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Three couples undertook a vacation trip through Southeast Asia, organized by Vietnam Stay, from October 17 to November 8, 2023. This document is our evaluation of the experience. We will provide feedback in the following categories: Transportation, Accommodation, Cruise, Guides, Cultural Experience and Communication.
The primary mode of transportation was by 8-9 passenger vans. This included transport to and from airports and all guided tours. Every van was clean and relatively new. The drivers were all very competent and punctual. The one occasion where the van was late (by 10 minutes) due to traffic conditions was at the Bangkok airport but Vietnam Stay responded quickly and a representative met us and assured us that the van would be there shortly.
Each van included bottled water which was greatly appreciated. In most of the vans the bottled water was in coolers and this was very good. In Bangkok the van had a speaker system which made it easier for us to hear the guide as she spoke.
All of the six in-tour flights were without any problems. This was an area where we had some concerns but they were unfounded. Everything went very well.
All of our hotels were excellent and clearly 4*+. In most instances they were located in or near the historically significant locations of each city. In most instances we were able to walk or take a short tuk tuk ride to restaurants or shopping areas.
La Siesta Ma May in Hanoi and La Siesta Hoi An Resort were probably our favorite hotels. However, the Eldora Hue, the Aviary Hotel Seim Reap, the Bohdi Serene in Chiang Mai and the Legend Chiang Rai were very charming. The Amara Hotel in Bangkok had a wonderful infinity swimming pool on the roof. The Vibe Hotel in Singapore was a short walk from the Orchard Road shopping area and the subway which made access to all of Singapore easy.
The only criticism was the Orchard Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City. The hotel was fine but the cost to launder two bags of clothes was excessive at approximately $92 USD.
The Halong Bay Cruise with Paradice Elegance was a bucket list experience. The accommodation, food and tours were first class and the environment in Halong Bay was truly wonderful. We especially enjoyed the tour of the Hang Sung Sot Cave.
Each of the guides on our many tours were excellent. We especially appreciated their willingness to make modifications to the tours when we requested a change due to weariness or weather. They were all very passionate about the culture and history of their locations and knowledgeable when we asked questions.
One of the much-appreciated skills was their photographic abilities. Specifically, Happy in Siem Reap and Lynda in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai helped us to take excellent photos.
Many of the guides were responsive to our needs and we would like to identify Lynda as the one who went well beyond the guide requirement.
While some of our meals were included in the tour cost, the guides were able to direct us to other culinary experiences that were unique and for little cost.
V. Cultural Experiences
Many of the tours were memorable cultural experiences but some stood out. The jeep tour was a great introduction to Hanoi. We especially enjoyed the timing of the train street visit as we had coffee just as the train was passing by.
The Vietnam Museum of Ethnology gave us a whole new perspective on the composition of the Vietnamese people and their history. Learning to cross streets full of cars and motorbikes could not be done anywhere else in the world! The boat ride in Tam Coc, Ninh Binh Province was a wonderful and unique experience. The Imperial Citadel in Hue was amazing and the drive on through Hai Van Pass to Danang was spectacular.
Friends had encouraged us to see Hoi An and it did not disappoint. It was probably the most charming place in all of Vietnam. We especially enjoyed the night lantern displays, the bicycle ride along the De Vong River and through the garden plots and then the basket boat rides.
In Ho Chi Minh City, the tour of the Reunification Palace helped put our limited knowledge of the Vietnam War into context. The visit to the Central Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Ben Thanh Market were also memorable. The next day spent in the Mekong Delta with boat and tuk-tuk rides and visits to the floating market, brick kiln makers, coconut processors and sleeping mat weavers was revealing.
Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm temple complexes were astounding views of ancient history in Siem Reap. The next day our boat ride through the “floating village” gave us a news perspective on how other people live. We also greatly enjoyed the night market in the old town.
The elephant Jungle Sanctuary near Chiang Mai was a bucket list experience. We were pleased that there was a funicular at the Mountain temple as we may have skipped it due to the 306 steps. Visits to the White Temple and the Blue Temple on the way to Chiang Rai were also spectacular. Some of our group especially enjoyed the visit to the Royal Flora Garden. The boat trip through the Golden Triangle of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand rounded out a perfect day.
Bangkok was the ultimate Thailand experience. The infinity pool at the top of our hotel gave wonderful views of the city. Tours of the temples and the longtail boat ride (in the rain) were all memorable times.
The next day, the visit to the Maeklong Railway Market was another unusual event. Watching the vendors take down their awnings to let the train by and the opportunity to High Five the train operator and the train passed was exceptional. The floating market was chaotic and unique. It was hard to believe that peoples could do business in such and environment.
One of us described Singapore as Disneyland on steroids. The metro system was so easy to navigate and we were able to experience the Hawker Market, High Tea at Raffles Hotel and a boat ride on Marina Bay over and above the scheduled tours. A special thanks to Grace as we should have missed our visit to the top of the Marina Bay Sands due to inclement weather. She, however, knew some of the people there and was able to adjust our time slot and visit it later in the evening.
Singapore was an add on to our original tour and more expensive. However, the cost of our flight back to North America was much less from there than it would have been from Bangkok so the overall additional cost was well worth the visit.
Throughout the planning and execution of this trip, the responsiveness of the communication with Vietnam Stay was exceptional. I was surprised by the speed with which you responded to my emails and the adjustments you were willing to make. This made the whole experience very enjoyable.
The organization of our trip and the total cost was exceptional. I would highly recommend Vietnam Stay to anyone who is considering a tour of Southeast Asia.