Once you’ve got your visa on arrival for Vietnam there are a number of other decisions to be made. One of them is whether you should book a tour of Vietnam or do it independently.
Personally, I think a good option is to go independently and then book a few, one or two day long tours along the way.
You can choose to plan all of your accommodation in advance before you arrive or to book as you go. The advantage of the latter is that you can change your plans easily when you get recommendations or meet people along the way.
Motorbike tours are a great way to experience Vietnam like a local from the safety of the back of a motorbike, with a local driver. Find out whether your travel insurance covers you for this first!
Half day tours can be a great way to get somewhere that otherwise you wouldn’t have time to visit, while one or two days tours are a great way to experience the country without having to plan accommodation, routes, travel and meals. This way you can just enjoy being in the moment.
Here is a summary of the pros and cons of taking a tour when in Vietnam to help you decide the best option for you:
Advantages of a tour:
1. Great if you have limited time.
These tours will get you to the main sites of Vietnam such as Sapa, Halong Bay, the Mekong Delta and much more in a given time frame- one, two, three days or longer. They are usually one of the fastest ways of getting to each place (by bus) and often combine one or two attractions in one day.
2. Get inside knowledge from the tour guide
All of the guides are local and speak fairly good English. They will fill you in on fascinating facts about your beautiful destination that you otherwise wouldn’t have known. These kinds of guides are especially useful in historical areas such as Hue or the DMZ (Demilitarised Zone) or historical sites such as the Cu Chi Tunnels.
3. Meet other people from all over the world
There will of course be other like-minded travellers on your tour who you will get to share bus rides with, relax in boats with and get to know over dinner. If you are single traveller this is a great way to meet fellow travellers in the same city as you and plan your next steps together or just enjoy the company. Likewise for couples and families it’s a great way to connect with other people on your trip.
4. Good option if you don’t want to ride a motorbike
A lot of solo travel in Vietnam involves driving a motorbike to the attractions or from place to place. For obvious reasons, this is not for everyone, and so your next best option is a bus or bus tour. You still get to see the same places and do the same things but also get to take a nap on the bus and enjoy not having to navigate the crazy roads of Vietnam! These buses are all conditioned, clean, comfy and fast and generally the drivers are pretty safe and reliable.
Disadvantages of a tour
1. They can be a little rushed and you have to work to someone else’s schedule
So the down side of a tour is that you might want to spend longer in one place than another, but of course this is not always possible when working with a big group and following the schedule of the company. Unfortunately, this is one of the downsides of taking a tour and a sacrifice you have to be willing to make.
2. More expensive than doing it independently
These tours can be a little pricey and are definitely more expensive than doing it yourself, but they do usually include entrance fees, water, transport and lunch. I would recommend picking the ones which you want to do the most beforehand, as you may not have the budget to do all of them!
3. Tour guides range in quality and level of English
While all of the guides will speak English their level of communication and understanding of Western culture will differ from person to person. Having a great tour guide can really add to your experience but having a bad tour guide can be a bit of a downer. Unfortunately, it’s the luck of the draw usually but reading reviews will help you choose the best option!
4. Many people all go to the same places so it can be crowded
Many people want to see the same sites so a lot of tourists all go to the same spot which can get pretty crowded and feel unauthentic. The best thing to do to avoid the crowds is to opt for a slightly longer tour so that you can get further away from the city. As a general rule, the further out you are, the less touristy the places.
5. Large amounts of people on your tour, or pay more for a smaller group tour
Tours unfortunately want to make money so will take as many people as they can fit on the bus! The standard tours tends to have 30-40 people booked in, an entire bus load. So, if you’re not a fan of big crowds or being shepherded around this may not be for you. However, you can also opt for a more expensive small-group tour instead of the larger group tours which will make your tour more intimate and flexible and obviously have fewer people.
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