Hi! Me and my partner are plannign on arriving in Vietnam early August and were advised by a travel agent that it is the hardes of the 4 big s/e asian countries to get around as far as finding english speaking people/english signs, train travel etc.. is this the case? He recommended we look into a tour to start our trip (from Vietnam we plan on going through laos, cambodia and finishing in thailand) all up we'd like to be travelling for around 3½ months, so we have relatively around a month to spend in Vietnam. Can anyone recommend a good tour that is around 20 days and not too expensive and relatively active (a few days trekking maybe, or cycling/kayaking adventures) we'd preferably are looking at going North to South (due to weather) but south to north is do-able. Thankyou in advance!!
When planning my 6-month trip to SE Asia last year I had the same concerns about Vietnam. In the end, I found it incredibly easy to get around, the accommodation and that the transport was much better than I expected. I would suggest that you don't need to do a tour here, and in fact, you could end up regretting it as you will lose a certain amount of flexibility, not to mention the additional costs.
I also found Vietnam to be the cheapest country - my daily expenses were significantly less than for Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia and Thailand.
There are some good travel agents around (along with MANY dodgey ones, of course) - and we found the process of booking buses, etc pretty straight forward. You just need to be a bit careful about which agents you deal with, etc. Honestly, I had no real English or other travel-related hassles at all while in Vietnam. Yes, there were times that the guys that worked on the buses had very little English, but it never caused any major problems for us. And yes, I know we overpaid a bus ticket by $2-3 because we booked it through our hotel rather than direct with the bus company.
I have raved about it elsewhere on this site but the one 'tour' that I would strongly suggest you consider is an 'Easy Rider' motorbike tour. It was the highlight of SE Asia for me. Do a search on Easy Riders on this site and you will find lots of discussion about it.
I agree with busylizzy. I've spent the last 3.5 months in Vietnam and (for better or for worse) have only communicated in English. It's very easy and very cheap, and the locals are generally anxious and even happy to deal with English speaking travelers.
With a month to spend you can see all the main spots going from north to south. The trains are cheap and comfortable (if you get the sleeper class) and there are also "sleeper buses" that do the whole route for even less, and many smaller people seem to think the comfort is fine on those.
I'm skipping the Easy Riders that busylizzy recommends, though I've heard plenty of great things. My best recommendation is to minimize time in Hue and make sure to soak up Hoi An, which is far, far nicer and more interesting.
I would highly recommend doing it independently. The Vietnamese are friendly easy going people anxious to help tourists. I had absolutely no problem with getting around as there were plenty of people to help. If you do want to do tours choose the 2-3 day tours, and don't miss out on a motorcycle tour, we went with Hue riders but there are heaps of good companies out there.
Have fun, I envy you your 3 months in south east asia.
#4 KazAussie has been a member since 18/7/2009. Posts: 221
At risk of being repetitive - I agree with all the above! I'm not sure if the agent you spoke to was Vietnamese? If so then you will find that the Vietnamese are actually quite cautious when it comes to their expectations of what is easy / hard or right / wrong for foreigners. They will be the first to advise you not to eat at street stalls because of food hygiene, will be concerned about your safety when you say you're getting a motorbike, will say the trains are awful and suggest you use a guide for any trips out of town. Usually it's because they care but sometimes it's because they want you to buy a trip / train ticket etc. from them!
But it really is as easy to do independently as any of the other countries, so even when you're here, try not to believe everything you're told. We got caught we were here before - we were told a certain place was too difficult to get to so we skipped it and bought a ticket elsewhere from the tour operator instead. We've learnt since then! Now we live here and have done the trip - easy peasy.
Go independantly. You'll have a much better experience that way, I do believe. Travellingsarah is spot on about the attitude of the Vietnamese regarding foreign travelers (of whatever age group). "You want to go to the Fine Arts Museum?" [1km distant] "Taxi!"
99% of the Vietnamese are gracious and hospitable, even if you speak not one syllable of their language. Go on your own ... you won't regret it.