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How to Find Great Budget Tours in Vietnam (and not get ripped off!)

When I travel, I’m a tourist and a traveler.

Although I like schedule time to get lost and wander the streets of a city, I also enjoy a good tour, which whisks me away and takes the stresses of planning a day’s itinerary and transportation, off my shoulders.

Vietnam’s budget tours, I discovered, are worthwhile looking into. Budget tour operations in Vietnam are seductive and tour operators are everywhere, vying for your business.  Online, you  might pay over a couple of hundred dollars for a one or two day tour that picks you up from your hotel. But walk into Vietnam and sign up for a budget tour and you will easily find yourself paying a fee as low as $20 for an all-inclusive overnight package. Yes, Vietnam can offer you jaw-dropping prices, all-inclusive packages and the promise of a good English-speaking tour guide, for prices you might think were a scam.

What I loved aside of value was that it took the stress of haggling guess-work and  transportation and hotel research out of  my hands so I could enjoy Vietnam without the worry. In all cases, it even turned out cheaper than if I planned it myself!

Here’s some tips on how to find good budget tours in Vietnam (without getting ripped off!)

 

1.   Book your tours and transportation tickets in Vietnam

Booking tour and bus tickets never felt so easy as when I was in Vietnam. There’s a ridiculous variety to choose from too. Go to the Old Quarters in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh and there will be signs, pamphlets, wall-to-wall tour operators at your disposal, all offering tours with scanty prices. The prices run cheaper than what you’d find online and you can find group tours with little to no single supplement mark-up.  Tour prices start at $7.00 USD.  I took tours from both,  Sinh Tourist  & Delta Adventures, who offered well-serviced tours at great prices.

2.   Shop around for prices

It’s been my shoppers rule to never take the first offer. Believe me, you’ll feel sick when you see that tour cost cut in half at the agency down the block! Prices on the internet are going to be high, so I wouldn’t use that a  figure to make comparisons. Find a few agencies to get quotes from, so you have an idea of the real going rate.

3.   Your hotel or hostel can be a tour agent.

Hotels will help outfit you with a tour . As their name and reputation depends upon it, it stands a good chance the tour will be good. You can book either, a personal guide or group tour. Meanwhile, hostels and guesthouses often deal with budget tours, due to the needs of their backpacking clientele. Often, their markup is very little to none. My hostel in Ho Chi Minh City booked me two-day tour of the Mekong Delta. My hostel assured me they were very good. My hostel was right!

My package included:

•    An English-speaking guide
•    Accommodation: A newly remodeled hotel stay, which served free breakfast
•    Number of cities : Three
•    Transportation: three types of boat rides down the Mekong Delta, spacious A.C.  buses, a bike tour
•    Sightseeing:  A floating market,  visit to a rice paper and a coconut candy factory , a rice mill, a bike stroll through a Mekong village, etc….

It cost  $19 ! I don’t think I’ll be going to a concierge anytime soon.

 Room accommodations for a two-day/one night tour to the Mekong Delta.

At the rice paper factory. Woman making rice paper;. Below, our guide tells us about the process.


4.   Hold realistic expectations.

You get what you pay for”  is the saying about budget tours.  But in Vietnam, paying for an expensive tour, doesn’t necessarily guarantee you a better tour.  Whaaa?…

I took a few group tours I bought either through my hostel or a local tour agent. In all instances, I  was sold a budget tour package at a much cheaper rate than travelers, who booked that exact tour through their hotel or another agent. In fact, we were on the same tour. They just paid more for it.

Of course, you have to be realistic also.  If I pay for a budget tour that costs something crazy like $20 for a full day tour, which provides a hotel, I don’t have grand expectations for it outside what I paid.  Although Vietnam can surprise you. It did with me.

Do you get what you pay for? Apparently, not always.  Some of us cheap-o’s get more.

5.    Shop around

Shop around with a few agencies before settling on one.

Get as much information as you can about what you’re being sold and the ballpark rate for it. Trust your gut. It always knows best.

6.    Beware of counterfeit agencies

 Vietnam has a lot of counterfeit agencies (aka copy cat agencies that steal customers from reputable agencies).   For every reputable agency there’s a swarm of mock companies disguised with the same name and logo, hoping to lure in the business of unsuspecting tourists.

Sinh Tourist Cafe is a well-known Lonely Planet recommended operator that travelers go to. I booked a Sapa trekking tour with them and took a shuttle direct from the Hanoi airport to their street.  Imagine my surprise, when I didn’t find Sinh Tourist Cafe, but five, each brandishing the same business sign!   Two of them were located next to each other and sitting directly across of the real Sinh Cafe!  Fortunately, I researched the address to know better.

Outside the Sinh Tourist, Hanoi (the real Sinh Cafe); Inside Sinh Tourist, HCMC

Watch my Top 5 Tips for Traveling Vietnam:


5 Risky Things to Do if you’re Solo in Vietnam
15 things to know about Vietnam before you go.
Trekking tips for Sapa on a muddy and crazy hot day (Sapa tour: Day 3) .

48 Comments

  1. Lani says:

    We did a food tour in Old Quarter Hanoi and wish we’d done it on day one. We booked through our hotel, but maybe save $5 and book direct. Our guide was Rose or Hường Trần She will feed you beautifully and give you suggestions for the rest of your stay.
    Also 4P Pizza was really good for a western fix.

  2. David Jones says:

    Thank you very much for creating these videos, I am sure it takes some time and work. You’ve done a great job, they are well made and fun to watch. I haven’t decided to go to Vietnam, I would like to. I am actually retiring to Ecuador in late July so thought I would go somewhere I haven’t been (I lived in Germany and Australia for many years). I won’t ask any questions as so many do, I’ll just enjoy your videos, learn, and then figure things out by myself. Thank you again and enjoy all your future travels. They are ALL worth it. David

  3. Dragan says:

    Hi Christine,

    I have just come across your post about Vietnam:) Sapa looks interesting. I got my flights sorted and some accommodation HCMC @ Hanoi. I wanna do Halong Bay should I book the cruise once I get there in April? Prices are varied online and through agencies here in Aust not cheap too. Any places you recommend to eat / drink in Hanoi and the area?

  4. roger houston says:

    All the information coming out about tours is that you should book them in Vietnam. Now by doing that am i leaving myself open to missing out on tours i want to go on as they are could be booked out ?

  5. Ruud says:

    Hi Christine, so nice to read your blog. Lots of information on how to book a good tour in Vietnam. Just one small question on when you wrote this blog. Is it very recent? We plan to be in Vietnam from end October till end November and are desperately seeking for a reasonable priced tour to either Ha Giang province or Sapa. Internet prices thus far vary from $ 400 till $ 700 a person for a 5 day tour. After reading your blog I think the best is to book locally in Hanoi. Do you have any experience with guided tours to Ha Giang? Thx, Br Ruud

  6. nancyngo says:

    Hey! I was wondering what was the name of your hotel? I would like the book the exact tour by just asking them.

    Thanks.

  7. Hitesh Gupta says:

    We’ve been getting a lot of signs that we need to visit Vietnam. We’ve heard about accommodation/rent being cheap but never made the connection that it could be an all-around inexpensive place to see (assuming it can be expensive if you want it to be). ‘Eat cheap, and eat well!’ may have just sold us 🙂

  8. christine says:

    hi christine,
    you travel blog is fantastic and the information you provide is great!
    may i check with you, shall i book the tour when i in HCM or book via the Sinhtour before I reach?

    have a goo day!

  9. S D says:

    Great to see your Tips on Vietnam

  10. samuelmozilo says:

    Great tips! I have plan to visit Vietnam in this June 2016. so your post will help me a lot.

    • TmLaw says:

      Hey man! How are you? Am planning a trip in June as well. Getting into Ho Chi Minh on 21st June . Would like to know more from you as this is my first backpacking trip. Buzz me

  11. Melanie Pierluigi says:

    Would you recommend “Kangaroo Cafe”? Their website constantly goes on about their good prices but I’ve heard mixed things….

  12. tracy truong says:

    Hi Christine,

    I booked tours in Thailand previously. Although they were cheap but it was a horrible experience (a large number of people as a part of the tour, 1 hour time to experience the surroundings, rude tour guide etc). How do you differentiate the good tours vs the bad ones that are sold in vietnam? My fear is if I booked it there, I’m signing up to be a part of a tour that’s as large as 50 people! What are your recommended tours for SaPa and Ha long bay?

  13. hussein says:

    hi christine ka”aloa
    we are a couple age 59yrs old want to do a trip off vietnam & cambodia.for 27 days do you think we should book a tour with the agent in vietnam or book our hotels on line & than in vietnam book all our tours. whic is the best & cheper way off planing our trip. thank you

  14. Gareth says:

    Hi!
    I love your videos. My girlfriend and I are traveling to Vietnam in April and want to do a two night cruise around Ha Long Bay. Your videos say it is much cheaper to book in Vietnam. Do these overnight boat tours fill up quickly? Or is it safe to wait until we get there to book the two night tour when we arrive (we have a pretty tight travel itinerary).
    Thanks,
    Gareth

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Gareth: I can’t make that personal call for you, as I never took an overnight cruise to Halong. Halong Bay is popular but there’s certainly more than one boat tour. A day’s advance booking at the least. Two days advance for that cruise is ideal.

  15. Marya says:

    Hi Christine!

    I’ll be traveling solo to Vietnam next month and I find your blog posts so useful. I have booked a really expensive tour for Ha Long Bay tour on the internet when my friend who went there a few weeks ago assured me that I could get much cheaper tour on the spot.

    Anyway, thank you so much for your posts.. I’ll definitely make them as my reference before going there.

    Happy traveling! 🙂

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Marya: Tours in Vietnam are cheaper than tours in Thailand and that’s saying a lot! Wait till you get there and go to the agencies on foot. Even your hotel might sell you a tour at a higher rate than someone who when direct to price shop at travel agencies. You’ll feel ill when you notice the difference.

  16. ankey86 says:

    Useful information

  17. Toni says:

    Great tips! I’ll be traveling to Vietnam from Luang Prabang on Monday and am considering taking the overnight train to Sapa and again to Hanoi if the weather doesn’t call for too much rain. But for Hanoi, would you recommend booking only first night and then coordinating tour of Mekong Delta for next few nights upon arrival? I have come to embrace flexible scheduling, but have been traveling for a while and am mildly concerned about having a place to store my luggage (large backpack & small wheelable). Thans!

  18. Connie says:

    I am going to HCMC next week alone. Any places of interests to recommend?

  19. [email protected] says:

    Totally enjoy your posts! I do have one question tho. Several people advice to book the cruises for halong bay online. Would you recommend to do so? Or should I also book the cruise in Hanoi better? Thanks in advance!

  20. Anushkaa says:

    Thank you very much for sharing your tips, they are very helpful!

  21. Well, I appreciate you Christine for this wonderful article. I travel lot with my family and many times alone. My trip to Vietnam became expensive as I hired especially a guide. But I got good help from your articles.

  22. angel says:

    ohhhh how nice=) planning to go also for next trip. one more question if going to halong bay tour do need to give them our passport? coz i read at one of the blog he said that he had book halong bay tour with sinh cafe and he had a bad experience need to to pay extra for the life jacket and other thing that had broke that not broke from him. he said that he is very sure that is the real sinh cafe coz he had give the correct address in hanoi and he had followed what lonly planet recommended

    • @ Angel: I do not recall giving my passport to tour agencies to hold onto. There’s really no reason. As for the real sinh cafe. In hanoi, there were several sharing the same block with the real one. There was even one on the opposite side of the street. The hanoi office is much smaller than the hcmc one; it blends with the rest.

  23. angel says:

    Is oke thanks a lot, have u been to Luangprabang, i seems likethe scenery very nice also =)

  24. angel says:

    do the tour agency acept dong or they prefer usd?

    • @Angel: apologies for the delayed response. I was traveling thru Laos and internet was spotty. You can pay in either. The USD speaks virtually most places, but I prefer paying in the country currency. In traveling I’ve known some people to charge me more in USD (cause they’re rounding their currency up to the dollar); thus, i’m wary and superstitious. When I bust out USD, poorer countries assume me to be rich.

  25. angel says:

    oops just saw the real sinh cafe u had post haha thanks for de info.
    booking from internet is cheaper or direct booking from there is cheaper? i’m going to hanoi this end of feb.

  26. angel says:

    there’s alot of fake sinh cafe, so how can i know which is real or which is fake, btw thnks for de info it helps lot =)

  27. Terry Doyle says:

    Christine,
    Thanks for the tips on picking up a tour in VN. I’m much encouraged to do just that. Other than Tet, is there a bad time to travel to VN? I’m thinking late Sept./Oct. after schools are back in session in the US and probably Europe.

    Also, is there any hope of getting a Vietnamese photographer to go with you on tour? I’d like a photo emphasis but solo will work too. That hop-on/hop-off bus sounds very cool.
    -TD

    • @Terry: Thanks, I’m glad some of this information helps. I went in August and it was my first time there. Depends on what you consider a bad time… when I went the weather was HOT and humid but it didn’t kill my enjoyment. Crowd-wise, there were a lot of tourists– your dates seem like they may work to your advantage though.

      Vietnamese Photographer– I imagine if you’re willing to pay his rate and his expenses, then there shouldn’t be any problem hiring one to go on tour with you. If you have a more specific type subject matter, you may want to work with the photographer directly vs. a budget tour. He/She might have a better idea or leads into getting you into the setting you want to be in.

  28. Lai Wan says:

    hi, christine.. Appreciate your sharing on solo travel vietnam.. I booked my ticket to Hanoi & HCMC next year… Am quite anxious as i am travelling alone.. your sharing ease my anxiety.. Any chances of getting more detailed advice or suggestion from you?? Love to hear more from you… thanx for sharing ^_^~

    • @Lai Wan: Congrats on booking your tix & for traveling solo. I completely understand your anxiety– I’m still trying to find comfort in traveling solo to developing countries myself. Other than watching out for your belongings, I really don’t think you’d have much to worry about. Unless you really wander off the beaten-track, Vietnam is pretty well touristed. The Old Quarters of Hanoi & HCMC are backpacker centrals and budget tours are really a very easy and economical solution to traveling there. I will be continuing to blog my travel in Vietnam, so if you have any more or specific questions, feel free to comment. 😉

  29. Gray says:

    This sounds like very good advice to me, Christine, though I have no experience traveling in Vietnam. I cannot believe those prices–so low!

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