Vietnam is pretty popular with tourists these days and there's no shortage of places to stay, tours and guide books on the country to help you plan your adventures. My parents picked Kuoni to help plan our trip - they offer a few Vietnam tours - the one we picked being the shortest due to having to fit the trip into two weeks of annual leave (plus the bonus Monday bank holiday). This was the first time any of us had done an organised tour holiday and I was slightly in two minds about it as (aside from a post university tour I did in Australia) I've always felt quite capable of planning my own holidays, I'm a confident traveller and also like to do my own thing at my own pace. Also when I told people we were doing s a tour the reaction wasn't always positive and I'm guilty as charged of letting others' views put doubts in my mind.
I wanted to write this because holidays are expensive and, money aside, how we chose to spend our all too precious time is so important. Twenty five days of annual leave, our hard-earned cash and all the expectation of having an amazing time and creating incredible memories mean that our choices of where to go are huge choices so if anyone's thinking of doing this tour, here's what I honestly thought. Speed read: I'd totally recommend it if you want ease, luxury accommodation and if you've got the money but not the time (both to travel and to plan it all).
|On the way to Hoi An|
Stress Free Travelling
I would say that for my family and I doing a tour was 100% the right decision - it took out so much of the stress of planning, saved us a lot of time in picking hotels and what to do in each city and having our days semi-planned out also saved a lot of potential disagreement between the three of us... I'm 28, my parents are in their 50s, we obviously have different views and likes and dislikes - doing a tour took a lot of the choice out of our hands and left us free to enjoy ourselves.
|Family selfie outside the Reunification Palace in Saigon|
Ok, I was pretty worried that it would be me and my parents and that everyone else on the tour would be couples in their 70s who had never travelled before! I was so wrong - firstly, everyone in our group was pretty well travelled and not easily freaked out at "being abroad" and secondly, it wasn't all couples! Kuoni promise small groups and there were 9 of us which was the perfect number, a couple around my parents' age, a girl my own age and her boyfriend and a mother-daughter pair. Everyone was genuinely really nice, phew!
Our tour guide, Leo, was absolutely fantastic. His English was great and he was friendly, enthusiastic and clearly loved his job. Everything on the tour was really well organised, we never had to wait around unnecessarily and Leo did a great job at explaining the history and culture of Vietnam in an interesting way. He was great at including everyone and tailoring activities for our particular group. On a guided tour, the tour guide can really make or break the trip and we were so lucky to have Leo - he was funny and charming and it was really quite sad to say goodbye to him at the end of the trip.
|Leo in the background of our selfie on the Mekong Delta|
The hotels are pre-selected by Kuoni but we upgraded in every destination that we could. Hoi An was the only city where the same hotel is offered on the 4 Star and 5 Star option but the Almanity Hoi An was lovely and didn't feel like it was a lesser standard than the other hotels. I had heard that you should "knock off a star" for hotels in Vietnam but I didn't feel like this was true - La Residence in Hue was one of the most beautiful hotels I have ever stayed in and definitely deserving of its 5 Star rating. The only hotel that wasn't quite up to scratch was The Renaissance Riverside in Saigon - no complaints per se but the hotel was a little tired and dated and just not quite as nice as the others.
|The Movenpick Hanoi|
The infrastructure in Vietnam isn't great - anyone who has watched the Top Gear episode can attest to that. Trains take hours, roads are congested and driving is frantic. Doing the tour meant that we didn't have to think about how to get from city to city - we flew between Hanoi and Hue and Da Nang and Saigon and travelled on a coach within and between other destinations. My dad was super impressed with the coach driver's driving on roads which aren't the best (such a dad point to observe but sort of important) and being in a small group meant that it didn't feel ~touristy~ or like being on a school trip.
Ok, so the less than stellar aspect of my review. More than half of our meals were included in the tour and so were already paid for. Vietnam has great food (as I know from my visits to the restaurants on London's Kingsland Road) and I was looking forward to it being even better in the country itself. Unfortunately many of the restaurants we visited on the tour were set up for groups on guided tours and all had pre-arranged set menus. After a few of these meals it became apparent that these set menus were exactly the same. The default options seemed to be pumpkin soup, deep fried spring rolls, unspecified "fish" and, in one restaurant, crinkle cut chips. Watered down food "for tourists" - no pho, no bahn mi, nothing remotely spicy. While it was great to eat as a group the tour food wasn't the standard I expected from a high-end tour and although all the restaurants were great at offering options for different dietary requirements by the end of the tour I never wanted to see another spring roll in my life.
|Coffee in Vietnam is so good - poolside in Saigon|
The range of places visited was definitely enough to get a feel for the country and there was just about enough time in each place. This isn't a cheap way to do Vietnam - it's not an expensive country and of course you can visit on a budget, the amount of backpackers I saw was confirmation of that but the expense meant that my expectations were really high and (food aside) were actually met. I don't think that doing an tour is essential in Vietnam but for convenience it was great and having a guide meant that I came away feeling like I knew a lot more about the country than when I've been to countries on my own.
Have you done any organised tour holidays?