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Suggestions for guided tours to Southeast Asia

I’m interested in a trip to SE Asia and want to do it with an organized tour. My husband and I are experienced independent tourists to Europe (33 trips over the past two decades) and the US (too many to count) but for this trip to Asia I want a tour. Normally I hate tours (have done a few day tours when where I wanted to go was difficult by public transportation and didn’t want to drive). The Rick Steves type tours would be the one’s I’d likely take except I don’t need/want a tour to Europe and he doesn’t go to Asia.

From the research I’ve done so far I’m interested in Vietnam, Cambodia and maybe Thailand. I’d actually like to see ALL of the region but I only want to be gone a month or less so that’s not gonna happen.

In terms of price, we are generally on the low side of ‘moderate’ travelers. Not bare bones budget but don’t need or want luxury. For example I saw a Tauck tour that covers the places I want to go but at almost $9000 per person that’s about 3 times what many of the others I’ve seen are and I think that’s a waste. I’ve considered Road’s Scholar but I think there is too much time spent on lectures, etc. I’ll do extensive research about the places I’m going, I don’t need a lecture and if I’m going that far I want to see stuff, not sit in a classroom. I also looked at an Overseas Adventures tour but can only find one for Vietnam only and I’d really like to do at least two (preferably three) countries.

So – suggestions.

Posted by
1076 posts

OAT (Overseas Adventures) has a tour called "Ancient Kingdoms: Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam". The tour length (without air travel time) is 18 days. There are extensions available which could add up to another 14 days if you desired. You can get the tour either with or without airfare. Cost for the base tour without airfare is $2695. They have a maximum of 16 people on their tours. We have been on 1 OAT tour and are signed up for our second tour with them.

Posted by
187 posts

I took an OAT trip to Myanmar in 2017, with an extension in Laos, and was very pleased with the trip. Our group in Laos was only nine and in Myanmar was 14. Our guides were very good. The Laos extension actually met in Bangkok, but didn’t tour there, so I spent several days there on my own. I hired a private guide for one day there and did a food tour another day. When I flew home, I added a three-day stopover in Hong Kong to tour in my own. OAT was helpful in “personalizing” my travel arrangements.

I have heard good things about Odyssey Unlimited and Gate One, but have not travelled with either of them. I will be joining a Gate One tour in India in February. The tour I am taking is one of their “small group” tours - limited to 22. I understand that some of their tours reach 40 people and I would not like that. So ask questions to find what you want!

I’ve known people who have travelled with Tauck. Tauck is a very upscale company that provides an excellent experience, but for a very high price! There are lots of other options out there.

Posted by
13930 posts

I can't help with tour companies, but I can share my own experiences. I've only been there as an independent traveler, mostly solo. It's as easy as visiting Europe, as long as you stick to public transportation. For the cities, 1 or 2 good guide books are all you need. I found Lonely Planet to be very good for Vietnam. In Vietnam the best way to get around is on foot or using Grab (the local equivalent of Uber). In Bangkok I used taxis (not expensive and the AC is usually blasting, such a lovely respite in the heat), the river ferry (cool breezes make it pleasant, mostly locals use it, and occasionally a bus. Lots of people use tuktuks, I was never brave enough. Take flights from area to area. The distances between cities are long, the roads aren't very good, buses and trains are slow and crowded. There are a good number of airlines, flights are cheap and frequent.

When to go - for Thailand (my favorite of the 3) December-February is best because it's the dry season. Vietnam is more complicated because the weather is much more varied by region. I went in January, it's relatively cold in the north while the south is like Thailand. So for Vietnam it depends on which parts you want to visit. I had rain in Hanoi, and it was mostly foggy in Halong Bay - still wonderful, but very different from most of the pictures you see.

In Vietnam it was easy to arrange tours, and cheaper than doing it from abroad. I went to Halong Bay on a 2N tour from Hanoi that was excellent. I also took a fun and delicious cooking class at a local restaurant.

In Thailand, I hired a private guide with a car at a very reasonable rate to tour the far north - Chiang Rai. I was on my own in Chiang Mai. There it's also easy to arrange day tours and cooking classes.

I was in Cambodia only in Siem Reap - 3 nights, 2.5 days with a private guide. Again, it was easy and inexpensive.

With a month, you could spend 2 weeks in Thailand, 2 in Vietnam and fit in a 3 day visit to Angkor Wat.

Posted by
639 posts

Thanks for the replies. I'm now totally immersed in researching. I've found several more tours but none of them are exactly what I want. I realize I probably 'could' do SE Asia on my own (with a lot of help from this and other forums) but I (and especially my husband) are still in the mind of preferring a tour. At a party the other night two people I know who have traveled extensively in Europe independently recently went to Asia on tours and said they were glad they had been on a tour. Unfortunately I didn't really get good answers as to why they were glad they were on tours (and of course despite lots of negative things about tours).

Posted by
1526 posts

I have been to Asia three times ( not these countries) and I can guess why your friends were glad they took a tour. The driving/traffic is crazy! So many scooters and cars, crossing the street is a gamble with your life. Traffic laws-just a suggestion apparently!
Also, language barrier. English not as widely spoken as in Europe.

Having been to Asia 3 times ( all for diving with some land touring) I would only want to do a tour with the exception of Thailand. Friends of mine who lived there said it is very easy to tour independently.

Posted by
48 posts

If you stick to the regular tourist trail it is really easy to get around independently. Most people speak enough English to get by with ease. I used the site www.travelfish.org and they have a really good forum on there and tons of information.

If you do go with a tour, I have friends who used G Adventures for SE Asia and they really enjoyed it. I have traveled with that company to Africa, India, Nepal, Cuba and Galapagos and they do a great job and I had no issues.

Posted by
1507 posts

I used Gate1 for a tour of Bangkok, Angkor Wat, and up the coast of Vietnam. I picked it almost entirely because of itinerary (I was visiting a friend living in Hanoi, and the tour ended there) as well as the transportation/lodging infrastructure (tour price included bus/flights between places). The company uses a segment approach to their tours - so I had a different group each time I changed countries. I'd be happy to give you more pros and cons, but I'd say the tour met my expectations for providing infrastructure and I think I would have struggled with transport on my own. The tour guides ranged from horrible to quite good. The caliber of fellow travelers was different than the RS crowd (big suitcases, people expecting to be entertained/led instead of going on their own).

I've subsequently traveled with GAdventures and would consider one of their smaller group tours - they have several itineraries that look appealing to me in hindsight. Here's an example: https://www.gadventures.com/trips/indochina-encompassed/ATIE/

Note that Vietnam requires a special visa (the requirements change on and off) so make sure to study that ahead of time. One of the people on my tour got a visa for the wrong dates and ended up spending a significant sum to get an emergency visa.

Posted by
540 posts

Odysseys Unlimited has tours to Southeast Asia. I have not traveled wth them yet, but will soon, to a different destination. They have been very responsive to all my inquiries. Others on this forum have said good things about them. http://odysseys-unlimited.com They are based in Massachusetts. The airfare is included in the price you see. Groups are limited to 24 or less.

Posted by
1 posts

Check out Intrepid Travel- they have a wide range of trips and a good balance of time on your own and guided. They use local guides and you can add on extras. You will love this part of the world!

Posted by
1 posts

Hello Isabel,
Hubby and I were in Thailand for a wedding and decided to venture around Indonesia afterward. We reached out to Kensington Tours (based in Canada) and decided to book tours with them. What they provided was personal tours for just the two of us and it was well worth the money because each tour was just for the 2 of us and completely personalized for our interests with our own English speaking guides and drivers. If you think you might want to travel to Indonesia, I have contact information for our guides and drivers there. They were absolutely outstanding. I would contact Jessica Vandermey at Kensington and chat with her. She was extremely helpful even before we booked with her. Here is her email address: jessica.vandermey@kensingtontours.com.

Posted by
91 posts

I've used both Intrepid and GAdventure tour companies. Intrepid is an Australian company that specializes in SE Asia. They now have an office in the US, and we used them to visit Cuba. GAdventure is from Canada and we used them for China. Both have maximum limit of 16, have a tour guide that travels with the group but use local guides on occasion, and use public transportation (or show you how to use it). Their style is very similar to Rick Steves and I found their prices to be comparable to a RS tour.

Posted by
639 posts

Thanks for that information. The more research I've done the more I'm thinking we might be able to do it on our own with just 'local' tours to some places. But I am still considering tours, I just am having trouble finding ones that go where I want (and only where I want). I thought I found what I wanted with intrepid (run by a former Rick Steves guide) but when I emailed him about dates it turns out they are going on the SE Asia trip this February but then not for at least two more years - they don't run every trip every year. So that was disappointing.

I'm curious about the Kensington tours. If it's just the two of you do they send a guide with you or do they just make the arrangements for all your travel and accommodations, etc. ? More like a travel agency?