on a "cheap" tour arrived. Another arrived shortly thereafter. Yes, there were alot of them on the boat (20ish) but as we sat and waited for no less than 30 minutes while Jason put together our DVD of pictures both boats of "cheap" tourists departed and two new ones arrived. While the DVD/CD is a nice feature, it is NOT worth sitting in a hot tourist shop with nothing to do but sweat and stare at each other. These shops were selling the same wares at triple the price you would get in Saigon at Ben Thanh or in Hanoi's Old Quarter. At this stop we also finally approached a shopkeeper (lounging in a hammock) and asked if we could please buy some water as it was hot as heck and we were dying.
Anyway, the afternoon was the same. We took 5, yes 5, boat trips to get to the "Python" experience. Well what this is is another coconut candy shop with a python in the back. So after you walk through the candy shop portion you play with the snake and then again are made to sit while Jason reads a newspaper and the clock ticks.
The final frustration with us was on the 5th boat ride (back to the car) when we were bored senseless because Jason wasn't telling us anything and I turned around to see him swinging away in a hammock on the boat fast asleep!!! This is what we are paying $175 for?
Once arrived at the docks all the shops were closed down so we were directed by the driver to sit in a corner room in some wooden chairs with no air con. We begged to please sit in the car with the air con instead. Jason took about another 30 minutes working on the computer as we watched the clock tick and saw our last night in Saigon being wasted. In total we'd spent about two hours waiting around for the DVD/CD situation throughout the day.
We drove home in complete silence and once arrived at our hotel we ran into an issue with the money. Jason had quoted us $175 US. Most hotels/attractions quote in US but of course accept Vietnamese Dong because...this is Vietnam, not the US. And there are no ATM's here that dispense US Dollars. So when I tried to pay him 3,150,000 (generous at an exchange rate of 18,000/1 when today's rate is 17,735/1) he fussed and moaned because he can get a rate of 19,100/1 at the gold shops. At this point we told him what the official exchange rate was and that we had no means of getting US cash and we were at our wit's end. He finally accepted it begrudginly, an appropriate dissapointment to him after the dissapointment of our day.
The reason we share all of this is not to bash Jason. Certainly if you have money to burn and prefer not to tour with other travelers you should use him. But if you prefer to spend your money in other ways (you can get alot of tailor-made clothes in Hoi An for $175!!!) and perhaps meet other travelers, go with one of the cheaper tours. You will get pretty much the same experience and won't be made to go to four coconut candy shops selling the same junk. I searched on here when we got home and can find nothing but rave reviews so I thought it's only fair of us as travelers to share our experience.