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Which Vietnam/Cambodia Trip? Road Scholar or Odysseys Unlimited?

Which Vietnam/Cambodia Trip? Road Scholar or Odysseys Unlimited?

Mar 22nd, 2018, 09:00 AM
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Which Vietnam/Cambodia Trip? Road Scholar or Odysseys Unlimited?

My husband and I are thinking of taking a first trip to Vietnam and Cambodia next January. We usually travel independently but this is our first time to this part of the world and we are debating between a Road Scholar's trip or an Odysseys Unlimited group tour. If we do the Odysseys trip, we would add on the post tour extension to Cambodia.

A bit about us: we are in our early 60s and have traveled quite a bit, mostly in Europe. We enjoy learning about new cultures and are happy visiting museums and cities as well as enjoying nature and the countryside.

The trips were are thinking of are below and both tours sound good to us. I am hoping someone with more knowledge of this part of the world might have an opinion about one versus the other. If anyone has toured with either of these companies, that would be helpful to know about, as well. Thanks so much!

KTtravel is offline  
Mar 22nd, 2018, 09:36 AM
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I just got back from a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia, over the CNY vacation period. Definitely recommend the trip, it's really something to see and experience. Unfortunately I can't offer advice on those companies having never used them myself. Some general thoughts though.

Hanoi is ok, but my guess is you'll enjoy Hue and Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) more, most people do. Ha Long Bay is very pretty, though it can get a little crowded on the water. Still a must see though. Spending time in the Delta is, usually, cool. A lot of people visit the Delta for good reason.

Personally, I enjoy Siem Reap/Angkor more than Saigon, but they're fairly different places. Siem Reap is much smaller and not nearly as 'cushy' as Saigon can be, though staying in the Sofitels will go a long way is making things cushier.

All in all, I say the second link, with the Cambodian excursion. Driving from Vietnam? It's tends to be a real pain in the neck. Much easier to fly, and it's a short and inexpensive trip; so worth it in my opinion.

The three days/two nights seeing Angkor is a good time frame. Enough time to get the feel of the place and see many of the sites. Do yourself a favor, go to Banteay Srei Temple. It's a bit more out of the way, towards the northeast of Angkor, but absolutely worth it. It looks different than all the other temples, and is very easy to get around (you won't feel like your mountain climbing as you do with some of the other temples). It's a great place to see in the morning. Get breakfast and head-off, ideally on a morning tuk tuk ride. You get to see so much of the countryside and small 'villages' in Angkor that way.

Yeah, I like the idea of the second link: Hanoi, Da Nang, Hue, Saigon, the Mekong, then fly over to Siem Reap/Angkor and see the sites. Oh, and when in Siem Reap, swing by the Ten Bells for great food and top notch jazz.
ExpatPhotograph is offline  
Mar 22nd, 2018, 09:48 AM
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Thank you, ExpatPhotograph. This is very helpful information.
I have been reading guidebooks but everything sounds so interesting that I have been having a hard time making a decision. I do know we may need to make this the first of (hopefully) several trips to the region.
I really appreciate your thoughtful response!
KTtravel is offline  
Mar 22nd, 2018, 10:51 AM
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Interesting that expat thinks more people enjoy HCMC than Hanoi - that is the opposite of my experience.

Frankly, there is no reason to use a group tour. This is a very easy part of the world in which to travel.

To prepare for your trip to Angkor, pick up a copy of Dawn Rooney's book, Angkor: A Guide to Cambodia's Wondrous Temples. She suggests three full days to see the major temples there. We spent a week and would have enjoyed even more time. BTW, two nights never yields three days, but a mere one full day and perhaps a few hours on two other days. I highly recommend a minimum of three full days (4 nights) in Siem Reap. There are many lovely boutique hotels in Siem Reap. The Sofitel is big and "corporate." I wouldn't stay there.

I do agree that you want to get to Siem Reap via air, not driving.

Enjoy your trip to this wonderful part of the world!
Kathie is online now  
Mar 22nd, 2018, 11:09 AM
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Thanks, Katie.

I do know we could likely arrange all of this on our own but for some reason feel a bit too intimidated. Further trips will likely be independent once we "master" the region (ha!)

If you wouldn't mind taking a peek at the links, if you were to pick between the two itineraries, which would you choose? Thanks so much.
KTtravel is offline  
Mar 22nd, 2018, 11:55 AM
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Hi KTtravel

I don’t know either of those companies so can’t comment on how good or bad they might be. However wife and I have spent a lot of time travelling in Vietnam over the years and feel we have got to know the country pretty well. Having looked at both of those tours, both have pros and cons, but for me the roadsscholar itinerary wins hands down.

What I see as a major flaw in the Odyssey itinerary is the amount of time spent in Da Nang. It is a soulless place, now full of mega hotels catering for the Chinese tour group market. We drove from Hoi An to Hue via Da Nang and were shocked to find that along the beach road for maybe 15-20 kms there was nothing but huge hotels either built or in the course of construction. The city itself does not have a lot to commend it.

I love Hue which has a huge amount to see and do and would much prefer to stay there or in Hoi An, a quaint although very busy place.

Hanoi and HCMC both have a huge amount to see, especially in terms of museums but the are very different places. Hanoi is all about the old Vietnam whereas HCMC is a the bustling thriving economic powerhouse of Vietnam and as such is udndergoing massive development into a modern city. I love both cities and would find it hard to choose between the two.

Where the roads scholar tour really scores for me is in the trip through the delta to Cambodia. Chau Doc is one of my favourite places in the whole of SE Asia. There is just so much to see there. Cai Be rather than Cai Rang Floating market seems an odd choice and and the Submerged Forest near Chau Doc is missing but would be high on my list.

We have a lot of photos and more info on our time in these places in our travel blog https://accidentalnomads.com/category/vietnam/

I have yet to post about our time in Angkor Wat although there are a couple of posts about Phnom Penh in the Cambodia section of our blog. PP is a fascinating city but it’s tragic history can be a little too challenging for some people.

Regarding the choice of tour companies. We never use tour companies as we always travel independently, but I would be remiss not to point out that it is likely to be considerably more expensive to buy a tour in your home country. You could likely organise a private tour with a Vietnamese operator for less than the cost of the group tours above. You would also have the added advantage of being able to design a tour to meet your EXACT requirements. I am sure you will get a lot of help from forum members here.

A couple of the hotels mentioned in the RS itinerary we have stayed at. The Victoria Chau Doc is wonderful. The Mercure in Hanoi is not so good. Another advantage of a private tour is that you get to choose where to stay and there are some wonderful hotels in Cambodia and Vietnam at bargain prices by western standards.
crellston is offline  
Mar 22nd, 2018, 12:28 PM
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A few comments on these itineraries: I'm surprised that the Odysseys Unlimited tour puts you in a hotel at Halong Bay rather than spending the night on a boat. I've never seen a tour that did that. I consider that not a good sign. Likewise, putting you in a hotel on the beach at Da Nang is not a good sign. So by process of elimination, I'd go for Road Scholar, but I'd really recommend a private tour arranged by a local company.

If the logistics feel like too much for you, I agree with crellston, use a local company. It will be much less expensive than the group tours and you can specify exactly what you want in terms of itinerary and lodging. You will get a better experience - better hotels, your choices of where to go, what to do - for much less money.

People here on Fodors have given Tonkin Travel good reviews for settling up private tours - they can arrange everything for you. I remember that crellston used another company they liked Ethnic Travel?, perhaps. Maybe crellston can recommend the agency they used.
Kathie is online now  
Mar 22nd, 2018, 12:51 PM
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Hi Kathie, We must have been posting at the same time. This new site seems to do some weird things with the timing of posting!

We did use Ethnic Travel for trekking for trekking in Pu Long NP/ Ninh Binh but I am pretty sure they only operate in the north of the country.

I didn’t notice the fact that they use a hotel in Halong - very odd!
crellston is offline  
Mar 22nd, 2018, 02:30 PM
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IF you want the name of another VN-based agency --and you didnt say that you did---a few Fodorites ncluding me, Susiesan, Dbriskin--have used Hanoi-based Custom Vietnam Travel and all were happy with them. Again, IF you reconsider and do a private tour, do check Tripadvisor reviews for that company, as well as those mentioned above by Crellson and Kathie.

That said, I totally understand your wish to do a group tour with a good company. Whether the tour's home is locally (in Southeast Asia) or US based doesnt matter once you are there matter to me (except perhaps in terms of $$) as they will use local guides and companies in-country

A good friend is on the Road Scholar tour right now. It is to VN and Cambodia--it left March 15 if you want to compare to yours. When she returns, I'll of course want tp hear all about it, how she liked it, and post here for you. Looking at the itinerary, I was a bit jealous One positive point I noticed in her tour, is the overnight on a Halong Bay junk--vs other groups which visit Halong Bay just as a day trip, returning to Hanoi the same day, or having a stay near the pier at Halong Bay. When there 2.5 yrs ago, there was lots of area construction near the pier...perhaps they were building more hotels!
CaliNurse is offline  
Mar 22nd, 2018, 02:43 PM
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Thank you everyone. Please keep the comments coming as they have all been so helpful. I will look into the custom, private tours as well as we did enjoy that type of travel in Turkey and Peru. I think it is the different alphabets and language challenges that have intimidated me somewhat for this trip.
KTtravel is offline  
Mar 22nd, 2018, 05:52 PM
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Have to agree that you really do not need a tour for these countries. Another in-country agency to look at if you want to go that route is Tonkin Travel.

I entirely disagree with the idea that Saigon is preferable to Hanoi. On the other hand I do agree with down-rating a tour that takes you to Halong Bay and then expects you to sleep on land. I also don't think that visiting just Hanoi, Saigon and the delta is a good tour of Vietnam.

I think that if you are going to go to Cambodia you should at least visit Phnom Penh as well as Siem Reap. My first visit to SR I had two and a half days (three nights) and felt that was inadequate. I went back for several more days.
thursdaysd is offline  
Mar 22nd, 2018, 07:24 PM
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I concur with all the veteran posters here: Vietnam is easily seen on your own, perhaps with an independent agency helping you arrange the more challenging parts. People are pretty fluent in English in Vietnam, and in fact, the hotel staff is generally pretty good at getting things right for you, such as helping with logistics.

I would suggest doing the major cities on your own, and at least getting a quote from a private agency for the rest. Indeed, you will probably pay less for a private tour. I have taken day group tours on my trips to Asia, and I regret it every single time. There are people who are late for the bus, for example, and I feel like I am in a herd of cattle.

My son recently traveled to Vietnam, and he used Tonkin for part of his trip, some in the north and some in the south. The northern part worked out well, but in the south, the guide barely spoke English and pretty much ruined the trip of the Mekong Delta. My son contacted the owner of Tonkin, and he admitted that they subcontracted with a local agency, and that the guide probably double booked, and sent his cousin instead. Consequently, the subcontracting agency sent a tiny refund for the guide fee. When my son asked for a more reasonable settlement, the Tonkin owner sent my son a nasty, unprofessional letter. I would never use Tonkin--there are lots of other fish in the sea.
CaliforniaLady is offline  
Mar 23rd, 2018, 07:27 PM
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There are many museums in Vietnam for you to visit: War Remnants Museum, Fine Arts Museum and Vietnamese Women's Museum. To discover Vietnamese cultures, you should go to the mountainous regions in the North (Sapa, Mai Chau and Bac Giang). These places are home to Vietnamese ethnic people, so you can explore many distinctive features from the locals.
delbertlynd is offline  
Mar 24th, 2018, 07:28 AM
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The Ethnographic Museum In Hanoi is excellent and will give you an introduction to some of the various ethnic groups in VN. Hanoi has perhaps the best collection of museums for a city of its size.
Kathie is online now  
Mar 28th, 2018, 08:37 AM
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I used Vietnam Stay / Aurora Travel and was very happy. I took their advice after telling them what I was interested in, but totally fine-tuned the entire trip to add hotels I wanted and activities that I wanted us to partake in. They were helpful in getting better rates at great hotels, good drivers and guides when needed, internal flights and suggestions of some activities that I would not have considered, especially for my kids. I really took advantage of their services for Vietnam and needed them a bit less in Laos and Cambodia, but still it was a seamless partnership in all of the countries. Because you can tailor make your holiday, I highly recommend using an in-country tour operator. Chat with them, get a first draft quote and itinerary and then fine tune to your liking — especially the number of days in each city. Good luck.
Lolazahra is offline  
Mar 28th, 2018, 04:05 PM
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patandhank is offline  
Mar 28th, 2018, 07:56 PM
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My first reaction was to choose Odysseys Unlimited. But their use of a hotel in Halong Bay is so strange. You should be on a junk overnight. That is the only problem I have with their itinerary.
I like Hanoi but also was surprised that I liked Saigon a lot too.
We lovd both countries and then flew on to Bangkok for five days and accessed better and cheaper flights home from there.
HappyTrvlr is online now  
Mar 28th, 2018, 10:26 PM
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Just a thought, perhaps you could approach this from a different direction. Research Vietnam and Cambodia via guidebooks online and then decide how you can fit in all you want to see into an acceptable timeframe. Put you planned itinerary out to tender with some of the operators suggested here and see what comes back in terms of cost, hotel standard etc. and then compare with a DIY approach.

For a first time visit to the region, with say three weeks to play with I would consider one thing like:

4 nts Hanoi
1 nt Ha Long
3 nts Hue
3 nts Hoi An
3 nts Saigon
4 nts Mekong Delta (maybe a cruise or stays in Can Tho and Chau Doc

Boat fro Chau Doc to:

2 nts Phnom Penh
3 nts Siem Reap

This would be slightly over three weeks but I would suggest keeping the number of one night stays to a minimum to avoid travel fatigue. It would also allow you to spend a greater proportion of your time actually seeing stuff other than airports, taxis and buses.

You would probably need to add a couple of days depending on from where your international flights arrive and depart.

When moving around using flights, I find that a lot of usually time can be saved by picking early morning flights which can often leave an extra half day for sight seeing on arrival at your destination.

Finally, as an alternative to Ha Long Bay which could be foggy in Jan, you may wish to look at Ninh Binh, sometimes described at Ha Long Bay on land because of the similar karst scenery.
crellston is offline  
Mar 30th, 2018, 02:04 AM
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Great suggestions here - thank you! I have some homework to do and really appreciate the help.
KTtravel is offline  
Apr 1st, 2018, 10:52 PM
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In vietnam you can try:
Halong bay
Hoi An Ancient Town
My Son sanctuary
Phong Nha Ke Bang Park
Cuchi Tunel( Ho chi minh city)
paulbk is offline  

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