Guided tour with Viengchampa Tours
19th August, 2012
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My girlfriend and I are currently planning a 1 month trip (19.01.2013 to 21.02.2012) to South East Asia. We would like to visit Cambodia, Laos and Thailand.
Because this is our first bigger trip and we are not sure if we can manage to travel "unguided", we decided to look around for a planned package for Laos and Cambodia.
We thought this may get off some of the stress of planning and we get to see more things this way without having to concern us how see enough of one country.
We think we can get around Thailand on our own
So, we found this site: viengchampatour.com. We looked at the package "Exotic Laos" (pdf), an Adventure Tour in 7days/6nights.
Here's ashort overview:
Day 1. Arrival in Vientiane , visit to Was Sisaket, Patuxay Monument, Wat Si Muang and COPE exhibition centre, then overnight stay.
Day 2. Vientiane - Vang Vieng by road. Stop in Ban Keun, Nam Ngum, Tha Heua. In Vang Vieng a visit to the Tham Jang cave and overnight in Vang Vieng.
Day 3. Cycling 26 km around Vang Vieng. Visit the Tham Pukham Cave and Phonxay village, overnight in Vang Vieng.
Day 4. Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang . Visit Phatang Mountain, forest market in Koe Kuang, the Hmong village Ban Hin Ngon, other stuff then overnight in Luang Prabang.
Day 5. Luang Prabang city tour. monks collection offerings, the Royal Palace Museum, Arts and Ethnology Centre, the Kuang Si Waterfall, Mount Phousi, then overnight at Luang Prabang.
Day 6. Luang Prabang - full day at Gecko Cliff, cycling and boat. overnight at Luang Prabang.
Day 7. Luang Prabang - Elephant riding at "Elephant Village", boat to Tad Sae waterfalls and kayaking. overnight at Luang Prabang.
Day 8. departure.
I know it's a lot to do, but I think it doable when a local guide is managing all this.
We would stay in 3-stars hotels and the cost would be at around 1.050 US$ per person.
My question is, is the cost of this acceptable? And do you think it would be possible to do all/some of this alone without getting stressed out?
What do you think about guided tours in Laos?
And last but not least, how do I pay for this from here? I got a credit card form to fill out, but I just don't trust this kind of payment method, what is the common or better way to do that? When we're there?
I know these are many questions, but I'm just unsure how to tackle this or if we should really book it without some feedback. Thanks for having a look at this!
Greeting from Germany,
Jens and Marina
#1 Posted: 19/8/2012 - 06:00
I really can't say if that's too much money, not my money. Could you do it yourself, sure. Might you have more fun having someone else do it for you, perhaps.
I've never had a guided tour in Laos, but then I know my way around and speak some of the language.
I met the owner of Viengchampa at 6 in the morning at the Market in Muang Khua, we were both there looking for the only coffee at that time of day. He was checking out the road to Dien Bien Phou with his Vietnamese and Thai counterparts in anticipation of a new 3 nation tour once the border became open. Of course he was a charming guy and his tour company is one of the larger ones in Laos.
They specialize in subcontracting for other international tour companies. Like if a Thai tour company wants to take 30 Danish school teachers for a weeklong tour of Laos, they simply send their guide along and Viengchampa does all the actual work.
They have a good reputation, but of course a lot depends on your guide and how well you all get along.
There are many advantages of a guide. They speak the language and understand the culture. With a guide you have a pathway to interacting with all of the people you might meet. Not only the people who work with tourists but normal Lao people who speak no English. You also have someone to explain what and how and why people are doing whatever it is they are doing.
I've no idea of payment methods, I doubt they'd steal your money. I don't buy things from across oceans and usually pay cash cash.
#2 Posted: 19/8/2012 - 21:57
I have friends that have done various tours throughout SEA and love it. I prefer to work things out myself - whether I'm on an extended trip, or a short-term holiday.
Tours are great if you have limited time as you have someone else to sort out the logistics for you, and to head you off in all the right directions. But you're paying a large amount of money for the service. So you have to decide is the money worth the convenience. For me, I'd say no - but I hate the prospect of being shepherded around. I like the freedom to do my own thing.
To give you some idea of cost for doing it on your own: I spent 23 days in Laos last year (Northern Laos, and then a week or so around the Bolaven Plateau in the south). I travelled with a friend (shared expenses) on a 'flashpacker' budget rather than 'backpacker'. Our total costs were USD$765 each for over 3 weeks (ie less than $250/week)- which included:
* Accom (2-3 star, ranging from $6 - $30/night shared, with one with one special night for $60 - but averaging $19/night).
* Food and drink (a mix of restaurants, family run eateries and street markets)
* Local transport (boats, taxis, bus, bicycle hire, etc)
* Private car from Phonsavan to Luang Prabang (another expensive treat)
* Local tours, entry fees, donations, etc
* Motorbike hire / petrol for 7 days
It excludes two internal flights, massages and souvenirs. So, as you can see, it's significantly cheaper than the tour price that you are looking at (which presumably doesn't include food and some other expenses). But I did lots of research before I left, worked out a rough itinerary and pre-booked the first few nights accom.
Ultimately, it depends on your travel style and your tolerance and patience for sorting stuff out on your own as you go. It's not difficult. You're only there for 8 days and you're following a standard tourist route through touristy towns. English is widely spoken, there are transport and agents everywhere that will help you out with booking local buses, local tours, etc. My suggestion would be to book your first nights in Vientiane before you arrive to help you get your bearings, then just follow your nose for the remaining days.
For what it's worth, one month in 3 countries is a lot. I'd suggest cutting out one country and slowing the pace down a bit.
If you do decide to go with a local tour operator, I'd wait until you get there to book. It will give you the opportunity to re-assess, to make sure you feel comfortable with them by visiting their offices, and potentially talking to a few others in VTE when you arrive for alternative tours.
Hope that helps!
#3 Posted: 21/8/2012 - 03:47
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