To Tour or Not to Tour: Get a Guide or Do it Solo?





When we travel, we generally prefer our freedom. We like to go our own way and do our own thing. That’s one reason we love having the motorbikes so much—we don’t even have to rely on public transportation. We are on our schedule, and with a map, a compass, and some basic language skills, we can get to where we need to go.

Once in a while though, we take an organized tour. Sometimes we’re a little disappointed with the result, but sometimes it works out just fine. So here’s a little of our opinions on touring.

One of the reasons we usually don’t take tours is that they are often pretty expensive.  They definitely cost more than doing it on your own. But sometimes, you just can’t do it on your own. For example, in
Cambodia, we took a tour to see a floating village. It was $12 per person, which was a bit pricy, but included seeing a crocodile farm and sunset over the lake. We didn’t know if we could get there and just organize our own boat, and since we didn’t have our bikes, we’d have to take a tuk-tuk anyway.

Just recently, we took a 24 hour boat tour through Halong Bay. It was also fairly pricy at $70 a head, but included 4 meals and entrance to caves and a floating village.  We didn’t know if there was a better way to see the bay, so we decided to do it.

First things first: Do some shopping. For both of these tours we pretty much just took the first offer we saw.  It can be time-consuming and somewhat of a hassle to visit all the tour companies and offices, but it might be worth it. For example, a few others on the same Halong Bay tour as us paid only $45 each. I think we could have gotten a better deal if we had taken our time and shopped around for better prices.

And another thing, consider what is included, and subtract about 20%. There are always mishaps, mistakes, and problems. For the Cambodia tour, a bus was supposed to pick us up at our guesthouse at a set time. Well it didn’t come, and it didn’t come, and it didn’t come.  We ended up walking to the tour office only to find a ton of other people waiting.  The time was getting late, and we were worried we wouldn’t get to see the sunset. It turns out they overbooked the tour, the bus had gone with a load of people, and they were waiting on a couple of tuk-tuks to take the rest of us.

Setting off for the village, hoping we make it there before the sun sinks.
By the time we got to the village, it was nearly sunset, which meant we didn’t get to see the crocodile farm or much of the village in daylight.  

Except for this floating church.


When we left, we didn’t really feel like the tour was worth it, and many of our companions weren’t pleased either.


So the tour wasn't responsible for the cloud...but still.

 \
But we did get to see these kids with snakes.

 As for the Halong Bay cruise, it mostly went ok. Lunch and dinner were tasty, if a little meager (good thing we brought Pringles and Oreos to fill in the gap!), and the sights were nice. We even had a nice room and bathroom with hot water. Breakfast was a disappointment with 4 slices of white bread, a quarter of a 1-egg omelet and a slice of pear. 

The most important meal of the day.


Once again, thanks to Pringles we survived. More unfortunately, however, was the absence of lunch. Ricky and I were promised it as part of the tour, but apparently it only went for those traveling back to Hanoi by bus, so we were out a meal.

So, in all, it often seems that the tours are more expensive than what they are physically worth—meaning food, transportation, all that stuff is usually on the cheap side, and you could do much better on your own. But then you have to consider the fact that some of the experiences had make up for that, even if it is only a good story, or a warning to other travelers (take heed!)

Our beautiful cruise ship.


The Halong Bay cruise was fun and I am very glad we did it, despite the price. We met other amazing travelers, learned a new card game, had great laughs, and got to see some beautiful scenery, and get more information about what we were seeing from our English-speaking guide. Ricky got to kayak under a national emblem and I was serenaded by an elderly man as he rowed our bamboo boat through the floating village. 
That rock there in front, that's the national emblem. It's on the 200,000 dong note.


 We finished the tour by basking on top of the boat under a sun we hadn’t seen in weeks, enjoying the warmth on our faces. 

In short, for all you travelers out there, consider your options for experiencing a new place. If, like us, you have more time than money, try to spend a lot of that time on your own, seeing things your own way. It’s cheaper, and often more fun. On the other hand, if you have limited time and want to see everything, tours are a good way to go. They take you to all the big things to see, and you rarely have to worry about the details.

And we're so happy! 
We’re probably done with organized tours for now, though we are planning on getting a guide for our romp through a national park later this week.  With the bikes, it’s a lot easier to do things on our own, and we like it that way.

What do you travelers think? Is it better to tour or do it on your own?

2 comments:

  1. the thing I remember most clearly about you guys was the condom on your engine in van don :-) ... loved it ... geoff .. australia

    ReplyDelete
  2. I suppose there are worse things to remember about us! Thanks for the good times!

    ReplyDelete

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